Sunday, 28 April 2013

Inflation? What Inflation?

Inflation is when prices rise, we all know this from listening to our grandparent prattle on how a nickel would buy a pair of shoes, lunch and a street car ride in “their day”.  On the other hand Hyperinflation is extreme inflation that happens when an economy collapses. Hyperinflation arises only under the most extreme conditions, such as war, political mismanagement, or the transition from a command economy to a market-based economy. If you compare the U.S. to countries that have experienced hyperinflation — think Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and the former Yugoslavia, for example — the U.S. doesn't even come close. Hyperinflation begins when a country experiences an inflation rate of greater than 50 percent per month — which comes out to about 13,000 percent per year. Although it experienced elevated inflation around the time of the Revolution and the Civil War, the United States has never passed this magic mark of true Hyperinflation.

After World War One Germany was required to pay back the cost of the war. They could only do this by printing Marks. In 1922, the highest denomination was 50,000 Mark. By 1923, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 Mark. In December 1923 the exchange rate was 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to 1 US dollar. In 1923, the rate of inflation hit 3.25 × 106 percent per month (prices double every two days). Beginning on 20 November 1923, 1,000,000,000,000 old Marks were exchanged for 1 Rentenmark so that 4.2 Rentenmarks were worth 1 US dollar, exactly the same rate the Mark had in 1914. As the picture shows in 1922 it was cheaper to burn money than to buy wood. Many historians feel that Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was a result of the destruction of the German Mark.

Periods of moderate inflation can be good for an economy; Japan is right now trying to create some inflation. Inflation is not easy for people to perceive. For example real estate purchased in the 1980s for $130,000 that inflates to $400,000 by 2007 appears to be a wise investment, until you do the math and find the return on investment is only 4.5%. After inflation for that period, the real return was less than 1.5%. Still if you don't do that math (and most don't)  it creates a kind of wealth effect in people’s mind and that is good for the economy.

People really only spend money when they feel they can afford something or when they invest to make more money. Both happen more frequently during mild inflation. Moderate inflation leads to strong housing markets, rising stock markets, investment and growth. The real losers in an inflationary era are people on a fixed income most notably the elderly on pensions.

From a simplistic standpoint inflation is a result of too much money printing flooding the market. That is what happened in Germany in the 1920’s and the United States in the 1970’s. Many alarmists feel that the current fed stimulus is a kind of money printing and that the results will be hyperinflation. It was this crowd that created speculative Gold Bubble. See my article After the Gold Rush.

But what quantitative easing really did was increase the US national debt, give the funds to the banks at near zero interest, the banks bought US Treasury Bonds at 2% return and used the assets and profits of these “risk free” trades to bolster the bank’s balance sheets.

Because the 2007-09 recession hit the financial sector especially hard, banks are holding back on lending as they rebuild their capital. Many consumers are over-indebted and are trying to pay down their balances instead of borrowing more. In some cases, their credit lines are being cut or they are having a hard time getting additional credit. Depressed housing prices have not only slowed the turnover of real estate, but have also removed one of the cheapest ways of borrowing – home-equity loans. Finally, although companies are piling up huge amounts of cash, they have no reason to spend aggressively on expansion and new ventures when consumer demand is depressed and the financial and political outlook remains so uncertain.

What many people fail to understand is that the money created by the Fed, through programs like Quantitative Easing, is what’s known as “state money” (monetary base). In the U.S., this makes up only 15 percent of the money supply, broadly measured. The remainder is made up of “bank money” — the all-important portion of the money supply produced by banks through deposit creation.

So, while the Fed has more than tripled the supply of state money since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, this component of the money supply is still paltry compared to the total money supply. In fact, when measured broadly, using a Divisia M4 metric, the U.S. money supply is actually 6 percent below trend

There are a number of factors that affect the growth of money, but there are two main factors that have hampered broad money growth in the United States since the financial crisis. They are both government created. The first is the squeeze that has been put on the banks, as a result of Dodd-Frank and Basel III capital-asset ratio hikes. By requiring banks to hold more capital per dollar of assets (read: loans), the regulators have put a constraint on bank’s balance sheets, which limits their ability to lend. In consequence, money supply growth has been slower than it would have otherwise been.

More stimulus, by itself, won't be able to get the economy moving again. The government can run a huge deficit, the Fed can hold interest rates down, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke can pump money into the system with a third round of quantitative easing, but that won't necessarily make the economy speed up – at least not right away. On the other hand, the fiscal cliff, with its spending cuts and tax increases, could depress the economy further.

Click here to hear it Bens own words (caution: this is really boring)

The United States has been moving up the value add chain. Today the US is manufacturing more advanced and profitable products, adding value with innovation and technology. They also are losing many low-end manufacturing jobs and that creates high unemployment.  So long as unemployment remains and banks do not over lend the odds of hyperinflation are remote.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Market Comment April 27 2013

April 27 2013 - Illusion and reality, truth and science -- the markets are fascinating because there are so many concepts and ideas many are false and some are very concrete. Technical Analysis, tries very hard to be a science, using charts of price (and volume) to try and predict the future based on the past. Many of the ardent believers come from technical backgrounds, doctors, scientists, programmers and engineers are commonly found in $2,000 a-pop seminars on how to read the Stochastic-RSI or draw an Elliott Wave.  I am as guilty as the rest  -- my black and white view of the rational world is always trying to instill order n the markets. 

From simple charts you progress to building automated trading programs that can back test results. From this you learn a few important lessons; the first is that no squiggly line works perfectly. In fact back testing many basic indicators like MACD and RSI shows them to be little more predictive than a coin toss. Second thing you learn is that charts are backward looking and cannot warn you that tomorrow the World Trade Centre will be attacked, or that the executives are going to be caught  cooking the sales forecasts at Enron and Nortel.  So news and fundamentals will always trump Technical Analysis. Third you must use common sense and even experience. This is why many traders can outperform computer trading. Today I have a great example. I will show you how many of my favourite indicators have or are about to turn bullish and why I choose not to follow them this time. Every bad boy knows rules are meant to be broken!

The long Term Bull and Bear remain positive so we are supposed to be bulls.

(click on any graphic to enlage it.)

The Nasdaq summation index has crossed back over, but remember this can be a very unreliable indicator and it just flopped over (could this be a whipsaw?)

 Also more disturbing, the YP Primary Sell Indicator is now positive when it was negative last week. This is the most damming of the charts I am fighting. But really is it just me or is it looking a little flacide. 

But On the Other Hand 
But now here is why I am trying to ignore my charts, based on experience. First off look at how the markets behaved going in to “Sell In May” the last three years.




If you look closely there was almost always a little surge upward just as the markets turned direction. The reason these surges happen is some human psychology, people hate to miss out on a rally. Everybody else is getting rich and you are left behind. If you are market savvy you spot these trends early, often with an attitude that things stink but “how much worse can it get?” and so the savvy traders buy. As the trend matures more people buy in and of course someone must be asleep and see it later than the rest. Not that these people are stupid, they can see the market is high, but it keeps going up! Headline goad them about new highs, or some little old lady who doubled her life savings buying Goggle stock.  The talking heads on CNBC all look very please with their funds performance and see only blue sky and rainbows. But don't forget all the savvy buyers are already in, by definition all that are left to buy now are the remaining sleepy few. When they are done buying, who will take the equity higher? Well the answer is no one. I think of the market at moments like that are a bit like trying to sell your dying video rental store in this market. All you need to find is the last sucker to not see what has happened long ago.

So just how do you know when to ignore the advice your charts give . . .

We begin our analysis with a few theories;
1)     Sell in May has been working for a few years but is not perfect
2)     The market failed here before, but record highs do get broken
3)      Commodities are in rough shape, China is weak and the world’s non-commodity based economies like Europe are in tatters. However the news in the US is mostly OK.

One place you can find a clue of a end of a cycle, is if the former leaders are rotating to become laggards. The following stocks all have had long term advances, so how are they doing lately?

Mentioned here as a buy repeatedly -- DECK Deckers outdoors, maker of the famous (and over priced) UGG Australia boots.

Celgene also one of my top picks, now pulling back slightly. 

Finally my stable soldier with stable dividends and earnings - the makers of Prozac (the drug not the band) Eli Lilly  

Another motherhood and apple pie stock Procter and Gamble also is retracing;

Of course you followers of the DOW theory watch the big transportation companies like Federal Express and know the economy can not do well if goods are not moving. Transports are early predictors of future weakness or strength. 

It is not just stocks, most commodities are weak, copper continues a downward slide. 

Of course not every chart is off -- or we would not have had a rally this week, but notice how the S & P 500 has formed a double top. A double top predicts a sell of about 60% of the time correctly, not a certainty but a warning sign. Also add to that the "consolidation" we are in, a consolidation means the market is moving sideways, that of course indicates market indecision

A significant number of the NYSE stocks remain below their 50-day moving average and as I mentioned before this is often one of John Murphy's the key predictors of market direction. The MACD line (at the top) remains under zero although in last week's rally it did manage to point upward toward the zero line. Further down we see that currently some 60% of NYSE stocks are above their 50 day moving average. In this case, the odds favour a slip back soon to less stocks staying above the 50 day moving average and as you can see from prior months that leads to a sell off. 

The Name is Bond -- Treasury Bond
Casting our detective work further a field I am bringing up one last resource. US Bonds often move in the opposite direction to stocks. The graph from the bond market is clear, the 20 year treasury bond is heading up and either the climb must reverse or equities must sell off the two can not keep moving up. My money is on the bonds going further up and the market pulling back.

So we have a mixed bag of signals. Some key stocks retracing, some rotation but no clear signals like we had last week. We have some history that shows in the last four years you should sell in May, but the sell in May indicator does not work every year. Clearly the charts are moving sideways so there is indecision everywhere. 

The news media has many possible culprits for and against a sell off, no matter what happens in May they will blame it on one of these things below: 

Sell in May:
Slow Growth 
Commodity Bubble Ends
China slows

We Grind Up From Here:
The Great Rotation into Stocks
67% of firms beat earnings estiamate
The Fed Moves Fast To Print Money

I feel that if this rally continues it will not be vigorous at all, but if it fails it could be like any of the prior 3 May sell offs, nothing big, just a pull back.  In other words the risk of holding equities is higher now than the risk of missing a slow up trend. 

Cash is a position too. As a small investor you can select the luxury of simply being in cash for the next few weeks until things are clear. As for me I am more than 50% in cash, what is left is very stable dividend equities and some "opening positions" in some short ETFs. Primarily I am short the Vix (VXX), Canadian market, gold mining firms (DUST etf) and some US high flyers (hdge etf). This week those have been not doing well, but as I said these are small opening positions, once they start to show strength then I will add to my positions.  If we get to May 15 with no pull back, I will liquidate these positions. 

Are You a Prince or a Pauper?

Ap 27 2013 – It is tax season and since you just had to tell the tax authorities how much you made, this is a great time to look at your income and see how you fit in vs. your fellow humans.

The World
The graph below shows a rough approximation of the distribution of income worldwide. Most people live on an annual income between $750 and $7,500, which is generally enough to provide a good standard of living. On the left edge of the graph, over a billion people live in absolute poverty, lacking sufficient food and clean water. The right side of the graph shows the consumer class, where over a billion people like me enjoy our western lifestyle.


So if you made more than $7500 this year, congratulations you are one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Closer To Home
Ha Ha you say, I don’t want to compare myself to Bangladesh, what about here at home. Lets look at how your income compares against typical Canadians (if you live in the USA the numbers are similar). This is a cute widget in a MacCleans article.  Click here it allows you to compare your wage.

I have been counselling two people close to me, about careers. One is moving from an $11 position and going into Nursing, union pay of $35 an hour, my son is going in to Marine Engineering that starts at $50 an hour. To convert that into annual income just multiply by 2000 (aprox working hours per year):
  • $11 an hour is $22,000 a year, 
  • $35 an hour is $70,000 per year, and 
  • $50 per hour is $100,000 a year. 
According to the MacCleans article ranking, that puts our $11 an hour worker in the bottom 45%. This gets even more depressing when you consider that a significant portion of the bottom 30% are elderly, juveniles, disabled, infirmed, incarcerated or just otherwise don’t even go to work. However, if our $11/hr worker changes to her new career as a nurse she will earn in the top 14% of Canadian income, and our young Marine Engineers will be in the top 5.5% You can see why selecting a good career is so important.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Pop Goes the Commodity Bubble

April 20 22013 -- The “commodity bubble” is the idea that we are running out of stuff. From Potash to Coal or Oil to Cerium – the newly awaken dragon -- China was going to gobble it all up as Chinese farmers leapt from making a $100 a year in the back mountains of China to relocate to the new urban China. On the way they would buy luxury SUVs, condos, yachts and Smart phones.

The flaw in that idea is that Americans would need to consume just as much stuff and China would create a second USA size market. Well neither has happened so far, the aging US population is consuming less of most things and what it does continue to consume is a lot of Oil (but more from home grown sources lately) and services. Even if American bought the same amount of physical goods, it would not change the commodity picture, US consumed metals don’t care if they are assembled in Detroit, Tokyo or Shanghai – it is a global commodity market. So new growth hinges on China becoming a consumer economy.

China’s middle class revolution is just not happening. According to traffic department statistics, at the end of 2011, China had 225 million motor vehicles, including 106 million cars. In January 2012, AP reported: “Vehicle sales in China rose a scant 2.5 per cent in 2011, the slowest growth in over a decade, as higher prices and traffic controls kept buyers out of showrooms. The Chinese economy has been growing but a large part of that has been in some crazy developments and a lot of conspicuous consumption by upper part members. Both of these have been slowing recently too. As for our humble Chinese farmer, he did migrate to the city, but he did not get a condo or an SUV, instead he found himself in a sweatshop making $2 flip-flops bound for Uruguay.  

So where is the commodity boom really coming from . . .

In the roaring 20’s the commodity exchanges were more important than the stock market. The famous trader Jesse Livermore was called the Cotton King and declared commodities more legitimate than stocks. Even when I was a kid growing up in the central prairies, the radio would, after the news, list some of the major commodities like the price of Live Cattle and Pork Bellies. In those agra-economy days, commodities were very important to the common man.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s many people forgot about the futures and commodities and concentrated on NASDAQ wonder kids like, Microsoft Apple and Yahoo. Since the big crashes in the 1920’s it was understood that it was very dangerous to let speculators rule the markets that controlled our food and basic materials of production. Before the great depression many famous traders cornered cotton and silver, driving prices wildly out of control. After the 1920’s new laws signalled that commodities became hands off for speculators and were mostly traded by farmers, big consumers and some professional market makers. That changed back with the Commodity Futures Modernization Act passed in 2000. The most significant outcome from this act was the allowance for the trading of single stock futures. The amount of leverage provided by these financial instruments has given professional traders a new way to obtain exposure to both traditional commodity and equity markets.

The real upshot was the commodities went from a bunch of farmers protecting their wheat prices in case it did not rain, to markets run by Wall Street prop desk speculators. Goldman Sachs and the other big Wall Street investment banks started buying copper, gold and oil for both clients and its own account. By making bold moves in the open outcry pits in Chicago and sneaky backroom moves on the electronic markets, these big firms could easily move the markets -- not just in volatile markets like Orange Juice but in huge markets like Brent Crude and the S&P 500 futures.

These firms brought in with them their big hedge fund and sovereign wealth fund major clients. Volume skyrocketed, and trillions more were being bet on commodities than at any other time. Most of it came in as “net long” positions. In other words many bids to buy and few offers to sell commodities. Of course all this money sloshing around was driving up prices. Suddenly to the common man on the street it looked like the world really did need way more of these basics materials than it could produce.

Meanwhile in China, you had some interesting players. Of course the communist government that would publish a plan that would say, “GDP growth shall be at 8%” then this would work it way down the system until district managers and Mayors found themselves trying to meet ridiculous targets. As I have said before this mostly resulted in a lot of empty buildings and factories beating each other over the head to sell cheaply made goods -- to a world that did not really want them. China made a never-ending mountain of athletic shoes, t-shirts and cheep Christmas lights.  All of this had been financed by a series of less than prudent loans from banks, ordered to lend, by the central government.  The government would also do some odd things, for example they found out western economist were measuring the amount of coal used by power plants as a more reliable source of GDP data than the "cooked books" coming out of Beijing. As soon as the bureaucracy figured this out -- China’s docks and power plants (even the nuclear plants)  became home to mountains of coal piled up outside to keep the foreign devils guessing. 

Add to this mix some enterprising businessmen who know how well the Chinese planning system works. For years these men have made millions out of scarcity. In China a warehouse full of copper wire is as good as money in the bank.  Sooner or later you will be the only one with any to sell and boom, instant fortune. Except lately as the economy slowed in China this trick stopped working.

As the Chinese say, “no feast lasts forever.” Various trends coincided to erode their country’s competitive advantages. First, Chinese authorities started enforcing environmental rules as citizens took to the streets to complain about metals in the soil, pollutants in the water, and soot in the air. Now, no one in China wants to live in a “cancer village,” and people are routinely blocking projects, especially in the prosperous coastal regions of the country. Many smaller foreign investors began to pull back as they realized that manufacturing in China substantially increased the risk of loss of their intellectual property. Beijing did little to stop rampant theft. Finally there is the rise up of the worker. China has a delicate problem with its unions, it dare not suppress then or the party looses it last vestige of communism, but the demand for wages is killing production. 

Six cities in Liaoning province, including Shenyang and Anshan, recently announced they are converting abandoned industrial sites to farmland. Dongguan, once a booming factory centre, is on the verge of bankruptcy as companies close, leaving the local government severely cash-strapped.

So now you know where the bubble came from – speculators around the globe, less regulation on Wall Street and misguided hoarding in China.

It all shows up in the markets.
Of course you can only suspend reality for so long. As playwright Arthur Miller once observed, "An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." Most of the illusions that defined the last decade -- the notion that global growth had moved to a permanently higher plane.

Commodities took off in 2002 under the new trading laws, sold off in the housing crises, planned to go higher until the reality of the bubble sunk in.

China claims its growth rate to be 8% every year, but the markets don’t think so. The Chinese market ETF FXI has gone nowhere for 5 years.

Remember when “rare earths” were all the investment rage? Shareholders of Molycorp Inc. certainly do; in early 2011, shares in the company nearly reached $80 (U.S.). Today, they trade close to $5, at all-time lows.

Similar sell off have been scene in Coal, Copper, Zinc and of course the associated mining companies. Bellwether mining titan Freeport McMoran has been on a two year slide.  

Now it is Gold’s Turn
Gold has begun a major pull back after a record 11 year run up in speculation frenzy. You can read my famous bit After the Gold Rush Here.

Finally there is the biggest commodity of them all -- Oil
As I mentioned near the end of my Why I Believe in America story. Oil and gas production is evolving so rapidly—and demand is dropping so quickly—that in just five years the U.S. could no longer need to buy oil from any source but Canada and North America, becomes an exporter of energy, instead of one of the biggest importers.

U.S. Domestic output grew by a record 766,000 barrels a day to the highest level in 15 years, government data show, putting the nation on pace to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer by 2020. Net petroleum imports have fallen by more than 38 percent since the 2005 peak and now account for 41 percent of demand, down from 60 percent seven years ago, moving the U.S. closer to energy independence than it has been in decades.

The surge in oil output, coupled with record natural gas production, allowed the U.S. to meet 83 percent of its own energy needs in the first eight months of 2012, on track to be the highest since 1991, Energy Department data show. The last time self-sufficiency was achieved was in 1952.

At least one member of the Obama administration has begun making the case that the U.S. is building toward a crippling surplus. Adam Sieminski, head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, said limited transactions with other countries might help forestall excess supplies that could undermine prices and hobble the industry. That is a polite way to say we are going to be swimming in oil soon.

Post Bubble – What Will Change.
I have travelled extensively in Europe the last few years and  I noticed a new accent on the Côte d'Azur and the shores of Mykonos  -- G’Day Mate! Australians are wealthy for the first time ever. 

Ditto for Brazil, from January 2008 to July 2012, average house prices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro rose by 144.1% (91.7% in real terms) and 178.2% (118.4% in real terms). Brazil is no longer considered a developing nation and is taking a role as the leader of South America. 

Finally there is Canada; the world has praised this economic miracle. Canada  being one of only five developed countries not to have housing deflation and a rapidly increasing GDP. Even the Canadian dollar exceeded parity with the US dollar for the first time since President Richard Nixon said he was not a crook.  Bank of Canada chief Mark Carney has been quick to take credit for his "near god like prowess" in his "saving" of Canada from the fate the Americas fell in 2008. Today he is paid 800,000 UK Pounds a year as England's economic leader, and it is not off to a good start.  I think there will be no encore for Mr Carney. I would feel bad for the brits, but I think of it more as pay back, they did stiff Canada with those defective submarines. (what was Canada thinking? obviously they never owned an MG or a Land Rover)

Of course Brazil, Canada, Australia and even Russia, are the kings of mining and commodities, and now is time to short on these overblown economies at least for the near term. Consider trading futures short or ETFs that short the winners of the bubble. You can get ETFs to short; the Toronto Stock Exchange, the price of oil, gold miners, the price of copper and the BRIC nations, the list is a long one. One day your wallet will thank you.

The great beneficiary of this will be the United States and I will be doing a bit on that in an upcoming post.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Market Comment April 19 2013

Once again most of my indicators are forecasting a correction and right on time for Sell in May.

Here is one of the most reliable indicators the YP Primary Sell.

(don't forget to click on any graph to see it enlarged)

I can tell from a lot of experience that, barring some huge news, once you pass zero on this indicator -- tis lights out folks.  This indicator last passed below zero in mid October, 2012. You can check your charts for that period.

The next chart below is the VIX trick, as you can see when it shows red, often things don't go well. This indicator does show false warnings about 20% of the time, it is not perfect.

Next Up the NASDAQ summation index, this is a very unreliable indicator, seldom more useful than just looking at price of the QQQ, but clearly the Nasdaq is falling apart.

As you know I love the NYSE percentage of stocks over the 50MA. This version of the chart has added macd above it to make the signals faster and more obvious. The situation continues to fall apart.  .  . .

Finally an elegant and simple graph, showing price over a lot term average. As you can see the US version of this graph is overbought and should pull back mildly.

However my sentiment on the Canadian markets is not so kind. To short Canada, I am long the HIX ETF. Canada is; over taxed,  no diversification, dropping productivity and too strong a dollar. Some 60% of Canadian listed firms are miners or the Oil industry and its partners. Most of the Canadian market is commodities so it is a bit of a "banana republic". I expect the commodity bubble to whack the TSX very hard. I also expect the Canadian dollar to trade at $.90 to the US dollar in a few months. If you ever trade in to US funds this would be a great time to move some Cdn $ in to USD.

Typical of the Canadian problem is Teck Resources. This stock has been hurt by overpaying to buy Fortis Coal, a poor outlook for base commodities and lets say some "overly generous" accounting standards.

  I am back in HDGE again as I gear up for a sell off in the next two weeks.

The VIX is the fear indicator as the market smells trouble this indicator rises. So another way to short the US Market is play VIX futures. If you don't have a futures trading account you can buy VXX the VIX ETF proxy. It does well in times of fear.

The way I bought VXX, was to put a buy on stop order, at about three times the average true range, every few days I would adjust it down, in effect it is like a trailing stop, but this was a trailing buy!

The great thing about a trailing buy is you only jump in if trouble does happen and it is automatic! Sure enough (just off the bottom) my account suddenly bought VXX in time for the rise!

I also have a position in DUST, the 3X inverse ETF of Gold Miners. Gold miners are in deep trouble, many have a cost of production over $1,500 an ounce -- at least on their recent acquisitions. If gold drops below $1,000 per ounce all of the industry is in big trouble. I can see a drop to $700/oz as possible.
As you should know: juiced ETFS are not for long term holds. Sell at max profit! - try a 13% trailing stop.
For more on that danger watch this video

If you look at what I am holding right now, I really have my Bear suit on:

AUTOMODULAR - AM (reduced position)
EXCHANGE INC CORP - EIF (reduced position)

So get ready to for a pull back, get out your bear suit!!