US stock rally ends with a whimper

Stocks traded higher earlier today, only to give back half of those gains in the afternoon, when institutional traders tend to move markets.

Crude oil surged higher on what appeared to be short covering.  The US dollar gave up ground.  Precious metals were modestly higher as a result.

There wasn’t much of a change today from yesterday in terms of prices or my overall outlook on equities.  I still feel that the path of least resistance in the short to medium term is downward.  Valuations cannot be justified, volatility is on the rise and complacency of investors seems to be a consistent theme.

It takes a greater fool to set a higher price by buying an asset for more than the last time it traded.  Just how many are left to buy US stocks at these levels?

Bernanke’s Bubble in Stocks and Bonds


Six years after the height of the financial crisis, we may be living in one of the most prolific financial bubbles in recent history.  Under Dr. Bernanke’s guidance the US Federal Reserve system expanded its balance sheet to about 4.3 trillion dollars, with asset purchases creating a disproportionate wealth effect in equities and debt-based financial instruments.

Despite this massive injection of liquidity, by and large the US economy has not significantly recovered. Yet the US stock market (with the exception of the NASDAQ) is at all time highs. This disconnection in equity prices vs. measurable economic recovery is the primary reason that I believe a bubble exists. In addition, the artificially low interest rate environment (see: ZIRP and QE) has also created an enormous bond market bubble as reflected in US treasury bond yields.

LFP Participation

The US workforce is languishing 

A quick glance at the US Department of Labor’s recent U3 unemployment data would have us believe that almost as many Americans are employed as had been before the Great Recession.  Unfortunately the Department of Labor’s U3 unemployment rate is based on the amount of Americans currently on unemployment benefits — not the number of Americans out of work.

The US Labor Participation Rate is at its lowest levels since 1978, indicating that US job creation is not sufficient to support widespread employment. In addition, the quality of new jobs being created is equally deficient, with lower pay being a prevailing theme.  One of the Federal Reserve’s mandates is maximum employment.  A mandate they seem to be failing to uphold when utilizing more objective measures of employment.


Raw materials are rolling over

While equity markets re-test all time highs, commodities are sinking fast.  Traditionally weakness in industrial commodities and energy prices signal global economic weakness.  Since July we have seen that weakness accelerate as the sell-off in commodities prices took the CCI (a broad measure of commodities prices) to multi-year lows.  This is a powerful sentiment indicator.

Optimism about global growth would be expressed in higher commodities prices — as more orders for raw materials would increase demand.  Another mandate of the Federal Reserve is stable prices.  A cursory glance at the above chart shows we certainly don’t have stable prices.


Stronger dollar, weaker world?

Part of the recent decline in commodities prices has been attributed to recent strength in the US dollar index, which is in its most basic form, a measure of the dollar’s spot value vs. the Euro, Yen and GBP.  There are other currencies in the basket, but none are quite as influential.  In essence, the US dollar currently signals that it is more favored than the Euro, Yen and GBP through its ascent towards 87.

As commodities are priced in dollars, it is expected that some weakness will occur if the US dollar strengthens, especially under the back drop of softening global demand.  But one must also question the utility of the current US dollar index structure — and whether or not such an index is relevant in a world that seems to be increasingly moving away from the dollar as the primary trade currency.


Stocks surged on stimulus. Now what?

With the S&P 500 back above 2,000 and optimism among fund managers back to similarly lofty levels, it may be time to examine the US stock market with a degree of skepticism. There exists a very high probability that we are in a bond and equity bubble that was fomented by the US Federal Reserve system. And traditionally these bubbles deflate when policy makers begin to head for the exits.

With QE3 over, and no immediate sign of further stimulus in sight, as well as the Fed signaling that rates are going higher in 2015, perhaps we are closer to seeing this bull market mature.  After all, it’s been largely driven by liquidity injections and those have since ended.


A direct connection: Fed assets and stock prices

The correlation here is uncanny. QE’s various incarnations have an incredibly potent effect on boosting US equity prices to all time highs.  Just about every dollar the Federal Reserve has injected in to the US bond and mortgage market has found its way in to US equity markets directly or indirectly.

Now that QE3 has ended, what policies will be utilized next?  Is the Japanese QE-to-infinity program going to be enough to generate a new carry trade that pops US equities higher?  Or are we finally witnessing the tail end of one of the biggest financialized bubbles in US history?  One that has brought bond yields to the lowest levels in decades whilst simultaneously inflating mortgage-backed securities (lowering interest rates) and equity prices.


Is this bond bubble ready to bust or is it signaling something worse?

Bond yields are an inverse indicator of the underlying asset price. That is to say, the lower the bond yield, the higher the paper price to buy that bond.  This chart illustrates US Treasury bond bubble in no uncertain terms.  With US government debt exceeding GDP, whilst simultaneously at all time low yields, there is something wrong with this picture.

Typically the higher the debt level, especially as it exceeds the GDP of a country, the worse its debt outlook becomes.  The only exception we’ve seen to this rule has been Japan, which has ‘enjoyed’ a 25 year economic malaise that was culminated by their very own real estate bubble.  The deflationary forces at work there have been keeping bond yields and economic activity pinned down for a quarter century.

Reading the tea leaves of macroeconomic data

Signs seem to be pointing to an intermediate term deflationary bias.  It’s likely that this situation will be greeted by more quantitative easing from central banks of developed countries around the world. Signals include a rocketing dollar, collapsing commodities, the Bank of Japan already engaging in record QE and the weaker EU countries slipping back in to recession or worse.  In addition, China’s miracle growth story seems to be concluding with a not so happy ending.


Velocity of money sinks to lowest level on record

Worse yet, with all of the Fed’s easing and stimulus, the velocity of US money has been collapsing.  This is an indication of economic activity insofar as how fast money is changing hands. Generally during periods of strength the velocity of money will increase.  What we’ve seen since about 2002 has been just the opposite.  A marked decrease in the velocity of money across all measures to the lowest levels ever recorded.


Leverage and levitating stock prices

Margin debt on the NYSE (see above chart) is at record highs, and similar leverage is being employed across many equity and bond markets around the world.  That means that the level of debt-based risk taking now exceeds what we saw during previous bull market peaks and as such a reversal in psychology would be even more dangerous to stock prices.

A replay of 2008’s volatile panic selling of various asset classes is quite possible.  The level of complacency and leverage in financial markets is similar to where we were in the fall of 2007 before the financial system began to collapse.


Watch these trends carefully.  Further deterioration of M2 stock velocity, commodity prices and increased dollar strength will signal the increased potential for a renewed deflationary global recession.  If such a situation unwinds, and if equity prices are dragged down in sympathy, then I do believe the Federal Reserve will begin to reinvigorate its stimulus programs and we could see the pendulum swing back towards a more inflationary bias.

What remains a mystery is how the Fed will do so when it already possesses the biggest balance sheet in its history — and has largely failed across many metrics to remedy the economic problems that face the US.  Alternatively, if Bernanke’s Bubble is allowed to burst, the consequences will be catastrophic, not the least of which for the Federal Reserve and its balance sheet.


News recap for Monday, Oct 3rd

Today was an exciting day for global markets.  Below you’ll find a recap of today’s most important news.  We are not anywhere near out of the woods, yet.  In fact I think equity markets are bound to get much worse.

Global equity markets are tumbling:

Banks are getting hit the hardest:\

Many EU banks have serious liquidity problems:

The yield curve is flattening, which usually happens before it inverts, signaling a potentially deep recession:

Protests in NYC are spreading:

And more protests are being planned:

I’ll have more posted as I digest and research the events that are transpiring in global markets.

Silver’s scary sell-off

Silver and silver-related assets were smashed across the board on Friday as the World Bank and IMF met in Washington, DC to discuss the worsening global crisis.  Other commodities saw sharp declines as well.  More silver was traded that day in any given hour than silver is available on the market for an entire year.  It was an electronic sell-off.  Physical prices now command a 10-20% premium to spot paper prices, the highest in years.  Gold to silver ratio is now over 1:50, the highest in a very long time.

Predictably news comes out after the trading day (but we must assume the large insiders knew the whole time) that COMEX was raising margins by 15.6% on silver.

The problem is the COMEX does not have the silver to deliver, so forced liquidation is the strongest tool they have to bring prices down and take parties who would seek delivery out of the equation.

Silver is still up 46.31% on the year and has strong support in the $30.00 area.  I think we need to see what the price action is when buyers step in and shorts cover.  It could very well move up as fast as it did down (and higher) if we see ECB rate cuts, a Greek bail out, good earnings in the US, emergency Fed easing or other central bank policy movements as well as any geopolitical or event risk scenarios playing out.

Given that even though silver fell to $30.00, but physical silver commands a price of $33-35.00, there is evidence of a growing paper vs. physical price discovery bifurcation.

As far as my strategy goes, I don’t see any change in the situation for the dollar long term.  The recent strength has been more of a liquidation panic in Europe and foreigners buying dollars because it’s the least bad currency for the moment.  There’s even some rumor of weaker central banks liquidating gold and silver holdings to raise liquidity.

I saw the same pattern of behavior in 2008 and 2009, yet gold and silver are much, much higher now despite the occasional (and sometimes violent) correction.

Over the last 11 years silver and gold have outperformed all sectors of the S&P 500 by many multiples.  There is no paper asset class quite as trusted during times of crisis, either. (three year chart)

Now, given the potential for further easing by the Fed, ECB, BOJ, BOE, SNB and others, the need to monetize debt in the US to keep the government open (i.e. the necessity for QE3) — without debt monetization the government will go in to a crisis mode where their ability to spend will be limited as interest rates rise because treasuries are sold more than bought.  But we’re not the only country that has to monetize debt.  Keep in mind the US government has over $75 trillion in unfunded liabilities and there’s no ‘economic growth’ scenario that allows these debts to be funded from revenues.

QE3 from the Fed at this point seems like a foregone conclusion once we see a sovereign debt or large bank collapse.  The ECB is also monetizing debt in the Euro zone for a few of the larger PIIGS, the BOE has QE’d in England and there’s a good chance the BOJ and SNB will continue to print money to artificially devalue their currency.

These actions will create a short to intermediate term burst in global money supply — and hot money seeking a high return.  These types of inflationary pressures lead to booms for precious metals.

Greece’s default is all but inevitable, and that is going to rock the world and create the need for much, much more liquidity.  This situation will spread throughout Europe and spread here and to Asia.  Lower rates and more stimulus will follow.

Many shops sold out of their silver bars and coins on Friday because the appetite for physical silver was so strong at $30.00 (even though customers gladly paid the $5.00+ premium making purchases $35.00+ per ounce).  In fact I still saw online stores selling silver for $45.00 to $50.00 per ounce.

I believe that the bifurcation in physical and paper prices is important to note because it indicates that there are two markets.  A real market and a phony market.  The phony market is being manipulated downward to an artificially depressed price.

This happened in 2008, too.  But from that low price of $8.00 silver quickly rose to $48.00 in the course of three years, a 600% increase or averaged to 200% per year.

Gerald Celente, one of the best trend forecasters of our era is now buying physical silver.  He made the announcement on Friday, so I believe that will mean something to the many that follow his advice and watch his investments closely.

One year silver chart

Tonight silver is testing the 350 day moving average.  Some continuation selling was to be expected after Friday’s drop, but we’re looking for some consolidation or even a short term reversal due to the very, very oversold condition, combined with the support of the 350 day moving average at 29.57 as well as the appetite that should be present in Asia during this season.

We’re also dealing with price move that is over a four standard deviation event — i.e. something that is extraordinarily rare and it’s punctured the bottom bollinger band, leaving a reversion to the moving average around $37.00-40.00 quite possible if technical buyers come in.

24 hour silver chart Right now silver is trading at $29.83, having found some support at the $29.57 area.

Volume is light as to be expected, but once Sydney and Hong Kong open we’ll get a better idea of what the Asian appetites for metals are after last week’s discount.

Personally, I am tempted to buy silver and silver-related assets given these discounts.  Even if prices are weak short term, I know they will be much, much higher in the intermediate and longer term.

Fed Wednesday – Policy Outlook

I don’t want to be right about my of my dire predictions, but all signs point to a significant global slowdown:

The Fed is coming out at 2:15 pm to announce the results of their policy meeting.  Many expect a variation of the 1960s “Operation Twist” where they sell their short-dated maturities and buy long-dated maturities:

If they were to do this, it would actually hurt the large and regional banks because they would be borrowing at a higher rate and lending at a lower rate — but it may help the consumer, at least short term, buy making mortgages and revolving debt less expensive:

They downside is that any more monetization of debt will likely be perceived as inflationary and send speculators in to commodities (including energy and agriculture) which could cause a rise in consumer prices.

I think they may even have to perform some more aggressive monetary policy measures given that the US dollar money market funds in Europe are drying up — and the EU banks are in bigger trouble than our banks:

If they announce nothing new, which is in my opinion extraordinarily unlikely given that this is a longer than usual Fed meeting (something we hadn’t seen since the last rounds of QE) I think there will be a significant market sell-off and a head and shoulders topping pattern may play out:

Whatever is done by the Fed is only a short term piecemeal solution to a broader, more structural problem with bank and sovereign balance sheets — and in my opinion it only delays any real resolution.

Central bank intervention for profit retention?

Today we read about Kweku Adoboli, the UBS equities trader that allegedly went rogue and lost the firm $2B in Q3 profits.  We also learned about the ECB effectively using extraordinary measures to prop up insolvent EU banks.  A rumor also floated through the blogosphere that Mr. Adoboli was shorting large amounts of precious metals, specifically silver, through ETFs.  What one has to wonder, given the timing of these events and the downdraft in metals prices today, is if the ECB and/or SNB is helping to support UBS by pushing down metals prices so they can exit the short position with less of a loss to report on their upcoming earnings announcement.

This sounds like a conspiracy theory, right?  I would have thought so, too, many years ago.  However, given the recent and direct Swiss central bank intervention in the Franc and precious metals markets, the dire situation in the EU threatening the monetary union and its currency was well as the threat of a global double dip recession, it seems more than possible that central banks are beginning to exercise their power in the precious metals markets more overtly.

Psychologically it’s a very effective technique.  Hit metals hard on days that they would ordinarily rally to push weak (see leveraged) hands out of the market.  Try to inflict as much technical damage as possible (although at this point no severe damage has been inflicted — but if this continues it will be).

The question is how long could such manipulation last, if that is in fact what’s going on here?  I would personally doubt that such interventions can have staying power — at least not yet.  The SNB hit on precious metals did not last very long, and when priced in Francs gold rallied to a record high.  The previous sell-offs we’ve seen have produced a large amount of buying appetite around $39.00.

Today that seemed to be the case.  I was buying some silver CEFs (closed end funds) when the price hit $39.49.  I felt that a lot of buyers would begin to bite with more conviction as that has been the bottom end of the technical trading ranging silver has been within for the past few weeks.

There is some chance it could break down to $36.00, of course, but with a stop around $38.75, I’ll take a small downside risk given that the upside potential seems to be  about 33% in the short to intermediate term.  Good luck investing and trading, everyone.  And be careful out there.  The sharks are circling.