Rolling Out the Red Carpet for the Bears

It’s been a rough week for the bulls with Apple taking it on the chin and the Dow Industrials down every day in addition to the last two days of the previous week. Early indications have the bears heading into the weekend with another victory. I want to go back to what now seems like a very prescient post on July 20 titled Trouble Brewing Beneath the Surface. On that day, all of the major indices were at rally highs and the NASDAQ saw an all-time high. It was also a period where I continued to raise cash in portfolios.

I started out by saying, “the more I analyze, the more I don’t like.” I was very concerned about the lack of participation by the majority of stocks in the rally. I am still concerned, but at least it hasn’t gotten worse. Sector leadership, however, has started to wane as consumer discretionary, biotech and healthcare have all experienced sharp pullbacks. It’s not unusual to see the strongest stocks hold up until the very end and then fall in an elevator shaft style decline. Next week will be key for those sectors.

At the same time, the treasury bond market has put in a nice bottom and has been seeing a meaningful rally, which should continue. The dollar has been quiet for five months, but much higher prices should be in the offing. After collapsing to my sub $1100 Q3 target, gold is trying to hammer out a low. There should be a strong rally beginning there in the not too distant future.

This remains a time to keep some powder dry. A good buying opportunity may not be too far off in the stock market and likely by the end of September.

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Bulls Hangin’ Tough

With the bearish seasonal headwinds this week, the bulls have done a nice job not giving up any ground so far. In fact, the bulls powered ahead on Tuesday and held firm on Wednesday. It certainly looks like the Dow and Nasdaq 100 want to join the S&P 500 at new highs this week. Although the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 have been laggards, they have certainly led the parade over the past week.

The real news so far this week has been in the bond and gold markets. As you know, I have been very positive on bonds since late last year, often calling myself “the only bond bull in America” or more recently, “no one”, as in “no one called this rally in bonds.”

Long dated treasuries continue to trade well and I expect some of the bears to throw in the towel now. And that’s why I am getting a little nervous being so bullish. It’s time to tighten up those stops and contemplate taking some chips off the table. With the Fed continuing the taper and the economy supposedly doing better, the bond market ain’t believin’. Something dark lies ahead.

Gold on the other hand is now falling sharply towards the sub $1200 target I have mentioned of late. Unless the shiny metal immediately reverses course, it’s going to be ugly until the metal hits bottom, probably next quarter.

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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.

Even the Bears are Bulls… for Now

The stock market is tired, again. That seems like a phrase I have used often this year without much follow through. There have been many times in 2013 when the market had risen sharply and then looked just plain weary. Instead of correcting or even pulling back smartly, the stock market behaved like it does when it’s in a powerful bull trend; it’s consolidated sideways within a few percent of its high and then blasted off again.

“Is this time different?” That’s one of the scariest phrases in our business!

The only difference I see now with other 2013 overbought markets is that sentiment is now and has been at rally killing levels, something I mentioned on CNBC and Fox Business over the past few weeks as well as here and in Street$marts. If this was not early December, I would have much stronger conviction to be negative, but it’s almost unheard of to see a meaningful peak or significant decline at this time of the year. That’s tough to ignore. While I absolutely hate when people say they are “cautiously optimistic”, I will say that I am a nervous bull who is dancing very close to the door.

So here we are, during the most positive time of the year. Something like 8 of the last 10 Decembers have been up. Stocks are at all time highs. There is no impetus to sell. There are few downside catalysts. Even the bears are bullish until January. Yet all is not right. Today (December 2) and tomorrow are historically very good days in the market. Stocks opened well and moved higher into lunch, but then the bears tried to make another stand. This time, they were successful, closing the market just off the lows of the day and ending with a semi nasty looking candlestick on the daily chart.

If we do not see an immediate about face on Tuesday, the evidence will point to a sometimes typical early December pullback of 2-5% that should bottom within five days of option expiration on the 20th. Don’t forget there is a two day Fed meeting on the 17th & 18th where taper talk will be all the rage. What a great excuse for a low if the market sold off into that meeting!

While small caps and technology have led the rally for the past few weeks, it looks like they are trying to cede leadership to large and mid caps. IF there is a pullback and IF the small caps and tech underperform for a week or two or so, that would set up such a nice trade into January for buying the Russell 2000, S&P 600 and NASDAQ 100 for the final 5-10 days of the year. There is also a tendency for the semiconductor group, which leads tech, to perform poorly over the next two weeks. It would all fit together nicely.

But that is putting cart so far in front of the horse. Let’s wait and see what happens over the coming few days. There is no need to push and rush here as stocks are extended and tired regardless.

On a separate note, gold was bludgeoned today and is now set up to see sub $1200 sooner than later. Sentiment has been worse than awful, but even that hasn’t been able to thwart the bears. At some point it is going to matter, but that will likely be from lower levels on the metals and perhaps all time bearish levels of sentiment.

I hope you had a meaningful and fantastic Thanksgiving!

Happy Hanukah to those who celebrate!!

Fox Business, Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Oil

I am going to be on Fox Business’ Markets Now at 1:05pm today (Wednesday) discussing the stock market’s recent assault on Dow 16,000, a target I gave several times here and in the media. Now that the market is there, what’s next?

I can tell you that from my perspective, risk has increased substantially, but by no means should the bull market be over. Stocks are overdue for at least a pullback (2-8%), but probably more on the downside next year, especially if they continue to run into year-end.

Both gold and the bond market are very close to their own lines in the sand. A closing move by gold under $1250 opens the door to all kinds of bearish scenarios that frankly, I did not think would come this year. Likewise, the treasury bond market also has a line or two in the sand, but it’s farther away. All year, I have forecasted a late year bond rally, but this one is on the verge of petering sooner than expected if the recent highs cannot be exceeded. The last thing the Bernanke and the Fed and the stock market want to see is the 10 year note yield more than 3%.

Finally, crude oil is trying to find a low above $90 here. If energy cannot stabilize soon, that will usher in more negative scenarios into the $80s.

 

Another Crossroad for Gold

I haven’t written about gold in a while, probably because it’s been so darn frustrating. And if you ask my thoughts on the metal, they will vary greatly depending on the time horizon. Long, long-term, I believe the secular bull market that began in 2001 is alive, but gold is curently in a cyclical bear market that began in mid 2011 and could last until we elect a new president in 2016 or it could end in short order. It’s just too early to tell.

Looking at the chart below (click on it to enlarge), it certainly seems like the metal is trying to hammer out a base for a sustained rally. This pattern began in April and continues today. Those of you who use technical analysis and like to look for chart patterns may be inclined to call this an inverted head and shoulders bottom, which it does look like on the surface. However, Edwards & Magee beg differ in that they do not believe these kinds of patterns are valid on commodities or indices where volume isn’t a true representation like it is with a stock.

In any case, whether or not it’s a valid inverted head and shoulders or just a consolidation waiting for a spark, the bulls in gold appear to making yet another stand as long as this week’s low is not closed below. You can see the following in my notes on the chart as well as these comments.

1 – The downtrend line in dark blue is more than $100 away, which is a good rally no matter what.

2 – If and when it breaks above that line, there is a very real possibility of an additional $100+ rally.

3 – This week’s low is the lowest point on the chart after THE bottom in June.

4 – If the bears take out this week’s low selling should really accelerate.

gold

The bottom line is that the bulls have an opportunity here with a good risk/reward ratio. If they are wrong, the risk is definable.

Gold’s Bearish Pattern Trying to Change

When we last left off with the gold market (and the chart below), I offered that “Unless the metal quickly regains the $1350 level, we are most likely looking at further selling and even more record setting negative sentiment before a sustainable rally can begin.” 

 

Gold continued its collapse from the time I hit the send button at $1292 all the way down to $1179 a week later. From $1179, it rallied all the way back to $1303 this morning before Ben Bernanke testified before Congress as you can see below. 

 

In this market I usually mention possible upside and down targets. If the current rally peters out, $1150 and then $1087 are logical downside lines in the sand based on technical measures. On the flip side, there are a host of upside zones which should be watched over time, $1350, $1480 and $1540. Since my view hasn’t changed that gold remains in a secular bull market, but cyclical bear market, I do believe that all upside targets will be achieved and that the ultimate peak will be above $2000. 

Taking a view beyond the short-term, we continue to see record setting levels of negativity, surpassing those seen when gold was $250. What that means is that smart money is and has been accumulating gold on the way down as the dumb money has been selling. So the dumb money has been right and the smart money has been wrong, something that is unlikely to continue. At some point sooner than later gold is going to hammer out a major bottom and rally strongly and not stop, trapping the bears and inflicting pain.

Nightly Business Report TONIGHT

I am going to be on The Nightly Business Report tonight (Monday July 1st). In my neck of the woods, it’s at 6:30pm on public television, CPTV or channel 13. You can find it on your dial here, http://nbr.com/

In all likelihood we will be discussing what I see down the road as we begin the new quarter and second half of the year with earnings season beginning next week.

Stocks are beginning the quarter with the bulls in charge. Will it last?

Bonds saw enormous outflows from mutual funds last quarter as prices were hit hard. Is it time to buy?

Gold was decimated again. Is the decline over?

What will Bernanke and the Fed do?

Gold Skeptics Have Peaked but Gold Prices Haven’t

The other day I spent some time with my friends at Yahoo Finance recording several segments. Here is the one I did on why I have become more bullish on gold recently after watching the metal fall from $1900 to $1320.

http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/gold-skeptics-peaked-gold-prices-haven-t-paul-155320270.html

What would Thomas Jefferson Say to the Architects?

The latest Street$marts is out, “What would Thomas Jefferson Say to the Architects?” http://www.investfortomorrow.com/newsletter/CurrentStreet$marts20120625.pdf

Topics in this issue include a little known, but important economic indicator, the latest pullback in stocks and where gold is headed.