Sector Leadership Immunizes Stock Market from Bear Market

On Friday, I wrote about the Russell 2000 and what a potential breakout could mean for the stock market. At the open today, this index hit a fresh all-time high. Before breaking out the balloons and party streamers, let’s see if it can close at new highs and not give back too much over the coming days. With the Dow closing above 20,000 for five straight days I will have a new target very shortly that looks to be several thousand points higher.

Turning to key sector leadership, it’s continues to be strong and constructive. Semis have paused of late, but continue to trade right up against new highs. While extended, the rally should still have legs.

Banks, which have traded in a tight range since early December, are trying to breakout to the upside right now. Only a failure here and break to the downside would cause me to temper my intermediate-term enthusiasm.

Like the banks, transports have also been in a trading range since early December and are trying to breakout higher  now. That is certainly bullish from an economic standpoint.

Finally, consumer discretionary, which I did not think would quickly reassert itself heading into 2017, has done just that. It now stands at all-time highs.

It’s really hard for the bears to argue that a bear market or even 10%+ correction is close at hand. The major stock market indices are back in gear to the upside as well as the four key sectors. Of course, this strength never, ever precludes a routine, normal and healthy 2-5% pullback. In this case, as I have said for many years, weakness is a buying opportunity.

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Canaries in the Coal Mine Part II – The Key Sectors

Moving to the four key stock market sectors from the indices I don’t see as strong a sign, but it’s definitely not a weak one yet. The bellwether for technology, semiconductors, is first and you can clearly see a sector that is “large and in charge” or “long and strong” to use some trading desk rhymes. This is very bullish long-term.

Banks are next and contrary to popular belief, rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. Quite simply, the banks do not look bad here and would look outright powerful when they close above their September peak which they are on track to do.

The transports are below and while a longer-term chart would show a sector 20% below its bull market peak from 2014, the here and now looks wound up and ready to break out to the upside. There is sufficient energy built up in this group that could help lead the stock market on its next leg higher to 19,000.

Finally, consumer discretionary is below and I would have to rate it neutral at best. It has some work to do to regain a healthy grade.

The good news for the bulls is that none of the sector canaries are dead or on life support.

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Pullback Mode Remains the Short-Term Theme

My general theme of pullback mode for stocks continues in all of the major indices except for the NASDAQ 100. Gold and silver have been a more exciting story, but they, too, have paused since I wrote about them last week. Sector leadership remains very strong with semis, banks, transports and energy near their highs at the same time the defensive group has been weak.

I wrote about consumer staples looking especially troubled a few weeks ago and nothing has changed. They had been dynamite all year and became very expensive on a fundamental basis during the first half of 2016. Since then, their price behavior has been poor as it looks like big money has been quietly selling the rallies.

On the bond side, treasuries have been hit with the ugly stick and they are approaching an area where they are “supposed” to at least bounce. If they cannot, I would begin to argue that much lower prices are ahead and into 2017. High yield, on the other hand, just scored yet another new high last week. This continues to give me comfort that a bear market scenario remains off the table for a while.

With Yom Kippur beginning at sundown today and lasting through sundown tomorrow, I would expect liquidity to dry up later today as well as tomorrow. That could make for a quick exaggerated move. Finally, the old adage of Sell Rosh Hashanah and buy Yom Kippur ends tomorrow. Stocks are now about to begin the most favorable time of the year.

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Canaries in the Coal Mine Part I – The Major Indices

For the past month, four of the five major indices have been in pullback mode after three of the five spent the previous month digesting gains from the huge post-BREXIT rally. While that theme continues today, I think the market is getting closer to resuming its uptrend with the Dow heading to 19,000.

Turning to the purpose of this article, I am going to first go through the major indices in the context of canaries in the coal mine to see what kind of shape they are in for the long-term. Then we will look at the four key sectors before finishing up with the NYSE A/D Line and high yield bonds.

For those new to my semi-regular canaries in the coal mine pieces, it’s my way to gauge the health of the bull market over the long-term. The stock market has corrected, 10%, 15% and even 20% without warnings from the canaries, but the canaries have always caught big bear markets. When we saw 10-20% bull market corrections, the canaries just tell us that the bull market isn’t over and to expect new highs at some point. This was the case during the 10-20% corrections in 2010, 2011, 2015 and 2016. And they were right each time.

The canaries did a very good job of warning about 2000 as well as 2008, however, keep in mind that they may give a few false warnings before the real one hits. It’s not a trading system and it really only matters when certain indicators are making new highs while others aren’t. I typically combine this with some really big picture indicators, like margin debt and sentiment, to fully gauge whether stocks are healthy or warning of a new bear market.

With all that said, let’s look at the major stock market indices. The Dow Industrials are first and you can see that along with the S&P 500 in the second chart, both saw their most recent highs in August.

The S&P 400 mid cap is next and it scored its most recent high in September which is good because this index usually peaks before the Dow and S&P 500 or coincidentally.

Below you can see the Russell 2000 which made a high with the S&P 400 in August and a slightly higher high last month, underscoring the market’s comfort level with risk in the small caps. The Russell usually peaks well before the Dow and S&P 500 as a new bear market begins.

Finally, the tech laden NASDAQ 100 is below and it just hit its most recent high last week. This is very supportive of the bulls over the long-term as this index is a leading bellwether

With the NASDAQ and small caps leading the major indices, the bull market is alive and well and not close to ending, regardless of what happens over the next day, week or month.

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Sell Signal Closed Out. New Leadership Emerged

Today is the last day of the month as well as the last day of the quarter. The S&P 500 closed down -0.12% in August and is on track to close down in September unless the bulls can mount a major offensive, which I am not ruling out, and close above 2071. That means a down August and September for the S&P in a presidential election year, something not seen since 1956. You can put that in the category of useless info.

Last Thursday, I wrote about a somewhat rare trend that forecast weakness from last Thursday’s close through yesterday. http://investfortomorrowblog.com/archives/2403

As you can see below, it was a pretty good five day trade of more than 1%.

fomc

While stocks sold off hard on Thursday with German banking behemoth, Deutsche Bank, collapsing even further, this is absolutely not a Lehman moment. Unlike Lehman which had no asset base to keep them afloat when the institutions made a run on the bank, DB has a huge retail network. I also do not believe Chancellor Angela Merkel will risk DB becoming insolvent with the election coming in 2017.

Anyway, stocks remain in pullback mode which I have been writing about for several weeks. Remember, pullbacks can some in two forms. One is for prices to decline quickly and somewhat sharply, while the other is to see less price weakness and more lateral movement over a longer period of time. I think we are seeing the latter right now.

I  keep talking about leadership changing and look what has been doing well during this pullback. Semis, transports and energy. These are new and bullish leaders for the bull market as the defensive group has now transitioned from neutral to outright weak. And, high yield bonds continue to hang in very well right near their old highs.

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Not the Fetal Position

Last week, my theme focused on a pullback in the stock market. More importantly, my strong opinion was that it wasn’t a bout of weakness where people should sell in to, but rather to use that opportunity to buy the dip or re-position a portfolio to where it should be over where it was.

Friday was an ugly day across the board. Overwhelmingly red. 96% of the volume on the NYSE was in stocks that were down. Besides stocks, bonds and commodities were hit very hard as well. If you came in owning positions, there was nowhere to hide. Few pundits I heard or read said to buy. The bulls and bears are debating whether this was just another scary short-term wonder or if this is the shot across the bow for much more downside. I think you know where I stand.

As of Friday’s close, stocks are down a grand total of 3%. Key sector leadership in transports, semis and especially banks remains strong. High yield is extended but still look good. There is broad participation. This is not the time to build a bunker, stock it with canned goods and water and get in the fetal position. The bull market isn’t over. The rally isn’t over.

Volatility has certainly spiked. I expect that to remain elevated as the market digests Friday’s rout by the bears. Early indications point to a lower opening for stocks, but it’s unlikely we will see a repeat of Friday’s decline. Look for early weakness to subside and see if the bulls want to step in by lunch. The next few weeks should see a number of ups and downs, especially with the Fed meeting, but Dow 19,000 shouldn’t be that far off. Focus on the horizon and don’t let those loud and habitually wrong perma bears cloud your judgement.

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Pullback Remains But Transports…

The Dow and S&P 500 are still lagging the other major stock market indices in pullback mode, but contrary to what you may think, this remains a very healthy environment for stocks. In the strongest markets, the more “risk on” indices are the ones charging ahead. That’s the case now with the S&P 400, Russell 2000 and NASDAQ 100. The NYSE Advance/Decline Line which measures broad participation recently scored yet another all-time high and high yield bonds are hanging in well.

That’s not the landscape ever seen when a bull market ends or even a correction.

Stocks remain in pullback mode and I expect to hear some noise from the bears today and early next week. We should be on the lookout for talk from the “floor traders” that stocks are breaking down at key levels and that could mean the end of the post-BREXIT rally. That’s the same chatter we have heard since mid-July and I don’t give it much credibility. We haven’t even seen a 2% decline since BREXIT which I continue to say that it shows tremendous underlying strength. This little bout of weakness may become 2%, 3% or even a little more. And if so, I remain firm that it will be yet another good buying opportunity on the way to Dow 19,000, 20,000 and perhaps much higher.

On the sector side, think of how many pundits left the transports for dead earlier this year. They said the collapse called for an impending recession with a nasty bear market. Talk was renewed post-BREXIT; yet now, that group is leading the market and is close to breaking out. While all-time highs are almost 20% away and unlikely to be seen anytime soon, the transports recent surge is definitely a positive development for stocks.

Finally, the perma dollar bears seem to be waking up again as the end of the month approaches with calls of collapse, calamity and doom. More on this next week.

Have a great weekend!

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Canaries Still Breathing Okay

I haven’t done a canaries in the coal mine update in a while, but with the major market indices hitting fresh highs last week, it’s time to check if any are dead. Remember, canaries in the coal mine are only useful at bull market peaks and bear market troughs. In other words, they are very helpful at spotting beginnings and endings of bull markets, but not much in between. They are so important because they usually give ample warning that a bull market is living on borrowed time as the canaries begin to die.

Let’s start with the major indices as they should all be in new high or fresh highs for 2013 territory. The Dow is first and you can see the all time from last week on the right side of the chart. 

dow

The S&P 500 (very large companies) is next and it, too, hit all time highs last week.

 s&p

The S&P 400 (medium size companies) is below and it is in line with the first two from above. The S&P 400 is usually the big leader during the mid stages of the bull market as many companies in this index experience their glory years or growth and financial stability.

mid 

The Russell 2000 (small companies) is next it saw all time highs last week. This has been the index leader since the June 24 low and pretty much entire bull market from 2009. There have been a few warning signs along the way, but they keep repairing themselves to health.

rut 

The technology laden NASDAQ 100 is the final major index and it has done a remarkable job at playing catch up, not only in the very short-term (since mid July) but also over the past year or so.

ndx 

In summary, all major stock market indices recently saw fresh highs indicating that the bull market is not close to ending. 

The Dow Jones Transportation Index is below and this serves two purposes. First, it’s a minor index after we look at the major ones. Second, old school Dow Theory offers that the Dow Industrials and Transports should be in sync during major rallies and declines to confirm the long-term trend. At bull market peaks like 2007 and 2000, we usually see one index fail to confirm the other’s price move. In other words, if this bull market were ending, we would either see the Industrials or Transports fail to make their final price peaks together. At this point, that’s not the case.

tran 

Turning to the bellwether sectors, the banks continue to lead and see new highs on each successive push higher in the stock market. This is healthy action. On a separate note as I mentioned on CNBC’s Closing Bell last week, the banks remain one of the most unloved sectors in the market in spite of their huge price gains and leadership role. I am not a fundamental researcher,  but if investors can look past the major players like J.P. Morgan, Citi and Wells Fargo where new government regulation may present some head winds, the regional banks and small banks may present some good opportunities, especially if a mergers and acquisitions wave begins.

banks 

With overall sentiment towards the banks negative, this group should continue its leadership role and be a good buy candidate after market declines.

The semiconductors present a much different picture. They are so vitally important because of their leadership in the technology sector and technology’s leadership in the overall stock market. The semis not only are a long-term canary, but also have some good predictive power for intermediate-term moves, something that would make a good article for the next issue.

 semis

I have to admit that this group can be a bit frustrating at times because it gives more warnings than any other canary and the only warning that really matters for the end of a bull market is the final one. As you can see below, the semis did NOT see fresh highs last week and their price is already creeping back into the range we saw during May and June. This is not good behavior and bears watching closely.

The New Stock Exchange cumulative advance/decline line is next. For newer readers, this simply represents the number of stocks that go up and down each day totaled over time. I have found it to be an excellent barometer of liquidity and overall market health even though its warnings can range from a few months to almost two years as we saw in the spring of 1998. Detractors will point to the number of non operating companies that litter the NYSE, but that’s exactly why I find this indicator so useful. Those non common stocks are typically closed end bond funds (CEFs) that are acutely sensitive to interest rates. The combination of common stocks and CEFs has proven to be a valuable long-term indicator when the major stock market indices march higher without the NYSE A/D line.

From the chart below, we see twin peaks in May and July, a very mild warning with price going much higher, but nothing that indicates impending doom. This is another canary that should be closely watched now.

NYAD2

Finally, let’s take a peak at high yield (junk) bonds as depicted by the PIMCO High Yield Fund. You can use any of the major funds or the ETFs. I just choose PIMCO because it is a very large fund with a long track record. Junk bonds are so important because they are acutely sensitive to ripples in the liquidity stream as well as the economy. They are at the bottom of the credit hierarchy and money typically flows out of the sector at the first sign of economic trouble or decrease in liquidity.

PHYDX 

You can see how the fund made its high in May and sold off dramatically into June. What is unusual is that this decline occurred without stocks cratering. In fact, high yield bonds saw more carnage than stocks. And as stocks vaulted higher in July and August, the high yield sector could barely muster a rally to get back half of what it lost. This canary appears to be dead for this cycle. If junk bonds rollover again and we the PIMCO fund in the mid 9.40s, I think that will spell at least some short-term trouble for stocks. 

In summary, the canaries are generally healthy with only one dead (high yield) and maybe two on heightened observation (semiconductors and NYSE A/D line). Before this bull market ends, I expect to see many more canaries on the dead list.

 If you would like to discuss how your portfolio is acting now or could behave if more canaries bit the dust, please contact me directly by hitting REPLY or calling the office at 203.389.3553.

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.