Trading Gold?

By my math (using my immediate term duration model), gold has now had a 3 standard deviation move. While “Fast Money” may indeed buy high here in hopes of selling higher – hoping and praying is not an investment process that is repeatable. If I am right in that the US market is setting up to lock in another higher low, the last thing you want to be holding at this level in the SP500 is a bag full of gold.

Below I have painted a dotted red line whereby you can short Gold for an immediate term “Trade” – at effectively any price north of $973/oz, the risk associated with being short gold actually goes down, in the immediate term. You can cover at the green dotted line ($927/oz). This isn’t a huge projected return, but it pays for lunch.

I understand and support the bullish case for gold as a safety currency – I have been pitching that for the better part of a year. The intermediate “Trend” line of support for gold is all the way down at $886/oz however, and we need to be mindful of that. I will likely buy it again down there, if I am so lucky to see that price. In the meantime, don’t confuse the hype with the reality of the math. Gold, right here and now, is overbought.

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

Buying/Covering: SP500 Levels Into The Close...

Today feels like we’re playing that game where we have the banker sitting on the stool of the dunk tank. Lift him up, then drop him… lift him up, then drop him… and all the while Bloomberg TV is talking about ways to play the “double and triple down” financials ETFs… the groupthink that’s taken hold of this market is borderline sad.

While it may be their goal to entertain, this is not a circus… and shooting fish in a barrel on the short side is not going to last forever. Below I have outlined the possible depth of the water that remains in that proverbial dunk tank (shaded green like the oceans that Allen Stanford is probably sailing on right about now) in the 752-790 range.

If you can’t be buying and covering in this SP500 range, you probably think the apocalypse cometh – good luck with that – that’s not the unique thought that it was 12 months ago.

I have invested another 9% of the Cash I was holding in the Asset Allocation Model, dropping Cash down to 58% of the Model Portfolio.

Buy low… for the immediate term Trade up to the dotted red line at SP500 831.

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

Eye On Taiwan: Man Down!

GDP data for Q4 2008 confirms that the bottom has fallen out for the island Republic…

Taiwanese GDP released today for Q4 2008 showed a year over year contraction of -8.36%, marking the worst recorded performance for the economy of the ROC, declining more sharply than during either the post tech bubble recession in 2000-01 or the drop in 1974-75 following the end of US involvement in Vietnam.

The Central Bank’s reaction to the data was a 25 basis point cut reducing the benchmark 10 Day Loan Rate to 1.25%, the seventh cut approved by the Board of Governors in the past four months.

The government stimulus program unveiled last year includes 320 billion TWD to be spent on public works projects in 2009 but, with global demand contracting at a such a sharp pace, there seems little doubt that ultimately the driving force for recovery in the export dependent island economy will be measures taken in Beijing rather than Taipei.

As “Panda diplomacy” softens the road to closer ties with the mainland, the hard ideological divide of the past will likely give way to further pragmatic trade agreements like those adopted late last year which opened the way for direct shipments to mainland ports for the first time.

Andrew Barber


Not all European economies are created equal…

It now appears clear to most observers that the European recovery will lag America’s as the difference in economic resilience of the various continental economies become more apparent and the cracks in the European Union become more pronounced. GDP figures released on Friday by Germany, Europe’s largest economy posted Q4 GDP at -1.65 % year-over-year, whereas Italy’s figure, was -2.61% over the same period.

Yesterday, the Eurozone reported a trade deficit of €32.1 Billion in 2008, its biggest since the Euro’s inception ten years ago. The lack of global appetite for European exports is pronounced, in particular European carmakers have been severely hit by the credit crunch. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association reported that European car sales plunged 27% percent in January to the lowest level in two decades. Total December Eurozone exports fell 0.9% from a month earlier.

Politically, cross EU dialogue is heating up. Today German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said euro-region countries may be forced to bail out other members of the Union that face problems refinancing their debt, despite the previous understanding that no Union member is obligated to come to the rescue of insolvent members.

While Steinbrueck didn’t mention any countries that may need a bail-out, a quick look at European bond yields helps answer this question. We’ve noted the divergence between Europe’s “most stable” country, Germany, and countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Greece, which have shown widening yields over the recent weeks. Further, Eastern Europe (in particular the Baltic countries, Hungary and Romania) has posted some of the worst GDP declines in 2008 and projected forecasts for 2009/10 as they deal with currency devaluations, the repayment of IMF loans, and major contraction due to weakening European demand for goods and services.

We continue to diagnose the European patient. Respecting that some of these points are rear view, the declining GDP figures and rising deficit numbers still confirm our bearish view of the region. We do not own anything in Europe, and we do not intend on buying anything there for the foreseeable future. At this stage of the global economic meltdown, and at these prices, we prefer being long Chinese, Brazilian, and American Equities.

Most importantly, European investors need to consider that there is tail risk here. Tail risk, after all, is what no one thinks can happen. Steinbrueck’s statement further suggests the fear, however faint, of a potential unwinding of the EU in its present form. Should Europe’s economically stronger countries need to bail out the weaker ones it will only increase Europe’s recovery lag. We continue to trade around the region (on the short side) on a country-per-country basis. We covered our short position on the UK via the etf EWU yesterday in order to capitalize on market weakness.

Matthew Hedrick

Andrew Barber

Monitoring The Patient: The VIX

With the US stock market making fresh 3 month lows this morning, it doesn’t surprise us to see a notable lack of conviction. When it comes to volatility however, the game has changed here, and materially so – bears who are pressing the lows, beware.

Looking back at the capitulation lows of October/November one is reminded of the math. The fact of the matter is that the VIX was spiking at an unprecedented 80 during those dark days in American history (see chart) – today, despite pervasive bearish commentary coming out of the manic media, the VIX is struggling to hold its head above 50. The market patient is no longer under cardiac arrest.

The reality is that we have ourselves a New Reality. Some investors have been rightly burned by not proactively managing risk BEFORE that November 20th, 2008 low… but now… AFTER the fact… those reactive managers are just as wrong in straight lining that risk management environment of 2008 into today’s.

Today the TED spread (measures counterparty risk) and liquidity overall have improved significantly versus November (central banks dropping trillions of free moneys from the sky does that) and, as importantly, the VIX remains broken on an intermediate “Trend” line basis.

I have “Trade” (immediate term) resistance in the VIX is the dotted red line below (overbought today), while “Trend” (intermediate term) resistance is plenty higher up at the 53.46 line. Unless that 53.46 line can be penetrated, I think the SP500 lows are in.

I have been getting invested over the course of the last 36 hours as a result. As always, this market patient needs to be monitored, but please do so objectively. Emotions create heartache.

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

Conduct Unbecoming

“The amount of money in both these pots may not be enough to solve the problem”
-Alan Greenspan (February 2009)

What has become of American Capitalism when the only thing market pundits and former maestros alike can find as a solution is government handouts?

While I can write depressing books about being as bearish as I was at this time last year, or point fingers and whine about yesterday’s reaction to the US government’s stimulus plan, don’t expect either from me. I am a capitalist, and I will not stoop to this shameless level of manhood. It is unbecoming, irresponsible, and un-American.

Fortunately, I proactively prepared for this final selloff, and had our clients in a recommended 76% cash position going into yesterday’s open. So what? What does that do for me today McCullough? Well… For one, it allows us to stay in the game here – it also provides us the unique opportunity to buy low – and that’s what real American capitalists who have a repeatable investment process have always done. So let’s roll up our sleeves here and be accountable. Blaming Obama for all of this is a loser’s excuse.

Loser? Yes folks, if you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of world class losers out there who are pretending to be fiduciaries of the American economic system. I am tired of hearing their excuses. The time has come to stop putting our country in the hands of their horrendous judgment.

There are plenty of American Capitalists out there who still understand the value of their principles, and trust their counterparty’s handshakes. They don’t need leverage to earn a return, and they certainly would rather roll over into a hole 6 feet under than attempt to socialize the losses associated with their personal mistakes.

Capitalizing individual profits and socializing losses is not the America I want to raise my son in. It’s a pathetic Code of Conduct, and it’s time to stop being charitable to these people who have proven to have behaved willfully blind. Between Rick Wagoner at General Motors asking for another $17B, the government of California looking for $14B, and some billionaire loser by the name of Allen Stanford in Texas committing another $43B Madoff yesterday, we have no reason to trust what was … what was is behind us now… and we have to find the right people who can step up, be accountable, and move this country forward.

If you don’t want to read the rest of my riff, you should probably stop here. On this topic of Code of Conduct, one of our consultants in the field, Dirk Blum, made an important observation this past weekend. Without paraphrasing his words, I’ll give them to you in full. After interviewing a retired US Army Officer, this was what Dirk had to say about his discussion with one of America’s finest:

“It seems like any decision get’s consideration so long as it is legal… at which point the US Army Officer jumped in and said “well that’s why we had conduct unbecoming”.

He was referring to Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which states that: “Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

The essence of this article is that, only because an officer doesn’t violate any of the other Articles of the UCMJ, that doesn’t mean that he is displaying the conduct expected of a uniform officer of the United States.  You get cute or passive aggressive with another officer, guess what, that’s conduct unbecoming.  You shame the uniform in any way, guess what, that’s conduct unbecoming.

According to a reference to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals (check the Wikipedia entry), Article 133 refers to an officer and gentleman, because a gentleman is understood to have a duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, dealing unfairly, indecorum, injustice, or acts of cruelty.

How many of the executives that we have all gotten to know so well over the past year can truly say that about themselves?”
-Dirk Blum

Now Dirk graduated from Dartmouth, worked in Washington and Baghdad, and now lives in China. He has one of those simple attributes that a lot of Americans appreciate – global perspective. What America has been doing over the course of the last 12 months has been You Tubed by the world, and guess what, we are now ALL accountable for it.

So let’s stop pointing fingers this morning and step up and conduct our respective businesses in a way that is becoming of this great American flag.

Yesterday, I invested 9% of that 76% position I was carrying in US Cash, taking my Asset Allocation Model’s Cash position down to 67%. I bought American and I bought Chinese. On the International Equity side, we now have a 3% position in the Morgan Stanley China Fund (CAF) and a 3% position in Brazil via the EWZ etf. Being a successful American Capitalist in 2009 and beyond will require us to fortify partnerships with foreign buyers. We need to make our handshakes mean something again. That is The New Reality. Protectionism has always been a loser’s game.

With the SP500 closing at its lowest level since the November 2008 capitulation, the US market has yet to make lower lows. My call has been, and continues to be, that we will not close below that 752 low.

I don’t want bailout money. I don’t need a politicized Washington “economist” to tell me what to do with my family’s hard earned capital. All I want is the economic freedom to succeed or fail. My name is Keith R. McCullough, and I am accountable for every call I make.

Best of luck out there today,

Conduct Unbecoming - etfs011809

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