In attempting to ascertain the overall strength of the global economy ( or at least what traders are thinking in regards to it) long time readers will understand that I prefer to monitor two key commodity markets, namely Copper and Crude Oil.
Of the two, crude oil tends to be a bit more elusive in nailing things down as it is much more liable to influences from geopolitical events which can distort its signal at times.
Copper tends to be more even-keeled and less likely to be as severely impacted by event-driven fluctuations in price.
I keep coming back to this amazing battle occurring in the Copper market which has been going on for some time now. It is a battle of the titans in my view - these titans being the large, well-capitalized speculative forces.
On the one hand we have the hedge funds. On the other hand we have the other large reportable traders.
Once again, they are at odds with each other on the future fortunes of copper.
Here is a look at the most recent Commitment of Traders chart detailing their positioning.
These two groups had recently been matching one another almost tit for tat. As the hedgies would pile onto the long side, the other large reportables were taking the other side of that same trade as they were positioning from the short side.
What this essentially translates to in the real world is that among the largest speculative forces in the market, there are two very distinct and sharply divergent opinions on which way the overall global economy is heading.
The hedge funds seem to favor improving growth, which is in line with the seemingly non-stop upward progress of the equity markets while the other large reportables favor a slowing of growth and a more deflationary looking environment as time moves forward. The view of the latter is aided by the overall fall in the various commodity indices such as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index for example and the recently declining TIPS spread.
Here is a intermediate term view of the copper chart which provides a bit of a larger perspective on how copper prices are generally performing.
The initial view of the chart suggests that prices are in a gradual decline lower which began three years ago. Within that time span, there have been rallies upward in price but those have failed to hold and the market then resumed its DOWNWARD GRIND.
Over the last year, Copper prices have not been able to penetrate the resistance zone noted on the chart. That is near the $3.40 level. Three weeks ago, a sharp rally erupted ( noted on the chart by the ellipse) which looked as if the big bet by the hedge funds was going to finally pay off, but there was no follow through the next week. This past week saw the market retreat lower once again.
In looking over the particular indicator I have chosen to exhibit on the chart, the RSI, I am noting that it has been effectively capped near the 60 level for the last three years. In the third quarter of 2012 it managed to poke its head through that level but then quickly failed once again. As one can determine by the use of this particular indicator, copper has been in a grinding move lower as a market with strong internals will always trade above 60 on the RSI during rallies. Such is not the case with the metal.
Why I wanted to put this chart up and discuss it is because it is indicative of the great lack of certainty among traders when it comes to knowing what lies ahead for the global economy. Without a convincing change for the better in the chart pattern of this key industrial metal, it is doubtful that we will see economic growth overall exceeding current expectations. While there is no doubt that the easy money policies of the Western Central Banks have succeeded in preventing things from worsening and have allowed more borrowing ( and thus more growth) to occur, traders are unclear what is going to happen if interest rates rise in the near future. This uncertainty is what is contributing to the relatively stagnant trading pattern in copper.
For me to come around to the view that the global economy is actually picking up speed, I would want to see a confirmation in this chart pattern by seeing that resistance zone which is overhead give way. For now the bull forces and bear forces are stalemated ( remember - I am speaking of intermediate time periods, not daily movements) with neither side being able to get a clear cut advantage.
Shifting to crude oil- I do want to note the sharp liquidation that took place in the crude oil market coming off of that record net long side exposure by the hedge funds. You can see on the COT chart the plunge in their net long positions ( almost 100,000!).
Here is the resultant chart pattern in crude oil...
You can easily see the rapid fall in price ($8.00 bbl) that their selling produced. The last three days of this week ( not reflected on the COT chart) saw the events in Ukraine and in Gaza send it back up. I would note however that Friday saw no upside followthrough from the sharp gains of Thursday. So far, the market has been unable to push through $104.
One last thing which I find interesting and it is related to the grains...
Take a look at the corn chart.
Even a novice could take one look at this chart and realize how bearish it has become. Yet if you look at the COT chart detailing the positioning of the hedge funds, ( and the other large reportables for that matter), you can see that both groups of the largest speculative traders in the market have been ON THE WRONG SIDE of this market since April. I find that utterly fascinating!
The hedge funds had built up a fairly sizeable net long position in April of this month, right about the time that prices began to collapse. Corn prices have fallen over $1.20/bushel since then and guess what? - they are still net long! They began building their net long position back in November of last year when prices were between $4.20 - $4.10 and they bought all the way to above $5.00. Price closed at $3.71 on Friday. Talk about losses! Yikes!
I have no idea what these guys are doing on the long side of the market when all of the techincals ( upon which their computer trades are based ) had all turned sour.
That being said, I find it hard to believe that now, while they are heading out of the door, that they are not going to move to the short side of this market, even after prices have fallen this low. If they do, and again, I have no way of knowing if they are indeed going to do so, there will remain considerable downside in this market.
Grains can be notorious for their sharp reversals which result from shifting weather forecasts but if the forecasts remain benign, the hedge funds have a lot more longs yet to liquidate even before they would end up on the short side of this market.
This is exactly what they did in the bean market.
Here is the COT chart for beans....
Since March of this year, the hedge funds have been bailing out of a very large long position they had built up in the bean market. This was fundamentally based around the concerns related to an extremely tight carryover. As ideas began to take hold of a large crop this year, prices began to move lower and that kicked off the round of long liquidation that merely gathered speed as the crop estimates grew larger.
Notice the sharp fall in price that has resulted!
Here is what is noteworthy, especially when one compares the positioning of the hedge funds in the soybean market against that of their position in the corn market. For the first time since 2011, the hedge funds are now NET SHORT in beans. It is not a large position, but it is one nonetheless. Traders will now be watching to see if they extend this position and begin to increase it significantly. If they do, beans have more downside.
Some of you might have noticed that I am not spending much time detailing gold these days. That is because I view gold trading in the current environment pretty much an enormous waste of time. It is being driven by geopolitical events. You tell me how the various geopolitical events will play out and I will tell you what gold will do next. The truth is I hate trading markets like that because they are too unpredictable. While the Gold ETF is showing some increase in gold holdings which is positive, a falling commodity index and a Dollar that is remaining relatively stable, are working to keep rallies in check. Also, any shift in sentiment in regards to higher interest rates coming will short circuit gold rallies.
For now, as long as traders are nervous about geopolitical events or for that matter, European banking problems, ( think Portugal ) gold will find buying support. Absent that I haven't a clue as to where it might go next and frankly I don't care. Until it shows some clear signs of a SUSTAINED MOVE in either direction, there are other ( and better ) fish to fry.
By the way, I will leave the reader with one last chart...
I am not expecting clothing prices to soar higher ( at least 100% cotton composition) any time soon...
"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
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