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Could U.S. stocks be headed to a melt up for the end of the year?

posted on October 28, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Are we looking at a yearend melt up?

I think the odds are good, very good indeed that we’ll see one of those big, all-animal-spirits-on-deck upward moves in U.S. stocks from now until at least mid-December.

Assuming, and at this point I think this is a relatively safe assumption after Monday’s report of a very disappointing 5.6% month to month drop in pending home sales in September, that the markets can get past this week’s October 30 meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee without a move by the U.S. central bank to cut back on its $85 billion a month in stimulus.

I think the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index could easily break 1850—the index closed at 1760 on Friday, October 25, within the next six weeks. That would add another 5 percentage points of return to what is already an extraordinary year for U.S. stocks.  As of October 25, the year-to-date return for the S&P 500 was 25.4%.

But an end of the year melt up wouldn’t be all good news for traders and investors.

As the term implies, with its echo of “melt down,” stocks can fall hard after a melt up. In a melt up valuations run far away from any fundamentals in the economy, the market, or individual stocks. A melt up is driven by momentum as investors who have profited from the market’s gains greedily chase more and as investors who have been on the sidelines decide that they can’t take missing out any longer and join the party. Worries about risk go out the window and often it’s the riskiest assets that climb the fastest. In a melt up the last of every group of investors except the permanently bearish throws in the towel and finally puts cash into the market.

A melt up can be the last blow off before a market dive.

“Can be” is, of course, the key problem. Melt ups don’t have to end in corrections or market dives. Best-case fundamental wishes can turn out to be true, and provide support for valuations at exactly the right time. Extravagant hopes for the future can yield to even more extravagant hopes. Markets can calmly go through a period of consolidation rather than dropping to support levels.

Let’s start at the beginning and work through the important points one by one: Read more

Waiting for tomorrow’s jobs numbers: Will good news be bad news, or will bad news be good news, or vice-versa?

posted on June 6, 2013 at 5:03 pm

After trading as low as 1598.23 around noon New York time today, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished the day at 1622.56, or a gain of 0.84%.

It ‘s clear that the driver for the market today is related to tomorrow’s jobs report for May. And that makes sense since the Federal Reserve has said that its decision on when to begin tapering off its monthly $85 billion in purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed assets will depend on the data.

But it’s not clear to me what the action in the financial markets today means that markets are anticipating tomorrow. Would a disappointment—something lower than the 159,000 net jobs projected by economists surveyed by Briefing.com—lead to a move up because markets would decide that such bad news would put off the chances of tapering off purchases from the Fed? Or would markets retreat on that news because it would be a sign of weaker than expected economic growth in the United States?

Complicating the read is the influence of the yen/dollar exchange rate. An appreciating yen has put an end to the rally in Japanese stocks. Would a stronger or weaker jobs number tomorrow send the yen back down?

I don’t think you can tell much of anything from today’s U.S. market action. After the declines of the last few days, the move up today might be nothing more than a squaring of positions before the uncertainty in tomorrow’s news.

But on a slightly longer perspective than the next 24 hours, it looks like we’ve seen major unwinding of positions short the yen and long U.S. Treasuries. The move below 99 yen to the dollar today looks like it triggered another round of stop loss selling that took the dollar down further (and the yen up to 96 to the dollar.) Hedge funds have taken punishing losses in May on their bets against the yen, for Japanese equities, and for U.S. Treasuries. I think the last stage of the Treasury market retreat has been fed by some of these funds exiting losing positions.

Certainly that kind of reversal in positioning can lead to buying where we’ve seen selling (and vice-versa.) And it can also lead to a directionless market as traders try to find a trend.

Of those alternatives, I’d vote for “directionless” just because there’s no much uncertainty ahead of the June and July meetings of the Federal Reserve.

But, gosh, don’t we live interesting times?

Solving the puzzle of the current stock market

posted on June 4, 2013 at 8:30 am

Think of the current market this way, as a puzzle where the solution shifts depending on whether you take a long-, medium-, or short-term view. And where the importance that investors afford to the long-, medium, and short-term views itself shifts from hour to hour and day to day.

And, of course, where you have to solve that puzzle with significantly different time horizons depending on which of the three drivers of global financial markets—the United States, Japan, and China—is gathering attention at the moment.

That makes this market very difficult to read, very volatile, and rather scary.

Here’s my guide to what’s going on, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore in the next few weeks.

Consider Friday’s market action as a good example of what we can expect in June and probably into July. Read more

Dip? Drop? Correction? Long Weekend Messes Up Tea Leaves

posted on May 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm
stocks down 1

I know everyone would like to make sense of global stock markets today—but the upcoming three-day weekend in the United States makes that really, really difficult. I’m not sure that any news or any news interpretation carries much weight today against the desire of Wall Street professionals to reduce the chance of anything blowing upon them while the markets are closed.

From this perspective, the big drop in Tokyo on Thursday was especially unnerving. It was a reminder of how volatile this market can be just before a long period when the U.S. markets will be closed.

Last night the Tokyo market began strong but faded as traders who had profits early in the session took those profits and closed out positions.

Can you read anything meaningful into this about the market’s worry about the weak yen policy of the Bank of Japan and the Abe government? I doubt it. Banks such as Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (8316.JP), down 2.09% when the Nikkei 225 closed up 0.89%, took it on the chin again today, just as they did yesterday. The big loser in Tokyo, however, was Toyota Motor (7203.JP in Tokyo), which fell 6.03%. The stock had been the only member of the Nikkei 225 in the green yesterday. (In New York trading Toyota closed down 3.1%.)  My guess is that we’re looking at delayed profit taking—Toyota’s Tokyo shares are up almost 117% from November 14 through the close on May 23. The stock is so liquid that traders can’t have any worries about being able to easily rebuild a position after the weekend.

You’d figure that the U.S. market would be up today on the news. Orders for durable goods climbed 3.3% in April, the Commerce Department said today. That’s a healthy rebound from the 5.9% drop in March and ahead of the 1.5% growth projected by economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The consensus explanation for a decline today—the Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed down 0.06%—is that investors are worried that strong growth will lead to the Federal reserve tapering off its program of buying $85 billion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed debt sooner rather than later.

Sorry, I don’t buy that explanation for today’s market direction. Yes, I do agree that investors are worried about an early end to Fed stimulus, but the durables orders are hardly so strong that we’re about to see a big increase in hiring that will take unemployment down from its current 7.5% rate to the 6.5% neighborhood that the Fed has indicated would lead to an end to QE3.

I think this is just traders taking risk off the table before the weekend. Nothing more or less.

If I’m right, we’ll have to wait for Tuesday—at least—to get a sense of the current direction in the markets.

How near is the next bust?

posted on May 14, 2013 at 8:30 am
The End is Near

Are we in bubble territory again?

The talk that financial markets have created/are creating another bubble has become louder and louder with every upward move of the Dow Jones Industrials and the Standard & Poor’s 500. We’re in uncharted, all-time high territory and that has increased worries that we’re about to see a replay of the busts of 2000 and 2007.

How worried should we be?

I think worries about the stock market, in particular the U.S. stock market, are over-stated at this point.

That doesn’t, however, mean that there aren’t parts of the financial market to worry about.

In particular I’m worried about parts of the fixed income market where traders and investors seem willing to overlook risk if they can just pick up a bit of yield. Read more

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