Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Evidence Supports the Bears’ Case for the S&P 500


I am not one to discuss fundamentals or macro views, but this situation in Europe is beginning to morph into a media frenzy. Price action in the marketplace is changing rapidly in short periods of time based on the latest press releases coming from the Eurozone summit.

I cannot help but comment on the seemingly arbitrary actions coming from this high profile meeting. Nothing has happened that market participants were not already privy too. The European Union is going to strengthen their EFSF fund by levering it up roughly 4 : 1. I have yet to hear how exactly they plan on doing this, but this action was no surprise to anyone that has read an article about the sovereign debt crisis in the past month.

There was also discussion about backstopping European banks’ capital position. Since European banks are holding billions (Euros) of risky sovereign debt instruments, it would make sense that their capitalization is a primary concern of Eurozone leaders based on current fiscal conditions. I would argue that the banks should be well capitalized regardless of economic or fiscal conditions in order for a nation to have a strong, vibrant economy that has the potential to grow organically.

The final piece of this week’s political nonsense involves write-downs on Greek debt in the neighborhood of 50% – 60% in order to stabilize Greece’s debt to GDP ratio. Apparently Eurozone leaders want to structure the write down so as to avoid payouts by credit default swaps which act as insurance against default. How does a bond take a 50% – 60% valuation mark down without a creating an event that would trigger the payout of CDS swaps?

If a write down of that magnitude does not trigger the CDS swaps, then I would argue they are useless as a tool to hedge against the default risk carried by sovereign debt instruments. If the CDS swaps do not payout as projected by European politicians, the risk assumed by those purchasing government debt obligations around the world would be altered immediately.

The impact this might have on the future pricing of risk for government debt instruments could be extremely detrimental to their ability to raise funds in the private market. Additionally, the write downs would hurt European banks’ capital positions immediately. If the CDS swaps were to pay out, bank capital ratios would suffer as those who took on counter party risk would be forced to cover their obligations thereby straining capital positions even further potentially.

Price action today suggested that the equity markets approved of the package that European leaders were working on. However, the biggest push higher came when news was released that China was interested in purchasing high quality debt instruments as a means to help prop up poorly capitalized banks and sovereign nations in the Eurozone through an IMF facility.

The market did an immediate about face which saw the Dollar selloff while the S&P 500 rallied higher into the close reversing a great deal of Tuesday’s losses. Inquiring minds wish to know where we go from here? I would be lying if I said I knew for sure which direction Mr. Market favored, however that did not stop me from looking for possible clues.

It has been a while since I checked out the short-term momentum charts that are focused on the number of stocks in U.S. domestic equity markets that are trading above their 20 & 50 period moving averages. The charts below illustrate the current market momentum:

Equities Trading Above the 20 Period Moving Average
Stock Above the 20 Day Average

It is rather obvious that when we look at the number of stocks trading above their 20 period moving average that momentum is running quite high presently. This chart would indicate that in the short-term time frames equities are currently overbought.

Equities Trading Above the 50 Period Moving Average
Stock Above the 50 Day Average

A similar conclusion can be drawn when we look at the number of stocks trading above their 50 period moving averages. It is rather obvious at this point in time that in the short to intermediate term time frames, stocks are currently at overbought levels. This is not to say that stocks will not continue to work higher, but a pullback is becoming more and more likely.

Additional evidence that would support the possibility that a pullback is likely would be the  recent bottom being carved out in the price action of the U.S. Dollar Index. The U.S. Dollar has been under selling pressure since the beginning of October, but has recently started to show signs that it could be stabilizing and setting up to rally higher.

The daily chart of the U.S. Dollar Index is shown below:
US Dollar Chart

The U.S. Dollar Index is sitting right at major support and is oversold based on historical price action. If the Dollar begins to push higher in coming days and weeks it is going to push equity prices considerably lower. Other risk assets such as gold, silver, and oil would also be negatively impacted by higher Dollar prices.

Members of my service know that I focus on several sectors to help give me a better idea about the broader equity markets. I regularly look at the financial sector (XLF), the Dow Jones Transportation Index (IYT), emerging markets (EEM), and the Russell 2000 Index (IWM) for clues about future price action in the S&P 500.

During my regular evening scan I noticed that all 4 sector/index ETF’s are trading at or near major overhead resistance. With the exception of the Dow Jones Transportation Index (IYT), the other 3 underlying assets have yet to breakout over their August 31st highs. The significance of August 31st is that is the date when the S&P 500 Index put in a major reversal right at the 1,230 price level before turning lower. It took nearly two months to regain the 1,230 level and its significance continues to hold sway.

The daily chart of IWM is shown below illustrating its failure to breakout over the August 31st highs:
IWM Russell 2000 ETF
The chart above illustrates clearly that IWM has failed to breakout above the August 31st highs. I am going to be watching IWM, XLF, & EEM closely in coming days to see if they are able to breakout similarly to the S&P 500. If they start to rollover, it will not be long before the S&P 500 likely follows suit.
Currently the underlying signals are arguing for lower prices in the short to intermediate term. While it is entirely possible that the S&P 500 rallies higher from here, it is without question that current market conditions are overbought in the short to intermediate terms.

Key sectors and indices are not showing follow through to the upside to help solidify the S&P 500′s recent break above the key 1,230 price level. Additionally, the U.S. Dollar Index is currently trading right at key support in addition to being oversold. At this time I am not playing the S&P 500 in either direction, but I will be watching the underlying price action in the U.S. Dollar Index closely. I will be watching for additional clues in the days ahead.

Market and headline risk is high presently.

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Chris Vermeulen & J.W. Jones

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