Blog Archives

Is This “The Top”?

The consensus seems to be that the stock market is on its way to much higher levels, and soon. The near-term targets for the S&P 500 (SPX, currently around 3,235) range from 3,500 to 4,000, with longer-term targets reaching “the sky’s the limit.”

The consensus reasoning goes like this:

— Central banks can print a lot more money

— Stocks rise when central banks print more money.

The history of the 2009-2019 era strongly supports this simple cause-effect, and so just about everyone is on the same side of the boat, the “don’t fight the Fed” side of ever-higher stock multiples and ever-higher prices.

Simply put: sales and profits no longer matter, the only thing that matters is whether central banks are printing more money. And since we all know they’ll have to print more money to keep the flying pig (the stock market) aloft, then it follows as night follows day that stocks will rise essentially forever.

As soon as the consensus has settled complacently on one side of the boat, contrarians take notice as history has a perverse habit of foiling any overwhelmingly complacent consensus.

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If Not-QE Is QE, then is Not-a-Blowoff-Top a Blowoff Top?

When is “Not-QE” QE? When Federal Reserve Chairperson Jerome Powell declares QE is not QE. We can constructively recall the story that Abraham Lincoln famously recounted in 1862: ‘If I should call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs would it have?’

‘Five.’

‘No, only four; for my calling the tail a leg would not make it so.’

Calling QE not-QE doesn’t make it different than QE, but it does communicate the Fed’s panicky desire to mask its stupendous injection of financial cocaine into the financial system. The Fed’s level of panic is noteworthy, as is the absurd transparency of its laughable attempt to conceal its panic.

In the same fashion, the financial media is loudly declaring the current blowoff top in stocks is not a blowoff top. The delicious irony here is these denials are reliable markers of blowoff tops: the louder the denials, the greater the odds that this is in fact the blowoff top that many pundits have been expecting for some time, but always in the future.

Garsh darn it, maybe the future has arrived. The financial media denied the Q4 1999 – Q1 2000 blowoff top was a blowoff top, and it repeated its denial of a blowoff top in housing in 2006-2007. The pundits of 1929 also denied the Q3 blowoff top in stocks was a blowoff top.

If you want a reliable signal that the blowoff top has peaked, listen to the screechy adamance of the deniers. The list of reasons why blowoff tops can’t be blowoff tops is practically endless: sentiment isn’t bullish enough, there’s a Wall of Worry for stocks to climb (overlooking the inconvenient reality that there is always a Wall of Worry), the consumer is still looking good, corporate earnings will rebound, the soft patch is behind us, the Internet will grow for decades to come, they’re not making any more land, capital flows favor higher asset prices, we owe it to ourselves (paging Paul Krugman–the Keynesian Cargo Cult is about to dance the humba-humba around the campfire and you’re needed…), debt doesn’t matter (it never matters until it does), price-earning ratios have plenty of room to move higher, and everyone’s favorite, don’t fight the all-powerful Fed (and we command you not to look behind the curtain while we worship false gods and wave dead chickens).

But nonetheless, blowoff tops in asset bubbles remain a feature of asset overvaluation, which by the way has once again reached historic extremes (GDP to equity valuation, etc.)

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Stock Market Cheerleading: Why Do We Celebrate the Super-Rich Getting Richer?

The one constant across the media-political spectrum is an unblinking focus on the stock market as a barometer of the national economy: every major media outlet from the New York Times to Fox News prominently displays stock market action, and TV news anchors’ expressions reflect the media’s emotional promotion of the market as the end all to be all: if stocks rose, the anchors are smiling and chirpy, and if the market fell then their expressions are downcast and dour.

This cheerleading of the stock market is based on an implicit assumption that the rising stock market raises all boats: a rising market is assumed to reflect an expansion of sales and profits that trickle down to the masses in higher wages, more jobs and rising 401K retirement accounts.

The reality is starkly different: the vast majority of the gains generated by a rising stock market flow to the top 10% households who own 93% of all financial assets, and the gains within the top 10% are highly concentrated in the top .01% of financiers, super-wealthy families and corporate managers who have reaped the vast majority of the past decade of stock market gains.

The 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017 (and 2018 and 2019…)

America’s Richest 1% Now Own As Much Wealth As The Middle And Lower Classes Combined

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What’s Holding Up the Market?

What’s holding up the U.S. stock market? The facile answer is the Federal Reserve (“the Fed has our back,” “don’t fight the Fed,” etc.) but this doesn’t actually describe the mechanisms in play or the consequences of a market that levitates ever higher on the promise of more Fed money-for-nothing injected into the diseased veins of the financial system.

As Gordon T. Long and I discuss in our latest half-hour video program, What’s Holding the Market Up? (34 minutes), the primary prop under stock valuations are corporate buybacks, which total in the trillions of dollars since the 2008-09 Global Financial Meltdown and the Fed’s “rescue of the rich,” which continues to this day.

Rather than risk capital in productive investments, U.S. corporations have borrowed trillions of dollars and used the cash to buy back their own shares. The Fed’s suppression of interest rates has incentivized stock buybacks in several ways:

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A Wobbling Stock Market

Consider this chart of the SPX (S&P 500) over the past two years: take a look at the relative steepness of each of the red lines (rallies), the duration of each rally (purple lines), the blue boxes (volatile spots of bother) and the green line (market has gone nowhere for 19 months as every rally to new highs drops back to or below the high of January 2018).

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Could Stocks Rally Even as Parts of the Economy Are Recessionary?

We contrarians can’t help it: when the herd is bullish, we start looking for a reversal. When the herd turns bearish, we also start looking for a reversal.

So now that the herd is skittishly bearish, anticipating a recession, contrarians start wondering if a most hated rally is in the offing, one that would leave most punters off the bus.

The primary theme for 2019 in my view is everything accepted by the mainstream is not as it seems. Everything presented as monolithic and straightforward is fragmented, asymmetric and complex.

Take “recession.” The standard definition of recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. But is this metric useful in such a fragmented, complex economy? What we’re seeing develop is certain sectors are already in recession, others are sliding while others are doing OK.

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What’s the Real Meaning of the Stock Market Swoon?

There’s no shortage of explanations on the whys and wherefores of the US stock market’s recent swoon / swan-dive / plummet. Here’s a few of the many credible explanations:

— the economy has reached peak earnings so there’s no fundamentals-driven upside left;

— bond yields are now high enough to dampen enthusiasm for inherently risky stocks;

— central banks curtailing / ending their quantitative easing programs have reduced liquidity in the financial system;

— US markets are catching up to the rest of the world’s market slump;

— the US market is overvalued by just about any measure;

— uncertainty about the mid-term election;

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Market Complacency / Euphoria

A relatively reliable measure of complacency/euphoria in the stock market just hit levels last seen in late January, just before stocks reversed in a massive meltdown, surprising all the complacent/euphoric Bulls.

The measure is the put-call ratio in equities. Since this time is different, and the market is guaranteed to roar to new all-time highs, we can ignore this (of course).

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Stock Market 2018: The Tao vs. Central Banks

I will be the first to admit that invoking the woo-woo of the Tao as the reason to expect a reversal of the stock market in 2018 smacks of Bearish desperation. With everything coming up roses in much of the global economy, there is precious little foundation for calling a tumultuous end to the global Bull Market other than variations of nothing lasts forever.

Invoking the Tao specifically calls for extremes to return or reverse to the opposite polarity: this is expressed in the line from Lao Tzu, The way of the Tao is reversal or Reversal is the movement of Tao.

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Please Assume Crash Positions

You know how to get into crash positions, correct? Here’s your guide:

Very few punters expect a real downturn here in stocks. The reasons for confidence are many: the Fed has our back, buy the dip has worked great and will continue to work great, the Fed won’t raise rates until December (if ever), the Powers That Be will keep the market aloft lest a plunging market upset the election of the status quo candidate, and so on.

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The Stock Market 2015-2016: Ugly Chopfest with an Equally Ugly Megaphone

It’s interesting to take a longer-term view of the S&P 500 (SPX). Looking at a 10-year chart, the decline from almost 1,600 to 667 in the Global Financial Meltdown of 2007-2009 doesn’t look like that big a deal, given the incredible 6-year uptrend since March 2009.

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A Psychiatric Diagnosis of the U.S. Market: Schizophrenic Disconnect From Reality

If you think a delusional market is healthy, it’s time for a psychiatric exam.


What diagnosis would an experienced psychiatrist offer when presented with the bizarre behavior of the U.S. stock market? We assume that the wild mood swings of greed and fear are “normal” for markets devoted to short-term profit and speculation, but the stock market’s disconnect from reality is far beyond mere mood swings.

The stock market thinks it’s solidly on pavement, but in reality it’s like a car flying off a cliff: the Wiley E. Coyote moment is just ahead. There’s nothing but air beneath the stock market.

Consider the reality of PE expansion from a price-earnings (PE) of 10 at the bottom in 2009 to 18+ today, while profits are stagnant. And what is driving this expansion other than a delusional belief that profits will magically reverse and log massive gains in the second half of 2016?

If we strip out “one-time expenses” and other accounting flim-flam, profits are plummeting. How else can we characterize this disconnect between stagnant sales (look at Apple, CAT, etc.) and “profits” that are one step away from outright fraud as anything other than delusional?

As global trade, U.S. rail traffic and other non-gameable measures of economic activity stagnate or decline, how can anyone connected to reality expect sales and profits to rise sharply?

The stock market is hitting new highs for what reason? The typical answer is: more central bank stimulus is on the way, the Fed/ BoJ /Bank of China/ European Central Bank have our back, etc. etc. etc.

But the reality is obvious to all: the returns on central bank stimulus have declined to near-zero. Trillions in additional stimulus are needed to just keep the delusional markets from experiencing gravity (see car photo above).

And how about the manic mood swings from panic in February (i.e. a whiff of reality) and the euphoria of new highs in summer? If this isn’t the acme of bipolar delusion, then what is?

Perhaps the greatest delusion is the confidence that this ephemeral bubble “wealth” is actual wealth that can be counted on to fund pensions and insurance claims in the future. Pity the deranged souls who actually believe that stock gains based on fraudulent claims of “profit” and delusional expectations of rising profits as the dollar strengthens and the global economy implodes are “wealth” that can be considered permanent.

The only possible diagnosis of this stock market behavior:

1. Patient (the U.S. stock market) is suffering a schizophrenic disconnect from reality.

2. Patient (the U.S. stock market) is suffering from bipolar mania that leads to delusional beliefs in delusional profits and delusional central bank omnipotence.

3. Patient is suffering from psychotic delusions of wealth, akin to the delusion that the patient is ruler of the world, galaxy, universe, central banks are all-powerful, etc.

If you think a delusional market is healthy, it’s time for a psychiatric exam.

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