Index Canaries Breathing Nicely

It has a been long while since I last updated the Canaries in the Coal Mine, a semi-regular piece which has a very long-term focus on the health of the bull market. The analysis is only relevant at or near new bull market highs as I look for divergences in the major stock market indices, sectors and two other indicators. While helpful, it does not insulate bull markets from corrections; it just says that the final high hasn’t been made yet.

Let’s begin with the five major stock market indices. We are looking for warning signs that new highs are not being made by the majority. It is okay that they all don’t have the same behavioral pattern, but we want to see them march in the same direction.

The Dow is first and you can see the last all-time high was made in early March of 2017.

The S&P 500 (large cap) is next and it pretty much mirrors the Dow with its last high in March.

The S&P 400 (mid cap) is below and just like the previous two indices, the early March peak was seen.

The Russell 2000 (small Cap) is below and while it looks a bit weaker than the first few indices, its last high was in line, early March.

Finally, the NASDAQ 100 (tech) shows a much stronger pattern, having just made its all-time high. That’s not a warning sign as we have the lone outlier being stronger than the rest, not weaker.

The canaries are definitely all alive and healthy in the major stock market indices.

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Little Tantrum Beginning

The bulls began Wednesday with high hopes (and higher prices). By lunch time, it looked as if the market was ready to test its early March, all-time highs although the NASDAQ was already at new highs. But a funny thing happened on the way to Dow 21,000; the Fed released their minutes from the last meeting and the market did not like what they had to say.

In essence, the Fed was preparing to test the markets on unwinding their massive $4.5 trillion balance sheet later this year. It’s already been leaked and talked about, but it still poked the market a bit. At this point, the Fed plans on raising rates one or two more times and then halting the hikes to test selling some assets. Frankly, I did not believe this would happen in 2017 or even 2018. I thought the Fed would complete their tightening cycle and let the assets roll off organically over the years after they stopped reinvesting the proceeds. Clearly, I was wrong and the markets are a little cranky.

As long as this little tantrum continues, I would expect the banks and dollar to be under pressure with gold, euro, yen and treasury bonds firming. Downside risk in the Dow looks to be roughly 20,300. Let’s see if high yield bonds can hang tough this week.

Before someone asks, no, the bull market isn’t over.

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Q2 Begins with Higher Expectations

Stocks closed the first quarter without much fanfare and they head into Q2 with a strong seasonal tailwind. The major stock market indices are still not all in gear to the upside, but I expect that to correct itself this quarter with new highs across the board. Semis and discretionary are still very strong and I expect transports and banks to reassert themselves. Junk bonds had a very strong close to the quarter and they will need to continue that run this quarter.

Earnings season begins next week and the comps from this time last year will be very easy to surpass. However, analysts have really increased their expectations so companies need to blow out to the upside or those stocks will suffer.

My theme remains unchanged. The bull market is alive and reasonably healthy. Dow 23,000 is my next target. Weakness should be bought.

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Bulls Put Up A Stand

Yesterday, I wrote about the pullback getting a little old and the opportunity for stocks to find a low and rally. I offered that Dow 20,200 to 20,400 could provide some cushion. The Dow hit 20,400 yesterday morning and rallied nicely into the close with some follow this morning.

Was that it? Pullback over?

I am not certain, but we did do some buying yesterday to take advantage of the biggest bout of weakness this year. And it wasn’t much. Stocks could rally for a few days and then rollover one more time or the rally could have already started. I am okay being a little early, just as long as we don’t see a full scale melt down below 19,800.

As I mentioned the other day, high yield bonds bottomed last Wednesday and are now leading stocks over the very short-term. That’s a good thing. Defensive sectors are lagging with my four key sectors, banks, transports, semis and discretionary stepping up again.

Finally, I am keeping an eye on the Japanese yen as it has rallied the most during the stock market’s pullback. If that comes under pressure, I will feel better that the little low is in and new highs are coming.

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Pullback Getting Long in the Tooth

Stocks are set to open sharply lower today as the media and pundits assign blame to the GOP’s failed healthcare bill. I am not sure I really buy that notion as the bill was confirmed as dead during trading hours on Friday, but really, stocks began pulling back four weeks ago and accelerated lower as healthcare reform seemed less and less likely. Remember, it’s not the actual news, but rather how markets react.

As I have been writing about this pullback for some time, it’s just about starting to become long in the tooth if my assessment is correct and it’s just a modest bout of weakness in an ongoing bull market. The major stock market indices should begin to see some stabilization very soon. Using the Dow Industrials, 20,400 to 20,200 should offer a strong cushion to support the bulls. To repeat what I keep writing over and over and over. The bull market is not over. Weakness should be bought. Buy the dip until proven otherwise.

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Two Vital Canaries

After Tuesday’s “big” decline, there was some short-term damage done to most of the major indices. Rather than return immediately to new highs, I think we need a period to repair, which is not the worst thing in the world. A likely scenario is to see movement in both directions, perhaps into April, before the next leg higher begins.

On the key sector front, semis and discretionary escaped most of the damage and should be poised to lead again. Banks and transports are a bit more wounded, but by no means fatal. While software and homebuilders remain strong, telecom and retail are hurting. Industrials and materials are still okay. Interestingly, the defensive utilities and staples are quietly very solid. I am not going to guess on healthcare and biotech until we see how they react to the vote. Remember, it’s not the news but how they react to it.

Let’s turn to my favorite two canaries, high yield bonds and the New York Stock Exchange Advance/Decline Line along with the S&P 500 so you can see if we have any divergent behavior.

High yield (junk) bonds are below and you can see that they just recently peaked in early March and have been in a pullback all month, down roughly 2% since the highs.

The NYSE A/D Line is next and it has almost the exact same behavior as junk bonds with the early March peak and decline. The only difference is that the little bout of weakness this week has not been as noticeable. In other words, this indicator looks a little stronger.

Finally, the S&P 500 is below and just like the two canaries above, it peaked in early March and has been pulling back ever since. The index has seen its lowest point this week which creates a short-term positive indication with the canaries showing a little more internal strength.

The takeaway from this confirms what I have said, am saying, and will continue to say. As long as the two canaries peak coincidentally with the S&P 500 and the other major indices, the bull market will live on. If and when they begin to diverge, the clock will start on the potential end of the bull market, but there will absolutely need to be more several more canaries dying before the bull market does. It’s just not that easy to kill a bull.

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Teeth of the Pullback

As you know, for the past few months I have written about this overdue pullback to refresh the stock market. While I have written much about it, I am certainly not taking credit for getting the timing correct as I started discussing it many weeks before it began. Until Tuesday, the pullback, which began three weeks ago, has been about a shallow and mellow decline that has just gone sideways in consolidation mode.

Tuesday was the ugliest day of 2017 for the bulls. If you look at charts, the day printed thousands of downright awful days. The talk in the financial media was all about the “Trump Rally” being over and a large correction possibly unfolding. Let’s be real here. Stocks finally declined 1% for the first time in four months. 1% should be a normal daily move, not a cause for the “Special Report”.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I absolutely do not believe the bull market ended or is about to end. This is a normal, healthy and expected pullback that just turned from a mostly shallow and sideways move to a price decline. Weakness should be bought. Buy the dip.

Price-wise, all of the major stock market indices got in gear to the downside after the NASDAQ scored fresh new highs on Tuesday morning with CNBC exclaiming that stocks were “soaring”. They weren’t. The downside could be another 2-3% lower, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that. After the largest down days in months, stocks usually trade in both directions over the next day or two and then bounce over the next week or so. Lots of short-term indicators are in or approaching oversold territory.

As I wrap this up, I see the media dubbing this pullback, the “Trump Dump”. It is no more the president’s fault right now than it was his credit for the post-election rally. The rally was in response to a sweep by the GOP which would set the stage for the strongest pro-growth agenda since at least Bush II’s first term, if not back to the mid 1990s. In other words, it was Paul Ryan’s rally more than any other single person.

Speaker Ryan intends on holding a vote Thursday night for the ObamaCare replacement bill, however you want to refer to it. TrumpCare? RyanCare? Who cares? Some say the markets are concerned that if this bill fails, the corporate tax cuts won’t happen this year and then the individual cuts won’t happen and more regulations won’t be removed so quickly. I think that’s all a load of nonsense. A week after the bill fails, if it does, the world will move on to the next bill or another topic. If it’s one thing we learned about Donald Trump, it’s that he pivots from topic to topic as a dizzying pace, especially when he loses.

I am headed to the city tomorrow, but I will try to write a leadership update on the train which looks at the sectors and my favorite two canaries. Speaking of canaries, it’s the perfect time to do a full Canaries in the Coal Mine update and I will get working on that shortly.

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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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Bulls Remain Large and in Charge Despite Pullback

We had a lot of negative news between Friday’s market close and Monday’s open, almost all on the geopolitical front with the vast majority surrounding President Trump. Of course, Deutsche Bank finally agreeing with the markets that they needed to raise capital was icing on the cake. In a weak market, that backdrop would have yielded a 1-2% lower opening on Monday. In a strong market, we’re talking about .25-.50% lower.

Stocks are due and have been due for a pullback or at least a pause to refresh. That looks like what’s happening right now. With so many investors on the outside looking in, any weakness should be mild and followed by further strength until more serious cracks in the pavement develop. I found it interesting that CNBC’s Fast Money midday report was all about the Trump rally ending. I think those pundits will regret those words.

As I watch the major indices and sectors come off their morning lows, I can’t help but notice that high yield bonds are not following suit and lagging. One day or a few days means absolutely nothing, however, should stocks rally with junk bonds falling, I would become more concerned.

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Volatility Genie Trying to Pop Out

After what has been celebrated as this huge, epic rally on Wednesday, the major stock market indices gave back all of their post 9:30am gains and then some on Thursday. I mentioned the other day that volatility compression leads to volatility expansion and vice versa. When the volatility Genie finally gets out of the bottle, we will probably see a sustained increase. I think we’re close to that now. Please remember, volatility does not always mean decline. It means wider price movement in both directions.

Right now, the important takeaways from the week are that small and mid caps look the most vulnerable, relatively speaking. All of the indices remain overbought and stretched but I do not see a large scale decline unfolding. Emerging markets and commodities are under pressure with gold clearly failing at its 200 day moving average. I wrote about oil peaking the other day and the decline may be starting. High yield bonds and the NYSE Advance/Decline Line continue to act well which should buffer the downside. Three out of four key sectors scored fresh highs this with semis very close although banks saw a nasty reversal from new highs on Thursday.

Altogether, this behavior remains very typical of bull markets. Weakness should be bought.

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