S&P 500 may hit 1,000 before it makes a new high

Deflation is in the air. It’s gutting the prices of raw materials, emerging markets, junk bonds and starting to catch up to equities.

It’s going to get ugly

The journey up was fast and fortuitous, without the structural economic improvements that should accompany such a prolific bull market.  And more importantly, with enormous leverage and speculation driving prices.

The mini-panic on August 24, 2015 showed us that the market is capable of wild swings, and likely enormous drops.  In 2008 we saw the stock market lose more than a quarter of its value in days.  This sort of action is not only likely, but I expect it.

Why 1,000? 

This level puts the index back to major area of psychological support and also seems to complete what may be a head and shoulders pattern forming on the S&P 500 back to the base of the left shoulder.

1,000 is a level where the market was before the latter incarnations of QE wildly distorted prices higher. I believe that the beneficial effects of QE were overestimated and that the detrimental effects underestimated.

The gross distortion of prices has destroyed many price signal indicators.Adding to that the lack of interest bearing savings account has forced savers to speculate, hoping for a gain.

spx

Buyback backtrack?

The stock market’s valuation has largely benefited from corporate buybacks.  Now corporations possess an enormous amount of debt.

Additionally, corporations tend to get cold feet as the market is volatile or when prices decline quarter over quarter.  That means less buybacks should occur as fear overtakes greed.

Have some cash set aside

Right now my own inclination is to make a wish list of stocks to own and an idea of what prices make sense to buy them.  Then wait for prices to come to me.

Rather than chasing prices or settling for buying something that may be overvalued I think it makes sense to set cash aside and buy in at lower prices.  In all likelihood they are coming soon.

Don’t buy the dips. Sell the rallies.

It’s not uncommon for bull market opportunities to be exploited by buying dips in prices.  This is not one of them.

The bull market in equities is at least on pause, but in all likelihood over.  The latest series of down days is further confirmation of a lack of conviction.

There simply aren’t buyers.

Prices will go down farther if buyers don’t step up and buy dips.  This has already been evidenced on a day-to-day basis.  Whether it happens in the weekly charts remains to be seen — but price action seems to be confirming that as of late.

Commodity contagion

Weakness in the prices of energy, metals and other products continues to be a persistent theme.  And equities have finally noticed.

Stocks used to shrug off the losses in commodities as some sort of disinflationary tailwind.  No longer is that the case.  Now investors in stocks have become jittery on days when commodities are plunging.

The next leg down

Ultimately, the equity market is at much greater risk of a price decline than a rally.  The run up over the last 6 and a half years has been overextended.  Price to earning ratios, when share buybacks are discounted, are at higher than normal levels.

Corporations have amassed enormous amounts of debt and traders are speculating with more margin than in 2007 (the last stock market peak).  China has seen its managed economy unravel, while Japan’s attempt to start managing its economy is falling apart.

The Euro zone is in serious trouble.  There’s no amount of new debt that can cure the budget problems within many of its countries.

And the United States, which is starting to feel the pain of the rest of the world, is preparing for its own economic slowdown.  The Fed, panicked with uncertainty as its credibility fades away, decided once again to abstain from raising interest rates.

What does it all mean?

We’re closing in on the peak of this business cycle, if it isn’t already behind us.  This means that opportunities will be few and far between to find equities that are worth buying at these values.  Cheaper prices are quite likely in the future.

If I were still long a traditional portfolio of US equities I would take every rally as an opportunity to reduce exposure and raise cash.

US stocks reverse gains to close in red

Reversals lower from a morning that began green often portend to more selling pressure in the coming days.  Today was such a day in the US stock market.  Prices opened strongly higher and closed decidedly in the red.

Reversals show a sentiment change

When buyers pile in the morning and exit with prices lower at the close than they were the previous day’s close, that indicates a change in investor confidence.  Selling pressure exhausted the bid from buyers to the point that many buyers became net sellers.  As a result equity markets went from being positive, to neutral and finally settling decidedly negative from the previous day’s close.

When this sort of change in confidence occurs it is often a multi-day or week event, rather than a one off.  With the much cited Federal Reserve interest rate policy decision just about a week away, there is the potential for increased anxiety across multiple interest rate sensitive asset classes, including stocks.

Bears growl, bulls hide

For the first time since the correction of 2011 the markets are not seeing an immediate buy the dip rally that sustains itself to new highs.

Bears are wrestling for control over price direction with bulls.  Each have differing opinions on stock valuations and are expressing them with their trades and investments.  Where prices ultimately go will depend on whose convictions prove to be correct.

For now the bulls are retreating as the bears show their teeth.

S&P 500 head and shoulders pattern confirmed

A repeat performance of the bear market rally breakdown seems to be in the works now.  The first downside target is 875, then I believe we could see a large sell off to around 775-800 if that level breaks.  After that a retest of the lows is almost certain.  The image below illustrates the pattern on a three month / one day bar chart.  There may be some support at the 200 day moving average around current levels as the market is oversold.  A bounce before continuing downward is not out of the question.

S&P 500 head and shoulders pattern

Volatility could surge on VIX technicals

Volatility is potentially poised to surge as the VIX six month chart is showing a large ascending triangle formation.  Below is a chart showing both the Bollinger bands with 50d moving average and the ascending triangle with resistance at about 80 and a support trend line from September until now showing the massive surge.

I think there is a high likelihood of a retest of the 80 area and possibly a break above in the next few days.  Right now the NYSE and NASDAQ McClellan oscillators are showing that the market continues to be overbought and must correct.

It’s worth noting that a lot of false bullish signals in the stock market can occur when volatility is this high.  I’ve seen many skilled technicians get suckered in to buying the tops of these rallies.  Be careful!

Before we get ahead of ourselves

Much of yesterday’s rally was predicated on a rumor being circulated about the US Treasury planning to price fix new home mortgage interest rates at 4.5% and other whispers.  Many who selectively watch the news or ignore it may fail to fully realize how this short term optimism can impact markets.

We had a sleu of negative economic data yesterday, but it was trumped by the aforementioned rumor and speculation that the TARP be brought back to fund more bailouts.  Today we see terrible same store sales from every chain but Wal-Mart.  We also have unemployment claims at over 500k and factory orders at 10am that promise to be nothing short of terrible.

There will be plenty of Fed speak today.  I can’t for the life of me imagine any optimism they could install after yesterday’s gloomy beige book.  Most of the chatter will probably be about how the Fed wants to avoid cutting to 0% by using quantitative easing strategies, such as buying long bonds and forcing prime interest rates lower.

The futures are weaker by about 2% this morning, giving back much of yesterday’s gains.  Market gains made Tuesday and yesterday are still part of a bear market rally.   Markets are facing the upper resistance line of a falling six month wedge pattern on all major indexes.  Don’t get BULLied!  Remember the trend is your friend.