Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winter Update

On July 6, I stated that I thought winter had started and that a top had been formed in mid June. On July 13, I recognized that a short term bottom was in, and a week later, when it became clear that a bull stampede was in place, that the real move down (ie winter) might have to wait until August.

It's OK to be wrong, in my opinion. Just try be wrong small. Easier in practice than reality, but that is another story.

In my July 6 piece, I identified why a top was in. Clearly it wasn't at that time. I thought it would be a good idea to update (in red) those items:

1) Lowry's Report. Basically, they are saying that the underlying demand and supply of the market is much worse than what the price action of the indexes is indicating. Their head Paul Desmond recently went on CNBC to say this and he expects a break of the March lows. A big change, as Lowry's has become a cautious bull. Therefore, this point is no longer valid for the time being.
2) The gold/silver ratio is warning of trouble ahead (thanks Bob Hoye) by jumping to 70 from 61. A similar jump happened last August. We all know what happened in September 2008! This ratio often leads in a crisis. Signal reversed after hitting 72. It has since dropped to 63, a level which it hit in August and now. Bears watching carefully. I want a move to 72+ to confirm ideally.
3) The US dollar appears to have bottomed. Another nail in the coffin of the bulls if it is true. Another false bottom but recently the US dollar has shown signs of turning up. Again, not clear yet. I want a move to 80 in the USD index with a daily RSI of 55+.
4) Commodities appear to have peaked. Another nail. Commodities rallied but look to be weak again. A true bottom in the USD is necessary for this to be confirmed.
5) Jeffrey Cooper from Minyanville.com, one of the best out there and a master of cycles analysis, has been warning of impending trouble from mid August onward. I agree. Still warning, and looking for a real sharp move down in September/October.
6) The green shoots were a myth. The proof is overwhelming that all you had was a slower decline in GDP not a return to sustainable growth (ie underlying demand, not inventory building). You could conceivably have green shoots at some point. I just don't see them yet. The biggest green shoot is the stock market. Yeah, that worked out real nicely in October 2007, when the S&P hit a new high, a month before the recession started, didn't it? Also, last month's US unemployment figures were horrible (while better than earlier in 2009, they were worse than anything in the last recession, including the period after 9/11- remember all those airline layoffs!). Consumer spending has also been atrocious of late. No real change in my view. Inventory building is taking place but final consumer demand looks to be getting worse not better. Case in point, retail sales in July stunk up the joint. Even with the cash for clunkers socialist gimmick, US retail sales were down 0.4%. Wal-mart comps were down 1% and then stated that they are taking market share (I believe it; when times are tough, people are going to Walmart). The stimulus effect is wearing off and there has been little or no positive impact on retail sales. Any recovery with the US consumer (70%) is suspect. If every other sector of the economy picked up (business investment, exports, housing, government), a recovery without the consumer would be possible. So far, That would be complete hope though as there is no sign beyond inventory rebuilding and government intervention that any of this is gaining any traction.

7) The history of monster bear markets is that they often have 40%+ rallies and then ultimately go to new lows. Look at the Nasdaq 2000-03. Ditto for Dow 1929-32 and Japan 1989-? Their purpose is to reset the shorts (by stopping them out or burying them) and suck in the bulls. Bear markets are as much a function of time as price. We have had a severe decline in price (although I think we need more). In terms of time, for a megabear market, this one has been quite short (20 months). More time is necessary to change psychology on a long term basis. No change, except that the rally went to 50%+, similar to the 1930 Dow rally. That rally failed and went down another 83%.
8) Sentiment has become almost universally bullish. It always does in a bear market rally after a crash. There are no shortage of people who have claimed that the worst is over. I believe the worst is coming. Even some of the bears are only looking for a retest of the March lows (the bulls are looking to 1000 to 1300 and laugh at the thought of a retest; they are convinced that a 40% rally means that a new bull market has started). I am looking for a break of the March lows. Sentiment hit 2007 levels last week. Bears are under 20% and bulls are over 50%. Very bearish.
9) International problems are likely to rear their ugly head (North Korea, Iran, swine flu, Latvia, Ireland, Chinese smoke & mirrors- I am a China skeptic). China is the biggest factor. Everyone is bullish on the emerging markets. China is down 24% in the past month. This needs to be watched, but without China, the emerging markets are suspect. Russia is already well off its rally highs. India and Brazil appear OK for now. This bears watching closely, and is related to items 3 & 4. Without China, commodities have headwinds. Without commodities, the S&P has problems.
10) The recent spike in long term interest rates is a possible warning shot of problems ahead. Higher interest rates are sinking the economy and are likely to cause further problems as they spread to non-government bonds. Nothing alarming yet. However, non-government bonds (corporates & junk) are below their recent highs, and again bear watching. Emerging market bonds have also sold off recently (see point 9). Government bonds are rallying.

I would like to add that I am watching the Baltic Dry shipping index, which gave a 1 month warning on the top in commodities last summer, which in turn gave a 1 month warning to the trouble in the main stock markets. This year, the Baltic Dry double topped in early June. This has not yet cracked the commodity markets but has formed a possible double top (June and August) and not allowed commodities to hit a new high despite the new highs in the stock market. In addition, the Baltic Dry has preceded the Chinese stock market top by 2 months. Unlike Chinese statistics, the Baltic Dry is driven by market forces.

I am also watching credit spreads (JNK and CYE are good proxies). These had huge runs since the spring lows and may be rolling over.

I have prepared a separate post on warning signs.

Conclusion: Where does that leave us?

In no-mans land for now (S&P 998). The time for the bear case is pretty much now or never (for 2009)

If we break above 1040, a move to 1120 is the most likely scenario. At that point, I would be forced to drop the bear case for at least a little while and maybe play the long side. If we break below 978, I think a move to 940/950 will be quick. If we take out 940, a confirmed fall sell-off is very likely.

Do we break the March lows? I am painfully aware that a move to S&P 666 is approximately -35%. Is it possible this fall? Yes, if we get some real ugly events (bank failures or country failures) like we did last year. Forecasting such events is perilous at best. I firmly believe that we are going to test and ultimately break those lows. Will it happen in 2009? I honestly don't know.

One scenario that I am grappling with is that we sell off to a higher low such S&P 800ish and then rally to a new high in early 2010 (1120?). This would gets people crazy bullish with a higher low and higher high. This would be a false hope and we could then crash later in 2010.

Another scenario is that we could hit 800 and then rally to a lower high, and then fall later in 2010.

The final scenario (and one that I still believe in, albeit less than earlier in the year) is that we crash this fall and take out S&P 666.

I strongly believe that a sharp move lower is coming over the next few weeks that should take us to the low 800s on the S&P for now.

When the move down is confirmed by the price action, I will revisit this whole "break the March lows" issue. To get to the March lows, you need the financial sector to be in shambles as was exposed in late 2008/early 2009. If the financial sector is able to avoid another debacle, then a higher low is likely.

If we rally back over S&P 1040 right now after today's move to 998, then the bearish case may have to wait until 2010.

Disclosure: Positions in SKF, QID, HOD.TO, FXP, SPY, EUO, POT, TCK-B.TO, HDU.TO, Cdn & US financials options and stock, US&Can cash

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