Oil Flash Crash Erases 3.8% in 4 Minutes – Is This a Sell Signal?

Wall Street traders returning from lunch saw one of the most pronounced mini flash crashes in history. Within a matter of 4 minutes (between 1:51 –  1:54 pm EST) crude oil prices dropped 3.9%. The day’s trading range was 4.9%.

The swings were equally dramatic in oil related ETFs like the United States Oil ETF (USO) and iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil ETN (OIL). The ripple effects were also felt in the broader PowerShares DB Commodity Index ETF (DBC) and iShares S&P GSCI Commodity Index ETF (GSG).

What caused this mini flash crash and is this a sell signal for oil?

What Caused the Sudden Drop?

Traders, analysts and regulators are still fishing for reasons, but there are only speculations thus far. An incorrectly entered trade (“fat finger error”) or rumors of a possible release of oil by the United States strategic reserves are possible suspects.

Is this A sell Signal?

Oil is not one of the asset classes regularly covered by the Profit Radar Report, but we can apply the same technical analysis methods used for the S&P 500, gold, silver, currency and Treasuries to oil.

The chart below plots crude oil futures prices against the 20 and 200-day moving average, prior support/resistance levels and a largely unknown but effective indicator called percentR.

We see that Monday’s quick dip pulled oil prices briefly below the 20 and 200-day SMA, which converged at around 96.50. Prices found support at 95 (green line), which is an area that buoyed oil prices several times before.

In addition, Monday’s drop triggered a bullish percentR low-risk entry. Only a close below 94.65 would negate the bullish low-risk entry.

Obviously, most asset classes are overbought due to last week’s Federal Reserve induced price pop and due for a correction. However, as long as oil prices stay above support at 94.65 – 95 any correction will have to wait.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

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Is QE3 a Big Fat Buy Signal for Stocks?

It’s official, QE3 is here. Unlike QE1 and QE2, which had a predetermined ceiling and expiration date, QE3 is open ended. The Federal Reserve pledges to buy $40 billion worth of mortgage backed securities (MBS) per month for as long as it takes.

Investors got what they wanted, so is this a big fat buy signal for the S&P 500, Dow Jones, gold, silver and all other assets under the sun?

To answer this questions we will analyse the effect of previous rounds of QE on stocks (some of the details may surprise you) and compare the size of QE3 to its predecessors.

QE Like Snowflakes

Just like snowflakes, no day in the stock market and no version of QE are alike. Nevertheless, a better understanding of QE1 and QE2 may offer truly unique iinsight about QE3.

The chart below provides a detailed history of QE and Operation Twist (detailed dates are provided below).

QE1 Review

The S&P 500 (SPY) dropped 46% before the first installment of QE1 was announced (the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF – XLF – was down 67% at the same time). By the time QE1 was expanded the S&P was trading 51% below its 2007 high.

Even without QE1 stocks were oversold and due to rally anyway (I sent out a strong buy alert on March 3 to subscribers on record). One could say that the Fed’s timing for QE1 was just perfect. The S&P rallied 37% from the first installment of QE1 (Nov. 25, 2008) and 51% from the expanded QE1 (March 18, 2009) to the end of QE1 (March 31, 2010).

QE2 Review

The S&P lost 13% from its April 2010 high to August 28, the day Bernanke dropped hints about QE2 from Jackson Hole. The S&P rallied 18% (from the July low to November 3) even before QE2 was announced.

The market was already extended when QE2 went live, but was able to tag on another 11% until QE2 ended on June 30, 2011.

QE3 Projection

Even before QE3 goes live, the S&P has already rallied 33%. Although the S&P saw a technical break out when it surpassed 1,405, the current rally is in overbought territory.

The timing for QE1 was great and the S&P rallied 37 – 51%.

The timing for QE2 was all right and the S&P rallied 11%

QE3 doesn’t have an expiration date, but is limited to $40 billion a month. During QE2 the Fed spent an average of $75 billion a month on bond purchases in addition to the $22 billion of reinvested matured bonds. Operation Twist is still active, where the Fed is selling about $40 billion of short-term Treasury bonds in exchange for long-term Treasuries (related ETF: iShares Barclays 20+ year Treasury ETFTLT).

In summary, the timing for QE3 is less than ideal, the committed amount is less than during QE1 and QE2, and QE2 has shown that stocks can decline even while the Fed keeps its fingers on the scale. QE3 may not be as great for stocks as many expect and rising oil prices may soon neutralize the “benefits” of QE3.

Detailed timeline:

November 25, 2008: QE1 announced.
Purchase of up to $100 billion in government-sponsored enterprises (GSE), up to $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
January 28, 2009: Ben Bernanke signals willingness to expand quantity of asset purchases.
March 18, 2009: Fed expands MBS asset purchase program to $1.25 trillion, buy up to $300 billion of longer-term Treasuries.
March 31, 2010: QE1 purchases were completed

August 26 – 28, 2010: Ben Bernanke hints at QE2
November 2 – 3, 2010: Ben Bernanke announces $600 billion QE2
June 30, 2011: QE2 ends September 21, 2011: Operation Twist
June 20, 2012: Operation Twist extended

Bi-Polar Technology Sector is Torn By Performance of Groupon, Facebook and Apple

About 18 months ago stocks were fueled by the Facebook, Groupon, and the smart phone app frenzy (i.e. Angry Birds). None of the above companies are actually included in the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF, but the prospect of a new tech boom was enough to lift the entire sector.

And while the technology sector has continued to move higher, it has left Facebook, Groupon and others in the dust. Why? Allow me to republish some research notes previously reserved for subscribers.

Facebook Warning: Published May 11, 2012

“Facebook (FB) is expected to go public on Friday, May 19. The media will gladly spread the frenzy, but I’d like to point out a few nuggets to put Facebook’s insane valuation into perspective:

– Assuming a valuation of $100B, FB will trade at 33x advertising revenues. Google trades at 5.5x.

– At $100B, FB will be worth more than: Caterpillar, American Express, Home Depot, Walt Disney and even McDonalds. In fact, 15 components of the mighty Dow Jones Industrial Average have a market cap of less than $100B.

– The market value of Google at its IPO was “only” $27B

– Apple currently trades around 3.8x sales. The same metric applied to FB would put its valuation at $15B.

To some degree the social media bubble is reminiscent to the 1999 tech boom. Most social media companies are valued based on promises more than established accounting standards. Recent IPO’s of Groupon, Pandora, Yelp, and Zynga created a lot of hope during the first couple of days of the IPO and fizzled thereafter.

Will FB await the same fate? You can’t predict the extent of any frenzy, but the amount of fizzled frenzies dwarfs that of sustainable ones. My bold prediction is that FB will loose at least 30% of its IPO price by sometime in 2013.”

Well, it turns out I was wrong. Since its May 2012 IPO ,Facebook shares have fallen as much as 61% (from a high of $45 to a low of $17.55). Facebook’s market cap is now $44 billion.

Groupon Warning: Published December 17, 2010

It was my belief that the Groupon movement (group coupons) is dangerous for the economy and unsustainable. This was contrary the most of Wall Street‘s outlook. I picked on James Altucher, a popular tech cheerleader, to contrast our difference of opinions.

“Altucher doesn’t believe there’s a new social media/coupon bubble. This time is different because Groupon’s rejection of Google’s $6 billion bid is ‘the dawn of a new and improved internet bubble. Unlike the bubble of the late 90s, though, this one is based on fundamentals, not irrational exuberance’.

It’s ironic that Groupon’s success and refusal of Google’s advance is seen as the dawn of a new era. Groupon has a killer business model, which is a goldmine for Groupon, but poison for healthy economic growth.

This new way of buying nurtures frugality and robs restaurants and other retail stores of their pricing power. Groupon is feasting on a deflationary trend while wizards like Altucher see the company as a gateway to the new and improved economy.

According to Altucher this is ‘not a bubble, it’s a real significant boom.’ It’s a boom all right, we’ll just have to see whether it’s an economic or deflationary boom. My money is on the later.”

Since its November 2011 IPO Groupon shares have fallen from a high of $31.14 to a low of $4. Groupon’s current market cap is $3 billion, half of what Google was willing to pay for the company.

Technology Sector at 11+ Year High. Why?

The Facebook, Groupon, smart phone app boom is deflated, so why has the tech sector moved on to an 11+ year high?

A look at the top holdings of the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK) may hold the answer.

Apple, IBM, and Google account for 34% of XLK and trade at or near all-time highs.

Microsoft, AT&T, and Verizon account for 19% of XLK and, like the Nasdaq-100, trade at or near a 10-year high.

Former highflyers like Cisco, EMC, Hewlett Packard, Corning, Yahoo, Broadcom, Dell, Applied Materials, Sandisk, Juniper Networks and others continue to trade near the lower end of their 15-year range.

It appears that a few strong companies mask the performance of many weak companies. That’s not the definition of a strong market or sector.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

QE3, Apple, and Rekindled Love for Stocks – How to Use Technicals to Navigate a Confusing Stock Market

This week is jam-packed with news. Apple, Bernanke, and Germany’s Constitutional Court are slated to make potentially market-moving announcements. Here’s one simple technical tip that will help navigate a confusing situation.

What does Apple’s Tim Cook, the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, and Germany’s Constitutional Court have in common? They are all expected to announce much anticipated news this week.

Wednesday, September 12. Apple

Apple is putting the finishing touches on the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. That’s where a select few will (or are expected to) lay eyes on the new iPhone 5.

Apple shares (AAPL) didn’t quite reflect fans’ excitement as shares dropped 2.6% on Monday.

This drop triggered a bullish percentR low-risk entry against the 20-day SMA. Just because this is called a “bullish” low-risk entry doesn’t mean it’s time to buy.

Apple shares tend to move higher when new products are revealed and correct thereafter (with the exception of the April 2012 iPad 2 unveiling, which coincided with a larger drop, instead of a rally).

A rally parallel to Apple’s event would likely provide a good set up to sell AAPL shares. A drop below the percentR trigger level will also suffice if we don’t see the customary Apple release spike.

Short selling a stock is not for everyone. But Apple accounts for 20% of the Nasdaq-100 index (corresponding ETF: PowerShares QQQ) and shorting the Nasdaq-100 via short ETFs like the Short QQQ ProShares (PSQ) is a more accessible way to benefit from falling Apple prices.

Wednesday, September 12. German Constitutional Court Ruling

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is the facility anointed to distribute European “bailout cash” to struggling euro zone members.

The ESM has many flaws (one of them is lack of funding) and one of them may prevent its VIP from playing “money ball.” The German Constitutional Court will rule over the legality of participating in the ESM on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 13. FOMC and QE3?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will meet Wednesday/Thursday this week.

The S&P 500 Index (SPY) is points away from a 55-month high and I don’t think that launching QE3 right now makes sense, but I don’t know what’s going on behind closed FOMC doors and the general consensus is that the Federal Reserve will announce QE3 on Thursday.

Similar announcements have resulted in large moves for stocks, Treasuries, currencies, gold and silver.

Combat Uncertainty with Technicals

What does the S&P 500 chart tell us about stocks? If the chart could talk it’d say that now is “rubber meet the road” time.

The S&P is close to key resistance at 1,440 (this month’s r1 is at 1,437) which the Profit Radar Report has been harping about. 1,440 is the most important resistance in the neighborhood. It separates bullish bets from bearish ones and provides directionally neutral low-risk trade opportunities (my bias is to the down side, which may require waiting for a spike above 1,440 followed by a move below).

Various news events suggest that this week is important. Technicals agree. Use important support/resistance levels to put the odds in your favor.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

The Stock Market Has Spoken – Even Government’s Biggest Bailout Success is a Failure

Fact and fiction are often separated by nothing more than a thin line. Some consider GM as a government bailout success story and the performance of the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (XLY) seems to suggest that this claim is legit. What does the final authority – the stock market – say?

General Motors is once again number one in car sales worldwide. For this and other reasons GM is often heralded as the biggest success story of government bailouts. Is that really so?

According to a September 23, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, the U.S. must sell GM shares at $133.78 to fully recoup the $49.5 billion it spent to rescue the auto maker. The United States owns about one third of General Motors.

Shares of General Motors are currently trading at $22.50, 35% below its IPO price. GM saw a 41% profit decline in the last quarter. Production for the Chevy Volt, anointed to be the car maker’s financial savior a couple years ago, is being suspended due to poor sales.

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

In an effort to make GM cars more attractive, GM is making it easier to own its product. How? With “attractive” loans, otherwise known as subprime loans.

According to an auto report published by Standard & Poor’s, the weighted average FICO scores for GM owners is only 579. 78% of all GM loans are for more than 5-years and the average loan-to-value on new cars is 110% (the average loan-to-value on used cars is 127%).

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Isn’t that what contributed to GM’s bankruptcy in 2009? Isn’t that what caused the real estate collapse in 2005?

Consumer Anomalies

The Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (XLY) is trading at an all-time high while consumer confidence shows little confidence.

It’s ironic that the consumer discretionary sector trades at all-time highs even though consumers didn’t get bailed out. The recipient of literally tons of bailout money on the other hand, the financial sector represented by the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF), trades 60% below its all-time high.

What’s the moral of the story?

1) The government’s definition of success is likely different from the common sense definition of success.

2) The government can give money to the financial sector. Financial conglomerates turn around and buy consumer discretionary stocks and even though American’s are hurting it looks like consumers are buying. It’s a win/win scenario for everyone but the consumer.
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Investors Now Embrace the Most Hated Stock Rally Ever – Is it Time to Bet on Short ETFs?

After a 12% rally investors are starting to buy into the S&P 500 and other indexes again. At the same time technical resistance is getting stiffer and seasonality is turning bearish. Is it time to buck the trend and start nibbling on short/inverse ETFs?

PIMCO’s king of bond funds, Bill Gross, joined the “stocks are dead’ club in late July and CNBC calls the latest rise in stocks the “most hated stock rally in history.”

At the June 4 low (1,267 for the S&P 500) investors and investment advisors hated stocks like fish hate hooks. Despite (actually because of) this negativity stocks keep on keeping on and June 4th turned out to be the second best buying opportunity of the year (see charts below).

But nothing is as persuasive as rising prices, and 12% into the rally investors are starting to embrace the idea of continually rising stocks. The crowd is generally late to the party (thus the term “dumb money”) and this time may be no different.

Investor sentiment is an incredibly potent contrarian indicator. Unfortunately, sentiment-based signals in recent months have been murky, but are starting to make sense again.

Murky Doesn’t Have to be Bad

Murky is not always bad though. The following is what I mean by murky during this summer and how the sentiment picture is starting to clear up.

The Profit Radar Report (PRR) continually monitors various investor sentiment measures, which includes the Investors Intelligence (II) and American Association for Individual Investors (AAII) polls as well as the Equity Put/Call Ratio and VIX.

The Sentiment Picture below was published by the PRR on July 20, 2012. Quite frankly it was one of the oddest sentiment constellations I’ve ever seen. The VIX was near a 60-month low parallel to a multi-month pessimistic reading of the AAII poll.

This just didn’t make sense and the simple conclusion was that there is no high probability trading opportunity.

Six weeks and several head fakes later the S&P 500 Index (SPY) is trading a measly 30 points higher than it did on July 20, and even in hindsight we know that there was no high probability trade.

Current Sentiment Picture

The second chart reflects the change of sentiment of investment advisors (II) and retail investors (AAII) since July 20. There’s no excessive bullishness, but rising prices are starting to resonate with investors.

Sentiment alone doesn’t tell us how high stocks may rally or if they are ready to crack right now. When we expand our horizon to include seasonality and technicals we see that September (especially starting after Labor Day) sports a bearish seasonal bias and that there’s strong resistance at S&P 1,425 – 1,440.

There is little reason for investors to own stocks right now. Aggressive investors may choose to pick up some short or even leveraged short ETFs at higher prices.

The Short S&P 500 ProShares (SH) and UltraShort S&P 500 ProShares (SDS) are two inverse ETF options that increase in value when the S&P slumps.

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With Stocks at Multi-Year Highs – QE3 May Be Overkill

The Federal Reserve is the most powerful financial institution in the world. It manipulates the world’s stock market seemingly at will, yet there are reasons to conclude QE3 is farther away than many expect.

Skunks are best known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, foul odor. The smell, a combination likened to rotten eggs, garlic, and burnt rubber, can be detected by the human nose up to a mile downwind. Smell aside, the spray can cause irritation and even temporary blindness.

The skunks reputation is well known, that’s why it roams around by day in the open and fears neither dog nor man. Skunks rarely ever have to use their “weapon” since just the threat of getting sprayed keeps predators at a safe distance.

The Fed, a unique financial animal, possesses a similar defense mechanism – it’s called QE .Like skunks, the Fed has established a reputation to use it when needed. This keeps “enemies” – such as market pessimists, realists, and particularly short sellers – at a safe distance. The Federal Reserve doesn’t necessarliy have to spray QE to get the effect of QE, just the threat is often enough.

Why Change a Winning Strategy?

Ben Bernanke is well aware of this fact. Essentially since the end of QE2 (June 2011), which resulted in a 20% stock market meltdown, Bernanke has been telling investors that the “Fed is ready to spray more QE when needed.” That’s been more than enough to keep stocks from collapsing. In fact, just the threat of spraying QE3 has lifted the S&P 500 Index (SPY) to a 51-month high and the Nasdaq-100 (QQQ) to a 12 1/2 year high.

Another animal analogy comes to mind. As long as you keep the carrot dangling the rabbit keeps running.

Why would Bernanke change a winning strategy (that of bluffing to spray or dangling the carrot) if stocks are already trading near multi-year highs? What, the economy is bad you say? The Fed’s past actions tell us that the economy may not be Bernanke’s primary concern. It seems easier to downplay millions of Americans being out of work than big losses of financial institutions on Wall Street.

QE Side Effects

Fortunately for the free market, there’s one asset class that keeps Bernanke and his inkjets honest. Oil. QE is inflationary. Like water in the bathtub that buoys rubber duckies along with all other toys, QE inflates the price of all assets (aside from those that have an inverse relationship).

Higher stock, gold, and silver prices are good for investors, but higher oil prices suffucate the economy. Oil around $110 a barrel coincided with stock market tops in April 2011 and March 2012. Oil at $85 in Apirl 2012 was enough to contribute to a 17% decline in the S&P 500.

With crude oil already trading near $100 a barrel, QE3 now or in the near future could be a double-edge sword with little net benefit for stocks and the economy (see chart below).

More About Skunks and QE

Skunks are reluctant to use their weapon, as they carry just enough of the chemical for five or six uses. The Fed has sprayed outright QE twice since 2008. This doesn’t include covert maneuvers like Operation Twist, currency swaps or low interest rates. How many more sprays of QE-like substances is the Federal Reserve good for? It seems to be running out of bullets.

Ironically, skunks have poor vision. This makes it harder for the stinky little mammal to decide who and when to spray. Bernanke’s “eye sight” (ability to foresee side effects of his actions) is similarly poor (click here for Bernanke’s bloopers). The Federal Reserve failed to see the 2008 financial debacle, or what’s been dubbed the “perfect storm,” brewing and has been playing catch up ever since.

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, but that’s a tough concept to grasp for a blind financial “animal” with a potent weapon.

 

 
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