Are we in a bear market or a bull market?

If you’ve been reading the Dispatch, you know that U.S. stocks have had a wild ride this year. The S&P got off to a horrible start in 2016, plunging 11% in just six weeks. But since mid-February, stocks have staged a huge bounce, climbing 13%.

Regular readers know we’ve been skeptical of this big rally. We’ve argued that until the S&P 500 sets a new high, there’s little reason to be bullish. And we just got another clue that this rally is “suspect”…

• The initial public offering (IPO) market is at financial-crisis lows…

An IPO is when a private company goes public by selling stock to investors. The health of the IPO market can say a lot about the state of the stock market.

Buying stock at its IPO is typically a high risk, high potential move. IPOs have a lot of potential because they’re often involved in a new or exciting business. Many investors who buy are hoping to get in early on the next Starbucks, Facebook, or Google.

However, IPOs are also very risky. The companies are often based on new or unproven business models. Many companies with an IPO are losing money every quarter. Some barely earn any revenue at all. More often than not, investors who buy IPOs are buying hopes and dreams, not stable, profitable business.

When markets are healthy, investors are more willing to take a chance at buying an IPO. But when markets are shaky, IPOs tend to do poorly, as investors seek safer, more stable investments.

• The number of U.S. IPOs plunged to a seven-year low last quarter…

Investor’s Business Daily reported on Wednesday.

Just eight IPOs got out the door in Q1, down 76% from 34 in Q1 2015. That was the fewest IPOs since Q1 2009, which had just one. The $700 million in proceeds raised was the lowest total in 20 years, down 87% from the $5.5 billion raised in Q1 2015, according to Renaissance Capital, which manages two IPO-focused exchange-traded funds.

Like us, The Wall Street Journal thinks this is a bad omen for the rest of the stock market.

[I]f the pace of IPOs doesn’t accelerate, it could be a warning sign for the rally.

• The U.S. IPO market is heading toward its worst year since the financial crisis…

On Tuesday, VentureBeat reported that just 24 companies have filed for IPOs this year. You can see in the chart below that the IPO market is on track to have its worst year since 2008.

• We warned that the IPO market was slowing in October

Back then, the IPO market was just starting to show cracks. The S&P 500 was coming off its first 10% decline in four years. Companies are hesitant to go public when markets are volatile, because nervous investors are less likely to buy shares in an IPO.

We also noted that several high-profile companies either cancelled or postponed their IPOs. Supermarket chain Albertsons, which delayed going public in October, still hasn’t had its IPO.

• Casey Research founder Doug Casey said to avoid one of the year’s most anticipated IPOs…

The Italian carmaker Ferrari (RACE) went public on October 21. Days before the IPO, Doug urged readers of The Casey Report to not buy the stock.

Ferrari is going to have an IPO on its stock soon. A smart move on their part; when the ducks are quacking, you should feed them. I wouldn’t touch it if your broker offers you some…

Doug’s call was spot-on. Ferrari’s stock has plunged 25% since its IPO.

• Most of last year’s IPOs have been huge disappointments…

Investor’s Business Daily reports:

Among all IPOs of 2015, their stocks are down 18% on average from their IPO price and down 28% after the first trading day, Renaissance says.

• Instead of buying IPOs, investors have been buying “defensive” stocks…

For example, utility stocks have jumped 13% this year. The S&P 500 is up just 1%.

As Dispatch readers know, utilities tend to perform well when markets are shaky. No matter how bad the economy gets, folks still need running water, electricity, and gas to heat their homes. Investors often pile into utility stocks for safety.

Consumer staple stocks, which sell things like groceries, toothpaste, and laundry detergent, have also done well this year. The Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLP), which tracks 39 consumer staple stocks, is up 5%. It hit an all-time high on Wednesday. Like water and electricity, folks buy these items no matter what’s happening with the economy.

• Investors are also buying gold…

As we often say, gold is money. It’s preserved wealth through economic depressions, currency crises, and every other kind of financial disaster. Investors often buy gold when they’re concerned about the economy or stocks.

This year, the price of gold is up 16%. Yesterday, gold closed its best quarter since 1986.

• Gold is the ultimate defensive asset…

Even though utilities and consumer staple stocks are less risky than most stocks, they’re still stocks. They generally move with the rest of the market.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the S&P 500 plunged 57%. Utilities fell 49%. Consumer staple stocks fell 34%. Gold only fell 29%. And in the aftermath of the crisis, gold recovered much more quickly than stocks. It went on to surge 167% from November 2008 to September 2011.

• Today, gold is coming off a five-year bear market…

It’s down 36% from its 2011 high. But as we mentioned earlier, gold has taken off this year.

In case you missed it, Casey Research founder Doug Casey recently wrote an essay explaining why gold could easily triple. You can read it here.

• There’s more risk than opportunity in U.S. stocks right now…

The S&P 500 has climbed 205% since March 2009. That’s far more than the average gain of 136% for U.S. bull markets since 1932.

The S&P 500 is also 56% more expensive than its historic average, according to the long-term CAPE valuation ratio. U.S. stocks have only been more expensive three times in history: before the Great Depression…during the dot-com bubble…and leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.

Investors who buy U.S. stocks today are betting that the market keeps breaking records. That’s not a gamble we want to make.

On top of owning gold, we encourage you to set aside cash. This will help you avoid major losses should U.S. stocks fall. And it will put you in a position to buy stocks when they get cheaper.

• You could also make money “shorting” one of America’s most vulnerable industries…

“Shorting” a stock is betting that it will go down. E.B. Tucker, editor of The Casey Report, recently recommended shorting a major American airline.

The airline industry has been booming since the 2008–2009 financial crisis. But E.B. thinks the good times are coming to an end. In short, E.B. thinks the industry boomed on cheap credit, and that it will suffer huge losses when the easy money stops flowing.

E.B is targeting the most vulnerable U.S. airline. The company’s stock has surged an incredible 1,600% since March 2009. That’s eight times the return of the S&P 500. But like most stocks, it’s gone nowhere this year. It hasn’t set a new high since May.

E.B. thinks this stock could plunge more than 50%. You can get in on this trade by signing up for The Casey Report. Click here to begin your risk-free trial.

Chart of the Day

Investors have turned bearish on biotech stocks…

Today’s chart shows the performance of the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB), which tracks 189 biotechnology companies.

Biotech companies develop or manufacture new drugs. Some of these companies are trying to cure diseases like cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s. Because a successful new drug can be worth billions of dollars, biotech stocks can soar hundreds of percent in short periods.

But they are also very risky. Most young biotech companies only have one or two products. And many biotech companies don’t make any money. Biotechs are the type of stocks investors like to own in a strong bull market.

Between March 2009 and July 2015, IBB surged 574%. The S&P 500 gained 215% over that time. Since July, IBB has plunged 34%. It’s trading at its lowest price since October 2014.

The selloff in risky biotech stocks is more proof that investors have gone on the defensive.


Justin Spittler
Delray Beach, Florida
April 1, 2016

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