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.

clip_image001

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.

clip_image002

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.

clip_image003

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.

The Correction and a Trade Update

We’ll begin with Alibaba. It’s funny; there was article after article talking about how the BABA IPO may top-tick the market and yet not really much chatter at all from the financial sources about how BABA actually did top-tick. Like literally to the day, if somehow you were unaware of that. Have a look:

clip_image002

You can literally find dozens of articles on the subject. Some were written before September 19th. Others were written just a handful of days afterwards. One even had the gall to act as if some specific blogger nailed the top. To his credit the blogger did nail it to the hour, but it wasn’t exactly going out on a serious limb. Here’s a listing to go back and peruse:

1. www.marketwatch.com/story/did-alibabas-ipo-signal-a-top-in-the-stock-market-2014-09-23
2. blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2014/09/12/alibabas-ipo-not-necessarily-a-sign-of-market-top
3. www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2014/09/25/first-take-did-alibaba-ipo-mark-market-top/16225725/
4. finance.yahoo.com/video/alibaba-not-top-market-trader-160000682.html – here’s Ponytail Najarian “Gartmaning” the call on the short-term top
5. finance.yahoo.com/blogs/talking-numbers/why-the-alibaba-ipo-may-mark-a-top-for-stocks-182746661.html
6. www.mercenarytrader.com/2014/09/the-alibaba-debut-bears-uncanny-similarity-to-a-year-2007-top
7. finance.yahoo.com/news/stock-market-blogger-nailed-top-211049421.html – and here’s the top calling blogger at Philosophical Economics who did actually call it a top

BABA’s IPO really was a bell at the short-term top, not the long-term. I strongly feel this move is simply a correction allowing for further upside for the equity markets, as I laid out with my “chop & drop” charts. The real question is whether we get a V-shaped correction into a breakout of new highs as the bull trend resumes or is there further downside action. It’s hard for speculators to let go of 2013.

clip_image004

You can see that despite all the fuss being made over the 200-day MA being passed on a daily chart, there’s virtually no chance of that happening on a weekly chart(which has more meaning). Additionally, one can see that the 50-day on a weekly presented a natural support area. Subsequent price action proves that out.

clip_image006

The sell-off reached extremes in so many names during the course of last week, that by Friday, we were due for an immediate bounce. This is perfectly normal behavior in a correction of over 10%. Yes, I say 10% because this one probably hasn’t reached its nadir yet. Using my drug-store technical analysis, the blue-line above represents a fairly basic resistance point for the S&P 500 to obtain in the bounce. Six months ago I shared my thoughts that in order for the S&P 500 to finally take a break, the market would need to see what I deemed to be all 3 legs of the “risk stool” to be kicked out. It started with biotech. Then moved on to small caps. Finally, high-yield fixed income sold off. Combine that with the liquidity vacuum of Alibaba in combination with some Ebola fears for the airlines, the darlings of hedge funds, and WHAMMY! The sell-off has greeted us in fine fashion to start the fall season.

The deflationary action in commodity prices, specifically oil, has compounded the speed of the move downward in equity markets. I think that will help to compound the fear a little longer, which is why I suspect we’ll see a bounce and resumption versus a V-shape move off the low. Fear has a predictive way of making people wait for a bounce and then selling off again at whatever profit can be garnered, further exacerbating the corrective action. About a week ago, SentimenTrader shared a chart displaying typical action in the VIX, “the fear gauge.” It showed price action over the last 20 years, anytime the VIX jumped 100% off its six-month low. The chart may be instructive because you can see that except for 1997 and 2006, there was always further to go before a bottom.

clip_image008

McClellan offered his opinion of the level of extremes based on his Summation Index. The oversold levels of the stock markets have already led to the beginning of a bounce, however it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. The same thing occurred back in 2011.

clip_image009

If you want to start nibbling at a wish list, then you can follow in the footsteps of many of the giants of finance. Even Uncle Warren said he was buying at these prices. As I’ve stated throughout this article, I don’t think this move is quite done yet and “discretion is the better part of valor.”

Let’s come back to JJG, the ETF holding corn, wheat, and soybeans. In an earlier post, I’d stated I would tell readers when I thought it was go-time on this commodity trade. Well that time is now. My go-to indicators are giving a buy signal. Yes, bumper crops are expected but as we know, supply and demand are not always the ultimate arbiters of value in futures pricing. Sentiment reached extremes and speculators are positioning accordingly. The price action may bounce around at bottom here for a bit, but the downside risk has been significantly reduced. Additionally, you’d hate yourself if you missed out on a coffee-style trade.

I also want to revisit my Delta Airlines short. That was liquidated for a profit, but it was a difficult one for me to stomach, as I irresponsibly held the position. It was a simple trade. I played some Calls on the Transports, and some Puts on Delta. You can debate the finer points of whether I was hedged or simply neutral. I didn’t run the trade through a monte carlo simulator while statistically evaluating the correlations, so forgive my lack of sophistication on this one. I made a move. It paid off, fortunately. The problem was that I profited much faster on the Transports and then closed the position leaving me unhedged in Delta. The unrealized loss in the position was quite extreme, but my analysis felt sound and the duration of the option gave my thesis plenty of time. That was very undisciplined and a trader should always mind their stops. Sometimes though, a human’s hunches get the best of them. I’m not different. This situation worked out.

clip_image011

Because along came Alibaba and Ebola and away we went with the downside move. I had stated that I thought $30 would be the profit point, and fortunately I was able to liquidate the holding for a tidy 50%. My analysis was sound, but I got lucky despite my lack of discipline in this particular trade. The total market catalysts really assisted the drive to profit, but I’ll take’em as they come.

Keep your eyes open and don’t get too jumpy on your shopping lists. If you have to buy, then ease into a position. That’s how the professionals allocate capital into holdings and you’d be wise to speculate in the same way when establishing a stake. Although I’ve called for a resumption of the downtrend to further lows, nobody should be surprised by a liquidity-backed V-shaped correction. Anything’s possible in today’s equity markets.

Triple Top Into the Chop & Drop

I hate to keep writing about corrections and being a fear mongerer. At this point, it’s pretty useless as the S&P 500 stays constantly bid under all conditions. The last little correction lasted a week exactly and took the SPX down approximately 4%. Before that was the approximate 6% correction we saw from January 23rd to February 3rd. That was 11 days and a casual observer of the market would have thought the rails had come off of everything the way sentiment crashed so quickly.

Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing myself with the correction talk, so this will be my last post regarding correction or downturn talk for a little bit. I’ll find something else to entertain and possibly inform you with, because this subject is tired. Especially, when you consider the following charts. I originally titled this post as I meant to write it several days back, when the SPX looked like this:

clip_image001

However, we seem to have experienced a “clear” breakout so we’re not technically talking about a triple-top anymore…unless it’s a bull trap. Is it a bull-trap? Hindsight will inform us. In my humble and probably very ignorant opinion, I think it’s a bull-trap. There’s just enough buying power left to draw in some last suckers before corrective action. It’s not unheard of for a third top in a triple top to be higher than the first two. The tape shouldn’t be ignored but neither should the myriad of signals running counter to the tape.

clip_image002

Of course, I could be wrong. I’ve been early to the short party before, and I took a couple lumps to my account and ego for being a wannabe, turn-calling notshot. I maintained tight stops so the damage was minimal, but top calling is a suckers bet that continues to be fun to make.

Complacency is the topic du jour around the financial blogosphere and professional commentaries. The VIX pushed under 12, as denoted by the blue line in the following chart. Recently, hitting or going sub-12 tends to be a precursor to a spike in volatility but it is far from indicating a definite, imminent move.

clip_image003

Many commentators and “experts” have been turning to more esoteric signals to ensure that the S&P 500’s new highs are a “legitimate” breakout in a positive trend. For the record, I happen to really enjoy and appreciate the consistently insightful commentary put out by the three sources I’m about to list. All the same, have a look at these 3 articles:

1. Chris Puplava – http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/chris-puplava/further-signs-market-bottom-building
2. Bespoke – http://www.bespokeinvest.com/thinkbig/2014/5/30/long-term-vix-chart.html (no mention of unprecedented easing the last 6 years)
3. Tom McClellan – http://www.mcoscillator.com/learning_center/weekly_chart/equity_options_vs._index_options/

Maybe it’s my lack of statistical sophistication or inexperience in professional money management, but these 3 articles seem to be really stretching for evidence that a significant correction is not going to occur this summer and the breakout in the S&P 500 is 100% the real deal. I like to keep things simple, by observing the obvious signals. Market leaders at the time(biotech and small caps) broke down several months ago. Now they’re retracing to perfectly natural Fib. areas before potentially continuing downward which I think will have the effect of finally pulling the S&P 500 with them. Volume is anemic. The VIX is saying, “Wait a second here.” Is it because it’s the start of summer? All sorts of economic indicators have given a red light or at least a yellow light, despite all the cheer leaders. High yield fixed income keeps getting bid higher and higher with no downturn in sight.

So many signals are readily apparent but we still need a trigger. In my last post, I thought that the high yield bond market may be the catalyst for a downturn in the S&P 500, but maybe it just finally gets pulled down with the risk indexes without junk correcting. What will the trigger be? Who knows? It could be anything. Maybe we get some sort of sell-off in another asset class causing a fixed income dash to cash, with the best returns being locked in from their high yield segments. Geopolitical activity may induce fears, although nobody in the markets seems to give a damn about the chess moves conducted by Russia or China. The markets continue to confound even the savviest.

“YEAH, YEAH, YEAH! We’ve heard all this non-sense in your last post! How does this apply to AND what the hell is a “chop & drop?”

Well “chop & drop” is a pattern that is seen typically before major dislocations. John Hussman, Ph. D, who is consistently labeled as a perma-bear and broken clock, generates very good and widely read commentary that does skew to a negative outlook. He just calls it how he sees it based on his extensive research. Everybody’s got an opinion. It’s just a matter of whether you value it or not. I happen to value his commentary, but I don’t base my decisions on how I speculate by any one market commentator. It’s all about taking in as much as possible from as many credible sources as possible to assist one in firming up their own mental picture of the state of things.

Anyways, he put out a piece recently titled, The Journeys of Sisyphus. Have a read if you’re in the mood for some confirming of your bias to your own negative outlook. In the piece he produces several Dow Industrial Jones charts leading up to the major downturns of the last 85 years. For the record, he did not comment on any chopping and dropping in the post. I only reference his work because of the charts. My commentary is in no way affiliated with Dr. Hussman, nor has he endorsed this post in any shape or form.

The first chart obviously displays 1929. In it you can observe the pattern of a notable correction with a recovery into some sideways chop followed by another notable correction leading into a final, euphoric run-up. This pattern of “chop & drop” almost always occurs in the final two years.

clip_image004

Before presenting the rest of the charts, I am fully aware of the human brain’s abilities in the area of pattern recognition. It’s one of the distinguishing factors of our intelligence as a species, and is a key differentiator from the unevolved brains of other species as well as machines…for now. These set-ups could just as easily be illusory conjunctions of patterns established by a biased mind attempting to create the ability to foresee market outcomes. In other words, I could just be full of it. Believe me, I get that. I’m still going to present the rest of the charts and you the reader can establish your own outlook.

Here in 1972, we have the “chop & drop” but with a pseudo final run-up to sort of fakeout speculators. Compare this to 1929 where the chop went right into the final drop.

clip_image005

The action in 1987 lacked an initial heavy drop and recovery into the chop. Instead prices consolidated(or chopped) until that first drop before the extremely euphoric run-up prior to Black Monday.

clip_image006

Finally, we’ve reached a time where a majority of readers may have actually had some money in play. The bust that started it all for a lot of us, the Dot.Com bust.

clip_image007

In 2007, the action was tight with the chopping and dropping occurring in less than a year. The outcome was still the same, a mega bust. In fact, if you think about the action of the dislocation it was kind of tight, too. All the action was essentially squeezed into 2008. Yes it began in November of 2007 and bottomed in March of 2009, but the real gut wrenching, heart breaking action occurred in 2008.

clip_image008

And finally we come to the present, 2014. Now remember this whole exercise is pure speculation, but what I think we saw in that 6% correction in February was the first drop. We already recovered and have chopped along since then. At some point in the summer we could then move into a more serious drop of at least 10%. I suspect this may signify the last major drop before recovering into the final euphoric run-up which could last into 2016 before a major dislocation.

clip_image009

Of course I run the risk of being wickedly wrong. But as I provide these posts free of charge and I do not manage money professionally, I’m ok with sticking my neck out and assessing the cycles of fear and greed as such. There’s no career risk. As for reputation risk, I’ll wait till my small following of readers can no longer be labeled small before I worry about my street cred.

Just for kicks, here’s some statistics and notes regarding the Triple Top pattern from forex-tribe.com. It’s a good site to use for a little education into basic technical analysis patterns. However, they do not list where they obtained their data and how it was quantified. I was reluctant to even share it, but it’s just for kicks. If you’re relying on old school patterns without quantifying risk and reward ahead of time, well then shame on you.

Alleged triple top statistics:
– In 85% of cases, there is a downward exit
– In 50% of cases, the target of the pattern is reached once the neckline broken
– In 84% of cases, a pullback occur
– In 85% of cases, there is a pursuit of the movement once the neckline broken

May closed out at a one-year high for the S&P 500. This is a very, very infrequent event; which is why the cliché “Sell in May and go away” even exists. Don’t be surprised if May selling just gets pushed back to June and July. Do not take your eye off the ball for any reason out there if you’re aggressively trading. For you long money players, take some time to consider the charts we reviewed today.

Don’t discount that sovereign debts are at all-time highs across all the developed nations. Don’t discount that every major economy is monetizing debts or manipulating currencies via swaps or taking some other related action to sway economic activities. Don’t discount that credit derivatives exist in the hundreds of trillions with multiple collateral lines traced to multiple counter parties amongst the holders of said derivatives. Don’t discount negative GDP reads in developed nations. Don’t discount anything. Nothing is what it seems in the markets anymore and it could pay big to be prepared well in advance of what historical price action has already told us.

I’m signing off but before I go, the biggest laugher of the week has to be that Italy and Great Britain are including prostitution and illegal drug sales in their respective GDP calculations. Seriously, you just can’t make this crap up anymore. Good day.

Whipsaw, Whipsaw

MAN ALIVE! That action on Monday is enough to make a trader fold up operations and go back to counting beans or selling un-needed crap to folks. That was seriously some hair-raising action. Did you get your stops ran? Did any of you traders get whipsawed by Monday’s action? Rest assured, you probably weren’t alone.

If you’re attempting to go short here across any of the indices and had your stops ran on Monday then kudos to you for maintaining discipline. However, you just may be missing out on more of the fun of a potential downmove. Hard to say because my crystal ball is in the shop and for some unforeseen reason I’m not omniscient. It really makes me mad that I can’t call the exact turns of the market. Oh well. I still think a downward short-term bias is in effect and eventually the perceived risk indexes(Russell 2000 & NASDAQ) will finally pull down the “Great Proxy”, the S&P 500.

So far, so good for the S&P 500 as it set new highs this week…and has promptly come off those highs. Is that strong price momentum? Have a look at the daily action in the VIX. It gapped down to start the week and within 3 days that gap has filled, but still yet, the VIX is still down around all-time lows.

clip_image002

The MACD has been a pretty simple and fair indicator to clue traders in when the volatility is going to start spiking. Observe at the green lines that every time the MACD turned upwards, the VIX was usually in the early stage of an up-move. Are we at another up-move right now? It feels like it. If things get dicey, a quick move up to 20 on the VIX could easily occur.

A couple of weeks ago, SentimentTrader shared a chart depicting the VIX Put/Call Open Interest Ratio. It puts on full display what the current option action on the VIX is saying about volatility. Judge for yourself:

clip_image004

There are plenty of messages being communicated very loudly and clearly by the markets. These aren’t esoteric signals that only the true professionals can divine. Anybody with the ability to read and some dial-up internet internet service can see these messages…more power to you if don’t have to result to a screeching connection via Juno or NetZero or whoever the hell provides dial-up these days. Also, to any readers who currently utilize dial-up to access this blog, please excuse my insensitivity.

Things are happening in the markets such as defensive rotation. Utilities have performed fantastically so far the past few months while the rotation to staples vs discretionary appears to have begun. Less and less issues are hitting 52-week highs despite the DOW and S&P 500 sitting near their own highs. Treasury rates continue to drop. Wal-Mart missed fairly big on YoY Q1 income. High-flying tech and small caps have already come off pretty hard and these are where the risk is allocated. Social media sites trading at P/E’s in the multi-hundreds. Biotech stories being sold on a wing and prayer for ridiculous valuations.

High-flying tech and small caps are part of what I call the 3-legged risk stool that are sort of propping up the animal spirits of the entire, current stock market. Two of those legs have been kicked out, so to speak, and yet still the S&P 500 hasn’t really shaken out the bulls. The third leg of the shaky risk stool and thus potentially the ultimate catalyst for a correction in the broader markets is junk bonds, I suspect.

If junk bonds correct here within the next 14 to 60 days, with remaining weakness in the NDX and RUT, then things can get real hairy, real fast for people who are poorly positioned for the move. Have a look at what Kimble shared over at his site a few days ago,

clip_image006

So then what could be a catalyst besides stiff resistance? Oh I don’t know. Maybe the humongousest junk bond issuance in financial history. Anybody remember seeing this near the end of April?

clip_image008

The markets have a funny tendency to act a little wonky after the largest-ever of anything occurs.

The action this week has that sort of a backdraft feeling to it. In case you never saw the movie, a backdraft(as defined by the Collins English Dictionary) is “an explosion that occurs when air reaches a fire that has used up all the available oxygen, often occurring when a door is opened to the room containing the fire.” Buyers potentially get a final pull into risk assets before an explosion outwards for a fast and hard move down after the right catalysts make their presence known.

Despite the already well covered move down in the Russell 2000, it appears as if there is plenty of room for a continuation downward. If you’re trading IWM, then keep your stops at an appropriate level. Biotech’s IBB essentially bounced off it’s 38.2% retracement using the week of August 8th, 2011 as your starting point for a quick Fibonacci analysis. A cautious short in IBB with the potential for further selling down to between $200 and $205, may yield a nice return during this summer. In a previous post, I had stated that I thought coffee was setting up for a short but my favorite indicators were not providing a green light just yet. Well those indicators finally gave their green light. If you’re feeling brave you can follow me on a short of JO with approximate targets of $35 and $30, if the selling momentum really gets going.

The list of investing icons who are advising caution continues to build. We’ve had mutual fund heroes like Romick of FPA and Yactkman share their thoughts months ago on building cash levels. Klarman, Marks, and Grantham have given the thumbs down. Now we had David Tepper, Mr. Highest Paid 2013 Hedgie, providing his valued insight on these precarious markets. It may not pay to listen to or heed a blogger like myself. That’s for you to decide; but you can’t dispute that it pays to heed what these most esteemed gentlemen have to share.

The Potential Depth of the Corrective Action

Markets’ darling leaders sell off? Check. Defensive sectors rotate up? Check. Seasonality coming into play(if you believe such stuff)? Check. S&P 500 VIX spiking? Not check. We have yet to see the S&P 500 really start to come down off its highs for the year just yet. Although, the market action has probably felt terrible for those heavily weighted to the NASDAQ, we have yet to see some heart-wrenching downside action in the S&P 500.

SentimentTrader just shared a note about the lack of volatility in the VIX and the downside potential in the S&P 500, “There have only been two other times in the past 20 years that the Nasdaq Composite had dropped more than -8% from its 52-week high, but the VIX “fear gauge” was still below 17.5, a scenario we have now. It shows relative complacency in the face of a sell-off in higher-beta stocks. Those two occurrences were March 28, 2002 and May 15, 2008. The S&P 500 sold off more than -15% over the next three months both times.

As usual, the statistics suffer from a small sample size within a relatively short period.

However, the facts are the facts.

Add in that earnings season has been off to a fairly weak start and you have that much more evidence to make you pause and consider before allocating more long capital right now. For any readers who are EPS hounds and swear that stocks always follow earnings, here’s a snapshot courtesy of Thompson Reuters’s Alpha Now that also supports a pause in the action through the spring and potentially summer.

S&P 500: EARNINGS AND REVENUE GROWTH TREND

clip_image002

And to keep my confirmation bias fully intact, here’s a snippet from Louise Yamada courtesy of CNBC. I can’t believe I’m quoting material from the hack-shop CNBC, but Louise truly is a legend in the institutional research side of technical analysis. Anyways, she states, “I don’t think the pullback is already over. I think that it’s an interim pullback, and we’ve certainly seen what we’ve expected, in the Internet and biotechs coming off. And I think that although they may bounce, there’s probably still a little bit more to go on the downside…If we break that level(1,750 on the S&P 500), that will be the first lower low that we would have seen all the way back to 2011, really…Below 1,750, support lies at 1,650.

If we hit that 1,650ish area, then that’s approximately 10% to 12% off the highs for the year. But who’s to say we have to have a minimum 10% correction? I’ve been calling for that level of correction to clear things out a bit in the market. Many other commentaries have also focused on the need for at least a 10% correction in the S&P 500 to work off overbought levels.

Richard Dickson, Chief Market Analyst at Lowry Research, recently gave an interview at FinancialSense.com providing his outlook on the “need” for a correction of at least 10% in the S&P. If you’re unfamiliar with Lowry Research, they are one of the true OG’s in the game of institutional level technical analysis and the oldest firm in the US to provide such services. Dickson stated that:

We’ve already had two corrections well over 10% from 2010 to 2011 in this bull market and, historically, if you go back and look at the various bull markets and use the Dow Jones on a closing basis, we’ve never had more than one 10% correction in a bull market… Since 1940, we’ve never had more than one, so this has been a little unprecedented in the fact that we’ve already had two. So, to say “well, we need another one”…my response to that is we’ve already had two, how many do you want?… As things stand right now, any pullback, whether it’s 5% or 10%, in our opinion, would simply be a buying opportunity.

So there you have it. Buy the dip according to Dickson.

Still though, want some basic ideas on how to play some downside action? Buy VXX or leverage it up and buy some Calls on VXX. You can buy some Puts on the SPY or eliminate the risk of purchasing the optimal option and purchase the 3x leveraged SPXU from ProShares. It may be a little late, but utilities ETF’s such as XLU have been the home of the defensive minded for several weeks now. The typical disclaimer applies regarding your own trades.

I intended to share some thoughts and charts on the serious distortions to the financial landscape, as stated at the end of my last post. My apologies but you’ll just have to wait till the next post again, where I will definitely talk distortions. I promise. Bis spater.