We’ve noted that margin debt at the NYSE has been rising steadily as stocks have advanced in recent months. Like the stock market, total margin is close to all-time highs.
BofA Merrill Lynch technical analyst Mary Ann Bartels writes in a note to clients that cash balances in those margin accounts have fallen to such a low level that they are now generating a sell signal not seen in three years.
Here is Bartels:
Net Free Credits from the NYSE Margin Debt data shown in the chart below is essentially a measure of cash levels in margin accounts. Current levels have fallen to levels that have generated a tactical sell signal based on a 2-standard deviation Z-Score reading.
The last time a sell signal was generated was on April 2010 and the S&P 500 subsequently corrected by 16% in two months. Net free credits for January were at a negative $77.2 million or cash balances are negative and the Z-Score indicates the cash draw down has been excessive. So a contrarian sell signal is given.
Cash balances are plotted as black bars on the bottom graph in the chart below (click to enlarge).
Photo: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, NYSE, Bloomberg
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