Posts Tagged 'ETF'

Dividend Investing

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401 Advisor, LLC specializes in building client portfolios using dividend paying stocks due to their long term history of providing superior returns over non dividend payers. I recently contributed to an article posted by U S News on their web site. The article highlights warning signs that a stock may be cutting their dividend in the future.

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Why I’m Getting Ready to ‘Go Away in May”

The attached article was published at horsesmouth.com on 5/2/2013. While the market continues to show technical strength, key economic data is deteriorating. While we remain fully invested, we are rotating portfolios to lower risk holdings.

The data looked good until the last half of April. Now the five factors needed for a continued rally have taken a decided downturn, prompting one advisor to move into a low-beta strategy and collect dividends over the summer. His advice? Watch SPLV and JNK very closely.

Recently we’ve seen a turn in economic data that may be showing a soft patch ahead for our economy. But with a plethora of data to choose from, which data really matters?

In the past I’ve used a study by Citi equity strategist Robert Buckland that suggests that after a significant increase in the market, there are five factors that determine whether an existing rally can continue.

But before we look at that data, let’s first take a quick technical look at where we are according to three indicators: SPY (SPDR’s S&P 500 Index tracking ETF), SPLV (PowerShare’s S&P Low Volatility Index tracking ETF), and SPHB (PowerShare’s S&P 500 High Beta Index tracking ETF).

Below is a year-to-date candlestick chart of SPY, with the 200-day simple moving average (SMA) in yellow. SPY is clearly trading well within its uptrend—as indicated by the white lines—which started in November of 2012.

Despite the media’s Chicken Little reaction on every down day, the candle chart provides a quick visualization showing that volatility also appears to be well within a “normal” range. And, finally, SPY is trading well above its 200 SMA, a common indicator of the strength and future direction of the market, as long as the 200 SMA also continues to show an upward trend.

Figure 1:SPY 12 Months

Horsesmouth: Why I'm Getting Ready to 'Go Away in May'

Source: http://www.freestockcharts.com

In Figure 2, below, I’ve added SPLV (yellow line) and SPHB (blue line) to the graph of SPY (green and red line). I’ve also changed the time frame to a year-to-date view. The white trend line shows that SPHB has turned negative since about mid-March, while SPLV has continued to show gains.

The result has been a relatively flat SPY. This shows a definite rotation from riskier high-beta stocks to lower-risk, lower-volatility stocks. While this is a “risk-averse” move, it is significant that SPLV is still showing a positive trend. Investors to do not appear to be concerned about a broad market sell-off but are apparently (and logically) looking for the lowest-risk securities—probably as an alternative to near-zero-interest-rate bonds. More dividend-paying securities will be in the SPLV index than the SPHB index.

Figure 2: SPY vs. SPHB vs. SPLV Year-to-Date

Horsesmouth: Why I'm Getting Ready to 'Go Away in May'

Source: freestockcharts.com

This is a graph I look at on a weekly, if not daily, basis. We moved out of SPHB and into SPLV for our Seasonal ETF strategy at the beginning of April. I will get very defensive if SPLV starts showing a downtrend along with a continuation of SPHB’s down trend.

Back to the fundamentals
While a rotation from SPHB to SPLV could just be an indication of investors looking for yield, it could also be an early warning sign of bad things to come. Do the fundamentals warrant a continued rally or a sell-off?

Let’s use Citi strategist Robert Buckland’s five criteria for a continued rally to help us determine whether this upturn might continue. We rank each criterion as a positive, negative, or neutral development:

  1. Lower-than-average starting valuations: Neutral. Reuters dropped 2013 earnings projections to $114.01. This gives the market a 13.9 forward P/E—a decidedly average number. I lean to a neutral position because historic low interest rates would normally account for a higher P/E.
  2. Double-digit EPS growth: Fail. Year-over-year earnings growth is now projected at a paltry 3.75%. Zacks.com estimates that top-line revenue growth will be flat for Q1 2013.
  3. Rising PMIs: Fail. Markit Flash PMI came in at a 52 reading on April 23. While still a positive number showing economic expansion, it is lower than the previous reading of 54.6.
  4. Higher U.S. government bond yields: Fail. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has dropped from about 1.88% to 1.7% in the month of April.
  5. Sustained flows into equities: Negative. According to Lippersfundflows.com, the week ending 4/24/2013 saw a negative flow from mutual funds of -7.3 billion. This was only partially offset by a positive flow into equity ETF’s of $1.1 billion

Assessment
When I looked at this data in February, all five criteria were positive. Looking back at the economic report tables, I’d say this data has been fairly positive until just the last half of April.

And that’s the problem with economic forecasting. At inflection points, it is impossible to know whether or not a turn in data is an aberration, a temporary blip, or the beginning of a trend reversal. The one point that keeps me mildly optimistic is that virtually every forecaster predicted a soft first quarter for 2013. So this has not been a surprise.

Investment strategy
I follow the “sell in May” strategy supported by The Stock Trader’s Almanac and their research. However, we use a low beta strategy instead of cash for the “go away” period. As I noted earlier, we replaced SPHB with SPLV a month ago. I would expect that we will have completely rotated into our summer low-beta holdings by the end of the week.

For our dividend portfolios, we have already adopted a low P/E screen to our holdings. I hope that a relatively low valuation and high dividend yield combination will prove to be a solid defensive strategy as well as providing reasonable gains over the next several months.

What I’ll be watching
For our seasonal strategy, we simply will not get more aggressive until the October/November time frame. We’ll collect dividends over the summer. However, we can—and will—get more defensive if conditions warrant. At this point, I am watching SPLV very closely. If it establishes a negative trend along with SPY and SPHB, I will be very concerned. I would look at the equity fund flow data to confirm that interest in stocks has waned to dangerous levels. In our dividend strategies, I hold JNK (SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF) for a combination of yield and as a tactical position. JNK continues to provide a slow but steady appreciation in its NAV. However, I am very nervous when high-yield debt is only paying a 6.01% yield (JNK yield from MarketWatch.com as of 4/28/2013). If JNK stalls or turns negative, we will move this holding to cash very quickly.

Is The Market Topping?

The following article originally appeared at MarketWatch on Friday 3/8/2013. Despite nervousness over new market highs, this rally appears to be in the early stages, not the end.

With the market hitting new highs (DOW) or closing in (S&P 500), the topic du jour for the past couple of weeks, has been whether or not the rally can continue.

In my last post, I noted that JNK, the SPDR High Yield bond index ETF, was dropping while the S&P 500 was continuing up. Since JNK and SPY have a high correlation (they tend to move in the same direction) something was due to give. Either SPY was due a selloff, or the correction in JNK was done and it would soon follow SPY up. As shown in the chart below from freestockcharts.com, Spy (the red and green candle chart) has moved on to new highs since the downturn started in JNK, shown by the vertical white line. Spy did pause a bit to digest the sequester non-event, but it didn’t even drop to its support level, shown by the longer up sloping white line. And in fact JNK did resume a modest uptrend.

chart1

The point being, SPY shrugged off two negative influences, a drop in high yield bond demand (lower price for JNK) and totally shrugged off the sequester.

This leads me to my next market indicator to watch.

The market seems to go through four distinct cycles:
1. Up on bad news
2. Up on good news
3. Down on good news
4. Down on bad news

It seems to me the market is still in phase #1, up on bad news, and hoping to get to #2, meaning news becomes consistently good. Not that all current news is bad by any means. In fact we’ve had some pretty good economic news lately. But when you include political events, news has been a mixed bag. And when confronted with bad news, the market is shrugging it off. Slow earnings growth? No problem, it will get better. Sequestration? No problem, it’s just politics. Italian election? No problem, the ECU will rein them in… And on really good news, good ISM report, the market is having really good days.

One easy way to follow the economic news is to use MarketWatch’s economic calendar.

chart2

On a daily basis you can track economic reports and see the market’s reaction. I like to look at the data at the end of the week for a bigger picture of the data and market trend. This leaves the more subjective political news. My observation is that the market is shrugging off nearly everything political. Perhaps the first crack in our current rally will be when the market actually reacts negatively to what would seem to be negative political news.

For now, my strategy is to stay bullish. While I personally can give a pretty ugly laundry list of reasons the market could (or should) go down, for now I’ll assume the market is smarter than I am, and not fight the trend.

Just One Thing…

…an occasional departure from my usual market/economic outlook to focus on financial planning issues.

My business practice is centered on our investment strategies that we implement for our clients. Our focus is on lower risk, high dividend income stocks. And a growth strategy utilizing Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). However, coming from a decade plus of offering financial planning services, I realize that there are many other products and services that can be beneficial for a broad spectrum of investors.

With the aging of our population, a common concern that I am asked about is how to best fund potential outside assistance as we age – either from an in-home aid, senior care facility or nursing home. More and more this question is coming from my fellow “sandwich” generation peers – those of us still funding kids at home or college, and taking care of elder parent(s) at the same time.

Unfortunately too many phone calls come after the fact…as in “Mom just entered an assisted living facility, what do I do?” While there are “after the fact” steps to take, by far and away the best idea as in most things in life is to plan ahead!

For example I just found out that a client has moved into an assisted living facility. He happens to own an old annuity with substantial gains – all of which is taxable when he makes withdraws to pay for the facility. If I had known before he moved in, we could have transferred the annuity into a Qualified Long Term Care annuity and taken tax free withdraws to pay his bills. Since very little of the cost of assisted living is typically tax deductible, this could have saved my client a large amount of taxation in the coming years.

If you would like to learn more – in a non-sales environment, Michelle Prather of OneAmerica is offering a consumer oriented webinar discussing some unique products that can dramatically improve one’s financial security. I have looked at these products and feel that there are many opportunities for individuals to increase their long term security. In many cases simply by repositioning “rainy day” funds that are earning virtually nothing in savings accounts and short term CD’s today.

If you are interested in a personal plan please contact my office for an appointment. We are also looking at offering a “Lunch and Learn” presentation at our office on “Sandwich Generation Planning.” If interested please send me an email or call and we will prioritize the topic on our calendar.

You will not be contacted by anyone after viewing the webinar. If interested in more information you will need to contact my office.

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Can The Market Rally Continue?

The following article first appeared at: www.HorsesMouth.com on 2/14/2013.

Given the recent market highs, are we at the start of a new bull market or wrapping up an old one? We seem to be meeting the five critical conditions for continued gains, but that doesn’t rule out a 10% correction.

 Much has been said about the S&P 500 breaking through its former daily high set in 2007. The question seems to be whether this is the end of a bull market or the start of a new one?

First, let’s put this into perspective. Below is a chart of SPY, the SPDR’s S&P 500 Index tracking ETF, showing monthly returns since 1997. Many pundits like to point out that we have been in a four-year bull market, and therefore, this rally is extended and due to come to an end. This is simply false.

What we have been in for four years is a <i>bear market recovery</i>, as anyone who invested prior to 2008 can tell you. We have simply had a four-year long slog to recovery from the crisis-induced crash.

Figure 1: SPY Monthly Returns (1997 to Present)

Untitled-1

 Source: [freestockcharts.com Free Stock Charts]

 Second, from a longer-term secular reference, we have really been in a 13-year bear market and recovery cycle dating back to the 2000-2002 tech wreck market crash. Since the market peak in March of 2000, we have <i>not gone above, and stayed above</i> that level for 13 years now. This is the definition of a secular bear market.

The good news is that secular bear markets do end.

Know your P/Es

Below is a chart from Crestmont Research showing the history of secular markets in the U. S. since 1900. As you can see, the market’s history consists of long periods of rising markets (green bars) followed by relatively flat periods (red bars). However, “flat” describes the period from the beginning to the end of the period. Flat periods–or secular bear markets–can be filled with large declines and recoveries.

Figure 2: History of Secular Markets

 Untitled-2

Source: [crestmontresearch.com/docs/Stock-Secular-Explained.pdf Crestmont Research]

 My point is not that we are at the beginning or end of a bull market. My point is simply that just because we may have re-attained prior market highs, it does not, in and of itself, mean much of anything as to which way this market goes from here. It is simply not that simple. But it makes for good headlines.

Positive trends

So what would give us an indication as to the market’s next move? Citi equity strategist Robert Buckland recently released a study in which he looked at prior 20% rallies that were then followed by double digit gains. This seems to be narrowing in a bit on our current situation, and may add some relevance to our current market high.

He found that to see continued gains, the markets must meet five conditions:

  1. Lower than average starting valuations
  2. Double digit EPS growth
  3. Rising PMIs
  4. Higher U.S. government bond yields and,
  5. Sustained flows into equities

Let’s take a quick look at where we stand relative to Mr. Buckland’s criteria.

  1. Lower than average starting valuations. According to Zacks, Q4 2012 earnings are coming in slightly better than expectations. More importantly guidance has been positive. Standard and Poors estimates Q4 earnings will be $23.83. If you annualize that number you have a P/E ratio of about 15.7 or pretty close to the long term average. While average is certainly not “low,” we have to give some accounting for “QEfinity” with historic low, albeit manipulated, interest rates. A 15.7 P/E is reasonable, but not where historic bull markets start. On the other hand, again considering interest rates, a bull market should be able to break through a 20 P/E quite easily if the other conditions exist.
  2. Double digit EPS growth. Standard and Poors is currently projecting a 17% year over year growth in S&P 500 earnings for 2013. While estimates have been coming down, they have a long way to go before dropping below a double digit estimate.
  3. Rising PMIs. Below is a chart of current and trend results for PMI and its components as reported by Markit, a London-based CDS specialist. www.markit.com. PMI is growing “faster” based on a two-month trend. While I wouldn’t bet the ranch on a two-month trend, this does meet the criteria for a continued rally.

Figure 3: Manufacturing at a Glance (January 2013)

Untitled-3

Source: [markit.com Markit]

 Higher U.S. government bond yields. This would seem to be both the hardest hurdle and the most counterintuitive. With the Fed buying $85b of paper each month, they would seem to have the ammunition to keep yields low. And most pundits equate rising interest rates as one of the risks to a continued bull market. Below is a chart of the yield curve from Stock Charts.

The black line indicates the current yield curve. The lighter areas show the curve over the last 50 days — darker shaded areas being the most recent. Clearly we have seen a steepening of the yield curve resulting from rising rates.

Figure 4: Dynamic Yield Curve

 Untitled-4

Source: [stockcharts.com StockCharts]

 Sustained flows into equities. Figure 5 is a chart from Citi showing flows in bonds and stocks. There has been a clear flow of money to stocks since about mid December.

Figure 5: Weekly Bond v. Equity Fund Flows

Untitled-5

 Here are some of the numbers from the third week of January:

  • Total equity inflows were $22.2 billion, the second-largest ever.
  • Inflows into long-only equity funds were $8.9 billion, the largest since March 2000 and the fourth-largest ever.
  • Excluding ETF flows, inflows into equity funds were the largest since May 2001, and the first over $5 billion since April 2003, according to Goldman Sachs.
  • Emerging market equity inflows were $7.4 billion, the largest in history.

The rally is on, but…

Current trends definitely support the case for a continued rally, based on Mr. Buckland’s research. The “but’s” would be that the current P/E is not historically low, some “trends” are really too short-lived to comfortably assert that they are in fact trends, and there still are some major macro events lurking on the horizon (will Europe ever be fixed?).

That said, in practice we remain cautiously optimistic. With one short term caveat: the market (SPY) does appear to be at the top of its short term trend line. A 10% correction could take place without violating the current intermediate uptrend as you can see in Figure 6 below.

Figure 6: SPY Trends

Untitled-6

Source: [freestockcharts.com Free Stock Charts]

Pre Mid-Year Wrap Up

As we head into the July Fourth Holiday I’m struck by what an appropriate holiday to be celebrating based on our financial markets. No, not so much the Patriotic implications, but the fireworks!! Every day when I come to work and power up the computer I’m expecting to see new “fireworks” exploding on my screen as some new catastrophe of the day has lopped a couple hundred points off the DOW.

Instead, surprisingly to me, the markets have really fared fairly well this year with SPY, the S&P 500 tracking ETF up just over 5% for the year.

Unfortunately 5% can be wiped away in just a couple days if fireworks are really ignited. Not surprisingly, I’ve received several phone calls from investors asking what our outlook and strategy are as we head into the second half of the year.

Since today is the 3rd, and a shortened trading day, and I plan on going out of town for the rest of the week, this will not be THE 2nd half of 2012 Outlook piece. But I thought I’d send out a brief note before what will be a very long weekend for some of us.

Bottom line the economic news that hit over the weekend was pretty bad. Virtually every single country showed flat or slowing growth in manufacturing as indicated by the PMI numbers that came out over the weekend. And yet the market has held up. The one Wall St. axiom I quote often is, “Don’t fight the Fed.” Meaning when the Federal Reserve is easing, or trying to stimulate the economy, the stock market will generally react favorably. Today, it is not just the U S Fed that looks to be moving closer to a new round stimulus. With the generally weak global PMI numbers China is loosening their lending requirements, Brazil looks to be reversing their currency policy and strengthening the Real before the World Cup and Olympic events that they will be hosting, and of course the big one, Germany has blinked first, and looks like they will accept a more accommodative policy for the rest of the Euro Zone.

Our strategy has changed a bit. I have sold SH, an ETF that acts in the reverse of the S&P 500, from our income portfolios. This 20% position did very well dampening our volatility for May and June, but I think July may be a decent month as Central Banks look to speed up the printing presses. Until next week, I’ll leave this in cash or a neutral position and see what happens when Wall St. returns from the Holiday. This does leave our targeted income a little short, so I will be making a move soon. Our ETF Seasonal Growth strategies are unchanged. Our low Beta (volatility) strategy has done very well since our “go away in May” sell signal tripped early in mid April this year.

For those of you that trade on your own, UNG the ETF that tracks natural gas has been moving up, and is right at resistance at $19.50. If it holds above this level it could be a buy. For really aggressive investors, Brazil might be a play heading into the winter Olympics. Neither holding would be appropriate for our strategies.

Of course past performance is no guarantee of future results. And any ideas suggested in this post require significant additional research before implementing into any portfolio.

Ceros Financial Services Conference

I will be speaking at a conference in Atlanta hosted by Ceros Financial Services this Friday, May 4. I will be on a panel including  David Botset Sr. Vice President, Portfolio Strategist, Guggenheim Investments and Michael Cafiero of Knight Capital Group. The group will be discussing the role of ETF’s in portfolio management with a focus on controlling market volatility.

Why I’m Worried

Over the last week I have done a major revamp of our managed portfolios. In our ETF Seasonal Growth Strategy I’ve rotated into low beta and low volatility ETF’s. In our Dividend Income strategies I’ve replaced several higher beta holdings with lower beta, lower P/E, and unfortunately lower yielding stocks and ETF’s. Our models also signaled a sell of JNK, the SPDR High Yield Bond Index ETF, which increased our cash position by 20%. Here’s what I’m looking at:

  1. Seasonality. Any fundamental investor, and probably most technical investors seem to minimize the history of “Sell in May, and buy in November” as a legit trading strategy despite historical evidence showing significant risk reduction by following the strategy. While results are not consistent, what the data does show is that most of histories large drops have come between May and November. I don’t like big drops, so I’m cautious, and nervous.
  2. The Chicago Federal Reserve’s National Activity Index (CFNAI) has had a large downturn since February. While the St. Louis Financial Stress Index (STLFSI) continues to show an improving trend (downward sloping line means less stress), the level is still well above levels that have historically started recessions. Apparently from the graph below, STLFSI is just not improving fast enough to keep the CFNAI above a zero reading

Year to date the Standard and Poors High Beta ETF (SPHB) has outperformed the Standard and Poors Low Volatility ETF (SPLV) and the index itself (SPY) which is what you would expect in a rising/bull market. See Figure 2 below: Blue line – SPHB, yellow line – SPLV, and the red and green candle sticks – SPY.

Chart 2. Year to Date: SPY, SPLV, and SPHB

Source: freestockcharts.com

However, if you look at the same chart below, but change the time frame to the past month you can clearly see the market has rotated to lower volatility (risk off) stocks vs. higher beta (risk on) stocks as represented by the SPLV and SPHB ETF’s.

Chart 3 One Month: SPY, SPLV, and SPHB

Source: freestockcharts.com

But the big worry comes down to Spain. Chart 4 shows the past two years of SPY and I’ve highlighted the highly volatile breaks in between a couple of nice runs. Pretty much each period of high volatility has come about from concerns over Greece and the Greek debt crisis. While out of the headlines, Greece has not been solved. Only the can has been kicked down the road. Last December the EU implemented LTRO, Long Term Refinancing Operation. Which basically has given European Banks free money. The thinking was that this would kick the can into 2012. Wrong. We are barely past a quarter into the year, and Spain’s financial difficulties have started to hit the news. Particularly troubling because here in the U. S. corporate earnings have beaten estimates thus far. The expectation, (hope) was that with good earnings, reasonable valuations, and continued ZIRP, earnings would kick off another leg of the bull market. Instead the market has been shrugging off the good news (earnings) and moving on the bad news (Spain).

By summer Greece should be back in the news, and Italy and Portugal should be attracting their fair share of attention as well.

Chart 4. SPY, 2 Years

Source: freestockcharts.com

Bottom Line is summed up nicely in this headline from marketwatch.com on Monday the 23rd:     INVESTOR ALERT Stocks slide as volatility leaps

 Volatility is not good for stocks. While there is still time for President Obama to work some election year magic, and keep the economic expansion going through the fall elections, the markets seem to be betting against him, for now.

But I would recommend being alert, and don’t forget, “Don’t fight the Fed.” If the Fed comes up with a new money producing stimulus, the market could bounce back quickly and it will be “Risk On!” again.

Investment Update

I’m currently on vacation, visiting my oldest daughter who works here at beautiful Kiawah Island Resort outside of Charleston. Yesterday (April 5th) I took allot of risk off the table in our Dividend and Income Plus Model. The “Plus” part of our model involves an approximate 20% allocation to JNK, the SPDR’s High Yield Bond Index. This is held long for its additive value to the portfolio’s overall dividend yield. But since “junk bonds” are considered a fairly high risk asset, I time this holding along the 30 day moving average. Following the 30 SMA would have resulted in several whipsaw trades already this year. So I have held on as the stock market has shown a solid uptrend. But the last few days have been negative for JNK, stock market volatility is rising, and the S&P 500 is showing weakness. Also the first week of April is historically a strong seasonal period, that we obviously are not seeing this year. All this adds up to a good time to raise cash and lower our portfolio’s risk. This puts our income models at an approximate 25% cash position. Also for our ETF growth models we sold our two most volatile holdings – SPHB and QQQ. Again this should add 20% cash to our portfolios. If the markets continue to deteriorate I will continue to rotate into our seasonal, lower volatility holdings. Both of these changes are pre-planned based on weal seasonal factors and market trends. And are part of our normal risk management techniques. Hope everyone enjoys their weekend.

Can the Rally be Trusted?

Article originally appeared on October 20th at www.HorsesMouth.com.

After a solid market rally, sentiment seems to have changed from financial Armageddon to Rally Time. But is the exuberance warranted or irrational?

Looking at Chart 1 below of SPY the SPDR’s S&P 500 ETF, shows reason for caution as we go forward. Even though the markets have regained positive territory on the year (10/14/2011), a look at SPY clearly shows that we are only at the top of the trading range that we entered in August. A peak that we have seen equaled twice before, only to be turned back on negative sentiment. So is this time different?

Chart 1 SPY April 13- October 14 2011

Source: freestockcharts.com 

The one thing to consider as we hit resistance is that in each of the past instances the market has schizophrenically bounced back and forth between resistance and support based on the news from Europe. Last week was very quiet on that front, and news centered on the U. S., specifically earnings. So for a minute, let’s assume that the big Europe bailout comes through and all is good in the (financial) world once again. Is a rally through resistance warranted by U.S. fundamentals?

The most worrisome evidence to the contrary comes from the St. Louis and Chicago Federal Reserves. The KC Fed publishes a monthly Financial Stress Index and the Chicago Fed a National (business) Activity Index.

The two are shown in Chart 2 along with recent recessions in grey.  The indices have longer track records and details can be found here: pdf download  and pdf download.

To sum the Fed literature, the two indices when taken together have predicted the last 7 recessions. The indicator is when the KCFSI is positive (indicating above average financial stress) and when the CFNAI 3 month moving average is below -.7 we have had a recession. While the CFNAI is not quite there yet at     -.43, what is troubling is that a positive KCFSI will drag the economy into a recession if it stays positive, as it did in the late 90’s and early 2000 before the CFNAI dropped to the -.7 level – at the start of the 2001 recession.

Chart 2 CFNAI 3 month Moving Average and the KCFSI

Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED

Currently the KCFSI is heading into positive territory with a September reading of .44, up from .37 in August, as seen in Chart 3 below.

Chart 3 Kansas City Federal Reserve Financial Stress index

Source: Kansas City Federal Reserve

Simultaneously the Chicago Activity Index is in negative territory, showing a large slide from July over August as seen in Chart 4 below, from +.02 to -.43. However the 3 month moving average was virtually unchanged. The September data is due out October 29th.

Chart4 Chicago Federal Reserve Activity Index – 3 month moving Average

Clearly, the data from these two indices show that the U.S. economy is on the ropes, all by ourselves, without an implosion over sovereign debt in Europe. Unfortunately the Chicago data is about a month and a half old, and although the Kansas City data is fairly fresh let’s look at some more recent fundamental and technical  data.

The first is the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), which has already announced that we are in fact in a recession. From the N Y Times, “Relying on  a series of proprietary indexes, the institute…Over the last 15 years ,  has gotten all of its recession calls right, while issuing no false alarms.” In other words things are about to get worse, giving added gravity to the St. Louis Federal Reserve and the Chicago Federal Reserves’ Indexes.

Using the logic behind combining the two Fed indexes- that financial conditions govern economic activity, let’s look at some other financial indicators. Using JNK, the SPDRS Barkley’s High Yield Index ETF as a proxy for the spread between low and high rated corporate securities, clearly JNK has been in rally mode for the past week. However, unlike SPY, while it has re-entered its trading range, it has yet to push up to its resistance level.

Chart 5 JNK

Source: freestockcharts.com

Next, in Chart 6 is XLF, the SPDR Financial Sector ETF. Again, while it has regained its trading range, it has not followed the broader market up, to challenge its resistance level.

Chart 6 XLF

Source: freestockcharts.com

I’ll finish this series with VIX, the CBOE Volatility Index ETF.  While it has –barely, broken through support, it is still well above its range from the beginning of the year through July. Volatility is not consistent with healthy markets.

Chart 7 VIX

Source; freestockcharts.com

Then there are a couple more fundamentals indicators to look at. First is the TED spread which shows the difference between the 10 year Treasury and the LIBOR rate. As the spread widens it shows that banks are charging a higher premium to lend to other banks. Clearly from Chart 9 below, banks faith in other banks credit worthiness is declining, not increasing. The TED spread is an indicator used in the KCFSI, so this does not bode well for the next release.

Chart 8 TED Spread

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/quote/!TEDSP:IND

The next Chart shows the level of M2, which skyrocketed in July – August during what, so far, has been the peak in pessimism over the European sovereign debt crisis. While the climb has paused over the last month, the overall level has continued to climb higher. The common explanation is that money has fled Europe and has been deposited in “safer” U. S. banks.

Chart 9 M2 Money Supply

Source: Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED

Putting it Together

My investment thesis has been that the U. S. market would live or die with Europe. If Europe can pull itself together and stave off a major crisis, the U S markets would rally based on solid corporate earnings and balance sheets. However, the data outlined above is painting a different picture. With Europe out of the picture for a week the markets did in fact rally – but so far, are still within their trading ranges. In fact key sectors, High Yield Bonds and Financials have yet to pressure their upside resistance levels. The VIX is slightly below support, but well above levels we saw in the first half of the year when the market did rally.

Fundamentals concur. The ECRI and the Federal Reserve generated KCFSI and CFNAI, all have accurately predicted recessions in the past. While the Fed indicators aren’t quite at recession levels yet, more current date like that from the ECRI and the TED Spread do not provide much room for optimism from future releases.

While any rally is welcomed, this is definitely one to be wary of. While I still expect a significant rally if we get good news from Europe. For it to last we need to see a market turnaround in many fundamental indicators.


bill@401advisor.com • 937.434.1790

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Charles H. Dow Award Winner 2008. The papers honored with this award have represented the richness and depth of technical analysis.

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