Weekly S&P 500 ChartStorm - 16 October 2016

| About: SPDR S&P (SPY)

Summary

A number of bearish factors are lighting up (price breakout, corporate tax receipts, valuations, etc.).

A number of more benign or bullish factors are also lighting up (macro factors, earnings outlook, labor market dynamics, seasonality).

With such an environment of ambiguity, it pays to run a shorter time frame and to be intellectually flexible.

Those that follow my personal account on Twitter and StockTwits will be familiar with my weekly S&P 500 #ChartStorm in which I pick out 10 charts on the S&P 500 to tweet. Typically, I'll pick a couple of themes and hammer them home with the charts, but sometimes it's just a selection of charts that will add to your perspective and help inform your own view - whether it's bearish, bullish, or something else!

The purpose of this note is to add some extra context beyond the 140 characters of Twitter. It's worth noting that the aim of the #ChartStorm isn't necessarily to arrive at a certain view but to highlight charts and themes worth paying attention to.

So here's the another S&P 500 #ChartStorm write-up.

1. 50-day moving average breadth: For the third time in a row, this chart features as number 1. Previously it was the "lines in the sand", but now these lines have been crossed to the downside. Odds are that when a breakout happens it keeps going. Using the small triangle formation on the price, you might say it will be a 100 point move. So there could be some downside still to go on this move. The counter point would be that 50 dma breadth is already down to levels consistent with an "oversold" market.

Bottom line: The lines in the sand have been crossed.

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2. "Macro factors": One chart that popped up quite a bit early this year and last year - "the macro factors". Each of the black lines (emerging market equities, commodities, and high yield credit) were trending down into the previous two major corrections - initially diverging from the S&P 500 and then confirming the weakness. This time around there is no real alarm bell to speak of with these macro factors. Of course, the market could easily get hammered down for some other reason, or by some other macro factor, but for now these ones are behaving.

Bottom line: The macro factors that sunk markets early this year are not showing any warning signs.

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3. Dastardly dollar: In a way the previous chart - the macro factors - was kind of the flip-side of the extreme negative effects of the surge in the US dollar. While the US dollar bull market has switched to a range-trade, it's still relatively high in level terms (vs. rate of change). From the talk in the earnings calls in Q3 so far, the strong US dollar is a leading excuse for sluggish earnings. This is why the Fed can't go too fast - if it hikes rates too fast while the rest of the global economy is only muddling along, it risks choking off the US economy from a shock tightening of financial conditions that another surge in the US dollar would deliver.

Bottom line: The strong dollar remains a headwind to earnings.

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4. Tax turn: This chart from Meridian Macro Research shows US corporate tax receipts turning down and putting in bearish divergence against the S&P 500. There's not really much else to say on this one except that it looks kind of bad.

Bottom line: The trend in corporate tax receipts is not the market's friend.

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5. Bearish BCA: BCA are becoming increasingly bearish on global equities in the short term. Perhaps the key standout chart on their 3 strike panel is the middle one that shows the "profit margin adjusted CAPE" for the S&P 500. I would provide a few caveats on that one, first there is a case to be made that profit margins are structurally higher - the composition of the market has changed. Second is it's kind of irrelevant because "it is what it is". Having said that, it is an interesting piece of analysis, so take this one whichever way you want (and with a grain of salt).

Bottom line: Adjusting for high profit margins, the CAPE would be close to all-time highs.

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6. Margin debt dinger: This chart from Ned Davis Research, which was featured in MarketWatch, points to a possible bear market as defined by total margin debt falling below its 12-month average (it's also still down from the peak). The problem is it's only a one dimensional view; margin debt value can rise and fall with the market because it's backed by and almost pegged to the value of stocks - where this ceases to be true is when you have massive liquidations (a bear market) or panic buying (a euphoric bull market). For now, I would file this one in the interesting folder and move on to the next one.

Bottom line: One definition of a bear market was met by US margin debt recently.

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7. Labor's share of corporate profits: Clearly, this one moves in cycles, but there also appears to be what is either a structural shift or an enduring wound of the financial crisis. Either way, when this indicator rises, it basically means pressure is coming on corporate profit margins. Historically, this has only been a real issue if it moves by a considerable degree, e.g. prior to 1987, the dot com peak, and pre-GFC. At present, it's a long way off those levels...

Bottom line: Labor's share of corporate profits is rising but it could still go a long way before causing issues.

8. The sweet spot for wages and rates: What this indicator tells you is whether wage growth is higher or lower than the current fed funds rate. Why would it matter? An environment of wage growth and low interest rates is basically the sweet spot - that's the conditions where the economy should be improving and markets should be going up. When the fed funds rate rises above wage growth, that's when the market is on borrowed time. At present, this indicator is firmly in the sweet spot - i.e. don't get bearish on stocks just because wage growth is picking up.

Bottom line: Wage growth is comfortably higher than the fed funds rate.

​9. Sector standouts: This chart highlights that the upgrades to forward earnings at an index level are backed by some strong sector standouts. Notably, with the rebound in commodity prices, energy and materials are fast becoming less of a drag on earnings. Meanwhile, consumer staples are picking up, and after a period of moderation, information technology sector earnings are set to accelerate. So I wouldn't be getting too downbeat on earnings in the context of these trends.

Bottom line: These sector standouts are showing an acceleration in forward earnings.

10. Seasonality: A running theme lately, couldn't leave this one out. This chart, which has appeared a number of times now, shows that 2016 is moving into the period where historically the seasonal pattern has been for generally better performance. So while we may or may not get further downside, if the pattern on this graph plays through as normal, it will pay to have a plan.

Bottom line: Seasonality is now positive for the S&P 500.

So where does all this leave us?

This week, well - there's probably 2 categories of charts:

1. Bears

The bearish charts included the downside breakout of the trend lines in market breadth and price, the ongoing headwind of the strong US dollar, the rolling over of corporate tax receipts, high valuations (particularly if you adjust for high profit margins), and a rollover of US margin debt. Taken together, these various factors all present a pretty bearish picture really.

2. Bulls

The macro factors are not presenting any warning signs, labor share of corporate profits is not in the danger zone yet, wage growth vs. the fed funds rate is in the sweet spot, forward earnings growth is accelerating in several key sectors, and seasonality is now positive. So overall at least a benign if not bullish picture.

Summary

This week's ChartStorm featured ample material for both bulls and bears. About half the charts look bearish and the other half look at least benign if not bullish. As to where this leave us, well, it just goes to highlight the challenging market environment at present: there are a number of warning signs out there, there are some bearish looking indicators and patterns, but at the same time, the presence of more benign indicators and even outright bullish factors make the situation ambiguous. In this environment, it pays to run a shorter time frame and to be intellectually flexible - you don't want to stubbornly hold to an extreme view and get left behind (either on the downside or the upside), so have a plan, watch the charts, and be flexible.

See also: Weekly S&P 500 #ChartStorm - 9 Oct 2016

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.