The True Message of the Market (and Thinking for Yourself)

This report is a major update on what’s happening in global Equities, including what I’ve shared over the past several weeks and extending it even further.

Before we begin, I want to address what I think is the biggest problem facing investors and traders today: the constant daily barrage of permabears and nitpickers fighting the market.

The first group needs no introduction. The permabears are a known breed with notoriously short lifespans. Virtually all of them blow up and become bloggers (except those that never traded real money to begin with). Sadly that’s just the start of their mission to destroy themselves and others, as they begin to prey on unfortunate folks by luring them with n=2 “this (completely useless) indicator also happened in 2000/2007 so the world is ending” charts. You can spot them a mile away, because they tell you how bearish they are, every single day.

But there is another toxic breed of pundits that provide even LESS value: the nitpickers. They’re just as easy to spot, because they exhibit several common behaviors: snarky tweets, clever soundbites, short sentences heavy on sarcasm and zero data. Sometimes, claiming a data point is “the highest since [not very long ago]” with no analysis included (for a reason). They’re successful at presenting themselves as analysts/strategists, but ultimately they’re just as toxic. Why? Because they don’t have a system, don’t have a process, are not real market practitioners, have no real understanding of how to actually trade or invest in markets, and their sole job is to feed you noise and distract you from what’s really happening.

Let me show you what’s really happening, and how important this is.

On October 28, I shared the following charts on Twitter and wrote: “Japan and Europe showing massive strength – previously observed at the start of every Major Cyclical Bull Market in the last 20 years. In the context of historic outflows, LT Momentum confirming up and Cyclicals already leading – truly a sight to behold.”

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What does it mean to say “Long-Term momentum is turning up”?

From my last report published here on Sep 19: “If this historic base is complete, could we soon enter the steepest part of the price advance? This would be compatible with a market that has been totally abandoned by investors and beginning to show historic Thrust behavior.”

The Japanese market itself had already been suggesting this Bullish potential for almost two years, while it based at the old multi-decade horizontal tops line. Most important of all, price and breadth are now confirming each other in a historic way. The market is telling us to focus on the big picture.

It’s happening everywhere, as I also mentioned in that September report when markets began to exhibit historic thrust behavior.

Further, on October 29 I shared this chart: “I consider this the most important chart in the world right now. The Stock/Bond Ratio is breaking out of a massive 2-year compression, confirming the SPX breakout. Trend momentum is just beginning to expand – a potential major & historic rally getting started.”

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Here’s what the Stock/Bond Ratio looks like now again the market is telling us to focus on the big picture.

Here is a version of the Stock/Bond Ratio using the Nasdaq index look at the clear strength as it’s almost at a new multi-year high:

Related to this, on October 30 I shared this chart: “Here’s why the Stock/Bond Ratio is so critical: One version using NDX is the strongest of all. Most people said they “disagree with the chart”/”take the opposite side” – in the long run, this is the fastest way to the poor house. Never argue with the market.”

Here is what fighting the market looks like, at similar points in the past when Stocks were exhibiting similar strength:

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On Nov 4, I shared the following: “Here’s the problem for those still trying to fade every uptick in this rally: Remember the massive Weekly compressions – NDX bandwidth was at bottom 5% of its history. The bands are now expanding with rising prices. Further, LT momentum has also turned up. Pure energy.”

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Finally, a chart I shared on Nov 1: “I consider the Stock/Bond Ratio the most important chart in the world – here’s another reason why: Relentless selling & pessimism identical to the end of the last 3 global crises. This is how Stocks began major rallies, breaking out with few believers. “Wall St never changes”.”

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Here’s what the chart looks like now, breaking out with flows just starting to turn up from a historic capitulation:

Again it’s important to emphasize: what’s actually happening, what are the implications, and what is the time frame?

Instead of reflecting on these meaningful questions, here’s what Twitter’s nitpickers decided to say:

(1) “The market went up but not enough Stocks are making new highs”. I wrote this before and it’s worth repeating: the nitpickers don’t tell you that new Lows are zero (globally), and the MSCI World Index is doing just fine up 20% YTD with 52Wk Highs in the single digits most of the year. Also, if the market keeps pushing any higher, New Highs will go into full expansion mode. And that’s exactly what’s happening, as 52Wk Highs are expanding into double-digits just like in 2016 when markets last broke out of a 2-year consolidation. Any more upside and the expansion could go into full gear.

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(2) “The Put/Call Ratio is really low and the last time was January 2018.” This isn’t even worth showing a chart, it’s just more ridiculous noise. There were hundreds of times throughout history that the P/C Ratio was very low. Many of them occurred just as Stocks were launching into some of the biggest rallies ever, such as March 2009, August 2010, November 2012 (breakout rally), December 2016 (breakout rally). Again, what carries more weight? A single day of options buying activity or the trillions of dollars that need to chase Stocks and cut Bonds as the Stock/Bond Ratio breaks out of a historic consolidation?

To illustrate, here’s the 50-day moving average of the Put/Call Ratio (inverted) that’s supposedly euphoric. A week ago I said that maybe the true contrarian & objective view is to focus on the big picture – and ignore those fading every daily tick. Turn off the noise.

(3) “But Sentiment survey X is high and it’s impossible for Stocks to keep going.” Wrong. High initial sentiment was also a feature of the launch phase of every major rally in history (see chart below from NDR, with my annotations included). Other features include positive long-term momentum, breadth thrusts, extreme pessimism & outflows, all of which are present today thanks to the permas and nitpickers.

(4) Another one making the rounds: “AAII bullish sentiment 4W change was the highest in 2 years!” This fits the classic nitpicker style, ‘the highest since X’ with no analysis included (for a reason).

Below, the majority of historical sentiment spikes were associated with Stocks either launching a major Bull market rally, or an epic Bear market rally within a bigger downtrend. Even in 2000 and 2008.

Finally, it’s important to remember: there will be endless noise in the next weeks and months, claiming the next intraday data point is really bearish. There’s always something. But as I noted in every chart here, and in hundreds of tweets over the last months, the medium and long-term signals are still in a deep, historic panic. For instance, here is a chart from Oct 18, showing the 6-month average of AAII Bulls. The chart is from three weeks ago. Today, that moving average is at 29.61 (still falling). And yet people are going around parading the “4-week change”.

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Finishing this report with a positive message:

BE YOURSELF

Even though I believe there’s significant evidence suggesting we’re in a Major and potentially Historic global rally, Stocks don’t move in a straight line and usually pull back/consolidate regularly. Also from experience, I think Stocks probably won’t drop a whole lot if millions of people are nitpicking the latest intraday datapoint and completely ignoring the big picture.

More than ever, markets are littered with people looking to distract you with answers to questions that don’t matter.

Do you want to see what all those people look like? Here they are, millions of little pixels piling themselves up into towers (just like in that zombie movie) every time the market pulls back. Millions of hours of human potential, now just a line on a chart.

Each pixel is a permabear or nitpicker sending a tweet claiming victory for a 2% pullback or the inevitable correction, along what has been one of the most epic secular Bull markets of all time.

Free yourself from them (if you haven’t already). Erase them from your market research process. Build a system that listens to the market, and the market will quietly show you the answers. Be yourself, think for yourself, and the world will be yours.

Thanks for reading.

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The Most Important Force in Stocks

Tell me if you’ve heard this over the last ten years:

“The economy of [X] is more dependent on debt than ever before”

“Companies are issuing record debt to buy back stock, this will end badly”

“Debt is too high and the [economy/markets/savings/wealth] will [explode/implode]”

“The Bond rally is telling us something bad is coming”

Extra points if you’ve heard all of these from a market guru, famous economist, TV personality, ivy professor promoting a book, or ex-hedge fund manager with a blog.

Let me start by saying that markets don’t operate on absolutes. I’ve been trading for 25 years. In the arena every single day. In the middle of this organized chaos, I hear academics every day, taking turns shouting from the gilded seats, trying to be the one who predicts what happens next (always loud and full of confidence).

There is a simpler truth to markets. One that academics/noise-makers cannot grasp, yet all successful traders inherently understand: Sometimes things matter, other times they don’t.

A trader’s goal should be to constantly discard everything that doesn’t matter, so that what’s left is essential.

Let’s try this now, using a historical chart:

Top panel, S&P and 10-Year Yield. Bottom panel, 1-month Net Change in 10-Year Yield (2006-2019).

Now let’s add vertical red lines for every time the 10-Year Yield rises significantly over a 1-month period:

Looking above: see the spike in Yields in June 2007? That was the largest since 2004 (not shown). How about mid-2013, the Fed doing QE3/Infinity but the S&P still traded sideways from May to October, because Yields spiked three different times? Or 2015, Yields spiked twice and Stocks traded sideways for a year. Or most recently in 2018, Yields spiked in January & September and Stocks collapsed both times.

(Also notice above, how spikes have become far less frequent since 2013.)

Nothing works 100% of the time, and Yields have spiked on occasion with Stocks moving higher anyway (2016 a prime example). Nevertheless, over the last 15-20 years, rising Yields are usually bad for Stocks.

Now let’s add vertical green lines for every time the 10-Year Yield falls significantly over a 1-month period:

Recently on June 3 2019, Stocks may have formed an important bottom, after 10-Year Yields fell -47bps over the prior month. In the last four years, only one day had a bigger 1-month net drop in Yields: February 10 2016 (-51bps), which was the day before Stocks bottomed.

Once again nothing works perfectly, but Stocks generally do well after Yields fall sharply. So let’s go back to the start: is the recent Bond rally telling us something bad is coming?

Maybe.

Or maybe despite the loud chorus of sideline crisis-callers, the Bond rally may have just saved the economy (and the Stock market) yet again.

For this entire Bull market, yield declines of this magnitude have created huge runways for Stock prices to recover.

Bull trends die from inflation scares, not disinflation scares. Some of the biggest Stock corrections in recent years came after Yields rose sharply.

Equities love low-inflation/disinflationary growth. If there’s one “truth” in investing, this could be it. Disinflationary growth has kept this Stock Bull market plodding along for longer than anyone thought possible.

For more than a decade since this Bull market began, Stocks have been repeatedly hit with disinflation scares (mostly due to the Dollar rallying, like this year). Those scares pushed Yields sharply lower, clearing the way for Equities to recover, eluding the crash-callers each time. This latest Bond rally could rekindle the same old Bullish force for Stocks, right when the academics are rushing to call it a bad omen yet again.

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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Approaching Tactical Bottom in U.S. Stocks

CORE MODELS

Extreme oversold signals suggest Tactical bottom approaching over the next 1-2 days. Look for reversal to confirm.

This is one of my Core U.S. Equity Risk models. It’s almost fully oversold and very close to a Tactical Buy signal. This suggests an elevated probability of a sharp retracement rally starting soon. This may be the first of two oversold signals similar to the 2016 structure I’ve been expecting (the second one later in October-November).

My Options Gamma Model also very oversold. Positioning may have gotten too negative and is vulnerable to a squeeze.

Several of my U.S. Core Flow models are also extremely oversold. I run several flow models for U.S. markets. Many are scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I haven’t seen a capitulation of this magnitude since February 2018, which is remarkable for a small correction of just 5% so far.

SCENARIO

PRICE

S&P may have residual downside to 200dma and lower band at 2750-2780 area. An undershoot could target 2720 but is less likely. Not shown, NYSE Composite and many key cyclicals are already at respective 200dma and lower band support. Looking for sharp rally possibly to the 2900 area (5-6%).

S&P Daily RSI has reached my minimum target for this initial leg. This is identical to the 2016 period. The market may need 1-2 stabs lower but I’m on high alert for intraday reversals. Stocks have four more days to finish the week. This is a long runway with models so oversold. Any rally later in the week could quickly feed on itself, especially with Gamma this negative. Stocks could still finish the week with a powerful weekly Hammer or bullish reversal.

TIME

S&P E-Mini has a pending Buy Setup that should complete in two days if the market just trades sideways from here. There is also a major Bradley Cycle Date on May 16, the exact day of the potential setup completion.

Adding it all up, this two-day window through Thursday looks like a potential setup for a Tactical turn. Accordingly I am switching my own trading bias to Buy on residual declines over the next 1-2 days. This is my personal trading plan based on my own objectives and risk tolerance, and not an investment recommendation. While I don’t think this is THE bottom, I do think Volatility will remain high and the potential for a sharp squeeze is increasing.

Thanks for reading!

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The Current Stock Market Correction

In late April, nearly four months into a historic Stock rally that began in late December 2018, I tweeted some Summary thoughts and suggested plan for Q2-Q3:

I proposed two core ideas at the time. In this note today, I will focus on the first idea — Stocks. My reasoning is based on some charts that really stood out to me at the time:

First, Stocks were very extended in late April and likely to switch to a volatile mean-reverting regime. On April 29, I tweeted the below chart, showing the S&P Technology sector’s trend strength at one of the highest in history. I added that “a major corrective phase is likely to occur this year, lasting several months. Could be a topping process like 2000. Or (as I believe) a multi-month big volatile consolidation similar to 1991, 1995, 2004, 2012.”

Note the red boxes I drew above. When Stock prices move significantly in one direction for a relatively short period of time, they exhibit very high trend strength. Eventually, this reaches an extreme and the strong trend is vulnerable to exhaustion. The result is a return of two-way volatility, usually a violent sideways consolidation. This is what the red boxes show. And that was my best guess in April for what was coming.

Stocks are now correcting, but I believe we are still in a Bull market. One can never been 100% certain in markets, but I think a Bull market is still the most likely scenario. Note in the prior chart — in 1991, 1995, 2004 and 2012, Stocks rallied strongly and then consolidated bullishly for several months, ultimately moving higher.

I also think this is more likely to be a single digit correction, not another severe decline like last year. To illustrate why I think we’re in a Bull market, and why the correction should be relatively mild, I present the chart below: in late April nearly 80% of S&P stocks were trading above their 200dmas. The key condition to evaluate is: is Stock Breadth ABOVE or BELOW the 50% line?

At the time, I tweeted this chart and wrote it’s “reminiscent of the 2016 rally which reached 78% before two pullbacks that held above 50%. This is very positive longer-term. Market likely to correct through time, maybe 5-10% downside volatility next 3-6M.”

Further, notice above that the most violent declines of the last several years: August 2015, January 2016 and December 2018, all shared the same weak Breadth characteristics under 50%. (In fact this is a recurring feature of virtually every big Stock decline of the last 100 years.) Even late last year, note the red “X” in October-November 2018. That’s where Breadth failed to exceed 50% and soon after, the market collapsed in a second selling wave.

For reference, here is the same Breadth indicator from 2005-2009. Note the 2008 Bear Market began when the indicator failed under the 50% line. I marked it with a vertical line below. Soon after that, Stocks finished their topping process and began to decline in earnest. When I look back at the chart from April 2019, it’s a long way from any serious weakness and still looks like a Bull market.

I’ll add more charts next, but it’s important not to forget this simple concept illustrated above. In markets, I believe the simplest ideas are the most powerful. What is simple is often misunderstood. When I started in markets, I thought the most complex indicators would give the best results. I searched far and wide looking for answers. In those early years, my quest for more information led to an advancement in my theoretical understanding, but yielded few practical insights. When I decided to refocus on the right things, everything changed. The most important lesson I learned in those early days was: the market had been communicating the message all along, and simplifying my focus allowed me to listen.

Now let’s go one step further.

The next chart is from an idea I tweeted on May 7, where I noted the “Nasdaq Composite with roughly half its Stocks trading >200dma (red series), similar to where the initial rally topped in April 2016. Intermediate breadth weakening, just 56% trading >50dma (blue series). When this breaks below the 50% line, a correction is likely to be underway.”

Unlike S&P Breadth which as we just saw earlier, got very high at almost 80% of Stocks > 200dma, the Nasdaq Composite Breadth was much weaker and still under 50%. Below is an updated version of that chart. Note that 200d Breadth never did get above 50% and now 50d Breadth is moving back under the 50% line. Not surprisingly, we’re starting to see Volatility creep up again.

There are some striking similarities between the current market and some important prior periods. Let’s look at what they are, and what it could mean.

On May 2, Michael Santoli of CNBC noted the following on Trading Nation:

“As S&P 500 sits at a record, nearly a quarter of stocks are still stuck in a bear market […] at least 20% from 52-week highs.”

This weakness is important to study and discuss. I made this chart to illustrate the idea, with some of my own annotations and thoughts added. What we have is a market that rallied back to prior highs, similar to 2012 and 2016, but many Stocks are still more than 20% below their own highs. In other words, the Trend is strong but Breadth participation is weak.

What happened in 2012 and 2016? Stocks spent months basing near the highs, with two separate pullbacks each time. Exactly like the volatile “red box” consolidations from the very first chart, where we talked about the Trend strength being too high and the mean-reversion that ensued. Everything is tied together and related.

Corrections come when uptrends become extended and Breadth can’t keep up. In 2012 and 2016, the result was that Stocks needed time to rest and gather the energy to move higher.

First, let’s look at 2012:

Now let’s look at 2016:

And back to today:

What could this all mean, and what could we see from here? Following the Summary thoughts shared at the top of this note, here are some ideas I’m carefully balancing and considering, while remaining focused on the bigger picture (and keeping it simple):

  • We may be more than halfway through this correction in terms of price. If the 2012 and 2016 interpretations are correct, and we remain in a Bull market as I believe, the S&P index could perhaps bottom in the low 2700s.
  • Historically, Stocks went through mean-reverting phases that lasted 3-6 months and we’re still not even a month into this one. So it seems we could still be in the very early stages of this process, in terms of time.
  • This could provide plenty of opportunity to slowly accumulate good Stocks as weak hands lose patience, get frustrated or shaken out.
  • It seems the market’s goal here is to frustrate Bulls and Bears with a lot of erratic price movement, while ultimately making little net progress either way.
  • Because of the extreme volatility of 2018, some may fear this will become another massive decline. Since Mr. Market never makes things easy, a sideways range could be equally if not more difficult to deal with.
  • Looking back at history, the good news is that once 2012 and 2016 were out of the way, the following years were excellent for Stocks. The S&P advanced 30% in 2013 and 20% in 2017.
  • Those great advances weren’t a coincidence. Stocks had worked off their extended condition through time, while Breadth improved gradually and individual names began to catch up.
  • When Stocks had finally gathered the energy to rally again, the breakout came and they never looked back. Maybe we’ll see something similar later this year, when everyone becomes exhausted of the headlines and volatility.


Thanks for reading.

If you liked this post, feel free to share it with colleagues and subscribe to the blog to receive future updates. I’ll be revisiting this theme and many others over the next months, on my Twitter account and in bigger thematic pieces here.