And the 5th Pullback since The Bottom Ends

On March 21, I penned a piece calling for the 5th pullback since the rally began. I used words like “brief” and “mild” to describe what I thought was coming before the next rally began. As with the previous four pullbacks, all we saw was essentially two days of slight weakness before the bulls roared back.

And roar back they did.

Right before Janet Yellen released her speech on Tuesday, I did an interview with CNBC India regarding the Fed raising rates as well as the market’s short-term prospects. I want to thank Chair Yellen for listening to me and the market when offering such dovish (benign) comments regarding the need to raise interest rates right now.

The stock market certainly loved what Yellen had to say as the fifth pullback abruptly ended in a hurry. By the time the closing bell rang, the Dow Industrials, S&P 500 & S&P 400 all were back to the levels seen before the 2016 began. Only the Russell 2000 and NASDAQ 100 are left to regain lost ground, which should happen sooner than later.

I keep referring back to the “dark days” of 2016 when I was essentially the only bull left out there. I remember at both the January and February lows how CNBC and Fox Business couldn’t find but a few people to offer even neutral views, let alone bullish ones. My Twitter feed was overwhelmed with calls for a new bear market and a crisis worst than 2008. I am just wondering what happened to those folks. I have seen a few people who disavowed the rally and recommended selling the whole way up suddenly say that they successfully bought the bottom, in hindsight of course.

Anyway, stocks are seeing some very nice upside breakouts, but for me, I don’t think this is the greatest time to add risk to a portfolio. If you weren’t smart enough to add at lower prices, I wouldn’t compound your mistake with potentially another. There will be another short-term pullback sooner than later when people with cash will have that opportunity. The problem will be that they won’t take action at that point because they’ll look for a much deeper decline. If you absolutely must invest, I would look at the laggards here and have a solid exit plan before buying.

That’s it for now as I am heading to NYC for the day. Tomorrow, I will look at the sectors, commodities and currencies as there are some really nice short-term opportunities now.

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Will the Doves Assume Control of the Fed Today?

It doesn’t even feel like the world has recovered from the hangover left by Janet Yellen and the Fed after their ill-fated and poorly timed December interest rate hike, but now, it’s FOMC announcement day again. However, unlike December when a rate increase was widely expected, the Fed is not going to take any action today.

The Fed’s post-announcement commentary is what everyone will sink their teeth into for clues of future rate hikes or the committee’s possible move back to the dovish side. With stocks correcting sharply in January along with the global economic uncertainty, it’s very hard to believe that the hawks will win out today in any way, shape or form. Given the Fed’s hints at four interest rate increases in 2016 and the markets only pricing in one or two rate hikes, it will be interesting to see how that gap is bridged.

As with previous announcement days, the model for today is plus or minus 0.50% for the S&P 500 until 2pm before a few sharp moves are made and then a rally into the close. That’s the historical trend 75% of the time.

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All Signs Point to a Horrifically Wrong Decision by Yellen & the Fed

FINALLY, or YET AGAIN, it’s FOMC statement day. Unlike every meeting since 2007, I do believe the Fed is wrongly going to raise short-term interest rates for the first time since 2006. Since 2008, my thesis has been and continues to be that the Fed should not raise interest rates until the other side of the next recession. This is your “typical” post-financial crisis recovery that’s very uneven. It teases and tantalizes on the upside and frustrates and terrorizes on the downside. Another recession, albeit mild, is coming over the next few years. That’s okay. We’ll get through it. On the other side of it, our economy should get back to trend or average GDP growth, not seen since pre-2008. This could also coincide with Europe getting its fiscal act together after another sovereign debt crisis.

I have heard some pundits use the word “credibility”. The Fed needs to hike rates to either preserve or establish credibility. I am sorry, but that’s idiotic and doesn’t need any further rebuttal. Some believe that an unemployment rate of 5.0% represents “full” or “maximum” employment and that a rate hike is necessary to cool the jobs market. Another reason I totally dismiss as unfounded. How about the labor participation rate at 62.40%, a 38 year low?!?!

From my seat, it looks like an 80% likelihood and the markets are expecting the rate hike. China has stabilized, but is far from fixed. Europe is teetering on recession but that’s been the case. The dollar is well off the highs, but the bull market has at least another 20% left on the upside.

This will be the first rate hike ever with inflation under 1%.

This will be the first rate hike ever with the annual social security COLA at 0%.

This will be the first rate hike ever with wage growth needing to jump 100% to hit the Fed’s target.

This will be the first rate hike ever with industrial production on the verge of recessionary levels.

This will be the first  rate hike ever with GDP barely 2%.

This will be the first rate hike ever with inflation expectations close to 0%.

This will be the first rate hike ever with retail sales closer to recession than escape velocity.

This will be the first rate hike ever with non-farm payroll job growth continuing to decelerate.

Where’s the fire?!?!

What’s the hurry???

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.This is not a normal first  rate hike where the Fed is trying to tamp down inflation and/or worry about an overheating economy. This is simply to move off the 0% emergency level and get going. It’s also the wrong decision.

MV

Money velocity, which tells us how often a dollar is turned over during a given period of time, has been in a steady downtrend since 1998 and stands at the lowest level since records were kept. See the chart above. It saw a small rally from 2003 to 2006 which the Fed quickly extinguished with rate hikes. Now they are going to raise rates with this important indicator at all-time lows.

Unfortunately, I do not believe this is a one and done deal for Yellen et al. With the voting members of the FOMC changing substantially in 2016, the Fed will become much more hawkish next year. I forecast a .25% rate hike every quarter next year in March, June, September and December to end 2016 in the 1.375% zone.

Finally, the historical trend for today is to see the major indices trade in a +0.50% to -0.50% range until 2pm est and rally into the close.

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One Door Closes Another Opens

On Wednesday, to no one’s surprise, Janet Yellen & Co. ended the Fed’s 5+ year experiment of purchasing assets in the treasury and mortgage backed securities market, also known as quantitative easing (QE) or money printing. I won’t rehash all of the reasons why I continue to believe this is a misguided strategy, but it is.

Before the ink was even dry on the statement, the Bank of Japan completely caught the markets off guard last night with another ramp up of their own QE, buying more bonds, extending maturities and really ramping up their purchase of stocks using ETFs and REITs. I have said this since Abenomics (Japan’s version of our QE but on steroids) was launched in Japan, this will go down as the greatest financial experiment in history. Japan is going to print until the world runs out of ink!

And the European Central Bank (ECB) isn’t far behind.

Many are left to wonder what our markets and economy are left with in a post QE America. In a vacuum, the end of QE is headwind, however, with Japan going on even more steroids and the Europe about to begin QE, I don’t view it as a negative just yet. That time will come down the road.

For now, my thesis remains the same. Markets gave us a golden opportunity to buy a few weeks ago and I hope people took advantage of that. It was easy in real time and I wrote about the bottoming forming as it took place. The bull market is old, wrinkly,  but still very much alive. Rallies should get more selective from hereon and it will be interesting to see where leadership comes from.

Markets really need to see the high yield sector step up and rally! Odds favor it will.

Happy Halloween! One of my favorite holidays. Can’t wait to take the kids out tonight and then come home for some adult beverages.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe…

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Textbook Consolidation Ends

Late last month, I wrote a piece concluding that stocks looked a bit tired at all time highs. Nothing terribly damaging, but they were in need of some rest. Routine, normal and healthy pullbacks can come in different forms. The easiest way for stocks to digest is to decline 2-5% fairly quickly, while another way is to see sideways movement with a slightly downward tilt for a period of weeks.

The Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 all saw the latter from September 3 through the 15th. The S&P 400 and Russell 2000 saw the former with modest declines of 2.65% and 3.70% respectively. With the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq 100 all hitting fresh highs, it’s very hard to argue that the recent pullback is not over. Action in the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 are definitely cause for concern with the Russell living on bull market life support now.

There have been a number of recent headwinds that will dissipate one by one through month end. Markets interpreted Janet Yellen’s announcement and press conference dovish and hawking depending on who you listen to. Yields on the five year note are up 22% over the past month while the 10 year has risen by 14%, certainly not a dovish anticipation or response. Stocks, however, are up 3%, certainly not hawkish and not only responded positively after 2pm on Fed statement day,  but also followed through the day after. With many more headwinds to overcome by month end, it will be a very bullish sign if stocks can hang in within a few percent of new highs.

With the Fed gone for now, markets are squarely focused on Alibaba’s much ballyhooed IPO set for September 19. It certainly looks like institutional investors have raised the necessary cash to fund the $20+ billion offering by selling tech stocks into the Fed meeting. Additionally, Scots head to the polls to vote on leaving the UK, a move that I believe would catastrophic for their economy.

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Much Ado About Nothing from Yellen & Fed Today

My how time flies…

It’s Fed decision day again with Janet Yellen set to announce another $10 billion cut from bond purchases, keeping the FOMC on pace to wind down QE Unlimited later this year. After the 2pm announcement, Ms. Yellen will head over to the always entertaining (NOT) press conference.

One thing I am sure of is that the Fed chair will not commit another rookie, foot in mouth, Joe Biden esque’ gaffe by committing to a specific timeline for interest rate hikes. Everyone knows that rates hikes are coming next year although I continue to disagree 100% as I have since Bernanke first floated the QE taper trial balloon in May 2013.

Until the Fed’s statement is released, we can expect a very quiet stock market, +-0.50%, as we historically see. After 2pm, it’s the norm to see some fireworks in both directions although the trend says that stocks should finish in the black on the day.

For a change, I am more interested in how bonds and gold react to the FOMC announcement than stocks. The stock market remains on solid footing and the bull market should continue into 2015. Bonds and gold are in a different position, especially in the short-term…

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2014 Fearless Forecast

It’s really embarrassing that it’s been almost two months since I began speaking about my thoughts for 2014, yet I have been unable to mass distribute them. Shame on me! So far, to those folks who have read them, the comments and questions have been great. Keep them coming!

Regular readers of Street$marts and this blog won’t be surprised at most of the forecast, but I did throw in a few new items. As always, I had a lot of fun thinking about it and creating it, although it has no bearing on how we manage money for our clients.

U.S. Stock Market – After an epic 2013 for the stock market, what can we expect for an encore? To begin with, it’s a mid-term election year and the second year of the president’s term. Historically, that hasn’t been so kind to investors with some of the largest declines in history as well as the end of some bear markets. More recently, however, 2010 and 2006 were kind in the end, but volatile during the year.

Looking at the big picture, there are no signs yet that the old and wrinkly bull market is ending anytime soon and my analysis still has upside projections to at least 17,000. We typically see a number of warning signs with various leads times, but only one of those are in place today and that may be corrected. Those warnings signs may set up later, but at this time, stocks remain the place to be on any dips. With that said, a routine, normal and healthy 5-10% bull market pullback should be seen during the first quarter that leads to more all-time highs later in the year.

On the index front, although the major US indices are highly correlated to each other, it’s time for the Russell 2000 index of small caps to cede leadership to its large and mega cap cousins.

U.S. Stock Market Sectors – Technology is usually the group of choice each January and I continue to rank it as a market performer at best. I wouldn’t run out and load up on this sector unless we saw a sizable market correction. As the economy and markets are late in the cycle, sectors like REITs and energy should provide solid relative performance, especially later in the year. Even perennially hated utilities should grab a bid.  With my long-term positive stance on the dollar, it makes liking commodities more difficult but I do believe 2014 will reward buying the dip and selling the rip in this area.

On the wild side, biotech, pharma and healthcare should go parabolic during the first half of the year with the social media group also a possible candidate. Investors should keep in mind that parabolic rallies like the Dotcoms never, ever end by going sideways to rest.  They end in disaster and ruin like we saw with crude oil in 2008.

It’s rare for me to really hammer on sectors in the annual forecast, but after five years of strong outperformance, I am very negative on consumer discretionary and retail. I think 2014 will be the beginning of the end for this trade and similar to my stance on the small caps in general, I would pair this with a long in large or mega caps.

All in all, 2014 looks to be more of a digestive year, like 2011, 2004 and 1992 than a full fledged bull or bear year.

Volatility – There are many ways to discuss volatility, but the one that resonates well with me is that of a sine wave. It moves fully from one side all the way to the other, like a pendulum. While the market may not operate so neatly, low periods of vol are usually followed by higher periods of vol and vice versa Put another way; volatility compression leads to volatility expansion and volatility expansion leads to volatility compression.

2012 was largely a non volatile year, but 2013 was downright boring from a volatility standpoint. That can be traced to the Fed’s QE Unlimited, which will be going away. So 2014 looks to be a whole lot more volatile than 2013 and probably 2012. If so, that will likely lead to 2015 being even more so as volatility normalizes.

In short, the investment play is to buy vol anytime it heads back to the low end of the range and sell it into spikes, which there should be many.

Long-Term Treasuries -I am so beyond sick and tired of hearing the pundits proclaim that “bonds are in a bubble”. Statements like those absolutely wreak of ignorance. Bubbles are all about greed, clamoring and fear of missing the boat. They are formed in many stages with the final one being a total rush into the asset, primarily by the public. During the modern investing era, new products are launched to give greater access to Main Street. Your neighbors all own the asset and it’s all over the media. There is nothing about bubbles that has pertained to the bond market and there never will be.

The secular bull market in bonds may have officially ended in mid 2012,  but that doesn’t mean and shouldn’t mean that interest rates are heading higher in spike fashion. Clearly, over the coming years and decades, rates will normalize and head back to mid single digits unless the Fed makes a huge blunder like the Arthur Burns led Fed did in the 1970s.

I envision rates heading higher like we saw in the 1950s and 60s, slowly and gradually. Two steps up and one step back. We have already seen the 10 year note yield double as the first stage of the bear market began. I do not believe we will see anything close to a doubling anytime soon. Rather, as I first wrote about and publicized last November, bond market sentiment had become so negative that a rally in bond (decline in yields) wasn’t too far off.

For 2014, the bond market should offer a solid risk/return profile, at least for the first half of the year as inflation remains nearly non-existent, our economy slows and Europe deals with deflation, all against the backdrop of the Fed reducing its purchase of treasuries, for now. While the 3.50% to 4% area on the 10 year looks like a good intermediate-term target, it should not get there right away and investors should not become perma bears on bonds.

Corporate bonds – This group has seen a much stronger rally from their 2013 lows than their treasury cousins, but still behaves well and should see strength during the first half of 2014. Further down the risk spectrum, high yield bonds will continue their 2013 position of lagging and underperforming as the slightest ripple in the liquidity stream could upset this apple cart quickly.

Dollar – I am posting the exact comments as I did last year. Since THE bottom in 2008, the dollar has been in a trading range which I have stated is the beginning of a new, long-term secular bull market. Anyone who has bought strength or sold weakness has been punished and that’s likely to continue for a while before the greenback finally breaks out above 90 on its way to target number one at 100 over the coming years.

I remain very bullish on the buck long-term and believe it can be bought into weakness for a long time, especially given the Fed’s exit from QE, the ramping up of QE in Japan and the anticipated QE in Europe.

Gold – The yellow metal’s secular bull market is not over and it will take another year or so to reinvigorate it. Gold saw twin price lows in the $1180 area that should lead to test targets of $1360, potentially $1440 with a chance of seeing north of $1500 before ultimately turning lower again. When the ECB hops on board the QE bandwagon, look for gold to break out above $2000 later this decade on its way to $2500 and higher.

Commodities – I continue to favor the agricultural and tropical commodities like wheat, corn, beans, sugar, coffee and cotton over the rest with corn being among the candidates for trade of the year. They have been under pressure for a while and weakness should be viewed favorably.

Inflation – I still feel like a broken record year after year after year after year, but I don’t have many concerns about inflation, at least not until we get to the other side of the next recession. The Fed is trying to engineer some healthy inflation, very unsuccessfully I might add. $5 TRILLION in QE didn’t produce any. Money velocity continues its downward spiral. Housing prices are stable. Wage growth is essentially zero and the banks are holding trillions of dollars on reserve with the Fed. This economy still has rolling whiffs of deflation, but nothing compared to the outright deflation in Europe and Japan.

Economy – As we start another new post financial crisis year, no one should be shocked to learn that the masses are positive on our economy yet again with projected GDP growth rates in the mid 3s. I think I have said it every year since the recovery began, but I will repeat it again. We are living through the typical post financial crisis recovery that teases and tantalizes on the upside and worries and frets on the downside. As with other post financial crisis recoveries around the globe, our economy will not return to an historical sense of normalcy until we get to the other side of the next recession.

Federal Reserve – It’s a whole new ball game for the Fed in 2014; or is it as Janet Yellen takes over for one of my financial heroes, Ben S. Bernanke. I believe history will judge Bernanke as the single greatest Fed chair of all-time who should have been given hazard for having to sit and endure so many hours in front of the incompetents in Congress.

With all of the permanent voting members but Jeremy Stein in the dove camp, Richard Fisher and Charles Plosser will have their hawkish hands full this year dissenting on any vote that doesn’t involve continued tapering. Keep in mind that Fisher, Plosser and Jeff Lacker were the three amigos who fought cutting rates and turning on the fire hoses during the summer of 2007 when the sub prime crisis was unfolding.

The Fed’s multi-year money printing program or QE will sadly come to an end in 2014 reaching my longstanding target of $5 trillion. I vividly remember throwing out that number almost four years ago on CNBC’s Squawk Box and was almost laughed off the show. That one comment generated more emails than any other forecast I have made on TV.

As I have said for more than a year, I absolutely do not believe the Fed should even consider tapering until we get to the other side of the next recession, even though QE is having diminished results. It’s the wrong thing to do at the wrong time. It was wrong in 1937 and that caused the Great Depression Part II. It was wrong in Japan more times than I can count over the past 25 years. The Fed should not stop QE.

Obviously, I am also 100% against even considering raising short-term interest rates at all in 2014 and likely much longer into the future. I am sure the three amigos of Plosser, Fisher and Lacker are foaming at the mouth in anticipation of higher rates, but if history has shown us anything about these bankers, they are usually dead wrong.

Unemployment – If you told me that the unemployment rate would fall towards 6.5% in 2013, I would have fallen on the floor and passed out from shock. The economy would have to have grown at 4% or more. Had I any inclination that the labor participation rate would fall to levels not seen since the mid 70s, I would have questioned the accuracy of the government’s numbers. Both occurred last year and those trends should continue in 2014 creating a conundrum for the Fed and economists. The raw unemployment number is strong, but certainly not for the right reasons.

Japanese Yen – And I thought Bernanke’s QE was the greatest financial experiment of all-time. Silly me! That title now belongs to the Bank of Japan. Not only is the yen in a confirmed bear market after a 15 year secular bull market, but the Bank of Japan remains committed to an historic money printing program that will dwarf that of the Bernanke Fed.

It’s Abe, Abe and more Abe. The yen has much, much farther to fall and all rallies can be sold until further notice. The BoJ has learned from their mistakes of the past when they prematurely ended QE. Look for them to go overboard in hopes of ending what has essentially mounted to 25 years of economic malaise and rolling bouts of deflation.

As the world saw in the previous “greatest financial experiment of all-time” with leverage, mortgages, artificially low rates, the alphabet soup of exotic financial products that no one understood and on and on, they rarely end well. Long-term, I have serious doubts, but for now…

Japan – If the Bank of Japan is going to print baby print, it’s very difficult not to be positive on the Nikkei for 2014. If their economy doesn’t respond quick enough or if their markets fall too fast, the BoJ will just crank it up a notch until it works. I remember arguing on TV that investors should never fight with the guy who owns the printing press and that certainly holds true in Japan. The Nikkei should be a leading developed market index in 2014.

Europe – Euro zone problems are far from over, but have taken a breather over the past year. ECB chief Mario Draghi’s jawboning to save the Euro currency has certainly worked in the short-term with sovereign bond yields declining precipitously in the PIIGS countries. At the same time, however, austerity is causing all sorts of economic issues with deflation being chief among them. If that genie gets out of the bottle in meaningful way, look out below!

Additionally, all is not well beneath the surface as a major, major crisis looms in France possibly late in 2014, 2015 or even into early 2016. Germany was certainly not happy about the bailouts in Greece and Cyprus or the ECB programs designed to save Spain and Italy.  The big test comes when the Germans have to figure out how to save a country that is too big to fail and too big to save. I smell a constitutional battle brewing to allow the ECB to outright print money.

Emerging Markets – Coming off an horrific 2013, emerging markets begin the new year on their heels with continued unrest, currency dilemmas and slowing growth. I will go out on a limb and forecast that the sector sees a significant low in the first half of 2014 and outright leadership and strength during the second half of the year led by the secondary countries. The macro trade would be owning a broad emerging markets ETF against a short in the US small caps.