Friday, December 23, 2011

The Market's Technicals - Get back In The Water ?

The current condition is, in a word, seductive. We have drifted back up from the volatile, scary days of August. Europe is taking measures, albeit can-kicking measures. The US recovery is bumping along, albeit a grossly sub-par recovery. If we are to believe the government's figures (a big if) unemployment is going down.

But there are disturbing signs emerging that the main horror show is yet to be. Before I get into the charts, consider this basic fact. We have been in a "recovery" for going on four years now. In this day and age, four years is actually more like the lifespan of an expansion and a bull market. As I pointed out in my last post about the fear roller coaster, there is a striking similarity between the end of the 2003 -2007 four year run and the 2008-2012 version. If we are in a post debt bubble adjustment period, maybe 4-5 years is all the shelf life we should expect from a bull move - like the 1932-1937 five year bull phase.

Now to the charts. And they certainly agree with this notion of an expiration date of a four year run. In the roller coaster piece, I outlined the larger scale fractal nature of the 2003-2007 period and the 2008-2012 approaching period. Now let's zero in on a more detailed technical view of now compared to 2008 (click on image, right click on image then select "view image" then click to magnify)

As you can see, there is an astonishing similarity. This similarity takes on more significance when you consider that it is in response to very similar market dynamics. In 2008, it was the US banks and their ability to function. Now it is the very same thing with the European banks, who throw around about four times the money of the US banks. But then, these banks are so interlinked, that distinction may be muted.

The main technical feature of 2008 was the large head and shoulders top that was put into place, then the intense, VIX spiking selloff coming off the right shoulder of the top. As we technical types like to say "volume tells the truth" and this selling told no lie about the future direction of the '08 market. We had the very same ultra-high volume with the August selling, and it moved us through a critical break of the neckline of the head and shoulders top.

That in and of itself often can be misleading, as in the case of the mid 2010 weakness where everyone was watching the head and shoulders formation there, and we got a break of the neckline and massive shorting, followed by much covering. But this break was not accompanied by the kind of volume increase in the above charts, and it also did not lead to the 140/200 crossover, which doesn't happen that often and most usually has much follow through in a major trend change. We have seen both of these conditions with the 2008 neckline break and the current one.

What we have going now is a critical test of the broken neckline as resistance. This is typical and it took place in 2008 in May through June. It is happening now starting in November. Note how closely the two above charts match in the time frames involved. This means that we are now at the June '08 juncture and we're beginning to walk through the valley of the shadow of death - a time span of about three months. We will either break away from this course soon or complete it.

Until we know which it is, a very defensive portfolio makes sense. This could be a huge overweight in cash, with a core holding of gold that you don't trade, and not much else, except maybe a little VXX, the volatility ETN, which would go ballistic in another '08 style event. Or, it could mean a line-up of mainly very high yielders, the natural gas pipelines, utilities, and such. But keep in mind that these will get hit in another steep selloff - they just recover more quickly and more surely than the other stocks, but they will get hit. A large cash stash waiting to buy these brief low points would be better.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Fear Roller Coaster - Are We There Yet ?

I always take with a grain of salt all the chart comparisons showing why something in the markets must happen just because it happened that way before. Most of the time, it seems the macro-economic fundamentals are so different between the two cases that a comparison isn't very predictive.

But there is an element of market truth in George Santayana's general wisdom "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". When similar fundamentals are working on the investor psyche, a repeating market pattern can be as unchanging as human nature.

With that in mind, a stunning fear comparison can be drawn between the human reactions to the events surrounding the mortgage meltdown of 2006 to 2008 and the evolving Euro banking crisis we have before us. Both of these involved the development of a 4 year bull turning back into a larger bear trend. Going into 2007, we had climbed up from the 2003 bottom, but ran into the US mortgage mess. Now, it's been nearly four years since the 2008 bottom (most markets bottomed in '08) and we are again running into a banking mess, only this time it's in Europe. Investors fear banking problems more than anything. It screws up and brings to naught everything else.

Art Cashin's 12/15 CNBC interview expresses this fear well. Cashin mentioned the "roller coaster" ride of the VIX index, the market's main measure of fear. In trying to explain why the VIX has receded below 30, more or less the panic threshold, when we have plenty to panic over, he said that perhaps the VIX was "fatigued". It was suggested that maybe the FXE, the Euro index, would be a better measure of fear now. But "fatigue" sounds suspiciously human in nature, and not something a carefully crafted index would be prone to.

The receding VIX seems nice. It's been suggested that this is a market tell that everything is getting fixed in Europe and that we shouldn't argue with it. Just be thankful and go long. But the Cashin interview pointed out the worry-some problem well. Europe doesn't have the hand-in-glove management of Geihtner and Bernanke in the '08 US banking crisis. They don't have a fire department to put out the flames. They don't even have a fire code. A quick fire hose on any surprise banking problems? "That's not going to happen over there" was Cashin's take. We sometimes think of Europe's problems as a junior version of the US problems by belittling a country's GDP with a comparison to the GDP of Rhode Island or whatever. But the truth is, Europe's total banking assets is four times that of the US. So an equivalent out-of-control blaze over there would be four times as big a mess.

So what's all the complacency about in the VIX ? Well, you could argue it's just human nature. And if it's human nature, it is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. Let's take a look at a side by side time-line comparison of fear as measured by the VIX over the course of the 2006-2008 roller coaster and the 2010-2012 roller coaster. The major events are noted with the resultant market fear reactions: (click on image, then right click on this image and select "view image", then click on this image to magnify)

Those of us who believe the markets are a fractal beast could point to this in the Exhibit A collection. Except for the artificial interference of QE, the two roller coasters seem to have been built per the same plans. The same plans perhaps have something to do with the same human DNA involved. We panic when at first presented with a frightening problem. The problem doesn't go away, but our fear level must recede. We are not programmed to stay very scared for very long. Our fear gets fixed before the problem does. As humans, we can all relate to that in our non-market psychology as well.

The large fear reactions, the runs to over a 30 VIX, not only occur in the same time sequence in reaction to similar developments over these two banking scares, they form almost identical topping patterns before they recede. And the overall trend as shown by the 140 day moving average (blue line) runs the same course except for the QE 2 period. However, within this QE 2 period, the fear spikes transpire in the same manner - just at a muted amplitude, until the medicine wears off.

Of note is the apparent loathing of fear that sets in after each huge bout of it. The underlying, structural problems are not fixed, but there are always some compelling positives to avert our gaze to. We get "fatigued" by fear as Cashin phrased it. It's purely human. So, is our current relaxing of the VIX a market tell that everything is indeed getting fixed in Europe and that we shouldn't argue with it? Should we just be thankful and go long? Well, in the context of the above comparison, which clearly shows this same exact complacency pattern after a significant market top and just before the harrowing slide of 2008 - I'd say let's call it fatigue, false bravado, foolishness, or anything but the truth.

Speaking of market tops, this fear progression played out in precision timing with the rises and falls of the S&P 500 over these two roller coaster rides. If you do the same side by side time-line comparison as above, you see another matched set:(click on image, then right click on this image and select "view image", then click on this image to magnify)

There were relatively small initial reactions by the market to the approaching crises - the end of the housing boom in 2006 and the end of QE 1 in 2009. These both were turned back to the upside with the very similar head and shoulders turns, then both went into the big tops with very similar head and shoulders turns back into bear markets. The current receding of the VIX below 30 has to be called the complacency before the storm - unless some "bazooka" from the Europeans is strong enough to knock our car off the tracks. A bazooka, firehouse, or some draconian surprise may have to blast us, or - to answer our kid in the back seat - we will be there.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

$1764 Update

Back on September 7, I wrote an article on Jim Sinclair's projections on gold Sinclair's Point Well Taken. He caused quite a stir in gold bug world a month earlier with his August 6 article at his website and an interview with James Turk. This all involved his analysis about the $1764 level in the gold price. As my article explained, back in 2005, Sinclair made a bold prediction about his "angels" or levels of gold's advance where critical resistance is broken. There are several of these, but the one at $524 he viewed as a "swing point" where the rate of gold's climb was to change. This is what happened:

As the moving averages show, he was so right. Gold has been in a steeper climb since the break of the gently rising resistance line shown above in blue. He bases this on the squares method that Jesse Livermore used with stunning success decades ago. Sinclair's father was a business partner of Livermore, who is considered by some the greatest trader of all time.

Anyway, Sinclair is causing a stir because he is now saying the same thing about the $1764 level that he said about $524. When gold shot beyond $600, the common take was that this bubble was about to burst. In his August 6 article, he stated that at the then price of $1650, a top in gold was nowhere in sight. This was before the break to $1930 and the big smackdown that followed. In the August alert, he said:

The key number in the gold market is $1,764. As gold approaches that number you can anticipate furious but very short price reactions ... Dean Harry Schultz said that I should call him when gold trades at $2,400. Stay near your phone my dear friend of more than 45 years, Dean Harry.

So, what has transpired since then?

The date of Sinclair's article is shown by the circle. Gold immediately burst to over $1900 and we began the "furious but short" push backs around this critical swing point - 8 crossings of the $1764 level shown (plus one more since I made this graph). This guy Sinclair is a little freaky. I somehow suspect we're going to get maybe one more knock down to the 140 ema area and maybe a scary break of it before we're through, which would complete a pennant formation forming now. But then again, gold could explode to the noted $2400 level quicker than any of us sensible people think. It's getting into a phase where you may just want to take a seat and hang on.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Generals In Danger ?

One of the market tells that one should keep an eye on is the behavior of "the generals". These are those stocks that lead to the upside and are very stubborn about joining any bear market collapses. The old wisdom is that a market decline isn't complete until the generals have been taken out and shot.

Well if you take a look at some of the popular generals now, you might say they are being blindfolded and given their last cigarette. Take, for example, Herbalife. This stock has shown astonishing resistance to all the market turmoil, and is still looking very strong. But there are bad problems developing:

The moving average pair of the 140/200 day ema (blue and red lines above) that I like to watch has been holding as support all the way, but now is being breached. I don't mind a brief puncture of these two moving averages, but when it is in the context of the negative RSI divergence and the negative A/D trends shown, it is a bad sign.

Another popular general has been Core Labs. They help oil and gas companies map out reservoirs for the more complicated recoveries that producers must deal with these days. They've been like the Apple of the energy industry - indispensable. The stock has beem immune to all the market dips - until now:

Here we see the same negative RSI divergence over the last few months and the tell tale negative A/D (accumulation/distribution) switch. This general has already taken a bullet.

Speaking of Apple, could even this general be in danger?

Uh oh - maybe so. The A/D is still looking good, but a negative RSI divergence is clearly happening. I tend to think of Apple not as a high flying tech stock, but a utility or a soap and cereal defensive stock. Their products are used by us all like we use soap, cereal, and electricity. But even the defensive recession generals aren't looking so good these days. Take for example Perrigo, the off brand maker of money saving goods that thrives in bad times. The stock has been off limits to the bears:

But we see the same RSI and A/D melt downs developing even with this one. The high flyers are meeting a similar fate. Green Mountain Coffee is unraveling, not to mention Netflix:

The state of the generals is not good. This is the exact same analysis that caused me to get defensive on the general market back in May when I posted Market Changing Stripes ?
Here is the chart of the S&P 500 I posted in that article:

This RSI and A/D pair accurately forecasted the market's decline thereafter.

We're likely to get a bounce soon from an oversold condition. The behavior of that bounce will be critical to determine if we get back to a choppy sideways market or go into a further decline. If the generals don't break out of their weakening pattern in the bounce, the forecast won't be very good.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Socialism In Bull And Bear Markets

Complaining about our presidents in the US of A is maybe second only to baseball as our national pass-time.   So allow me to indulge in a rant.  I want to take a somewhat spiteful look at the financial market history of our presidents since John Kennedy - an era that I think of as a Comedy of Errors, one of the Bard's great plays.   But it isn't so funny.  Then we will look at our upcoming election in the light of all this.

John Kennedy gave us a free market administration, with low taxes and a business friendly slant.  He felt that the tax and regulation burden on business was an economy killer.  His policies extended the great bull market from the late 1940s to 1966, the post depression recovery.  Perhaps his most famous wisdom was "Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country". This saying has a lot of significance in our present heated debate over what our government should be doing for our mess as opposed to removing over-taxing, over-regulation, and other short-term government fixes so that individual businesses can do their thing for our country.  It would have been a good Tea Party slogan had it not already been used by Kennedy.

Unfortunately, Kennedy's VP didn't have his partner's key wisdom very near to his heart.  Lyndon Johnson was probably best known for his Great Society programs, which were an over-done version of some of Kennedy's initiatives to help the poor.  Under Johnson, they became big government helping hands in a War On Poverty, as if it were government's job to regulate the economic status of individuals.  Some of these things survive to this day, like Medicare, and are a big help.  But many were bureaucratic boondoggles - and all began to be a tax problem.  By the time LBJ left office in 1968, the great secular bear market of 1966-1982 had begun.  You can't blame that whole bear market on one president, but an age of asking what your country can do for you had begun.

Then came Nixon.  A normal paper/hard asset cycle turn had begun away from paper investment and to hard assets (commodities).  The turn away from the 20 year stock bull market to the 16 year commodity bull market that began in 1966 was perhaps triggered, or at least abetted, by the bad business policy that came after John Kennedy.  Economy friendly government seems to have died with JFK's murder in 1963.  The commodity bull market had inflation running at around 4% in Nixon's time.   His reaction? - wage and price controls.  Was he a student of the Soviet Union?  This socialist intervention was a dismal failure.  It was a government engineered fix to a government engineered problem.  Sound familiar?  The economy truly went into the ravine under his socialist guidance.  And he took us off the gold standard in 1971 for good measure.  This was to facilitate the government's "helping" hands and loosen up its wrist for the dollar's printing press to follow.  By the time Nixon left office in 1974, the stock market had lost about 50%.  He was bounced out of office for lying before he could do any more damage.

Then came Ford and Carter.  Ford served only briefly and sadly, Carter was a damper on the economy.  His forte was, and is to this day, international peace negotiation.  He put together the Camp David Accords easing Mid-East problems for quite awhile.  But on the economy, he seemed to want to continue the post Kennedy legacy of bigger government, bigger taxes, and more departments (he added two right off the bat) and was the first bail-out president when he bailed out Chrysler in 1979.  Before Obama-care, there was "Carter-care", a government-run health-care system that went nowhere in Congress.  He created the massive Superfund to clean up chemicals in the ground wherever they could be found.  If there was a problem with the economy, government could fix it.

All of this string of socialist presidents, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter spanned the 15 years of the great secular bear market in stocks from 1966 to 1982, which saw the Dow unable to break 1000 and lose a lot of ground to stagflation. Then came the Reagan Revolution.  And it was just that - a very fundamental change in government, the first real change since Kennedy died.  Whereas LBJ declared war on poverty, Reagan declared war on big government.  Many presidents' worth of government helping hands had the Reagan campaign's "misery index" at such an unbearable high that he was swept into office in one of the most one-sided elections in history.  Reagan declared war on big government and big spending and was the first real business friendly president in 20 years.  And the markets picked up on it, sending us roaring into a secular bull stock market and economic growth.

The next chain of presidencies, when you think about it, was 5 terms covering 3 men and 20 years. They all pretty much sought to continue the Revolution. The Clinton terms in the middle wound up being free market and business friendly, not to mention, with the help of a good economy, budget balancing.  Clinton, either by the mandate of the mid-term elections or by a change of philosophy, or both, put together a pretty fair economic team by the time he left office.

But in the biggest socialism blight ever, we had a banana republic regime of central bankers imposing the greatest mountain of debt of all time on all of us.  All four men occupying the White House from 1981 to 2008 turned a blind eye to this fifth column as "market stuff" that they didn't need to worry about.  A new tyrant had taken over the bull/bear cycle, and the 1982-2000 secular bull was killed not by over-interventionist presidential socialism, but by financial weapons of mass destruction.

With Bush II and Obama, we have gone back to the post-Kennedy and pre-Reagan socialist world. Bush did not exactly have a revolutionary, business friendly congress, and Obama would confiscate every private business in the land if he could get away with it.  A secular bear market in stocks and all non-debt fueled paper assets began in the 2000s.  Robust economic growth now seems to be a thing of the past.  Obama is responding to these problems with the socialism of Nixon, and the government helping hands of LBJ and Carter.

As the over arching socialism of central bankers puts debt and currency issues front and center, the old fashioned president/economy relationship is fading.  The "socialist" Bernie Sanders is the only major US presidential candidate I know of to advocate reinstating Glass-Steagall.  This was the safeguard necessitated by Depression banking collapses that barred banking fools from gambling with depositors accounts in stocks or anything but the business forming loans they had been doing before the Roaring 1920s led them astray. 

We had many decades of banking peace after this 1933 Act.  Then came the banker inspired repeal of Glass-Steagall in the roaring 1999, and we have had one financial crisis after another ever since.  Fully reinstating Glass-Steagall is an issue in the election as detailed in an article at NerdWallet "Glass-Steagall Act: 1933 Law Stirs 2016 Presidential Race". Sanders' reinstatement would take away the $20 + trillion of speculation toys (all our bank accounts) from big banking.  But even this would perhaps be too little too late.  The point to consider is this: the era of the power of the president over our financial cycles has ended.  Getting it back may involve more radical upheaval than a US president can muster.

We would have to have a Reagan Revolution in every major country in the world, but even that would not solve the massive delevering cycle and global debt resolution problems we now must endure.  This problem did not exist in 1982.  So the unruly Trump/Sanders hoards are now a budding revolution not so much against big government, but against the new socialism of big "Wall Street" - the perversion of what free market capitalism used to be.  Main Street is becoming incensed by it, and this election campaign is showing it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sinclair's Point Well Taken

As I pointed out in my post "Gold Technical Update", before gold got to this $1800 level, Jim Sinclair had been predicting a major "swing point" for the gold bull market when it got to $1764 by his exotic squares math, which I don't really understand. But he tends to get it right, and he was saying that gold would encounter a more intense price action at this level. This was to involve some severe push-back, a pitched battle - one of the biggest in the whole bull climb- before a more powerful up phase takes over.

Well, what has transpired?

His silly prediction, based on nothing but math, seems to be happening as usual. When gold jumped the predictable channel it has been in for 3 years at about $1700, it went right to work on the swing point. It doesn't seem to want to spend much time either above or below $1764 nowadays. And the trading has intensified to a less tranquil pattern. If this is to be one of the big battles, we should expect a few more dips below $1764, more prime buying points for new positions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Crisis In Leadership

No, I'm not referring to the clowns on vacation from our congress. We have an astonishing lack of leadership when they're in town, too. I guess they're all tuckered out. Screwing up the world like they have done is hard work.

My title refers to the market leadership. The leader groups that have been signalling the future direction of the market for the last 3 years, the retailers (RLX), technology (QQQ), the consumer discretionary stocks (XLY), and the transports (TRANQ) have a conflict going right now. One says new bear market. Two say bull correction. And one is undecided. They've typically been in agreement up until now. Let's look first at the one screaming new bear:

This would be the Dow Theory important transports. They have broken down from any semblance of a continuing bull and are leading the charge down. The same can be said of the important financials. It's hard to have a bull market without the financials participating. Doug Kass, who called the March '09 bottom to a tee, is now saying the banks have bottomed. Jim Cramer says the group is still toxic.

If you look at the retailers, supposedly the sore point of the recovery, you see this:

A trend line from the March '09 bottom appears to be intact. But if you look at all the consumer discretionary stocks, you see a breakdown more like the transports:

The accumulation trend is beginning to break but holding, but the price action has already broken. As for technology:

This looks just like the retailers - a brief puncture of the 140/200 day ema moving average pair but on a bull trend support line.

This sets up a battle between these stock groups. Either the groups that are barely clinging to bull mode will be pulled down into what the transports are doing or the transports will be pulled back up into confirmation. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Silver Technical Update

If you hate to chase anything at an all time high, and don't we all, then you don't really like buying much gold right now. But maybe we can cheat and buy gold's rocket ride via silver. This bifurcated metal constantly has to decide whether to follow its industrial use self and follow the stock market or to follow its monetary metal self and follow gold. The monetary self usually wins out over the long haul as is evidenced by the R squared for gold/silver being around 0.95 long term. So any straying of silver behind gold is a good buy-the-massacre move. Buy-the-massacre is so much better than chasing.

The massacre in silver has it nearly 20% down from its high now, right at the 20% decline bear market classification. But it will very likely slingshot to par with gold. This is after all a monetary crisis we are in.

The silver/gold ratio chart looks like this now: (click on charts to enlarge)

Silver is just now emerging from an RSI turn point where it begins outclimbing gold. Even if it stays bound in the horizontal channel it's in, it will match the climb in gold for awhile. You can't complain about that.

The price chart looks like this:

The consolidation of last year looks to be repeating and is probably ending now. The channel appears to be thoroughly broken. If we get a post consolidation climb like last time, we are at a prime buy point.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gold Technical Update

Gold may be breaking into the next phase of its bull market. Jim Sinclair's math has a long history of correctly predicting gold, not just in this bull market but in the 1970s bull market. He is now saying that the $1764 level is a swing point into a steeper climb similar to $524 was in late 2005.

Then, as now, gold was faithfully obeying the 140/200 ema moving average pair (red and blue lines) as support and the trend line shown as resistance. Then a break of this resistance occurred with a move to $524, a test of old resistance as support, and a huge new move into the next bull phase. As a weird coincidence from an entirely independent means of analysis, David Nichols' monthly fractal forecast is currently putting gold into a 64 day growth cycle into early October that he says will be the strongest yet in the entire bull market. That's 64 trading days (closer to 3 months calender). For those of us who simply like to study lines of support and resistance, it is also obvious that a change has occurred:

This chart is very similar to the 2005 chart above with the $524 swing point, but with the new $1764 swing point. It shows a pretty stable 3 year phase of gold's bull where a persistent line of resistance turns all the rallies into declines. There was a brief breach at the end of the strong 2009 four month cyclical move. The current breach is occurring at the beginning of this typical August to November strong period. This all implies a big bust of the 3 year channel.

I have outlined my disagreements with David Nichols' fractal analysis in other articles. My only problem back in 2010 was with his 64 month fractal or about a 5 year time limit on the high growth part of the overall bull market for gold, which he reckoned was to turn to bear market in February, 2011. I argued that this parabolic bull fractal pattern had other variations longer in duration that would go well beyond February, 2011, and that the current gold bull seemed to be an example of these. Well, February has come and gone, and I think it's safe to say there was no arrival of a bear market. But I can find little fault with Nichols' month-to-month range fractals - they have been stunningly accurate over the years. Jim Sinclair's call about $1764, David Nichols' call for the strongest 3 month move up yet, and the above simple support/resistance map all agree - gold is entering a new phase, and it ain't a bear market.

The cold calculating methods above also agree with a phase change in psychology that I believe has occurred over the last 3 years. This involves the basic question "What is money?" Well, it's that green and gray stuff passed around or it's electronic equivalent you may say. But is it? Is it really? That's what we used to think back in 2007. Is that what they're thinking over in Europe today? You can see this sea change in a 3 year chart covering the last two mega market crashes:

Here we have the gold stock index / S&P 500 ratio charted from mid 2008 to now. It drops when the gold stocks are under-performing the broad market and vice versa. As you can see, there is a vast difference between then and now. Why? There is a fundamental change in view going on as to what is money.

I have posted a discussion of this rapidly changing view with some interesting testimony by Ben Bernanke last month before Congress over at - just put my name in their search bar. The post is "Gold's New Phase And The Coming Revolution". It should be up in a day or two if it's not there yet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What The Debt Fools Are Up Against

As the ineptitude of our elected representatives continues to amaze regarding the debt issue, I think it's interesting to keep in mind what they are dealing with - the history of their own ineptitude. Its the bogus political "process" (the nicest word I could think of) that has created the nearly unsolvable problem they are working on. When you look back at history, you can see the political spats that accompanied each leg up in the debt parabola that is at a blow-off stage now:

This history shows how the recklessness of the 20s put us into the Depression in 1929 followed by a huge ramp-up in debt over the next 5 years. This reached an unworkable level and had to come back down out of necessity, but the recklessness and the debt that ensued went up out of political "process". The citizenry of that time saw no sense in doing the debt this way, but they had to watch helplessly as their elected representatives did it anyway.

Good sense prevailed for decades as the painful lessons of the '30s were practiced. Then we became entangled in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the political process was reckless budget balancing to out-arm and bankrupt the USSR. Then came the defeat of the USSR, but instead of the gigantic budget peace dividend that should have followed, we ran up against another enemy of the state - the banksters. They went on a creative binge of debt instrument "financial weapons of mass destruction" as Buffet calls them, and over the '90s they were the political process of choice. Standing in their way was not conducive to a political career.

If you gauge a time frame to a debt resolution to be similar to what happened from 1930 to the mid '30s after the start of the bear market, you see on the chart above that, if a secular bear market started in 2000, we should have had some kind of debt climb reversal around 2005, like the mid '30s. But perhaps because the fed has become more adept at funny money, things went on as usual.

But now another debt induced recession has resulted in another bear market, and five years from it takes us to about 2012 for some kind of dismantling of the debt mountain. That's what the fools in Washington are beginning to grapple with now and what will be dealt with in the 2012 elections.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Hot Money In Silver

Silver, the hot headed more volatile twin of gold, recently did one of those stunning runs to the upside, briefly hitting $47, crushing the shorts and dumbfounding all those who sold an overbought condition at the base of the spike. This was a significant departure from gold, which did no such thing. Now since we have an R squared between silver and gold that very typically runs around 0.9 or higher, meaning that the two correlate extremely closely, we must ask ourselves just what the heck was going on here.

Silver's behavior has caused many, including Jim Cramer, to be negative on silver but positive on gold, because, as Cramer recently remarked on his show, silver still has too much hot money in it. He flatly stated to stay away because "silver is going to $28". Hot (overleveraged) money was certainly the nitro that fueled the one month spike to $47 before the margin rules were tightened. But what is the case now?

Silver is doing what markets do to an overbought condition - a correction. And corrections very typically follow the classic ABC pattern where an initial sharp pounding is followed by a pause consolidation and then the final sharp decline to a bottom. We have had "A", are now in "B", and are awaiting a "C" which would indeed take the price to about $28. This would be enhanced by the market's general jittery feel about the debt default situation in the US and Greece and its effect on all things economy sensitive, as silver is.

That plausible scenario, however, is looking less and less likely. Lets look at a side by side comparison between gold and silver:

First, we see gold went onto a consolidation trading range in April. Now lets look at silver:

Here we see that silver did essentially the same thing except for the hot money spike that lasted for a month, shown in orange above. If you take away that aberration, you have silver following what gold is doing very closely - compare the charts. The ABC correction of the hot money warp seems to be fading into the tight correlation with gold - and gold is clearly breaking out of the consolidation to the upside. The ABC correction would have silver going far below the 140 day ema (blue line above) which would bring into question the whole silver bull market. That is looking less likely now, and a more sustained advance is probably coming. I hate hot money as much as Cramer or anybody, but silver's harmful hot money seems to be mostly laundered out at this point.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Editorial Note

A note for those following my blog. recently started a Premium Article feature for their contributors. This allows a contributor to publish some of their articles on their site as exclusives (with a little compensation and the proviso that they not publish them anywhere else on the web). I've been publishing several of my articles this way, which means I can't post them here at my blog. So all my articles that don't get posted here can be read at - just type in my name, Bruce Pile, on their search bar to bring them up in an index that appears on the right labelled "Latest Articles".

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is America On The Revolution Contagion Hit List ?

One by one they are being mowed down. First it was the Tunisia uprising, and Ben Ali, regime chief since 1987, flees the country. Then swiftly following is the Egyptian revolution, and Hosni Mubarak, regime head thug for 30 years, flees the country. Now quickly coming to a boil are two more head thugs and their long lived, stable empires - Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, in power since he tangled with Reagan, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, who together with his father has ruled for 40 years. What the heck is happening? These multi-decade power brokers are being dismantled in a matter of months.

It could be a good bit Iran stirring up malcontent for its own geopolitical advantage as many claim. But they have to have a big groundwork of simmering malcontent to begin with. What is all this malcontent and why is it detonating so easily now? I think a lot of it has to do simply with two things - the food shortage and the tech revolution. How so? Well the basic problem with all these people is that they live under the iron boot of freedom repression and forced poverty. They have been for many years, but now the developing food crisis is touching off violence and the smartphone revolution, which I've been predicting since 2009, is greatly facilitating it. The typical revolutionary in these countries has been described as having "a rock in one hand and a cell phone in the other". The thugs can censor the news and lie all they want, but the average Joe in all these places can now learn and organize via phone, and they aren't taking whatever the thugs are giving out anymore.

So what does all this have to do with a similar revolution here in America? Aren't we richer than that and with a better government? Well, I don't know. We may be experiencing the same thing only at a much higher level of comfort. Instead of Ben Ali's regime running things, we have had Ben Bernanke's regime running things for decades. If you include his "fathers" going all the way back to the 1913 founding of the Fed, these thugs have had their way for a hundred years. And what is the result? - big banks too big to fail (or be prosecuted for crimes against the average Joe). Times are still not too good for main street, but excellent for Wall Street. Our fed induced debt burden is now poised to drown our middle class, and our middle class is grabbing a rock in one hand and a smartphone in the other.

Like the fleeing thugs the global Tea Partiers are targeting, the central banker/economy planner elite of the US :

a) say to the other countries, you need us for stability. It would be chaos without us

b) rule by brute military force

c) have a fast growing share of their country's wealth in the hands of a privileged few - oil revenue in Saudi Arabia, financial weapons of mass destruction in the US

The Tea Party revolution in the last election seems to have said the time for this is up. Real government spending cutters were elected. Wisconsin's state senators fleeing the state over the budget battle feels a little like Mubarak fleeing Egypt.

The average Joe American does not want point (a) above as our economic plan. Point (a) was cleverly illustrated by Peter Schiff's story about Consumer Island. He tells the tale of a shipwreck leaving a group of some Asians, Brazilians, and an American on an island. To survive they had to divide up the jobs. One Asian was given the job of fishing. Another was given the job of hunting in the middle of the island. And the Brazilian was given the job of gathering the fire wood. The American was given the job of eating. So they all had jobs and at the end of the day, they all gathered around and the American would eat. But he would save enough for the others so that they could repeat the next day.

China and many others may just boot the American off the island if we don't soon stop chasing capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit out from our borders with government-knows-best economy-by-committee Five Year Plans. We are becoming the global village idiots, not just of energy policy, but of every other kind of policy. And this is a prime mover in the bull market in gold and silver. Gold's price is a judgment on the soundness of the reserve currency and the government example being set by it.

I was struck by what Donald Trump said to Piers Morgan recently on his CNN show. I'm not a fan of Trump or his possible run for the presidency. But in discussing his international dealings, Trump pointed out a key problem that he says he, or somebody, needs to fix. Referring to the nations around the world, he kept repeating "they don't respect us".

"A wise and frugal government which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."
These words could well have been said by anyone on Consumer Island or any Tea Party revolutionary. But they were said by Thomas Jefferson.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Market Changing Stripes ?

I've generally been pretty bullish on the market since April of '09 with only some neutral danger periods now and then giving me pause. The leader groups I follow, retail (RLX), Baltic Dry Index ($BDI) before the ship overbuild problem, tech, etc. have been indicating continued upside with only typical bull pullbacks. But now its technical behavior is giving me plenty of pause. The leader groups continue to behave well - outperforming and wanting to drag up the rest of the averages. But here is what I'm getting worried about.

If you look at what happens at major moves up and before major moves down, you see this

This was the last half of 2007 and we know what followed. Other bull runs display these divergences toward the end. This divergence trend analysis works better on broad averages than individual stocks, but it is typical behavior there as well:

Here we see Headwaters' recent behavior. Its nice climb from mid last year telegraphed its end with divergence.

What's happening now with the S&P 500 ?

Egad ! It's starting to act badly. I'm not saying a radical decline must follow, but maybe some cooling. Another tell tale marker of a turn is what the "cereals and soaps" do. When they suddenly start turning up and being a standout group, problems with economic growth are being felt by the market. This certainly was the case in late 2007, and guess what, they are becoming a conspicuous group now. Examine the charts for '07 and the current charts for HRL, UN, GIS, K, PG, KFT.

Another nagging problem is market sentiment. It's been too high, which didn't bother me when a horrific selloff was being feared back in February, but the mild 7% correction back then didn't work off much of that exuberance. But now we have these technicals turning. According to the numbers tracked by a blog that specializes in this, the Nasdaq sentiment is at a 5 year high right now. I don't know what fundamentals would be turning the market - angst over the end of QE, trying to raise interest rates with a mountain of debt that we already can't service. I don't know. But the charts have thought it all through, and they know more than I do.

And then there is the monster earthquake coming in a week or two that will split the US down the middle. A small point but I thought I'd mention it. It seems like Mother Nature is throwing a hissy fit of quakes all over the world the last few years. But are they really increasing? And is Mother Nature being helped? (click to enlarge images)

This chart shows that what has really been increasing is the people being killed by quakes - not so much the raw number of them occurring. So if the number of quakes is only rising modestly, why, since about 2003, have they suddenly become so destructive and deadly, as if they started seeking out the heavily populated areas with an evil mind of their own? Well, conspiracy theorists have long held an answer to that - HAARP. The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program was one of those Star Wars defense plans in the Reagan years that were a big political debate issue. They were pretty much all voted down except for HAARP.

They went ahead with this and construction began in 1993. It is a joint project with the US Navy and the US Air Force, with patents based on Tesla in both high frequency and ELF technology.
The ELF part (extreme low frequency) is of particular interest to the conspiracy claims that, not only do the original patents and technical write-ups suggest this technology will be used to control weather, it will also be used in tomography to probe deep into the earth the way normal frequency transmission can not (your car radio blanks out when you go through a tunnel). The stated intent for ELF are things like mapping underground munitions, bunkered nuclear sites, etc. But many claim that HAARP is being weaponized not only for weather control, but as a tectonic weapon - inducing earthquakes.

Nicola Tesla, the "father of modern electricity" whose patents HAARP is based on, once built what was called an "earthquake machine" in his New York lab, disturbing the neighborhood and bringing the police to investigate. He once had to hammer the machine off to stop a quake he induced. This was a tiny 6 pound machine based on resonant frequencies that could be attached to a building and, with the right frequency dialed in, once induced a quake in a steel skeleton being erected, so that the steel workers at the top came scrambling down thinking an earthquake was in progress.

This was all around 1898, and the hub-bub over such a thing as an earthquake machine has gone away - until now. With the dramatic rise in mass-killer earthquakes since 2004, it's being noted that the massive antenna array buildout in HAARP's Gakona, Alaska facility, by far the most powerful of its kind, coincides closely with the rise of these killer quakes. The facility was completed in 2007. There is some correlation between strong magnetic field disturbances on HAARP's instrumentation on their website and major quakes if you survey activity in the 3 days previous to the quakes (about a 1 in 9 chance occurrence as near as I can figure). Earthquakes induce magnetic disturbances, which is why animals can sense them days in advance. But man-made looking signals, that only started showing up since about 2004, have a hoard of paranoid types blaming HAARP for inducing killer quakes with ELF resonant frequencies the way Tesla did with his crude 6 pound mechanical resonant version.

There are several different geopolitical takes on who may be doing this and why, but they agree on the people involved being heavily into the occult. I am not an expert on occult numerology, but a basic tenet is that there are what they call the "master numbers" - they are 11, 22, and 33- and they believe strongly in planning major events around these numbers.

The conspiracy nut jobs aren't the only ones leery of HAARP. Exonews recently had a story "European Parliament Issues Warnings On HAARP". The European leaders wanted to have more information on what they were doing with this research, concerned about its impact on weather and other things. This parliament action was taken in 1998, the article rehashes their concerns today.

The US Geological Survey's site has a long list of what they call "Historic Earthquakes" basically meaning the most destructive ones. If you refine this list to just the big killers - those with over 20,000 dead, you wind up with a list of five - all five occurring in 2004 and later. Of those five, three occurred on either the 11th or 12th. You can easily figure the math probability of that happening by random chance, 1 in 25.

Added to these happenings not likely by chance is what is happening with the weather lately. Supposedly the bread and butter of HAARP, other than incinerating incoming missiles, is weather control. Radar watchers claim they can spot unusual weather events days in advance by watching for "HAARP rings". These are near perfect, unnatural looking circles; and a huge rash of them popped up clustered in the New Madrid fault system in late April. I was stopped in my tracks the other day when I saw a CNN weather map showing the total rainfall amounts the past month or so. The very high amounts formed a near perfect map of the fault system. The map below shows flood warning counties as of May 6 with the insert showing the damage zones for the New Madrid:

The two satellite photos show the fault zone a year ago (top) and on this May 6 (bottom). Why has it rained so much over just the fault zone? I didn't think there should be any connection between rain and quakes until I checked. If they dam rivers, they often get small quakes. But probably the main attraction for the alleged disaster makers with all the focused rain is soil liquefaction. When the soil is wet, earthquake damage is vastly increased. Shaking wet soil causes it to go mushy. This quake feature happens a lot, but Japan and others lately have suffered severe bouts of it.

I've seen Agri science studies for rice-growing in eastern Arkansas where they gauged optimal "soak time" for the soil in this area of the fault (to get surface applied fertilizer entrained). They found it to be "at least 3 weeks". That suggests maybe an optimal liquefaction window of late May or early June. Conspiracy theorists point out that FEMA has a history of running drills for disasters just ahead of when they actually happen - when they are at the height of readiness. The idea is ever more dependence on the federal government with each disaster. They impose laws to deal with them, but don't take them back once the disaster is over. NLE 2011 is a massive FEMA exercise for a major New Madrid quake scheduled for May 16-21, about the same time frame for maximum liquefaction damage (and at a 22 number - May 22).

How much weight an investor should give to this quake threat depends on how much tin foil you wear in your hat I suppose (these guys claim a lot of things that don't happen). But I've gotten a lot more defensive with my portfolio strategy for a variety of reasons - very high cash. If you want a stock that typically benefits from the increasing earthquake disasters, whether by plot or by nature, take a look at Taylor Devices TAYD. This very small company in New York makes the products that allow buildings to absorb ground movement with little damage - basically gigantic shock absorbers. They routinely retrofit large buildings with these things easily and economically. I don't see what's so easy about cutting off a building at its foundation, jacking it up, and bolting on these things - but they do it all the time! And they have been doing a good business with it:

It's not grossly undervalued, or heavily insider owned (only 6%) but a stable, successful business. Quake protection is all they do, and they are about the only ones who live or die by this one product line. ITT and Kayden are the only publicly traded competition listed by Yahoo Finance, and with them this product is a small side line. TAYD tends to jump instantly in response to major, destructive quakes:

But, of course, if a major quake destruction would hurt the market enough, TAYD might initially react more like it did in late '08 (down like everything). If the New Madrid were to become more active, it would suddenly place a huge area of buildings in the midwest, that were built with little thought about earthquakes, into the market for some quake retrofitting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is Gold Now The Last Safe Haven Standing ?

Gold usually must compete with other choices for safe haven money. Bonds, real estate, and the world's reserve currency, the US dollar are the chief rivals. Real estate has become a troubled no man's land for investors. Bonds have been very popular, but now many people, using the term "bond bubble", are turning on them, including none other than Bill Gross, the biggest bond fund manager in the country. He has now become an outspoken critic of the federal deficits and the Fed's loose money policies. In a piece, he states:

"...nearly 70% of the annualized issuance since the beginning of QE II has been purchased by the Fed, with the balance absorbed by those old standbys – the Chinese, Japanese and other reserve surplus sovereigns. Basically, the recent game plan is as simple as the Ohio State Buckeyes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” in the 1960s. When applied to the Treasury market it translates to this: The Treasury issues bonds and the Fed buys them. What could be simpler, and who’s to worry? This Sammy Scheme as I’ve described it in recent Outlooks is as foolproof as Ponzi and Madoff until… until… well, until it isn’t. Because like at the end of a typical chain letter, the legitimate corollary question is – Who will buy Treasuries when the
Fed doesn’t?

Gross is still bullish on some corporate bonds and foreign bonds, or any bond not denominated in the USD. But aren't even the best corporate bonds denominated in the dollar? And what about the dollar as safe haven? Why should we worry? It has been weakened by an oversupply, but don't investors still flock to this safe haven in stock market downturns? Well, no actually! Take a look at how the dollar behaved over many of the recent stock market sell-offs, then compare these to what it's doing in our present correction:

There seems to be a quandary over the safe haven flight nowadays. Money doesn't want the dollar anymore, as the above chart clearly shows, and bonds - well they are fast becoming a pariah. Cash is beginning to severely under-perform real inflation. It seems all the alternatives to a 1% return on cash are coming to suffer a malady know as "counterparty risk". Whether the counterparties are named Madoff, Ponzi, or Bernanke, the markets are getting into a mood where they want to have nothing to do with them.

The word "counterparty" was once one of those fine print words you didn't concern yourself with much unless you were an attorney. Now they are becoming investor enemy #1. Is the counterparty over? They have a really poor track record versus gold, and this is coming to be a front and center focus among investors:

This is just the casualty rate the last hundred years. Over the last 5000 years, this would be a much busier chart. Will our foolhardy counterparties of today fare any better ? I have my doubts. They seem to be much more talented fools with computers to help them.

When George Soros made his famous comment about gold being "the ultimate bubble" in January last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, it was not in a derogatory sense as was commonly thought. He was essentially referring to gold as the last safe haven standing after the housing bubble, the bond bubble, and all the other bubbles have been decimated by our modern day counterparties. He meant "ultimate" as in "last in a series". "Gold is the only actual bull market currently" he told Reuters but stressed that it won't last forever. While it's true that he has described gold as "not safe", this must be taken in the context that, in his words, "this is a period of great uncertainty, so nothing is very safe".

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Gold's Four Month Habit

Gold is a very fractal animal for whatever reasons, and its inscrutable repetitious habits can be taken advantage of. As investors, ours is not to reason why; ours is to profiteer off whatever we can as long as it's legal. With that proverb in mind, let's look at an odd habit gold has - the four month phases.

David Nichols emphasizes in his work that gold tends to make its moves in well defined time frames. In a February 27, 2009 article he wrote for he describes one of those:

Although most of my work on market fractal patterns is concerned with the patterns and structures in price movement, there is also a clear time component to this amazing growth pattern in gold. Gold has been moving in 4 month units, with the hyper-growth phases -- and also the big recent correction -- consisting of 2 of these units, or 8 months.

This was clear in gold's behavior up to that date, and it certainly has been clear in its behavior since: (click to enlarge charts)

Here we see the pattern of a four or 8 month climb always followed by a four month consolidation. There are pullbacks to a nice, smoothly climbing, parallel set of 140 and 200 day EMA curves, which are the ideal buy points like clockwork. We just experienced one of these going into February. And the RSI dips to near 30 every time along with these trips to the 140, my favorite bull/bear reference. It's strange that we are just off all time highs, yet the RSI is moving around the 50 mark. The last time this happened was August 2009, and a powerful climb soon followed.

This all coincides with another time frame habit of another very related animal - the US dollar. It has an often noted 3 year cycle where approximately every 3 years it sharply dives to a new low. An excellent article on this is the one by Toby Conner in the 2/28/11 Financial Sense. The last new low was April/July 2008, and the really bad behavior of the dollar lately lends credence to Conner's projection of a dollar collapse to below the 2008 low of 70 - a sharp move from the 76 we're at now:

There seems to be a quandary over the safe-haven flight at this correction. Money doesn't want the dollar, as the above chart clearly shows, and bonds - well they are fast becoming a pariah. Cash is beginning to severely under-perform real inflation. That leaves gold and silver as the last safe-haven standing. So the 3 year habit of the dollar animal is matching up perfectly with the 4 month habit of the gold beast. How do these dumb animals know ahead of time what we shrewd humans are thinking?

Ours is not to reason why. If these creatures of habit live on, we are due for a major new profiteering gold climb starting in April.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

One More Canary

The leader groups in the market have been telegraphing the turns in the S&P 500 pretty well the last few years, and recently they have all held hands and sung a new song. I've written an article all about this What Tunes Are The Market Canaries Singing These Days ? over at Seeking Alpha, but since it's an exclusive to them, I can't post it here. I was remiss, however, in not pointing out one of the biggest, baddest canaries of them all, which I will do here.

This bad ass canary is the tracking of the cash levels of mutual funds. It is a contrary indicator because it depends on funds being the market, and if they are all in, the supply of dry powder for further upside gets pretty low. And for the last 40 years, that's about the way it has played out:

This history clearly shows the market was crusin' for a brusin' any time the cash level got down anywhere near 4%. This happened in 1972 in front of the '73/'74 beating, in early 2000 in front of the '00/'01/'02 beating, and in 2007 just in front of the '08/'09 beating. Well, Mister Market may want to brace for another assault and battery, because we are at around 3.5% now.

It should be noted that economic cycles are also very important, and each of these dips to below 4% happened in front of recessions. The only dip that didn't was the one in 1976, and the market's decline wasn't very bad after this cash level drop to around 4.5%. We currently are in an economic recovery cycle, so if we can avoid another recession, a market drop may not be so terrible.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nichols' Last Stand ?

The 64 month parabolic gold fractal as espoused by David Nichols in The Fractal Gold Report is entering a do-or-die zone the next couple weeks or so. As you know if you've been reading my posts, Nichols has been using fractal analysis to call the moves of gold to a high level of accuracy for years now. He says these moves are all within the context of a large scale parabolic growth fractal - the 64 month pattern that repeatedly shows up in big bull markets. This fractal must end in a parabola ending blow-off spike to around $2000 - and then the big collapse. The sprout point of this he reckons as September 2005, which agrees strongly with the silver chart; and the end of it is January 2011. Given that plus or minus a month is his tolerance for the pattern, and that other big scale cycles would have a flip occurring in gold from bullish to bearish by Feb 18, the finish line for the 64 month drama is just in a couple of weeks.

Well, where is the drama ? There is no drama ! Nichols first expressed puzzlement many weeks ago over gold's "delayed launch" and now must have a huge collapse immediately to mark the end of this 64 month growth fractal. Gold clearly isn't in any kind of 1979 style parabola ending mode. And it appears to be finishing up a pretty normal and orderly correction from overbought to oversold - as if it were tooling along somewhere in the middle of a bull market. No blow-off spike to a top and thus no big collapse. What's going on here ? How could a guy who has been getting the intermediate term moves in gold so right for so long be so wrong on the big overall pattern ?

Well, as I've been suggesting for awhile now, I think it is a matter of scale. My fractal posts basically say Nichols is right about the overall fractal pattern gold is in, but he may have the wrong scale of it in mind. As fractals are wont to do, they proliferate the same thing in all different scales. And gold may well be in the larger scale version of the 64 month iteration that Nichols has been focused on. I've given several examples from history of this bull fractal in my previous posts - it happens. And it seems to be happening with gold, as it did in gold's previous bull market of the 70s.

But Nichols has not recanted his 64 month doctrine - that apostate, that hard-necked heathen. As I've mentioned before, he used to be a true believer, saying in 07 and 08 that the commodity bull in general and gold in particular is the anti-fiat way to invest and has many years to run. Then he went astray with this January 2011 thing. He may have to come back into the fold, however, in two weeks. He more or less has drawn that line in the sand himself. From his February 1 Report on gold's action:

I have been pointing to a retracement up into the $1,355 to $1,365 zone to give us a clearer picture of this pattern, and the "tails" on the daily candles are starting to stack up just under this zone.

This seems like a set-up for an intraday foray up into the $1,355 - $1,365 zone that cannot hold into the close, leaving a long "tail" on the daily candle. This would not be a bullish development, as it would satisfy the requirement for a 38.2% retracement of the drop, but leave gold with a weak price pattern. If I had to guess, this is how I think it will develop right here.

The other alternative is a strong rally higher that holds up in this $1,355 to $1,365 zone through the close. But in my opinion it is going to take a close solidly over $1,365 to warrant taking baby steps back onto the bullish side.

He seems to be saying, "OK, if gold climbs back up over $1365 and doesn't do any February dive to oblivion, I was wrong about the 64 months". We'll take him back wholeheartedly into the flock of gold bulls.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bull Fork vs Bear Fork Comparison For Fractal Gold

The correction in gold this past week has gold fans trying to gauge its significance. About a month ago I posted on gold's big fractal fork in the road, and this correction is occurring right in the middle of the fork. So let's look at this fork. The two directions gold may take are a bearish path if we are in the 64 month bull market fractal (which ends this month, January 2011), and a bullish path if we are instead in a bigger scale of this fractal and are actually going into the mellow part of the 2nd parabola climb of this fractal. As I pointed out in my fractal fork post, the best way to discern which big fractal pattern we are in is the duration of the downtrend separator of the twin parabolas that make up the structure of this fractal. In gold's case, this downtrend is a little ambiguous as to whether it's the 1 year or less version that accompanies the 64 month fractal or the bigger 2 year or thereabout version that accompanies the larger scale overall pattern that seems to typically run around a 9 year length (plus or minus a year or so). To wit:

Here we see the inards of the larger scale bull-case pattern with the ultimately higher end price for gold with the 1 3/4 year separator. This would suggest a present pullback to about $1280 to a gently curving support area. This also is suggested by some technical analysis I ran across having nothing to do with fractals. Now for the bear fork possibility:

If you interpret the downtrend separator as this sharper, shorter version, it points to the 64 month as being the fractal we are in. The puzzlement with this is why haven't we seen the parabola ending manic spike in gold ? Well, if you subscribe to the popular train of thought that the big money bankers are to blame for suppressing the price of gold and silver to prevent panic over the dollar's problems, you would have to suspect that they were wary of what gold was starting to do late last year and perhaps did a total snuff-out of this spike. This is how the bankers think - Paul Volcker is on record as saying that one of the big mistakes made in the '70s was that they did not "manage" the price of gold better. This would leave us with just the collapse at the end of the 64 month fractal.

Which is the case should become apparent in a couple months or so. Just comparing the other examples of these various fractals, you see that in the shorter 64 month scale, the mid-course downtrend ends and the 2nd parabola starts usually right at around the 3 year mark. In the larger fractal, this usually occurs around 4-5 years. In our present gold bull, the 2nd parabola is starting at the 4 year mark. Even with the shorter downtrend, this puts it at over 3 1/2 years. And the 2nd parabolas tend to begin by overlapping the latter stages of the downtrend consolidations - this produces a disjointed curve in the shorter fractal version. These things, along with the bigger fundamental picture I discussed in the fractal fork post, seem to suggest that it's the bigger fractal that is in play.

But I am giving the smaller version possibility plenty of respect for now. Over the past week, I have done a serious re-weighting, taking a boatload of fat profits in gold to the sidelines for now. This would be prudent even if we are in the mellow early stages of a big 2nd parabola, where we will have typical overbought/oversold phases.

And it gives me an excuse to put more weighting into some good looking emerging sectors I've been lusting for - like agriculture. Some serious price action may be starting there as this food shortage article warns. It's a little melodramatic, but there have been a lot of trustworthy indicators pointing to some agri drama coming soon.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Natural Gas: The 100 Year Bridge

Google "bridge fuel" and you will see a long list of discussions about natural gas being our bridge fuel to the future. I was using this term about nat gas years ago before it became something of a buzz phrase. Unfortunately, it's not creating the buzz it deserves - yet. Just what do they mean with this "bridge" talk anyway? Well, if you want a literal picture of "the bridge" here it is:

Here we see the cumulative global production charts for crude oil and natural gas up until the early 2000s with the Hubbert calculation for peak and decline. If you add NGL (natural gas liquids) to the natural gas curve, the green line actually forms a pretty even double hump with the oil curve - about 25 years apart. Historically, gas has been a Cinderella byproduct of oil production, but as the geometry of the above chart shows, it is now becoming the belle of the ball as conventional crude passes peak.

Nothing on the earth - solar, wind, batteries, ethanols, or algea - is going to come anywhere near matching the massive scale that natural gas is already providing in the years immediately ahead. This situation alone should cause nat gas to be the #1 alternative fuel consideration. In other countries, it is. But in America, congress and our president are going out of their way to ignore it in their drive to make the USA the global village idiot of energy policy.

I want to look at something that has happened to the bridge above. The chart was made before the advent of shale fracing and the huge reserve increases made from the Marcellus, Haynesville, Fayetteville, Barnett and other shale plays. As a result of this recent development, the 25 year bridge has become what many are calling a 100 year bridge provided to us by natural gas before we have to scale up a fossil fuel replacement team. These plays in North America are only a small part of this reserve addition. Schlumberger and other American drilling giants have developed the drilling method, so it is being put into use here first. But there are many shale areas around the world awaiting development. So globally, it looks as if we may have a big safe bridge ahead of us to develop alternative energy on.

This outlook, however, may wind up being a dangerous illusion. Natural gas drilling and recovery is subject to the same math that oil obeys with regard to net energy discussed in my post Oil: Beyond The Barrel And Over The Cliff. Making a producing horizontal well with intense water fracturing, separation and recovery is a very energy intense way of getting gas energy online compared to the way we used to do it. Even with the old fashioned drilling, we are running up against this EROI wall about now :

This net energy study was done by Jon Friese, a software engineer in Minneapolis as part of his volunteer work with Twin Cities Energy Transition Group. He used Canadian data because they provide much better well data than our energy policy challenged US counterpart does, but by indirect comparison measures, he thinks pretty much the same thing is going on with drilling on the US side of the border. If you consider the "cliff" location to be the 3 to 4 zone of the EROI ratio as shown in my post, this drilling picture has us rushing there in just a few short years. Obviously, we need such a study for the shale drilling, but considering that it is more energy intensive than what is shown, the chart would likely look just as scary.

We have exponential problems we are coming up against long before we reach the end of the 100 year bridge:

Here I graphed what the number of rigs would have to look like on top of the gas production per rig chart as it follows a fitted straight line per past data collected by Baker-Hughes. Just to keep production flat, you have an exponential curve develop as per rig production declines. We will have to come up with new technology and operations that jar us away from this geology induced straight line descent, or we will be forced to punch holes in rock like crazy to meet energy demand. Will shale drilling do that for us?

Despite the vast reserve additions being booked for our natural gas supply, there are real causes for doubt as to whether we will actually see all this energy feasibly produced. Over at the and the Arthur Bermin has an article Shale gas: Abundance or mirage: Why the Marcellus Shale will disappoint expectations where he makes this bearish statement on the nat gas companies:

Shale gas plays in the United States are commercial failures and shareholders in public exploration and production (E&P) companies are the losers. This conclusion falls out of a detailed evaluation of shale-dominated company financial statements and individual well decline curve analyses. Operators have maintained the illusion of success through production and reserve growth subsidized by debt with a corresponding destruction of shareholder equity. Many believe that the high initial rates and cumulative production of shale plays prove their success. What they miss is that production decline rates are so high that, without continuous drilling, overall production would plummet. There is no doubt that the shale gas resource is very large. The concern is that much of it is non-commercial even at price levels that are considerably higher than they are today.
He states that profitability is hard to come by at sub $5 gas, and he is not alone in saying this. An attendee of the Biophysical Economics 2nd International Conference wrote on his blog, about a study of the Barnett Shale made by Bryan Sell comparing a conventional field to the shale field:

Recent studies have shown only 28% of these wells have been profitable, and Sell showed costs per foot drilled in the Barnett at $150, three times conventional well costs. Shale plays also tend to be much deeper than conventional wells, driving up per-well cost. The Marcellus and Haynesville plays are more difficult and deeper than Barnett, and cost per foot drilled is double or more what it is for Barnett.
Sell also had some net energy numbers to report on Barnett:
The EROI went from 84:1 in 2000 to 38:1 in 2007, and overall volume per well had also dropped to half over the same period. This trend suggests another halving in 7 years, a 10% decline rate. Despite initial positive EROI, Barnett will show lower EROI than the conventional PA play in about 10 years time.
If that's the case for all the shales, their EROI chart will look like the one above for conventional gas in just 10 years after they reach the stage of maturity that Barnett is at now - rushing to the edge of the net energy cliff.

Many analysts, including Jim Cramer, have pegged natural gas stocks as a next big thing. But they could be up against a pickle with spending a fortune for oil and other energy input costs to extract a product that is residing at near breakeven pricing with plenty of it on the market already. They may be in a chronic situation where they can mothball capacity to raise the gas price, put a small wave of it on the market until price declines force them back into mothballing again. There is plenty of gas there, but the energy and production costs may be an ongoing dilemma for decades.

I am a great fan of the Pickens Plan for natural gas energy independence for America. And I think natural gas is our best bridge fuel for getting us to the post carbon world. But the bridge may be shorter and shakier for us gas fans than we think.