Dow: Not so fast WSJ

We were surprised to receive this from The Wall Street Journal this morning:

Markets Alert

Dow Industrials Rally, Ending Bear Market

A new bull market has begun. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has rallied more than 20% since hitting a low three days ago, ending the shortest bear market ever.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

That is news to us. A 20% reversal is a quick rule of thumb used by brokers. It is not part of Dow Theory. To suggest that we are now in a bull market is ludicrous.

Dow Theory tracks secondary movements in the index which last from ten to sixty days (Nelson, 1903). Only if the secondary movement forms a higher trough followed by a higher peak does that signal reversal to an up-trend. And the same pattern has to occur on the Transport Average to confirm the change.

A three-day rally is a normal part of a bear market and, with volatility near record highs, it is likely that some rallies are going to reach 20 per cent.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Bear markets are more volatile than bull markets. You can see this from the volatility spikes above in 1991, 2000-2003, 2008, and 2020. Stocks go up on the escalator and down in the elevator.

According to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, most days with the biggest gains occur in a bear market. Eighteen of the top twenty biggest daily % gains on the Dow occurred in a bear market. Only two (marked in blue) were in a bull market.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The largest gains in the 1930s bear market were as high as 15% in a single day!

Interesting that eighteen of the top twenty biggest daily % losses on the Dow also occurred in a bear market (red).

Dow Jones Industrial Average

That is because volatility is a lot higher in bear markets than in bull markets.

So expect big moves in both directions.

Stretching credulity

Fed Chairman, Jay Powell says the US economy is strong.

But they have cut interest rates three times this year.

And it’s all hands to the pump below decks. The Fed expanded their balance sheet by $288 billion since September and broad money (MZM plus time deposits) growth has almost doubled to $1.4 trillion this year.

Fed Assets and Broad Money Growth

Donald Trump says that a Phase 1 trade deal has been settled with China.

But the two parties can’t seem to agree on whether China’s agricultural purchases are part of the deal (China is reluctant to commit to a $ amount).

Nor can they recall whether rolling back tariffs was part of the deal. China would like to think so but Trump is now threatening to increase tariffs if a deal isn’t signed.

Fundamentals show that activity is contracting. Industrial production is falling.

Fed Assets and Broad Money Growth

Freight shipments are contracting.

Cass Freight Shipments

And retail sales growth is declining.

Advance Retail Sales

Yet Dow Jones Industrials just broke 28,000 for the first time, while Trend Index troughs above zero show long-term buying pressure.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Paul Tudor Jones

“Explosive” is the right word.

“A hell of a mess in every direction” – Paul Volcker

The S&P 500 strengthened on Friday, closing at a new high of 3067. Volatility (21-day) crossed below 1%, signaling that risk is easing. Money Flow strengthened; a trough above zero suggests another advance. The medium-term target is 3250.

S&P 500

Dow Jones Industrial Average is weaker, with Money Flow having dipped below zero, but breakout above 27,400 would signal another advance. Target for the advance is 29,400.

DJ Industrial Average

“We’re in a hell of a mess in every direction,” is how Paul Volcker, the former Fed Chairman describes it.

Equities are making new highs, while the Fed cuts interest rates. Donald Trump is effectively dictating monetary policy. This could only end badly.

Unemployment and initial jobless claims are near record lows.

Unemployment and Jobless Claims

Inflationary pressures are moderate, with average wage rates growing between 3.0% and 3.5% (production and non-supervisory employees).

Average Wage Rates

GDP growth is slowing, however, and likely to fall further according to our advance indicator (estimated hours worked).

Real GDP and Estimated Hours Worked

Payroll growth is also slowing. While this has been explained as a result of record low unemployment (new employees may be hard to find) it is likely that rising uncertainty has played a big part.

Payroll Growth and Fed Funds Rate

The 3-month TMO of Non-Farm Payrolls kicked up to 0.58%, above the amber risk level of 0.5%.

Payroll Recession Warnings

With 73.5% of stocks having reported for Q3, the price-earnings ratio remains elevated. A reading above 20 warns that stocks are over-priced, especially because expected earnings growth is low.

P/E of Highest Earnings

If we project nominal GDP growth (including inflation) at 3.5% and buyback yields at 3.0% (Q2: 3.26%) that gives us anticipated growth of 6.5%. Add dividend yield of 2.0% (Q2: 1.96%) and we can expect stocks to yield a total return (dividends plus growth) of 8.5%.

Nominal GDP and Estimated Hours Worked * Average wage rate

But that assumes that current price-earnings multiples are maintained. Any downward revision, from earnings disappointments, would most likely result in a negative return.

If you thought the sell-off was over

Flush with new money, the S&P 500 broke resistance at 3030 this week to set a new high. Declining Money Flow,  however, warns of selling pressure. Expect retracement to test the new support level at 3000. Breach would signal another test of support at the recent lows of 2830 to 2860.

S&P 500

Selling pressure on blue chips is a lot stronger, with Money Flow on Dow Jones Industrial Average dipping below zero. Reversal below 26800 would warn of a correction.

DJ Industrial Average

The investment outlook remains Risk-Off, with last week’s ETF investment flows heavily weighted towards bonds.

ETF Flows W/E 25 October 2019

Year-to-date flows reflect a similar picture, with fixed income inflows outweighing the much larger equity ETF market.

ETF Flows YTD 25 October 2019

Supply & Demand

We normally gauge whether stocks are under- or over-priced by comparing earnings to market capitalization, whether in the form of P/E or Robert Shiller’s inflation-adjusted CAPE. But the Fed has shown that stock prices are really a function of supply and demand.

Investment demand skyrocketed in the last decade, with QE driving down bond yields and forcing a large flow of investment funds into equities, searching for yield. The chart below shows estimated market value of publicly-held equity of U.S. domestic (financial and non-financial) corporations and the market value of closely-held equity.

Stock Market Capitalization

Supply of equities in the same period experienced limited growth because of three related factors. First, GDP growth slowed (partly because of QE). Corporate profit growth then slowed as a result. That left management little option. With limited investment opportunities, they returned capital to investors by way of stock buybacks. That restricted the supply of new equities for investment while demand was soaring.

The result was an inevitable surge in prices relative to earnings.

The chart below compares market cap (above) to corporate profits before tax. I have circled 1987 for comparison.

Market Cap/Corporate Profits Before Tax

We remain cautious. Stocks are highly-priced compared to earnings.

V- or M-shaped correction?

Last week I mentioned that there are few “V-shaped” corrections and plenty with a “W-shape”. There are also a few with an “M-shape”, leading to a major market sell-off. Here are some examples on Dow Jones Industrial Average.

2001 is the only good example I can find of a V-shaped correction.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

It rolled over later in 2002 into a more conventional W-shape bottom with several tests of support at 7500.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

This was followed by the banking crisis of 2008 which started with an M-shape in 2007. Successive false breaks above resistance (orange arrows) were followed by breach of support (red arrows)…before Lehman Bros filing for bankruptcy on September 15 led to a major capitulation.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

2011 is nowadays considered a secondary movement but at the time caused widespread alarm. Starting with an M-shaped top, it broke support in August before forming a W-shaped bottom with several tests of support at 11000.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

2015 was a more conventional W-shape precipitated by falling oil prices.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Now, in 2018, we have the makings of either a W-shaped correction or an M-shaped reversal. The false break above resistance at 26500 is definitely bearish but was followed by a bullish higher low at 24000.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

There are three possible options:

  1. Completion of a W-shape correction, with breakout above 27000;
  2. An M-shaped reversal, with a fall below 23500; or
  3. A lengthy consolidation reflecting uncertainty, as in 1999 to 2001.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

At this stage, option 1 is most likely. Buybacks and strong Q3 earnings are likely to counter bearish sentiment.

That would change if we see:

A negative yield curve, where the 3-month T-bill rate crosses above 10-year Treasury yields;

Yield Differential

Rising troughs above 1% on the S&P 500 21-day Volatility Index; or

S&P 500

Bellwether transport stock Fedex follows-through below support at 210.

Fedex

Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.

~ Socrates

What we can learn from Black Monday 1987

The current sell-off has a similar feel to October 1987, where the crash was precipitated not by a single external shock or tectonic shift but by an accumulation of bearish sentiment that led to a major sell-off. Here is a brief timeline (with thanks to Wikipedia):

  • August 25, 1987, the Dow peaked at 2,722 points after a strong 44% run-up over the previous 12 months, with low inflation and falling crude oil prices boosting the recovery.
  • October 14, the index dropped 95.46 points (3.8%) (a then record) to 2,412.70.
  • October 15, Iran attacked the American-owned (and Liberian-flagged) supertanker, the Sungari, with a Silkworm missile off Kuwait’s Mina Al Ahmadi oil port. The Dow fell another 58 points (2.4%), down over 12% from its August high.
  • October 16, Iran hit another ship the next morning, the U.S.-flagged MV Sea Isle City, with another Silkworm missile. The Dow fell 108.35 points (4.6%) to close at 2,246.74 on record volume. Markets in London were closed due to the Great Storm of 1987.
  • Monday, October 19, 1987, the crash began in Hong Kong and spread West. By 9.30am the Footsie (FTSE 100) had fallen over 136 points. Later that morning, two U.S. warships shelled an Iranian oil platform in the Persian Gulf in response to Iran’s earlier attack. The sell-off reached the United States, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling a record 22.6% or 508 points to 1,738.74.

Dow Jones Industrial Average, October 1987

The total draw-down of 36.1% was at least partly attributable to fears that conflict with Iran would impact on oil prices but there were also underlying tensions relating to exchange rates after the 1985 Plaza accord as well as fears of rising inflation and higher interest rates. What should not be underestimated, however, is the effect of programmed trading as institutional investors dumped stock in response to falling prices.

We are currently witnessing a similar herd mentality, where investors sell because others are selling, without heed to the merits of the stock they hold. Just not as severe (so far).

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The Dow correction is secondary but a lot will depend on this week. Whether primary support holds at 23,500 and whether institutional sellers join the melee.

The Moral of the Story

Compare Dow values today to those in 1987. The recent peak of 27,000 is almost ten times higher than the peak of August 1987. There is a lot to be said for sitting tight.

No explanation required

In the past week, I have seen a number of market commentators attempting to explain the current correction. Reasons given vary from rising interest rates, Fed shrinking its balance sheet, the impact of trade tariffs on manufacturing input costs and inflation, mid-term elections and peak growth in earnings.

Truth is, there is no single reason that could justify the dramatic market falls. Some of the reasons cited are insufficient while others are invalid. But no explanation is necessary. Market sentiment has simply shifted. The scale has tipped and more investors are taking profits than new money coming into the market. When that happens, prices fall. And falling prices become a self-fulfilling prophecy, scaring off new investors and panicking investors with a short-term outlook.

How long this will go on for, I cannot tell. But I am sure there are growing numbers of long-term investors picking through the debris looking for opportunities. And the greater the fall, the greater the opportunity.

Earlier in the week I cited Netflix (NFLX) as one such example. Price has fallen almost 20% in October 2018, while recently released earnings announced a 34% year-on-year increase in revenue for the third quarter and a 130% increase in operating income.

Netflix

Patience is required but opportunities abound.

East to West

A quick recap of markets.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is in a primary down-trend, having broken primary support at 2650, but rising troughs on the Trend Index warn of strong support. I suspect this is government-orchestrated as investors have little reason for optimism.

Shanghai Composite Index

India’s Nifty is testing primary support at 10,000.

Nifty

Europe is in a primary down-trend, with the DJ Euro Stoxx 600 respecting its former primary support level at 365/366.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

The Footsie is testing primary support at 6900/7000.

FTSE 100

Dow Jones Industrial Average is undergoing a strong correction. Bearish divergence on the Trend Index warns of a reversal but only breach of primary support at 23,500, completing a double-top, would confirm.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Dow Jones Transportation Average is already testing primary support at 10,000. Reversal signals on both averages would confirm a bear market according to Dow Theory.

Dow Jones Transportation Average

But technology stocks play a far larger role than in Charles Dow’s day, more than a hundred years ago. The Nasdaq 100 is still a long way above primary support at 6,300. Bearish divergence on Money Flow warns of selling pressure, but only breach of primary support would confirm a bear market.

Nasdaq 100

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933 inaugural address

Tech stocks and small caps lead US advance

The S&P 500 continues to test resistance at 2800. Declining Volatility suggests a return to business as usual. Breakout above 2800, with follow-through above 2820, would suggest a primary advance to 3000.

S&P 500

Dow Jones Industrial Average is similarly testing resistance at 25400. Breakout would signal a fresh advance but buying pressure is modest and gains are likely to be slow.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The Nasdaq 100 leads the charge, advancing towards a target of 7700 after respecting new support at 7000.

Nasdaq 100

Small caps are also out-performing, with the Russell 2000 iShares ETF testing resistance at 170 after breaking out above its January high of 160.

Russell 2000 Small Caps

Although this is the final stage of a bull market, there is no sign of it ending. I am wary of the impact of a trade war on individual stocks and have reduced  International Growth portfolio exposure to multinationals that have strong sales in China.

Steady growth in US hours worked

Growth of total hours worked, calculated as Total Nonfarm Payroll multiplied by Average Hours worked, improved to 1.575% for the 12 months to May 2017.

Total Hours Worked

And the April 2017 Leading Index, produced the Philadelphia Fed, is tracking at a healthy 1.64%. Decline below 1.0% is often an early warning of a slow-down; below 0.5% is more urgent.

Hourly Wage Rate Growth and Core CPI

Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to advance. Rising troughs on Twiggs Money Flow signal long-term buying pressure.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Dow Jones Transportation Average is slower, headed for a test of resistance at 9500. But recent breakout of Fedex above $200 is an encouraging sign and the index is likely to follow.

Dow Jones Transportation Average

We are in stage III of a bull market, but this can last for several years.

Trump Turmoil

Discussion of a possible impeachment action against President Donald Trump is rife in the media and seems to have spooked financial markets.

The Dollar Index fell through support at 98.50, signaling another decline. The long-term target is 93.00.

Dollar Index

Gold rallied, breaking through resistance at $1250/ounce. Follow-through above $1300 would signal another advance, with a target of the 2016 high at $1375.

Spot Gold

Dow Jones Industrial Average retreated from resistance at 21000. Expect a test of medium-term support at 20400. Reversal below 20000 would be cause for concern.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The S&P 500 is headed for a test of medium-term support at 2320. Breach would likewise signal a strong correction.

S&P 500

We are likely to get a secondary correction but I expect the bull market to continue. Impeachment of Trump would be a temporary setback and would make me more bullish on the long-term outlook.

It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out,
than outside the tent pissing in.

~ President Lyndon Johnson on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover whom he mistrusted