The Week Ahead, Feb 7 – 11

It’s time for a little exercise in humility. Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking at the markets and thinking it was time to lighten up on risk positions. In last week’s post I suggested it was time for the risk off trade, and could hardly have been more wrong…and no, I’m not going to cop out and say I wasn’t wrong, just early. If you’re trading, early is wrong! So here is a mea culpa: I just blew it, pretty much completely. Now, with that said, let’s take another look at the markets.

Week in Review

Stocks: Every S&P 500 sector was up last week, with a clear inflationary bias: the leading sectors were producers of commodities – Materials and Energy. The lagging sectors were users of commodities – Utilities and Consumer Staples. The signal couldn’t be more clear if it were painted across the sky. The market is positioning itself for inflation. The SPX gained 2.7%, small caps over 3%. Foreign developed and emerging markets also posted gains, albeit smaller.

Bonds: The ten year US Treasury yield jumped 9.5% on the week, breaking out of a seven week channel to finish near 3.7%. In keeping with the risk on theme, junk bonds continued to rally, but every other major bond sector sold off. Holders of the long bond saw the value of their paper fall nearly 3% on the week. More inflation signals here.

Commodities: It was a week of high volatility in food commodities. We saw grains go limit up and limit down in the same day, livestock rising early in the week and falling later. Trading was all over the map as this was where the hot money was in play. Energy was relatively tame, with a soft tone as both oil and natural gas fell, West Texas crude ending under $89 a barrel.

Currencies: We saw a mid-week reversal in the currency markets, starting with US dollar weakness and euro and Yen strength, and then moving in the opposite direction. Rising commodities brought strength in the Aussie and Canadian dollars, with both approaching recent highs.

The Week Ahead

Stocks: The US stock market looks as extended as it did three weeks ago, key technical indicators still signal caution, and to that extent the risk averse outlook remains valid, but we shouldn’t forget that the most important indicator is price, and there’s really nothing in the price plot of the SPX (see below) which suggests an imminent correction. I have lightened up on stock positions, as regular readers know, anticipating one.

However, we did see a modest correction in the small caps. Note that the rate of change on the RUT has broken out of a declining trend.

One of the foundational principles – don’t fight the tape – has kept me from going short. For this week, I’m standing pat in my stock positions, and will be watching to see whether the small caps break to new high ground for a buy signal. It seems very possible that, rather than an imminent correction, we could be looking at another leg up in stocks.

Bonds: Not much ambiguity here. Yields have broken out of a base and this is a fairly clear sell signal for Treasuries:

Investment grade has felt the heat from commodity spikes and Fedspeak as well:

I see no reason to hang around and wonder about this, preferring to hit the sell button and preserve capital when trouble shows up. It was only a few weeks ago that I was short bonds. I don’t intend to go short again just yet, but will be keeping an eye on this market.

Commodities: This is where the action has been, as noted above. Not being a big risk taker, I have been perfectly happy to watch the party from a distance. Here’s a look at the broad CRB…seems to me this party might be running out of steam:

The softness in the CRB is coming from energy, which is quite remarkable considering the ongoing turmoil in the Arab world. The most interesting chart of the week, in my view, is West Texas crude. Note that we have a convergence of the bottom of the rising wedge pattern, the key $90 mark, and Friday’s closing price. My suspicion is that this is significant, and the next move could give us a profitable trading opportunity.

Currencies: Let’s drop back and take a longer view of the US Dollar. On the chart below, we look at a price plot since the start of the financial crisis. We can draw a price channel, noting that there were large spikes outside the channel following the Lehmann collapse, the Q1 2009 panic, and the May 2010 flash crash. We’re now at the bottom of this rising trend. It is important for the Dollar to hold this level and, with yields having risen sharply in recent days, I suspect it will.

Now a shorter term look at the Dollar, euro and gold:

Uncle Buck, to use Dave Fry’s pet term, seems to be holding up reasonably well. If we see Dollar strength in the coming days, it may lend more support to the view that the commodity rally, and perhaps the risk asset rally in general, may be winding down.

In summary, the risk rally is still on, I still find it suspect with unfavorable short term risk/reward , and will be in wait and watch mode going into the coming week. After making a bad call on market direction, it’s time to refocus on the data, rethink, and let the market tell me what it wants to do.

Good luck, happy trading, and as always be careful out there.

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