Red flags everywhere

by John Nyaradi

Red flags are flying everywhere as we travel farther into the “sell in May and go away” period of the year.” We remain in a defensive posture and continue to enjoy unrealized gains in our inverse ETF positions and put options.

On My Radar

Volatility was the name of the game last week and we can expect more ahead as we enter the seasonally difficult “worst six months of the year” according to the “sell in May and go away” slogan.

The View From 35,000 Feet

Lots of exciting things are going on around us as we head into late spring.

Here’s just a quick executive summary with my thoughts in parenthesis:

1. United States will reach its debt ceiling limit on Monday. (This one is making markets really nervous as witnessed by Friday’s action.) Everyone expects Congress to raise the ceiling but the Republican and Tea Party insistence on meaningful budget cuts first puts an unusual level of stress on this round of talks and turns it into a very high stakes game of chicken.

2. On Friday it was announced that Medicare and Social Security are in worse shape than previously thought and will be unable to cover their current obligations earlier than expected. Medicare is expected to be out of money by 2024, five years earlier than expected, Social Security will exhaust its trust by 2036 and the disability insurance program will be underwater by 2018. (No surprises here and this ties back to item #1 as it’s going to get ugly no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do.)

3. The commodity selloff continues as the dollar gains. (Much of the recent rally in commodities and equities was fueled by the Fed easy money policy and weaker dollar. With QE2 coming to an end and a possibly stronger dollar ahead, this could be a game changer for “buy the dip” strategies in both asset classes.)

4. There has been a significant rotation into “defensive” sectors like utilities and consumer stocks. (This typically indicates money leaving “risk” assets and often portends market declines)

As I mentioned at the outset, “sell in May” is a proven, valid slogan because statistically the months from the end of October through the end of April, are in fact the best months of the year for investing while the six months from May through October are the “worst.”

One of the best sources of information on this subject comes from my friend, Jeffrey Hirsch, at “Stock Trader’s Almanac” where he has developed a trading indicator based on this seasonality and the historical returns it has generated.

Let’s take a look at some of “Stock Traders Almanac’s” findings:

  • On a historical basis, the research indicates that the market generates better rates of return from November through April than from May through October. And the difference is significant.
  • Over a 60 year period, if you had invested on May 1st and closed your position at the end of October, you would have lost money. On the other hand, if you had invested only in the “six good months” you would have made money over the same time.
  • A $10,000 investment in 1950 invested during the “best six months” of the year would have grown to approximately $500,000 today while a $10,000 investment in the worst six months (May through October) would have lost money and so the best six months yielded a 7.4% annual gain compared to a loss in the worst six months.
  • If you invested in just the six good months of the year, you would have beaten the overall return of the major indexes while having been invested for only half the time, thereby reducing your market risk and freeing up your assets to earn interest in low risk money market or Treasury investments.

Finally for the week, one of the most sobering reports that received wide coverage in the blogosphere and mainstream media was the announcement by well known and widely respected analyst Jeremy Grantham who said that the market is currently 40% overvalued which would relate to 920 on the S&P 500 and that the current environment was too high risk for a prudent investor.

Weekly Developments:

Positive: Initial unemployment claims declined, continuing claims were mostly flat, and Michigan Consumer Sentiment rose to 72.4 from 69.8

Negative: Consumer prices and producer prices both rose substantially, indicating that inflation might be coming back more into the picture (we have been expecting this for sometime) and retail sales, although posting a gain, came in lower than the previous month’s report and below expectations, indicating ongoing weakness in the all important consumer sector.

What This All Means To You

What this means to us is that risk is running high in the markets and the chance of a significant correction is relatively high for the period between here and Halloween. Fundamentals continue to weaken and technical indicators are flashing red. The reduction of support by Dr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed is a major factor going forward from here and could yield significant volatility and downward pressure in equities and commodities.

The Week Ahead

Major Issues/Themes: Lots of important economic reports will come our way this week and be potential market movers, but the big thing to pay attention to is what happens in Congress with the budget negotiations and how markets respond to those talks and Treasury Secretary Geithner’s “extraordinary” measures to keep the U.S. from default between now and the early August drop dead date.

Monday: May Housing Market Index,

Tuesday: April Housing Starts, April Building Permits, April Industrial Production

Thursday: Initial Unemployment Claims, Continuing Claims, April Existing Home Sales, May Philadelphia Fed, April Leading Indicators

Sector Spotlight

Leaders: (NYSEArca: EPU) Peru, (NYSEArca: IBB) Biotech

Laggards: (NYSEArca: TUR) Turkey, (NYSEArca: EWP) Spain

Disclaimer: Wall Street Sector Selector actively trades a wide range of ETFs and positions can change at any time.

This article belongs to: The Macro View, Market Outlook, United States