“Woe to the land whose king is a child and whose leaders are already drunk in the morning. Happy the land whose king is a nobleman, and whose leaders work hard before they feast and drink, and then only to strengthen themselves for the tasks ahead”. (Eccl 10: 16-17)

"When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe." … Frederic Bastiat

Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God. – Archbishop Chaput

Monday, October 20, 2014

USDA Harvest Progress Reports

Here are the latest numbers on the harvest from USDA.

Corn -

93% of the crop is mature compared to 87% last week and 93% last year at this time. The five year average is 94%.

31% of the crop is in the bin compared to 24% last week and 38% last year at this time. The five-year average is 53%.

Soybeans -

95% of the crop is dropping leaves compared to 91% last week and 93% last year at this time. The five-year average is 97%.

53% of the harvest is done compared to 40% last week and 61% last year at this time. The five-year average is 66%.

The weather looks very conducive to rapid harvest progress this week so expect to see some pretty strong progress by the time next Monday rolls around and we get more of these numbers from the USDA. As of now, skies should be clear with lots of sunshine through Sunday at least.

There is some fund buying in these grains for some reason that I cannot seem to put a finger on. Might be some more of that supposed rotation out of stocks and into what is viewed as "cheap" ags but that still seems a rather irrational reason for professional funds to throw money into a market. That big down day we had in the Dollar last week threw the macro trades into some convulsions and I suspect we are still encountering some residual fallout from that move in the currencies for mere technical reasons.

There is apparently a contingent of large speculators who seem to enjoy buying the grains nearly ever evening in the Asian session as they go stop hunting after shorts in the market. Whomever it is that has been doing this, has been at it for some time now. We are seeing more of it this evening as I type these comments.

I should note that guys like me who trade the livestock markets heavily have been complaining to the CME for several years about the antics occurring in that sector during the thinly traded Asian hours. After getting an earful from the industry participants as well, many who got sick and tired of watching their hedges get blown all to kingdom come for no apparent reason other than specs moving the markets around because they can do so, CME finally has moved to end the Asian trading of livestock. As of next week, FREEDOM is the new word for we long-suffering livestock traders.

Perhaps enough of the grain market participants can begin to make some noise about this same thing and maybe get the exchange officials to cut these insanely long grain trading hours back to size as well. I have to give credit to the exchange - it took them a long time but they did listen and they responded!
Hey guys - take a look at the grains now and let's shorten these trading hours. All we are getting in the Asian trade is hedge fund games.

By the way, for those who happen to keep an eye on cattle every now and then. They were limit up today. Limit down, limit up, limit down, limit up... I am having difficulty recalling ever seeing anything quite like this in the cattle.

Some quick comments on gold... the chart is showing the bulls currently in control of the market as they have been able to take price through two resistance zones on the chart. The first was near $1220; the next was near $1240. Just above the latter resistance zone, the 50 day moving average comes in near $1246. From a purely technical analysis aspect, bulls have a shot at making a run to near $1280 if they can manage to post two consecutive closes above that 50 DMA. The reason is because of the internal structure of the market with a fairly good sized contingent of hedge funds on the short side of the market.

The problem with this market for someone such as myself who likes to view a range of inputs in markets I am analyzing, is that fundamentally, the case for gold is not compelling. I am not alone in this view as the GLD continues to rapidly bleed out gold. The latest reported holdings out of that ETF, showed a sharp FALL in gold holdings of more than 9 tons from Friday! Clearly rallies in gold are being viewed as selling opportunities by some very big entities.

Total tonnage is now down 46.26 tons from the start of the year and is the lowest reported level of holdings since early November 2008! Think about that - it was only a month or so after the news of QE 1 was announced that the amount of gold was anywhere near current levels being reported in GLD.

In spite of this, gold over at the Comex continues to squirt higher. We also have the VIX coming down somewhat indicating a lessening of fears over equities, at least for the moment.

Here is the most current TIPS spread chart... notice that gold has been moving higher and inversely to the spread for the last week or so - something out of the normal pattern we have come to see over the last few months. This is suggestive of gold functioning as a safe haven, NOT from inflation ( which the market is not the least bit concerned about ) but rather as a place to park some funds for those who have been getting nervous over the wild price movements in the equity arena.

What this suggests to me is that any sign of stability in equities and/or a falling in the VIX, is going to spur selling in gold once more. Falling tonnage in GLD, a falling TIPS spread and a falling VIX do not bode well for gold. If one could tell me what these three things just mentioned will do the next day, or the next or the next, I think I would have a pretty good idea what to expect from gold but since none of us know for certain what we are going to get, especially in the way of stock market moves, the jury is out on gold with the short term technical dictating the price action at the moment.

Also, the Dollar is back down near the low end of its 85-87 range. What it does will also determine what gold will do. Tell me what the Dollar will do tomorrow, and I will tell you what gold does. In other word, short term technical will rule this market while traders wait for other fundamental inputs to plan their next approach to the metal.

Today's Comments Delayed.

Please check back later for some comments, especially on the grains, that I will get up. Busy afternoon today...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

S&P 500 Performance Compared to Federal Reserve Balance Sheet

A couple of charts for your weekend reading.

The first compares the S&P 500 to the overall size of the Fed's Balance Sheet.

The next compares the overall rate of growth of that same Balance Sheet on an annualized basis. Note that slowdown in the RATE OF INCREASE in the Fed's Balance Sheet.

This is important to note - the Fed's balance sheet is still expanding, albeit at a declining rate of growth over a 52 week look-back period.

The Fed, of course, threw the markets are curve ball last week when their minutes announced that the "disinflationary impact" of the strong US Dollar was forcing them to revisit their previous plan of hiking interest rates. Essentially the stronger Dollar has been working at cross purposes to the Fed's goal ( a goal that of the rest of the Western Central Banks also share I might add ) of inducing a 2% annual rate of inflation.

The markets readjusted to that new information by effectively stalling the sharp climb in the greenback. The Dollar chart has not however turned bearish - rather it has merely halted the uptrend for a while.

Traders and investors are going to continue closely monitoring economic data releases, especially the payrolls, to see if there is enough strength to allow the Fed to move back towards a mid 2015 hike or if the data is simply too weak. Right now no where knows for sure thus the most likely path of many markets is one of consolidation or sideways trading. Uncertainty has been injected once more by the Monetary Masters.

The easy money might be over in some of these markets for the time being as trendless markets have a nasty habit of whipsawing traders mercilessly. Lots of hedge funds can and will be chopped to shreds in such an environment because their computers are too damned dumb to trade ranging markets. They are great at making their owners look like geniuses when a strong trend is underway; when the trend dies or halts and the markets take on more of an aimless or bouncing behavior, they cannot trade them. Many will go the sidelines understanding the limitations of their mindless machines.

Trading range bound markets requires real skill, and real finesse in accurately reading a market - as just the time the computers get all bulled up, the market reverses on them. Same thing goes in reverse when the markets look most vulnerable to dropping lower - they reverse higher leaving everyone who sold them having sold into a hole.

Traders - tread lightly out there and do not be reckless right now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Day for Composure

With the kind of week we have just been through, it is certainly a relief to see a bit of "calm" coming back into the markets to close out this wild week. Drawing too many conclusions from the price action is probably not too wise given the fact that there were huge money flows flipping into and out of various sectors as traders were trying to avoid not only getting steamrolled, but in many cases, apparently from what I have seen in the price action of some areas, desperately trying to minimize what no doubt were some enormous losses.

At least the Complacency Index, as I prefer to call the VIX, nudged down somewhat from what was a 22 month high!

The Gold Volatility Index also moved lower today. It hit its highest level this year but compared to the VIX, still looks rather tame by comparison.

The Dollar, in spite of all the wild swings, violent price action and outright chaos that seemed to mark the currency markets this week essentially ended the week going no where! It remains in a consolidation mode working between 87 on the topside and 85 on the bottom. The market has certainly relieved its overbought status on the technical indicators so this range trade is actually a pretty good thing as far as I am concerned.

I am noting that the grains all moved lower today. There was some chatter making the rounds earlier this week that one of the reasons for the sharp moves higher in the beans and to some extent the wheat and corn, was the result of hedge funds moving money out of stocks and into agricultural commodities. I am not sure I buy that explanation as I see no reason from a macro level for big funds to be committing to the grains especially when the Dollar has been firm.

There was the usual chatter about harvest delays, dryness in some key Brazilian growing areas during the current planting season down there, as well as some decent export business but as the FOMC notes revealed this week, a harvest is on the way that is going to tax the ability of the US to move it and store it.

As of now I see nothing that would convince me that a harvest low is in especially with a lot more of this year's crop yet to go under the combines. I am looking for some hedge pressure to begin surfacing next week as the weather across the Midwest looks very conducive to some substantial harvest progress being made.

The tightness in last year's bean carryover has contributed to some strength in the meal as processors scramble for supplies but with some big harvest progress coming our way, that supply tightness that currently exists is not going to last too much longer.

Feeder cattle hit limit down today. Let's see they were LIMIT DOWN on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week - then they  hit limit down Thursday morning only to reverse and CLOSE LIMIT UP ( that is an intraday price swing of some $3,000 per single contract). Today they went back down the LIMIT once more. And people wonder why my hair is all turning gray!! like I have said many times, - those gold perma bulls who are always screaming about gold manipulation when it experiences a huge move lower have NEVER TRADED anything else remotely resembling a commodity. Just look at these goofy cattle this week not to mention the hogs, which were obliterated.

I will get some more up later on today on the Commitments of Trader reports and see if there is anything noteworthy in there. Sadly that report is essentially dated by the time we get it since it does not cover Wednesday through Friday of the current week. With a week like the one that we have just witnessed, there is no telling what has happened to the various positions of a huge number of traders out there.

Copper managed to claw its way back over the $3.00 level. There is one helluva battle shaping up near that zone. It dipped down to $2.95 today but some good buying was seen. As the equities began coming back, so did copper.

Silver was not helped by copper's mild strength today as it succumbed to the selling seen in nearby gold. Silver is currently stuck under a resistance level coming in near $17.50.

One last thing - the S&P 500 just barely touched ( depending on which chart one uses ) hitting the 10% CORRECTION LEVEL before bouncing right off of it and moving higher once more. The index ended down only around 13 points on the week after all its wild gyrations. That is a pretty impressive feat the bulls pulled off!

It does however need to climb back ABOVE the 1900 level, which was the support zone that was holding it aloft. If the bulls can manage to close out next week's trading above that level, they will have managed some kind of feat! If they do not, 1800 is going to be tested once more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fed's Beige Book notes Competition for Rail Cars among Grain Growers/Users

Dow Jones is carrying a very short blurb this morning excerpting some comments from the Cleveland Fed's notes in the Beige Book citing, "concern about stress on the freight-transport system from this year's grain harvest, which is expected to be at a historic high". They also cite the Atlanta Fed which noted, "significant strengthening" in grain shipments in the Southeast.

Here is the exact line from the Fed's Beige Book which can be found on their website: This is from the Cleveland Fed:

Contacts from trucking and railroads observed that insufficient capacity is a major issue that is currently confronting the industry and that there is concern about stress on the freight-transport system from this year’s grain harvest, which is expected to be at a historic high.

And now the exact quote from the Atlanta Fed's contribution to the Beige Book:

Overall, transportation contacts reported an improvement in demand since the previous report. District railroads cited increases in total carloads, led by significant strengthening in shipments of petroleum products; grain; and military, machinery, and transportation equipment. Intermodal traffic continued to increase on a year-over-year basis. Ports in the District reported a notable increase in container traffic and substantial growth in overall cargo tonnage in September.

Essentially, the Beige Book is confirming what most in the industry are already well aware of; that this year's massive crop is going to test the capacity of our transportation system as well as our storage ability.

Incidentally, soybeans are trading higher today with the complex being led higher by the meal. That tight carryover from last year's harvest is the reason as processers scramble to secure what is left of available beans in some regions while they wait for the new crop to make its way into the pipeline. With an open harvest window apparently in the forecast for the next two weeks or so, we should see significant harvest progress which will begin to finally remedy that tightness from last year's crop. The beans are transitioning from one of tightness to one of abundance.

This is not your Daddy's Bond Market

Having been trading the bonds for many years, the recent volatility has really caught my eye. The extent of the price swings in this market has been nothing short of breathtaking.

Whenever you see a market make swings of this magnitude, know that someone is in serious trouble.

Take a look at this short term price chart and imagine the carnage being inflicted on some traders as they swing back and forth from such huge extremes.

Do you see those big volume spikes? Someone got obliterated!

Try to imagine that you are a risk manager for a large banking or mortgage interest and are attempting to institute some sort of hedges! How in the world do you even read a market that is doing this sort of thing? I can tell you that hedgers and speculators both have been run over in this market the last couple of days.

This is what I am referring to when I caution traders out there. These markets can clean you out faster than a package of Ex-Lax if you let down your guard. Either trade smaller or stay on the sidelines but do not try to play the hero right now. It is just too dangerous!

Making predictions, postulating this or prophesying that, in dogmatic terms is very foolish and speaks more to hubris than it does to sound judgment. What I do know is that the entirety of the markets is very unsettled right now with the VIX having rising sharply and with the currency markets having been thrown into turmoil. Until the currency markets calm down, be careful.

By the way, crude oil is managing to hold above $80 for now and the XLE is up today. Maybe crude has gone down enough? I don't know but am monitoring it very closely.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

XLE Rebounds

As you all know, crude oil and its products have been hammered of late. One has to wonder if the Saudis' decision to not reduce output was a deliberate attempt to go after the US fracking industry. Either way, the energy complex has been hit extremely hard over the last six weeks. Just look at the following chart!

The XLE had lost 22% over that time frame before some decent buying finally showed up today which enabled it to close up on a day in which the entirety of the US equity markets were getting clobbered.

Maybe the worst is over for crude? I don't know for sure but I am definitely going to be keeping an eye out on the XLE to see if it shows any upside follow through tomorrow and certainly on Friday.

As I type these comments, crude is down another full dollar to $80.73 in the early overnight trading.

Yet another thing I felt the need to point out and that is related to the reported holdings in GLD. It showed a DROP in the tonnage this afternoon which is really disconcerting if one is a bull. It lends credence to the idea that some are selling gold to keep the margin clerks happy with the equity positions.

Total tonnage fell 2.09 tons from the last reported number and currently sits at 759.14 tons, down 39.08 tons on the year and the lowest level since early December 2008.

Lastly, this is the updated TIPS spread/Gold chart from yesterday. Since then interest rates have fallen sharply (* today ) so it will be interesting to see what numbers we get tomorrow when the update is complete. Notice that gold has been moving in the opposite direction of the spread the last few days, something which is out of the more normal behavior, indicating the  metal is functioning as a safe haven for some.

Late Session buying coming into Equities.

Bulls begin to stir once again as we wind down today's session.

The S&P 500 just missed falling into correction territory ( near 1813) but has since rallied up from near that level. Apparently the "buy the dip" sentiment has not yet given up the ghost.

I am closely watching the resistance zone noted on this hourly chart. If the bulls can take it back through that level they have a chance at having put in a short term bottom. Even so, the big spike back up is giving them a sigh of relief at this point ( although I must admit that the session is not yet ended as I am typing these comments).