Extreme & Historic Complacency Building in Markets

Today is almost exactly two months since I last posted on this blog.

On November 8 2019, I consolidated over a dozen charts into a report, from hundreds of charts I had shared on Twitter over the course of 2019. Then I wrote a comprehensive review showing overwhelming evidence Stocks were accelerating higher from massive 2-year bases (see: The True Message of the Market (and Thinking for Yourself)).

For those who started following my work recently, you should know that I spent most of 2019 reiterating my extremely Bullish case for Global Equities, including a cyclical resurgence theme led by Semis, Tech, Banks and Industrials.

Yet even though Stocks were up a lot last year, being Bullish was never an “easy” trade to make. In fact until the very end of 2019 – even as Stocks began to break out in October and November, the cesspool of Twitter permabears kept reminding me daily they were going to “take the other side” of my trade. They were absolutely certain of the Bear case, they were not listening to the market, and they got destroyed.

For medium-term investors who don’t care much about short-term 1-2 month swings, I should add that my view is that 2020 as a whole should be favorable for Equities – even more so if we think of relative performance versus Bonds & Defensive assets. There are several reasons why I think this, the two most important ones being: (1) supportive Central Banks (for now) and (2) Credit markets unlikely to have major problems until 2021-2023, especially if Rates remain where they are now.

Having said that, I am not a long-term investor – and if you’re like me, an Equity & Macro trader that cares very much if the S&P moves 5-10% against me, then what we have right now is a potential big problem brewing.

Over the past several weeks, I have begun writing my biggest report since November, which is still in progress and if markets continue to grind higher, they’ll likely generate some of the most extreme chart signals in history.

It’s already happening in the Options markets, where extreme & historic complacency is now in full display:

Above, the 50-day Put/Call Ratio (inverted) has dropped to 0.56, among the most extreme overbought readings in 20 years. Remember this is the same indicator I discussed in November – when people were pointing to a 1-day overbought Put/Call reading and saying markets were euphoric. They weren’t. But now they certainly look that way.

ZOOM 2001-2005:
JUN 2001 Bear Market rally topped and rolled over (not applicable to today)
JAN 2004 Topped 1% higher then corrected -9% over the next six months
JUL 2005 Topped less than 1% higher then corrected -6% over the next two months

ZOOM 2009-2020:
APR 2010 Topped 1% higher then corrected -17% over the next two months
DEC 2010 Market ignored the signal, extended +7% in two months, then gave it all back in one month, then spent four months topping and fell -22% (for traders, this was the only signal that failed in 20 years)
DEC 2013 Topped less than 1% higher then corrected -6% in one month
JUL 2014 Topped less than 1% higher then corrected -4% in two weeks, rallied back to the highs then dropped -10% in one month
JAN 2018 Market had already topped, corrected a total -12% in two weeks

If history is a guide, the risk-reward over the next 1-2 months is moving towards “extremely poor”, and we shouldn’t rule out a compressed (front-loaded) decline either. All that’s needed is a “catalyst”, as always just a narrative/excuse to trigger deleveraging.

My goal for the next few weeks is to finish my next comprehensive chart review and post it here on the Blog. What I can already say is – the data picture has swung almost completely since November. Maybe Stocks will continue to grind a few points higher, generating even more extreme signals in the coming weeks. Personally, I don’t think the odds favor such an outcome – instability is rising significantly and there’s enough pressure accumulating that anything could trigger the start of a corrective phase into later Q1.

Right now, I believe that traders who are able to identify such a corrective phase when it begins, and are able to take steps to protect capital and then monitor for Long entry on the other side, have the chance to make this Q1 period potentially the most important allocation decision of the year. This is where I’ll be focusing all my attention in coming weeks – back with more soon.

Thanks for reading.

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Consensus Lawnmower (2019 edition)

Almost everything investors believed just a few months ago has been cut down:

  • EM & China were among the best places to invest.
  • The Fed was “friendly” and the Dollar would continue to weaken.
  • Equity & Rates Volatility would stay low because the Fed removed tail risks.
  • Commodities were going to make a comeback.

Feels like a long time ago, but these views were widely accepted until very recently.

In Mr. Market’s twisted Yogi Berra irony, 2019 has already been a tale of two halves, except we’re not even halfway yet.

Rolling waves of pain:

  • U.S. Financials & Banks fell sharply in March, and bottomed.
  • U.S. Healthcare & Biotech fell sharply in April, and bottomed.
  • The Dollar has rallied sharply, cutting through every consensus EMFX trade.
  • Like last year, the Dollar is moving in waves. First against the weak current account countries (ended a month ago), then Asia (largely over I believe, and wrote about last week), now migrating to a few select final pockets. Wherever the carry books are still holed up, that’s where the Dollar has unfinished business.
  • Asian Stock markets fell sharply in May, in some of the heaviest selling waves in history. Some markets broke selling records, far greater than even the panic in 2008. I’ve documented this extensively on Twitter and prior blog posts. Yet this week, momentum has been quietly stabilizing.
  • As EM tries to stabilize, U.S. markets continue to decline and look for a bottom. Yesterday, the main EM ETFs were up while U.S. indexes were down almost 1%. U.S. Tech in particular is starting to fall faster than most other areas.
  • U.S. Semiconductors, which rallied 50% from the December lows and triggered historic extremes in late April, have given up more than half their gains and become “ground-zero for trade war risk”. Quietly, they closed up yesterday even as the rest of U.S. Tech was down nearly 1%.
  • Even the U.S. defensive sectors are dropping sharply. Over the last two days, they lost nearly 3% (roughly 2-3x what broad markets fell). When Bears take out the defensives, they are running out of targets (everything else has been eradicated). This happened in December too.

True bottoms are made when the Bears successfully take down all the last pockets of strength. Sellers have relentlessly and systematically purged the haves for nearly two months. Everywhere we look, the haves have turned to have nots: there’s no one left overweight EM, China, Semis, EMFX, or any cyclicals of any kind. Defensives are heavily favored. Bonds are in a panic spike.

Meanwhile, Chinese stocks are quietly stabilizing directly above the support targets I’ve been tracking for several weeks.

Is it possible that China is forming a base ahead of the U.S.? It’s an extremely contrarian scenario. It also happened three years ago in 2016:

History doesn’t have to repeat exactly, but it wouldn’t be the first time EM & China were sold to the bone, only to bottom ahead of the U.S. and lead the recovery.

The destruction of consensus trades came in waves of selling. It works the other way around too. If sentiment is approaching rock bottom, the recovery will also come in waves:

Here is a candidate for the first wave: a key Asian market, stuck in the middle of the trade war, with heavy exposure to the Tech & Semiconductor industry — representing a massive 50% of its stock market capitalization. Essentially this market is uninvestable in the current environment. All of this psychological damage, for a simple gap fill and base on the 200dma.

We’ve already documented the historic outflows from China and everywhere else in EM. So for posterity, here is the wave of selling that just went through the same market from the prior chart (Taiwan):

No one can say with 100% certainty if the bear case is now fully priced in. What we do know is, many highly-exposed markets — most now deemed uninvestable by the same folks who were pounding the bull case just a month ago — have been deleted from investor menus, have stopped falling on bad news, and are now rising even as U.S. markets continue to search for a bottom.

Over the last month, the market wrote a story gradually, as prices came down. Now another story is quietly being told, for those that are listening. A story that will likely carry bullish implications far into the future.

Thanks for reading!

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Some notes on Stock sentiment

Last week produced a list of “Bullish” news so extensive, I don’t recall seeing anything quite like it in many years. I’m writing a list to organize my thoughts with the goal of revisiting everything later on. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Only time will tell.

To me, it looks like sentiment is completely euphoric and speculation is rampant. While this kind of excess can sometimes keep going and get even more extreme, one thing is clear: we’ve come a long way from the dark days of December.

  • Major Wall Street banks are “telling clients to be ready for a sudden rip higher in the market.” The banks “highlighted the possibility of a rapid, surprise jump in the stock market known as a ‘melt-up,’ driven by investors looking to get in on a positive momentum shift.” (CNBC, May 1). The banks recommend playing the melt-up with call options, “the best risk-adjusted way to add beta”.
  • Several Wall Street strategists increased their S&P target prices simultaneously this week. The most stunning move was a strategist who had the second lowest target, jumped overnight to having the second highest target.
  • Tech “Unicorns” are flooding the market with a huge number of IPOs. The unicorns have incinerated billions of Dollars of private equity money over the last decade, operating in low barrier-to-entry markets with little chance of ever making money. Many unicorns even say this in their prospectus, telling investors they may never turn a profit.
  • Beyond Meat, a company that makes plant-based meat substitutes started trading this week, its stock rose +163% on the first day of trading, making it the best-performing IPO since the financial crisis.
  • The SoftBank Vision Fund, perhaps the biggest private equity fee-generating bagholder scheme of all time, is “considering audacious fundraising plans, including a public offering of its $100 billion investment fund and the launch of a second fund of at least that size, as it looks to seize on an exploding startup scene”. Audacious may not be the best word to describe this plot.
  • Louis Dreyfus, a family-controlled company that has been private for 168 years, is suddenly holding talks with potential investors to sell equity stakes.
  • Almost every major financial media source/website published a “DON’T Sell in May” article this week.
  • Berkshire Hathaway revealed it has finally bought stock in Amazon. Warren Buffett himself regretted publicly years ago that he “missed” the opportunity to buy shares early in the company’s history. All of a sudden the most traditional, disciplined value investor in history has capitulated and bought into the most consensus growth story of this investment era. The decision was likely influenced by his lieutenants, who have been moving towards tech investing in recent years.
  • On May 6 (today) the CME will launch Micro E-Mini futures for the S&P, Nasdaq, Dow and Russell indexes, offering a product for small retail traders to access index futures. Historically, the launch of new futures products have coincided with some major turning points in markets. The most recent case was Bitcoin futures, which started trading December 2017 just five days before the cryptocurrency topped and fell -84%. Other examples include Uranium futures in May 2007, almost the exact day of the top, after which prices fell -88%. Gold futures debuted December 1974 less than 0.80% from the final top, after which Gold fell -44% over the next 2 years.
  • Businessweek magazine just put Microsoft’s CEO on the cover, displayed as a heavenly figure surrounded by clouds, captioned “The Miracle of Microsoft” and proclaiming “The greatest tech company of the 1990s is back!”. Previously, the last stock featured on the cover of BW was Boeing on February 19 2018 (“Up. Way Up. How Boeing seized the sky”), after which the stock spent ten months plunging five different times.