The Line In The Sand 05-20-16
“Sell In May & Go Away. Investing For A Trump Or Clinton Presidency. Interest Rates, Oil & The Dollar.”
Another week of volatility, but with no real resolution to the burning question of “where do we go next?”
This past week, the release of the FOMC meeting minutes from April did little to solve the overall confusion. On Friday, I noted some key highlights from the minutes:
“Participants generally agreed that the risks to the economic outlook posed by global economic and financial developments had receded over the inter-meeting period.
Participants also raised concerns about “unanticipated developments” associated with how China manages its exchange rate.
Still, Fed officials signaled they weren’t overly worried about the apparent [Q1 GDP] slump, judging it was temporary and “could partly reflect measurement problems and, if so, would likely be following by stronger [gross domestic product] growth in subsequent quarters.”
The view wasn’t unanimous. Some officials worried that softness in consumer spending and declines in business investment may be a sign of a more persistent slowdown in economic activity.”
There is a tremendous amount of “hope” built into those statements. And despite the continuing call of economic growth which has remained terminally elusive, the Federal Reserve is faced with numerous challenges ahead.
The central bank already missed the “window of opportunity” for normalizing rates in a manner that doesn’t hamper the recovery. This is evident when you look at Janet Yellen’s proprietary index that Yellen herself has stated as critical for Fed movement.
As I have repeated discussed in the past, since payrolls tend to track corporate profits by about six months AND the small business confidence gauges are in decline, there will be weakening, not strengthening, in employment as the year progresses.
Such a slowing in payrolls will put the Fed in a difficult position since their entire premise on hiking rates has been a rise in inflation to 2% and a fall to 5% in unemployment. Both have now been achieved. This is why, when combined with a forthcoming Presidential election, the Fed will likely remain quite permanently on hold.
As Rick Reider at Blackrock recently summed up:
“To be sure, we live in a world that always has risks and headwinds. But given the many headwinds to Fed movement today, the central bank could have taken the opportunity to move earlier in the year when the headwinds weren’t as strong and it was being aided by historically easy global monetary policy in Europe and Japan.
Now, the central bank is left with a more difficult set of decisions going forward, as it weighs the costs and benefits of maintaining interest rates at ’emergency conditions.’”
For Yellen, it is critical the market holds the current level of support. A break below that level will certainly send markets lower looking to retest February lows once again while completely derailing the Fed’s plans for hiking rates.
The Line In The Sand
As of Friday morning, as I am writing this, the “good news” is the market rebounded sharply off of the critical support level at 2040. That level has been acting as the “line in the sand” since April, and as stated above, a violation of that level will likely send stocks heading rapidly lower.
Furthermore, the markets have returned to a short-term oversold condition which has historically provided a catalyst for high prices. Again, this is a very short-term condition that can be exhausted very quickly.
The “bad news” is that the rally on Friday failed to break back above the 50-day moving average. A failure to reclaim that ground by close of business on Monday will return the 50-dma back into resistance versus support.
However, stepping back to a “weekly” price chart, we see the market bouncing off of the short-term moving average putting the new downtrend resistance line at 2090 in focus.
On a weekly basis, the markets remain extremely overbought following the rally from the February lows. This suggests that on an intermediate-term basis the path for prices is likely lower despite the potential for a short-term rally as shown in the daily chart above.
I realize this is a bit confusing, but this is the nature of the markets. For executing a buy or sell of an asset in the market, I like to use daily analysis to determine the “timing” of the transaction.
However, from a portfolio management perspective, I am a long-term investor. Therefore, I need to understand the intermediate to longer-term TRENDS of asset prices. As long as prices are trending positively, I want to remain invested despite potential short-term volatility that may exist. When asset prices began to trend negatively, I do NOT want to be heavily tilted towards RISK.
Currently, despite all of the volatility since last May, the markets have not fully changed their trend from positive to negative. Not yet, anyway.
The weekly chart below shows the market versus a 1-year and 2-year moving average. Currently, the 1-year moving average is just 1-point shy of crossing below the 2-year moving average. Historically, this has only occurred at the peak of the last two bull markets and represents the trend change process. The bottom part of the graph is a moving-average convergence divergence indicator (MACD) which acts an an early warning sign that risk should be reduced in portfolios. That signal was registered in May, 2015 which is when I reduced equity risk in portfolios by 50%.
Furthermore, if we step back even further and look at a monthly chart we see more signs of ongoing deterioration currently. As shown below, there are many measures of the market currently issuing warning signs. These warning signs should not be readily dismissed against a very short-term advance in the market. The longer-term dynamics act like gravity against extremely short-term, headline driven, price volatility.
While the market is currently holding support, keeping current allocations in place, the “gravity” of longer term price dynamics are dragging markets down to earth. But this is the normal process of a market top in progress. As the old saying goes:
“Bull markets die with a whimper, not with a bang.” – Unknown
Bull Markets Lose Support
Along with this idea that “bull markets” die with a whimper is the loss of one of the major supports of asset prices since 2009. Lu Wang touched on this issue last week for Bloomberg:
“After snapping up trillions of dollars of their own stock in a five-year shopping binge that dwarfed every other buyer, U.S. companies from Apple Inc. to IBM Corp. just put on the brakes. Announced repurchases dropped 38 percent to $244 billion in the last four months, the biggest decline since 2009, data compiled by Birinyi Associates and Bloomberg show.”
“‘If the only meaningful source of demand in the market is companies buying their own shares back, then what happens if that goes away?’ said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer of Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts, which oversees $100 billion. ‘We should be concerned.’”
It is not just repurchases that companies are cutting. As the profits recession continues for a fourth straight quarter, cost cutting will become a “thing” again as companies search for cash.
The number of firms that have slashed dividends are now at a seven year high. As noted by Political Calculations just recently the pace of dividend cuts in the second quarter is now running well ahead of the first quarter of this year. Most importantly, as shown in the chart below, the pace of dividend cuts are more normally associated with recessionary economic environments.
Furthermore, as economic and profit weakness continues to weigh on corporate balance sheets, delinquencies are rising. As noted by Wolf Richter this week:
“Delinquencies of commercial and industrial loans at all banks, after hitting a low point in Q4 2014 of $11.7 billion, have begun to balloon (they’re delinquent when they’re 30 days or more past due). Initially, this was due to the oil & gas fiasco, but increasingly it’s due to trouble in many other sectors, including retail.
Between Q4 2014 and Q1 2016, delinquencies spiked 137% to $27.8 billion. They’re halfway toward to the all-time peak during the Financial Crisis in Q3 2009 of $53.7 billion. And they’re higher than they’d been in Q3 2008, just as Lehman Brothers had its moment.
Note how, in this chart by the Board of Governors of the Fed, delinquencies of C&I loans start rising before recessions (shaded areas). I added the red marks to point out where we stand in relationship to the Lehman moment:”
“Business loan delinquencies are a leading indicator of big economic trouble. They begin to rise at the end of the credit cycle, on loans that were made in good times by over-eager loan officers with the encouragement of the Fed. But suddenly, the weight of this debt poses a major problem for borrowers whose sales, instead of soaring as projected during good times, may be shrinking, and whose expenses may be rising, and there’s no money left to service the loan.”
So, as asset prices remain suspended based mostly on a “fear of missing out,” there is a more distinct air pocket appearing beneath the surface. With support after support disappearing from the market, the risk of a sudden plunge in asset prices has grown markedly in recent months.
Scariest Chart Out There
The following is an excerpt from a post at Hedgeye by Dr. Daniel Thornton. During his 33-year career at the St. Louis Fed, Thornton served as vice president and economic advisor. He currently runs D.L. Thornton Economics, an economic research consultancy.
“During the entire period from 1952Q1 to 1994Q4, household net worth tracks the trend line very closely. Since 1995Q1, however, household net worth has been consistently above the trend line and the gap has been getting progressively larger. Such behavior would be a concern in any circumstance, but it is particularly troubling because we know that the previous two boom cycles were followed by busts. The recent rise in household net worth has not been accompanied by a correspondingly large increase in output or the price level. Hence, it too does not appear to be supported by economic fundamentals—it appears to be unsustainable.”
“The Fed’s monetary policy has contributed to this problem. First, by keeping the federal funds rate below its own estimates of the normal or natural rate for much of this time and way below the normal rate for nearly a decade. The second, by unnecessarily purchasing a massive amount of government and mortgage-back securities, which Fed Chair Yellen and her colleagues are reluctant to sell. I don’t see the Fed doing anything different anytime soon.
I predict that the current level of household net worth is not sustainable. I believe that some unforeseeable event will prick the bubble, perhaps this year. The result will be recession which will, unfortunately, be accompanied by more misguided monetary and fiscal policies. I call this monetary and fiscal policy insanity: Keep doing the same thing and expect a different result! I would love to be wrong, but I doubt I will be.”
This is not 1995, 2011 or 2012. The dynamics behind the market itself are flashing warning signs where ever you dare to actually look. Being aggressively exposed to equity risk is looking ever more dangerous as we head into the summer months.
The problem is that markets can remain irrational far longer than logic would dictate. Therefore, I continue to urge caution while waiting for the market to finally declare itself either a “bull” or a “bear.” But, I will say my “bearish spidey senses” are tingling.
“But not even a world war can keep the stock market from being a bull market when conditions are bullish, or a bear market when conditions are bearish. And all a man needs to know to make money is to appraise conditions.” – Jesse Livermore
THE MONDAY MORNING CALL
The Monday Morning Call – Analysis For Active Traders
I want to update what I wrote last week:
“The ongoing correction last week violated the 50-dma which raises short-term positioning alarm bells. However, as discussed above, the market held support and the recent neckline at 2040.“
While on Monday of last week the market did rocket above the 50-dma, it was unable to hold that level this week with Friday’s rally failing at that resistance. The 2040 level is now an extremely critical level of support in what appears to be a fairly significant topping process.
As I discussed in Tuesday’s “Technically Speaking” post:
“Critically, there is a“head and shoulders” process being formed and the 2040 level is the neckline support of that pattern. A break of that neckline will lead to a more substantial correction process.”
“With the 50-dma trending positively above the 200-dma, we do want to give the markets the benefit of the doubt currently, but I am not dismissing my sense of caution.”
It will be critical for the market holds 2040 next week and rally back above the 50-dma in order to continue the bullish bias.
One interesting aspect of the rally over the last couple of months is that it has not substantially changed the outlook of individual investors about the market. While individuals remain skeptical of the recent rally, the sentiment of professionals has rocketed higher. The chart below is the ratio of individual to professional bullish sentiment.
This is interesting because while individuals remain skeptical of the recent rally, they have not changed their asset allocations to a more defensive posture.
In other words, while they are concerned about a potential “bear” market, they are unwilling to do anything about it due to “fear of missing out.” The Federal Reserve has apparently completed its mission of convincing the vast majority of the population that “stocks can no longer go down.”
This is potentially a dangerous concept. The chart below is a composite index of both individual and profession net bullish sentiment.
The recent downward spike in net bullish sentiment was quickly reversed. While many have pointed to high levels of “bearish sentiment” as a sign of a “major market bottom,” the quick recovery back to high levels of net bullish sentiment suggest differently.
As noted above, the quick recovery of bullish sentiment is more again to what was seen during the topping process of the market in 2007. During a more protracted “bear market,” net bullish sentiment tends to remain extremely negative as the decline proceeds.
It is worth noting that the composite bull/bear ratio hit the highest levels in the composite’s history as QE3 ran its final course. The reversal in sentiment, as stated above, seems to be more akin to the previous topping process than just a correction within an ongoing bull market.
But like I said above.
“While investors may indeed be worried about a market crash, they really aren’t doing much about it protecting themselves from it.”
USD Breaks Above Resistance
Two weeks ago, I suggested that the decline in the US dollar had neared completion and that a sharp reversal was likely.
“Of course, one of the main drivers of such a reversion would be a reversal of the recent weakness in the dollar. Like the advance in oil, the decline in the dollar has also been just as extreme. As shown below, denoted by yellow highlights, each previous downside extension of the current magnitude has resulted in a fairly sharp reversal.”
“With the Federal Reserve caught in their own “trap” of “strong employment and rising inflation” rhetoric, the markets may start to worry about a rate hike in June. A perception of higher interest rates would likely reverse flows back into the dollar, and by default U.S. Treasuries, pushing the dollar higher and rates lower.”
Well, with the revelation of the recent FOMC minutes the worries about a June rate hike, as suspected, have indeed surfaced sending the US dollar spiking above resistance.
If this rally in the dollar continues higher, it should coincide with a further decline in the major market averages and specifically the basic materials, industrials and energy based sectors.
Let me repeat again from last week:
I remain cautious and already have an “inverse market” position loaded in our trading system to move portfolios quickly back to market neutral if markets break support.
I have not been, or am I currently, convicted about the potential of the market for a further advance from here. Again, this is why allocation models remain extremely underweight equity risk exposure currently.
Short-term portfolio management instructions currently remain:
- Tighten up stop-loss levels to current support levels for each position.
- Hedge portfolios against major market declines.
- Take profits in positions that have been big winners
- Sell laggards and losers
- Raise cash and rebalance portfolios to target weightings.
S.A.R.M. Model Allocation
The Sector Allocation Rotation Model (SARM) is an example of a basic well-diversified portfolio. The purpose of the model is to look “under the hood” of a portfolio to see what parts of the engine are driving returns versus detracting from it. From this analysis, we can then determine where to overweight sectors which are leading performance, reduce in areas lagging, and eliminate those areas that are dragging.
Over the last several weeks, RISK based sectors outpaced performance relative to SAFETY. However, starting last week and continuing this week, that level of outperformance has begun to fade.
The rotation from defensive to “risk on” sectors is now complete and potentially signals a further short-term correction in the market is possible. However, for now:
LEADING: Energy, Materials, Industrials, Mid-cap, Small-cap, Discretionary. (REIT’s are leading as investors chase risk and yield. Financials are rapidly improving playing catch-up)
LAGGING: Utilities, Gold, Bonds, Staples, Technology, Healthcare
The sector comparison chart below shows the 9-major sectors of the S&P 500.
Discretionary, Industrials, Staples, and Utilities have all broken their longer-term moving average support suggesting profits be taken in these sectors.
Materials, Energy, Healthcare & Financials are dangerously close to breaking down. Caution advised.
In other markets warnings are also developing:
Small-Cap, Emerging Markets, International, Mid-Cap, Dividend Yield & REIT’s are all exhibiting weakness.
As stated above, complacency in this market could be dangerous to your financial health.
S.A.R.M. Sector Analysis & Weighting
As stated above, the SARM Model is an “equally weighted model” adjusted for risk. The current risk weighting remains at 50% this week. It will require a move to new all-time highs in order to safely increase model allocations further at this juncture.
Relative performance of each sector of the model as compared to the S&P 500 is shown below. The table compares each position in the model relative to the benchmark over a 1, 4, 12, 24 and 52-week basis.
Historically speaking, sectors that are leading the markets higher continue to do so in the short-term and vice-versa. The relative improvement or weakness of each sector relative to index over time can show where money is flowing into and out of. Normally, these performance changes signal a change that last several weeks.
Last week’s market action was a direct reflection of the Fed’s FOMC minutes. Financial stocks picked up in performance while Staples, REIT’s and Utilities sharply declined. The movement in the interest rate sensitive sectors of the market was not unexpected as interest rates ticked up in anticipation of a June rate hike.
The last column is a sector specific “buy/sell” signal which is simply when the short-term weekly moving average has crossed above or below the long-term weekly average. The number of sectors on “buy signals” has improved from just two a few weeks ago to 17 this past week. Sectors that are on buy signals tend to outperform in the near term.
The risk-adjusted equally weighted model remains from last week. No changes this week.
The portfolio model remains at 35% Cash, 35% Bonds, and 30% in Equities.
As always, this is just a guide, not a recommendation. It is completely OKAY if your current allocation to cash is different based on your personal risk tolerance, time frames, and goals.
For longer-term investors, we need to see an improvement in the fundamental and economic backdrop to support a resumption of the bullish trend. Currently, there is no evidence of that occurring.
THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER
The Real 401k Plan Manager – A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors
NOTE: I have redesigned the 401k plan manager to accurately reflect the changes in the allocation model over time. I have overlaid the actual model changes on top of the indicators to reflect the timing of the changes relative to the signals.
There are 4-steps to allocation changes based on 25% reduction increments. As noted in the chart above a 100% allocation level is equal to 60% stocks. I never advocate being 100% out of the market as it is far too difficult to reverse course when the market changes from a negative to a positive trend. Emotions keep us from taking the correct action.
No Change – But Risk Increases
As discussed in the main section of the newsletter, the short-term dynamics have begun to deteriorate. With the longer-term structures still negative, the potential of a bigger correction has risen in the last week.
While the market remains in oversold territory, the failure to reclaim the 50-dma raises some red flags. While there is no need to make any changes to portfolios this week, as I have repeatedly stated, the markets are currently fraught with risk and should not be taken lightly.
As I stated two week’s ago:
“While our intermediate-term buy signals are in place, we must wait for a breakout of the markets to new highs before increasing the allocation model further. If such occurs, the model will quickly move in steps back to full equity allocations. Currently, however, the risk/reward ratio does not warrant a further increase at this time.
Therefore, we continue to wait for either a breakout of the market to new all-time highs, or a breakdown below support reversing recent actions. I will admit remaining trapped in ‘limbo’ is emotionally trying – but this is where investors typically make the biggest mistakes by trying to ‘guess’ at what the market will do next. We are better off to wait and let it ‘tell’ us.”
That advice remains again this week. I try and remain very sensitive to making changes to the model since many 401k plans have limits to switching funds.
For longer-term investors, the markets have made virtually no progress since January of 2015. Therefore, there is little evidence to suggest stepping away from a more cautionary allocation…for now.
If you need help after reading the alert; don’t hesitate to contact me.
Current 401-k Allocation Model
The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principal. By keeping the allocation extremely simplified it allows for better control of the allocation and a closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated you can, however, statistics show that simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any great degree.)
401k Choice Matching List
The list below shows sample 401k plan funds for each major category. In reality, the majority of funds all track their indices fairly closely. Therefore, if you don’t see your exact fund listed, look for a fund that is similar in nature.
Lance Roberts is a Chief Portfolio Strategist/Economist for Clarity Financial. He is also the host of “The Lance Roberts Show” and Chief Editor of the “Real Investment Advice” website and author of “Real Investment Daily” blog and “Real Investment Report“. Follow Lance on Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In
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