The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 549.95 points, or 1.62% on Tuesday after falling 725.81 points, or 2.1%, on Monday. This surge in volatility drove the VIX index (VIX – $19.73) over 25 earlier this week which was a concern to many investors, perhaps because many call the VIX the “fear index.” We are not surprised if the level of fear is increasing among investors given the spread of the Delta virus, the rich level of equity valuations and the potential of a change in monetary policy. However, the VIX is not a good short-term indicator in our opinion. It is actually most useful at the end of a bear market when fear is at its highest. VIX readings between 45 and 85 have marked recent bear market lows. This being true, a high VIX reading, particularly above 80, can denote a buying opportunity. See page 6. In comparison the recent readings of 25 are mild and are not a worry. Keep in mind that fear is emotional and often unpredictable, and this may be the message in the VIX’s rise – more volatility ahead. It has been our view that the second half of 2021 will be more volatile and is likely to include a correction of 10% or more.
In terms of technical indicators, we are more concerned about breadth data and specifically volume in advancing stocks. The last time the 25-day up/down volume oscillator showed strong and consistent buying pressure was when it recorded a single day in overbought territory on April 29. Prior to that there was a modest five consecutive trading days in overbought territory between February 4 and February 10. The February readings were a confirmation of the record highs made at that time. But since mid-February, there has not been any volume confirmation of recent highs. Currently, the 25-day up/down volume oscillator is at negative 2.19 after recording a negative 3.49 reading earlier this week. Monday’s drop to negative 3.49 was the first oversold reading since March-April 2020, or during the depths of the global pandemic.
In short, since early February, our 25-day up down volume oscillator has been showing us that as the indices were moving to new record highs, volume in advancing stocks was declining and volume in declining stocks was increasing. This is a sign of waning demand and/or investors selling into strength. The longer this non-confirmation of new highs continues, the greater the downside risk to the broader market. From this perspective, the recent selloff was expected and should be considered healthy.
Nevertheless, after any brief oversold reading, a bull market should rise to new highs and have an accompanying overbought reading. This demonstrates solid buying pressure. If not, and if a rally fails to generate a new overbought reading, it would be a signal that the major trend is weakening or changing. If a subsequent decline in the indices generates a second oversold reading without an intervening overbought reading, it would indicate that the major cycle has shifted from bullish to bearish. In sum, these are the scenarios that concern us. These are the patterns we will be monitoring in coming weeks.
In June, major inflation benchmarks were rising at hefty year-over-year rates: CPI 5.3%, PPI 9.4%, GDP deflator 2.0% (March), import prices index 11.2%, and import prices excluding petroleum 6.8%. And core benchmarks were CPI 4.5%, PPI 3.6%, and core PCE deflator 3.4%. In short, inflation is widespread, and as high, or higher, than it was in 2008 and it is not apt to end soon. This pressures current monetary policy.
Plus, easy monetary policy tends to fuel inflation and the real fed funds rate is already at an all-time low. Most importantly, stock prices have not performed well during periods of high inflation. In fact, the chart on page 3 shows that high inflation and stocks prices tend to be inversely correlated. Also noticeable in this chart is that high inflation tends to precede recessions. All in all, it is not surprising that fear is rising.
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