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The Greatest Disconnects EVER?

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Friday, October 30, 2015
Money and Markets
The Greatest Disconnects EVER?
by Mike Larson

Dear ,

Mike Larson

Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan in the capital markets. I've seen minor divergences, disconnects, and dichotomies from time to time in the almost two decades I've been in the investment and financial education business.

But right now? I'm seeing some of the greatest disconnects EVER!

Take earnings versus stock prices. Corporate managements have been warning about weakness left and right. Overall S&P 500 earnings are poised to drop as much as 4% this quarter, while revenues are going to drop for the third straight quarter. That hasn't happened since the Great Recession.

But the Dow Jones Industrial Average has surged almost 1,700 points from its late September low. The PowerShares QQQ Trust (QQQ) just traded to within a couple bucks of its summer high. Since stock prices are supposed to track earnings results closely, the divergence makes no sense.

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That brings us to the next major disconnect: Mega-cap stocks and broad market averages versus several market sectors and small caps.

Sure, the QQQ has been strong and so has the Dow. But the Russell 2000 has barely bounced. It's still roughly 10% below its June high. The Dow Jones Transportation Average is also more than 1,100 points off its highs.

Retail stocks trade like death warmed over, as do biotechnology names. Energy joined them in the doghouse this week after crude oil and natural gas plunged.

Can a gain in a handful of big cap stocks hold up the averages, even as hundreds of stocks behind them wilt? That seems nuts to me, frankly.

Can a gain in a handful of big cap stocks hold up the averages, even as hundreds of stocks behind them wilt? That seems nuts to me.

Or how about the disconnect between the performance of Treasury bonds and stocks? When stocks rise, bonds typically fall, and vice versa.

But that hasn't happened this time around. Bond prices have risen and bond yields have fallen despite the rise in stocks. That's a glaring non-confirmation of the rally.

Then there's the massive disconnect between commodities and stocks. You would expect to see both asset classes rally sharply if the global economy was strong, and demand for commodities and the products they go into was firm. But commodities can't get off the mat despite the rally in stocks.

That brings me to yet another major disconnect — the plunge in energy prices and the consumer's lack of a response to it. How many times have we been told that falling gasoline prices would cause retail spending to skyrocket? How many so-called "experts" came on television and said American consumers would be dancing in the streets?

But have you been listening to Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)? Have you seen a chart of the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT)? Did you see how retail sales missed forecasts in September, and flat-lined in August? Or how consumer confidence fell to 97.6 in October versus 102.6 a month earlier, despite further declines in gas prices? These and other data points show the "retail boom" thesis isn't panning out at all.

I'm going to be exploring these great disconnects in much more detail in this month's Safe Money Report. You still have a few days to get on board before that issue goes to press, which you can do so by clicking here.

But suffice it to say my research suggests these disconnects are going to be a big problem for investors. I believe they merit a cautious investment approach -- one that focuses on using hedges to protect against downside risk, maintaining elevated cash levels, and owning only the "best of the best" stocks in non-economically sensitive and higher-yielding sectors of the market.

Until next time,

Mike Larson

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The investment strategy and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of any other editor at Weiss Research or the company as a whole.

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