Time to take a “wide angle” view of this market to get our bearings on where we stand heading into this last quarter of the year. It has been a tough trading year for most hedging strategies as the “one way” up market has, so far this year, made alpha generation a very tough affair and beta chasing the order of the day. The outlook heading into year-end is book cased by two very strong arguments. As I mentioned above, there is no denying that many money managers are going into this quarter behind their benchmarks and the scenario for a year end “mark up” in equities could be a real catalyst for the bulls. The resolution of the extreme uncertainty that will come about by the outcome of the elections should also be supportive of a push higher no matter who wins the election. Business and markets in general can deal with a tremendous amount of obstacles but one thing that it often has trouble with is lack of visibility or uncertainty. Make no mistake about it, the outcome of the elections will make a huge difference in the market environment going forward but the difference is from “good to better” as opposed to “good versus bad” in my opinion. The effect on the economy going forward by which side wins the elections will be drastically different in my opinion but the market will deal with that in due course. The ever more dovish Fed stands ready with gazillions of dollar at the beckon call of financial markets and the “Bernanke Put”, which investors have come to rely on so heavily, stands ready to bailout markets. The recent throw the kitchen sink announcements of QE should provide ample liquidity which banks will gladly throw put to work in the stock market.
Against this rosy backdrop lies the ever worsening domestic and Global economies. The slowdown that started to rear its ugly head back in March of this year has escalated and the recent economic data points have been worsening. Today’s Chicago PMI was one of the worst reports I have seen in a while. The Fed had reason to go so big and if the data points are any indication, we may be headed to another recession in 2013. Corporate earnings are also on the downside and many companies have slashed earnings outlook for the 4th quarter which was heavily weighted in the overall projections for the S&P 500 year end EPS targets. This fundamental slowdown in earnings growth will weigh on a market trading near multi year highs.
Headline risks abound. The situation in Europe is far from over and markets are vulnerable to shock events from this crisis. Like it or not, this risk premium will be with us for a while and will keep multiples pegged to the lower extremes of the recent trend. The political brinksmanship we are sure to see in dealing with the fiscal cliff later this year will augment that headline risk premium as I am fairly certain it will be a drawn out affair particularly if President Obama wins re-election and the Republicans maintain control of the House.
Finally from a technical standpoint, markets are going into the quarter somewhat overbought. The one way move higher since early June had pushed the S&P 500 into real overbought levels at 3 standard deviations from its 34 week moving averages. This had not happened since early April of 2010, a period that was soon followed by a sharp pullback. We have backed off of this extreme over the past 2 weeks but could very well consolidate some more. From a price perspective we are right at the midpoint on the 1 standard deviation regression channel from the March 2009 lows and the recent highs. From this vantage point, a move lower is very probable and my first major downside target here would be 1375 on the SPX. The stochastic oscillator and the accumulation/distribution histogram have shown some signs that support this thesis.
So, from a broad perspective, there you have it. There are several compelling reasons to be either bullish or bearish here. Figuring out when to be either is the name of the game.
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