ETF News Update: Red Flags Everywhere

Red flags are flying everywhere as we travel farther into the “sell in May and go away” period of the year.”  At Wall Street Sector Selector, we remain in a defensive posture and continue to enjoy unrealized gains in our inverse ETF positions and put options.

The View From 35,000 Feet

Lots of exciting things are going on around us as we head into late spring.

Here’s just a quick executive summary with my thoughts in parenthesis:

1. United States will reach its debt ceiling limit on Monday. (This one is making markets really nervous as witnessed by Friday’s action.  Everyone expects Congress to raise the ceiling but the Republican and Tea Party insistence on meaningful budget cuts first puts an unusual level of stress on this round of talks and turns it into a very high stakes game of chicken. 

2. On Friday it was announced that Medicare and Social Security are in worse shape than previously thought and will be unable to cover their current obligations earlier than expected. Medicare is expected to be out of money by 2024, five years earlier than expected, Social Security will exhaust its trust by 2036 and the disability insurance program will be underwater by 2018.  (No surprises here and this ties back to item #1 as it’s going to get ugly no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do.)

3. The commodity sell off continues as the dollar gains. (Much of the recent rally in commodities and equities was fuelled by the Fed easy money policy and weaker dollar.  With QE2 coming to an end and a possibly stronger dollar ahead, this could be a game changer for “buy the dip” strategies in both asset classes.)

4. There has been a significant rotation into “defensive” sectors like utilities and consumer stocks.  (This typically indicates money leaving “risk” assets and often portends market declines)

As I mentioned at the outset, “sell in May” is a proven, valid slogan because statistically the months from the end of October through the end of April, are in fact the best months of the year for investing while the six months from May through October are the “worst.” 

Finally for the week, one of the most sobering reports that received wide coverage in the blogosphere and mainstream media was the announcement by well known and widely respected analyst Jeremy Grantham who said that the market is currently 40% overvalued which would relate to 920 on the S&P 500 and that the current environment was too high risk for a prudent investor.

Weekly Developments:

Positive: Initial unemployment claims declined, continuing claims were mostly flat, and Michigan Consumer Sentiment rose to 72.4 from 69.8

Negative: Consumer prices and producer prices both rose substantially, indicating that inflation might be coming back more into the picture (we have been expecting this for sometime) and retail sales, although posting a gain, came in lower than the previous month’s report and below expectations, indicating ongoing weakness in the all important consumer sector.

What This All Means To You

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