S&P 500 retraces while Shanghai shudders

The S&P 500 retreated from resistance at 2800. Retracement is modest and I expect support above the rising trendline (2700). Volatility (Twiggs 21-Day) is below 1.0%, indicating that market risk has returned to normal levels.

S&P 500 and Twiggs Volatility

The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 is in a stronger position, making a new high at 7300, but is now likely to retrace to test the new support level at 7000. I am wary of Twiggs Money Flow as a lower peak would signal bearish divergence. A lot will depend on how buyers react at the new support level.

Nasdaq 100

China’s Shanghai Composite Index, on the other hand, broke support at 3000, signaling a primary decline. Initial target is the February 2016 low at 2700.

Shanghai Composite Index

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index weakened in sympathy. Breach of support at 29000 would signal a primary down-trend.

Hang Seng Index

S&P 500: Volatility back in the green zone

Since my February 13th newsletter flagged rising market volatility, market risk has been at the amber level, with 21-day Twiggs Volatility fluctuating between 1.0 and 2.0 percent on the S&P 500. A large trough that respects the 1.0 percent level, as in 2015 below, would be sufficient warning to cut back exposure to stocks because of elevated risk.

S&P 500 and Twiggs Volatility

Yesterday, Volatility (Twiggs 21-Day) on the S&P 500 retreated below 1.0 percent, suggesting a return to the lower-risk green zone. Breakout above 2800 would signal reviving investor confidence, and an advance to test 3000.

Small caps lead US recovery

Russell 2000 Small Caps Index is leading the US recovery. The iShares Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF broke through resistance at 160, signaling a primary advance with a target of 175. According to Dow Theory, small capitalization stocks typically lead the advance in stage 3 of a bull market, with large caps having exhausted their gains.

iShares Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF

But Charles Dow did not have to contend with technology stocks which are a law unto themselves. The Nasdaq 100 broke through resistance at 7000 and is currently retracing to test the new support level. Respect is likely and would signal a primary advance with a target of 7700.

Nasdaq 100

The S&P 500 is further behind, headed for a test of resistance at 2800. Breakout would signal a primary advance with a target of 3000.

S&P 500

Bellwether transport stock Fedex is also recovering, having broken resistance at 256. A bullish sign for the broad economy. Expect a test of resistance at 274/275.

Fedex

Nasdaq bull signal

The Nasdaq 100 broke through resistance at 7000. Expect retracement to test the new support level but respect is likely and would signal a primary advance with a target of 7700.

Nasdaq 100

The S&P 500 respected support at 2700. Follow-through above 2750 would signal another test of 2850.

S&P 500

Volatility is falling and a dip below 1.0% would suggest that the market has returned to business as usual.

Price & Earnings: The Race to the Top

Now that 93% of S&P 500 stocks have reported first quarter earnings we can look at price-earnings valuation with a fair degree of confidence. My favorite is what I call PEMax, which compares Price to Maximum Annual Earnings for current and past years. This removes distortions caused by periods when earnings fall faster than price, by focusing on earnings potential rather than necessarily the most recent earnings performance.

PE of Maximum Earnings

Valuations are still high, but PEMax has pulled back to 22.78 from 24.16 in the last quarter. Valuations remain at their highest over the last 100 years at any time other than during the Dotcom bubble. Even during the 1929 Wall Street crash (Black Friday) and Black Monday of October 1987, PEMax was below 20.

While that warns us to be cautious, as valuations are high, it does not warn of an imminent down-turn. Markets react more to earnings than to prices as the chart below illustrates.

S&P 500 Earnings per Share Growth

The last two market down-turns were both precipitated by falling earnings — the blue columns on the above chart — rather than valuations.

While it is concerning that prices have run ahead of EPS — as they did during the late 1990s — consolidation over the past quarter should allow earnings room to catch up.

S&P 500: Volatility falling

The S&P 500 has broken out above its symmetrical triangle and we are now witnessing retracement to test the new support level at 2700. Volatility is falling and a dip below 1.0% would suggest that the market has returned to business as usual.

S&P 500

Twiggs Money Flow remains a respectable distance above the zero line and is flattening out. Breach of primary support at 2550 seems unlikely.

S&P 500

Market Volatility and the S&P 500

It was clear from investment managers’ comments at the start of the year — even Jeremy Grantham’s meltup — that most expected a rally followed by an adjustment later in the year or early next year.

Valuations are high and the focus has started to swing away from making further gains and towards protecting existing profits. The size of this week’s candles reflect the extent of the panic as gains patiently accumulated over several months evaporated in a matter of days.

S&P 500

Volatility spiked, with the VIX jumping from record lows to above the red line at 30.

S&P 500 Volatility (VIX)

VIX reflects the short-term, emotional reaction to events in the market but tends to be unreliable as an indicator of long-term sentiment. I prefer my own Volatility indicator which highlights the gradual change in market outlook. The chart below shows how Volatility rose gradually from mid-2007, exceeding 2% by early 2008 then settled in an elevated range above 1% until the collapse of Lehman Bros sparked panic.

S&P 500 in 2008

The emerging market crisis of 1998 shows a similar pattern. An elevated range in 1997 as the currency crisis grew was followed by a brief spike above 2% before another long, elevated range and then another larger spike with the Russian default.

S&P 500 in 1998

The key is not to wait for Volatility to spike above 2%. By then it is normally too late. An alternative strategy would be to scale back positions when the market remains in an elevated range, between 1% and 2%, over several months. Many traders would argue that this is too early. But the signal does indicate elevated market risk and I am reasonably certain that investors with large positions would prefer to exit too early rather than too late.

So where are we now?

Volatility on the S&P 500 spiked up after an extended period below 1%. If Volatility retreats below 1% then the extended period of low market risk is likely to continue. If not, it will warn that market risk is elevated. Should that continue for more than a few weeks I would consider it time to start scaling back positions.

S&P 500 in 2018

Only if we see a further spike above 2% would I act with any urgency.

Black Monday, October 1987

Cross-posted from Goldstocksforex.com:

What caused the Black Monday crash of 1987? Analysts are often unable to identify a single trigger or cause.

Sniper points to a sharp run-up in short-term interest rates in the 3 months prior to the crash.

3 Month Treasury Bill Rates

Valuations were also at extreme readings, with PEmax (price-earnings based on the highest earnings to-date) near 20, close to its Black Friday high from the crash of 1929.

S&P 500 PEmax 1919 - 1989

Often overlooked is the fact that the S&P 500 was testing resistance at its previous highs between 700 and 750 from the 1960s and 70s (chart from macrotrends).

S&P 500 1960 - 1990

A combination of these three factors may have been sufficient to tip the market into a dramatic reversal.

Are we facing a similar threat today?

Short-term rates are rising but at 40 basis points over the last 4 months, compared to 170 bp in 1987, there is not much cause for concern.

13-week T-Bill rates

PEmax, however, is now at a precipitous 26.8, second only to the Dotcom bubble of 1999/2000 and way above its October 1987 reading.

S&P 500 PEmax 1980 - 2017

While the index is in blue sky territory, with no resistance in sight, there is an important psychological barrier ahead at 3000.

S&P 500

Conclusion: This does not look like a repetition of 1987. But investors who ignore the extreme valuation warning may be surprised at how fast the market can reverse (as in 1987) from such extremes.

Nasdaq and S&P500 meet resistance

July labor stats are out and shows the jobless rate fell to a 16-year low at 4.3%. Unemployment below the long-term natural rate suggests the economy is close to capacity and inflationary pressures should be building.

Unemployment below the long-term natural rate

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS

But hourly wage rates are growing at a modest pace, easing pressure on the Fed to raise interest rates.

Hourly Wage Rates

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS

Fed monetary policy remains accommodative, with the monetary base (net of excess reserves) growing at a robust 7.5% a year.

Hourly Wage Rates

Source: St Louis Fed, FRB

Our forward estimate of real GDP — Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours — continues at a slow but steady annual pace of 1.79%.

Real GDP compared to Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS & BEA

The Nasdaq 100 has run into resistance at 6000. No doubt readers noticed Amazon [AMZN] and Alphabet [GOOG] both retreated after reaching the $1000 mark. This is natural. Correction back to the rising trendline would take some of the heat out of the market and provide a solid base for further gains. Selling pressure, reflected by declining peaks on Twiggs Money Flow, appears secondary.

Nasdaq 100

The S&P 500 is also running into resistance, below 2500. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of moderate selling pressure but this again seems to be secondary — in line with a correction rather than a reversal.

S&P 500

Target 2400 + ( 2400 – 2300 ) = 2500

Nasdaq soars

GDP results for the second quarter of 2017 reflect recovery from the soft patch in 2016.

Nominal GDP compared to Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours * Average Hourly Rate

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS & BEA

Nominal GDP for Q2 improved to 3.71%, measured annually. This closely follows our intial estimate calculated from Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours * Average Hourly Rate.

Real GDP, after adjustment for inflation, also improved, to a 2.1% annual rate.

Real GDP compared to Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS & BEA

Bellwether transport stock Fedex is undergoing a correction at present but selling pressure appears moderate. Respect of medium-term support at 200 is likely and would confirm the primary up-trend (and rising economic activity).

Fedex

The Nasdaq 100 gained more than 20% year-to-date, from 4863 at end of December 2016 to 5908 on July 28th. Growth since 2009 has been consistent at around 20% a year but now appears to be accelerating. To my mind that warns sentiment may be running ahead of earnings, increasing the risk of a major adjustment. But there is no indication of this at present.

Nasdaq 100

The S&P 500 continues its advance towards 2500 at a more modest pace. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of selling pressure but this seems to be secondary in nature, with the indicator holding well above zero.

S&P 500

Target 2400 + ( 2400 – 2300 ) = 2500