Bulls Remain Large and in Charge Despite Pullback

We had a lot of negative news between Friday’s market close and Monday’s open, almost all on the geopolitical front with the vast majority surrounding President Trump. Of course, Deutsche Bank finally agreeing with the markets that they needed to raise capital was icing on the cake. In a weak market, that backdrop would have yielded a 1-2% lower opening on Monday. In a strong market, we’re talking about .25-.50% lower.

Stocks are due and have been due for a pullback or at least a pause to refresh. That looks like what’s happening right now. With so many investors on the outside looking in, any weakness should be mild and followed by further strength until more serious cracks in the pavement develop. I found it interesting that CNBC’s Fast Money midday report was all about the Trump rally ending. I think those pundits will regret those words.

As I watch the major indices and sectors come off their morning lows, I can’t help but notice that high yield bonds are not following suit and lagging. One day or a few days means absolutely nothing, however, should stocks rally with junk bonds falling, I would become more concerned.

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Volatility Genie Trying to Pop Out

After what has been celebrated as this huge, epic rally on Wednesday, the major stock market indices gave back all of their post 9:30am gains and then some on Thursday. I mentioned the other day that volatility compression leads to volatility expansion and vice versa. When the volatility Genie finally gets out of the bottle, we will probably see a sustained increase. I think we’re close to that now. Please remember, volatility does not always mean decline. It means wider price movement in both directions.

Right now, the important takeaways from the week are that small and mid caps look the most vulnerable, relatively speaking. All of the indices remain overbought and stretched but I do not see a large scale decline unfolding. Emerging markets and commodities are under pressure with gold clearly failing at its 200 day moving average. I wrote about oil peaking the other day and the decline may be starting. High yield bonds and the NYSE Advance/Decline Line continue to act well which should buffer the downside. Three out of four key sectors scored fresh highs this with semis very close although banks saw a nasty reversal from new highs on Thursday.

Altogether, this behavior remains very typical of bull markets. Weakness should be bought.

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Energy Stocks Forecasting Crude Oil Decline

Good morning! As I finish this up, I am back at the airport waiting to board an earlier flight than expected back home. I was hoping to sneak away for a few hours and race through 18 holes, but Mother Nature gave us so much rain that the golf course and driving range were closed. So rather than waste a full day, I booked an earlier flight on the always flexible Southwest Airlines. At the same time, my 8 year old called me and said, “Dad, will you please come home right away.” That made the decision a layup and I will surprise them when they get home from school.

The stock market ended the month with lots of yawns. It has been a downright boring week or so. Long time readers know that volatility compression leads to volatility expansion and vice versa. The longer it stays quiet, the bigger the move, perhaps in both directions, when the boredom ends. Very quietly, the defensive sectors have been showing the strongest price action. Utilities, staples and REITs are all at fresh 2017 highs with very little fanfare. If my four key sectors weren’t behaving so well, I would be much more concerned.

One area which has been somewhat of a head scratcher for me is energy. With crude oil trading well and close to new highs, as you can see below, you would think that the energy stocks should be somewhat strong and following suit.

However, that’s just not the case. The next chart below is the exchange traded fund, XLE, or the grand daddy of energy ETFs. After peaking in mid-December, it’s now down roughly 10% with Exxon Mobil at new lows and down almost 15%.

The oil service sub-sector is below and it, too, acts very poorly against the solid crude backdrop. Something just ain’t right.

With the stock market behaving very well and crude oil close to new highs, the energy stocks should be a market leader. They are not even a mid-level performer. Historically, the stocks are smarter than the commodity and lead. Couple that with extreme levels of smart money selling crude oil and you have the makings for a peak in oil and significant decline on the way.

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Goldman Sachs’ Oil Forecasting Prowess

Goldman Sachs is a firm often in the limelight for hiring the best talent on Wall Street, winning the high profile deals, having close ties to the government and paying enormous compensation. It’s also a firm under intense scrutiny and often in the cross hairs.

The last time I wrote specifically about one of their market calls was when they “curiously” downgraded the biotech sector in January 2014. You can read that piece here. http://investfortomorrowblog.com/archives/941

This week, Goldman cut their crude oil forecast by $15, which on the surface, should not get much attention. But it did get me thinking. I vividly recall spring 2008 when oil was soaring and the country was worried about it never ending. At that time, Goldman called for $200 oil when oil was $125 and had already rallied $40 in under six months. To me, it seemed like the venerable firm was caught up in the hype and hysteria, and was only inflating the bubble even more.

So this morning, I did some research and found other occurrences of Goldman changing their forecast on energy. To be fair, it is certainly possible I may have missed some, but below is what I could find.

As you can see below, in June 2008 with oil at $125, Goldman raised their target to $200. Oil did rally for another month before utterly collapsing to $35 in less than a year.

In May 2011 (below), Goldman raised their forecast on oil, only to see it plummet almost immediately by 20%+.

In October 2012 (below), the firm lowered their target on oil, but within a few weeks, oil began a major rally.

Today, as you can see below, after oil was taken to the woodshed, Goldman cut their forecast by $15. If history is any guide and I believe it is, the next significant move in oil should be a major rally.

My takeaway from this is that just because Goldman Sachs is cheered, revered or sometimes jeered, doesn’t mean they have a good crystal ball or make accurate forecasts.

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No Inflation Seen in Energy Prices

With the various global tensions impacting the energy market, I thought it was appropriate to write a few articles about crude oil and how viewing different time horizons yield very different opinions. This is part I to be followed by part II next week.

To begin with, energy and more specifically, crude oil, has an enormous impact on the global economy. From common sense items like heating our homes and powering our cars to more derivative things like chemicals and asphalt, crude oil is a vital ingredient in the global economy.

It still seems like yesterday that the pundits confidently proclaimed oil above $40 a barrel would cause a severe recession and $75 would spell depression. That was when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and of course, they were wrong. From its generational bottom at $10.65 in 1998, oil almost quadrupled by mid 2000 without any economic pause.

From the post 9-11 low at $17, oil once again quadrupled by 2006 to $78.40. And again, there was no economic slowdown let alone recession, save depression! It wasn’t until oil went parabolic in 2008, straight to $147 that, combined with the financial crisis, spelled doom for the economy.

What’s the takeaway from this very basic and brief study of energy prices?

*As we have seen since 1990, higher oil prices do not equal higher inflation.

*Runaway oil prices over a period of time don’t equate to a recession.

*Third and perhaps most important, in my opinion, the American consumer is very able to cope with higher energy prices as long as they occur over time and not in the form of a shock. Obviously, if gas was $10 a gallon, that would severely impact the economy, but $100 oil did not stop the global economy and I would argue that if the financial crisis was not unfolding, the economy may have paused and perhaps even mildly recessed, but it would not have collapsed solely due to oil prices.

Today, I am often asked where I believe crude oil is headed and at what level we should worry that the economy will be adversely impacted. First, it certainly looks like oil is headed higher, right from here at $104. Oil traded to fresh 2014 highs last month and is now resting. Once $108 is exceeded $115 should be next before long. That level is really the “put up or shut up” spot for energy and as a consumer, my “hope” is that the rally ends there. Surpassing $115 opens the door to some much higher scenarios that most of us do not want to see!

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Oil Acting Up

Crude oil has very quietly rallied from $93 to $106 over the past  few weeks. I am surprised we haven’t heard more from the media about it. Usually when it cracks $100, we hear how it is going to hurt the consumer and lead to recession. And all this while the dollar was strong as well. Thursday’s downside reversal was interesting, especially given how weak the dollar was and I will be closely watching to see if the bears can muster any attack. If so, and stocks continue rallying, the transports should catch fire pretty quickly again. For full disclosure, we already own a position in the group and would consider adding to it. On the flip side, if oil blasts off again above $110, I think that will spell short-term trouble for the stock market.