Known Unknowns

                  Tight Spot

Speculators are on shaky ground.  We have known knowns, markets can either go up, sideways, or down from here.

We have our unknown unknowns, which are impossible to anticipate or plan for so you manage risk accordingly.

But we have our known unknowns to which I think it’s best to assign probabilities to, handicap if you will, in order to speculate through this tight spot.

Handicapping possible outcomes is no different than thinking in decision-trees.  Here’s a small example of where we could be at, but obviously one has to consider multiple trees and multiple outcomes.

Decision Trees I

From there, assign probabilities and ascertain next course of action with capital.

But with unknowns come fear.  Fear of loss.  Fear of being wrong.  Fear of career risk.  Fear of missing out.

My gut and the tape tells me it’s time for a correction.  The action last Thursday was the starting gun and we got off to a fast start.  I think big money pushes their shorts while also collecting profits on “longs” within the rally.

If this equities correction has legs, I think 15%-ish lower in the S&P 500 and 18%-ish lower in the NASDAQ is where we’ll find heavy support.  In my own handicapping, no new lows in this correction, but serious fear.

Don’t fight the Fed has been one lesson in this rally but but don’t fight retail, in the short-term, has been another.  None the less, I’d still assign the highest probability to that possibility on the far left in the diagram above.

And if we’re assigning letters to this one possibility, here’s your tilted-W.

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Have You Lost Your Mojo

Sad Mojo Jojo - Copy

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.

041520-SCO-Credit-Downgrades_5e9744cba4085

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.

Watch Out for Quicksand

What did you always see in movies with a quicksand scene?  Hero and fellow adventurer plodding along through the forest.  Hopeful and intent on making it to the lost temple of treasure, but cautious for danger.  Then all of a sudden…up to their ribs in quicksand and a rapid descent into panic.

Well that’s how the stock markets kind of feel right now, except there’s an unusual amount of calm.  I get the sense that an air pocket can develop to rip 8% to 10% of value from equities.  It would be fast and temporary.  I firmly believe the stock markets will keep moving upward and I actually think we’re going to have a strong Fall and Winter.

I don’t have any charts or article links to share; just a gut feel backed by anecdotal evidence.  Let’s briefly review the negative factors that one would have surmised to have a higher impact on the broad stock market:

– Repo rates flash-spike up to 10%

– Momentum Factor crashes with Value Factor spiking

– Saudi oil processing plant attacked affecting 5% of total world output

– The 10yr. Treasury took a hard spike downwards

– Fed and ECB are cutting rates

I mean all of that just happened in the last 2 weeks and the closing range on a weekly chart in the S&P 500 is right around just 1%.  It doesn’t feel right.  I suspect we could see a delayed reaction to these negatives, which will be exacerbated by the algos.  That’s how we could see a 2-week down-spike.

All the Bears will claim they were right within that first week and the next GFC is surely here.  Then the second week traps the Bears as the Bulls take over by the end of that second week.  I think if we see action like that then it sets the stage for a V-bounce and the start of the next leg in this Bull market to new highs over the holidays.

Those negative events were enough to halt the down-move in treasuries and stave off a correction in gold, but I think that’s also temporary.  Instead of a flight to safety placing a bid underneath longer Treasuries and gold, we could see a flight to cash.

Again, this is only a gut feeling but it keeps nagging me right now.  If this gut feeling becomes a reality, it could look something like this.

SPX Possibile Air Pocket (Sept. 2019)

Plenty of ways to play that action alone in equities but when you toss in Treasuries and precious metals, it could be a trader’s delight.

Oh, and one last thing on the repo rate spike.  It’s not just a little plumbing issue. That spike up to 10% mattered.  It’s a tell.  If it didn’t matter why exactly would PIMCO say,

In our view, the repurchase (repo) market, where banks and broker-dealers can obtain overnight collateralized loans from intermediaries, is a critical barometer of the health of the financial markets.

Tread lightly…at least temporarily.

Sneaky Suspicion

Today, tomorrow, and Monday.  That’s all we have left of the 2018 year in equities.  This bipolar market has even the professionals pulling their hair out; Monday’s despair vs. Wednesday’s relief.

Here’s how I think the S&P500 plays out to end 2018 and you can take advantage whether you’re a short-term trader or a long-term investor.  These are just gut-guesses that also influence my own decision-making process.

Thursday (12/27/2018) – I suspect we’ll get a flattish (up 0.25% to 0.50%) day.  But the pros are smart and they’re going to harvest their tax losses and perhaps perform some year-end window dressing

Friday (12/28/2018) – Down between 1.25% and 2.8%.  This will freak out entrants who will feel they waded back in too early.

Monday (12/31/2018) – Down 3.5% to 4.9% and we erase Wednesday’s recovery.

I can easily see the skilled timers across all genres of the investor universe using the unskilled timers for lipstick-on-pig returns to dress up their 2018 performance against the damage of Q4. 

Then get ready for a great H1 2019.

Another Bounce or Not

Hmmmm.  What to do in a market like this?

For your long portfolios, my advice would be to sit tight.  The odds are strong that we’re in a multi-week bounce before another little shakeout.

SPX Thru 2018 Holidays (Nov. 2018)

I’d suggest getting long after the next move downward.  Market behavior suggests a rally into 2019.  It could be the start of the final leg of the melt-up as “late-cycle” keeps getting bandied about out there.  Over the past few years, the drill seems to be a quick move down followed by the exhaustion-bounce followed by another move downward before regaining the up-trend (weekly charts).

For the contrarians, it’s hard not to look at China and energy as two obvious areas for medium-term plays.  If you play in the markets at all, I don’t need to throw up charts to illustrate the performance of both sectors of late.  Tencent and JD could be easy moneymakers.  And the energy toll roads can provide a nice yield along with cap. gains on an oil bounce over the ensuing months.

EPD has the infrastructure footprint and financial efficiencies that begs for yield-starved investors who’ve been waiting for a better opportunity for entry.  However, the company’s price remains quite steady in the $20 to $30 range.

Oil’s price action looks exhaustive.  Fundamentals appear to bear out an inexplicable magnitude of this sell-off.  If institutional traders on the wrong side are able to quickly offload positions, then there may be enough support by energy bulls to resume an up-trend without extreme volatility.  I remind energy traders of what we saw in H2 of 2016.

I liked the Starbucks story, but it quickly got white-hot before I could position with my long portfolios.

SBUX Retrace (Nov. 2018)

Based on the trajectory over the last several weeks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a retrace down to the $56 – $58 range.  That’s a good spot to get positioned if you’ve been eyeballing this world-class caffeinator.

In the quasi-cash-equivalent area, muni-CEFs have presented recent value with their widened NAV discounts.  The discounts have come off a few points as investors have taken advantage of the historically free money and positioned accordingly.  The big question mark is interest rates.

Does the Fed raise rates next month?  If so, that could renew selling action in muni-CEFs and widen discounts again.

Interest rate tape reading has rates looking a little toppy.  Not like they’re going to topple over as we know the Fed will raise rates which will force support.  But still, I like interest rate-sensitive funds here to drive a little yield for a bit in place of sitting on excess cash.

          IIM Current NAV Discount (Nov. 2018)

          JPS Current NAV Discount (Nov. 2018)

Remember, these aren’t long-term investments.  We’re talking about using them as cash-equivalents, but their volatility makes them decidedly un-cash-equivalent.  We’re speculating on additional points on your money earned relatively conservatively.  Mind your stops.  Protection first.