The Fed is expected to provide a peek into its next round of quantitative easing, now considered a fait accompli. The only question seems to be how far the Fed will go to reinvigorate the economy.
But unless Republicans fail to capture the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Fed's next move could provide market bulls with just the ammunition they need to send the bears running for the hills.
The most significant new development was the Nasdaq 100 finishing over 2,055, as it was the third weekly close above the neckline of the inverse head and shoulders bottom we've been monitoring, as shown above. The Nasdaq has crept quietly back above not just the April 2010 high but also the April 2008 high without encountering much resistance.
Shh, don't tell anyone. It'll just be our little secret. But the bear market in Nasdaq stocks is almost over. It looks like the tech-heavy index has a fairly clear shot now at 2,239, which was the top of the 2003-2007 bull cycle. Bears are likely to put up a good fight, but if that level is eclipsed you will see the mother of all short squeezes.
Of course there's a long way to go back to the all-time top in March 2000 at 4,816. But the imperfect measurement employed by technical analysts on inverse h&s bottoms puts the target for this pattern at 3,106. That would reset the clock to October, 2000.
Mostly holding the major market indexes back this week has been weak forward guidance from large banks and industrials such as Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM). This is not necessarily bad in a broader sense, remember, because investors want to see companies struggle as it helps ensure that the Federal Reserve will stay the course with its apparent decision to launch a new round of quantitative easing.
The most positive news this week came from the government's job counters. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said initial jobless claims decreased 21,000 to 434,000 in the latest week, contrary to expectations for a 3,000 increase to 455,000. It amounted to the biggest two-week decline and to the lowest level since early July.
Optimists took that as a sign that the labor market is improving, while pessimists said the numbers went down because more discouraged workers left the work force. If you stop looking for work, you may recall, you are no longer counted as unemployed. Strange, but true.
The main driver of equities over the next few days will be assessments of the U.S. election and the behavior of the U.S. dollar. The market has discounted, or priced in, a new GOP majority in the House of Representatives. If the Republicans do not win a majority in the lower chamber, then there's a pretty good chance of a steep correction in share prices.
Meanwhile, late Thursday came renewed worries over European sovereign debt. According to my sources in the macro community, five-year Spanish, Greek and Portuguese credit default swaps -- a type of insurance for bonds -- were blowing out. As a result, the euro was sliding, which means the dollar was rising, and in turns risky assets were in danger of weakening.
Keep in mind that the dollar, euro, commodity and stock relationships that we have seen in the past two or three months are not written in stone. If only there were some immutable rule, but there is not. So as much as we would expect to see stocks slide if the dollar rises, as recently as March the dollar and U.S. stocks rose in tandem.
The bottom line: Everything but banks is in good shape heading into the last two months of the year. There is plenty that can go wrong, but the bears appear scattered, disorganized and disheartened. Think positive.
Remember that trading is in a lot of ways like a battle between two armies -- in this case, bulls and bears, or optimists and pessimists. When one side has its front lines overrun, the other side swoops in and slaughters the retreating soldiers and takes their guns and ammo. Then they pursue, and try to hit the other side as they retreat.
It can get very ugly. We saw an extreme example of bears winning that kind of attack in late 2008 and the first ten weeks of 2009. And we have seen examples of bulls winning on this type of attack last year, and in September-October this year. But so far it looks to me as if bears have not yet given up, as we saw at the open Monday, and that means bulls are still in the early stages of wiping them out.
I hate to make this sound so glib, but I do think that the bulls are going to win this thing because they have the most powerful force in the markets on their side. And that is the Federal Reserve.
The Fed's ability to print money in an effort to encourage lending by banks and borrowing by businesses and consumers has virtually no checks on its scope. There are no regulators looking over the Fed's shoulders, no political entity, like the Senate or the President -- nothing. Whatever Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his board of yes-men decide will occur.
The Fed has given every indication that it intends to proceed with at least $500 billion in a new round of Treasury buying in an effort to push down interest rates -- but just to make sure that the trade is not one-sided it sends out non-voting members of the board to make comments that make it sound as if they are opposed. This puts some doubt in market participants' minds, and leads to days like Wednesday -- which could stretch into a week.
However I urge you not to succumb to angst over this money flood. It may be bad for citizens but it tends to be very positive for markets.
Institutional analyst Michael Belkin told clients in a note Monday morning that a round of QE amounting to $500 billion would be the equivalent, in percentage terms, of the infusion of money put in the system in 1999 to battle the suspected Y2K bug.
That resulted in an absolute moon shot for the Nasdaq 100 in the last quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2000 as it amounted to a 21% increase in Fed credit, a truly massive amount.
Now consider that $500 billion is on the low end of the scale the Fed may have in mind, with the current upper boundary of consensus at $1.5 trillion, or a 65% increase in credit. And there are some estimates that range from $2 trillion to $4 trillion.
When you put it that way, it's really a shocking amount of money that they are talking about. Beneficiaries should run the gamut of the stock market, from large lagging tech stocks like Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Broadcom Corp. (NASDAQ: BRCM) to large lagging energy stocks, like ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM).
How will we know if, instead, the bears are gaining the upper hand? It should show up in the charts as a material weakening of the advance first. The March-April advance rose along the 13-day EMA until one day it closed below that level. Two days later it reversed back above. Then there were two more closes below, and the 13-day rate of change (ROC) sank below 0%. Five days later came the Flash Crash, and a two-month rout was on. The closes under the 13-day EMA were an early signal of the change in trend.
This is certainly a possibility, but it's very close to being the wrong time of year for a major decline. One of the most consistently positive bullish periods on the Wall Street calendar are the three days prior to election day -- that's this Thursday, Friday and Monday of this week.
The bottom line is that declines like we saw Friday are likely to be good new entry points for investors and traders alike. I don't like what the Fed is doing, and you may not either, but a Big QE is more than likely going to happen -- and I do not think the effect is fully discounted by the market. If it occurs, it won't be a one-way ride, but it may feel like that sometimes. Plan accordingly.
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