Elliott Waves

 


 

The recently ugly looking SPX. What used to be support is now resistance, and the next support level is already within hailing distance. Just as the market began to discount the beginning of 'QE2' before it started, it may now be discounting its end in advance as well. More turbulence seems likely in the medium term, but the short term outcome is less clear – click for higher resolution.

 


 

The sight of the above chart surely warms many a bear's cockles of the heart. Alas, there is a slight problem, or rather more than one. As our readers know, we have warned all year long about the growing risk in the market. For a while we probably sounded unduly alarmist, but evidently this is no longer the case.

Taking the advocatus diaboli position from a bear's perspective, here is what  bears should worry about when looking at the above chart. It concerns the Elliott wave count. How does one count this properly? Take the decline from the February high to the March low and the subsequent rally to the April high. Nowhere is there an impulse wave in sight. Both the decline and the rally consisted of a clearly discernible three waves, which by definition means they are corrective waves. Waves A and B of a larger corrective structure perhaps? In that case, the current decline would be wave C of said structure (which may in the end e.g. consist of 5 waves. 3-3-5 is a frequently occurring form in Elliott wave theory), and that would mean that what has happened since February is merely a correction of the preceding advance (see also further below for this proposed wave labeling).

Now let us briefly look at the initial advance from the March 2009 low to the April 2010 high.

 


 

A daily chart of the SPX, showing the first major leg up of the post 2008/9 crash advance. It is difficult to label this an impulse wave. The biggest problem is posed by the middle part from July 2009 to January 2010 (inside the rectangle). This can not possibly represent wave 3 of an impulse. If it is a third wave, then where exactly is wave 3 of 3? The rules say that the third wave of any degree must never be the shortest wave; since wave 3 itself must also consist of five waves, then if we try to retrofit it anywhere into the July to January advance, we are continually faced with the problem that the putative forth waves enter into the territory of the second or even first waves,  which is not allowed – click for higher resolution.

 


The reason why we show the daily chart of the initial advance above is because Elliott Wave International (EWI) in late March proposed a wave count for what they regard as wave II of C of the secular bear market that began in the year 2000. This wave count looked as follows:

 


 

This is the wave count of wave II of C proposed by EWI in late March. To us it looks as though the innards of wave Y should be relabeled. Also, it seems possible that the proposed wave C of II may not be finished yet, as the action since the February high looks like a corrective structure and not like a beginning impulse wave – click for higher resolution.

 


 

EWI has been forced to relabel this structure several times already, as their analysts thought that wave II (of C) had ended on several previous occasions on the way up. We certainly agree with the longer term view that states that the secular bear market still has some way to go. In this view, the secular bull market ended in the year 2000. The initial phase of the bear market from 2000 to 2002 represents wave A, which consists of three major waves. The cyclical bull market from 2002 to 2007 also had three waves (in most indexes) and although the DJIA and SPX made new all time highs, these were not confirmed by Nasdaq, OEX and several other sub indexes (note here that the Nasdaq and several small cap indexes have different long term wave counts than DJIA or SPX). Especially noteworthy was the fact that the OEX topped in 2007 at the exact 61.8% Fibonacci retracement level of the 2000-2002 decline – the strongest hint we have that the cyclical bull market from 2002 to 2007 was in fact a a corrective wave within a secular bear market.

 


 

The OEX since the top of the secular bull market in 2000. This is a cap weighted index  of the 100 largest capitalization stocks listed in the US. It peaked in 2007 almost exactly at the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement of  the 2000-2002 bear market. In terms of its performance,  this index is more or less an average of the performance of the S&P 500 and the NDX. This suggests that that the bear market did indeed begin in the year 2000 and remains in force. The biggest question is whether the 2007-2009 decline is only wave 1 of C of the bear market, or if it is e.g. a complete wave C of a developing double-three (a-b-c-X-a-b-c) or some other corrective formation. There are many strong arguments in favor of the idea that the secular bear market is not over – click for higher resolution.

 


 

The secular bear market since 2000. The first rectangle shows wave A, the subsequent rally into 2007 is wave B. The second rectangle shows an impulse wave (i.e., a 5 wave structure), which EWI counts as wave 1 of C, with the rally since its end representing all of or a portion of wave 2. However, one could argue for different interpretations as well. The EWI count is predicated on the notion that the secular bear market represents the beginning stage of a deflationary grand super-cycle (GSC) correction. This would indicate a correction at one degree higher than the super-cycle wave that preceded it (the super-cycle wave is thought to have begun at the 1932 low, which in turn represents the low of wave IV of the GSC). We think it is almost impossible to make such a determination – more on that topic follows below – click for higher resolution.

 


 

We are not sure how to properly label the advance from the 2009 low (if any of our readers have a good idea, let us know). We only think that the putative wave A as proposed by EWI can not be regarded as a proper five wave advance. We do however feel fairly certain that the entire rally  is a corrective advance  – it has a corrective 'look and feel' to it as it were. There is for one thing the fact of the many wave overlaps in the middle part of the initial advance. Then there is the persistent decline in trading volume – the higher the market goes, the lighter trading volume seems to become.

However, the biggest hint that the rally is corrective in nature is given by the fact that bullish sentiment has reached new historical extremes in terms of a number of measures. For instance, the mutual fund cash-to-assets ratio has fallen to a new all time low of 3.4%. Several measures of options speculation (there are many ways to disaggregate options data) have also reached new extremes in the course of the advance and many other quantitative sentiment measures, such as e.g. the various permutations of Rydex fund asset ratios, cash inflows into ETFs, speculative futures positions, net long exposure of hedge funds and so forth have reached extremes that are consonant with what has previously been seen at major market tops.

What we are also fairly sure of is that the most recent formation on the SPX daily chart is some sort of corrective wave – in this case however it is correcting the preceding rally, which indicates that there should be at least one more rally attempt before the decline resumes. It is of course possible that the wave count will have to be altered again in light of future developments – but there are a number of reasons why the above interpretation  seems  likely. Let us zoom in again on the recent action:

 


 

The moves in the SPX since the February high look corrective – three waves down for A, three waves up for B, and a C wave is now apparently in progress. If this is the correct interpretation, then something like the move indicated by the blue line could happen next – another impulse wave higher that basically retests the high, followed by a bigger decline. Note that this idea does not amount to a 'forecast'. Corrective waves can often become far more complex  – e.g., the A-B-C may be followed by an X wave and then another A-B-C. It could even become a 'triple three' or some other complex pattern. This is just not knowable at this point. What we do know is only that the recent pattern looks corrective – click for higher resolution.

 


 

From a sentiment perspective, the widely appreciated fact that 'QE' is ending and won't be restarted before there is considerably more damage to stock prices may help to create a short term low. As we have noted on several previous occasions, there is currently a strange dichotomy in the sentiment data – the more short term oriented ones show that sentiment has become quite cautious/bearish, while the longer term oriented ones continue to look rather alarming.

Both economic activity and asset prices have become extraordinarily  dependent on monetary pumping. One must keep in mind here that a boom based on credit expansion – even if it is only a faint echo boom – constantly needs new infusions of credit and money. As soon as the credit expansion stops, the boom is nearing its end. Since the commercial banking system is currently paralyzed and unwilling to expand its inflationary lending and potential borrowers are likewise unwilling to take on more debt, the central bank and the government have become almost the sole purveyors of growth in the money supply and credit market debt.

It is an interesting new twist that the Fed appears to be 'giving up' on its inflationary policy for the moment. Ben Bernanke is on record for berating Japan's central bank for not 'having done enough' to 'reflate' Japan's economy, but lately he sounds just like many a BoJ governor has sounded in the past. On occasion of his first press conference in April he noted that

 

“There's little the Fed can do to target long-term unemployment in particular, Bernanke said. […]

"We don't have any tools for targeting long-term unemployment specifically. We can just try to make the labor market work better broadly speaking," he said. "It becomes really out of the scope of monetary policy. At that point, job training, education and other types of interventions would probably be more effective." Discussing whether to focus on the jobs crisis or inflationary concerns, Bernanke says the "tradeoffs are getting less attractive."

 

(our emphasis)

It appears from this that Bernanke has taken the arguments of some of his more hawkish colleagues at the Fed to heart. For once we agree with his analysis – monetary pumping can not really 'create jobs', because it can not create sustainable economic growth. Jobs do not create growth, it is the other way around. Jobs that have been created in support of 'bubble activities' (all the non-wealth-generating economic activities that have solely sprung up on the back of money supply inflation) are not sustainable because these economic activities are not sustainable. To the extent that unemployment is structural – i.e., institutional unemployment that is the result of 'pro-labor legislation' such as minimum wage laws – it will remain in place until the legislation hampering the labor market is repealed (which is to say, likely never).

However,  these remarks by Bernanke are in stark contrast to his previous stance as expressed in his critiques of Japan's monetary policy. We don't think that he has really given up on these ideas. Alas, what his recent stance reflects is a shift in social mood. The widespread belief that the central bank is 'in control'  of the economy is beginning to crumble. The people in charge of the Fed are subject to the same social and political pressures that everybody else in society is subject to. Once the social mood of society shifts, the views of the Fed's governors shift with it. This means that the stock market is likely to have a difficult time ahead of it until there is fresh 'political cover' for the Fed to restart its inflationary policy with 'QE3' (or whatever it will be called). The point here is that even if the market turns around in coming days and proceeds to act as implied by the corrective structure it has built in recent weeks, the medium term outlook will remain dim. It should also be noted that things may play out differently – it is e.g. possible for the C wave indicated in the above chart to become much bigger before a reversal happens.

 

Historical Determinism and the Grand Supercycle

R.N. Elliott's Elliott Wave Principle theory of stock market movements was the result of his observation that the market's moves are fractally patterned. In other words, one can observe that the wave patterns are recurring at different degrees of trend. This can be easily ascertained by looking at e.g. 10-minute charts and comparing them to weekly or monthly charts. The basic patterns do indeed appear to repeat at these vastly different time scales.

Having come to this conclusion, Elliott then classified the different recurring bullish and bearish wave forms. Since the theory states that the market is always patterned and that the patterns are following certain rules, then one conclusion from this is that the market can not be moved by exogenous forces (exogenous events would otherwise be able to abort certain patterns). Every market participant knows that there is some truth to this. For instance, it is well known that a 'bull market ignores bad news' and that a bear market ignores good ones. As Robert Prechter once pointed out, if one looks e.g. at a chart of the DJIA during the 1960's, it would be impossible to tell from it when president Kennedy was assassinated. It follows from this and countless similar examples, so Prechter, that the market's movements are the result of endogenous, market-immanent forces.

It is also known that there are business cycles and hence there should also be corresponding stock market cycles. Robert Prechter has gone one step further and created a new field of research he calls 'socionomics'. This is essentially a variation of behavioral finance, the idea that investors tend to herd. The same  idea is also the basis of Elliott Wave Theory (EWT) as such.  Socionomics extends the wave principle's observations to all human activities – it asserts that the fractal patterns that exist in the stock market can also be discerned in economic, political and cultural trends. The basic idea is that the wave principle and the related concept of 'social mood' exist whether there is or isn't stock market. The stock market is merely the foremost barometer of said social mood – the venue in which society's optimism and pessimism are expressed most forcefully and quickly and which thus mirrors society's general emotional state. However, there is a problem with the primacy of 'social mood' in this theory. It fails to explain what actually causes the social mood phenomenon. According to EWT and its off-shoot socionomics, all market, economic, political and cultural trends can be explained by the patterned behavior of social mood – but it stops there. The theory offers no explanation for what is responsible these mood shifts – it is as though they were simply a 'given'. 

Since fractal patterns imply that the ups and downs of the market must occur at every degree of trend, EWT implies the existence of both very small and very large cycles. If one 'zooms out' and looks at a very long term stock market chart – from the time when stocks first began to trade in the late 17th century – one can indeed recognize the patterns described by EWT. This over 300 years long stock market history is described as the 'Grand Supercyle' (GSC) by EWT. The GSC in turn consists of five waves of 'supercyle' degree. In the wave count proposed by EWI, the early history of the market is a corrective wave at GSC degree , in which the decline from the top of the South Seas bubble is wave 'A', and the following 64 year long bear market into the 1786 low consists of waves 'B' and 'C'. The 1720 top of the South Seas bubble ended the previous GSC, which obviously began before stocks were trading.

In this view, the new GSC started in 1786, when the stocks began trading in the US. Its 5 supercycle degree waves are : wave (I) from 1786 to 1835, wave (II) from 1835 to 1859, wave (III) from 1859 to 1929, wave (IV) from 1929 to 1932, and  wave (V) from 1932 to 2000. Below are two charts showing the early GSC degree waves:

 


 

The latter part of wave (I), wave (II) and the early part of wave (III) of the GSC – click for higher resolution.

 


 

Waves 4 and 5 of GSC wave (III), GSC wave (IV) and the beginning of GSC wave (V) – click for higher resolution.

 


 

In this interpretation, GSC wave (V), a supercyle wave that lasted from 1932 to 2000, consisted of the following 5 waves:  wave 1 from 1932 to 1937, wave 2 from 1937 to 1949, wave 3 from 1949 to 1968, wave 4 from 1968 to 1982, and wave 5 from 1982 to 2000.

EWI therefore concludes that the bear market that began in 2000 is not merely a correction at 'supercycle' degree, but at GSC degree. This implies that the secular bear market that is in train could last anywhere from six to eight decades – if the only example of a GSC degree stock bear market that exists (1722 to 1786) is any indication. We would submit however that is is nigh impossible to make such a determination. It seems quite possible to us that a market analyst looking at the same long term charts a century from now will come to the conclusion that the wave count needs to be materially altered. In addition, we don't agree with the implicit assertion that there is 'nothing we can do' about this envisaged development – that is is in fact predetermined.

The idea of a predetermined cycle once again runs into the problem that EWT/socionomics does not provide us with a satisfactory explanation for the causes of the ups and downs of social mood. If we accept that social mood is patterned, then what causes these patterns? We believe Nelson Hultberg expressed it best in an essay he wrote in 2003:

 

“Investor mood moves the market and determines the wave patterns that prices take. But what is it that causes the psychological mood of the investing public? It is not a given. It doesn't exist as a primary. Investor mood is caused by something. In my opinion (and in the opinion of a whole bevy of highly astute analytical minds going back many decades), investor mood is brought about by a myriad of fundamentals acting upon the human minds that comprise the marketplace. It is the summation of all these various fundamentals in the millions of investor minds every day (supply and demand, corporate earnings, monetary growth, Fed policy, wars, tragic events, corruption, debt overload, etc.) that determines the mood of the investing public. This psychological mood does indeed form waves, and therefore it can be charted. But it is not primary! It is derivative. That is to say it is derived from the fundamentals that comprise everyday life.

According to Prechterian theory, though, it is just the other way around. As Prechter sees it, fundamentals are brought about by the "psychological mood" of the public. Thus, Elliott practitioners' insistence on charting this mood via wave analysis. They maintain that they are tapping into the primary force of the market with their wave counts, and that this will lead one to the best possible forecast for future price movements.

But if this is so, then they still have to answer the question, what causes this psychological mood? And once that cause is identified, would it not then be the real "primary" force to tap into? All phenomena of the universe are caused by something. They do not exist axiomatically. They are brought about by preceding causes. This is basic science — cause and effect. It extends to all phenomena of the universe. Therefore, Prechterian theory is flawed in that it appears to consider "psychological mood" as a given and does not try to explain it's origin.

Traditional fundamental analysis, on the other hand, does explain the origin of the investing public's psychological mood. It does not consider it to be a given. Investor mood is brought about by the vast coalescence of fundamentals in the minds of millions of investors that make up the marketplace. Investors then bid prices up or down depending upon the mood that results from their interpretation of these fundamentals.

Are the fundamentals then primary? No. They are caused by human action guided by all the various drives of human nature – ambition, love, power lust, greed, security, etc. Investor mood moves the market, but it is fourth in the cause and effect chain. For example:

Human nature [creates] human action [which creates] fundamentals [which create] investor mood [which creates] price direction.”

 

As an aside, when Hultberg wrote this essay, he tried to show why EWI's then bearish stance on gold was likely incorrect. He turned out to be right. The essential fundamental datum that came into play when the secular downturn in stocks began in the year 2000 was that the Federal Reserve would likely proceed print a lot of money and keep interest rates artificially low and that therefore, the price of gold was highly likely to continue to rise. This is exactly what has happened. Since the beginning of 2001, the US broad 'true money supply' TMS-2 has increased by over 150%. Gold has reacted precisely as Hultberg expected.

The same holds in our opinion for the stock market. It is true that the Fed has  in reality much less control over the economy and the markets as it would like to have or as its officials apparently believe it has. However, stock prices and other prices in the economy are not independent of the actions of the Fed, given its unlimited capacity to create new money from thin air. While it can not be determined a priori which prices will rise the most, we can infer from economic theory that an artificial lowering of the interest rate below its natural rate will likely have an especially big effect on all those items the present value of which is subject to discounting over long time periods. Titles to capital – i.e., stocks – and commodities are therefore highly likely to rise when the money supply is inflated.

From the point of view of the larger cycle – the secular bear market in stocks that began in the year 2000 – it probably means that the market won't decline as much in nominal terms as EWI's analysts believe (according to their long term forecast, the DJIA should eventually sink 'below 400 points', so as to enter the price territory of the preceding fourth wave of one lower degree). The fact that our modern monetary system is based on fiat money, the supply of which can be increased at will, can not be wished away. In terms of real money, i.e., gold, the stock market has declined by nearly 85% since the year 2000 – a decline that is already very similar in extent to the 1929 to 1932 bear market. However, it seems highly unlikely that nominal prices will suffer a similar decline. The constant inflation of the money supply demonstrably plays a large role in the long term behavior of stock prices.  For instance, after Nixon abandoned the gold exchange standard in 1971, the old historical relationship between stocks and their dividend yields was soon altered – in the course of the 1990's bull market, stock yields suddenly fell to a much lower level than what was deemed possible from historical experience. The only logical explanation for this behavior is the unbridled money supply inflation that the adoption of a pure fiat money system made possible.

History often 'rhymes' as Mark Twain observed, which is no doubt a reflection of unchanging human nature. It therefore certainly makes sense to examine historical patterns, whether in the stock market or in other fields of human endeavor. We can in short certainly learn from history. Alas, 'rhymes', as Mark Twain also noted, is not the same as 'repeats'. There is no invisible force that predetermines how the future will turn out. To us it seems most likely that the secular bear market will ultimately become a complex pattern in a wide downwardly sloped  trading range. A good example for such a bear market pattern is for instance given by the long term chart of Japan's Nikkei, which during its first bear market decade looked very similar to how the Nasdaq has so far performed since its blow-off top in the year 2000.

 


 

The Nikkei's secular bear market. As Japan's money supply growth during this bear market period was very slow, the damage the Nikkei suffered in nominal terms was greater than that suffered by the US stock market in its bear market to date, as US money supply growth over the corresponding period was much more pronounced. However, the Nikkei's pattern over the first decade of its bear market is very similar to the Nasdaq's pattern in its firs bear market decade. After the initial strong decline from the top, the Nikkei has entered a downwardly sloped wide trading range – click for higher resolution.

 


 

Charts by: StockCharts.com, Bigcharts, Sharelynx, Decisionpoint.com


 

 

 

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9 Responses to “Deliberations On The US Stock Market”

  • Mikesmarket:

    See comments misplaced under the next article The Edifice of debt

  • Floyd:

    I’m hard pressed wrt to EW.

    Elliott Wave Principle is not a theory. It is a mere hypothesis. Evidently, it is empiric, with little conceptual foundation.
    This is not to say that EW is nonsense, but it is bound to have limitations.
    I have little issue with the lack of cause-effect for a patterned wave progression of social mood, but would expect it to be self-consistent (it isn’t imho).

    Why does all market movements should comply with EW? Isn’t it more likely that some portion of the movements follow the EW principle?
    Is it plausible that not all market movements have been classified? (This could explain some of the difficulties we observe)
    How could EW be applied to completely different asset classes independently of each other?
    EWI applied EWP to Treasury prices as well as their interest, even though they have a quite complex math relation. Does EWP preserve under the bond price/interest conversation?
    What happens when distinct markets converge, as arguably happens with globalization …?

    I’m hard pressed that the major stock market indexes is a good barometer for said social mood waves.
    Recall that the mechanics of stock markets keep changing (tools, inflation of the currency, degree of manipulation). That is the yard stick itself keeps changing.

    Another issue, is that EWP is a pretty complex fractal, and the guidelines span over dozens of pages. That’s not very reassuring.
    EW practitioners have to decide whether they measure stocks in currency or gold. If the former they have to account for its manipulation …

    Last, but not least, any effective prediction method should account for the influence of the prediction itself (that is, when it is effective). Does EWP account for its own influence?

    • Floyd:

      PS:
      I should have started with:

      Thanks for the good post.
      It is a facinating read (and helpful) – as always.

    • The ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ aspect should not be underestimated as it were. I have a suspicion that we see it in action quite often and not only in the context of EWT. You are correct that EWT is a purely empirical concept lacking a firm foundation based on deductive reasoning. This is its primary weakness as it were. Nevertheless, I find Robert Prechter’s missives in the ‘Elliott Wave Theorist’ publication almost always quite interesting. I also find that at least from a practical trading standpoint, the idea that herding plays a major role in the behavior of financial markets certainly has a lot going for it (regardless of whether this produces, as EWT states, ‘predictable patterns’). I wouldn’t go a far as Prechter as to argue that the ‘normal rules of economic reasoning’ are entirely reversed in financial markets, but one can not dismiss the underlying reasoning in its entirety. I will revisit that particular topic – the extent to which financial market participants are acting rationally – in a future post.

  • Nice work, all of it. First of all, I got an Elliott Wave counting for you in my own blog:

    http://themarketsbullfighteranalisisgrafico.blogspot.com/2011/06/analisis-de-elliott-del-sp500.html

    The post is in spanish. Maybe you do not undesrtand the text, but I think the chart is clear enough. As I see it, we are in the last stages of a very complex correction from the 2009 lows. Problably a double three, but there are other possible interpretations that are really close to the one on the chart. The first connecting X wave is, in my opinion, a simple flat, with the final wave in that flat being a wedge. What we are doing right now is not easy to tell, but problably a triangle or another flat. In case the triangle shows up, you can expect to continiu this sideways movement till the summer end. If the flat is developing, you can count with the actual decline being completed around mid July.

    After that I expetct some more distribution to follow while the final top is finally formed. So, maybe the last wave up in the movement that began in march 2009 would be a wedge or maybe a complex flat, but I do not see too mucho room to the upside for this index. A possible target for me is 1400 by the end of the year.

    I want to apologize for my english. It is not too good. And I hope this chart is somewhat useful for your community. Ciao

    • Thanks, I’ve been looking for something like that and your count looks quite convincing to me. Note btw. that when we posted this article yesterday, one chart was omitted, this has now been fixed (instead of the chart detailing the near term action/wave count, the EWI long term count was posted a second time by mistake). As you can see from the corrected version, I would also expect a broad sideways move over the summer as the structure completes.

  • Ralph B:

    Mr T

    Thanks for an educational posting. I don’t have any investments but am trying to learn the ropes. I feel I have a better understanding now after reading this. Still not up to investing though…too scared.

  • TriggerPoint:

    While I think EW is an interesting concept and it does play out with hindsight…I find that you can go around and around in circles and Huxley said you go out the same door you went in.

    I have watched closely a few EW closely over the last few months in particular…one is down over 50% this year. The other I do not know, but they have made a few calls about this pattern being finished and a bottom has formed or a top, then a few days later, the market is crashing through the highs or lows. This is in particular reference to the USDCHF…the top was in according to the EW theorist at 88,86,85 etc…the same with the AUDUSD and the EURCHF,,,then a few days later they release another video with a completely revised outlook and count, and a redrawing of the lines. For me it is completely useless as a trading tool, and holding on to positions based on it could not be good for the nerves.
    As I say it all becomes clear after the fact, but not always. Its far too ambiguous IMHO.

    Instead a simple trend following system, that defines a trend in a primary time frame, then you can scale down the time frames and take positions in the direction of the primary trend.

    • I personally use it mainly as an additional tool to help gauge probabilities. I would agree that it is not a good stand-alone forecasting tool, especially due to the problem posed by the complexity of corrective waves. But I still think it is useful to know how it works and consider the implications of wave counts that are fairly clear (as they sometimes are).

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