Pullback Remains in Place. Junk May Hold Key.

The short-term pullback I have seemingly written about for weeks and weeks remains in place although I am certainly not taking credit for calling it in a timely fashion. The Dow, S&P 500 and NASDAQ 100 have all pulled back constructively while the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 are uglier. The three stronger indices are just about to kiss their 21 day moving averages, while their weak cousins knifed right through the 21 as well as their 50 day moving averages. While the 3-5% pullback I keep talking about is here, the average stock is now off roughly 10% which is masked by the strength in the major indices.

Turning to the four key sectors, banks, semis and discretionary are holding up very well and only a solid two day rally or so from new highs. Transports, however, are under more pressure although certainly not bull marketing ending behavior.

Both high yield bonds and the NYSE A/D Line saw all-time highs in early March, but have since pulled back more significantly which is something I discussed recently. The junk bond decline definitely has my attention and should be watched very closely. The sector began to lag last week and is now down sharply this week.

The A/D Line, while weak, is still behaving constructively.

Stocks are finally pulling back and giving all those folks who sold last February, post-BREXIT and at the election a time to buy. I doubt they will until the train leaves the station again. The bull market isn’t over.

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Third Avenue Travesty

After peaking way back in 2014 and declining ever since, the high yield (junk) bond market has finally made national news over the past week with the very high profile blow up of the Third Avenue Focused Credit Fund (TAFCF). This was not some fly by night little fund or fund family. It’s a small, mainstream mutual fund family and the fund itself had more than $3 billion in assets in 2014. Last week, after massive withdrawals, the fund announced it was closing and that shareholders could not redeem their shares for cash anytime soon. Third Avenue was going to conduct an “orderly” liquidation. Good luck with that!

Over the past 20 years, my peers and I have often discussed this is exact scenario. What happens when there is a mass exodus in an illiquid asset class like junk bonds? If Third Avenue was a closed end fund (CEF) or exchange traded fund (ETF), sellers would simply drive the price lower and lower until sufficient buyers came in, presumably when the share price of the CEF or ETF was significantly below the value of the underlying assets in the fund. In other words, the CEF or ETF would trade at a discount to the net asset value of the fund.

In Third Avenue’s case, it is an open ended fund that issues more and more shares to meet investor demand. When redemptions swell, the manager chooses what to sell and when. And it’s unlikely that securities are sold on a pro rata basis. As TAFCF’s assets collapsed, my sense is that the fund manager sold most or all of the bonds that were easier to sell, i.e., liquid, hoping that he could stem the tide and high yield bonds would stabilize or even bounce. When the liquidations never ceased, the fund was probably left with the true crap of crap instead of the well diversified portfolio it had weeks, months or quarters earlier. In other words, at the detriment of the shareholders who stuck by the fund, they were left with illiquid garbage.

This raises a whole series of questions regarding the fund manager’s and fund company’s fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Clearly, they had absolutely no plan for a mass exodus, like disaster planning for many firms in my space. How could they allow the fund manager to sell the better quality bonds and turn the fund into a heap of crap? How could they penalize investors like this? While I am sure they will hide behind the nonsensical legalese of the prospectus, this is a travesty!

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Turnaround Tuesday

Stocks continue to be oversold in the short-term and a bounce is likely as soon as today. It’s Tuesday so don’t be surprised to hear the media focus on this historical reversal day. As I have mentioned before, I do not believe this is the rally to buy or chase. More than likely, stocks will bounce and regain some of the lost ground before rolling over again to what could possibly be the bottom to buy.

I m keenly watching biotech, healthcare, consumer discretionary and financials if we do in fact see a short-term rally. It would be very disconcerting if they either don’t rally or rally feebly. High yield bonds are another sector which bares watching closely. They are oversold and are supposed to rally if stocks do.

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Selling the Bounce

Let’s start with my conclusion and then work backwards. Nothing has changed over the past few days, weeks and even months. I still view stocks positively the farther out you go. The short-term remains murky, uncertain, questionable and any other adjective that is less than flat out bullish.

One of my chief concerns, sentiment, has begun to reset itself at least to neutral from the overly enthusiastic category. Sentiment surveys have improved as have the put/call ratios in the options market. On the flip side, stock market internals have been downright putrid. When I say “internals”, I am referring to the number of stocks going up and down each day along with how many stocks are hitting fresh 52 week highs and lows. Additionally, high yield bonds, one of my favorite canaries in the coal mine have seen five straight days of heavy selling, which is not comforting.

While it’s possible that the market pullback ended yesterday with stocks off to the races again today, I just don’t think that’s the most likely scenario. Rather, it looks like most of the major indices will remain in their trading range with perhaps one or two popping quickly to new highs. If that’s the case, I would rather be a seller into such strength than a fresh buyer.

Sector leadership is very favorable right now for future gains, with the exception of the transports, once we get by this continued period of digestion and consolidation. It’s not the time to get bearish, just to be a bit more cautious and selectively prune into strength. Better opportunities are not that far off.

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So Far So Good!

Just two ago, I wrote about the stock market “groping” for a bottom and laid out a scenario for that to begin on Wednesday. The beaten down Russell 2000 was the key as it very quietly had been outperforming the market for three days. That behavior is not what you typically see if a crash was unfolding. Our indicators and systems backed up my own thoughts and our equity strategies went to maximum exposure at the close on Wednesday.

When I woke up Thursday morning and saw the global stock markets in collapse, I thought it was going to be a truly interesting day. With so many things looking good a few hours earlier, I was either very wrong, which has happened before and will happen again, or this sharply lower open was an absolute gift to the bulls. At this point I am very glad I stayed the course and even took what I would classify as personal gambles at the open by buying oil and shorting the VIX.

After the lower open, stocks staged a very impressive comeback and the internals looked much better along with sector leadership. Our own flagship sector strategy has had a very tough month coming in to this week, but as with the Russell 2000, it bucked the market downtrend and closed higher on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For the past week or so, I have strongly suggested that clients add money right away as this correction was nearing an end. And I followed my own advice by making my kids’ college fund additions as well as my 2014 retirement plan contribution into the market weakness.

Time will tell if we just saw “THE” bottom or “A” bottom, but even if stocks don’t go right back to all time highs, the preponderance of evidence suggested a good rally was close at hand. There are two scenarios I am watching now and I will spell those out in the Street$marts edition I am currently writing.

Remember, the largest one day stock market rallies usually occur after a decline. In 2008, we saw 4-8% one day moves many times. The larger the decline, typically, the larger the snapback. If you hated certain stocks, ETFs or funds on the way down, use the strength to rebalance your portfolio the way you want.

I am keenly watching how the plain vanilla high yield (junk) bonds funds act now. They are very stretched to the downside and are supposed to rally smartly. It’s put up or shut up time for the short-term, intermediate-term and perhaps even long-term.

Finally, I mentioned watching Apple and Netflix for signs of leadership. Apple hung in really well and should see new highs this quarter. Netflix announced bad earnings and was bludgeoned. IF this is the final rally of the bull market, IF, I would expect the rally to leave many key stocks behind. In other words, it would be narrow. The rising tide would not lift all ships. Again, IF.

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Who Turned the Lights Out… Again

 Yesterday, I wanted to see what leadership emerged after Wednesday’s big surge and more importantly, I wanted definite confirmation from the plan vanilla high yield (junk) bond mutual funds that the canary wasn’t dying. That was before the open.

I have to say that the depth and tenaciousness of Thursday’s decline definitely caught me off guard. While giving back 25% or even 50% of the big rally would not have out of the ordinary, losing all of it certainly was. It reminded me of January 2008 as stocks were groping for their first low of the year.

The anticipated up day in plain vanilla high yield bond funded ended up as a moderately lower day in the end. That is not good. It says that liquidity is leaving the market and shows concern that the economy may not be as stable and strong as the jobs report indicated. At this point, high yield bonds look like they want to continue lower as water finds its own level. The positive from my selfish perspective is that there should be a very solid buying opportunity over the coming month for a good trade into the New Year. I can’t believe I just typed “New Year.” Wow, did this year fly by!

Looking at the stock market, earlier this week I wrote that there was a 15% chance of a 8-11% correction taking the Dow below 16,000. That scenario certainly looks like it’s shaping up. With the August lows in the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 long breached, the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq 100 should not be too far behind.

Given the depth of the pullback, a scenario should unfold where stocks see some capitulatory selling next week or soon thereafter followed by a feeble rally and final decline into the ultimate bottom. I will discuss more if and when this unfolds. For now, it’s probably too late to sell and too early to buy. Patience is the virtue.

Have a safe and enjoyable weekend, especially if it’s a long one for you! I would be surprised if the media doesn’t start talking correction, crash, etc. with possible Blue Monday.

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Bears Stepped It Up

For most of September, I discussed the very negative seasonal period that ended on September 30. Remember, poor seasonals with strongly negative short-term trends from the Fed and options expiration usually just provide a headwind or accelerant to a market move already in place. The second half of September was certainly a poor showing for the bulls, which is part of the reason October began so weak.

For those who watch the charts, the Dow and S&P 500 visited their 150 day moving average this morning and are trying to bounce right now. The Nasdaq 100 has been much stronger and the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 have been downright ugly. While a small rally would be nice, it doesn’t seem like the final low is in just yet. A more likely scenario would see stocks move a little higher and then sell off once again next week or the week after to what could be the final solid trading low of 2014.

Between now and then, I will be keenly watching how the various sectors behave as well as high yield bonds. There has been much damage that needs repair before another rally to new highs begins.

At this point, the bull market is wounded, but certainly not dead. It’s time for another update on the canaries to assess the bull market’s health and I will try to get to that early next week.

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Bears Still Fleeing Bonds et al

It’s been a relentless assault on the bond market and other interest rate sensitive instruments of late. Treasury bonds, mortgage backed securities, high quality corporate bonds, junk bonds, utilities, REITs have seen intense selling pressure that has only paused for a day here and there since late April. Telecom, REITs and high yield bond mutual funds all hit our sell triggers last month and it certainly feels like consumer staples mutual funds and a few more bond ETFs aren’t too far behind.

I do NOT believe the bull market in stocks is over, but leadership has and is changing.