Rising Spanish Yields Troublesome
The recent strength in defensive assets, coupled with an uncertain bailout timetable in Spain, tell us to continue to manage risk closely. The "risk-off" trade may be returning to the Spanish bond market, which is not what the bulls want to see. According to CNBC:
Worries about Spain increased as the Bank of Spain said the economy fell "at a significant rate" in the third quarter and after protesters clashed with police in Madrid on Tuesday before the government's 2013 budget, due on Thursday.
"The more jittery the market gets about when Spain will seek aid the higher yields will go … The key will be whether Spain asks for a bailout before their yields surge," said Paul Robson, currency analyst at RBS.
On the chart of the Spanish 10-year below notice the higher high in yields made above the red arrow. While it may turn out to be nothing, a higher high is needed for a change in trend. If yields pop back above 6.00%, it would be a red flag for risk assets, such as stocks, commodities, and precious metals.
Defensive Assets Say "Be Careful"
The recent strength in defensive assets has been telling. Twitter acts as a de facto trading diary, allowing us to monitor changes in the market over time. The tweets below from the last four trading sessions refer to strength in defensive assets, such as bonds (TLT), consumer staples (XLP), and healthcare (XLV). These red flags were part of our rationale for taking profits off the table last week in silver (SLV), mining stocks (GDX), Spain (EWP), Italy (EWI), and the EURO STOXX 50 (FEZ). The second tweet below "we are skeptical until this changes" still applies; as long as defensive assets are the best performers, we will err on the side of caution. If defensive ETFs start to lag again, it will send a bullish signal.
In a recent video, we outlined numerous bearish concerns on the chart of stocks relative to bonds, or risk-on relative to risk-off. The chart of the S&P 500 (SPY) relative to intermediate-term Treasuries (IEF) below continues to say "be careful" with risk. The last three times Williams %R, a measure of momentum, broke below -20, it marked the onset of a period of weakness for stocks (see A, B, and C). We have a similar bearish break this week (see orange arrows). The chart below is as of Wednesday at 10:45 AM. Since it is a weekly chart, it could still "take back" the bearish signals before the close on Friday. Thus, it is concerning but some patience/open-mindedness is in order for the next three trading days.
Not A Time For Bullish Complacency
Over the weekend, we outlined our concerns relative to a possible topping process in stocks. After Monday's session, we described reasons to worry about Spain's bailout timetable and showed numerous risk markets that looked tired.
If the S&P 500 closes below 1,435 today, the door may be opened for a key test of support between 1,406 and 1,396 (see support near A below). The Relative Strength Index (RSI) may provide some help for a bounce in stocks (see B). Point C shows waning upside momentum in stocks, which is typically followed by more weakness. From a bullish perspective, MACD on the weekly chart below still has not deteriorated in a significant manner (see D). It is only Wednesday - we need to see how the chart below looks at the close on Friday. The current read is one of ongoing concern for risk.
S&P 500 Push Toward 1,490 Still Possible
If Spain asks for a formal bailout, risk assets could experience a sharp rebound. We remain flexible and open-minded, but with a high cash position until the markets give us signals to buy again. If the charts improve and the news from Europe allows, we are happy to jump back on the reflation train. Our shopping list includes QE2 winners such as silver, oil stocks (XOP), and mining companies (XME). A push toward 1,490 on the S&P 500 could be in the cards if Spanish yields calm down. The need for flexibility is evident in the lack of clarity relative to Spain. Posted on the Wall Street Journal's site September 26 at 8:00 AM:
Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is still not committing himself to request a bailout. Asked in a Wall Street Journal interview whether his government would apply for a financial bailout from one of the European Union's two financial-rescue vehicles, Mr. Rajoy said: "At the moment, I cannot tell you," adding that the government would need to see if the conditions attached to the bailout are "reasonable."
It is important to understand a topping process could involve a new high in stocks. If risk assets move higher with tepid conviction from buyers, then it is time to be very concerned. Conversely, if the next push higher is accompanied by a "start buying bonds" command for the ECB, strong volume, and confirmation from technical indicators, the QE2 winners may be the place to be.