A Sign Of The Times?February 15, 2013 @ 7:54 AM EST
This week, I attended the NAAIM (National Association of Active Investment Managers) conference in Dallas. I don't attend very many of these types of things because when you are on the road, it can be difficult to keep up with the nuances of the market action. And as long-time readers know, I'm kind of obsessed with staying on top of "the what" and "the why" of the market. As any conference goer can attest, the agenda, meeting schedule, and the impromptu gatherings in the bar that can easily lead into dinner and beyond, can all combine to keep you away from the market drivers. But the good news for me this week was that (a) I had a laptop going with a great internet connection the vast majority of the time and (b) not much happened while I was trying to keep our meetings running smoothly.
Although I think the conference wound up being pretty good in the end, it wasn't without a logistical challenge or two as one speaker missed their flight to Dallas, another was snowed in by Nemo, while another wound up with the flu. Thus, I spent more time than usual scurrying around this week figuring out who was going to go to the podium next. (And for the record, if you are an investment advisor and utilize anything other than buy-and-hope in your practice, you really owe it to yourself to check out NAAIM as it is a great organization full of great people. The website is www.NAAIM.org)
On the plane ride home yesterday, which was an adventure in and of itself since I discovered Wednesday afternoon that my flight was scheduled for MARCH 13th at 7:13pm and not February 13th, I finally had some time to return my focus on the state of the markets. And in short, I came to the conclusion that the action so far this week appears to be a sign of the times and perhaps a good summary of the environment.
The bottom line is this. Yes, stocks are overbought and I agree that the sentiment indicators are worrisome. In addition, I absolutely concur that stocks could pull back for almost any reason at almost any point in time here. But aside from the one decent down day seen on February 4th (where the S&P lost -1.15%), the market has ignored any and all bad news. Dips have been bought almost each and every day. And as such, the bears have been completely shut out of the game.
There is talk of the great "rotation trade" where the underperforming hedgies (and yes, the masters of the universe that charge "2 and 20" are, as a group, underperforming yet again this year) are said to be rotating out of bonds and into "risk assets" (which were once upon a time called equities or stocks). Heck even FINRA got into the act today by issuing a warning about bonds. In an investor alert, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. told investors that in the event of rising interest rates, “outstanding bonds, particularly those with a low interest rate and high duration may experience significant price drops.”
I don't know about you, but I'm of the mind that when regulatory agencies start telling the public that they could catch their lunch when rates rise, more than a couple managers might also be thinking that it just might be time to do some rotating themselves. And while I don't have concrete proof of "the rotation" the action in the SPY (SPDR Trust S&P 500 Index ETF) and the IEF (iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF) kinda says it all for me as stocks are going up while bond ETFs have been going down. Any questions?
Another sign of the times is the fact that the public appears to be returning to the stock market. While I wouldn't call it an avalanche of cash, the fund flows data clearly shows that Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public have been putting money into stock funds lately. As I reported yesterday, new highs in the stock market tend to beget more new highs - and fund flows are a big part of this. So, if the media continues to jump on the bull market bandwagon (yes, AFTER big gains - that's the way they "roll") then this trend could easily continue for some time.
Although I have started almost every day recently bracing for a big drop in stock prices (I'm fairly confident that the HFT gang still knows how to hit the sell button early and often if provided with a decent catalyst), the much anticipated pullback simply has not materialized. This despite the fact that just about every "fast money" trader on the planet has been calling for a correction for some time now. As such, I'm also going to call this a sign of the times.
And finally there was the move that Warren Buffett made yesterday. In case you missed it, Mr. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway teamed up with 3G Capital to buy HJ Heinz Inc. In what was reported as the largest food company acquisition in history at $28 billion, Buffett and friends provided HNZ stockholders with a one-day boost of nearly 20%.
Why do you care, you ask? For starters, understand that Buffett is a Graham and Dodd oriented "value guy." Therefore, even my simplistic mind can understand that the gang at Berkshire must have seen some value in the shares of HJ Heinz. And as the thinking goes, if there is value in 'them thar hills', then the M&A game might start to pick up again soon - especially if investors perceive that the risk on/off environment that has persisted over the last few years has now morphed into something a little less volatile.
So, is the overbought, buy-the-dip, environment ready to collapse? Or is the fact that stocks have not been able to pull back to any meaningful degree something to consider? Is the fact that the public is buying stock funds again significant? And should we see The Oracle of Omaha's move as a positive or a one-off? While I could certainly be wrong here and I'm certainly not going to override my models based on this assumption, I am thinking that all of the above is indeed a sign of the times - well, for now anyway.
Current Market Drivers
We strive to identify the driving forces behind the market action on a daily basis. The thinking is that if we can both identify and understand why stocks are doing what they are doing on a short-term basis; we are not likely to be surprised/blindsided by a big move. Listed below are what we believe to be the driving forces of the current market (Listed in order of importance).
2. The State of the European Debt Crisis
3. The State of "the Trade" (As in the "rotation trade")
The State of the Charts
While stocks are overbought and overdue