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.

Why not sell German bonds?

The German 30 year bond is yielding 2.8%:

bloomberg.com

The US 30 year bond is yielding the same:

Yahoo Finance

There is no margin of safety in Germany debt against the strong likelihood that the country will be forced (by Merkel and other banker tools) to absorb the losses of the rest of Europe.

Of course, there is no margin in safety in US bonds either at this price, certainly not enough to compensate for the probability of trillion dollar deficits forever. I expect yields to stay low through this cyclical bear market, but not much beyond that. Bonds will continue to be a good short at times when they are overbought, and we may be approaching such a time.

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?

If S&P’s downgrade actually matters, why are bonds up?

I keep reading about how stocks have fallen because of Congress or S&P’s downgrade of Treasuries. Both theories are nonsense. Stocks markets were overvalued (and still are), overbought and overbullish, so this decline was inevitable.

How do we know that S&P’s ratings are meaningless? Well, they almost always downgrade debt after it’s fallen, and in this case the markets are completely ignoring the rating. Here’s the 10-year note not giving a damn:

futures.tradingcharts.com

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Congress and its budgets do matter, but there is so little difference between the two parties that the debate is moot. Even the “hard-line” Republicans want to just maybe someday slow down the rate of spending growth. Sorry guys, a negative 2nd derivative doesn’t count as a budget cut.

Eventually yields will turn up, but as I have pointed out for years now, interest rate cycles are very long and don’t have to make fundamental sense, especially not at tops and bottoms. Even if this happens to be the very bottom, nobody is going to get rich quick by shortng Treasuries. Here’s a 180 year chart to put things in perspective:

safehaven.com

Keep an eye on the junk:quality ratio

Put this down in the list of no-fuss, no-brainer, long-term trades. Simply buy 10-year Treasury notes and short junk bonds. There is no purer deflation play than this. It doesn’t even matter if Treasury yields rise (unlikely anytime soon IMO), since you’re playing the spread and junk yields will always include Treasury yields plus a risk premium.

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What are some other such no brainers for deflation? The closer something is to cash, the better.

- Long gold, short stocks. (Remember, I’m a gold bear for 2010).

- Long gold, short a basket of commodities (silver, platinum, copper, zinc, lead, oil, sugar, lumber, grains, etc).

- Long Treasuries (2, 5, 10), short stocks. This bet is safer the shorter the duration of the treasuries, but to make it work with short-dated notes, you’d have to go long a greater notional value of Treasuries than stocks. This is easy with futures: for example, for every $1M short in ES (S&P500), go long $3M ZF (5-year notes).

- Long US dollar, short hot “developing nation” or commodity nation currencies (Brazil, Australia, Canada, Russia, India, South Africa, etc).

- For later, not just yet: long 5-year treasuries, short 30-year.

- The most hard-core deflation trade of all: long stacks of $100 USD notes, short everything else, or safer yet, don’t even bother with the trading. Just wait for the market to make you an offer you can’t refuse, like a 10% dividend yield on the S&P, or $0.30 copper, $20 oil or $0.05 sugar.

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To make the spread trades work, you’d have to watch your margins, set loose stops and then just leave the trades to do their thing for the next 2-5 years.

She’ll be comin’ round the corner when she comes…

Here’s a roundup of the usual markets, plus a look at grains. This topping process is frustrating, but the action remains encouraging for those waiting to profit from a resumption of the deflation trade. Even as some stock indexes make new highs, they have been revealing their weakness with low volume and advance/decline ratios. The currency and metals markets are signaling exhaustion, and Treasuries have refused to participate in this summer’s nonsense. To the charts:

The dollar to stock inverse relationship is still strong:

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With only a few % of traders (DSI) bullish on the dollar and about 90% bearish on stocks last week, and respective 20-day averages similarly extreme, a big reversal is imminent. We first entered this condition in early August, and we have not had a significant correction to relieve it, but it has grown even more extreme, so when the break comes it is likely to be very large. My theory is that the more extreme sentiment gets, the sharper the reversal, and the longer extremes are maintained, the larger the degree of that move.

From a trading perspective, I prefer dollar longs (via euro, pound, CAD and AUD shorts) and gold and silver shorts as optimal short-term plays right now. This is where the single-digit DSI readings and exhaustive spikes are to be found. Short entries from this level allow for tight and well-defined stops.

Risk appetite remains very robust across the board, with investment-grade corporate bonds back to the kinds of yields we saw near the peak of the credit bubble. Here is the LQD ETF:

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The above is sure to end very badly, since corporate revenues are off a whopping 25% since last year.  Treasury traders are holding up a big red flag and are not participating in this summer’s risk binge, but keeping a steady bid under the entire yield curve. Bonds made their bottom in June (TLT and IEF here — 30 and 10 year proxies, respectively).

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I almost never mention the agriculture markets, but I have been watching them all summer, and I think there may be an opportunity coming up for a short-term play on the long side of grains. Wheat, corn and oats have been in a downtrend for much of the last two years, and their slides may be approaching termination as DSI readings enter the 7-18% range. This is similar, though not yet as extreme as what occurred in the natural gas and hogs markets recently, and those went on to violently reverse to the upside. The grain charts are not yet as pretty as those, and sentiment has some room to allow for an exhaustive plunge, but if it happens that would be a very nice buying opportunity, especially if we get a few consecutive days of single-digit readings. Here’s a weekly chart of wheat, my favorite:

source: http://futures.tradingcharts.com/chart/ZW/W

Corn here:

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That about wraps it up. In summary, I’m feeling good about my long-term equity puts, but even more excited about the set-up in the currency and precious metals markets. I always like to able to go long something relatively uncorrelated, so it’s nice when a random commodities like grains provide such an opportunity.

Interesting juncture in sentiment

We reached a point this week where almost all bears turned short-term bullish at the very least, if they didn’t swear off shorting altogether. Hordes of hobby bears were crushed over the last three weeks, and even hard core bears from before 2008 seemed to adjust their wave 2 targets upward as high as SPX 1200.

I took that as a sign of short-term weakness at the very least, so in addition to my regular purchase of December 2011 puts, I added a few March QQQQ puts and October 09 calls on the 10 year note. This AM I also took another stab at picking a top in copper at 2.60, with a 2.62 stop.

The reaction to GDP so far has been encouraging, with futures traders not buying the BS that the economy only shank at a 1% pace, since the surge in government spending gave it a phony boost. Since there is no P in government, why is government in GDP? GDP can go as high as the Feds want. All they have to do is spend and have the central bank monetize whatever bonds the market won’t absorb. This chicanery, plus inventory replacement, could bring a slightly positive number in Q3, ironically just as TTM S&P 500 earnings go negative for the first time since they started keeping records in 1936.

I see no reason to change my guess that the end of wave 2 is nigh. I have been thinking since spring that 1050 or September, whichever came first, would be the signal that the top was in. It could be in already, but don’t expect things to drop off a cliff right away. A wave of this magnitude rolls over slowly, with plenty of smaller breaks and rallies before the trend has solidly reversed.

Keep an eye on the credit markets. When fear comes back in earnest, corporate bond spreads will break their relentless slide downward, and short to intermediate term Treasuries, if not the 10-year and 30-year, will signal a renewed flight to safety.

Reflation fade vindicated

Today’s action (equity and commodity sell-offs through key levels, major bond and dollar rallies) confirms once again that the dollar is still king and that deflation is the name of the game.

The action since March can be summed up as (1) a dead-cat bounce from oversold conditions in equities, (2) a replay of early 2008′s speculative rally in commodities, and (3) premature fears of the dollar’s demise.

The charts below show how things have played out since I noted the following on June 5:

Well, the reflation trade has managed to hold on for a few more days and even reached new heights, but the case for a pullback is looking that much better. Precious metals, non-dollar and non-yen currencies, oil and treasury yields have all benefited from what looks like a fairly extreme fear of inflation. …

From this juncture, I am still more enthusiastic about the prospects for the dollar, bonds and related commodity shorts than I am about stock market shorts, since the sentiment in the later has not reached the same levels of broad consensus. That said, it would be surprising if we don’t at least stop making new highs for a few weeks, if not fall well under 900 in the S&P.

This trade has gone well so far, but a bit over a week ago I had very large shorts (with futures) on the euro, pound, franc and oil, in addition to my large equity, copper and gold shorts, but the former made a little pop to new highs that stopped me out. I put on some more pound and franc shorts, and retained some puts on oil, but I’m kicking myself for being such a wimp with tight stop prices. My excuse for not re-shorting in bulk is that I was about to move for the summer and wouldn’t have much screen time again for a while.

I am also guilty of getting cute and taking profits on my silver futures short (from 15.75) at 13.92 and not re-shorting at 14.40 when I had the chance, though I have thought all along we are going well under $10. Nonetheless, today was a good day, and squiggles notwithstanding, I think we have turned the corner here.

Here are a few three-month charts from Yahoo! to show how things have gone so far (the little dots are placed on June 5 (actually I first said to fade the reflation trade on May 28):

S&P500:

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The dollar vs. the euro (not much action so far, but certainly no dollar flameout):

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USO (United States Oil Fund):

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Precious metals complex (GLD, SLV and GDX):

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30-year Treasury bond yield:

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Even grains have sold off hard (DBA agriculture fund):

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Now, we’ll see if this is just a setback from premature extremes or if we’re headed for new deflationary lows in a hurry. I think the reflation trade has topped, but that doesn’t mean equities can’t make a last ditch effort to stop out the shorts with new highs. That said, I’m sitting on a big load of index puts.

Reflation trade stumbling

Trends reverse asset class by asset class. Here’s where the reflation trade stands about two weeks past its possible peak:

Gold and silver: Nice, clear tops and solid sell-offs. I’m pretty confident about those tops holding, since sentiment readings got so high there. Decent profits are in hand, and I am out of this market as of yesterday, since a corrective rally wouldn’t surprise me here. I am waiting to put on my shorts again.

Treasury bonds: Firm-looking bottom off very negative sentiment and a nice rally so far. There is room to go, though I have sold my calls and now just own TLT. Recent auctions have been very successful, as these nice yields are drawing the highest bid-to-cover ratios since 2007.

The dollar: Back within almost a percent of its recent low, but I’m not worried about a collapse because most people are already positioned for fresh lows. Today’s mini panic looks like a potential set-up for the bulls, and I am very long versus the pound, euro and franc.

Oil: Sentiment here never got extreme, but the chart looks toppy and this trade is not independent from general dollar/reflation fears. I am short futures with a tight stop, since today’s bounce took us right up underneath a clear resistance level. Fundamentally, oil is way overpriced for this environment. I still think $20 awaits at some point in the future.

Copper: Very similar to oil’s situation. No extremes, but toppy. I’m short with a tight stop. I expect $1.00 again at some point once the S&P drops under 600.

Pork: Ok, this has nothing to do with the rest of this market, but pork bellies and hogs have been nice winners for me lately. I believe there is a good chance that they just made a lasting low. The flu panic has never been anything but hot air — just another boogeyman to drive people to love big brother. When the fears fade, demand is going to outstrip supply. China bulls ought to be all over this: the Chinese love pork — they even have a “strategic pork reserve”.

Stocks: The markets were pretty oversold after yesterday, but today we worked off that condition, so anything can happen tomorrow. Everyone is watching the 880 level on the S&P, though it feels like after the 40% rally we could see more nasty 90% down days in the coming days or weeks, which would take us closer to 800 and give the bulls a real gut-check. 880 wouldn’t do that.

If we do get down under 850, things are going to get tricky: we’ll have to look at internals and sentiment to divine whether we’re due for a big recovery and re-test of the highs, or if we’re on the express train to new bear market lows.

It is also possible that we never get a deep sell-off, but just chop around within a 50-100 point range for a few more months while fundamentals deteriorate until Pangloss just can’t justify hitting the offer anymore. Chopping around the 900s without ever breaking clean through 1000 would be nearly as exhaustive for the bulls as this rally has been for the bears. It would draw them all in until none were left and volume dried up. That would be an awesome set-up for bears who aren’t themselves worn out in the chop.

This is why I’m such a fan of long-term puts for playing a bear market: with them you don’t have to worry much about how the market gets to its destination, so long as it arrives and on time. Right now, you can buy 36 months of leeway with December 2011 puts. I bought December 2008 puts in Q2 2006 and 2009s in 2007 — there was drawdown from rallies and time decay, but in the end it didn’t matter.