The Speculative Sap is Rising

Barron’s Alan Abelson notes that the speculative juices are running hot:

"IT ISN’T EVEN SPRING, yet the speculative sap is rising and we can espy, of all things in January, tulips starting to bloom.

The stock market not only shook off the previous week’s ugly bout of the shakes, but bounded smartly ahead. Even doubting Thomases like ourselves couldn’t help but be impressed by the plurality of advancing over declining stocks (known among the cognoscenti as "breadth") and the outsized number of stocks setting new highs versus those setting new lows.

But most striking was the garish speculative cast to the trading. Dogs that we had thought safely confined in their kennels were running loose with eager investors (or whatever) in wild pursuit. Our old friend Taser International (ticker: TASR) is a frothy for instance. The rousing reception that greeted the IPO of Chipotle (CMG), McDonald’s Mexican food entry — the stock doubled in its first day of trading — was still another sign of aroused animal spirits. And so in its way is the mad passion for Google (GOOG), price be damned.

Sentiment readings, moreover, also display a vigorous enthusiasm. Although a tad more subdued after the recent selloff, the Consensus Index and Market Vane tallies, both of which tend to track the attitudes of the gamier pros (those who dabble in futures and that sort of thing), remain conspicuously bullish (72% in the former’s survey, 68% in the latter’s), while Investors Intelligence’s canvass of investment advisers shows more than twice as many bulls as bears. And that most telling barometer of speculation, margin debt, has been mounting steadily, topping $220 billion in December, the highest level of on-the-cuff stock buying since the giddy days of 2000.

In this increasingly caloric investment climate, good news is seized on as sufficient reason for piling into the market; bad news is typically ignored, excused away or rationalized as favorable because supposedly it’ll quicken the day the Fed relents and stops raising interest rates. The response to even so horrific a sight as an incredibly shrinking Detroit is pretty much a yawn.

All of which smacks of another round of irrational exuberance, the 2006 version. For the prudent investor — and we assume a few are still extant — the conundrum is that bucking a trend can be like lying down in front of a steamroller and taking the plunge can be like diving into an empty pool. An excellent time, we’d say, to turn coward and watch the fun and games from that nice cushy vantage point several rows back from the playing field.

Not quite "Katie Bar the Door," but working  its way in that direction.


Barron’s MONDAY, JANUARY 30, 2006

Category: Markets, Psychology

Media Appearance: Kudlow & Company (1/27/06)

Category: Media

Sell Off on Volume

Category: Technical Analysis

Technicals versus Economics

I got involved in a debate earlier at RealMoney – Columnist
, and wanted to pass it along here.

Pre-GDP (1/27/2006 7:31 AM EST), I wrote :

1) Technicals remain strong, and continue to be the driving force short
term. But economics look weak, and continue to be source of concern
long term.

2) Last Friday’s market actions was the market’s early warning sign.
Very heavy volume to the downside on a big selloff is never a good
thing. I interpret that day as a foundational crack of the cyclical
Bull market. Again, we are not looking for a 1987 situation, but rather
a Q1 topping out, and an ugly rest of the year.

3) Gold also looks toppy — it’s well overdue for a 10% correction. We
are short here, but would re-establish a long position in the 480-510

4) A 500 point day in Japan is too exuberant — it’s a sign of very
emotional trading. Historically, these sort of buying frenzies tend to
end badly. As such, we are lowering our multiyear price target on the
Nikkei down from 21,000 to 18,000. I would not be surprised to see this
lowered again before year’s end. And the Korean Topix, which I have
liked for some time, is geting crazed. Still plenty of upside, but
getting frothy…

Norm Conley raised a legitimate question about this:

"It seems as if you are taking two outlier one-day moves in markets (one "up"
move, and one "down" move), and extrapolating that although they are
contradirectional, they both carry ominous portents."

My response was:

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