February 6th, 2013

The Secular Bear Market and the QE’s

imageBarry Ritholtz recently asked in his blog, “Is the Secular Bear Market Coming to an End?“. He goes on to say “Here we are, a few weeks away from the start of the 14th year of the secular Bear market that began March 2000. The question on more than a few peoples’ minds has been whether or not it is reaching its end.”  Ritholtz goes on to give his definition of the term “secular bear market” and offers prerequisites required before the bear market can end.  In short, he concludes

“Regardless of your answer to our broad question, there is one thing that I believe to be clear: We are much closer to the end of this secular cycle than to the beginning. Many optimists — most notably, famed technician Ralph Acampora — believe the secular bear market has ended. Even skeptics have to agree that we are more likely in the 7th or 8th inning than earlier stages of the game.”

and offers the following chart:

Secular Bull and Bear MktsSource: Haver, Factset, Robert Shiller, FMRCo. Monthly Data, since 1871.

[Some of Ritholtz’s comments and image match those of found in Fidelity Investments Viewpoints of a few days earlier.]

Helping to prevent losing objectivity to my fundamentally optimistic nature has been a long-running discussion about how the exit from the Secular Bear Market that has hampered the market’s advance for the past 14 years might ultimately look like.  The discussion began with a study of market behavior over the past 50-year that serve as the basis for the Market Momentum Meter, one of the principal topics of my book, “Run with the Herd“.

The data reveals that the market has fluctuated around a line that’s risen at a fairly consistent 7.5%/year rate since 1939.  The upper and lower boundaries of fluctuations around that line are +/- 44% on either side of that upwardly sloping mean distribution line.  The upper boundary was touched at the beginnings of the 1970 and 2000 decades, both of which were also the start of what turned out to be Secular Bear Markets.  The lows of both those Secular Bear Markets were at the lower boundary of the range.

S&P 500 1939-Present

Having touched the lower boundary in 2009, I wondered whether the exit from the 1970’s secular bear market might serve as an analog to the exit from today’s secular bear market.  “What the market trend be if it followed exactly the 1979-82 exit?”    I’ve written about the exit here several times over the years, the most recent being last year on June 4 in “Revisiting 1970’s Secular Bear Market Exit … Again” [that post includes links to previous references to the Secular Bear exit going back to October, 2008.

It turns out that the current Bear Market and the one in the 1970s is that inflation and economic stagnation (then known as “stagflation”) had one major difference.  Inflation had hit an annual rate of 13.5% when Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker to head the Fed in August 1979.  He immediately began attacking inflation by raising interest rates to unprecedented levels of 20% by June 1981; inflation soon began easing and interest rates began to fall.

The current Bear Market was diametrically opposed, especially since the Financial Crisis and bursting of the housing bubble, with the fear of deflation with the crash in housing and real estate values.  To fight the “Great Recession” and ineffective or insufficient fiscal policies, Bernanke launched Quantitative Easing monetary policies which brought interest rates to low levels not seen since World War II.  The following chart shows the different impact of the two monetary policy courses:

1980's Analog and QE's

The 1970s Secular Bear Market exit analog may have been a good benchmark against which to measure the prospective current Bear Market exit.  At this late date, I would have to conclude that not only have low interest rates helped the economy avoid a depression, they may have also helped the stock market exit more quickly from the Secular Bear Market.  Rather than reversing and, thereby, extending the secular bear market’s life, so long as Bernanke keeps rates low, one can be confident that the market will soon exit the Secular Bear Market, cross into all-time new highs and, with luck, begin the first bull market advance since the 1990s.

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November 7th, 2012

The Market and the Quadrennial Election Cycle

Nate Silver has really made a name for himself by accurately predicting the outcome of the past two Presidential Elections through statistical analysis techniques. I’m clearly not a statistician but several people did asked me, both before and since Tuesday, what I thought the elections would mean for the stock market. Which would be (have been) better for the market, a Romney or an Obama victory.  We don’t have to wonder any more because the market responded today with a 2.36% decline, the worst one-day drop in around six months.

Rather than guessing or predicting as to what the future might hold, I decide instead to look at the historical records, the precedents, to see what actually did happen in the years following each of the quadrennial elections since WWII.  It’s the approach I used in developing the market timing techniques underlying the Market Momentum Meter, a tool that has guided the amount of money I should pull out of the market to avoid the risks of a significant market downturn.  Without divulging proprietary information available exclusively to Instant Alerts Members, the Meter is on the verge of changing again from extremely bullish to significantly bearish.

Perhaps the following statistical analysis of the Market’s performance in the 12 months following the quadrennial elections will provide similar guidance:

  • Before yesterday, there were 16 quadrennial elections beginning in 1948
    • The market is not totally agnostic when it comes to political affiliation
      • Nine were won by the Republican candidate, seven by the Democrat
      • Of the 9 Republican wins, the market finished higher the following September 3 times and lower six times
      • Of the 7 Democrat wins, the market finished higher the following September 5 times and lower twice
    • The average changes in the market, as measured by the Dow Industrial Average, has been
      • an average 1.5% gain in the two months to year-end
      • a give back to break-even by the end of the following March
      • an average net gain of 2.0% by the end of the June following the Election
      • a marginal improvement to an average 2.3% by September, or 10 months after the election
  • There has been a wide range of changes during those time intervals:
    • in the 2 months to year-end, the maximum gain was 8.0% and the maximum decline -6.6%
    • in the period to March, the maximum gain was 13.2% and the maximum decline was -8.4%
    • to the following June, the maximum gain was 27.0% (during the Tech Bubble in 1997) and the maximum decline was -11.8% in 1948
    • to the following September, or 11 months, following the election the maximum gain was 31.5% in 2007 and the maximum loss was -19.4% in the Tech Bubble Crash of 2001.

Putting it all together, here’s a picture of the market’s action following each of the quadrennial elections. (click on image to enlarge)

Today’s -2.36% decline is at the outer limits of the total amount of decline that’s usually taking place between the Election and year end.  This one-day drop is more than 14 of the past 16 cycles; the only two that were greater took place in 1948 (-6.6%) and in 2008 when it declined -6.8% at the beginning of the Financial Crisis Crash.

Hopefully, today’s horrible reaction represents about half of the total we’ll see to the end of the year. Unfortunately, if the market isn’t able to recover this loss then there’s a strong possibility that there will be a follow through of the downside at the beginning of next year.

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June 4th, 2012

Revisiting 1970’s Secular Bear Market Exit …. Again

There are two kinds of investors: those who try to predict the market’s future direction from what they understand to be the truth of today’s events and those who try to understand past events and project them as models for what the future might hold.  In other words, those who view the market in fundamental economic terms and those who see the market in terms of supply and demand for stocks.  As you might have surmised, I belong in the latter camp.  I gravitate to the technical approach and look to the past for analogs that might guide me in looking at possible market direction today.

For quite some time, I’ve seen similarities between the end of the 1970’s secular bear market and this generation’s secular bear market that began with the Tech Bubble Crash.  I’ve been calling it my “Reversion to the Mean” chart.  For example, in “The Magic Number is Actually 7.5% per Year” from October 11, 2008, in the depths of the Financial Crisis Crash, I wrote:

“The good news is that …. the Index came within 6% of the bottom boundary (intra-day 839 low vs. 789) boundary); we should be near very the bottom. The bad news is that projecting forward to the end of 2009, the lower boundary increases to only 858, or still below Friday’s close.

There will be bounces but, in all likelihood, it will be a long time (several years) before the Index touches 1400 again. Unfortunately, the “buy-and-holders” are going to feel extremely frustrated. Market timing will be extremely important. You’ll have to trade gingerly taking advantage of recovery moves. You’ll have to be patient and not expect a robust Bull Market to return anytime soon. Shed poor performing stocks and, as market weakness appears, become defensive to conserve your capital.”

And then on Obama’s Inauguration on January 17, 2009, I wrote:

“Granted this is a bad recession; some even call it the beginnings of a depression. It’s not only here but it’s worldwide. Has the market fully baked in the economic distress? Has the market adequately reflected the $trillions that has been created to stave off further effects? Will the market deviate from the mean more than the 9.98% of 1982 (making today’s low at least approximately 725)?

Without getting political, I thing that investor psychology (as well as that of the general populous) see’s the Inauguration as a new beginning and psychology is the other half of the market (economics being the first). Ronald Reagan took office in January 20, 1981 and the country sighed a deep sigh of relieve as Jimmy Carter left office leaving behind the high oil prices and high interest rates; the hostages were released in Iran that same afternoon. Barack Obama is being inaugurated and perhaps we’ll be as lucky.”

Then, on May 2, 2011 in “Reversion to the Mean-Redux” I wrote:

“Following this track literally [superimposing the exit from the 1970’s secular bear market exactly on to recovery from the 2009 Financial Crisis Crash] means that the market could be heading into some murky water. We may soon stall out, retreat again and not see the current level again until sometime in 2013. If the recovery time frame over which the economy and the market took to come out of the 1970′s secular bear market were followed precisely again, then a new market high won’t be seen until around the beginning of 2015.

I have no idea and care little today to know what underlying fundamentals will be used to explain in the future the market’s then behavior. “Reversion to the mean” merely establishes the boundaries within which the consequences of all these underlying dynamics might ultimately be realized.”

Finally, this past January 30 in “That Old 1978-82 Analog Again” I wrote:

“On the one hand, we might actually be escaping the Bear Market sooner than I had originally anticipated but, on the other hand, the analog may still be in play and we’re looking at a possible reversal for the remainder of 2012 in order to get back closer to the analog.

I guess if I had to choose between swallowing my pride at having missed a “forecast” and accepting the upside break out or meeting the forecast but delaying the opportunity of seeing a higher market again ….. I’ll live with having missed a forecast.”

I guess we didn’t dodge the bullet since we’re just about back to where we were when the above was written.  But now, six months latter, what does the analog look like now (click on image to enlarge)?

The black line is the actual index and the blue is the projection based on the exit from the 70’s secular bear market.  The 70’s secular bear market low point was in September 1974 and a new high wasn’t established until 1980, over 5 years later.  The analog assumes that the low of the current secular bear market was the 2009 Financial Crisis Crash; overlaying the 1970’s track beginning at that low point produces a new high sometime in 2015.

In the Weekly Recap Report sent to Members yesterday, I indicated 5 possible support areas on which the market could pivot and begin another leg higher.  However, the sixth lower level is the bottom boundary of the “Reversal to the Mean” channel indicated in the chart above.  While the 1970’s analog foretells of a nice bull market to 2015 and beyond it also implies that the current correction could stretch all the way down to around 1000 in the S&P 500.

The similarities between the exit from the 1970’s secular bear market and today are many.  What we do know is that the exit process takes a long time.  Let’s hope that one of the trendlines indicated yesterday offer firm support and the market won’t need to revert all the way back to the lower boundary as it did in the months immediately preceding Ronald Regan’s election.

May 21st, 2012

Echoes of 2009, 2010 and 2011

Today’s post features excerpts from the Recap Report I sent to Members this past Sunday evening. After seeing today’s (Monday) recovery, I thought it would be worthwhile for all blog readers also to see it.

As part of each Weekly Report, members also see the current position of the Market Momentum Meter and what extrapolation of alternative market trends in terms of S&P 500 levels over alternative time horizons might produce in respective Meter signals.  This is important for evaluating true market risk and portfolio strategies for dealing it.


This week’s Report is very difficult to write. There was so much going on last week and the market acted so horribly. Europe was still a huge question mark, the over-hyped Facebook IPO was characterized as a disappointment (to all but Zuckerberg and about 1000 other insiders). Worst of all, the market had its worst decline of the year with a drop of 4.30%; the tech heavy Nasdaq Composite Index did even worse with a 5.28% decline. Stocks in the Model Portfolio fared poorly declining 5.95% but fortunately the 40% cash position cushioned the portfolio’s net drop to more constrained 3.92%.

This is the third year in which the market has tanked entering the summer months (the “sell in May” syndrome working overtime). The one consolation is that in both of those prior instances there was a respite and early stirrings of a recovery soon after the Index penetrated below the 300-dma (in time not in level). This Friday’s intra-day low touched the 300-dma and closed just above it (click on image to enlarge):

I know this looks complex with many horizontal trendlines but one can think of it in terms of the market climbing up a step set of stairs. Each resistance level that the market has successfully crossed above winds up later being a landing it steps on in preparation for the assault on the next resistance level.

That’s what may be happening again (speaking technically only and putting aside any discussion of the continually evolving fundamental causes like Greece, unemployment rate, declining price of gold, oil and other commodities, a harder than expected landing in China and the ever nearer Presidential election).

If this will be the third time around, then the current correction is close to the end/bottom. There may be another 2-3% left on the downside to 1250-1260 or to about the level of the neckline of the previous head-and-shoulders top.

As they say, there are harmonies (or echoes) in the market but never exact replicas. If this is the extent of the decline that the market suffers after having all this bad news thrown at it then the optimist in me thinks that any positive news on any front could result in a bottoming and reversal of direction again (and we won’t know what positive news it was that caused the market to reverse course until way after the fact).

Rather than thinking about how bad things could get, a better “contrarian” approach might be to think of this correction as our last opportunity to climb aboard the train that we missed climbing on three times before (2009, 2010 and 2011 bottoms). Some called the March, 2009 low at 666 as a “generational bottom” and it truly was. We had an opportunity to make up for being to fearful to act then in 2010 and again in 2011. This may be the next and hopefully last opportunity. Let’s not obsess above the bottom of the value and look instead to the climb up the other side to the market’s previous all-time high peak of 1576 made in October, 2007.

February 17th, 2012

The Gestation and Rebirth of “Buy and Hold”

As January ended, I reiterated a hypothesis that the market was following the script written at the end of the 1970’s secular bear market by writing in That Old 1978-82 Analog Again,

“On the one hand, we might actually be escaping the Bear Market sooner than I had originally anticipated but, on the other hand, the analog may still be in play and we’re looking at a possible reversal for the remainder of 2012 in order to get back closer to the analog.  I guess if I had to choose between swallowing my pride at having missed a “forecast” and accepting the upside break out or meeting the forecast but delaying the opportunity of seeing a higher market again ….. I’ll live with having missed a forecast.”

Compare the two secular bear markets, note the similarity and draw your own conclusions (click on image to enlarge):

  • 1969-1980
  • 1999-2012

Combining the two charts in sequence produces the now familiar view:

For the past 5-10 years we’ve been listening to the mantra “Buy and Hold is Dead”.  Just do a search on the term and you see books, videos, TV clips, articles and blog posts …. I’ve probably even wrote it here several times over the past 6 years of this blog’s existence.  Not to be just a contrarian but because I believe it might be true, I now offer a heresy.  If we are witnessing the death of the current secular bear market might we not also be seeing the rebirth of buy and hold?

If the market over the next several quarter into early 2013 is laying the groundwork for a new bull market might it not be the right time to load up on stocks with great growth potential that you’ll want to hold for several years through several corrections?  It begins not with the search for specific names but with a reorientation of mindset to accept the possibility that the market can and will exit the secular bear market by crossing above the previous highs and finally move into uncharted waters.

Let me know if I’m being a cock-eyed optimist or that it might actually turn out to be a plausible scenario.

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January 30th, 2012

That Old 1978-82 Analog Again

A post on Ritholtz’s Big Picture blog reflected a conclusion I recently reluctantly needed to begin facing.  Regular readers know that for over two years I have been tracking the path of the S&P 500 Index in what I call “Reversion to the Mean” (last mentioned here on November 4).  Briefly, the hypothesis was that the S&P has been growing since 1938 at an average annual rate of 7.5% and that it’s volatility around that growth rate was contained in a band of 40% above and below the mean growth rate.  The chart depicting that trend, updated with today’s S&P close of 1313.01.

The market’s horizontal path since the end of the Tech Bubble in 2000 appeared to me to have an uncanny resemblance to the secular bear market of the 1970’s. Consequently, I used the end of that prior secular bear market as an analog for the malaise that we’ve been suffering through for the past 11, going on 12 years and wondered where the market might wind up if it exited this time exactly like it did in 1978-82? The result was the following chart:
In November’s blog I wrote:

“…the market has been tracking fairly closely to the exit process back in the ’70′s so far. If that track continues for the near-term, we shouldn’t expect the market to approach the all-time high of 1365 until 2015 and not successfully cross above it until 2017. Let your hearts not lose hope because if it continues following the track then it could reach 3000 by 2020.”

So here we are, two months later and the market is only around 4% away from 1365.  With corporate earnings reports better than anticipated, we’re now beginning to read stories about expectations for expanding multiples and higher markets.  In a Bloomberg article today:

“Multiples for the benchmark gauge rose as high as 13.82 this year. Should earnings match analyst forecasts and climb to $104.78 a share, the index would have to reach 1,718.39 to trade at the average ratio of 16.4, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than 30 percent above its last close. “


The following chart in Big Picture was the coup de grâce:

This is exactly the analog I’d been following for close to two years.  On the one hand, we might actually be escaping the Bear Market sooner than I had originally anticipated but, on the other hand, the analog may still be in play and we’re looking at a possible reversal for the remainder of 2012 in order to get back closer to the analog.

I guess if I had to choose between swallowing my pride at having missed a “forecast” and accepting the upside break out or meeting the forecast but delaying the opportunity of seeing a higher market again ….. I’ll live with having missed a forecast.

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