The DOW's move up from November is starting to go a bit too vertical for its own good. This week's rally is starting to look dangerously vulnerable. Everyone is now expecting DOW 15K.
The CNBC party hats are out -- DOW 15K here we come. But many are now looking for much higher and while they could be right we have to keep in mind that the market feels the most bullish at the top. Whether or not we're making a top this week can't be known yet but it's starting to feel like one -- a blow-off move to the upside as the last players throw in the towel and run to climb aboard.
There's lots of speculation as to why the market is rallying strongly this week, with everything from the Fed's money, better expectations for earnings, all the bad news is priced in, it's a new bull market, etc. The FOMC minutes were out much earlier than expected this morning, before the opening bell at 9:00 AM and it got the credit for today's rally. There wasn't anything new or unexpected and the market is simply relieved that the direct injection of drugs into the market will continue. Some Fed members voiced their opinion that asset purchases should start to taper off around mid-year but others call for a wait-and-see until we get into the fall. Lots of drugs still available? Let's party!
Economist John Hussman, whose recent analysis was included in John Mauldin's letter, discussed this bullishness and the expectation by most that the Fed's money will help keep the market rally alive. He discussed how disconnected the stock market is with reality. While the market is rallying on expectations, the reality is the economy is not doing well and the stock market will soon wake up to that reality.
The chart below shows U.S. economic activity since 2000 that is based on the ISM and Fed indices (Empire, Philly, Richmond and Dallas). The main takeaway from the chart is that each round of QE has given the economy a little lift but each peak in activity is a lower high. As Hussman says, each round of QE has been to kick the can further down the road but now we're back at the can. Can the Fed successfully kick it further down the road? They'll sure try. But the next lower high on the chart points to another coming correction for it and the stock market.
U.S. Economic Activity and QE, 2000-present, chart courtesy John Hussman
The stock market is one of the few areas where people get excited about buying higher prices. In everything else we buy we look for discounted prices so that we feel like we got a deal. But in the stock market the higher the price the better we feel. It can only go higher! When that sentiment pulls in the final players who were holding out, and bullish sentiment reaches a peak, the market simply flames out from a lack of more buyers. Again, whether or not we've hit that point is open for debate but keep in mind that a strong rally that's not based on any particularly good news to fuel that rally, especially at the tail end of a longer-term rally, is ripe for a blow-off top and it's starting to feel like we're in that now.
As one trader friend said to me today, "RUT and TRAN have completed double tops, HGX (housing sector) has broken its uptrend line from October 2011, SOX and BKX are not confirming new highs in the DOW/SPX. What does it take to scare a bull?" Good question, Ed. In a conversation with another trader, who has been trading since before the 1987 crash and notes some eerily similarities today, he noted that "Unlike the specialist/market-maker days in 1987, liquidity today is provided by the HFT guys (who if there is a meltdown, will be the scapegoat du jour this time around) who may well step aside if and when things stumble, and can do it quick, fast and in a hurry. I think there is a very high probability of a liquidity issue here on the slightest pullback." Hat tip to Ralph for the reminder.
The flash crash in May 2010 was basically a liquidity issue -- the buyers stepped aside and the program selling simply kept selling. There was nothing in the programs to tell the computer to do otherwise. Supposedly there are now some circuit breakers being designed into the system for ETFs to stop the trading for a short period of time (5 minutes) to allow humans to get in the middle but it hasn't been rolled out yet and it's untested. Whether it's the Fed's easy-money policies or the new program-driven market, we're in unchartered waters and I believe the downside risk becomes more elevated the longer we go without a decent correction. The "decent" correction is more likely to turn into a devastating one.
I think an important reminder about what sentiment can do to a market is what happened to bitcoin today. Here's a market (for an alternative global currency that is not controlled by any central bank) that has been getting more attention since February and the bullishness for bitcoins has been driving the market in a parabolic climb. It climbed from about $20 at the beginning of the year to about $30 by the beginning of March. From there it started to go ballistic as more and more people became aware of it and the fact that global central banks are now in a race to devalue faster than the other guy. The belief has been that fundamentally it was good for the value of bitcoins (instead of gold it was now bitcoins). The result has been a strong climb, hitting a high of $266 today before starting a correction.
Bitcoin price (in USD), November 2012-April 9, 2013, chart courtesy bitcoincharts.com
When warned about the parabolic rise, the favorite phrase by supporters has basically been "it's different this time." There's been a race for the bottom in global currency values as central banks try to stay in front of the other in their debasement efforts. Japan's latest QE is aggressive and it will force all other central banks to respond in kind in order to keep the value of their currencies "competitive." So the argument that bitcoins will rise hundreds of dollars more is soundly based. But sentiment can be a dangerous thing, especially for late-to-the-party buyers.
I read a few days ago that a 22-year old sold his inherited house so that he could buy bitcoins. He, like so many others, were reading that bitcoins were headed for $1000 if not much higher (for all the right fundamental reasons, and it might someday, but it's too bad he didn't know how to read a chart). We all know what's going to happen next. There is no "it's different this time" and all parabolic rallies end the same way, no exceptions. The value will likely drop to the start of the parabolic rally, near $50 where it broke out of its consolidation in mid-March, before it will be possibly a good value again.
After hitting a high of $266 this morning someone decided to sell and that triggered stops all the way back down to a low of $106 (-60%) before bouncing at the end of the day and appears to be settling around $165 this evening. It's already being renamed bitcrash and while it's recovered about half of its decline this evening I have little doubt that it will drop further, even if it first makes a new high. It could get very volatile from here.
Bitcoin price (in USD), 15-min chart, 4 days, chart courtesy bitcoincharts.com
Did something fundamentally change to cause the panic selloff? No. Someone simply decided to sell and the sell stops triggered more selling which triggered more stops, etc. It's usually as simple as that and when we look at the stock market I see the same risk. Tie in excessive bullish sentiment with a complacent attitude that the Fed will protect us and all we need is one big sell order to start the ball rolling. It could start out as a news event or simply a big player deciding he's had enough risk and wants out. Sell stops trigger more sell stops, HFTs get out of the way (pulling their liquidity out of the market in the process) or get behind the down move and suddenly people will look back wondering why the market sold off so strongly. It's coming; I just don't know when.
After last week's high and the relatively strong drop into Friday's low I thought that might have marked the high for the stock market. But Monday's rally left a confirmed 3-wave pullback and pointed higher. Now, with this week's rally, SPX has pushed up into the target zone that I had been watching for last month -- 1580-1600. On the weekly chart below I show the price relationship between the two a-b-c moves up from August 2011, which are equal at 1587.58 (achieved today). Even the 62% projection at 1465 matched up well with the September 2012 high. The trend line along the highs from 2000-2007 is currently near 1595 so that's potential resistance if reached.
S&P 500, SPX, Weekly chart
The wave pattern for the move up from November does not count cleanly with the latest new high but for now I'm sticking with the 5-wave move up and the 5th wave being the leg up from February 26th. The 5th wave is equal to the 1st wave at 1589.66, missed by 59 cents with today's high at 1589.07. The trend line along the highs from January 30th is currently near 1597 so a small throw-over above it could easily tag 1600. If we get a rally through opex week (next week) I see the potential for a rally up to the top of a parallel up-channel for the rally from February, near 1635 next week. It could obviously achieve higher if the rally is going to last through April as it has done in recent years. The bulls remain in control until last Friday's low near 1539 is taken out.
S&P 500, SPX, Daily chart
Key Levels for SPX:
- bullish above 1571
- bearish below 1539
Getting in closer and looking at the leg up from February 26th I will say again I do not like the EW count that I have on it at the moment but nothing is making much sense from an EW perspective at the moment and the count does not violate any EW rule. Using the current count, the 5th wave in the move up from February 26th, which is the leg up from last Friday, is now equal to waves i-iii, at 1588.08, which is a common relationship and it lines up nicely with the daily and weekly projections near the same level. Keying off trend lines, the one along the highs since January 30th, near 1595, matches up with the trend line along the highs from 2000-2007 shown on the weekly chart. That level is also a 162% extension of the previous decline (April 2-5), which is often a reversal level. That makes 1595 potentially strong resistance if reached.
S&P 500, SPX, 60-min chart
If the rising wedge pattern from February is correct, the little throw-under below the bottom of the wedge (last Friday) could be matched by a little throw-over above the top of the wedge, which is the projection I'm showing near 1602. A pop above the wedge followed by a quick drop back below it would create a reversal signal, one which can be shorted and use the high for your stop. The wedge could be retraced very quickly (back to 1485) so trying to short a reversal could be a very good trade, including right from here if the market rolls over on Thursday. Just manage your risk since the market could blow off to a much higher high before it runs out of buyers.
The DOW's latest stair-step higher in its rally from February is showing no strength at all (big bearish divergence shown on MACD on its chart below), which fits for the 5th wave of the move. The top of its rising wedge pattern is currently near 14900 and if the bulls hold on into opex, the top of the wedge crosses 15K next week. But are too many expecting 15K now? The market usually spanks the majority when they all line up together. The bulls remain in control above 14550 but that's already a lot of points to give back. Tighten stops on long positions.
Dow Industrials, INDU, Daily chart
Key Levels for DOW:
- bullish above 14,680
- bearish below 14,550
Bulls are feeling bullish enough to jump back into the techs and we've seen a strong rally in the past four days. The wave count for the NDX rally from November is a double a-b-c move and the 2nd a-b-c is the leg up from February. It achieved 62% of the 1st a-b-c at 2848 and for the 2nd a-b-c it has two equal legs up at 2867, which was nearly achieved with today's high at 2862. It closed its September 4th gap at 2861.64 but stopped just short of the September closing high at 2864. The intraday pattern supports at least another jab higher Thursday morning but a drop back inside its rising wedge, the top of which is the trend line along the highs from January 2nd and currently near 2848, would create a reversal signal. Short it if that happens and place your stop just above the high.
Nasdaq-100, NDX, Daily chart
Key Levels for NDX:
- bullish above 2870
- bearish below 2744
At least the RUT got into the act today with a strong rally of its own, matching the tech indexes. But unlike the others it has not made a new high and if it doesn't it will leave a bearish non-confirmation. Today's high is a back test of its broken uptrend line from December so a down day on Thursday would leave a bearish kiss goodbye. The bulls need to keep up their buying and then watch for the possibility of just a test of the high before turning back down.
Russell-2000, RUT, Daily chart
Key Levels for RUT:
- bullish above 950
- bearish below 910
Bonds sold off in the past three days as the stock market rallied and the 30-year yield (TYX) has bounced back up to its broken uptrend line from July, which it broke last Thursday. It's a good setup for a reversal back down in yields (buying in bonds), which could coincide with a reversal in the stock market as well.
30-year Yield, TYX, Weekly chart
The TRAN also got a nice bounce today and also is up against a broken uptrend line, this one from November. Its intraday chart supports at least one more little pop higher tomorrow and I've got a price projection for it at 6200, which would be another test of its broken uptrend line. A drop away from it is the signal the bears want to see. At the moment we have a clear bearish non-confirmation between the DOW and TRAN.
Transportation Index, TRAN, Daily chart
The U.S. dollar has been a choppy mess since mid-March and I don't think that's going to change for a while. I'm looking for it to consolidate its rally from February but it doesn't turn potentially bearish until it drops back below 81.80. Following what could be a multi-month consolidation it should then head higher again.
U.S. Dollar contract, DX, Daily chart
The stock market rallied but that didn't help the metals, or commodities in general. The dollar was up marginally but that didn't help explain gold's big move down today (it lost about $26). The important level for gold bulls to hold is the bottom of a potential descending triangle shown on its weekly chart below. The bottom of the triangle is near 1524, which was almost tested with last week's low at 1539.30 (interestingly, SPX hit a low of 1539.50). Commercial traders have been increasing their net long position, which should be a bullish indication that support is going to hold, in which case I see the potential for a bounce at least up to the top of its triangle pattern, currently near 1725. But if support doesn't hold and all those commercial traders are forced to cover we could see a blood bath in gold. Interesting times for gold dead ahead.
Gold continuous contract, GC, Weekly chart
Silver came close to testing the bottom of its descending triangle pattern (slightly different than gold's but the bottoms come from the same lows in 2011-2012, at 26.10-26.15), with a low of 26.57 last week. As with gold, I see the potential for a rally up to at least the top of its triangle, currently near 33.30, but a break below 26 would likely hit lots of stops, which could result in a very strong selloff.
Silver continuous contract, SI, Weekly chart
Oil rallied with the stock market today but ran into its broken 50-dma and broken uptrend line from March 6th, both near 94.40. It could continue higher but it's a good setup for the bears if it drops back down from here.
Oil continuous contract, CL, Daily chart
There are no market-moving economic reports tomorrow but Friday's reports could have some influence. We'll get the retail sales, PPI numbers and Michigan Sentiment Friday morning.
Economic reports and Summary
We've got a nice rally going and it's been a fool's errand trying to short it. Stick with the trend is the best advice but the problem is that it depends on which index you're looking at. Some cracks include the RUT and TRAN, both of which have broken their uptrend lines and managed to bounce back up to back test their lines. A bearish kiss goodbye with a down day on Thursday would leave a confirmed broken uptrend. How long will it take the blue chips to follow in that case? Probably not very. Will it be the bend at the end of the trend for all indexes? We could find out shortly.
The blue chips have reached potentially important levels for their rallies and could be completing their final 5th waves (although the wave pattern is not clear enough at the moment to use it with much confidence). It's common to see a rally finish with a flare-up as it pulls in the last hold-outs. But then the market is vulnerable once there are not enough buyers to keep it going (as in the case of bitcoins). I consider holding long overnight not worth the risk for a downside surprise. When this market lets go I don't think it will look like bitcoins chart but I do think a lack of liquidity (from HFTs pulling out) is going to create an air pocket below the market. I'm struggling with when it's going to happen but I have very little doubt that it will. Trade very carefully from here (both sides).
Good luck and I'll be back with you on Monday (filling in for Linda).
Keene H. Little, CMT
In the end everything works out and if it doesn't work out, it is not the end. Old Indian Saying