Saturday, January 23, 2010

Memories of the Panic of '08

For investors grown complacent by the steady grind upwards in stocks, the dramatic fall these past few days has certainly been a wake-up call. In the past three days, the Dow has fallen over 500 points. Gold is down $40, and the US dollar is surging. The impact in the news that these declines have been generating is somewhat reminiscent of September and October 2008. Is this going to be the beginning of the big fall? While I've been saying for a long time now that the stock market will eventually test and fail the March low of 666 in the S&P, until we see a decisive break downwards, I'm not holding my breath.

I've been bearish on the stock market for a long time now, even though the stock market hasn't been willing to oblige. At the very least, however, it did need a breather; the last correction was back in October. The SPX is down a little over 5% from its high, but a healthy correction often sees a 10% decline. In that case, we could see the market decline to around 1035. More realistically, I would look at 1070 first, which would match better with the previous decline, which was 6.5%, and forms a support level based on a trendline from the two previous lows.

Suppose the market bounces off 1070 and begins yet another rise. What could we expect then? One source claims a long-term reverse head and shoulders target of around 1200-1230, around 15% higher from 1070. I'm slightly skeptical of the justification used for this target (mostly because the volume doesn't really confirm), but we should keep an open mind. And if support at 1070 fails? Frankly, this market has been so (suspiciously) powerful that I won't become bearish until something dramatic happens. If the market breaks through the 200-day moving average, currently at 1007, then I'll reconsider, but until then, I'm begrudgingly bullish on the stock market, at least for the medium term.

Though commentators have been concentrating on everything from disappointing earnings to uncertainty surrounding Ben Bernanke's reappointment as the cause of the recent decline, perhaps the driving factor in my mind is the US dollar, which recently broke out of a flag formation and is surging upwards towards a target of 80-81. This has triggered a sell-off in commodities such as oil and gold, and consequently led to the stock market decline. Considering that we are only about halfway to the target (the dollar is currently at 78.23), I expect more pain ahead.

The recent dollar rise has certainly been the major factor in gold's decline, but gold has been consolidating since its peak of $1225 in early December. Gold is now down about 10% and is likely close to the bottom. However, there's still some room for it to fall, as both RSI and Stochastics are not yet into oversold territory, and it may be another week or two before gold finishes its correction. Bear in mind that though gold has entered into a seasonally weak period, winter overall is gold's strongest season. By the end of its run, gold should post an intermediate top much higher than the recent high of $1225.

Like gold, silver has been consolidating since its early December peak, though its movements of course have been more volatile. Currently at $17, I expect silver to fall a bit more from here, perhaps down to $16.50 or $16 before beginning its ascent. By the end of its run, possibly in April or so, it should easily take out its December high of $19 and perhaps even take out its 2008 high of $21.

Finally, gold stocks, as represented by the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), which is very similar to the AMEX Gold Bugs Index or HUI, have so far suffered a 23% correction from the December high. Stochastics have just entered oversold territory, and RSI at 34 is close to oversold as well. One source claims that the PM sector will likely take a breather of at least a few days before declining some more, and personally, it seems like GDX is serving as a leading indicator. Today, while GLD and SLV both fell, GDX actually slightly rose. GDX is currently at $43.79, but it might need to fall to around $42 or so before it can begin the next bull run.

Gold sentiment got a little too frothy in the past few weeks, but the current correction (which is merely the second part of the larger overall correction) should serve to bleed out bullishness. Gold stocks seem to be slightly ahead of the pack, leading the decline, so we should pay attention to GDX to see when the PM sector will renew its ascent. Silver is lagging gold both financially and temporally and has more to fall, but towards the end of the next bull run, it should begin to outperform gold, as it usually does before intermediate tops.

As noted above, the target for the dollar is 80-81, but I'm still bearish on the dollar over the long run. In the intermediate term, though, we should not discount the fact that the US dollar is still the world's reserve currency. If there is another financial crisis (and there are many looming problems to choose from: Greece, Japan, the UK, Spain, to name a few potential currency crises), we could see a repeat of the Panic of 2008, with a flood of money into the "safe haven" of the USD, causing a surge in the dollar index and Treasury prices and a collapse in stocks and commodities. If that should happen, and it will again one day, all bets are off.

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