Two Market Scenarios for the Quarter

In the last issue of Street$marts, I wrote about stocks being in a “murky” period for the next few weeks. I am going to pat myself on the back and say it has certainly looked “murky” since early October although I wish I had been more aggressive in taking action. The dark clouds have recently dissipated and the sun is starting to pop out. Once the decline began, it looked like the second half of October would see a low and that’s been confirmed.

I recently shared research that indicated a 15% chance of a 8-11% decline during the Q4. This was based on the S&P 500 seeing a fresh high in September or October which usually insulates the market from much more than a 10% decline. So far, on a closing basis the Dow and S&P 500 have dropped almost 7% and 7.5% respectively, and 8.6% and 9.4% on an intra-day basis. The other major indices have seen more significant weakness.

Either by skill or luck, I am always happy to nail a low as it occurs, especially now, when so many others were calling for much more serious damage. With the world fixated on Ebola, Europe’s economy, earnings and ISIS, fear was prevalent last week, the likes of which we haven’t seen since mid June and in some cases, 2011.

So far, all we know for sure is that “A” bottom was achieved. Whether it was “THE” bottom remains to be determined. If prevailing sentiment becomes “sell the rally”, the upside is likely to continue. However, if the masses believe that we just saw the final bottom of 2014 on the way to new highs, a more difficult path will be in store as I discuss below.

I continue to watch two scenarios as the most likely paths over the coming months. The green line in the chart below is obviously the more bullish of the two. It has last week’s low as “THE” low from which the year-end rally has already launched and all time highs are to be seen within a few months. The orange line forecasts a lot more volatility with the currently rally petering out shortly and marginal new lows seen within a few weeks. From there, the real rally begins, similar to 2011, with higher prices down the road.

 What is obviously missing from the scenarios above is a truly bearish one that has the bull market already over and this current rally representing a good selling opportunity leading to sharply lower prices right into the New Year and beyond. At this point, I just don’t see it. We simply do not have enough dead canaries to warrant such a negative outcome. And speaking of dead canaries, I will update the Canaries in the Coal Mine next week.

For now, the takeaway is to watch for signs that the rally is hitting stumbling blocks. High yield (junk) bonds had a truly epic day on Friday, recovering five days worth of declines in one day. That nascent advance must live on. Good sector leadership needs to emerge and not from consumer staples, utilities and REITs. Although the banks are a bellwether sector, the bull market can live without them for a while longer, but that will likely lead to the eventual demise.

Before I finish this article, there are things that concern me. It’s not all roses out there! After 67 months, the bull market is showing its age. Traditional Dow Theory just gave its first negative trend change in some time as both the industrials and transports closed below their August secondary lows. That’s long-term problematic unless both make fresh all time highs in the coming months. What would bother me even more is if one index scores a new high, but the other one does not. Anyway, we have time to explore this further next week.

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Getting Anywhere?

Early Monday I wrote about the market setting up for a bounce. And that was certainly the case on Monday. Tuesday, however, was a different story as stocks gave back all of Monday’s gains and then some. Wednesday’s solid action, once again, puts the stock market on bounce alert.

I keep using the word “bounce” instead of rally because it looks like there needs to be some more work on the downside before the current pullback wraps up. With each successive red day, the markets seem to be rebuilding the wall of worry necessary to begin the next meaningful rally. The problem is that this does not happen overnight.

Stocks are “supposed” to make some upside headway right here and now. Treasury bonds are “supposed” to pullback right here and now. Gold is “supposed” to rally right here and now and the dollar is “supposed” to decline right here and now. That’s the short-term scenario, some of which I positioned clients for while some isn’t worth the risk.

I am still keenly watching which sectors lead the bounce and which cannot get off the carpet. Right now, very few look enticing for more than a quick trade.

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Monday is Bounce Day

After some normal volatility on Friday, the bulls held their own and are positioned to see some green as the trading week opens. There are two scenarios I am watching here.

The first is the lows hit on Friday. If the major indices close below those levels sooner than later, we should see some trap door, elevator shaft, immediate selling. That’s the more bearish path. Scenario number two has the market bouncing for a few days and then rolling over to revisit the lows from Friday where the bottom is quickly formed.

As I mentioned last week, the quality of the bounce is so important right now. Poor participation or sector leadership may well have more intermediate-term consequences, but if the bulls can make an internal stand, the stage can be set for Dow 17,500.

Just like with the stock market, treasuries are at an important juncture as well. They are positioned to see more upside, but that needs to be much sooner than later to stave off a multi-week pullback.

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Watching the Bounce

Thursday’s shellacking in the stock market was a bit unusual given how close in time stocks were to all time highs. As I mentioned in Street$marts, my screen was a complete sea of red except for the instruments that go up when stocks go down. As I have over said over and over and over, based on history, the bull market remains alive.

In the short-term, it looks like the best case for the bulls would be a few days of bounce to the upside followed by another decline to revisit this morning’s low or briefly exceed it this month. Then another run to new highs could ensure.

I would become a bit more concerned if stocks began to unravel this afternoon or rallied mildly today followed by an ugly day on Monday. In any case, it’s important to watch which sectors bounce the most or withstand selling pressure the best. So far, I am not heartened to see utilities and staples leading today.

On the bond front, it’s time for treasury bonds to make a stand. They have pulled back for a few days and they need to stabilize here. High yield (junk) bonds have been decimated lately, wiping out the entire gain since January. This is a serious canary in the coal mine if it’s not rectified this year.

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2nd Fed Trend a Success… Pullback is Here

Yesterday, I wrote about the Fed statement day trends. History suggested, a pre announcement market of +-0.50% which was spot on with the day closing green; it closed neutral. Today, the post Fed model called for lower prices which is spot on as well. This is all in the context of the pullback I forecast two days ago.

Today’s action so far is nasty with my entire screen red except for the items that go up during a down market. Days like this bring the market closer to the eventual bottom, but it’s not there yet. Patience…

What is a little different right now is that very few sectors look appealing into the weakness, something that hasn’t been the case since 2011. Additionally, the treasury bond market, which I have been bullish on all year is flirting with the unchanged level when it should be sharply higher.

This will all sort out sooner than although I am very, very glad that we raised so much cash just a few days ago!

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Beginning to Feel Like a Pullback

As you know, I have been uber bullish on stocks here for a long while. It’s time to temporarily temper that enthusiasm for the market to repair a bit of short-term damage.

I DO NOT BELIEVE THE BULL MARKET IS OVER!

Sorry to yell, but I know that is going to be the first question I get. From my seat the bull market remains reasonably healthy, albeit old and wrinkly, and should live on into 2015 with much higher prices seen in the Dow. It’s probably time to do a full canaries in the coal mine update to see where everything stands. Hopefully, I can get to that later in the week.

For now, it’s time to play short-term defense, raise cash and add some hedges. A better buying opportunity lies ahead and we should not even see a 10%+ correction here, but if we do, we are prepared.

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Something for the Bears to Hang their Hats on

The Dow hit yet another all time high today and there hasn’t been a 10%+ correction in 35 months. When stocks opened sharply lower on July 10th, the bears came roaring out of hibernation calling for everything from a 10% correction to the end of the bull market. It was a sea of ugly red prices on my screen due to Portuguese bank worries, and weak China data. That decline didn’t even last a full day. Nor did the decline based on the -2.9% GDP print or Yellen’s previous press conference or a host of other headlines that were quickly absorbed.

I just cannot understand why more people are not excited about this market. It has truly been a bull market for the ages. The masses just keep hating and disavowing and predicting doom and gloom while the rest of us are smiling ear to ear for as long as we can. Bull markets do not end overnight and while this one continues to be old and wrinkly, it is generally healthy.

Because I am running out of ways to celebrate after all these years, I thought I would spend some time exposing some of small cracks in the pavement.

What can the bears hang their hats on?

For now, the S&P 400 and Russell 2000 are seriously lagging the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq. High yield bonds, a major canary in the coal mine, have been lagging for almost a month. The NYSE advance/decline line has not confirmed the recent all time highs and has been lagging all month.

Is that enough to end the bull market? Hardly, but it could certainly spell market pullback at any given time. Have we had these types of warnings before? Yes, many, many times during this bull market with most common outcome being a short-term pullback.

Weakness remains a buying opportunity and the Dow should continue to power higher to 17,500, 18,000 and perhaps even higher before all is said and done.

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Bears Out of Hibernation

Stocks open the day with the largest down opening in some time due to Portuguese bank problems, slowing Eurozone concerns and less than stellar data out of China. As hard to believe as it is, I have already seen a few articles calling this the beginning of a new bear market. Geez, how many time have we heard that over the past 64 months!

What we are seeing now is a routine, healthy and normal 3-7% pullback. Short-term downside risk looks to be above 16,200. After the market bottoms, the quality of the next rally to all time highs will decide whether there is a 10%+ correction later this quarter or not. Remember, at the peak only the other day, there were almost none of the usual warning signs seen to indicate any major decline let alone the bull market ending.

For months and months and quarters and quarters, investors have been waiting, hoping and even craving for a decline to get invested. Now that it’s here, I doubt many of them will even take advantage of the temporary sale in stock prices. They will rationalize why they shouldn’t buy with all of the bad news out there, only to regret it later and buy at higher prices.

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Bull Market’s Peak

The stock market hits the new week with a tiny headwind from post holiday seasonality. Last Thursday’s solid employment report finally got at least some bulls to celebrate, but it’s still very muted. At Dow 17,000 after a 10,000 point rally in the market, you would think that the majority would be in a good mood, even giddy. But that’s just not the case.

Before the bull market ends, history suggests a 10%+ correction, which we haven’t seen yet. And before the 10%+ correction, we are supposed to see a 4-6% pullback, which we haven’t seen. Bull markets typically do not peak out of nowhere and certainly not with the solid foundation this one still has.

I continue to scratch my head when I speak with, watch or listen to all this negative market chatter. At some point, probably sooner than later, we will have some weakness in stocks. Maybe that’s 500 points or 1000 points or even 1500 points. But the bull market should not end out of the blue without warning.

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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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