Market Danger Ahead: The Bears Have Gone AWOL

By Pater Tenebrarum at Acting Man blog

Recently we have come across one of those forecasts that are a dime a dozen these days, and usually escape out attention. The article at Marketwatch, entitled Bull could run 5 more years, carry S&P 500 close to 3,000only seemed interesting because the forecast sounded a bit extreme. We quickly scanned the headline, thinking that whoever was making this assertion surely hadn't breathed a word about this when the SPX traded at just below 670 points in March of 2009. Such wildly bullish forecasts are strictly a function of SPX 2000 in our opinion, on a par with the “Dow 36,000” forecast, which gained some notoriety in the late 90s. One of the reasons behind the SPX 3000 forecast mentioned in the article did amuse us greatly though, namely the following:

They cite extensive deleveraging in the U.S. as well as the uneven global recovery among other reasons why “this could prove to be the longest U.S. expansion – ever.”

(emphasis added)

Extensive deleveraging! Right.

CHART-1-total US credit market debt owed“Extensive US deleveraging” in one comprehensive chart – click to enlarge.

However, in the meantime we have found out via Barry Ritholtz that the man making the prediction was hitherto apparently “one of Wall Street's biggest bears”:

Until not so long ago, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Parker was one of the most bearish analysts on the street. […]

Following last year’s 30% S&P 500 rally, he has had a change of heart. He now has a 3000 upside target for the S&P 500.”

This background information actually does make the forecast a bit more interesting. It is yet another indication that bears have really capitulated across the board.

Recent Data – Yet Another Record Falls

In this context, take a look at the most recent Investor's Intelligence survey. Not only has the bull-bear ratio been at a 27 year high for two weeks in a row (i.e., a reading last seen in 1987),  but the percentage of bearish advisors has actually declined to a record low (as far as we know it was never lower) – only 13.3% of all advisors surveyed by II still declare themselves to be bearish:

 

CHART-2-II-ratioThe II survey exhibits the lowest bear percentage ever – click to enlarge.

This is of course in line with the other sentiment and positioning data we have frequently discussed in recent weeks, such as the extremes in the Rydex ratio (currently the Rydex bull/bear asset ratio stands at 17.75, i.e., it has surged back to a level close to the recently recorded record high of 18.51). Volatility and trading volume are both exceptionally low as well.

Interestingly, although margin debt has expanded again after its initial dip from the all-time high recorded earlier this year, it only managed to rise to a slightly lower high. This is an especially interesting divergence, as a roughly similar sequence has occurred near every major peak: first, margin debt expansion “goes parabolic”, then the total amount outstanding begins to dip a few months ahead of the peak in prices, and subsequently doesn't manage to make it back to its cyclical high. Interestingly, in spite of margin debt rising to a lower high, negative investor net worth is at a new record -  a sign that the cap-weighted indexes are masking internal weakness. This is of course confirmed by other technical data which we have recently discussed (see “Internals Are Weakening”).

 

NYSE margin debt bounces to a lower high after peaking earlier this year. Note the similarities between the last three parabolic advances in margin debt (chart via Doug Short) – click to enlarge.

 

CHART-4-NYSE-investor-credit-SPX-since-1980Negative investor credit balances reach a new record in spite of the SPX reaching a new high and overall margin debt only rising to a lower high – this means that the average portfolio held by investors must be weaker than the cap-weighted indexes suggest – click to enlarge.

Finally, here is a long term chart of the NAAIM net fund manager exposure survey. What makes this data point interesting is that the recent pattern – i.e., the divergence of net exposure to prices – has been following a path that is by now beginning to look eerily similar to that of 2006-2007:

 

Recently we have come across one of those forecasts that are a dime a dozen these days, and usually escape out attention. The article at Marketwatch, entitled Bull could run 5 more years, carry S&P 500 close to 3,000only seemed interesting because the forecast sounded a bit extreme. We quickly scanned the headline, thinking that whoever was making this assertion surely hadn't breathed a word about this when the SPX traded at just below 670 points in March of 2009. Such wildly bullish forecasts are strictly a function of SPX 2000 in our opinion, on a par with the “Dow 36,000” forecast, which gained some notoriety in the late 90s. One of the reasons behind the SPX 3000 forecast mentioned in the article did amuse us greatly though, namely the following:

They cite extensive deleveraging in the U.S. as well as the uneven global recovery among other reasons why “this could prove to be the longest U.S. expansion – ever.”

 

 

(emphasis added)

Extensive deleveraging! Right.

 

CHART-1-total US credit market debt owed“Extensive US deleveraging” in one comprehensive chart – click to enlarge.

 

However, in the meantime we have found out via Barry Ritholtz that the man making the prediction was hitherto apparently “one of Wall Street's biggest bears”:

 

Until not so long ago, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Parker was one of the most bearish analysts on the street. […]

Following last year’s 30% S&P 500 rally, he has had a change of heart. He now has a 3000 upside target for the S&P 500.”

 

This background information actually does make the forecast a bit more interesting. It is yet another indication that bears have really capitulated across the board.

 

Recent Data – Yet Another Record Falls

In this context, take a look at the most recent Investor's Intelligence survey. Not only has the bull-bear ratio been at a 27 year high for two weeks in a row (i.e., a reading last seen in 1987),  but the percentage of bearish advisors has actually declined to a record low (as far as we know it was never lower) – only 13.3% of all advisors surveyed by II still declare themselves to be bearish:

 

CHART-2-II-ratioThe II survey exhibits the lowest bear percentage ever – click to enlarge.

 

This is of course in line with the other sentiment and positioning data we have frequently discussed in recent weeks, such as the extremes in the Rydex ratio (currently the Rydex bull/bear asset ratio stands at 17.75, i.e., it has surged back to a level close to the recently recorded record high of 18.51). Volatility and trading volume are both exceptionally low as well.

Interestingly, although margin debt has expanded again after its initial dip from the all-time high recorded earlier this year, it only managed to rise to a slightly lower high. This is an especially interesting divergence, as a roughly similar sequence has occurred near every major peak: first, margin debt expansion “goes parabolic”, then the total amount outstanding begins to dip a few months ahead of the peak in prices, and subsequently doesn't manage to make it back to its cyclical high. Interestingly, in spite of margin debt rising to a lower high, negative investor net worth is at a new record -  a sign that the cap-weighted indexes are masking internal weakness. This is of course confirmed by other technical data which we have recently discussed (see “Internals Are Weakening”).

 

CHART-3-NYSE-margin-debt-SPX-since-1995NYSE margin debt bounces to a lower high after peaking earlier this year. Note the similarities between the last three parabolic advances in margin debt (chart via Doug Short) – click to enlarge.

 

CHART-4-NYSE-investor-credit-SPX-since-1980Negative investor credit balances reach a new record in spite of the SPX reaching a new high and overall margin debt only rising to a lower high – this means that the average portfolio held by investors must be weaker than the cap-weighted indexes suggest – click to enlarge.

 

Finally, here is a long term chart of the NAAIM net fund manager exposure survey. What makes this data point interesting is that the recent pattern – i.e., the divergence of net exposure to prices – has been following a path that is by now beginning to look eerily similar to that of 2006-2007:

 

CHART-5-NAAIMNAAIM survey of net fund manager exposure (replies ranging from “200% short” to “200% long” are possible). The divergence with the SPX is by now very similar to that seen in 2006/7 – click to enlarge.

Conclusion:

The so-called “wall of worry” is certainly no longer in evidence. Stock market bears seem to have given up entirely. Of course this capitulation has been a process rather than an event, and has been going on for some time now. Still, new records are seemingly made every month.

Fairly brisk money supply growth and extremely low rates have so far helped the market to recover from every correction attempt, with volatility contracting ever further in the process. Keep in mind though that even when both valuations and sentiment data are at or near extremes, it is still possible to get a blow-off move as a kind of last hurrah – this happened e.g. in late 1999/early 2000.

As to valuations, while the cap-weighted indexes appear still well below the peak valuations of the late 90s bubble, the same is not true of the average stock. While in the late 90s a handful of big cap tech stocks greatly distorted the total market P/E, a great many genuinely cheap stocks were available at the time (the entire “value” universe was quite subdued valuation-wise). This is definitely not the case this time around. It seems that both sentiment and valuations are at or near historical extremes. Investors may well be sitting on a powder keg.

Charts by: StockCharts, Doug Short/Advisorperspectives, St. Louis Federal Reserve Research

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