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. 

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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.

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.

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.

Money Talking: Stock Market Rises as Sequester Looms


Business & Money

If the sequester is so bad for the economy, why are stocks nearing record highs? And, will Marissa Mayer’s edict on work at home change corporate America? For more on this, and the top stories of the week ahead, tune into Time’s Rana Foroohar on WNYC’s Money Talking.

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Are Eurobonds the Solution?


Author Larry Berman

Posted: 30 May 2012 re-posted from etfcm

Last week Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti suggested that Eurobonds might be the solution that would help calm the financial markets and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was opening up to the idea. From our point of view, Merkel will be open to anything that gets her elected again next year, much like Obama and Romney will say just about anything to get elected this year.

The political theatre is about to heat up in the US and Germany in the coming months and Main Street will learn, like they did last summer, just how bad things are when the US likely gets downgraded again in early 2013 in absence of a credible plan to significantly reduce the deficit and debt.

But Germany is not the stalwart that Europe believes it is, they are neck-deep in toxic debt too. German Bund yields are falling faster than US Treasuries these days as money is being scared out of the weaker peripheral countries and the stronger ones like Germany are going to have to foot the bill.

Watch German bund yields closely as a signal that investors are sensing that Eurobonds are coming. When Bund yields start to rise, investors are showing concern that Germany may not be able to carry the debt burden of the entire EU. If so, it will be another really big band-aid for a while, but as we have written here many times in the past year, throwing more debt at a debt problem is not a solution. For Monti and Italy, it would be a great help, but will stop well short of fixing the problem. As we have seen in Greece and elsewhere, severe austerity is not being tolerated as an entire generation has been weaned on the government dole which simply needs to stop.

In the US, the political theatre heats up after the Republican convention in late August, after which attention may turn back to see the US is fiscally bankrupt. In the mean time, corporate earnings and outlooks are ever so slightly on the decay…stay tuned.

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