Retail sales fall while trade talks stall

Retail sales

Retail sales growth (USA advance retail sales excluding autos and parts) fell sharply in December, indicating that consumer confidence is fading despite strong employment figures.

Advance Retail Sales

The decline in consumer confidence also shows in lower January 2019 light vehicle sales.

Light Vehicle Sales

Trade talks make little progress

Trivium provide a useful update on US-China trade negotiations:

The latest round of trade talks with the US are finishing up as we go to press. There hasn’t been much progress (Bloomberg): “As of Friday afternoon, there had been no visible progress on efforts to narrow the gap around structural reforms to China’s economy that the U.S. has requested, according to three U.S. and Chinese officials who asked not to be identified because the talks were private……Chinese officials are angry about what they see as US efforts to undermine their state-led economy.”

These are issues that will take generations to resolve. The chance of a quick fix is highly unlikely.

Stocks

The stock market continues to rally on the back of a solid earnings season.

Of the 216 issues (505 in the S&P 500 index) with full operating comparative data 154 (71.3%) beat, 51 (23.6%) missed, and 11 met their estimates; 135 of 215 (62.8%) beat on sales. (S&P Dow Jones Indices)

Index volatility remains high, however, and a 21-day Volatility trough above 1.0% would warn of a bear market. S&P 500 retreat below 2600 would reinforce the signal.

S&P 500

Crude prices continue to warn of a fall in global demand.

Light Crude

As do commodity prices.

DJ-UBS Commodities Index

10-Year Treasury yields are testing support at 2.50% and a Trend Index peak below zero warns of buying pressure from investors seeking safety (yields fall as prices rise).

10-Year Treasury Yield

The Nasdaq 100 shows rising Money Flow but I believe this is secondary in nature. The next correction is likely to provide a clearer picture.

Nasdaq 100

My conclusion is the same as last week. This is a bear market. Recovery hinges on an unlikely resolution of the US-China ‘trade dispute’.

Concessions to adversaries only end in self reproach, and the more strictly they are avoided the greater will be the chance of security.

~ Thucydides (460 – 400 B.C.)

ASX 200 enjoys iron ore spike

The ASX 200 has been buoyed by a temporary spike in iron ore prices. Materials (comprising 18.5% of the main index) broke through resistance at 12500, signaling a primary advance. A higher trough on Twiggs Money Flow indicates buying pressure.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 encountered resistance at 6100 but the rally could go so far as to test the 2018 high of 6350. We remain in a bear market. Only a correction that successfully forms a higher trough would reverse that. Expect another test of the former primary support level at 5650.

ASX 200

Financials, the largest ASX 200 sector (31.4%), remains in a primary down-trend. Declining house prices are likely to drag the index lower. Respect of resistance at 5900 would strengthen the bear signal, while breach of 5300 would signal another decline.

ASX 200 Financials

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest investments in the Australian Growth portfolio.

More signs of risk avoidance

Bloomberg: “U.S. stocks slid as investors grew anxious that the Trump administration won’t reach a trade deal with China before a March deadline for escalating the war. Treasuries surged.

The post-Christmas rally that added 16 percent to the S&P 500 came under increasing pressure amid reports the two trading partners remained far apart on a deal and that the nations’ presidents won’t meet before higher tariffs are slated to take effect on Chinese goods next month.”

S&P 500 volatility remains high. If the rally runs out of steam, a large Twiggs Volatility (21-day) trough above 1.0% would signal a bear market. Retreat below 2600 would reinforce the signal.

S&P 500

Crude prices retreated below resistance at $54/$55 per barrel, on fears of falling global (mainly Chinese) demand. Another test of primary support at $42/barrel is likely.

Light Crude

10-Year Treasury yields retreated to 2.65%. A Trend Index peak below zero warns of buying pressure from investors (yields fall when prices rise) who are looking for safety.

10-Year Treasury Yield

My conclusion is the same as last week. This is a bear market. Recovery hinges on an unlikely resolution of the US-China ‘trade dispute’.

The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage.

~ Thucydides (460 – 400 B.C.)

ASX 200 spikes but will it last?

The reason for the upward spike in the ASX 200 is clear. While shortage in iron ore supply may be temporary, while Brazil reviews mine safety, it is sufficient to cause spot prices to jump 20% in the last week.

Iron Ore

Windfall profits are likely to benefit not only the Materials sector but the entire economy over the next few months. The ASX 200 Materials Index ran into resistance at 12500 while a bearish divergence on Money Flow continues to warn of selling pressure.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 broke resistance at 6000 but remains in a bear market. Reversal below 5650 would signal a primary decline, with a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

ASX 200 Financials Index rallied on release of the Royal Commission on Banking final report. The outcome could have been a lot worse, or so the market seems to think.

ASX 200 Financials

I suspect the bank rally will be short-lived. Credit growth is falling and broad money warns of further contraction.

Australia Credit and Broad Money Growth

House prices are falling and concerns over a slowing economy have caused many to call for further rate cuts. I believe this is short-sighted.

Australia House Prices and Household Debt

One of the biggest threats facing the economy is ballooning household debt. Tighter credit and falling house prices are likely to curb debt growth….provided the RBA doesn’t pour more gasoline on the fire.

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest investments in the Australian Growth portfolio.

Robust US employment but global bear market warning

The US economy remains robust, with hours worked (non-farm) ticking up 2.2% in January, despite the government shutdown. Real GDP growth is expected to follow a similar path.

Real GDP and Hours Worked

Average hourly earnings growth increased to 3.4% p.a. for production and non-supervisory employees (3.2% for all employees). The Fed has limited wiggle room to hold back on further rate hikes if underlying inflationary pressures continue to rise.

Average Wage Rate Growth

History shows that the Fed lifts short-term interest rates more in response to hourly wage rates than core CPI.

Average Wage Rate Growth, Core CPI and 3-Month T-Bills

The Leading Index from the Philadelphia Fed ticked down below 1% (0.98%) for November 2018. While not yet cause for concern, it does warn that the economy is slowing. Further falls, to below 0.5%, would warn of a recession.

Leading Index

Markets are anticipating a slow-down, triggered by falling demand in China more than in the US.

S&P 500 volatility remains high and a large (Twiggs Volatility 21-day) trough above 1.0% (not zero as stated in last week’s newsletter) on the current  rally would signal a bear market. Retreat below 2600 would strengthen the signal.

S&P 500

Crude prices have plummeted, anticipatiing falling global (mainly Chinese) demand. Another test of primary support at $42/barrel is likely.

Light Crude

Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index breached primary support at 79, signaling a primary decline with a target of 70.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is in a bear market. Respect of resistance at 2700 would confirm.

Shanghai Composite Index

Bearish divergence on India’s Nifty also warns of selling pressure. Retreat below 10,000 would complete a classic head-and-shoulders top but don’t anticipate the signal.

Nifty Index

DJ Stoxx Euro 600 rallied but is likely to respect resistance at 365/370, confirming a bear market.

DJ Stoxx Euro 600 Index

The UK’s Footsie also rallied but is likely to respect resistance at 7000. Declining Trend Index peaks indicate selling pressure, warning of a bear market.

FTSE 100 Index

My conclusion is the same as last week. This is a bear market. Recovery hinges on an unlikely resolution of the US-China ‘trade dispute’.

Concessions to adversaries only end in self reproach, and the more strictly they are avoided the greater will be the chance of security.

~ Thucydides (460 – 400 B.C.)

ASX 200 Financials test key support ahead of Hayne report

A long-term view of ASX 200 Financials shows the index testing key support at 5300, confirming the selling pressure signaled by bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow. Breach of support is likely, especially with the final report of the Royal Commission on Banking due for release on Monday. Breach would offer a target of 4000.

ASX 200 Financials

The Materials index continues in a primary up-trend, assisted by a surge in iron ore prices caused by the temporary shut-down of iron ore mining in Brazil as tailings dams are inspected after the recent disaster.

ASX 200 Materials

Financials is the largest sector in the ASX 200. Respect of 6000 is likely and reversal below 5650 would signal a primary decline, with a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest investments in the Australian Growth portfolio.

Deal or no deal

Brexit

No one knows what the outcome of Brexit will be but, whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to send global markets into a tail-spin. There is bound to be short-term pain on both sides but the long-term costs and benefits are unclear.

China

Far more likely to send investors scuttling for shelter is a ‘no deal’ outcome on US trade negotiations with China. I would be happy to be proved wrong but I believe that a deal is highly unlikely. There may be press photos with beaming officials shaking hands and tweets from the White House promising a rosy future for all (with or without a wall). But what we are witnessing is not straight-forward negotiations between trading partners, which normally take years to resolve, but a hegemonic power struggle between two super-powers, straight out of Thucydides.

Thucydides wrote “When one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result.” In his day it was Athens and Sparta but in the modern era, war between great powers, with mutually assured destruction (MAD), is most unlikely. Absent the willingness to use military force, the country with the greatest economic power is in the strongest position.

One of the key battlefronts is technology.

“China is now almost wholly dependent on foreign chipsets. And that makes leaders nervous, especially given a series of actions by foreign governments to limit the ability of Huawei and ZTE to operate internationally and acquire Western technology.” ~ Trivium China

“To address this risk, President Xi Jinping aims to increase China’s semiconductor self-sufficiency to 40% in 2020 and 70% in 2025 as part of his ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative to modernize domestic industry.” ~ Nikkei

Xi is unlikely to abandon his ‘Made in China 2025’ plans and the US is unlikely to settle for anything less.

USA

The US economy remains robust despite the extended government shutdown and concerns about Fed tightening.

“Federal Reserve officials are close to deciding they will maintain a larger portfolio of Treasury securities than they had expected when they began shrinking those holdings two years ago, putting an end to the central bank’s portfolio wind-down closer into sight.” ~ The Wall Street Journal

This is just spin. As I explained last week. Fed run-down of assets is more than compensated by repayment of liabilities (excess reserves on deposit) on the other side of the balance sheet. Liquidity is unaffected.

Charts remain bearish as the market views global risks.

Volatility is high and a large (Twiggs Volatility 21-day) trough above zero on the current S&P 500 rally would signal a bear market. Retreat below 2600 would strengthen the signal.

S&P 500

Asia

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index is in a bear market but shows a bullish divergence on the Trend Index. Breakout above 27,000 would signal a primary up-trend. This seems premature but needs to be monitored.

Hang Seng Index

India’s Nifty has run into stubborn resistance at 11,000. Declining peaks on the Trend Index warn of selling pressure. Retreat below 10,000 would complete a classic head-and-shoulders top but don’t anticipate the signal.

Nifty Index

Europe

DJ Stoxx Euro 600 is in a primary down-trend. Reversal below 350 would warn of another decline.

DJ Stoxx Euro 600 Index

The UK’s Footsie has retreated below primary support at 6900. Declining Trend Index peaks warn of selling pressure. This is a bear market.

FTSE 100 Index

This is a bear market. Recovery hinges on an unlikely resolution of the US-China ‘trade dispute’.

War is a matter not so much of arms as of money.

~ Thucydides (460 – 400 B.C.)

ASX 200: Hanging man

A hanging man candlestick on the weekly chart warns of increasing selling pressure as the ASX 200 approaches resistance at 6000.

Hanging man

Respect of 6000 is likely and reversal below 5650 would confirm the primary down-trend. Resolution of the US-China trade dispute or announcement of another massive Chinese stimulus could avert the bear market, but don’t hold your breath. Breach of support would offer a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold 40% cash in the Australian Growth portfolio.

Bullish in a bull market, bearish in a bear market

We are witnessing the transition from a bull to a bear market.

I subscribe to Jesse Livermore’s maxim (emphasis added):

“I began to see more clearly—perhaps I should say more maturely—that since the entire list moves in accordance with the main current…. Obviously the thing to do was to be bullish in a bull market and bearish in a bear market. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I had to grasp that general principle firmly before I saw that to put it into practice really meant to anticipate probabilities. It took me a long time to learn to trade on those lines.”

The second part of that quote is equally important. You determine whether a market is bullish or bearish by “anticipating probabilities”. Don’t take signals from the charts in isolation. You have to study general conditions.

Livermore gives a classic example in Reminiscences of a Stock Operator of how he anticipated a bear market in 1906 after the Boer War in South Africa had drained Britain’s coffers and the San Francisco earthquake led to massive insurance payouts, forcing insurers to liquidate large swathes of their investment portfolios. But he was wiped out as the market repeatedly rallied. He persisted and eventually was proved right when large rail stocks announced new stock issues. The fact that the issues were structured as instalment issues, with only a down-payment needed to acquire the stock, alerted Livermore that there was not enough liquidity in the market to absorb the stock issues. His broker extended him a line of credit and…

“I profited by my earlier and costly mistakes and sold more intelligently. My reputation and my credit were reestablished in a jiffy. That is the beauty of being right in a broker’s office, whether by accident or not. But this time I was cold-bloodedly right, not because of a hunch or from skillful reading of the tape, but as the result of my analysis of conditions affecting the stock market in general. I wasn’t guessing. I was anticipating the inevitable. It did not call for any courage to sell stocks. I simply could not see anything but lower prices, and I had to act on it….”

General conditions in the US are still strong.

Credit and the broad money supply (MZM plus time deposits) are growing at close to 5%.

S&P 500

Credit risk premiums are rising but are nowhere near alarming. A spread of more than 3.0% between lowest grade investments (Baa) and 10-year Treasuries would flag a warning.

S&P 500

The big shrink, as the Fed unwinds its balance sheet, is still a myth. Banks are drawing down excess reserves at a faster rate, so that liquidity is rising. The rising green line on the chart below shows Fed assets net of excess reserves.

S&P 500

But charts are bearish.

Market volatility is high and a large bearish divergence on S&P 500 Momentum warns of a bear market.

S&P 500

We need to look at global conditions to identify the cause for market concern: Brexit, slowing European growth, but primarily, a potential trade war with China.

It’s time to be cautiously bearish.

There is no training, classroom or otherwise, that can prepare for trading the last third of a move, whether it’s the end of a bull market or the end of a bear market.

~ Paul Tudor Jones

ASX 200 rallies but LT bearish

The Australian economy is creaking. This is not a time for the Treasurer to concern himself with a balanced budget, laudable as that long-term (LT) goal may be.

Household consumption is slowing, with falling car sales and international travel. Housing investment is about to go over a cliff. This time China is unlikely to rescue the damsel in distress with another record stimulus spend.

It’s time for the government to go big on infrastructure spending. Not school halls or pink batts but real infrastructure like transport and communications investment (5G for example) that will boost long-term GDP growth. We are going to need government (and private) infrastructure to offset the sharp fall in housing investment and prevent a serious contraction.

The ASX 200 rallied off support at 5400 and is headed for a test of resistance at 6000. What could go wrong? This is a bear market and one strong rally is not going to change that. Respect of resistance at 6000 is likely and would warn of another test of primary support at 5400. Breach of support would offer a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

Banks are vulnerable because of the falling housing market. The ASX 200 Financials Index is testing long-term support at 5400. Bullish divergence on the Trend Index indicates buying pressure but I believe this is secondary in nature. The primary trend is down and breach of 5400 would offer a LT target of 4000.

ASX 200 Financials Index

The Resources sector is in far better shape but bearish divergence on the  ASX 200 Materials Trend Index warns of LT selling pressure. Reversal below 10500 would confirm a primary down-trend.

ASX 200 Materials

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold 40% cash in the Australian Growth portfolio.