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Erik McCurdy
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Erik is the senior market technician for Prometheus Market Insight and has been performing chart analysis since 1995. The software program that he developed to monitor long-term stock market trends has correctly identified 92% of the cyclical turning points in the S&P 500 index since 1940.... More
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  • Technical Analysis Discussion Blog for February 2011 28 comments
    Jan 23, 2011 6:14 PM
    A place to discuss the markets from a technical analysis (TA) perspective.  Any market, any indicator, any internal, any signal. It's all fair game. Feel free to post your questions as well; one of us should be able to provide an educated answer.
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  • Hey Erik! Thanks for providing this space for discussions of all things TA.


    As you know, I'm addicted to doing technical analysis... I love it, it's my passion. lol But I have to admit, during the main bodies of the run-ups off the March '09 lows, there were several times when my work began to generate signals that a top was near. And more times than has ever happened before, they were either flat out wrong (which didn't happen all that often), or more frequently, the resulting pullbacks that they were detecting turned out to be far less severe than I would have expected.


    For example, consider this: Since the August low, the S&P has not once closed below its 30 day SMA for 34 consecutive trading days. That had never happened before in the history of the universe (82 years to be exact). That is, until Jan.20th when it closed below that moving average by about a millionth of a point. And during that entire run we have yet to see any correction that was allowed to exceed 1%. Needless to say, this situation is very unhealthy for any market, not to mention exceedingly dangerous. I have no doubt it's all by design though. In the Fed's wisdom and enthusiasm to paint the illusion that the world is once again wealthy, the manipulators have simply gotten wildly arrogant and very, very careless. They've just gotta know that they're asking for trouble here? I also have no doubt that the number of stops that by now must be just below this market are approaching mind-boggling status. And I also have no doubt that the manipulators are aware of those stops and are probably horrified by the sheer volume that awaits there. Ergo... no correction is permissible. I'd have to think that for those reasons, at this time any chances of a mild correction no longer exist.


    Anyway, back to the TA. In the past 6 months my very best indicators, comparisons, relationships, market internals analysis... all of it, had issued signals that a correction was imminent back in early August and in early November. In both cases, I felt that all my technical work had suddenly become useless, because the 'corrections' turned out to basically be a joke. The real truth of the matter though, is that it was really only my own expectations of what a correction should look like that was incorrect. Well, I probably wasn't incorrect in my expectations, because to expect a 5-7% correction after a 35% run-up is quite normal. It's just that this time, such a reasonable correction simply wasn't allowed to evolve as it surely should have. No use lamenting that issue though, nor considering my work as a failure. The fact is that my own work 'did' detect both corrections.


    And now they're flashing the signals one more time, and this time accompanied by all kinds of bells and whistles, Interestingly (and I should have been looking for this more carefully), many of these indicators themselves now sport internal wave patterns that resemble Elliott Wave structures. They too are very suggestive that a top is probably in. I'm gonna say it... I think some sort of top is in. The Russell... well there's not much doubt about that one. The NAS seems ready, willing and able to follow suit and drop from here. The S&P on the other hand remains stubborn while the Dow.... well it's the DOW, the bellwether, the illusion machine. I don't even consider the DOW as a valid indication of anything anymore. Having said that though, these divergences between the blue chips and the small caps are one of the hallmarks of a Dow Theory non-confirmation... another old and honored signal from decades back that a top is likely in.


    We'll see how it all unfolds, but from where I sit, we're headed lower for a while. And no... I'm not forgetting about the power of the Fed to manipulate the market toward infinity (which is quite illegal but apparently that's beside the point). It's just that even a den of demons can only push on a string for so long and expect miracles to happen.


    Thanks again for providing this space Erik. It'll be interesting to see if any others chime in with their findings. All the best my friend.
    23 Jan 2011, 09:41 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Great to hear from you AR.


    "Since the August low, the S&P has not once closed below its 30 day SMA for 34 consecutive trading days. That had never happened before in the history of the universe (82 years to be exact)."


    The rally off of the September low is about as overextended as short-term moves can get, suggesting that the next correction will be fast and furious. However, when advances become this speculative, they have a tendency to continue creeping higher and becoming even more overextended until reaching a breaking point, which usually occurs as a result of an unexpected catalyst. I'm not sure if you have spent any time studying physics, but there is an idea known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. In quantum mechanics, it basically indicates that the more information you have about one characteristic of an electron (e.g. position), the less you have about another (e.g. momentum). This principle is also applicable to the stock market. The more certain a development becomes (in this case, the start of a likely violent correction), the less that can be known about when it will occur. The reversal is coming, but little can be known about the timing.


    "In the past 6 months my very best indicators, comparisons, relationships, market internals analysis... all of it, had issued signals that a correction was imminent back in early August and in early November. In both cases, I felt that all my technical work had suddenly become useless, because the 'corrections' turned out to basically be a joke."


    Whenever I find that normally reliable indicators are consistently failing (in that they are not producing forecasts with their usual statistical confidence), I always find that it is useful to step back and review the big picture. The cyclical bull market from early 2009 is a reaction that continues to be defined by the market crash that preceded it. Take a look at the monthly chart of the S&P 500 in this article:



    True market crashes are exceptionally rare. The last one prior to 2008 was in 1974, a whole generation ago. TA functions the best when market moves are orderly and obey the "speed limits" of price action. Crashes are disorderly processes that throw the whole system into proverbial chaos, causing TA to become less reliable. The rally off of the 2009 low is a response to the overreaction of the crash, and it is thus exhibiting similar characteristics (e.g. price action is becoming extremely overextended in the direction of the trend). Take a look at price action during the secular bear markets of the 1930s and 1970s for similar market behavior. For right now, the cyclical bull market remains in control, but volatility should continue for the foreseeable future, driving extreme moves both higher and lower.


    "And now they're flashing the signals one more time, and this time accompanied by all kinds of bells and whistles, Interestingly (and I should have been looking for this more carefully), many of these indicators themselves now sport internal wave patterns that resemble Elliott Wave structures. They too are very suggestive that a top is probably in. I'm gonna say it... I think some sort of top is in."


    My indicators are also indicating that a reversal has become more likely at this level. Check the Cyclical Trend Score (CTS) graph in the article from above:



    The CTS has been negatively diverging from the S&P 500 for two months now, and it started rolling over last week. Of course, it is always important to remember that a top is a process, not an event, so we will have to wait for the reversal to be confirmed by the usual technical breakdowns. We haven't seen any quite yet. However, when this next downtrend does finally materialize, it should be fast and furious.
    24 Jan 2011, 02:09 PM Reply Like
  • The next 4 days the FED via POMO will spend $32 Billion. So what will the impact be? How long can the FED continue to prop the market up without a correction?
    23 Jan 2011, 10:04 PM Reply Like
  • Jeff, this particular run of POMO operations goes for about 21 days straight of monetization and market(s) manipulations.


    Tomorrow will only be day 6 of this particular streak. But as we saw in November, POMO days can be going on full tilt and the market can still drop. No question about it though, if weren't for all this lovely sugar from the Banana Ben liquidity machine, the market wouldn't be anywhere near where it is currently.


    If we're to assume that the market can never drop as long as the Fed is willing to purchase it, then we all might as well just close the textbooks and jump all in. But that's just not gonna happen. For one thing, the bond market has a whole lot to say about where the POMO money is going to end up and if Ben the Rat isn't careful, China's going to continue dumping bonds faster than the Fed can soak them up. I'm of the belief that the signals we're seeing from market internals (and an absolute myriad of other indications) are simply not lying. If the market is rising but at the same time more and more stocks are hitting new 52 week lows, and more and more stocks are falling below their own 50 day averages, then a correction is imminent. The NYSE 'cannot' continue to rise if only 34 stocks out of 3000 are higher on the day and 2966 are lower. I'm exaggerating of course, but you get my point I'm sure. Bernanke's not fooling anybody. At least he's not fooling me or any other technician who simply looks into the market's innards. It seems undeniable... it's in the early stages of falling apart.
    23 Jan 2011, 11:07 PM Reply Like
  • its all psychological. if you check the books you'll see that qe2 has dumped a bunch of freshly minted fiat into bank reserves. the reason stocks are up 20% since september is bernanke's ridiculous remarks claiming its the Feds job to prop up equity markets. the lemmings still believe the ridiculous "dont fight the fed" mantra and think if bernanke says qe will drive an unstoppable bull market in stocks it must be so. the story never changes and the sheep will be fleeced yet again (and again and again and..........)
    24 Jan 2011, 08:04 AM Reply Like
  • Albertarocks,


    I agree with you. I know the market will drop, and it will probably drop harder than most will expect due to the FED manipulation that has taken place. Everyone is on edge with tight stops. How fast will those tops be taken out when the market does begin its decline.


    Point I was making is that traditional TA is somewhat discombobulated at the moment with the manipulation. TA said the market would decline in the fall but it didnt.


    Wont take much to crumble the support. One significant event taking place anywhere in the world.
    24 Jan 2011, 08:11 AM Reply Like
  • Right you are my friend. I agree with all you said.
    24 Jan 2011, 11:14 AM Reply Like
  • You're right about the "don't fight the Fed" mantra mrvulture, but this time according to respected economist David Rosenberg, fighting the Fed just might be the thing to do. My view has been that the world has to go through a period of severe deflation in order to unwind decades of wild spending. I think it's gotten to the point where even paying the interest on all the global debt is becoming nearly impossible. The global credit card is maxed out and the Fed has simply gone insane... offering more credit to an entire globe who can't even pay the interest on the debt they already owe. Rosenberg seems to see it that way as well. He had this to say before Christmas, but it's still as valid today as it was then:



    Oh... and about the "fleecing", you got that right!
    24 Jan 2011, 11:23 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Hi Jeff,


    "Point I was making is that traditional TA is somewhat discombobulated at the moment with the manipulation. TA said the market would decline in the fall but it didnt."


    It is always important to remember that TA is a tool, not a crystal ball. There are no certainties in the financial markets, only possible scenarios and their associated probabilities. At the beginning of 2010, our computer models forecast the development of a long-term topping scenario in the stock market, and that top formed almost precisely as anticipated:



    However, the long-term breakdown was never subsequently confirmed by a return to (and close below) the June low. As you note, that topping formation was unambiguously bearish with a relatively high degree of statistical confidence. In this case, though, the low probability scenario came to pass and the cyclical bull market broke out to new long-term highs.


    One of the reasons that I always develop the two most likely scenarios (one "bullish" and one "bearish") is to keep my analysis balanced. It is all too easy to become fixated on one potential outcome and thereby become vulnerable to curve balls (in the form of low probability scenarios that have been completely discounted).


    As you note, the speculative rally from September is extremely fragile and it wouldn't take much to knock the legs out from under it. Whenever it occurs, the next meaningful downtrend should tell us a great deal about the health of the cyclical bull.
    24 Jan 2011, 02:25 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » The fundamental analysts are all comfortably on board the "strengthening recovery" thesis, and earnings and S&P 500 12-month targets are now through the roof as a result. Meanwhile, TA continues to be viewed as tea leaf reading by the mainstream, even though it has consistently outperformed FA during the past century.


    As you know, I am a Dow theorist, meaning I believe the price action itself knows more about future direction than anyone or anything else. The market is a discounting mechanism that reflects both the best fundamental data available along with sentiment, providing the most complete picture available from a forecasting perspective. TA has accurately identified all of the major market turning points since the secular bear market began in 2000, while FA has missed most of them. In fact, let's take a quick look at the last two such inflection points.


    In mid 2007, TA suggested that a long-term reversal was imminent sometime during the next several months:



    A double top subsequently formed during the second half of 2007 and the new cyclical downtrend was confirmed in early 2008 when cyclical uptrend support was violated:



    What was consensus FA saying in 2007? That earnings would continue growing in 2008 and the S&P 500 would gain another 15% to 20%. The assumption was that the downtrend from 2000 to 2002 was simply a correction in the ongoing bull market from the early 1980s. Many fundamental analysts don't even acknowledge the existence of secular cycles, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage. If you can't see the big picture clearly, your analysis will often be completely misaligned with the most dominant trend. Without proper context, any form of analysis will produce unreliable forecasts.


    Now on to the March 2009 bottom. In early 2009, TA clearly indicated that a market crash was in progress and that price action had moved much too far, much too fast, setting us up for a massive cyclical reaction:



    The Citigroup announcement was a textbook catalyst that set the entire process in motion. With stocks historically oversold across all time frames (monthly, weekly and daily), TA strongly suggested that a strong rally would follow. Of course, a similar signal had been produced in November 2008 as well, one which ultimately proved to be invalid, but it also provided plenty of warning that it was not to be trusted after several weeks. As for FA, it was predicting additional doom and gloom in early 2009, just as the buying opportunity of a generation was developing.


    Of course, the 2007 top and 2009 bottom are only two examples of long-term inflection points being correctly identified by TA, and there are plenty more throughout history. The 2000 top was clearly telegraphed by all manner of technical and internal indicators even as consensus fundamental analysis (in the grips of a textbook mania) forecast that a new "plateau" had been reached and this time it was different. Meanwhile, our Secular Trend Score suggested it was the worst time to buy stocks from an investment perspective since the market crash in 1929:



    Of course, it is human nature to have a short memory, and those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. I will continue to maintain a focus on the big picture and keep using the methodology and tools that have served me so well during the past 15 years.
    24 Jan 2011, 02:56 PM Reply Like
  • what does you secular trend score look at? just pe ratios or something more?
    24 Jan 2011, 09:21 PM Reply Like
  • its all about addressing the debt. once it becomes this excessive there is no cure except to pay it down. central banks can play musical chairs for a while but eventually the music will stop and the piper will have to be paid (nothing like mixing up some metaphors).
    24 Jan 2011, 09:23 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Vulture, the STS is calculated using a large basket of broad market data including fundamentals (e.g. earnings, dividends), technicals (e.g. momentum, price oscillators), internals (e.g. breadth, volume) and sentiment.
    24 Jan 2011, 11:49 PM Reply Like
  • Hey Erik, here's some evidence that a the vast majority of investors don't bother to look into. There are just so many indications that a top is imminent, many of them being other than the good old standard momentum indicators and their neg. divergences, etc. For example, the Aussie/yen cross and the ratio of consumer staples/consumer discretionary (XLP:XLY). Neither of those two actually diverged with the market today but overall they're definitely swinging, meaning a top in the markets is most likely imminent. Both of these have an extremely high correlation with the S&P. Another one which I haven't mentioned here yet (or on any site for that matter lol) that has a very solid track record in forecasting tops and bottoms is the ratio of $UST:JNK. If that ratio rolls higher (which it seems to be in the process of doing) the markets will drop beyond question. What it discloses is that money starts to flee the higher risk domain (junk bonds) and goes into safer investments (10 yr. treasuries). That's a signal for "risk off", no question about it, so it just makes sense that this indicator rolls up when the market rolls lower. This is almost assuredly what's happening right now.



    Essentially the picture of this ratio is an inverse of what we're seeing on a chart of the S&P. Does this mean the market can't melt higher? No, but these types of ratios are all saying the same thing, "listen folks, money is fleeing higher risk assets and going into safer investments. Buy the dips if you want to, but I'm here to show you... the big boys are moving out of higher risk right now."


    I'm not offering specific advice here but I personally don't need to see any more evidence than this. Because one of two things is going to happen. Either the market sells off, or all these indicators have to change their minds and start to regain their original momentum in support of higher stock prices. Of course, anything is possible. That 'could' happen but until it does, these things are well on their way to confirming that the "risk off" mentality is emerging. But as we all know... we have to see it actually happen. It sure looks like these indicators are saying "it's in progress".


    For what it's worth!
    31 Jan 2011, 06:14 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » AR, yes, as you know my computer model just issued a short-term cycle high signal on Friday, suggesting that a 2 to 3 week downtrend has begun. From a big picture perspective, I will be more interested to see what happens after that initial decline ends. If the subsequent reaction is relatively weak, we could be looking at another topping scenario. The next month is shaping up to be an interesting one...


    31 Jan 2011, 08:38 PM Reply Like
  • What do you mean "after that initial decline ends"? Don't you mean "if" that initial decline ends? lol


    I just can't see how it can be gentle now. More of a 'rip the peasants' faces off' kind of deal. What I'll be most interested in is the speed of the decline and the shape of it. Volume? I'm not even concerned about volume because we already know what that's going to look like. Enormous! But I'll sure be watching to see if it turns out to be a 5 wave pattern or a clear 3 wave corrective thing. And where it finds support will be very telling. So it's going to be interesting for sure.


    I gotta tell you the truth, it's getting to the point where I'm really becoming disappointed with humanity... buying into the notion that Bernanke is god and that by golly, he's going to save the world after all. It absolutely infuriates me to be honest. But that's why I came here today... I needed somebody to cool me down. Just to see that you are seeing things much like I am makes me fell a hell of a lot better. For a while there Bernanke almost had me convinced that I'm stupid... a concept that I've never been confronted with before. But I'm over it now. lol
    31 Jan 2011, 09:53 PM Reply Like
  • Don't feel bad, rocks. It appears we are in absolutely uncharted waters with an absolutely unprecedented intervention. I don't see how any of the distortions and imbalances that have occurred as a result are in even the prop desk models. It simply seems that as long as QE-Infinity is in effect, you must buy even every miniscule dip - if you choose to play. In fact, the Fed has not minced words about this mandate. I am painfully reminded soon after every time I act on a technical sell signal. Forget about the massive underemployment, the bloated housing inventory, the percolatating stagflation - despite the fraudulent PPI/CPI. And how does one explain the ISM PMI?????
    Maybe plain old cash is the best position until things start to make sense. Oh yes, and Silver Eagles and Canadian Mapleleafs.
    1 Feb 2011, 08:31 PM Reply Like
  • Thanks for the vote of confidence razor. After today's mindless ramp based on ???????? I just have to shake my head in disbelief. I don't know what else to say other than that there are a myriad of indications that a top has to be nearby. But today's advance was on very, very good breadth. I'm just dumbfounded. By the way, stick this site in your 'favorites'. I really like their realistic take on things, often with analysis that we don't normally see. I think it's a good one:



    And how do you like this chart? lol

    1 Feb 2011, 09:03 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Don't forget about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as it applies to financial market behavior: the more certain a given outcome (e.g., an impending violent correction), the less that can be known about when it will happen. I'm keeping a close eye on the cycle analysis. The short-term move from the end of November is already older than 90% of all short-term moves, so the turn could happen any day now.


    As for this chart:



    It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, although I don't think it is in the fat part of the bell curve. We'll see.


    BTW, SA, how do you like the new format of the daily commentaries?
    2 Feb 2011, 06:08 PM Reply Like
  • I've been enjoying the new format, Erik. But I holy smokes, I sure wish the STC, ITC and LTCs were more in synch. Talk about analysis paralysis! As such, I've decided that my retirement funds will remain in 90% cash until at least the ITC reset button has been pressed - though I fear that could be years. I do like the new FXF hedge in the model portfolio.
    It's tough to trade now with everything so overextended. PMs have pulled back nicely and I have started to nibble on the miners again. But man, with the dollar flat on it's back, that could go sour fast if there is a meaningful reaction bounce in $US. On the other hand, a glimpse of armageddon shown on Friday suggests that $US and PMs could rise together very rapidly.
    Paradoxes and contradictions everywhere! Ugh!
    2 Feb 2011, 07:50 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks, razor, I didn't know you were a subscriber. How long have you been reading? Yes, secular bear markets always make for a... challenging investment environment. The next LTCL in stocks is due in late 2012, and we will just have to see how far we get before the current cycle tops. I continue to expect stocks to lurch up and down for the next several years. We will know when we have reached the final phase of the secular decline, as multiples will become compressed, volatility (long-term) will virtually vanish and the investing public will lose interest in stocks as an investment class. We are still a long way from there.
    3 Feb 2011, 07:54 AM Reply Like
  • Well I'll be damned! A couple of heavy hitters are finally coming out with some numbers that at one time were denied, then ridiculed and thought absurd. But finally Bill Gross has the brass to come out and say it, that Fed intervention and manipulation (via the POMO funds and even 'prior to POMO') accounted for a whopping 4000 DOW points out of the entire 5500 point gain off the March lows. And "Nomura Securities’ Bob Janjua estimated earlier this week that QE2 has been responsible for 250 points of the S&P 500 rally since late August 2010."



    Gotta love it when heavy hitters like these guys come right out and say it. Wonder why they didn't do it earlier? Because the top wasn't even close earlier. I'm serious about that! Why on the same day, a day when there's a hint that POMO may be ending, do these two guys come out and make two admissions about the whopping effect that Fed meddling has had in the markets? I'm certainly going to accept it as a warning, since I'm sure that's the reason these statements were made. As far as I'm concerned, statements like this which conveniently seem to emerge at a time when technical indications suggest this market should roll over yesterday are more than just coincidence. We shall see! Perhaps one final tiny thrust higher... and maybe we don't even get that.


    2 Feb 2011, 07:43 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » AR, the vast majority of STCs last less than 43 trading days. The current cycle from November 30 is older than that and it hasn't even topped yet. The previous cycle was much longer than normal as well. It has been mainly thanks to Bernanke. When a Fed chairman comes out and publicly announces that it is his job to inflate stock prices, you develop this type of short-term speculative mania, and psychologically driven moves have a tendency to last longer than they "should." CA has been doing a very good job lately, even amidst this insanity. The next short-term high is close, probably less than a week away. Once the next correction develops we'll be able to get a better feel for the health of the cyclical advance from 2009.
    3 Feb 2011, 08:07 AM Reply Like
  • Oh poor little elitist equity market toy! The DOW "plunges" 150 points on the first day of non-QE. Can't have that - heaven forbid! It's on to QE-infinity.
    3 Feb 2011, 08:08 AM Reply Like
  • Have to agree with all you guys, and especially RazorThin when he says we are in uncharted territory because of the unprecedented intervention. When the smoke all clears eventually, perhaps we will have a sane discussion nationally of what the Fed mandate is. If it is just to goose the markets when they SHOULD be going down, then we can get rid of the International Banking Overlords for good. (Declining markets are needed; declining prices are vital, to reassert more balanced values, and knock euphoria out of the markets. However, there is a faction, usually a faction that has power, that believes that only GOOD NEWS should be allowed, and that all negative thought, price action, and persuasions should be banned -- that God wants prices to go up; and God wants those people to get rich. Everything else is some kind of demonic worship.)


    TA (I've been developing a studying for years) -- my own TA I should say -- is NOT clear now. Last year I expected top after top and nothing happened. It was as if the high-wire act fell into a net that was positioned about 5% below the trading line. The net, of course, was Mr. Bernanke and his money (not HIS money, in fact).


    I follow a basket of indexes and look at charts of them every day. American and European indexes are looking very strong at the moment -- I see no indications of a breakdown here. Emerging nations are not so strong.


    It's strange to see country ETFs for countries like Ireland and Spain, trading in a relatively tight range, consolidating. They should be crashing and staying crashed, except big money is neutralizing their decline. It's also strange to see commercial real estate ETF's continue to show strength, ignoring what everyone else knows to be true: they've topped from an 18 year cyclical run-up and face more and more pressure from here (the party being over).


    Bernanke's ilk believes that keeping stocks propped up will keep Americans hopeful, positive, and spending. This is really their only card to play now. Bernanke says QE 4 is really possible. We see food riots around the world, and social upheavals caused by inflated commodities, and Bernanke thinks another bubble is really what people need.


    A top will come eventually, and we will probably mostly not be ready for it, having been lulled into believing that Might Mouse will take care of everything. There aren't enough sellers now -- however, in a thinly-traded market, sellers can appear quickly: when prices fall, there are no traders to keep the auction orderly, and prices fall swiftly. Then panic selling hits.


    Notice how Egypt has hardly affected world markets. Notice how sovereign debt collapses in Europe and the prospect of US state bankruptcies have done nothing to affect the euphoria of world markets. That's Denial. And, yes, I have to say it, given the context: and Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
    3 Feb 2011, 02:46 AM Reply Like
  • Can you say hyperinflationary depression? There can be no other end result in my mind. Just wait until this period of "deflation" (LOL!) ends!
    3 Feb 2011, 08:00 AM Reply Like
  • we seem to be awful close now. I suspect the turn could come any day. wonder what unexpected news event will set the whole thing off. we should start a pool.
    6 Feb 2011, 01:29 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Continued on the March blog:

    2 Mar 2011, 03:58 PM Reply Like
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