About Me

Retired chief investment officer and former NYSE firm partner with 40 years experience in field as analyst / economist, portfolio manager / trader, and CIO who has superb track record with multi $billion equities and fixed income portfolios. Advanced degrees, CFA. Having done much professional writing as a young guy, I now have a cryptic style. 40 years down on and around The Street confirms: CAVEAT EMPTOR IN SPADES !!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stock Market -- Still Just Looking

As previously discussed, the sharp sell off running from the
latter part of May through mid-July created a deep oversold
condition. Since this sell down also made it clear the US is
still in a bear market, it was suggested one be an angel and
not a fool in approaching the oversold. The market has moved
erratically up from the deep oversold and has even been nice
enough to form a channel. Even so, the signs I like to watch for
a change of trend have been scant indeed. So, despite the stray
thunderstorm, I have been relaxing out on the deck with the
occasional libation.

But, I have not lost heart, and continue to monitor the situation
for a long side trade. Specifically, I am watching the action of
the 10 and 25 day moving averages, and MACD and Stochastic
for the weekly charts. The daily SP 500 is here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Liquidity Cycle

The Fed has tightened the growth of monetary liquidity for several
years. With the advent of the subprime mortgage and housing
debacle last year, the commercial paper market crashed to the tune
of $700 billion, sharply reducing the rate of credit driven liquidity
growth. Profit shrinkage generally follows hits to liquidity, and we
are seeing that, although the damage is primarily in the financial
sector. Economic slack has increased in the US and this usually sets
up a contraction of inflation. However, a strong global economy and
a weak US dollar stemming from cuts to the Fed Funds rate, did
keep the inflation pressure on an upswing until recently.

The commodities market -- the dominant inflation force -- has been
weakening in recent weeks, including the petroleum and gas markets.
Normally, once there has been a liquidity and profits recession that
results in a weakening of inflation, the Fed will relax the restraints
on the growth of monetary liquidity, and one can begin to look
forward to a stronger economy and a profits turnaround.

With slowing global growth, the Fed needs to assess carefully whether
enough slack will develop to underwrite further weakness in
commodities prices which would "green light" the Bank to allow
faster growth of its portfolio and the monetary base. The Fed has
been badly stung by the commodities boom of the past year, and has
been extremely tentative in providing liquidity to the system overall.
The Fed also knows that if it holds rates steady as inflation recedes,
the dollar may strengthen further, giving them another leg up on the
commodities market.

It naturally remains to be seen whether this liquidity cycle blueprint
develops as usual. For now, the pieces are starting to fall in place,
although the Fed remains very tentative, as it is hard to relax after
such a daunting and powerful run in the commodities market. The
latter has greatly inhibited the Fed in its liquidity provision
decisions, and has also punished business, consumer and investor
confidence.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stock Market -- Fundamentals

I keep a short list of indicators to help me gauge the fundamental
outlook. The one clear positive has been the downtrend of short
term rates. My monetary liquidity indicators are turning from
negative to positive, but the readings are wan and have been
temporarily inflated by the addition of the Morgan / BSC deal to
the Fed's balance sheet and by the flow of income tax rebates.
On the negative side, corporate bond yields are rising across the
quality spectrum reflecting low confidence in the business
environment and the acceleration of inflation.

The SP 500 Market Tracker remains in a bear trend and sits
down at 1130, well below current levels in the market. The
Tracker may drop more as we head into August as a probable
further hike of CPI inflation measured yr / yr will suppress
the model's p/e ratio further. On the plus side, the recent sharp
decline in broad commodities indices points to lower inflation
readings down the road.

I would pay less attention to the Tracker if the primary indicators
were on a stronger footing. However, those indicators are too
weak on balance to support development of a cyclical bull market
at this point.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later....

The above is a once popular adage for traders to move quickly on
dramatic changes in price and enquire at their leisure what the
causative factors may be. The idea is clear enough : If one plunges
into an analysis of factors behind sudden change, the work time
might bring one too late to the party. Balance that admonition
with the realization that many of you are competing against large,
mobile pools of capital that may have better short term info than
you and have the wherewithal to reverse course on a dime to
pursue a newly hot trade.

The fast downward break in oil and natural gas prices has helped
shepard in a rapid price decline in the commodities markets. The oil
move is complex -- rapid profit taking in the wake of a short run
momentum failure, concerns about greater demand weakness, the
spectre of Congressional meddling in the futures market. But a
rapid decline in costs to consumers and business promotes a
healthier economic environment. Presto! as commodities dip,
the equities market come back to life, with the most depressed
issues such as airlines and banks leading the way.

What is interesting in the moment, is the dramatic changes have
come so quickly and forcefully that new short term trend
confirmations have not been established yet. The charts are
"cuspy" but are not there yet. As one who likes to control his
risk, my impulse is to take profits, await the trend signal, then
return on the first test. Each of us has his/her own preferences in
fast markets like this. Just do not get greedy and go for the top or
bottom ticks.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stock Market -- Chancy Action

A breakaway downleg ended this past week without the advent of
the furious, downside volume that would serve well to mark a low
point. Instead, we observe a "spike" bottom made by a powerful
upside burst led by the bedraggled financials. From a purely
statisitical / historic perspective, one should be sceptical of the
sudden spike low, particularly in a bear market.

Even with the surge up, though, the market remains oversold and
that leaves exploitable territory for the bulls who may wish to play
on for a few more days.

There is talk out there of a "reverse" trade -- short oil or, perhaps
the OSU ETF, and go long the SP 500 or even the financial sector,
like the XLF Spyder, which remains heavily oversold. This is
interesting concept stuff as the oil market has weakened sharply,
and a further decline would lead to better real economic growth
prospects down the road. But this is a trade only for the more
venturesome at this point, as there is little evidence that the oil market
has indeed shifted. Oil is still moderately overbought, so the "reverse'
trade could work further for only a brief while before the herd of
oil bulls try for a comeback.

The results of the meeting of Security Council members, the IAEA
and Iran in Geneva provided no resolution to the geopolitical issue
of Iran's nuke program. Attendance by US ambassador Burns seemed
to mark only determination to have the Iranians choose the carrot or
the stick within a couple of weeks. I mention this because all short term
players will need to watch the oil pits straight off tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oil Price

In a spate of infectious profit taking, the boyz in the pits have taken
oil from the $146bl. area to just under $130. As discussed over the
past several weeks, I mentioned that oil was spectacularly and
fabulously overbought. For the disciplined trader, oil is still
substantially overbought, although the current measure is within
reason and no longer silly.

The powerful price uptrend underway suggests oil can trade within
a range of $142 - 117 bl. for July. At the lower $117 level, oil would
not be overbought given the volatility of the price.

Now oil closed just under shorter term support around $130bl., so it
will be interesting to watch the action around that level for the next
few days.

It should also be noted that with August, comes a seasonally weak
period for oil as the market anticipates a drop off in gasoline demand
in the northern hemisphere as summer drive time winds down.

I am happy to see the oil correct, but I will be watching carefully to
see if oil breaks decisively below $117 over the next few weeks, as
that would be much stronger evidence that this ominous uptrend
is expending itself. The best you can say now is that the players
are taking profits in the wake of dramatic gains through 2008 to
date.

I will not insult your intelligence by pulling up some fundamental
explanation in a market that lacks both transparency and veracity.

Chart here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stock Market -- Fundamental Note

With today's big rally, let me sneak a little not so good stuff in
under the radar. CPI inflation hit 5.0% yr/yr for June, for the
highest reading since 1991. That news puts a significant crimp
on the SP 500 Market Tracker p/e multiple and sends the
reading for late June / early July down to 1130 (vs 1245 for 7/16).

Commodities prices, particularly energy, is by far the dominant
driver in the inflation outlook. Since commodities can be so
volatile, forecasting visibility is low. For example, broad
commodities composites are down by about 5% since July 4.

Inflation is gobbling up the liquidity in the US financial system,
suppressing output, profits, and incomes and leaving a liquidity
headwind for equities.

The SP 500 has trailed the Tracker on the way down over
the past year, but has stayed above the Tracker's line. This
suggests that despite a bear market, investor optimism has
not fully burned out yet.

There are two additional factors to keep in mind. The stock
market is highly sensitive to commodities prices now because
they dominate inflation. Secondly, even if there is inflation
relief ahead, one has to go along carefully and check back to
make sure the inflation surge to date has not damaged the
economy more than we've already observed. In short, should
the commodities scene cool off, it does not mean an automatic
free pass to a bull run in stocks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stock Market -- Technical

The market's oversold condition has deepened over the first couple
of weeks in July. As pointed out in the 6/27 comment on the
market, I have, as a gentleman of leisure, opted to spend quality
time out on the deck with the occasional drink and cigar. I have
stayed away from the market, and I may do so further. The
break below important support in late June reaffirmed the bear
market and, as subsequently mentioned, set up the possibility of a
breakaway downleg, which we have been experiencing. The
failure of the bulls to sustain a rally in recent weeks plus the
absence of heavy downside volume relative to upside volume
leaves me cold -- concerned that traders are looking for a
demonstrative capitulation to the downside before stepping in
to rally the market. In short, we have a breakaway downleg that
could spike down on heavy downside volume before this move
completes.

Hunches can get you into trouble as easy as not, and since I
have no trading capital in the market, I would like to find a spot
to play a rally from a deep oversold. But I am not going to push it
and instead will take my cue from the action ahead.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Financials Sector ($XLF)

My e-mail inbox is filling up with heated treatises about whether to
buy the financials in the wake of a year of searing losses or to punt,
figuring there are more searing losses to come.

The SP 500 financial sector Spyder (XLF) is down about 50% from
the record high set in spring '07. On a 12 month basis, sector net
per share is off about 90% through mid-year. The collapse of
earnings naturally reflects the subprime/CDO fallout plus the
ongoing substantial dilution to earnings from the replacement of
washed out capital.

In view of the collapse of earnings, capital impairment and the
leveraged financial structure of the sector, a 50% hit to group
value seems apposite. From a fundamental perspective, the XLF
deserves to be trading so low. However, the sector is spectacularly
oversold on a technical basis.

I think it is wisest to assume that 1) the system will be repaired and not
scuttled, 2) the repair process will take considerable additional time, and
3), that there will be additional hair raising incidents before the process
is complete. Repair should accelerate after GWB leaves office. The
laxity of regulation, the unpreparedness of Messrs. Paulson and
Bernanke, and the initial macho posturing of no bail outs by the GWB
crew puts this crisis a little bit a head of Katrina in the annals of
plutocratic indifference by the current resident of The White House.

It is reasonable to expect that the mere absence of mega writeoffs as
witnessed in Qs 3 & 4 of '07 and Q1 0f '08 will restore half of lost
net per share over the next 12 months. That would put the XLF at
fair value at the current price level.

I might be willing to take a flyer on this XLF pup on positive turns in
the 10 and 25 day m/a. There could be good 2-3 month upside if
it gets put into positive play. I shall pass it by until there are signs
of a positive turn in trend. XLF chart.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Stock Market Conjecture

Recent weakness in the market brought a new cyclical low and
re-confirmed the bear market. As recently discussed, the market
was deeply oversold, so today's moderate bounce cannot be viewed
as a surprise.

Since I think we are in a low visibility economic environment, I
do not have strong views about where the market goes from here.
Housing is in the dumper, and although pent up demand is building,
the experts claim that lender financials and housing affordability
will not be in decent enough shape to support a recovery this year.
Since the spring selling season was weaker than I had hoped, I
find it hard to argue with this view. The broader economy is
afflicted by a wage / cost squeeze on household incomes and a
price/cost squeeze on business profits. A continuation of these
patterns spell additional trouble. Yet, in just two days, as the
commodities market has weakened, the inflation thrust indicator
has taken a big hit to the downside, as players become more
concerned that global economic demand is imperiled. Now, if it
turns out that fuels and other commodites are set to contract
further, or even flatten out, the squeezes mentioned above may
well ease some, and the Fed may feel less constrained to keep
monetary liquidity on such a tight rein. With this view,
fundamentals can begin to improve quickly, and a market rally
would likely ensue.

So, like the recovering addict, I am tending to take matters day
by day as I have since the end of 2006 when the economic crystal
ball first clouded up. At any rate, the main point is that when
commodities play such a strong role in global economic weal and woe,
matters can turn on a dime when it comes to the forward view, and
that leaves investors and traders having to be prepared for abrupt
turns no matter their convictions.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Economic Indicators

The theme is easy enough: Weakening economic growth and
continuing inflation pressure. It may have started in the US,
but it has gone global.

The weekly leading indicator sets have reversed mild, shortlived
uptrends of early spring and are headed back down. They remain
consistent with development of recession in the US.

The monthly leading indicators weakened in June, but are not yet
consistent with recession as new order diffusion indices remain
significantly above recession levels. But, the trend is down in
both manufacturing and commercial sectors.

Underlying growth potential in the US (real wage plus employment
growth) has dropped to -0.9% reflecting a persistent slowing of
nominal wage gains, accelerated inflation in recent months, and a
slight downturn in yr/yr civilian employment. The situation looks
measurably better when the current flow of tax rebates are added
in. Potential swings to a +0.6% then, but, keep in mind that the
former measure was +3.9% at the end of 2006.

Inflation is reducing consumer purchasing power and is becoming
well established in the cost structure of businesses, with the latter
leading to reduced margins of profit for many companies worldwide.

My inflation thrust measure is as strong as it has been for many
years and is consistent with development of a 12 month CPI of
5%. The weight given to the commodities price component is now
dominant by far. This gives the thrust measure low visibility and
high volatility.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Stock Market

Technical

In last Friday's post I mentioned that the market had fallen to a
tradable oversold, but that I was not going to play this week, as
the recent action gave me considerable pause. Today, the SP 500
fell to a new cyclical closing low near 1260, taking out the double
bottom set earlier in the year around 1275. So, the oversold has
intensified, but now it may be wise to see if there is a breakaway
downleg in the offing. I am going to give it a few days, letting
everyone sleep on it over the long weekend.

Fundamental

The key elements I follow to see if there is a cyclical buy in the
offing are not in place yet. The drop in short rates is a positive,
but a rising level of corporate bond yields, particularly mediocre
credits, shows diminishing confidence in the economic
environment and is now a veto. As well, monetary liquidity
remains flattish and has yet to exhibit the "pop" that precedes
profit and market recoveries. (I do have a monetary base model
for the stock market, and this model stands a paltry 3% above
levels reached in early 2006.)

The SP 500 Market Tracker is in a clear cut bear market, with
the current reading of 1180 about 27% below its 7/07 high.
The drop reflects the recent acceleration of inflation and a decline
in the index of 12 month earnings for the "500" from 91.25 to
74.50 presently (-18.4% point to point). At 1261, the "500"
is trading 6.9% above the Tracker and has been losing its premium
steadily since mid-May, '08.

I'll pick this up tomorrow or Friday with a little conjecture work.