Stupid Easy

This note was originally published at 8am on October 07, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid.”

-Charlie Munger

That’s one of the quotes Howard Marks uses to introduce his thought about what he calls “Second-Level Thinking” in his book that I just finished reviewing – “The Most Important Thing.”

People on Old Wall Street really don’t like being called stupid. They don’t like being called monkeys either. Both on the ice and in this Globally Interconnected Arena of risk management, I’ve been called plenty of names. It’s what gets me up in the morning.

Name calling isn’t nice. Neither is lying to people or blowing up their money. In some conflicted and compromised research report, this game looks gentlemanly. On the front lines though, this game is far from polite. It isn’t easy either.

Managing risk isn’t about getting a guy to call you with a whisper about this morning’s unemployment report. Neither is it about assuming we all know what we don’t know. It’s about embracing uncertainty, then considering scenario analyses, probabilities, and ranges. You don’t have to be a contrarian all of the time – but, some of the time, you need to play this game to win.

“Of course, it’s not that easy and clear cut … if your behavior is conventional, you are likely to get conventional results… Only if your behavior is unconventional is your performance likely to be unconventional.” (Howard Marks, The Most Important Thing)

Back to the Global Macro Grind

This morning’s setup across Global Macro is much more concerning to me than the one we were staring down the barrel of on Tuesday morning. Given that most of Asia and Europe was crashing and the S&P futures were trading at 1078 in the pre-market, that probably sounds like an unconventional thing to say.

Unconventional is as unconventional does. Covering shorts and buying that opportunity was too.

Today, after 3 consecutive days of The Pain Trade (short covering), all of Asia, Europe, and the US have rallied between +5-10% “off the lows.” The S&P futures are +5.9% from the YTD closing low (Monday, October 3rd 2011 = 1099), and if I had a Canadian Loonie for every email and tweet I’ve had that this US unemployment report is going to be “better than expected”, I’d pay myself for once.

I know. It’s unconventional for generals in this industry to eat last. It’s unconventional to be yourself instead of who you are supposed to be. It’s also been unconventional to have said Growth Slowing would be the 2011 call that needed to be made. If my behavior has sounded too “confident” or whatever it is that mediocrity calls success in this country these days, so be it.

Looking across my Global Macro factors this morning, here’s why I say start selling again today:

  1. Japan’s Nikkei’s 3-day rally failed at TRADE line resistance of 8777 and remains in crash mode
  2. Hong Kong’s rally failed at TRADE line resistance of 18,918 (Hang Sang) and remains in crash mode
  3. South Korea’s squeeze failed at TRADE line resistance of 1797 and remains in crash mode
  4. British banks are breaking down again and the FTSE remains in a Bearish Formation (bearish TRADE, TREND, TAIL)
  5. Belgium and Switzerland have taken over Europe’s negative divergences for this morning (big bank exposures for both)
  6. Russia’s Trading System Index rallied to another lower-high and is down -39% since April when US stocks peaked
  7. Oil prices remain in a Bearish Formation despite another bounce to lower-highs
  8. Copper prices remains in Bearish Formation despite a big short squeeze from a very newsy September oversold low
  9. Gold is now bearish TRADE and TREND for the 1sttime in forever with TREND line resistance up at $1673
  10. SP500’s TRADE, TREND, and TAIL lines of resistance (Bearish Formation) = 1182, 1237, and 1266, respectively

So that’s just the Top 10 unconventional calls you could have been making for the last 3-6 months. If you back this up to when we bought the Growth Slowing Trade (Long the US Treasury Flattener (FLAT) in February) you’ll see a lot of Global Equity prices put in their 2-year cycle peaks in February of 2011, not April.

And while its conventional to call out the SP500 as having “staved off a bear market” this week (because it didn’t violate the -20% crash signal; it was down -19.4% on Monday’s close), its unconventional to remind the bulls that Financials (XLF), Industrials (XLI) and Small Caps (Russell2000), have all crashed already in 2011 anyway.

Can the market rally on hope? For sure. It just did. But what do you do right now? If this unemployment number is better or worse than expected, my Stupid Easy hockey head answer will remain the unconventional one for 2011 – sell.

My immediate-term support and resistance ranges for Gold, Oil, and the SP500 are now $1602-1673, $75.92-85.11, and 1101-1172, respectively.

Best of luck out there today,

KM

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

Stupid Easy - bearish formation

Stupid Easy - virt. port