Small Caps Lead Market – Good or Bad Omen?

The Russell 2000 index of small cap stocks just pushed to new all-time highs.

Is this bullish for stocks?

To find out, I’ve plotted the S&P 500 against the IWM:IWB (small cap/large cap) ratio.

IWM is the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEarca: IWM). IWB is the iShares Russell 1000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWB).

Based on the ratio (currently at 1.06), the recent outperformance is by no means extreme.

What if we pretend for a moment that small cap outperformance was extreme (reading of 1.10 or greater)?

The red lines mark prior periods of small cap outperformance (IWM:IWB > 1.10). The S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) couldn’t care less.

If anything, one could make an argument that extreme small cap underperformance works as buy signal. The dashed gray lines highlight readings smaller than 1.03.

 

The gray overlay of the iShares Russell 2000 Small Cap ETF (IWM), makes it clear that IWM is only trading 3% above where it was a year ago. The S&P 500 gained 13% since March 2014.

Small caps are often portrayed to be the engine that pulls the train (or at least the canary in the mine), but that’s not true.

We dispelled this myth in July when many jumped on the ‘small caps are down, the market’s going to crash’ bandwagon.

Perhaps recent small cap outperformance is a reflection of the idea that a strong dollar hurts multi-national large caps with overseas income more than small domestic companies.

But what happens if dollar strength takes a breather?

One more thought: Historically, small caps tend to under perform in the later stages of a bull market.

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report. The Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (S&P 500, Dow Jones, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. All Profit Radar Report recommendations resulted in a 59.51% net gain in 2013 and 17.59% in 2014.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.

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3 Strike Wall Street Law – QE Bull Market Only One Strike away From Knock Out

We all know the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. Historic data (based on the 1987, 2000 and 2007 tops) strongly suggests that every bull market also follows the three strikes rule. This bull is one strike away from being over and out.

“Dead man walking” is an expression used by prison guards as the condemned were led to their execution.  Is the stock market a ‘dead bull walking’?

I asked that question back in February right after completing my 2014 S&P 500 forecast.

At the time there was no sign of a major top yet, but since no bull market goes on forever, I published a 3-step quick guide on how to discern a dying bull market (or the formation of a major market top).

Based on historic data, a bull market dies in three stages:

3 Stages of A ‘Dying’ Bull Market

Psychological process: Finding value becomes a challenge and investors become pickier.
Technical manifestation: The number of stocks hitting new 52-week highs or the percentage of stocks above the 50-day SMA slides lower, while prices climb higher.

Psychological process: Finding value becomes more challenging and investors feel attracted to safer large cap stocks.
Technical manifestation: Small-and mid-cap stocks are lagging large cap stocks.

Psychological process: ‘Smart money’ is selling stocks to ‘dumb money.’
Technical manifestation: Selling pressure increases behind a façade of rising large cap indexes. Declining stocks outnumber advancing stocks.

Back in February the S&P 500 was in stage 1. It was basically graying around the temples, but still a safe distance away from the coffin.

How About Today?

Here’s the pulse of today’s market:

Value is harder to find  and investors are becoming pickier. On January 14, 2013, 89.54% of NYSE stocks traded above their 50-day SMA. Only 46.24% of NYSE stocks traded above the 50-day SMA at the most recent S&P 500 high on September 19.

Stage 1: Complete

Small cap stocks are under performing. The chart below plots the S&P 500 against the IWM:IWB ratio. IWB represents the iShares Russell 2000 (small cap) ETF. IWB represents the iShares Russell 1000 (large cap) ETF.

The ratio shows just how badly small caps lag behind large caps, but it also shows why this is only stage 2 of 3 of a dying bull market: Despite small cap weakness, the S&P 500 is still trading near its high.

Stage 2: Complete

Stage 3 – One Foot in the Coffin?

During the third and final stage, stocks move from strong hands (smart money) to weaker hands (‘dumb’ money).

This gradual shift takes many months and may still deliver sizeable gains and even blow off frenzies.

Nevertheless, the internal deterioration of stage 3 divergences are terminal.

Being familiar with the three stages of a dying bull market protects investors against turning bearish too soon. Premature bears leave money on the table and/or lose their pants going short.

My favorite ‘third stage indicator’ correctly foreshadowed the 1987, 2000 and 2007 bear markets. It also telegraphed that any correction since 2010 was to be followed by new bull market highs.

This indicator currently shows a fledgling multi-week divergence, which – if not reversed – may have put an expiration date on this bull market.

A detailed look at this historically accurate ‘third stage indicator’ is available here:

The Missing Ingredient for a Major Bull Market Top

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report. The Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (S&P 500, Dow Jones, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. All Profit Radar Report recommendations resulted in a 59.51% net gain in 2013.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.

ETF Trade SPY: Russell 2000 Nearing Danger Zone

The Russell 2000 is one of the top performing indexes this year. It outperformed most broad market and sector indexes, but is nearing resistance that’s kept a lid on every advance. Here’s how to tell if the R2k is ready to top out.

“Are we there yet?” If you are a parent you’ve no doubt heard this question.

Kids can be impatient and don’t read maps or GPSs, so the question makes sense.

Investors often ask themselves a similar question. Instead of “are we there yet?” they ask, “how much up side potential is there?” or is the stock ‘there’ (at its peak) yet.

The closest thing to a GPS for stocks are trend lines. Trend lines outline the path for stocks, indexes or ETFs.

The chart below shows a parallel channel for the Russell 2000 Index (Chicago Options: ^RUT).

At first glance it looks like the Russell is ‘getting there’ or approaching a possible top.

Like a tenacious woodpecker, the Russell 2000 keeps chipping away at parallel channel resistance without out actually penetrating.

This hasn’t hurt performance. Since the channel is ascending, the Russell 2000 can continue higher without ever breaking above the channel. But we see that almost every touch of the upper channel line (red circles) caused a temporary pullback.

The rally from the November 2012 and June 2013 low has been very steep and with all things that are too good to be true, the Russell will eventually give back some (or most?) of its gains.

RSI (gray circle) is already showing signs of fatigue. Although this is a small warning signal, RSI can lag for months and RSI-based sellers may miss a big portion of a rally.

The chart for the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWM) and Vanguard Small Cap ETF (NYSEArca: VB), although not as crisp and clean, look very similar to the R2K index.

Since the Russell 2000 has outperformed the S&P 500 (SNP: ^GSPC) to the up side, it will probably outperform the S&P 500 to the down side. Now don’t go out and short the R2K or S&P right now, but you may mentally prepare for a possible shift from an up to down trend.

How To Spot a Top

Stretched rallies have a tendency to flame out with a trend channel over throw, where prices stage one last hurrah and spike above the channel. A close back below the channel often concludes the rally and kicks off a prolonged decline.

Any decline has to be confirmed by a drop below resistance, which didn’t happen in April and June (green circles).

The ETF Trade SPY is a free weekly feature that identifies ETFs near major inflection points created by support or resistance levels.

Prices near support/resistance levels tend to be great setups for low-risk trades. Why low-risk? Support/resistance is used as stop-loss and is an effective risk management tool.

If you only enter trades where your potential gain is bigger than your potential loss, you win.

To receive future issues of the free ETF SPY follow iSPYETF on Twitter @ iSPYETF.

ETF SPY History

XLK: July 24, 2013, ETF SPY predicted higher prices for XLK. Click here for XLK support and target levels.

Dow Theory: July 19, 2013 ETF SPY predicted higher prices for Dow Jones Industrial and Dow Jones Transportation Averages.

XLF: July 12, 2013 ETF SPY predicted higher prices for XLF along with a price target.