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07262017 July 26, 2017

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, oil, stocks.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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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 07/26/17

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

-13.07, +2.39, +18.35, +26.39

With the very slow market action of the past few months, I like to begin each report with a memory refresher to the environment that was in place at the previous report.  Let’s look at the TRUE reflection of change since late April, and further.

The S&P500 was UP on it’s open on the 24th, but, only a half-point below Friday’s high.  So, why is there so much talk about UP for the year, yet, so little movement in general, and, often for many days at a time?

Here is a chart of the average change, in points for the S&P on top…. .  Notice that through all of March, April & May, there was a net negative from March 1st.  Total change from March 1st to July 6th was 1%!!

 

 

and, for the Russell 2000/S Fund since March 1st.

 

Even with an S&P500 all-new ‘all-time high’ early Tuesday, the change since March 1represents an average of 1/2 point/day.

 

 

 

 

The small caps are averaging less than 1/4 point per day…since early DECEMBER!!

And, likewise on the Dow Jones Industrials with SEVEN new all -time highs since June 19th.  Yet, averaging the difference between the June 19th all-time high and the July 25th, the latest all-time high, is only 3.25 points per day.  So, be very careful of reading too much into the repetitive ‘all-time high’ hype in the financial news. These half-point per day increases won’t compensate you in an average correction, or, after years of just normal inflation adjustments, and, particularly in view of the RISKS that are presented to your portfolios as you WAIT on the next few points.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.42.18 PM

With this reflection on how ‘easy’ it is, supposedly, to make money in the first half of 2017, it appears that the Wall Street Journal recently noticed something is different this time. Three major stock-market benchmarks in Asia, Europe and the US have avoided pullbacks this year, commonly defined as -5% declines from recent highs.

The last time the S&P500 <SPX> slumped at least 5% was in the aftermath of the June 2016 BREXIT vote — marking a 273-day streak that’s the longest since 1996, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The last time equity markets went this deep into the year without all three of the global benchmark indexes suffering at least -5% pullbacks was nearly a quarter-century ago, in 1993.

Never in at least the past 30 years have all three indexes – the S&P500, MSCI Europe and MSCI Asia-Pacific ex-Japan–gone a calendar year without falling at some point by at least -5%.  In good years and bad, markets tend to fluctuate wildly, with stock indexes often falling by double-digit percentages before bouncing back. That hasn’t been the case this year, another reflection of the historically low volatility that has gripped the world.

 

The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, finished Friday at it’s lowest since 1993. The chart above shows that this years average is the LOWEST IN HISTORY.

It has hit ALL-TIME LOWS every day this week, including a level of 8.84 on Wednesday, 7/26. Extremely low volatility conditions tend to produce very high levels of complacency, and unknown risk, into market participants, who aren’t prepared for the ‘what happened’ moments that approach. Fluctuations in trading volumes are nothing new on Wall Street, but the levels of volatility are the lowest in history.  You can view low volatility directly in terms of the 1/4 and 1/2 point average gains on major indexes.  You must view extremely low volatility as the ‘calm before the storm’, rather than to greet it with a feeling of comfort or complacency, particularly when they accompany all-time price highs.

How are the market gurus dealing with this challenging environment?

Legendary investor Carl Icahn is 150% net short of the market. The net short position means Icahn’s firm is betting against 1.3 shares for every one share it’s betting on. In other words, Icahn’s investment portfolio will generally gain value when prices decline, and vice versa.

86-year-old former Quantum Fund manager George Soros, who retired from fund management in 2011, has come out of retirement, sensing a critical opportunity approaching for major stock declines.

Seth Klaman is CEO & Portfolio Manager of one of the largest hedge funds, the $30b Baupost Group in Boston. He believes that “investors are underestimating risk and the insufficient margin of safety.” His book ‘Margin of Safety’ is a favorite of Wall Street investors. http://www.safalniveshak.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/30-Ideas-from-Margin-of-Safety.pdf

Quite clearly, there is substantial risk during these long periods of time, regardless of the overall measure from the election, or, from year-to-date.  It is this measure of more risk to reward that keeps me away from equity markets under these conditions.  I’ve seen an image of your being given just enough UP, over long periods of time, with the appearance of little downside risk, to guarantee ‘complacency’ in these risky market conditions.  DO NOT FALL ASLEEP!

How are institutional investors preparing for their futures during these deceptively calm waters?

First, institutional cash levels are at multi-year lows.  There just isn’t much cash left to put back into the markets to drive them higher.

 

Secondly, institutional buying is largely offset by proportional selling to lock in profits from share appreciation over the past 6-7 years.

Buying/Holding/Selling on S&P500

SPXGuruTrades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying/Holding/Selling on NASDAQ 100QQQGuruTrades

 

 

 

 

 

Note the prevalence of more selling in the major stocks, last year, with scant buying.  They are anticipating lower prices. Most of the buying, driving positive earnings, is as a result of financial engineering accomplished through  the result of stock buybacks, since earnings are derived based upon a smaller base of remaining shares outstanding, after the buybacks.


And in what few areas where this momentum is taking place, the appearance of true buying is also deceptive.  INSIDERS include corporate officers, executives, board members, etc.

Why are they selling so many more shares than they’re buying????

Apple

Net Insider Selling;  P/E Ratio of 17.92 (P/E ratio is share price divided by earnings per share, or by market cap divided by net income; market cap is value of all of the shares totaled together)

Apple has 3 BIG concerns (1) declining gross margins, (2) declining operating margins, and, (3) asset growth is faster than revenue growth.

AAPLInsiderSellsBuys

Warren Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway appears to be supporting the market all by themselves. They’re holding 186,716,758 AAPL shares. The next 10 holders only have another 65,617,772 shares, total. Everyone else is reducing, making small buys, or, already sold out. Apple is the #1 company in market cap, over 3 times Visa, or, WalMart, or GE, or, Bank of America.

Amazon.com

Net Insider Selling; Shiller P/E Ratio of 197.65!!!

Amazon is also getting less efficient, with asset growth moving faster than revenue growth.

AMZNInsiderSellsBuys

Google

Net Insider Selling; Shiller P/E Ratio of 34.23

GOOGInsiderSellsBuys

The tech sector has been virtually tilted upward by the flooding of a handful of big-name stocks, which are also represented in the S&P500 to a lesser degree.

According to a FactSet analysis, while there have been massive inflows into ETFs in 2017, the bulk of that money has gone into a vanishingly small part of the industry. The vast majority of funds have been left to essentially fight over the scraps.

The most popular ETF this year, in terms of flows, has been the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF IVV, +0.23% which has taken in $18.51 billion. Two other iShares equity products—the iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF IEFA, +0.13%  and the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF IEMG, -0.25% —rounded out the top three, amassing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion in inflows, respectively.

This trend also held on the fixed-income side, as the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF LQD, -0.59%  and the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF AGG, -0.36% topped the list for inflows, taking in a combined $15.1 billion.

It has been widely documented that exchange-traded funds (ETFs) set a torrid asset-gathering pace in the first six months of 2017, with U.S.-listed ETFs hauling in $245 billion in new assets. Fixed income and international equity ETFs were primary drivers of the avalanche of new assets flowing to ETFs.

Year to date, three bond ETFs are among the top 10 asset-gathering ETFs. Those funds are the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD), the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) (a valid proxy for the F fund) and the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond ETF (VCIT). As highlighted by the massive inflows to LQD and VCIT, investors have been searching for higher-yielding though still conservative options for U.S. government debt.

Another prominent theme has been investors’ thirst for ex-U.S. equity funds, which has been stoked in large part by the notion that, with the bull market in U.S. stocks aging by the day, domestic equities are richly valued. “Investors deposited over $20 billion into international ETFs in June and over $80 billion through the first six months of the year – marking the best start to a year ever for international funds,” said SSgA.  The roughly 10% surge in the I fund between February and June is reflective of this short-term event.  This parallels  the +3.29%/+5.25%/+6.6%/8.2% increases in the French CAC, British FTSE, German DAX, and Swiss market indexes, respectively, year-to-date.

How else do we reconcile so much of the bullish news on ‘strong earnings’ on the S&P500?

First, almost half of the earnings for the S&P500 come from just one sector, energy!!

While the S&P 500 earnings outlook looks impressive mainly due to a bounced-back energy sector, technology and financial services look impressive as well. But they depend on energy, too.

If oil prices fall enough to hurt the energy sector, some producers will miss loan payments. That would be bad news for the lenders in the financial-services sector.

Likewise, energy companies won’t buy as much hardware and software if they have to cut back on drilling activity. Not good for some technology companies.

Bottom line: the bull market in US stocks will be on even shakier ground if oil prices dip below $40 again. In any case, earnings growth probably won’t continue at current rates unless oil prices climb higher.

The FED

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said just this month that the Fed will be kicking the dollar ($USD) off a cliff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She didn’t use those words, but the words she did use weren’t all that different.

But first a little context…

The fact is that the $USD has been falling steadily throughout 2017. At this time of this writing, it was down nearly 8.5% year to date. (The dollar should be ‘strengthening’ during rate increases, not falling. There is no confidence in the Fed’s moves to tighten monetary policy.)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) just issued a warning, reflecting the weakness of the dollar to other currencies.  The IMF also noted that “the U.S. Dollar has depreciated by around 3½ percent in real effective terms since March,” while the Euro was strengthened. Countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain all saw growth projections increase. China’s growth was expected to stay at 6.7%. They also placed uncertainty in U. S. political leadership as one of their criteria for their warning.

“The major factor behind the growth revision, especially for 2018, is the assumption that fiscal policy will be less expansionary than previously assumed, given the uncertainty about the timing and nature of U.S. fiscal policy changes.”

The four largest central banks now have a total of THIRTEEN TRILLION dollars on their balance sheets, nearly TRIPLE their balances from the bottoms of the last financial crisis in 2009.  Anyone who has believed during the past 8 years that our markets are on strong financial footing, worthy of full confidence and bullish appetites, is sadly out of touch with the reality of the TEMPORARY magic of electronically created money.

THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH!

THE PARTY IS NEARLY OVER!!

IT CARRIES INTEREST PENALTIES!!!

IT RESTRAINS GROWTH!!!!

THIS MONEY MUST BE WITHDRAWN!!!!!

In a Fed statement in early July, the following stunning statement  was issued.

In the assessment of a few participants, equity prices were high when judged against standard valuation measures.

That is an incredible statement.

It tells us:

1)   The Fed is openly discussing stocks prices.

2)   The Fed is openly discussing whether stocks are in a bubble (when prices are high against standard valuations).

3)   MORE THAN ONE Fed member believes that stocks ARE in a bubble.

On June 27th, ECB President Mario Draghi raised the possibility of reducing their 2-year quantitative easing support, totaling €60 billion/month, before the end of the year. An Q2 annualized 3% growth rate in the Eurozone gives Draghi the room to take his foot off the pedal.  This was the fastest pace in a decade. Of the €4.25 billion on the ECB balance sheet, €2.25 billion have been added since March ’15.  Most of this liquidity was channeled into the high-flying NASDAQ, led by Facebook, Apple(!), Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Microsoft, as well as Alibaba and Tencent pushing the Hang Seng index to a recent 2-year high, and pushing Samsung in Korea. With this combination from the ECB, the Japan Central Bank, as well as the Swiss National Bank, the NASDAQ has doubled in value from the post-Brexit lows in June ’15, in the face of 3 Fed rate hikes, and threats to reduce the access to liquidity by reducing the $4.5 trillion balance sheet.  A clearer signal on the ECB’s plans will emerge when Draghi addresses the Jackson Hole, Wyoming financial summit in late August.

Central Bankers are absolutely terrified.

In the last month, both Fed President Janet Yellen and ECB President Mario Draghi have issued somewhat hawkish statements, only to turn around within 48 hours and walk back their comments.

Where has this nearly decade-long Fed support to the market left Main Street?

image1(1)

Study shows 1/3 of Americans not recovered from Great Recession. ? Still ok. After all, equity averages up > 3 times since March 2009.

However, even Main Street is exhausted.

Notice how this chart shows market peaks, shown by the S&P 500 index on the right, at nearly the same times that household percentage of ownership reaches historical peaks, shown on the left.  We are now at 30%, slightly higher than the previous market top in 2007, and just about 6% under the tech bubble peak in 1999/2000.

Stocks look expensive by multiple measures, and they have for a while now. But that hasn’t stopped major indices from achieving new highs as market fundamentals have looked more than capable of withstanding higher prices.

That all could change as the stock market swells to a size rarely seen outside of 2000 and 2008, just before the two most recent stock market crashes, says Deutsche Bank.

Rather than assessing the stock market using more traditional methods such as price-to-earnings ratio, Deutsche is instead looking at equity market cap as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). And it attributes the recent rise in historical highs to a shift in monetary policy.

While global markets benefited from a “long period of post-global financial crisis accommodation,” that’s changing as central banks like the Federal Reserve move to tighten.

It’s also important to note that Deutsche’s measure of market cap as a percentage of GDP also spiked to current levels in 2015, yet the market didn’t become embroiled in a crisis. This is because the Fed didn’t tighten to the degree that was expected, waiting until December of that year to increase rates, and then waiting another full year to hike again.

The situation showed that swift central bank tightening is a key component to unwinding an equity bull market. And this time around, stock bulls may not be so fortunate, with the Fed signaling a clear path of rate increase after already hiking multiple times.

THE CURRENT US TOTAL MARKET/GBP RATIO is 135.3%.  This is closer to the historical maximum than in any other industrialized nation right now.


This projects future returns that among the lowest in the world.

And it’s not just US stocks seeing their market cap swell as a percentage of GDP — Japan and the UK are getting in on the action, showing its a worldwide phenomenon.

 

This is a very uncomfortable global picture.  It’s similar to that of a number of pressure cookers all running at once, all inter-connected.  They must all function properly, or, they’ll all ripple their problems from one to the other.

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04222017 April 22, 2017

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 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.

10112016 October 11, 2016

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

 

05232016 May 23, 2016

Posted by easterntiger in economy, financial, gold, markets, oil, silver, 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 5/20/16

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

-6.62, -20.76, -11.11, +6.71

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

(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)

TSP

As the calendar flips to May, the U.S. stock market enters what is historically its worst six months of the year, in which it typically under-performs the November-April time frame.

This is a well-documented seasonal trend with solid historical numbers behind it. It begs the question: Should investors follow the old Wall Street adage to “sell in May and go away?”

The numbers back it up. Looking at stock market history back to 1950, most of the market’s gains have been made from November to April and the market has generally gone sideways from May to October, says Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor in chief at Stock Trader’s Almanac.

The November-April period produced an average gain in the Dow Jones industrial average of 7.5 percent since 1950 compared to an average gain of just 0.4 percent from May to October, Hirsch says.

This is just one more reason why I will maintain high allocations to our F Fund, as I have for much of the past 3 years, due to increasing risk and subsequent under-performance of C, I and F funds as compared to the F Fund.  The attractiveness of the F fund has mirrored the lack of increases in interest rates, relatively speaking, from multi-decade, near zero lows.  This lull in rate pressure is in spite of continuous Fed rhetoric projecting rate increases, since the end of Quantitative Easing (QE) in the 4th quarter of 2014.  A continued threat to raise rates is simply a ‘bluff’ tactic, meant to broadcast confidence to the rest of the world of our economic condition.  This is meant to continue to competitively attract capital from other world markets into our U. S. markets.  It is a very risky proposition, given the threat that higher interest rates, even from these generational low levels, can impact on our equally fragile and debt-ridden consumer, government and business purses.

For the following charts, imagine that you had half in F and half in the other fund.  When it rises, the other fund beat the F; when it fell, the F fund beat the other half.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.30.31 PM

S&P 500/C Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the Past Two Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.34.06 PM

S&P 500/C Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the past 5 Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.31.26 PM

Small Cap/S Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the past 2 Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.33.25 PM

Small Cap/S Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the past 5 Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.31.58 PM

International/I Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the past 2 Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.32.53 PM

International/I Fund Performance compared to AGG/F Fund Over the past 5 Years

Stocks

Fed officials have been preparing the groundwork for a rate hike for more than a month, having issued about a dozen warnings through the media.  Problem is, the Fed’s credibility is so badly shattered, that few traders actually believe what Fed officials are saying these days.

On April 28th, more than 80 economists polled by Reuters said that they were expecting two rate increases this year, with the first hike coming as early as June. “The Fed’s next interest rate hike will surely cause market pain, but the Fed should just get it over with as soon as possible,” former Dallas Fed chief Fisher warned on April 28th. “I would be prepared when they move, and I hope they move in June — there’ll be a settling in of the market place. There will be a correction. Suck it up. Deal with it. That’s reality,” he told listeners of the television station, -CNBC.

The weekly chart of the S&P 500 Index (SPX) is labeled as a bearish Elliot Wave 5. This fifth wave typically takes the chart subject down to a new low, after it has completed 4 waves with lower highs and lower lows.

How many bull markets have spent an entire year without making new highs? The answer is just thirteen since the 1940’s.

How many eventually did achieve new highs? Just two.

That is out of thirteen times bull markets did not reach new highs in the last sixty years.

What happened to the other eleven times stocks did not reach new highs for a year in a bull market?

You guessed it. Those eleven times ended in bear markets. So history tells us there is an 11/13 chance we are headed for a bear market. That is 85% for those with calculators.

Sounds simple, but the current market conditions are difficult. One day we are up and the next down. Rallies feel solid but never break out. Declines look like the end has arrived, but then they bounce back.

Smart investors have noted that the S&P 500 just staged a very dangerous looking move.

That move was when S&P 500’s 50-week moving average broke below its 100-week moving average. You can see this in the green circle below. We cannot rule out the high probability of a ‘waterfall decline, similar to the 4-day 12% plunge of last August.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.45.01 PM

This move is called a “Death Cross” and for good reason. The last time it happened was in 2008, right before the entire market CRASHED. This is another case of a ‘waterfall’ decline.

The time before that was right before the Tech Bubble burst, crashing stocks.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.45.30 PM

In short, going back over 16 years, this Death Cross formation has only hit TWICE before. Both times were when major bubbles burst and stocks Crashed.

Margin Debt

A primary fuel for market progress, margin debt, continues to show a peak over a year ago, a month before market prices also peaked.  The last SEVEN consecutive 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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 10.09.08 PM

Bonds

Notice the actual declining trend in interest rates over the past 20 years, and even in view of the so-called ‘economic recovery’ of the past decade. There is something more involved at work than these short-term ‘bullish’ economic aspects, much of it under the increasing Fed-funded burden of higher debt levels on Fed balance sheets (over $4 trillion in the past 7 years alone).  Long-term economic strength is fuel for higher rates, not lower rates.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 8.19.21 PM

I’ve placed my bets on lower interest rates for the past 13 years, and, I’ve only been proven wrong for very, very short periods of time.

Precious Metals

The demand for Gold surged +21% in Q’1 of 2016, – the fastest pace on record, according to a May 12th-World Gold Council <WGC> report. WGC officials attributed the rise to 4 principal factors: 1- negative interest rates in Japan and Europe; 2- the chance of a devaluation of China’s Yuan; 3- the likelihood of a slower trajectory of Fed rate hikes – than suggested by the Fed’s “Dots Plot,” and 4- expectations of a weaker US$.

A quote from legendary trader and investor W. D. Gann sets the stage for the current state of the gold/silver/platinum/palladium markets.

“Anytime a market exceeds the largest percentage decline or the largest time period of the corrections on the way down in a bear market, it is showing that the momentum is shifting and that buying pressure is finally overcoming selling pressure.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 10.46.42 PM

Marshaling the evidence, in the gold there has never been a bear market rally which has exceeded the preceding bear market rally highs on the way down. Our advance has exceeded the previous two.

Only the 48% bear market rally in 1980 in the aftermath of the greatest bull market in history and the 27% advance in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis have been greater in percentage terms than our 25% advance. Our DNA doesn’t match these two at all. The only conclusion we can draw is that we have a 1st leg up in a new bull market and not a bear market rally.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 10.48.11 PM

Silver hit record demand in 2015, but had its third successive annual deficit, which was 60% larger than 2014. These were just a few of the findings of this year’s report. However, the report is backward looking and the silver market is much different today than it was towards the end of last year.  Erica Rannestad, precious metals demand senior analyst for Thomson Reuters GFMS, agreed in that interest for silver has shifted, which is helping to support prices this year. “First off, in the past 2-3 years, you’ve seen bargain buying. This year, you’ve seen a lot more safe-haven buying, which has been pushing prices higher,” she explained.

Oil

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 8.49.13 PM.png

There are a lot of tankers sitting off the coast of Singapore waiting for a price increase and refinery availability to dump their cargo (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-05-20/something-stunning-taking-place-coast-singapore ). South American suppliers are trying to sell every drop to have available funds to ensure the population is fed, staving off utter collapse and revolution. India is even trading drugs for oil now. Middle Eastern suppliers are holding supply steady in an attempt to make enough money to support their lifestyles and basic requirements. International refineries are working as fast as they can to turn over supply in hopes of being able to pay their bills. All of this will have a short term cap on prices.

Longer term, as players go bankrupt and governments are overthrown, then supply will be limited into a market of relatively stable world demand. This will drive prices higher, but it is a couple of years away, at least.

In the short term, expect that every approach of WTI Crude Oil near the 50 level will be sold off.

12152015 December 15, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, financial, markets, oil, stocks.
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Current Positions  (CHANGES)

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

F(bonds) – no more than 25%; G (money market) – remainder

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

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 12/15/15

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

-11.06, -34.86, 30.94-4.57

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

(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)

MajorStockIndexes

(Click to enlarge – press back button to return to this page)

Year-to-date, most of the indexes are still underwater.  Recall that the ‘all-time high’ announcements are fading further and further into memory, most of which happened in May and June.  More than 2/3 of the NYSE stocks are below their 200-day moving averages.  Market breadth, the number of advances compared to the number of declines, continues to deteriorate.

A primary fuel for market progress, margin debt, now shows a peak in April, a month before market prices also peaked.  The last three 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.

Margindebt

Anticipation for Wednesday’s FOMC meeting and wild swings in oil prices drove recent sessions. The indices, like oil, experienced some large swings as traders position for a possible rate hike on Wednesday and expiration of options and futures on Friday.  The relentless upward pressure of ‘pretending’ to raise rates for over a year has had a flattening effect on our F fund.  The impression of market calm and lack of a need for the safety of bonds is patently false, even if the perception of low risk is delayed, and deliberately deceptive.  I am reducing my F fund allocation, in anticipation of tomorrow’s reaction of the rate increase, if it happens, and the follow-on ramp up, known affectionately as the ‘Christmas rally’ into the end of the year.  Last weeks’ reduction of price levels sets the stage to a make-believe ‘rally’ for the next two weeks.  Everyone wants the shoppers in a good mood to spend during the last few weeks of December, so, depressions or declines in stock levels are mostly off the table until January, even if just for psychological reasons.

The event most important to the market is the FOMC meeting on Wednesday. They are largely expected to raise rates for the first time since the financial crisis and likely spark some market movement. Along with policy, indications of future increases will be very important.  I would not recommend any holdings in the equity funds, since the volatility surrounding the Fed announcement increases risk this week.  The expiration of futures and options this week also creates an atmosphere of avoidance this week for many traders.  Remember – this is a trading environment, not an investing environment.

SPXS&P 500 – C fund proxy – Year to date

 

The global markets saw some indecision but did not have an overly large impact on our market. In Asia, Japanese and Hong Kong markets were down in the range of -1% while the mainland Shanghai index rose more than 2.5% in a day of trading that saw intra-day losses greater than -5%. European indices began the day with gains but the plunge in oil sparked a sell-off that carried down by roughly -2% by days end.

 

 

EFAEFA – I fund proxy – Year to date

 

 

So, November began with the S&P500 at 2100. Six weeks later, it hit 2000. The US Treasury withdrew $310 billion from the market in November, as it sold immense amounts of new debt to replenish its cash coffers after running them down to near zero while bumping against the debt ceiling. That had an impact.  It sucked cash out of dealer and institutional investor accounts as they paid for the new paper, and simultaneously bought enough in the market to keep prices elevated for a while.

But then they had to rebuild their cash levels. Perhaps the dealer and institutional liquidation to rebuild cash has run its course, but while in progress prices took big hits in other markets as the reliquefication spread to junk debt, commodities, and emerging market equities. That triggered margin calls, obliterating lots of trading capital. We can’t quantify that until well after the fact, if at all. But we see the news stories of runs on hedge funds and mutual funds and resulting shutdowns.  All of this stuff can suddenly snowball. This is how crashes begin, with the sudden need to shift a fixed supply of money into too many places at once.

 

IWMIWM – S fund proxy – Year to date

 

The 4th quarter is normally a period of strength for small cap stocks.  So far, this has not materialized.  Some of the reasons include the anticipation of the Fed meeting/rate increase, and that impact on companies that do a substantial share of their business with overseas clients.  A rate increase should put upward pressure on the dollar, making our goods more expensive for foreign purchasers.  Obviously, this rate chase/avoidance has had negative pressure on the S fund all year.

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.

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

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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.

03042014 March 4, 2014

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Weather Report 03042014

Current Positions  (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 3/3/14

+16.14, +17.75, +23.21+10.29 (S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

(4 Friday’s ago/3 Friday’s ago/2 Friday’s ago/today from 3 weeks ago)

Some of the longer term topics not included in the last report, to control report length, are continued here for their long-term impacts.  One additional short-term topic has offered new insight since last month.

*******************SHORTER TERM*******************

Today’s S&P100 is now floating at 1/2 point lower than the ‘highs’ of January 15th, after 30 market days.  Today’s new ‘record high’ on the S&P is 2 points higher than the ‘record high’ from Friday(!) (I find it amazing how these indexes can rise, then stop, as if hitting the white line at a stop light; these are billions and billions of dollars of securities that are manipulated like sports cars.  Hmmm…) Placed in between those two highs was a dramatic, one-day plunge, supposedly reacting to the Russian invasion on Ukraine.  Similarly, the lack of a real threat, as if such a serious threat could resolve in one day, is the alleged impetus for today’s reversal.  This is a good example of one of the many games being played to keep potential sellers on the sidelines, while offering them increasingly marginal gains, and increasingly high risks.

Many indicators point to other, more relevant risks that have nothing to do with events in the Ukraine.

Regardless, since the first of the year, bond prices, like our F fund, have outperformed equity indexes, which have struggled just to break even for the year.  This means that the trend toward an upper limit on interest rates which began last summer has continued, with falling rates this year, and rising F fund prices.  The current stability in interest rates is now several times longer than the temporary panic when rates increased from their record low of 1.63% in April to near 3.0% in June, and September, and January.  Rates have now fallen back in the 2.6% range, and without the accompanying panic and drama from the fear permeated by the media of ‘higher rates’.  Both 2.6% AND 3.0% are lower than the lowest rates of just 4 years ago.  The long-term trend is still down. Therefore, the trend in the F fund is up, at low risk.  The higher upside to equities can be attractive, if it fits your time horizon, but, only if you consider the extreme risks due to events, Fed decisions, volatility, and the potential for fast losses to go along with the slow gains.

Does this mean that the ‘flight to quality’ normally associated with peaking stock markets and shifting into bonds has been established?  It’s likely, and, is also likely to further confirm in the months to come, regardless of the Fed’s position to continue or pause the pace of tapering that is already underway.

Two data points revealed Monday fuel this case.  For the first time in many months, the probability of a recession, as measured by the leading economic indicators, (LEI), is over 20%.  The LEI itself shows a downward trend in the past 6 months growth rate, and showing two consecutive monthly declines.  This does not look like an economy that is stabilizing or one that has shown an ability to stand on it’s own, even with record levels of assistance.

An additional case for going to cash or bonds in the near future is shown in the chart below. Returns are calculated for the annual returns (capital appreciation only) using monthly data for the S&P 500 for the past 115 years. Then, just the first year in which a 30% or greater increase in the S&P 500 is used as a reference toward the subsequent years following that 30% gain.

Each bar above the horizontal dashed line represents a year of 30% or above returns.  Notice how years following the 30% years, such as last year, represented a high point, followed by declining returns, if not, recession. Prior to last year, the most recent years were 1998 & 1996.S&P-500-30Percent-Years-112513

Here are the statistics:

  • Number of years the market gained 30% or more:  10

  • Average return of 10 markets:  36%

  • Average return following a 30% year:  6.12%

Notice here that each 30% return year was also the beginning of a period of both declining rates of annualized returns and typically sideways markets.  It is also important to notice that some of the biggest negative annual returns eventually followed 30% up years.  With the markets rising to just under 1850 at the end of 2013, since managers were chasing performance, it marked the 11th time in history the markets have attained that goal.

While it is entirely possible that the markets could “melt up” another 30% from current levels due to the ongoing monetary interventions; history suggests that forward returns not only tend toward decline, but bad things have eventually happened.

It’s important to add that among all 30% years, last year is the FIRST that was supported by record stimulus from the Federal Reserve bank, loans that must not only be reduced, through tapering, but, eventually withdrawn, as they draw a threat of a heavy interest burden with any increase in rates, until they are dissolved sometime around 2025.  This is a huge risk.  This is as if you use all your credit capacity to get you through a crisis.  You can’t have another similar crisis before you pay off your debt, without creating a brand new crisis; a new crisis on top of the debt from your old one.  Only now, you have to find another way out, since you’ve ‘charged up’.

TODAY’S MARKET LEVELS ARE SUPPORTED BY CREATING A BUILT-IN RISK FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS!

This is what the past 20 weeks of the S&P 100 look like visually, between yesterday and today.

<-Yesterday

OEXWkly2

<-Today

Clearly, there is much more risk in the market at this point than reward.

(Now, mentally place this chart above into the red box below for an overall perspective.)

*******************LONGER TERM*******************

AREN’T STOCKS CHEAP?

You’re likely to hear this from those who are using a relatively short time frame (a decade or so), to try to convince you that things are fine, your money is safe, and that you’ll lose if you don’t hang around.

How useful is a 10-12 year time frame in a market that typically takes about 80 years to make three major peaks (1929/1966/2000)? It’s not.

The following chart covers over 130 years of market results. The red box covers the current period.  It shows the 10-year adjusted price/earnings ratio, the best 10-year measure of whether or not stocks are cheap.  Only when measured against the most expensive stocks ever, our last two peaks in 2001 and 2007, do current stocks appear cheap.  More correctly, this is the 4th most expensive stock picture in the past 100 years. The facts that indicate more interest and more participants in history does not make any ‘stocks are cheap’ announcement more accurate.

The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before.  In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks.  These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.

Currently, the GAAP (generally accepted accounting principle) P/E for the S&P 500 is 19.11 (as of 12/31/13). But the problem is we can’t really tell whether this is high, low or indifferent, short-term, due to the wild swings seen over the past 20 years.

From 1925 through 1995, the average GAAP P/E was somewhere around 14. The average for the full period is about 17. The average for the last 50 years is 19.2. And the average over the last 25-years is nearly 25 – a level that was never once hit only once prior to 1990!  The averages have skewed higher due to the overvaluations of the past quarter century.  Any measure within the past quarter century is bound to be inaccurate.

Technically, a p/e ratio of 25 implies that you are paying $25 dollars for every dollar of earnings.  Obviously, lower, not higher, is better.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RECOVERY?

Housing

Just as stocks are valued according to earnings, housing has to be valued according to income.  Housing values, rising or not, must be tied to incomes.  (What’s the first requirement to qualify you on your mortgage application?)

Real median household income peaked right near the last two equity price peaks.  It’s quite interesting that there is no corresponding increase in incomes along with the current peak in equity market prices.

Income

As with housing and income, a direct relationship must also be established to the number of people actually working, without which no positive income influence can take place.

Current levels of people actually working, officially called the labor force participation rate, are at levels not seen since the mid 1980’s. Unfortunately, this already includes people working multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, people who are in no financial condition to provide momentum to power a stronger market of any kind, particularly housing.

What’s left?

Credit

For decades, rising consumer credit was effective in closing the gap between lower savings and the income levels needed to drive consumption, which represents 2/3 of our economic activity.

http://stawealth.com/images/stories/1dailyxchange/Household-Debt-Deleveraging-021914.PNG

Since the peak of the shaded area in 2009, the beneficial effects of deleveraging, or reduction in debts, must transfer into spending capacity.  Much of this decrease of consumer credit was forced upon consumers by lenders during the financial crisis of 2008, through involuntary cancellations or reductions of lines of credit.  Credit deleveraging has been a net withdrawal on spending and consumption rather than a positive influence on spending and consumption.

The brown and blue jagged lines clearly show gradual declines in personal income, savings rates and overall gross domestic product

What about the $4 trillion in Quantitative Easing in the past 5 years?

The Fed’s original intent to increase the amount of credit available to businesses and consumers, as well as target the level of unemployment, at least in theory, has largely failed.

First, the falling levels of unemployment are mostly due to the decline in people giving up looking for work, or, as officials call it, a falling labor force participation rate.

But, two things are obvious from the next chart.  One, the historic growth in the Fed’s balance sheet, used to stimulate the asset markets and to shore up the balance sheets of the financial sector, are also known as that artificial creation of stimulus over this period that must ultimately be withdrawn from the market as certainly as it was added. Two, the amount of wordsmithing that has been necessary in the Fed statements to cover their tracks is also monitored and noted.  

So, who really benefited since the first QE was launched? There is a great deal of debate on the topic, but here are a couple of facts. Financial asset valuations, particularly in the corporate sector have seen sharp increases. For example the S&P500 index total return (including dividends) has delivered 144% over the 5-year period. Those who had the resources to stay with stock investments were rewarded handsomely. (As a reminder, this bottom 5 years ago had the markets at a 1997 level!!!  All gains for 12 years had been wiped out.  This 144%, therefore, should be spread over the period since 1997, or 17 years, to fairly evaluate the 144%.  You won’t hear this on the business channels.)

Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the three rounds of quantitative easing over the past five years rewarded those who had the wherewithal to hold substantial equity investments. Everyone else on the other hand – which is the majority – was not as fortunate.

Perhaps the best illustration of these distributional effects is in the chart below. It shows the relative performance of luxury goods shares with wealthier clients vs. retail outfits that target the middle class. The benefits of QE are clearly not felt equally by the two groups.

In addition to the luxury goods story shown above, an even bigger story here is that luxury auto sales also rose in 2013, while the lesser under-brands lagged, and this includes a reduction in December YoY sales at GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, VW, Kia, Subaru, and Mitsu. Light truck sales fell YoY at GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Kia, Sabaru, BMW, Hyunda, Mitsu and VW. Nissan was an exception with higher auto and light truck numbers. This is a clear reflection of who benefited from Ben Bernanke’s helicopter barrage of free money, that is, for those who are actually benefiting from the ‘wealth effect’, as opposed to those who are just pretending, as in those waving their 401k statements, which are still filled with ‘unrealized’ paper gains that you can’t actually spend, without penalties, age-restrictions, red-tape. This is a delusion of prosperity, spelled out in who can buy, and who can wish and pretend.

To make matters worse, these declining sales of non-luxury brands were all in the face of increasing incentives/rebates, some incentives increasing by double digits from December ‘12 to December ‘13, by Ford, Honda, Hyundai/Kia, and lesser incentives by Nissan, VW, GM and Toyota.  Only Chrysler had a reduction in incentives in the period.  The results were higher incentives and falling sales, at least among those outside of the luxury bracket.

Based upon measures of housing, income, credit and the impact of QE on the breadth of households, it should be clear that the appearances of a current recovery are an illusion for the bulk of the population, including savers, working people, retirees, people with workforce instability, and, that viewing last years 30% measurement in the growth of the stock sector demonstrates a massive disconnect between how the economy appears and how it actually is.

10152013 October 15, 2013

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, gold, markets, silver, stocks.
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Weather Report 10152013

Current Positions  (Changes)

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

F(bonds) – up to 70%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 10/15/13

+10.74, –4.37, -4.78, +6.25 (S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

(3 Friday’s ago/2 Friday’s ago/Friday – 1 week/today)

Patterns are what I constantly observe.  Beneficial patterns are what I seek to use for my advantage.  Hazardous patterns are what I seek to avoid. Indecisive patterns are treated as hazardous patterns.

Recent patterns have tended toward uncertainty. Here is some proof.

Friday, once again, headlines read this weeks ‘market rally’ as great news, in anticipation of a ‘deal’ on the ‘hill’.  Last month, it ‘rallied’ on the peaceful solution to a Syrian crisis, followed by ‘rallying’ again on the continuation of QE/failure to taper from the Fed.

So many ‘rallies’!!!  What is the net result of all of these ‘rallies’ over time?

I deliberately paused from updates due to the succession of intervening news events, both positive and negative.  Very little has changed. As proof, here were the following measures of key indexes one month after the last report in June and the net change as of Friday.

Index                July 29th            Oct  9th              Friday               Changes

                               1                           2                      3            1to2      1to3

Dow Industrials    15521.97    14802.98     15237.11           -4.63%     -1.84%

S&P100                     756.60         737.29        757.73           -2.55%    +0.15%

S&P500                   1691.65      1656.40      1703.20             -2.08%    +0.68%

Russell 2000          1040.66       1043.46     1084.31            +0.27%    +4.19%

Wilshire 5000            18187.97    17688.15  17871.47         -2.75%     -1.74%

10-year treasury note 2.585%     2.65%        2.682%             +2.51%    +3.75%

The S&P100 is just 9 points higher than it was 5 months ago, at the time of a new ‘all-time high’.

The risk remains higher than the potential reward, in spite of $2-4 billion per day in Fed feeding.

It took above average increases in the past 3 days just to bring several key indexes beyond their levels of July 29th; virtually nowhere in the past 11 weeks.  Even further, the S&P100 was near 547 during an earlier high in mid-May, only 11 points below today’s high.  We are now sitting around 9 points below the highs of the year.

This lack of progress is intentional.  This pattern has every appearance of the year-long ‘tops’ that occurred in 2000 and 2007 before the start of major corrections that resulted in 40% losses in a manner of less than a year.

When you examine the 2000 and 2007 tops (and most market peaks outside of the “V-top” ones like 1987) you’ll notice the churn both before and after what turned out in hindsight to be the final peak. The S&P 500 experienced a correction of more than 10% in Jul-Oct 1999 that was then fully recovered, another 10% correction in Jan-Feb 2000 that was then fully recovered, another 10% correction in March-May 2000 that was fully recovered, and a final high in September after which the S&P 500 was cut in half. Likewise in 2007, a 10% correction in Jul-Aug was fully recovered by the October 9, 2007 peak, and the first 10% correction off the peak was followed by a 7% recovery into December before the market began to decline in earnest. Even then, once the market had lost 20% in March 2008, it mounted a nearly 12% advance by May 2008, as a further loss of more than 50% lay ahead.

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It was this sort of rolling top, with intermittent corrections being followed by recoveries to yet further marginal highs, that prompted this quote from Barron’s magazine just before the 1969-1970 bear market plunge:

“The failure of the general market to decline during the past year despite its obvious vulnerability, as well as the emergence of new investment characteristics, has caused investors to believe that the U.S. has entered a new investment era to which the old guidelines no longer apply. Many have now come to believe that market risk is no longer a realistic consideration, while the risk of being underinvested or in cash and missing opportunities exceeds any other.”

Investors lose a full-cycle perspective during these periods of enthusiasm. But remember the regularity, worse in the 2008-2009 bear, but consistent throughout history, for typical bear markets to wipe out more than half of the gains from the previous bull market advance (and closer to 85% of the prior gains during “secular” bear phases). Somehow this outcome will be just as great a surprise to investors when the present cycle completes as it has repeatedly been in market cycles throughout history.

Gold

Someone, somewhere is trying to keep the price of gold low.  On Tuesday, October 1st at 2:00 AM EST, it was reported that someone put in an order to sell 800,000 ounces, or about $1 billion worth of gold. The price plunged from $1332/oz to $1293/oz.  Then, on Wednesday, October 9th at 8:40 AM EST, an equally large “market sell” order of 600,000 ounces of gold – valued at $786 million was made.  Then, finally on Thursday, October 10th, again at 8:40 AM EST, with ZERO news other than the poor JPM and WFC earnings, and less progress in the government shutdown/debt ceiling talks than expected – a whopping TWO MILLION OUNCE “market sell” order hit the COMEX, valued at a ridiculous $2.6 BILLION. This suspicious sequence could only have been deliberate deception to create the false impression that other assets are more preferred than gold, in the same way as stock prices have been supported for the past 4 years by the Federal Reserve to make stocks appear to be a preferred asset, in spite of stock prices returning less than 4% of that over the past 14 years of gold/silver returns.  Why would someone want to steer you away from the least promoted, but, best asset class of the past decade, precious metals, while also attempt to encourage you to stay invested in one of the most publicized, but, weakest class, stocks?  After all, gold and silver are real, but, stocks are paper.

Interest Rates

My over-weighting of the F fund is to anticipate the ‘flight to safety’ that normally occurs during periods of stock weakness and surrounding periods of financial stress.  The threat of either a credit downgrade, a debt ceiling fight, or default all play into the hands of a desire for a reduction in risk, and a desire for protection that higher bond prices offer.  The false expectation of a summer stock swoon was the purpose for weighting in F earlier in the year.  The Fed’s May pre-announcement of expected tapering in September offset that expectation and drove bond prices and the F fun to a slightly lower bottom.  That bottom has firmed over the past 4 months, along with the corresponding ceiling on interest rates.  In spite of the hysteria and anxiety of higher rate expectations, rates today are no higher than they were almost 4  months ago.

Near panic continued to rule the interest rate picture since that premature, ‘pre-taper’ announcement from the Fed in May. Rates on the 10-year Treasury note ultimately rose from a low of 1.6% on April 16th, completing practically 90% of it’s final rise within 9 weeks.  Nevertheless, the media flooded the air with scare stories about rapidly rising interest rates, when not viewing the context that the highs of this year were lower the lows of 4 & 5 years ago.  Rates actually rose only a average of 0.00106 points per day between June 24th and September 25th.  Between August 19th and September 16th, this rate rose less than 3% of the rate from the April low to the ultimate high of 2.984% on September 6th.  Overall, rates continue to rise and fall within a declining channel, just as they have for the past 30 years.  Much of the concern in the past few months on rate increases appeared to be psychological.

The de-emphasis of tapering, reducing the $85 billion purchase of mortgages backed securities by the Fed,has extended the impression of downward Fed pressure on rates.  This reversed much of the losses incurred in the F fund during the mini-rate ‘panic’ of May/June.

However, within the past week, world reaction has responded to the stalemate in Washington, by moving from short term treasuries, such as this 1-month note, and into longer term notes, given the increases in risk associated with the now increasing probability of a debt payment being missed, if there is no prompt action on the debt ceiling.  News stories or politicians who suggest a lower level of concern on the debt ceiling, citing the $250 billion dollars in collections versus $20 billion dollars in payment due, fail to account for the rest of the balances planned against the collections, spread through thousands of obligations worldwide.

Simply ‘prioritizing’ these obligations within the current limit would immediately create an actual elevated risk, removing the universally accepted ‘risk-free’ aspect of US government debt, and immediately raise interest rates. The impact would ripple instantly through any interest rate sensitive activities, such as housing, construction, real estate, lending, leveraged instruments, etc., and further into retail, travel, and on.  The fragile state of economic stability would rattle any buffer that currently exists between the current state and an actual recession, as measured by lower levels of economic output and/or growth.  Already, the costs of insuring U. S. government bonds has risen to levels not seen in five years.  This insurance is a premium paid against the probability of default.  We might not believe that a default will occur, but, this doesn’t stop others around the world from preparing for the unlikely event anyway.

This short-term rate increase is only one of several signs that threaten to undermine this fragile stability, already supported only by heavy subsidies by the Fed from QE.  This indicates fear in the short-term borrowing markets that even the hint of a default will cause too much demand for overnight funds than the supply at a given price will allow.