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07262017 July 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 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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Weather Report – Interim – 04162017 April 15, 2017

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, markets, stocks.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Current Positions  (Changes)

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

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

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

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

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

-3.43, -6.54, -1.94, -13.7

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

November 9, 2016

There’s hope for the market under Trump

…..hope….

March 21, 2017

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

….back to reality….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

11132015 November 13, 2015

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

Current Positions  (No Changes)

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

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

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

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 11/13/15

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

-18.07, 36.28, 36.12, 62.48

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

(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 2001, the trend turned bearish, by falling through the 9 quarter moving average, stocks rallied 20% in 32 days, then fell 29% in the next 90 days. Stocks fell 44% within 7 quarters.

In 2007, the trend turned bearish, by falling through the 9 quarter moving average, stocks rallied 12% in 40 days, then fell 23% in 3 months. Stocks fell a total of 53% within 4 quarters.

Now, in 2015, the trend turned bearish in August, by breaking the 9 quarter moving average, then rallied 11.44% in 51 days into November 3rd.  We have now fallen 4% in 8 days. The pieces are falling into place for a decline of 20% or more within 90 days, and up to 50% within the next 6 or so quarters.

“History never repeats itself,  but it often rhymes”

A lot of attention was given in the past two months to the ‘bounce’ from one-year lows, following a 4-day, 11%, waterfall decline in August.  After taking two tries, over seven weeks, to rebound just over 5%, beyond 2020 on the S&P500, it was only through a sequence of Fed (rate softness) , European Central Bank (extending Quantitative Easing), and Bank of China (surprise rate cut) announcements in mid-to-late October to create a ‘bullish’ impression.  The truth was told at the end, when the November 3rd high failed, by 1%, to match the previous high, established in May.

Even after the recent 8% rebound from the August collapse and the one-year low, S&P price levels were only 1% higher than they were a year ago, even as S&P earnings are DOWN 6% from a year ago. That current S&P price level was still 2% BELOW the highest levels of almost 6 months ago. (This is called a ‘trading range’, no matter what the level of dramatics that occur in between.) The justifications for these zig-zagging price levels are simply to confuse, return only what has already been taken away, and, to continue to offer little reward for great risk. Earnings on the Dow Industrials peaked last May, along with the ‘all-time highs’, and have declined, by 10%(!), ever since.  This is another factor that weighs heavily on anyone’s suggestion for continuation of the bounce.  Earnings drive price levels.

Short-Range

Here is a day-by-day trend of how the major S&P sectors are performing this week.  To get to the main point, or, the bottom line, notice the fading trend on the bottom two rows.

S&PSectors

How has holding F Fund positions compared to positions in the C, I, and S funds this year, given the higher levels of risk?

These three charts tell the story.

Use the ‘0’ line, in the middle, from left to right, as a guide for the plus or minus, advantage/disadvantage from holding in F funds this year, as compared to the other funds.

(click each chart to zoom in, then, back button to return to the page)

PEOPX-AGG

The C fund, most like the S&P500, has carried an average upside of about +1-2%, an average downside risk of -1-2%, a high of +4.53%, at one very, short point, and a downside risk of -6.1%.  It now only has a 0.65% advantage, which even now appears to be eroding today.

EFA-AGG

The I fund, most like the EFA International fund, has carried an average upside of about +2-4%, an average downside risk of -1%, a high of +7.22%, at one very, short point, and a downside risk of -8.24%.  It now only has a -4.84% disadvantage, which even now also appears to be eroding today.

RUT-AGG

The S fund, most like the small cap funds, has carried an average upside of about +3-5%, an average downside risk of -1%, a high of +8.98%, at one very, short point, and a downside risk of -7.23%.  It now only has a -2.86% disadvantage, which even now also appears to be eroding today.

This should make it clear that we are unable to declare any advantage for this year in equity funds, even if the returns in the F fund, and bond funds in general, have been both low-risk, and, of low appreciation.

Medium-Range

Longer term indicators are on the cusp and could go either way from here, either confirming an early stage bear market down phase (most likely) or signaling that longer term cycles have turned back up (most unlikely). Given the underlying adverse liquidity (tightening credit and falling demand worldwide) conditions, that seems a less likely alternative; but, if the indications did turn to the upside, it is suspected that the up phase would manifest itself as little more than a broad trading range that has wide swings in both directions with little upside progress overall. This week has offered a window into this next probability, and, is now unfavorable. As I said in September, fund managers love a ‘Santa Claus’ rally, to fatten up their New Year’s bonuses.  Therefore, one more rally back to recent highs is not out of the question.  It would be very quick and very limited on return.  Don’t try to chase it if you’re already standing aside.  You’re likely to either be in, with risk, or, miss it, IF it comes, and not miss much.

Interest Rates

The shell game with the Federal Reserve continues, now with the December meeting supposedly holding the next key to whether or not rates will rise from the floor.  We’ve heard this before – next meeting….next meeting….next meeting.  So, how does this impact us?

Every threat to raise rates puts downward pressure on our F fund, and upward pressure on interest rates. Each realization of a weakening economy puts upward pressure on our F fund and downward pressure on interest rates.  This tug-of-war seems never ending.  The likelihood of a truly, major positive event signaling economic health is simply a pipe dream.  The further denial, and never-ending, but unfounded hope that the worst is behind us, only serves to stall the inevitable – that the Fed is bluffing on raising rates, since they are hinting at strong economic growth that simply cannot be sustained.  Recently, a ‘strong’ jobs report raised talk last week and this week of raising rates in December.  That report is only an estimate.  Averaging that report into the last 2 previous reports only creates an average jobs trend and outlook.  I mentioned earnings earlier.  We are in an earnings recession; declining earnings, year-over-year.  The Federal Reserve has NEVER raised rates during an earnings recession.  That rate decision requires a broader view than one employment report can contain, no matter what, or who, can tell us how certain they are that rates will rise.  Even if they do so in December, it is only by a small amount, and, that has more psychological impact than anything else.  Raising rates will also give them room to lower them again, once the true nature of the unsustainable levels of the current economic condition is revealed in the next few quarters.  We are talking about raising rates, while Europe, Japan and China are in rate cut cycles!! This F Fund strength, relative to the other funds, is already telling you that worldwide rate pressure is low, and, that F Fund prices are performing relatively well. That’s your cue.  Don’t worry about rising rates!!!

09252015 September 25, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Current Positions  (Changes)

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

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

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 09/24/15

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

4.88, -17.54,  -1.76, -72.95

(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)

It’s now a month after the largest decline in 4 years. The dust has cleared.  Any doubts about the very first Fed action after the first correction in 4 years are now in the books.

In the chart below, the biggest question, before and after last week’s Fed meeting, is which way the ‘ascending wedge’ formation would resolve – breaking upward or downward.

Bulls were certain that this was a bullish ‘consolidation’. And, with no rate increase last week, they were confident of a rebound.  That confidence proved to be incorrect.

S&P50009242015

(click for a closeup, then, back button to return)

Also leading into last week’s Fed meeting, the ‘exposure index’ from the National Association of Active Investment Managers hovered in the range near one-year lows.  Since the Fed meeting, that exposure level is now lower than in the previous two weeks, and, is now at the low for the year.  Investment managers are not interested in increasing their exposure to stocks at this time.  Prices should continue to weaken near term. HOWEVER – prices in this upcoming quarter characteristically rise from August/September/October lows and into late November to mid-December highs.  This all-too-often phony ‘advance’ back to old highs meets the needs of fund managers who do not want a negative return in their portfolios for the year.  That justifies a bonus for them in January.  Don’t count on these advances holding up into the next quarter.  Any rise that does not exceed the highs for the year, established in May and June, depending on the index, should simply be classified as ‘noise’.  Only an advance that exceeds those May/June highs should be taken seriously.  That stronger advance, past highs of the year, is highly unlikely.

In the past week, a measurement of buying interest in the various S&P components/indexes has indicated a similar pattern of low and declining buying interest, if not, outright selling interest.

S&P-PBIThe only sector with any increase in buying interest is the S&P Utility sector.  This is a bearish indication, one of a search for safety, protection and avoidance of risk.  This is a reiteration of the expectation for a further decline, or increasing risk, in stock indexes.

On Wednesday, stocks worldwide began the morning with another beating after a scandal at Volkswagen (deliberately altering emissions results on up to 11 million cars).  The impact of this scandal is far-reaching, threatening the company itself, the health of German economy, and, with ripple effects to all of Volkswagen’s inter-connected supply chains world-wide.

The expected increase in the ‘flight to quality’ trade, of increasing interest in bonds, did not fully materialize, even as stocks broke down last month.  The one obstacle to the increases that should have occurred in our F fund positions were due to the flooding of the bond market of our bonds, previously purchased from us, by the Chinese central banks, at the very time that the demand for our bonds increased, and, during the times of highest overall risk.  These high risk conditions are normally the times when bond prices rise fastest.  You can’t blame them for adding their supplies to the market (dumping!) when they knew that the demand was also present.  Everyone has to strike while the iron is hot.  If not for that event, our F fund would have received a higher rate of increase, due to the rush of money out of stocks.

TreasuryNote(click for a closeup, then, back button to return)

Therefore, I am increasing my stake in the F fund, until this bond price trend reaches a peak, or, until stocks manage to bottom or regain their footing, due to increases in exposure by investment managers, or, the strengthening in the S&P sectors buying interest.

In the grander scheme, I noticed the emergence of a pattern that has only occurred 3 other times in the past 15 years.   In the previous 3 instances, stocks continued to decline by (1) 40% from the 2000 highs, (2) 53% from the 2007 highs, and (3) 20% from the 2011 highs.  So far, we have only declined by 10%.  It is highly likely that we are only halfway, or less, down to our eventual bottom, toward -20%, or more, from the highs of the year.

$SPXQtrly(click for a closeup, then, back button to return)

Additionally, a momentum measure called ‘relative strength index’ has fallen below a critical level, one that has only been reached, on a decline, for now only the 3rd time in 15 years.  If the current decline continues into October, we will be into our 6th quarter, moving beyond 20 months, within a narrow, ‘topping’ range.  This will increase the likelihood of this meeting the classification of a major top, and increasing the likelihood of a significant decline within the next 6-8 quarters.

 

03162015 March 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

-26.06, -13.71, +20.39, +49

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

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

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

Market Statistics

YTD03132015


Margin Debt

MarginDebt01 (click chart to expand in separate window)

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

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

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

(click chart to expand in separate window)

SP500-HistoricalRallies-Nominal-030815

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

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

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

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

Funds

 (click chart to expand in separate window)

FundsJantoMar15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support 2019, 2040, resistance 2065, 2080.

SPX

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

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

Dow

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

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

Resistance 4900, 5000. Support 4850, 4730.

Compq

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

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

Resistance 1242, support 1220, 1205.

RUT

Bonds/Interest Rates

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

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

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

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

Dollar

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

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

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

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

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

DollarDaily

DollarMonthly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil

LightCrude

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

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

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

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

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

Precious Metals

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

Gold

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

Silver

Copper

Forecasts

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

(click charts to expand in separate window)

Missing

Dissapointed

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

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

SPX-W

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

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

Greece

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

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

Very Important

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

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

Random Thoughts

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

(Hat tip to Art Cashin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10082014 October 9, 2014

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

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 10/07/14

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

-31.30, -2.82, -5.09, +7.63

(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)

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’ 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?

Margin debt reversal

 Margin

Repeating from the previous two 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 (declining), 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 years. The result of margin debt figure through August is shown in the following chart, for comparison to all months of the past 3.5 years.


Update – Notice that the peak in debt for the year has STILL not exceeded the February high, after which the primary indexes channeled sideways, with no price appreciation, for 12 weeks. For the past nine 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 diminishing portion of Fed stimulation through Quantitative Easing (QE), which ends on October 29th, this will remove 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.

Funds YTD

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

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

S Fund                 I Fund          C Fund                       F Fund

YTD 7/16             7/16               7/16                       7/16

+4.12%                +4.01%        +7.17%                      +3.94%

YTD 10/7           10/7                 10/7                       10/7

-1.04%                -4.18%          +6.39%                     +5.53%

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

-6.57%              -9.71%           +0.86%

In the table, consider the difference between how each fund differs from the F fund results, as what you are gaining, or losing, for the additional amount of risk that are a natural part of holding equity funds.

This weeks’ extreme volatility does nothing to mask the fact that current levels peaked several weeks ago. Most of the indexes are within a few points, high or low, of their 50 day averages.  European markets are all far below this average (they’re at a different party, one that’s already over). Today’s appearance of a reversal, (based upon that guy named ‘Fed’ walking across the stage),  of Monday’s downdraft results in the following net changes for 2 days: Dow Industrials, +3 points; S&P500, +3 points; S&P100, +1 point; Nasdaq Composite, +1 points.

Obviously, the numbers for this year are more favorable for the F fund than other funds.  Last year, the F fund trailed the other funds by a significant margin, and, for the last 3-year period. Surprisingly, the previous 3-year period saw the F fund double, triple, and more the returns of the other funds.  The equity funds promise more upside under some conditions.  The F fund has not produced a negative return in any one-year period over the past decade.  So, why is there so much more interest, each and every year, in chasing equity funds?  It’s due to the focus on the potential upside and ignorance  of the potential risk. It’s also where the majority of financial managers make their money.   Are you really getting paid enough in your returns to justify the additional risk within your personally chosen time frame? Can you afford to be wrong on the third equity peak since 2001?

Three major components of the I fund, the English FTSE, the French CAC and the German DAX, are back to the levels of their May ‘13, November ‘13, and December ‘13 levels, respectively; sideways for a year or more.

I am partially exiting the F fund temporarily.  It is now at one of it’s highest points in several years.  A simple reversal on technical measures would not be much of a surprise.  This is exactly what occurred in May of ‘13.   I will re-enter if equities continue their breakdown, forcing a run to the safety of bond assets, or, if a continuation of the uptrend strengthens.  A seasonal aspect in equities might lead to October weakness and a November/December rebound.

Less than a month from now the QE new-buying era ends, leaving the Fed bereft of the ability to convince traders it is backstopping stock markets. Harsh political realities make launching QE4 risky to the Fed’s very existence.   The imminent end of QE3 is the best catalyst we’ve seen for sparking a major correction or new bear market since QE3 was launched.  The precedent on this is crystal-clear, the ends of both QE1 and QE2.

The first major correction of this cyclical bull in mid-2010 was triggered when QE1’s buying was ending.  And the next major correction in mid-2011 erupted when QE2’s buying was ending. These once again were not trivial sell-offs, with SPY plunging 16.1% and 19.4%.  And the stock markets then were far less risky, overextended, overvalued, and complacent than they are today. QE3’s impending end is truly predictable, and ominous.

The bottom line is that stock markets rise and fall.  And thanks to the Fed’s gross distortions of psychology, today’s markets are overextended, overvalued, and epically complacent.  That means a major sell-off is long overdue to rebalance sentiment.  Best case if the bulls are right, it will be a major correction approaching 20% like at the ends of QE1 and QE2.  But far more likely is a new cyclical bear ultimately cutting stocks in half no later than 2015.

Interest Rates

U.S. 10-Year Treasury Note

15-tnx

World Markets

Major Markets Composite

 MajMktComp

This composite index combines the ten largest world markets with equal weights into one index.

Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, UK and US

Individual markets around the world, including many of those in the Major Markets Composite Index, and several other key indexes, are shown individually on the next few pages. Each bar is a week, to smooth out daily ‘noise’.  Also note ‘rate of change’ on the black, wavy line at the top of each chart, indicating positive or negative momentum, above or below the horizontal line.

Europe

FTSE

9-ftseCAC

8-cac

DAX7-dax

US

 Russell 20005-rut

Dow Industrials1-indu

Nasdaq Composite4-compq  S&P 500 2-spx

Wilshire 50003-wlsh

ASIA

Shanghai Composite11-ssec

Singapore Straits13-stiHang Seng  12-hsi

SOUTH AMERICA

Bovespa

14-bvsp

Insider Selling

With Form 144, required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), investors get clues to a corporate insider’s pattern of selling securities and pressure to sell. It’s a notice of the intent to sell restricted stock, typically acquired by corporate insiders or affiliates in a transaction not involving a public offering. These filings are shown daily on a Wall Street Journal blog.

As of this past Friday, the ratio of intended sales compared to intended purchases is at 51:1.  That’s 51 times as many intended sales as intended purchases.  Just about a month ago, that ratio was 47:1.  This filing also shows an additional ‘planned sales’ category.  When this category is combined with sales and then compared to purchases, the ratio of sales plus planned sales then compared to purchases more than triples to 173:1.  The technology category, for example, shows intended purchases at $81,161, with intended sales at $54,500,780, and planned sales at $139,310,116, which is 2,387:1.  This is a much greater ratio than the mixture of 10 major market sectors. Obviously, those with the connections have no intention of holding on to their large shares of stocks at these price levels.  This is definitely not the kind of ‘bull market’ that some of us are led to believe by the financial media.  Speaking of the financial media, apparently the word is getting around that these talking heads aren’t to be trusted.  The viewership ratings are now at 21-year lows.  This speaks directly to the degree of confidence that the general public has of these programs and their prospects for guiding retail investors toward their investment goals.

All-Time Highs

It’s taken just over a week to erase the significance of so many all-time highs, with market levels now back to where they were in early June.

In hindsight, with these highs now erased and now insignificant, how often does a headline, or, a news story telling you that there was another all-time high make you certain that you’re ‘missing out’?

But wait!  Let’s get one thing straight.

1 – http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/07/23/apologies-but-the-sp-500-is-not-at-an-all-time-high/

2  – Will Hausman, an economics professor at the College of William and Mary, calculates that the S&P 500 hit its true high — its inflation-adjusted high — of 2,120 on January 14, 1999.

To put that another way, the market still needs to rise about 150 more points — nearly 8% — to be on par with where it was in the late 1990s.

But, back to the non-story, there were at least 7 ‘so-called’, all-time closing highs since the last report.

S&P 500 inches to new high … but not 2,000 By Ben Rooney  @ben_rooney July 24, 2014: 4:25 PM ET

S&P 500 MAKES NEW ALL-TIME HIGH By Myles Udland August 21, 2014 4:00 PM

S&P 500 sets all-time high in intraday trading  Associated Press and IBJ Staff August 25, 2014

S&P 500 MAKES A NEW ALL-TIME HIGH Aug. 29, 2014, 4:00 PM

S&P 500 Ends Week at Another Record High with Gains for Fifth Week in a Row By Jeffrey Strain, September 6th, 2014AllTimeHighs

In this chart, the bar on the far right represents the average daily range of the S&P 500, from high to low, for the 3 month time frame of July 3rd to October 3rd.  The 7 bars to the left represent the increment of each new ‘all-time high’ in this same period, over the previous ‘all-time high’. Clearly, the new high was of such insignificance that it takes almost all of the 7 highs together to equal one daily high to low range.  The ‘good news’ about these highs was all ‘fluff’.  Now, they’re all gone.

What is never apparent in the news is just how much each high is above the previous high.  Is it a point?  Two points?  Or, is it twenty?  Waiting 4,5,6 weeks for another couple of points?  Is it wise?  It’s important, because with both the completion of Fed tapering (lower liquidity), and, the flattening of margin debt (lower cash sources) each week of additional equity exposure for the potential gain is also more exposure to the risk of losing it, and, quite often, losing it more quickly than it was gained.

Case in point – a 2% drop on Sept 29th and 30th was the equivalent of losing 25% of the entire gain for the year.

Case in point – Friday’s closing high, even after a relatively strong bounce for that day, was still LOWER than the lows of the 4 of the last 5 weeks, and. lower than the highs of, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15 weeks ago.

On the equities side, we’re going sideways on the strongest chart (C fund), and, drifting downward on the weakest charts (S and I).  The S fund is lower than the previous peaks in  March, June and early September.  The I fund is back to where it was in early February.

A final point on the ‘all-time high’ myth.  To go along with (1) the Forbes article, and (2) the quote from the William and Mary economics professor above, here is the inflation adjusted chart, using August 2014 ‘constant’ dollars, of the S&P500, from 1877.  Notice the current position, still below the 2000 high.

RealS&P

Source: http://www.multpl.com/s-p-500-price/

Dollar

 DollarThe U.S. Federal Reserve is nearing the end of its most recent period of quantitative easing, or QE (that is, rapid expansion of the money supply). By purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, the Federal Reserve has spent the past several years expanding its balance sheet dramatically.

Now, as the current round of QE ends, the Federal Reserve is nearing the end of its unprecedented bond-buying spree. All other things being equal, this would mean decreased demand for Treasuries, and higher interest rates. Clearly, the U.S. government wants to keep its borrowing costs low. So with the Fed withdrawing from QE, how else could the U.S. government encourage demand for its bonds?

Other nations and currency blocs are still on the QE path. Japan’s vigorous QE is ongoing, and may increase. The European Central Bank (ECB) has so far been prevented from implementing outright QE by the resistance of Germany; but it is likely that Germany will eventually relent and the ECB will start QE as well.

All of the money created by the world’s central banks is looking for a home where it will earn a return — without being eroded by inflation. And right now, its best option is to buy assets denominated in U.S. Dollars. To some extent, this will be U.S. stocks, especially large-cap, high-quality companies. However, much of this money will flow into U.S. Treasury bonds.

A U.S. Dollar that is increasing in value may draw global financial flows into the U.S., support the demand for U.S. Treasuries, and help keep the U.S. government’s borrowing costs low.

The recent downside action in stocks may have begun with a German economic report.   The German Industrial Production declined 4 % while their Factory Orders had a 5.7 % decline as well. The International Monetary Fund topped it off with a lower projection of global economic growth from 4.0 % to 3.8 % next year.  The IMF further had concern about the geopolitical tensions translating into the stock market reaching “frothy” levels.  Contagion fears haunt the market with sentiment that the European Central Bank will not be able to add enough stimulus to increase inflation and stir the economic growth.   Their falling Euro FX should prompt better exports and a boost to their economy next to the stronger US Dollar.

Of course, a rising Dollar will also likely have negative effects if the dollar stays too strong for too long. These would take some time to manifest.

A higher Dollar relative to other currencies will make U.S. exports more expensive to customers abroad, and will hurt U.S. corporate profits — the more business a company does abroad, the more it will hurt. Ultimately, over the next few quarters, a Dollar that is appreciating strongly against other currencies such as the Pound, Euro, and Yen would be a modest drag on U.S. growth. Foreign goods would be cheaper, and the U.S. trade balance would deteriorate.

Oil

 Oil

Many globally traded commodities, especially oil, are denominated in Dollars. A stronger Dollar against other currencies therefore has the effect of making those commodities more expensive for non-U.S. customers, and leads to a decline in demand. We are seeing this play out in the price of crude oil.

Also, in the bigger oil picture, true supply and demand does not lie. Strong, vibrant, well-distributed world-wide growth would not produce an oil chart such as the one above.  Oil prices are range-bound since 2011.  Relatively stable oil prices have simply not served as enough of a catalyst for either economic stability or strong growth.  Notice how even the lowest curve, at the bottom of the green area, appears to project even more price weakness/lower prices.

Precious Metals

Precious metals in the form of gold and silver have appreciated by as much as 493% and 607% respectively at their peaks in 2011/12 from their lows in 1998. They are still up over 225% and 300%, respectively, as of today from that time. They are still favored by many who believe that higher intrinsic value will be further realized over the next 10 years. This is due to the combination of continued stress on paper assets, such as stocks and real estate, as well as consequences of escalating central bank expansion of fiat currencies.  This puts higher value on investments that are of limited supply and universal acceptance.  Look for more information on the significance of precious metals under my ‘About’ tab, under the long-wave economic theory.

Gold

 Gold

The soaring US dollar and the prospect of rising interest rates in the US have crushed the metals –both precious and industrial- to the lowest prices they have seen in several months. So far, there is no price action to suggest that this has ended.

A drop to either side of $1,180/oz. fol-lowed by a reversal could create a triple bottom on the weekly and monthly time frames. This could provide a base for a substantial rebound.

Conversely, a clean break below last year’s low and a close below the rising monthly rising 100-bar MA for the first time in a dozen years would be a very bearish event. IF that happens, gold could be doomed to hit the psychological $1,000/oz. mark for the first time in five years. I said several years ago that gold would be a screaming buy at that point.  At it’s peak, it nearly doubled from that point.

Silver

 SilverSilver slumped to a new four-year low of $16.85 this week. Based on a technical wave count, technical support could manifest somewhere around $16/oz. At this price, the decline from the July peak would be 1.618 the size of the decline from the February peak to the May low.

Failure to reverse or even slow down near the sixteen dollar level could indicate that silver is on track for the 2010 low of $14.65.

If the 2010 low is breached, silver may drop another dollar and try for the rising 200-bar Moving Average on the monthly time frame around $13.515.

A sustained close above the 2013 lows could cause a short-covering rally and run the December silver up to the Fibonacci .618 retracement of the decline from the July peak. Currently, this Fibonacci resistance line is located at $19.91.

Four decades of price history indicates that silver has a strong downward bias in the month of October.

As pointed out earlier, dollar strength is responsible for depressing prices of many commodities.  These lower prices are somewhat deceptive for that reason.

According to a report produced for the Silver Institute and created by Thomson Reuters GFMS, in 2013, the silver supply fell to 985.1 million ounces, down from 1,005.3 million ounces a year earlier—a two-percent drop in production. (Source: The Silver Institute web site, last accessed October 1, 2014.) But demand for silver was increasing over the same period. This continuation of falling supplies and steady demand points toward higher prices over the long term. A return by gold to it’s recent high would offer a gain of 60%.  A return by silver to it’s recent high would offer a return of 194%.

07182014 July 18, 2014

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

Current Positions  (No Changes)

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

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

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

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

-2.7,-0.5, +14.7, +4.87

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

Margin debt reversal

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

MarginDebt052014

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

GDP Shock

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

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

Funds YTD

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

S Fund                      I Fund                        C Fund                  F Fund

Early March        Early March            Early March        Early March

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

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

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

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

ALL-TIME HIGHS/RECORD HIGHS

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

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

(1)

(2)

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

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

What Does the Rise of the Dow Really Mean?

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

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

Negative Interest Rates

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

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

Market Technical Positions

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


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

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

FTSE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAC

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Gold/Gold Stocks

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

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

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

GLD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Market Complacency/Record Low Volatility

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

VIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil

Oil

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate

RealEstate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

04172014 April 17, 2014

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Weather Report 04172014

Current Positions  (No Changes)

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

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

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 4/11/14

-2.72, -19.48, +12.67, -5.41, (S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

(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 U.S. the yield on the ten-year closed at 2.62% and right at support. The rapid decline from 2.81% to 2.62% in only a week suggests a lot of money is rotating out of equities towards the safety of treasuries given the global uncertainties.  This desire for safety has kept the F fund as the place to be since the start of the year, as it has outperformed all of the other funds.  It should continue to do so until such time as when the rewards for stock ownership outweigh the risks of loss to stock portfolios.

Regarding this Weekly Momentum Indicator, which was designed to measure recent momentum, or the lack of momentum, it’s value is a reference to the range of the S&P100.  

For the past 26 weeks, it has been range bound between 785 and 826 on a closing basis. There have been some slight penetrations higher, intra-day, but on those days, it closed lower than these highs.  The S&P100, which closed at 824 today, has crossed back and forth across 824 20 times in the past 6 weeks.  One broad market mutual fund, the Vantagepoint Broad Market Fund, with top 10 components of Apple, Exxon, S&P500 Emini contracts, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Chevron, GE, Proctor & Gamble, IBM and AT&T, is also expressing a similar pattern

.

This next chart below shows the number of stocks in the S&P500 that have confirmed ‘buy’ signals. Keep in mind that as you look at the peaks and valleys in the chart, the ‘sell’ signals appear every 2-6 months.  These are not long-term buy signals.  They represent the short-term trading signals that correspond to the fundamental financial picture, such as, earnings announcements, Fed policy changes, currency fluctuations, global news that impacts multi-nationals, government actions (or inactions).  The relationship between the flattening of the S&P100, above, the VantagePoint Fund and the lower peaks in the index below are very clear.

Analysis –  This is no longer an uptrend.  This has every appearance of a multi-year top, with the highest risk to reward ratio in at least 7 years, and one of the four highest risk profiles of the past 85 years, with 1929, 2000, and 2007 being the other three. (see next chart)

Based upon patterns in the past, I will not rule out one more attempt to establish another short round of ‘record highs’.  This next round would correspond historically as the ‘right shoulder’ in a ‘head and shoulders top’ pattern, and would signal a final opportunity to take refuge from the imminent reversion to mean values.  Stocks are presently 66% overvalued, according to an average of four, well-established methods that have been in use to measure over 100-years of stock averages. (see below-‘right click/view image’ on chart to expand for a better view)

QE Infinity has so distorted the prices of stocks and bonds that nobody can possibly determine what the investing landscape would look like, or, what conditions of the economy and financial system would be, in the absence of Fed bond-buying.

-Paul Singer, Elliott Management, October 2013

This past week saw the biggest spread so far this year in the weekly performance of the top and bottom indexes on this watch list. The Shanghai Composite turned in the best gain for the week, up 3.48% while Japan’s Nikkei suffered a dramatic 7.33% selloff. The general skew was downward. Five of the eight indexes posted losses ranging from the -2.00% of the FTSE 100 to the aforementioned Nikkei plunge.

It takes a wider view in time, and, of several major markets at once in order to correctly filter the relative value of where we stand, particularly in view of this looking very much like the peak for the next 4+ years.  Over the past 14 years, only one market, the BSE Sensex in India, has provided gains in excess of long-term market averages.  All the rest are in the single digit range, per year, including four markets with negative returns for the period.

Within the last week, the Japanese Nikkei plunged -340 points to close under the 14,000 level and the lowest point since October. The Japanese economy is struggling and as a consuming economy it is closely related to the health of China’s economy. With Chinese exports declining it suggests further weakness in Japan.

The decline in the Nikkei suggests global equities may have peaked. The yen carry trade, when currency traders borrow yen at a low interest rate and invest it in a currency with a high interest rate, is on the verge of coming unglued with the yen rising to four-week highs. A rising yen depresses equities. The Nikkei appears to be headed for a “death cross” where the 50-day crosses over the 200-day moving average. That is typically a sell signal. At this point even a sharp rally could not prevent the cross of the averages.

The Fed is playing a very dangerous game and they need to stop. …this is bad, this is heroine addiction…and now they are printing more money than the deficit……all my friends who are money managers..are much closer to the sell button than they ever were before..everyone’s holding cash since if they start to get nervous, volatility will come back instantly…you known when this ends, it’s gonna get ugly.”

Barry Sterlicht, CEO Starwood Group

Still another filter to clarify the gains over the past 4 decades is this comparison (above) of the nominal’ S&P500, which is the chart most used in the media, that, unfortunately, does not take into account the effect of inflation.  We all know that, back in the real world,  inflation impacts everything that comes into and out of our purses and wallets.  The ‘real’ S&P500, in black,  is the one that shows us what has really happened, apart from that which is overly/optimistically portrayed in the media, in red.  Keeping us believing in the ‘pie in the sky’ is what the media’s role is all about. It’s up to us to adjust the hype with doses of reality.  If you believe the red line, then, you believe that you can buy an average NEW house for under $85,000, or, an average NEW car for under $5,500, as you could in 1980.

This chart above uses the starting year of the last 11 economic expansions as a basis for the amount of growth that occurs during that expansion.  It’s easy to see two things.  (1) The current expansion is the weakest in the entire post-World War 2 era.  (2) Each expansion since the early 1970’s has been weaker than the one before it. Yet, there are those who would lead you to believe that market all-time highs are totally justified, and, that this current expansion, now the longest on record, in terms of time, (thanks to the equivalent of 25 years worth of Fed stimulus compressed into each of the past 5 years), has a solid foundation for even more growth.  Given the conditions in points (1) and (2), you would have to believe otherwise.

On the issue of market valuation levels/stock price levels, some find it amusing when the stock market “cheerleaders” on mainstream business news grab their pom poms and cry out “all-time highs, record earnings.”  Others prefer time tested ratios over rhetoric, and in the opinions of some, probably the most reliable of them is the Market Capitalization divided by Total Revenue indicator, or simply MC/TR.  A MC/TR ratio greater than 1 indicates total market capitalization has grown at an inflated rate that is not supported by total revenues.  A MC/TR ratio that is less than 1 indicates total market capitalization is lagging behind the total revenues of the market.   Between 1979 and 2008, the capitalization-to-revenue ratio averaged 1.12. The ratio is 1.05 when calculating the index data back to 1968.  

Data supports the assertion that market forces are constantly seeking a natural equilibrium between total market capitalization and total revenue.  Investors that can identify the points where a market has strayed too far below 1 can buy stock index futures before total market capitalization catches up to total revenue, and vice versa.  Past performance validates this assumption. When the cap-to-rev ratio was less than 1, the S&P 500 returned nearly 10% more than in periods when the cap-to-rev ratio was greater than 1.

S&P 500 Futures – Monthly Continuation

Chart from QST

Before the 2008 market crash, the cap-to-rev ratio was 1.39 and indicated an overvalued stock market.  Where are we now?  Based on the current market capitalization, total revenue and the MC/TR ratios on the popular Dow 30 stocks we have come to some very interesting conclusions. The average MC/TR ratio for the Dow 30 is currently 2.34. WOW!!!! When we recognize a fundamentally severely overvalued stock market, we should ACT on any technical sell signal with built in risk parameters, because you never know until after the fact, that this could be the big one!

An article written by Fran Hawthorne for The New York Times on March 2, 2011 sums up the scare potential built into retirement plan options:

“When the markets tumbled in 2008, many investors who had hoped to retire in the next few years were shocked to learn that at a number of funds, far more of their money than expected — typically half of the assets — was in stocks. Rather than being a haven, the average 2010 fund — aimed at people expecting to retire around 2010 — fell 24.6 percent in the downslide.”

So, just where is the fuel for these lofty valuations?  

(Hint -we’ve been here before.)

(‘Right click-view image’ for a larger view)

On the ‘street’ side, we are currently in record territory with the use of credit used in stock purchases, that is, borrowed money, known as ‘margin’.  As soon as this rising black line slows down and falls down below it’s own 12-month average, it means that borrowing for stocks has slowed and the power behind rising prices is weakening dramatically. On the ‘stimulus’ side, there’s the never before seen (at least before March ’09) $85b/$75b/$65b per month from the Fed(QE), used in purchases of bonds and other assets from banks. So, it’s not so much that the Federal reserve is buying stocks.  The banks are using the money received from these bond purchases to purchase other assets, including stocks.  Without this fresh daily supply of new money, the banks would certainly not be purchasing stocks, mostly for a quick sale.  The banks are not ‘buying and holding’ stocks.  They are ‘buying and selling’, or, trading stocks to raise their own revenues.  So, it’s no wonder that the banks appear to be so healthy under the current conditions, being so heavily supported by trading revenues.

Unfortunately, for all that quantitative easing has done for the financial sector, the impact on the ‘man on the street’, or, so-called, ‘Main Street’, can be typified by the chart below.

As you can see in the chart, there are now 63% of eligible workers who are actually on the employment rolls.  This is a level not seen since a time when many households included only one working parent.

The Fed has now removed their QE targeting as it was originally pegged, with the original goal of lowering the unemployment rate.  Since it wasn’t working, there’s no point in having it as a point of measurement.  The original plan was to ‘stimulate the economy’ with the new lending that the banks were expected to provide to the business sector, which was to then stimulate hiring, employment, etc. Instead of lending to businesses, the banks have used the money for their own health, using methods that they were better able to control, stock trading.

We’ve entered the calendar period, that window from May to October of  each year, that for the past 60 years, has resulted in some of the weakest market returns.  With the highest returns, in 2013, than we’ve seen since 1997, this year, and this weak part of the year ahead, it statistically represents a period of extraordinary risk as compared to the potential for reward.

01222014 January 22, 2014

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, stocks.
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Weather Report 01222014

Current Positions  (No 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 1/21/14

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

+22.33, +6.01, -3.61, -4.8

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

Investopedia explains ‘Unrealized Gain’

A position with an unrealized gain may eventually turn into a position with an unrealized loss, as the market fluctuates and vice versa. An unrealized gain occurs when the current price of a security is higher than the price that the investor paid for the security. Many investors calculate the current value of their investment portfolios based on unrealized values. In general, capital gains are taxed only when they become realized.

How does an investor honestly reconcile the comfort and enthusiasm of results on a paper statement with the reality of the fact that, until sold, the gain will remain‘unrealized’? With full disclosure from regular Fed notes, it’s no secret that the Fed is ‘supporting the markets’ with daily cash injections.  The source of these injections are, simply put, electronically created LOANS that, for accounting purposes, are listed on the Fed’s balance sheet as items to be restored at some future point in time.  Therefore, the ‘gains’ in the current markets aren’t to be confused with cash to be distributed.  This is a loan that must be paid back.  The question is, who will get to cash in their ‘unrealized gains’, and who will pay the price for the current appearance, or deception, that everyone will be paid? Ask yourself – will I sell before the Fed withdraws from the market?

Since 2009, the correlation between S&P500 trends and Fed injections has increased from 53% to 100%.  This means that 100% of positive market movement is related to Fed injections.

Put another way, there is no other significant body participating in the markets presently outside of the Fed.  Selling by insiders remains a hundred or more shares times the number of buyers.  http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3024-insider1.html?mod=mdc_uss_pglnk  So -called ‘smart money’ has refused to commit money for other than short periods of time, or, has ‘hedged’ their buying heavily with derivatives which pay off in a decline.  We don’t have that luxury of that kind of risk control.

Ask yourself – is the Fed factoring in our withdrawal plans into their actions?

Here are the 2013 returns from some key major markets around the world.

The S&P 500 finished the year at 1848.36, for a return of 32.4%, an incredible return for one year by any standard.  The impact of a gain of that magnitude can easily be demonstrated by the absolute miss that I made for last year’s projection, even knowing in the fall of 2012 that Fed injections would begin.  So, from my own proprietary studies and tables, my day-to-day tracking for the year showed these patterns, now, of course, with perfect hindsight.  (Remember – these ‘returns’ must always be adjusted for (1) comparison to the ‘risk-free’ rate of treasury bonds, similar to our F fund, roughly 3-5%, and (2) inflation, at 2-3%, which NEVER show up in price charts, or, in quoted prices compared to other prices. So, these stated returns are never as high as they seem, regardless of the hype and emotion that’s associated with them.)

Positive/Neutral/Negative signals for the year, number of days

Positive     Neutral    Negative

  91

    59

    97

36.8%

23.8%

 39.2%

By all appearances, during the year, the markets never appeared particularly ‘healthy’.  Further, I found that for most of the year, the number of positive weeks in a row never matched the number of neutral or negative weeks in a row until the final 10-12 weeks of the year, which coincided with the Fed’s final, contradictory, ‘no taper’ announcement.   My suggestions for ‘entry’ or ‘exit’ signals during the year would have had to take nearly full advantage of our two moves per month allowed in our funds.

Therefore, I did not feel fully confident with the ‘risk’ side of the picture ahead of the potential reward.

So, how did my ‘miss’ compare with  early ’13 projections of the financial professionals?

Firm / S&P 500 Target / Missed it by this much (%, as of 12.10.2013)

  • Wells Fargo / 1,390 / 29.7%

  • UBS / 1,425 / 26.5%

  • Morgan Stanley / 1,434 / 25.7%

  • Deutsche Bank / 1,500 / 20.2%

  • Barclays / 1,525 / 18.2%

  • Credit Suisse / 1,550 / 16.3%

  • HSBC / 1,560 / 15.6%

  • Jefferies / 1,565 / 15.2%

  • Goldman Sachs / 1,575 / 14.5%

  • BMO Capital / 1,575 / 14.5%

  • JP Morgan / 1,580 / 14.1%

  • Oppenheimer / 1,585 / 13.8%

  • BofA Merrill Lynch / 1,600 / 12.7%

  • Citi / 1,615 / 11.6%

  • AVERAGE / 1,534 / 17.5%

  • MEDIAN / 1,560 / 15.6%

Like me, NONE of this long list of professional financial firms pictured anywhere near the advances that we saw last year.   I rest my case.  If they were all this far off, I could only be guilty of following the same signals of those with millions of dollars of staff and resources at their disposal.

As usual, the enthusiasm for continued market participation goes on non-stop. The normal focus in the mainstream media is to emphasize ‘number of weeks positive’, ‘percent gain YTD, ‘all-time high’, and so on.  What the media fails to do is to measure the ‘risk’ of the existing price levels.

The red line in the chart below is an inflation-adjusted measure of the S&P 500.  Your dollars do not buy what they bought in 2000 or 2007, so, why does the media compare today’s prices with the prices of 2000 or 2007?  The blue line measures the amount of margin debt, which is essentially the borrowed money used to buy stocks.  Notice how the peaks in margin debt correspond directly with the eventual peaks in the market.  The only difference this time are the $4 trillion dollars that have been ‘loaned’ to the mortgage and equity markets, from Fed keyboards, just since the last dip in 2009. Does this appear to be a low-risk period for stocks?

How long can this irrational state of affairs continue?  Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens.  If there is good news, stocks go up.  If there is bad news, stocks go up.  If there is no news, stocks go up.  That is, until they go sideways, for weeks at a time. On the Thursday after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high.  In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year.  This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble.  At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were “priced out of the market”.

But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.

The most significant factors in the change of market character for the year revolved around the Fed’s policy announcements in May, first to promise to taper after September, followed by the reversals in October, to postpone until after the change in leadership from Ben Bernanke to Janet Yellen. Also, there was virtually no gain from May to October, followed by the surge into the holiday season. This is the risky, news-driven aspect of market action that amounts to a virtual Vegas-style, dice roll; if the Fed is in, stay in.  If the Fed is out, get out.  I do my best to avoid situations such as these altogether, since, the Fed doesn’t exactly ‘have my back’.

Throughout, the safety position I took in the F fund early in the year, as a guard against mid-year stock sluggishness, narrowed much of the loss by the end of the year, the loss that was incurred by the May interest rate rise.  Bonds have held on to their ‘safety’ status and have strengthened since the first of the year as the ‘Santa rally’ in stocks has been erased. Characteristically, interest rates peak, and bond prices bottom (F fund) just as stock prices reach their peaks. This current action also appears to fit that historical pattern.

Two big events are occurring in the next ten days that could impact current trends in several world markets. One, the next Fed meeting occurs on the 29-30th, where a new and currently unknown tapering level is expected. Whether this means less support for the markets, or, no change/reversal with even greater support, is anyone’s guess.  Second, on January 31st, the first ever default of a Chinese ‘wealth management product’ will occur, in the range of half a billion US dollars.  This could ripple into other debt and loan offerings, given it’s rather unprecedented nature.  Asian markets will have to respond with strength or weakness to this event. There will be an obvious impact on many of the traditional lending policies in the Chinese financial industry. In the fall, I sought to avoid making allocation decisions that appeared to be based upon short-term events, or news, including Fed news, or Fed ‘noise’ as it’s also been called.  And, because of the abnormal time length between this report and the last report in October, there is simply too much material to update in one report.  So, I will end this as ‘Part 1’, and continue with parts 2 & 3 over the next few weeks.

Be careful.  Be safe.