Have You Lost Your Mojo

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Which side of the speculating-fence are you on?  Are you euphoric with gains from this rally off the low?  Thank you dumb money.

Or are you annoyed sitting in cash, position-less, and asking the market why is it not listening to you about this being a bear-market rally?  I see you smart money.

I was fortunate to have lost very little thanks to my hedges coming into 2020.  Partnered with basic risk management, returns on the year are flat.  Not great, but I’ll take the profits off the well timed trades to mitigate losses in the long-term buckets.  Bottom line, I missed this rally.

But the major indexes are up 40% off of their seppuku-inducing lows.  Are we in for more?  Is everything fixed?  Will we see new highs and then push on for an additional 30% to 40% more in gains?  I want every reader to remember just how great and unusual 2019 was for returns.

You could’ve made 30% in 2019 in your sleep with zero skill and no risk management.  We’re going to get back to back years of that?  Highly unlikely.

Is this rally legit?  Well if you sell and realize gains, then hell yeah!  But are we truly in the clear from a bear-market rally and more damage?  Who’s to say?  Just history.

Have a look at this chart that Macro-Ops put together.

Bear Market Rally Duration & Performances

Here’s another chart from BofA.  It’s already made the rounds and is dated at just over six weeks old, but have a look at the 3 columns specifically on the right.  Have a look at the dates and percentage losses that were still pending to the date of the actual, final low.

BofA Bear Rally Chart

The coast may be clear but 2020 has seen the most unusual market action in history.  I have no way of knowing if this is a bear market rally or a legit restoration of the bull that I’ve missed so far.  But my portfolio’s cash levels clearly mark where I stand.  And if the statistics above are not enough history imploring caution, then have a look at this chart near the end of the GFC in 2008/2009.

S&P 500 2008 Crash & Bounce Volatility

How many bottom-callers gave away healthy chunks of their stacks during that 6-month rundown?

The most successful, sharpest speculators on the planet are currently telling you outright where they stand on this market and it’s poor risk/reward set-up.  That has to make you pause even though the price action is the final arbiter.

People are trained to not fight the Fed, now.  Even dumb money is trained.  Everyone now “knows” that the tsunami of liquidity washing over the financial and corporate world will support equity prices.

It worked for the last 10 years.  It has to work now.  Right?

The stock markets are a discounting mechanism.  They see the future and the future is bright according to speculators, currently.

But let’s revisit the realities of the pandemic’s effects on spending and thus business earnings as well as viability to continue as ongoing concerns.

Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs regardless of whether it’s a furlough or a permanent termination.  How many people who retained their jobs have taken salary cuts of 20% to 30%, possibly permanent?  And somehow this is not going to have a long-lasting impact on business conditions?

The current, typical mindset seems to be something like this, “Just write off 2020. It’s a sunk cost. We’ll have vaccines soon. People are social distancing. And the government is propping up everyone. 2021 is definitely going to be a great year, economically, so let’s price stocks accordingly now.”

However, widespread impairments to income will lead to widespread impairments to business operations.

Have a look at the credit downgrades from Q1.

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Bankruptcies are going to happen.  Capital will be lost.  Is that being appropriately discounted right now?

Right in line with the credit downgrades, let’s take a look at the HY option-adjusted spread.

HY Option Adjusted (May 2020)

We’re in a recession.  The BEA will report this.  And yet spreads are diving.  Well the Fed is buying HYG and JNK.  Don’t fight the Fed.

But let’s look at HY’s default rate versus debt to GDP.  You see that wide mouth?  It’s going to chomp and the likely path of convergence lies with the default rate moving upwards.

Debt to GDP vs Default Rate (May 2020)

And what about leveraged loans and CLOs?  Approximately half of the the leveraged loan market, $600 billion, is securitized via collateralized loan obligations.  Between downgrades and further business earnings impairment, wait till CLOs begin acting like 2008 CDOs.  Will it be a positive or negative for equity prices?

Let’s keep it simple and return to equities with a final look at the pure concentration of capital in this Q2 rally.  Here’s the BofA chart that’s played out by now.  It doesn’t seem to matter that capital is concentrated because this time is definitely different.

Market Concentration (Apr. 2020)

These stocks support the work-from-home new economy so it’s all good, but let’s take a look at a SentimenTrader chart.  After all these years, SentimenTrader continues to generate so much value at such a small cost.  Literally, every player subscribes to it; even those that already have Bloomberg terminals and the best info-flow money can buy.  Chart is dated 5/13/2020.

SentimenTrader - Concentrated Rally (5-13-2020)

Not a pretty picture but we’re almost 2 weeks removed from that signal and the market is up almost another 10%.  Not trying to mine the data but I just can’t shake the nagging feeling that a selloff is imminent.  And by imminent I mean within weeks if not days, just not tomorrow.

Based on the concentration levels then it would stand to reason that the NASDAQ will truly indicate when a correction is to begin.  With the 5 stocks (FAMGA) up above representing 45% of the NASDAQ vs 20% of the S&P 500, look for weakness in the NASDAQ to indicate a trend change.

Once a correction starts, I could see 8200 as a solid support area.  This would put the NASDAQ about 13% below from current prices.  For those of you that missed this rally, some Puts on the QQQ followed by some jumping into quality long positions once that 8200 level is reached will be a good way to make up lost ground in your P&L for 2020.  This would be just above a huge price area of recent purchases, noted below in the chart.

$COMPQ Support Level

Hard to fight this rally.  I know.  But if you want to get that mojo back along with some of that lost capital, it might pay to be bold.

Volatility and Price Action

On March 13th, I made a call that I thought it was time for the markets to begin consolidating. Now some may label that call incorrect as the markets have moved a couple of percent higher, even surpassing 2,100 at one point, but I stand by the call. I think late-comers to the rally pushed the S&P 500 that 2% higher.

Specifically, I guessed we’d “see about 7 weeks of sideways consolidation.” Well in order to get a sideways move, the market will need to see a little correction soon. I suspect we’ll get one starting this week. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a move downward of about 5% in the S&P 500 to the 2,000 – 1,975 area over the course of this week and possibly the next. That stem created last week on a weekly chart is the tell.

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But here’s the thing. I think market participants will completely overreact to the 5% or any move downward. I think the bears will start beating on their keyboards and cranking out articles and blog posts saying things like, “See! I told you! Here comes the real start of a 50% correction!” Pay these cranks no mind.

Instead, utilize the negative sentiment to leverage a potential move in volatility. I could see the VIX spiking to 20 in an over-reaction by hedgers. Those same late-comers to the rally in February will overdue it with VIX options potentially causing a spike.

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So how do you leverage the potential? As usual, if you’re a futures player then just structure your option strategy to take advantage of the fear. For the ETF traders and retail guy trying to swing trade some profits off his work salary, there’s the ProShares Ultra VIX ETF, UVXY. Now this ETF is a trading tool only and it’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re going to trade it then you have to be nimble and ready to take profits. The moves are sudden and quick, but profits can be spectacular if you accurately time an upward thrust.

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You can see in the last two moves of late summer last year and the start of this year, that perfectly timed trades have huge potential. In a 3 week run last August, UVXY moved up almost 300%. From late December to February, it moved up 150% in just 6 weeks. Again, not for the undisciplined. If this puppy isn’t played right, it’s easy to get shell-shocked and lose any profit potential.

Are these calls bold? Maybe, in that I don’t have any quantitative analysis to back my assessment. It’s just the gut feel I’m getting from price action and general sentiment. It can be dangerous to trust someone else’s instincts, let alone your own. A trade like this requires precision and a hawk-like watch over the action. Trading volatility can very often turn into a sucker’s bet. Let price action as opposed to greed guide your moves.

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.

Geological Assays, Biological Assays, Speculating Like an Ass, Hay! – Part 1

Two sectors of the equity markets that always attracts free-wheeling speculative capital like a moth to a light is early-stage biotech and junior precious metals companies. This will be a two-part posting; the first for biotech and the second for precious metals. Like I did for the “Sample ETF Portfolios”, I’ll keep separate running portfolios for the sectors against benchmark ETFs, leveraged ETFs, and stocks.

As I’ve stated in a previous post, I think biotech could end up in a huge, mega blow-off due to the M&A activity that will continue to get larger and more irrational as the equities bull market ages. Another reason M&A activity will spike is because the players who have access to easy credit to fund a debt driven shopping spree will want to get their hands on as much capital as possible before conditions tighten. Double-digit returns are obviously a whole lot easier on purchases with WACCs that are sub-4 or 5%.

I thought that biotech may be leading a potential larger market sell-off but the sector continues to show resilience. Right now IBB is consolidating and has bounced off the 50 and 100-day EMAs with ease during its ascent in 2015.

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As I said before, the conservative play is to simply buy and hold onto this bull and ride it for what it’s worth, bucking and all…but conservative isn’t fun. Yeah, yeah, I know that prudent capital allocation is not supposed to be fun. It’s about responsibly stewarding capital into intelligent investments to outperform the markets over the long term. Fine, but there isn’t a speculator, investor, or market player alive today that doesn’t get a thrill out of watching their holdings outperform the market. With that in mind let’s look at how we’ll construct a speculative portfolio of biotech stocks.

Now I’m not a biotech expert by any means. I gave up trying to cash in on the next big thing in medicine last decade in and around the time every American became an expert in real estate. For the most part, that’s been the right move but there’s always opportunity costs. In February of 2012, a friend asked for my opinion on PCYC when it was trading for a little under $20. He had shared with me some quality insight into the potential value of the company but my bias caused me to advise on passing on it. This was even after the deal with J&J. My name is Mud.

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This was a ten-bagger mistake by allowing my previous experiences to misguide. Speculating in biotech is a slippery slope, though. One can get a taste of easy, probably lucky profits and think the process can be replicated, only to have hopes and trading account balances dashed.

Which is why we’ll simply piggy-back the experts. Baker Brothers and Orbimed are two of the premier investment operations that specialize in biotech. Orbimed possesses approximately $15B in assets under management. Baker Brothers manages slightly less but has a higher profile with the public, especially after their huge billion-dollar gains in Synageva and Pharmacyclics in 2015.

It’s the old 13-F strategy made a little simpler. Instead of combing through their 13-F’s at the SEC site, I just hit the NASDAQ instead. There you’ll find the institutional portfolios, free of charge, of both Baker Bros. and Orbimed. They are updated as of Q1 2015. My logic is to simply cross-reference Q1 additions for each fund of the same companies, whether they’re a new position or an increase to an existing holding. The thesis being that if it’s good enough for both these guys then it’s good enough for me.

Bear in mind this is generally not a sound way to invest by any means. Sure there are dozens of sites dedicated to cloning professional portfolios by using 13-F filings, but blindly following a pro is just unsound. It always pays to conduct thorough due diligence. Gleaning ideas to further research is very different from blindly following a respected professional into a position. The thing about 13-Fs is that you never know how the pro is actually playing the position. How are they hedging? Are options involved? You just never know. With that being said…

The following are the stocks we’ve come up with from cross-referencing the Q1 additions.

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This will not be a real-money portfolio for me, however, I reserve the right to position as I see fit should I be so inclined. If you want to take a flyer, without putting in any work, at higher biotech returns as M&A finally supercharges the sector then this little portfolio is as good a gamble as any. We’ll run this portfolio against five other investment options for biotech exposure.

The first option will be IBB, the all-weather biotech ETF with the most assets under management that has extensive coverage and great liquidity. IBB will be the benchmark. The next option will be LABU, which is the Direxion Daily 3x leveraged ETF of the S&P Biotech Select sub-index. This is our leveraged play without the margin. It’s very new; less than a month old. Trendy ETF creations that hop aboard trains which have already left the station have had a fairly consistent tendency to signal that the destination may soon be reached. As noted countless times though, “soon” is a relative term.

The third and fourth biotech investment options are the BioShares ETF offerings from LifeSci Index Partners. Paul Yook is the co-founder and portfolio manager for LifeSci. He came from Galleon as a portfolio manager and analyst. Despite the downfall of Galleon’s founder, it was still one of the more powerful hedge funds during its prime. You can garner some additional knowledge via this May ETF Reference interview with Yook. The thing that is nice about these two particular ETFs is that LifeSci offers two levels of risk. They offer BBC which takes positions in biotechs at the clinical trials level and has the potential for higher reward. Then there is BBP which only “invests in biotechnology companies with lead drugs already having received FDA approval.” In theory, BBP should reduce some of the risk and volatility compared to BBC.

The final investment option will be Ligand (LGND). They are basically the only publicly traded royalty play in biotech. They’re essentially modeled after the natural resources royalty players. Think Franco Nevada or BP Prudhoe Royalty Trust but with a wide-ranging portfolio of medicinal therapies at varying levels of clinical stages. LGND possesses a portfolio of over 120 partnered programs with biotech players ranging from the highly speculative to the most established in pharma. A position in Ligand is a bet on management’s competence to expose investors to some of the best profit generating opportunities in biotech while de-risking the investment, so to speak.

Be warned though, LGND has seen its share of volatility. Yes, it has treated shareholders exceptionally well for those who have been able to buy and hold over the last 5 years, but it hasn’t exactly been a one-way ticket to Profitsville. There’s been a few stops to Correctionville along the way including a recent 45% haircut through most of 2014.

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None the less, as the only royalty option in the biotech sector I still want to track it against our speculative portfolio, volatility-warts and all.

I’ll post portfolio updates once a month. You’ll see a new link on the Marginrich.com home page around the beginning of next month. The tracking page will maintain nominal dollar gains and percentage gains as well. They’ll look exactly like I what used before with the Sample ETFs.

So there you have it; multiple ways in which to capitalize on what could be an explosive rise in biotech as M&A potentially rages out of control. If you’ve missed this several hundred percent move off the 2009 lows, then here is a perfect opportunity to get positioned for the final blow-off which should come just as it always does for every biotech boom. I don’t think this blow-off is imminent so please don’t misunderstand what has been written. I just feel very strongly that biotech M&A will catapult returns in the sector based on what we’ve seen in every other boom over the last 15 years. The timetable, as with all speculation, is the real question. This portfolio will be tracked indefinitely until we see signs of a legitimate trend-ending correction. Come back often to track the results.

One final note before signing off. For the truly conservative investors out there who visit this site, I just wanted to offer a quick update on one of the funds that I highlighted in my post regarding the emergency fund. It would appear that now may be an opportune time to position into the muni-bond closed-end funds. My preference happens to be NEA but there are a multitude available. Most of them happen to be at their 52-week lows in regards to their respective discounts to NAV. The 10-year Treasury yield is bumping up into what appears to be stiff resistance while at the same time hitting a 61.8% retracement off the Dec. 2013 highs to the Jan. 2015 lows. Additionally, NEA has retraced 38.2% off of its Dec. 2013 lows to Jan. 2015 highs while currently trading in a price range where it has tended to bounce off of. Three out of the last 5 times we saw the price action dip like this to the $12ish range we saw a relatively quick bounce back up into the $14ish area. The two times NEA went lower than $12 and took longer than normal to bounce back up over $14 were aberrant situations like the GFC of 2008 and the huge muni-selloff of 2013. It looks like a good time to take advantage of some great tax equivalent yield with the potential for some decent share price gains.

Short-term Equity Risks Arising

Despite Wednesday’s(3/25/2015) market weakness on virtually nothing but fear, there is plenty of technical action showing that markets appear fine. The question is how reliable is the action. Breadth indicators across multiple indices are positive. Small caps are leading large caps. Consumer discretionary to staples are favorable. Rate sensitive ETFs(TLT & XLU) have been conducting basic retracements which is perfectly natural coming off their hard sell-offs, but I think their selling will resume which will continue to indicate higher risk appetites once stocks take a little breather of their own. If the equity markets do what I think they’re going to do, which is correct a little harder here in the near-term, then I suspect TLT and XLU will chop for a bit while stocks let off of a little steam.

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Everybody has their own methodologies for reviewing the markets to get a feel for the probability of directional plays. I really like to use inter-market analysis to help me potentially sense where the greater market may be headed. I have been watching biotech very closely as it has been the hottest sector and a market leader for some time. Real weakness in biotech may be a precursor to overall market weakness. That action last week in IBB had me suspicious. To me it appeared to be a blow-off. Call it what you want, a throw-over or a bull-trap. Either way the price action raised my hackles and officially put IBB on my radar as a temporary short. Current price action in IBB and the S&P 500 may be proving that out.

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Now clearly, biotech is in a raging bull market and has been for several years now. You don’t want to fight that trend. It’s better just to ride it upwards for continued profit, because it’s going to take a lot more M&A in that sector before we see a top in biotech. However, there was a bit of froth in biotech M&A during the first quarter of 2015. Observe the following chart courtesy of Reuters and just look at Q1’s performance amongst pharmaceutical companies compared to the last 5 years.

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We haven’t seen that kind of aggression since coming off the lows of 2009. There’s been approximately $60B of M&A activity in pharmaceuticals to start 2015, which accounted for 10% of overall M&A activity in the quarter. Twenty-one billion alone of that $60B was done in the Pharmacyclics purchase by AbbVie. That also signaled to me a potential short-term top for biotech as J&J and AbbVie slugged it out for rights to the cancer-fighting company.

So the real question then is how is this information actionable? Well that depends on your appetite for risk and how you’re looking to allocate capital in the short-term or long-term. If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while then you’re well aware I’m always ready to roll the dice based on my ability to interpret market action. I think shorting biotech via IBB or XBI is a good opportunity. I could have positioned earlier, but I was waiting for the price action to confirm so as to hopefully avoid being whipsawed.

If any readers are inclined to risk come capital, I think that IBB’s price action has stated to market players that it looks good for a short-term short. A small bounce at this price point is likely; especially in light of that 4% down day. I suspect the bounce could move the share price back up into the $355 to $365 range giving weak hands sufficient room to liquidate. That liquidation could then kick off the next leg down in biotech. There is a very strong floor at $290 as that is where the current 50-month EMA rests, so any option players will want to factor accordingly. I’m not stating that I think IBB will definitely hit $290, just that it’s a strong price point of support.

If IBB’s share price creates un-compelling options price points for smaller traders, then the XLV is a solid alternative. It has higher relative strength due to the size and various types of non-biotech holdings, but XLV possesses sufficient exposure to biotech that it will correct as well and it’s options may allow for a wider range of speculators to employ strategies.

As for the larger market i.e. the S&P 500, I wouldn’t expect anything deeper than a 10% correction if even that deep. There’s strong support at its 50-month EMA, as well, which is currently at $1,987. A 10% correction would take us down to approximately $1,900, which is also a round-number “power line” that I see providing strong support. I also suspect that any sell-off would result in yet another V-shaped recovery so be prepared to remove any short bias as a new leg higher ensues for the S&P 500 and biotech. Remember, these are interpretations based on my inter-market analysis. There are plenty of breadth indicators putting a more positive spin on things.

The markets are tricky, rigged, and no place for the ignorant. Manage your risks accordingly and utilize any potential correction to get long. There is continued quantitative easing on a massive scale across the world and the Fed is still reluctant to raise rates just yet. Current liquidity levels and yield curves continue to put a wind in the sails of higher risk assets. As Q1 draws to a close, take a moment to review your portfolio and see where you stand in 2015.