After a test of the breakout level in March, the index moved to new highs again in April. However, over the last few weeks, the VLG’s triple top breakout has shown initial signs of cracking.
The current equities bull run seems unstoppable. No amount of geopolitical concerns, Greek default fears, rate hikes, US dollar strength, crude oil price volatility, Russian sanctions or whatever else you can think of can put a dent on it. Perhaps we should take a step back and try to understand what is driving this strength. OK, we know that central banks continue to spike the punchbowl, but what is the actual transmission mechanism that directs all this liquidity into equities – as opposed to commodities for instance, which continue to struggle?
Let’s focus on what happened in the lead up to the summer of 2011, right before the markets cratered on the back of everything that was going on in Europe and the downgrade of the US' credit rating by S&P. The leveraged loans index peaked at the start of the year and traded sideways up until that eventful August. This was a sign that something was not right in the credit markets; and equities pretty much followed the same pattern. If we fast forward to today, we can see that the leveraged loans index peaked in July 2014, indicated by the red line in the graph, and has noticeably declined since; at the same time equities continued to move higher, a divergence which is a novelty in this bull market. Is this telling us something? We believe so - it is a red flag for equities.
When the most persistent, most aggressive, and most sizeable actions of policymakers are those that discourage saving, promote debt-financed consumption, and encourage the diversion of scarce savings to yield-seeking financial speculation rather than productive investment, the backbone that supports a rising standard of living is broken.
Rogers tells us he's buying Chinese financials, remains long the yen and thinks gold could be going much lower.
S&P futures dumped their most in almost 4 months on marginal volume today as a budget deal (moar fiscal means less moar monetary policy) and a potentially hawkish Stan Fischer on the Fed spread taper fears across all assets with gold lower, Treasury yields higher, and USD rising. New 52-week-lows spiked to 4 month highs as higher beta muppetry took Trannies down most in almost 4 months. The S&P tested back below the payrolls-data and FOMC Minutes launchpad levels from last week as rather notably, while most sectors are still up 5-10% from the debt-ceiling lows, Utilities are now unch. Treasuries weakened back to unchanged from the payrolls print for 5Y (though 7s-130s are -3 to 4bps still). This is the biggest jump in VIX in 2 months as the term structure is the most inverted since US downgrade levels in Aug 2011. Dow <16,000; S&P <1,800; NASDAQ ~4,000 - Retirement Off!
There is plenty of discussion of outflows but we though the following chart was perhaps the most insightful at why this drop is different from the last few year's BTFD corrections. As we noted here, corporate bond managers have desperately avoided selling down their cash holdings (since they know dealer liquidity cannot support broad-based selling and its an over-crowded trade) and bid for hedges in CDS markets. But it seems, given the utter collapse in the advance-decline lines for high-yield and investment-grade bonds that the liquidations have begun. While the selling in high-yield bonds is on par with the Lehman liquidationlevels, it is the collapse in investment grade bond demand that is dramatic (and worse than Lehman). It's not like we couldn't see it coming at some point (here) and as we warned here, What Happens Next? Simply put, stocks cannot rally in a world of surging debt finance costs.
Longer-term divergences tend to provide the most concerning backdrop for the current relative strength of stocks. BofAML's technical research analyst Mary Ann Bartels is concerned that the major negative divergence between market breadth and the S&P 500 indicates a risk of a deep correction in 2013. As she notes: "Although the advance-decline lines have moved up with the US equity market since mid November, bearish divergences remain in place for the S&P 500 and NYSE Stocks advance-decline. This is an important negative divergence as we enter 2013." Add to that the divergence between NYSE net new highs and the divergence with Transports and markets face a triple threat.
While we are bombarded with talking heads telling us that there is money-on-the-sidelines and everyone is so bearish with the market climbing a wall of worry, the reality - as we see across multiple asset classes - is that investors are overweight risk assets (e.g. credit investors overweight IG and HY and mutual fund cash at record lows), near-extreme levels of bullishness (AAII and Put-Call Ratios), near extreme levels of non-bearishness (AAII), and yet credit investors believe markets are overvalued (though still buying) even as IG and HY bonds are seeing near-record highs in advance-decline.
Walls-of-worry; Short-squeezes; money-on-the-sidelines; Everyone's Bearish, right? Well, instead of just listening to the drone of the mainstream media and talking heads, who appear once any rally appears in the hope of garnering some more AUM and taking commissions, we thought it worth a few minutes to look at actual data, positions, and sentiment across equity, debt, and FX asset classes. Sure enough - here are ten charts that show investors are anything but bearish and that the ammunition for the next leg from here can only come from central-banks (and we are concerned that disappointment is due).
A few things have been going on in the world of high yield credit recently. While the 'beta' to recent interest rate weakness is low (spread duration reduces any empirical sensitivity here), the relative weakness on high-yield bonds in the last few days has been quite notable for the oh-so-high-beta 'safety' of high-yield credit. And while technicals (flows) dominate, the illiquidity in the cash bond market remains dire for any size and the massive 530k block sale at VWAP last night makes us nervous.
For the last four days, HYG (the high-yield bond ETF) has seen a significant underperformance in the latter part of the day. As we noted yesterday, high yield bonds (and investment grade) are seeing the advance-decline line rolling over. Stocks stand notably expensive relative to high-yield credit once again and VIX smashed over 1 vol lower from its gap up open at 16.5% to end at near 5 month lows under 15.25% - its most discounted/complacent to realized vol in over six months. A weak 10Y auction spurred Treasuries to underperform - which helped pull S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) risk higher (along with oil strength) but in general stocks and gold tracked one another loosely higher while the USD pushed conversely higher - ending the week so far unch. Cross-asset-class correlations drifted lower all day - with credit and carry FX listless while stocks/oil/Treasuries did their risk-thang (though oil tapered back to lows of the day by the close as Gold/Copper/Silver trod water. Three days of terrible volume, even worse average trade size, and the lowest range in five months suggests anyone serious has left the building and perhaps explains why stocks aren't following credit lower.
UPDATE: PCLN -12.5% AH (and DIS missed)
Admittedly slightly higher than yesterday's year-to-date lows in volume, today was not much better as S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) pushed up over 1400, back to three month highs, on decent average trade size (following yesterday's low average trade size). Treasuries tracked stocks (higher in yield) but Gold and the USD disconnected (from stocks) into the US open and never really recovered. ES rolled off its highs late on and reverted perfectly to VWAP once again and rather coincidentally the 'correction' occurred just as ES priced in Gold hit the year's highs (which intriguingly is a critical cliff's edge level from a year ago). Oil's surge (and Treasury's weakness) were the main risk drivers which pushed CONTEXT to lead stocks higher as FX, credit, and PMs trod water largely. Interestingly, in ETF-land, our capital structure models were flashing red with HYG down notably and credit underperforming broadly, along with VIX (and VXX having an outside up-close day) not playing along with the rally. With VIX bouncing off 4-month lows, closing back over 16% (and up on the day), the pull to VWAP into the close on decent average trade size, the plunge in short-interest, and the underperformance broadly of credit markets (especially the ever-reliable-for-a-pump-job HYG); we'd be a little nervous up here (especially after Europe's sovereign and credit weakness today).
Equities traded in a very narrow range (aside from an early day-session stop-run) amid extremely low volume in equity cash and futures markets and ended the day modestly lower (holding the post-Draghi gains). However, a funny thing happened on the way to the equity bull market; HY and IG credit have underperformed since mid-day Friday, VIX (+1.3vols to 18.03%) has risen notably since the open on Friday - completely shrugging off equity's strength, and while Treasuries saw a great deal of ugliness at the end of last week - and a pull back would be expected - they notably outperformed (relatively speaking) their equity cousins today. The USD gained 0.25% today as the EUR dropped a notable 0.5% but only WTI reacted to that (by dropping 0.67% today) while Copper and Gold trod water and Silver spurted to a high-beta 1.7% gain (crossing back above its 50DMA for the first time since mid-March). As Unilever and Texas Industries issue debt at record-low coupons we also note that IG/HY advance-declines lines are extremely high and along with implied-skewness in SPY options suggests a very high level of complacency.