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 !!!

Friday, May 29, 2015

US Economy -- At Fail Safe Point

Over 100 years of monetary, economic and stock market data show conclusively that when
the monetary base adjusted for inflation flattens out or declines for an extended period, bad
things happen to the economy and the stock market. The time between the end of growth of
the base and trouble varies considerably with the key variables being the strength of private
sector credit supply and demand. When the Fed has tightened up on liquidity, the economy
and the stock market can continue to flourish so long as borrowers can avail themselves of
ample credit.

When the Fed made it clear it was ending the very  large QE 3 program after the tapering
process, I argued that there would be an economic slowdown that carried well into 2015 and
that the prospects for the economy would largely depend on confident borrowers and lenders.
The unfolding economic slowdown witnessed since late 2014 has been made worse by bad
winter weather, a large decline in drilling for oil during an emerging supply glut and a couple
of other very transitory factors.

The slowing of sales and production growth this year has reached an economic fail safe point
in that further weakness may well invite economic recession. In short, the economy needs to
do better soon and it is unwise not to follow its direction very carefully going forward lest you
get caught with excess risk exposure. The adjusted monetary base has been flat since Aug. 2014.
The Fed has held short rates at the zero bound level, but It has tightened liquidity and policy
very appreciably.

So, before we worry about when and by how much the Fed may raise rates, we need to make
sure the economy is not about to dip into a downturn. The weekly leading economic indicator
I use has been improving since the end of Mar. this year, and this suggests we should see
some improvement in business sales and production come Jun. Moreover, the banking sector
has ample liquidity to underwrite rising credit demand in support of economic growth going
forward. Even so, be from Missouri on this one (Show me the growth).

The Philadelphia Fed leading economic index has fallen to 1%. There have been periods in
the past when the index has fallen below 1% but has subsequently recovered, leaving the
economy to grow further but note when the index has not recouped. Leading Indicator

Monday, May 25, 2015

SPX Weekly -- Cliffhanger

The SPX remains in a cyclical bull dating back to early 2009. However, progress of the strong
leg up from autumn, 2011 has grown more halting. After reaching a dramatic overbought on the
weekly chart near mid - 2014, the momentum of the SPX has deteriorated gracefully but per-
sistently, and now has now slowed to a crawl. SPX Weekly

Very supportive uptrend lines dating back to the fall of 2011 and Oct. 2014 have been violated
and although the market has not been overbought for months, it has become very tightly range
bound and gives the appearance of being "toppy". There are a growing number of good quality
technicians and strategists who are concerned the SPX is moving toward an intermediate term
breakdown. The persistency of the erosion in price momentum mitigates against an imminent
negative turn but can easily lead one to conclude that a negative adjustment is immanent and
perhaps not that far off in time.

Not all the bulls have the same perspective, and there is a goodly cluster of players who think
the market can "thread the needle" and eventually develop an additional leg up without having
a nasty or deep price correction. The case they represent has it that the economy will regain
positive traction and that any cyclical acceleration of inflation will be mild enough to lead the
Federal Reserve to boost short rates in a way that is spaced out enough and slow enough
as to not substantially undercut the SPX p/e ratio as profits recover positive momentum. They
see the Fed as being in "fine tuning" mode with the FOMC desiring to gradually restore
monetary policy toward more normal footing without triggering off a disruptive stampede out
of fixed income securities. Moreover, the guys know 2016 is a national election year and
may be figuring, wisely I think, that the Fed may desire to avoid calling too much attention to
Itself next year.

This sort of fancy reasoning tends to come along in the latter stages of a bull market and is
often quite beguiling. It also helps explain why the market has not sold off sharply already in
anticipation of further credit tightening, and highlights the need many players have to see first
whether the economy can regain sufficient momentum to trigger off Fed tightening alarm bells.

How's that for tap dancing around an issue?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Stock Market -- SPX

The powerful 20% annual price momentum that drove the market higher from late 2011 until
well into 2014 has dissipated. The very large QE program of the Fed ended in the autumn of
last year. As expected, my proxy for business sales growth has declined from 7.1% y/y at 7/'14
down to about 1.5% y/y through April. S&P 500 net per share has rolled over to the downside.
The erosion of sales and earnings fundamentals reflects falling system liquidity growth that
preceded it coupled with bad winter weather and a sharp fall in oil and gas prices.

Comparatively, the SPX has been advancing at a modest 6% annual pace since very late 2014.
Erosion of US business has taken a heavy toll on the market's progress but has yet to break it.
The p/e ratio on 12 mos. net per share through Q 1 '15 is a hefty 19x. Plainly, investors expect
better times ahead.

My core fundamentals have been slipping, but may well not turn out to hit an "end of easy
money" sell signal until late this year or early 2016. The "easy money" buy signal has been
in place since early 2009, but it has not protected investors and traders from some sharp
sell - offs as occurred in 2010, 2011, and 2012 when QE programs tailed off temporarily.
Now, we see not only eroding liquidity growth but humble business performance as well.
I expect to see some bounce back in the business environment, and my weekly leading
economic indicator has been improving since early March this year. However, it still remains
to be seen whether private sector liquidity growth can remain strong enough to support business
confidence now that the Fed has frozen its balance sheet.

The elevated p/e multiple has been supported by zero bound short term interest rates and
the pronounced deceleration of inflation of recent years. If business does pick up as now
indicated, inflation pressure may intensify and the Fed will then have to confront the decision
of when to raise short term rates. Given how poorly the economy has behaved since the end
of QE 3, the Fed may want to give the issue of raising short rates considerable thought before
it proceeds. Even if the tone of business and consumer confidence remains satisfactory in the
wake of a hike in short rates, investors may well still face a challenge to the logic of such
an elevated p/e.

SPX Daily

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Long Treasury Bond

In a Feb. 11, '15 post I argued the long Treasury was too pricey. The TLT ishares 20 yr T
had experienced a nearly parabolic price rise and had moved up to a gaping premium over
its 200 day m/a. I viewed a price of 105 (3.5% yield) as more sensible given how inflation
can fluctuate over the longer run.

the long T price has been in corrective mode since the early part of Feb. of this year and is
now clearly oversold for the short term. TLT shares have actually dropped to a slight discount
to the 200 day m/a for the first time since late 2013 and there may be some shorter term price
support in the $115 - 120 area.

The weakness in TLT for much of this year reflects not only the correction from a glaring
overbought condition but some mild erosion of price direction fundamentals, most notably
a minor bounce in sensitive materials prices paced by a partial recovery in the crude price.
The Fed is holding to its ZIRP, but market players have grown concerned that the central
bank may abandon its policy and push up short rates later in the year. Bond traders are also
starting to worry about liquidity in the market if higher short rates and inflation lead to a rush
for the exits (In the spring of 2013, TLT dropped relatively quickly from the 116 level down
below 100 during the ensuing months).

I need to see quite a bit more of how economic performance unfolds this year before I would
consider a long side Treasury trade, and even then would probably want to wait to see if TLT
can make it back under 105.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Inflation Expectation Quickie

A fast way to measure inflation expectations in the US is to look at the strength of the
commodities market (CRB Index) relative to the price of the 30 year Treasury ($USB).
Initial inflation momentum usually starts in the commodities pits and is often picked up
down the road via a weaker Treasury market. $CRB / $USB

A relative strength index of 2.8x would be a conservative measure of long term equilibrium.
With the current reading at a depressed 1.48x, it is easy to see how heavily wrung out the
inflation anticipation is in the markets and how large a correction favoring commodites
could come with an acceleration of global economic growth. Something to keep in mind
as watch to see whether US economic growth is set to rebound and whether global growth
will gain further increased traction.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Oil Price

The oil price has maintained its rally since mid - March. The rotary rig count is now down 50%
y/y and speculation that large excess US crude supply might end before long has continued to
strengthen. The oil business has now entered a period of mild seasonal weakness following the
strong initial driving season gasoline build. Long side players are now without the strong
seasonal and now have an oil price that is registering the first overbought reading since prior
to the crash. $WTIC

It is interesting that the oil price at $60WTI is fast approaching the bottom of the long term uptrend   
channel dating back to the late 1990s. With oil now overbought, some players may look extra
carefully to see if the bottom boundary (now $62 bl.) might serve as new resistance or treat it as
a non - issue in the expectation that oil is returning to its long term wide uptrend range.

My guess has been that oil could reach $70 at the end of Sep. '15 as a seasonal peak on improved
demand. It is still very much a guess too, since my expectation that global economic demand
would firm up as 2015 progressed has yet to be confirmed.

The shale oil business allows drillers to re-start drilling and production in comparatively short
order. Thus, with the oil price now much higher now than at the bottom of the crash, traders need
to stay vigilant for that day out there in time when the rig count stabilizes and then begins to
recover as these events may act as a drag on the oil price.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Stock Market -- Traders Lean Bearish

Despite media chatter about traders being too bullish on stocks, evidence from players who
back their judgment concerning the shorter term outlook for the market with real money down
have gradually turned less bullish since the end of 2013 and as a group are currently turning
mildly bearish. Consider the equities only put / call ratio. $CPCE

The chart's focus is the CPCE 13 wk. m/a. Low put / call readings down around .55 signal strong
optimism. The last time we saw this was back at the end of 2013 when The SPX was hitting very
strong y/y price momentum. Since then, the 13 wk. the p / c ratio has trended higher and has
recently crossed over into mildly bearish territory. More extreme trader bearishness is signaled
up around a .75 p /c reading as last seen during the latter part of 2011.

The gradual rise in the intermediate term put / call ratio reflects the progressive decline of price
momentum for the SPX since the end of 2013 and signals increasing caution in shorter term
market sentiment despite recent highs for the SPX.