Mar 312013
 
S&P500 weekly at end of week

S&P500 weekly at end of week

Look Ahead

We made all-time closing highs, but how much is left in this 4.5 month old bull?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks are trading at the highest levels in history.  As far as the market is concerned, the Great Recession is ancient history and it’s embracing the expected recovery.  Volume remains chronically low since we broke above 1550 three-weeks ago, showing a lack of engagement by both bulls and bears.  Thursday’s all-time closing high was a momentous achievement and  time will tell if this was the start of the end, or just another step in the steady march higher.

The next significant milestone is 1576, the all-time intraday high set in late 2007.  We are seven-points shy of this target and in easy striking distance if buyers support this breakout.  The other noteworthy event is the end of the first quarter.  Big money managers closed their books on Thursday and are starting fresh Monday.  Will they pursue the same strategy from Q1, or shift gears?

MARKET SENTIMENT

The rally that Ben built.  It seems everyone knows the Fed created this invincible market and “don’t fight the Fed” is the rallying cry of bulls.  But as readers of this blog know, only two things move markets, supply and demand.  Stock certificates are like baseball cards and primarily derive their value from what other people are willing to pay for them.   The only real tool the Fed has is indirectly influencing interest rates and they have been successful at driving them to historic lows.  Low interest rates make it less expensive for businesses and individuals to borrow money, but this also make it less attractive to invest in safe, fixed-income instruments.  The pathetic interest rate on Treasuries and savings accounts persuaded many to search for return in riskier assets, and to a large degree this worked as the stock market has been a large beneficiary.

Last year there was concern about diminishing returns and inflation from QE3 and QEfinity, but the market continued rallying and  inflation remains constrained.  Some will point to rising prices at the grocery story as proof of inflation, but to have real inflation we also need wage inflation, and given the employment situation, it seems unlikely we will experience runaway inflation any time soon.  While we might experience a decrease in standard of living as the dollar falls and we compete with an exploding global middle-class for resources and products, that is completely different from out of control inflation.

But back to the markets, easy money has propped up the stocks, but now everyone expects it to keep working, will it?  Going back to the supply and demand argument, where are the next buyers coming from?  Some point to an over-inflated bond market, but most bond holders are not in bonds for profit, but security.  After 2008 ROI has a new meaning, Return OF Investment.  Many investors saw their retirement plans shatter over a period of months and it will take many years to recover from that trauma.  The eventual move out of bonds into equities will happen at a glacial pace and while it will provide lift to the secular bull market, it is not enough to overcome intermediate market weakness.

The current rally is 4.5 months old, fueled by a nearly nonstop wave of buying since the November lows.  The question any bull needs to answer is who is the next buyer?  Everyone trusts Uncle Ben’s safety net and is buying with little regard to the risks, but if everyone is in, who is left to buy?  Its been a long time since the markets felt this safe, making it one of the most dangerous time in years.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The easy money has already been made.  Any profits going forward will be hard fought and involve some gut wrenching volatility.  Every rally leg eventually comes to an end and given the size of the September’s modest selloff and recent rebound, this rally has come a long way.  Given the recent strength, we should be looking for places to lock in profits not initiate or add to positions.

Momentum is clearly higher, and shorting the market here is picking a top, but there is a huge difference in risk/reward between locking in profits and going short.    The market could top on Monday, next week, or next month.  The truth is no one knows exactly when the market will top, but we can identify situations where it is more likely to top.  The key to success in the markets is not selling too soon and not holding too long.  Given we are 4.5 months into this, that doesn’t seem too soon, and holding for more gains is pushing our luck.  If we were to pick the sweet spot between too quick and too long, this seems to be it.

Alternate Outcome:
The market has experienced year-long rallies before, the most recent following 2009′s generational market bottom.  But we have to ask ourselves if the events leading up to March 2009 bottom are materially different from our most recent November 2012 lows?  Is there anything in common between the two?

Markets often act like springs, the harder we push one way, the bigger the reaction in the opposite direction will be.  We see major moves following crashes and euphoric bubbles, but current conditions don’t conform to these extreme scenarios, so more likely this rally will be of the vanilla verity.  6-months is not out of the question, meaning we could have another few weeks of upside left and that is what we have to watch for.  Continued support above 1560 next week shows the market can still find buyers and will likely continue higher.  The thing we need to be most careful of is weakness that doesn’t bounce back.  There are only so many time dip-buyers can prop up the market and we are testing that limit.

Stay safe

 Posted by at 10:11 pm on March 31, 2013
Mar 302013
 
S&P500 weekly at end of week

S&P500 weekly at end of week

Weekly Review

All-time highs, but what comes next?  AAPL finished weak and inability to find follow-on buyers after breaking above the 50dma is a concern.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks gained 0.8% in a week where we finally set the all-time closing high.  While volume was extremely light due to the holiday shortened week, it still fell 8% below average when prorated to account for the missing day.  The 10wma is closing the gap with our sideways market and is just 37-points behind.  The 40wma is also making gains, trailing by 125-points.

Market Cycle:
This rally is 19-weeks old and covered 16.8% since the November low.  This already exceeded the 15-week, 16.4%, June-September 2012 gains, but is short of the 25-week, 32.2%, rally between October 2011 – April 2012.

The most notable difference between these previous rallies was the prior decline.  The 2011 market corrected 20%, the 2012 Spring selloff was 11%, and the most recent pullback leading to our current rally leg was 9%.  The bigger the selloff, the larger the rebound.  The last decline was the smallest and likely means we are living on borrowed time.

If there are any Elliot Wave fans out there, we are in the 5-wave across three-different time-frames.   See the accompanying chart.  Combine this with the potential head-and-shoulder formation, technically this is a good time to tread lightly.

This late in the rally we would expect the rate of gains to slow.  The best profit opportunities follow the reversal and we are four-months removed from those easy buy-and-hold gains.  The later stages of a rally are typified by volatility and limited progress; exactly what we’ve seen over the last three-week, 15-points gain.  Technicals and history say this market is running on fumes and we closer to the end of this run.

MARKET SENTIMENT

All-time highs typically bring cynics out of the woodwork as they cry unsustainable and point to the secular-bear tripple-top.  While I count myself as a long-term bull, there are enough warning signs to make me cautious here.  It is not uncommon for rally legs to last longer than 4-months, but so far everything is lining up for a near-term top.  Indifference to negative news, lack of short-squeezes, and widespread enthusiasm show market sentiment has changed dramatically from the fear and pessimism that dominated December and January.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
This is a place to take profits, not establish new positions.  We are in this to make money and can only do that by selling our winners.  I started growing more cautious three-weeks ago when we first broke 1560.  Anyone selling into that strength missed all the recent volatility and gave up less than 10-points of upside.  Without a doubt there is a break-even between profits and nerves.  In my book a fraction of a percent is not worth being jerked around.  Amateur traders hate selling early, but it is one of the easiest ways to keep our sanity and avoid making dumb mistakes.

Alternate Outcome:
Continued strength shows the market is not ready to breakdown.  Markets typically selloff shortly after making news highs.  If we don’t encounter weakness next week, we will likely see higher prices before topping.

AAPL weekly at end of week

AAPL weekly at end of week

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL had a disappointing finish to the week after showing such promise closing above the 50dma for the first time since September.  The stock lost 4% for the week and gave back virtually all the previous week’s gains.  Bulls claim this is just a temporary setback on the way higher, but failing to find new buyers after such a significant technical breakthrough should give anyone pause.  The down-trend was not broken by recent strength and any buying here is catching a falling knife.  There is nothing wrong with playing a game of bottom picking, but make sure to use tight stops and appropriately sized positions.  Until the stock starts making higher-highs and higher lows, expect the trend of lower-highs and lower-lows to continue.  That means we likely have a date with $400 in the near future.  Reclaiming the 50dma this week is bullish and look for a retest of $485.

Stay safe

 Posted by at 8:17 pm on March 30, 2013
Mar 292013
 

PM Update

It took a while, but the market final set the all-time closing high.  Is this the end of the run, or are we just getting started?  AAPL missed the party and plunged 2% as is struggles to find buyers.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks finally did it, they set the all-time closing high Thursday.  Volume was extremely light given the breakout, end of quarter, and option expiration trading activity.  The all-time intraday high is the only record left and is just 7-points away.  It’s amazing how far we’ve come since the 2009 lows.

MARKET SENTIMENT

Friday’s 0.4% breakout is nothing to write home about.  Shorts and momentum buyers are nowhere to be found and Thursday’s move was fairly uninspiring.  Without a doubt the holiday played a role in the light volume and lack of enthusiastic follow-on buying.   We are left to determine if these new levels are here to stay and if buying will keep pace when volume returns to normal.

Sentiment came a long way from the post-election and Fiscal Cliff lows last November.  Even two-months ago the tone was very cynical.  There are still bears abound, but the pessimism doesn’t seem nearly as pervasive and universal.  Without a doubt momentum can carry us a dozen points higher, but are there enough buyers left to continue past 1600 without a material pullback?

The biggest risk the market faces is if bulls bought the breakout ahead of time and swing-traders will use the new high to lock in profits.  Few buyers and lots of sellers is a recipe for declining prices.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
This rally deserves a lot of credit.  Its did what no one thought was possible and matched the go-go record highs set long before most knew what a mortgage-backed security or credit default swap was.  The lesson is never doubt our determination to overcome anything thrown in our way.  This rally has long legs and the secular bull will easily pass 2,000 in coming years.  I don’t believe in the tripple-top theories being thrown around.  This market has gone nowhere in thirteen years, how can people possibly claim that is unsustainable and too-far, too-fast?  But that is the long-range view, we are traders and want to know what is around the next corner.

The market continues holding 1550 and every bout of selling is conquered, resulting in yet another higher-high.  Any bear knows how dangerous it is challenging this bull, but every move must come to an end.  As much as I believe in the longer-term trend, I don’t feel comfortable owning stocks on the heels of a four-month rally.  Markets go up and they go down, it is normal, healthy, and expected to run into a little resistance after coming this far.

Alternate Outcome:
The one thing this market does best is prove doubters wrong and it continued doing that on Thursday.  Markets always pullback, but they never do it when people expect it.  When markets top, they tend to roll over fairly quickly.  The last few weeks of support at 1550 is what enabled this breakout to all-time highs.  If this market holds up through Tuesday, look for more gains out of this bull.

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL is living in bizarro world.  When the broad market sets all time highs, AAPL plunges 2%.  AAPL clearly has a demand problem and cannot find follow on buyers to keep it above the 50dma.  Even more scary is all the recent momentum buyers are fleeing in droves.  The stock fell short of setting a new high above $485 and the trend of lower-highs continues.  Without buyers, expect the stock to test $400.

Stay safe

 Posted by at 7:27 pm on March 29, 2013
Mar 282013
 
S&P500 daily at 2:02 EDT

S&P500 daily at 2:02 EDT

AM Update

The market set a new high and is in a position to break the all-time closing highs.  AAPL’s struggles continue as buyers are staying away.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks finally broke the 1565 barrier, but they need to hold it to set the all-time closing high.

MARKET SENTIMENT

How the market trades above 1565 will be insightful.  Will the market continue higher on breakout buying and short-covering?  Or was the new high already priced in and there are few left to buy the breakout?  How the market goes into the close will tell us a lot about people’s positioning and views.

This is the last day of a rough quarter for many money managers.  Anyone who was underweight the market had a bad time, but fortunately for them, most clients simply look at the bottom line to see if they made or lost money, neglecting to compare their expensive money managers against dumb and cheap index funds.  Everyone starts fresh next quarter and has the flexibility to trade their view of the market instead of scrambling to keep up with a strong rally.  Will this change the way big money approaches the markets?  Will they stop buying?  Will they start taking profits?  Or will they double-down on this teflon rally?

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
A lot of questions will be answered the next couple of weeks.  Can we hold these highs?  Will big money keep chasing?  Are there enough buyers left to continue the rally?  Right now we simply wait for those signs.

I remain reluctant to own the market because we always see step-backs and its been a while.  The February dip was three-percent and while noticeable, we will see much larger pullbacks this year.  No matter what we expect, we need to keep an open mind to what they market is telling us.  If the market doesn’t do what we expect, then our analysis is flawed and we need to adjust it.

Alternate Outcome:
This sideways trade emboldened bears and it is easier to find bearish commentary as compared to a couple of weeks ago.  These whipsaws refreshed the market by flushing out weak holders and reminding traders that the market is a risky place.  If we continue higher, this consolidation is where the new buyers will come from.   Of course we need to remember minor corrections and consolidations lead to minor moves, so even if we continue higher, don’t expect another 100-point, non-stop move without

Recent support is impressive and more suggestive of a continuation than an imminent pullback and that is why we are seeing new highs today.   Moving into next week will put quarter-end shenanigans behind us, giving us a clearer view on what the market is thinking.   Market tops tend to roll over quickly after the cracks develop, continued strength shows we are not there yet.

AAPL daily at 2:02 EDT

AAPL daily at 2:02 EDT

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL’s bad luck continues as few are willing to buy the dip under the 50dma. All the buying happened in the run-up to the breakout and no one was left to continue the move.  This is a trading stock now and should be treated as such. Any strength is a selling opportunity because until it proves otherwise the trend remains lower.  Buying dips is okay as long as a trader is disciplined and uses hard stops for protection and to lock in gains.  AAPL’s next earnings release is nearly a month away and it seems unlikely Cook will surprise shareholders with good news in the meantime.

There is still a lot of bullishness left in this stock and it is not done humiliating bulls yet.

 Posted by at 12:03 pm on March 28, 2013
Mar 272013
 
S&P500 daily at end of day

S&P500 daily at end of day

PM Update

Indecision continues as the market remains stuck in its trading range.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks sold off early, but recovered lost ground and finished practically flat.  Volume remains light as few are trading the holiday shortened week. The struggle with 1565 continues and today was the sixth-day in the last two-weeks where the market traded north of 1560 but failed to capture a record close.

MARKET SENTIMENT

This is a hard post to write.  Over the last three-weeks we have been stuck in a volatile, tight rut.  It is hard to find fresh insight when the market keeps doing the same thing over and over and over.  Without a doubt, doing nothing means something, I’m just less sure of what that is.  I remain cautious of near-term weakness, but holding together is giving me second thoughts.  It’s not that my earlier analysis is flawed, it just seems early.  (in the markets early is the same thing as wrong)

The market has two options Thursday, finally set a record high, or breakdown.  We are so close to an all-time high that if we don’t finally do it, there are structural problems preventing the market from gaining those last few points.  At no point in the rally has two-points been so difficult and this signals a shift in personality.

The sideways trade is creating through churn what normally happens with a pullback.  Even though the market has been flat, a lot of buying and selling continues taking place.  A bullish interpretation is weak hands are selling to the strong.  The bearish view is smart money is selling to dumb.    In a couple of weeks we will have our answer.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
When in doubt, sit it out.  There is no reason to always have a trade on.  Some opportunities are better than others and the savvy trader recognizes the difference.  This is about exploiting the best setups and this market is being stingy.  I remain cautious of near-term weakness, but holding 1550 shows a meaningful depth of buyers willing to prop us up.  This has worked through abnormally light volume, but can the market continue finding support when the normal volume of selling resumes next week?

Alternate Outcome:
Stocks are stuck in this tight range between 1550 and 1565.  We will breakout/breakdown soon, the question is which way.  I am reluctant to own this market here, but recognize the next move could be higher.  There is a good chance we finally close above 1565 on Thursday and put this whole “all-time closing high” behind us.  If the last three-weeks of churn flushed out weak holders and seduced bears to short the market, we could see a decent breakout above 1565.

Stay safe

 Posted by at 9:59 pm on March 27, 2013