You probably want to invest in stocks

You probably want to invest in stocks right now, I bet.

If you are already invested in stocks, you probably want to be more aggressive in investing in stocks. Maybe it’s selling bonds to buy more stocks, or investing that extra cash, or something really aggressive like adding leverage or buying more risky stocks.

I believe this because investor sentiment is dialed up and 2020 started out about as enthusiastic as it gets. Well, and we’re getting calls from people wanting to invest.

fear greed index

The Fear & Greed Index is driven by seven different investor sentiment indicators. If you’re an investor, I encourage you to use it as a gauge for your own enthusiasm and panic.  When you feel one way or another about the future direction of the stock market, check the indicator to see what emotion is driving the stock market now.

Avoiding costly mistakes is essential in money management, so if we can help you avoid buying too high and then tapping out at the lows, that’s an edge. That’s the behavioral counseling we do; investor behavior modification. It’s one of the main observations I share here. If nothing else, I hope I can help you avoid making costly emotional decisions as many investors do.

The Options Speculation Index measures speculative call buying as a % of total option activity. Right now, it shows the options market bought to open 21.6 million speculative call options, the most ever, according to SentimentTrader. The previous record was 19.7 million during the week of Jan 26, 2018. The total bullish/bearish volume was the most since March 2000. This is extreme.

options speculation index

Investors sentiment trend to follow price trends, so investors or trend followers.

After prices trend up, investors get more bullish, expecting the gains to continue.

After prices trend down, investors get more bearish, expecting the losses to continue.

So, it isn’t a surprise to see this level of enthusiasm, considering the stock index is at an all-time high.

stocks stock market at all time high

The AAII Investor Sentiment Survey is a another gauge that offers insight into the mood of individual investors. Each week, AAII asks its members a simple question: Do they feel the direction of the stock market over the next six months will be up (bullish), no change (neutral) or down (bearish)? They refer to this question as the AAII Sentiment Survey. Since they started polling members in 1987, our survey has provided insight into the moods of individual investors.

aaii investor sentiment

Pessimism among individual investors about the short-term direction of the stock market is at a six-week high. The latest AAII Sentiment Survey also shows lower levels of bullish and neutral sentiment. Below is a chart I drew of the % Bearish sentiment from the survey with a line marketing its long-time average. Investors are not bearish, as the level is at its long term average. So, this gauge doesn’t match the Extreme Greed of the Fear & Greed Index. 

US Investor Sentiment, % BEARISH

The % Bullish is actually below average by this measure. Bullish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will rise over the next six months, fell 4.1 percentage points to 33.1%. The historical average is 38.0%. Optimism has been below this average during 41 out of the last 52 weeks.

US Investor Sentiment % Bullish

Neutral sentiment, expectations that stock prices will stay essentially unchanged over the next six months, fell 3.9 percentage points to 37.0%. Even with the drop, neutral sentiment is the expectation that is above its average of 31.5% for the 33rd time in 34 weeks.


investor sentiment for trading

AAII guesses:

The killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani likely influenced this week’s results. Several respondents brought up the conflict with Iran and tensions in the Middle East. Also affecting sentiment are the trade agreement between the U.S. and China, Washington politics, earnings growth, the economy, valuations and the stock market’s recent record highs.

This week’s special question asked AAII members: what you think will most influence the direction of stock prices in 2020?

Approximately 39% of respondents believe that geopolitical events will have the most influence on stock prices in 2020.

Individual investors have a lot of opinions based on news:

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing conflicts with Iran and China are named specifically. Domestic politics are also named by many respondents, with 26% stating that the outcome of the November elections will most likely influence the market. Additionally, 18% of respondents from this survey believe that earnings performance will sway the stock market and 17% say that the Federal Reserve’s policy and a low-interest-rate environment will have the biggest influence on how the stock market will move in 2020.”

Here is a sampling of the responses:

“The economy and earnings. And maybe an end to some of the trade wars.”

“The Fed will need to continue to lower rates and will probably need to continue its easing to maintain liquidity in overnight lending.”

“Strong business cycle in the U.S. and better trade agreements with China.”

“Earnings versus forecasts.”

“Conflict in the Persian Gulf and the 2020 election will increase uncertainty.”

In my opinion, these individual investors focus on the wrong things. The direction, momentum, and volatility of the price trend are all the matters. The direction of the price trend is the final arbiter. 

Is the AAII Sentiment Survey a Contrarian Indicator?

To learn more about the survey and the opinion of Charles Rotblut, who is vice president at AAII and editor of the AAII Journal on the matter, read the article by the same name: Is the AAII Sentiment Survey a Contrarian Indicator? 

Here are his conclusions in sentiment insights and as its role as a potential contrarian indicator for market direction.

“As the data shows, extraordinarily low levels of optimism have consistently preceded larger-than-average six- and 12-month gains in the S&P 500.”

It goes on to add:

“Sentiment is not a flawless contrarian indicator, however. Though unusual, bullish and bearish sentiment readings above or below one standard deviation from their historical average have a mixed record of signaling market direction. Extraordinarily high bullish sentiment and extraordinarily low bearish sentiment (two standard deviations away from the average) have generally worked well, with the exception of two notable periods.”

“It will be many years before we know whether the periods of 2003–2004 and November 2007–February 2009 were mere blemishes on the survey’s record as a contrarian indicator or a sign that both optimism and pessimism can remain at high levels for an extended period of time. I tend to think the latter will be the case, given long-term market history.”

Two important conclusions:

The failure of sentiment to work perfectly highlights two important points. Though correlations between sentiment levels and market direction have appeared in the past, the AAII Sentiment Survey does not predict future market direction. Overly optimistic and pessimistic investor attitudes are characteristics of market tops and bottoms, but they do not cause stock prices to change direction. Rather, it is changes in expectations of future earnings and economic and valuation trends that move stock prices. The timing of such changes has proven to be difficult to predict with accuracy.

This leads to my second concluding point: Never rely on a single indicator when forecasting market direction. Rather, consider a variety of factors—including prevailing valuations, economic data, Federal Reserve policy, government policies and other prevailing macro trends—and allow for a large margin of error in your forecast.:

As the saying attributed to John Maynard Keynes goes, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

As many studies like Dalbar show; individual investors have difficulty achieving good results over the long term, so they must be focused and doing the wrong things.

“Since 1994, DALBAR’s Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (QAIB) has measured the effects of investor decisions to buy, sell and switch into and out of mutual funds over short and long-term timeframes. These effects are measured from the perspective of the investor and do not represent the performance of the investments themselves. The results consistently show that the average investor earns less – in many cases, much less – than mutual fund performance reports would suggest.”

None of the global macro news items they listed can possibly be predicted, so it is futile. So, if investors using this type of information for investment decision making, you can probably see how they may end up “switching in and out of mutual funds” at the wrong time.

By focusing on the price trend and its statistical possibilities and actively managing risk and drawdown, I believe we stack the odds in our favor by focusing our resources on the few things we can control.

Is it a good time to buy stocks? That’s my next observation as I’ll share the big picture.

Got questions? need help? Send me an email here.

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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