You probably want to sell stocks, now

On January 11, I shared an observation “You probably want to invest in stocks

The great thing about sharing written observations is the ability to go back and read what was going on in the past to learn from it.

On January 11, I wrote:

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.

Then, included the Fear & Greed Index dialed all the way up to 97, Extreme Greed.

fear greed index

I went on to write; (I’m bolding the key points this time)

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.

I included this chart of the stock index at all time highs.

stocks stock market at all time high

I then wrote: (I added the bold this time)

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.

What has changed?

A lot has changed since then.

First, the S&P 500 stock index which most investors use as a proxy for “the stock market” is down -34% from it’s high reached on February 19th. To put the fall into context, I included the history going all the way back to the 50s. This is now the 4th deepest decline since then.

The speed of the decline was most impressive.

The next chart is the price trend of the S&P and Dow Jones year-to-date. The decline happened very fast, in just a few weeks.

By March 12, the Fear & Greed Index was pegged back to 1 indicating “Extreme Fear.”

 “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

 ― Warren Buffett

I know. It’s much harder than it sounds!

But at the extremes, which is what I mostly point out here on ASYMMETRY® Observations, is when we want to step away from the crowd and shift from trend following to countertrend tactics.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

I know you think “it’s different this time” because of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 and such. Now, the Federal Reserve has committed to taking unprecedented actions even more than after 2008. The US government is printing even more money than before.

It all seems so uncertain, but it always is.

“Don’t fight the Fed.”

“Don’t fight the Fed” suggests investors can do well by getting in synch with monetary policies of the Federal Reserve Board, rather than against them. The Fed has lowered rates to zero and announced it will be buying traditional securities including bonds and ETFs as “The Fed Goes All In With Unlimited Bond-Buying Plan.” I’ll share my detailed observations of it later.

Yesterday, I had a significant cash position, so was looking for the most likely asymmetric risk/reward positions to take. Tactical trading isn’t easy. It requires tremendous discipline, stoicism, patience, skill, ability to be wrong, and acceptance of the uncertainty.


I’m a tactical risk manager and also a risk-taker. I increase and decrease exposure to the possibility of profit or loss based on my estimates of asymmetric risk-reward. After prices have already fallen over -30%, we have to realize the risk level decreases. It doesn’t seem that way, because of the volatility expansion. Prices swing wider up and down at the lowest lows, so there is nothing easy about taking a risk when its the lowest.

If you are like the majority of investors, you are feeling “Extreme Fear” right now as you fear taking on more loss. Below is the Fear & Greed index over time. Notice it oscillates between fear and greed. After prices trend up, it enters the red zone I colored. After prices fall, it enters the green zone.

Clearly, this has been one of the most staggering waterfall declines in American history. As such, investor sentiment has followed the price trends down.

So, you probably want to sell your stocks right now.

I’ve been hearing from other financial advisors who aren’t tactical like me and don’t increase and decrease exposure to asymmetric risk/reward as I do, saying their clients were tapping out on these big down days the past week.

That’s what I hope to avoid with our clients.

If you tap out, I would NEVER know when you could get back in.

Would you feel better of prices fall another -30%?

Or, would you buy back if prices trend back up to all time new highs?

What would it take?

I have no idea.

I want to avoid that situation because I have no idea how to resolve it. So, I prefer to try to apply my drawdown controls to manage the downside the best we can to keep it within our clients tolerance and capacity for risk.

This is why I actively manage risk by increasing exposure to risk and reward over time. It ain’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be, as evidenced by my 16-year track record. I just need the average gains to be larger than the average loss over time.

It’s what I call ASYMMETRY®.

That’s all for now. I’ve got some good stuff in the queue, so if you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign up for automatic email alerts of new observations.

I also encourage you to go back and read You probably want to invest in stocks from January 11th and think about what has changed since then. This has been one of the most fascinating swings in US history, so let’s learn all we can from it!

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global TacticalMike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. Shell Capital is 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. I observe the charts and graphs to visually see what is going on with price trends and volatility, it is not intended to be used in making any determination as to when to buy or sell any security, or which security to buy or sell. Instead, these are observations of the data as a visual representation of what is going on with the trend and its volatility for situational awareness. I do not necessarily make any buy or sell decisions based on it. 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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