Topping pattern developing, stay tuned

We finally have a weakening trend on the daily RSI (see RSI on bottom of chart). This is a prerequisite for anyone considering taking a short position, especially with leverage.

It would be typical for some type of quick plunge to develop soon, perhap on the order of 5-8% in SPX, maybe 100 points (1000 Dow points). It would also be typical for stocks to recover from such a plunge and test the highs again, as in spring 2011 or Summer-Fall 2007. In May 2010, this process was compressed in the “Flash Crash,” which was followed quickly by a decline of around 20%.

However, the weekly trend is still up, though finally in overbought territory. Perhaps this begins to turn over the next few weeks as the market chops sideways.

Further strengthening the bear case is sentiment, which has now been elevated for at least two months (I recommend sentimenttrader.com at $30/month for all you can eat indicators). Sentiment is a powerful indicator, but actual price tops lag tops in sentiment by several weeks to months, as prices tend to levitate and chop sideways for a while on weakening RSI prior to major declines. Bottoms have a much closer time relationship to sentiment (extreme bearishness among traders is usually quickly followed by rallies).

The best free sentiment resource that I am aware of is the NAAIM Survey of Manager Sentiment. As you can see in the chart below, sustained bullish sentiment is required in order to register a valid sell signal, as the crowd is often right for a while. The relatively short period of bullishness here is another sign that any decline that develops soon could be short-lived.

I should also mention that John Hussman has noted that the market has exhibited his syndrome of overbought, overvalued, overbullish on rising yields, for several weeks now. This set of conditions coincides with many of the very worst times to be long stocks, and has almost no false positives. Advances made during such periods are soon given up, often in severe declines.

The following set of conditions is one way to capture the basic “overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields” syndrome:

1) S&P 500 more than 8% above its 52 week (exponential) average
2) S&P 500 more than 50% above its 4-year low
3) Shiller P/E greater than 18
4) 10-year Treasury yield higher than 6 months earlier
5) Advisory bullishness > 47%, with bearishness < 27% (Investor’s Intelligence)

[These are observationally equivalent to criteria I noted in the July 16, 2007 comment, A Who's Who of Awful Times to Invest. The Shiller P/E is used in place of the price/peak earnings ratio (as the latter can be corrupted when prior peak earnings reflect unusually elevated profit margins). Also, it's sufficient for the market to have advanced substantially from its 4-year low, regardless of whether that advance represents a 4-year high. I've added elevated bullish sentiment with a 20 point spread to capture the "overbullish" part of the syndrome, which doesn't change the set of warnings, but narrows the number of weeks at each peak to the most extreme observations].

The historical instances corresponding to these conditions are as follows:

December 1972 – January 1973 (followed by a 48% collapse over the next 21 months)

August – September 1987 (followed by a 34% plunge over the following 3 months)

July 1998 (followed abruptly by an 18% loss over the following 3 months)

July 1999 (followed by a 12% market loss over the next 3 months)

January 2000 (followed by a spike 10% loss over the next 6 weeks)

March 2000 (followed by a spike loss of 12% over 3 weeks, and a 49% loss into 2002)

July 2007 (followed by a 57% market plunge over the following 21 months)

January 2010 (followed by a 7% “air pocket” loss over the next 4 weeks)

April 2010 (followed by a 17% market loss over the following 3 months)

December 2010

 

This chart from Hussman has data through March 3, but the latest blue band is now about a month wider:

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This is clearly time to exit stocks or hedge all market risk. The upside is limited relative to the downside.

Kyle Bass and Hugh Hendry on shorting Japan

Two good interviews here with these fund managers.

EDIT: The Bloomberg interview of Kyle Bass is no longer playing, and I can’t find it on youtube, so I’ll just post a couple of other links:
All I could find was this on his new fund:
http://dealbreaker.com/2011/04/want-to-invest-in-japan-kyle-bass-has-a-fund-for-that/
Here he is talking inflation last October:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCYIBf4_GMw

Hugh Hendry on the rationale for shorting Japanese corporate credit (extremely low yields, overexpansion, China crash & contagion)

FYI, I think talk of inflation is still premature, since there is still too much credit to be liquidated before currency creation overwealms credit destruction. Significant inflation is more likely to appear towards 2020 than 2012, and we could easily see another episode of deflation in the next year or two.

VIX & Put:Call starting to make puts attractive again

A fair degree of complacency has snuck back into markets over the last month.  We don’t have a strong sell signal in stocks yet, but if April marked the high in US and European markets and economic indicators are turning down again, this could be a good spot to start building short positions again:

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Here’s the equity put:call vs the 20 day moving average, back to one standard deviation under its mean. Dipping lower would require the kind of extreme complacency that we’ve only seen twice in the last decade, so I wouldn’t count on it:

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The dollar has also corrected its overbought condition (and is actually very oversold), which is key for a resumption of the deflation trade:

David Einhorn: Scrap the official ratings agencies (Moodies, S&P, Fitch)

From Bloomberg:

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Einhorn has shorted S&P and Moodies. Some take-aways:

Rating agencies are a “public bad,” not a public good.

We need a systemic change to reject the idea of centralized official ratings.

The market would adjust if we didn’t have them.

On Buffett: “He still made a very nice investment for himself.”

“The brands are ruined.”

The companies may lose their equity in (much-deserved) lawsuits.

Margins during boom reflected compromised objectivity, competing for market share.

Without official ratings the market would adjust to risks itself. Official ratings create an arbitrage opportunity: real credit risk is often higher than ratings imply (look at BP: downgraded by just “1/2 notch or something like that.” Ratings allow sharpies to front-run downgrades or prepare to take advantage of depressed prices following downgrades.

Agencies add little value. Market spreads are a much better indicator of risk.

Jim Rogers discusses his euro long and stock shorts

I happen to have similar positions at the moment, though unlike Rogers, I’m a bear on commodities and China, which he seems to be perpetually long.  Here’s today’s Bloomberg interview.

Take-aways:

- Long euro as a contrary position. Too many shorts out there.

- All these countries (Spain, Portugal, UK, US) are spending money they don’t have and it will continue.

- ECB buying government and private debt is wrong.

- EU is ignoring its own rules about bailouts from Maastricht Treaty.

- Governments are still trying to solve a problem of too much debt with more debt.

- Fundamentals are bad for all paper currencies. Good for gold.

- Is “contagion” limited now? Well, for those who get the money…

Here’s a longer interview from a few days ago on the same topics as well as stocks:

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- Rogers has a few stock shorts: emerging market index, NASDAQ stocks, and a large international financial institution.

- Rogers owns both silver and gold, but is not buying any more. He’s not buying anything here, “just watching.”

- Optimistic about Chinese currency. Expected it to rise more and faster, but still bullish.

- Thinking of adding shorts in next week or two if markets rally (my note: they have now).

- “Debts are so staggering, we’re all going to get hit with the problem,” no longer just our children and grandchildren.

The myth of the evil short-seller lives on

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil writes a good column. Here he digs into the falacy often cited by executives of failing companies and politicians that short-sellers are responsible for drops in price:

Still Believing

So I asked a Morgan Stanley spokesman, Mark Lake, this week if the company’s executives still believed what Mack said in September 2008 about short sellers to be true. And if so, based on what evidence? No comment, he said. Mack wouldn’t talk either.

I got the same response at a conference in Phoenix last weekend when I posed similar questions to the SEC’s enforcement- division director, Robert Khuzami, who joined the agency about a year ago from Deutsche Bank AG. How are his staff’s short-seller investigations going? Found anything significant yet? No comment, he said. Cuomo’s office didn’t comment either.

My guess for why they have nothing to say is that the whole thing was a farce to begin with. Yet this same urban legend — that mysterious, unnamed short sellers and speculators somehow are to blame whenever markets plunge — still lives on.

In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou has tried to blame his country’s budget crisis on speculators who profited by buying credit-default swaps on Greece’s sovereign debt. Actually, it turns out Greece was shorting itself.

Paulson’s Evidence

One of the largest buyers of such swaps was the state- controlled Hellenic Postbank SA, which made a $47 million profit last year after it sold its $1.2 billion position, the Athens newspaper Kathimerini reported a few days ago. The bank’s former chairman later said Hellenic was just protecting Greek bonds it owns against a possible default, not speculating, though that doesn’t change the economics of the trade.

In his memoir, “On the Brink,” Paulson writes like a true believer. “Short sellers were laying the bank low,” he said, describing Mack’s plight a year and a half ago. “But John and his team weren’t about to go down without a fight.” What facts did Paulson cite in support of the notion that short sellers were harming Morgan Stanley, or that they had the capability to do so? None, of course.

Paulson mentioned only one short seller by name in his book, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, who shorted Lehman’s stock and warned other investors that the bank’s books were probably cooked. In that instance, however, Paulson said Einhorn was proven right, a point echoed in the findings of this month’s report by Lehman bankruptcy examiner Anton Valukas. (Paulson’s book didn’t name anyone who had shorted Morgan Stanley.)

Wrong Target

Einhorn also was right when he tried to warn the SEC in 2002 about the accounting practices of a business-development company called Allied Capital Corp. The SEC responded by turning around and investigating him, at Allied’s urging, without any basis for believing he’d done anything improper, as SEC Inspector General David Kotz’s office chronicled in a report released this week. Eventually, the SEC let the company off without any penalty, in spite of what the report called “specific, detailed allegations and evidence of wrongdoing by Allied.”

Here’s another idea for Kotz. How about investigating whether the SEC had any reasonable basis for believing Mack’s short-seller story in September 2008 when it acted on his pleas, and whether Mack had any plausible grounds to believe the story himself? Now there’s a probe that might turn up something.

Read the whole article here.

More here on how CDS traders are being used as a scapegoat for a well-deserved decline in Greek debt.

Manuel Asensio’s Sold Short tells the story of a small hedge fund that sought out frauds to short and was eventually pushed out of the business by high-priced lawyers paid for with cash from pump-and-dumps.