Option Investor
Market Wrap

The Countdown Begins

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Jim and I (Keene Little) switched nights and I'll be writing tonight's Wrap and Jim will take tomorrow's. He should have an exciting Wrap.

The market has been steadily pushing higher over the past 1-1/2 weeks as we approach what could be one of the more important Fed announcements in a very long time. I came across an article today that essentially asked if Bernanke is going to have the cajones to stand up to Wall Street and do the right thing vs. bow to Wall Street (and political) pressure. Obviously the writer had an opinion about not needing another rate cut (based on the economy continuing to show resilience).

If one looks at the continuing credit difficulties (which have been quietly swept under the carpet) a strong argument could be made for a .50 rate cut. Most I would say are expecting a .25 cut. So here we are wondering what the market will do--no cut will cause the market to do a swan dive off the Acapulco cliffs. A .25 cut is baked into the cake and I wonder if the market can rally on that news. A .50 cut could cause an immediate euphoric rise in the stock market but then many might start to wonder what the Fed is so worried about since the economy appears to be doing OK. In that case, uh oh, the Fed must be really worried about the credit problem--"sell Mortimer, sell!"

I'll provide my own assessment about where I think the market is headed next at the conclusion of this report. But first, onto the one and only economic report today, Consumer Confidence:

Consumer Confidence
In what has to be a worrisome trend for stock market bulls the U.S. consumer confidence shows a continuing slide in their confidence levels, down to 95.6 for October from September's 99.5 and less than the expected 98. This is the lowest it's been since October 2005 right after Hurricane Katrina. Consumers are less upbeat about the job market and the expectations component, down to 80.1 from 85.0, continues to be less than the present situation component which dropped to 118.8 from 121.2.

It should be noted that the stock market has always followed the Consumer Confidence and right now it's divergent against this indicator. As I'll point out in the end of this report, it gets added to a growing list of concerns I have about the bull market run.

Home Prices
While not an economic report it's certainly a report most home owners care deeply about and the news is certainly not helping consumer confidence. The Case-Shiller price index shows home prices in 20 major U.S. cities fell -4.4% in the past year. Prices in 10 cities fell -5.0%, the fastest decline since 1991. Out of the 20 cities tracked 15 experienced a drop in home values, led by Tampa with a -10.1% decline and then Detroit with a -9.3% loss. Robert Shiller said prices have now been down on a year-over-year basis for eight straight months (and he's the one who predicts some of the high-flying areas like FL, CA and Las Vegas could see a 50% haircut before a bottom is found.

While not necessarily economic news, another news item worth reporting is a rule change out of the NYSE. Another layer of protection is now gone. This past summer we found out that the uptick rule was abolished as it was considered archaic and it went the way of all the other rules that were implemented following previous stock market crashes. Lessons learned, lessons forgotten.


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Now, announced last Friday, another rule bites the dust--trading curbs (implemented following the 1987 crash) have been abolished by the NYSE. These were curbs to prevent program trading (defined as selling or buying a basket of at least 15 stocks valued at a minimum of $1M) when a certain percentage change in the index was made during the day's trading. Depending on the amount of change and the time of day it determined what kind of curbs were put in place.

Excuse me for saying this but it seems to me the bulls have completely taken over and in their arrogance have deemed market protection completely unwarranted and only for sissies. (Is Dick Cheney on the NYSE board?) NYSE has some valid arguments as to why the curbs are no longer necessary (or useful is probably the correct term) since electronic trading has provided a "go-around" for big funds to get their selling or buying done when the circuit breakers have been hit. But there's something emotional about when a circuit breaker has been flipped on.

When the curbs were triggered it caught everyone's attention and got people thinking about what their game plan was (other than act like a deer in the headlights). But now we have no uptick rule so selling can get out of hand to the downside without anyone needing to provide for some buying, and it can get a severe flush without tripping any breakers. Welcome to progress. We're now ready for a field test of the new (old) way of trading and somehow we think it will be different this time. I sense the perfect storm approaching and personally would prefer to have my fishing vessel in the harbor and out of harm's way. I might miss a great catch but I'll be around to fish another day.

But let's see what the charts are telling us as we lead into tomorrow's FOMC report:

DOW chart, Daily

The DOW is currently struggling at the mid line of its longer term parallel up-channel from 2006. The bounce off the October 22nd low has not been able to get MACD back above the zero line so my first reaction as I look at this chart is bearish. Once the uptrend line from the August low broke strongly on October 19th it's been up to the bulls to prove that they've got another rally leg in them. While it's possible the DOW could be pushed back up for at least a retest of its broken uptrend line (and achieve another new high in the process) I'm thinking that's not likely based on the evidence in the price pattern and bearish divergences already showing up. But if the bulls can rally this back above 14030 then I'd say it's likely they'll be able to get it to another new high.

DOW chart, 60-min

The RSI shows a break of its uptrend line for the bounce off the October low. This is usually a good heads up that price will do the same. It could bounce to another new high (shown in green) but it would likely be just a better setup to short it. It takes a break below 13741 (green wave-(i) high) to negate the bullish wave count. It would also be a break of the uptrend line and strongly suggest the next big decline was already underway.

SPX chart, Daily

Similar to the DOW in many ways, I'm expecting the current bounce to fail, either here or after a minor new high. But a rally above 1530 would suggest new highs on their way. A break below 1490, which has been strong support after being resistance on the way up, would likely hit a lot of stops and usher in some strong selling.

SPX chart, 60-min

SPX is threatening to break its uptrend line from October 24th, something RSI has already done. But the key level for the bulls is near 1523 (the green wave-1 high)--drop below that and the bullish wave count would be negated. Until that happens the bulls could still drive this higher to give us the green 5th wave. But after stopping dead in its tracks, twice, at the 62% retracement I'm having my doubts about any further upside. If we do get a quick new high, say post-FOMC, be ready for a fast reversal back down.

NDX is getting very interesting here. The weekly chart shows how price is pressed up into the top of its two parallel up-channels, one from the 2002 low and the other from July 2006, with the tops of both intersecting near the Fib projection for two equal legs up from October 2002 at 2211 (it rallied slightly above that today before dropping back down):

Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, Weekly

If ever there was a natural place for the NDX to take a rest it's right here. It's oversold up against resistance and even if it will charge higher I would think it will need to pull back first and gather some energy before attempting to break through.

The daily chart shows a closer view of the tops of those two channels and how price is getting pinched into a corner between those and the uptrend line from August:

Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, Daily

The bearish divergences at the October highs do not bode well for the bulls here as price presses into resistance. It's been a very choppy pattern since the October 11 high so the wave pattern is subject to some interpretation. But disregarding the wave count, this daily chart is not the picture of health for the techs right now.

Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, 60-min

The 60-min chart shows just how choppy price action has been and actually that's another bearish sign here--choppy price action at the high is typically an ending pattern usually a result of distribution as smart money hands off inventory to an excited retail crowd. I show a down-up sequence to finish the pattern and that's how I think it would look best but I'm playing with fire here when I recommend buying the next dip. Personally you couldn't get me to buy the techs here even with someone else's money.

For quite a while now we've had a high Nasdaq/NYSE volume ratio, currently trading above 1.60 which means trading volume in the Nasdaq is overwhelming trading volume in the NYSE. The last time it got this skewed was in late 1999. While it's certainly possible we haven't seen the end to these kinds of speculative juices in the market, and could get one heck of an explosive move higher in a big blow-off top, betting that way is too risky to even suggest thinking about it. The greater likelihood, considering the plethora of signals the market is throwing off, is that we could be topping right here right now.

Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, Daily

The RUT looks to be holding on for dear life onto its uptrend line from August and its converging moving averages. So far you can see a very nice 3-wave bounce off the October low--so far that's just a correction of the October decline so a drop back below 800 would be a heads up that a new low below 788 is probably on the way, which would confirm a likely move down to at least 770, the uptrend line from 2004.

Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, 60-min

The short term pattern is not very clear and I think there's still the possibility we could see a brief rally up to the 835 area to finish off the bounce from October 22nd. But I don't have high enough confidence in that move to suggest looking for even a scalp long play. But until it gets back below 800 it's anything goes for this one.

Semiconductor holder (SMH), Daily chart

SMH has now broken its lower neckline and retested it today. It's a short against today's high since any further press higher could have it retesting its first neckline near 36. Downside objectives are near 30 and then 28.

BIX banking index, Daily chart

The banking index found resistance at the August low, a natural resistance level (those who got trapped in long positions are thankful to just get out at that level). So it could tip back over from here but the shorter term pattern suggests the banks could rally back up to the broken uptrend line (shown in pink). I suspect that broken uptrend line will get tested, either now or later, before letting go to the downside.

The broker index looks like it completed an a-b-c bounce off the October low and I'd say a good representative of the brokers, and really the canary for the stock market, is Mother Merrill (MER):

Merrill Lynch (MER), Daily chart

MER announce today the firing their CEO Stan O'Neal (or excuse me, they announced he would be seeking other opportunities) after their disastrous quarter and the loss of billions on bad investments. This will I'm sure entice other bank CEOs to keep their losses under wraps for as long as possible. They just won't declare the market value of their holdings until absolutely forced to.

In fact I've heard reports that the only reason Goldman Sachs (GS) was able to report a profit last quarter was because they didn't come clean on what the truer value of their holdings is. When they do, and they will, it's going to be ugly. But they're smart--they just short the heck out of whatever they sell to you, knowing it's a bunch of crap. Talk about a greedy corporation and culture (at least by the top executives since I don't know any GS employees personally and I shouldn't paint them with a broad brush).

But I digress, MER's chart is not looking so good. Whether it bounces a little more or drops from here, there should be much lower lows in its future. But any rally back above 75 would suggest a much bigger bounce is underway.

U.S. Home Construction Index chart, DJUSHB, Daily

The home builder index looks like it's finally breaking its downtrend line from May (I hear a golf clap in the background). This should continue to consolidate for at least another month (less if it bounces more quickly to the top of its down-channel) before continuing its southbound journey. Any calls for a market bottom here are premature when I look at the larger EW pattern.

Oil Fund (USO), Daily

I decided to show the USO instead of the oil contract this week because it's got a slightly better picture. The move up from August counts well for a finish and hit a Fib projection at 72.68 (actually a couple pennies shy) for the move up (the 1st wave extended and typically waves 3 through 5 will achieve equality with the 1st wave when that happens). After hitting that level yesterday it sold off sharply today (even with the US dollar still dropping). Unless this pushes back above 73.93 I'm calling a top in oil and the next big move will be below 50.

Oil Index chart, Daily

The oil stocks sold off sharply today with oil and there's a good chance that it too peaked yesterday. A break below 792 would confirm we've seen the high. Until that happens I see the possibility for one more high (green) before completing a rising wedge pattern.

Transportation Index chart, TRAN, Daily

The Trannies are holding onto the uptrend line from March 2003 and just might be able to get another bounce back up to the top of its sideways/up triangle pattern. A break below 4650 would say that's not likely. It's a bit of a coin toss on this one at the moment.

If I could use only one chart tonight to make a prediction for what the Fed was going to do next I'd use the chart of the US dollar and predict the Fed will stand pat on any further rate cuts at this time.

U.S. Dollar chart, Daily

The US dollar has now dropped to the bottom of its parallel down-channel for price action since the October 2006 high. Similar to what I showed for NDX, but obviously in reverse, with the dollar being oversold (and way under-loved--bearish sentiment is at an extreme) and bullish divergences I would think it's going to be very difficult to sell the dollar any further. It won't take much of a rally now to break its uptrend line. I checked out the Commitment of Traders (COT) report on the euro and it shows a very large difference between the commercials (smart money) who are net short the euro (bullish the dollar) while non-commercials are very long the euro (nearly 3:1) meaning bearish the dollar. It doesn't usually pay to bet against the commercials.

Keeping in mind the bigger picture for the dollar's pattern, this weekly chart shows the last four years:

U.S. Dollar chart, Weekly, 2004-present

The move down from 2005 is one big A-B-C pullback for bold wave-(b) on the chart. That wave count calls for a very large rally in bold wave-(c) that takes us well into next year. But it needs to start rallying now as it's just about reached its limit for how far it can drop without turning the wave pattern very bearish. It could get a quick spike down post-FOMC but considering the multiple bullish divergences on every time frame now, from 5-min to monthly, I just don't see much more, if any, downside left to this.

I'd even go so far as to say if the dollar doesn't rally from here then it's in real trouble. In that case it could be a long way from a bottom and that would suggest we've got a bigger rally ahead of us in gold, oil and the other commodities and that we've got some serious inflation headed our way. It might be good for another stock market rally leg into year-end (if that long) but very likely bonds would sell off (perhaps providing some money for stock purchases) driving yields higher (stopping the Fed in their tracks and forcing them back into a rate Increase mode) and eventually killing any stock market rally due to fears of excessive inflation. Bad, bad, bad.

I see nothing good coming out of that scenario. So the Fed's in a corner here (the one I've been saying for a long time that they've painted themselves into). They can cut rates excessively now and kill the dollar (and cause all the problems I just said) or they can cut a little and cross their fingers that the dollar doesn't take a hit or they can sit tight in support of the dollar and keep the foreigners buying our debt. As I said, if forced to make a guess as to what the Fed will do based on one chart--they'll sit tight and the dollar will rally. With that forecast and a dollar you can buy yourself a cheap cup of coffee.

As bearish as sentiment is on the US dollar it's completely the opposite for gold. The Daily Sentiment Index (DSI) is now at an unheard of 93% while advisors and commodity traders are at 92% (Market Vane report). Where is the extra buying power going to come from to drive gold through resistance?

Gold fund (GLD)), Daily

Like the oil fund I thought I'd show the gold fund tonight. Yesterday's rally tagged the top of its parallel up-channel from the July 2006 high and left a bearish hanging man doji there. Today's red candle confirms the reversal signal. Bearish divergence at the new highs suggests this one could be the real deal for a high. The larger A-B-C pattern for gold's bounce off the October 2006 low should finish the correction to the initial decline from the May 2006 high and set up a very large decline back below $500.

That's hard for gold bugs to swallow but even the commercials are getting ready for a selloff:

Commitment of Traders (COT) for Gold, October 23, 2007

The report as of last week shows the commercials net short while non-commercials remain net long. This shows smart money getting ready for a decline in gold, not a rally. The last time the numbers were in favor of a decline was just before the May 2006 top:

Commitment of Traders (COT) for Gold, May 9, 2006

Compare the numbers between these two reports and you'll see similarity except the commercials are even more net short today than back in May. I'm not a gold bug naysayer--I just report what the market is showing us. You decide how you want to trade that information but I'd be uncomfortable long gold right now. In fact I shorted yesterday's rally so in the interest of disclosure, understand my bias here.

Gold and equities have been trading much more in synch than out of synch so if gold really is topping here then we have to consider the same thing might be happening to equities.

Results of today's economic reports and tomorrow's reports include the following:

Tomorrow is chock full of economic reports with some potentially market moving, especially when traders try to figure out how the Fed will react to the data. Be careful around those morning reports.

The rest of the week is chock full of reports as well:

Thursday and Friday will also be very busy, not to mention finishing up its reaction to the FOMC announcement. These will probably have less of an effect if only because it won't matter since the Fed will have already made its decision. But continue to exercise care around the morning reports for the rest of this week.

SPX chart, Weekly

The weekly oscillators have stalled while the bounce from October 22nd plays out. But the daily oscillators are starting to hint of a rollover so a roll back down in the daily would be reinforced by the longer term weekly sell signal.

I made a case for a top in gold and if true it could mean a top for equities either here or after one more relatively minor new high, as pointed out on the charts for the major indices. I'm going to make a case for why we should be strongly considering a market top here and now, quite possibly before the FOMC. Actually, other than the techs, the market high would be the October 11 high and the bounce since October 22nd is only a correction of the first leg down. At most I see the possibility for a quick spike higher in equities (maybe even gold if the dollar spikes lower) which should finish off the corrective bounce (and a new high for the techs).

Even if it's not THE high I think we need to pay attention to what the market and some key indicators are telling us. I've pointed out the multitude of bearish divergences at new highs. This NYSE chart and a-d volume line I've shown several times before:

NYSE vs. Advancing-Declining volume, Daily

Since June we've seen the advancing minus declining volume slowly dropping off. The July high was negatively divergent against the June high (and actually against the highs even earlier) and the October high was negatively divergent against the July high. This shows when the market is vulnerable, as the quick and strong selloff in July-August demonstrated, but it's not a great timing tool. It says bulls beware since the rally is becoming more and more narrow-based on the backs of a few high-flyers and that's not healthy (it's more indicative of an end to a run than the start of a new run higher).

The number of new 52-week highs against the new NYSE highs continues to show the same negative divergence:

NYSE vs. New 52-week Highs, Daily

Line this chart up with the NYSE chart above and you can see it mimics the a-d volume divergence. Not healthy.

Another warning is sentiment. Again this is not a great timing tool and sentiment is a bit like statistics--people can manipulate the data to tell any story they want. I know a lot of "sentimentalists" who swear their data shows a strong bullish market here. I've actually tended to shy away from sentiment readings because I find too many of them to be unreliable. But the data at ise.com has been more useful to me as I've watched it this past year. The opening paragraph on their web site states "The ISE Sentiment Index is a unique put/call value that only uses opening long customer transactions to calculate bullish/bearish market direction." They feel this approach filters out market maker and firm trades and captures only investors buying puts and calls as an opening trade. They believe this provides a better reflection of investor sentiment. Here's the current chart showing the data since July 2007:

ISEE Index chart, Daily, courtesy International Securities Exchange (ISE)

I drew a red line across the top where it's been tagged 3 times since the July 5th reading of 186. Daily readings above 200 show an excessive amount of call buying (bearish from a contrarian standpoint) and readings below 100 show too many put buyers--the reading of 50 was on August 7th which was a week prior to the August 16 bottom). After the July 5th reading of 186 the stock market (NYSE) topped 6 trading days later on July 13th. After the 187 reading on October 8th the NYSE topped out 3 days later on October 11th (and actually made its highest closing high the following day on the 9th.

Now we come to today's 191 reading. I report, you decide. If we have too many people leaning bullish into the FOMC meeting tomorrow there's a good possibility this boat is going to tip over and drown a few bulls.

It's certainly possible we're going to see a quick flare up following the FOMC announcement. Trying to predict what the Fed will do (Lord help this market if they don't cut) is hard enough but trying to figure out how the market will react is even harder. I thought the market was set up for a sell-the-news event for the September announcement. But a quick rally to a new high for this bounce (new yearly highs for NDX) would in my opinion but a perfect time to exit long positions and think about the short side. We simply have too many signals telling us to take your money and run if you're long the market. The next leg down, especially if disappointed with what the Fed does (or doesn't do), could be violent. No uptick rule and no curbs--you ready to rock and roll?

Oh, keep in mind we've got a confirmed Hindenburg Omen signal (at least 5 signals in the past two weeks), we're still in year 7 of the decennial pattern (which is the most dangerous year for bulls when year 6 was the 4th year of a bull market as 2006 was), we've still got an unresolved credit crunch in progress (with an effort to sweep it under the carpet), consumer confidence continues to erode and we've got nearly everyone looking for a year-end rally. This market is set up for a major disappointment if everything, and I mean everything, doesn't work out to their satisfaction.

Good luck tomorrow. Be careful with open positions, maybe even try a strangle on the market--it should be a quick ride. If it quickly runs higher, cash in your call chips and let your puts ride. If it quickly drops then take some money off the table to get yourself into a free ride (your calls will have shriveled like raisins in the desert) and let the rest of your puts ride with the wind. It could be fun if you're prepared but not so much fun if you get caught facing the southbound train with no plan as to how to get your car off the tracks.

I'll be back next Wednesday when the dust will have surely settled and we'll get an idea what the market might look like into the end of the year. I'll be on the Market Monitor tomorrow where we'll hopefully see a nice setup into the FOMC announcement.

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