Urge to speculate not as rampant as it seems

The recovery of the US stock indexes and big new highs in the Russell 2000 and Nasdaq seem to have convinced a lot of people that we are either entering the next phase of a sustainable bull market, or about to at least crawl up another 10% before finally exhausting. I don’t see it that way. This feels to me like October 2007, when the market had smartly recovered from a hard break on the leadership of the secondaries, but the trend had been broken and stocks were strenuously overbought on extreme complacency.

This rally has mostly been a small-cap, tech stock and speculative affair. Larger stocks are not getting the same kind of bid, nor are commodities.

I have turned very short-term bearish this week on the extreme low in the equity put:call ratio. You can see here that the 10-day moving average is lower than at any point in the last three years, which at 0.51 might actually be the lowest ever (since this includes the Goldilocks spring of 2007):

Indexindicators.com

How could you possibly be long given a reading like this?

Before concluding that we are blasting off here, take a look at oil, which has gone nowhere for five months, with each advancing impulse weaker than the last, and the latest looking particularly anemic:

Stockcharts.com

Even gold and silver, which have dependably found a strong bid whenever stocks have rallied and even when they have not, have stalled out well under their fall highs:

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Silver is weaker than gold, and this measure of risk appetite (silver:gold ratio) peaked all the way back in September:

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Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the risk impulse has been the junk credit market, which by one measure is actually showing the narrowest spreads in history over quality. This is absolutely astounding given the economic conditions, and only explainable by the notion that the investing public, twice burned by stocks in the last decade, has decided that bonds are safe, without making any distinctions among them. You can see this trend here in the ratio of the price of JNK (junk bond ETF) to LQD (investment grade bond ETF), though this chart appears to show waning momentum:

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I’m not calling for an immediate crash, but certainly at least for a smart set-back, which may in retrospect turn out to be the start of a decline to new secular bear market lows. With the credit system still clogged with bad debt at the personal, corporate and state level, the economy simply has no ground from which to launch a new phase of business growth. What we have seen for the last year is simply unsustainable government spending and an overeager investing public that still trusts Keynesian economists and bogus statistics like GDP.

We are not out of the woods. We are entering a long phase of write-downs, defaults, bankruptcies and generaly frugality. We are not going to get away this time without our Schumpeterian event.

Gold:Silver ratio keeps on trucking

This classic risk ratio is in its own bull market. Look at the spike last week, which may kick off another monster rally in 2010. Interesting also how it turned up all the way back in September.

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Checking the archives, I see that I charted this bottom as it happened.

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Silver did make a peak just then as I’d anticipated, but then it charged ahead with gold to briefly trade over $19. The deflation trade should not be kind to it in 2010.

Gold:Silver ratio approaches support

The relative values of gold and silver are a measure of risk aversion, akin to the VIX. Silver is largely an industrial metal and reflects appetite for commodities in general, whereas gold is owned as hard cash for safety.

Witness the premium silver fetched in the commodities mania of 2007 to July 2008, and the soaring value of gold in the panic last fall. Like the VIX, it registered a peak in October and November and did not confirm the equity lows in March. There is also a correlation in recent months between Gold:Silver and the US dollar index (only 3% bulls there yesterday, by the way).

We’re now a few points above a level where two major trend lines intersect, though the RSI and MACD are already in oversold territory. A quick, terminal spike in silver would complete the pattern nicely:

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Readers know that I am a stomping dollar bull and precious metals bear at the moment. Gold bugs, take a chill pill — I’m all for a gold standard, and yes, gold will continue to outperform most other assets in this depression, but that doesn’t mean the metals aren’t overbought like everything else in this reflation/recovery mania. Possible spike tops notwithstanding, I expect both silver and gold to fall from here, and for silver to fall harder. I expect $14 within 6 weeks, followed by $12 early next year, and possibly even $8 in a year or two.