Weakness developing in commodities

Checking the 15-min bar chart, copper and oil are not looking too spirited.

Here’s oil:


And copper, same scale:


And of course platinum and palladium are looking busted. Daily charts here.





The technical damage in these metals is probably not a good sign for gold and silver either.

Silver’s daily chart leaves a thing or two to be desired:

ES update (edited for clarity): stock futures still strong, but watch RSI for signs of weakness

We don’t really have waning strength yet on the hourly scale in SPX futures, but I can see the possibility. If this current rally leg (from Friday afternoon’s low around 1083) fails to break 1107 (Friday’s high) or does so on weaker RSI than the last rally, it will be a hint that the entire move up from 1036 is coming to an end. A fresh wave of selling will be even more probable if hourly RSI makes a lower low after a lower high.

Watch for weakening rallies and strengthening sell-offs to telegraph impending declines, even if prices are holding up (to be clear, we don’t have such weakening yet — I’m just watching for it). Prices often do stay elevated right up until a nasty break, like we saw from mid-April to early May (see chart below, ES 2-hour bar). You can also see the strengthening rallies and weakening declines since the bottom last week (the bottom was less strong than the preceding wave down, which is a classic buy signal).


Here’s the ES hourly. Still showing strength, but it would be bearish if this current wave does not get at least as powerful as the last.


And 15-min bar… this one shows weakness, but it’s too early in the wave to be sure.

All charts from TD Ameritrade

Today is a trading day for most of the world (and US futures are trading, though on a cut schedule), so don’t think that prices will wait for 9:30 EST Tuesday to make any important moves.

Remember, we have a rather neutral set of conditions on the daily chart, but the Elliott Wave crowd is looking for a hard third wave down anytime, and last week’s action could serve as a perfectly functional 2nd wave. If there is a third wave coming, it will be more powerful than the decline from 1220 to 1040, possibily taking us under 900 very quickly. Judging by May 6, the market has signaled that it is capable of such a move, and relentless declines are common following bear market rallies. Also in favor of such a move are the continued dollar and yen strength, anemic rallies of the euro, chf and pound, and the fact that the commodity complex is looking broken.

If you can’t tell, I am ambivalent about stocks now and positioned appropriately flat at the moment. These are not good junctures to trade, since the signals are so mixed.

Dollar set for a fall?

Checking the early futures action, I see some strength has been building in several currencies vs the dollar over the past few days, despite their longer-term weakness. The dollar enjoyed a small rally against the european set late last week, putting the CHF, EUR and GPB in attractive positions for long trades. With sentiment entering its 5th month of extreme negativity, it may pay to be alert for signs of a rally (that is to say a dollar decline, and further yen decline too against the dollar).

Here are a few charts (1-hour bar), noting the RSI uptrends that have developed:





To wrap it up, here is the dollar index futures contract:

Week in review and intermediate-term thoughts

Today I’m going to lay out what I’m watching for clues about the intermediate-term prospects. The action of the last 4 weeks has been more suggestive of a reversal than any we’ve had since the March 2009 lows. However, even if a top is in hand and we are finally at our spring 1930 moment, I’m not willing to throw caution to the wind and discount the possibility of another few weeks of rally.

Let’s start with the 5-day average equity:put call ratio, which has nailed so many intermediate-term tops, not least of which this last, which it suggested would be followed by a serious decline:


The put:call ratio could use a bit more of a reset, which could be achieved by just a few more days of calmer or rising markets. Nothing major required here, just a pause.

This break has shaken up a few traders, but judging from interviews this week, the majority remain fairly sanguine about a continued bull phase and consider this a healthy correction, much as they did the first declines off SPX 1550 in late 2007 and early 2008. Also, the past year has established a very clear pattern of modest declines followed by new highs on extreme bullishness. Traders and their machines may be programmed to buy this dip, but with the recent technical damage (we busted the last low for the first time in the whole rally and experienced a mini-crash) I’d expect any rally to be relatively shallow.

There is a pattern of reduced oomph on each subsequent rally phase, which you can see in the diminishing slopes of each rally. You can also see the weakening of the larger trend in the angles between subsequent lows.  (Click to enlarge the image.)

TD Ameritrade

I’ve drawn those ovals on RSI to show a technique I have for picking bottoms. It gets most intermediate term bottoms, and perhaps more importantly, it has a low false-positive rate. A rally becomes likely when you get a double bottom in RSI. This works on any scale you chose, from 1-minute to daily or higher. The likelihood of a rally increases if the second bottom on RSI is higher than the first. This is common because the middle wave of a decline is usually more intense than the final wave.

Now, this current juncture has such a double bottom signal, though the second RSI bottom is not higher than the first. It is also trickier because the first was formed by the latest black Thursday, May 6. I’m not sure how such an event should factor in, but it throws off our analysis somewhat. Perhaps the May 6 event should be discounted (it was really just 1 hour of trading that produced the reading) so that we can’t actually count this RSI bottom as a 2nd.

In terms of time, we’re just over 4 weeks into the decline, which is approaching the average for an intermediate-term decline over the last 3 years (the last one was very short at 3 weeks, and others have lasted up to 8 weeks).

Also of consideration is the extreme complacency that we are correcting. Look again at CPCE in the first chart above. From what I can tell, it set a record for complacency going back to at least the year 1999. This suggests we may have more decline ahead before an extended relief rally. Sentiment has turned negative, but not overwhealmingly so, and it has only been negative for a couple of weeks, so this is not a contraint to a further decline.

One more consideration is the 1930 parallel. Once stocks broke that April after their rally from the crash of ’29, they failed to rally hard for years. The decline was steady all the way down to the bottom in July ’32. In this analalogue, we would have another week or so of choppy and weak rally, followed by the bottom falling out, an outcome that would elegantly resolve our situation. The dip-buyers pile in, but the oomph is gone, momentum weakens and RSI turns down, then BAM, we’re back to SPX 750 this summer.

Prophet charts

I am approaching this situation by being neutral on stocks at the moment. I am holding a core position in December 2011 and 2012 SPY puts and some calls I’m short on IYR and GDX, though I sold a portion of the puts on Tuesday morning and and the rest are hedged with a short in VIX futures (I do this because spreads on options make them costly to trade in and out of). Essentially, I’m flat on equities.

I closed a ton of shorts from last Thursday to Tuesday morning, and went long SPX, ASX and Nikkei futures (and long CHF, EUR, GBP and short JPY and VIX) early this week when I saw divergences in the VIX, currencies and commodities (ie, stock indexes made a new low that was not confirmed with new extremes elsewhere, a buy signal) as well as a glaring RSI divergence on the hourly scale. Those “long risk” positions I closed for profits on Thursday and Friday, since we’ve already corrected the extreme short-term oversold condition and are in neutral territory. Equity-wise, I ended the week where I was on Tuesday morning, since the drop in volitility hurt my puts as much as my various longs made me money. Vol is a bitch that way — sometimes you time prices right, but it’s not enough.

Speaking of the VIX, I think it could settle down for a few weeks, though to a higher level than in April, before the next decline pushes it up again. I think it will remain elevated (as from Oct 2007 onwards) for many more months or a couple of years:

Prophet charts

In the commodity space I’m even more convinced that a major top is at hand, since some trendline breaks have been decisive (platinum, palladium, oil) and the declines have been so violent all around. Commodities tend not to rally as hard as stocks once the trend changes to down, so I entered shorts on oil, silver, gold, palladium and copper near their highs late in the week. The precious metals are looking particularly suspect to me here, and I still think my July 2008 double top analogue is in play.

The euro, Swiss franc and British pound are still looking very weak. Sentiment has been in the dumps for four months now, which is a set-up for a spectacular rally, but judging from their heaviness this week as stocks and commodities and CAD and AUD rallied, I think they may slide to one more low before that rally.

Matt Simmons: Nuclear bomb may be needed to seal the leak.

Simmons is among the most prominent oil and gas analysts, if not the most prominent. He says that the Russians have used small nuclear detonations inside wellbores to seal some major blowouts in the last 30 years.

He also mentions the second huge plume of oil that has been discovered deep underwater a few miles away from the well. Apparently the use of dispersant chemicals has only made things worse by increasing the density of the oil so that it doesn’t all float to the surface where it can be sucked into tankers.

Here’s the Bloomberg interview:

Closed equity & currency longs, short metals & oil

SPX futures are looking wobbly, and gold and silver are looking downright weak. I took profits on my equity, euro, CHF and GBP longs and JPY short and have built a modest short position in crude, copper, silver, gold, palladium and GDX (gold stock etf).

Here’s ES as of the open (1-hour scale). A set-back today may be likely, but I would still probably expect stocks to recover and inch higher a while longer. RSI is weak on a 5-min scale but still strong on the hourly.