1. The expectations are running high

The week of April 28 Barron’s ran a cover story “The Bulls are Back”.

bull in the water

AND NOW, FOR SOME GOOD NEWS: THE OTHER SHOE isn’t going to drop. After a winter of discontent marked by massive write-offs on Wall Street and a wilting economy on Main, America’s portfolio managers have declared that the worst is over. More than half of the institutional investors participating in our latest Big Money poll say they’re bullish or very bullish about the prospects for stocks through the end of 2008. Their forecasts suggest they’re even more upbeat about the first half of 2009.

The market expectations run high:

Market sentiment

This Barron’s declaration prompts me to write several posts that I want to unify by the title “Where is my recession?”. The goal is to carefully run through the bulls and bears arguments and collect the readers opinions that will help to proceed to the next step.

Are the bulls correct and the economy (what they really care of are the profits of listed corporations) is on the way to bottom soon and recover going into later this year? Or what we see is a classic front page indicator marking the foolish euphoria right before the real meltdown starts?

2. The economy as a dynamic equilibrium

First of all, what are we talking about? What is a downturn or a recovery? If we think about the economy is like a big barge that almost always exists in a state of some kind of dynamic equilibrium. Dynamic equilibrium means that there is a multitude of forces that are constantly pulling and pushing this barge in different directions and those forces sums up into one force that is making this barge to slowly drift in one direction. Most of the time this barge is slowly drifting in one direction with GDP growing close to 2.5% trend growth. Sometimes it slows below 0% or above 5% – way out of the trend.

What it this trend move at all? The civilization exists by consuming natural resources and converting them into goods. The western market economy proves itself to be the most efficient in processing the natural resources, which makes the developing world to ship their natural resources to us rather then trying to process them themselves. The whole process of working out natural resources and consuming the final goods is quite profitable and the western world is booking the profits according to this advantage.

Sometimes the inefficiencies develop. They can be different. Sometimes the natural resources are overconsumed and that moves the profit from the processing to extraction, i.e from the West to the developing world. That makes the West profits to fall and the chain of overproduction unfolds backwards until it hits the initial resource extractors. Sometimes one of the West countries tries to book future profits and that makes it fat and lazy and then the creditors come and bankruptcies follow.

To sum it I can say that when GDP grows too fast it it inefficient, when it grows too slow it is unprofitable. The economy is bouncing between the efficiency and profits but makes it very slow, in 4 and 8 years cycles. This process is slow and the economy spends significant amount of time at the both ends of each swing. When a trend develops it takes a lot of time before it can be reversed.


So the purpose of this exercise is to find out if the forces that are pulling the economy out of this recession are on the rise while the negative forces that are pushing are deeper are contained.

3. The bull argument

Let me try to collect the essential bull arguments.

  1. The interest rates are extremely accommodative. Compare current rates with 8% rates at the beginning of the 1991 recession
  2. The Feds are extremely cooperative with all other measures. For example, they are lending to non-regulated institutions, which never happened since 1930s
  3. The stimulus package will help the consumer to overcome all the temporary problems ad restore confidence and consumption
  4. The subprime incident is almost over

The following posts will address those questions

Let me test my predicting powers.

I think today market action was very bearish (and I loaded more puts). First, the very happy rally of +170 points in the Dow was completely reversed to the -12 decline. And that was the 4-month intraday high combined with a complete reversal – fit the final exhaustion move.

Second, in the bear market, for any meaningful accumulation at the bottom you must expect financial stocks to outperform general indices. They are early leaders and they must lead. Today the broad financials XLF closed -1.01%, broker dealers IAI -0.94% and small mainstreet banks KRE are distressed and closed -2.08%.

Third, this is May. Sell your stocks and go away.

And finally, if this post is about stocks I need a chart. Here’s the chart, the discount (stigma) borrowing:

I think the rally from March 10th $SPX of 1273 to today intraday 1404 (nice 10.3% correction for a bear market) is over and we will start long and painful slide back to 1273 and below. The trend moves are usually slow and I expect the 1273 to happen somewhere in late June or even July.

Disclaimer: I’m just an anonymous blogger, my opinions are for entertainment purposed only

Update: Another chart, just to make the post longer. Here’s the ration of financials to S&P:

Financials are very early cycle leaders. Last time the ratio bottomed in a very beginning of a bear market, about 2.5 years till the bottom. But this metric we may easily have the bear market till 2010

Just a technical observation. I love various oscillators, because they help me to visualize the market internals. This weekly chart (link) shows the relationship between percentage of the S&P 500 stocks over 200 day moving average and over 50 DMA (click to zoom).

As you can see in the bull market the 200 DMA line is mostly above 50 DMA line because many stocks oscillate above and below their 50 DMA but they mostly stay above 200 DMA. In the bear market it is exactly opposite. I think you can use this chart as a definition of a bull or bear market, not a single definition, but one of the best out of many.

This chart gave you a perfect, amazing warning back in October. The 200 DMA line in freefall while 50 DMA line was making another high.

Let zoom the same chart to the daily one (link):

I don’t think I can fetch from this chart where stocks are going next week but I can clearly see that we are deeply in a bear market. Only 40% of stocks are scrambling above 200 DMA while 70% of stocks are flying above 50 DMA.

I think the well-pronounced top in the current counter-trend run will happen when the 50DMA line will start making lower highs (examples – late October and late December)

Update: I’m adding the chart from Eugen comment:

As you can see it is indeed a very good indicator during bull market. But now it is on uncharted territory

While the fabrics of the world financial system is too complicated for anyone to understand it is sometimes possible to track several bold moves that are likely to lead into equally bold consequences.

First of all is the continuous disruption of the world food economics. After I’ve tried to explain the sharp increase of food prices by simple supply and demand the collective finger was pointed toward my nose forcing me to accept that the apparent disruption of the world financial equilibrium is also likely to be the cause.

This is very similar to the gold run that we observed in the past few years. When the trust into dollar future was fading the first reaction of market participants was to hoard something precious to them, like gold. But in the past few weeks the world market discovered that there is something much more precious than gold, like food. If you saw the multitude of movies about wars you probably know that (at least in the movies) during the war a fine gold watch will buy you few cans of spam or a bag of flour. Not that gold is so cheap, but the food is so precious. When millions of people are losing any trust to their local currency (pegged to falling dollar) they resort to hoarding rice, which is relatively easy to store. One bag of rice is equivalent to one gold watch, when the time comes.

Now the second bold move. It’s the apparent shortfall of US tax collections comparing to soaring needs of this administration spending habits. The outstanding treasury debt is quickly approaching $10 trillion, and this is one of biggest Ponzi schemes in the world. This is the story we all know.

And the third bold move is the panic at Japanese bond market this night. Inflation finally reached Japan and the bonds started to fall so fast that the trading was suspended (those guys still don’t understand free markets). The elimination of ZIRP in Japan will lead into many redistributions in the word financial system. For example, I think the eventual introduction of the unified Asian currency may prompt China to sharply increase the purchase of Yens and reduce the purchase of dollars, and now is a good time to start doing so, because the interest rates in Japan will start moving closer to the rest of Asia.

Now the result of all this. Check the chart of the 10Y bond yield:

It clearly broke the trendline by a meaningful margin. The sharpness of the upward move will tell us the magnitude of the disaster. I think this is the most important event on US markets we need to watch now

The Dow theory is, among other useful stuff, defining the relationship of DJ industrial index and the transport index to primary bull or bear trend. It’s amazing, but the Dow theory was almost 100% correct (maybe just a little late) during all the 100 years of its existence.

But I’ve recently heard an incorrect opinion (don’t want to point the finger) that the bear market is over when DJ and transports cease to make simultaneous new lows. In that case it was pointed out that the transportation index does not confirm the new low of DJ and hence the rally is due

Before applying the Dow theory in practice you need to keep in mind that transports are the classic early cycle leader. Let look at the chart:

This is the ratio between transports and S&P 500 before and during the last bear market. You can clearly see that high inflation made transports to underperform the market for two years before the bear market started. But as soon as Greenspan cut the rates for the first time the trannies are seriously overperforming the market. It doesn’t mean that the transports index will necessary enter the bull market while the rest of the market is in severe decline, but at least it can stop confirming new lows of Dow Jones index.

I think by its nature the classic Dow theory signal is much more reliable at the beginning of the bear market but it can give a premature optimistic signal of a new bull market.

Lets look at the recent chart:

It seems to me that the ratio gave a pretty good one year advance bear market warning in 2006. Then it gave a very bold confirmation in October and then quickly fell to the levels that remind of the early 2000 a the first chart. The time seems very compressed and the run that follows is very similar to the early 2001.

Knowing that the previous bear market was running till the Fall of 2002 we can conclude that the chart as we see it now keeps the door open for a nice deep and protracted bear market even if transports will fail to make new lows

The great primer on trading options is here.

And I want to add few lines on my own. I want to suggest another trading rule, which is not popular at all.

I think when you buy out-of-money options you must treat it strictly as insurance, i.e. you hope to lose money on that position, not earn. Compare it to life insurance. When you buy life insurance your goal is to actually see it to expire worthless :-)

If you want to actually win on your option trade you must buy a deeply in-the-money option that is actually above (or below) all reasonable resistance (support) levels so that it expires worthless only in the case you’ve made some exceptional, spectacular mistake and not just being a bit unlucky

The market are cheering that we didn’t have an bank failure for 3 weeks. The Citi had a kitchen-sink confessional and the market exploded.

Let see some charts:

Yes, $spx broke the downtrend line but the cost of this was volatility index $VIX to approach December lows with October lows not far away.

The put/call ratio is at the levels it was only 3 times this year, each time right before a pullback.

Who knows, the indices may have enough energy to run ino 200 DMA but that would be a major shorting opportunity.

The most important report in whole earnings season is tomorrow – Citigroup. The new CEO has one and only one chance to dump losses on old management (new broom). It’s a careful balance between declaring an enormous loss and send the whole economy into dump swamp or juggle the numbers and make it so-so, even good, but face slow bleeding in earnings for a year or two. I am not particularly bearish on C stock as I accept that a lot is already priced in. But the rest of the market may get a sour feeling.

If you ask me to pick one single stock that will indicate the state of the current consumer-driven economic cycle I will pick Harley Davidson. Why?

  • The typical consumer of Harley is a male, 35 to 60 years old, $40k to $200k income – pretty much slicing the whole spectrum
  • The Harley motorcycle is pretty much useless, nobody use it for commute or shopping
  • The management and the brand are very solid, you can exclude any non-economic reasons for the stock performance

Today Harley Davidson declared its earnings. The stock was down over 4% at one point and now is about 45% below last year top. But when it resumes the uptrend you should start searching for the market bottom.

We finally got to the point when Main St takes a hit from Wall St. As you recall I’ve mentioned few times that so far the collapse of commercial paper market was offset by the extension of lines of credit. Few minor bumps on this road are not important.

Now is the major bump. Just released H8 shows that banking credit contracted by $102 bln from last week and by $132 bln from the March peak. Now add here $16 bln two-week contraction of commercial paper. I always used to add those two numbers, so the total two-week credit contraction is $148 bln. You can add here a more modest bond issuance contraction that I reported here. The total outstanding short-term debt is $1,817+$9,433=$11,250 bln. The relative contraction is 1.3%.

I think this is a very big number. You can compare it with “stimulus package” passed earlier this year – they pretty much cancel each other. I think the effect will be almost immediate – we are in the earning season and one after another the corporate CEOs will tell us that they plan to cut spending. Of course they will be forced to cut spending if they are forced the reduce debt.

Maybe I should call all this the year of The Great Deleveraging?

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