The Feds use a backhoe for a gravedigger

March 25, 2009

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
– Yogi Berra

In mid-December, after the Fed lowered rates to 0 to .25%, we noted:

Aggressive action by the Federal Reserve today pushed most markets above their respective simple 50 day moving averages for the first time since September.  We have highlighted the 50 day as resistance level number one in prior notes and have shown it to be critical resistance along with the 200 day and 80 week.  This is a primary step to recovery and opens the door to a potential challenge of the 200 day near the beginning of 2009.

That rally was short lived, eventually failing after a more sustained move above the 50 day near the beginning of the year.  What is interesting is that we may be seeing a similar sequence of events again.

After a brief dip below the 2002 lows, the SPX has rallied back significantly on the back of announcements from the Treasury and Federal Reserve.  The combination of these announcements (along with better economic reports) has again pushed most major market averages over their simple 50 day moving averages.  Unfortunately, volume has not expanded with this push, even though volume levels are higher than earlier in the year.

The market managed about 7 days above the 50 day in early January.  So far, we have 3 days on this trip.  To avoid a repeat of action earlier in the year, it is critical that the SPX remain above the 50 day and the 2002 lows.  The Feds can do all of the grandstanding and wagon circling they want, but the market will not be forced higher.  We need to see organic buying build on this foundation for the bears to truly remain buried below the 2002 lows.  Ideally, a high volume rally will spring from support at the 50 day to challenge the Feb highs in the area of 875.  If this occurs, the 50 day and 800 will serve as very solid support going forward as we move toward the Jan highs around 940.

If the market again fails after a quick Fed induced burst over the 50 day, we look at 741 as the first support level below the 2002 lows.  A significant break at 741 would argue for at least a retest of the lows at 667.  With other indicators showing improvement, including some leaders exhibiting notable relative strength, it is our assumption at this point that the lows at 667 will not be broken.



Phases of fear and elation in the VIX

March 18, 2009

Here we show a nice relationship between the VIX and the SPX.  While this is a commonly referenced pairing, many still challenge the value of using the VIX as a market indicator.  There are numerous ways too use the VIX and almost everyone has their own tweaks.  This chart shows a very clear inverse relationship with several distinct “phases” discernible in the value of the VIX.  These “phases” correlate well with the action in the SPX.  We have labled these phases “euphoria”, “fear” and “panic”.  We also included the 400 day moving average (equivalent to the 80 week) which we discussed previously in The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average.  This bull/bear market reference point matches up very well with the action in the VIX, as the VIX moves into the “fear phase” just as the 400 day is coming under assault, before eventually breaking.  A final test of the 400 day from below, which we highlighted in late April 2008, was accompanied by one last dip into the “euphoria” zone for the VIX.  That was the “last chance” to get out before the drop gathered steam as the SPX then dropped over 50% in less than 12 months.

We added the notes on Bear Stearns and Citigroup for a consensus of the “expert” opinion at the time.


Markets move above the 50 day moving averages

December 16, 2008

Aggressive action by the Federal Reserve today pushed most markets above their respective simple 50 day moving averages for the first time since September.  We have highlighted the 50 day as resistance level number one in prior notes and have shown it to be critical resistance along with the 200 day and 80 week.  This is a primary step to recovery and opens the door to a potential challenge of the 200 day near the beginning of 2009.

A rally to the 200 day would be quite significant as the recent violent plunge has opened up a large gap over the 50 day.  A similar test of the 200 day as resistance came in early 2002, though the gap was not as dramatic, because the market did not fall to such lows as quickly as this year.

See the charts for the major averages below, with the 50 day moving average in blue and the 200 day in red:





Once, Twice, Three Times a Bottom…

October 30, 2008

Time for another chapter in the saga of capital destruction we call the stock market.

Just in time for the negative GDP number everyone has been waiting for, the market is finding a bottom.  It may not be the ultimate bear market bottom, but it’s probably the bottom for 2008.  As we noted in We’re sure scared now…bringing it all together, “Historically, a retest of the lows develops within a few months to verify the strength of the bottom.  Hitting the exact lows again is not a necessity, but a second significant down move usually at least comes close.  This offers a great time to pick up relative strength leaders as they separate from the pack.”

We have seen not only one, but two tests of the lows since that writing, in the broad market indices.  Neither one of those tests completely reached the initial low, but both were violent and low enough to be considered valid.  The updated chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows pullbacks of 1,500 and 1,100 points respectively, with both lows about 300 points above the initial low of October 10.

What has developed now is a trading range.  Not exactly bullish, but much better than the ski slope drop of the last few months, October in particular.  Seasonality is also about to turn positive as the November through April time period is historically the best six months of the year for the markets.  November itself is one of the best single months to be invested.

So how do we decide what to do?

There are several options here really.  Trading range strategies are particularly profitable in times of high volatility.  Selling premium and initiating spreads are some preferred options trading strategies for this kind of market environment.  For long term investors, picking up relative strength leaders near the lows is a great strategy.  Many stocks have been unfairly punished and are now wildly undervalued.  For indexers or 401k investors that have protected their assets with bond funds and stable value funds and cash, start moving it back in on these bad days as long as the lows hold.  For aggressive traders, we know there are some serious mean reversion trades already started.

What we must all keep in mind is that we do not know if the lows will hold or not.  As long as they do, buy them but don’t commit all of your capital at once.  Take little bites and dollar cost average into positions, especially if you are not trading.  There are many great opportunities here, but there will be many in the future also.  Don’t let yourself get stopped or margined out (heaven forbid) when you should be buying more.  The amount of forced liquidation by hedge funds is not something that is knowable by anyone.  It is creating great prices, but it could carry much further if the selling continues to feed upon itself.  If the trading range is broken to the upside we would become more bullish and would start to look at the 50 day, 200 day and 80 week moving averages as resistance.  Another bullish clue we are looking for is for volatility to drop, specifically the $VIX needs to drop under the 20 day moving average which has provided support since the breakout in early September.

We’re sure scared now…bringing it all together

October 14, 2008

A historic level of fear, even panic, has developed as forced liquidation is removing some players from the market completely. Another difficult lesson in leverage and risk management for some really bright folks. Brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, compliments of John Maynard Keynes, “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”.

Irrational may be a mild description for what we’re seeing in the markets currently.  After a 1,000 point range on Friday from top to bottom, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added almost another 1,000 points Monday.  Clearly the selling was overdone on the downside and the market was drastically oversold after a 3,000 point decline from top to bottom in the previous eight trading sessions.  Thankfully, those nasty shorts decided to take some profits and get the rebound started Friday morning.

We wouldn’t consider this the all clear signal however.  Historically, a retest of the lows develops within a few months to verify the strength of the bottom.  Hitting the exact lows again is not a necessity, but a second significant down move usually at least comes close.  This offers a great time to pick up relative strength leaders as they separate from the pack.

The correlation noted in Here we are again? 2001 vs. 2008, Is it really 2001 again? and Back to the future again and it’s not pretty has finally culminated in the fear based washout we have been looking for.  Admittedly, it was at much lower levels than we expected, but the timing was almost perfect.  The rebound in 2001 started on the morning of Friday, September 21 at 944.75 on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (SPX).  The rally continued on Monday and Tuesday of the next week, covering a respectable 75.54 points or 8% from the lows.  Another 20 points were added by the close of the week after a brief rest on Wednesday and Thursday. By the end of the following week, another 30 points had been added (for a total of 126.63 points or 13.4%, from the lows).  Two weeks later, the net gain was flat after a brief run over 1,107.  Sideways trading then developed until a clear break over 1,100 in the first week of November.  Around Thanksgiving, the new high of 1,163 had brought the market back from the lows by over 23%.  The rest of the year saw a peak gain of only 10 more points in the first week of December.  A final 3.5 points was all that was left for the first week of the new year, as an intermediate top at 1,176.97 was found.  That top was tested again in late March of 2002, after a 100 point (8.7%) drop into late February.  That was all she wrote for that bounce however, as the SPX found new lows at 768 in October, finally the low for the entire bear market.  Patient buyers were rewarded as the final retest of the lows completed a massive head and shoulders bottom in March of 2003 at 789.

In 2008, the rebound started on the morning of Friday, October 10 at 839.80 on the SPX, almost three weeks behind schedule.  So far, the monster rally of Monday, October 13 has added 167.13 points or 19.9% from the lows.  A morning look at the futures market suggests another 20 or so points may be in the works for Tuesday.  In just three trading days, this bounce has covered almost the entire distance of the rebound in 2001-02, on a percentage basis.  The preceding decline was also much more violent as the SPX dropped from 1,300 to the lows at 839.80 (35.4%) in just six weeks.  In 2001, the fall drop was 28.2% over 16 weeks.

What Does it All Mean

If history holds, only a small portion of this bounce is behind us and there will be plenty of opportunities to get in at decent prices.  The first leg of this rally is past, but the second leg could be just as profitable.  At the very least, consolidation will develop following these monster gains.  This will give nimble traders the ability to buy the dips.  Long term investors are almost guaranteed to get another chance at prices near the lows in the coming months.  The key is to watch overhead resistance, and there is a ton of it.  Fibonacci retracements, moving averages and previous lows all will take their bite from the rally.  Don’t forget The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average indicates we are still in a bear market.  No other long term indicators have given buy signals either.

One more market comparison to consider is the crash of 1987 which found its low on Tuesday, October 20.  This price action may actually be more appropriate considering the violence of the decline.  This October “crash” market dropped 35.9% in 8 weeks, bounced 19.8% in two days, then dropped back to within a few percentage points of the low in early December.  The market then totally recovered within two years.

Bernanke the Magnificent? or The Amazing Bernanke?

July 18, 2008

Well, our president may not have a magic wand, but it looks like our Fed Chairman does.

This weekend Big Ben got together with his govt. cronies and they whipped up a wicked brew that is the antidote to the housing crisis and savior of all things financial. The SEC put the clamps on the shorts, the Treasury got into the mortgage underwriting business and Big Ben opened the Fed money faucet a little wider.


Let’s see, that’s $30B for Bear Stearns, $8B for Indy Mac & now $5T worth of mortgages at Fannie and Freddie. I wonder if the cost of printing dollars has gone up with the increased raw material costs?

Our LD President Bush danced on the scene with an empty promise to drill the OCS for a few hundred thousand Bpd in 10 years and the world was right again.

Oil plunged, bank stocks soared. It must have brought a smile to their faces.

But is it reality? Have the finance gods truly been appeased?

Read the rest of this entry »

Is it really 2001 again?

June 22, 2008

I thought this would be a good time to revisit our 2001 vs 2008 Comparison of the S&P 500 from late April.

So far, the correlation is quite high both in timing and in respect to the technical indicators. We have seen the SPX fail at the 50% Retracement after only an intraday spike above the 200 day moving average. In 2001, the failure was short of the 200 day and never penetrated the 50% Retracement. Both failures occurred around May stock options expiration in late May.

The weekly 13/34 exponential moving average indicator (a favorite of John Murphy at has recently confirmed its first sell signal since 2003. Additional similarities are present in the monthly indicators like MACD, RSI and ROC which are also all on sell signals for the first time since 2003.

Finally, the SPX has completed a test of the 80 week moving average from below as resistance. This is a critical level as described in The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average. Just this past week the SPX also closed back below the 160 week moving average for the first time since early April. The last major break of the 160 week moving average before this, was of course early 2001.

Those who traded or had investments in the market in 2001 have vivid memories of what came next I am sure. The SPX dropped almost vertically from late May to late September shaving off 28% from top to bottom. The markets were closed for a full week during that time following the tragedy in New York. They opened in panicked fashion with many professionals talking of patriotically buying; yet most were selling with a fear they had never known in their lifetimes. The fear was so great that in just 5 days it was over. The SPX had dropped a staggering 150 points.

But then it bounced hard, rising over 24% by the first week of the new year and completely erasing the 150 point drop with a 232 point advance. That is a severe example of a fear based washout buying opportunity.

Read the rest of this entry »

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