For the first time since July 2011's plunge, and with almost half its components already in bear market, the Russell 2000 looks set to experience a 'death cross' in the next few days (50-day moving average crossing below the 200-day). But don't look at that - the S&P 500 and Dow hit new record highs (despite market internals slumping) today ahead of the BABA IPO to keep the dream alive just a little longer ahead of tomorrow's quad-witching malarkey. Today's action was dominated by dismal housing data (demolishing yesterday's exuberance in homebuilders), Poroshenko's "Ukraine invasion" headlines, and hopes ahead of BABA and Scottish votes. USD down on the day, commodities down, bonds unch, stocks... UP.
Overnight weakness in Asia and Europe was shrugged off. The Dow hit all-time record highs (first since July) and the S&P broke back above 2,000 following headlines proclaiming a "stealth QE" from China (which actually hit the news during the Asia session) and chatter from WSJ's Hilsenrath that The Fed will leave the words "considerable period" in the statement tomorrow. Early weakness in stocks was ripped 25 points higher in the S&P on the back of a 97% correlation to AUDJPY (China-driven), the USD dumped to unch for the week (worst day since May), commodities all took off higher (led by Copper and Oil), and Treasuries flip-flopped to end steeper (5Y -5bps, 30Y +1bp on the week). "Most Shorted" stocks squeezed higher. HY credit compressed with stocks rally but decoupled later in the day. The Nasdaq and Russell (nearing death-cross) remain red on the week despite today's exuberance. VIX was smashed back under 13 (which makes perfect sense because there is no uncertainty this week at all). S&P closed below 2,000 and The Dow "off the highs".
The starting point in comprehending the dynamics of modern "markets' is to recognize that once they gain a head of steam, financial bubbles tend to envelope virtually every nook and cranny of the economy, creating terrible distortions and destructive excesses as they rumble forward. In this instance, Wolf Richter explains how Silicon Valley has once again (like 1999-2000) been transformed into a rollicking capital “burn rate” machine that has spawned a whole economy based on striving for bigger losses, not better profits. Even the leading venture capitalists now recognize that the insanity of the dotcom era has re-emerged. One of these days, even the monetary politburo may notice. But by then it will be too late. Again.
It appears today's weakness in stocks (most notably high-beta momo) and bonds (HY credit weakness) was triggered by two "ma"s - grandma Yellen and grand-poohbah BABA's Ma. Hawkish FOMC concerns took the shine off HY credit (and stocks) but Treasury bonds rallied modestly (5Y -3bps, 10Y -2bps). However, high-beta momo stocks dragged Nasdaq and Russell lower as 'smart money' proclaimed this was making room for the Alibaba IPO (which raises the question - if there is so much pent-up demand money on the sidelines just dying to be lost in the stock market, then why were so many high-beta, high-growth, momo names being sold today, theoretically in order to make room for the BABA IPO?) The USDollar ended marginally higher (GBP weakness, EUR strength) but most commodities gained on the day (Copper down on China) with WTI back to $93. Stocks did have a mini-melt-up on absolutely no news whatsoever into the last hour but gave most back. The Russell 2000 is -0.5% in 2014.
With the S&P 500 hitting fresh record highs day after day (apart from last week), everything must be great, right? Wrong! As we have noted previously, the leadership in this market is becoming more and more narrowly focused as stunningly 47% of Nasdaq Composite stocks are down at least 20% from their highs with the average stock in the index in a bear market (down 24%). The same is true for the Russell 2000, with over 40% of stocks in bear market and an average drop from recent highs of 22%. By contrast only 31 names in the S&P 500 have seen drops of 20% or more this year. It appears, just as there has been an up-in-quality rotation in credit markets, so stock investors appear to have rotated into momentum winners, chasing returns in an ever-more narrow group of extreme beta stocks.
With BofAML, Goldman, and now JPMorgan all bringing forward their 'liftoff' expectations for rates, US equity and bond markets are starting to quake a little. The Russell 2000 is now back in the red for 2014 and all but Trannies are red for September. The S&P is back to Aug 20 levels as 10Y yields push 15bps higher on the week to 2-month highs over 2.60%. VIX is back over 14, catching up with rates and FX volatility.
It seems like it was only yesterday when Goldman was predicting either two-thirds chance of a 10% correction in stocks, said that the S&P is either 30% or 45% overvalued relative to its historical value, or warned about a market slide when it downgraded the S&P500 "to neutral over 3 months as a sell-off in bonds could lead to a temporary sell-off in equities." Alas, that was the old Goldman: the one which still considered the impact of fundamentals in a centrally-planned world. The new one is far more pragmatic for the New Normal times, and overnight David Kostin, who has consistently fluctuated on either his year end S&P500 price target in 2014, or the justification for getting there (first higher bonds yields, then lower), came out with his latest thesis why now is the time to own stocks. Naturally, his catalysts have nothing to do with actual fundamentals, and instead all focus on the three only relevant metrics of the new normal: beta, momentum and career risk, which can be summarizes as follows: buy stocks because Hedge Funds suck.
Once Europe closed, US equity markets rolled over on what is a new 'lowest-volume-day-of-the-year' led by recent winner Russell 2000. The Dow is now red on the week and the Nasdaq up 11 days in a row. Today was not about stocks though (aside from the close). While CAD saw its best gain in over 2 years, it was US Treasuries (as EUR weakened and Bund yields plunged) that made the flashing red headlines with 30Y back at 15-month lows (at 3.10%) and 10Y -3.5bps at 2.36% as the yield curve flattened even further. 2s30s dropped below 260bps - its flattest since Dec 2012. Un-de-escalation concerns evident in TSYs and credit finally started to bleed into VIX and stocks. Gold, silver, and oil limped higher as US weakened (and copper fell). A desperate buying panic into the close smashing S&P futures to VWAP magically enabled the S&P to close at the confidence-inspiring centrally-planned 'wealth effect' level of 2000.07!!
For the last 2 weeks, the US Dollar has surged - hitting new 13-month highs today amid JPY and EUR weakness - and for the last 2 weeks, US stock and bond markets have rallied (leaving 30Y yields implying the S&P is 130 points rich or yields are 25bps too low). S&P tops 2,000, Nasdaq closed up for 10th day in a row, Russell outperformed on major short-squeeze, Trannies slid red for the week. Today saw modest Treasury weakness (30Y +2bps, 2Y -1bps) but still lower on the week; gold ($1285), silver ($19.50), and oil ($94) gained on the day - despite USD strength - as copper dropped 1%. Credit markets remain unimpressed by record-er highs in stocks. VIX decoupled from equity strength today as NASDAQ options feeds broke. Volume was an utter disaster... that is all.
The lack of World War 3 this weekend was the perfect catalyst for buying stocks back up towards record highs... because Putin must have folded, right? Oil prices slipped, with WTI briefly back under $96, which lifted Trannies 1.75% on the day (best performer) but the Nasdaq's break of cycle highs (to March 2000 highs) is the big news for bubble-watchers (though it's different this time remember). VIX broke back below 13 to almost a 4-week low close. Treasuries were weak all day especially after Europe closed with the long-end underperforming (30Y +6.5bps) - 3rd worst day of yeasr for 30Y - with yields rising back to Russian convoy "destroyed" headline levels. Gold dropped back under $1300 as silver rallied 0.5%. S&P futures volumes were 40% below average as AAPL flash-crashes but has almost round-tripped to 2012 highs.
NATO threats to Russia - storm in a teacup. ISIS and Iraq airstrikes - transitory. Israel-Hamas un-cease-fire - fuggetabaadit. This was the week to buy stocks... the riskiest, most overvalued growth-oriented stocks. GDP downgrades - no sweat. Russell 2000 surges to its best week in the last 8 (up 1.5%) while Trannies closed lower for the 2nd week in a row - the first time in 6 months. The Russell rallied perfectly up to its 50-day moving-average. S&P, Dow, and Nasdaq scrambled back to around unch on the week on the back of a tweet and a 4-day-old piece of news... bonds and FX did not. Gold closed the week up 1.3%, back over $1,310 (but silver closed down 1.8%). Oil ended modestly lower (as did copper). Treasury yields saw safe-haven buying and fell 5-7bps on the week (but well off the week's lows -15bps). "Most shorted" stocks rose 1.3% today - best in almost 4 weeks (and biggest weekly squeeze in 2 months).
A day dominated by geopolitical headlines saw stocks hit 4-month lows, gold jump to 3-week highs, and bond yields tumble to 14-month lows. The Dow made new "sell in May" lows today, now -1.5% from end-April (joined in weakness since then by the Russell). The S&P 500 broke its 100-day moving-average (and did not bounce) as USDJPY broke the critical 102.00 level. The Dow stalled at its 200-day moving-average (16343). 10Y Treasury yields continued to plunge pressing a 2.41% handle - new 14-month closing low-yields. Gold jumped above $1315 closing near the highs of the day (and silver above $20). The USD ended up on the day but JPY carry unwinds continued. VIX broke back above 17 (and remains inverted for the 10th day in a row). Equities continues to catch down to high-yield credit's weakness. A late-day buying-panic, sparked by VIX-slamming, was triggered as S&P futures broke 1900.
Is this stock market decline the "real deal"? (that is, the start of a serious correction of 10% or more) Or is it just another garden-variety dip in the long-running Bull market? Let’s start by looking for extremes that tend to mark the tops in Bull markets.
There isn’t much work out there on exactly how much “House money” gamblers or investors are willing to lose before they know to walk away (or run). Fans of technical analysis know their Fibonacci retracement levels by heart – 24%, 38%, 50%, 62% and 100%. Those are the moves that signal the evaporation of house money confidence as investors sell into a declining market. There isn’t much statistical analysis that any of those percentage moves actually mean anything, but enough traders use these signposts that it makes them a useful construct nonetheless. The only other guideposts I can think of relate to the magnitude of any near term market decline. One 5% down day is likely more damaging to investor confidence than a drip-drip-drip decline of 5% over a month or two. The old adage “Selling begets selling” feels true enough in markets with a lot of “House money” on the line. After all, you don’t want to have to walk home from the casino after arriving in a new Rolls-Royce.