August 11, 2008 — “A rough measure of broad money in the world’s 20 largest economies is growing at near 20%, year-over-year, in dollar terms” (from Grant’s Intereazst Rate Observer,August 8).
It’s OK to be confused. It happens to me all the time. I receive about 20 advisory reports ever week, and in my 50 years in this business I can’t ever remember such utter confusion (or let’s call it differences of opinions). Many leading economists can’t even agree as to whether we’re in a recession or not.
And yes, the news is awful. The best economists in the nation are warning of bad things to come. Lower house prices, rising home inventories, hundreds of local banks fated to go under, Europe slowing down, foreign stock indices crumbling, commodities collapsing. You want bad news and even worse predictions, they’re a dime a dozen.
Ah, but nobody has the ultimate answer to this one — has the stock market discounted the worst — or not? On this crucial count, nobody has the answer to this trillion dollar question. Nobody.
There are any number of good arguments as to why we’re in a bear market or a bull market. I want to review some of the evidence on either side of the puzzle.
First, volatility is currently high — the VIX has been running over the 20 level for months on end. High volatility is a characteristic of bear markets. High volatility is usually a result of huge differences in opinions. One day the bulls run the stock market higher, the next day the bears hammer it down. In bull markets, volatility tends to be on the low side. Big-move days are rarer, and the advances tend to be steady and relatively calm. High volatility is a bear market characteristic. So score one for the bears.
Last week saw the Dow up over 300 points on two separate days. But those big surges did not have the power that typical advances have, following the turn up from a bear market bottom. Neither of last week’s 300-point Dow advances was a 90% up-day. The market acted more like an oversold bounce with added short covering. Score another for the bears.
Investor’s seem to be somewhat discouraged but not panicked and not desperate. At true bear market bottoms sentiment tends to be black-bearish. We haven’t been there yet.
All the above are in favor of the bear market designation. The action has not been typical bull market action. If we are in a bear market, then following the current rally, the market will turn down again to test, and probably violate, the July l4 lows (Dow 10962.44).
Following are the bull’s arguments (the bull stance is that the decline from the 2007 highs was a deceptive and atypical correction in an ongoing bull market).
Following their January 17 lows, the D-J Transportation Average rallied, then backed off, but the Transports never even hinted of confirming the series of new lows set by the D-J Industrial Average. As of last Friday, the Transports closed a huge 1075 points above their January 17 low of 4140.29. This is hardly bear market action. As a matter of fact, as of last Friday the Transports were only 231 points below their all-time high recorded in July 2007.
The recent bull market advance started in October 2002 at Dow 7286. The advance carried the to Dow 14164 in October 2007. The 50% or halfway level of that entire advance comes in at 10725. According to the 50% Principle, it would be bullish if the Dow on any and all declines holds above 10725, the halfway level.
On July 15 the Dow declined to 10962.54. That decline halted exactly 237 points ABOVE the 10725 or 50% level. Was that a coincidence? Or was the market trying to tell us something? Was the fact that the Dow halted its decline 237 points above the 10725 level a significant (but unpublicized) bullish act?
Below we see a Point&Figure chart of the very broad Wilshire 5000 stock index. I’ve been directing subscribers’ attentions to this chart. Note that the Wilshire plummeted to a low at the 12250 box. From there it rallied up to the 13150 box. In fact, the Wilshire rallied to the 13150 box twice, and each time it was turned back. Note the tight consolidation. Then last week the Wilshire (last column of green boxes) broke out to the upside. Following the obvious consolidation, I have to consider last week’s breakout as bullish. And the rally continued today. The 13150 level on the Wilshire should now represent support on any further weakness. Price action trumps all other considerations. Give the bulls a gold ring and a cigar. Well, at least so far.
I’ll be honest. I am impressed by the Lowry’s argument that suggests that the July 15 was not a legitimate bottom for this market.
But I’m also impressed by the bullish arguments that I laid out in the section above. Very frankly, I can’t come to a firm conclusion as to whether we’re dealing with a bull or a bear market. Sometimes you just have to wait and allow the market to tell its story. Remember, we may be in a hurry, but the market never is.
Fred Hickey, who writes the great “The High-Tech Strategist” report, expects the market to fool everybody and head down while at the same time he expects gold to head higher. My old buddy, Joe Granville, who’s been great at calling the shots, now expects the market to head higher into the Dow 1200s.
Martin Pring is an old-timer; he wrote one of the classic books on technical analysis. Below is the opening of a recent report that he wrote — Published by Pring Turner, here is the opening:
“Yes, the financial news gets worse every day. Yes, the average stock is down more than 25% over the past thirteen months. Yes, the housing market is still reeling and foreclosure activity is rising. Yes, the price of gas is skyrocketing. And yes, this too will pass, and the economy and stock market will begin a new expansion and sustainable bull market, as all business cycles have.
“Over our several decades of investment management experience, we have witnessed many business cycle recessions and stock market declines. They all have one thing in common. In the midst of the most negative financial news, the stock market (fulfilling its role as an accurate leading economic indicator) begins to move higher in anticipation of the next economic recovery. We believe the market has more than discounted all the bad news out there and is putting the finishing touches on the bottoming process for stocks. Yes, a significant advance is set to begin that will take stocks much higher in the year ahead.” (Thanks to David Fuller of FullerMoney out of London for the above).
Me, I’m going to stay largely in cash and gold for a while, but I’ll keep adding top-quality dividend-paying stocks to the compounding portfolios that I manage (stocks added — GE, JNJ, PG, MCD).