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Market Wrap

The Bernanke Bull/Bear-Busting Bounce Bobbles

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bobble [bobb'l] -- Encarta Dictionary defines this as "to move, or cause something to move, quickly and repeatedly up and down". Would that adequately describe the market over the past two days? The big deal this morning was the Fed's announcement that they have joined with four other major central banks (Bank of England, European Central Bank, Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank) to address the major problems in the credit markets.

The Fed has created a new "term auction facility" that will enable the Fed to lend "at least" $40B (probably much more) to the major banks at rates that are much lower than the discount rate. In exchange the Fed will take their junk bonds as collateral (the Fed has shown a greater willingness to accept less than investment grade collateral over the past couple of months, i.e., the mortgage-backed assets that have no firm market value at this time). But don't worry dear tax payer, we are assured that this is not a government bailout of the bankers who got themselves into trouble by ignoring prudent money management.

The agreement between central banks also enables them to lend money between themselves. The hope is that they will be able to get the LIBOR rate (London Interbank Offered Rate) to come down closer to the discount rates of the central banks. The LIBOR rate has been driven higher because of the reluctance of banks to lend to each other (they're hoarding cash to protect themselves from bad debts right now). Therefore when they do lend to another bank they want a higher rate to compensate for the risk. The deal struck by the central banks here is an effort to relieve the tight money situation. It probably won't work but I give them an 'A' for effort.

The money the Fed wants to lend would be on top of the $47.75B that's currently sloshing around the system as part of their daily repo activity. The Fed appears to be operating in panic mode now. They've been doing all they can to reinflate the market and the following chart shows how much money has been created in the past few months:

Calculated M3 Money Supply, 2000-2007, courtesy nowandfutures.com

Want to know why the price of oil is so high? One reason is likely due to the deflated value of the US dollar as the Fed goes wild in their money creation (M3 is total money supply). Look at the spike up in the annualized rate of change (light green line) since September. That's the footprint of a panicked Fed. The chart above is a look at M3 since January 2004. To put that into perspective, look at M3 since 1970:

Calculated M3 Money Supply, 1970-2007, courtesy nowandfutures.com

The big spike up from 2004 follows the downturn from 2001 to the end of 2003. The previous spike up was from 1993 to 2001 but the present spike puts that one to shame. Now combine the increase in M3 with the creation of credit and the picture gets a little scarier:

Calculated M3 Money Supply plus Credit, 1970-2007, courtesy nowandfutures.com

The easy money years prior to 2000 helped create the tech bubble and all the spending that was going on in what turned out to be excess inventory and everything else. Now we've got an even higher level of M3 + credit, and a housing bubble going bust, but the stock market is really not doing any better than in 2000, especially if measured in anything other than deflated US dollars. Techs, and even the S&P 500, are well below the 2000 highs. As I've been saying, the credit bubble, like all bubbles, will get popped (air doesn't come slowly squeaking out of bubbles) and the credit contraction will be painful. The Fed will do all they can, including surprise attacks on the market, but each surprise is now becoming less and less effective.

To provide some perspective about the Fed's effectiveness in stopping market declines with a rate reduction campaign, look at how well it worked (Not) during past credit contractions:

Central Bank rate reductions during past credit contractions, chart courtesy Elliott Wave International

This chart is about as much proof as you need to see that Central Banks follow the market and not the other way around. Our Fed has just begun its rate-cutting campaign and the stock market is only marginally off its highs. They will likely be much lower ahead. The surprising news release from the Fed this morning was an effort to prop the stock market up after it reacted with disappointment to yesterday's rate reduction. But each Fed-induced market bounce like this morning's is starting to have less staying power and it's a sign that the market is beginning to understand that the Fed doesn't have much power here. In fact the market is probably becoming concerned that the Fed is starting to panic. Certainly their actions did not help the banks today, the supposed beneficiaries of the latest Fed action.

I've said before that the Fed will be pushing on a string in their efforts to reinflate the credit market. A CNBC commentator said it all this morning when he said the problem with the banks is not that they don't have money to lend (they do) but that they are fearful about lending it out. The borrower is fearful about borrowing because of their current debt situation. The Fed can drive rates down to zero (as was done in Japan with no effect) and pump another trillion dollars into the economy but as long as people are fearful the Fed will be powerless. The old saying about leading a horse to water but not having the ability to make him drink is very apropos in this situation. The only thing the Fed will accomplish with a huge infusion of cash is to make the inflation problem worse.

I understand the Fed is much more worried about the credit crunch than inflation at the moment (ignore their statement in this regard) and will sacrifice inflation in an attempt to reinflate the credit markets. Unfortunately, if history is any guide to social mood swings, they will fail on both fronts and will be forced back to fighting inflation. I really do think the market would act better without central bank involvement. They just continue to muck things up.

But today's pre-market news almost worked. And that's twice now. Bernanke has proven the opinion of many that he hates bears and loves an opportunity to punish them. It's long been known that Greenspan hated short players and thought they were mean-spirited and a bunch of pessimists. He and others with the same opinion conveniently forget that it is the short player with money in his pocket at the bottom of market declines and the only one able to buy the market and start pushing it back up. Long-only players who get wiped out have no buying power at market lows. And now Bernanke is apparently carrying the bear-hating torch.

He first surprised the market with a cut in the discount rate on August 17th and did so during the pre-market hours after the market sold off hard into the August 16th low. He knew full well what the reaction of the market would be--the futures shot higher (S&P futures jumped about 45 points) and left people scrambling to buy (bulls wanting in and bears wanting out) as soon as the cash market opened. The market then gave up about half those first-hour gains before continuing the rally back up towards the high of the day. Both sides were hurt by buying stocks at prices higher than they would otherwise have paid.

And now this morning he did it again. He could have announced the central banking deal that will inject massive amounts of cash into the markets at the same time the FOMC announced the rate cut. Instead they let the bulls get creamed with the hard selloff yesterday and then forced both sides again to buy at highly elevated prices after this morning's gap up. Is this what the Federal Reserve was set up to do--manipulate the markets like this? Every day they seem to prove that yes, that's what they like to do.

This morning Linda made a comment on the Market Monitor that I'd like to quote: "You know, I'm probably going to catch it for saying this but wasn't there a better way of managing these developments? I wasn't personally hurt yesterday and I won't be today because my trades weren't impacted, so this doesn't come from some personal bitterness. Still, I can't help but worry about subscribers whose bullish plays were wiped out yesterday and those whose bearish plays will be wiped out this morning. A simple statement added to the news release yesterday afternoon letting market participants know that the Fed was on top of things and ready to take further measures would have prevented a lot of lost money in short-term trades."

Well put Linda and I think you're comment is spot on. I find the Fed's behavior here to be more evidence of the extreme arrogance in our banking industry, from the top on down. OK, now I'll get off my soapbox and get on with today's analysis. Oh, have I mentioned I think the market is highly vulnerable to manipulation? ;-)

After successfully rallying the market back in August with his pre-market surprise announcement, Bernanke's bear-attack maneuver back fired on him a little bit today. Today the stock market gave back all of its opening gains which again means the bulls got hurt buying the high (and the bears got fried as well in the process). In the process the DOW was up +263 at this morning's high (at 9:35 AM) and then gave it all up and was down -113 points at this afternoon's low, for a swing of 376 points top to bottom. That had to have been discouraging to the bulls. But not to be outdone, tet money the Fed promised this morning managed to make it into MOC (Market On Close) orders and shot the market higher again in the last 30 minutes of the day (one more bear fry for the road). The DOW bounced 151 points to close +41 for the day. Wow, feeling a bit whiplashed after today! Bernanke could have warned us to take our Dramamine before starting the day.

Now we're left to wonder what the heck today meant in the larger pattern. I will of course offer my opinion about that in the charts. Looking over the numbers for today's market in the table at the top of this report shows a big volume day--7.8B shares. The internals look slightly bullish and that reflects the closing prices. But, highlighted in the table, the number of new 52-week lows (351) vs. new highs (168) is still worrisome for the bullish side of things. But as we head into the end of the year there could still be some tax loss selling as traders take their losses to offset gains in other stocks. The other highlighted number is the put/call ratio which closed at a relatively high number today--0.78. This shows a lot of put buying and from a contrarian sense could be considered bullish. The only caution about using this number is around opex because the number can get badly skewed and not mean much.

I'll do a quick review of today's economic reports and then move on to the charts.

Economic reports
Export and import prices, the trade balance and crude inventories were

Import Prices
The weaker US dollar and higher prices for oil and gas was blamed for the +2.7% increase in import prices for November, the largest monthly increase in 17 years. Can you say inflation? Excluding fuels, import prices rose +0.5% (that's still +6.0% annualized). For the past year import prices are up +11.4% which makes for the largest gain in the 25-year history of this index. Ouch. I think the Fed just got swiped at by the inflation monster and struck blood.

This report would normally have dampened any market expectations for further rate cuts but that was of no concern to the market before it opened. However, if the PPI and CPI data tomorrow shows an alarming increase in the rate of inflation it could be enough to spook the market into thinking the Fed really is done for now. Regardless of what I showed above, now the Fed doesn't control the market, the market still likes to believe that Somebody can control it and they blessed the Fed with that ability. So inflation reports still have the power to move the market here.

Details of the report show that petroleum prices rose +9.8% in November, the biggest increase since April 2006. Natural gas prices rose +16.2%. Imported foods and feeds dropped -0.2%, the first decline since March. Prices of Canadian goods rose +4.7%, the most in 15 years, thanks to the jump in the Canadian dollar and drop in the US dollar.

Export Prices
US producers received higher prices in November, up +0.9% which is the biggest increase in 12 years. While that's good news for exporters it's another sign of price inflation. Over the past year export prices are up +6.1%, also the largest gain in 12 years. Agricultural prices rose +1.4% in November (the 6th straight month of greater than +1% gains) and they're up +23% in the past year (the same price increases we've had to deal with but are not reflected in the inflation numbers the Fed worries about).

Nonagricultural exports rose +0.8%, the most in two years. Industrial materials increased +2.3%, also the most in two years. The message is pretty consistent here--prices are rising at a much faster rate than the Fed's target rate of +2% for the high end of their range.

Trade Balance
The trade deficit widened in October to -$57.8B. If oil products are removed then the trade deficit was -$31.5B, a 5-year low. The lower US dollar has helped our exports business. With exports up +14% over the past year and imports up a smaller +9%, our trade balance has improved slightly. But that means it is negative by a smaller number. We import about 40% more than we export and continue to "ship" money overseas. That money comes back to us through foreign investments but the declining value of the dollar is creating some concern by those who hold huge reserves in US dollar currency. It's a thin line that we walk here...

Crude Inventories
Crude inventories rose by +1.4M barrels to 306M last week, according to the API (American Petroleum Institute). The EIA (Energy Information Administration) said inventories fell by 700K to 304.5M. API reported gasoline stocks up +2.5M barrels to 205.5 while EIA reported +1.6M. Distillate stocks were down -1.7M barrels to 133.6M according to API but -800K according to EIA. The price of oil jumped +$1.90 today, closing at $91.92, and got the blame for the market selloff from the early highs (but people were strangely quiet this afternoon after it rallied back up some).

So let's see what all this bobbling in the market has done to the charts. There is currently a lot of similarity between the four major indices that I cover--the DOW, SPX, NDX and RUT. That's a good thing since it makes it a little easier to analyze the potential wave patterns. While there will always be a couple of different possible price paths at least we have similar price levels between them to watch for which price path the market is likely on.

DOW chart, Daily

I believe the bounce off the November low has finished and we've started the next big decline. If true then obviously the market cannot rally back above Tuesday's high (the quick high just before the FOMC announcement). So that's the stop level for any bearish plays that you might be in. The challenge for tomorrow is guessing whether we'll get another leg up in the bounce that started from Tuesday's low. We had a quick spike up this morning, a pullback (to a minor new low) and then the start of a possible rally leg to something higher than today's high and lower than Tuesday's. So that's what I'm showing on the daily charts and then a little more detail on the 60-min charts:

DOW chart, 60-min

Tuesday's low looks like the end of the 1st wave down for the decline that should drop the DOW below 13200 in a hurry (below 13238 would confirm the bearish wave count and hence is a key level identified on the chart). One other short term possibility is for another rally leg that fails short of Tuesday's high (shown in pink). Today's decline actually fits well as a 3-wave move down (and therefore corrective and is labeled wave-b in pink) and that supports another strong rally leg tomorrow. As long as it stays below Tuesday's high it should set up the strong decline from there.

Therefore, if we get a rally on Thursday use it to position yourself in a short trade with your stop just above Tuesday's high. The next leg down should be a good one. Thursday before opex week has often been a head fake day--whatever direction the market goes on this day tends to get reversed into opex week. It's not always true of course but it has happened enough times to be aware of it. The same is true of course if we see a selloff on Thursday--stay aware of the possibility for a strong rally back up into next week (even if it is to another lower high).

SPX chart, Daily

Again, similar patterns on the indices. If we get a rally on Thursday look to short it against Tuesday's high near 1524. Any rally above that level has a decent chance of making it to a new annual high before the end of the month. A selloff on Thursday that breaks below Wednesday's low is likely to continue to sell off hard.

SPX chart, 60-min

The 60-min chart shows a little closer what the setup currently looks like. If we get another rally on Thursday I think it has a good chance of testing Tuesday's high. Short the market against that high. If it instead sells off again it should easily break below 1460 which is the level that would confirm the bearish wave count. On the bullish side, stay aware of a test of the broken uptrend line from November 26th but any break back above it would be the signal to ride this up to the 1600 area.

Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, Daily

While the larger pattern for NDX looks different than the others, the setup is virtually the same. Tuesday's high should have ended the rising wedge pattern and therefore short against that high is the right trade. If the market bounces higher on Thursday use it as an opportunity to get short--the closer it gets to Tuesday's high the lower your risk to the stop level. A break back below today's low would confirm a break down from the rising wedge but stay aware of multiple support levels just below. If it chops lower then it might set up a bullish resolution but we'll have time to review that possibility next week (or sooner on the Market Monitor).

Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, 60-min

The 60-min chart shows a closer view of the rising wedge and how price broke below the bottom of it (the uptrend line from November 26th). A rally tomorrow could find resistance at that broken uptrend line near 2120 and then start back down. Any higher than about 2125 could see NDX rallying back up to a marginal new high at least. A break back below today's low would likely have it dropping quickly below 2048, the key level for the bearish count.

Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, Daily

Labeled in dark red is an A-B-C count for the bounce off the low on November 26th and it achieved equality in the two legs up (wave C = wave A) at 795.04 when it was tagged shortly before the FOMC announcement on Tuesday. It was one of the reasons I recommended a put play on Tuesday just before the announcement. It was a sweet setup (on the others as well). Having resistance at its 50-dma in the same area was icing on the cake. So from here it looks like the bounce is finished and now down we go. But like the others I see the possibility for another leg up in the bounce from Tuesday's low before it heads back down. Short against Tuesday's high is the right place to be.

Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, 60-min

A bounce back up to the 790 area is entirely possible on Thursday. The closer to Tuesday's high the better since it would lower the risk on a short entry, using a stop just above Tuesday's high. The end-of-day rally pushed the RUT back up to its broken uptrend line from November 26th so any drop back down tomorrow could be a kiss goodbye setup here. A break below 749 would confirm the bearish wave count and a rally back above 795 would confirm the bullish wave count.

When the banks got a quick bounce this morning on the "good" news from the Fed, traders quickly sold into the rally and it didn't take long to drive them to new lows below yesterday's low. I had mentioned on the Market Monitor this morning to follow the money and the money was leaving. But the selloff from Monday's high is looking a little short term overdone so the question is whether or not the banks will get a bounce tomorrow.

BIX banking index, Daily chart

If the banks are ready to bounce, either to relieve the selling from the past two days (in which case Tuesday's low will hold) then the broader market should bounce as well. The wave pattern for the banks here supports the idea that we could see a stronger rally in the banks that takes it up to the 324 area where the 50% retracement of the Oct-Nov decline is located. This is also the area of the top of a parallel down-channel created off the trend line along the August and November lows. Considering the fact that daily oscillators are set to roll back over I don't think that's a high-odds scenario but just one to be aware of.

There's been a lot of news about the home builders and home sales and lots of guessing about a bottom in the housing market. Market participants continually look out about six months in hopes of seeing a bottom and being the first one to start buying again. I continue to think it's premature to be looking for the bottom but the latest bounce has created enough doubt in the wave pattern and I'm watching to see how it resolves here.

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

I see the possibility for the home builders index to make it up to the top of a parallel down-channel for price action since April/May. That would be around 375 and I've identified it as a key level since a break higher than that would be potentially bullish for at least a larger bounce. Currently its clearly in a downtrend and therefore that's how I'd continue to look to trade the home builders (or at least know it could be early to be thinking about a bottom). I've mentioned in the last several weeks that I thought the index was approaching a potentially significant low but thought it would make it down to the 200 area if not 150. That is still very possible from here and I'm watching to see how it goes here.

Oil chart, January contract (CL08F), Daily

It was a nice EW 5-wave count to the November high and I recommended a short against that high. The selloff from there should have been wave-1 down as labeled on the chart. Oil has rallied fairly strong the past two days and looks like it could head to new highs (depicted in green). But the 2nd wave bounce is typically strong and that's how I currently have it labeled. It achieved a 62% retracement of the drop and the internal Fib relationship for the two legs up (2nd leg up = 162% of the 1st leg up) was also satisfied in the same area. Therefore it looks like a good setup for a short right here. The stop really belongs above the November high but I wouldn't want it any higher about 96, the 78.6% retracement. If the bearish wave count is correct we're about to see the price of oil take a tumble (down to 70 in the next several weeks).

Oil Index chart, Daily

The oil stocks rallied to a new high above the November high and that negated the bearish wave count that called the November high the end of the rally. The bullish (green) wave count took front and center and while I call it bullish I don't see a lot of upside potential here--perhaps the 880 area. The potential rising wedge pattern, supported by the corrective wave structure inside the pattern, suggests a minor throw-over maybe and then back down. If it rallies through 880 then this could rally 930 (for two equal legs up from the November low).

Transportation Index chart, TRAN, Daily

The Transports bounced a tad higher than a projection for two equal legs up from the November low (4899) and also slightly higher than its broken uptrend line from March 2003. It failed just shy of its 200-dma. That should be it for the bounce and now wave-3 to the downside should be next (and see some strong selling). If it manages to rally above its 200-dma, so above 4950, then I see the potential to rally up to about 5200. Like the broader averages the suggested play on the Trannies is a short against Tuesday's high.

U.S. Dollar chart, Daily

The bounce in the US dollar found resistance at its 50-dma but so far it looks like it's just gathering some strength to rally through that resistance level. It looks good for a much stronger rally in the dollar.

We may be entering a different period for the US dollar. There is still the threat of inflation and dollar devaluation based on the Fed's activities but stronger demand for the dollar will likely start to show up as the world's economies start to slow down (as evidence suggests). As the world's reserve currency it is still highly valued and US Treasuries may be one of the preferred investment vehicles as more and more people get worried about sinking economies and stock markets.

Gold chart, December contract (GC07Z), Daily

Gold is either consolidating for a big rally out of what appears to be a bullish sideways triangle consolidation (depicted in green) or else it's building one heck of a bearish wave count. If the bulls have their say then a strong rally out of the triangle pattern projects up to about 905. The gold bugs will be declaring $1000 gold is on the way! But in order to see that I would expect the US dollar to take quite a tumble from its current level and I just don't see that happening. But definitely buy gold if it breaks above the triangle pattern.

The bearish wave count calls for a strong 3rd of a 3rd wave down once the current bounce finishes (and today's high satisfied the wave count and Fibonacci projection after achieving a 62% of its recent drop in November. The significance of that bearish wave count is that gold would likely see very strong selling and probably take price down to the 700-720 area in a week or two, bounce and then continue lower in January. If you're long gold, pull up your stop. A break below 785 would be the sell signal.

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

Friday has some important inflation reports and we've been warned by the Fed this week that they're concerned about inflation, hinting that they might not be able to lower rates as quickly as they'd like in an effort to help the credit crunch. I think today's announcement between the central banks was a creative effort to do something different than lower interest rates. Again, 'A' for effort but the market is likely to blow them some raspberries.

A slowing retail sales has already been factored in but some dismal reports could throw more cold water on the market. On the flip side, a strong retails sales report (not expected) could ignite the bulls. A poor industrial production report could also spook the bulls. Watch the futures at 8:30 for a sense of how the market might react after the cash open (although I hesitate to say that since we're seeing such a highly manipulated market in pre-market futures, like this morning).

SPX chart, Weekly

The August low remains the key level for the bearish wave count--break that low and that fat lady will be singing her little heart out. But until that happens it remains possible for us to be in an ending diagonal pattern--a rising wedge with the possible price pattern for it depicted in green. At least six months of extreme chop and whipsaws would be in store for us in that event. We'll let the market tell us what it's doing.

Tomorrow being Thursday prior to opex (and don't forget to roll over to March futures contracts for equities) it has been common to see a volatile day and a head fake day. Therefore don't assume tomorrow's direction is what we'll see the next day or Monday. If anything the volatile market we've been in should have shown you that you need to be taking profits quickly or stand aside until we've got a longer term trend identified. One could say we've been in an uptrend and therefore that's the side to just stay on. Certainly looking at the SPX weekly chart above shows we're in a long term up-channel and therefore the trend is clearly up.

If you had purchased stocks since this past summer then you're probably not terribly excited about the return so far. If you've been attempting to find a top to this market and trade the short side I can guarantee you that you're not very happy constantly giving profits back to the market. Both sides have been getting whacked upside the head. So flat is not a bad position to be in. Park your money in a money market account (one that is not exposed to the derivative mess out there) and be happy that your capital is safe.

I truly don't see enough upside potential to warrant any new long plays from here. Holding a long term long from well before this past summer is a different story--just have your stop under the August low. Depending on which sector you're in you may have already been stopped out with a move below the August low, like the banks, transports, and several others. If you don't like playing the short side then get your money parked where it's safe and take off from the market for the next year.

If you like playing the short side, but want confirmation first, then wait for the break of the August low. Ideally, considering the SPX weekly chart above, a break of the uptrend line from October 2002 will be followed by a retest for a kiss goodbye and then you can short it for a big ride back down. We'll have plenty of time to monitor that on a weekly basis.

Shorter term traders, as I mentioned with the above charts, look to short the market against Tuesday's highs. Watch out for the volatility and don't be bashful about taking money off the table regularly and then using partial proceeds to reenter on the next setup. Take little bites out of the market and slowly build your account up. Good luck and I'll be back next Wednesday.

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