Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Moment of Clarity

Just a brief update on what's been going on in my trading mind. I've been spending lots of time digging through websites, newspapers, old magazines, data tables from obscure economic sites, and books...books....books. Trying to wrap my mind around just where we are in the market cycle. But, I've only shared with you, my reader, the information I have found. Information that I believe is important in meandering through this confusing market. I have failed to share with you my true insights as to what this information means to me as a trader. What I'm going to do with this information. Truth be told, I couldn't share my insights because I was still processing the information through this slow brain of mine.

But, today, all that changed. Someone asked me after reviewing the business cycle chart posted on Sunday and Monday what I thought this meant for the market going forward. That was a great question and maybe because someone else asked me instead of myself...I was actually able to answer. Something I have not been able to do for about a month of processing. After answering the question...I received a moment of clarity. You know, when everything you have been trying to put together just clicks. So, I wanted to share my answer with you.

Part 1 of the reply to the question:
Thanks for the reply. Take a peek at another article I wrote, Canary in a Coal Mine. In the article, I'm attempting to paint the picture that we're in a boat similar to the 1970's. In particular I feel we're very similar to the 1973 - 1974 time frame. If you notice on the business cycle chart the contraction that followed the 1973 expansion lost approximately -9.33% in the Dow. I could see us losing about that much this time.

In fact, take a strong look at the business cycle chart. Take notice of just the 1969 peak through the 1973 peak. The 2001 peak through the current 2005 expansion is almost mirror image. What also has struck me lately is the similarity in the way stocks performed during those time frames. If you remember the late 1960's was the time of growth stocks. I believe small caps did very well (although I have yet to find performance statistics to support this). Then tough times and all that was left was the Nifty Fifties in the early 70's that then proceeded to finally kowtow to the bear in the 73 - 74 bear market.

Check out the Nasdaq composite and S&P 500 monthly charts and notice the strong sell-offs from the 2000 high. The Dow's plunge was relatively mild during the bear . In fact, during this recent expansion we almost hit new all-time highs in the Dow. The only difference between the 73 market and now is the 73 market did indeed hit all-time highs in the Dow before plunging into the bear.

Based on just this information...looks like tough times ahead.


Part 2 of the reply:
Another point I'd like to make in regard to the 1973 - 1975 contraction that
took the Dow down almost 10%. The Dow actually went lower than the 9.33%
figure. That's just where the Dow stood at the 1975 trough in relation to the
1973 peak. I figure we'll see something similar...in fact we've already
dropped almost 5% from the March closing high of 10,940.55 in the Dow.

What I'm trying to wrap my mind around is just exactly where we are in the
comparison. Is the March closing high the climax of this recent expansion?
Was the record company earnings in the last quarter of 2004 the peak? If so, I
believe the NBER will mark December 2004 as the peak for this current business
cycle expansion.

But, it does concern me that we haven't hit a new all-time high in the Dow. And
also concerting is the noticeable strength in the WLI from the ECRI. Along with
the somewhat flattening of the FIG. It could just mean the current expansion
has another year to go especially if inflation begins to stall here.


After writing those two replies my moment of clarity has come to this:
  • I believe we will see a new all-time high in the Dow this year. In fact, it could even be as early as May. This new all-time high will mark the peak of this current expansion and the bear will take us down much like the bear took down the 1973 all-time high and corresponding business cycle peak. 2006 could prove to be a great year to begin shorting the market.

  • I believe oil/gas stocks will continue the soft patch they are currently in. But, this will be short-lived. Oil/gas stocks are now in the sweet spot for investing. Almost a win-win situation. If oil comes down as it has been doing this week...the oil/gas stocks will surge due to their earnings potential in the coming quarter. If oil stays down...the market and this economy (our expansion) will continue to do well...thus setting us up for another run-up in oil prices down the road. Thus, benefitting the oil/gas stocks and their earnings potential even more in the coming quarters.

  • When I refer to oil/gas stocks, please note I'm referring to the US land drillers and some oil service stocks. Despite the positive press on the oil tankers...please be careful there. The tankers are facing a new ship supply wave coming in the next 3 to 4 years. In fact, 10,000 ocean-going tankers are due, more than 8,000 new containerships and at least as many standard bulk carriers. Plus, remember, in 1974 despite high and rising oil prices...oil tankers were taking a beating due to fuel costs and oversupply. And yes, I'm talking my book...I am long US Land drillers and a few oil service companies.

  • And yes, I'm long the Dow as of 2:00pm Central time today, Wednesday March 30th.

How's that for putting it out there? Could I be wrong? Hell yes! Any number of things could derail this plan of mine. The number one thing being Greenspan and a 50 basis point rate hike. But, trading is about putting a plan together and taking action. Then adjust as the action unfolds.

One last item. If there are any long-time readers of my blog...you're probably asking why I'm trading out of my systems so blatantly. I promised not to do that after the President Election fiasco. And you're right, I am breaking my promise. But, not how you think. My system trading has evolved and will continue to evolve. This is part of it. I will share more with you in coming posts.

Later Trades,

MT

* Note: the Dow lost over 40% in the 1974 - 1975 Bear Market from the 1973 all-time high.

* Note: the WLI is the Weekly Leading Index and the FIG is the Future Inflation Gauge. For an explanation of these indexes please check out ECRI's website and even read the great book, Beating the Business Cycle.

Please read the disclaimer on the website. This is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or trade securities. Just a journal of my travels through Wall Street. I can buy, sell, or hold any positions mentioned on this website at anytime. So, be warned.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Cumulative Knowledge (03/28/2005)

I'm a recent fan of Stephen Vita's Alchemy of Trading blog. What I most admire about the blog is Stephen's ability to write several posts daily, encompassing what all of us traders are feeling, while keeping it fresh and new. The conversations with hedge fund friend, Anthony from Brooklyn, are priceless.

On to the notes...

Inflation effects farmers too. Read here. Despite a banner 2004, farmers are being squeezed due to higher steel, energy, and fertilizer costs. Plus, banks are tightening the reins on lending money to farmers. With irrigation equipment costs rising 20%...farmers are opting out until prices hopefully decline. This hurts LNN and VMI. Despite the rising inflation, farmers still can't resist new tractor purchases.

China has doubled steelmaking capacity since 2000 and now accounts for about 30% of the world's total. In fact, China has become a net exporter of steel for the past few months.

The FAA is expecting the US to exceed 1 billion airline passengers by 2015 from a current 688 million in 2004. Most of the growth will come from regional/commuter airlines and international flights to Latin America. In fact, Latin America travel is slated to grow at a 5.5% annual rate. Read here.

US Drilling hit a 19-year high. Read here. Note most of the growth came from land drillers in North America. The Texas PetroIndex rose to 167.4 in January. Note the 43% increase from the 2002 low versus the 70% increase from the June 1999 low to the August 2001 high. Still more to go? Perhaps that's why Karr Ingham is forecasting the index will reach 182 by December 2005. Nothing like an economist laying it on the line.

For the last time...there is INFLATION! For the past few months I have come across more people than I care to count that do not believe we're in an inflationary environment. BALDERDASH, BALDERDASH, BALDERDASH! Possibly Greenspan's recent federal bank brick has hit most of these people in the heads to realize what's going on. If not, maybe this article on tuition cost increases will help. Reason for the tuition hike? Rising employee benefit costs, utilities, software, and hardware. Yes, software and hardware costs are rising. Have been for the past year. Wage inflation? Yes, via employee benefit costs. Do you realize it costs some teachers in Texas $1200/month to insure their family for healthcare alone? And if it doesn't cost the teachers...its costing the district and/or the state.

Rents low and House payments high? Read here. The differential is at its biggest since 1994 and by some accounts the biggest since the 70's.

Two-thirds of US adults are overweight or obese. Up to 30% of US children are overweight. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 25 years. Childhood diabetes has increased 10-fold in the past 20 years. In other words, life expectency gains could fall dramatically. Read more here.

Speciality hospitals have nearly tripled in number since 1997 according to the Texas Hospital Association. Of the 100+ speciality hospitals...nearly half are in Texas. This article must scare the bonkers out of physicians.

Arizona has won approval from the EPA for a proposed $2.5 billion oil refinery. This would be the first oil refinery built in the America in almost three decades.

Finally a word about the recent American Business Cycle chart I posted on Sunday. You should seriously check out the chart. Notice the most recent expansion/contractions. Definitely it seems the cycles are getting longer. I wonder if that has to do with the greater experience the Fed has with playing with rates in order to govern the business cycle? Anyway, here's a few tidbits from the chart...
  • Average expansion is 4.06 years.

  • Average contraction is 1.08 years

  • Average gain in an expansion is 64.39%.

  • Average loss in a contraction is -3.51%

  • The current expansion is working on 3.42 years...just shy of the average.

  • And the current gain under this expansion is a paltry 7.53%. In fact, the last time we had an expansion 3 years or greater and below an 8% gain was back in 1973. In 1973 we had a 3 year expansion coupled with a 5.57% gain.

And that's it from the TaylorTree where I wonder just what these financial shows are doing to my state of mind. Did I just use the word BALDERDASH?!? Thank you Jim Rogers. :-)

Later Trades,

MT

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Quick Post - Business Cycles

This chart reflects the peaks and troughs of the American Economic Business Cycle from 1919 - Present. Along with the performance of the DJ-30 during those times. But, please note that the 2001 - present is estimated since the NBER hasn't released data since the 2001 trough.

I wanted to get this out to you before I head out for the day. My daughter woke up this morning ready to hunt eggs and hasn't stopped yet. We're heading over to my aunt's house for a great Easter lunch and even more egg hunting for the little ones. I'll post commentary to follow the Business Cycle Chart later tonight or tomorrow. Interesting stuff!

Enjoy!

MT

Monday, March 21, 2005

Cumulative Knowledge (03/20/2005)

I'll admit...I've been lazy this weekend. After figuring out some pretty complicated programming stuff late Friday night at my day job...I decided to relax and kick back over the weekend. So, I watched TV, read some books, put off doing my taxes, and took my daughter to see the Robots movie. The movie was pretty good. Would have been really cool if we could have seen the Imax DMR version of the film. Still good nonetheless.

One thing I caught up on this weekend was Cramer's Mad Money show on CNBC. Were you like me and caught yourself rubbernecking to the show? It felt like I was watching a traffic accident in progress. But, in the end...the show works. Why, I have no idea. But, there is some value. If you can get past the corny highjinks, preachy tone, and bald headed crystal ball...the show comes alive when the viewer interaction begins. Granted it's a somewhat one-sided interaction...but interaction nonetheless. In fact, I believe the show's approach shares more in common with us bloggers than we care to admit.

Now on to the notes...

  • Almost 47% of U.S. food dollars will be spent in restaurants in 2005. In fact, the U.S. restaurant industry is projected to set a sales record of $476 billion in 2005. Could this be a boon for greasetrap cleaner DAR?


  • Need a job? Looks like a nationwide shortage in ultrasound field technicians. And a growing demand for Veterinarians.


  • Increased crop production raises land values, which pushes out livestock. So, if farmers are doing well with crops then they'll turn more land over to farming and less to cattle thus boosting crop production and limiting meat production.


  • Annual farmland price survey data from Iowa State University shows the average price for Iowa farmland surged 15.6% to $2,629/acre in 2004.


  • Top Oil producers in Texas here.


  • Texas ranks first in the U.S. for new corporate offices and expansions in 2004. Second on the list is Michigan. Last time Texas was first was back in 1992 when tied with North Carolina. Read here.


  • According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than 32% of mortgages are now adjustable.


  • Prisons are normally big landowners in the state they reside. Why couldn't they sell some of that land to satisfy the large state government budget crunches? Looks like Texas is already doing just that. Read here.


  • Did you know there's a 20% drop in household spending in apparel, decline of 18% in spending of food away from the home, a decrease of 10% on food at home, and 16% drop in owned housing for the ages of 49 - 59 years old? If spending drops for pretty much everything for these 49 - 59 year olds...what spending categories see increases? Healthcare is up 23%, reading material up 32%, and a small increase in entertainment spending. This research was performed by the BLS and obtained from the Economic Beat Column by Peter Francese at Barron's. What age bracket does the current glut of Baby Boomers reside? Ages 47 - 54 years of age.


  • An aging population means sluggish growth in output per person. Business profits will be pressured as profit growth is weighed downward and pension obligations rise. Plus, an influx of new workers, a.k.a...the Echo Boomers, and you've got a decrease in the average productivity of the employed labor force as happened in the 60's and 70's when the Baby Boomers entered the labor pool. A decrease in average productivity means higher unit labor costs and thus higher prices.


  • The fall of GM? Is GM a great buying opportunity? Or time to get out while the Titanic is sinking and the band plays on? Me? I'm avoiding GM altogether and watching the auto parts group. It's way too early to buy them right now...but another bad year like 2004 and things might get interesting. Already Japan and China are courting Delphi due to their low cost high quality manufacturing process. Could it be out of line that one of these countries buy a company like Delphi? I'm not smart enough to know. But, will continue to watch the group.


  • I've studied many trading styles. But, I'll be the first to admit...Elliot Wave has always been placed on the back burner for me. The reason? I don't like anything that changes the past. In essence, subjective viewpoints are tough for me to trade. I come from a programmer's background...junk in = junk out. If your input data can change on you then what is the validity of your output data? I fight this all the time in system development. So, to choose Elliot Wave techniques where counts can change based on something new happening...well...I didn't need something else to aggravate my system mind. This interview with Glenn Neely from Real World Trading changed all that. In fact, I have added this guy's book to my reading list. I'll be honest, I learned a hell of a lot from this interview. I like the guy's use of "violent" price action to end the old trend and start the new. I have used "violent" price actions in my trading systems to identify new long term trends so it's nice to see another viewpoint on this pattern. The guy forecasts a bottom in 2015 and then we'll see the most spectacular stock market advance in the history of mankind. In fact, the Glen goes on to predict all sorts of things from a reduction in government overhead, huge efficiencies in our medical systems, third world industrializations, gold still in a secular bear market that will potentially bottom in 2010, a period of deflation, and the 2002 lows in the SP500 & DJ30 will not be broken for the next 50 - 100 years. Please read more here.


  • Another great interview by Real World Trading...this time with Aaron Schindler. Aaron worked with Monroe Trout (one of the Market Wizards). I like his use of inter-market relationships in his trading systems. He gives a brief example of China and oil. The interview also covers some great backtesting topics similar to what GalaTime is currently doing with his covered call system. His comments on trying to be as quantitative as possible in your trades is great advice.


  • And finally, a good laugh. This article, though a bit out there, probably does shed some truth on the recent housing boom. The Testosterone versus Estrogen magazine covers highlighting the different manias (tech vs credit) had me laughing out loud.



And Jaloti, I'll work on getting my weekly posts out there a bit earlier than my always erratic late Sunday/Monday night postings. :-)

Have a great week!

Later Trades,

MT

Monday, March 14, 2005

Canary in a Coal Mine

Sudden changes in population have historically contributed to inflation. For example, the Black Death in England was a leading factor in the wage inflation of those times. In 16th century England, a population expansion fueled inflation due to the increased demand for goods and services. Thus, anytime a segment of the population expands significantly from a prior generation...be on the lookout for inflationary pressures.

The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 - 1964. They started college from 1964 - 1982. And assuming a five year average to complete their scholastic studies...they graduated in 1969 - 1987. While these figures provide insight...what we really need is to capture the center of the bell-shaped curve in this demographic segment.

Let's take the median of when the Boomers were born and that would be the 10th position in the yearly series which is 1955. These Boomers started college in 1973 and finished in 1978. Okay, we have a pretty good start here. But we still need to capture more of the meat in that bell curve. Try to find the heart of the demographic surge we really need to capture the standard deviation. But, that's too hard for this old country boy. I'm going to keep it simple and assume 1/3 from the median value both ways would give us what we need. With that in mind, we would obtain the following information:
Baby Boomers born: 1951 - 1958.
Baby Boomers Start College: 1969 - 1976.
Baby Boomers Finished College: 1974 - 1981.

Wow! Do these numbers freak you about just a bit? Back in 1969 thru 1981, the United States experienced a significant rise in young adults. I don't have the numbers on hand but I'm guessing probably a 20 million plus increase compared to levels from the prior generation. Granted all boomers did not attend college. But, from the years 1969 thru 1981, Boomers were flooding the US economy in more ways than one. Amazing that 1969 was the beginning year of when the glut of Baby Boomers turned 18 as well as the beginning tough times for the US Equities market. Equally amazing is that 1981 was when the majority of Boomers had finished college and flowed into the system. By that time the US had absorbed this new generation and the worst in numbers was behind them. In fact, the rapid expansion in commodities during the 70's due to these boomers coupled with a large, energetic, and young workforce....is it any wonder that 1982 was the start of the 18 year long bull market?

On to the Echo Boomers. You know, the kids of the Baby Boomers. I've written about them in past articles. These little darlings make up 1/3 of the US population just like their parents make up the other third. They already spend $170 billion per year. First to grow up with computers at home, cellphones, and the Internet. They also drink less, smoke less, and break the law less than prior generations. Teen pregnancy is also way down. These Echo Boomers were born from 1976 - 1995. Will attend college from 1994 - 2013. And will finish college in 1999 - 2018. The median year an Echo Boomer was born is 1985.5 and 1/3 both ways provides the following breakdown:
Echo Boomers born: 1982 - 1989.
Echo Boomers Start College: 2000 - 2007.
Echo Boomers Finished College: 2005 - 2012.

If the Baby Boomer numbers were amazing...these numbers should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Interesting bit of data in that the year 2000 marked the beginning of the glut of Echo Boomers into adulthood and at the same time the end of the 18 year bull market. Are we destined to follow the same fate from 2000 - 2012, when the Echo Boomers flood into adulthood as the 1969 - 1981 timeframe when their parents did the same? To answer that I performed some research at the local library.

I found several Business Weeks from the 1970's time period. The conditions described in those magazines mirror our current conditions. I figured 1974 was a great time period to study because we are 5 years past the beginning of the Echo Boom flood into adulthood. And 5 years past the same period in Baby Boomer history would put us in 1974. Here's what I found in the 1974 issues:
  • Several articles discussing rising oil prices and the talks of a bubble in those prices.

  • Rising commodity prices. In fact sugar, orange juice, silver, oil, cotton, and gold were the best performing assets in one issue.

  • Another article discussed rising oil prices and the fact that solar, wind, and more importantly the Canadian Tar Sands would kick in to fulfill the demand. Especially because the oil's recent price now made mining the Tar Sands a viable option.

  • Escalating higher education costs. Enrollment levels were increasing to levels never seen while state budgets were being cut. A situation that is happening now with our colleges.

  • A real insightful article on oil tankers and the surprise that everyone is having in their declining market conditions. With oil prices at all-time highs...why would their market be so bad the article asks. The article goes on to say several company CEO's placed orders for new tankers several months ago and now wish they could cancel those orders. Rising fuel costs and oversupply were the factors blamed in the tankers poor market conditions.


Keep in mind this was a 1974 Business Week. Kinda scary, huh?

Are we at the start of the next Bull market? Or will we be forced to spend until 2012 to absorb these young rascals into our US economy? Time will tell...but keep an eye on your faithful canary in the mine shaft. :-)

Later Trades,

MT

Thursday, March 10, 2005

System Test Questions

Kaushik from the GalaTime blog asked for my thoughts on his recent Covered Call system tests. First, I'd like to say I'm honored by Kaushik's request. GalaTime is part of my daily reads. Kaushik covers the options trading arena and uncovers some interesting information in the options data he mines. And being a fellow Texan doesn't hurt. :-)

So, check out his site and in particular his recent Covered Calls articles...part I, part II, part III, and part IV. You'll find my comments in part IV of the series.

One last thing, sorry again for failed postings this week. This has been a very busy week at my other job. Hopefully after tonight, things will slow down a bit and I can get back to market research and blogging.

Until then...

MT

Monday, March 07, 2005

Very Sorry

Planned to write a nice little post on market history and boomers but encountered several problems at work that had to taken care of. Sorry about this. I hope to resolve everything in time tomorrow to write the post.

Thanks for your patience.

MT

Nothing new

Sorry for no post this weekend. But, just got back from a trip to the Big D.

There were no new system buy or sell triggers this week.

Expect a new Cumulative Knowledge post tomorrow.

Later Trades,

MT

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Warren Buffett, the Greatest Trader?

It's about time someone wrote about how Warren Buffett truly achieves his eye-popping returns. Jim Altucher is the author of the new book, Trade Like Warren Buffett. I casually flipped through the book the other night at Barnes & Noble. A very thorough work Altucher has done and someday if I can catch up on my reading...I'll have to buy and read.

In the mean time, RealWorld Trading interviewed Altucher about Buffett and his new book. Read it here.

What I like most about the trading style Altucher outlined is Buffett's use of categories (Workouts, Generals, and Controls) to allocate his trading assets. The best part? While everyone thinks of Buffett as a long-term investor...50% of his profits came from the Workouts category. A category whose performance he described as "predictability coupled with a short holding period, produces quite decent annual rates of return." I guess, forever might not be his favorite holding period after all.

Also take note of the use of demographics in his trading. Buffett saw potential in a Gillette due to 3 billion people shaving everyday, thus a small blip in earnings would not impact the overall trend. Of course, other factors come into play. As Buffett is quoted...
  • "The investor of today does not profit from yesterday's growth."

  • "It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

  • "Great investment opportunities come around when excellent companies are surrounded by unusual circumstances that cause the stock to be misappraised."

Enjoy the interview!

MT