The least tempting stock market charts ever

Topic: a negative view of the Swedish stock market chart

Conclusion: not quite a bargain is it? -50% would be more than reasonable.


Does this series of charts look tempting to you?

(The Swedish OMX stock market index)

First, in the very short term, there seems to be a psychological barrier around 1650. After 3 attempts buyers are giving up. The break out in April looks more and more like a false, last hurrah.


Observing the index from a slightly longer distance, the similarities with the last peak are striking. Even more alarming is that we didn’t manage to get above the levels of 18 months ago. If stocks are this weak when US indices are hitting all time highs every day, there’s something rotten in the state of Sweden.


Seen from the beginning of the cyclical bull market, the double top of 2015-2017 looks even more ominous. Maybe there’s room for a third top before normality ensues, maybe we’ll go right through 1250. No matter, I think 1250 is where we’re going to start with. We’ll cross the bridge of “bounce back to the 1600s, or crash trough to triple-digit territory” when we get there.


In a 2-decade perspective, the current formation looks surprisingly tiny, like a “no volatility, great moderation tremble”, rather than a true wash out and re-set of the greatest monetary scandal in history.

My guess is that the latter is what we have before us.

The question is “just” how many more rounds central banks have left before they’re empty. In any case, looking for bargains here when stocks haven’t even visibly corrected in the chart just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s as if Under Armour first raised prices by 200% and then put up signs with “SALE -5% OFF“. Tempting?

What to do about it? Get out of stocks unless you have insight in some very specific individual companies. Go cash, or buy something that’s currently unloved such as gold, gold mines, uranium or soft commodities.

Read more about the case for a -50% leg on the US stock market here LINK

NB: My next post will NOT be about financials or the stock market.

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The coming stock market crash of 2017-2018

Topic: The case for a 50% downside for stocks in the coming 12 months, and then some

Style: Funny, ’cause it’s true (kind of)

Nota bene: this post should be read in conjunction with my previous post on the bull case for stocks


1 The trend has gone too far

I mean, what are the odds of this trend continuing (see chart) without a major hickup?

Trees don’t grow to the sky. Sooner or later, the human psyche will pull the index back to its long term trend (asymptotic to population growth + productivity growth)

Remember that stocks went nowhere between 1996 and 2009, and 2000 and 2012 or was it 2013? That’s a long time going nowhere and it seems to be about time for a re-run of a crash and no returns fro a dozen year or so.

2 Stocks are expensive

Historical peaks in the S&P 500 ratio have only briefly broken above the 20 level. Today we’re at 24.57. And that’s with significant accounting tricks, massive stimulus, zero interest rates and a generally upbeat mood and risk tolerance at highs. Whenever stimulus wanes, reality comes back to bite creative accountants in the derriere, interest rates stop falling or start rising P/E-ratios are bound to explore earlier depths. And that’s even before taking into account a less optimistic sentiment, as well as increasing actual need for funds.

By the way, here is an alternative valuation measure. It’s based on Price/Sales (from Hussman Weekly the previous week) which is an automatically cyclically adjusted valuation measure (more or less) Notice how the valuation measure has increased 4-fold since 2009. That alone carries an inherent risk of a ca. 75% fall in share prices, if sentiment were to fall to 2009 levels.

A permanently higher plateau?

3 Profits are going… where exactly?

Not that fundamentals are that important, except over very long time periods, but the profits have stalled lately. That’s despite historically hysterical monetary stimulus and budget deficits (essentially fiscal stimulus one way or the other). It’s hard to conceive of a new and bigger wave of stimulus on top of the already failing ones. There is no new China, no new India, no hoping for Africa to pull profits higher when the low hanging fruit in the U.S. and Europe have been plucked.

In addition, after 9 years of expansion a profit recession is way overdue. The profits for S&P companies quite often decrease by 30-50%, and the swings have become bigger since 1980, not smaller.

With both lower earnings multiples and stalling or falling earnings in the cards, a 50% decrease in S&P 500 is actually a quite modest expectation. Time for a black Friday soon?

Labor costs recently hit a low (inverted scale) and profit margins a mirroring high. With the magic of debt (that postpones the need for a real living wage) faltering it’s about time wages reflected living costs, and margins came back to earth. Guess what’ll happen to profits… Hint: it’s not positive.

4 Interest rates are about to rise

This chart speaks for itself, I hope. With interest rates this low, the only way is up. Retirees and pension funds can’t live off of a 2.2% return. Nominal!

Look at the chart, can you honestly say you think rates are going even lower? Anyway, rates don’t really matter, at least not fundamentally. If rates are staying low or going lower, then history teaches us that it’s because growth is low. In terms of equity valuations, lower interest rates and lower growth will cancel each other out. No, matter, unless we go completely digital, interest rates are not going negative (for long). A situation where suppliers want to be paid late, where you’re paid to mortgage your house and so on, simply is to perverse for an economy to take.

5. Dividend yields are low, and if they are about to rise, it’s only because stock prices are about to come crashing down

The dividend yield is lower than the interest rate, but rates are fixed and nominal, whereas dividends are risky and contingent of profits and not least cash flow. Dividends can be reduced or cancelled altogether.


Many more and bigger fundamental reasons to worry

There are of course numerous more reasons to expect lower profits, multiples and share prices, such as profit margins mean reverting (or inverting!), increasing churn rate among the top companies in a digital world etc. No need to mention the boomer cohort retiring, thus both reducing their equity portfolios, and cutting back on consumption (due to uncertainty about longevity and investment returns; feeding into lower sales and profits on top of any other adversity or recession trigger). I also don’t want to spoil any bull party with mentions of the debt ceiling and a congress that actually wants to see the president fail.

Finally, there is that minor detail of all too much debt in all sectors of the economy (government, corporate, student, auto, mortgage, credit cards) having already pulled sentiment and consumption forward, and henceforth putting a lid on future growth.

Oh, I almost forgot The Fourth Turning which with impeccable timing is soon upon us with its convenient total solution to small matters such as a failing European Union, currency wars, nuclear bickering with North Korea, unsustainable pension promises and the obese healthcare sector. Maybe a digital World War III, followed by a gold backed cryptocurrency fiat re-set accord could interest you?


And the bad news?

Technicals don’t look good either. Dr Hussman has frequently noted that high valuations alone rarely slow down equities. However, when the appetite for risk eventually recedes, it’s visible in “market internals”.

He theorizes that when risk is in universal demand it makes asset classes, industries, sectors and companies converge. The mirror image of such bull behavior is widening dispersion in a number of respects as a harbinger of more widespread flight to safety. The FANG phenomenon is hardly new, and narrowing markets are but one example of an early risk off signal for equity markets.

FYI: As of August 14, Dr Hussman no longer calls the rising risk aversion subtle.

Ain’t nuthin’ but a FANG!

As a final word: never forget that all securities have to be held until retired. That means that no matter how far a stock price has fallen there is still 100% owners, and thus potential sellers of the stock left. If falling equities means record high NYSE margin debt will trigger forced selling those potential sellers risk becoming increasingly urgent. And then there is the case of Ponzi schemes which have an uncanny knack of being exposed and exacerbating the negativity right when they do the most harm.

Do you still preach dancing while the music is playing, albeit close to the exits (or remaining chairs)? I mean, central banks have no way to go but ever more retard. The same goes for banks and corporations. They’ll push for just one more quarter of play pretend. Maybe they can pull themselves up by their own hair a final time before the ultimate solution. Some even claim it was the earlier downturns that were anomalies and due to very specific one-time issues.


Well I’m peepin’ and I’m creepin’ and I’m creep-in

But I damn near got caught ’cause my beeper kept beepin’

Now it’s time for me to make my impression felt

So sit back, relax and strap on your seatbelt


I wouldn’t bet on it; there’s no reason to. You can always decide to simply pass on this round and see what happens. Or, you just have to ask yourself if you feel lucky.

Well, do ya? (Please read this post in conjunction with my previous ironic post on the bull case for stocks)


Are you afraid yet? You should be.

The fire is lit, and there are very few exits — small and obscure ones.

You should be

Gold is one of those exits. Bitcoin might be another. Soft commodities could also be worth a look.


Do you want more? Do you want to stay updated? Subscribe, read my book, check in again, tell a friend.

BONUS: Check out Ludvig’s write-up in English of our interview with billionaire and hedge fund founder Martin Sandquist here.

Selling oil, waiting for abundance

Executive Summary

A quick (and simplified) overview of the oil price development, including Iran ramping its production, Saudi-Arabia refusing to cut production, overflowing storage and the risk of rogue contango.

What I’m doing about it, i.e., my personal investments – tactical and strategical.

And some ducks… (and doomsday scenarios). And DIKs

walks talks looks like a duck

Readability: Including the summary, and this, it’s a fairly quick and easy read at 2068 words.


Oil

The table below shows my (simplified) view of the oil situation. I assume you are a grown up that understands it’s not the complete picture. I also assume you understand I’m not recommending anything. It’s all just entertainment. Disclaimer here.

Anyway,

To the left are variables supporting higher oil prices

To the right are variables that could cause significantly lower prices again; possibly new lows

Broken oil producer budgets Iran ramping production
Storage situation exaggerated Saudi-Arabia wants shale out
Price momentum Marginal storage left for futures arbitrage
Potential production cut Recession is coming, lower demand*
Capex cuts Dead cat short squeeze bounce ending
Strategic bombing = prod cuts (renewables – long term)
I’m selling oil :)  Bust shale assets bought cheaply

*incl China


It’s all Bernanke’s fault, just as everything else

The story so far: low interest rates and QE drove higher oil prices as well as heavy (mal-)investments* in shale production. (*investments that only made sense in ZIRP La-La land).

Once enough new capacity was in place (it took a few years to complete the malinvestment projects), sub-par economic growth (and thus lower demand) contributed to storage all but overflowing and consequently a sharp drop in oil price.

 

They key is OPEC and shale budgets

Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait and UAE have exacerbated the situation by increasing production in an attempt to fix their broken budgets (they need to sell more at lower prices) while crushing the shale industry at the same time.

 

Oil prices have jumped on hopes alone

Very recently, the oil price has bounced by more than 40%, due to short covering and speculation amid hopes of an OPEC production cut. Several countries, including Russia and Nigeria happily fuel such speculation (to mitigate their budget deficits).

 

Productions cuts are highly unlikely

In the real world, however, Iran is looking to ramp its production back to “normal”. Before that is accomplished, there is very little chance of any production cuts anywhere. This will take some time.

My guess is that oil speculators will be sorely disappointed when production cuts meetings are postponed or cancelled, while storage inches closer and closer to full capacity.

 

The storage crisis haven’t even begun

Nota Bene that storage isn’t full yet; that the storage crisis haven’t even begun. Also note that Iran is just starting to ramp, they aren’t actually producing more yet… It will probably take several more months to reach absolute full capacity in storage facilities, and several quarters or more for Iran to reach normal production levels.

 

Without arbitrage, exploding contango could obliterate ETFs

When there is no more room for front end/next month futures contract arbitrage, through temporary storage (when back yard containers of barrels are full, as well as tankers and ordinary storage), there could and should be a devastating price plunge in the front end contract. The resulting massive contango (Next month’s price less this month’s price; which could be repeated month after month) will erode any investment based on rolling oil futures forward, e.g., through an ETF like USO or Olja S.

 

Just knowing about it doesn’t fix it – that takes time

This situation could go on for several quarters, maybe a year… or more, while Iran is increasing its production and OPEC is falling short of promises of production cuts again and again, perhaps most notably at the supposed meeting on March 20.

 

I’m selling

Due to the reasons stated above, I have sold my Brent ETF (Olja S) as well as the oil junior ShaMaran (which is still waiting for its “first oil” and has some cash flow problems, but trades at what might turn out to be just 1x P/E a few years hence).

I’ve also sold some but not all of my DNO shares. DNO could be a strong Buy for the coming 3 years, but there is a definite risk of a deep downturn before that, even if the company doesn’t have the same financial problems as ShaMaran.

DNO is probably a much better bet already at current prices than any oil futures ETF or derivative.

 

Don’t short what should eventually double

I won’t go short though. And I’m actually not that confident in cancelling my longs either. The reason is that a sustainable oil price probably is somewhere between 60-100 USD per barrel for the coming few years (rather than the current $40), once the current storage crisis is sorted out. In between however, the front end contract could easily fall back to 30 and even below 20 USD/barrel. 

In any case, I’m expecting a quite prolonged storage crisis, up until Iran is content, shale is dead, and Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait and UAE can agree on the necessary cuts. I plan to buy more DNO, ShaMaran and USO long before that of course, but only when Iran has ramped significantly or we’ve hit new lows for oil, oil companies and the stock market in general. This might happen already this April,or as late as April 2017.

We’ll see. I’m not sticking around for the downturn, except maybe with a marginal position in DNO.


 

Ducks

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. 

Oil prices pass the duck test of a recovery: unsustainably low prices, rising, breaking key levels, talks of production cuts…

On the other hand, so do storage problems (which pointy in the opposite direction): almost full, meaning the real problems haven’t even started, Iran not backing off, neither is Russia or Saudi-Arabia. Shale still lingers as the walking dead.

Another walking, talking, living, sitting duck is the economy. Most pundits talk of low risk of recession. However, a select few, very mart people, point to a combination of factors: duck tail, duck beak, duck feet, duck feathers, duck calling sound etc., all clearly pointing toward there being a recession duck swimming around in plain sight.

I’m squarely in the “dead cat bounce” camp regarding the oil price and stock market, and in the “given these variables, including the stock market there is almost invariably a recession” group of people.

One caveat though: In 2009-2012 I used to say “this won’t be too bad if we normalized rates to 4% and some other things“. Now I’m leaning more and more toward “we are beyond thinking about investments, and more about defending civilized life as we know it“. I’m sure many more make the same assessment, including policy makers.

 

There is no turning back from full retard central bank policies

That means the powers that be truly will do “whatever it takes” (as Draghi’s Full Retard Threat went back in 2012) for as long as they can, thus making the final crash even worse.

As time passes and policy makers venture further and further into retarded measures, I’m becoming less and less certain of my forecast of a “pretty bad but not catastrophical outcome quite soon“. Instead I see increasing risk of a blowout on the upside followed by something on the downside we haven’t seen since the 1920’s crisis in Germany and the Great Depression in the U.S. in the 1930’s. 

The best long term outcome would be a normalization of stock markets, interest rates and debt burdens as soon as possible. There actually are some promising signs in that direction. But then again, there is Draghi (ECB), Ingves (Sweden) and Kuroda (Japan) trying to get into the history books with a particularly toxic variation to the Rio Spread Theme*. Maybe war is the only “solution” after all.

*The Rio Spread means taking a huge bet in the market and going to Rio for unlimited celebration. If it works out, it works out. If not, you stay there. The DIKs (to which Mark Carney of the BOE is very close to being added) will either miraculously save the economy, or (much more likely) ruin it completely. Either way, they will get their place in the history books.

I think the ECB reaction was quite expected (except the rebound afterward). The Fed is more important though. My guess is we’ll get the exact same reaction after the FOMC meeting (except the rebound) as after ECB, i.e., reflexive buying followed by heavy selling.

 

How an economy grows

I listened to a typical economist today (on the Swedish podcast Fondpodden), and she said the same stupid interventionist and illogical things about deflation and growth that most academics do (except that she didn’t defend negative interest rates). I just want to set the record straight as an antidote to the brain poison she helps spreading:

Saving enables investments which lead to better tools and infrastructure and thus increased productivity and falling production costs and selling prices.

Falling prices typically lead to increased consumption, but if it doesn’t, it means more room for even higher savings and investments and higher growth


 

Somehow many economists have misunderstood this completely and think that lower prices (like spring sale, summer sale, Christmas sale etc.*) mean less consumption. And even if it does, what’s bad with that? Nothing! people will buy what they want and need, no matter the direction of prices. And if they were to limit their purchases somewhat that only means more saving and room for investments and even higher growth.

So, saving=>investment=>low prices and high growth=>both increased consumption and investment and thus even higher growth in a virtuous cycle.

Most economists want higher prices, which lead to less room for consumption and investments and thus both lower supply and demand => lower growth, less wealth, even less room for saving and investment, and so on and on in a death spiral.

*Actually, they claim there is a difference between sales and declining prices. They think lowered prices increase consumption while falling prices decrease consumption. Eh? Somehow, falling prices on TVs. cell phones and computers increase consumption, while falling food prices lead to people eating less… Eh*2?!


 

Invest responsibly. Remember that investing is 80% psychology. The other half is patience.


Summary – selling oil, waiting for abundance

In short, I’m selling oil due to the storage situation, that will only get worse until Iran has reached full production and OPEC cuts can be seriously considered.

I don’t dare shorting though. Quite the opposite; I’ll look for (oil company) stock bargains in the expected carnage (blood in the streets).

I’ve gradually had to “refine” my general outlook from “bad” to “binary”. I’m staying short the stock market but even that feels less and less palatable these days. Gold and silver are the only things that feel OK. I’m even leaning closer to getting some physical gold to complement my paper gold. So far, however, I haven’t, and I just don’t want to be that pessimistic.

I mean, the 2020’s promise to be the best era ever (so far) for humanity, with widespread abundance provided by AI (did you see AlphaGo’s victory?), nanotech, biotech, robotics etc. Billions of people coming online, sharing knowledge and using ever accelerating technological tools to create more and better solutions to everything than at any time in human history. And then we haven’t even mentioned the 2030’s!!

We just have to pass this little “bump” provided courtesy of Draghi, Ingves, Carney, Kuroda etc. (including Yellen of course, but she’s no DI…)

What goes bump in the night?

Mario-Draghi-laughing

Ingves negative interest rates are FUN

Carney

kuroda

Janet Yellen

 

I want to put my wisdom in you

I may have gone overboard with that Will Ferrell-inspired book cover I tweeted the other day (the Tweet, viewer discretion is advised).

The message is the same though. I’m not blogging, podcasting and writing for financial gain, I just want more people to become aware:

Aware of themselves, aware of the world, aware of their career possibilities, of their investment opportunities, of the fantastically bright future that awaits.

So, please share this article, bookmark this site, subscribe to my newsletter and download and read my first e-book about the investment guidelines I picked up during a decade and a half as partner, managing director and portfolio manager at Futuris – The European Hedge Fund Of The Decade.

If you have already downloaded the book but never opened it, try just the first page summarizing my ten most important investment rules. Please.