VIX plunges under 14. Mr. Market banishes all thoughts of bear.

This has been an extremely dramatic decline, from 22 to 13.9 in one trading week.

Previous drops under 14 in recent years have been followed by limited upside in stocks and an increased incidence of significant declines.

This week’s action seems to be based on relief that Congress has come to terms on the budget. Never mind that taxes are going up for everyone (payroll tax “holiday” ends), and that no progress was made on spending, not even so-called “cuts” to the rate of growth.

Side note on the budget:

High inflation remains baked into the cake for the coming years, just as it appeared in the later years of the secular bear markets of the 1910s, 1930s-40s, and 1966-1982. This is not just because the government is running trillion+ deficits without end, because the Fed has tripled its balance sheet and the monetary base in just four years.

When enough bad debt has been written off for lending to start back up in earnest, the upswing of the multi-generational interest rate cycle will have severe repurcussions for the budget. The effects will be greater because the US Treasury is not taking advantage of low long-term rates, but issuing mostly shorter-term notes.

Note that I was a rare bull on Treasuries going into the last debt crisis. That is no longer the case, but I’m not necessarily bearish on them just yet.

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.

Retail: some perspective on the positive July figures

Advisorperspectives.com has assembled charts showing that, adjusted for inflation and population growth, sales have only half recovered from the last recession. Sales are comparable to those of a decade ago, which is probably a healthier level than what we experienced at the height of the credit boom: 

Click to View

In candid moment, Bernanke lets out the truth

I love it when a reporter catches a high-profile official letting down his guard:

SEWARD, NE—Claiming he wasn’t afraid to let everyone in attendance know about “the real mess we’re in,” Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reportedly got drunk Tuesday and told everyone at Elwood’s Corner Tavern about how absolutely fucked the U.S. economy actually is.

Bernanke, who sources confirmed was “totally sloshed,” arrived at the drinking establishment at approximately 5:30 p.m., ensconced himself upon a bar stool, and consumed several bottles of Miller High Life and a half-dozen shots of whiskey while loudly proclaiming to any patron who would listen that the economic outlook was “pretty goddamned awful if you want the God’s honest truth.”

“Look, they don’t want anyone except for the Washington, D.C. bigwigs to know how bad shit really is,” said Bernanke, slurring his words as he spoke. “Mounting debt exacerbated—and not relieved—by unchecked consumption, spiraling interest rates, and the grim realities of an inevitable worldwide energy crisis are projected to leave our entire economy in the shitter for, like, a generation, man, I’m telling you.”

“And hell, as long as we’re being honest, I might as well tell you that a truer estimate of the U.S. unemployment rate is actually up around 16 percent, with a 0.7 percent annual rate of economic growth if we’re lucky—if we’re lucky,” continued Bernanke, nearly knocking a full beer over while gesturing with his hands…

…Numerous bar patrons slowly nodded in agreement as Bernanke went on to suggest the United States could pass three or four more stimulus packages and “it wouldn’t even matter.”

“You think that’s going to create long-term economic growth, let alone promote job creation?” Bernanke said. “We’re way beyond that, my friend. There are no jobs, okay? There’s nothing. I think that calls for another drink, don’t you?”

While using beer bottles and pretzel sticks in an attempt to explain to the bartender the importance of infusing $650 billion into the bond market, the inebriated Fed chairman nearly fell off his stool and had to be held up by the patron sitting next to him.

Another bargoer confirmed Bernanke stood about 2 inches from her face and sprayed her with saliva, claiming inflation was going to “totally screw” consumer confidence and then asking if he could bum a smoke.

“Sure, we could hold down long-term interest rates and pursue a program of quantitative easing, but c’mon, we all know that’s not going to make the slightest bit of difference when it comes to output, demand, or employment,” Bernanke said before being told to “try to keep [his] voice down” by the bartender. “And trust me, with the value of the U.S. dollar in the toilet, import costs going through the roof, and numerous world governments unprepared for their own substantial debt burdens, shit’s not looking too good for us abroad, either.”

“God, I’m so wasted,” added Bernanke, resting his head on the bar.

Customers at the bar told reporters the “shitfaced” and disruptive Bernanke refused to pay for his drinks with U.S. currency, claiming it was “worthless.” Witnesses also confirmed that near the end of the evening, Bernanke put money into the jukebox and selected Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” to play five times in a row.

Read the whole thing here.

And who knew Bernanke and I had similar tastes in music?

Inflation, deflation & the dollar – where do we stand?

We have had inflation since late 2009, using my favored definition of inflation as an increase in money supply and credit from Mish. By the way, commodity prices change with the speculative whims of of the financial markets, and are not a good definition of inflation (commodities fell from 1980 to 2000, as we experienced credit & monetary inflation and the price level doubled).

Since 2007, the monetary base has of course soared (see below), but in 2008 and 2009 its increase was overwhelmed by the decrease in private debt (marked-to-market), and the mood of risk-aversion. Since then defaults have eased and new debt issuance has grown, so we have had significant inflation.

Monetary base:

shadowstats.com

Monetary Aggregates:

shadowstats.com

The world is still laden with too much debt to sustain, so we will likely be back into deflation and de-risking before long. The following debtors in particular have yet to have their come-to-Jesus moments:

  • US cities & states (muni-bonds)
  • Canadian and Australian homeowners (record high prices, prices too high relative to incomes and rents, absurd loan-to-value ratios).
  • Several European nations (Portugal, Spain, Italy, much of Eastern Europe). Actually even Greece and Ireland will have to default before long, since their bailouts were just extensions and added to their debt.

The Kondratieff cycle is not perfect, but its main point is that debt cycles are generational, since they have as much to do with attitudes as with numbers. The deflation/de-leveraging phase (winter) can last over a decade, and this one certainly looks like it will.

Previous recent generations were as follows, off the top of my head:

  • Winter: 1929-1940 (decrease in debt, falling assets, low interest rates, falling to stable prices)
  • Spring: 1940-1966 (early debt growth, rising assets, rising interest rates, moderately rising prices)
  • Summer: 1966-1982 (continued debt growth, falling assets, high interest rates, rapidly rising prices)
  • Autumn: 1982-2007 (rapid debt growth, rapidly rising assets, falling interest rates, slowly rising prices)
  • Winter: 2007- (decrease in debt, falling assets, low interest rates, falling to stable prices)

The dates are approximate – some say that winter began in 2000 when we first faced deflation. Also, all nations are not in sync. Japan went into winter in 1990, and is still in it despite massive and repeated central bank printing.  What clears the way for spring is the reduction in debt, and the west is making the same mistake that we criticised the Japanese for making, propping up failed institutions and not allowing the market to clear.

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Bonus chart: US dollar index since 1985 – in classic form, by the time everyone started worrying about a dollar crash (2007), it had already happened.

shadowstats.com


Despite its central bank’s profligate ways, the Japan’s currency has risen dramatically since the 1990s. Don’t count the dollar out just yet. This chart shows yen per dollar (downward slope = rising yen):

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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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