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:

-

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.

ES update (edited for clarity): stock futures still strong, but watch RSI for signs of weakness

We don’t really have waning strength yet on the hourly scale in SPX futures, but I can see the possibility. If this current rally leg (from Friday afternoon’s low around 1083) fails to break 1107 (Friday’s high) or does so on weaker RSI than the last rally, it will be a hint that the entire move up from 1036 is coming to an end. A fresh wave of selling will be even more probable if hourly RSI makes a lower low after a lower high.

Watch for weakening rallies and strengthening sell-offs to telegraph impending declines, even if prices are holding up (to be clear, we don’t have such weakening yet — I’m just watching for it). Prices often do stay elevated right up until a nasty break, like we saw from mid-April to early May (see chart below, ES 2-hour bar). You can also see the strengthening rallies and weakening declines since the bottom last week (the bottom was less strong than the preceding wave down, which is a classic buy signal).

-

Here’s the ES hourly. Still showing strength, but it would be bearish if this current wave does not get at least as powerful as the last.

-

And 15-min bar… this one shows weakness, but it’s too early in the wave to be sure.

All charts from TD Ameritrade

Today is a trading day for most of the world (and US futures are trading, though on a cut schedule), so don’t think that prices will wait for 9:30 EST Tuesday to make any important moves.

Remember, we have a rather neutral set of conditions on the daily chart, but the Elliott Wave crowd is looking for a hard third wave down anytime, and last week’s action could serve as a perfectly functional 2nd wave. If there is a third wave coming, it will be more powerful than the decline from 1220 to 1040, possibily taking us under 900 very quickly. Judging by May 6, the market has signaled that it is capable of such a move, and relentless declines are common following bear market rallies. Also in favor of such a move are the continued dollar and yen strength, anemic rallies of the euro, chf and pound, and the fact that the commodity complex is looking broken.

If you can’t tell, I am ambivalent about stocks now and positioned appropriately flat at the moment. These are not good junctures to trade, since the signals are so mixed.

Week in review and intermediate-term thoughts

Today I’m going to lay out what I’m watching for clues about the intermediate-term prospects. The action of the last 4 weeks has been more suggestive of a reversal than any we’ve had since the March 2009 lows. However, even if a top is in hand and we are finally at our spring 1930 moment, I’m not willing to throw caution to the wind and discount the possibility of another few weeks of rally.

Let’s start with the 5-day average equity:put call ratio, which has nailed so many intermediate-term tops, not least of which this last, which it suggested would be followed by a serious decline:

Indexindicators.com

The put:call ratio could use a bit more of a reset, which could be achieved by just a few more days of calmer or rising markets. Nothing major required here, just a pause.

This break has shaken up a few traders, but judging from interviews this week, the majority remain fairly sanguine about a continued bull phase and consider this a healthy correction, much as they did the first declines off SPX 1550 in late 2007 and early 2008. Also, the past year has established a very clear pattern of modest declines followed by new highs on extreme bullishness. Traders and their machines may be programmed to buy this dip, but with the recent technical damage (we busted the last low for the first time in the whole rally and experienced a mini-crash) I’d expect any rally to be relatively shallow.

There is a pattern of reduced oomph on each subsequent rally phase, which you can see in the diminishing slopes of each rally. You can also see the weakening of the larger trend in the angles between subsequent lows.  (Click to enlarge the image.)

TD Ameritrade

I’ve drawn those ovals on RSI to show a technique I have for picking bottoms. It gets most intermediate term bottoms, and perhaps more importantly, it has a low false-positive rate. A rally becomes likely when you get a double bottom in RSI. This works on any scale you chose, from 1-minute to daily or higher. The likelihood of a rally increases if the second bottom on RSI is higher than the first. This is common because the middle wave of a decline is usually more intense than the final wave.

Now, this current juncture has such a double bottom signal, though the second RSI bottom is not higher than the first. It is also trickier because the first was formed by the latest black Thursday, May 6. I’m not sure how such an event should factor in, but it throws off our analysis somewhat. Perhaps the May 6 event should be discounted (it was really just 1 hour of trading that produced the reading) so that we can’t actually count this RSI bottom as a 2nd.

In terms of time, we’re just over 4 weeks into the decline, which is approaching the average for an intermediate-term decline over the last 3 years (the last one was very short at 3 weeks, and others have lasted up to 8 weeks).

Also of consideration is the extreme complacency that we are correcting. Look again at CPCE in the first chart above. From what I can tell, it set a record for complacency going back to at least the year 1999. This suggests we may have more decline ahead before an extended relief rally. Sentiment has turned negative, but not overwhealmingly so, and it has only been negative for a couple of weeks, so this is not a contraint to a further decline.

One more consideration is the 1930 parallel. Once stocks broke that April after their rally from the crash of ’29, they failed to rally hard for years. The decline was steady all the way down to the bottom in July ’32. In this analalogue, we would have another week or so of choppy and weak rally, followed by the bottom falling out, an outcome that would elegantly resolve our situation. The dip-buyers pile in, but the oomph is gone, momentum weakens and RSI turns down, then BAM, we’re back to SPX 750 this summer.

Prophet charts

I am approaching this situation by being neutral on stocks at the moment. I am holding a core position in December 2011 and 2012 SPY puts and some calls I’m short on IYR and GDX, though I sold a portion of the puts on Tuesday morning and and the rest are hedged with a short in VIX futures (I do this because spreads on options make them costly to trade in and out of). Essentially, I’m flat on equities.

I closed a ton of shorts from last Thursday to Tuesday morning, and went long SPX, ASX and Nikkei futures (and long CHF, EUR, GBP and short JPY and VIX) early this week when I saw divergences in the VIX, currencies and commodities (ie, stock indexes made a new low that was not confirmed with new extremes elsewhere, a buy signal) as well as a glaring RSI divergence on the hourly scale. Those “long risk” positions I closed for profits on Thursday and Friday, since we’ve already corrected the extreme short-term oversold condition and are in neutral territory. Equity-wise, I ended the week where I was on Tuesday morning, since the drop in volitility hurt my puts as much as my various longs made me money. Vol is a bitch that way — sometimes you time prices right, but it’s not enough.

Speaking of the VIX, I think it could settle down for a few weeks, though to a higher level than in April, before the next decline pushes it up again. I think it will remain elevated (as from Oct 2007 onwards) for many more months or a couple of years:

Prophet charts

In the commodity space I’m even more convinced that a major top is at hand, since some trendline breaks have been decisive (platinum, palladium, oil) and the declines have been so violent all around. Commodities tend not to rally as hard as stocks once the trend changes to down, so I entered shorts on oil, silver, gold, palladium and copper near their highs late in the week. The precious metals are looking particularly suspect to me here, and I still think my July 2008 double top analogue is in play.

The euro, Swiss franc and British pound are still looking very weak. Sentiment has been in the dumps for four months now, which is a set-up for a spectacular rally, but judging from their heaviness this week as stocks and commodities and CAD and AUD rallied, I think they may slide to one more low before that rally.

Do we have a bottom?

It would be nice and tidy if this morning’s 1036 print on ES turned out to be the low for a couple of weeks or even a month or two. Stock indexes made a price extreme unaccompanied by new highs in the VIX or yen or new lows in the euro, pound, copper, silver, gold and many bellweather stocks. The later rally was fast, furious and broad.

Here’s how this week in ES looks to me in the scheme of things. A right shoulder would be beautiful here:

TD Ameritrade

To re-iterate, I’m a huge bear for the 6-18 month horizon (my SPX target is an indecent number well under last year’s lows). I’m bullish for the 1-6 week horizon — I anticipate scaling back into a heavy short position in stocks, copper and oil on any rally here.

Looking for a temporary bottom

World stock markets are oversold, and now that the US markets have taken a dip under the May 6 lows we have a stronger case for some near-term strength. The put:call ratio is also advising shorts not to press their luck, though there is still plenty of room on the upside, especially considering that this is indicator tends to oscillate from extreme lows to extreme highs:

Indexindicators.com

I’ve eased up on my short risk portfolio today by selling some puts, closing some ultralong ETF shorts, selling Yen and buying SPX and Nikkei futures. I’ll view any bounce as a shorting opportunity, since unlike most of the people on TV this week I don’t view this sell-off as a correction but the likely start of another leg down in a multi-year bear market.

I tend to be early on closing and easing up shorts, so take note that we don’t have much in the way of bullish action out there yet.

Enough sell-off for now?

SPX futures are looking pretty oversold here, and you could say there’s a bit of negative divergence on the hourly:

TD Ameritrade

The US markets are actually among the least oversold around the world. Japan, Australia, China and lots of Europe are down a lot more, which tells me there’s room for a corrective bounce here.

Here’s Australia’s main stock index, for example:

Bloomberg

Of course, I think all stock indexes are going to make deep new secular lows in the not-so-distant future, and the land down under will finally be welcomed to the depression as its real estate bubble pops and commodities decline again.

Extreme optimism and extremely low dividend yields

The 20-day average equity put:call ratio has dived to new lows, and yesterday the single-day reading printed 0.32, among the eight lowest readings since 2004.

Indexindicators.com

From stockcharts.com, here’s the raw data going back to 2004, plotted against SPX:

It looks like the closest previous instance of such a string of super-low readings (though not as many as at present) was Dec 2003 – Jan 2004, which marked the middle of the final lunge before an eight-month correction of the bull trend. Of course, that was during the fastest period of mortgage and consumer debt accumulation the US has ever seen, whereas today we are still unwinding that mess.

The markets certainly think this is 2004 and that earnings are going to explode back to the peak levels of 2007, even though it took an orgy of debt to generate those for just a few short quarters. Dividend-wise, stocks are yielding half as much as the 10-year bond, which is guaranteed to deliver those coupons, while common shareholders just hold a derivative claim.

From multpl.com, here’s the dividend yield on the SPX (and theoretical predecessor) going back to 1881 (top) vs the inflation-adjusted price (bottom). Even at the lows last year, stocks were never even close to a good deal in historical terms, and in fact their yield then was about the same as at the 1898, 1907, 1929, 1966, 1968 and 1987 market peaks:

-

It’s clear from these charts that investing in a low-yielding market is not a winning strategy for capital preservation.