Leaderless

In 1532, the Inca Empire ruled over almost the entire Western half of the South American continent, from Southern Colombia through Peru to the southern tip of modern-day Chile.  It had between 6 and 9 million inhabitants.  Upon his arrival at Cajamarca, Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca leader, Atahualpa, rather than fight an army of thousands.

With the leader taken out, Pizarro was able to conquer the entire Inca Empire with just 169 soldiers.

Like the once-mighty Incas, we have lost our market leaders this spring one by one.  In like fashion, we’ve seen the indexes fall into a listless submission as the stocks we once looked to for higher highs can no longer rally their brethren…

Apple is some $30 off its high (10%) for the first time in, well, I can hardly remember.  The usual concerns about Steve Jobs’ health have been compounded with the sense that Google‘s Android is going to give iPhone a serious run for its money.

Speaking of Google, the company is now in the throes of a mid-life crisis way earlier than anyone expected…and it’s ugly to watch.  While the company continues kicking ass in search and ads, the unstoppableness and swagger are gone, too much inertia for too long.

We’ve lost the silver miners too, even as the price of the metal itself continues to climb.  Psychologically speaking, this is a tough loss for the bulls – the silver names were the real firepower in the commodity-related equity patch.  First we got the surprise resignation of Silver Wheaton‘s CEO then we got news out of Bolivia that the government was going to start nationalizing mines to appease the envious unions.  Silver names Coeur D’Alene and Pan American Silver were slammed even as they had just broken out after months of grinding toward their ’08 highs.

Brazil and China are now quietly beginning their own inflation battles.  The related ADRs are nowhere in terms of year-to-date performance.  Monetary and fiscal tightening in the BRIC countries has taken an entire swathe of leadership names out of the race.

The Cloud Computing sector has gone from momentum nirvana to mass grave in less than two months.  The hottest of the hot have succumbed to diminished expectations since the Akamai shock in mid-February.  F5 Networks, Riverbed and other Cloud leaders have now undergone substantial corrections.  Inspiration for the other techs will not soon come from this group in its current condition.

Finally, as tensions appear to be subsiding in the Middle East, we lose the most important leadership group of all: Energy and Oil Services, the best performers of 2011 so far.  The XLE has undergone a quick-n-dirty retracement this week along with the entire nat gas, solar, oil sands and coal complex.  As always, the gains are erased much more quickly than they were created as crude pulls back from 111 to the low 100’s.  Even stalwart commodity lover Goldman Sachs is getting off the horse.  They’ve put out a series of negative notes on the hard assets trade this week with the warning that commodities will underperform for the next 3 to 6 months.

The bears have been tearing down the leaders of this tape in a systematic and unmerciful fashion for the last few weeks.  Even Netflix, OpenTable and Ford could see their influence wane should the assassinations continue.  In the absence of new leadership or a resumption of fortitude in the Apples and Oils, it’s tough to expect much progress going forward for the broader market.

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