Sell equities


In late August, I wrote a post called “Getting bearish again” in which I said that the bear market rally I had anticipated back in March was long in the tooth.  At the time, I mentioned 1026 on the S&P 500 as a sell signal.  With the S&P 500 now well over 1060 and gains of well over 50% from those March lows, it’s definitely time to sell.

And when I say sell, I’m not talking about going overweight bonds or commodities by putting additional new money disproportionately in other asset classes – which is what you should have been doing in August.  I am talking about lightening up on equities and selling existing positions. 

Now, if you missed the rally, I’m sorry but, now is not the time to get in. And if you have been there from the start, remember, bulls make money, bears make money but pigs get slaughtered.

David Rosenberg sums up the logic.

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The S&P 500 is now up more than 60% from the lows, which is truly amazing and kudos to those who called it. But the question is whether the fundamentals will ever catch up to this level of valuation — usually after a 60% rally, we are fully entrenched in the next business cycle. Never before have we seen the stock market rise so much off a low over such a short time period, and usually at this state, the economy has already created over one million new jobs — during this extremely flashy move, the U.S. has shed 2.5 million jobs (as may as were lost in the entire 2001 recession).

Do you really think there’s huge upside here? After a 60% run to the upside?  Laszlo Birinyi does and sees 1200 before year end. I’d rather sit this one out. The downside is a lot greater at these levels than the upside. I would say lighten up on risk all around. High quality over low quality. Low beta over high. Consumer staples over discretionary.

But, if you are not going to run with the liquidity-seeking-return crowd and chase high beta and low quality stocks or high yield bonds, where do you put funds?  After all, Bernanke and company have made sure cash is trash by lowering rates to zero. 

Here are three ideas.

Government Bonds

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Has anyone noticed the yield on treasuries?  It’s falling. For example, a month before Labor Day on 7 Aug the 30-year yielded 4.61, the 10-year was yielding 3.89 and the 5-year got you 2.84 (see 2009 data here).  Today, we are looking at 4.18, 3.40 and 2.38 (data here).


Meanwhile the dollar is getting crushed – approaching parity with the Swiss Franc. Everyone is shouting “recovery, recovery,” as if that’s the reason that the U.S. Dollar is falling. So then, why are government bond yields exploding to the downside even while the U.S. government budget deficit spirals upward?  It doesn’t sound like the bond market is expecting a very robust recovery. Pimco, the world’s largest bond fund, is already in this trade. They have been loading up on treasuries of late – bringing them to their highest relative weight in 5 years.

Gold (or platinum)

As I see it, the U.S. is likely to use the U.S dollar as an escape hatch for a very intractable debt problem.  That is dollar bearish, but not necessarily bearish for U.S.-based treasury investors.  A scenario in which the Dollar tanks and there is a flight to safety in Treasuries is also one in which Gold could outperform at the same time. And Gold has also been surging as well, last trading well over $1000 at $1015.  If you like precious metals as a hedge against a dollar run, then platinum is a good bet as well as it has outperformed gold.

Out of the money puts

If you think this cyclical bull market (aka bear market rally) has legs like Laszlo Birinyi does, why not do a Taleb Black Swan trade via out of the money puts on Spiders (SPX) or QQQQs or some other broad market ETF?  This would be a hedge – and that’s all. The benefit of such a trade is that you don’t have to sell outright. And it is de minimis in cost right now. The VIX, a broader market volatility index, is at a one-year low. So, this insurance bet will cost you less.  But, the decrease in the VIX should also be treated as a contrarian indicator.


Breakfast with Dave, 17 Sep 2009 – David Rosenberg, Gluskin Sheff

Update: I just noticed that Barry Ritholtz has a post out discussing why he thinks markets can and will go higher. See his comments here.  He makes valid points  – based more on technicals than fundamentals.  On a fundamental basis, the market is overvalued. To the degree you hold Barry’s view that the rally will continue because of liquidity, then you would want to employ the Black Swan strategy I mentioned as a hedge against downside risk.

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