Stocks are down 9 percent in 2016, and according to market pundit Peter Schiff it's about to get much worse, unless ...» Read More
One thing is becoming clear at the end of August: The summer doldrums are over, and volatility is increasing big time.
It's not only the situation in Syria that is causing the increase in volatility. Congress is coming back, and that means the debate over the debt ceiling will heat up. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that if Congress doesn't act, the U.S. will reach the debt limit in mid-October. He then told CNBC that President Barack Obama will not negotiate over the debt limit.
(Read more: Lew: Obama not negotiating over debt limit)
But Republicans are already drawing a line in the sand. Some, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have said that they are willing to see a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded.
There is always a lot of big talk ahead of these increasingly common Washington crises, but the problem is, the market listens to it. So over the next few months, expect larger swings in the markets, and don't be surprised if the direction becomes increasingly hard to gauge.
So what does this all mean for traders and investors? My advice is three-fold.
Bond investors are sweating bullets. In 3½ months, the 10-year yield has risen from about 1.6 percent to over 2.9 percent, before cooling off in recent days. And on Thursday, bond expert Jeffrey Gundlach made the case that the 10-year yield could reach 3.1 percent by end of the year.
(Read more: Gundlach: This market is just 'fear and loathing')
As yields rise, bond prices fall, so the move in yields has been very painful for those who have owned bonds, and investors are heading for the exits. Bond funds saw outflows of $36.5 billion in the first 22 days of August, according to TrimTabs. Bond giant Pimco saw $7.4 billion worth of outflows in July alone, and double that in June.
(Read more: Pimco: Media to blame for huge bond market exodus)
But Tony Crecenzi, Pimco executive vice president, market strategist and portfolio manager, believes that the bearishness has gotten overdone. On CNBC's "Futures Now" on Thursday, he made the case that "yields will move lower from here," and he provided three reasons why.
1: Economic fundamentals don't support these yields
Crescenzi said that yields could rise a bit more due to technical reasons, but the fundamentals don't support it.
After all, "what's priced into the bond market is the idea that the economy, in 2014, will accelerate," Crescenzi said.
But he throws cold water on the rosy economic picture that some are drawing. "Bond investors will begin to reassess whether or not the optimistic forecasts, including the Fed's own forecast, will come true."
Indeed, many have questioned the accuracy of the Federal Reserve's forecast for 3 to 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2014. On Tuesday, Krishna Memani, OppenheimerFunds' chief investment officer of fixed income, said on "Futures Now": "The economic growth that we're looking for in the Fed's forecasts is probably a bit overstated," and for that reason, he, too, sees rates dropping.
While some people follow popular opinion, others wait for popular opinion to come to them. Peter Schiff is certainly in the latter camp.
As the market continues to find its way around obstacles large and small, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital continues to predict a wave of oncoming crises.
"It's a monetary problem we have. We have a dollar crisis coming, a bond market collapse coming," Schiff said on Thursday's "Futures Now."
He believes that debt will force the U.S. to print a great deal of money, causing a nightmare scenario for the U.S. dollar and the bond market. That's why he advises getting into gold.
After all, if the government prints more money, then the value of each dollar will drop. That means that it will take more of those dollars to buy a single bar of gold.
So with bond and dollar crises looming, "Gold is going to be a safe haven for all of that," Schiff said. "The fundamentals are fantastic."
(Read more: With Syria strike looming, you need to own gold)
Indeed, Schiff believes it will get so bad that he calls government seizure of gold "a possibility," even if not a terribly likely one.
With military action in Syria looming, gold has reclaimed it "flight-to-quality" status. But while we see gold continuing to move higher in the short term, there will be a clear limit to how far it can run.
This commodity has fallen from grace even more dramatically than Apple did last fall. But we have recently seen a distinct change in sentiment. Noting that gold has risen 20 percent from its low, some "techsters" even want to point to a new "bull market" for gold—but we wouldn't go that far just yet.
(Read more: Gold: 'It's like summer never happened')
With U.S. military action against Syria possibly coming within days, oil investors must ask themselves "Who wants to go home short crude into a three-day holiday weekend?" Since few will answer "me," I think it's a good bet that we drift higher into Friday's session.
Crude oil has traded more than $3 down from its $112.24 high, reaching a low of $108.60 in early Thursday trading. The market has undoubtedly softened, but the fact that the market closed above $109.01 was encouraging to the bull camp.
(Read more: Whew! Futures indicate that the oil spike won't last)
But the biggest factor is that we are heading into the long Labor Day weekend with Syria looming on every trader's mind. The reality is that no one wants to go home this weekend short crude, so traders are either long or flat, and we expect this attitude to help boost this market over the next 24 hours.
Syria concerns have driven crude oil to a two-year high. But the futures market is telling traders that a correction could come soon.
As the U.S. appeared to draw closer to a military strike against Syria, oil closed Wednesday at its highest level since May 2010. But while crude oil for October delivery closed at $109.52, crude for December delivery settled at $107.32, and crude for June 2014 delivery closed at $99.47, gaining just 2 cents on the day.
As investors get increasingly worried about Syria, oil rose to a two-year high on Wednesday, trading as high as $112 per barrel in the overnight session.
Syria doesn't export any oil, and produces very little. But the nation does have close allies in Iran and Russia. Indeed, both nations have warned the U.S. not to strike Syria.
Traders worry, then, that a military strike could evolve (or devolve) into a prolonged conflict that could threaten the supply and transport of crude oil across the entire Middle East.
(Read more: Why the Syrian crisis will mean higher gas prices)
Now that the U.S. and its allies are convinced that Syria used chemical weapons on its own people, military action against Syria seems to be a foregone conclusion.
In my view, it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when." U.S. officials told NBC News that military action could come as early as Thursday, and we have already seen crude rise 5 percent in anticipation of a strike.
When a strike happens, how high could we see crude trade? History tells us that once military action begins, if it looks like the action is contained to the targeted country, then oil will sell off. But it all depends on what the response to the strike is.
If we see Syria's allies in the region get involved—namely Iran and Russia—we could see crude rise as high as $115 or $120 rapidly. If the conflict turns out to be a prolonged situation, then we could see $125.
(Read more: Syria recalls Rumsfeld's law of 'unknown unknowns')
The fallout from higher crude prices is higher gasoline prices. After the Labor Day holiday, we usually see gas prices start to come off at the pump. The reason for this is simple—that is when summer driving season comes to an end, and when it does, demand falls. But this year, different factors are coming to the fore.
The market is contending with several scary scenarios that have put a serious crimp in the stock rally. The idea that the U.S. could carry out military strikes on Syria, combined with renewed pessimism about the debt ceiling debate, led the S&P 500 to drop over 1.5 percent Tuesday.
But Krishna Memani, OppenheimerFunds chief investment officer of fixed income, said such concerns are little more than red herrings. The real problem, he cautions, is slow economic growth.
Concerns about the debt ceiling came to the fore on Tuesday, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to congressional leaders saying that the U.S. will hit it in mid-October. When that happens, the government will not be able to issue more debt without authorization from Congress. And given how divisive that body has become, even another short-term authorization to keep the government functioning is not counted as a sure thing.
Lew's comments on "Squawk Box" didn't indicate that a compromise is imminent.
"We're not going to be negotiating over the debt limit," Lew said. "Congress has already authorized funding, committed us to make expenditures. … The only question is, will we pay the bills that the United States has incurred?"
(Read more: Lew: Obama not negotiating over debt limit)
Meanwhile, many Republicans have said that they would not vote for a bill avoiding a shutdown without the (unlikely) concession of defunding Obamacare. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) recently put it, "If you have an impasse, one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don't blink."
Memani downplays the White House and Republican rhetoric.
"If they don't compromise, then that clearly is bad for the economy," the fund manager said. "But it don't think that's really a base-case scenario, because we have seen this movie several times before."
The picture has changed for gold. First of all, the U.S. appears to be considering military action in Syria. Second, traders are becoming more skeptical of the idea that tapering is imminent. And between Syria and the evolving thinking about the Fed, December gold futures have gotten pushed up to a 2½-month high of $1,423.
However, gold is now approaching significant technical resistance around $1,428. I believe the push higher in gold will begin to lose steam, and present the opportunity for a contrarian play. For one thing, it's hard for me to believe that the current administration will formulate an aggressive military plan. After all, the public certainly does not appear to have the appetite for it.
(Read more: Gold jumps on possible strike against Syria)
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