Here is my latest analysis of the stock market, published today on MarketWatch:
Note: I will continue to post the technical and sentiment readings on Fridays after the market close (deeper analysis every two weeks).
Here’s a summary of this week’s numbers:
S&P 500 is above its moving averages = Bullish
MACD (S&P 500) is above zero line = Bullish
S&P 500 Support: 2,150 (Above support = Bullish)
II survey (July 26): 53.9% Bulls; 21.6% Bears = Bearish
AAII survey (July 27): 31.3% Bulls; 28.4% Bears = Neutral
VIX @ 12.44 = Bearish
RSI (S&P 500) @ 62.74 = Overbought
As promised, and after a lengthy absence, I am writing a weekly (or monthly) column on how to use market indicators and clues to help determine market direction. Here is this week’s column ( http://goo.gl/CzYnLd ):
One of the most important skills traders learn is how to decipher clues as to the market environment. Even if you are trading individual stocks, it is essential to be aware of the overall market. Such clues can help determine whether you should move to the sidelines in cash, buy on the dip, or use short-selling strategies.
Here are several market clues I’ve recently observed:
1. MarketWatch columnist Mark Hulbert recently wrote an insightful column highlighting the Hulbert Nasdaq Newsletter Sentiment Index (HNNSI). This is a contrarian indicator: when the HNNSI plunges, and sentiment is pessimistic, it’s bullish. When the HNNSI soars and sentiment is overly optimistic, it’s bearish. Currently, Hulbert notes, “the HNNSI stands at 77.8%, more than 130 percentage points higher than it was three weeks ago.” Accordingly, Hulbert says, the odds of a coming market pullback or plunge are higher.
2. In addition to the HNNSI, the Investors Intelligence (II) sentiment survey is currently at 54.4% bullish vs. 24.7% bearish (as of July 19), which confirms Hulbert’s sentiment gauge. Bottom line: The crowd is overly bullish, and that usually does not end well. (In addition, the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) sentiment survey is also bullish: 35.4% bullish vs 26.7% bearish as of July 20.)
3. Volatility has collapsed to levels not seen since before the previous plunge. The CBOE Volatility Index VIX, +0.70% is currently around 12.0. Such a low point for the VIX suggests that investors have little fear of a market selloff. When volatility is this low, it is best for traders to stay on the sidelines (especially if you are trading index options).
4. Longtime market observers say that computer algorithms appear to be artificially boosting stock prices. For months, whenever the market sells off, a massive algorithm consistently buys S&P futures contracts on every dip. Some believe the Fed is behind such a massive buying program, but there is no evidence so far.
What’s evident is that a entity with unlimited resources is buying on every dip (and also spiking the S&P futures around 2:30 a.m. ET each trading day). The result is that volatility has been crushed, as reflected in the low VIX levels. Even on small pullbacks, volatility is reduced and a buy-the-dips program stops the retreat.
5. The one-year return for the S&P 500 SPX, -0.30% is around 1.75%. Although thebulls are giddy , the facts are that the market has gone nowhere in the last year, even though U.S. stocks are at all-time highs. Put another way, the market has tried multiple times to break out of this long sideways trend but has barely made headway.
6. Well-known market experts including Carl Icahn, George Soros, Stanley Druckenmiller, Jeffrey Gundlach, and Larry Fink are advising investors to either get into cash or go short, and this cautionary advice gets little or no respect.
8. Finally, although the market is making new highs, volume has been declining, which is a huge red flag. Lance Roberts discusses the dangers of low volume and central bank intervention in his Real Investment Advice blog . His advice: Take profits from the recent advance sooner than later.
Based on the above clues, it appears that a short-term U.S. market top has formed. Although it is tempting to short the perceived top, it is too dangerous to do so. After all, the market could still go higher from here, creating a more extreme market melt-up. If some investors are afraid of missing out, shorts will continue to get shredded.
Instead, it’s prudent to wait to see how the market reacts at these overbought levels. If the bulls are right, the market will push higher. But given past market behavior, the danger signs are everywhere.
Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale with Billy Currington
By Michael Sincere, columnist for MarketWatch/Wall Street Journal
Sometimes I step away from the stock market and go to music festivals. For three days in April, the fourth annual Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale featured country stars including Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Billy Currington, Kelsea Bellerini, Elle King and more. Judging by the crowds of nearly 90,000 music fans who flocked to Florida from 47 states and 16 countries, the festival was a huge success.
Founded and produced by HUKA Entertainment, Tortuga Music Festival is country music’s first large-scale festival on the beach. In addition to showcasing three days of music on three stages, set in the sand at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, the festival raises awareness and support for marine conservation with Rock The Ocean Foundation and the onsite Conservation Village.
HUKA Entertainment is also devoted to helping develop and promote up-and-coming artists. “I’ve been in the music business a long time and have always cared deeply about developing artists,” says HUKA Entertainment CEO Evan Harrison. “With Tortuga Music Festival we bring artists early in their career and watch them grow. We play an important role in artist development because exposing new artists is the lifeblood of our business.”
In many ways, companies such as HUKA are replacing the role that the record companies traditionally played. “As an independent promoter with a strong track record,” Harrison says, “we share our vision with the artist. They are taking a chance on us, but once they come on stage and see a large audience in front of the ocean, they come back the second year.”
Best-selling country singer Billy Currington was one of several artists who made a return performance at Tortuga in 2016, headlining the Sunrise Stage on Day 3. Currington previously played the festival in 2014 and it instantly became one of his favorites of the year.
“It’s right on the ocean, people are just having a great time, it goes on for days. The backstage setup is perfect, the way they set the stage up out there on the beach is perfect.”
After deeming Tortuga one of the “best gigs I ever had,” due to the amazing oceanfront setting as well as its important cause, coming back to the biggest country party on the beach, this year to headline the Sunrise Stage, was a no-brainer.
“The amazing thing about performing at festivals like Tortuga, is that fans are exposed to artists they may not have heard before,” says Currington. “It gives artists a chance to gain new fans in a setting like this, especially the up-and-coming artists.”
For Currington, the importance of getting that initial exposure to fans as a new artist is something he can remember from the early days in his career. Even as a child, Billy knew that he wanted to be a singer. He started by singing in church choirs, and because of his talent, he often got lead parts. Getting the lead at his church made him feel special, which helped fuel his desire to sing even more.
Billy’s life changed dramatically when he was 17 years old. That’s when Billy met a preacher from Tennessee. After hearing Billy sing, the preacher knew that Billy had a special talent. They became friends and one day, the preacher said to Billy, “You need to move to Nashville.”
At first, Billy wasn’t keen on the idea of taking a road trip but eventually he drove with the preacher to Nashville. “The preacher showed me the town and I loved it. I was addicted. That’s when I knew exactly where I wanted to be when I graduated high school,” Billy said, “thanks to my preacher friend.”
Before Billy’s first hit record, he played a lot of bars and house gigs. But after his first hit song on the country charts, “I Got a Feelin’,” his life changed. “Everything that I had dreamed of was coming true based on that first song. And then it started building from there.” Right now, he has released six albums, earning ten No.1 singles including “Good Directions,” “Hey Girl,” and his most recent top 40 hit, “Drinkin’ Town with a Football Problem.”
Although nothing changed with his hometown friends in Georgia, as Billy became more famous, a lot of people he didn’t know claimed to know him and pretended to be family. “I still have my best friends from high school, two or three core people, and my family, and that has not changed.”
One of the most significant events in Billy’s life was being invited to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. “Every entertainer, especially in the country music genre, dreams of walking on that stage,” he says. “And when I got to do that, it was a special moment. That night, I had a reunion with the preacher who first brought me to Nashville. I’ve been very thankful to him for opening my eyes and providing me all these opportunities.”
One of Billy’s passions, one that few people know, is that he loves to sell coconuts in Key West, Florida. “I’ve been selling coconut water for several years. I have a stand in Key West and whenever I’m not on the road, I go to the Keys, climb a coconut tree, and gather as many coconuts as I can. Then I take them to Mallory Square and sell then with my partner, Randash. I’ve been doing that for over 12 years.”
When people get off the cruise ships looking to see the sunset, Billy and his partner are there, selling coconuts for $5 each. A lot of the time, people don’t even realize that the guy cutting coconuts is a best-selling country singer with a string of hit records.
For Billy, cutting coconuts is almost a spiritual experience. “Coconuts are the purest water on earth. It takes nine months for the rain to go up through the ground, up the tree, and into the coconut. Nine months later you are harvesting it.”
Along the way in his journey, Billy learned quite a few lessons. “Always be kind to people, and don’t always have your eye on the dollar sign,” he says. “Appreciate what you got and not what you want. If you appreciate what you got, all the other stuff you dream about will come. Live in the moment. Don’t worry about who has bigger success; otherwise you will never be happy.”
Billy practices what he preaches. When he is not playing music and touring, Billy is either surfing in Hawaii or hacking coconuts in Key West. “At one time I was doing 310 days a year of music, and after five years, I realized that was not the life I dreamed of. So I backed off and am living the life I wanted.”
He also discovered that the less he worried about money, the more it came. “I never worry about much I need or have or don’t have,” he says. “I just take what I got and enjoy it.”
The next time you visit Mallory Square in Key West at sunset and see a guy hacking coconuts, take a close look because it might be Billy Currington.
The following column written by me was posted on MarketWatch (http://goo.gl/zAgsUc):
Welcome to Brexit week. The U.K. is voting to stay in the European Union or leave, and global market volatility is expected to increase before and after the June 23 Brexit referendum. It should be a wild week for the markets. But for most investors, the odds of making money are probably better at a casino than trying to pick winning or losing Brexit stocks.
Rather than choosing individual stocks, there is an options strategy you can use to potentially profit from Brexit: the straddle. When you buy a straddle, you simultaneously buy a call and a put using the same strike price and expiration. This intermediate strategy can bring potential profits no matter which direction the market moves. The caveat: It works only if the market makes a good-sized move in either direction, up or down.
Although this strategy sounds too good to be true, like any options strategy, there are of course specific risks. For option traders willing to take a chance to make many times their investment with limited risk, buying straddles is one way to profit.
Low inflation, high volatility, and an overvalued stock market pose risks for investors, but those challenges also bring opportunities, say the experts at a MarketWatch panel discussion in London.
The ideal market environment for buying straddles is just before a market-moving event, such as a Fed meeting, an earnings report, or a momentous financial event such as Brexit. No one can predict whether the market will rally or drop once the U.K. news is announced. There is also the possibility that the market will give a big yawn and ignore the decision. By buying a straddle, you are speculating that there will be a large enough price change (up or down) to more than cover the cost of the straddle. You don’t care in which direction the market moves, so long as it moves.
To initiate a straddle, you will buy a straddle on the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, SPY, +1.22% . To reduce risk, I recommend that you limit the number of contracts you buy, especially if you are inexperienced.
For example, on Friday you could have bought a straddle on SPY 206 July 15 (1 put and 1 call) and paid $7.67 (the July 15 call was $4.00 and the July 15 put was $3.67; total cost was $7.67, but that price will have changed by the time you read this). This trade would cost $767 for one, 100-share straddle, $1,534 for 2 straddles, and $3,835 for 5 straddles (plus commission). Typically, you will buy a straddle with an at-the-money strike price (i.e. the strike price is near the SPY price).
One of the risks when making this trade is that implied volatility is expected to increase as Brexit approaches (implied volatility rises with anticipation and anxiety). This will push option prices much higher. In fact, one of the risks of this strategy is that you may overpay for the straddle. If you do overpay, you could still lose money even if the S&P 500 makes a fairly large move.
If you do make this trade, use a nearby expiration date. Most importantly, under no circumstances should you hold either the call or the put until the expiration date.
To reduce losses and lock in gains, sell both legs (call and put) within hours of the Brexit announcement, and definitely by the end of that day. In other words, sell the straddle once the news is known and the stock market has reacted. Time is your enemy when buying straddles, which is why you must sell quickly. You may choose to hold for several hours if you believe SPY will continue moving in the same direction during the day. Theoretically, the profit potential is unlimited for the life of the option, but in real life you will take your profits, if any, before the end of the day.
The most you can lose on this trade is the initial amount paid for the straddle. You will lose the maximum only if you hold until expiration and SPY is still at or near $206 on the expiration date.
Again, do not hold this straddle over the coming weekend, “hoping” you will make more money. That’s how traders watch profitable option positions turn to dust. Option traders rely on good odds, not hope.
Michael Sincere (michaelsincere.com) is author of “Understanding Options 2E” and “Understanding Stocks 2E.” The above examples are not recommendations to buy or sell options. If you have never traded options before, practice trading before putting real money on the line. Follow Sincere on Twitter: @michaelsincere
Because the S&P 500 fell below its 50-day moving average, and the MACD line crossed below the 9-day signal line, and could fall below the zero line, it’s time to pay attention. It’s not just the indicators that are signaling trouble. The dollar is rising (which pressures stocks), earnings were terrible, and the low-volatile market is struggling to gain traction. We will know more within the next two weeks or so, but it appears as if the market is setting up for a pullback.
I have learned the hard way that it’s wiser to be a little late when buying (which is why I like probes). As I wrote in my latest MarketWatch column, when the market is going sideways, stay on the sidelines or probe with smaller share size or fewer option contracts. Actually, the market is starting to drift downward, and if it keeps falling, we could see a major pullback (my experienced technician friends say that if the S&P drops below 2030, look out below).
However, as you’ve seen before, any pullback could be stopped in its tracks with a few words from the Fed (i.e. “We are not going to raise interest rates…”). Unless real fear hits the market, we could go in either direction over the next two weeks. In my opinion, the odds favor a downtrend, but it’s not a 75% probability. Therefore, it’s best to wait, watch, and probe. When a pivot point is finally confirmed, it could be “snapping time.” Until then, be patient, and be on guard. The market is starting to get interesting again.