Commercial traders are building the case for their negative
outlook on the stock market. Their actions in several markets can be seen as
increasingly defensive over the last several weeks. Their behavior is also
beginning to be confirmed by several technical indicators, some of which are at
levels that haven’t been seen in nearly 15 years.
Last week we used the employment situation, profit margins
and earnings to suggest that it would be an historical event to start a new
bull market leg upwards from these levels and therefore, the short term pop on
the debt ceiling rally could be sold in the stock index futures market to
generate a short term profit. Deeper analysis reveals that selling stock index
futures at these levels may be an appropriate hedge for the longer term.
We all know that trading volume declines in the summer
months and the, “dog days of August.” Lower volumes and fewer market
participants leads to higher volatility. Monday morning’s sell off in the
S&P 500 was dramatic enough to make me sit up and take notice. The market
opened at 9:30 better than 1% higher thanks to the resolution of the debt
ceiling deal. The market then promptly sold off nearly 3% in a couple of hours.
The speed of its fall is what is noteworthy. A closer look shows that the
number of market participants as measured by open interest is the lowest it has
been since 1997. Open interest peaked in December of ’08 at more than 755,000
contracts. It is currently under 300,000.
Declining open interest becomes increasingly negative the
farther the market moves. Friday’s close marked the first week the S&P has
closed under its 40 week moving average since September of last year. A simple
timing model using the 40-week average and some interest rate calculations will
provide far superior risk adjusted returns simply by staying out of a weak
market that is trading below this level.
Moving to commercial trader analysis, we can see that they
have increasingly sold stock index futures since mid-June, in line with the
debt ceiling concerns. Their defensive trading behavior can also be seen in
their purchases of U.S. Treasuries. They have been solid buyers over the last
several weeks with a strong emphasis on short duration maturities like
Eurodollars and the 2 and 10 year Treasury Notes. The last part of the
inter-market puzzle is the strong move to U.S. cash reserves via the U.S.
Dollar Index. Commercial trader buying has increased by a startling 70% or,
more than 17,000 contracts in the last week.
Given the troubles coming to a budget agreement I looked
into why money was coming into the Dollar. The simple answer is that it’s a
value play relative to the Euro currency and the gold market. The recent
European Central Bank bailout of Greece is seen as a band-aid on a chain saw wound.
Two ECB questions remain, when will Greece default and will Italy and Spain be
next? The markets continue to question whether they will be able to continue
paying their debts and this can be seen in the record high interest rates they
are being forced to pay in the open market.
Finally, commercial traders see the typical safe haven of
gold as overvalued. Small traders and funds are holding a near record long
position in the gold market. The concern is that when the stock market fails
and cash needs to be raised, it can only come from positions that are
profitable. This would lead to profit taking in the gold market and drive it
lower. Since small traders and funds are typically quicker to react to major
market moves, the concern is that when the gold market falls, it could fall
quickly and deeply. This would wash out many of the small traders and put gold
back into play for the commercial hands waiting to buy the market again.
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