- The higher cost of foodstuffs, driven by a weakened dollar and perceived strength of global consumer demand.
- High energy and fuel prices also driven by weak dollar, anticipated global demand increases and Mideast unrest.
- The reluctance of companies to hire new workers, because of higher input and shipping costs and the need to meet elevated earnings expectations.
- No vehicle for the average consumer to hedge inflation (your house normally helps, but not so now).
Saturday, March 12, 2011
A Sharp Shift in Sentiment
It took scares in the Middle East for us to realize how overdone the U.S. equity markets have gotten. To date, according to my research, there have been NO major disruptions in supply; OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia agreed to absorb the 1.6 million barrel production of Libyan crude lost in its shutdowns. Libya represents less than 2% of global production. Yet oil is up over 30% in less than a month.
Please don't get me wrong; the uprisings and changes that are occurring in the Middle East are significant, both culturally and economically, and by NO means am I discounting them. A severe disruption in Saudi Arabia could have dramatic effects on supply, but that has yet to be seen. Many experts believe that we will not see a major disruption in oil coming from Saudi Arabia, which is the world's second-largest producer of oil.
But for all this geopolitical influence, there might be another factor contributing to higher oil prices -- and thus the market decline.
Has anyone thought about the dollar in the toilet as being at least a partial cause for the rally in crude? Remember 2008?
I do believe that the premiums in crude are warranted, just maybe not to the extent that they have been bid up. The EIA Projects that WTI (West Texas Crude) will be priced around $102 by the end of the year.
Let's translate what that might mean for markets.
Right now fear of a weak consumer with minimal discretionary income and rising costs all around him make it hard to justify higher stock prices. When the consumer starts to look healthy and the dollar continues to weaken, even when oil begins to spike, you may get a temporary boost in stock prices, but that rise becomes hard to justify when the consumer has no money to spend and is lucky to have a job.
Of course, it's hard to figure out who is the dog and tail in the current state of things. In my eyes, the consumer tends to be the dog and whatever forces pushing and pulling on him have ramifications that cross over into many different markets and sometimes have a boomerang effect.
The Boomerang and Technicals
The proverbial boomerang coming around right now has a several parts:
All this leads to less money for the consumer to spend, higher costs of living (inflation) and fewer jobs. When the market actually sees this reality (like it is now), stocks can move sharply lower.
When stocks drop, they begin to form patterns and change trend, like I showed you in the chart above. Sometimes this causes millions of technical analysts like me to sell my long positions and perhaps turn bearish.
A major violation that every investor should watch for is the S&P 500 breaking below its 50-day moving average. This is a signal for many short- to intermediate-term traders to sell.
At this point, until companies prove us otherwise, I would be extremely cautious about buying anything.
Earnings season kicks off April 11 -- If reports are strong, it will be salvation for the equity markets. But weak or even in-line earnings will further accelerate the change in trend that we are seeing.