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These Are Not Signs of a Healthy Market

The implicit narrative of the latest rally in stocks is that this is just another normal rally in the ongoing 10-year long Bull market. Nice, but do these three charts look “normal” to you? Let’s take a quick glance at a daily chart of the S&P 500 (SPX), a weekly chart of TLT, the exchange-traded fund of the US Treasury 20-year bond, and silver.

In other words, let’s look at three different assets: stocks, bonds and one of the precious metals.

Even the most cursory glance reveals there is nothing normal about any of these charts. The recent action in the SPX is anything but normal: yet another announcement of yet another (low-level nothing-burger) trade meeting opens a gap big enough for a semi to drive through, punching through the upper Bollinger Band, and on the heels of a previous big gap up, also on no fundamental news.

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Our Marginal Economy

Before you buy another ticket for the Bull market bandwagon of “don’t fight the Fed,” perhaps you should take a look at the quality of the debt the Fed has enabled and the diminishing returns on all that debt.

The mainstream media is delighted to highlight positive economic data, but nobody ever asks about the quality of the borrowers who are behind the rosy numbers. Behind the rosy numbers, sales and profits are increasingly dependent on marginal buyers and borrowers: those buying on credit who would not qualify to borrow money in a system ruled by prudent risk-management.

These marginal borrower/buyers are last on, first off: they qualify for loans at the end of a credit expansion, when lenders throw caution to the winds to reap the profits from issuing new mortgages, auto loans, student loans, credit cards, etc. to marginal borrowers.

These marginal borrowers are the first to default, because they have insufficient income and collateral to support their loans.

This rising dependence on marginal borrowers/buyers leads to an economy of diminishing returns: ever-rising rates of debt expansion are required to generate ever-declining rates of expansion of sales, profits, GDP, etc.

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The Case for a Bull or Bear Market in Two Charts

Which appears more likely–a straight-line extension of the past two years’ rise in stocks, or another “impossible” decline to complete the megaphone pattern?

There are dozens of charts and data points supporting the case for a continuation of the Bull market in stocks or a reversal into a Bear market. For the sake of brevity I’ve distilled the two arguments into two charts, one for the Bull case and one for the Bear case.

The Bull case is easy: the economy has reached self-sustaining expansion, a.k.a. escape velocity; hotel occupancy rates are high, home valuations are rising, stocks are fairly valued based on forward earnings, debt has been paid down/written off, and the Fed has tapered its quantitative easing (QE) bond and mortgage buying with no ill effect.

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