Keeping the mind right with investor sentiment indicators

Investors oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

After their portfolio trends up, they extrapolate recent gains into the future.

After their portfolio falls, they extrapolate recent loss into the future, expecting the damage to continue.

Investors mostly follow the trend, and this extrapolation bias helps to drive price trends.

Of course, not every investor follows the trend. Some are more fearful all the time, others are more optimistic, but I believe most oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

The fear of missing out happens when they hear the stock market has made significant gains, and they don’t have the same exposure to it. Not enough exposure could mean 100% exposure to stocks, or it could mean leverage for aggressive investors and traders. The fear of missing out sucks them in, often at the wrong time. They’ll almost always feel this way after the fact when it’s too late.

As Walter Deemer says:

“When The Time Comes To Buy, You Won’t Want To” 

The fear of losing money happens when the investment portfolio is falling, and investors extrapolate the losses into a fear of losing more money. Since not all of us are trend followers, some will fear loss after significant gains, expecting a countertrend.

Regardless of whether an investor’s behavior is more driven by trend-following or countertrend expectations, they all seem to oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

We quantify this investor sentiment into indicators that may be used as signals. Two examples are the Fear & Greed Index and the AAAI Investor Sentiment Survey.

The AAII Asset Allocation Survey turned bullish again last month, with investors saying they have more capital allocated to stocks.

AAII allocation survey bullish

However, neutral investor sentiment is at the upper end of its historical range, suggesting investors are indecisive. They’ll turn bullish if stocks continue to trend up. They’ll get bearish if stocks trend down.

neutral investor sentiment at uppper end of range AAII

Instead of polling the AAII members to crowdsource by for their opinions, the Fear & Greed Index gauges sentiment from seven different indicators.  The Fear & Greed Index had shifted down from Extreme Greed to a more moderate Greed back to Extreme Greed. Again, following the price trend as stocks fell, so did their enthusiasm.

fear and greed index

Below is a visual of the Fear and Greed over time. You can probably see some evidence of my observation that investors oscillate between greed and fear in cycles. Although most of this data is in the middle of the chart, it also reaches extremes. It’s the extremes I pay attention to as both a countertrend signal and also to help investment management clients with behavior modification. Most of the time I want to follow the trend, but at the extremes is when I may deviate from the crowd.

fear and greed index over time

It isn’t enough to be a successful investment manager, we also have to help clients modify their behavior. Most people simply tend to do the wrong thing and the wrong time, and I believe the edge is avoiding that enough so that my average gains far exceed my average losses – that’s ASYMMETRY®. But, even if we create consistently upward sloping asymmetric investment returns, it isn’t enough without keeping the mind right.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

Mike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

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