Watch these lines in the sand!


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 21 June 2013

The fact that the Fed telegraphed its decision to begin tapering QE later this year, assuming that the current trajectory of economic data holds, was not an enormous surprise to me. However, the combination of the Fed decision, bad China data overnight and a liquidity squeeze in China have served to exacerbate the global market selloffs as I write these words.

Is this just a minor correction or the start of something worse? These are some technical lines in the sand that I am watching. First of all, the decline in the SPX has been contained at its 50-day moving average in the recent past. Can support at the 50 dma, which is at about 1618 hold?

As well, bond yields have been spiking in the wake of the FOMC decision. Past surges in 10-year Treasury yields have been contained at about the 2.4% level. Can 2.4% hold?

Bearish trigger in Europe
I have also been relatively constructive on European equities and believe it to be a value play. Despite the negative tone on the markets, eurozone PMIs have surprised on the upside (via Business Insider):

I wrote that past declines in European equities have been contained at its 200 day moving average (see The bear case for equities). Can the 200 dma hold?

Bearish trigger in emerging markets
In China, the combination of poor June flash PMI and a liquidity crunch have served to throw the markets into a tizzy. Zero Hedge reports that overnight repo rates spiked to 25%, which is evocative of the market seizures seen during the Lehman Crisis.

At this point, we don’t know if this credit crunch is deliberate or if the Chinese authorities have lost control of the interbank market (see FT Alphaville discussion). Michael McDonough sounded the alarm about the possible negative effects of this credit crunch on Chinese growth:

Should the Chinese credit crunch get out of control and start to spill over into the global markets, we should see the first signs of it in emerging market bonds. I wrote to watch the relative performance ratio of the emerging market bond ETF (EMB) against US high yield (HYG), which is testing a key relative technical support level (see An EM yellow flag):

I had written in the past to watch the price of the Chinese banks listed in HK as warning signs (see The canaries in the Chinese coalmine). That indicator may have lost some of its power as Reuters reported on Monday that the Chinese authorities have stepped in to increase their stake the state banks in order to “boost confidence”:

China’s government has stepped up efforts to lift confidence in the country’s flagging stock markets by buying more shares in the four biggest commercial banks, stock exchange statements showed on Monday.

Central Huijin Investment Co, which holds Beijing’s investments in state-owned financial firms, spent about 363 million yuan ($59.2 million) buying bank shares on June 13, Reuters calculations based on stock exchange filings showed.

This is the third time Huijin has been known to be buying shares in the secondary market since June 13, when China’s stock market skidded to six-month lows after data showed the world’s second-biggest economy was cooling faster than expected.

Watch the tripwires!
In summary, I wrote on Monday that my Trend Model had moved to “neutral” from “risk-on” (see Is the correction over?). For now, I am in watch and wait mode and monitoring these bearish tripwires before I go into full-flown “risk-off” mode:

  • Can the 50 dma hold for the SPX?
  • Can the 10-year Treasury yield breach the 2.4% level?
  • Can decline in the STOXX 600 be arrested at the 200 dma?
  • Will emerging market bonds melt down?

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned. 

The bear case for equities


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 11 June 2013

I have been fairly bullish in these pages and I remain cautiously bullish today. However, successful investors and traders look at the other side of the coin to see what could go wrong with their thesis. Today, I write about the bear case, or what’s keeping me up at night.

The signal from emerging market bonds
James Carville, former advisor to Bill Clinton, famously said that he wanted to be reincarnated as the bond market so that he could intimidate everyone. The message from the bond market is potentially worrying. In particular, emerging market bonds are selling off big time. The chart below of the emerging market bond ETF (EMB) against the 7-10 year Treasury ETF tells the story. The EMB/IEF ratio broke an important relative support level, with little signs of any further support below the break.

Technical breaks like these are sometime precursors of a catastrophic event, much like how the crisis in Thailand led to the Asian Crisis. For now, the concerns are somewhat “contained”. Yes, junk bond yileds have spiked…

On the other hand, the relative performance of high yield, or junk, bonds against 7-10 year Treasuries remain in a relative uptrend, which indicates that the trouble remains isolated in emerging markets.

Here is the relative performance of emerging market bonds against junk bonds. They have been in a multi-year trading range. Should this ratio break to the downside, it would be an indication that something is seriously wrong in EM that smart investors would be well advised to sit up and take notice of.

For now, this is just something to watch.

Are European stocks keeling over?
The second area of concern is Europe. Despite my bullish call on Europe (see Europe healing?) European stocks have been performing poorly in this correction. As the chart below of the STOXX 600 shows, the index has fallen below its 50 day moving average, though the 200 day moving average has been a source of support in the past.

The 200 dma is my line in the sand.

Faltering sales and earnings momentum
In the US, high frequency macro indicators are showing a pattern of more misses than beats, as measured by the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index.

Ultimately, a declining macro outlook will feed into Street sales and earnings expectations for the stock market. Ed Yardeni documented the close correlation between the Purchasing Managers Index against revenue estimates.

Viewed in this context, the PMI “miss” last week is especially worrying. Indeed, Yardeni showed that the Street’s forward 52-week revenue estimates are now ticking down. Unless margins were to expand, which is unlikely, earning estimates will follow a downward path and provide a headwind for equity prices.

As Zero Hedge aptly puts it, this is what you would believe if you were buying stocks right now:

My take is that the downturn in high frequency economic releases a concern, but it is something to watch and it’s not quite time to hit the panic button yet. I agree with New deal democrat in his weekly review [emphasis added]:

After several weeks of more positive signs, last week we returned to the pattern of gradual deterioration that began in February. This week most indicators remain positive and there were fewer negatives…

Last week I said that for me to be sold that the data is actually rolling over, I would want to see a sustained increase in jobless claims and a sustained deterioration in consumer spending. That wasn’t happening as of last week, and it certainly didn’t happen this week either. The economy still seems to be moving forward – but in first gear.

In summary, most of these concerns are on the “something to watch” list to see if any of these risks turn out to be more serious. My base case, for now, is that the market is undergoing a typical rolling correction, with leadership shifting from interest sensitive issues to deep cyclicals (see my recent postCommodities poised for revival). Until the late cycle commodity stocks roll over, there is probably more upside to stocks from these levels, but I am still looking over my shoulder and defining my risk parameters carefully.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned. 

Would you short this?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 10 June 2013

Look at this four-year weekly chart. Would you buy, sell, or hold this?

I will write about what it is on Monday and discuss it further.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Commodities poised for revival


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 07 Jun 2013

Yesterday’s stock market selloff was an event that we haven’t seen in some time, as major averages fell over 1% across the board – and globally. Nevertheless, I saw a glimmer of hope for the bulls, as commodities were performing well despite the carnage. If a deep cyclical sector like that is displaying rising relative strength, it suggests that the end of this correction may not be too far off.

Commodities unloved and washed out
Simply put, the commodities complex is unloved, washed out and showing signs of investor capitulation. The chart below from BoAML shows the aggregate large speculator (read: hedge fund) net position from the Commitment of Traders report in the CRB Index. Large speculators have liquidated their net long positions from a near crowded long level to net short. Moreover, readings are consistent where declines have halted in the past.

Here in Canada, the junior resource companies are beyond washed out. The chart below of the relative performance of the junior TSX Venture Index against the more senior TSX Composite is at all-time lows – and below the level of the capitulation lows seen following the Lehman Crisis.

Here in Vancouver, which is the heart of junior mining country, I personally know of scores of well-qualified people who are in the industry who are struggling with the difficult environment.

Green shoots
In the midst of this bleak landscape, I am seeing nascent signs of recovery for the sector. What is encouraging was the positive performance shown during yesterday’s ugly selloff. One of the top recent performers has been industrial metals, which has:

  1. Rallied through a downtrend;
  2. Staged an upside breakout through a wedge; and
  3. Staged an upside breakout through a resistance level yesterday – which was impressive given the headwinds provided by the risk trade.

At the same time, gold seems to have made a temporary bottom and it’s starting to grind upwards as the precious metal is displaying nascent upside strength.

I am watching carefully the Brent price, which is a better proxy for world oil prices, for signs of an upside breakout through a downtrend. We almost achieved the breakout yesterday, but not quite.

The relative performance of energy stocks against the market is starting to show positive relative strength, which is another early warning of shifting leadership.

Macro and market implications
While I understand that commodities and commodity related stocks are unloved, washed out and poised to rally. These combination of sold-out sentiment and early signs of rising relative strength are pointing to a recovery in these sectors.

From a macro perspective, the recovery of deep cyclical sectors like these are consistent with a relatively upbeat outlook for growth economic growth. In that case, the environment for equities is encouraging and any correction should be relatively shallow – barring any macro surprises,

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Should you have sold in May?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 04 Jun 2013

All it took was someone to whisper “Fed tapering” and volatility has returned with a vengeance to the markets. I explored this topic in late April (see Sell in May?) and outlined various criteria for getting bearish. For now, most of them haven’t been met, which means that I am still inclined to give the bull case the benefit of the doubt.

Surveying the Big Three global economies (US, Europe and China), I see signs of healing – which suggest that markets are likely to continue to grind higher, albeit in a volatile fashion. Let’s take the regions one by one.

US: Muddling through
As I mentioned, I outlined a number of bearish tripwires in my previous post Sell in May?

  • Earnings getting revised downwards, or more misses in earnings reports;
  • More misses in the high frequency economic releases;
  • Major averages to decline below their 50 dma; and
  • Failure of cyclical sectors to regain their leadership and defensive sectors to outperform.

With the exception of high frequency economic release data, none of the aforementioned tripwires have been triggered. The chart below shows the decline in the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index, but my own personal impression of high frequency economic data is that the results have been mixed. Even then, bad news may be good news as a weakening economy may provide the impetus for the Federal Reserve to delay any tapering of QE-infinity.

We will have a major test of market psychology this Friday. Supposing that the Non-Farm Payroll misses expectations, will the markets react positively because it is another data point supportive of further QE, or negatively because employment isn’t growing as expected?

In the meantime, the major market averages remain in a well-defined uptrend. So why are traders so skittish?

In fact, market participants have been so skittish that it only took a minor decline in the major averages for the percentage of bulls from the AAII survey to tank from a crowded long reading (chart via Bespoke). This kind of nervousness do not typically mark major market tops.

In late April, I also wrote that the bearish case also depended on the continued leadership of the defensive sectors and for cyclical sectors to continue to underperform. Well, those trends reversed themselves dramatically in the month of May. The relative performance chart below of Utilities (XLU) and REITs (VNQ) against the market shows that defensive and yield related sectors took a huge hit in the month:

Meanwhile, cyclical sectors as measured by the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index have started to turn up against the market. What’s more telling is the fact that cyclical sectors performed well in Friday’s market selloff.

Europe: The next step in the Grand Plan
Across the Atlantic, I am seeing signs of healing in Europe (see Europe healing?) What’s more important is the fact that eurozone leaders are taking steps beyond pure austerity measures to address their structural problems.

Recall during the eurozone crises, many analysts said that there were only two solutions to eurozone problems, which was a competitiveness gap between the North and South. Either Greece (or insert the peripheral country of your choice here) leaves the euro and devalues to regain competitiveness, or the North (read: Germany) makes an explicit political decision to subsidize the South. It appears that the latter is happening (from The Guardian) and the focus issue is youth unemployment:

The French, German and Italian governments joined forces to launch initiatives to “rescue an entire generation” who fear they will never find jobs. More than 7.5 million young Europeans aged between 15 and 24 are not in employment, education or training, according to EU data. The rate of youth unemployment is more than double that for adults, and more than half of young people in Greece (59%) and Spain (55%) are unemployed.

Der Spiegel echoed the German “party line” about youth unemployment:

But a new way of thinking has recently taken hold in the German capital. In light of record new unemployment figures among young people, even the intransigent Germans now realize that action is needed. “If we don’t act now, we risk losing an entire generation in Southern Europe,” say people close to Schäuble.

The new solution is now direct country-to-country assistance instead of assistance through the usual EU institutions [emphasis added]:

To come to grips with the problem, Merkel and Schäuble are willing to abandon ironclad tenets of their current bailout philosophy. In the future, they intend to provide direct assistance to select crisis-ridden countries instead of waiting for other countries to join in or for the European Commission to take the lead. To do so, they are even willing to send more money from Germany to the troubled regions and incorporate new guarantees into the federal budget. “We want to show that we’re not just the world’s best savers,” says a Schäuble confidant.

The initial focus of the direct assistance is Spain:

Last Tuesday, Schäuble sent a letter to Economics Minister Philipp Rösler in which he proposed that the coalition partners act together. “I believe that we should also offer bilateral German aid,” he wrote, noting that he hoped that this approach would result in “significant faster-acting support with visible and psychologically effective results within a foreseeable time period.”

Schäuble needs Rösler’s cooperation because the finance and economics ministries are jointly responsible for the government-owned KfW development bank. The Frankfurt-based institution is to play a key role in the German growth concept that experts from both ministries have started drafting for Spain. Spanish companies suffer from the fact that the country’s banks are currently lending at only relatively high interest rates. But since it is owned by the German government, the KfW can borrow money at rates almost as low as the government itself. Under the Berlin plan, the KfW would pass on part of this benefit to the ailing Spanish economy.

This is how the plan is supposed to work: First, the KfW would issue a so-called global loan to its Spanish sister bank, the ICO. These funds would then enable the Spanish development bank to offer lower-interest loans to domestic companies. As a result, Spanish companies would be able to benefit from low interest rates available in Germany.

The concerns over youth unemployment isn’t new. ECB head Mario Draghi spoke about the structural problems relating to youth unemployment in early 2012 (see Mario Draghi reveals the Grand Plan). In a WSJ interview, Draghi discussed what he believed it took to solve the youth unemployment problem [emphasis added]:

WSJ: Which do you think are the most important structural reforms?

Draghi: In Europe first is the product and services markets reform. And the second is the labour market reform which takes different shapes in different countries. In some of them one has to make labour markets more flexible and also fairer than they are today. In these countries there is a dual labour market: highly flexible for the young part of the population where labour contracts are three-month, six-month contracts that may be renewed for years. The same labour market is highly inflexible for the protected part of the population where salaries follow seniority rather than productivity. In a sense labour markets at the present time are unfair in such a setting because they put all the weight of flexibility on the young part of the population.

The first step in the Grand Plan was to gradually go after all the entrenched interests of people with lifetime employment and their gold-plated pension plans, etc. In other words, get rid of the European social model:

WSJ: Do you think Europe will become less of the social model that has defined it?

Draghi: The European social model has already gone when we see the youth unemployment rates prevailing in some countries. These reforms are necessary to increase employment, especially youth employment, and therefore expenditure and consumption.

WSJ: Job for life…

Draghi: You know there was a time when (economist) Rudi Dornbusch used to say that the Europeans are so rich they can afford to pay everybody for not working. That’s gone.

Now that they are taking steps to clean out the deadwood, the next thing to do is to plant, i.e. directly address the youth unemployment problem. These are all positive structural steps and, if properly implemented, result in a new sustainable growth model for Europe.

In the meantime, the Euro STOXX 50 staged an upside breakout in early May and, despite the recent pullback, the breakout is holding:

Stabilization in China
The bear case for China is this: The leadership recognizes that the model of relying on infrastructure spending and exports to fuel growth is unsustainable. It is trying to wean the economy off that growth path and shift it to one fueled by the Chinese consumer. Moreover, it has made it clear that given a choice between growth and financial stability, the government will choose the latter. This was a signal that we shouldn’t expect a knee-jerk response of more stimulus programs should economic growth start to slow down.

Indeed, growth has slowed as a result. The non-consensus call I recently wrote about is that China seems to showing signs of stabilization (see Even China join the bulls’ party). Since that post, further signs of stabilization is also coming from direct and indirect indicators of Chinese growth.   First and foremost, China’s PMI came out late Friday and it beat expectations (from Bloomberg):

China’s manufacturing unexpectedly accelerated in May, indicating that a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter may be stabilizing.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 50.8 from 50.6 in April, the National Bureau of Statistics and China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said in Beijing yesterday. That was higher than all estimates in a Bloomberg News survey of 30 analysts and compares with the median projection of 50, which marks the dividing line between expansion and contraction.

Moreover, the KOSPI in nearby South Korea, which exports much capital equipment into China, is behaving well. This is somewhat surprising as South Korea competes directly with Japan and the deflating Japanese Yen is undoubtedly putting considerable pressure on the competitiveness of Korean exports:

Other indirect indicators of Chinese demand such as commodity prices are stabilizaing. Dr. Copper rallied out of a downtrend and appears to be undergoing a period of sideways consolidation.

A similar pattern can be seen in the industrial metal complex:

Oil prices, as measured by Brent (the real global price), is also trying to stabilize:

Key risks
In summary, the overall picture seems to be one of stabilization and recovery around the world. In such an environment, stock prices can continue to move higher in a choppy fashion. There are, however, a number of key risks to my outlook:

  • US macro surprise: If we get an ugly NFP this Friday and further signs that US macro picture is slowing, it will negatively affect the earnings outlook and deflate stock prices.
  • Japan: John Mauldin has a succinct summary of the issues facing Japan that I won’t repeat but you should read (see Central Bankers gone wild). The issue of a blowup seems to be one of timing and a catastrophic outcome could be close at hand. With bond yields spiking, how will the economy adjust to rising rates? Already, Toyota has pulled a bond issue because of rising rates. Zero Hedge pointed out how JPM has postulated that “a 100bp interest rate shock in the JGB yield curve, would cause a loss of ¥10tr for Japan’s banks”:

The rise in JGB volatility is raising concerns about a volatility-induced selloff similar to the so called “VaR shock” of the summer of 2003. At the time, the 10y JGB yield tripled from 0.5% in June 2003 to 1.6% in September 2003. The 60-day standard deviation of the daily changes in the 10y JGB yield jumped from 2bp per day to more than 7bp per day over the same period.
As documented widely in the literature, the sharp rise in market volatility in the summer of 2003 induced Japanese banks to sell government bonds as the Value-at-Risk exceeded their limits. This volatility induced selloff became self-reinforcing until yields rose to a level that induced buying by VaR insensitive investors.

  • An emerging market blowup and subsequent financial contagion: The hints of Fed tapering have negatively affected the emerging market bond market and they are starting to roll over against Treasuries. I am monitoring this chart of emerging market bonds against 7-10 Treasuries carefully for signs of market stress and contagion.

The Short Side of Long has indicated that, in general, sentiment towards equities remain at frothy levels which suggests that a short-term pullback may be in order, However,  I am still inclined to stay long equities on an intermediate term basis and give the bulls the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time watching over my shoulder for signs of trouble.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Commodities poised to rally?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 21 May 2013

Much has been made of the upside technical breakout experienced by the US Dollar last week, but when I dissect the components of USD strength, I found that much of the breakout was attributable to Yen weakness. In fact, the other components of USD are all testing support, which suggests that the euro and commodities are poised to rally here.

At first glance, the USD breakout looks impressive, especially on the weekly chart:

Now consider how weak the JPYUSD has been:

Now consider the EURUSD rate, which is testing technical support:

The commodity weakness story is well known. Disappointment over Chinese growth has been a principal driver, but the flip side of that coin has been USD strength. The commodity sensitive Aussie Dollar is also testing a key technical support zone:

So is its cousin, the Canadian Dollar.

In fact, if you were to consider the EURAUD cross as a measure of the strength of Europe, the euro is turning up against the commodity sensitive Aussie Dollar as it has staged an upside breakout through a resistance level. Viewed in that context, is the euro that weak or is it just weak against the USD?

As I have shown, most of the other components of the USD Index other than the Yen are sitting on technical support. I also wrote to watch for the re-test of the recent bottom in gold as a clue to market direction (see The golden canary in the coalmine). As the chart below shows, GLD hit that technical re-test level on Friday and the silver/gold ratio is stabilizing indicating that most of the blind panic selling of gold is over.

All of these conditions are lining up to suggest that commodities are poised to rebound. The euro, commodity sensitive currencies and gold are all at key technical support levels. As I write these words, precious metal prices are substantially in the red. Watch for signs of stabilization, or better yet, reversal on the day. If that were to happen, expect that the rotation back into cyclical sectors will continue and stock prices to continue to grind higher.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Secular bull or bear?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 07 May 2013

As US equities have rallied in the last couple of weeks, there has been much discussion about the rotation in sector leadership from defensively oriented sectors to the deep cyclical sectors. Does the rotation mean that this market is truly ready to take off to further new highs? What does it all mean?

I have spent a fair amount of time pondering that question (see my recent post Sell in May?). My conclusion is where you come down on the question of whether this is the start of a new secular bull market where stocks move to new highs or whether we are just seeing the top of a range-bound secular bear.

To explain, consider this long-term chart of the Dow, where the market has seen alternating secular bulls, where stocks rally to multi-decade highs, and secular bears, where the market remains range-bound for years.

Still a secular bear market
My main belief is that we remain in a secular bear for two main reasons: demographics and valuation. I have written about the demographics issue before (see Demographics and stock returns and A stock market bottom at the end of this decade). For stocks to go up, there has to be more buyers than sellers at a given price. The propensity of Baby Boomers, as they move into retirement, is to take money out of stocks. In order for equities to rise, those negative fund flows have to be met by the retirement savings of their children, the Echo Boomers. Two research groups looked into this topic (see papers here and here). Their conclusion – the inflection point at which the fund flows of Echo Boomers moving into stocks start to overwhelm the Baby Boomers taking money out is somewhere between 2017 and 2021.

In addition, long-term valuations don’t appear compelling. I have long considered the market cap to GDP ratio as a proxy for an aggregate Price to Sales ratio for the stock market. The chart below from Bianco Research via Barry Ritholz, shows this metric, whose history goes all they way back to 1925, to be well above its long-term average. In addition, note that instances of falling market cap to GDP ratios correspond with secular range-bound bear markets.

Another reason for the long-term secular bear case comes from John Hussman, an investor for whom I have much respect. His latest 10-year return projections for the SPX is about 3.5% (see My answer to John Hussman). Even with bonds yields at microscope levels, a 3.5% return expectation for US equities is nothing to get overly excited about.

The bull case (and it’s always important for investors to consider opinions contrary to his own) is represented by Ray Dalio’s “beautiful deleveraging” concept (see my post Falling tail risk = new secular bull?). Dalio believes that the United States has undergone a “beautiful deleveraging” process in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. A “beautiful deleveraging” involves just the right amount of austerity, debt restructuring and money printing. He went on to observe that, by contrast, Europe has gotten it all wrong and that region is likely to be mired in a Lost Decade.

If Dalio is correct, then the rotation that we are observing from defensive to cyclical sectors is another sign of a new upleg in equity prices and therefore the start of a new secular bull.

The intermediate term outlook
While my analysis of the secular bull vs. bear is based on a long-term multi-year investment time frame, what about the intermediate term time frame for the next several weeks to months?

Here’s what’s bothering me about the emergence of the cyclical leadership. First of all, commodities look positively sick. Here is a chart of the industrial metals. Does this look like the basis for a cyclical rebound?

In addition, the Citigroup Surprise Index has been turning down, both in the US and globally. Despite Friday’s NFP upside surprise, the internals of the employment report appeared to be negative and it was before long that there were a cacophony of voices pointing out the weaknesses in the report (for examples, see herehere and here).

I agree with the blogger MicroFundy when he pointed out the divergences between the macro picture and US stocks:

I think we are getting real close to a major inflection point. It seems like every macro-economic data point I come across is saying one thing – the same thing. There is an extremely high correlation between all the varying data points and indicators. Data like the 10yr treasury yields, PMI manufacturing, durable goods orders, copper prices, international (ex Japan) stock markets, inflation expectation, margin levels etc – are all saying that the (global &) US economy is slowing, and that the risks of deflation/contraction/recession are growing.

The only thing diverging from this pattern in all of the charts below is the US equity markets.

His conclusion is “something’s gotta give”:

There are two extreme scenarios that can “correct” the above divergence, although I believe it will be a combination of the two.

1 – We could see a correction of 15-20% that would put the US equity markets back in line with most of the charts above. It would then be priced closer to fair value based on most of the recent economic data.

2 – The economic data can pop back up. Whether it was because of the payroll tax increase, sequestration, or some other seasonal event(s)… maybe this is/was just a blip on the radar these last few months, and the economic data will “catch up” to the US equity markets.

If these scenarios were mutually exclusive, I would bet the farm on #1. A realistic base case assumption though, is a combination of the two. I am anticipating a good 10% correction combined with a small pickup in some of the macro data.

Either way, something’s gotta give. The level of divergence here is bordering historical, and the relative and absolute over-valuation of some of these high-yield names are frightening.

With Europe mired in recession, commodity markets signaling that Chinese growth is stalling, the US is once again holding up the world. If the American economy is holding up the world, then why is US equity performance faltering against global equities? The chart below shows the relative performance of SPY against ACWI (All-Country World Index). If we are indeed seeing a launch of a new secular bull, shouldn’t the US, which has been the beneficiary of the “beautiful deleveraging”, be leading?

A bearish bias
While I have outlined my bias for the bear case, investing is about probabilities and I honestly don’t know how this market is going to resolve itself. While the bear case is compelling, Street earnings and revenue estimates continue to get revised upwards (as per Ed Yardeni).

Until we see some sort of negative macro surprise that cause estimates to get revised downwards, the stock market is likely to grind higher. As I wrote last week, there is no catalyst yet for a bearish impulse for stocks yet.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Negative divergences


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 06 May 2013

Further to my last post (see Sell in May?) I am seeing more negative divergences that create more concerns for the bull case. The recent rally, which has been led by the golds and deep cyclicals, have all the appearances of a dead cat bounce rather than the start of a sustainable advance.

Last week, I suggested that traders should watch the silver/gold ratio for signs of a sustainable rally (see Watch silver for the bottom in gold). The idea was that silver, being the more volatile poor man’s gold, should display positive relative strength against gold and lead a precious metal rally if these metals are in the process of making a sustainable bottom. Look at what’s happened to the silver/gold ratio since then:

We can see how the oversold rally developed by analyzing the price charts of the gold and silver ETFs. GLD has certainly staged a classic capitulation and rally pattern to fill in the gap left by its recent freefall:

But what about silver? Sure, this poor man’s gold rallied, but the rebound has been weak and the gap was not filled, which suggests to me that this advance is an oversold rally and the next major move in precious metals is likely to be down.

As confirmation of the bearish commodity trend, the entire industrial metals complex remains weak despite the rebound in gold and oil:

In my previous post, I also wrote about watching the AUDCAD currency cross rate, with the premise that the Australian Dollar is more sensitive to growth in China and the Canadian Dollar is more sensitive to growth in the American economy. A breach of the uptrend in this cross rate would would be a signal that the market’s belief that Chinese growth is slowing, which would be negative for the global growth outlook. The breakdown in this currency pair cannot be regarded as good news for the prospects of Chinese growth.

Another concern is the disappointing South Korean April exports, which were just released and missed expectations at 0.4% compared to estimates of 2.0%. The South Korean economy is regarded as cyclically sensitive as the country is highly exposed to trade with China and Japan.

In addition, Cullen Roche at Pragmatic Capitalism recently pointed out that the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index is turning down in every major region in the world. As a reminder, a economic surprise index reading below zero is indicative of more misses than beats on economic data. Falling surprise indices around the world suggests, therefore, that global economic growth is starting to stall.

As we wait for the decisions of the Federal Reserve and ECB this week, it will be a test of market psychology of whether bad news is good news, i.e. economic slowdown will lead to central bank stimulus, which is bullish, or bad news is bad news.

Non-confirmation of SPX new highs
Moreover, with the SPX making new marginal highs, I am not seeing the breadth confirmations from the 52-week highs and lows. While these kinds of breadth divergences can last for months, it nevertheless raises a red flag about the sustainability of this stock market rally.

Here’s another puzzle. If the stock market is making new highs, why is the VIX/VXV ratio (which I described in a previous post here and first pioneered by Bill Luby, see his original post) sitting at only 0.91, which is barely below my “sell signal” mark of 0.92? What is the term structure of the option market telling us?

This is not investment advice
One final point. I have outlined a number of negative divergences that suggest a bearish tone for stocks, but I have not outlined the timing of any trades. In my last post entitled Sell in May? I sketched out a number of likely triggers for to get more defensive. Since then, I have had a number of emails and other responses asking if and when I would write about when those events are triggered and, by extension, when it’s time to sell or short the market.

Let me make this very, very clear: Those triggers are just a set of suggested triggers. It will be up to each individual reader to make up his or her own mind as to what to do if and when each event is triggered. Don’t expect me to hold your hand and shout “sell” for you. You are responsible for your own portfolio and your own profit and loss statement.

For the readers who are waiting for me to tell when to buy or sell, I strongly suggest that you re-read my previous post about why the contents of this blog does not represent investment advice. This blog is a forum for discourse, not pre-digested investment or trading advice.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Commodity weakness is likely localized


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 25 Apr 2013

The old Cam would have been freaking out. The first version of my Inflation-Deflation Trend Allocation Model depended solely on commodity prices as the canaries in the coalmine of global growth and inflationary expectations. The chart below of the equal-weighte Continuous Commodity Index is in a well-defined downtrend. The weakness isn’t just restricted to gold, but other commodities like oil and copper are all falling.

However, we found with further research that adding global stock prices to commodity prices as indicators gave us a better signal, in addition to giving us a more stable signal.

Equities not confirming weakness
The three axis of global growth are the US, Europe and China. I am finding that signals from all three regions are not really confirming the signals of weakness given by falling commodity prices. Consider, for example, Caterpillar’s earnings report yesterday. The company, which is a cyclically sensitive bellwether, reported punk sales, earnings before the opening bell and revised their outlook downwards [emphasis added]:

We have revised our outlook for 2013 to reflect sales and revenues in a range of $57 to $61 billion, with profit per share of about $7.00 at the middle of the sales and revenues outlook range. The previous outlook for 2013 sales and revenues was a range of $60 to $68 billion and profit per share of $7.00 to $9.00.

“What’s happening in our business and in the economy overall is a mixed picture. Conditions in the world economy seem relatively stable, and we continue to expect slow growth in 2013,” said Oberhelman.

“As we began 2013, we were concerned about economic growth in the United States and China and are pleased with the relative stability we have seen so far this year. In the United States, we are encouraged by progress so far and are becoming more optimistic on the housing sector in particular. In China, first quarter economic growth was slightly less than many expected, but in our view, remains consistent with slow growth in the world economy. In fact, our sales in China were higher in the first quarter of 2013 than they were in the first quarter of 2012, and machine inventories in China have declined substantially from a year ago,” said Oberhelman.

“We have three large segments: Construction Industries; Power Systems; and Resource Industries, which is mostly mining.While expectations for Construction Industriesand Power Systems are similar to our previous outlook, our expectations for mining have decreased significantly. Our revised 2013 outlook reflects a sales decline of about 50 percent from 2012 for traditional Cat machines used in mining and a decline of about 15 percent for sales of machines from our Bucyrus acquisition,” said Oberhelman.

In other words, CAT remains upbeat on US housing. China is weak-ish and mining is in the tank. It seems that much of this negative outlook has been discounted by the market. While the stock fell initially, it rallied to finish positively on the day on heavy volume.

For now, the US economy look OK. I agree with New Deal Democrat when he characterized the high frequency economic releases as “lukewarm”. We are not seeing gangbusters growth, but there is no indication that the economy is keeling over into recession either. The preliminary scorecard from the current Earnings Season is telling a similar story. The earnings beat rate is roughly in line with the historical average, although the sales beat rate has been somewhat disappointing.

Risk appetite rising in Europe
Across the Atlantic, Europe is mired in recession. However, there is little sign that tail-risk is rising. I have been watching the relative performance of the peripheral markets in the last few days as stocks have weakened. To my surprise, European peripheral markets have been outperforming core Europe, indicating that risk appetite is rising. Here is the relative performance of Greece against the Euro STOXX 50:

Here is Italy:

…and Spain:

Well, you get the idea.

Weakness in China?
What about China? Chinese growth has been a little bit below expectations, such as the March Flash PMI released overnight. Shouldn’t weakness in Chinese infrastructure growth would be negative for commodity prices? Isn’t that what the commodity price decline is signaling?

Well, sort of. Maybe. We have seen a great deal of financialization of commodities as an asset class. An alternate explanation of commodity weakness is the unwind of the long positions of financial players . Indeed, analysis from Mary Ann Bartels of BoAML shows that large speculators have moved from a net long to a net short position in the components of the CRB Index:

One key gauge I watch of Chinese demand is the Australian/Canadian Dollar cross rate. Both countries are similar in size and both are commodity producers. Australia is more sensitive to Chines growth while Canada is more sensitive to American growth. As the chart below shows, the AUDCAD cross remains in an uptrend in favor of the Aussie Dollar, though it is testing a support region.

In conclusion, the preliminary verdict from the market is that commodity weakness is localized – for now. Barring further weakness in commodity prices and the other indicators that I mentioned, the implication is that US stock market action will be choppy because of the uncertainty caused by commodity weakness and Earnings Season, but any downside will be limited. As the point and figure chart of the SPX below shows, the S+P 500 remains in an uptrend and I am inclined to give the bull case the benefit of the doubt for now.

So relax and chill out.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Is the secular bull market in Vancouver RE over?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 17 Mar 2012

I don’t generally comment on the local residential real estate scene, largely because the topic isn’t within the scope of this blog and I don’t have much in the way of unique insights. However, I have a personal interest since I live here. In addition, several items came across my desk that piqued my interest.

First, the Conference Board of Canada recently unveiled some research indicating a statistical link between Chinese GDP growth and Vancouver property prices:

Statistical analysis confirms the importance of China’s economic health to Vancouver’s housing markets. Standard tests find significant correlations between the country’s real GDP growth and three important market yardsticks: existing home sales, existing home price growth and total housing starts. By contrast, local employment growth is significantly correlated to none of these and the five-year rate related to only the resale variables. This could mean that a substantial proportion of Vancouver real estate purchasers do not need local jobs to buy any home (new or existing) and that many do not need a mortgage to buy a new home. On the other hand, better economic health in China gives its residents wealth to spend on Vancouver housing.

While statistical relationships do not indicate causality, anecdotal evidence suggests that Vancouver property prices have been buoyed over the last couple of decades by several waves overseas buyers. The first was from Hong Kong, followed by the Taiwanese and now the Mainland Chinese.

The future of foreign demand
I came across an item Friday in the WSJ indicating that the older generation of Mainlanders looked to North America if they intend to emigrate (or at least to get a foreign passport), but the new generation is considering other alternatives such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Cyprus (see video and article). In particular, this wave of “economic refugees” seeking foreign passports as a safety valve should things turn south at home are looking to troubled eurozone jurisdictions such as Cyprus, where you can get a residency permit if you buy property there (and apply for Cypriot, and therefore EU, citizenship after five years). Other eurozone countries like Spain, which saw the collapse of a property bubble, also has a residency for house purchase program.

Yes, I have heard the local real estate boosters. Vancouver is a “world class” city (yes, as “world class” as other Winter Olympics sites like Salt Lake City, Lillehammer, Turin and Sarajevo – can you find them all on a map?). It has a mild climate (as mild as Cyprus or southern Spain?)

So what happens if Mainland Chinese demand starts to decline?

What’s the downside risk?
The Conference Board study indicated that the health of the local economy had little or no effect on local property prices. In other words, the locals have been priced out of the market. At what price does local demand start to put a floor on the market?

Here are some back of the envelope numbers. A typical single-detached house on upscale neighborhoods on Vancouver’s westside goes for about $2 million, give or take. If you were to open up the career section of the local paper, a good paying job is roughly 50-80K a year. Let’s assume that you have a couple with a combined household income of 200K a year – which would roughly puts them in the top 2% in Canada. Assume that they have no other equity from an existing home but have the 20% down payment, they can afford a house of $1.0-1.2 million range based on current interest rates.

That’s where local demand starts to kick in.

With the news that Vancouver real estate market slump is continuing:

Sales recorded through the Multiple Listing Service dropped 24 per cent in February to 4,501 transactions compared with 5,895 a year ago, the report said. The provincial average price was $529,922 in February, down 8.1 per cent from February 2012.

…the concern is that the overseas buyer is looking elsewhere is a threat to the secular bull market in Vancouver residential property prices. Should that happen, market price trends will transform itself from a series of higher lows and higher highs to a more cyclically driven market where prices move up and down with the economic cycle.
Right now, I am watching China (for cyclical effects on Vancouver RE prices, as per the Conference Board study) and emigration preferences (for the secular effects).
Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

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