One year later, a real head and shoulders?

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Solid deflation trade on today: bonds, yen, dollar up and everything else down. This is hard selling, so it looks like we’re completing the top of the great dead cat bounce of ’09-’10. Once stocks and commodities break May’s lows, they could fall very quickly towards the levels of winter ’09.

Here’s crude oil, continuous contract futures. This is a beautiful short right now. How quickly the phrase “demand destruction” disappeared from discourse, along with all the other reasons why $35 was a perfectly reasonable price for oil.

Is the bounce about over?

Glancing around at the commodity and global stock markets, it looks like the bounce from last month’s lows has been adequate to reset psychology for another decline. This is not to say things have to drop this week, but if prices fail to push higher gravity could take over, as the general climate appears to be shifting back to de-risking and deflating (credit downgrades, budget cuts, poor housing sales, lack of hiring, treasury bond strength, etc).

China is the perfect proxy for risk appetite, as it had the biggest stock bubble and action there is linked to gobal consumer demand and industrial commodity prices. Here’s a long-term view of FXI, the ETF of largecap Hong Kong-listed Chinese shares. The big bounce ran out of steam last October, after which prices have made a series of lower lows and lower highs, the definition of a downtrend. Daily RSI and MACD suggest that short-term upside momentum may be stalling:

TD Ameritrade

Taking a look at a 4-hour chart of SPX futures (ES), I wouldn’t necessarily expect stocks to keep dropping this week. In fact, it would be somewhat clearer if we got one of those rollercoaster topping patterns over the coming days, where stocks rally and fall by 2-3% for a few times to bleed off the momentum, such as they have done at the last three intermediate-term tops in October, January and April.

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If SPX sticks to that topping pattern, it could fill the box I’ve drawn below on the daily chart, meaning another try or two at 1130:

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Toppy action in dollar index, another rally in stocks coming?

The dollar index is showing waning strength on advances, and its rally is very long in the tooth. There could be worse times to take a short position on DX. At least there is a clear and close stop price at the highs.

Here’s the 2-hour bar, then the 5-min:

TD Ameritrade

Here’s what ES looks like to me this evening (5-min chart). There’s an upward divergence in RSI, indicating waning oomph on the sell-offs:

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I took a long position in CHF and ES (SPX futures) after the close of regular trading today, and I’ve shorted some Treasuries and yen, but I’m still short oil, palladium (added to my position today), copper, silver, gold also added more today) and copper. I’m agnostic about the intermediate-term direction of the risk/inflation trade and just trading what I see: commodities look broken, but stocks still have rebound potential, as do the euro, franc and pound.

This chop and weak rally action in stocks precludes neither a big new rally nor a fall into the abyss. Big rallies like August-October 2007 or Feb-April 2010 have started slowly with chop like this and kept the bears confident. The timeframe for such a rally is limited, however, and if we don’t take off in another week or so momentum will peter out and we can start to roll over. This is what happened in late spring 1930 after the first hard leg down from the top of that post-crash rally.

Weakness developing in commodities

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

Here’s oil:

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And copper, same scale:

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

Platinum:

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Palladium:

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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:

Commodities crash underway: straight down or choppy?

Commodities did spectacularly well from winter 08-09 to winter 09-10. Many tripled in price, such as oil, copper and palladium. The world seemed convinced that another great phase of inflation was underway or would start real soon now.

The reality is that demand is anemic and that there has been little or no economic growth. The only exceptions are property bubbles in China, Australia and Canada that are just running on fumes, where America’s was circa 2006. The commodity bounce was purely a technical reaction from an extremely oversold condition, exacerbated by mistaken faith in Keynesian policies deployed worldwide. The rally began to stall out from mid-autumn to this March, and is now starting to roll over in force.

Here’s a 3-year chart of copper, a very liquid and widely followed market. Many believe it is an economic guage, but this is nonsense IMO, since it was trading well under a dollar as the economy was booming a decade ago, and like a lot of other commodities was very expensive in the stagnant 1970s (and right now of course). Prices are driven first and foremost by fads. Why else would you expect it to trade at $3.50 in the middle of a deflantionary depression when stockpiles are huge?

Stockcharts.com

I don’t like to brag, since I get plenty of timing wrong, but back in April I noted the divergence in RSI and MACD right as copper made its top around $3.60.

Another favorite guage of risk appetite is the silver:gold ratio, which has remained stalled for the better part of a year now, and looks set to decline again:

Stockcharts.com

Also check out the palladium:gold ratio, since palladium experienced a major speculative bubble lately which has started to crash very hard:

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Here’s oil, West Texas Intermediate… in all of these commodity charts, note the severity and unrelenting nature of the last drop in 2008. There were few rallies where one could safely get on board for a short sale — you were either short from the top for the ride of your life or just had to watch.

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I’m not expecting a lot of chop in these markets. I’d love a nice rally here to increase short positions, but it’s not the nature of commodities to take their time on the way down. Traders had months to see this trade coming and set up shorts, but for those who don’t over-leverage themselves it is by no means too late to get on board.

By the way, the commodity currencies (Australian, New Zealand, Canadian dollars, Brazilian Real and South African Rand) have also started to fall hard but have a long way to go to correct their rallies from last winter.

Want to see one commodity market that we’re definitely not too late to short? Gold and silver mining stocks (GDX ETF below). The gold bugs have been extremely confident and their ranks have swelled lately, so a deep set-back is much needed in this sector. After all, mining stocks often have a greater correlation with the S&P 500 than with the gold price (which I expect to fall, though not as much as stocks).

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Ironically, I’m part of a group that’s building a huge database and stock screener in this space, called the Mining Almanac. Launching our beta site right at the top of a commodities bubble couldn’t be worse timing, so I’m trying to make lemonade and using it to search not for value stocks (what I designed it for) but the opposite so that I can short them!

For safety, don’t buy gold stocks, which are a financial asset with value contingent upon stock market conditions, tax laws (seen in Australia lately as their leftist government has slapped an extra tax on the mining industry) and myriad operational concerns. Along with plenty of cash and treasury notes, buy gold itself, either stored in your name in a vault oversees or in your personal posession. Gold is money, and in a deflationary depression with undertones of currency crisis, you want the very best.

David Rosenberg warns: Chinese stocks lead commodities markets.

I’ll let his chart do the talking:

Source: gluskinsheff.net

To very little fanfare, the Chinese stock market — the first index to turn around in late 2008 — has slipped into a bear market. It is down 15 % from the nearby high and 20% from last year’s interim peak. Why this is important is because the Shanghai index leads the CRB commodity spot price index by four months with a 72% correlation (and over an 80% correlation with the oil price). Don’t get us wrong — we are long-term secular commodity bulls; however, we have been agnostic this year from a tactical standpoint — never hurts to take profits after a double!

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Commodities running out of steam.

The trend was smartly broken back in January, and now this bounce looks like it’s exhausting right about where the old support line would be. These are the various popular commodity indexes, from Bloomberg:

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You can see this loss of momentum in the former leaders: gold, silver, oil, copper, sugar and cocoa have all failed to make new highs as stocks have surged over the last month.

This is a strong sign that the urge to speculate is fading. Without that, there is nothing to keep prices up, since demand is very low for everything from oil to wheels of parmesian cheese (remember the cheese bailout in Italy?) compared to the 2008 commodity peak. When commodities fall, they often drop straight down. No class of assets declines faster. See this weekly chart of sugar for a case in point:

futures-tradingcharts.com

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If you are looking for short ideas among commodity stocks, this is a neat tool: miningalmanac.com (I think so anyway, but then I’m part of the team that’s building it).

Select the exchanges you trade on, then look for stocks without a lot of “burn time,” in other words those that may be running out of money. Or look at the “financial strength” tab to see who has too much debt and too little cash. Right now this beta version has mostly Canadian companies, but it’ll have almost every mining stock in the US, Canada and Australia before long.

Short-term strength in copper?

Nothing to do with the earthquake of course — by late Monday, Sunday night’s spike was retraced to where copper closed on Friday, once traders calmed down and actually read the news reports that copper production and transport facilities were fine.

In the 3.29 – 3.35 range this morning, it was trading about where I’d expect given the action in stocks, oil and other metals. There ended the rational for my short from 3.45 Sunday evening, and I closed the trade at 3.34, noting the neutral trend of RSI and a bullish MACD cross on the hourly bar:

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I’ll now be looking to re-enter for a longer-term short, since I think the pending implosion of Chinese, Australian and Canadian real estate and the general resumption of the deflation trade will not be kind to industrial commodities.