What does it take to form a bottom? Is this the real deal?
We know that ever since the top formed when Alibaba (BABA) came public, pretty much everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. We have had the Ebola scare, the continual advance of ISIS, the collapse in oil, the accentuated slowdown in China, the end of an accommodative policy from the Fed and the recession from Europe, care of German tightfistedness and the sanction war with Russia.
First, I reiterate this is a treacherous market. When we could not hold after the Fed indicated that there is no hurry to raise rates this very weekend, we got a good China export number for September and we even heard peace rumblings in Ukraine. That was the sign that we have more work to do on the downside. And it is work, believe me. We have a genuine sense of panic as some want to get out ahead of others and an overall feeling that something lurks out there we don't know about.
So, rather than join the panic let me tell you what can stem it. Unfortunately for many investors, it's a tough scenario to play out.
First, Ebola must be brought under control. When the lead story in the Wall Street Journal is "Ebola Case Puts Focus on Safeguards," and the upper right hand corner of the New York Times says "Dallas Nurse Contracts Ebola Virus, Elevating Response and Anxiety," then we are not going to get any sort of bottom. These stories, from the get-go, read as if we do not know what we are doing as a nation. The fear is so palpable that we have to expect a SARS-like cutback in travel. SARS was contracted airborne, much easier than Ebola. The epicenter of that pandemic was Asia, responsible for 18% of air traffic back then and international volume fell 40%, according to an excellent comparison piece out this morning from Wells Fargo research. The airline stocks fell 25%.
Now, to use American (AAL) as a proxy, the stock peaked at $44 in June and has been pretty much straight down since then, all the way to $30. But it is still up 20% for the year. Once SARS got under control in the late spring of 2003 the group rallied hard. But the operative term is "under control" and because of so many conflicting reports and so few safeguards in travel it is reasonable to presume that the year's gain for American can disappear. Again, three caveats: SARs was much easier to catch and American's not at the heart of African travel and there are plenty of places where you are wrong to be fearful. But the SARs scare drove the S&P down 4% pretty much by itself. We have many other issues right now besides Ebola.
Second, we need all stocks to get hammered, not just the industrials and the oils. We still have some safe stocks out there that are hitting 52-week highs. That's not tenable for a bottom because there is no place to hide in a genuine selloff.
Third, we need speculation to be wrenched out of the market and that seems to be happening right now. We have the cult stocks getting hammered, stocks like Tesla (TSLA), Netflix (NFLX), Mobileye (MBLY) and GoPro (GPRO) and that, too, is vital for a bottom. Geez, we have had a lot of that today. I was gratified to learn that Mobileye is indeed in the Tesla for navigation, but we know that suddenly even Tesla's not that golden. I had been behind GoPro for ages but in the $90s said it's too expensive going into the holiday season and the can-you-top-this GoPro videos reached their extreme for me in the fabled Board and Goat surfing shorts.
Fourth, oil has to find its footing. Normally we wouldn't care all that much about oil going down. In fact, we would be saying it's terrific if it weren't for Ebola constraining travel. But the hedge funds had piled into everything from Cheniere Energy (LNG) to Anadarko (APC), Chesapeake (CHK), Devon (DVN) and anything sand or deep water and the chaos is palpable. The bounce in the oil futures that we have had today is like many a bounce: fickle, may not be long lasting.
Fifth, Internet, personal computer and cloud plays have to stabilize. They've all been part of a giant tech wreck since the Microchip (MCHP) preannouncement. Microchip's important. It implies a corrupted tech food chain, especially because the weakness is in China. Seasonably, September's always a great month. That was a brutal surprise and it even took down the formerly bullet-proof social media, disk drive and semiconductor capital equipment stocks. The latter's bouncing, led by Lam (LRCX). Let's see if it holds.
Sixth, we need an end to sanctions between Russia and the West over Ukraine while simultaneously Angela Merkel has to say "we are willing to run a deficit to get the continent growing again." This must happen because the 770 million people in Europe had been big takers of Chinese exports and many U.S. internationals depend on sales in Europe, which has just started coming around, especially the now moribund autos. Without an end to the sanctions, the dollar stays strong and earnings get whacked.
Seventh, many of the earnings reports have to come through, meaning we need beats and raises, not just in-lines. This must happen to all sorts of earnings, but beginning this week with the banks, which actually are acting well. Any sign of life from this bellwether group could truly help the cause of the bulls.
Eighth, the technical damage has to run its course. We are breaking all sorts of support levels, which is causing tremendous pressure, particularly in the Russell 2000. I can't see support for that index anywhere. Same with the formerly strong retailers and, perhaps worst given the low interest rates, the housing stocks. That shouldn't be happening. Nor should the chemicals be getting hammered like this with their raw costs so low. Again, that could be Europe.
Ninth, China has to come out with a dramatic stimulus plan that requires raw commodities to be bought. This doesn't seem to be in the cards, but without a rally in the commodities we just seem like we are headed to a worldwide recession that overrides our strength here.
Finally, this ISIS crisis has to show some signs of being stopped before Baghdad gets taken. I think that the potential fall of Baghdad setting up a terrorist state would be a major blow to U.S. foreign policy and consumer confidence.
Now it's pretty that this bounce has some life to it. Relentless selling can bring a snapback. But we need these boxes checked to make this one last. Without these I think we just have another relief rally that's a chance to lighten up. And nothing else.