“It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.”

I return to this statement over and over as I play the markets.  Mark Twain had unending wisdom.  The speculating public, usually not so much.  November’s stock market returns were a delightful 10% for the S&P 500 and an eye-watering 18% for the Russell 2000; thank you very much hard and fast sector rotation.

Major Indexes November Returns (12-2-2020)

Despite this, ambiguity still reigns supreme currently.  Context is critical.  So does the ambiguity matter to long-term investors?  No.  But if you’re swing trading any asset classes in these markets then the ambiguity matters a whole lot.

Let’s use some simple, classic technical analysis to better illustrate how muddy the waters have become.  We’ll start with the S&P 500.  Depending on your trend-line bias, there’s a few different ways to perceive current action.

SPX Weekly (12-2-2020)

It looks like a very legitimate breakout.  It’s been a hard chop since late July, but I thought we might see yet one more leg down to the high 3100s or low 3200s.  The reason for this was the curious inter-market activity among various asset classes.  Typical correlations weren’t holding up in November and the breakout just felt fake.  But therein lies the problem of using “feel.”  Obviously, I don’t just go with the gut when allocating capital but it has often paid to at least listen to it.

We know that one major, semi-new factor driving markets is option activity.  Never before has one had to care so much about option Greeks to simply trade the underlying.  Observe the enormous rise in single-equity options premiums as a result of the tidal wave of buying, most of that in Calls by retail and institutional.

Buy to Open Calls Spot Premium (10-18-2020)

Options activity has seen market makers make unparalleled purchases in the underlying stocks in order to hedge their Call sales books.  As a result, volatility has chopped right along with the markets as moves have been fast and furious.  So where is volatility possibly headed next?  Again, the trend lines paint a couple of different pictures.

VIX Weekly (12-2-2020)

We have the current liquidity flood and more coming in 2021 to support fund flows into risk assets.  There’s also the beginning of a sector rotational move into value.  I don’t think that’s a done deal yet.  I think growth i.e. tech still has legs left.  I hypothesize that the bounce in energy and small caps is only the first strike of sector rotation, but the growth of SaaS and big tech will soon parry in 2021 which should stunt recent returns in energy and small caps…at least temporarily.

The one asset class that continues to dominate my thoughts is the US dollar.  I’m reading tons of obituaries.  They feel premature.  A swift move up to the 95 area would not surprise me here; swift relative to its usual multi-month cadence.  A “swift-ish” move in the USD would drop a hammer on commodities, which wouldn’t bode well for the recent rotation into energy.

USD Weekly (12-2-2020)

The grains and sugar have been on an unfailing tear upwards.  Typical COT activity would have already seen correlated reversals in these crops.  I’ve seen insinuations that perhaps we’re in a regime change for those specific assets, but like the death of the dollar, that innuendo feels a bit premature.

For my own long-term portfolio of equities, I continue to evaluate the plays that many deem to have great forward looking prospects as not only technology evolves but society as well.  They may seem obvious, but it’s hard to shake what a well chosen play can mean for the potential of a portfolio.  This means gene-editing, cutting edge biotech, AI, data dissemination, and two of the oldest vices on the planet with tremendously long runways as a result of only barely being legitimized.

In the short-term, I think the commodity shorts present a most compelling current opportunity but so much rides on the USD’s anti-correlation.

If you really want to generate some returns with equities, consider after hours trading.  This has been widely reported on for a few years now, but just look at a recent chart put out by Bespoke to truly illustrate the marked difference in strategies.

Bespoke After Hrs. Trading Since Inception (Nov. 2020)

Of course, 2020 has flipped that on it’s head.  See below, but after-hours is starting to reassert it’s dominance.

Bespoke After Hrs. Trading Since Start of 2020 (Nov. 2020)

Stay sharp.  Recent choppy action may not be over just yet.  And with everyone predicting an amazing 2021, including myself, it might just take a little time to get the real momentum going next year.

The Last Gasp

As you know by now, I think we are in the final stages of the topping process in major markets.  This is going to be a multi-month affair.  I suspect the top and crash begins later next year, but so do many other pundits, pros, and bloggers which makes me leery.  There’s nothing worse than contrarian consensus by large groups in the game of speculation.

Like its predecessors, the crash won’t look like one at first.  Sure, players will get scared and react but then we’ll see a bounce off the first initial move to the downside.  This will be an opportune time to liquidate positions to make a final cash raise to either capitalize during the crash or wait for the inevitable value opportunities that will arise.

There is a set of indicators that go along with this move downward and bounce that has proven efficacy as a guide.  It’s the 5 month and 10 month Exponential Moving Average (“EMA”).  Observe.

SPX - 5 & 10 Crossover (10-10-2016)

These aren’t magic indicators.  I’m not saying they are guaranteed to work.  I’m only saying they’ve proven themselves as guides when a real bear move has begun.  There are a multitude of economic and financial indicators that I also like to use along with anecdotal evidence, too.  Keeping an eye on this particular set of EMAs however can potentially keep your losses to between 10% and 15%, assuming you act.

In a bear market where there’s the potential for a halving of portfolios, I’d say 15% in losses is solid.

Volatility in the biggest asset classes will be unimaginable.  The algorithmic, high frequency trading operations in combination with central banks have broken all markets.  There will be no liquidity for the big timers when the bear begins.

HFTs are the true market makers and all algorithms are written to pull away and sell when bottoms fall out of markets.  Look at the S&P 500 in May of 2010.  That was really the first indication that markets would never liquidate in a typical fashion ever again, until HFTs are properly regulated, taxed, or removed from existence in markets.

There are plenty of examples between May of 2010 and now, but the move in the pound sterling at the start of October provides such a fine illustration.  What’s more liquid than the currency markets of the most developed and powerful Western nations?

Nothing.  And yet still we see the destructive power of HFT on any market.  Does this look normal in a power currency?

Sterling Madness (10-16-2016)

In earlier Asian trading, the intraday damage was even worse.  Observe this bit of madness.

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These moves are a product of liquidity being immediately vacuumed from the asset classes where all the largest players play.  This will happen again and again when the markets make their final turn.

You can liken it to a hull breach for an astronaut in space without a suit on.  One second astronaut HYG is floating around the lab in a jump suit, happily conducting experiments with OPM.  But OPM in high-yield instruments in a low-yield environment can be a volatile material if not handled appropriately in a proper setting and an explosion occurs breaching the hull, sucking HYG out into the liquidity-free vacuum immediately to death.

Did I say liquidity?  I meant oxygen.

You get the point.

Coming back to what a last gasp means; it means there will be a final run in risk assets to squeeze out the final profits of this bull.  Many, including myself, have called it a melt-up, but I grow weary of the term.

Please don’t be fooled by some of the ignorance being freely proffered out there that we are in the early years of a cyclical bull, similar to 1982.  We are not.  The evidence is broad, clear, deep, and obvious.  One needn’t a fancy finance degree or years managing wealth in order to see this.

The end game is here, but not before that last gasp for profits that I keep describing.  I suspect that many of the sectors that powered this bull market prior to 2016 may reassert themselves to take us home.  Why is that?

Interest rates.  Plain and simple.

Those with access to leverage at these historically low rates will borrow capital to fund buyouts and takeovers which will drive asset prices upward.  The upward move will then draw in speculators looking to hop on the trend or front-run it.  This quest for yield whether in debt, equity, or private equity i.e. IRR, will be the fuel for the last gasp up in asset prices.

Despite what I think may happen in semiconductors or social or biotech or emerging markets as risk-on gains speed, keep your eyes on the one asset class that has taken out all comers in 2016.  The Rocky Balboa asset class for the year.  You know what I’m referring to and this is even with the recent sell-off.

2016 Performance Chart (10-16-2016)

Precious metals.  You don’t have to love them or hate them.  Opinions don’t have to be binary.  Be agnostic when speculating.  Follow the trends.  Follow the money.  More importantly, follow central banking and political lunacy.

Let’s look at one more chart that potentially validates that this bull market is long in the tooth.  It depicts the times over the last 50 years when payouts to equity investors have exceeded  profits.

Total Payouts via ZH (10-11-2016)

You can ignore what is glaringly obvious or you can prepare.

Speaking of obvious, let’s begin to wrap this post up with another pithy little ditty of a quote, this time from one of the world’s great speculators.  It’s been reprinted time and again, but it’s simple yet brilliant message is timeless.

I just wait until there is money lying in the corner, and all I have to do is go over there and pick it up.  I do nothing in the meantime.

– Jim Rogers

I haven’t touched on trading since the summer and I just wanted to share some set-ups that appear to potentially be building little piles of money in a corner waiting to be picked up.

Keep an eye on these sectors, either short or long:

Short:  sugar, energy(big 3), US dollar, and technology

Long:  grains, bouncing precious metals, and the pound sterling

Despite your opinions, never forget about counter-trend rallies, even in the face of what appears to be an unstoppable trend.

It’s Like the Old Days in Commodities

For the traders out there, action in commodities has been highly volatile presenting opportunities as if it was the 80’s.  Basic technical analysis has been rather effective, especially within the softs and agriculturals.  Now the precious metals swell appears to be breaking, if only to regroup for the next move

It’s important to remember that large-scale traders and high-frequency traders are the beginning, middle, and end when it comes to trading.  Not only do they control breakouts and breakdowns, but they often make the market, too.  It’s important to exercise patience before positioning into a play.  Before a larger breakout or breakdown is firmly established, there can be see-sawing volatility that can jar traders out of position.  Patience allows you to skip a few waves before finding that swell you decide to ride.

What’s been hotter than the precious metals or related investments in 2016?  Not a whole heckuva lot, and silver has been on mad recent run but price action says it’s time for a pause.  The price of silver has already started turning over the last two weeks.  Because of the intrinsic volatility in the metal, it could be a quick ride down to the breakout point around $17.75.  I think this breakout in the precious metals is the real deal and I suspect we could see a sort of V-bounce right back up to the two-year highs once the breakout point is retested.

Silver Weekly (7-21-2016)

One of the calls I made in my last post was that sugar was looking blow-offy.  I wasn’t precise on the timing but clearly the action is looking corrective.  More importantly, the price action has been controlled to squeeze final long-profits and allow positions to be lightened.

Sugar ETF Weekly (7-21-2015)

I think sugar’s action could go one of two ways.  One, it could be like in the chart above where we see a downmove and then a bounce where final profits are taken and it gets sold off pretty hard down to a natural support point.  Or the market-controlling speculators could just sell the sweet stuff down in a hard, volatile move.  My gut tells me the first option is the probable play.  If you haven’t positioned for a sugar short, there’s still time.

Trading intense moves in an asset class is a lot like trying to catch a metro train.  You may have missed it going away on a long, but you can always catch it when it comes back on a short.

I don’t know nor can I explain why basic resistance/support chart analysis has been working so effectively since late 2015.  Maybe it’s the patience.  Maybe I’ve learned to read the action with HFT-tinted glasses before executing.  I don’t know.  All I know is that I don’t feel like I’m doing a whole lot different from most other years, but 2016 has been one for my own trading record book.  Who knows?  Maybe that whole 10,000 hours thing actually means something.

Let’s take a final look at bonds.  They’ve been driven up right along stocks.  In a bizarro turn, American equities are being viewed with virtually the same risk premium as corporate bonds and even treasuries, primarily because of solid credit ratings coinciding with high relative yields and developed-world central bank backing.

However, the boat is awfully crowded on the one side of interest rate direction.  The world has negative rates everywhere.  The crowd thinks there’s no way rates can move upwards just because the central banks are not in a position to act.  That is fallacious logic.  Observe:

10-Year Yields Weekly (7-21-20156)

Remember, the Fed’s final QE announcement in 2012.  You see that upmove in 10-year rates?  That was a market-driven move, not Fed-driven.  And yet money is allocated today as if there ain’t no way the market can drive rates up again in any sort of treasury selloff.  There is a widely held belief that American debt is one of the only pure safe havens, and it is to an extent.  That doesn’t mean that market controllers won’t inflict maximum pain for bettors letting their guard down.

We’ve already seen a sharp move up in rates recently.  Is there more to come?  I’d bet that the odds favor a continued, but possibly choppy ascent in interest rates.  This provides logical plays shorting TLT.

It’s not just developed sovereign debt that has seen a run.  Corporate debt has been plowed into as well.  Trading the exuberance on US corporate debt is as easy as some puts on LQD.  Have a look at the upward spike since Brexit:

LQD Weekly (7-21-2016)

LQD is already beginning to turn.  It may not fall down to support but hedging within a structured option play is well documented and easy to execute.

For my few followers out there, don’t give up on me.  I’ve been extremely busy with very little personal time.  I hope to post more regularly in H2 of 2016.  Have fun out there with your money.  Just don’t blow it.

When Last We Was Trading…

…I’d shared some thoughts on trading volatility and the action of the S&P 500. I was right about the down-move in the S&P 500. I thought a small move was possible of no more than 5% and a 3% percent move down is what we got, then a continuance of the sideways consolidation. However, I was very wrong about volatility. I suspect the reason is because the trade was simply too crowded. Volatility became a trade du jour as the intense bounce that had started in February had obviously grown long in the tooth.

But crowded trades are a trading fool’s errand and my thesis was wrong. And so ended one of the greatest 6-month runs I’ve ever had in reading the tape, but now I’ll just have to start fresh on a new run of prognostications. The crowded trade of long volatility and short the S&P 500 was skewered by the “market making” bot shops. Even Mr. Bonds himself, Gundlach, came out and stated during a Reuters interview that from the 20th of May and on the action in the stock markets felt like a short squeeze. JPM backed that assessment as one of the largest broker dealers out there. Observe a chart they released verifying the quick spike at the end of May in short covering.

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As this short-covering burst has squeezed a chunk of the volatility hedging, too, we still very well may get a correction of 5%ish down to just below 2,000 on the S&P 500. Volatility is still worth watching for a quick scalp if enough weak hands have been washed out and the robots let some negative momentum push the S&P 500 down and volatility up.

Let’s return to the soft commodities market as sugar has just been on a silly tear. Observe:

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Just look at the last week, specifically. Talk about momentum ignition. The Commercial Hedgers have gone supremely short but this softy keeps ripping higher, moving 16% in the last week. Crazy. But the last two trading days look suspiciously like blow-offs. Have a look at what’s happened during the last two blow-offs in sugar over the past 9 months.

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You can see that prior to each of the blow-offs there were frenzied gains in very short time periods, but then astute traders could have made a nice rip quickly shorting sugar for 2 to 4 weeks. Has another opportunity presented itself for one of those rips? It sure looks like it. Go elsewhere for your farm reports, international weather patterns, crop output, regional flood potential, yada, yada, yada. This is straight up tape reading.

Using the futures proxy ETF of SGG, it is clear to see that $36 is an important number for sugar. Magnetic almost.

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Using Fibonacci from the August 2015 low to the current June high, $36 also happens to be the 38.2% retracement point on the weekly chart. Tread lightly, if you’re inclined, as the action in sugar has been fast and furious. Just look at that whipsawing action since the start of 2015. Hedge. Trade with discipline. Manage the position.

One final note from a macroeconomic standpoint, have a look at this chart of negative yield curves in Germany and Japan.

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If this doesn’t scream insanity to you then nothing can phase you. Maybe all the developed world’s central bankers have been secretly, partially lobotomized. A little frontal lobe here, a little hippocampus there, and you have a compliant banker with the inability to remember what negative rates actually mean and the lack of cognition to act effectively. Germany and Japan combined equal approximately two-thirds of the US economy. Which means their economies matter. A lot. Germany has negative yields out to a decade and Japan out to 14 years, just screaming recession is near if not already present in those two countries. You think the US is in better shape economically because we don’t have negative yields? These are different and unique times, folks. The kind of times that are remembered with head shaking and derisive snorts by future students of the economic past. Trade smart. Build cash. Stay disciplined. New highs are coming, but new lows are closer than you think.

Evaluating Markets Not Called Stocks

In my last financial post, I stated that I thought the market would move sideways for approximately 7 weeks before a catalyst would present itself to drive the market higher going into the beginning of the summer. So far, so good. Yes, the market is up about 1.5% but it appears to be the start of a sideways consolidation as the market exhales some energy.

I suspect we see a little downside move over the next week or two, as part of the sideways action, followed by a move back up to current levels about 3 maybe 4 weeks from now. By then, that catalyst should present itself for the resumption of the trend back up to new highs. Will my hot streak continue? If past is prologue…

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Right now, I want to talk about the US dollar and its potential effects on various commodities. Specifically, we want to watch oil, precious metals, and the grains.

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It’s easy to observe the stiff support at $94 and I think this time is no different. I suspect we get a slight bounce of about $4 up to about $98. This is in line with previous bounces off of $94 during this 15-month consolidation. There are plenty of analysts out there who think the USD bull will renew to move a lot higher. The thesis of the trade being a fear-based allocation in light of a pessimistic international outlook to various economies and the worthless, respective monetary policies currently employed by central banks.

I disagree. When the big one hits, the real correction across all markets, the USD will at first be a bastion of relative strength but that sentiment will be temporary. The problem with the thesis that we are in the early phases of a USD bull is that it runs counter to the other widely held thesis that the next financial crisis will be co-focused around an international collapse in confidence in the USD. That’s a discussion for a future post.

I believe the momentum has shifted for commodities. I suspect the worm has turned in the precious metals complex. Corn, wheat, and soybeans are potentially at the beginning of a spike. Oil has been unstoppable, but that DOHA meeting of the controlling powers will have a heavy influence on trading behaviors. It’s not inconceivable that the USD and commodities could run in the same direction but that belies decade’s worth of a consistently negatively correlated relationship.

Specifically, I’m referring to short-term action. Months not years. But let’s look at multi-year charts for gold and the grains, of which I’ll use my typical go-to trading medium of JJG.

Gold:

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What goes up generally comes down. Gold has held strong with a sideways move off the hard spike higher to start the year, but with the pending move in the USD, I think we’ll finally see the correction that many have been calling for. You can see that around $1,140 represents a stiff area of support. I suspect that could be gold’s next destination over the next several weeks or months, however that still represents a higher-low leaving a new uptrend intact. If one were inclined to trade, that’s $100 of movement to design a short-term, multi-month play as it moves lower and then begins a recovery. One pattern to watch, if you believe in such hokum, is the little head & shoulders that has formed since February. Will the break of the right shoulder-base be a catalyst?

Grains:

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I have had a lot of luck trading this grains ETF. Some of my biggest returns in the shortest amount of time have come from scalping the market for a nice rip on these multi-month grain rallies. Sentiment, professional hedging, and seasonality point towards the potential of another run. More importantly though, price action agrees. It looks like a based-low was established to start the year and last week represented a possible higher low. The price action was especially promising to end the week. Position accordingly.

But if the USD is about to bounce, won’t that hurt commodities? Even agriculturals? Not necessarily. Oil will very likely be affected but again the speculator positioning by huge players could potentially cause another squeeze as much as the DOHA meeting could negatively affect prices. Gold sentiment was stretched anyways. But the grains don’t always run counter to the dollar. In fact correlations between the USD and grains do not share an easily deciphered message. Grains can and do run in lockstep with the dollar at times. Have a look below.

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In two of the last 3 rallies, the grains (blue-dotted) ran concurrent with the USD. Even though the USD is potentially beginning a bounce, so could be the grains.

As stocks continue their consolidation, the USD should be the dominant theme in the markets as it moves upward over the next several weeks. Watch associated commodities. If you’re feeling really brave, try trading the other currencies with a rising USD as your foundation for analyses. Good luck out there.