You know those recaps that begin each new episode of TV shows with words like “Previously on Mad Men…Previously on Shameless…” or most appropriately in this case “Previously on Breaking Bad”?
For a year I’ve been watching for the end of this bull bubble and chronicled it’s slow rollover in the links in this link so let’s call this recap “Previously on Margin Debt”:
Margin Debt – the divergence that kills the bull
As has been noted before the trouble with this gauge from FINRA (it used to be from the NYSE) is that it is calculated and released always a month late. So during any given month one pretty much has to guess from price action what’s going on with the margin debt. Given how over extended it was, my guess October’s price action was probably finally killing the bull market (see the link above), and November would probably be the confirmation that the bear was out of it’s nine-year cave. Indeed, it was confirmation and the bear did emerge.
If one stares at the chart below for a while, it’s clear if history is any guide (at least based on the 2000 and 2007 bull bubbles) when margin debt comes apart it does not quit feeding on itself until the SPX declines 40 to 50 percent.
Ai-yi-yi, long-term holders!
But can this time be different? Of course it can. Margin Debt this time is coming down from higher levels than even 2000 and 2007. What if different turns out to be the same as 1929-1932? Talk about a “Presidential cycle” – the last “businessman” to be President was Herbert Hoover who presided over the worst bear market in history.
Different is never really different. It really means all things must change so that all can return to being the same.
America has had magnificent prosperity from 1945 to… Picking a time depends where one sits on the income inequality scale but I suppose for the vast majority of Americans the time was the 1980s when prosperity began to fray, the American dream began to fade. Read an telling opinion piece on this just yesterday – American Capitalism Isn’t Working. Needless to say it can be fixed but the fix is going to take a lot of year now. It’s going to be long climb back and we’ve not even hit bottom.
I could be wrong about this, of course, since market psychology can run amok even in the face of time and all sorts of fundamental foolishness.
In the meantime, as J.P. Morgan so famously put it “the market will fluctuate.” There will continue to be plunges to buy and bounces to sell. For those of us who actively play this game, that’s all that matters to make money.
(click on the chart for a larger view)