Divergences don’t matter…until they do…

Over and over again, especially in bull markets, prices keep going higher despite divergences on internal indicators, but when a tumble comes, a “pull back”, even a crash and one looks back at its beginning there is usually a divergence there.

Or a cluster of divergences.

So as of today, we have one in CNN Money’s “Fear And Greed” Index. That index has been wildly over bought as prices have surged on most major indexes (in the SPY ETF surrogate for the S&P 500). It is back off, risen again and as of today put in its divergence by making a lower low while SPY has hugged its high (see the chart below). It is not infallible but if history do tell, it is a reliable context (not the red lines on the chart and subsequent market drops).

And wonder of wonders, the FINRA Margin Debt reading for October came out today (see the second chart below). It is a monthly and always a month behind so there’s always some guess work to be done in real time, but this reading is, indeed, ominous.

Besides having risen way beyond the debt levels of both 2000 and 2007 before those bear markets arrived, it has now been carving out a ledge pattern on its chart (sometimes called a bear flag) for the past few months as the market keeps rising into thinner and thinner air.

Why ominous?

Note it’s the same pattern that was in place as the market was making highs last time and, when it finally fell apart, it was the precursor of the bear markets in both 2000, and 2008. Is it different this time? Is it ever different this time?

History, history, history.

This is to say nothing of the divergences on the McCellan Oscillator (the NYMO) with its Summation Index (the NYSI) declining for the past 10 days even as the market as advanced.

Does this mean we’re about enter a bear market?

Maybe not, divergence don’t always matter. But if a bear comes roaring now there is a good chance when we look back to this day this cluster of divergences will have mattered.

(FEAR AND GREED – CLICK ON THE CHART FOR A LARGER VIEW)

(FINRA MARGIN DEBET – CLICK ON THE CHART FOR A LARGER VIEW)

#MarijuanaStocks – the wither in the weed patch…

At one point last year, the marijuana stock sector was the leading sector in the entire market.

Everywhere analysts were hailing it as the next great growth sector, especially after Canada joined several states in the U.S. to legalize weed, both medically and for recreational use. Made sense, and before anyone could say “don’t Bogart that joint” there were cannabis shops practically fighting Starbucks for retail space.

#MarijuanaStocks – gains are high in the weed patch

At one point, the founder and CEO of TLRY, because he owned so much stock in his heralded IPO, was something like the fourth richest man in the world…for a day. But now that day is done.

The chart panel below tells the rest of the story and there is not much more to say about that.

(click on the charts for a larger view)

Margin Debt – setting up a S&P 50% plunge?

FINRA margin debt is a long-term indicator and always reported a month late.

So now we have the August numbers, down 6% month over month, as reported by Advisor Perspectives Monday (see the chart below). But it’s not the margin number that is concerning, it’s the chart pattern for the long term.

In the 1990s margin debt chugged along in a reasonable bullish fashion before finally going ballistic in 2000 just before the dot-com bubble burst. Then again, coming out of the 2003 bear market, it moved up gradually before going ballistic again in 2007 on a bubble in housing, fueled by excessively low interest rates for too long a time, and we had the financial crisis of 2008/2009. And now in 2018 margin debt has pushed higher than ever before on deregulation and tax breaks to corporations fueling stock buy backs, and some would say on a lot of hot air.

It the fall of last year it topped and has not gone higher this year. That is ominous for long-term investors.

Consider the pattern on the chart below.

Note that in both 2000 and 2007 the market made a new high after margin debt topped and fell. Each time on the chart, the debt numbers formed a plateau lower than the peak as the market made those new highs.

What comes next?

That is always the most important question in the stock market.

In 2000, the S&P plunged 50% (the Nasdaq, 78%), and in 2008 the S&P plunged again down 56%. Note the pattern in place on the chart now. Same old same old.

So is another 50% bear market imminent? It’s likely because although they always say it’s different this time it never is, even though it sometimes takes a long slow time to get it done.

This is a bit tricky at the moment because of the late reporting. One has to guess what is happening with margin debt behind the monthly market moves. Since the August drop in price is reflected in the margin debt drop (big professional players lightening up, maybe desperately lightening up), and since the market has rallied so far this month, one can guess margin debt may move up a bit here in September but not a enough to head off what is to come.

And since the market likes to fool everyone into complacency at the last possible moment, a new high here would probably be just enough to lock long-term investors in when they should be at least shuffling, if not running, to the exit.

If by chance it doesn’t move up, October could become an October of old, which is to say…uh, crash… crash… crash.

(click on the chart for a larger view)

#MarketTiming – “a gift for the bears”…

I expect the market to go down tomorrow.

Really? Why?

Long-term breadth, as measured by the McClellan Summation Index (the $NYSI) is declining, and today short-term breadth, as measured by the McClellan Oscillator (the $NYMO) turned down after basically a four-day bounce in the market, but more importantly, timing-wise, this NYMO pattern is more than the usual turn down.

In this case it is a “high below a high below the zero line.”

And whenever this happens I believe it is a gift for the bears.

Take a look at the blue vertical lines on the chart below, which mark each time this pattern has repeated in the past six months. Focus on what happens next. It is always what happens next in the market that matters — not many indicators are consistent as this one – a sell off every time and usually hard downs the next day (tomorrow).

In addition, the SPX and Nasdaq Comp both clicked down today (to state the simply obvious, every dip or swing or slide or whatever the market wants to do to the downside has to begin with one down day), and VIX, after four days down, clicked up, giving its own first-day sell signal. Furthermore, my nifty-50 stock list which has 41 stocks on sells a week ago Wednesday rallied to 42 on buys yesterday before clicking down to 39 on buys today. CNN Money’s “Fear and Greed Index” is at a “greed” level trying to diverge with the rally highs. AAPL, by far the most important stock in the market and one capable of triggering a sell off all by itself, gaped up today on top of a five consecutive days up, but then sold off below its open (putting a black candle of indecision at a high on its chart).

But more important than any of that in my expectation is high below the high below the zero line, the gift for the bears, a gift in bull markets let alone in what may now be a bear market.

Okay, what if it doesn’t sell down? Well, that will be particularly bullish and I’ll take that up when and if it goes that way. As Trader Vic Sperandeo would say “if the market doesn’t do what’s expected, it usually does the opposite twice as much.”

(click on the chart for a larger view)

#MarginDebt – The Reckoning has arrived…

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)

#MarginDebt – the divergence that kills the bull

I been taking note of margin debt, now recorded monthly by FINRA, since last spring with the warning that it was at astronomical levels in relation to itself in 2000 and 2007.

One early post solely on margin debt this spring noted that the market was likely to make new highs while margin debt failed to the do the same (see the charts below). It is difficult to time precisely when this distribution is going to matter since it is always reported a month late. During lag, one can only speculate what it going on it with behind the scenes, so to speak.

Linked here,I called that:

Declining Margin Debt – the bullish scenario

And linked here more recently on October 1, it was suggested this may be the month when debt takes its toll:

Margin Debt – a sign of quiet desperation?

It’s been noted in posts here that even as the market moved up to new highs it appeared during the day that there was selling going on. I guessed that was big players were trying to edge off margin debt. Behind the scenes the advancing stocks were narrowing, the new lows at the bottom of the market were beginning to outpace the new highs at the top. Everywhere there were signs – wackiness was going on all over the place., marijuana stocks became the leading sector, some low priced stocks, like YECO, would go up 500 percent (in a day!); one by one bellwether stocks, FB, NFLX, TSLA, AMZN and finally even AAPL took hits; the housing stocks have been declining all year and finally banking stock have joined them.

In that October post above, I called this late stage the “most bearish bull market” I’ve seen.

But now margin debt is finally the revealed rub.

Each time the levels of margin debt in 2000 and 2007 became unsustainable, the subsequent decline led to bear markets in which the S&P 500 index declined 40% to 50% (see the charts below), and now when it drops it will be dropping from an even higher height.

Can a 40-50% bear market happen again? You can bet half your portfolio on it.

Once margin debt begins to unravel, it will feed on itself — when the margin calls come, it is either put up more money or sell the stock. Selling the stock drives it lower and brings more margin calls. Nothing else will matter, not fundamentals, not news, not hopes, not dreams.

Why is this important? Depends on one’s age. When it happens, it will take years and years – five years? eight years? 13 years? – to recover the prices the indexes are at right now.

It appears, now that we can see the new high in the market and the fact the margin debt did not follow, that process has begun behind the scenes, so to speak.

Of course big bull markets can fool (see 2016 in this one on the charts below), and might try soon since the market is currently deeply oversold and the Christmas season is traditionally bullish, but it can’t fool history forever. History is the best indicator of the fear-greed-time market psychology there is since it repeats and rhymes all through time. In the end history will tell.

(click on the charts for a larger view)

$LVS $WYNN – “No one knows how to bankrupt casinos like I do.”

I made up the quote in the headline on this post but I’d bet the first thought of everyone — EVERYONE — who read it was Donald Trump said that?!

He might as well have (maybe he has sometime in his daily incoherence). Before he got into the money laundering business with the Russian Oligarchs, he owned casinos in Atlantic City. They all went broke.

He doesn’t own any gambling palaces anymore but it appears as President he’d like to help bankrupt those of his friends as well, like a hobby on the side. Both Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn are big Trump supports. Or at least they have been. Looking at what’s happening to the shares of their companies, one wonders if they still are. If they are, what’s the matter with them?

This probably has to do with the way Trump has managed to get the Chinese to quit playing games of chance but who knows? Maybe it’s just his “golden touch” in casinos is contagious? Or maybe, a more obviously, it might be, as much as fools wants to tout the supposed merits of a businessman in the White House, every fool needs to remember the last one was Herbert Hoover.

The worst is likely not over for LVS and WYNN, and the down staircases like these here (see the charts below) are likely going to get built soon in a lot of other stocks, and a lot of market sectors (even now take a glance at housing stocks and bank stocks and place bets).

(click on the charts for a larger view)

$SPY – Market breadth takes a toll on a “Big Wednesday”

In surfing lore, there is the myth of “Big Wednesday.”

The myth was immortalized in the 1978 cult film “Big Wednesday,” written and directed by John Milius, who also wrote such movies as “Jeremiah Johnson”, “The Wind and the Lion” and “Apocalypse Now.” It was Milius’ contention elite surfers cannot acquire true greatness, legendary greatness, until they face and overcome the great waves, the legendary waves that rise and surge and rage along the California coast from out of almost nowhere. No one know why they come or when they come but as the movie puts it: “They always come on Wednesdays.” Maybe what Milius had to say about surfers should also be applied to market traders and investors.

Today was a big Wednesday in the stock market.

The Dow was down more than 800 points, the Nasdaq more than 300, the SPY nearly 100 points. Big moves out of, I guess one could say, flat surf on Tuesday.

Actually this was no real surprise.

There have been signs everywhere. The general market indexes have been rising in price to all time new highs for the past month in defiance of long-term breadth as measured by the McClellan Summation Index, the $NYSI (see the declining red dots on chart below). That was rather amazing to watch, particularly the way the NYSI kept falling day after day despite the lingering bullishness on the indexes, and in the end, as always, the NYSI took its toll.

In a head-to-head battle between price and market breadth (the sum of all stocks rising and falling) it may be hard to tell when the battle will end but it will end with breadth winning every time.

Long-term breadth is the most effective indicator of mass market psychology there is.

Even as market appeared to be rising on a few tech stocks alone — AMZN, FB, NFLX, NVDA, GOOGL and most notably AAPL — breadth was saying the bottom was falling out. When those stocks began to crumble (look up charts of FB, NFLX…), this day became all but inevitable.

Signs everywhere. Besides the obvious relentlessness of the NYSI, the economy-sensitive housing stock have been falling for months with the banks beginning to tumble with them (many of the banks broke major price supports today just like in 2007-2008); news low began to outpace new highs in late September and accelerated on October 4th (which also happened in 2007-2008); there were also rare whispers under the surface like the day the Dow made a new high while more than 50% of the SPX stocks were below their 50-day moving averages (last seen at the exact market top in 2007).

So is this the beginning finally of the bear market to come that is just as inevitable? Don’t know yet. The market can plunge farther now (as I write this it is in overnight futures trading); it could even crash. But it won’t be a bear market for sure until it rallies and that rally fails below the previous highs in the price of the major indexes.

I seldom have anything to say about fundamentals, since the technical trumps the fundamental every time, but probably I should mention when one considers what comes next, the here-and-now is a bull market that is ten years old, interest rates are rising, unemployment is at its lowest level in forever, margin debt in stocks is near its high and at an astronomical level; there has been a tulip craze in crypto-currencies, a mania in block-chains, and the strongest sector in the market right now is the weed patch, marijuana stocks.

If this is the death of the bull and the birth of a bear, everything I’ve just mentioned will not be with us much longer.

(click on the chart for a larger view)

Bitcoin and its buddies on the blockchain

If ever there was a bubble that was obvious it was Bitcoin and its buddies – the other cryptocurrencies and finally the blockchain stock mania that lasted what…a week or so?

Every time someone would pump Bitcoin or whatever other Oreocoin someone dreamed up the night before last, I’d ask “Can you buy a snickers bar with that?” I suppose you can somewhere but I’ve yet to find anyone who has.

I thought this pseudo money would crash when it was reported that New Orleans lap dancers were having bar codes tattooed onto their breasts to be able to accept crypto-scans as tips.

Then along came the blockchain stocks (see the wild charts below), which is to say companies like Kodak (KODK) changing its name and tripling overnight, or Riot Blockchain (RIOT) which looked as if it was the brain child of two or three guys smoking weed in Colorado who became multi-millionaires almost as a drugged-out joke. Everyone tells me cryptos may go bye-bye but blockchain technology, stringing together each and every financial transaction, is here to stay. Of course, a million computers all over world grabbing and archiving when someone (say, in Latvia) finally gets to buy a snickers with a Bitcoin.

How much electricity goes into that single candy bar?

And of course, as history would have it (always), the obvious became utterly obvious when it all finally crashed.

These is just a nutty time, typical end-of-a-bull-market craziness. Keep that “end-of” in mind. It takes a while and it’s virtually impossible to pick a market top of significance but bit by bit the history of how it happens keeps showing up. AAPL hit a $1trillon market cap probably because the company has enough cash on hand to buy that prize for itself. Then AMZN hit $1trillion too – for one day.

One of these bellwether stocks — AAPL, AMZN, FB, good heavens GS –is going to take a tumble that matters and actually follow through to the downside while no one is really paying attention.

When that happens a bear will be here. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe today.

(click on the chart panel for a larger view)

#Bitcoin – Don’t follow this crypto mania much but…

But I took a look today to see what’s going on lately.

Are you kidding me? There are people out there claiming this will replace the dollar? Replace gold?

Can’t anyone spell T-U-L-I-P-S?

I thought this would end when lap dancers in New Orleans started putting bar-code tattoos on their boobs to collect bitcoin tips.

Now that the drug dealers and money launderers have made a market a few notable institutions (like Microsoft for heavens sake!) had gotten sucked into, and computer nerds in bedrooms with potato chips are “mining” in their spare time, and even more than a few suburban crazies have gone crazy over, what is the real future for this crap? It is in market history (duh, the tulips), and it is not good.

Does anyone actually want to put their savings in this for a buy-and-hold overnight?

That this stuff is priced in U.S. Dollars should tell everyone everything that needs to be told.

(click to enlarge)