Intermediate-term set-up for a gold rally?

Traders have been bearish on gold and gold stocks since late October, the longest stretch in recent years. All such previous instances were followed by significant multi-week rallies. Here’s a daily chart, showing some divergence in RSI.

Here is GDX, the gold miner ETF, which looks good technically, as well as being cheap vs. the metal itself:

 

A caveat here is exemplified by the coffee futures market (see recent posts), which has steadily declined since a manic high 18 months ago. Gold and silver experienced a mania around the same time, which perhaps capped their 11+ year bull run. If that is the case, a situation like the present could actually resolve not in a rally, but in a crash, as crashes may develop from oversold and bearish conditions that would otherwise be bullish. For this reason, as well as the value discussion below, I would be careful about any longs and use a stop-loss.

I still maintain that gold is overvalued relative to a meaningful basket of other assets and metrics. Today, a kilo of gold buys (or rents) you more real estate, commodities, labor, automobile, etc. than at any time in modern history, save bottoms in those respective markets and tops in the metal.

This doesn’t mean that gold can’t rally for a few weeks or months or even make a new high – it just means that doing so would make it even more historically overvalued. The time of gold being a great value has long passed. It has done a very nice job at protecting holders against the Federal Reserve’s war on savings, just like it did a good job at protecting against inflation in the late 1970s, but gold peaked prior to inflation, and today gold may peak prior to the end of Bernanke’s tenure.

I often make the point that gold is not the only hard asset. In an inflationary episode, there are many ways to play. The dollar lost 2/3 of its value from 1980 to 2000, but over that period gold lost 90% of its value when adjusted for inflation (70% nominally). As in equity investing, the price you pay determines your return. I would look for hard assets that are closer to historical lows, or at least mean values, rather than something near a high.  Distressed real estate comes to mind, or even Japanese equities.

Heck, if we get another cyclical equity bear market within the post-2000 secular bear, there will be plenty of hard, productive assets available for reasonable prices in the stock market. BTW, every episode of double-digit inflation in the US since 1900 has ocurred during the latter years of a secular bear market in equities (1919-1920, early 1940s, 1979-1982). Thanks in large part to Mish‘s explanations of the credit market, I have been a deflationist since late 2007, despite the shrill warnings of the hyperinflation crowd. There is no telling how long our own Japanese situation lasts, but we likely have at least a couple more years to go.

Sailors be warned

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight

Red sky at morn, sailors be warned.

-

Technical musings

In recent trading days we have seen various indicators reach levels that, had they occurred together during another set of social and economic conditions, would have warranted an aggressive bullish stance. As they have arisen during the greatest depression and stock market collapse in any living person’s memory (geezers included), traders should perceive an elevated risk of a swift revival of market panic.

If we are going to start back towards the November lows sometime in the first half of the year, the next few days are as good a time as any. Optimism, or at least the abatement of fear, peaked around the first week of the year. At that time, most bulls and bears alike seemed to be counting on a BIG bounce, and that consensus view was manifested as as the top of a relatively anemic corrective rally.

Stocks then sold off solidly for two weeks, as the volatility index (VIX) ran from 38 to 58, a level that until last fall hadn’t been seen since a brief moment in 1987. Even 38 would have been indicated panic conditions until the world was turned upside down. In this environment, it indicates calm. Here is a six-month view:

-

The bond market also indicated relief this month, as a rally for the history books finally broke when the 30-year Treasury bond yielded just 2.5%. Yesterday it yielded 3.41%, another level that until a few weeks ago had not been seen for decades (in this case, six of them). In this crash, 3.41% means complacency and even optimism. 30-year bond yield, 6-month view, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance:

-

One more indication that the correction is exhausting itself has been the revival of animal spirits in commodities stocks, a popular ‘risk’ sector. XAU, the Philadelpia Gold and Silver Index, more than doubled from its crash lows. I am guessing that these stocks made their post-crash top yesterday, coinciding with bullion’s three-month high, because both are solidly overbought. This top in risk preference has occurred alongside the last few days’ rebound in the broader stocks indexes. Risk assets are the last to participate in rallies and the hardest hit in crashes.

-

Now, with the exception of gold stocks and bullion, none of the above markets are particularly overextended at the moment. Bonds today made either a solid correction of their sell-off (corrective itself), or started a fresh leg up. The broad stock indexes are not overbought, which is the easiest time to identify shorting opportunities, so tread lightly if you are thinking about that route. I have been heavily long-term short for 18 months now, so if I am wrong on these little twists and turns it doesn’t bother me.

I would not be surprised by a loss of several percent in the Dow by next week, but neither am I counting on it. This market has been choppy and full of contradictions since December. Stocks went up with Treasury bonds last month, and this month the dollar has rallied with gold. Go figure. In cases like this, it is best to not have too strong an opinion on the market’s short-term moves. In recent days I have even covered several long-standing short positions as stocks such as Microsoft, Harley Davidson, Burlington Northern, and Union Pacific have pushed to new lows.

Keep in mind that we still could re-enact the November 1929 to April 1930 post-crash rally, in which the Dow rose 48% before the mood turned back down and stocks fell another 80% in two years. See A massive rally is straight out of the 1929 playbook.

Anyone sense a change in the air?

For the bigger picture, all you have to do is glance at a newspaper. From a non-technical perspective, the trend is clear: things are getting worse, much worse. Earnings will continue to surprise to the downside, to an extent that few can imagine. Firings and bankruptcies are just getting rolling. As the illusion of prosperity wilts away, we are going to discover that our productive capacity has been hollowed out by the distortions of the credit bubble and regulations, and that a drastically reduced standard of living awaits. Needless to say, stock prices will be proportionate.

Fear recedes, so how will it return?

The markets are experiencing a bit of a thaw today, with the memory of panic several weeks behind us now. The VIX has just broken decisively below 40 for the first time since September. Treasury yields have broken out just a tad from their extreme lows. Oil has jumped back to the mid-40s, copper has relieved its oversold condition, the GDX gold stock ETF has more than doubled, and the Dow has crept back to near 9000 again.

The question now remains, how will fear return? In several more weeks or months after the mood turns from relief to greed (and fear of missing out), or in the very near future?

My mind is not made up, but any breakaway rally is way overdue. With every week since the November 21 lows, we have been relieving the oversold condition as a function of time rather than price. That is not to say that the Dow couldn’t creep all the way to 10,000 by March, but the longer we hover here, the less necessary such a rally becomes.

What would be interesting in a January plunge is for the bond market to sell off with the stock market for the first time in recent events. But if the inverse correlation still holds, the overbought condition in Treasuries could find relief in a “happy days are not quite here again but will be soon” rally in stocks. Today’s action is what such an environment would look like, but with a great deal more animal spirits — $65 oil might even materialize (before new lows of course).

At any event, with the VIX below 38 I picked up a few more cheap puts on GDX today. Gold stocks have had a great run, and the same people are buying them today as were holding them in the crash, and for the same reasons. That is a bad sign.

My favorite short though is still the death-defying Home Depot. Also keep an eye on WalMart. People need cheap stuff, but they don’t need as much of it as they have been buying in recent years. At 16.5, the PE on that behemoth is still out of line, as is Costco’s at 18.5.

—-

PS — Note that in this kind of analysis, I don’t pay much attention to news pieces or economic releases. That is not the way to trade. For instance, we have horrible manufacturing data out today, and all data is worse than 6 weeks ago, but the mood is hopeful and stocks are up, so how can you make money trading on the news?

I look at the mood of the market itself and try to figure out what it is feeling and what themes it is trading on: greed, panic, relief, inflation, deflation, dollar bad, dollar good, etc. I try to figure out the mood by what different asset prices are doing, and wait for entry and exit points when trends look exhaused. To know the larger trend is key, in this case deflation and depression, but the market’s take on the situation is always changing. You wait for Mr. Market to be very wrong about a situation or just too enthusiastic, as in the case of the overextended bond rally this month — in deflation, bonds are good, but overbought is overbought.

Missed trade: Gold stock rebound. But no worries about a runaway.

I entered an order to buy GDX (a gold stock ETF) calls on Monday, but didn’t hit the buy button, since no matter the technicals, I’m never very comfortable going against my understanding of the forces at play, even just for a short-term trade. Turns out those contracts would be up by a factor of three by today. I’ll just wait out the rally and go short again if things get out of hand, as in $32 for GDX. I have a hard time believing that the bear market in commodities is finished after only 4-7 months, when the economy is crashing through the floor and credit remains extremely tight.

Here’s a visual of the bloodbath and bounce in gold stocks (three-month chart from bigcharts.com):

Click for sharper view.

I’m in no hurry to go long anything at all, since the unwinding of the credit bubble will take years. I don’t think that we have seen any bottoms, not in gold, oil, copper, wheat or any kind of equities or bonds.

The risk is all to the downside. The looming risk of currency failure is the lone caveat, so it behooves everyone to have some physical gold — more if you are a renter with no other hard assets, less if you are an oilman or farmer or own significant real estate, within the range of 5-20% of assets for now. I intend to bump up my own allocation to near 50% or even much higher over the next couple of years, hopefully at very favorable prices.

This intention is predicated on the expectation that the US and other governments will before long saturate the markets for their treasuries and follow up by saturating the markets for their fiat monies. This will create all manner of chaos and depress real asset prices yet further, even from the very low nominal prices that I expect in the interim.

The assets to buy in the nominal and continuing real deflation will be those that generate income, since anything spinning off cash two years from now will have proved its mettle. Those companies and properties will be the most likely to hold their value in currency mayhem, and could generate fantastic capital gains in the recovery as earnings and multiples expand from highly depressed levels.

That said, all of this will take longer than even I think. Buffett, sell-out that he has become, was once a great investor, and he has remarked that sitting in T-bills is one of the hardest things to do.

The Gold:XAU ratio is off the charts. How will it correct?

A ratio of the gold price to the XAU gold stock index of greater than 4 is traditionally considered a buy signal for gold stocks, with 5 a strong buy. Today the ratio is an unheard-of (to my knowledge) 10.65.

Are gold stocks a screaming buy or could this mean that gold has much further to fall? Mining stocks and other metals are down from 50% to 80%, so gold bullion stands alone with roughly a 30% decline. It is money, so it should fall less than other assets in deflation, but these ratios may be a bit extreme.

I considered GDX calls today as a short-term trade but thought better of it. This deflation is powerful stuff, and I want to stay out of its way for now.

Keep your eye on the bouncing commodities ball

Here’s a five day chart of my favorite commodities stock shorts:

Click for sharper view. Source: Yahoo! Finance.

I nailed the commodities short at the peak in June, and sold a lot of my puts (GLD, GDX, TCK, NUE, X…) earlier this week as the sector made what may be the first of multiple panic bottoms in a bear market. I like shorting with longer-term puts, so I didn’t close all of my positions, but I built up a bit of cash. Lots of that went into retail and REIT shorts earlier this week, but some of it is waiting for this commodity bounce to get overextended.

This group fell 30-40% over the last ten to twelve weeks, so if this was indeed a meaningful way point, it could take up to eight weeks and a 25% rise for the countervailing bout of hope to play out. If the broader market is on the verge of a strong downdraft to beneath the July and March lows, which seems likely to me, commodities could get swept up in any waterfall and resume their decline sooner rather than later. This might not even be much of a bounce at all if broader market sentiment deteriorates quickly. Crashes do arise from oversold conditions – just ask Lehman shareholders.

The commodities markets are exhibiting a bit of negative correlation with the dollar, so I am also a bit short-term bearish on the currency. Any significant retracement would be another opportunity to get out of Euros, Pounds, Aussies, Loonies or precious metals (or short them again).

Fire Sales to Come as Mining Juniors go Broke

Jim Rogers admitted today on Bloomberg TV today that he thought the dollar could rally for a year. From him, this came as quite a surprise, even though he has been calling for a bounce for several months. He also admitted that he was losing money in foreign currencies and commodities, and said that the best play right now was on the short side of the stock market. I respect his ultra-long view, but he has just been asking for trouble by holding Chinese stocks and commodities right through manic tops and now down the backside.

Hard Assets Less Bad than Financial Assets

One other take-away from Roger’s comments is that if you believe this will be a “never-ending global recession” you will be better off with commodities than stocks. Of course, I think they are both going down a lot more, but the fact is that the world will always need raw materials. Zinc ingots will always have a bid, but you can’t be express such certainty about GE common.

Fire Sales to come as Juniors go Bust

That is not to say commodity stocks will weather the storm — I suspect that many miners and exploration companies will go under in the next couple of years if they cannot finance themselves with cash flows (same goes for non-earners of all stripes, which is why the NASDAQ is toast). Just as JP Morgan picked up a nice brokerage when Bear Stearns went bust, BHP BIlliton and other big boys will salvage some fine properties as outside funding dries up for juniors. That may not be so long from now, as recent buyers of private placements are getting burned.

To get an idea of the pain being experienced, take a peak at GDX, a gold stock ETF laden with formerly high-flying juniors (I was fortunate to have some puts on this):

Click image for sharper view. Source: Yahoo! Finance

Be Extra-Choosy about Geography

I wouldn’t touch anything in Latin America or Africa anymore, as the political gangsters in those countries have even more disregard for property rights than those in North America, and in economic downturns the trend is toward more populism and theft. As foreign owners of properties cut back on expenses and can’t hire as many locals or spend on public projects like schools and roads (thereby legally greasing the palms of politicians with contractor businesses), those politicos may decide to use the courts and police to snatch up the properties for themselves. They will either mothball them or make a mess of them, but either way the equity holders will be left with bupkis.

For the cautious, there will be some great buys in good jurisdictions (Australia and Canada should be ok), preferably of producing mines that can self-finance. That is, unless you are playing with bigger bucks and can buy whole exploration or development stage properties outright for pennies on the dollar compared their current owners’ market caps. Just mothball them and wait for the market to come back, which it should if China picks up humanity’s civilization project where the West left off.