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.

Long Euro

I’m not a believer in manipulation, so I’m not counting on the central banks of the world to drive down the dollar. It’s as simple as 2% bulls: as of late last week there were 50 euro bulls for every bear. I always like to be the lone nut.

EUR.USD is looking very oversold at the moment by RSI, also. I’m still a long-term euro bear and would not be surprised by parity or $0.85, which actually looks all the more likely now that euroland is going to print away to relieve its banks of their bad bets on GIPSI bonds.

The power of technical analysis. (repost from 3.3.10)

(First published 3.3.10, 1:27PM EST)

I’ve noticed lately how well the 60-min RSI (relative strength index — a measure of oomph in price movement) has been doing, so today I decided to quantify it. The result is simply spectacular, even with a mechanical buy/sell decision that always had you in the market either long or short.

Here is a 60-day chart of the Dow, by 60-min bar. The circles are negative RSI crosses (red arrows on the bottom) and the boxes are positive crosses (green arrows). The numbers are the Dow points one might achieve by riding Dow futures from the previous signal using the signals alone, with no stop-losses. Additional signals do not add to the position, and the trade is reversed on the next opposing signal.

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I tried to be conservative with those point totals (not buying or selling top or bottom tick), and some of those moves may have been missed due to opening gaps (where the price has already moved so far by the time of the opening bell), but you get the idea. It comes out to 1425 Dow points, even having been short for the whole 500 point drop in late January, which a stop-loss could have prevented. A single mini-dow futures contract, symbol YM, requires a margin of $6825 and is worth $5 per Dow point.

Now, this is hardly a perfect reflection of actual trading, but just mechanically trading a simple signal is infinitely superior to trying to outguess the crowd based on mumbo-jumbo like the Greek situation, Barney Frank, Obama this or that, oil prices, GDP, consumer data, or any other nonsense.

Now, I don’t have to tell explain any further why I think the market will probably fall by early next week.

The tables are turning, and panic is on the way back.

I was extremely, almost uncomfortably short for the last couple of weeks, and with the Dow down 175 a few minutes ago, I covered my stock futures shorts and bought a few contracts to hedge up my long-term puts. It’s looking very good for the shorts — dollar up across the board, bond spreads wider, and stocks and commodities down together. Classic deflation trade.

Here’s the Dow. You can see that RSI says we’re already into oversold territory on the daily bar, which indicates the power of this move. There could be a bounce here, but I think stocks are where gold was after it fell hard from $1228 last month: they can rally, but the high is in. Now the bulls will be the ones fighting the tape.

Source: Prophet.net

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Of course, the rally taught us bears to go easy and hedge up after little sell-offs like this, but that is going to be a frustrating stragegy if we’ve turned. As with the euro since the dollar index put in its low, surprises will be to the downside. I suspect not even this initial move down is over yet, maybe just the most violent part.

Take a look at the VIX. It has just blasted off – jumping over 50% in a week, most of it in just two days! This is giving us a very, very strong signal that panic is coming back, and in fact, was never very far off:

Shorting the Nasdaq and Russell 2000

Both are overbought on flagging momentum. Note the high and downsloping RSI (Relative Strength Index) since yesterday:

Source: Prophet.net

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I’ve been playing around with Tim Knight’s creation, Prophet Charts, and I have to hand it to him — this is the best assembly of technical analysis tools that I’ve seen.  Stockcharts.com is still pretty good for a free service, though (I haven’t tried their subscription tools).

Also of note today is that the VIX has broken 20. Options are cheaper than at any point since the Summer of ’08. The lofty equity valuations, flagging momentum and sense of complacency remind me of the Goldilocks winter and spring of ’07, when prices drifted upward slowly in a narrow channel before suddenly cracking, first with a 400 pt decline in the Dow on one late February day, then with the seizing of the credit markets in late July.

Distribution time

Markets have rebounded feebly from their early November bottom, with speculative interest focused in fewer sectors than in earlier risk binges. The hot money is now concentrated in big-cap US stocks over small-caps, and in gold over silver, reflecting a shift in preference for quality over junk.

With upside momentum taking a breather, we’re in another distribution zone, where assets move from early buyers to late comers. The put:call ratio, my favorite indicator of complacency, has backed off its recent highs and could approach the extreme lows we’ve seen recently if stocks remain at these levels for a few more sessions. That would be another excellent short-entry signal.

Souce: indexindicators.com

Here’s the last month of trading in the December S&P 500 futures contract:

Source: Interactive Brokers

If precedent holds, we could chop around up here for another week or so and test the highs a couple more times before rolling over. What’s important is that we have made no net progress for three trading days, and that we have a clear stop for a short position.

The moonshot in the Dow has not been confirmed by any other indexes, though a few of them have made minor new highs. The Russell 2000 remains the laggard, remaining well under the October and September highs. The Nikkei is similarly weak, and crude oil has just been working its way down a channel:

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I also suspect that gold’s run is over or nearly so. I’ve never heard so much talk of gold on the financial news and in other contexts. 19 traders are bullish for every bear. This is about as lopsided as it gets, and we’ve had a huge parabolic rise. It is hard to nail down where these ramps will end, but like oil in 2008, when their momentum stalls, they can fall extremely fast.

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For another take on things, here’s the ratio of gold to the US dollar index:

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Clearly the above trajectory is unsustainable. This is the kind of market action that draws everyone in and forces most shorts to cover. When that process is over, an asset can fall under its own weight. Conversely, the most fear and despised currency appears due for another bull run in 2010, in large part because of all the new debt that has piled up this year in the corporate bond frenzy and renewed carry-trade (borrow dollars and buy anything).

That said, gold should continue to outperform most every other asset class for years, since as professor Roy Jastram showed, its purchasing power increases in deflation when there is a gold-standard and when there is not (it is money, after all).

Still rolling over?

At the moment, everything is still up in the air, so to speak. The rollover into the sub-950 range is still on the table, since a bounce like the last 24 hours on weak internals (such as an advance:decline ratio of well under 2:1) should surprise no one. Despite the lack of oomph here, it is still possible we drift to new highs. I’m sticking with a bearish stance until we see some more strength and breadth on the upside. A sharp drop to fresh lows in late US trading today or tomorrow would not surprise me, and this chart provides a nice stop in case that does not pan out:

Interactive Brokers

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Meanwhile, the zig-zag action in the dollar since Monday looks corrective, maybe a wave 2. Sentiment remains highly bearish on the dollar in the face of a pretty sharp rally. Silver completed a brutal $1.70 drop over 5 days, but everyone still loves it. Oil is conspicuously not making new highs here with that storm out there. Nice short set-up there, since you’ve got a ready-made stop just above these levels.

Copper also seems to be losing its mojo, and is potentially on the verge of a very sharp fall after this sideways correction. Also a nice stop there. Did you read about how pig farmers and other Chinese are taking out bank loans to stockpile tons of the stuff? Now if that isn’t a productive use of credit, I don’t know what is.

Credit spreads (junk vs. quality and corporate vs. Treasury) continued to widen yesterday, further undercutting the integrity of the bounce in equities.

What should worry the bears a bit is the oversold condition in Chinese equities, down 20% from their peak a few weeks ago. But then India’s bubble is just as big and they’ve not dropped nearly as much.

Safest route here is to short with a tight stop or sit in cash. Longs are just tempting fate.