Author Archives: Pater Tenebrarum

     

 

 

A Word on 1987 Analogies – Why Even Bother?

As our friend Dimitri Speck noted in his recent update, the chart pattern of the SPX continues to follow famous crash antecedents quite closely, but obviously not precisely. In particular, the decisive trendline break was rejected for the moment. If the market were to follow the 1987 analog with precision, it would already have crashed this week. Nevertheless, we wanted to show one more parallel in connection with the previously discussed “flight to fantasy” effect. As we mentioned when we posted this chart, the divergent DJIA/NDX peaks we could recently observe happened in 1987 as well. Here is a chart of the event:

 

Divergent highs and lows in the NDX compared to the DJIA in 1987. The similarity with the recent divergence at the peak – which took even almost the same time to develop (DJIA peak on Jan 26 vs. NDX on March 12) – is quite glaring. It is one of several reasons why we believe the January top in the major benchmark indexes may turn out to be a significant one, regardless of whether an 87-style crash wave develops.

 

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Dubious Picks

Unless this is part of another cunning negotiation tactic, the Donald’s recent cabinet nominations have to be considered highly dubious, to say the least. First he promoted Mike Pompeo from his CIA post to the position of Secretary of State – removing the eminently reasonable, and as we believe widely underappreciated Rex Tillerson. Pompeo is mainly known for sharing Trump’s irrational dislike of the  nuclear deal with Iran, which was pretty much the only laudable policy measure Obama implemented in his otherwise disastrous 8-year reign.

 

“Trump-Whisperer” (h/t Economist magazine) Mike Pompeo. To his hawkishness on Iran we would note the following: invading or bombing the country is pretty much an insane pipe dream (and it would achieve nothing but even more regional chaos); reimposing sanctions only fortifies the regime’s position, which can then blame all economic troubles on foreign enemies – besides, it is well-known that the population rallies to support the mullahs whenever they can credibly point the finger at foreign interference. Iran’s citizens are definitely hurt by economic sanctions, but they won’t blame their own government – instead they will increasingly come to hate the West. What else does Pompeo support? Here’s a brief list of things he has reportedly said in recent years: he is for “military action in Syria to remove Assad” (brilliant, get rid of one of the few remaining secular political leaders in the region – who does he think will take over from Assad? Peaceful professional head-choppers?); he’s perfectly fine with NSA mass surveillance (as we have often pointed out, there is no reason whatsoever to trust that this is not misused, and even if one naively assumes so, it paves the way for a future tyranny); along similar lines he demanded the “death sentence for Edward Snowden” (who we think is a hero for informing the world at a huge cost to himself about the unlawful mass surveillance Pompeo loves so much); and lastly, he thinks the Guantanamo Bay torture station should definitely remain in operation (of course Obama failed to close it down as promised). The guy is a neo-con warmonger/ Deep State swamp creature. Trump was allegedly impressed by his swagger.

 

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SPX, Quo Vadis? Considering the Crash Potential

In view of the fact that the stock market action has gotten a bit out of hand again this week, we are providing a brief update of charts we have discussed in these pages over the past few weeks (see e.g. “The Flight to Fantasy”). We are doing this mainly because the probability that a low probability event will actually happen has increased somewhat in recent days.

 

Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr cast wary glances at their ancient (modern at the time) pre-Ogygian deluge Quotron. This sucker is going down honey!

 

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Another Highly Useful Report

As we noted on occasion of the release of the first Incrementum Crypto Research Report, the report would become a regular feature. Our friends at Incrementum have just recently released the second edition, which you can download further below (if you missed the first report, see Cryptonite 2; scroll to the end of the article for the download link).

 

BTC hourly (at the Bitstamp exchange). Although BTC has been in a bear market since peaking in December, it still offers numerous short term trading opportunities due to its high volatility. We took the above snapshot of the hourly chart at around 8:00 am EST to illustrate this. After declining sharply amid an onslaught of negative news (including an announcement by Google that it would no longer accept cryptocurrency-related ads, which strikes us as an utterly absurd decision), bitcoin made a short term low in March 18 at $7,325; from there it rose to a short term peak at $9,188 on March 21. This is certainly what one would consider a “playable move” as a trader. Note the strong trading volume right at the low – this is a recurring characteristic of short term lows in BTC (sometimes the low of the heavy volume candle is retested at lower volume before the trend actually turns – the same phenomenon can often be observed at short term highs as well).

 

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Divergences Continue to Send Warning Signals

The chart formation built in the course of the early February sell-off and subsequent rebound continues to look ominous, so we are closely watching the proceedings. There are now numerous new divergences in place that clearly represent a major warning signal for the stock market. For example, here is a chart comparing the SPX to the NDX (Nasdaq 100 Index) and the broad-based NYA (NYSE Composite Index).

 

The tech sector is always the last one to get the memo – we have dubbed this the “flight to fantasy” – and it is always seen near major market peaks. Incidentally, the Nasdaq was the last index to peak in 1987 as well (the DJIA topped out in late August of that year, the Nasdaq on October 5). So this is a well-worn tradition. The divergences that have been established between these indexes in the recent rebound from the early February are a big red flag in our opinion.

 

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Speculators Throw the Towel

Over the past several years we have seen a few amazing moves in futures positioning in a number of commodities, such as e.g. in crude oil, where the by far largest speculative long positions in history have been amassed. Over the past year it was silver’s turn. In April 2017, large speculators had built up a record net long position of more than 103,000 contracts in silver futures with the metal trading at $18.30. At the end of February of this year, they held their first net short position in 14 years (!) with silver trading at $16.43. This is highly unusual.  Here is a short term chart of the net positions of hedgers and large speculators:

 

The net speculative and net hedger positions in silver futures have undergone huge swings lately – while prices moved only very little. Consider the much smaller net speculative position at the market top near $50 in April 2011 compared to the peaks seen since early 2016 and especially last year. We suspect that there must have been huge inflows into CTAs given how much larger reportable speculative positions in many commodity futures have become in recent years. Note that the trading strategies employed by such funds rely almost exclusively on technical signals and most of them are trend-followers (a few systems with mean-reversion overlays exist as well). Often there is no longer any human intercession, instead computer algorithms decide what and when to buy and sell. Of course such computerized trading systems are still programmed by humans – they are merely more likely to strictly stick to the rules of whatever trading strategy is implemented (humans are known for frequently second-guessing their own trading rules). As a result of this, herding effects are very likely actually magnified.

 

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Lord, Grant us Chastity and Temperance… Just Not Yet!

Most fund managers are in an unenviable situation nowadays (particularly if they have a long only mandate). On the one hand, they would love to get an opportunity to buy assets at reasonable prices. On the other hand, should asset prices actually return to levels that could be remotely termed “reasonable”, they would be saddled with staggering losses from their existing exposure. Or more precisely: their investors would be saddled with staggering losses. In this context we have noticed the emergence of a new consensus in the form of an invocation we hereby term the Augustine of Hippo Plea.

 

St. Augustine of Hippo, here seen doing saintly magic in his later years. In his Confessions the Saint admits that as a “wretched young man” he once inserted a phrase into one of his prayers that has become quite famous for the hopeful qualifier attached to it: “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.”, read: “Grant me chastity and temperance, but not yet”. At the time the future Saint feared that he might actually get what he wished for. “Timebam enim ne me cito exaudires et cito sanares a morbo concupiscentiae, quem malebam expleri quam extingui”, as he explains (“I was afraid that you might hear me right away and quickly cleanse me of the disease of carnal desire, which I would much rather have explored than expunged”).

 

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A Warning Signal from Market Internals

Readers may recall that we looked at various market internals after the sudden sell-offs in August 2015 and January 2016 in order to find out if any of them had provided clear  advance warning. One that did so was the SPX new highs/new lows percent index (HLP). Below is the latest update of this indicator.

 

HLP (uppermost panel) provided advance warning prior to the sell-offs of August 2015 and January 2016 by dipping noticeably below the zero line shortly before the selling started. They briefly returned to positive territory after the first dip, and after a third or fourth dip in close succession the sell-off commenced. What is currently of interest to us is that the sell-offs themselves generated deeply oversold readings in HLP in excess of -30. Only then did the market bottom and reverse back up. This is interesting because the early February sell-off has only managed to generate a warning signal so far. We have seen two dips below the zero boundary since then, but an oversold reading has not been generated yet. Based on this indicator, we are now merely in the phase prior to the actual sell-off. Looking at the third and fourth panels from the top, note that while the percentage of stocks below the 50-dma (purple line) did reach comparable “oversold levels” in February, the percentage of stocks below the 200 dma (red line) did not. Currently both percentages are almost at the same level they inhabited just before the August 2015 sell-off.

 

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Serenely Grows the Debtberg

We mentioned in a recent post that we would soon return to the topic of credit spreads and exotic structured products. One reason for doing so are the many surprises investors faced in the 2008 crisis. Readers may e.g. remember auction rate securities. These bonds were often listed as “cash equivalents” on the balance sheets of assorted companies investing in them, but it turned out they were anything but. Shareholders of many small and mid-sized companies learned to their chagrin that quite a bit of this “cash” had for all practical purposes evaporated when the markets for these bonds suddenly froze.

 

Surprise and shock at the sudden emergence of exotic securities in unexpected places at an inconvenient moment.

 

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Whipsawed

Frank Roellinger has updated us with respect to the signals given by his Modified Ned Davis Method (MDM) in the course of the recent market correction. The MDM is a purely technical trading system designed for position-trading the Russell 2000 index, both long and short (for details and additional color see The Modified Davis Method and Reader Question on the Modified Ned Davis Method).

 

The Nasdaq pillar…

 

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Economic Activity Seems Brisk, But…

Contrary to the situation in 2014-2015, economic indicators are currently far from signaling an imminent recession. We frequently discussed growing weakness in the manufacturing sector in 2015 (which is the largest sector of the economy in terms of gross output) – but even then, we always stressed that no clear recession signal was in sight yet.

 

US gross output (GO) growth year-on-year, and industrial production (IP) – note that GO continues to be published with a lag of two quarters. As the upper half of the illustration shows, growth in manufacturing output turned negative in 2014 – 2015, while y/y growth in “all industries” GO fell to zero by Q3 2015. The lower half shows the culprit: the mining sector, which includes upstream oil and gas production. While the sector is small, it is very volatile and accounted for an uncommonly large share of capex due to the shale oil/fracking boom. This was confirmed by the action in credit spreads during this time period as well, as junk bond spreads exploded mainly due to a relentless sell-off in energy company debt in the wake of plunging oil prices. Although happy times are here again following the oil price recovery, GO has begun to weaken slightly again in Q1 and Q2 2017 (note: the surge in IP since then does not tell us much, as GO leads IP).

 

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Fibonacci Retracements  

Following the recent market swoon, we were interested to see how far the rebound would go. Fibonacci retracement levels are a tried and true technical tool for estimating likely targets – and they can actually provide information beyond that as well. Here is the S&P 500 Index with the most important Fibonacci retracement levels of the recent decline shown:

 

So far, the SPX has made it back to the 61.8% retracement level intraday, and has weakened a tad again since then. This is not yet conclusive evidence that this level will contain the rebound, but it is worth noting that the RSI made it back to just below 50 as well (the 40-50 area in the RSI is often an important demarcation in both bullish and bearish market phases). On the other hand, the decline has injected somewhat greater caution than was detectable previously (e.g. the VIX remains around the 20 level). That may help support a larger rebound; note also that the 200-dma serves as support, so an argument could be made that the decline was merely one of the periodic tests of this moving average. One should watch what happens if lower Fibo retracement levels, i.e., the 50% and 38% retracement are approached from above. According to Canadian technical analyst Ross Clark, statistics suggest that the 38% level must hold to maintain a positive bias. If it breaks, a retest of the lows becomes the minimum expectation.

 

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