Tag Archives: Lance Roberts

Technically Speaking: The 4-Phases Of A Full-Market Cycle

In a recent post, I discussed the “3-stages of a bear market.”  To wit:

“Yes, the market will rally, and likely substantially so.  But, let me remind you of Bob Farrell’s Rule #8 from our recent newsletter:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

However, the “bear market” is only one-half of a vastly more important concept – the “Full Market Cycle.”

The Full Market Cycle

Over the last decade, the media has focused on the bull market, making an assumption that the current trend would last indefinitely. However, throughout history, bull market cycles make up on one-half of the “full market” cycle. During every “bull market” cycle, the market and economy build up excesses, which must ultimately be reversed through a market reversion and economic recession. In the other words, as Sir Issac Newton discovered:

“What goes up, must come down.” 

The chart below shows the full market cycles over time. Since the current “full market” cycle is yet to be completed, I have drawn a long-term trend line with the most logical completion point of the current cycle.

[Note: I am not stating the markets are about to crash to the 1600 level on the S&P 500. I am simply showing where the current uptrend line intersects with the price. The longer that it takes for the markets to mean revert, the higher the intersection point will be. Furthermore, the 1600 level is not out of the question either. Famed investor Jack Bogle stated that over the next decade we are likely to see two more 50% declines.  A 50% decline from the all-time highs would put the market at 1600.]

As I have often stated, I am not bullish or bearish. My job as a portfolio manager is simple; invest money in a manner that creates returns on a short-term basis, but reduces the possibility of catastrophic losses, which wipe out years of growth.

Nobody tends to believe that philosophy until the markets wipe about 30% of portfolio values in a month.

The 4-Phases

AlphaTrends previously put together an excellent diagram laying out the 4-phases of the full-market cycle. To wit:

“Is it possible to time the market cycle to capture big gains? Like many controversial topics in investing, there is no real professional consensus on market timing. Academics claim that it’s not possible, while traders and chartists swear by the idea.

The following infographic explains the four important phases of market trends, based on the methodology of the famous stock market authority Richard Wyckoff. The theory is that the better an investor can identify these phases of the market cycle, the more profits can be made on the ride upwards of a buying opportunity.”

So, the question to answer, obviously, is:

“Where are we now?”

Let’s take a look at the past two full-market cycles, using Wyckoff’s methodology, as compared to the current post-financial-crisis half-cycle. While actual market cycles will not exactly replicate the chart above, you can clearly see Wyckoff’s theory in action.

1992-2003

The accumulation phase, following the 1991 recessionary environment, was evident as it preceded the “internet trading boom” and the rise of the “dot.com” bubble from 1995-1999. As I noted previously:

“Following the recession of 1991, the Federal Reserve drastically lowered interest rates to spur economic growth. However, the two events which laid the foundation for the ‘dot.com’ crisis was the rule-change which allowed the nation’s pension funds to own equities and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which unleashed Wall Street upon a nation of unsuspecting investors.

The major banks could now use their massive balance sheet to engage in investment-banking, market-making, and proprietary trading. The markets exploded as money flooded the financial markets. Of course, since there were not enough ‘legitimate’ deals to fill demand and Wall Street bankers are paid to produce deals, Wall Street floated any offering it could despite the risk to investors.”

The distribution phase became evident in early-2000 as stocks began to struggle.

Names like Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Lucent Technologies, Nortel, Sun Micro, and a host of others, are “ghosts of the past.” Importantly, they are the relics of an era the majority of investors in the market today are unaware of, but were the poster children for the “greed and excess” of the preceding bull market frenzy.

As the distribution phase gained traction, it is worth remembering the media and Wall Street were touting the continuation of the bull market indefinitely into the future. 

Then, came the decline.

2003-2009

Following the “dot.com” crash, investors had all learned their lessons about the value of managing risk in portfolios, not chasing returns, and focusing on capital preservation as the core for long-term investing.

Okay. Not really.

It took about 27-minutes for investors to completely forget about the previous pain of the bear market and jump headlong back into the creation of the next bubble leading to the “financial crisis.” 

During the mark-up phase, investors once again piled into leverage. This time not just into stocks, but real estate, as well as Wall Street, found a new way to extract capital from Main Street through the creation of exotic loan structures. Of course, everything was fine as long as interest rates remained low, but as with all things, the “party eventually ends.”

Once again, during the distribution phase of the market, the analysts, media, Wall Street, and rise of bloggers, all touted “this time was different.” There were “green shoots,” it was a “Goldilocks economy,” and there was “no recession in sight.” 

They were disastrously wrong.

Sound familiar?

2009-Present

So, here we are, a decade into the current economic recovery and a market that has risen steadily on the back of excessively accommodative monetary policy and massive liquidity injections by Central Banks globally.

Once again, due to the length of the “mark up” phase, most investors today have once again forgotten the “ghosts of bear markets past.”

Despite a year-long distribution in the market, the same messages seen at previous market peaks were steadily hitting the headlines: “there is no recession in sight,” “the bull market is cheap” and “this time is different because of Central Banking.”

Well, as we warned more than once, all that was required was an “exogenous” event, which would spark a credit-event in an overly leveraged, overly extended, and overly bullish market. The “virus” was that exogenous event.

Lost And Found

There is a sizable contingent of investors, and advisors, today who have never been through a real bear market. After a decade long bull-market cycle, fueled by Central Bank liquidity, it is understandable why mainstream analysis believed the markets could only go higher. What was always a concern to us was the rather cavalier attitude they took about the risk.

“Sure, a correction will eventually come, but that is just part of the deal.”

As we repeatedly warned, what gets lost during bull cycles, and is always found in the most brutal of fashions, is the devastation caused to financial wealth during the inevitable decline. It isn’t just the loss of financial wealth, but also the loss of employment, defaults, and bankruptcies caused by the coincident recession.

This is the story told by the S&P 500 inflation-adjusted total return index. The chart shows all of the measurement lines for all the previous bull and bear markets, along with the number of years required to get back to even.

What you should notice is that in many cases bear markets wiped out essentially all or a very substantial portion of the previous bull market advance.

There are many signs suggesting the current Wyckoff cycle has entered into its fourth, and final stage. Whether, or not, the current decline phase is complete, is the question we are all working on answering now.

Bear market cycles are rarely ended in a month. While there is a lot of “hope” the Fed’s flood of liquidity can arrest the market decline, there is still a tremendous amount of economic damage to contend with over the months to come.

In the end, it does not matter IF you are “bullish” or “bearish.” What matters, in terms of achieving long-term investment success, is not necessarily being “right” during the first half of the cycle, but by not being “wrong” during the second half.

Previous Employment Concerns Becoming An Ugly Reality

Last week, we saw the first glimpse of the employment fallout caused by the shutdown of the economy due to the virus. To wit:

“On Thursday, initial jobless claims jumped by 3.3 million. This was the single largest jump in claims ever on record. The chart below shows the 4-week average to give a better scale.”

This number will be MUCH worse when claims are reported later this morning, as many individuals were slow to file claims, didn’t know how, and states were slow to report them.

The importance is that unemployment rates in the U.S. are about to spike to levels not seen since the “Great Depression.” Based on the number of claims being filed, we can estimate that unemployment will jump to 15-20% over the next quarter as economic growth slides 8%, or more. (I am probably overly optimistic.)

The erosion in employment will lead to a sharp deceleration in economic and consumer confidence, as was seen Tuesday in the release of the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index, which plunged from 132.6 to 120 in March.

This is a critical point. Consumer confidence is the primary factor of consumptive behaviors, which is why the Federal Reserve acted so quickly to inject liquidity into the financial markets. While the Fed’s actions may prop up financial markets in the short-term, it does little to affect the most significant factor weighing on consumers – their jobs.

The chart below is our “composite” confidence index, which combines several confidence surveys into one measure. Notice that during each of the previous two bear market cycles, confidence dropped by an average of 58 points.

With consumer confidence just starting its reversion from high levels, it suggests that as job losses rise, confidence will slide further, putting further pressure on asset prices. Another way to analyze confidence data is to look at the composite consumer expectations index minus the current situation index in the reports.

Similarly, given we have only started the reversion process, bear markets end when deviations reverse. The differential between expectations and the current situation, as you can see below, is worse than the last cycle, and only slightly higher than before the “dot.com” crash.

If you are betting on a fast economic recovery, I wouldn’t.

There is a fairly predictable cycle, starting with CEO’s moving to protect profitability, which gets worked through until exhaustion is reached.

As unemployment rises, we are going to begin to see the faults in the previous employment numbers that I have repeatedly warned about over the last 18-months. To wit:

“There is little argument the streak of employment growth is quite phenomenal and comes amid hopes the economy is beginning to shift into high gear. But while most economists focus at employment data from one month to the next for clues as to the strength of the economy, it is the ‘trend’ of the data, which is far more important to understand.”

That “trend” of employment data has been turning negative since President Trump was elected, which warned the economy was actually substantially weaker than headlines suggested. More than once, we warned that an “unexpected exogenous event” would exposure the soft-underbelly of the economy.

The virus was just such an event.

While many economists and media personalities are expecting a “V”-shaped recovery as soon as the virus passes, the employment data suggests an entirely different outcome.

The chart below shows the peak annual rate of change for employment prior to the onset of a recession. The current cycle peaked at 2.2% in 2015, and has been on a steady decline ever since. At 1.3%, which predated the virus, it was the lowest level ever preceding a recessionary event. All that was needed was an “event” to start the dominoes falling. When we see the first round of unemployment data, we are likely to test the lows seen during the financial crisis confirming a recession has started. 

No Recession In 2020?

It is worth noting that NO mainstream economists, or mainstream media, were predicting a recession in 2020. However, as we noted in 2019, the inversion of the “yield curve,” predicted exactly that outcome.

“To CNBC’s point, based on this lagging, and currently unrevised, economic data, there is ‘NO recession in sight,’ so you should be long equities, right?

Which indicator should you follow? The yield curve is an easy answer.

While everybody is ‘freaking out’ over the ‘inversion,’it is when the yield-curve ‘un-inverts’ that is the most important.

The chart below shows that when the Fed is aggressively cutting rates, the yield curve un-inverts as the short-end of the curve falls faster than the long-end. (This is because money is leaving ‘risk’ to seek the absolute ‘safety’ of money markets, i.e. ‘market crash.’)”

I have dated a few of the key points of the “inversion of the curve.” As of today, the yield-curve is now fully un-inverted, denoting a recession has started.

While recent employment reports were slightly above expectations, the annual rate of growth has been slowing. The 3-month average of the seasonally-adjusted employment report, also confirms that employment was already in a precarious position and too weak to absorb a significant shock. (The 3-month average smooths out some of the volatility.)

What we will see in the next several employment reports are vastly negative numbers as the economy unwinds.

Lastly, while the BLS continually adjusts and fiddles with the data to mathematically adjust for seasonal variations, the purpose of the entire process is to smooth volatile monthly data into a more normalized trend. The problem, of course, with manipulating data through mathematical adjustments, revisions, and tweaks, is the risk of contamination of bias.

We previously proposed a much simpler method to use for smoothing volatile monthly data using a 12-month moving average of the raw data as shown below.

Notice that near peaks of employment cycles the BLS employment data deviates from the 12-month average, or rather “overstates” the reality. However, as we will now see to be the case, the BLS data will rapidly reconnect with 12-month average as reality emerges.

Sometimes, “simpler” gives us a better understanding of the data.

Importantly, there is one aspect to all the charts above which remains constant. No matter how you choose to look at the data, peaks in employment growth occur prior to economic contractions, rather than an acceleration of growth. 

“Okay Boomer”

Just as “baby boomers” were finally getting back to the position of being able to retire following the 2008 crash, the “bear market” has once again put those dreams on hold. Of course, there were already more individuals over the age of 55, as a percentage of that age group, in the workforce than at anytime in the last 50-years. However, we are likely going to see a very sharp drop in those numbers as “forced retirement” will surge.

The group that will to be hit the hardest are those between 25-54 years of age. With more than 15-million restaurant workers being terminated, along with retail, clerical, leisure, and hospitality workers, the damage to this demographic will be the heaviest.

There is a decent correlation between surges in the unemployment rate and the decline in the labor-force participation rate of the 25-54 age group. Given the expectation of a 15%, or greater, unemployment rate, the damage to this particular age group is going to be significant.

Unfortunately, the prime working-age group of labor force participants had only just returned to pre-2008 levels, and the same levels seen previously in 1988. Unfortunately, it may be another decade before we see those employment levels again.

Why This Matters

The employment impact is going to felt for far longer, and will be far deeper, than the majority of the mainstream media and economists expect. This is because they are still viewing this as a “singular” problem of a transitory virus.

It isn’t.

The virus was simply the catalyst which started the unwind of a decade-long period of debt accumulation and speculative excesses. Businesses, both small and large, will now go through a period of “culling the herd,” to lower operating costs and maintain profitability.

There are many businesses that will close, and never reopen. Most others will cut employment down to the bone and will be very slow to rehire as the economy begins to recover. Most importantly, wage growth was already on the decline, and will be cut deeply in the months to come.

Lower wage growth, unemployment, and a collapse in consumer confidence is going to increase the depth and duration of the recession over the months to come. The contraction in consumption will further reduce revenues and earnings for businesses which will require a deeper revaluation of asset prices. 

I just want to leave you with a statement I made previously:

“Every financial crisis, market upheaval, major correction, recession, etc. all came from one thing – an exogenous event that was not forecast or expected.

This is why bear markets are always vicious, brutal, devastating, and fast. It is the exogenous event, usually credit-related, which sucks the liquidity out of the market, causing prices to plunge. As prices fall, investors begin to panic-sell driving prices lower which forces more selling in the market until, ultimately, sellers are exhausted.

It is the same every time.”

Over the last several years, investors have insisted the markets were NOT in a bubble. We reminded them that everyone thought the same in 1999 and 2007.

Throughout history, financial bubbles have only been recognized in hindsight when their existence becomes “apparently obvious” to everyone. Of course, by that point is was far too late to be of any use to investors and the subsequent destruction of invested capital.

It turned out, “this time indeed was not different.” Only the catalyst, magnitude, and duration was.

Pay attention to employment and wages. The data suggests the current “bear market” cycle has only just begun.

Technically Speaking: 5-Questions Bulls Need To Answer Now.

In last Tuesday’s Technically Speaking post, I stated:

From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Monday

Not surprisingly, as we noted in this weekend’s newsletter, the headlines from the mainstream media aligned with our expectations:

So, is the bear market over? 

Are the bulls now back in charge?

Honestly, no one knows for certain. However, there are 5-questions that “Market Bulls” need to answer if the current rally is to be sustained.

These questions are not entirely technical, but since “technical analysis” is simply the visualization of market psychology, how you answer the questions will ultimately be reflected by the price dynamics of the market.

Let’s get to work.

Employment

Employment is the lifeblood of the economy.  Individuals cannot consume goods and services if they do not have a job from which they can derive income. From that consumption comes corporate profits and earnings.

Therefore, for individuals to consume at a rate to provide for sustainable, organic (non-Fed supported), economic growth they must work at a level that provides a sustainable living wage above the poverty level. This means full-time employment that provides benefits, and a livable wage. The chart below shows the number of full-time employees relative to the population. I have also overlaid jobless claims (inverted scale), which shows that when claims fall to current levels, it has generally marked the end of the employment cycle and preceded the onset of a recession.

This erosion in jobless claims has only just begun. As jobless claims and continuing claims rise, it will lead to a sharp deceleration in economic confidence. Confidence is the primary factor of consumptive behaviors, which is why the Federal Reserve acted so quickly to inject liquidity into the financial markets. While the Fed’s actions may prop up financial markets in the short-term, it does little to affect the most significant factor weighing on consumers – their job. 


Question:  Given that employment is just starting to decline, does such support the assumption of a continued bull market?


Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE)

Following through from employment, once individuals receive their paycheck, they then consume goods and services in order to live.

This is a crucial economic concept to understand, which is the order in which the economy functions. Consumers must “produce” first, so they receive a paycheck, before they can “consume.”  This is also the primary problem of Stephanie Kelton’s “Modern Monetary Theory,” which disincentivizes the productive capacity of the population.

Given that Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) is a measure of that consumption, and comprises roughly 70% of the GDP calculation, its relative strength has great bearing on the outcome of economic growth.

More importantly, PCE is the direct contributor to the sales of corporations, which generates their gross revenue. So goes personal consumption – so goes revenue. The lower the revenue that flows into company coffers, the more inclined businesses are to cut costs, including employment and stock buybacks, to maintain profit margins.

The chart below is a comparison of the annualized change in PCE to corporate fixed investment and employment. I have made some estimates for the first quarter based on recent data points.


Question: Does the current weakness in PCE and Fixed Investment support the expectations for a continued bull market from current price levels? 


Junk Bonds & Margin Debt

While global Central Banks have lulled investors into an expanded sense of complacency through years of monetary support, it has led to willful blindness of underlying risk. As we discussed in “Investor’s Dilemma:”

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to a learning procedure in which a potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). What Pavlov discovered is that when the neutral stimulus was introduced, the dogs would begin to salivate in anticipation of the potent stimulus, even though it was not currently present. This learning process results from the psychological “pairing” of the stimuli.”

That “stimuli” over the last decade has been Central Bank interventions. During that period, the complete lack of “fear” in markets, combined with a “chase for yield,” drove “risk” assets to record levels along with leverage. The chart below shows the relationship between margin debt (leverage), stocks, and junk bond yields (which have been inverted for better relevance.)

While asset prices declined sharply in March, it has done little to significantly revert either junk bond yields or margin debt to levels normally consistent with the beginning of a new “bull market.”

With oil prices falling below $20/bbl, a tremendous amount of debt tied to the energy space, and the impact the energy sector has on the broader economy, it is likely too soon to suggest the markets have fully “priced in” the damage being done.


Question:  What happens to asset prices if more bankruptcies and forced deleveraging occurs?


Corporate Profits/Earnings

As noted above, if the “bull market” is back, then stocks should be pricing in stronger earnings going forward. However, given the potential shakeout in employment, which will lower consumption, stronger earnings, and corporate profits, are not likely in the near term.

The risk to earnings is even higher than many suspect, given that over the last several years, companies have manufactured profitability through a variety of accounting gimmicks, but primarily through share buybacks from increased leverage. That cycle has now come to an end, but before it did it created a massive deviation of the stock market from corporate profitability.

“If the economy is slowing down, revenue and corporate profit growth will decline also. However, it is this point which the ‘bulls’ should be paying attention to. Many are dismissing currently high valuations under the guise of ‘low interest rates,’ however, the one thing you should not dismiss, and cannot make an excuse for, is the massive deviation between the market and corporate profits after tax. The only other time in history the difference was this great was in 1999.”

It isn’t just the deviation of asset prices from corporate profitability, which is skewed, but also reported earnings per share.

The impending recession, and consumption freeze, is going to start the mean-reversion process in both corporate profits, and earnings. I have projected the potential reversion in the chart below. The reversion in GAAP earnings is pretty calculable as swings from peaks to troughs have run on a fairly consistent trend.

Using that historical context, we can project a recession will reduce earnings to roughly $100/share. (Goldman Sachs currently estimates $110.) The resulting decline asset prices to revert valuations to a level of 18x (still high) trailing earnings would suggest a level of 1800 for the S&P 500 index. (Yesterday’s close of 2626 is still way to elevated.)

The decline in economic growth epitomizes the problem that corporations face today in trying to maintain profitability. The chart below shows corporate profits as a percentage of GDP relative to the annual change in GDP. The last time that corporate profits diverged from GDP, it was unable to sustain that divergence for long. As the economy declines, so will corporate profits and earnings.


Question: How long can asset prices remain divorced from falling corporate profits and weaker economic growth?


Technical Pressure

Given all of the issues discussed above, which must ultimately be reflected in market prices, the technical picture of the market also suggests the recent “bear market” rally will likely fade sooner than later. As noted above”

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Importantly, despite the sizable rally, participation has remained extraordinarily weak. If the market was seeing strong buying, as suggested by the media, then we should see sizable upticks in the percent measures of advancing issues, issues at new highs, and a rising number of stocks above their 200-dma.

However, on a longer-term basis, since this is the end of the month, and quarter, we can look at our quarterly buy/sell indication which has triggered a “sell” signal for the first time since 2015. While such a signal does not demand a major reversion, it does suggest there is likely more risk to the markets currently than many expect.


Question:  Does the technical backdrop currently support the resumption of a bull market?


There are reasons to be optimistic on the markets in the very short-term. However, we are continuing to extend the amount of time the economy will be “shut down,” which will exacerbate the decline in the unemployment and personal consumption data. The feedback loop from that data into corporate profits and earnings is going to make valuations more problematic even with low interest rates currently. 

While Central Banks have rushed into a “burning building with a fire hose” of liquidity, there is the risk that after a decade of excess debt, leverage, and misallocation of assets, the “fire” may be too hot for them to put out.

Assuming that the “bear market” is over already may be a bit premature, and chasing what seems like a “raging bull market” is likely going to disappoint you.

Bear markets have a way of “suckering” investors back into the market to inflict the most pain possible. This is why “bear markets” never end with optimism, but in despair.

Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now (Full Report)


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Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.

Last week, we asked the question, “Is the bear market over?”

Our answer was simple: The ‘Bear Market’ won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.”

On Monday, the market sold off to new lows, forcing the Federal Reserve to inject more liquidity to try and stabilize the “broken” credit market.  Then on Tuesday, before the markets opened, we wrote:

“From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Friday

Not surprisingly, here were the headlines, almost exactly as we wrote them:

Well, you get the idea.

While it was indeed a sharp “reflex rally,” and expected, “bear markets” are not resolved in a single month. More importantly, “bear markets” only end when NO ONE wants to buy it.” 

Fed Can’t Fix It

As noted above, the “bear market” will NOT be over until the credit market is fixed. We are a long way from that being done, given the blowout in yields currently occurring.

However, the Fed is throwing the proverbial “kitchen sink” at the issue. As Jim Bianco noted on Friday:

“In just these past few weeks:

  • The Fed has cut rates by 150 basis points to near zero and run through its entire 2008 crisis handbook.
  • That wasn’t enough to calm markets, though — so the central bank also announced $1 trillion a day in repurchase agreements and unlimited quantitative easing, which includes a hard-to-understand $625 billion of bond-buying a week going forward. At this rate, the Fed will own two-thirds of the Treasury market in a year.

But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:

  • CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
  • PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
  • TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
  • SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
  • MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.

To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this.”

However, on Friday, the Federal Reserve ran into a problem, which could poses a risk for the markets going forward. As Jim noted, the mind-boggling pace of bond purchases quickly hit the limits of what was available to pledge for collateral.

Or rather, the Fed’s “unlimited QE,” may not be so “unlimited” after all.

The consequence is the Fed is already having to start cutting back on its QE program. That news fueled the late-day sell-off Friday afternoon. (Charts courtesy of Zerohedge)

While Congress did pass the “CARES” act on Friday, it will do little to backstop what is about to happen to the economy for two primary reasons:

  1. The package will only support the economy for up to two months. Unfortunately, there is no framework for effective and timely deployment; firms are already struggling to pay rents, there are pockets of funding stress in credit markets as default risks build, and earnings guidance is abandoned. 
  2. The unprecedented uncertainty facing financial markets on the duration of social distancing, the depth of the economic shock and when the infection rate curve will flatten, and there are many unknowns which will further undermine confidence.

Both of these points are addressed in this week’s Macroview but here are the two salient points to support my statement:

Most importantly, as shown below, the majority of businesses will run out of money long before SBA loans, or financial assistance, can be provided. This will lead to higher and longer-duration of, unemployment.”

“While there is much hope that the current ‘economic shutdown’ will end quickly, we are still very early in the infection cycle relative to other countries. Importantly, we are substantially larger than most, and on a GDP basis, the damage will be worse.”

What the cycle tells us is that jobless claims, unemployment, and economic growth are going to worsen materially over the next couple of quarters.

The problem with the current economic backdrop, and mounting job losses, is the vast majority of American’s were woefully unprepared for any type of disruption to their income going into the recession. As job losses mount, a virtual spiral in the economy begins as reductions in spending put further pressures on corporate profitability. Lower profits leads to higher unemployment and lower asset prices until the cycle is complete.

The Bear Still Rules

This past week, we published several pieces of analysis for our RIAPro Subscribers (30-Day Risk Free Trial) discussing why this was a “bear market rally” to be sold into. On Friday, our colleague, Jeffery Marcus of TP Analystics, penned the following:

  1. The long term bull pattern that existed since the 3/9/09 is over. That means the pattern of investors confidently buying every decline is over.
  2. The market became historically oversold on 3/23 using many metrics, and that oversold condition coincided with the long term support area of S&P 500 2110-2180.
  3. The short-covering and rebalancing had a lot to do with the size and speed of the 3-day rally.  Also, we know the lack of  ETF liquidity played a huge role as well as algorithmic trading.
  4. Technically the market can still go up 6.9% higher from here to hit the 50% retracement level (3386 – 2237 = 1149/2 = 574 + 2237 = 2811….2811/2630 = +6.9%.) I would not bet on it.
  5. The market only sustains a rally once there is light at the Coronavirus tunnel. 
  6. I do not think the S&P 500 will hit a new high this year. Maybe not in 2021, either.

His analysis agrees with our own, which we discussed with you last week.

“The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history.

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a ‘bear market’ rally you will want to ‘sell’ into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in ‘buy and hold’ and ‘passive indexing’ strategies that are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

Most importantly, all of our long-term weekly ‘sell signals’ have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the ‘bullish trend line’ from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to ‘sell’ before the ‘bear market’ finds its final low.”

Last week’s chart updated through Friday’s close.

While the recent lows may indeed turn out to be “the bottom,” I highly suspect they won’t. Given the sell signals have been registered at such high levels, the time, and distance, needed to reverse the excesses will require a deeper market draw.

As Jeff Hirsch from Stocktrader’s Alamanc noted:

“While we are all rooting for the market to find support here so much damage has been done. A great deal of uncertainty remains for the economy and health crisis. This looks like a bear market bounce. 

History suggests that we are in for some tough sledding in the market this year with quite a bit of chop. When the January Barometer came in with a negative reading, our outlook for 2020 began to diminish as every down January since 1950 has been followed by a new or continuing bear market, a 10% correction, or a flat year. Then another warning sign flashed when DJIA closed below its December closing low on February 26, 2020 as the impact of this novel coronavirus began to take its toll on Wall Street.

In the March Outlook, we presented this graph of the composite seasonal pattern for the 22 years since 1950 when both the January Barometer as measured by the S&P 500 were down, and the Dow closed below its previous December closing low in the first quarter. Below is a graph of DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite for 2020 year-to-date as of the close on March 25. Comparing 2020 market action to these 22 years, suggests a choppy year ahead with the potential for several tests of the recent low.”

“The depth of this waterfall decline may be too deep for the market to rebound quickly. This bear market also put this year’s Best Six Months (November-April) at risk of being negative. The record of down Best Six Months is not encouraging and it reminds us of a salient quote from the Almanac from an old market sage,

If the market does not rally, as it should during bullish seasonal periods, it is a sign that other forces are stronger and that when the seasonal period ends those forces will really have their say.’— Edson Gould (Stock market analyst, Findings & Forecasts, 1902-1987)'”

On a short-term basis, the market is also suggesting some risk. The daily chart below shows the market rallied to, and failed at, the first level of the Fibonacci retracement we outlined last week, suggesting profits be taken at this level. While there are two remaining targets for the bear market rally, the probabilities weigh heavily against them. (This doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved, it is “possible,” just not “probable.”)

Furthermore, with the “Death Cross” triggering on Friday (the 50-dma crossing below the 200-dma), this will put further downside pressure on any “bear market” advance from current levels.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the sell-off is less than one-month-old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the results of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • Most importantly, a “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge bounced from the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline in early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Finally, the markets bounced this past week.

However, don’t get too excited; there has been a tremendous amount of technical damage done which keeps us on the sidelines for now.

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact on the economy. No change this week. We are getting more interested in REITs again, but are going to select individual holdings versus the ETF due to leverage concerns in the REITs.

Discretionary is going to remain under pressure due to people being able to go out and shop. This sector will eventually get a bid, so we are watching it, but we need to see an eventual end to the isolation of consumers.

Current Positions: No Positions

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

Early last week, we shifted exposures in portfolios and added to our Technology and Communications sectors, bringing them up to weight. We also added QQQ, which was closed out on Friday.

Current Positions: XLK, XLC, 1/2 weight XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Four weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. We remain out of these sectors for now.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only.

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash. We did add a small trading position in QQQ on Monday afternoon, and sold it on Friday.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – We added a small position in GDX recently, and increased our position in IAU early this week. With the Fed going crazy with liquidity, this will be good for gold long-term, so we continue to add to our holdings on corrections.

Current Position: 1/4th weight GDX, 1/2 weight IAU

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds regained their footing this week, as the Fed became the “buyer” of both “first” and “last” resort. Simply, “bonds will not be allowed to default,” as the Fed will guarantee payments to creditors. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Despite the headlines of the “biggest rally in history” this past week, it’s easy to get sucked into the “Media headline” hype. However, let’s put this into some perspective:

Over the last “X” days the S&P 500 is:

  • 5-days: +10.2% 
  • 6-days: +5.4%
  • 10-days: -6.25%

It is much less exciting when compared to the fastest 30% plunge in history.

Keeping some perspective on where we are currently is very important. It’s easy to get swayed by the media headlines, which can lead us into making emotional investment mistakes. More often than not, emotional decisions turn out poorly.

We are starting our process of adding equities to the ETF models. As we head out of this bear market, ETF’s will have less value relative to our selective strategies.

This doesn’t mean we won’t use ETF’s at all, but we will selectively use them to fill in gaps to our individual equity selection, or for short-term trading opportunities.

Such was the case on Monday when we took on a position in QQQ for a bounce, and was subsequently closed out on Friday.

We also added small holdings of CLX and MRK to our long-term equity portfolio, as well as increased our exposure to IAU.

We continue to remain very defensive, and are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years.

We are just patiently waiting for the right opportunity to buy large chunks of these holdings with both stable, and higher yields.

Let me repeat from last week:

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns.

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.


  • Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules
  • MacroView: The Fed Can’t Fix What’s Broken
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

Follow Us On: Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Sound Cloud, Seeking Alpha


2020 Investment Summit – April 2nd.

The “2020 SOCIALLY DISTANT INVESTMENT SUMMIT” is coming on Thursday, April 2nd.

Click the link below to receive an email with a special “invitation only” link when the summit goes “live.” (Current newsletter subscribers are already registered.)


Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.

Last week, we asked the question, “Is the bear market over?”

Our answer was simple: The ‘Bear Market’ won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.”

On Monday, the market sold off to new lows, forcing the Federal Reserve to inject more liquidity to try and stabilize the “broken” credit market.  Then on Tuesday, before the markets opened, we wrote:

“From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Friday

Not surprisingly, here were the headlines, almost exactly as we wrote them:

Well, you get the idea.

While it was indeed a sharp “reflex rally,” and expected, “bear markets” are not resolved in a single month. More importantly, “bear markets” only end when NO ONE wants to buy it.” 

Fed Can’t Fix It

As noted above, the “bear market” will NOT be over until the credit market is fixed. We are a long way from that being done, given the blowout in yields currently occurring.

However, the Fed is throwing the proverbial “kitchen sink” at the issue. As Jim Bianco noted on Friday:

“In just these past few weeks:

  • The Fed has cut rates by 150 basis points to near zero and run through its entire 2008 crisis handbook.
  • That wasn’t enough to calm markets, though — so the central bank also announced $1 trillion a day in repurchase agreements and unlimited quantitative easing, which includes a hard-to-understand $625 billion of bond-buying a week going forward. At this rate, the Fed will own two-thirds of the Treasury market in a year.

But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:

  • CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
  • PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
  • TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
  • SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
  • MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.

To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this.”

However, on Friday, the Federal Reserve ran into a problem, which could poses a risk for the markets going forward. As Jim noted, the mind-boggling pace of bond purchases quickly hit the limits of what was available to pledge for collateral.

Or rather, the Fed’s “unlimited QE,” may not be so “unlimited” after all.

The consequence is the Fed is already having to start cutting back on its QE program. That news fueled the late-day sell-off Friday afternoon. (Charts courtesy of Zerohedge)

While Congress did pass the “CARES” act on Friday, it will do little to backstop what is about to happen to the economy for two primary reasons:

  1. The package will only support the economy for up to two months. Unfortunately, there is no framework for effective and timely deployment; firms are already struggling to pay rents, there are pockets of funding stress in credit markets as default risks build, and earnings guidance is abandoned. 
  2. The unprecedented uncertainty facing financial markets on the duration of social distancing, the depth of the economic shock and when the infection rate curve will flatten, and there are many unknowns which will further undermine confidence.

Both of these points are addressed in this week’s Macroview but here are the two salient points to support my statement:

Most importantly, as shown below, the majority of businesses will run out of money long before SBA loans, or financial assistance, can be provided. This will lead to higher and longer-duration of, unemployment.”

“While there is much hope that the current ‘economic shutdown’ will end quickly, we are still very early in the infection cycle relative to other countries. Importantly, we are substantially larger than most, and on a GDP basis, the damage will be worse.”

What the cycle tells us is that jobless claims, unemployment, and economic growth are going to worsen materially over the next couple of quarters.

The problem with the current economic backdrop, and mounting job losses, is the vast majority of American’s were woefully unprepared for any type of disruption to their income going into the recession. As job losses mount, a virtual spiral in the economy begins as reductions in spending put further pressures on corporate profitability. Lower profits leads to higher unemployment and lower asset prices until the cycle is complete.

The Bear Still Rules

This past week, we published several pieces of analysis for our RIAPro Subscribers (30-Day Risk Free Trial) discussing why this was a “bear market rally” to be sold into. On Friday, our colleague, Jeffery Marcus of TP Analystics, penned the following:

  1. The long term bull pattern that existed since the 3/9/09 is over. That means the pattern of investors confidently buying every decline is over.
  2. The market became historically oversold on 3/23 using many metrics, and that oversold condition coincided with the long term support area of S&P 500 2110-2180.
  3. The short-covering and rebalancing had a lot to do with the size and speed of the 3-day rally.  Also, we know the lack of  ETF liquidity played a huge role as well as algorithmic trading.
  4. Technically the market can still go up 6.9% higher from here to hit the 50% retracement level (3386 – 2237 = 1149/2 = 574 + 2237 = 2811….2811/2630 = +6.9%.) I would not bet on it.
  5. The market only sustains a rally once there is light at the Coronavirus tunnel. 
  6. I do not think the S&P 500 will hit a new high this year. Maybe not in 2021, either.

His analysis agrees with our own, which we discussed with you last week.

“The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history.

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a ‘bear market’ rally you will want to ‘sell’ into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in ‘buy and hold’ and ‘passive indexing’ strategies that are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

Most importantly, all of our long-term weekly ‘sell signals’ have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the ‘bullish trend line’ from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to ‘sell’ before the ‘bear market’ finds its final low.”

Last week’s chart updated through Friday’s close.

While the recent lows may indeed turn out to be “the bottom,” I highly suspect they won’t. Given the sell signals have been registered at such high levels, the time, and distance, needed to reverse the excesses will require a deeper market draw.

As Jeff Hirsch from Stocktrader’s Alamanc noted:

“While we are all rooting for the market to find support here so much damage has been done. A great deal of uncertainty remains for the economy and health crisis. This looks like a bear market bounce. 

History suggests that we are in for some tough sledding in the market this year with quite a bit of chop. When the January Barometer came in with a negative reading, our outlook for 2020 began to diminish as every down January since 1950 has been followed by a new or continuing bear market, a 10% correction, or a flat year. Then another warning sign flashed when DJIA closed below its December closing low on February 26, 2020 as the impact of this novel coronavirus began to take its toll on Wall Street.

In the March Outlook, we presented this graph of the composite seasonal pattern for the 22 years since 1950 when both the January Barometer as measured by the S&P 500 were down, and the Dow closed below its previous December closing low in the first quarter. Below is a graph of DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite for 2020 year-to-date as of the close on March 25. Comparing 2020 market action to these 22 years, suggests a choppy year ahead with the potential for several tests of the recent low.”

“The depth of this waterfall decline may be too deep for the market to rebound quickly. This bear market also put this year’s Best Six Months (November-April) at risk of being negative. The record of down Best Six Months is not encouraging and it reminds us of a salient quote from the Almanac from an old market sage,

If the market does not rally, as it should during bullish seasonal periods, it is a sign that other forces are stronger and that when the seasonal period ends those forces will really have their say.’— Edson Gould (Stock market analyst, Findings & Forecasts, 1902-1987)'”

On a short-term basis, the market is also suggesting some risk. The daily chart below shows the market rallied to, and failed at, the first level of the Fibonacci retracement we outlined last week, suggesting profits be taken at this level. While there are two remaining targets for the bear market rally, the probabilities weigh heavily against them. (This doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved, it is “possible,” just not “probable.”)

Furthermore, with the “Death Cross” triggering on Friday (the 50-dma crossing below the 200-dma), this will put further downside pressure on any “bear market” advance from current levels.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the sell-off is less than one-month-old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the results of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • Most importantly, a “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge bounced from the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline in early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Finally, the markets bounced this past week.

However, don’t get too excited; there has been a tremendous amount of technical damage done which keeps us on the sidelines for now.

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact on the economy. No change this week. We are getting more interested in REITs again, but are going to select individual holdings versus the ETF due to leverage concerns in the REITs.

Discretionary is going to remain under pressure due to people being able to go out and shop. This sector will eventually get a bid, so we are watching it, but we need to see an eventual end to the isolation of consumers.

Current Positions: No Positions

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

Early last week, we shifted exposures in portfolios and added to our Technology and Communications sectors, bringing them up to weight. We also added QQQ, which was closed out on Friday.

Current Positions: XLK, XLC, 1/2 weight XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Four weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. We remain out of these sectors for now.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only.

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash. We did add a small trading position in QQQ on Monday afternoon, and sold it on Friday.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – We added a small position in GDX recently, and increased our position in IAU early this week. With the Fed going crazy with liquidity, this will be good for gold long-term, so we continue to add to our holdings on corrections.

Current Position: 1/4th weight GDX, 1/2 weight IAU

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds regained their footing this week, as the Fed became the “buyer” of both “first” and “last” resort. Simply, “bonds will not be allowed to default,” as the Fed will guarantee payments to creditors. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Despite the headlines of the “biggest rally in history” this past week, it’s easy to get sucked into the “Media headline” hype. However, let’s put this into some perspective:

Over the last “X” days the S&P 500 is:

  • 5-days: +10.2% 
  • 6-days: +5.4%
  • 10-days: -6.25%

It is much less exciting when compared to the fastest 30% plunge in history.

Keeping some perspective on where we are currently is very important. It’s easy to get swayed by the media headlines, which can lead us into making emotional investment mistakes. More often than not, emotional decisions turn out poorly.

We are continuing our process of blending the Equity and ETF models. As we head out of this bear market, ETF’s will have much less value relative to our selective strategies.

This doesn’t mean we won’t use ETF’s at all, but we will selectively use them to fill in gaps to our individual equity selection, or for short-term trading opportunities.

Such was the case on Monday when we took on a position in QQQ for a bounce, and was subsequently closed out on Friday.

We also added small holdings of CLX and MRK to our long-term portfolio, as well as increased our exposure to IAU.

We continue to remain very defensive, and are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years.

We are just patiently waiting for the right opportunity to buy large chunks of these holdings with both stable, and higher yields.

Let me repeat from last week:

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns.

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

#WhatYouMissed On RIA This Week: 03-27-20

We know you get busy and don’t check our website as often as you might like. Plus, with so much content being pushed out every week from the RIA Team, we thought we would send you a weekly synopsis of everything you might have missed.

The Week In Blogs

________________________________________________________________________________

Our Latest Newsletter

________________________________________________________________________________

What You Missed At RIA Pro

RIA Pro is our premium investment analysis, research, and data service. (Click here to try it now and get 30-days free)

________________________________________________________________________________

The Best Of “The Lance Roberts Show

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Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls (Full Report)


  • Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls
  • MacroView: Mnuchin & Kudlow Say No Recession?
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


NOTE: During these tumultuous times, we are unlocking our full newsletter to help you navigate the markets safely. Make sure you subscribe to RIAPRO.NET (Free 30-Day Trial) if you want to keep receiving the full report after the storm passes.


Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls

“If you own 10% equities, as we do, and the market falls 100%, you will lose 10%. That said, you have 90 cents on the dollar to buy equities for free.” – Michael Lebowitz

Let me explain his comment.

Last week, we wrote a piece titled: Risk Limits Hit. When Too Little Is Too Much in which we discussed reducing our equity risk to our lowest levels. 

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk,” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

‘On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.’

Importantly, we did not ‘sell everything’ and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

On Friday/Monday, our ‘limits’ were breached, which required us to sell more.”

There are a couple of important things to understand about our current equity exposure. 

To begin with, we never go to 100% cash. The reason is that “psychologically” it is too difficult for clients to start “buying” when the market finally bottoms. Seeing the market begin to recover, along with their portfolio, makes it easier to fight the fear the market is “going to zero.”

Secondly, and most importantly, at just 10% in current equity exposure, the market could literally fall 100% and our portfolios would only decline by 10%. (Of course, given we still have 90% of our capital left, we can buy a tremendous amount of “free assets.”)

Of course, the market isn’t going to zero.

However, let’s map out a more realistic example. 

In this week’s MacroView, we discussed the “valuation” issue

“If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.”

So, let’s assume our numbers are optimistically in the “ballpark” of a valuation reversion, and earnings are only cut by 30% while the market bottoms at 1800, or 18x earnings. (I say optimistically because normal valuation reversions are 15x earnings or less.)

Here’s the math:

  • For a “buy and hold” investor (who is already down 20-30% from the peak) will lose an additional 22%. 
  • For a client with 10% equity exposure, they will lose an additional 2.2%. 

When the market does eventually bottom, and it will, it will be far easier for our clients to recover 10% of their portfolio versus 50% for most “buy and hold” strategies. 

As we have often stated, “getting back to even is not an investment strategy.”  

Is The Bear Market Over?

This is THE QUESTION for investors. Here are a few articles from the past couple of days:

And then you have clueless economists, like Brian Wesbury from First Trust, who have never seen a “bear market,” or “recession,” until it’s over.

March 6th.

Why is this important? Because “bear markets don’t bottom with optimism, they end with despair.”

As I wrote last week:

“Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend – Rule #8

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

The answer to the question is simply this:

“When is it time to start buying the market? When you do NOT want to.”

Bond Market Implosion

At the moment, the Federal Reserve is fighting a potentially losing battle – the bond market. 

  • After cutting rates to zero and launching QE of $700 billion – the markets crashed. 
  • The ECB starts an $800 billion QE program, and the markets fail to move. 
  • The Fed injected liquidity into money markets, the credit market, and is buying municipal bonds. 
  • And the market crashed more. 

The Fed has literally turned on a “garden hose” to extinguish a literal “bon(d)fire.” 

This was no more evident than their action this past week to revive a program from the financial crisis called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF) to bailout hedge funds and banks. Via Mike Witney:

The Fed is reopening its most controversial and despised crisis-era bailout facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. The facility’s real purpose is to transfer the toxic bonds and securities from failing financial institutions and corporations (through an intermediary) onto the Fed’s balance sheet.

The objective of this sleight of hand is to recapitalize big investors who, through their own bad bets, are now either underwater or in deep trouble. Just like 2008, the Fed is now doing everything in its power to save its friends and mop up the ocean of red ink that was generated during the 10-year orgy of speculation that has ended in crashing markets and a wave of deflation. Check out this excerpt from an article at Wall Street on Parade. Here’s an excerpt:

“Veterans on Wall Street think of the PDCF as the cash-for-trash facility, where Wall Street’s toxic waste from a decade of irresponsible trading and lending, will be purged from the balance sheets of the Wall Street firms and handed over to the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve – just as it was during the last financial crisis on Wall Street.”

– (“Fed Announces Program for Wall Street Banks to Pledge Plunging Stocks to Get Trillions in Loans at ¼ Percent Interest” Wall Street on Parade)

In other words, the PDCF is a landfill for distressed assets that have lost much of their value and for which there is little or no demand. And, as bad as that sounds, the details about the resuscitated PDCF are much worse.”

If you have any doubt how bad it is in the bond market, just take a look at what happened to both investment grade and junk bond spreads. (Charts courtesy of David Rosenberg)

As they say: “That clearly ain’t normal.” 

More importantly, the “Bear Market” won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.

Hunting The Bear

It was a pretty stunning week in the market. Over the last 5-days, the market declined an astonishing, or should I say breathtaking, 15%. The last time we saw a one week decline of that magnitude was during the “Lehman” crisis. (Of course, with hedge funds blowing up all week, this is precisely what the Fed has been bailing out.)

Since the peak of the market at the end of February, the market is now down a whopping 32%.

Surely, we are close to a bottom?

Let’s revisit our daily and weekly charts for some clues as to where we are, what could happen next, and what actions to take.

On a daily basis, the market is extremely stretched and deviated to the downside. Friday’s selloff smacked of an “Oriental Rug Company” where it was an “Everything Must Go Liquidation Event.” 

Remember all those headlines from early this year:

Well….

This selloff completely reversed the entire advance from the 2018 lows. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history. 

Such a reversal, particularly given the “speed and magnitude” of the decline, argues for a “reversal” of some sort. 

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a “bear market” rally you will want to “sell” into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in “buy and hold” and “passive indexing” strategies which are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

As noted above, bear markets do not end with investors wanting to “buy” the market. They end when “everyone wants to sell.” 

And, NO, investors are “not different this time.” 

This “bear market” rally scenario becomes more evident when we view our longer-term weekly “sell signals.”  As we warned last week:

“With all of our signals now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in.” 

Unfortunately, we have yet to see any attempt at a sustained rally. 

More importantly, with the failure of the markets to hold lows this week, both of our long-term weekly “sell signals” have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the “bullish trend line” from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to “sell” before the “bear market” finds its final low.

Where will that low likely be:

Let’s update our mapping from last week:

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline. – Failed
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, which is most likely, an average recessionary decline of 32.8% – Current
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline.  – Pending Possibility.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the selloff is less than one-month old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the result of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • A “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge is now at the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline into early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

For the 3rd week in a row:

“Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself.” 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact to the economy. No change this week. 

Current Positions: 1.2 weight XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology last week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to the May 2019 lows. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. The same is true for Utilities and Staples. These are our core ETF’s right now at which we are carrying substantially reduced exposure.

Current Positions: 1/2 weight XLK, XLC, XLU, XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March. 

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Three weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only. 

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – Gold broke our stop, and we sold our holdings. We are now on the watch for an entry point if Gold can climb back above the 200-dma. 

Current Position: None

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds collapsed last week as the “credit event” we have been concerned about took shape. We had previously taken profits and reduced our bond holdings duration and increased credit quality. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

I know it is ugly. 

The S&P 500 is down nearly 32% in just three weeks. 

That’s scary.

However, it is important to keep some perspective on where we are currently. 

Last Monday, we further reduced our equity to just 10% (from 25% previously) of the portfolio

What does that mean?  Here is some math:

If the market goes to ZERO from here, (it’s not going to) your MAXIMUM loss is just 10%.

This is recoverable, particularly if we could buy a portfolio of assets for FREE.

We currently expect a maximum decline from current levels of 20%. This would be a 2% net hit to portfolios leaving us with a LOT of cash to buy distressed assets at 50% off. 

This is the opportunity we have been waiting for during the entire last decade.

Currently, we are busy rebuilding all of our portfolio models, rethinking risk management in a post-bear market environment, and what role the future of “fixed income” will play in asset allocations.

These are all essential questions that we need solid answers for.

We are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years. We are just patiently waiting to buy large chunks of these holdings soon with both stable and higher yields. 

Let me assure you of four things;

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns. 

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls


  • Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls
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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls

“If you own 10% equities, as we do, and the market falls 100%, you will lose 10%. That said, you have 90 cents on the dollar to buy equities for free.” – Michael Lebowitz

Let me explain his comment.

Last week, we wrote a piece titled: Risk Limits Hit. When Too Little Is Too Much in which we discussed reducing our equity risk to our lowest levels. 

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk,” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

‘On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.’

Importantly, we did not ‘sell everything’ and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

On Friday/Monday, our ‘limits’ were breached, which required us to sell more.”

There are a couple of important things to understand about our current equity exposure. 

To begin with, we never go to 100% cash. The reason is that “psychologically” it is too difficult for clients to start “buying” when the market finally bottoms. Seeing the market begin to recover, along with their portfolio, makes it easier to fight the fear the market is “going to zero.”

Secondly, and most importantly, at just 10% in current equity exposure, the market could literally fall 100% and our portfolios would only decline by 10%. (Of course, given we still have 90% of our capital left, we can buy a tremendous amount of “free assets.”)

Of course, the market isn’t going to zero.

However, let’s map out a more realistic example. 

In this week’s MacroView, we discussed the “valuation” issue

“If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.”

So, let’s assume our numbers are optimistically in the “ballpark” of a valuation reversion, and earnings are only cut by 30% while the market bottoms at 1800, or 18x earnings. (I say optimistically because normal valuation reversions are 15x earnings or less.)

Here’s the math:

  • For a “buy and hold” investor (who is already down 20-30% from the peak) will lose an additional 22%. 
  • For a client with 10% equity exposure, they will lose an additional 2.2%. 

When the market does eventually bottom, and it will, it will be far easier for our clients to recover 10% of their portfolio versus 50% for most “buy and hold” strategies. 

As we have often stated, “getting back to even is not an investment strategy.”  

Is The Bear Market Over?

This is THE QUESTION for investors. Here are a few articles from the past couple of days:

And then you have clueless economists, like Brian Wesbury from First Trust, who have never seen a “bear market,” or “recession,” until it’s over.

March 6th.

Why is this important? Because “bear markets don’t bottom with optimism, they end with despair.”

As I wrote last week:

“Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend – Rule #\8

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

The answer to the question is simply this:

“When is it time to start buying the market? When you do NOT want to.”

Bond Market Implosion

At the moment, the Federal Reserve is fighting a potentially losing battle – the bond market. 

  • After cutting rates to zero and launching QE of $700 billion – the markets crashed. 
  • The ECB starts an $800 billion QE program, and the markets fail to move. 
  • The Fed injected liquidity into money markets, the credit market, and is buying municipal bonds. 
  • And the market crashed more. 

The Fed has literally turned on a “garden hose” to extinguish a literal “bon(d)fire.” 

This was no more evident than their action this past week to revive a program from the financial crisis called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF) to bailout hedge funds and banks. Via Mike Witney:

The Fed is reopening its most controversial and despised crisis-era bailout facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. The facility’s real purpose is to transfer the toxic bonds and securities from failing financial institutions and corporations (through an intermediary) onto the Fed’s balance sheet.

The objective of this sleight of hand is to recapitalize big investors who, through their own bad bets, are now either underwater or in deep trouble. Just like 2008, the Fed is now doing everything in its power to save its friends and mop up the ocean of red ink that was generated during the 10-year orgy of speculation that has ended in crashing markets and a wave of deflation. Check out this excerpt from an article at Wall Street on Parade. Here’s an excerpt:

“Veterans on Wall Street think of the PDCF as the cash-for-trash facility, where Wall Street’s toxic waste from a decade of irresponsible trading and lending, will be purged from the balance sheets of the Wall Street firms and handed over to the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve – just as it was during the last financial crisis on Wall Street.”

– (“Fed Announces Program for Wall Street Banks to Pledge Plunging Stocks to Get Trillions in Loans at ¼ Percent Interest” Wall Street on Parade)

In other words, the PDCF is a landfill for distressed assets that have lost much of their value and for which there is little or no demand. And, as bad as that sounds, the details about the resuscitated PDCF are much worse.”

If you have any doubt how bad it is in the bond market, just take a look at what happened to both investment grade and junk bond spreads. (Charts courtesy of David Rosenberg)

As they say: “That clearly ain’t normal.” 

More importantly, the “Bear Market” won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.

Hunting The Bear

It was a pretty stunning week in the market. Over the last 5-days, the market declined an astonishing, or should I say breathtaking, 15%. The last time we saw a one week decline of that magnitude was during the “Lehman” crisis. (Of course, with hedge funds blowing up all week, this is precisely what the Fed has been bailing out.)

Since the peak of the market at the end of February, the market is now down a whopping 32%.

Surely, we are close to a bottom?

Let’s revisit our daily and weekly charts for some clues as to where we are, what could happen next, and what actions to take.

On a daily basis, the market is extremely stretched and deviated to the downside. Friday’s selloff smacked of an “Oriental Rug Company” where it was an “Everything Must Go Liquidation Event.” 

Remember all those headlines from early this year:

Well….

This selloff completely reversed the entire advance from the 2018 lows. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history. 

Such a reversal, particularly given the “speed and magnitude” of the decline, argues for a “reversal” of some sort. 

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a “bear market” rally you will want to “sell” into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in “buy and hold” and “passive indexing” strategies which are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

As noted above, bear markets do not end with investors wanting to “buy” the market. They end when “everyone wants to sell.” 

And, NO, investors are “not different this time.” 

This “bear market” rally scenario becomes more evident when we view our longer-term weekly “sell signals.”  As we warned last week:

“With all of our signals now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in.” 

Unfortunately, we have yet to see any attempt at a sustained rally. 

More importantly, with the failure of the markets to hold lows this week, both of our long-term weekly “sell signals” have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the “bullish trend line” from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to “sell” before the “bear market” finds its final low.

Where will that low likely be:

Let’s update our mapping from last week:

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline. – Failed
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, which is most likely, an average recessionary decline of 32.8% – Current
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline.  – Pending Possibility.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the selloff is less than one-month old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the result of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • A “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge is now at the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline into early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

For the 3rd week in a row:

“Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself.” 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact to the economy. No change this week. 

Current Positions: 1.2 weight XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology last week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to the May 2019 lows. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. The same is true for Utilities and Staples. These are our core ETF’s right now at which we are carrying substantially reduced exposure.

Current Positions: 1/2 weight XLK, XLC, XLU, XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March. 

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Three weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only. 

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – Gold broke our stop, and we sold our holdings. We are now on the watch for an entry point if Gold can climb back above the 200-dma. 

Current Position: None

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds collapsed last week as the “credit event” we have been concerned about took shape. We had previously taken profits and reduced our bond holdings duration and increased credit quality. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

I know it is ugly. 

The S&P 500 is down nearly 32% in just three weeks. 

That’s scary.

However, it is important to keep some perspective on where we are currently. 

Last Monday, we further reduced our equity to just 10% (from 25% previously) of the portfolio

What does that mean?  Here is some math:

If the market goes to ZERO from here, (it’s not going to) your MAXIMUM loss is just 10%.

This is recoverable, particularly if we could buy a portfolio of assets for FREE.

We currently expect a maximum decline from current levels of 20%. This would be a 2% net hit to portfolios leaving us with a LOT of cash to buy distressed assets at 50% off. 

This is the opportunity we have been waiting for during the entire last decade.

Currently, we are busy rebuilding all of our portfolio models, rethinking risk management in a post-bear market environment, and what role the future of “fixed income” will play in asset allocations.

These are all essential questions that we need solid answers for.

We are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years. We are just patiently waiting to buy large chunks of these holdings soon with both stable and higher yields. 

Let me assure you of four things;

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns. 

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

 

#WhatYouMissed On RIA This Week: 03-20-20

We know you get busy and don’t check our website as often as you might like. Plus, with so much content being pushed out every week from the RIA Team, we thought we would send you a weekly synopsis of everything you might have missed.

The Week In Blogs

________________________________________________________________________________

Our Latest Newsletter

________________________________________________________________________________

What You Missed At RIA Pro

RIA Pro is our premium investment analysis, research, and data service. (Click here to try it now and get 30-days free)

________________________________________________________________________________

The Best Of “The Lance Roberts Show

________________________________________________________________________________

Video Of The Week A

Michael Lebowitz, CFA and I dig into the financial markets, the Fed’s bailouts, and what potentially happens next and what we are looking for. (Also, our take on corporate bailouts, and why, I can’t believe I am saying this, we mostly agree with Elizabeth Warren.)

________________________________________________________________________________

Our Best Tweets Of The Week

See you next week!

Margin Call: You Were Warned Of The Risk

I have been slammed with emails over the last couple of days asking the following questions:

“What just happened to my bonds?”

“What happened to my gold position, shouldn’t it be going up?”

“Why are all my stocks being flushed at the same time?”

As noted by Zerohedge:

“Stocks down, Bonds down, credit down, gold down, oil down, copper down, crypto down, global systemically important banks down, and liquidity down

Today was the worst day for a combined equity/bond portfolio… ever…”

This Is What A “Margin Call,” Looks Like.

In December 2018, we warned of the risk. At that time, the market was dropping sharply, and Mark Hulbert wrote an article dismissing the risk of margin debt. To wit:

“Plunging margin debt may not doom the bull market after all, reports to the contrary notwithstanding.

According to research conducted in the 1970s by Norman Fosback, then the president of the Institute for Econometric Research, there is an 85% probability that a bull market is in progress when margin debt is above its 12-month moving average, in contrast to just a 41% probability when it’s below.

Why, then, do I suggest not becoming overly pessimistic? For several reasons:

1) The margin debt indicator issues many false signals

2) There is insufficient data

3) Margin debt is a strong coincident indicator.”

I disagreed with Mark on several points at the time. But fortunately the Federal Reserve’s reversal on monetary policy kept the stock market from sinking to levels that would trigger “margin calls.”

As I noted then, margin debt is not a technical indicator that can be used to trade markets. Margin debt is the “gasoline,” which drives markets higher as the leverage provides for the additional purchasing power of assets. However, that “leverage” also works in reverse as it provides the accelerant for larger declines as lenders “force” the sale of assets to cover credit lines without regard to the borrower’s position.

That last sentence is the most important and is what is currently happening in the market.

The issue with margin debt, in terms of the biggest risk, is the unwinding of leverage is NOT at the investor’s discretion.

It is at the discretion of the broker-dealers that extended that leverage in the first place. (In other words, if you don’t sell to cover, the broker-dealer will do it for you.) 

When lenders fear they may not be able to recoup their credit-lines, they force the borrower to either put in more cash or sell assets to cover the debt. The problem is that “margin calls” generally happen all at once as falling asset prices impact all lenders simultaneously.

Margin debt is NOT an issue – until it is.

When an “event” occurs that causes lenders to “panic” and call in margin loans, things progress very quickly as the “math” becomes a problem. Here is a simple example.

“If you buy $100,000 of stock on margin, you only need to pay $50,000. Seems like a great deal, especially if the stock price goes up. But what if your stock drops to $60,000? Suddenly, you’ve lost $40,000, leaving you with only $10,000 in your margin account. The rules state that you need to have at least 25 percent of the $60,000 stock value in your account, which is $15,000. So not only do you lose $40,000, but you have to deposit an additional $5,000 in your margin account to stay in business.

However, when margin calls occur, and equity is sold to meet the call, the equity in the portfolio is reduced further. Any subsequent price decline requires additional coverage leading to a “death spiral” until the margin line is covered.

Example:

  • $100,000 portfolio declines to $60,000. Requiring a margin call of $5000.
  • You have to deposit $5000, or sell to cover. 
  • However, if you don’t have the cash, then a problem arises. The sell of equity reduces the collateral requirement requiring a larger transaction: $5000/.25% requirement = $20,000
  • With the margin requirement met, a balance of $40,000 remains in the account with a $10,000 margin requirement. 
  • The next morning, the market declines again, triggering another margin call. 
  • Wash, rinse, repeat until broke.

This is why you should NEVER invest on margin unless you always have the cash to cover.

Just 20% 

As I discussed previously, the level we suspected would trigger a margin event was roughly a 20% decline from the peak.

“If such a decline triggers a 20% fall from the peak, which is around 2340 currently, broker-dealers are likely going to start tightening up margin requirements and requiring coverage of outstanding margin lines.

This is just a guess…it could be at any point at which “credit-risk” becomes a concern. The important point is that ‘when’ it occurs, it will start a ‘liquidation cycle’ as ‘margin calls’ trigger more selling which leads to more margin calls. This cycle will continue until the liquidation process is complete.

The Dow Jones provided the clearest picture of the acceleration in selling as “margin calls” kicked in.

The last time we saw such an event was in 2008.

How Much More Is There To Go?

Unfortunately, FINRA only updates margin debt with about a 2-month lag.

Mark’s second point was a lack of data. This isn’t actually the case as margin debt has been tracked back to 1959. However, for clarity, let’s just start with data back to 1980. The chart below tracks two things:

  1. The actual level of margin debt, and;
  2. The level of “free cash” balances which is the difference between cash and borrowed funds (net cash).

As I stated above, since the data has not been updated since January, the current level of margin, and negative cash balances, has obviously been reduced, and likely sharply so.

However, previous “market bottoms,” have occurred when those negative cash balances are reverted. Given the extreme magnitude of the leverage that was outstanding, I highly suspect the “reversion” is yet complete. 

The relationship between cash balances and the market is better illustrated in the next chart. I have inverted free cash balances, to show the relationship between reversals in margin debt and the market. Given the market has only declined by roughly 30% to date, there is likely more to go. This doesn’t mean a fairly sharp reflexive bounce can’t occur before a further liquidation ensues.

If we invert margin debt to the S&P 500, you can see the magnitude of both previous market declines and margin liquidation cycles. As stated, this data is as of January, and margin balances will be substantially lower following the recent rout. I am just not sure we have “squeezed” the last bit of blood out of investors just yet. 

You Were Warned

I warned previously, the idea that margin debt levels are simply a function of market activity, and have no bearing on the outcome of the market, was heavily flawed.

“By itself, margin debt is inert.

Investors can leverage their existing portfolios and increase buying power to participate in rising markets. While ‘this time could certainly be different,’ the reality is that leverage of this magnitude is ‘gasoline waiting on a match.’

When an event eventually occurs, it creates a rush to liquidate holdings. The subsequent decline in prices eventually reaches a point that triggers an initial round of margin calls. Since margin debt is a function of the value of the underlying ‘collateral,’ the forced sale of assets will reduce the value of the collateral, triggering further margin calls. Those margin calls will trigger more selling, forcing more margin calls, so forth and so on.

That event was the double-whammy of collapsing oil prices and the economic shutdown in response to the coronavirus.

While it is certainly hoped by many that we are closer to the end of the liquidation cycle, than the beginning, the dollar funding crisis, a blowout in debt yields, and forced selling of assets, suggests there is likely more pain to come before we are done.

It’s not too late to take actions to preserve capital now, so you have capital to invest later.

As I wrote in Tuesday’s missive “When Too Little Is Too Much:”

“With our risk limits hit, and in order to protect our clients from both financial and emotional duress, we made the decision that even the reduced risk we were carrying was still too much.

The good news is that a great ‘buying’ opportunity is coming. Just don’t be in a ‘rush’ to try and buy the bottom. 

I can assure you, when we ultimately see a clear ‘risk/reward’ set up to start taking on equity risk again, we will do so ‘with both hands.’ 

And we are sitting on a lot of cash just for that reason.”

You can’t “buy low,” if you don’t have anything to “buy with.”

Technically Speaking: Risk Limits Hit, When Too Little Is Too Much

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

“On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.”

Importantly, we did not “sell everything” and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

Our clients, their families, their financial and emotional “well being,” rest in our hands. We take that responsibility very seriously, and work closely with our clients to ensure that not only are they financially successful, but they are emotionally stable in the process.

This is, and has been, our biggest argument against “buy and hold,” and “passive investing.” While there are plenty of case studies showing why individuals will eventually get back to even, the vast majority of individuals have a “pain point,” where they will sell.

So, we approach portfolio management from a perspective of “risk management,” but not just in terms of “portfolio risk,” but “emotional risk” as well. By reducing our holdings to raise cash to protect capital, we can reduce the risk of our clients hitting that “threashold” where they potentially make very poor decisions.

In investing, the worst decisions are always made at the moment of the most pain. Either at the bottom of the market or near the peaks. 

Investing is not always easy. Our portfolios are designed to have longer-term holding periods, but we also understand that things do not always go as planned.

This is why we have limits, and when things go wrong, we sell.

So, why do I tell you this?

On Friday/Monday, our “limits” were breached, which required us to sell more.

Two Things

Two things have now happened, which signaled us to reduce risk further in portfolios.

On Sunday, the Federal Reserve dropped a monetary “nuclear bomb,” on the markets. My colleague Caroline Baum noted the details:

“After an emergency 50-basis-point rate cut on March 3, the Federal Reserve doubled down Sunday evening, lowering its benchmark rate by an additional 100 basis points to a range of 0%-0.25% following another emergency meeting.

After ramping up its $60 billion of monthly Treasury bill purchases to include Treasuries of all maturities and offering $1.5 trillion of liquidity to the market via repurchase agreements on March 3, the Fed doubled down Sunday evening with announced purchases of at least $500 billion of Treasuries and at least $200 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities.

In addition, the Fed reduced reserve requirements to zero, encouraged banks to borrow from its discount window at a rate of 0.25%, and, in coordination with five other central banks, lowered the price of U.S. dollar swap arrangements to facilitate dollar liquidity abroad”

We had been anticipating the Federal Reserve to try and rescue the markets, which is why we didn’t sell even more aggressively previously. The lesson investors have been taught repeatedly over the last decade was “Don’t Fight The Fed.”

One of the reasons we reduced our exposure in the prior days was out of concern the Fed’s actions wouldn’t be successful. 

On Monday, we found out the answer. The Fed may be fighting a battle it can’t win as markets not only failed to respond to the Fed’s monetary interventions but also broke the “bullish trend line” from the 2009 lows.  (While the markets are oversold short-term, the long-term “sell signals” in the bottom panels are just being triggered from fairly high levels. This suggests more difficulty near-term for stocks. 

This was the “Red Line” we laid out in our Special Report for our RIAPro Subscribers (Risk-Free 30-Day Trial) last week:

“As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity, hitting the market at a time the market is testing important long-term trend support.”

It is now, or never, for the markets.

With our portfolios already at very reduced equity levels, the break of this trendline will take our portfolios to our lowest levels of exposure.

What happened today was an event we have been worried about, but didn’t expect to see until after a break of the trendline – “margin calls.” This is why we saw outsized selling in “safe assets” such as REITs, utilities, bonds, and gold.

Cash was the only safe place to hide.

We aren’t anxious to “fight the Fed,” but the markets may have a different view this time.

Use rallies to raise cash, and rebalance portfolio risk accordingly.

We are looking to be heavy buyers of equities when the market forms a bottom, we just aren’t there as of yet.”

On Monday morning, with that important trendline broken, we took some action.

  • Did we sell everything? No. We still own 10% equity, bonds, and a short S&P 500 hedge. 
  • Did we sell the bottom? Maybe.

We will only know in hindsight for certain, and we are not willing to risk more of our client’s capital currently. 

There are too many non-quantifiable risks with a global recession looming, as noted by David Rosenberg:

“The pandemic is a clear ‘black swan’ event. There will be a whole range of knock-on effects. Fully 40 million American workers, or one-third of the private-sector labor force, are directly affected ─ retail, entertainment, events, sports, theme parks, conferences, travel, tourism, restaurants and, of course, energy.

This doesn’t include all the multiplier effects on other industries. It would not surprise me at all if real GDP in Q2 contracts at something close to an 8% annual rate (matching what happened in the fourth quarter of 2008, which was a financial event alone).

The hit to GDP can be expected to be anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion for the year. But the market was in trouble even before COVID-19 began to spread, with valuations and complacency at cycle highs and equity portfolio managers sitting with record-low cash buffers. Hence the forced selling in other asset classes.

If you haven’t made recession a base-case scenario, you probably should. All four pandemics of the past century coincided with recession. This won’t be any different. It’s tough to generate growth when we’re busy “social distancing.” I am amazed that the latest WSJ poll of economists conducted between March 6-10th showed only 49% seeing a recession coming”.

The importance of his commentary is that from an “investment standpoint,” we can not quantify whether this “economic shock” has been priced into equities as of yet. However, we can do some math based on currently available data:

The chart below is the annual change in nominal GDP, and S&P 500 GAAP earnings.

I am sure you will not be shocked to learn that during “recessions,” corporate “earnings’ tend to fall. Historically, the average drawdown of earnings is about 20%; however, since the 1990’s, those drawdowns have risen to about 30%.

As of March 13th, Standard & Poors has earnings estimates for the first quarter of 2020 at $139.20 / share. This is down just $0.20 from the fourth quarter of 2019 estimates of $139.53.

In other words, Wall Street estimates are still in “fantasy land.” 

If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.

With the S&P 500 closing yesterday at 2386, this equates to downside risk of:

  • 20x Earnings = -16% (Total decline from peak = – 40%)
  • 18x Earnings = 24.5% (Total decline from peak = – 46%)
  • 15x Earnings = -37.1% (Total decline from peak = – 55%)
  • 13x Earnings = 45.5% (Total decline from peak = – 61%)
  • 10x Earnings = 58.0% (Total decline from peak = – 70%)

NOTE: I am not suggesting the market is about to decline 60-70% from the recent peak. I am simply laying out various multiples based on assumed risk to earnings. However, 15-18x earnings is extremely reasonable and possible. 

When Too Little Is Too Much

With our risk limits hit, and in order to protect our clients from both financial and emotional duress, we made the decision that even the reduced risk we were carrying was still too much.

One concern, which weighed heavily into our decision process, was the rising talk of the “closing the markets” entirely for a week or two to allow the panic to pass. We have clients that depend on liquidity from their accounts to sustain their retirement lifestyle. In our view, a closure of the markets would lead to two outcomes which pose a real risk to our clients:

  1. They need access to liquidity, and with markets closed are unable to “sell” and raise cash; and,
  2. When you trap investors in markets, when they do open again, there is a potential “rush” of sellers to get of the market to protect themselves. 

That risk, combined with the issue that major moves in markets are happening outside of transaction hours, are outside of our ability to hedge, or control.

This is what we consider to be an unacceptable risk for the time being.

We will likely miss the ultimate “bottom” of the market.

Probably.

But that’s okay, we have done our job of protecting our client’s second most precious asset behind their family, the capital they have to support them.

The good news is that a great “buying” opportunity is coming. Just don’t be in a “rush” to try and buy the bottom.

I can assure you, when we see ultimately see a clear “risk/reward” set up to start taking on equity risk again, we will do so “with both hands.” 

And we are sitting on a lot of cash just for that reason.Save

RIA PRO: Risk Limits Hit

For the last several months we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

“On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.”

Since then, as you know, we have taken profits, and rebalanced risk several times within the portfolios.

Importantly, we approach portfolio management from a perspective of “risk management,” but not just in terms of “portfolio risk,” but “emotional risk” as well. By reducing our holdings to raise cash to protect capital, we can reduce the risk of our clients hitting that “threshold” where they potentially make very poor decisions.

In investing, the worst decisions are always made at the moment of the most pain. Either at the bottom of the market or near the peaks. 

Investing is not always easy. Our portfolios are designed to have longer-term holding periods, but we also understand that things do not always go as planned.

This is why we have limits, and when things go wrong, we sell.

So, why do I tell you this?

On Friday/Monday, our “limits” were breached, which required us to sell more.

Two Things

Two things have now happened which signaled us to reduce risk further in portfolios.

On Sunday, the Federal Reserve dropped a monetary “nuclear bomb,” on the markets. My colleague Caroline Baum noted the details:

“After an emergency 50-basis-point rate cut on March 3, the Federal Reserve doubled down Sunday evening, lowering its benchmark rate by an additional 100 basis points to a range of 0%-0.25% following another emergency meeting.

After ramping up its $60 billion of monthly Treasury bill purchases to include Treasuries of all maturities and offering $1.5 trillion of liquidity to the market via repurchase agreements on March 3, the Fed doubled down Sunday evening with announced purchases of at least $500 billion of Treasuries and at least $200 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities.

In addition, the Fed reduced reserve requirements to zero, encouraged banks to borrow from its discount window at a rate of 0.25%, and, in coordination with five other central banks, lowered the price of U.S. dollar swap arrangements to facilitate dollar liquidity abroad”

We had been anticipating the Federal Reserve to try and rescue the markets, which is why we didn’t sell even more aggressively previously. The lesson investors have been taught repeatedly over the last decade was “Don’t Fight The Fed.”

One of the reasons we reduced our exposure in the prior days was out of concern we didn’t know if the Fed’s actions would be successful. 

On Monday, we found out the answer. The Fed may be fighting a battle it can’t win as markets not only failed to respond to the Fed’s monetary interventions, but also broke the “bullish trend line” from the 2009 lows.  (While the markets are oversold short-term, the long-term “sell signals” in the bottom panels are just being triggered from fairly high levels. This suggests more difficulty near-term for stocks. 

This was the “Red Line” we laid out in our last week, in the Special Report Red Line In The Sand:

“As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is hitting important long-term trend support.”

It is now, or never, for the markets.

With our portfolios already at very reduced equity levels, the break of this trendline will take our portfolios to our lowest levels of exposure. However, given the extreme oversold condition, noted above, it is likely we are going to see a bounce, which we will use to reduce risk into.

What happened today was an event we have been worried about, but didn’t expect to see until after a break of the trendline – “margin calls.”

This is why we saw outsized selling in “safe assets” such as REITs, utilities, bonds, and gold.

Cash was the only safe place to hide.

This also explains why the market “failed to rally” when the Fed announced $500 billion today. There is another $500 billion coming tomorrow. We will see what happens.

We aren’t anxious to “fight the Fed,” but the markets may have a different view this time.

Use rallies to raise cash, and rebalance portfolio risk accordingly.

We are looking to be heavy buyers of equities when the market forms a bottom, we just aren’t there as of yet.”

On Monday morning, we took some action.

  • Did we sell everything? No. We still own 10% equity, bonds, and a short S&P 500 hedge. 
  • Did we sell the bottom? Maybe.

We will only know in hindsight for certain, and we are not willing to risk more of our client’s capital currently. 

There are too many non-quantifiable risks with a global recession looming, as noted by David Rosenberg:

“The pandemic is a clear ‘black swan’ event. There will be a whole range of knock-on effects. Fully 40 million American workers, or one-third of the private sector labor force, are directly affected ─ retail, entertainment, events, sports, theme parks, conferences, travel, tourism, restaurants and, of course, energy.

This doesn’t include all the multiplier effects on other industries. It would not surprise me at all if real GDP in Q2 contracts at something close to an 8% annual rate (matching what happened in the fourth quarter of 2008 which was a financial event alone).

The hit to GDP can be expected to be anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion for the year. But the market was in trouble even before COVID-19 began to spread, with valuations and complacency at cycle highs and equity portfolio managers sitting with record-low cash buffers. Hence the forced selling in other asset classes.

If you haven’t made recession a base-case scenario, you probably should. All four pandemics of the past century coincided with recession. This won’t be any different. It’s tough to generate growth when we’re busy “social distancing.” I am amazed that the latest WSJ poll of economists conducted between March 6-10th showed only 49% seeing a recession coming”.

The importance of his commentary is that from an “investment standpoint,” we can not quantify whether this “economic shock” has been priced into equities as of yet. However, we can do some math based on currently available data:

The chart below is annual nominal GDP, and S&P 500 GAAP earnings.

I am sure you will not be shocked to learn that during “recessions,” corporate “earnings’ tend to fall. Historically, the average drawdown of earnings is about 20%, however, since the 1990’s, those drawdowns have risen to about 30%.

As of March 13th, Standard & Poors has earnings estimates for the first quarter of 2020 at $139.20/share. This is down just $0.20 from the fourth quarter of 2019 estimates of $139.53.

If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.

With the S&P 500 closing yesterday at 2386, this equates to downside risk of:

  • 20x Earnings = -16% (Total decline from peak = – 40%)
  • 18x Earnings = 24.5% (Total decline from peak = – 46%)
  • 15x Earnings = -37.1% (Total decline from peak = – 55%)
  • 13x Earnings = 45.5% (Total decline from peak = – 61%)
  • 10x Earnings = 58.0% (Total decline from peak = – 70%)

NOTE: I am not suggesting the market is about to decline 60-70% from the recent peak. I am simply laying out various multiples based on assumed risk to earnings. However, 15-18x earnings is extremely reasonable and possible. 

When Too Little Is Too Much

With our risk limits hit, and in order to protect our clients from both financial and emotional duress, we made the decision that even the reduced risk we were carrying was still too much.

One concern, which weighed heavily into our decision process, was the rising talk of the “closing the markets” entirely for a week or two to allow the panic to pass. We have clients that depend on liquidity from their accounts to sustain their retirement lifestyle. In our view, a closure of the markets would lead to two outcomes which pose a real risk to our clients:

  1. They need access to liquidity, and with markets closed are unable to “sell” and raise cash; and,
  2. When you trap investors in markets, when they do open again there is a potential “rush” of sellers to get of the market to protect themselves. 

That risk, combined with the issue that major moves in markets are happening outside of transaction hours, are outside of our ability to hedge, or control.

This is what we consider to be unacceptable risk for the time being.

We will likely miss the ultimate “bottom” of the market?

Probably.

But that’s okay, we have done our job of protecting our client’s second most precious asset behind their family, the capital they have to support them.

The good news is that a great “buying” opportunity is coming. Just don’t be in a “rush” to try and buy the bottom.

I can assure you that when we see ultimately see a clear “risk/reward” set up to start taking on equity risk again, we will do so “with both hands.” 

And we are sitting on a lot of cash just for that reason.Save

Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is It The “Revenant”


  • Market Crash: Is It Over, Or Is It The Revenant?
  • MacroView: Fed Launches A Bazooka To Kill A Virus
  • Financial Planning Corner: Tips For A Volatile Market
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

Follow Us On: Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Sound Cloud, Seeking Alpha



Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is The “Revenant?”

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a 2015 American survival drama describing frontiersman Hugh Glass’s experiences in 1823. Early in the movie, Hugh, an expert hunter, and tracker, is mauled by a grizzly bear. (Warning: the scene is very graphic)

In the scene, the attack comes in three distinct waves.

  1. The bear attacks, and brutally mauls Hugh, who plays dead to survive. The attack subsides.
  2. The bear comes back, and Hugh shoots it, provoking the bear to maul him some more.
  3. Finally, Hugh pulls out his knife as the bear attacks for a final fight to the death. (Hugh wins if you don’t want to watch the video.)

Interestingly, this is also how a “bear market” works.

Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Rule #8 states:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

As would be expected, the “Phase 1” selloff has been brutal.

That selloff sets up a “reflexive bounce.”  For many individuals, they will feel like” they are “safe.” This is how “bear market rallies” lure investors back in just before they are mauled again in “Phase 3.”

Just like in 2000, and 2008, the media/Wall Street will be telling you to just “hold on.” Unfortunately, by the time “Phase 3” was finished, there was no one wanting to “buy” anything. 

One of the reasons we are fairly certain of a further decline is due to the dual impacts of the “COVID-19” virus, and oil price shock. As noted in our MacroView:

“With the U.S. now shutting down and entrenching itself in response to the virus, the economic impact will be worsened. However, given that economic data is lagging, and we only have numbers that were mostly pre-virus, the reports over the next couple of months will ultimately reveal the extent of the damage.

With oil prices now at $30/bbl and 10-year breakeven rates to 0.9%, the math is significantly worse, and that is what the severity of the recent selloff is telling us. Over the next two quarters, we could see as much as a 3% clip off of current GDP.”

Unfortunately, while asset prices have declined, they have likely not fully accounted for the impact to earnings, permanently lost revenues, and the recessionary impact from falling consumer confidence. Historically, the gap between asset prices and corporate profits gets filled. 

In Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next,” I estimated the impact on earnings that is still coming.

What we know, with almost absolute certainty, is that we will be in an economic recession within the next couple of quarters. We also know that earnings estimates are still way too elevated to account for the disruption coming from the COVID-19.”

“What we DON’T KNOW is where the ultimate bottom for the market is. All we can do is navigate the volatility to the best of our ability and recalibrate portfolios to adjust for downside risk without sacrificing the portfolio’s ability to adjust for a massive ” bazooka-style ” monetary intervention from global Central Banks if needed quickly. 

This is why, over the last 6-weeks, we have been getting more “defensive” by increasing our CASH holdings to 15% of the portfolio, with our 40% in bonds doing the majority of the heavy lifting in mitigating the risk in our remaining equity holdings. 

Interestingly, the Federal Reserve DID show up on Thursday as expected. In a statement from the New York Fed:

The Federal Reserve said it would inject more than $1.5 trillion of temporary liquidity into Wall Street on Thursday and Friday to prevent ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.

If the transactions are fully subscribed, they would swell the central bank’s $4.2 trillion asset portfolio by more than 35%.” – WSJ

As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is sitting on critical long-term trend support.

Of course, this is what the market has been hoping for.

  • Rate cuts? Check
  • Liquidity? Check

On Friday, the market surged, and ALMOST recouped the previous day’s losses. (Sorry, it wasn’t President Trump’s speech that boosted the market.)

However, this rally, and liquidity flush, most likely does not negate the continuation of the bear market. The amount of technical damage combined with a recession, and a potential surge in credit defaults almost ensures another leg of the beg market is yet to come. 

A look at the charts can also help us better understand where we currently reside.

Trading The Bounce

In January, when we discussed taking profits out of our portfolios, we noted the markets were trading at 3-standard deviations above their 200-dma, which suggested a pullback, or correction, was likely.

Now, it is the same comment in reverse. The correction over the last couple of weeks has completely reversed the previous bullish exuberance into extreme pessimism. On a daily basis, the market is back to oversold. Historically, this condition has been sufficient for a bounce. Given the oversold condition (top panel) is combined with a very deep “sell signal” in the bottom panel, it suggests a fairly vicious reflexive rally is likely as we saw on Friday.

The question, of course, is where do you sell?

Looking at the chart above, it is possible for a rally to the 38.2%, or 50% retracement levels. However, with the severity of the break below the 200-dma, the 61.8% retracement level, where the 200-dma now resides, will be very formidable resistance. With the Fed’s liquidity push, it is possible for a strong “Phase 2” rally. Our plan will be to reduce equity exposure at each level of resistance and increase our equity hedges before the “Phase 3” mauling ensues. 

The following chart is a longer-term analysis of the market and is the format we use for “onboarding” our clients into allocation models. (Vertical black lines are buy periods)

“But Lance, how do you know that Friday wasn’t THE bottom?”

A look at longer-term time-frames gives us some clues.

With all of our longer-term weekly “sell signals” now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in. 

I have mapped out the three most logical secondary bottoms for the market, so you can assess your portfolio risk accordingly. 

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline.
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, most likely, is an average recessionary decline of 32.8%
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline. 

Given the weekly signals have only recently triggered, we can look at monthly data to confirm we still remain confined to a “bearish market” currently. 

On a monthly basis, sell signals have been triggered. However, these signals are NOT VALID until the end of the month. However, given the depth of the decline, it would likely require a rally back to all-time highs to reverse those signals. This is a very high improbability.

Assuming the signals remain, there is an important message being sent, as noted in the top panel. The “negative divergence” of relative strength has only been seen prior to the start of the previous two bear markets, and the 2015-2016 slog. While the current selloff resembles what we saw in late 2015, there is a risk of this developing into a recessionary bear market later this summer. The market is holding the 4-year moving average, which is “make or break” for the bull market trend from the 2009 lows.

However, we suspect those levels will eventually be taken out. Caution is advised.

What We Are Thinking

Since January, we have been regularly discussing taking profits in positions, rebalancing portfolio risks, and, most recently, moving out of areas subject to slower economic growth, supply-chain shutdowns, and the collapse in energy prices. This led us to eliminate all holdings in international, emerging markets, small-cap, mid-cap, financials, transportation, industrials, materials, and energy markets. (RIAPRO Subscribers were notified real-time of changes to our portfolios.)

There is “some truth” to the statement “that no one” could have seen the fallout of the “coronavirus” being escalated by an “oil price” war. However, there have been mounting risks for quite some time from valuations, to price deviations, and a complete disregard of risk by investors. While we have been discussing these issues with you, and making you aware of the risks, it was often deemed as “just being bearish” in the midst of a “bullish rally.” However, it is managing these types of risks, which is ultimately what clients pay advisors for.

It isn’t a perfect science. In times like these, it gets downright messy. But this is where working to preserve capital and limit drawdowns becomes most important. Not just from reducing the recovery time back to breakeven, but in also reducing the “psychological stress,” which leads individuals to make poor investment decisions over time.

As noted last week:

“Given the extreme oversold and deviated measures of current market prices, we are looking for a reflexive rally that we can further reduce risk into, add hedges, and stabilize portfolios for the duration of the correction. When it is clear, the correction, or worse a bear market, is complete, we will reallocate capital back to equities at better risk/reward measures.”

We highly suspect that we have seen the highs for the year. Most likely, we are moving into an environment where portfolio management will be more tactical in nature, versus buying and holding. 

Take some action on this rally. 

If this is a “Phase 2” relief rally of a bear market, you really don’t want to be around for the “final mauling.”


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders

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S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself. 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Staples (XLP)

Last week, we rebalanced our weightings in Real Estate and Staples, as these sectors are now improving in terms of relative performance. After getting very beaten up, we are looking not only for the “risk hedge” of non-virus related sectors but an eventual outperformance of the groups. 

We sold our entire stake in Discretionary due to potential earnings impacts from a slowdown in consumption, supply chain problems, and inventory issues. This worked well as Discretionary fell sharply last week. 

Current Positions: Target Weight XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology this past week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to our entry point, where we had slightly increased our exposure. These have “anti-virus” properties, so we are looking for the “risk hedge” relative to the broader market. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. We are watching Utilities and may reduce exposure if interest rates begin to rise due to the Fed. The same with Real Estate as well. 

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, XLC, XLU

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We did bring our healthcare positioning back to portfolio weight as the sector will ultimately benefit from a “cure” for the “coronavirus.” Also, with Bernie Sanders now lagging Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket, this removes some of the risks of “nationalized healthcare” from the sector. 

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

We had started to buy a little energy exposure previously but closed out of the positions as we were stopped out of our holdings week before last. We are going to continue to monitor the space due to its extreme oversold condition and relative value and will re-enter our positions when stability starts to take hold. 

We also sold Financials due to the financial risk from a recessionary impact on the outstanding corporate debt which currently exists. The Fed’s rate cut also impacts the bank’s Net Interest Margins, which makes them less attractive. Industrials and Materials have too much exposure to the “virus risk” for now.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Week before last, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. However, given that Central Banks are going “all in” on stimulus, we may look for a trade in these sectors short-term.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunity only. 

Current Position: None

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – We have decided to consolidate our long-term “core” holding into IVV only. We sold RSP and VYM and added to IVV. The reason for doing this is the disparity of performance between the 3-holdings. Since we want an “exact hedge” for our portfolio, IVV is the best match for a short-S&P 500 ETF.

Current Position: IVV

Gold (GLD) – This past week, Gold sold off as the Fed introduced liquidity giving the bulls hope and removing the “fear” factor in stocks. There was also a massive “margin call” that led to a liquidation event. Gold is VERY oversold currently. Add positions to portfolios with a stop $140. We sold our GDX position due to the fact mining is people-intensive and is located in countries most susceptible to the virus. 

Current Position: IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs as the correction ensued. Last Friday, we took profits in our 20-year bond position (TLT) to reduce our duration slightly, raise cash, and take in some profits. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we are maintaining the rest of our exposures for now, but we did rebalance our duration by selling 1/2 of IEF and adding to BIL. 

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, PTIAX, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Thank goodness. The market finally responded to the Fed on Friday. 

Please read “Trading The Bounce” above as it details our plan on how we are going to trade this liquidity rally. 

As noted last week:

“Staying true to our discipline and strategy is difficult when you have this type of volatility. We question everything, every day. Are we in the right place? Do we have too much risk? Are we missing something? 

The ghosts of 2000, and 2008, stalk us both, and we are overly protective of YOUR money. We do not take our jobs lightly.”

We took some further actions to increase cash, further rebalance risks this past week. We are now using this rally to add hedges, and reduce equities until the current “sell signals” reverse. As noted, this is most likely a “bear market” rally that will fail. 

However, if it is the beginning of a new “bull market,” then we will simply remove hedges and add to our equity longs. 

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Only adding new positions as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Sold VOOG, and hedged portfolio. Currently unhedged. 
  • Equity Model: Sold IEF and added to BIL to shorten bond portfolio duration. Sold RSP and VYM, and added slightly to IVV to rebalance our CORE holdings for more effective hedges. 
  • ETF Model: Same as Equity Model.

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


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Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is It The “Revenant”


  • Market Crash: Is It Over, Or Is It The Revenant?
  • MacroView: Fed Launches A Bazooka To Kill A Virus
  • Financial Planning Corner: Tips For A Volatile Market
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is The “Revenant?”

If you haven’t seen the moving “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a 2015 American survival drama describing frontiersman Hugh Glass’s experiences in 1823. Early in the movie, Hugh, an expert hunter, and tracker, is mauled by a grizzly bear. (Warning: the scene is very graphic)

In the scene, the attack comes in three distinct waves.

  1. The bear attacks, and brutally mauls Hugh, who plays dead to survive. The attack subsides.
  2. The bear comes back, and Huge shoots it, provoking the bear to maul him some more.
  3. Finally, Huge pulls out his knife as the bear attacks for a final fight to the death. (Hugh wins if you don’t want to watch the video.)

Interestingly, this is also how a “bear market” works.

Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Rule #8 states:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

As would be expected, the “Phase 1” selloff has been brutal.

That selloff sets up a “reflexive bounce.”  For many individuals, they will feel like” they are “safe.” This is how “bear market rallies” lure investors back in just before they are mauled again in “Phase 3.”

Just like in 2000, and 2008, the media/Wall Street will be telling you to just “hold on.” Unfortunately, by the time “Phase 3” was finished, there was no one wanting to “buy” anything. 

One of the reasons we are fairly certain of a further decline is due to the dual impacts of the “COVID-19” virus, and oil price shock. As noted in our MacroView:

“With the U.S. now shutting down and entrenching itself in response to the virus, the economic impact will be worsened. However, given that economic data is lagging, and we only have numbers that were mostly pre-virus, the reports over the next couple of months will ultimately reveal the extent of the damage.

With oil prices now at $30/bbl and 10-year breakeven rates to 0.9%, the math is significantly worse, and that is what the severity of the recent selloff is telling us. Over the next two quarters, we could see as much as a 3% clip off of current GDP.”

Unfortunately, while asset prices have declined, they have likely not fully accounted for the impact to earnings, permanently lost revenues, and the recessionary impact from falling consumer confidence. Historically, the gap between asset prices and corporate profits gets filled.