Among the biggest lies in the human language are (A)"I am from the government and I am here to help you", (B)"I will respect you in the morning" and (C) "It's different this time". It is last one I would like to explore in this article. During the first half of 2011, the market rallied on hopes of better job growth and accelerating economic activity. Those hopes carried the market forward until the Greek debt situation and disappointing economic growth caused the market to have a significant selloff in the summer. The market managed to rally late in the year to get the market back to basically even for 2011.
Early 2012 seems remarkably like early 2011, as the markets have gained closed to 10% in the first two months of the year. However, it is feeling more and more like the market is ready to stall and head south. Given the rally has shown greater strength earlier than in 2011, I don't think the markets will wait until summer to sell off this time. In fact, I think the day of reckoning is drawing near and it is time to start taking some chips off the table in advance of what could be a nasty downdraft ahead. Among the myriad worries the market currently faces are the following.
1. Gas prices have risen for 24 straight days and the prospect of much higher prices in summer looms. This should have a significant negative impact consumer spending and on high beta consumer discretionary stocks with stretched valuations like Under Armour (UA), Lululemon (LULU) and Ralph Lauren (RL).
2. The situation will get worse if the Iranian situation continues to escalate.
3. In addition inflation adjusted consumer income is declining.
4. The weakness in small caps over the last month is worrying as bull markets are usually led by this sector. The transport sector is also underperforming.
5. On the opposite end of the risk spectrum, social media IPOs like LinkedIn (LNKD) and Yelp (YELP) are showing first day run ups and massive valuations reminding many of the end of the internet boom.
6. Another sector that is under extreme stress are municipal and state finances. Numerous California cities are facing bankruptcy. Given the overspending that went on during the boom times and the moribund housing market, numerous municipalities should soon find themselves in similar situations. This will provide another headwind to the economy and job growth.
7. The situation in Europe is worse. Spain just announced that their deficit situation is worse than projected. Look for this to be a consistent theme over the coming months.
8. Unemployment and inflation are both rising in the rest of the eurozone.
9. The situation in Asia is not exactly peaches and cream either. In China, the government is rapidly diversifying away from the dollar. While good for my short treasury position (TBT), it does not bode well for interest rates on the margin.
10. India just posted its lower quarterly growth in three years (6.1%), it seventh straight quarterly growth decline.
Additional disclosure: Long TBT as well.