Coal Mine Air Still Healthy… Says the Canaries

With stocks soaring to new highs over the past few weeks, it’s a very appropriate time to see how the canaries are faring and if any have died. Remember, the more “dead” canaries, the more likely the bull market will follow suit. This is very long-term analysis and not helpful for much other than end of bull market warnings.
Let’s start with the Dow Industrials below and it’s great to see a clear and decisive all-time high right now, coming on the heels of a false move in October that breached the levels we saw in August. This fake out caught a lot of investors off guard, which has been and is causing them to scramble to buy at higher levels, making me very happy!
The S&P 500 is below and it looks exactly like the Dow Jones Industrials above. So far, we have two very alive canaries.
The first caution sign comes with the S&P 400 mid caps below. They peaked on the left hand side of the chart back in June and continue to see lower highs and lower lows. That is not the definition of healthy. However, they are only a few percent away from all-time highs, which would negate this warning, something I do think will happen shortly.
The small cap Russell 2000 is next and there clearly has been a problem since late June with a 14% total decline that has not fully recovered. A 5% rally would cure this problem, but that’s not as easy as the S&P 400 has it. I won’t label this a “dead canary”, but it’s certainly one with breathing problems.
Let’s turn to the technology laden NASDAQ 100 where you can see “all systems go” with fresh highs right now. This index looks like it’s wound up and ready to move sharply higher before long, even if it sees some minor weakness first.
Summarizing the major stock market indices above, for a 5+ year old bull market, they look surprisingly spry!
The Dow Transports are next and they look exactly like the Dow Industrials and S&P 500 with fresh all-time highs right now.
Turning to the two “key” sectors we watch, banks are only a few percent from fresh highs and they should get there before long after frustrating me over the past year or so with their inability to lead during rallies.
Semiconductors are below and this is one area I have always viewed as critical for the long-term health of a bull market. Historically, as go the semis, so goes tech. And as goes tech so goes the broad stock market. Semis peaked in September and now reside a few percent below that peak. They looks strongly positioned to see fresh highs before long.
Below you can see the cumulative New York Stock Exchange advance/decline line which is a fancy word for how all of the stocks on the NYSE are behaving in sum total, not just the biggest ones. Almost every single bull market dies after a warning from this indicator. What we want to see is the chart below looking like the Dow and S&P 500 which it is not right now. The line below MUST make a fresh high in order to avoid killing a very important canary. It’s not that far away, but action this week has also not been positive.
High yield or junk bonds are another very important canary and they are next below. Because junk bonds feel every ripple in the liquidity stream, economic weakness often manifests itself in this group first. High yield bonds usually “die” long before the bull market does so it’s often a very telling sign in advance. Keep in mind, however, that this group also gives false warning signs like it did when then Fed Chair Ben Bernanke caused the “Taper Tantrum” in May 2013.Right now, junk bonds are not at fresh highs, but close enough to correct before long. My concern is that since mid October this group has only upticked when stocks experienced very strong days. Normal or healthier behavior would see high yield add a little here and there on a daily basis during stock market rallies.
For a 5+ year old bull market, the canaries remain alive and mostly well, which fits into my own scenario for the bull to live on into 2015 with Dow 18,000 next on the list. Once 18,000 is reached, possible scenarios open up for 20,000, 23,000 and even higher. But let’s take one hurdle at a time and manage this in the present.
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Dow 18,000 Next as Twitter, Investors, Advisors and Media Root for Bears

Small Caps Play Catch Up in BIG Way

When we last left off, the major stock market indices were all playing nicely together except for the small cap Russell 2000 which had seen a full fledged 10% correction, but was beginning to bounce. The performance of that one index was a key ingredient to the bears’ negative stance on the market. At that time, here and on the blog, I dismissed the Russell’s warning and went so far as to call for all time highs before long.

On the first day of the new month and quarter, the Russell 2000 joined the S&P 500, S&P 400, Nasdaq 100 and Dow to score fresh all time highs. At the same time, the New York Stock Exchange Advance/Decline Line, which is a barometer of health on the NYSE also saw a new all time high along with many other sectors and indicators. This continues to be intermediate and long-term positive for the bull market.

More shorter-term, the market can best be described as grinding or creeping higher day after day. When you are on the correct side, there is nothing better. This kind of market has been seen many times since 2009 but rarely before that. The most common ending is a sharp and fast decline that wipes out a lot of gains in short order but does not end the bull market. At some point that scenario will become more likely.

The Market People Love to Hate

Remember, as I have now said for two years, this bull market may be old and wrinkly, but certainly not unhealthy or about to die. It continues to be the most unloved and disavowed bull market of my lifetime. Instead of friends asking me for the latest or greatest “hot” tip which I would expect at Dow 17,000, I am frequently pushed to opine as to when this all ends or when the big correction is coming.

And it’s not just individual investors. On a daily basis I speak with other advisors as well as the media. It really surprises me how many peers have been negative, are negative and will be negative. This is a market where people in my industry should be raising lots of money. Markets have been “easy”, meaning there has not been any significant downside since June 2012.

I think it’s very hard to run an investment management business being a perma-bear or holding on to the belief that although stocks have rallied, they remain in a secular (long-term) bear market that began in 2000 with the Dow at 11,750. That’s crazy in my humble opinion.

On the media side, they may have finally realized that I have a better face for radio than TV, but it certainly feels like they are not as interested in my bullish stance anymore now that the market has rallied. I have lost several opportunities lately because my opinion wasn’t bearish or I wouldn’t forecast some kind of doom (my word) on the horizon.

You can accuse the Fed of manipulation or supporting the market or anything you want. But the reality is that this has been one of the most powerful bull markets of all time. From my seat, as long as investors ask questions about the downside, advisors are bearish, the media only wants to sell negativity and my Twitter feed is full of bears, the bull market will live on.

How It Usually Ends

Yes, the market is 33 months from its last 10% correction and some surveys show complacency, but bull markets do not usually end with a whimper. There are typically many warning signs long before the bear comes out of its cave. Today, we have almost none. Additionally, the market historically sees a 10% correction where the end of the bull market is claimed by the masses, only to see yet another rally to new highs take shape. We haven’t even seen the correction yet. And before the 10% correction, there should be a modest 2-4% pullback.

Don’t get me wrong. Investors need to remain vigilant and active and on top of their holdings. Or hire someone like me to do it! (Shameless plug) Throwing caution to the wind and taking a “get me in at any price” mentality will likely end in ruin. Eventually, stocks will pullback, probably sooner than later, and finally correct 10% or more. But as I have been saying for years, any and all weakness remains a buying opportunity until proven otherwise. These kinds of markets are rare and should be fun. It’s too bad that so many can only see negativity.

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