Gold prices have surged 9 percent in 2016, but if history is any indication, buying it now could be the ultimate bull trap.» Read More
After a strong rebound over the past week, stocks look primed to make fresh all-time highs.
However, that's not necessarily an indication of bubbly inclinations.
In fact, despite what may be the public's perception to the contrary, market valuations have actually fallen from recent peaks. That means shares prices have gotten cheaper per each dollar of expected earnings.
As of Friday's close, the S&P 500's forward price-to-earnings ratio (a widely used measure of valuation that divides the S&P 500's price by the earnings that analysts expect companies to report over the coming year) sat at 16.8, according to FactSet. That's substantially below the recent peak for forward P/E logged in the beginning of March, which was then 17.3.
Fear is in a bear market.
The CBOE Volatility Index, or fear index as some traders call it, is trading at its lowest level since December 2014 and has fallen more than 39 percent in the past week, marking its second-largest decline ever. And while some investors may look at the low reading as a sign of complacency, one strategist contends it's creating an attractive buying opportunity.
"It's been a stunning decline in spot VIX over the past five days," Jim Strugger said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now." "This sets up well for stocks over the next several weeks into the fall."
According to Strugger, a low VIX read shouldn't come as a surprise to market participants. "The top five declines seen in the history of the VIX have occurred since January 2013, when the market moved into this low volatility environment," said MKM Partners' derivatives strategist.
And amid continued geopolitical uncertainty and jitters over a potential rate hike later this year, Strugger advised investors not to worry about stocks just yet.
"From a seasonal perspective, typically equity volatility bottoms right around here and tends to peaks in mid-October," he said. "So if you take into consideration the possibility for a rate hike in September/October and seasonal factors, it's unlikely we will see equity volatility until then."
Nonetheless, Strugger still believes volatility will remain relatively low for the next couple of years, which should bode well for the stock market.
"In volatility terms, we're only 2.5 years into this period of low volatility and historically, they tend to last five years," he said. "So you can certainly make the argument that there is another 2 or 2.5 years of low volatility environment which could correspond with an ongoing bull market."
In a heated debate on the Thursday, trader Scott Nations slammed the Euro Pacific Capital CEO for saying that Fed Chair Janet Yellen will not raise interest rates this year while simultaneously appearing to indicate that another round of quantitative easing could be in the cards.
"Peter, you do a great job of making these outlandish predictions and 1,000 of them come out of your mouth, 999 of them are wrong and then you live forever on one of them," said exasperated Scott Nations, on Thursday's "Futures Now." "It sounds like you are trying to do that now. What about now?" proclaimed Nations.
Chinese stocks have fallen dramatically over the past four weeks, a slow-motion crash that has stoked concern about the Chinese economy and the potential for financial contagion.
Yet a look under the hood of the Chinese rally shows that the move can be explained in the context of two far more basic forces: The time-honored principles of valuation and of gravity.
A comparison of the Shenzhen A Shares Index to the index's price-to-earnings ratio (the most commonly used measure of valuation) shows that the two charts are one and the same.
That is, Chinese stocks have soared on soaring valuations, with the index at one point trading at more than 40 times next year's expected earnings. That made it more than twice as expensive as the S&P 500 in terms of valuation.
Crude oil prices have been getting pummeled.
Continued fear over the crisis in Greece and worries over the state of China's economy have helped push the commodity to its lowest level since mid-April, down more than 12 percent in the past five trading sessions. And one expert claims that if history is any indication, oil could drop another 45 percent from current levels.
"Since June of last year oil is down about  percent, but we've seen worse drops than that in history," commodities expert Jodie Gunzberg said Tuesday on CNBC's "Futures Now." Gunzberg pointed to the declines in 1985 to 1986, 1997 to 1998 and most recently 2008 to 2009, where crude oil fell 75 percent in a little more than seven months. "So from current levels the index could drop another 45 percent before surpassing its worst historical loss."
To note, Gunzberg is referring the total return, which includes the cost of rolling each oil futures contract over to the next month.
According to Gunzberg, in order for oil to stabilize, the market will need to see a drop in open interest. "Historically in high-volatility periods, open interest has collapsed every time before oil bottomed," said Gunzberg, global head of commodities at S&P Dow Jones Indices. "If open interest collapses, then production may slow as insurance in the futures market becomes too expensive, causing producers to pull back supply."
Crude oil closed Tuesday down less than 1 percent at $52.33.
The biggest story in the market the first two quarters was hardly any story at all.
The S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average closed the books on the first half of the year with its narrowest range in history on Tuesday, but according to one technician, that consolidation could represent a huge buying opportunity for the broader market.
"History says that a narrow first half of the year tends to be rather bullish for stocks in the back half of the year," technical analyst Jonathan Krinsky said Tuesday on CNBC's "Futures Now." "More often than not, these narrow ranges tend to resolve to the upside."
It hasn't been a great first half of the year for commodities.
Precious metals are trading lower, as are industrial metals. Major agricultural commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans are all down, in addition to coffee and sugar. Energy commodities have seen gains in 2015, but haven't even come close to recapturing the losses incurred over the past year.
While each commodity responds to its own distinct market forces, the rise in the dollar and in interest rates has been bad news for them all. As each greenback becomes worth more, it takes fewer of them to buy a fixed amount of any given commodity, meaning that prices fall.
Meanwhile, since commodities don't throw off yield like bonds do, greater risk-free rates makes holding commodities relatively less attractive.
But amid all the disappointment and bearish sentiment, some see opportunity. In the second half of the year, some traders are betting that corn and wheat see a rebound. Others are pinning their hopes on silver.
When asked for his "sleeper pick" for the second half of 2015, Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Services picked corn.
Iuorio said that further upside for the dollar is likely to be capped by dovish rhetoric from the Federal Reserve, even as they raise rates.
When it comes to corn specifically, however, the Chicago-based trader says that "after several consecutive outstanding growing seasons, corn appears to be priced for perfection. When a market starts ignoring any possibility of turbulence, that is the type to be contrarian."
Iuorio predicts that the grain, which closed the week at $3.85 per bushel, will rise to $4.20 in the near-term, and higher than that by year-end.
Brian Stutland is similarly bullish on agricultural commodities, reasoning that the dollar strength is "over" and inflation is ahead.
"The steeper Treasury yield curve is indicating that you play the reflation trade, which is long food and energy," Stutland wrote to CNBC. "Food inflation is coming faster than the Fed thinks or wants."
Crude oil has traded in a tight $10 range for the better of the past two months, but according to one top technician, the commodity could be set to break out in the second half of the year.
"We've seen commodities estimates move higher across the Street for the third and fourth quarters, and we're seeing good demand data," technical analyst Darren Wolfberg said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now."
Gold is in the midst of its longest losing streak since March, but one noted gold bug claims the selling could soon abate.
"I'm probably one of the few people that believe there are too many bears in the woods," metals strategist George Gero said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now." Gold closed Thursday's session at $1,172.20 an ounce, its lowest level since June 5, but despite the selloff, Gero insists the precious metal is oversold.
"Right now gold doesn't have too many friends because of a very good stock market," said Gero, of RBC Capital Markets. "Then of course in dollar terms, you've had a major change this year." Gold prices are down more than 1 percent year to date, while the U.S. dollar index and S&P 500 have risen a respective 5 percent and 2 percent over the same period.
A polite brouhaha has broken out after the Treasury Department said it plans to put a woman on the $10 bill.
Bernanke argued for the $20 rather than the $10 due to Hamilton's key role in developing the American financial system, in contrast with Jackson's "poor" record as president.
But there's another reason why the $20 bill might be a better fit for the historic redesign: $20s are far more popular.
In 2014, the Fed ordered the Treasury to produce just 627 million $10 notes in fiscal 2015, making it the third-least-requested currency, with only the $50 and the $2 being less popular. In contrast, 1.9 billion $20 notes were ordered, making it the most popular save for the $1.
And that doesn't appear to be a fluke. $10 notes were also the third-least-requested for 2013 and 2014, while $20s were the third most. And a glance at the below chart provided by the Fed, showing $10 note orders in purple and $20 note orders in teal, shows that $10 notes are typically far less popular than 20-spots.
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