Stock Market Secular Trend Review

December 30th, 2012
in contributors, syndication

by Erik McCurdy, Prometheus Market Insight

We stress often the need for proper context when performing market analysis. Short-term price behavior only has meaning when analyzed in the proper context afforded by the long-term view, so all investing and trading strategies should begin with a thorough understanding of the current secular environment. There have been five secular trends in the stock market since the crash in 1929, three downtrends and two uptrends.

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Follow up:

The current secular bear market began in 2000 following a speculative run-up during the second half of the 1990s. As usual, market behavior clearly signaled that a secular inflection point was approaching and our Secular Trend Score (STS), which analyzes a large basket of fundamental, internal, technical and sentiment data, issued a long-term sell signal in December 1999. At the time, our computer models predicted that stocks would enter a secular bear market that would last from 10 to 20 years. Following the topping process in 2000, a prototypical secular downtrend began and continues today.

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Stock market secular trends typically last from 10 to 20 years, depending upon the nature of underlying structural economic trends. Since we are currently in the final stage of a debt expansion cycle that began 60 years ago, it is highly likely that the current secular bear market is still several years away from its terminal phase.

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The STS supports the hypothesis that this secular downtrend is far from over as the score has yet to return to positive territory following the sell signal in 1999. Secular inflection points develop slowly, usually over the course of 6 to 12 months, so the STS will provide plenty of advance warning when the next true investment opportunity develops in the stock market.

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Secular trends are themselves composed of cyclical subcomponents, and the current cyclical uptrend began in March 2009. When they occur during secular bear markets, cyclical rallies have an average duration of 33 months. Therefore, at a current duration of 45 months, the bull market from 2009 is almost certainly in the final stage of its development. Following the market crash in 2008, the latest cyclical rally has been characterized by violent moves higher and lower. As expected in March, the last stimuli-fueled rally from October 2011 was followed by yet another violent retracement, and the uptrend has taken the form of a rising wedge, which is a technical formation that is usually followed by a severe decline.

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Cycle analysis predicted the formation of the latest intermediate-term cycle low (ITCL) when it developed in November. Since then, market behavior has tracked the intermediate-term scenario that our computer models identified as the most likely possibility when the low formed. A significant signal with respect to long-term direction could occur as soon as next week, so it will be important to continue monitoring market behavior closely.

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Additionally, it is important to remember that the risk/reward ratio of the stock market continues to hold near the highest level ever recorded. Anything can happen over short-term time periods, but the key to having consistent success over the long run as an investor and a trader is to stay aligned with the most likely scenarios and protect yourself from the unlikely ones. There will come a time when the risk/reward profile of stocks is once again favorable and the judicious study of market data will signal when that next long opportunity develops, just as it did in March 2009. However, now is a time for extreme caution and we remain fully defensive from an investment perspective.

We will identify the key developments as they occur in our daily market forecasts and signal notifications available to subscribers. Try our service for free. If you are a current subscriber, login to read the full version of this commentary.
Update: For changes in the market as of the end of the week (28 December 2012), read here.  This article appeared in the Prometheus Investing Thought box halfway down the right hand column on our front page, just above the Video of the Day.

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