Saturday, October 16, 2010

The war between Fundamental Analysis and Technical Analysis is being played out in the stock market. What is it telling us now?

I have been thinking about this post for a while. It was triggered by friends who see the stock market in diametrically opposed positions. It appears to look like a Bull versus Bear argument but it's really not. It is the difference between those who use Fundamental Analysis and those who use Technical analysis to make decisions about market direction and trading decisions and whether to Buy, Hold or Sell. In order to get at this problem, I must first explain the difference between both analysis techniques. For that I will use the 4th Edition book by Martin Pring titled, Technical Analysis Explained. It is considered the bible for those interested in Technical Analysis. I will not make this too lengthly, but it is important to lay this foundation before I get into where the market is going to go and why the opposing positions have the positions they do. I will conclude with a number of charts and some support for the idea that while the disparity will continue between these two positions, one position is going to lead the way into the future as it is doing right now behind the scenes.

Ok, here we go. "Technical Analysis in nothing more than a tool", says Martin Pring. But a very good tool I might add. "Technical Analysis is based on the assumption that people will continue to make the same mistakes they have made in the past." According to, "At the most basic level, a technical analyst approaches a security from the charts, while a fundamental analyst starts with the financial statements. By looking at the balance sheet, cash flow statement and income statement, a fundamental analyst tries to determine a company's value. In financial terms, an analyst attempts to measure a company's intrinsic value. If the price of a stock trades below its intrinsic value, it's a good investment.

Technical traders, on the other hand, believe there is no reason to analyze a company's fundamentals because these are all accounted for in the stock's price. Technicians believe that all the information they need about a stock can be found in its charts.

So currently the argument, for those using Fundamental Analysis, goes something like this. The S&P 500, based on historic terms is trading at about 21 times trailing price-earnings ratio and therefore is cheap as an investment today. That compares to the historical average of 16.4 since 1881 and is at the top end of the range pre-2000. The S&P 500 is expensive on a long-term basis, but and this is the big but, inexpensive compared to the past ten years. (Source: Prieur du Plessis)

Technical Analysts say, "Look at the charts! We are ready to drop significantly!" What do they base that argument on? A Head and Shoulder chart pattern. Let's take a look at several charts and explanations of the Head and Should pattern from several sources. The first chart shows a Head and Shoulder pattern looking at Oil prices back in time with an explanation on how to read the chart information.

This second chart shows a classic head and Shoulder pattern on a usual uptrend similar to the latest market movement this past few years.

This 3rd chart depicts more closely, the current market trend of the past 20 or so years and how to determine how far it should drop, and shows the neckline to measure the amount of the expected drop.

And the last 2 charts show the Dow and S&P 500 for the past 30 years and the big Head and Shoulder pattern we are starring at as Technical Analysts. It explains why many from this camp are very worried about the future.

One other very important relevant piece of information, High Frequency Trading now controls about 70% of the market volume traded in a single day (Source, 60 Minutes broadcast of Oct. 10th). It has also been determined by the SEC, that the single one day crash on May 6th where the market dropped over 600 points in 15 minutes was caused by the High Frequency trades made. It was caused by an algorithm (a set of rules to be followed in calculations and problem solving by a computer). Since May 6th, the SEC has instituted trading curbs, which stop the trading in any security which drops 10% in a short amount of time. Since the trading curbs have been in place a number of times the market has had to be stopped because of similar algorithms by other firms had glitches. The market is not being run by the individual investor, it is being run right now by computers, which were set up by humans, who tend to repeat the same mistakes, as I stated in the beginning of this piece. This is why I like Technical Analysis. You know we humans are going to panic at some point in the very near future. What will be the trigger is anyone's guess. But I think any rational person would agree we are going to panic and we are all just waiting like deer frozen in the headlights.

It has been painful staying on the short side of this market recently, but it will pass. I wish it weren't so, but I am worried many are going to feel some really bad pain and they are going to say it was unforeseen. The Fed will be the first to use that excuse when it happens. Just watch!

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