Three Pillars of the Rally Updated

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What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Three Pillars of the Rally Updated (An Important Change to Watch)
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet – Friday’s Flash Composite PMI in Focus

Futures are steady after a mostly quiet weekend of financial news and thinning volumes coming into the holiday-shortened Thanksgiving trading week.

Geopolitically, Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea. This is rekindling a fear bid in global energy markets as seaborne oil cargoes are viewed as “at risk.” The rise in oil prices is modestly pressuring Treasuries this morning (yields up slightly).

Economically, German PPI met estimates of -11.0% Y/Y in October further solidifying the global peak-inflation argument.

Looking into today’s session, there is just one economic report on the calendar with Leading Indicators (E: -0.6%) due out shortly after the open and there is just one Fed speaker midday: Barkin (12:00 p.m. ET).

One potential catalyst that could shake up markets today is the 20-Year Treasury Bond auction at 1:00 p.m. ET as weak results could trigger a rebound in yields. Especially given fading attendance this week and subsequently less liquid market conditions across asset classes.

Three Pillars

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Will the Restart of Student Loan Payments Hurt the Economy?

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What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Will the Restart of Student Loan Payments Hurt the Economy?

Stock futures are lower with European shares after some hawkish ECB chatter and more bad EU economic data overnight.

The ECB’s Klass Knot noted overnight that a September rate hike is being “underestimated” by markets. This is weighing on risk assets modestly this morning.

Economically, German Manufacturers’ Orders collapsed by -11.7% vs. (E) -4.0% in July while Eurozone Retail Sales in July met estimates with a monthly decline of -0.2%. The data offered fresh evidence that the European economy is threatening to fall into recession despite ongoing calls for a global soft landing.

Today’s focus will be on economic data this morning with International Trade in Goods and Services (E: -$68.0B) and the ISM Services Index (E: 52.4) due to be released. The market is looking for signs of slowing demand but not a sharp downturn in growth.

The ISM will be the more important report to watch.  If we get a number that is “too hot” or “too cold” will likely see yesterday’s stock market declines extended, while a Goldilocks print will help markets stabilize.

There is also one Fed speaker today: Collins (8:30 a.m. ET). If she pushes back on the peak rate narrative or rate cuts in 2024, that will add another headwind to stocks and other risk assets today.


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Hard Landing vs. Soft Landing Scoreboard

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Hard Landing vs. Soft Landing Scoreboard (Table Included)

Stock futures are tracking global equity markets lower while bonds rally thanks to disappointing bank earnings.

FRC, which has been in focus since the banking turmoil began in March, is trading lower by more than 20% in the premarket after reporting that deposits fell more than 40% in Q1 to just $104.5B vs. (E) $145B while the bank plans to cut as much as 25% of staff in Q2. The lower than expected deposit levels rekindled worries about the health of the banking system and financials are dragging the broader market lower this morning.

Today, there are a few economic releases to watch: Case-Shiller Home Price Index (E: -0.4%), Consumer Confidence (E: 104.2), and New Home Sales (E: 635K) but unless there are any material surprises, investors will remain focused on earnings as we will begin to get some of the big tech companies’ results after the close today.

On the earnings front we will hear from UPS ($2.19), VZ ($1.19), GM ($1.58), MCD ($2.30), GE ($0.13), PEP $1.37), and MMM ($1.60) before the open, and MSFT ($2.22), GOOGL ($1.07), V ($1.97), and TXN ($1.76) after the close. Investors will be looking for good top and bottom line results but potentially more importantly, solid guidance given the uncertain market backdrop right now.

Market Multiple Levels: S&P 500 Chart

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Market Multiple Levels: S&P 500 Chart (Printable/Shareable PDF Available)
  • NY Fed Inflation Expectations Data Takeaways
  • Key Levels to Watch Today in the Dollar and Treasuries

Stock futures are modestly higher thanks to good economic data overnight as traders await today’s U.S. CPI report and more Fed speak.

Economically, the U.K.’s Unemployment Rate held steady below 4% but wage growth favorably slowed to 5.9% in January from 6.5% in December.

Meanwhile the NFIB Small Business Optimistic Index in the U.S. met estimates at 90.3 which saw S&P 500 futures hit new pre-market highs at the top of the 6:00 a.m. hour ET.

Today, focus will be on economic data early with CPI (E: 0.5% m/m, 6.2% y/y) and Core CPI (E: 0.3% m/m, 5.5% y/y) due out before the opening bell. Cooling inflation pressures have largely been priced in recently so a low print could see stocks add to YTD gains, but the risk is for a hot print to spark a significant wave of selling amid further hawkish shifting money flows across asset classes.

Moving through the day, there are three Fed speakers to watch: Logan (11:00 a.m. ET), Harker (1:00 p.m. ET), and Williams (2:05 p.m. ET) and they will all likely echo the hawkish tone coming from other Fed officials recently but their comments should not have a major impact on markets.

Earnings season is winding down but a few notable companies reporting today include: KO ($0.45), MAR ($1.84), ABNB ($0.27).

Is the Turkey Crisis Over?

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Is the Turkish Currency Crisis Resolved?
  • Chinese Economic Data Recap (July)
  • Is Copper Forecasting an August-2015-Style Volatility Spike?

Futures and most international markets traded lower overnight as contagion fears from Turkey’s currency crisis persist despite further gains in the lira.

Indonesia unexpectedly raised rates o/n to combat the “contagion effect” that is weighing on EM currencies, the second central bank to do so in the last week.

There was no market moving economic data o/n but the American Petroleum Institute’s weekly inventory report was bearish late Tuesday, leading to declines of more than 1% in oil prices this morning.

Looking ahead to the US session, there are a slew of economic reports due out this morning: Retail Sales (E: 0.1%), Empire State Manufacturing Survey (E: 20.0), Industrial Production (E: 0.3%), and Housing Market Index (E: 68) that will be in focus early.

There are no Fed officials speaking today, so aside from the data, focus will be on relations with Turkey and the ongoing EM currency contagion concerns.

So far, the Lira’s rebound from all time lows has been tentative at best, so renewed weakness in the Turkish currency could hit stocks today.

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Are British Elections a Bullish Gamechanger for the Pound? April 19, 2017

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The pound was the big mover on Tuesday as it surged 2.2% following PM May’s call for elections in June. (As a bit of background, May calling for snap elections means that in the next few days Parliament will be dissolved, and then there will be national elections for all Parliamentary seats over the next six weeks).

The news took markets by surprise, but it is a politically savvy move by Ms. May. Right now, in part because a swell in national pride following the official start of Brexit, PM May is very popular. Calling for elections now will capitalize on that popularity, and help her Tories (Conservatives) increase their majority in Parliament.

From an economic standpoint, however, this isn’t likely to have much of an actual effect. Like the Republicans in the US, the Tories are viewed as the “pro-business” par-ty, so there was a knee-jerk positive reaction. However, Brexit will be the major influence on the value of the pound and the British economy over the next few years, not internal politics. Besides, as we’ve seen with Republicans here in the US, just because a party has power doesn’t mean it can actually get anything done!

Bottom line, the pound has surged to multi-month highs and clearly broken resistance at 1.25, and there’s more short covering to come. But, I do not view Tuesday’s events as a bullish gamechanger for the pound or British stocks, and if anything I’d be inclined to sell the pound if it approached 1.30 vs. the dollar.

For now, though, standing on the sidelines is warranted.

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How Far Could Stocks Go? Let’s Look at the Charts. March 2, 2017

How Far Could Stocks Go?

Stocks have screamed to all-time highs in recent weeks, and with new highs always comes the question of how far could stocks go? We like to regularly offer fundamental valuation updates as we did two weeks ago, but it is also important to outline what the charts are telling us as far as upside targets and key support levels for near-term price movements.

This stock market technical update is an excerpt from our March 1st Sevens Report. Claim your free 2-week trial today and cut through the jargon to specifics to support your client conversations. 

In the wake of the election there were a lot of very important technical developments. The two most notable were the shift from a bear market signal to a bull market signal in Dow Theory when the S&P was trading at 2165, and confirmation of that signal when the S&P broke to all-time highs November 21.

Currently, both the technical trend and upside momentum of the market continue to suggest the path of least resistance is higher for the medium term. That is the case in spite of the fact that there are countless fundamental uncertainties, most important are related to politics and fiscal policy.

Prices taken at market close on Feb 28.

Prices taken at market close on Feb 28.

In a situation like this, where technicals are largely divergent from fundamentals, many financial professionals and investors look for some direction as to how far stocks could rally from current levels and where a pullback would most likely pause if not reverse. So, we put together a few upside targets as well as downside support levels to watch for the S&P 500.

In a quick review, when any issue (stock, bond, commodity or currency) is trading in never-before-seen territory, there are only two ways to come up with targets in the direction of the new highs—measured moves, and likely areas of interest for options traders. The latter is relatively easy to figure out, as options volumes generally cluster around the big round numbers (in this case 2350 and 2400).


Tracking Measured Moves.

Measured moves, on the other hand, are a little more scientific. The idea behind a measured move is that if the market moved a certain distance against the dominant trend, it will more than likely move at least that far back in favor of the trend once it resumes.

  • Our next upside target is actually a combination of two measured moves and a likely area of interest for S&P option traders: 2450. On the daily chart, a measured move can be calculated from the late-October lows (2084) to the late-December digestion area (2271), which results in a measured move to 2458 in the S&P from current levels. In a supporting fashion, a measured move on the weekly chart can be calculated from the previous S&P highs of 2126 to the February ’16 lows of 1810. That results in a target of 2442.
  • This gives us an ultimate target window of 2442-2458, which encompasses a likely options trader target of 2450.

stock market charts, March 2

  • Bottom line, we are not suggesting that this bull market will end in the mid 2400s; however, for those looking to take profits, you likely will not be alone in doing so in that window around the 2450.

Support Levels

Turning to support levels, the February melt-up in stocks has left a large “volume gap” on the chart, which basically means stocks sprinted from around 2300 to 2360. Because of the velocity of that move higher, there were not many logical support levels created in the month of February. And a set up like that raises the odds that there could be a swift move back through that area.

  • There is an initial and minor area of support around 2343, where there was minor consolidation on February 16. This area will at least be noticed by technical traders and volume-driven algorithms.
    Secondary and more formidable support lies near the previous set of new all-time highs established in December in the band between 2270 and 2280. Here there will be buyer support from both bulls who missed out on the breakout as well as faster-money short sellers looking to book profits.

March 2, book profits

  • Our final support zone is derived from a weekly timeframe, and again at a previous all-time high of 2100, where the most consolidation occurred since the tech sell-off finally ended in 2002.

These levels are meant to provide you with a general idea of the most important technical levels on either side of the broader stock market right now. This information, we have heard in the past from advisor subscribers, is very useful in conversations with clients.

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Why It’s Time to Buy Insurance—Right Now! March 1, 2017

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The Practical Takeaway from Low Volatility

One of the bigger conundrums right now is that volatility in the stock market is plumbing multi-year lows despite the presence of multiple major and binary events that will resolve themselves positively or negatively in the coming months.

Some examples (just to name a few): When/if we will get corporate tax reform? Will the US institute tariffs? Will interest rates continue to move higher? Is inflation finally back?

Each of these events could easily cause a pullback in stocks of at least 10%, yet investors seem unimpressed. Case in point, the VIX recently hit 9.97, which is a multi-year low.

Now, the obvious question is… “Why is implied volatility so low?”

First, implied volatility is low because the macro-economic backdrop has been supportive, and stocks have relentlessly gone straight up since November. This has been the longest stretch without a 1% decline in decades.

However, there is a second reason.

The lack of volatility has invited investors and funds to sell options (specifically puts) and collect premium. Given the lack of volatility, that’s been a profitable strategy, and it has invited more competition.

So, more investors selling options (i.e. selling volatility and collecting premium) pushes the price down, and that’s why implied option volatility (which is what the VIX is based on) has dropped extra low.

Normally, this would catch my attention, but a conversation I had with a friend in the insurance business made me both intrigued and concerned that this inherent “complacency” is prevalent throughout the economy. Here’s why.

It's time to buy insurance.

I’ve almost never been an advocate of buying puts… yet buying puts to preserve market performance may not be a bad idea.

He said in his entire career, commercial and property insurance rates have never been lower than they are now.

And, if you think about it, I guess that makes sense.

I started my conversation with him because I asked my friend if my property insurance would go up because of Hurricane Matthew last year, and he said, “No way.”

He went on to tell me that the insurance companies are so flush with cash, they are just dying to write contracts to take in premium, and with so many competitors out there, it’s caused the price of insurance to drop sharply.

Empirically, that makes sense. With bond yields so low, insurance companies need to generate income and writing insurance over the past several years has been profitable (broadly speaking, we haven’t had any major disasters for the non-health insurance business).

But at this point, my friend remarked that it’s getting a bit ridiculous, as insurance companies are taking on a lot of exposure just to collect a little bit in premium (at least according to his experience).

Practical Takeaways

First, don’t assume that a low VIX means a drop in the stock market is looming. Implied volatility can’t get much lower, but it can stay down here for a while.

Volatility stayed around these levels for about two years in the ’93-’95 period, and again in the ’05-’07 period. Point being, low VIX is not a reason to expect a correction.

Second, insurance in the market (i.e. puts) is cheap, so we should consider buying insurance (i.e. buying puts).

As I said in Monday’s report, I’m almost never been an advocate of buying puts because I hate buying insurance.

Yet given we could easily see an air pocket open up in this market if corporate tax reform dies, or the Fed hikes rates in March, buying puts to preserve performance may not be a bad idea.

For less-experienced options investors, just buying near-the-money puts here might make sense.

For more experienced options investors, buying an at-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put may be attractive.

Here’s my logic. We think there’s strong support for the market around 2275, so as long as fundamentals are generally “ok,” we’d be ok buying the S&P 500 at that level.

So, we could sell 2275 puts (meaning we’d get put the stock at that level) and then use those proceeds to reduce the cost of an at the money put, say at 2370. That way, we’ve insured ourselves against any 5% or less drop in stocks, and also have the opportunity to buy the mar-ket cheaper at a level we’re comfortable with.

Third, actual insurance appears cheap, so I’m re-pricing life insurance and other insurance to try and lock in low prices.

Finally, generally, the idea that low yields and a chase for income is pushing both investors and insurance companies to increase exposure in exchange for reduced compensation is making my blood pressure go up.

As we’ve all seen, this can last for a long time, so it doesn’t mean a calamity is around the corner. Still, we all know that’s the kind of anecdotal behavior that leads to nasty consequences. Here’s to hoping it’s different this time.

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The FOMC Expects a Rate Hike “Fairly Soon” – Here’s What We Think That Means. February 27, 2017.

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There were only two notable economic events last week and neither were particularly positive for stocks (although they weren’t outright negatives). For weeks, the economic data has been supporting markets through consistent policy disappointment from Washington, so it’s notable that last week the data wasn’t particularly supportive, and incremental disappointment finally weighed slightly on stocks. Going forward, with policy outlook continuing to dim, data will need to be consistently good to further support this rally.

Last Week

Looking at last week’s data, the February flash PMIs (both manufacturing and service sector) were surprisingly disappointing. The flash manufacturing PMI declined to 54.3 vs. (E) 55.5, which was a surprise miss given the very strong Empire and Philly surveys from two weeks ago. The flash services PMI also missed estimates at 53.9 vs. (E) 55.9, again posting a surprise decline. Additionally, most of the details in these reports, including New Orders in the manufacturing PMI (which is a leading indicator), also fell. Meanwhile, the manufacturing input price index rose slightly while the selling price index declined slightly, implying margin compression in the manufacturing sector.

Now, to be fair, the absolute levels of these two PMIs remain high and by no means does the mild pullback imply a loss of economic momentum. However, the market needs consistently better data to offset the noise from Washington, and that didn’t happen last week.

The FOMC expects another rate hike "fairly soon," but it is unlikely to be in March 2017.

The FOMC expects another rate hike “fairly soon,” but it is unlikely to be next month.

The FOMC minutes were the other notable economic event last week, and while the minutes were taken as slightly dovish by the currency and bond markets, in reality they only confirmed that May is now (in our opinion) the next likely date for a rate hike.

The key phrase in the minutes was the FOMC expected another rate hike “fairly soon.” The reason that was taken as slightly dovish is because fairly soon isn’t the “next meeting” (that’s what has appeared in the FOMC minutes before the previous two rate hikes). The takeaway is that a March hike is unlikely, though that’s not incrementally dovish because the market wasn’t expecting a March rate hike anyway. If we get a strong inflation number this week and a strong jobs report Friday, odds of a March rate hike could creep closer to 50% from the current 22% (and that could be a headwind on stocks).

This Week

This will be a busy and important week for the economy as we get some critical data on growth and inflation, and if stocks can maintain this rally, the former needs to be strong and the latter doesn’t. The most important number this week is the PCE Price Index contained in Wednesday’s Personal Income and Outlays report. February CPI and PPI were both much stronger than expected, and if the Core PCE Price Index (which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) moves close to 2% (currently at 1.6%) then we will see expectations for a March rate hike increase, and that will send Treasury yields higher and send the dollar higher—and that will put a headwind on stocks.

The next most important number this week is the ISM Manufacturing PMI, out Wednesday. Normally, this would be the most important number of the week, but even if this confirms last week’s flash PMI and pulls back a bit from January, it’s still a very high absolute level and it will take several months of declines before anyone would get worried about activity in the manufacturing sector. Nonetheless, it is still a critical number and if it’s soft we could see a bit of stock weakness.

There are other notable reports this week including Durable Goods (today) and the services PMI (Friday). Finally, revised Q4 GDP comes Tuesday, and analysts are still looking for around 2% growth (Q4 GDP was 1.9% in the advanced look last month). As we said, all the data is important given strong data has helped offset growing policy worries, so these number meeting or beating estimates will be generally supportive. Bottom line, data needs to stay good and inflation needs to stay tame in order to support this market, because Washington policy expectations are a growing headwind.

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Disappointing Numbers from Flash February Manufacturing & Service PMIs: February 22, 2017

Below is an excerpt from the “Economics” section of the Sevens Report. The Sevens Report has everything you need to know about the markets by 7am each morning in 7 minutes or less—can get a free trial if you sign up now.

Flash February Manufacturing & Service PMIs

  • Feb. Manufacturing PMI declined to 54.3 vs. (E) 55.5.
  • Fed. Service PMI declined to 53.9 vs. (E) 55.9.


In what was a surprising contradiction to last week’s very strong Empire and Philly manufacturing PMIs, both flash PMIs declined, and implied increased stagflation risk, signaling that further economic acceleration is not a foregone conclusion.

Now, to be clear, neither number was outright bad in an absolute sense. Both numbers in aggregate are reflective of a decently strong economy. Yet in order to power stocks higher in the context of growing political dysfunction, data needs to continue to show acceleration, and neither of these flash PMIs showed acceleration.

Declines in Nearly Every Sub Index of the PMI

Looking specifically at the manufacturing PMI, New Orders, the leading indicator in the Report, dipped to 56.2 from 57.4 (still a very high absolute reading but a decline nonetheless). In fact, virtually every sub index declined in February except for input prices, which rose slightly to 56.1 from 56.0. Notably, output prices (i.e. selling prices) dipped slightly to 51.7 vs. 51.9, which is indicative of margin compression. One number doesn’t make a trend, but that’s something to keep an eye on.

Bottom line, the flash PMIs are one of the bigger economic numbers each month, and this was a surprising disappointment. It won’t change the trajectory of the rally near term, but strong (and stronger) economic data is a critical support to this market, especially in the face of growing doubts in Washington. So, the rest of February’s data just got a lot more interesting.

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