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04222017 April 22, 2017

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Current Positions  (No Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 100%; G (money market) – remainder

======================================================

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 04/21/17

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-11.3, -3.43, -6.54, -1.94

Partial recap of my interim report of 4/19 – Stocks have given up much of their gains built on the ‘hopes’ of health care reform, tax reform, relief in regulations, or, any of the political promises that fueled one more fluff-filled rally.  Optimism was enough to create this last opportunity.  It is not enough to sustain, or, incur any reasonable risk.

Four days later, from CNBC – Stocks surged as talk out of Washington pointed to the potential for some action on health care, which is viewed as a precursor to any move forward on tax reform. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also said Thursday that progress is being made on tax reform. President Donald Trump said he was hopeful there would be a vote on health care next week and also to fund the government.

With virtually no gains for over 2 months, rhetoric such as the above keeps markets stuck in a perpetual, dream-filled loop to nowhere.

The chart below shows the wasted motion currently underway.

That MSCI World Index is a broad global equity benchmark that represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed markets countries. It covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country and MSCI World benchmark does not offer exposure to emerging markets.

Otherwise, and with all due respect to the advances from Election Day into February, it’s worthy to note that pre-Election Day price levels were flat to down for most of the previous 18 months; from March ‘15 to November ‘16, C Fund 44 to 45, F Fund 51 to 49, I Fund 61 to 56. Early in February, several days of the bulk of February gains resulted from comments from administration officials giving hints of a tax cut.

Any news on (1) health care reform, or (2) tax reform, or (3) tax cut, or (4) infrastructure = automatic stock rally; a rally that might or might not remain several weeks later. (‘tax cut’ in the news on 4/21 – index prices moved slightly upward immediately, though, it reversed within minutes. There were two such occasions in early February that created the same ‘sugar high’ for the markets.)

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones has a message for Janet Yellen and investors: Be very afraid.
The legendary macro trader says that years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000, right before the Nasdaq tumbled 75 percent over two-plus years. That measure — the value of the stock market relative to the size of the economy — should be “terrifying” to a central banker, Jones said earlier this month at a closed-door Goldman Sachs Asset Management conference, according to people who heard him.

This chart shows the S&P 500 with respect to the size of total economic activity, GDP.

The market is expensive!  A week ago, I mentioned the 28.8 price-to-earnings ratio, which is 73% higher than the 100 year average. This expense projects a future return in the very low single digits over the next ten years.

The 500 companies in the S&P500 can be divided into 11 sectors.

Each sector contains different number of companies.

Within this current 29.1 P/E, as of 4/21, the individual S&P sectors are shown as follows:

Sector                            Number of Stocks        Shiller P/E        Regular P/E

Energy                                35                                 17.40           -41.80**

Consumer Defensive          41                                  23.30            19.20

Financial Services               70                                 23.70            16.00

Industrials                          70                                 23.90             21.50

Utilities                              28                                  25.00            34.20

Healthcare                         59                                  27.40            20.60

Basic Materials                   23                                  27.70            35.60

Consumer Cyclical             85                                   28.20            21.90

Technology                       60                                   30.80            24.10

Communication Services   9                                     31.20            20.80

Real Estate                        24                                   47.80            22.70

S&P 500                           500                                  29.10            26.40

** – negative price-to-earnings in the energy sector are due to significant losses in coal, oil & gas exploration, integrated oil & gas, gas & oil storage, as a result of oil prices remaining below the break-even points for many companies in the sector.  This is also evidence of the flaws in ‘regular’ p/e ratios, versus the Shiller p/e’s.

Meanwhile….a short-term underlying technical picture is absolutely unchanged through this week, and is decidedly negative. For eight days in a row, many major averages have hovered UNDER a line of resistance, a ceiling, at the 50 day moving average.

Friday’s S&P500 level is actually 15 points lower than the February 21st level of 2366!

Last September, the C fund lost 4% within 7 weeks after breaking below the 50 day moving average.

Similar patterns show up in the F and I funds.

S fund’s 50 day moving average is 57.08.

I fund’s 20 day moving average is 62.03, as it nears the 50 day average at 61.36.

The more consecutive closes below these key averages, the more negative the near-term technical picture.

F fund performance relative to C fund

F fund performance relative to S fund

F fund performance relative to I fund

The F fund is poised to outperform C, S and I funds, with (1) the topping of the equity markets in early March, corresponding to (2) the topping in interest rates early in the year, a perfect, normally correlated occurrence.

On the liquidity front, this month the Fed added $23.4 billion in cash to Primary Dealer Trading Accounts in the period April 12-20. This is slightly more than the March addition of $21.9 billion, the smallest add since January 2016. It was a sharp decline from February’s $41.6 billion.  These levels are far below the QE levels of a few years ago.  What’s different this time? That QE support, that ended in 2014, was NOT withdrawn the next month, as is the support from mortgage backed securities!!!!

In the past 18 months, there have been several periods that tied or exceeded 20-30 year records in the number of days where major stock averages did not exceed 1% up or down for a number of days in a row.  This shows a lack of conviction on the part of both buyers, AND sellers.  Potential buyers are waiting on lower prices.  Potential sellers are waiting on higher prices.  In either case, no one wants to be first, to get in OR out. The latest report on borrowing to buy stocks (margin debt) has just hit another high.  Those borrowers might believe that it’s a good idea.  They won’t believe so later, if their gains don’t meet their expectations, forcing them to sell sooner than expected, and, possibly, under pressure to do so.  If this happens, you’ll know!!

So, as you thought that the Fed ended QE in late 2014, and it did, the Fed has continued to add cash to the financial markets every month. It does so via the purchases of mortgage backed securities (MBS). It calls them “replacement purchases.” The Fed is the bank for the banks, i.e. the central bank. It has resolved since 2009 to force trillions in excess cash into the banking system and making sure that that, somehow, some additional money flows through the system. It has also resolved to make sure that the amount of the cash in the system does not shrink. It does that each month via its program of MBS replacement purchases. The Primary Dealers* are selected by the Fed for the privilege of trading directly with the Fed in the execution of monetary policy. This is essentially the only means by which monetary policy is transmitted directly to the securities markets, and then indirectly into the US and world economies. The only means which the Fed uses in the transmission and execution of monetary policy is via securities trades with the Primary Dealers.  Yes! The Fed is still providing some degree of artificial support to the markets.  It’s just not to the same degree as before the expiration of quantitative easing (QE).

  • List of current primary dealersBank of Nova Scotia, New York Agency, BMO Capital Markets Corp., BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Barclays Capital Inc., Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., Citigroup Global Markets Inc.,Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC , Daiwa Capital Markets America Inc., Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Goldman, Sachs & Co., HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., Jefferies LLC, J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, Mizuho Securities USA LLC, Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Nomura Securities International, Inc., RBC Capital Markets, LLC, RBS Securities Inc., Societe Generale, New York Branch, TD Securities (USA) LLC, UBS Securities LLC., Wells Fargo Securities, LLC

When the Fed buys MBS to replace those paid down from its balance sheet, it does so via trades with Primary Dealers. It buys MBS via forward purchase contracts which are typically settled in the next month or the following month. The Fed is only keeping the amount of its assets level. But it pumps billions in cash into the accounts of Primary Dealers each month as part of that process.

The dealers are in the business making markets in a broad spectrum of securities, including MBS. Their biggest customer is the Fed. When the Fed cashes out the dealers by purchasing MBS from them, the dealers can both leverage and redeploy that cash to not only buy more MBS, but to purchase whatever other securities it wants to. Stocks are a favored vehicle. The Fed cashes out the dealers when it settles the MBS purchases around the third week of the month each month. Even though the amount of cash in the system is roughly static, the Fed is still pumping cash into Primary Dealer accounts each month. That has an impact on the stock market. It’s obviously not the only impact, but it’s still part of the central bank game of rigging the market.

This chart of the combination of all of the Fed feeding since 2009, and even beyond the quantitative easing (QE), although it ended in 2014, continues, in reduced effect, through monthly purchasing of mortgage backed securities, providing trading revenues to participating banks.

Notice that from the end of QE, in late 2014, and on to late 2016, market levels were insignificantly higher overall. This ‘juicing’, only within the past 5 months (post-election) was on the ‘hopes’ I mentioned in the interim report, based upon prospects for health care reform, tax reform, etc., that, realistically, won’t have the market impact that is was already anticipated. Almost none of these elements are going to address the ‘greed’ factor that’s already been cranked into markets over the past few years, to get them to current levels.

With mortgage rates coming off the highs, there could be a slight increase in refi activity. That causes an increase in MBS paydowns, which the Fed will replace in the next month. Then it takes another month or two for those purchases to settle. There is a lag of 5-6 months between the drop in mortgage rates and the increase in the settlement of the Fed’s replacement purchases. By then the Fed may have begun to implement its proposed policy of “normalizing” the balance sheet. That’s a nice way of saying “shrinking” the balance sheet. To do that the Fed is proposing to allow its Treasury holdings to mature and not be rolled over. It’s also proposing not replacing MBS as they are paid down. So instead of a small addition to the Fed’s MBS purchases from the Primary Dealers a few months down the road, the Fed will indirectly withdraw money from the banking system and the markets. By doing it slowly over several years, the Fed may be able to avoid crashing the market. I use the word “may” purposely. Any shrinkage of the Fed’s assets will increase the odds of an accident. Slow and steady tightening will act like the drip, drip, of the old Chinese water torture. It will promulgate a bear market in stocks. Accidents do tend to happen in bear markets. The drip, drip, drip eventually turns into a cascade.

Most interesting, the Fed minutes last week also showed that Fed officials were discussing what to do with the central bank’s massive $4.5-trillion balance sheet, which was quadrupled during the financial crisis and its aftermath as the Fed engaged in three rounds of bond purchases as a way to depress long-term interest rates and give the stock market a boost. The minutes said that Fed officials agreed “a change in the committee’s reinvestment policy would likely be appropriate later this year.” Currently, the Fed has been keeping the level of the balance sheet steady at $4.5 trillion, by re-investing 100% of maturing debt.

It has been held for years that we’ll know the Fed is serious about tightening when it starts shrinking the balance sheet. Right now they are in the signaling stage. They’re talking about it. When the Fed talks about an idea, it eventually gets around to doing it. The Street is already telling you it will be no big deal. Don’t believe it. It’s time to ‘sell’ the stock rallies.  Not everyone will get the message in time.

Will the Fed Burst the Bubble in 2017?

The Fed has engineered the second longest Bull market in Wall Street’s history. It’s been dubbed the “Least Loved” Bull, because the US-economy’s recovery from the Great Recession has been the weakest since the 1930’s averaging only +2% growth per year. Still, the rising market for US-stocks, turned eight years old on March 9th, and might have finally silenced the critics in the “Doom and Gloom” business, who doubted its staying power. From a statistical perspective, this market’s no slouch. It has posted big enough returns to rank #4 all-time in terms of performance, with the mega-Bull run from the 1990’s taking top honors with a gain of +417%, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. The current market can’t be faulted for a lack of endurance, either, as only one Bull has lasted longer. It has also generated more than $21-trillion in new stock market wealth.  ALWAYS keep in mind that these ‘returns’, always measured from the March ‘09 bottom, are measured from a point of a 12-year low, where all of the gains from 1997 to 2009 were wiped out.  Any triple-digit gains for the past 8 years also apply from 1997 to today.  That places averages for this 20-year period right back in the range of long-term norms.  There are no free lunches.  You only get returns with time, or, with higher than average risk, in the absence of sufficient time.

The best-performing group for the past eight years was the consumer discretionary sector, which includes home improvement retailer Home Depot, coffee shop Starbucks and athletic apparel and sneaker giant Nike, has benefited from an improving economy and people’s willingness to buy things not deemed necessities. The S&P-500 index has rallied +250% since hitting a closing low of 676.53 on March 9th, 2009. The gains since, uninterrupted by a decline of -20% or more, rank this bull market as the second longest ever. The S&P continued to rally through a five quarter long recession in corporate earnings through most of 2016, supported in part by historically low interest rates which made stocks comparatively cheaper and more rewarding than high grade bond yields. The “Least Loved” Bull market is nearly three years older than the average Bull, and is more than a year shorter than the longest one: the rally from October 11th, 1990 to March 24th, 2000.

However, this Bull market isn’t only the second oldest, it’s also the second-most expensive. On a trailing 12-month basis, using Q’4 2016 GAAP earnings per share, the S&P 500’s price-to-earnings ratio stands at 25x, -second only to the 30-times earnings multiple recorded at the end of the tech bubble in 2000. (The range was also into the high 20’s surrounding the Great Crash of 1929.  We’ve left that out, since it predates everyone reading this.) Investors, however, are encouraged by a projected +11% rise in 2017 operating-earnings per share and think the growth could be even stronger if the Trump administration successfully delivers on promised tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending. Others see the potential for a final “melt-up” that could mark the top. Share prices could shoot up sharply if retail investors get jazzed about stocks again and start “pouring” money into the market. The melt-up may have already started, or finished on March 1st (the current high), on expectations that Trump’s tax reform will significantly cut taxes for both corporations and individuals. The stock index hasn’t suffered a drop of -20% since the Great Recession Bear, which ended on March 9, 2009. But the broad market gauge is up more than +250% since. There is no doubt that when the SPX is up +250%, with mid-single-digit sales growth, that it is a liquidity driven market. Then again, liquidity is one of the five cornerstones of the investing process, along with valuations, fundamentals, technicals and fund flows. This is clearly not going to last indefinitely, but the conditions for a Bear market – a decline of -20%, are only in place WHEN the Fed drains liquidity to the extent that it causes an economic recession (more on that below). Whether we like the interventions or not, for markets, the Fed matters. It has always mattered.

Indeed, if one left it at that, the answer would not be exactly wrong. However, there is one more factor which is rarely discussed, and which – according to Deutsche Bank – virtually the entire equity rally of the past four years is the result of plunging bond yields, which as a reminder, is the direct pathway by which central banks operate. As Deutsche Bank’s analysts warn, “various Fed officials have raised the issue of financial stability in the context of the reach for yield and riskier products to make up for low rates. This is part of financial repression. The logic might be that once the Fed has normalized, elements of that reach for yield and risk would be unwound and this could lead to disruptive financial market volatility.” Put in the simplest possible word, this means the Fed is worried that once rates go up as a result of renormalization and the lack of a central bank to front-run, stocks will crash. As it turns out the Fed has ample reason to be worried. Because QE and the Fed’s Zero Interest Rate Policy or financial repression is responsible for 92% of the S&P-500 rally since it launched QE-2 in Nov 2012, or just over +800-points, that would suggest that the Fed super-easy money policies are directly responsible for approximately 25% of the “value” in the market, and any moves to undo this support could result in crash. In retrospect, it becomes obvious why the Fed is petrified about even the smallest, +25-bps rate hike. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks every tick in the S&P-500 index, and uses financial repression, or artificially low interest rates and bond yields were the principal mechanism whereby wealth is transferred from savers to the US-government and shareholders in the US-stock markets.

Stock traders have been under the spell of monetary easing” to the point where negative news such as downbeat US jobs data in March did not stop stock prices from going up. Traders shrugged off uncertainty because they expect any bad news to be followed by continued low interest rates or bond purchases that increase the supply of money in the economy. Yet again, massive credit-fueled capital misallocation simply papers over short-term cracks and extends the life of the economy’s expansion cycle, but leaves a bigger more damaging hangover of credit defaults in its wake, unless just a little more credit fueled zombification will help. Many traders don’t expect the Fed to normalize its interest rates or reduce the size of its bond portfolio in any meaningful way, and the feeling is that we’re OK for a while, and everyone thinks they’re smart enough to know when the music is going to stop.

Many investors are bullish on stocks in the ninth year of a rally. Earnings will improve with future tax cuts and the liquidity spigot is still wide open, so it’s like a giant game of musical chairs. The attitude on the part of most investors is that they have to play while the Fed got the music going.

The Fed’s bombshell announcement; “a change in reinvestment policy would likely be appropriate later this year,” from the minutes of the Fed’s discussion at their March Meeting released Wednesday, showed near-unanimous support for the +25-bps rate hike to 0.875%, the second rate hike in three months. The group decided to keep signaling that future rate hikes would be gradual, and futures traders are giving 60% odds of a +25-bps rate hike to 1.125% at the June meeting. Traders are split on the likelihood of a rate hike to 1.375% by year’s end, with the Dec ’17 contract priced at an implied yield of 1.25%, or a 50% chance. The Fed has a major credibility flaw and traders are skeptical of their hawkish rhetoric.

Not so coincidentally, as the Fed Fund rate has been increasing, mortgage rates are falling. Why is that?  While increasing the Fed Funds rate makes it more expensive for the banks to borrow from the Fed, mortgage rates are based on the 10-year Treasury Note, which has been weakening since it’s peak in December and March. The 10-year Treasury Note is more responsive to changes in the dollar, and to global rate concerns.

Final Note

There’s always a possibility of unexpected, but, related, outside negative influence that can always act to disrupt even the most carefully positioned scenarios.

The Shanghai index has been locked in a tight range, also pretending to project a stable financial environment.  This has been accomplished with some degree of force, using involuntary means to prevent selling. It has even been illegal to sell stocks under some conditions.

In the event that the support range currently in play doesn’t hold, it could result in a wave of forced selling that could destabilize our markets as well.  I’ll be watching for any echoes that come in our direction.

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Weather Report – Interim – 04162017 April 15, 2017

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, markets, stocks.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Current Positions  (Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 100%; G (money market) – remainder

======================================================

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 04/14/17

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-3.43, -6.54, -1.94, -13.7

The absence in creating or changing positions since the election can be summed up by these two headlines, nearly five months apart.

November 9, 2016

There’s hope for the market under Trump

…..hope….

March 21, 2017

Stocks Plunge, Trump Trade Dies, Fed ‘Doesn’t Care’

….back to reality….

Technically, bonds are regaining strength, reversing the previous trends in interest rates.

Stocks have given up much of their gains built on the ‘hopes’ of healthcare reform, tax reform, relief in regulations, or, any of the political promises that fueled one more fluff-filled rally.  Optimism was enough to create this last opportunity.  It is not enough to sustain, or, incur any reasonable risk.

We know the prices, and the returns.  How do we evaluate the risks that come with appreciation?

Prof. Robert Shiller of Yale University invented the Schiller P/E to measure the market’s valuation. The Schiller P/E is a more reasonable market valuation indicator than the P/E ratio because it eliminates fluctuation of the ratio caused by the variation of profit margins during business cycles. This is similar to market valuation based on the ratio of total market cap over GDP, where the variation of profit margins does not play a role either.

At the market peak on March 1st, the S&P500 reached 2400.  At that point, this ratio was at 29.5.  The S&P500 is now at 2328.95, as of the close on Thursday, April 13th.  This places the current ratio at 28.8, or 71% higher than the historical mean of 16.8.  We are in the third most expensive market of the past 100 years!!!

There is simply no way to justify holding comfortable positions in U.S. equities at this point.

I will elaborate on these points in the next few days.

All of the pieces are in place for what appears to be a ‘final top’, or, at the very least, an extended, risk-filled churn to an insignificant new high, with an equal chance for measurable losses in the near-to-medium term.

10112016 October 11, 2016

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Current Positions  (No Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 75%; G (money market) – remainder

======================================================

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 10/11/16

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-5.35, +19.83, +8.88, -5.06

Some markets are designed to test the patience and limits of investors, with no gains, no losses, and more guessing and wondering.

For 14 weeks, since the date of the last report, dozens of markets worldwide have moved only slightly from their previous levels.

Tom Fitzpatrick is a top strategist at Citi and studies charts of trading patterns to forecast changes in the stock market.

When he and his team overlaid the current chart of the benchmark S&P 500 with the index in 1987 — right before the crash — they got “the chills.”

marketchartoftheday

  • There’s heightened concern about Europe and its banks. The UK has set a March 2017 date for when it will begin legal proceedings to exit the European Union, and Deutsche Bank failed to reach a swift deal that would lower its $14 billion fine with US authorities.
  • We’re in “the most polarizing US presidential election in modern times.”
  • More reports are circulating about central banks in Japan and Europe removing some of the economic stimulus they’ve provided by tapering their bond purchases. This is raising concerns about the efficacy of central bank policy around the world, Fitzpatrick said.
  • And finally, some peculiar market moves: a 16% move in oil prices within a week; a 20-basis-point shift in US 10-year yields in five days; and a $90 move in gold prices in nine days. The Chinese yuan and British pound have made massive moves in a short period of time, too.

The MSCI World Index is a broad global equity benchmark that represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed markets countries. It covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country.  This single index covers issues in the following countries: United States, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore.mcsi

On July 18, the last Weather Report date, the MSCI World Index was at 1703.93.  It closed on 10/10 at 1715.22, for a net change in nearly 3 months of  0.066%.

The dependence on Fed announcements, meetings, expectations, press events has become extreme.  This ‘screams’ to the absence of a market actually moving on fundamentals of either good or bad data.  Good data encourages.  Bad data implicates more Fed action and dependence.  This is the ‘no-win/no-loss’ short-term cycle, waiting on some major, unexpected event to finally ‘pop’ the complacency; the bubble.

Over the past several months the markets have consistently drifted from one Fed or Central Bank meeting to the next. Yet, with each meeting, the questions of stronger economic growth, rate hikes, and financial stability are passed off until the next meeting. So, we wait….until the next meeting…..and the next meeting…..and the next meeting.

Business channels are already starting their ‘countdown clocks’, now at 22 days, for the next meeting.  BIG YAWN!

Equity Markets – Long Term

The chart below shows the historic ‘topping’ patterns now in place.  What has in the past been a 1-2 year process of ‘topping’, followed by a severe correction, is now a 2-3(?) year process.  The lack of a downdraft, if you ignore the 8-10% pullbacks on October of ‘14, August ‘15, and January ‘16, have created a sense of calm by many who perceive little risk. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In each case, upside has still been limited to a level that is far smaller than the travel downward.  These are tests.  Those who fall asleep fully invested will find themselves rushing for the door a few days too late.

S&P500 July 18th: 2166.89; October 10th: 2163.66; Net Change:-3.23

sptop(We’ve been in this circle on the right for TWO YEARS!!)

In normal times, the S&P 500 Index should compound at 5.7% real return; so, the past five years have delivered roughly double what is normal. Getting double what you deserve (in isolation) should always make you nervous. Deceptively, these returns have only happened because of the combination of FED intervention, increasing margin debt, and stock buybacks, or, in summary, historic levels of financial engineering and borrowed money, from individuals, companies, and central banks.  This money must be repaid.

Market Fundamentals/Economy

medicorefundamentals

(***click chart for better view, press back button to return***)

 

Something smells funny.

That smell is what we call price/earnings (P/E) ratio multiple expansion. Rather than waiting for actual growth in earnings, the marketplace, over the past five years, has simply decided to pay more for earnings. Paying more for the same dollar of earnings is rarely wise and often foolish.

The chart below covers stock price to earnings ratios over the past 75 years.  One thing is clear; bull markets neither sustain themselves nor continue from these levels.

When you hear that ‘stocks are cheaper than they’ve been in 10 years’, keep this picture below in mind.  It most certainly is not true.

schillerratio

We’ve returned, once again, to the most expensive market levels in several generations. Markets are within a fraction of the valuations last seen before the last peak in late 2007. Even if some are willing, for no good reason, to chase prices higher, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be left holding the bag by those who choose not to do so.

The latest data from FactSet shows that S&P 500 companies spent $125.1 billion on share buybacks during the second quarter of 2016, the lowest figure in nearly three years:

sharebuybacks

Share buybacks have been one of the biggest drivers of US equity markets since the end of the financial crisis.

Between 2012 and 2015, US companies bought $1.7 trillion of their own stock, according to Goldman Sachs. Without these big purchases, US equity flows would have actually been negative by over $1 trillion during that period. Low interest rates have encouraged companies to take on debt, and much of it was used to buy back shares rather than investing in their underlying businesses.

Whether the latest cooling in share buybacks will continue or the larger trend will resume is unclear. If it’s the latter, I’d expect equity market volatility to increase in coming quarters.

Shorter term, the stock market appears to be stuck in neutral since July-August and the trading range is narrowing.  Some indexes show a coiling in a sideways triangle pattern, which says we’re going to get a strong move soon.

The month-to-month indecision shows a conflict between obvious central bank purchases for temporary support, and the reality of declining earnings, decreases in major asset purchases by the Fed (ended Oct. ’14),  European Central Bank (ending in Mar. ’17), and the Bank of Japan. (decreases not yet announced, but, expected)

Overall, more than $20 TRILLION dollars worldwide have created artificial buoyancy to world markets in the past 7 years.  It can’t go on forever, because the pace, methods and impact of ‘unwinding’ are not predictable.

These charts show different levels of resistance for different reasons.  Primarily, trend lines for each chart extend back into last year, and possibly before.

EuroStoxx 50 July 18th: 2949.17; October 10th: 3035.76; Net Change: +86.59

eurostoxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikkei 225  July 19th: 16723.31; October 10th: 16860; Net Change:+136.78

nikkei

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DJIA July 18th: 18533; October 10th: 18329; Net Change:-204

– Dow Industrials –  resistance at 18531, reflecting the May 2015 high.

djia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S&P500 July 18th: 2166.89; October 10th: 2163.66; Net Change:-3.23

– S&P500 – support at the May 2015 high of 2134, but, resistance at this year’s high of 2188

spx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasdaq 100 July 18th: 4619.78; October 10th: 4893.77; Net Change:+273.99

– Nasdaq 100 – resistance at 4887, stretching back to a line drawn from July & November 2015 highs

 

nasdaq100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russell 2000 July 18th: 1208; October 10th: 1251; Net Change:+43

– Russell 2000 – resistance between 1264 and 1294, against a rising trend line due to a rising channel

r2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– AGG (F Fund) – support near today’s low, longer support from the previous February 2016 high; more support just below at the September 9th low; reversal up possible

agg

 

 

 

 

 

EFA (I Fund) – range-bound, and with negative momentum

efaPrior to the most recent dip of about 2.5% on September 9th, the markets had traded in the 4th tightest range since 1928 for over 40 days, with no move on any day more than +/- 1% over the previous day.  That rather dramatic, all-day, September 9th sell-off was generated by Fed governor’s strong suggestions of a September rate hike, which ultimately did not happen.  With only one rate hike in the past 9 years(!), done last December, it is most irrational, thinking that a quarter point increase is nothing more than a mosquito bite in the long term scenario. This comes from decades of fearing a recession brought on by Fed rate hikes. The Fed has a gun with only 1 bullet, from last December’s rate hike. We are going to see a recession at some point in the next 18-24 months and the Fed is desperate to reload by adding some rate hikes to their arsenal. The higher the interest rate when we reach the next recession, the more times they will be able to cut to slow those recessionary forces. They only have one bullet today and it is scaring them because they see the long-term outlook.

The challenge is figuring out which way it is likely to break and then get in front of the move. The deception of a balance between an eventual breakout (up), and a breakdown (down) might find clues with this table.  It shows over 60% of these U.S. and European indices having more than a month since their last high, and/or, currently riding BELOW their 50 day averages.

The next table shows how a majority of market levels in the U. S. and Europe are, once again, looking backward from today at their highest levels.

The 50DMA represents the average of the last 50 days on a moving average basis.

They are in order from the oldest date of hitting their recent highest level.

50DMA Last High
Above Below 3 months ago
Dow Utilities x 7/7/16
Dow Composite x 7/11/16
Previous Weather Report 7/18/16
2 months ago
S&P500 x 8/9/16
Dow Industrials x 8/15/16
Russell 1000 x 8/15/16
S&P100 x 8/15/16
DAX – Berlin x 8/15/16
Russell 3000 x 8/23/16
1 month ago
S&P400 x 9/6/16
S&P600 x 9/6/16
American Comp x 9/6/16
Wilshire 5000 x 9/6/16
NY Composite x 9/7/16
CAC – Paris 9/8/16
Toronto x 9/11/16
Canadian Venture x 9/11/16
Nasdaq x 9/22/16
Nasdaq 100 x 9/22/16
Russell 2000 x 9/22/16
Dow Transportation x 10/3/16
FTSE (London) x 10/4/16

The longer the passage of time, the lower the likelihood of a continuation to higher levels, and the greater likelihood of stagnation, higher risk, and/or weakness/losses.

BREXIT Plus 90 Days

The initial market snap back in late June that accompanied the referendum was just a bit of ‘kicking the can’, given the reaction to the initial shock, leading to the long process involved from the vote to the execution.  Now, after the resignation of David Cameron, and the installation of Theresa May, it’s now time to get to work.

Now, the question is whether there will be a ‘soft’ (best case), or a ‘hard’ (worst case) BREXIT scenario!  There are too many variables involved for anyone to accurately project.

“It is in everyone’s interests for there to be a positive outcome to the negotiations that is mutually beneficial for the U.K. and the EU, causes minimum disruption to the industry and benefits customers,” said Miles Celic, chief executive officer of lobby group TheCityUK.

Adam Marshall, acting director general at the British Chambers of Commerce, said “in a period of historic change, business communities all across the U.K. need to feel supported, not alienated.”

May’s strategy amounts to a bet that voters’ opposition to immigration outweighs all else and that the economy will find support from easier fiscal policy, new trade deals emerge and banks don’t flee London, said Simon Tilford, deputy director at the Center for European Reform. The political payoff could be more support for her Conservatives at a time when the opposition Labour Party is in disarray.

“May wants to give the people what they want and thinks that the people voted for a hard Brexit and that the economic costs are exaggerated,” said Tilford. “A lot of this has to do with Conservative Party unity and she has a better chance of unifying the party going for a hard Brexit.”

Meanwhile, despite “Brexit,” weakening economic growth, declining profitability, terror attacks, Presidential election antics, and Deutsche Bank, the markets continue to cling to its bullish trend. Investors, like “Pavlov’s dogs,” have now been trained the Fed will always be there to bail out the markets. But then again, why shouldn’t they? The chart below shows this most clearly.  (***click chart for better view, then, press back button to return***)

feedclutter

Recession Indications

Several measures of the probability of a recession have recently appeared.

Existing home sales in August totaled 5.33mm, 120k less than expected and down from 5.38mm in July. This is the slowest pace of closings since February.

Unemployment – September’s jobs report contained a sign that investors should be on alert for a U.S. recession, judging by bond guru Jeff Gundlach’s favorite warning signs. (***click chart for better view, press back button to return***)gundlachrecession

During a panel discussion at the New York Historical Society back in May, the Doubleline Capital LP chief executive officer revealed that one of his top three recession indicators was when the unemployment rate breaches its 12-month moving average.

Over the past year, the trend in the unemployment rate has flipped from improving to deteriorating.

“This indicator is a necessary, but not sufficient, sign of a coming recession,” wrote Gundlach in an email to Bloomberg. “It is worth factoring into economic analysis but not a reason for sudden alarm.”
Auto Sales – The first is that while the ‘annualized’ reported sales number was near the highest in 10-years, the historical average of cars sold is still at levels below both previous peaks.  Secondly, and more importantly, is both previous peaks in total auto sales were preceded by a decline in the annual percentage change of cars sold.

autosales

In September, US commercial bankruptcy filings soared 38% from a year ago to 3,072, the 11th month in a row of year-over-year increases, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Commercial bankruptcy filings skyrocketed during the Financial Crisis and peaked in March 2010 at 9,004. Then they fell on a year-over-year basis. In March 2013, the year-over-year decline in filings reached 1,577. Filings continued to fall, but at a slower and slower pace, until November 2015, when for the first time since March 2010, bankruptcy filings rose year-over-year. That was the turning point. Note that there is no ‘plateauing’:”

bankruptcy

 

02082016 February 8, 2016

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Current Positions  (Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 75%; G (money market) – remainder

======================================================

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 2/8/16

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-2.98, +7.92, -62.99, -77.25

======================================================

(Friday from 3 Fridays ago; 2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago; 3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago; 4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

****The majority of this report was completed before the nearly 2% decline of today****

TSP

Here are images of where the respective TSP funds have positioned themselves, for the past year, with respect to the emerging appeal of ‘flight to safety’ of bond funds, and, in our case, the F fund.  Notice the rapidly rising risk of losses in any/all of the equity funds since the middle of last year (as I repeatedly used the high risk/low reward aspect).

S fund to F fund (small caps to bond fund)

FSEMX-AGG

You should only expect these aspects to remain as they are here for at least the next 4-10 quarters.   There will be no substantial, or long-term, impact from changes in Fed policy, as in the past.

I fund to F fund (international funds to bond fund)

EFA

Those techniques have run their course.  They have created a $4 trillion liability, known as the Fed balance sheet.  Even larger liabilities are either underway or already put in place in Europe and Japan.  These ‘freebie’ policies have short-term benefits and very long term consequences, which must be ‘unwound’ in some fashion that has yet to be determined.

C fund to F fund (S&P 500 to bond fund)

PEOPX-AGG

F fund proxy, AGG for comparison

AGGYEAR END SUMMARY

When the whistle blew at the close of trading Thursday, New Year’s Eve, the stock market finished a disappointing week and year, with both posting a nearly 1% loss. In light of the optimism that rang in 2015, there was little joy on Wall Street.

The annual drop was the first since 2008.  So much, too, for the traditional Santa Claus rally: Stocks fell 1.8% in December. In quiet, holiday-shortened trading in the final week, equities moved in lockstep with oil prices. Oil ended the year at $37.04 a barrel, down 3% in the final week, and off 31% for the year, not far from seven-year lows.  It’s now almost $6 per barrel lower after 6 weeks, or, -18.5% year to date, near twelve-year lows.

This is where major asset classes wound up at the end of December, end of the year, end of three years (annualized), and end of five years (annualized).

TotalReturns2015

For the week, the S&P 500 took its largest dive in a month, as investors blanched at weak economic data out of the U.S., including an uninspiring jobs report Friday. The S&P 500 tumbled 1.8% on Friday, with technology stocks leading the way down.

“The market is reacting to what it sees as rising recessionary risks,” said Jason Pride, the director of investment strategy at Glenmede.

Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 261 points, or 1.6%, to 16,204.97, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 60 points, or 3.1% to 1880.05. The Nasdaq tanked 251 points, or 5.4%, to 4363.14. LinkedIn (ticker: LNKD) led the index down, dropping 44% after releasing weak 2016 guidance.

Energy was “the” story in 2015, according to Jonathan Golub, chief equity strategist at RBC Capital Markets. The price of oil “significantly affected both its own sector and the rest of the market.” It’s no coincidence, he adds, that the market’s poor 2015 performance reflected weak growth in the S&P 500 index’s earnings per share.

OIL/COMMODITIES/DOLLAR/ECONOMY

We hear every day that low oil prices are good for the economy. U.S. consumers are saving billions from low gasoline prices. We also hear that low interest rates are great for the economy because it reduces borrowing costs for consumers and businesses. We have both low oil prices and low interest rates but the economy grew at only +0.7% in Q4 and jobs appear to be slowing. Why? Enquiring minds want to know.  You know the Fed is going crazy trying to figure out the answer.

Ironically, the world economy badly needs higher oil prices. The problem is that the world’s economy relies far more today on ’emerging’ countries that rely on oil sales, than 15 or 25 years ago – the last periods of ultra-low oil prices.  Most big emerging countries are heavily dependent on oil and other commodities, such as copper and iron ore. (Brazilian iron-ore miner Vale SA <VALE5.SA> said it will no longer pay a dividend to shareholders). Such economies now account for 42% of the world’s economic output, about double their share in 1990.  From Russia to Saudi Arabia, Nigeria to Brazil, economic growth is slowing down to a crawl and, in many cases, is contracting.

Citi helped spread some doom and gloom on Friday when strategist Jonathan Stubbs said the global economy seems trapped in a ‘death spiral’ that could lead to further weakness in oil prices, recession and a serious equity bear market.  He is definitely going for the scary headlines in this note.

He said the stronger dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade, petrodollar liquidity, weaker emerging markets and global growth, etc, could lead to “Oilmageddon,” a significant and “synchronized” global recession and modern-day bear market.

He did say that some analysts at Citi predicted the dollar would weaken in 2016 and oil prices would likely bottom. “The death spiral is in nobody’s interest. Rational behavior, most likely will prevail.”

So, release the report with scary headlines and then end it with “rational behavior, most likely will prevail.”  Hmmmm….

He did have one point right. The lack of a world economy floating on petrodollars is a very scary place. When oil was $100 every producing country was flush with dollars and they spent that money all around the world. This kept the global economy lubricated. With global producers now living on 30% of what they received two years ago, an entirely new dynamic is in place. These countries are broke and they are being forced to cancel/remove subsidies that kept their populations happy.

Gasoline for 20 cents a gallon is now 2-3 times that. Utility subsidies that kept electricity, gas and water flowing to poor citizens have been cancelled or reduced significantly. Government wages are being slashed, jobs cut, infrastructure projects cancelled, road maintenance postponed, etc. All of this is due to the 70% decline in oil prices. Hundreds of millions of people are living in countries where the current revenue can no longer support them in the manner in which they were accustomed.

It is no surprise that the global economy is slowing. There is a shortage of petrodollars to keep it lubricated.

This is not likely to change in the near future. Oil prices will rise in Q3/Q4 but it could be years before they return to a level where governments will be able to subsidize/support the population and economic activity like they did in the past.

Occidental Petroleum (OXY) reported last week that the all in cost for oil production in the Permian Basin in Texas was $22-$23 a barrel. Producers in that area can still make a few bucks on new production. However, that is the only area of the country that is profitable. Wood Mackenzie said 3.4 mbpd of global production was cash negative at $35 per Brent barrel. That means they actually lose money on every barrel produced.

Wood Mackenzie said not to expect many producers to actually shut in production. After factoring in the cost to shut off production, the cost to restart, the lost cash flow, negative or not and the danger to future production, prices would have to go a lot lower before producers would bite the bullet and shutdown the wells. When a well is shutdown, things happen underground. Producers spend millions of dollars to get oil to flow towards the pipe so it can be extracted. As long as that oil is flowing, it remains liquid. If production stops that oil can thicken and clog up the pores in the rock and when production is restarted, it may only be a fraction of what it was when it was halted. Wells need to continue running even if they are turned down to a very low rate just to keep the flows moving.

What the stock market is fighting is more evidence of a slowing economy, and not just in the U.S.  The global economy is slowing in unison (some faster than others) and this is the first time for this to occur since the 1930s.  This, of course, fits the general thesis that says we’ve been in a secular bear market since 2000 (since 1998 by measures other than price) and that the next cyclical bear within the secular bear could be a very painful move for those who hold long positions.

Further evidence of a global slowdown in the economy is what we see happening in the currency markets. Everyone is in a race to devalue their currencies in hopes of making their products cheaper for other countries to import. But with everyone doing it the only thing that’s been accomplished is a race to the bottom and a global devaluing of fiat currencies, which has created a deflationary cycle. That of course is what the central banks are trying to fight with their quantitative easing (QE) and zero interest rate policies (ZIRP)/negative interest rate policies (NIRP ) but each is negating the efforts of the other. In the past, as in the 1930s, this currency war tends to lead to very bad things between countries.

The Chairman of the OECD’s Review Committee, William White, wrote “We’re seeing true currency wars and everybody is doing it, and I have no idea where this is going to end. The global elastic has been stretched even further than it was in 2008 on the eve of the Great Recession. The excesses have reached almost every corner of the globe, and combined public/private debt is 20% of GDP higher today. We are holding a tiger by the tail.” We all know what happens when the tiger gets tired of us yanking on his tail.

The economic slowdown obviously affects businesses and we’re seeing that show up in the slowdown in earnings, which is making it more difficult to service the massive debts that they’ve taken on. Some of the debt has been for the development of new energy sources, such as the fracking. Think that debt might be in trouble. Much of the debt has been from companies borrowing heavily to buy back stock in an effort to boost earnings per share and hide the fact that actual earnings have been slowing. Again, a slowdown is now making it more difficult for those companies to service their debt and the slowdown is going to cause a double whammy to earnings.

STOCKS

020816Snapshot(Major indexes through last week)

The Fed keeps pinning their hopes on the employment picture but that picture is a lot dimmer than their simple observations of how people are employed (it’s part of their flawed economic models). The chart below is hard to read because I had to squish it to fit but basically it’s showing the inflation-adjusted price of SPX (on top) vs. the ratio of non-farm employment to part time employment. Each time the ratio has been in decline (meaning part time employment is becoming larger than non-farm (full) employment) we’ve been in a secular bear market. (Two-thirds of the jobs announced in last Friday’s jobs report were minimum wage jobs.) The dates of the first secular bear (pink band) is 1966-1982 and the second secular bear (pink band on the right) is from 1999. You can clearly see how the employment ratio has declined from its 1999 peak and since the 2009 low it hasn’t even recovered to the 2002 low. In other words, the employment picture remains weak but the

Fed feels it was strong enough to warrant a rate increase in December.

SPXAdj55-15

The chart above shows why it can’t be used as a timing tool but it does support why we’ve been in a secular bear, regardless of the new (non-inflation adjusted) price highs for the stock market in both 2007 and 2015. And if we’re still in the secular bear, as I’ve contended for many years, the new price highs into 2015 merely made the stock market more vulnerable to a market crash. Have we started that crash? It’s too early to tell but yes, I do believe we’ve started the next (and should be final) leg of the secular bear. But for those who think it’s a good idea to just sit tight and let the market recover after the decline, I think the recovery will be far slower than the one off the 2009 low. It could take a generation before prices recover back to the December highs.

MARGIN DEBT

A primary fuel for market progress, margin debt, now shows a peak in April, a month before market prices also peaked.  The last FOUR months have been below the 12-month moving average.  This is the first time since 2011 that this has happened.  That period coincides with a 20% decline in market prices around that point.

MarginDebtDec

08212015 Alert August 21, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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NO CHANGES FROM PREVIOUS ALLOCATION ANNOUNCEMENTS

This is the worst one week decline in the equity indexes since June of 2011.

The S&P500 is off approximately 4.2% from last Friday’s closing level.  Most indexes are now back to September and/or October levels. All major indexes are now negative year-to-date.

SPX08212015

While the financial news is using the backdrop of under-performance of the Chinese economy as an excuse, many signs were already being ignored.

  •  The Dow Theory, which compares the level of the Dow Industrials to the Dow Transportation index, had already issued a sell signal, due to divergence between the two;
  • The ‘death cross’ moving average pattern(s), where the 50-day moving average crosses from above to below the 200-day moving average, has already emerged on numerous markets, including, Dow Jones Industrial average, New York Stock Exchange composite average, Dow Jones Transportation index, the semiconductor sector, the London FTSE indexes, and is pending on several other major indexes;
  • The Dow Jones Industrial average is under it’s 320-day moving average
  • 27 stock markets around the world are already in severe declines
  • Divergences between high prices and very low actual trading volume had reached historic levels
  • Reports of isolated bright spots in the economy failed to provide enough perspective for good decisions; example – this week’s ‘8-year high’ in housing starts ignores the fact that the last 7 years have represented the lowest 7-year levels in the past 32 years; this 8-year high brings us back to the point of the declining 2007 housing starts level, and, the rising 1993 housing starts level. (see chart below)
  • HousingStarts

As expected, demand for the safety of the bond market, our F fund, had already started to increase since early June, with prices once again approaching the highs of the year, reached in February and April .

A more detailed report will be developed and posted as soon as the dust clears from this weeks’ pivotal activity, allowing easier assessments for future recommendations.

06302015 June 30, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Current Positions  (No Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 50%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 06/30/15

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-13.64, 5.33, 2.13, -12.8

(Today from 3 Fridays ago, 2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago, 3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago, 4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

In the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’, the character played by Bill Murray is a local TV newscaster who finds himself reliving the same day repeatedly, until he finds a way to make some improvements in his character.

Increasingly in the past three months, and for much of the past few years, the news finds itself rotating around the same two issues – (1) that which surrounds the probability of a Greek default and exit from the Eurozone/impact on the remaining Eurozone economies, and, (2) the prospect of the ‘lift-off’ from zero level interest rates by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and what impact that slight(!) rise in short-term rates might have on the psychology of the markets.  Both of these issues have created an ever increasing amount of lowered opportunity and higher risk for our TSP assets.  None of the categories in the TSP funds have created decent opportunities this year, without an abundance of risk to go along with any opportunity. There have been thousands of stories and articles on these two topics in the last few years.  These two topics will continue to dominate our news and market reactions, due to their broad reaching impacts and the fact that neither of these issues will be settled until many larger underlying issues are restructured, or, until the inescapable nature of world-wide debt obligations, and the impact of that debt on assets, is eventually resolved.

stats

(click to enlarge)

Equity markets around the world fell Monday on Greece’s apparent imminent default. Asian indices fell nearly -3% in a volatile day of trading, led by the Shanghai Composite. European indices fared no better; the DAX closed with a loss greater than -3.5% after hitting a low greater than -6% in intra-day action.  The Shanghai Composite is already in a heavily corrected mode, down as much as 20% from it’s June 11th high.

Our markets were not immune, with futures trading indicated an opening near -1% lower than last week’s closing prices and that did not moderate into the open. There was little data and few earnings reports to influence early morning action leaving the indices trading lower once the opening bell sounded. The early low was hit soon after the open, followed by a small bounce and then another intra-day low around 11:30. The morning low did not find support, selling continued throughout the day with the market hitting new lows more than once and leaving the indices at the lows at the end of the day.

After the -2.4% move on the NASDAQ, the S&P 500 made the next largest move and perhaps the one with the most notable visual impact. Monday’s action carried the index down -2.09% and created the largest one day drop for at least the last 12 months. Price action broke support levels at the short term moving average, 2090, 2080 and 2060 coming to rest just above 2050. Closing this week below 2060 could indicate a return to true bear market conditions. The indicators have rolled into a bearish territory and are pointing to lower prices so a test the 2050 level is likely. A break below this level, 2050, could carry the index down to the long term trend line near the 2000 level for a total correction near 7%. One thing hasn’t changed – ‘…stairs up….elevator down…’

SPX(click to enlarge)

From the last report in March, and into much of April, the S&P 500 had made no progress in a span of 70 days, in the area of 2090. For that first 70 days, the index closed at 2091.18, basically the exact same place it was on December 29, 2014. Since April, from 2090, the index has ranged from about 30 points higher, to about 30 points lower.  Today, it is at 2063. This is just the sixth time since the March 2009 bottom that Large Caps have stalled for a seventy-day period. Over the last 1,533 seventy-day periods, the average change was 4.35%.   In the chart below, it’s easy to see that the ranges from highs to lows is growing narrower over time, and has been for several years.

 

70-day

 

In the rotation index below, it can be seen that the trend favoring equities is getting weaker, for about a year, showing bursts of life for increasingly shorter periods.

 

Rotation

 

Below is the MSCI World index,  a stock market index of 1,631[1] ‘world’ stocks. It is maintained by MSCI Inc., formerly Morgan Stanley Capital International, and is used as a common benchmark for ‘world’ or ‘global’ stock funds. It has the strongest parallels to the C and I funds.

MCSI4Mo

Below is the same world index over the past 24 months

 

 

 

 

 

MCSI2Yr

Here is a year-to-date performance of the major US indexes, as of Monday, June 29th close.

(click to enlarge)

 

YTD

Greece has, again, dominated the news and the world markets lately, particularly this week, as it will next week.

Effectively, a June 30th due date for  a payment of under $2 billion is not going to be met.  The Greek prime minister backed away from negotiations last week, saying that the conditions before him would place too many burdens on the Greek population.  Capital controls for banks were announced during the Sunday overnight hours and sparked another round of protests. The news, not unexpected, comes on the eve of an apparent to default (the $1.7B) to the IMF.  There is also an additional $8.3 billion due to the EU and the ECB in July and August.  If Greece can’t pay $1.7B now, there is no need in ignoring the $8.3B that they can’t pay in July and August. Controls will keep banks closed for the next few days, limit the amount of ATM withdrawals by Greek citizens to 60 euros, prevent the transfer of money out of the country and large transactions to electronic means only.

Early Monday afternoon S&P lowered Greece’s credit rating to CCC- with negative outlook. They say a Greek exit from the Euro stands at 50% and that without changes a default is inevitable, likely to occur within the next 6 months. Later in the day Fitch downgraded the Greek banks to restricted default. Greece, or PM Tsipras at an rate, continues to snub creditors and is urging the people to vote no on a referendum to accept terms.  Over the last five years the Greek debt has been restructured to where the IMF, EU and ECB own 90% of it. The equivalent of a Greek bankruptcy should be relatively contained and not impact the rest of Europe. Draghi will dump several hundred billion euros of QE into the market and the Greek impact will only be a blip on the chart.  Here are the likely paths over the next month, in a nutshell. (click to enlarge)

Greek

 

Puerto Rico added a little downdraft to Monday’s sell-off. The governor of the heavily indebted island territory announced today, of all day’s, that the debt load was unpayable. The island needs debt restructuring and reforms, long overdue, and is not expecting to receive aid from the federal government.

 

Bonds

Our F-fund has taken a minor whipping most of the year.  This has been for issues that are out of the ordinary.  The demand has fallen for our bonds, along with a heavy increase in demand for German bonds, ever since European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced his intention, late last year, to commence U.S.-style quantitative easing, a debt-buying program aimed at keeping yields low and goosing the financial markets with liquidity.   Our bond prices have fallen, from sellers moving out of our 10-year bonds, and this reduces the prices of the F-fund (iShares Barclays Aggregate Bond Fund), as it also increases the interest rates of related U.S. debt instruments, like the 10-year treasury note.  The iShares have lost 3.6% since the high point of the year in early February.  I do not expect this condition to continue as the negative pressure continues to build in equities.  There has yet to be a ‘flight to safety’ into bonds, which benefits the F-fund, since the price pressures on equities/stocks has not yet reached a pressure point.  The additional pressure on bond yields in the Eurozone, tied to the Greek debt problems, has been an additional upward pressure on interest rates, in Europe and here in the U.S.  This will reach a tipping point and a quick reversal, as usual.

AGG

Even this ‘whipping’ has only amounted to about -3.6%.  This is why I don’t move in and out of bonds rapidly/frequently to avoid what are normally minor losses – losses that generally reverse within months under conditions of greater bond price stability/weakening fundamental economic conditions, conditions that never actually go away except over the very long term; we are in a chronically weak economic condition overall, with only brief glimmers of daylight.

03162015 March 16, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, gold, markets, oil, silver, stocks.
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Current Positions  (Slight Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 50%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 03/13/15

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-26.06, -13.71, +20.39, +49

(Today from 3 Fridays ago/2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago/3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago/4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

Another better-than-expected jobs report came out last week. This time, the stock market reacted negatively. The reasoning behind the drop is that this continued string of above-expectations jobs reports (this is currently the best sustained jobs trend in 15 years) is quickly raising the odds that the Fed will begin hiking rates at the June FOMC meeting.

Therefore, investors appear to be going through with withdrawal pains ahead of the FOMC announcement next Wednesday. This is premature and unwarranted since there is very little chance the Fed is going to make a material change before June and probably September. The Fed can’t withdraw stimulus by raising rates with the dollar surging nearly 1% per day. That would send the dollar into hyper drive and S&P earnings into the cellar.

Market Statistics

YTD03132015


Margin Debt

MarginDebt01 (click chart to expand in separate window)

Repeated/updated from the four previous reports, an accurate count of margin debt, or, levels of borrowed money at all brokerage firms for each month is carefully watched by the financial media.  It’s this combination of a) margin debt, b) Fed money loaned to investment banks (finished), and c) stock buybacks by corporations (no significant increases over last year) that have provided a vast majority of the power to the markets for much of the past 6 years. The result of margin debt figure through January is shown in the chart above, for comparison to all months of the past 4 years.  (The last two dots have been recorded since the last report)

Update – Notice that the peak in debt for the year, once again, has STILL not exceeded the February ‘14 high, after which the primary indexes channeled sideways, with no price appreciation, for 12 weeks. And, for the first time since 2011, the figure is below the average of the past 12 months.  At that previous decline below the 12-month average, the markets weakened significantly, and quickly, losing nearly 20% of it’s value within 6 weeks. For the past eleven months, the debt level has stalled under $466 million.  This STILL indicates that a primary source of fuel for the market (loans and borrowed money) has stalled and is not likely to resume.  When combined with the now missing portion of Fed stimulation through Quantitative Easing (QE), which ended on October 29th, this removed the bulk of what has sustained the markets back up to the peaks above and below the peaks of 2000 and 2007, depending on the index.

Not so coincident with the weakening trend in margin debt, the S&P celebrated its six-year anniversary of a ‘bull’ market this month. It is up over 200% during that period. Remember that this increase is measured from a 2009 level that had wiped out 12 years of gains.  This 200%, repeated quite frequently in the media, represents much of the same level gained from 1997 to the previous high in 2007, with a loss of over 50% from 2007 to 2009.   And, unfortunately this is the third strongest six-year gain since 1907. The other two times were in 1929 and 1999 and neither ended well. Both resulted in major market crashes.  The biggest difference between this increase and the first two is that only this one required trillions in ‘float’ from the Federal Reserve balance sheet that still has to be repaid, at some point stretching into the next decade.

(click chart to expand in separate window)

SP500-HistoricalRallies-Nominal-030815

The current rally of 154.08% is also the 6th longest in history and very close to becoming the 5th if it surpasses the rally from 1982 through the 1987 crash of 156.62%.

This data alone doesn’t mean much in isolation. It would be relatively easy to argue, according to the charts above, that the markets could go significantly higher from current levels. However, price data must be aligned to valuations.

At 27.85x current earning the markets are currently at valuation levels where previous bull markets have ended rather than continued. Furthermore, the markets have exceeded the pre-financial crisis peak of 27.65x earnings. If earnings continue to deteriorate, market valuations could rise rapidly even if prices remain stagnant.

While stock prices can certainly be driven much higher through global Central Bank’s ongoing interventions, the inability for the economic variables to “replay the tape” of the 80’s and 90’s is not likely. This dramatically increases the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. It is precisely that reversion that will likely create the “set up” necessary to start the next great secular bull market.

Funds

 (click chart to expand in separate window)

FundsJantoMar15

Fund positioning in the past two months has been difficult, at best.  Notice from the combined charts above of our primary funds, a miniscule loss on the F, to tiny gains on the C and S, to a more measurable gain on the riskiest fund at the moment, the I fund, a gain that is only attributable to the start of a quantitative easing program (QE), the same as which we have just finished last October.  Remember that the I fund and S funds were the weakest performers in the past 12-15 months. While there might be a presumption of gains or strength in the I fund, based upon this QE program initiation, the actual risk can be seen with the anticipation for the first few weeks, now followed by a corrective phase now underway that coincides with weakening in a broader cross-section of world financial markets, including ours.  The jury is still out on whether or not the QE will have a similar effect on European markets, due to their lack of singularity, as opposed to our more unified and somewhat redundant markets, where QE worked, for a while, and, diminished in impact over time.

It was a volatile week in the markets but the damage was muted. Short-term, last week’s price action was bearish. The cash S&P 500 both broke a prior week’s low and closed below the rising 20-day Moving Average for the first time in a month. This altered the bullish price structure. In addition, the market also closed well below the late December high of 2093.55 (WD Gann rule: Old price resistance, once it has been broken, becomes new price support). Despite two days out of the last six with -300 point Dow declines the Dow only gave up -197 for the week or -0.6%. That was the best performance of any large cap index. The Russell 2000 actually gained +1.2% for the week and that is the bright spot this weekend. Obviously the large cap indexes are suffering from dollar pressures where the impact of the dollar on the small caps is minimal.

For instance Hewlett Packard said they could lose $1.5 billion in 2015 because of the dollar and it has only strengthened since that warning. They could be up to a $2 billion loss before the quarter is over. Most small caps don’t even generate $2 billion in annual revenue. The difference in scale is the key. The earnings capacity of the small caps is not being harmed while the big caps are losing billions.

For instance, IBM gets 55% of its revenue overseas. Pfizer 66%, Wynn Resorts 72%, Applied Materials 78% and Phillip-Morris 99%. Even with active hedging programs a 26% increase in the dollar over the last 9 months is a dramatic difference. Companies earning money in euros, yuan or yen have seen their purchasing power drop considerably when products have to be purchased in dollars. In the case of companies like Hewlett Packard they can sell their products in foreign currencies after marking them up but then they have to convert those currencies back to dollars to bring the money home.

In theory we could just ignore the large cap stocks and concentrate only on small caps. Unfortunately the large caps control the major indexes and that is what represents the market. If someone asks you at dinner what the market did today you more than likely would not say the Russell 2000 gained 4 points. They would look at you like you said aliens visited the NYSE today. The market is represented to the public by the changes in the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq.

The S&P gave back -18 points for the week or -.86%. Given the big intra-day swings I feel fortunate it was only -18 points. The index bounced off the 100-day average at 2044 for the last four days without a breakdown. So far that support is holding and the 150-day at 2019 is untested. If you only look at the chart of the S&P it would appear that test of 2019 could come this week. However, if you look at the rebound in the Russell it suggests the S&P could rally into the FOMC meeting on expectations for no change in the post meeting statement.

When the S&P rallied on Thursday it came to a dead stop at 2065 which was resistance in January. With the three-day dip to 2040 and solid stop at 2065 that gives us our breakout targets for next week. A move outside either of those levels should give us market direction. I would not be surprised to see the 150-day average at 2019 to be tested.

Support 2019, 2040, resistance 2065, 2080.

SPX

At the low on Friday the Dow was down -265 points at 11:30. That makes the -145 at the close appear relatively tame. The Dow inexplicably rebounded off the 100-day average at 17,655 for the last three days. The Dow rarely honors any moving average but apparently somebody was watching last week and decided that was a decent place to put buy orders. Since very few people actually buy a Dow ETF that means somebody was buying Dow stocks. If we delve into this a little closer the answer appears. It was the three financial stocks, GS, AXP and JPM, that held up the Dow and kept it from falling under the 100-day. It was not that they powered the index higher but they did react positively to the banking stress test capital expenditure news and that kept the Dow from declining. United Health, Du Pont, Disney, Travelers and Verizon also contributed. They offset the obvious losers of Exxon, Chevron, GE, Visa and IBM.

When the Dow rebounded on Thursday’s short squeeze it came to an abrupt halt at 17,900 and resistance from January. This gives us our trading range for next week from 17,640 to 17,900. A move outside that range gives us market direction.

Dow

The Nasdaq lost -55 points or -1.1%. A funny thing happened on the Nasdaq. The decline came to a dead stop at old uptrend resistance at 4850. The index held up remarkably well and I think it could follow the Russell 2000 higher if the small caps continue their rebound next week. The Nasdaq chart is still in much better shape than the Dow and S&P and could be poised to return to the highs if the Fed makes no changes.

Apple quit going down and that was a major factor in the Nasdaq minimizing its losses. The other big caps were still bleeding points as you can see in the table below but Apple is the 800 pound gorilla and the post Apple Watch “sell the news” event knocked off $5 early in the week but remained flat the last three days.

Resistance 4900, 5000. Support 4850, 4730.

Compq

The Russell 2000 rebounded to close within 6 points of a new high on Thursday. Friday’s early decline was almost erased with only a -4 point loss to end -10 points from a new high. This is very bullish given the Dow and S&P losses on Friday. Per my comments above the lack of dollar impact on the small caps could make them the favorite of the investing class over the coming weeks. That does not mean they will soar while the rest of the indexes collapse but all things being equal if the big cap indexes are at least neutral the Russell could break out again. That could trigger buying in the bigger indexes.

Watch the Russell 200 closely next week. If the Fed does nothing the Russell could be the leading index. However, they would be hurt significantly by a change in Fed policy because they have a lot of debt and higher rates will hurt. Obviously nothing will change in the near future but a change in Fed policy will make investors more cautious well ahead of any rate hike.

Resistance 1242, support 1220, 1205.

RUT

Bonds/Interest Rates

Declining oil prices will likely continue to lower the consumer price index as well. Also known as the CPI, the inflation metric for the last two figures released on February 15th and March 13th showed a rate that is still falling under expectations. Inflation targets have been hard for the Federal Reserve to maintain and the drop in oil prices isn’t helping matters.

If inflation metrics can’t maintain high enough levels, that may force the Fed to refrain from raising interest rates later this year.

Morgan Stanley economist, Ellen Zentner, said the Fed will not raise rates until March 2016. She pointed out that for every 1% gain in the dollar it is the equivalent of a 14 basis point hike in rates because of the negative impact on the U.S. economy. The dollar is up +26.6% since May. That is the equivalent of a 3.72% hike in interest rates. While the Fed wants to raise rates the rapidly falling inflation and potential deflation risks simply point to the “data dependent” Fed being forced to wait on the sidelines. Zentner said even if the Fed does remove the word patient from the statement they are still not going to raise rates in 2015. They may remove the word just to create some volatility in the bond market and that will force real rates slightly higher without the Fed actually making a move. If they remove the word the equity market could have a tightening tantrum and the Fed has to consider that as well.

The building angst over the soaring dollar is finally translating into the equity market. With 45% of the S&P getting 50% of their earnings from overseas the dollar strength is going to be a major drag on Q1/Q2 earnings. Investors ignored this for the last several months but the daily decline in earnings estimates and the daily rise in the dollar has finally hit critical mass.

Dollar

In the ‘Art of War’, Sun Tzu said that ‘..the threat of an attack is almost as effective as the attack itself..’  The prospect of an interest rate hike in the US while the rest of the world is still easing catapulted the US cash US dollar index to a new eleven and a half year high.

At today’s high of 100.06, the 10 month and 4 day duration of the move from the 2014 low is the second-longest leg up since 1971. To match the record 11 month and 18 day run into the February 25, 1985 high, the greenback would have to post new highs on April 26.

On the monthly time-frame, the cash US dollar index has posted gains for eight-consecutive months. This is a record monthly winning streak.

Furthermore, the 27% rally from the May 8, 2014 low ties for second place as the largest leg up in history. It was bested only by the 30% advance off the March 1984 low.

The rising dollar continues to pressure oil and other commodities. The dollar index closed at 100.18 on Friday. That represents a 26.6% gain since May. This is almost unprecedented.

DollarDaily

DollarMonthly

The idiot light on investor dashboards is blinking red and warning of an impending crisis.

Market volatility has returned with back to back days of alternating three digit moves on the Dow and the 100-day average on the S&P acting like last ditch support. With 2.5 days left before the FOMC statement there was very little short covering ahead of the weekend.

Oil prices collapsed under the pressure of the dollar, rising inventories and a new U.S. production record. Falling oil prices helped drag equities lower and the $40 level for Crude could be hit next week.

Economic news did not help. The Producer Price Index (PPI) fell -0.5% for February after a -0.8% drop in the prior month. This is the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Expectations were for a +0.5% increase. For once it was not energy prices dragging down the index. Energy prices were unchanged thanks to that rebound in oil prices in February. It was a -1.6% decline in food prices that pushed the index lower. This comes after a -1.1% decline in January. How did this happen? Food prices almost never decline. You can thank the rising dollar pushing the prices of all commodities lower and slowing exports.

Core PPI, excluding food and energy, fell -0.5%. The headline PPI is now -0.7% lower than year ago levels and when compared to the +1.0% YoY in December it shows how fast prices are falling.

Not only is inflation nonexistent the risks of deflation have increased in recent months. There is almost zero chance the Fed is going to hike rates in the near future given the strong dollar and deflation risks.

Oil

LightCrude

Oil prices declined to $44.75 intraday and closing in on the January low of $43.58. Inventories rose 4.5 million barrels to another 8- year high at 448.9 million. Cushing storage rose to 51.5 million and just under the record of 51.9 million barrels. Active rigs declined another -67 to 1,125 and -806 below the September high of 1,931. Oil rigs declined -56 to 866 and -46% below the 1,609 high on October 10th. Baker Hughes is targeting a 50% decline as normal in a bear market so another -60 rigs if they are right. At the pace they are dropping I expect to be well below 800 active oil rigs. Active gas rigs declined another -11 to 257 and a new 18 year low.

Offshore rigs declined -3 to 48 and a multi-month low.

The conversation level over shrinking storage is reaching a crescendo. However, numerous energy analysts have come out over the last week saying there is 25-35% storage still available. The additional capacity is in the Houston area and in some tanks around the U.S. shale fields. That is like a driver looking for a 5 gallon gas can in Denver and having the service station attendant saying, “On the computer we have a dozen in Dallas.” If the storage is not where you need it then you still have a problem. With the futures delivery point at Cushing Oklahoma rapidly filling up the pipelines into Cushing will have to be turned off if/when capacity is reached. That means wells will have to shut down if the oil in the pipelines is not moving.

We could be 3-4 weeks away from a critical point for crude pricing. Refineries will come out of their maintenance cycle in early April and begin to produce summer blend gasoline ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the summer driving season. Until then we should continue to see inventories build. However, imports did decline about 600,000 bpd last week to 6.79 mbpd. Refiners may also be feeling the storage crunch and will have to cut back on imports in the weeks ahead.

Analysts are expecting the January low of $43.58 to be tested and most believe we will see $40 before March is over. If Cushing does halt or curtail the inflow of oil we could see the prices decline in a hurry.

Precious Metals

Also due to pressure from the rising dollar, gold and silver prices are also being slammed. Gold declined to $1,150 and a 3-month low. Silver has fallen back to January 2010 levels at $15.50 and the 2011 spike to $50 has been completely erased. The drop in silver has been due to the dollar but in silver’s case it also represents a decline in the global economy. Like copper, silver is used in electronics manufacturing and demand has declined as fewer large devices are sold and more phones and tablets with less silver and copper. About 25% of the silver mined today is non-economic. That means they are losing money on every ounce they sell but they have to keep the mines running at a minimum level to maintain operational capability.

Gold

Silver stockpiles are shrinking as the current mine production is less than demand. Eventually prices will rise in spite of the soaring dollar but until the global economy recovers I expect copper and silver to remain weak.

Silver

Copper

Forecasts

The Bloomberg ECO Surprise Index measures the number of economic data beats and misses in the USA economic forecasts. The index has fallen to its lowest level since 2009 when we were in the middle of the Great Recession. Forecasts have been missed by the largest majority in the last six years. The only major report to beat has been the payrolls. Everything else has been routinely missing the estimates and the market has been ignoring it. Citigroup has their own chart of economic misses by country. The U.S. is at the bottom of the list on that index as well. Both charts from Bloomberg.

(click charts to expand in separate window)

Missing

Dissapointed

The Atlanta Fed’s real time GDPNow forecast fell from +1.2% growth for Q1 to only +0.6% growth after the retail sales report on March 12th. How could the FOMC raise rates in these conditions?

AtlFedWe are less than 2 months away from the 3rd longest streak of gains without a 10% correction. The last correction was in 2011. If the S&P did crater again next week all the way down to 2,000 that would still be only a garden variety -5% dip like we have seen many times before in this bull market. It is not the end of the world. The S&P could easily retest that 2,000 level soon.

SPX-W

The rebound by the Russell might give some hope for next week but the market will remain headline driven ahead of the FOMC announcement on Wednesday. What happens after that event is entirely up to the Fed.

I expected a market decline after option expiration and the last two weeks may have been just a testing phase ahead of that event. With earnings declining, GDP revisions sinking, China weakening, oil prices potentially testing $40, retail sales and consumer confidence falling and Greece threatening to exit the EU again, it would not take much of a push by the Fed to crash the market. Hopefully they understand the box they are in.

Greece

The Greek government announced it was going to use cash belonging to pension funds and other public entities for its own use. The amendment submitted in parliament said “Cash reserves of pension funds and other public entities kept in the Bank of Greece deposit accounts can be fully invested in Greek sovereign notes. Pension funds and public entities will be able to claim damages from Greek state in case of overdue repayment or partial repayment. The finance minister said pension funds are not required to transfer their reserves to the Bank of Greece. At least not yet.

The Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said last week, “Greece is the most bankrupt country in the world and European leaders knew all along that Athens would never repay its debts.” Greek Prime Minister Tsipras said, “Greece can’t pretend its debt burden is sustainable.” Apparently the house of cards is about to crumble.

Very Important

The Debt Ceiling debate returns next week. The temporary reprieve on the $18 trillion debt ceiling expires and congress will have to deal with it in some form. Whenever this has happened in the recent past there has been numerous headlines and market volatility. With a new crop of republicans in office there is bound to be some grandstanding even if it is just temporary. President Obama is not likely to compromise since it is in his favor to have the republicans self destruct over the debt fight. There is not likely to be a Obama-GOP compromise and that means there will be some ugly headlines before the GOP caves in and extends the ceiling. This is just one more reason why other nations want to be freed from using the dollar for their trading. The uncertainty is a headache for them because they really don’t understand American politics.

This is a quadruple witching option expiration week. This happens four times a year and historically these produce bullish weeks for the Dow and S&P about 2 out of 3 times. Since 1983 the Nasdaq has posted 19 advances and 13 declines in the March week. However, the week after quadruple witching, especially in March, is typically negative.

Random Thoughts

On March 16th, 2004 the post Fed statement had the following sentences.

(Hat tip to Art Cashin)

The Committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth for the next few quarters to be roughly equal. The probability of an unwelcome fall in inflation has diminished in recent months and now appears almost equal to that of a rise in inflation. With inflation quite low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that it can be patient in removing its policy accommodation.

In the May 4th, 2004 statement the Fed said:

The FOMC decided today to keep its target for the federal funds rate at 1%.

The Committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth for the next few quarters are roughly equal. Similarly, the risks to the goal of price stability have moved into balance. At this juncture, with inflation low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that policy accommodation can be removed at a pace that is likely to be measured.

In the June 30th, 2004 statement the fed said:

The FOMC decided today to raise its target for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 1.25%.

Apparently the Fed reuses its prior language a lot and conditions could be shaping up for a repeat of that 2004 scenario. However, economic conditions are significantly worse than in 2004 and that should keep these statements from being repeated.

01122015 January 12, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, gold, markets, oil, silver, stocks.
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Current Positions  (Slight Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 50%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 01/08/15

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-9.74, +22, +2.88,1.26 (Today from 3 Fridays ago/2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago/3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago/4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

The seemingly-invincible US stock markets powered higher again last year, still directly fueled by the Fed’s epic quantitative-easing money creation.  But 2015 is shaping up to be radically different from the past couple years.  The Fed effectively abandoned the stock markets when it terminated its bond buying late last year.

So this year we will finally see if these lofty stock markets can remain afloat without the Fed.  But, let’s not ignore the fact that the $4 trillion added to the market over the past 5/6 years are still on the Fed balance sheet and are still providing artificial buoyancy that was NOT intended to end up in your pockets.  It’s called the ‘wealth effect’, not ‘wealth’.

Mainstream stock investors and speculators are certainly loving life these days.  The flagship S&P 500 stock index enjoyed an excellent 2014, climbing 11.4%.  And that followed 2013’s massive and amazing 29.6% blast higher!  The last couple years were truly extraordinary and record-breaking on many fronts, with the US stock markets essentially doing nothing but rally to an endless streak of new nominal (not inflation adjusted) ‘record’ highs. But, the Fed’s wildly-unprecedented balance-sheet growth of recent years is over.  2015 will actually be the first year since 2007 without any quantitative easing!    

                                   Funds End of Year Results

Here are the relative positions of the respective funds for last year.

************Equity Funds**********                ******Bond Fund*******

S Fund             I Fund          C Fund                       F Fund

+7.80%           -5.27%          +13.78%                  +6.73%

+/- F fund    +/- F fund      +/- F fund

+1.13%            -12.0%         +7.05%

What these end of year results never reflect are the degree of risk involved in generating these returns.  For example, an end of year return on the S fund of 7.8% ignores the -4.9% YTD returns that occurred in the S in February and, even the -4.05%  YTD returns as of late October.  The C fund had only yielded a 2.46% return YTD in early October.  The F fund yielded no negative returns all year, and, ironically, had yielded approximately half of the final return for the year exactly 6 months into the year.  In a bear market, even a bear market pretending to be a bull market, it’s ‘stairs up/elevator down’.  Knowing your risk is just as much a part of the game as knowing your reward. Only one of three equity funds measurably beat our bond fund for the year.

Here are the total 1 mo, 1 yr, 3 yr and 5 yr returns for a range of investments in world financial markets, including bond, commodity, precious metals markets as of 12/31/14.

ret.dec2014 Selected Market Stats for recent weeks, plus December, 2014 and 2013 MarketStats

So, what’s next?

(The following is repeated from a previous post – only this time, the party takes place in Europe) Imagine that it’s 4AM after a huge party. Many have gradually left (a) . All lights are still  on.  There are a couple of large groups still left, talking loudly and sipping on their final drinks. The bar is closed.  The crowds are so busy drinking and talking that they don’t notice that the band has played it’s last tune and has started packing up, all except the drummer, tapping a simple beat.  The room is being charged by the hour, so, there won’t be an announcer to tell anyone that it’s time to clear out; the meter is running.  Every 15 minutes, some guy named ‘Fed’(US), or, Mario Draghi (Europe) walks across the stage and tells everyone to hang around while he looks for another band. (It’s not coming.)  The groups cheer each time.  Outside, there are storms moving in.  Most attendees have anticipated the storm by leaving early (b). Those still there will either take their risks, driving through the storm (c), or, stay around to ‘ride it out’ (d).  In which group are you?  a, b, c or d?

In the US as well as in Europe, stocks skyrocketed on Thursday, as investors got excited about the letter.  In a January 6 letter to European Parliament member, Luke Ming Flanagan, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi offered another one of his trademark teasers about the possibility of an ECB-implemented, quantitative easing program.  In this case, the magic word was could: Should it become necessary to further address risks of too prolonged a period of low inflation, the Governing Council is unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments within its mandate. This may imply adjusting the size, pace and composition of the ECB’s measures. Such measures may entail the purchase of a variety of assets (?) one of which could be sovereign bonds, as mentioned in your letter.

This tactic never fails to work.  Whenever the European stock market slumps, all Mr. Draghi, or our Fed members, have to do is say that the ECB/the Fed might, or could, or may, or should implement a quantitative easing program – and stock prices skyrocket.  Nevertheless, in the real world, it is highly unlikely that the ECB would ever conduct a quantitative easing program because there are no Eurobonds for it to purchase.  Further, this week the European Court of Justice is scheduled to rule on the legality of quantitative easing on Wednesday, January 14th, which could throw a wrench into the ECB plans.

The president of the ECB and the chief of the Federal Reserve are both reading from the same, flawed playbook.  When the financial markets appear ready to swoon, they just walk across the stage and tell everyone that they’re ‘looking for another band’; so, investors, please leave your money in the market and wait, until you stop believing that the band is coming, or, until you start to suffer losses that you cannot endure.

But, if markets are such great value, why would Warren Buffett now be sitting on a record amount of cash?

At the end of 2007, his firm, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A), was sitting on $44 billion in cash.  Berkshire’s cash balance was down to a more reasonable $25 billion by the end of 2008 after acquiring partial stakes in several blue chips firms such as General Electric and Goldman Sachs. As Bloomberg News noted in October 2013 , Buffett “likes to keep $20 billion on hand should the reinsurance operations need to pay large claims.” If Buffett thought he was sitting on too much cash seven years ago, before his GE and Goldman Sachs purchases, his troubles have grown larger now.  At the end of Q2 2014, Berkshire Hathaway held $55 billion in cash and investments — a company record. If Warren Buffett is not fully invested and holding cash, why should you be fully invested? Could it be that Warren Buffett knows something, among other things, that this chart I’ve kept up all year is telling him? MarginDebtNov

Repeated/updated from the three previous reports, an accurate count of margin debt, or, levels of borrowed money at all brokerage firms for each month is carefully watched by the financial media.  It’s this combination of a) margin debt, b) Fed money loaned to investment banks (finished), and c) stock buybacks by corporations (slight decline over last year) that have provided a vast majority of the power to the markets for much of the past 5/6 years. The result of margin debt figure through November is shown in the chart above, for comparison to all months of the past 3.5 years.  (I’ll have the December figure in 2 weeks.)

Update – Notice that the peak in debt for the year, once again, has STILL not exceeded the February high, after which the primary indexes channeled sideways, with no price appreciation, for 12 weeks. For the past eleven months, the debt level has stalled under $466 million.  This STILL indicates that a primary source of fuel for the market (loans and borrowed money) has stalled and is not likely to resume.  When combined with the now missing portion of Fed stimulation through Quantitative Easing (QE), which ended on October 29th, this removed the bulk of what has sustained the markets back up to the peaks above and below the peaks of 2000 and 2007, depending on the index.

Where do the experts think the market is headed this year?

Here are the current forecasts by major bank analysts for end-of-year S&P 500 levels.

(the S&P 500 closed at 2058.9 on 12/31/14, and is already slightly negative for the year)

-10.75% – 1850 – David Bianco, Deutsche Bank: S&P: EPS: $119.00

-7.72% – 1900 – Brian Belski, BMO: S&P: EPS: $116.00

-7.72%1900 – Barry Knapp, Barclays: S&P: EPS: $119.00

-7.72% – 1900 – David Kostin, Goldman Sachs: S&P: EPS: $116.00

-6.5% – 1925 – Michael Kurtz, Nomura: S&P: EPS: $112.50

-5.29%  – 1950 – Sean Darby, Jefferies: S&P: EPS: $121.00

-5.29% – 1950 – Jonathan Golub, RBC: S&P: EPS: $119.00

-5.29% – 1950 – Julian Emanuel, UBS: S&P: EPS: $116.00

-4.8% – 1960 – Andrew Garthwaite, Credit Suisse: S&P: EPS: $115.90

-4.07% – 1975 – Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup: S&P: EPS: $117.50

-2.86% – 2000 – Savita Subramanian, Bank of America: S&P: EPS: $118.00

-2.18% – 2014 – Adam Parker, Morgan Stanley: S&P: EPS: $116.00

-2.18% – 2014 – John Stoltzfus, Oppenheimer: S&P: EPS: $115.00

+0.78% – 2014 – Tom Lee, JP Morgan: S&P: EPS: $120.00

The average expected return from these major investment banks for 2015 is -5.11%.

And, keep in mind this is measured on what was the strongest of several markets covering US stocks.  Other US exchanges did not perform nearly as well in 2014 as the S&P 500 (refer to ‘Selected Market Stats’ above.)

With all due respect to these recent returns, such anomalously-one-sided stock markets naturally bred the extreme euphoria universally evident today.  Greedy traders have totally forgotten the endlessly-cyclical nature of stock-market history, where bear markets always follow bulls.  They’ve convinced themselves that these stock markets can keep on magically levitating indefinitely, that major sell-offs of any magnitude are no longer a threat worth considering. But extrapolating that incredible upside action of 2013 and 2014 into the future is supremely irrational, because its drivers have vanished. The past couple years’ mammoth stock-market rally was completely artificial, the product of central-bank market manipulation.  The Federal Reserve not only created vast sums of new money out of thin air to monetize bonds, but it aggressively jawboned the stock markets higher.

Virtually every time the Fed made a decision, or its high officials opened their mouths, the implication was being made that it wouldn’t tolerate any material stock-market sell-off.  The Fed kept saying that it was ready to ramp up quantitative easing if necessary.  Stock traders understood this exactly the way the Fed intended, assuming the American central bank was effectively backstopping the US stock markets! But, the bottom line is the Fed has abandoned the stock markets.  The powerful rallies of  2013 and 2014 were driven by extreme Fed money printing to buy up bonds.

But with QE3’s new buying terminated and any QE4 a political impossibility with the new Republican Congress, 2015 is going to look vastly different.  A shrinking Fed balance sheet sparked major corrections even from far lower and cheaper stock levels.

The domestic stock market cannot deliver a sustainable double-digit return without entering a speculative bubble, based on historical data reflecting correlations between the level of the Shiller P/E and subsequent outcomes in the stock market over the past 134 years.  Conditions are ripe for a speculative bubble in the domestic stock market in 2015, and investors should reduce risk in their portfolios in stages during the coming year. Investors should expect below-average returns from the domestic stock market over the next five to 10 years.  Indeed, to expect anything more than mid-single digits requires an assumption that stocks will enter a speculative bubble.  The reason is excessive valuation.

From today’s valuation level the only way to sustain significant upside is to assume a future valuation multiple that would put the stock market into bubble territory. The S&P 500 Index was recently trading at a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (p/e) ratio, or “CAPE” of 27.3, meaning the stock market is priced at more than 27 times the 10-year average earnings of the underlying companies in the index.  This is highly unusual.  Out of 1,608 monthly observations between January 1881 and December 2014, the CAPE for the U.S. stock market has measured 27 or higher just 88 times. That is a frequency of only 5.5% throughout this 134-year period. CAPERatioBlending several forecasts together we get a 0.89% annual return forecast for the stock market over the coming decade. A straight comparison to 10-year treasuries at 2.2% shows them to be the more attractive of the two asset classes right now. Even 5-year treasuries are paying 1.6%, nearly double our model’s forecast.* All in all, this looks to be the second worst time to own equities in history.

Still, the stock market’s uptrend remains intact as all of the major indexes currently trade above their 200-day moving averages. But as I’ve noted recently, there are plenty of signs that the trend is not as healthy as bulls would hope. The advance/decline line, new highs-new lows and the percentage of stocks trading above their 200-day moving averages are all diverging fairly dramatically from the new highs recently set in the indexes. This is a serious red flag.

And now that our market cap-to-GDP and household equities indicators have possibly peaked, along with high-yield spreads (inverted), margin debt (shown on my chart above) and corporate profit margins, there seems to be a very good possibility that the uptrend could be tested in short order.  In fact, when I go back and look at the times when all of these indicators peaked around the same time over the past 15 years or so, they coincide pretty neatly with the major stock market peaks: StockMarketPeak   MarginDebtPeak So the uptrend may still be intact but I think we have a plethora (yes, a plethora) of evidence that suggests its days may be numbered. Foreign equities have mostly given up their uptrends over the past few months, demonstrated in the negative return of our I fund, and commodities, led by the oil crash, look even uglier.  Precious metals, a refuge, have held up surprisingly on a rising channel going back 10-15 years.  How much longer can the US stock market swim against the tide?

Bonds

My exit from the F fund in early October was timely, since the price level fell immediately afterward, by about 1%, and only barely exceeded above that exit point by year-end. The weakness in equities after the fake ‘Santa rally’ showed a corresponding strength in bonds, and, another increase in F fund prices.  Current levels are about ¾% higher than that October exit. This trend is expected to continue with the failure of additional strength in equities.  More importantly, any significant breakdown in equities would translate into an immediate transfer from stocks to bonds, and further strengthening in the F fund.

FFund

Oil

The reason oil prices started sliding in June can be explained by record growth in US production, sputtering demand from Europe and China, and an unwind of the Middle East geopolitical risk premium.

The world oil market, which consumes 92 million barrels a day, currently has one million barrels more than it needs. The US pumped 8.97 million barrels a day by the end of October (the highest since 1985) thanks partly to increases in shale-oil output which accounts for 5 million barrels a day.  Libya’s production has recovered from 200,000 barrels a day in April to 900,000 barrels a day, while war hasn’t stopped production in Iraq and output there has risen to an all-time high level of 3.3 million barrels per day. The IMF, meanwhile, has cut its projection for global growth in 2014 for the third time this year to 3.3%. This year, it still expects growth to pick up again, but only slightly.

Everyone believes that the oil-price decline is temporary. It is assumed that once oil prices plummet, the process is much more likely to be self-stabilizing than destabilizing. As the theory goes, once demand drops, price follows, and leveraged high-cost producers shut production. Eventually, supply falls to match demand and price stabilizes. When demand recovers, so does price, and marginal production returns to meet rising demand. Prices then stabilize at a higher level as supply and demand become more balanced. It has been well-said that: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.

But, in practice, there is.” For the classic model to hold true in oil’s case, the market must correctly anticipate the equalizing role of price in the presence of supply/demand imbalances. By 2020, we see oil demand realistically rising to no more than 95 million barrels a day. North American oil consumption has been in a structural decline, whereas the European economy is expected to remain lackluster. Risks to the Chinese economy are tilted to the downside and we find no reason to anticipate a positive growth surprise. This limits the potential for growth in oil demand and leads us to believe global oil prices will struggle to rebound to their previous levels.

The International Energy Agency says we could soon hit “peak oil demand”, due to cheaper fuel alternatives, environmental concerns, and improving oil efficiency. The oil market will remain well supplied, even at lower prices. We believe incremental oil demand through 2020 can be met with rising output in Libya, Iraq and Iran. We expect production in Libya to return to the level prior to the civil war, adding at least 600,000 barrels a day to world supply. Big investments in Iraq’s oil industry should pay off too with production rising an extra 1.5-2 million barrels a day over the next five years. We also believe the American-Iranian détente is serious, and that sooner or later both parties will agree to terms and reach a definitive agreement. This will eventually lead to more oil supply coming to the market from Iran, further depressing prices in the “new oil normal”. Iranian oil production has fallen from 4 million barrels a day in 2008 to 2.8 million today, which we would expect to fully recover once international relations normalize. In sum, we see the potential for supply to increase by nearly 4 million barrels a day at the lowest marginal cost, which should be enough to offset output cuts from marginal players in a sluggish world economy. OilSome analysis leads us to conclude that the price of oil is unlikely to average $100 again for the remaining decade.

Normally, falling oil prices would be expected to boost global growth. Ed Morse of Citigroup estimates lower oil prices provide a stimulus of as much as $1.1 trillion to global economies by lowering the cost of fuels and other commodities.  And, unfortunately, another downside to falling prices are related to high levels of junk-bond financing to increase the drilling infrastructure.  Therefore, due to falling prices and the resulting closing of drilling rigs with higher operating costs, many of these bonds will fail, putting pressure on other related assets that are dependent on them.  This could very well provide the catalyst to a stock sell-off, without warning.

Per-capita oil consumption in the US is among the highest in the world so the fall in energy prices raises purchasing power compared to most other major economies. The US consumer stands to benefit from cheaper heating oil and materially lower gasoline prices. It is estimated that the average household consumes 1,200 gallons of gasoline a year, which translates to annual savings of $120 for every 10-cent drop in the price of gasoline.

According to Ethan Harris of Bank of America Merrill Lynch: “Consumers will likely respond quickly to the saving in energy costs. Many families live “hand to mouth”, spending whatever income is available. The Survey of Consumer Finances found that 47% of families had no savings in 2013, up from 44% in the more healthy 2004 economy. Over time, energy costs have become a much bigger part of budgets for low income families. In 2012, families with income below $50,000 spent an average of 21.4% of their income on energy. This is almost double the share in 2001, and it is almost triple the share for families with income above $50,000.” The “new oil normal” will see a wealth transfer from Middle East sovereigns (savers) to leveraged US consumers (spenders).

The consumer windfall from lower oil prices is almost matched by the loss to oil producers. Even though the price of oil has plummeted, the cost of finding it has not.  The oil industry has moved into a higher-cost paradigm and continues to spend significantly more money every year without any meaningful growth in total production. Global crude-only output seems to have plateaued in the mid-70 million barrels a day range. The production capacity of 75% of the world’s oilfields is declining by around 6% per year, so the industry requires up to 4 million barrels per day of new capacity just to hold production steady. This has proven to be very difficult.

Analysts at consulting firm EY estimate that out of the 163 upstream mega-projects currently being bankrolled (worth a combined $1.1 trillion), a majority over budget and behind schedule. Large energy companies are sitting on a great deal of cash which cushions the blow from a weak pricing environment in the short-term. It is still important to keep in mind, however, that most big oil projects have been planned around the notion that oil would stay above $100, which no longer seems likely.

The Economist reports that: “The industry is cutting back on some mega-projects, particularly those in the Arctic region, deepwater prospects and others that present technical challenges. Shell recently said it would again delay its Alaska exploration project, thanks to a combination of regulatory hurdles and technological challenges. The $10 billion Rosebank project in Britain’s North Sea, a joint venture between Chevron of the United States and OMV of Austria, is on hold and set to stay that way unless prices recover. And BP says it is “reviewing” its plans for Mad Dog Phase 2, a deepwater exploration project in the Gulf of Mexico. Statoil’s vast Johan Castberg project in the Barents Sea is in limbo as the Norwegian firm and its partners try to rein in spiralling costs; Statoil is expected to cut up to 1,500 jobs this year.

And then there is Kazakhstan’s giant Kashagan project, which thanks to huge cost overruns, lengthy delays and weak oil prices may not be viable for years. Even before the latest fall in oil prices, Shell said its capital spending would be about 20% lower this year than last; Hess will spend about 15% less; and Exxon Mobil and Chevron are making cuts of 5-6%.” Based on analysis by Steven Kopits of Douglas-Westwood: “The vast majority of public oil and gas companies require oil prices of over $100 to achieve positive free cash flow under current capex and dividend programs. Nearly half of the industry needs more than $120. The 4th quartile, where most US E&Ps cluster, needs $130 or more.” As energy companies have gotten used to Brent averaging $110 for the last three years, we believe management teams will be very slow to adjust to the “new oil normal”. They will start by cutting capital spending (the quickest and easiest decision to take), then divesting non-core assets (as access to cheap financing becomes more difficult), and eventually, be forced to take write-downs on assets and projects that are no longer feasible.

The whole adjustment process could take two years or longer, and will accelerate only once CEOs stop thinking the price of oil is going to go back up. A similar phenomenon happened in North America’s natural gas market a couple of years ago. This has vast implications for America’s shale industry. The past five years have seen the budding energy renaissance attract billions of dollars in fixed investment and generate tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. The success of shale has been a major tailwind for the US economy, and its output has been a significant contributor to the improvement in the trade deficit. We believe a sustained drop in the price of oil will slow US shale investment and production growth rates. As much as 50% of shale oil is uneconomic at current prices, and the big unknown factor is the amount of debt that has been incurred by cashflow negative companies to develop resources which will soon become unprofitable at much lower prices.

Robert McNally, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush and president of the Rapidan Group energy consultancy, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia “will accept a price decline necessary to sweat whatever supply cuts are needed to balance the market out of the US shale oil sector.”

Even legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens believes Saudi Arabia is in a stand-off with US drillers and frackers to “see how the shale boys are going to stand up to a cheaper price.” Prices will have to fall much further though to curb new investment and discourage US production of shale oil. The breakeven point for most shale oil plays has been falling as productivity per well is improving and companies have refined their fracking techniques. The median North American shale development needs an oil price of $57-64 to break even today, compared to $70 last year according to research firm IHS.

Type Average Cost Per Barrel
OnShore Middle East $29
OffShore Shelf $43
Deepwater $53
OnShore Russia $54
Onshore Row $55
North American Shale $62
Oil Sands $74

While it’s not universally believed that Saudi Arabia engineered the latest swoon in oil prices, it would be foolish not to expect them to take advantage of the new market reality. If we are entering a “new oil normal” where the oil price range may move structurally lower in the coming years, wouldn’t you want to maximise your profits today, when prices are still elevated? If, at the same time, you can drive out fringe production sources from the market, and tip the balance in MENA geopolitics (by hurting Russia and Iran), wouldn’t it be worth it? The Kingdom has a long history of using oil to meet political and economic ends.

10212014 October 21, 2014

Posted by easterntiger in economy, financial, markets, silver, stocks.
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Weather Report Update 10212014

Current Positions  (CHANGES) I(Intl) – 10%; S(Small Cap) – up to 10%; C(S&P) –up to 25%

F(bonds) – no change; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 10/17/14

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-31.9, -42.66,  -2.82, -5.09

(Yesterday from 3 Fridays ago/2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago/3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago/4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

The partial exit from the F fund last week was warranted, as interest rates hit an ‘exhaustion’ low before rebounding.  This offered the opportunity to hold on to F fund profits at or near the highest prices of the year.  (top to bottom C fund, S fund, I fund, & F fund, since May, with S&P 500 superimposed in thick gray background; maps to C fund)

C

S

I

F

Now that the indexes are back from just above or below zero for the year, there is every incentive to raise them back to between 3-8% before the end of the year. This will coincide with optimism leading into the Fed meeting at the end of the month, seasonal strength approaching Thanksgiving, the shopping season, etc., also known as the ‘Santa rally’, the usual medicine to raise the consumer mood to encourage spending during the season.  69% of the economy is driven by consumer spending.  The historical record of strength into the end of the year is somewhat reliable, particularly after a weak September and October.  A partial entry into equity funds, near some of the lowest levels of the year, is a safe way to participate in the year end support, while still considering the risks surrounding the October 29th Fed meeting.  A final ‘signal’ won’t occur until after that meeting. This exhausts our two intra-fund moves for the month, unfortunately.  For safety, an emergency exit to G is still allowed.  We’ll know whether or not to reduce or to increase these positions early in November.

The ‘depth readings’ are similar to those after the February decline, about a 6% loss, after which levels retraced over the next two months about 7%, most of which occurred in about 4 weeks.

Last week, the I fund fell to it’s lowest levels of the year, -7.45% year to date. The S fund fell as low as -3.65% year to date, only 1.25% over it’s low established in February.  The C fund stayed on the plus side by just over 2% year to date, setting it’s lows for the year earlier in the year at -5.66% year to date in February and -1.17% year to date in April.  In essence, the S&P 500 was riskier early in the year, while the small caps and international funds have become riskier as the year has progressed. So much for the idea that we can treat all categories of equities as having equal opportunities or equal risks. The opportunities and risks vary and cannot be ‘sensed’ by occasionally checking price levels, or, casually observing your personal account statements, after the fact, several times a year.  Meanwhile, the F fund found it’s highs for the year last week, near 7% year to date, as the ‘flight to quality’ in bonds absorbed the same capital that shifted from equities of all categories.  After a brief pause between now and year end, this is expected to resume in the 1st quarter.

Positive

  • Weekly indicators flattened this week, showing short-term support.
  • Sales/purchase ratio by insiders dropped from over 50:1 down to 16:1, reflecting a slightly stronger, but, still negatively-biased intention to increase near-term buying, or, to decrease levels of near-term selling
  • New Highs over New Lows reached a 2-month high last Thursday and Friday.
  • The ‘fear’ or volatility indexes reached their highs in 3 years last week. These highs frequently represent short-term market bottoms.
  • The S&P100 has not been this far below the 40-week moving average since November 2012, a previous buy point, rising 7% by that year’s end.

Negative

  • As large as recent rebounds appear, we are still down lower than levels of Friday, October 10th, except on the S fund, where upward momentum is also slowing first.
  • Numerous support zones were broken in the past two weeks and must now be treated as resistance over the next few weeks.
  • ‘Smart money’ still has some positioning as if they expect future declines, with heavy hedging toward downside expectations over the next few months.
  • The level of buy signals on individual stocks are among the lowest levels of the year
  • April lows were broken on the Russell 3000; August lows were broken on the S&P  500 and NASDAQ 100
  • A 1300 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrials avearge in less than two months has not occurred since July/August 2011, near the end of the traditional weak season occurring this far from a market bottom, as in March 2009, carries significantly more weight, projecting a greater likelihood of weakness beyond any near-term ‘bounce’. The last time before that was at the 2007 market top.

Short-term, sixteen key industries have an average potential upside of 10%, based upon measuring against the current lower levels against both recent highs and their 50-day averages. These industries include oil services, pharmaceuticals, networking, airlines, semiconductors, disk drive manufacturers, transportation, computer hardware, banks, broker/dealers, retail, biotech, real estate investment trusts and insurance.
The oversold condition of the silver market ranks 5th in history in terms of the time to reach this point (3 years, 5 months, 8 days), and, 4th in history in terms of the percentage decline (66% from the most recent high).  These traits strongly suggest that only a low probability exists for a further concern for lower prices.  Statistically and historically, this should be seen as a prime buying point with regard to the likelihood for appreciation on any current purchases.

07182014 July 18, 2014

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, gold, markets, oil, silver, stocks.
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Weather Report 07182014

Current Positions  (No Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 80%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 7/17/14

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-2.7,-0.5, +14.7, +4.87

(Today from 3 Fridays ago/2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago/3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago/4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

Margin debt reversal

As I mentioned in the previous interim report, an accurate count of margin debt, or,  levels of borrowed money at all brokerage firms for the month of May, was carefully watched by the financial media.  It’s this combination of a) margin debt, b) Fed money loaned to investment banks (declining), and c) stock buybacks by corporations (declining) that have provided a vast majority of the power to the markets for much of the past 5 years. The result of the May margin debt figure is shown in the following chart, for comparison to all months of the past 3.5 years.

MarginDebt052014

Even though the May level was slightly higher, I measured the 12-month moving average (red line) above and subtracted the monthly levels from the average to derive the black line below, for the trend. Historically, there is significance in the level crossing the 12-month moving average, and, not just whether the level is higher or lower than the previous month. In fact, this current level compared to the 12-month moving average is very similar to the same point in 2011 before the market significantly weakened.

Still, this represents 2 out of the past 3 monthly declines in the level of margin debt continues to confirm, for only the third time in 14 years, that the market has met a significant top or ceiling, in preparation for a downturn for the next 18-36 months, and, therefore, has no further ‘fuel’ for anything other than extremely high risk exposure.  The previous two times that margin debt was in this current flattening/declining pattern, in 2000 and 2007, market losses were over 40% from the 2000 top to the 2003 bottom and over 50% from the 2007 top to the 2009 bottom. I annotated a flattening in May that is very similar to the flattening that occurred after a peak in 2011. The 2011 pause (red dots on the left), similar to the May pause (red dots on the right), was followed by an abrupt decline in all of the stock indexes. This is not a guarantee of a similar impact. This is a statement that conditions exist for even more risky conditions for any exposed positions in C, I or S funds. F fund will be used as a refuge for funds leaving stock positions.

With much of the major markets combining between negative, near unchanged, to slightly positive through much of May, the bulk of recently added upside in market levels is primarily due to central bank related events in June, the first from the European Central Bank (ECB), led by Mario Draghi, (June 5th) and the second from the Federal Reserve Bank Open Market Committee, (June 16th) led by Janet Yellen. These meetings are always full of language that can be interpreted either as boosts, drags, or contrary to positions already in place by traders.

REMEMBER – traders exiting/closing downward bets actually make the market move up!!!

Why?

They ‘sell’ (collect premium) to enter the position, then, they ‘buy’ to exit the position. Their hope is to buy back at cheaper levels than where they sold!! Don’t be fooled by rising markets, by assuming that rising prices automatically equal positive momentum.

GDP Shock

The final estimate of 1st quarter GDP came in at -2.9%. This is a fairly shocking number; this is recession territory. In defiance of reality, some experts still maintain that we will grow 3% 2nd quarter. That would give us a flat 1st half. If you continue that growth at 3%, that would be 1.5% for the year; that would be the worst since 2001. This 1st quarter was the worst since the depths of the great recession in 2009. This is not a great economy. This is not a good economy. Consumer spending is not picking up. ⅔ of new jobs created are part-time jobs.

And, in contrast to those ‘experts’, OECD sees growth at 2.5% this year, 3.5% next year. That optimistic level would be the strongest growth since 2004 (what were they saying last year). The World Bank recently cut 2014 global economic growth estimate to 2.8% from 3.2%; they predict US growth at 2.1% versus the prior estimate of 2.8%. It seems to appear, repeatedly, that future estimates are always overshooting the actual performance, year after year.

Funds YTD

Here are the relative positions of the respective funds so far this year.

S Fund                      I Fund                        C Fund                  F Fund

Early March        Early March            Early March        Early March

+4.43%                      +1.66%                       +2.04%               +2.38%

7/16                               7/16                          7/16                     7/16 

+2.74%                        +4.18%                    +7.17%                +4.41%

It has taken every bit of Fed stimulus, hype, optimism and blind faith for holders of equity funds to match the much safer returns/lower risks, in the F Fund, so far this year. Even the gap between the F and the C fund fails to account for the riskier environment, while, clearly, the under-performance of S and I funds shows both higher risk and relative weakness, compared to the safety of less manipulated segments, like the bond market. These so-called ‘record highs’ and ‘all-time highs’ are stretching the very limits of all of these ‘support mechanisms’. Some reward; monumental risk.

ALL-TIME HIGHS/RECORD HIGHS

Speaking of ‘record highs/all-time highs’…the financial media is not bound to present accurate or legally binding statements. By comparison, your labeling on consumer products, such as food items, etc., is bound by legal requirements prescribed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). While the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) monitors and warrants statements presented to investors, through prospectuses, the SEC does NOT offer guarantees in media reporting.

Here are the two presentations, one as presented by the media (1), and one corrected for inflation (not reported by media) (2), of the current price levels of the S&P500, NASDAQ and Dow 30, since 2000. Notice the absence of a true ‘all-time high’ in the S&P500. Also, notice the impact of Fed policy contributing to the last 5 years bounce, from the 12-year low!!!

(1)

(2)

S&P500 is DOWN -6.8%, and the NASDAQ is DOWN -36.3% since 2000. The DOW is up 4.4% since 2000. You can ignore inflation, if you wish. You’ll see it again when you try to use your gains from ‘record highs’ to make purchases of goods and services whose prices have CHANGED since the 2000 and 2007 peaks.

Here is a similar perspective, taken from NPR.ORG seven years ago, near the most recent previous peak.

What Does the Rise of the Dow Really Mean?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12118801

However, to continue the deception, profits have doubled on the S&P since that 2009 bottom. So, why has the index tripled???

Negative Interest Rates

On June 5th, world markets reacted to the European Central Banks’s announcement that it has now cut the deposit rate from zero to minus 0.1%, the percentage that the banks will sacrifice if they ask the ECB to hold money for them, rather than lending the money. This is, theoretically, an incentive for banks to lend money, rather than holding it in central banks. (It’s an experiment and has never been done by a central bank!) Markets reacted with upward momentum, which is the norm for both the combination of whose seeking an opportunity to add to positions (minor factor), and, the closing of positions that rely on a negative bias for profits (called, ‘short’ positions, as described above under REMEMBER). To reiterate, closing of short positions limits and/or reduces the risk of further holding these positions, in which the buyers were expecting a decline, leading to profits. Like most central bank actions, this is to suggest actions, not force actions, onto the member banks, who can chose whether to enact the policies desired by the central bank, or not. There is considerable debate, but not history, on what impact the final outcome of this policy will have. The ECB is desperately trying to hold off a threat of deflation, similar to what has kept Japan in stimulative mode, over-saving and under-consuming, for the past two decades.

Then, on June 18th, the Fed completed it’s 5th round of tapering, reducing by $10 billion per month, the availability of purchases of securities under it’s QE3 program, designed to stimulate financial, mortgage and employment.  So far, the positive results are debatable, but, certainly, less than originally promised or planned.

Market Technical Positions

Back in 2001 Warren Buffett said in an interview with Fortune Magazine that “the single best measure” of stock market valuation is by taking the total market cap (TMC) and dividing it by the total gross domestic product (GDP). Today TMC is equal to 114.5% of total GDP.


At the market top in 2007, just prior to a -54% crash in stocks, TMC was equal to 104.9%. According to Buffett’s “favorite” market timing indicator stocks are more overvalued today than in 2007.

The US market is not alone. London (FTSE 100) and France (CAC 40) broke steep support lines back in 2000-2001 and 2007 and proceeded to fall hard. The FTSE is back at the 2000 & 2007 levels at this time and the CAC 40 is weaker, creating so far, lower highs in 2007 and now, compared with the high in 2000. Both are testing steep support lines.

FTSE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAC

Are European banks in trouble? If so, could weakness in the Europeanfinancialsector spill over intostock markets around the world?

European Financial ETF EUFNhas formed a bearish rising wedge over the past few months and a few days ago broke below support in the chart below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could this put downward pressure on risk assets and push up metals? So far today, this spread between stocks and metals is skyrocketing!

 

Gold/Gold Stocks

In times of crises, many turn to gold, seeking its safe-haven attributes. However, with a 28% price drop in 2013, followed by a 12% gain in the first ten weeks of 2014, can we really continue to label gold a safe haven?

No investment is “safe.” Gold is no exception, of course, given that our daily expenses are generally not priced in gold, but in a currency that fluctuates relative to the price of gold. However, we believe gold continues to play an important role as part of a diversified portfolio. We would go so far as to say that gold belongs in every portfolio.

Despite its recent slide, gold has an enviable long-term performance record:

GLD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results have shown that big declines in the broader stock market do not always see gold drop as well. In fact, gold fell in only five of the S&P’s 16 declines of 10% or more, four of which occurred either during an existing bear market in precious metals or after the blow-off top in 1980. Gold rose in the 11 other episodes.

This outcome makes sense. A big drop in the stock market usually reflects trouble in some part of the economy or the world, which is good for gold, as a “safe haven” asset. This suggests that a decline in the stock market is not necessarily something to fear.

Gold stocks are a different story; they tend to follow steep downtrends in the equity markets. Of the 16 declines in the S&P, gold stocks tagged along in 11 of them. However, in smaller declines or flat markets, gold stocks were more likely to follow gold.

In a surprise move after months of subdued trade, the gold price jumped more than $48, nearly 4%, on Thursday, its best trading performance since September last year. (6/23)

Gold’s positive momentum sparked heavy buying of the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), which holds stocks in the world’s top gold miners, soaring 5.4% to bring its YTD gains to 23.5%.

The bellwether for the industry for decades, the Philadelphia Gold & Silver Index (XAU), gained 5% and is back to levels last seen in March when gold hit a 2014 high of $1,379 an ounce.

It looks like many investors are choosing to ignore the advice of investment bank Citigroup, which last month warned not to buy gold stocks no matter how tempting valuations had become. (Heh, heh…)

Unlike equities, bonds, and currencies, gold is not a liability of any government or corporation. Governments and institutional buyers invest in gold directly, and they’ve been doing so for decades. For centuries, people have turned to gold during times of economic uncertainty.

And what about both gold and silver?  When the investment world finally realizes that the unorthodox accommodative monetary policies of its central banks do not lead to sustainable economic growth, but only boom and bust asset-inflation cycles, gold and silver will be poised to resume their momentum.  After over 5 years of these historic near-zero interest rate policies (devaluing paper currencies), and a host of quantitative easing (QE) attempts, sustained economic growth is still elusive (1st quarter GDP FELL2.9%, recession territory).  The investment community is starting to see this now, as the low in gold on June 28, 2013 continues to hold.

 

Market Complacency/Record Low Volatility

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Market Volatility Index (“VIX”) is a popular measure of S&P 500 index options’ implied volatility. By measuring options rather than equity, the index predicts future volatility over the next 30-day period rather than the current volatility within the index. Many financial professionals refer to the index as the “fear index” or “fear gauge” as a result.

VIX

This index is now at 7-year lows. These lows have led to very narrow movements in many indexes, beyond the S&P500.

The June 23rd intra-day range (high to low) in the S&P was the 3rd lowest in the past 20 yrs.

About 1.8 billion shares traded each day in S&P 500 companies last month, the fewest since 2008,

As of July 15th, it has been 62 days since the S&P500 had a 1% or better gain, or loss. This is the longest stretch since 2006. Only on July 16th did the S&P500 break this streak of weakness, appearing as strength, by falling more than 1%.

Over the past five years through April 30, the S&P 500 returned a sizzling 19.1% annualized. But from December 31, 1999, through April 30, the index returned only 3.7% annualized.

Complacency in the markets always leads to shocks. Calm markets do not go on forever. At some point, shocks will occur to ‘reset’ portfolios.

This is additional confirmation that rewards are declining even while risks remain high.

So, why the restraint, given nominal (not actual) ‘all-time highs’?

Oil

Oil

This 5-year chart of oil clearly shows the uncertainty that connect a stagnating economy, world-wide, against a steadily creeping S&P500. A healthy and rising market, based upon solid fundamentals, should also reflect rising oil prices, to reflect consumption. However, this is just another ‘divergence’ between the perception of a strong financial market and real economic performance. Notice how prior to 2013, dips in the S&P were correlated to dips in oil prices. However, since the last round of QE by the fed, this relationship is weakening. Something is not connecting here.

With Libya returning to exporting oil and Iraq finally making gains against the ISIS insurgents the next topic for energy investors is Iran.

However, with U.S. production growing and Libyan production coming back online they are losing their bargaining chip. Libya could be exporting an extra 560,000 bpd within a couple weeks and Iraqi oil fields are not in danger at the present time. The new Kurdish pipeline into Turkey will double exports to 250,000 bpd and up to 400,000 bpd by year-end.

Oil prices continued to fall recently as Iraq fear exits the market and Libyan oil ports prepare to reopen. The insurgent uprising in Iraq has yet to have an impact on Iraqi oil production or supply which is allowing the fear premium to subside while at the same time the stand off in Libya which has had oil shipping ports shut down for over a year is near an end. Rebels and officials have reached some agreement which could lead to ports reopening in the near future. If so Libyan supply could more than double to nearly 1.5 million barrels per day. This has been on the table before and failed to come to fruit so there is still risk up to and until the ports are actually opened. In the meantime the Oil Index also traded down today, losing about three quarters of a percent. The index remains above long term support along the 1650-1675 level. The indicators are bearish at this time, in line with the current pull back from the recent all time high, but not to troubling at this time so long as support holds. The prolonged run of high oil prices this spring should convert into higher revenue and potential earnings for the big oil companies, the bulk of which will report earnings in the first week of next month. Until then watch support levels and developments in Iraq and Libya.

Let’s connect the rising cost of oil to debt. As we all know, oil matters because it’s the foundation of our economy, and the cost of oil is built into virtually every sector in some way. For example, look at how the the cost of food rises and declines in lockstep with the cost of oil:


Despite the substitution of cheaper natural gas for oil, we use a lot of oil.



While the recent increase of 3+ million barrels a day in domestic production is welcome on many fronts (more jobs, more money kept at home, reduced dependence on foreign suppliers, etc.), the U.S. still needs to import crude oil.

U.S. Imports by Country of Origin (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

The rising cost of oil acts as an economy-wide tax. Everything that uses oil in its production or transport rises in price without offering consumers any more value than it did at much lower prices.

Look at the impact on food prices as oil rose from $20/barrel in 2002 to $140/barrel in 2008. While government statisticians adjust the consumer price index (CPI) based on hedonics (as the quality of things goes up, the price is adjusted accordingly) and substitution (people buy chicken instead of steak, etc.), the reality is, as a once heckler put it, “We don’t eat iPads:” that is, all the stuff that is hedonically adjusted (tech goodies, etc.) is non-essential.

The long-term answer is to avoid the pursuit of ever dwindling supplies of oil, a finite resource, and to avoid the yoke of oil to everything we do. Alternatively, we must seek as many alternatives as possible to reduce the dependence on oil, foreign or domestic. The sun, wind and ocean waves are infinite sources of natural energy production. This would dramatically transform future energy needs, and, employment growth and stability!

Real Estate

RealEstate

A year ago, rising rates took the life out of new construction, existing home purchases and refinancing. In spite of continuing rate weakness, with 3% serving as a ceiling on 10-year treasury note rates for over a year, home buying has continued to lag, due to tighter lending requirements and weak incomes.

Just a minimal rise in rates sent volume tumbling 9.2 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

During one recent week, applications to refinance a loan fell 13 percent versus one year ago, while applications to purchase a home fell 5 percent for that week, and are now 15 percent below the volume seen a year ago.

Even so, in a few markets, the gaps have been filled by institutional buying, actual home purchases by US based funds as investments, and, foreign buyers flush with cash from their better performing economies, relative to the US economy. This is the source of the bulk of upward price pressure. This has even worked to keep some potential US buyers out of the markets, from competitively higher pricing pressures.

Foreign clients made up about 7 percent of transactions in the $1.2 trillion US real estate market.

Chinese buyers, looking for their own piece of the ‘American Dream,’ paid on average $523,148 per property. By comparison, Americans paid an average price of $199,575, according to NAR’s statistics.

Foreign buyers of US residential real estate surged 35 percent last year, with Chinese buyers, searching for moderately priced, safe investments in a sea of economic and political uncertainty, outspending the rest of the world.

Chinese buyers spent $22 billion on US homes in the 12-month period ending in March, or about 24 percent of total foreign sales by dollar value, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That’s up from $12.8 billion, or 19 percent, on the previous year.

Total international purchases of American homes jumped to $92.2 billion, according to the NAR, an increase of $68.2 billion on the year before and $82.5 billion for the year ending in March 2012.

Thanks to a surging economy that has seen China rival the United States as the world’s economic superpower, newly affluent Chinese customers are the silver lining in the US real estate market, which is slowly rebounding following the 2008 financial crisis.

Sixteen percent of sales went to Chinese buyers, and is the fastest growing sector, behind Canada at 19 percent, down from 23 percent the year before. Mexico ranked third with 9 percent of sales and India and the UK both accounted for 5 percent