Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Differentiate an Inflation Induced Rally From a Normal Run-of-the-Mill Retracement

Just a retracement?
Or is the bull really back?
Maybe inflation?

Deflation Camp - Anyone Left?

Outside of a few lone voices, the deflation camp sure seems to be getting lonely. This is interesting, because the US markets have only now retraced 60% of their previous losses. An impressive rally, for sure, but still within the 38-62% "Fibonacci range" that is generally expected of retracements.

FWIW, the Great Depression retraced a little over 50% of its initial leg down - so we're ahead of the 1930 rally, but just by a bit.

It DOES feel like this rally has been going on forever - over 13 months old, it's sure been impressive in it's magnitude and duration. BUT, it is important to realize that nothing has been decided - at least yet - regarding whether this is a technical rally off of extremely oversold lows, or a brand new bender driven by trillions of new cash.

Viewed with 5 years of hindsight, the current rally looks a bit more "normal" than when you're living it day-to-day.

(Chart source: Yahoo Finance)

The Early Symptoms of Inflation?

What's tricky, though, is governments around the world ARE printing money as fast as they can. And the first symptoms of inflation typically show up in either asset prices, or commodity prices - or both.

Today, we've got asset prices rallying, with financial stocks leading the way - exactly the first place you'd expect to see this "new money" showing up. A lot of financial commentators I've heard recently - good ones too, not just CNBC talking heads - believe this rally is now being driven by newly printed money.

Personally I think it's too soon to tell - we've retraced 60%, not 100%, after all.

But, if we're trading short term, we...

Gotta Respect the 200-Day Moving Average

And revisiting the S&P chart once again, we are indeed still north of the 200-day moving average. Check out the last five years too - you could have done a lot worse than being long stocks when the S&P is trading above the average, and being short when it's below:

According to the 200-day SMA, you should ignore my calls for an impending decline. Instead, you'd set stops around this mark.

(Chart source: Yahoo finance)

So while I may continue to hoot and holler about the odds of a downturn far outweighing upside potential, to be honest, you should probably ignore me, and just respect your trailing stops!

And for more on the power of respecting the 200-day moving average, check out this excellent article from Steve Sjuggerud in Daily Wealth.

If Everything Tanks, What Would Hold Up?

Judging by the price action across the board last Friday - not too much...

Almost everything is getting kicked in the teeth today.


Crude oil and precious metals got taken to the woodshed along with stocks on Friday - no place to hide there.

One bright spot - actually I should say one dim but not dark spot - are the grains. They haven't rallied much this year to date, so there may not be much downside from here.

Grains, by the way, are still one of my favorite secular plays - I just think it's best to avoid them right now. If the Great Depression is a guide, then grains should lead the way out of the Greater Depression as they did last time around.

Some Deflationary Evidence: Two Revealing Charts of Consumer Credit Trends

Late last week, our good friend and fellow deflationist Carson sent over a link from Mish Shedlock's blog, reporting a sharp annualized decrease in consumer and revolving credit.

I just plotted the Fed's historical data since 1978 (which I chose because there was a single quarter anomaly in 1977 that I didn't feel like dealing with).

First, we see that consumer credit, as of February 2010, is decreasing at an annual rate of 5.5%:

Consumer credit, after trending positive YOY in January, is once again heading south.

Next we look at revolving credit, where the data is even uglier, both in current and historical terms. Revolving credit decreased at an annual rate of 13%:

Will this debt ever be paid off?

The sharp decline in revolving credit, which is defined as credit that does not have a fixed number of payments or payment schedule (think credit cards), would appear to support the debt deflation argument (of Robert Prechter, most notably) that much of the current debt outstanding is going to go unpaid.

So while the government has engaged in quantitative easing to "ease" the issuing of its own debt, it has not yet offered to print up some greenbacks to pay off the debt of American citizens.

Thus far, it appears Americans are still choking on their massive loads of accumulated debt, unwilling to take on more credit, no matter what the Fed does.

It will be interesting to see if the Fed is able to reverse these trends.

Though Maybe We Should Just Short American Stocks Right Now

What's the most damning future indicator for America's near term economic outlook?

How about the latest cover of Newsweek?

Uh oh!

PS: Hat tip to MarketFolly for the tip here.

PPS: If you're into contrary investment thinking, I'd HIGHLY recommend The Art of Contrary Thinking by Humphrey B. Neill, which I reviewed here (ironically the same week we interviewed MarketFolly for the blog too!)

Another Bernanke "Guru Moment" - An Instant Classic?

The man who proclaimed the subprime problem was "contained" in March 2007 (after which Jim Grant hilariously quipped "yeah, to planet earth") - is back in the news again with another "guru moment".

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The U.S. economy should continue to recover at a moderate pace this year, but it will take time to restore all the jobs lost during the recession, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday.

In his latest assessment of the economy, Mr. Bernanke told a congressional committee the pace of the recovery this year will depend on if consumers spend and companies invest enough to make up for fading government support.

"On balance, the incoming data suggest that growth in private final demand will be sufficient to promote a moderate economic recovery in coming quarters," the Fed chief said to the Joint Economic Committee.

Any fellow contrarians want to take the "under" on Ben's latest gem?

Jim Rogers Says Get Ready for $2,000 Gold!

Here's the latest Jim Rogers interview on Bloomberg:

A short bit with another clueless interview, so there's not too much new:
  • Still likes commodities for another 5-10 years (based on the secular bull market beginning in 1999)
  • Thinks gold will top $2,000 by the end of the decade, thanks to money printing
Jim notoriously sandbags his own trading acumen - always insisting he's "no good" at calling price/timing specifics - yet those who follow him closely know he's often pretty accurate with these calls as well!

You may also like:
And My Current Positions - Cash, and Pass!

While it's very tempting to take a flyer short position, betting on a near-term decline, I'm going to actually respect the 200-day moving average this time. We'll see how it works out.

Other than some longer term short S&P and long US dollar positions I've got via ETF's, I'm mostly in cash, mostly waiting for the next mega leg down that I think is coming.

In retrospect I should have kept my long positions, and just kept moving up the trailing stops, until they were stopped out. Ah well, investing and trading is a lifelong learning process.

Have a great week in the markets!


David Wozney said...

Re: “...governments around the world ARE printing money as fast as they can.

If the stated value, of “Federal” Reserve notes, declines enough with respect to copper and nickel, the 1946-2009 U.S. Mint nickels, composed of cupronickel alloy, could become somewhat rare in mass circulation.

The April 19th metal value of these nickels is “$0.0623779” or 124.75% of face value, according to the “United States Circulating Coinage Intrinsic Value Table” available at

Robert said...

Wow how privileged I feel to be trailing two spamments...

Regardless, the question posed in the title to this post has compelled me to add something of my own to your consensus of the market. The raging deflationists have morphed into a dying cult of market society outcasts, only whispering to themselves in dark corners where no one will trade from their lunacies.

However, the reality which will spit in the face of the inflationists, who are nearly indistinguishable from the multi-national free government money funded speculating banks, is the global deleveraging story which has only just begun.

Sure deleveraging is the opposite of quantitative easing, as far as the effects of money velocity in the economy are concerned. But it is more likely in my opinion that asset prices are high, not due to higher velocity of money in the economy, but a bulging of cheap money which has been trapped within the ivory towers of the Global Financial Industry.

When the music stops and the trend of prices reverts to the mean of fundamental data, speculative commodity prices will be found grossly too high.

If you don't believe me take it from Bill Gross in his April 2010 Investment Outlook:

Brett Owens said...

Robert, awesome post! Funny too. Think you're right on the money (of course) - got you on my RSS now, nice blog. (Others should check it out at

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