New York Stock Exchange
Is the U.S. consumer tapped out? If so, how in the world will the U.S. economy possibly improve in 2014? Most Americans know that the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending. If average Americans are not out there spending money, the economy tends not to do very well. Unfortunately, retail sales during the holiday season appear to be quite disappointing and the middle class continues to deeply struggle. And for a whole bunch of reasons things are likely going to be even tougher in 2014. Families are going to have less money in their pockets to spend thanks to much higher health insurance premiums under Obamacare, a wide variety of tax increases, higher interest rates on debt, and cuts in government welfare programs. The short-lived bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is rapidly coming to an end, and 2014 certainly promises to be a very "interesting year".
We are not exactly sure why the ballerinas of the Nutcracker can be found on the floor of the TV studio formerly known as the New York Stock Exchange (currently owned by the Atlanta-based ICE), but we are sure there is a good reason.
It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory. Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever. So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue? Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens. If there is good news, stocks go up. If there is bad news, stocks go up. If there is no news, stocks go up. On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high. In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year. This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble. At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were "priced out of the market". But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.
While some individual stocks (cough TWTR cough) may have reached irrational bubble territory, the US equity market is undergoing a seemingly 'rational' bubble. However, as John Hussman illustrates in the following chart, the probability of a stock market crash is growing extremely rapidly.
As students vie for 2014 internships, Bloomberg finds a fraternity-based network whose Wall Street alumni guide resumes to the tops of stacks, reveal interview questions with recommended answers, offer applicants secret mottoes and support chapters facing crackdowns. Despite apparent crackdowns on cronyism, nepotism, and fraternism; it seems nothing has changed as "secret handshakes" and the fraternity pipeline helps undergraduates beat odds three times steeper than Princeton University’s record-low acceptance rate... "People like people who are like themselves," notes one recruiter, seemingly proven by the fact that JPMorgan employs 140 Sigma Phi Epsilon members with BofA and Wells Fargo even more.
One of the singular best investment strategies is to buy assets/asset classes which are most reviled by investors. Right now, junior gold miners fit the bill.
The % of NYSE stocks above their 200-day moving averages has a strong bearish divergence similar to previous plunge-preceding divergences. As BofAML notes, this points to diminishing momentum for market breadth and preceded pullbacks in the range of 15%-20% in 2010 and 2011; increasing the risk for a US equity market pullback in 2014.
Although the U.S. stock market continues to hit new nominal highs on a nearly daily basis, the U.S. economy bumps along at a lackluster pace. This disconnect has been achieved by a massive Fed experiment in monetary stimulation. Through the combination of seemingly endless maintenance of zero interest rates and the injection of some $1trillion a year of synthetic money into fixed-income markets, the Fed is hoping that the boom it is creating on Wall Street will lead to a boom on Main Street. In reality, this a very dangerous economic gamble of enormously high stakes. As we have seen in the recent past, financial bubbles can leave catastrophe in their wake.
They say those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. We’ve seen that maxim made true time and again. The cycle swings fear back to greed. The overcautious become the overzealous. And at the top, the story is always the same: Too much credit, too much speculation, the suspension of disbelief, and the spread of the idea that this time is different. The weaknesses of the human heart and mind means the swings will always exist. Our rudimentary understanding of the forces of economics, which in turn, reflect ultimately reflect the fallacies of people making investing, purchasing, and saving decisions, means policymakers will never defeat the vagaries of the business cycle. So no, this time isn’t different. The specifics may have changed, but the themes remain the same.
As we noted here, October 2013 NYSE margin debt stood at a new record high of $412.5b (up from $401.2b in September) and exceeded the prior high from April of $384.4b and net investor worth dropped to a record low. However, as BofAML notes, NYSE margin debt and the S&P 500 have +0.76 correlation using a 48-month (4-year) correlation as of October 2013. This is the highest correlation in our data history back to 1964. A positive correlation means that margin debt and the S&P 500 tend to move together; which as they helpfully note means - as long as the market rises, margin debt is not a risk. Better keep BTFATHing, it's the patriotic thing to do.
Unfortunately for Bill Ackman, another leg of the "short Herbalife to the grave" thesis just broke when a Belgian Appeal Court hearing overturned its previous findings:
- *HERBALIFE 'WELCOMES' JUDGEMENT BY BELGIAN APPEAL COURT
- *HLF CITES CLAIMS THAT HLF WAS OPERATING A PYRAMID SCHEME
- *HERBALIFE SAYS COURT STATES ITS SALES MODEL IN FULL COMPLIANCE
The stock is up 5% on the news, breaking to a new record high above $75.
With the "inmates in charge of the asylum" during this holiday shortened trading week it seemed to be an apropriate opportunity to share a virtual cornucopia of topics to consider while enjoying the delicious delicacies, and subsequent tryptophan induced comas, of a traditional Thanksgiving.
- CME/CBOT/NYMEX Closed
- CME Globex -
- Equity products halted (halted between 1030CST/1630GMT and 1700CST/2300GMT);
- Interest Rate Products halted (halted between 1200CST/1800GMT and 1700CST/2300GMT);
- FX halted (halted between 1200CST/1800GMT and 1700CST/2300GMT)
- NYMEX and Comex halted (halted between 1215CST/1815GMT and 1700CST/2300GMT)
- NYSE Closed
- NYSE LIFFE Regular Close
- Eurex Regular Close
The correlation between stock prices and margin debt continues to rise (to new records of exuberant "Fed's got our backs" hope) as NYSE member margin balances surge to new record highs. Relative to the NYSE Composite, this is the most "leveraged' investors have been since the absolute peak in Feb 2000. What is more worrisome, or perhaps not, is the ongoing collapse in investor net worth - defined as total free credit in margin accounts less total margin debt - which has hit what appears to be all-time lows (i.e. there's less left than ever before) which as we noted previously raised a "red flag" with Deutsche Bank. Relative to the 'economy' margin debt has only been higher at the very peak in 2000 and 2007 and was never sustained at this level for more than 2 months. Sounds like a perfect time to BTFATH...
Is it just coincidence that Twitter is being Baumgartnered and both the NYSE (stock) and BATS (options) markets have now broken!
This is just farcical now...