The normal noise of the market?

We shouldn’t be surprised to see stock prices pull back closer to their average true range in the days ahead. Such a pullback or stall would be normal.

Below I highlight the strong momentum Technology sector XLK ETF as an example of stock prices in some sectors finally reaching their prior highs. In addition to the price trend reaching a point of potential overhead resistance at the prior high, we observe this trend is also outside the upper volatility band of average true range.

TECH SECTOR MOMENTUM XLK $XLK $IYW

Most of the time, we should expect to see a price trend stay within this range. If a price trend breaks out of the range higher or lower, it can be evidence of a trend change. In this case, the short term trend has been up since January, the intermediate trend has been sideways, non-trending and volatile since last September. Sine the short term trend has been an uptrend since January, I view the upside breakout above the volatility band a signal the trend may be more likely to pull back within the channel range.

The broad stock market S&P 500 index ETF SPY doesn’t look a lot different than the Technology sector, except it’s about -2% away from reaching its September 2018 high.

stock market SPY $SPY

The bottom line is, looking at the directional price trends they are up in the short term but reaching a point they could see some resistance from the prior highs. At the same time, my momentum systems suggest the trends are reaching an overbought level and the price and expanded outside their average true range channel.

A small short-term pullback in stock prices from here would be within the range I consider normal noise of the market.

 

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 and provides investment advice and portfolio management exclusively to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. 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 provided is 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Going with the flow

We can’t stop the current or the obstacles, but we can train, prepare, and manage the risks for protection and then go with the flow.

global macro tactical momentum trend following asymmetric risk reward

I focus on the things I can control, then enjoy the ride as it all unfolds. 

The picture source is back where I come from: Ocoee River, Tennessee.

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 and provides investment advice and portfolio management exclusively to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. 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 provided is 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

FAANG Stocks and Momentum Trends

Markets trend in cycles and trends come and go like seasons from spring to summer to fall to winter. I like to observe a range of price trends and behavioral trends from short term to very long term secular trends.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the Nifty 50. The Nifty 50 were 50 stocks institutional investors admired.

The Nifty 50 stocks got their reputation during the bull market of the 1960s and early 1970s. They were considered “one-decision” stocks because investors were told they could buy and hold the shares forever. Nifty 50 stocks included IBM, General Electric (GE), and Coca-Cola (KO). Some of the Nifty 50 have had problems the past decade, like Xerox and Polaroid. More recently, we can add General Electric to not so nifty list.

The secular bear market of the 1970s started with the 1973–74 stock market crash and lasted until 1982.  Valuations of the Nifty 50 fell to low levels along with the rest of the stock market. Most of the Nifty 50 lagged the stock market indexes and then they weren’t so popular afterward. Trends can be fads and come and go, but the one thing we see driving fads in the stock market is their actual price trend. Stocks are loved at all-time highs, not so much after they decline.

Below are three of the better Nifty Fifty stocks. Buying and holding the stocks would require tremendous patience and acceptance of volatility and large drawdowns.  Coca-Cola had the best momentum overall. But, who could have held through the drawdown from the late 1990s that lasted a decade? How about Xerox?

nifty 50 ko ibm ge

Below are the % off high drawedowns of these “Blue Chips.” A -50% more decline that lasts for years is something an investor would have to tolerate more than once to own the stocks long term. This is why buy and hold investing doesn’t work for most investors. 

fifty 50 stock asymmetry ratio

Then in the 1990s, it was the tech stocks especially those involved in the Internet. More specifically, the “.com” stocks was a whole new level of popularity and euphoria. The overall stock market reached its highest valuation levels, ever. Most of the .com stocks no longer exist. Some of the technology stocks involved in building the infrastructure still do, like Cisco (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT), Oracle (ORCL), and Qualcomm (QCOM). But, many of the momentum stocks of the 1990s aren’t around to see their charts.

tech stocks

If investors only focused on is the right side of the chart, those several thousand percent gains look exciting. But, in the real world, even a -20% decline in the stock indexes as we saw in 2018 causes investor fear and panic selling. The investors holding the above stocks would probably need to be asleep at the wheel to have held them long term.

Looking at the total return alone isn’t sufficient, so I like to observe what I call the ASYMMETRY® Ratio, which is the total return chart above along with the drawdown. The ASYMMETRY® Ratio gives us a full picture of the asymmetric risk-reward if there is one. Clearly, the downside drawdowns were brutal by any measure. Maybe even more brutal than the Nifty 50.

1990s momentum tech stocks

Those are the momentum trends of the past.

Today we have the FAANG stocks. It stated as FANG and has since extended to FAANG. The FAANG stocks are Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX), and Google (GOOG). They have been some of the most popular momentum stocks and for good reason. These are some of todays greatest companies. Who can imagine Netflix going away today? Who could have imaged online Netflix taking out Blockbuster? Who can imagine Amazon eventually taking out Netflix? What if Walmart (WMT) or Target (TGT) figure out a way to compete with both? The reality is, there is probably some small company out there we don’t know about that will be the next big winner. We don’t have to attempt to find the needle in the haystack, we can just focus on the price trends and they’ll show up eventually.

I shared my observations in FANG Stocks were the Leaders but now the Laggards so I won’t rehash it. My mission here is a short term update.

So far in 2019, all of the FAANG stocks are trending up except for Apple (AAPL). Only one of the FAANG stocks have had stronger momentum than the First Trust Dow Jones Internet ETF (FDN) which is a more diversified version of FAANG type internet industry stocks. The clear leader has been Netflix (NFLX).  Here is a chart over the past month:

faang stocks fb aapl amzn nflx goog momentum asymmetric risk reward

The ASYMMETRY® Ratio looking at the total return vs. % off high drawdown gives us a better picture of asymmetric risk-reward. Below is their total returns over the past year.

fang faang stock momentum fb aapl amzn nflx goog

The FAANG stocks clearly have their downside risks and all of them are in drawdowns as we see below. However, they are recovering and the diversification of the ETF helped reduce its drawdown relative to the individual stocks.

 

faang stock asymetric risk reward momentum drawdown

We’ll see if the FAANG stocks resume their prior momentum we’ve seen over the past several years.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

An exhaustive stock market analysis… continued

I guess An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market wasn’t exhaustive enough, because I now have a few things to add.

First, since the financial news media, as well as social media like Twitter, is so bearish with all kinds of narratives about why the stock market is falling, I’ll go ahead and discuss it here. This observation will not be complete without first reading An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market so you know where I am coming from. If you haven’t read it already, I would before continuing so you understand the full context.

It is the financial news media’s business to report new information. We all know that if they want to get people to tune in, the fastest way is to provide provocative and alarming headlines and commentary. So, we shouldn’t be surprised to see distressing news.

There are always many reasons for the stock market to trend up or down. It isn’t hard to write some narrative attempting to explain it. The reality is, there are all kinds of causes that create an effect. None of them alone drive price trends. Ultimately, what drives price trends is behavior and sentiment which drives supply and demand. Behavior and investor sentiment may be impacted by the news and what people decide to believe.

I often say “what you believe is true, for you” even if it isn’t actually true. A person’s beliefs could be completely wrong and could be scientifically disproven, but if they still believe it, it’s their truth, so it’s true – for them. So, whatever you choose to believe is going to be your truth, so I suggest weighing the evidence to determine the truth if you want it to be more accurate. In science, we can’t prove the truth to be true, we can only disprove it as untrue.

Let’s look at some truths that I believe to be true based on empirical observation of facts.

The biggest news headline is probably the government shutdown. There have been twenty U.S. government shutdowns over the budget since 1976 by both political parties. Half of the time it was followed by stock gains and half the time declines. The average result is -0.40% and the median is 0%. So, historically a government shutdown hasn’t seemed to drive prices. Below is the table. It is what it is.

What does the stock market do after government shut down

Yesterday evening Steven Mnuchin, the 77th Secretary of the Treasury, tweeted a note that he had called the nations six largest banks to confirm they have ample liquidy for consumer and business lending and other market operations. The words “Plunge Protection Team” started trending in social media. Much of the response has been negative, which seems odd to me.

Since when was doing “channel checks” not a good idea?

It seems not doing it would be imprudent…

There are many things going on all over the world all the time, so we can always find narratives to fit the price trend and believe it’s the driver. Narratives and news also seem to drive more emotional responses since people like to hear a story. I focus on the data, which is the price action. Whatever is driving the markets is reflected in the price trend. The price trend is the final arbiter. Nothing else matters.

The Morningstar table of index performance shows the 2018 total return of large, mid, small cap stocks along with growth, value, and blend.

STOCK MARKET INDEX RETURNS 2018

The most popular broad-based indexes like the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average show 2018 is ending just the opposite of the way it started.

stock index performance return 2018

Let’s look at some price trends.

Yesterday I shared the Bullish Percent measures on the broad stock market indexes and each individual sector. We observed the percent of stocks in all sectors except for the Utility sector was already at historical lows after previous market declines. After today’s price action, we have some updated observations to explore.

The S&P 500 is in a bear market, commonly defined as a -20% decline from a prior price peak. What is most interesting is how fast it reached -20%.  In the chart below, I included the S&P 500 Total Return Index (including dividends), the S&P 500 Index price only, and the S&P 500 ETF (SPY). On a total return basis, the S&P 500 Total Return Index that includes no costs or fees didn’t quite close down -20% from its high, but the rest did. It’s close enough.

bear market 2018 October November December Crash

Though the stock indexes had declined -10% earlier this year, they had recovered to new highs by September and it appeared the primary uptrend would resume. Starting in October, the stock market declined again and attempted to recover twice in November. What came next was probably most shocking to those who follow market seasonality; the stock indexes are down over -15% in the month of December, which is historically one of the strongest months of the year. It seems this decline happening so fast and at the end of a calendar year is going to make it seem more significant.  Because it’s at year end it results in a “down year” instead of having time to recover during the normally seasonally strong period after October. The period from November to April historically has stronger stock market gains on average than the other months. Not this year.

The Utility sector reverses down to participation in the market decline. 

Yesterday I had highlighted the top range of the Bullish Percent chart in yellow to mark the high-risk zone above 70%. After today, the Utilities sector has declined below that range. Individual Utility stocks are now participating in the stock market decline.

Utilities Sector ETF XLU BULLISH PERCENT RELATIVE STRENGTH MOMENTUM

The Utilities sector ETF declined over -4% today and is now slightly down for the year.

Utilities Select Sector SPDR® ETF $XLU

During significant market declines, diversification sometimes isn’t the crutch it is promoted to be by most of the investment industry. Broad asset allocation and diversification do not assure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. In declining markets, we often see price trends cluster more as serial correlation. That is, prices begin to fall more just because they are falling. Investors sell because prices are falling. So, stocks, sectors, and markets can all become highly correlated to the downside. By the end of a market decline, all stocks, sectors, and markets are often participating.

The upside is, this panic selling is capitulation as the final weak holders stop resisting and begin to “sell everything!” We eventually see the selling dry up and buyers step in with enthusiasm at lower prices.

In the big picture, as I said in An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see prices falling with greater velocity since this is an aged bull market at high valuations and the same Fed actions that probably drove it up are probably going to reverse it in a similar fashion. I started this year warning of complacency from the 2017 low volatility uptrend and the potential for a volatility expansion. I also pointed out during the stock market peak in September that volatility had contracted to a historically very low level in VIX shows the market’s expectation of future volatility. Specifically, on September 25th I wrote,

“Looking at the current level of 12 compared to history going back to its inception in 1993, we observe its level is indeed near its lowest historical low.”

I ended it with;

“When the market expects volatility to be low in the next 30 days, I know it could be right for some time. But, when it gets to its historically lowest levels, it raises situational awareness that a countertrend could be near. It’s just a warning shot across the bow suggesting we hedge what we want to hedge and be sure our risk levels are appropriate.”

Well, that has turned out to be an understatement I guess.

What’s more important is what I actually did. On August 23th as the stock market began to appear overbought on a short-term basis, I took partial profits on our leading momentum stock positions. In hindsight, it would have been better to sell them all. By September 26th (when I wrote the above) I had reduced our exposure to only around 30% stocks and the rest in Treasury bonds. It still didn’t turn out perfectly as the stocks we did hold declined, too, and in many cases even more than the stock indexes. As we entered October, I shared a new observation “Here comes the volatility expansion” as stock prices fell and volatility increased. As prices fell to lower and lower levels, I started adding more exposure. At this point, prices have broadly become more and more extremely “oversold” and sentiment has become more negative. This has been a hostile period for every strategy, but I’ve been here before.

By the way, I have been a tactical portfolio manager for over twenty years now. The highlight of my performance history has been the bear markets. I executed especially well in the October 2007 to March 2009 period when the S&P fell -56%. My worst peak to trough drawdown during that period was only -14.3% and I recovered from it about six months or so later. That was compared to a -56% drop in the stock index that took several years to recover. In fact, I did so well at a time when very few did that it was almost unbelievable, so I had my performance verified by a third party accountant. I have considered writing about it and sharing the commentaries I wrote during the period and the tactical decisions I made. Make no mistake, it wasn’t easy nor was it pleasant. I didn’t lose the money others did, so I was in a position of strength, but it was still a challenging time. What I will tell you is I entered and exited various positions about seven or eight times over that two year period. We never know in advance when the low is in, or when a trend will reverse back down. Buy and hold investors just take the beating, I entered and exited hoping the average gain exceeds the average losses. The swings are the challenge. It takes great discipline to do what needs to be done. Most people had very poor results, for me to create good results, I necessarily had to feel and do the opposite of most people. The market analysis I’m sharing here as observations aren’t necessarily the exact signals I used to enter and exit, but they are part of the indicators I monitored during the crash. Every trend is unique. We have no assurance my methods will do as well as in the past. But, the one thing I feel confident in is I’ve been here before. This ain’t my first rodeo. I know what I’m doing and I’m disciplined in my execution. That’s all I can do. I’m dealing with the certainty of uncertainty, so I can’t guarantee I’ll do as well the next time around, but I am better prepared now than I was then.

So bring it. Get some. I’m ready. 

Yesterday I shared the extreme levels of Bullish Percent indicators for the broad market and sectors as well as other indicators like the Put/Call Ratios. I want to add to these observations with more indicators reaching an extreme. I’ve not seen these extremes since 2008 and 2009.

The Nasdaq has declined the most which is no surprise since it’s mostly emerging companies and heavily weighted in Technology. Market conditions have pushed the number of Nasdaq stocks hitting new lows to over 1,100 as of last week. Since the total number of Nasdaq issues is about 3,200 that has caused the value, in percentage terms, to jump to over 30% of the total. As you can see, the last time this many Nasdaq stocks hit new lows was the October 2008 low and the March 2009 low. The current level has exceeded other corrections since then and even the “Tech Wreck” after 2000. At this point, it becomes a contrarian indicator.

NASDAQ NEW LOWS PERCENT OF INDEX

To no surprise, the same trend is true for NYSE stocks. As of last week, the percent of stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange at new lows has reached the levels of past correction lows, but not as high as the 2008 period.

NYSE NEW LOWS PERCENT NYA INDEX

From here, I’ll share my observations of the relative strength and momentum of the sectors and stocks within them so we can see how oversold they have become. We already looked at the Bullish Percent of each sector yesterday, this is just more weight of the evidence.

First, I applied the Relative Strength Index to the S&P 500 daily chart. This RSI is only 14 days, so it’s a short-term momentum indicator that measures the magnitude of recent price changes to estimate overbought or oversold conditions. RSI oscillates between zero and 100, so it’s range bound and I consider it overbought above 70 and oversold below 30. Below we see the current level of 19 is very low over the past twenty years and is at or below the low level reached during past shorter-term market bottoms. However, we also see during prolonged bear markets like 2000 to 2003 and 2007 to 2009 it reached oversold conditions two to three times as the market cycles up and down to a lower low.

RSI SPX RELATIVE STRENGTH S&P 500 INDEX

Zooming out from the daily chart to the weekly chart, we see the extremes more clearly and this is one of them. On a weekly basis, this oversold indicator is as low as it’s been only at the low points of the last two major bear markets.

sS&P 500 RSI WEEKLY RELATIVE STRENGTH SPX

Zooming out one more time from the weekly to the monthly chart, we observe a monthly data point only highlights the most extreme lows. It’s the same data but ignores the intra-month data. On a monthly basis, the current measure isn’t as low as it reached at the bear market lows in March 2009 or October 2002. For it to reach that level, I expect the green area I highlighted in the price chart to be filled. In other words, this suggests to me if this is a big bear market, we could ultimately see the price trend decline to at least the 2015 high. It only takes about -10% to reach that level. However, as we saw in the shorter term readings, if history is a guide, it would most likely cycle back up before it would trend back down.

RSI S&P 500 MONTHLY RELATIVE STRENGTH INDEX SPX

You can probably see why I stress that longer-term price trends swing up and down as they unfold. Within a big move of 50%, we see swings around 10 – 20% along the way.

Let’s continue with this same concept to see how each sector looks. The broader indexes are made of the sectors, so if we want an idea of the internal condition of the broader market it is useful to look at each sector as I did yesterday with the Bullish Percent indexes.

Since we just had a -15% correction in August 2015 and January 2016, we’ll just focus on the daily RSI looking back four years to cover that period. Keep in mind, none of this is advice to buy or sell any of these sectors or markets. We only provide advice and investment management to clients with an executed investment management agreement. This observation is for informational and educational purposes only.

The Consumer Discretionary sector is as oversold as it’s been at historically low price points. A trend can always continue down more and stay down longer than expected, but by this measure, it has reached a point I expect to see a reversal up.

CONSUMER CYCLICAL SECTOR RELATIVE STRENGTH MOMENTUM RSI TREND

The price trend of Consumer Staples that is considered to be a defensive sector initially held up, but then the selling pressure got to it. It’s oversold as it’s been at historical lows.

consumer staples etf relative strength trend RSI XLP

The Energy sector has declined the most in 2018 and is oversold similar to prior price trend lows. We can see the indicator isn’t perfect as a falling trend sometimes reverses up temporarily, then trends back down to a lower low only to get oversold again. We’ll observe this same behavior at different times in each sector or market.

energy sector etf xle relative strength rsi momentum trend following buy signal.jpg

The Financial sector is deeply oversold to the point it has reached at prior lows. Any market could always crash down more, but Financials have reached a point we should expect to see at least a temporary reversal up.

FINANCIAL SECTOR ETF XLE IYF RELATIVE STREGTH MOMENTUM RSI

Healthcare is a sector that isn’t expected to be impacted by the economy, but it has participated in the downtrend. It’s also reached the oversold point today. You can see what happened historically after it reached this level. If history is a guide, we should watch for a reversal.

XLV HEALTH CARE ETF RSI MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

The Industrial sector is trending down but has now reached a point we could see a reversal back up.

XLI INDUSTRIAL SECTOR ETF MOMENTUM RSI

Clearly, the market decline has been broad as every sector has participated. The Materials sector reached the oversold level today.

XLB BASIC MATERIALS SECTOR ETF RSI MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

Real Estate has not been spared during the selloff. It has now reached an oversold level normally seen at lows, but historically it’s cycled up and down a few times before reversing up meaningfully. That can be the case for any of them.

XLRE REAL ESTATE ETF IYR MOMENTUM TREND FOLLOWING RSI

The Technology sector had been one of the best-looking uptrends the past few years. It’s now oversold after today’s action.

TECHNOLOGY ETF XLK IYR MOMENTUM RSI RELATIVE STRENGTH ASYMMETRIC RISK REWARD

Up until today, the Utility sector was the lone survivor, but it was one of todays biggest losers. It’s falling so sharply so fast it’s now oversold with the other sectors.

XLU IDU UTILITIES UTILITY SECTOR ETF ETFS MOMENTUM RSI

After prices have declined, I look for indications that selling pressure may be getting more exhausted and driving prices to a low enough point to attract buying demand. That’s what it takes to reverse the trend.

I’ve been here before. I’ve executed through these hostile conditions as a tactical operator. The more hostile it gets, the more focused in the zone I get. After the stock market has already declined, I start looking for this kind of panic selling and extreme levels for a countertrend. We’re seeing those levels now. Sure, it could get worse, but we have reached a point that lower prices are more and more likely to result in a reversal back up.

I’m just going to do what I do.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market

It’s a big task for me to use the word exhaustive when it comes to stock market analysis. Exhaustive is examining, including, or considering all elements or aspects; fully comprehensive. There is no way to consider all elements, but we can focus on how the price trends are actually trending and the behavior and sentiment that is driving the trend.

Many years ago a friend of mine once tried to debate me about what trend following is or is not. He argued that trend following is all lagging moving averages or breakouts. The more we discussed it, the more we both realized that isn’t true. What made us realize it was when I said:

A skillful trend follower wants to catch a trend early in its stage and capitalize on it until it ends.

That’s hard to argue against. Who would rather enter a trend later in its stage? Who wants to catch less of the trend? My point is: we should want to capture as much of a trend as possible and for me, that necessarily means I want to not only determine the direction of a trend but also observe when trends are likely to change direction.

I want to share this with you so you know where I’m coming from. My objective is all about ASYMMETRY®. For me, it’s all about asymmetric risk/reward. Asymmetric risk/reward is an expectation of average gains larger than average losses. It could be as simple as risking a loss of 10% for the potential to earn a gain of 20%. That’s an asymmetric payoff. If I did that with just a 50% probability, I would earn 5% on average. How much total return we would achieve over time would be controlled by how much capital I risk in each position. How much I risk in each position across the portfolio dictates my portfolio drawdown. The portfolio drawdowns relative to total return since inception creates an asymmetric risk/reward profile. So, everything I do involves ASYMMETRY® and that’s why it’s my trademark. As you read my observations you can probably see how I’m looking for exposure at lower risk levels and less exposure at higher risk levels and that can be counterintuitive. It can certainly go against investor sentiment and emotions at times.

Every decision we make is in the present moment. We can do nothing in the past. We can do nothing in the future. The only time we can do something is now, or not.

To get an understanding of an asymmetric risk/reward let’s look at an idealized situation. The chart below, unnamed because it doesn’t matter, is a price trend that gained over 100%. If your objective is an asymmetric payoff and you have perfect hindsight, what would be your best entry point?

asymmetric risk reward investment

Clearly, the price is trending from the lower left to the upper right, so the answer is the lowest price possible. As I said, in the real world we don’t know in advance the trend will continue, so we have to be willing to place our bet and let it unfold. When I enter a trend, I determine how much capital I’ll risk to see if it becomes an asymmetric payoff. If we were looking at the trend in 2016 with perfect hindsight, where would be the very best entry? Of course if would be the -15% dips in 2015 and 2016. The trouble is, as the price is falling sharply, it never seems there will be a catalyst to make the market trend back up. The news is always bad. Investor sentiment is very bearish. The sky is falling and all people want to do is duck for cover.

After trends have moved, I find it more productive to look for a change of trend.

After price trends up, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend back down.

After prices have fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend back up.

What I do as a tactical portfolio manager is systematic rules-based. Although, it isn’t so mechanical that my computers are doing it all and executing trades. I am Man + Machine, not Machine – Man. I make no bones about it. I ultimately make tactical decisions that are informed by all of the proprietary systems I’ve developed over the past two decades. Some of my systems are more automated than others, but ultimately I am the portfolio manager.

So, when I share market analysis observations, this is something different than specific trading signals to enter and exit. Market analysis is something I do to gain insights from my observations.

Observations are the action or process of observing something carefully in order to gain information.

Insights are the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of something.

Observations are “what is going on” and insights are “understanding what is going on.”

I can share my observations of what is going on, but I can’t necessarily give you the insight to understand it. Understanding is up to you. To gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of something you have to study it closely.

So, you can probably see why I believe it’s useful to do market analysis to get an understanding of the probabilities and possibilities. I do it by looking at the current price trend and where it’s been and more likely to go next.

Here we go.

I said this is going to be exhaustive, so I’m going to share my top down macro view of the U.S. stock market. I also do this for International stock markets, bonds, commodities, etc. but this is going to be focused on the U.S. stock market. However, I may throw in some relative comparisons of other markets to make a point. The top-down macro view is going to be in this order;

  1. Broad stock market index price trends and breadth
  2. Sectors within the stock market price trends and breadth
  3. Stocks within those sectors price trends and momentum

THE BIG PICTURE

The big picture is the overall long-term secular situation. In April I presented my big picture observations to a group of advisors. The two things I shared are:

  1. This is the longest bull market in history. At 9 years old, it’s very aged. The average length of a bull market is 4 to 5 years. Twice the average is aged by any measure.
  2. The Shiller PE Ratio was the second highest, ever. Only the 1999 bubble was higher. When the stock market is trading so expensive, we have to be prepared for the trend to reverse the other direction.

Below is a 20-year monthly chart of the S&P 500. I added the green highlight to show the current price is only -35% from the October 2007 high eleven years ago. Losses are asymmetric as they compound exponentially. Losses erode gains asymmetrically. For example, the price gain from the 2007 high to the current price is 56%, but it only takes -35% to decline back to that point. You may also consider the stock index is only 56% higher than its 2000 peak eighteen years ago.

stock market secular trend

In The REAL Length of the Average Bull Market I wrote: “Whether you believe the average bull market lasts 39 months, 50 months, or 68 months, it seems the current one is likely late in its stage at 54 months as of September 2013.” Yes, I was saying 5 years ago the trend seemed late stage – and it was. It just continued anyway, though was interrupted by two declines in the range of -15% in 2015 and 2016.

At the same time in late 2013, the Shiller PE Ratio was increasing to a very overvalued level. It only kept going higher. By January of this year, it reached 33x earnings, the second highest ever. In fact, the only two times it reached this extreme the stock market followed with the Great Depression crash and the -46% decline after 2000. After the current -18% decline in the S&P it is now down to 26.74. The median is around 15, secular bear markets often begin at 20 or higher, secular bull markets begin below 10.

The bottom line is:

Shiller PE Ratio

I’m guessing the unprecedented Quantitative Easing of the Federal Reserve helped to push the valuations to an extreme. The Fed is now unwinding the QE and raising interest rates, which may be partly why we are seeing prices fall. So, we certainly can’t overlook the situational awareness that this could eventually become a much worse bear market to the -50% level. However, if it does, it will usually unfold with many swings up and down along the way. Falling prices are eventually followed by sharp countertrend moves up. It’s when we see lower highs and lower lows over time that it becomes more evident it’s a big bear market.

One thing that’s been talked about a lot lately is the risk of an inverted yield curve. An inverted yield curve is when the short-term 3-month interest rate is higher than the long-term 30-year interest rate. The yield curve hasn’t inverted like it did in December 2006 and August 2000. The yield curve doesn’t suggest a recession anytime soon.

Here’s what an inverted yield curve looks like… when it inverted December 2006. A year later, the stock market started its decline of over -56%.
Here is the inverted yield curve in August 2000. In 2000, the yield curve was more accurate as to timing. The broad stock market declined -50%.
The normal yield curve, 3 month vs 30 year, has not inverted. The long-term interest rate is higher than the short-term rate. For the yield curve to invert, the short-term interest rate will have to increase higher than the longer-term interest rate. Or, the long-term interest rate decrease below the short term. Either way, that hasn’t happened yet.

How big are the stock market losses in 2018? 

Starting with a top-down view. First, the broad asset classes and styles like large, mid, small and value, growth, and blend using Morningstar Small Value is down the most at -19% YTD. Small Cap stocks are down the most. Large Growth and Large Cap generally have declined the least. The average U.S. Market index is down -8.58%. Keep in mind that index performance does not include any costs or fees and may not be invested in directly.

stock market sector asset class performance 2018

The table above also includes sectors. Energy and Basic Materials are down over -20%, so any tactical system that avoided them had an advantage.

Most investors don’t necessarily invest all of their money in the stock market all the time. Many instead do global asset allocation like I wrote about in Global asset allocation takes a beating in 2018. Fewer have an objective like mine; a global tactical strategy that shifts between markets by increasing and decreasing exposure aiming for asymmetric risk/reward. Here are iShares asset allocation ETFs YTD as a proxy for low-cost exposure to a global asset allocation of stocks and bonds all the time with no active risk management or tactical decisions. Each “risk level” has a different exposure to stocks/bonds. Even the most conservative allocation which is mostly invested in bonds is down -4% in 2018.

global asset allocation etf

I shared more detailed observations of global asset allocation Global asset allocation takes a beating in 2018.

For a more exhaustive observation of GAA trends, here I included some of the more popular active global allocation funds along with the iShares ETFs that track allocation indexes. Clearly, 2018 has been a hostile year for most every strategy; static, balanced, or tactical.

global asset allocation funds 2018 ETF ETFs

So, that’s the big picture. From there, let’s zoom in for a closer look for a shorter term observation.

The downside very quickly erodes the progress. However, the asymmetric nature of losses starts to really compound against capital after -20%. At this point, the S&P 500 is down -18%. It’s a little lower than 2016 and about the same as the decline in 2011.

2018 stock market loss

Though this has been a very long bull market, it has been interrupted by deeper “corrections” of more than -10%.

stock market drawdown bear markets asymmetric risk

In comparison, the 2003 to 2007 bull market corrections were less than -10%.

stock market corrections bear market average

When does the bleeding stop? 

After prices have already fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend and divergence.

The price trend itself is the final arbiter. It is what it is. A price that is trending down is going to continue to trend down until the desire to sell has been exhausted and drives prices low enough until the enthusiasm to buy takes over. After sharp selling pressure like we’ve seen since September, we’ll likely see some similarly sharp countertrend reversals up. Market trends don’t usually drift in a direction until it’s over, instead, we observe swings up and down as the price trend cycles. Short term cycles develop the longer term cycles.

Though the price trend itself is the final arbiter, the best way I have identified when trends are most likely to change direction at extremes is to observe extremes in investor sentiment and breadth. Ultimately, investor sentiment and the breadth is evident in the price, but at extremes, these measures can be a warning shot across the bow at high levels and indicate panic selling exhaustion at lows. From here, we’ll look at investor sentiment measures. We’ll also look at breadth indicators that quantitatively tell us the breadth of participation in the decline. The thinking is at some point these measures reach an extreme, suggesting the selling may be becoming exhausted and to prepare for a potential reversal. Since asymmetric risk/reward is my objective, I’m looking for lower-risk entries that have the potential for greater payoff than the amount I risk.

Investor Sentiment: Fear is Driving the Stock Market

A simple way to quickly observe overall investor sentiment is the Fear & Greed index, which tracks seven different indicators.

Fear Greed Index Low 2018 lowest levelIt’s the lowest level I’ve seen it, suggesting we’ve observed panic level selling. If you read my observations from the beginning of this year, you’ll see the opposite was true at the start of 2018.

FEAR GREED INDEX 2018 LOW

We’ve observed a round trip this year from Extreme Greed to Extreme Fear. Investor sentiment obviously swings up and down over time. As sentiment oscillates, it drives price tends to cycle, too. Even in bull markets, there are declines and in bear markets, we’ll see sharp upswings.

When investor sentiment is so bearish we see a spike in the words “bear market.” Google Trends shows the bear market talk on the Internet has spiked to the highest level in five years, even higher than 2015-16 and February this year.

GOOGLE TRENDS BEAR MARKET STOCK

I’m also hearing the typical talk about a 1987 type crash. The October 1987 -20% single day crash was 32 years ago but it’s still talked about today when prices fall. Markets are risky, so a crash is something we risk when we invest our money. The risk is partially why markets generate a return. We have to be willing to have exposure to risks that can come when no one expects it. Has modern market regulation and technology created any prevention of an ’87 type crash? Around 2012 circuit breakers were created to theoretically prevent a single day crash.

Circuit breaker thresholds: trading is halted market-wide for single-day declines in the S&P 500. Circuit breakers halt trading on the stock market during dramatic drops and are set at 7%, 13%, and 20% of the closing price for the previous day. There are also single stock limits and halts by the exchanges

Buy and hold, long-only asset allocation investors may take comfort in knowing there is some limit, but for those of us who actively manage our risk we prefer to deal with risk sooner if we can, but there is no assurance any strategy will always do as intended.  You can read more about circuit breakers in Measures to Address Market Volatility. The bottom line is these circuit breakers are intended to limit a single day waterfall decline, they do not control overall drawdowns.

How many stocks are participating in the decline? 

Another way to say it; How “washed out” is the stock market? To understand the internal condition, I look inside the indexes at the sectors and stocks. We’ll start with Breadth indicators, which quantitatively measure the percent of stocks in uptrends vs. downtrends.

  • When 70% of stocks are already in uptrends it signals a strong market trend but also suggests as most stocks have caught up and participated, buying enthusiasm may be getting exhausted.
  • When less than 30% of stocks are in uptrends, 70% of them are in downtrends, so the market trend is bearish. However, after most of the stocks have already fallen, at some point, it suggests we look for the exhaustion of selling pressure that could reverse the downtrend.

The percent of the S&P 500 stocks above their moving averages tells us how many of the 500 stocks are in an uptrend vs. a downtrend. When it’s declining, the market is bearish so we can see how many stocks are participating in the decline. When it reaches an extreme low, it may be an indication selling could be becoming exhausted. As we see, it has reached the low levels of past stock market lows with the exception of the low in March 2009.

PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

Notice the low was reached October 2008 and stayed down until late March 2009. In the massive crash when stocks fell over -50%, it stayed “oversold” for over 6 months. It’s an example of the limitations of countertrend signals in outlier events.

For a view of the short-term trends, I do the same for the 50 day moving average. Only 6% of the S&P 500 stocks are in uptrends, so 94% are in short-term downtrends. That’s the bad news for stock investors. The good news is, it’s reached the low range where we have historically seen a reversal up. A reversal up from here would be bullish, at least temporarily.

PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

The S&P 500 Bullish Percent Index is the number of stocks in the S&P that are trading on a Point & Figure buy signal. By this measure, only 17% of the 500 stocks are in uptrends. I highlighted the top are in red to note the contrary indicator of breadth and green on the bottom to mark the contrarian bullish zone where downtrends may reverse to uptrends when selling gets exhausted. The S&P 500 Bullish Percent Index is below 2011, 2015 and 2016 stock market correction lows. BPI is considered overbought when above 70% and oversold when below 30%. Once it reaches the green zone, I start looking for a reversal up from a low level, which is a bullish signal. 

S&P 500 BULLISH PERCENT $BPSPX

Notice the current level is below the 2011 and 2015-16 decline, but not as low as the 2008-09 bear market when the stock index fell -56%.

We see the same scenario in the NYSE Bullish Percent, which applies the same method to the stocks trading on the NYSE.

NYSE BULLISH PERCENT

We’re not seeing any divergence in the breadth indicators, they are all down as most stocks have fallen. These are now at the level to look for countertrend signals.

The High-Low Index is a 10-day moving average of new highs vs. new lows. This breadth indicator shows when new highs outnumber new lows and when new highs are expanding. In general, new highs outnumber new lows when the indicator is above 50. New highs are expanding when the indicator is above 50 and rising. As with most range bound oscillator indicators, high is over 70 and low is below 30. Here we see it’s about as low as it has been. We also see how it can swing around for a year or two in a bear market. Since it can take time for prices to reach all-time highs and lows, the High-Low Index is more lagging than similar indicators.

High Low HILO SPX

Before we look inside the sectors, we’ll look at some other indicators of sentiment. This week, the CBOE Total Put/Call Ratio spiked to 1.82, which is its highest put volume over call volume ratio ever. We have data going back to 1995. As you can see in the chart, we normally see this ratio less than one as more calls trade than puts. A reading over 1 is usually a signal of pessimism as options traders appear to buy buying put options for protection or to speculate the stock market will fall. We’ve never seen put volume so high. Options traders appear to be very bearish, which has historically been a contrarian indicator at some point.

PUT CALL RATIO HIGHEST EVER 2018

By the way, big bear markets unfold in cycles as the trend swings up and down. In the last bear market, the stock indexes fell -15%, then gained 10%, then fell 20%, then gained 15%, along the way you never know in advance which direction it is going to trend next. Many tactical traders had trouble with the 2007 to 2009 period because of whipsaws. By the time they exited, the market trended up without them, then they reentered just in time for the next fall. This is the risk of tactical trading, whether the method is breakouts, momentum, relative strength, or any other rotation style. I know this because I’ve known over 100 other tactical traders for over two decades. The price swings are the challenge. For example, below is the 2008 – 2009 -56% decline. As you can see, the Equity Put/Call Ratio is on top. I drew green lines at its peaks to show they typically indicate a short-term price low, but probably not as well as it would in a correction within a primary bull market. The point is, sometimes signals work out well, other times they don’t. They don’t have to be perfect and none are. The key is asymmetry: higher average profits than losses over full market cycles.

2008 spx put call ratio study

One indicator showing some divergence is the VIX CBOE Volatility Index. Although the S&P 500 is about -5% lower than its February low when the VIX spiked up to nearly 40, the VIX is only at 30 this time. However, I point out it did the same thing in the lower low in January 2016. The VIX initially spiked more in the first decline in August 2015 but remained less evaluated at the lower low in January 2016. It appears the options market  expects elevated volatility, but not as much as an expansion as before. We’ll see.

VIX DIVERGENCE VOLATILITY EXPANSION

Drilling down, what about sectors? Below are the individual sectors YTD. Energy and Materials are down the most. Ironically, they are tied to inflation. Where is the rising prices (inflation) the Fed is supposed to be fighting?

SECTOR SPDRS MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

Sector Trends and Breadth 

To get an underatnding of the individual stock trends within a sector, I look at the bullish percent of the sectors.

First, we’ll observe the bullish percent of the Energy sector. Energy is down the most and only 3% of stocks in the index is an uptrend as measured by a point & figure buy signal. It’s as low as its been in 20 years. Though it could stay at this low level in a bear market as it did around 2008, it still swings up and down for those willing to trade it.

BULLISH PERCENT ENERGY SECTOR

The next biggest loser sector is Basic Materials, another commodity-related sector. I highlighted the current low level in green, which is nearly as low as it’s ever been in 20 years. These indicators are range bound, so they can only fall to 0% and as high as 100%.

BASIC MATERIALS SECTOR BULLISH PERCENT

The Financial sector is the third largest weight in the S&P 500 stock index at 13%. It’s down -18%, making it one of the biggest laggards. Banks, brokers, etc. are leading the market down and that isn’t a good sign for the economy of the market. Financials often lead in bear markets. However, as we see below, their participation in the fall is about as high as it’s ever been. On the other hand, we see how volatile and weak Financials were in 2007 to 2009. During that “Financial Crisis”, they were among the worst.

financial sector bullish percent momentum relative strength

The industrials sector, down about -18%, continues the trend of broad participation in the sell-off. It’s also reached the lowest it did in 2008 and 2011.

industrial sector bullish percent momentum

Consumer Staples is a sector that is supposed to hold up in market declines, but the index is down -12% year to date, which is more than the S&P. Staples stocks have participated as much as they did in prior corrections in 2011 and 2016, but not as much as around 2008.

consumer staples sector bullish percent index

The Technology sector is a big one because at 20% it has the largest weighting in the S&P 500. The Technology sector is down about -7% YTD. The Technolgy sector bullish percent is down below its lows in prior corrections and nearing the 2008 and 2009 lows. Keep in mind, once prices have moved to a low point, they eventually attract buying demand and reverse the other direction. These indicators help us see the levels it is more likely to happen and a reversal in these indicators increases the potential even more.

BULLISH PERCENT TECHNOLOGY

Consumer Discretionary is 10% of the S&P and down -5% YTD. Its bullish percent is as about as low as it’s been.

BULLISH PERCENT CONSUMER DISRCRETIONARY SECTOR

Another major sector is Healthcare, it’s the second largest weighting at 16% of the S&P 500. It’s flat for the year, but its bullish percent is very washed out.

HEALTHCARE SECTOR BULLISH PERCENT MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRETGH

The Utility sector is the lone survivor so far in 2018. Like Consumer Staples, Utilities are considered “defensive.” That expectation hasn’t held true for Consumer Staples down -12% this year, but the Utility sector is up 2% YTD. The first half of the year, Utilities were laggard as they are sensitive to rising interest rates, but the last half they’ve found some buying interest. As we see, the Utility sector momentum has been strong enough to keep its stocks in uptrends and into the higher risk zone. However, notice they tend to stay at higher bullish percent levels over time. Utilities don’t usually have strong momentum against other sectors, but they do tend to have less volatility. Of course, in the last big bear market that wasn’t the case as everything fell.

UTILITY SECTOR MOMENTUM TREND BULLISH PERCENT RELATIVE STRENGTH

The bottom line is the stock market could certainly be entering another big bear market. It’s long overdue as this bull is very aged and overvalued. Even if it is, it will include swings up and down along the way. That’s the challenge for all strategies that trade or invest in stocks. For buy and hold investors, it’s a challenge as stocks swing up and down and they have full exposure all the time and unlimited downside risk. For tactical traders, the swings are a challenge as we increase and decrease our exposure to risk and reward and none of our methods are perfect. The key, for me, in dealing with it is to hold the lowest risk, highest potential reward exposure. Barring we don’t see some waterfall decline, most of the market is at a point we should see a countertrend move up at least temporarily. If prices keep trending down, I’m guessing the upswing that does come will be just as sharp.

After prices have fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend and it could come at any time.

Someday in the future, stock investors will be giddy again and completely forget about how they feel right now. But for now, the trend is down, but the sentiment and breadth are at such extremes we should be alert to see at least a short-term reversal in the days ahead.

I hope you find this market analysis helpful. If you don’t believe it is exhaustive enough, I encourage you to read some of the other recent observations since they cover more detail on some of the topics above.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

The stock market has reached a short-term extreme as investor sentiment indicates fear

After prices have fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend and divergence.

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

– Warren Buffett

If you want to be like Warren Buffett, you’re probably enjoying the recent rout in stocks.

The U.S. stock market is now oversold based on short-term relative strength measures. Our 14 day RSI reading has declined to 28, which is at oversold levels that have historically signaled countertrend reversals up.

RSI RELATIVE STRENGTH INDEX STOCK MARKET ASYMMETRIC

The trouble is, market prices can reach oversold levels and just keep getting more oversold for a while. For example, when the S&P 500 declined -56% from October 9, 2007 to March 9, 2009 it got deeply oversold several times as the price trend cycled up and down. We can visually observe the Relative Strength Index spent more time in the lower range as prices were falling. Then in 2009 as prices finally trended up momentum stayed elevated.

2008 and 2009 oversold stock crash

Another indication of an oversold condition I observed today is when we draw bands of ATR around the price trend to measure volatility expansion. ATR is the average true range of the price over the past 14 days, a short-term measure of range and volatility. When the prices spread out, so does the band as it indicates volatility expansion. Today the price of the S&P 500 declined below the band, so the recent price action on the downside is an outlier by this measure. As you can see, the last time the price traded below the volatility band was the February low. What this observation suggests is the price has moved down low enough that it’s a short-term outlier, so it should trend the other way (at least temporarily).

STOCK MARKET ATR SPX

Stock market breadth indicators measure the participation of a stock advance or decline. The percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average tells us how many stocks are still in longer-term uptrends vs. downtrends. After today, only 18% or 89 stocks are above their 200-day trend. It’s now down to the low level reached during the August 2015 to January 2016 lows. After it reached this low in 2016, stocks went on to trend up to a new all-time high.

stock market breadth percent of stocks above 200 day moving average

At this point, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones have declined -15% from their September high. If this is a cyclical “correction” within an ongoing bull market, we should see prices trend up soon and eventually trend to a higher high.

However, even if this is the early stages of a bear market that declines over -20% or a big bear market like 2000-2003 and 2007-2009 that declines -50%, the stock market will still likely swing up and down along the way. As we saw in the above chart that included the last bear market, the stock indexes swing up and down 10% to 20% on their way down just as they do on their way up. Some of these swings can be traded, some not so well. This recent decline since September was probably more challenging for tactical traders. Though the stock market got overbought enough in September to signal reducing exposure near the high, after prices fell to a lower level and signaled a countertrend entry, the price trend has since kept falling. But, at this point, countertrend systems now have a stronger entry signal than before. The challenge with countertrends is a trend can always continue trending farther. That is, oversold can get more oversold until sellers have been exhausted and buyers are attracted by the lower prices. Prices keep trending until the supply and demand shifts direction.

By the way, on September 1st I shared the countertrend signal reduce exposure in The U.S. stock market was strong in August, but… when I concluded:

The bottom line is the broad stock indexes are trending up and led by a few strong sectors, but they’ve reached levels that my countertrend momentum systems suggest the risk of at least a temporary decline is elevated.

Because of this, I reduced my exposure to only 70% long stocks around the September high. However, we still participated in the October rout more than I planned because the 30 % of stocks we held that were former leaders declined the most. I then started adding exposure to stocks at lower prices and so far, they’ve only trended lower. Everything is always probabilistic, never a sure thing.

Anytime we see stock prices decline more than -10% the narrative we hear in the media changes from “correction” to speculation of a “bear market”. As I mentioned a few days ago, this is the longest bull market in U.S. history and the second highest valuation. As such, anything can happen. However, at this point, this decline of -15% is around the range of the 2015-16 decline and the 2011 decline.

Here is what the August 2015 to January 2016 declines looked like.

2015 stock market decline asymmetric risk

In 2011, the correction was the deepest we’ve seen since this bull market started in March 2009.

2011 stock market drawdown asymmetric risk reward

To put it all in context of a major bear market like the last one 2007 to 2009 when the stock index declined -56% over two years and took another four years to return to its 2007 high, I marked -15% green. The stock market was already down -15% from its October 2007 high by January 2008 – two months later. The bear market had many countertrend swings back up giving many who were holding some hope, but it ultimately cycled its way down to cut stock portfolio values in half.

2008 stock market crash drawdown

Many say they are “long-term investors.” The long-term investors who buy and hold stocks or the stock indexes have to be willing to hold through an astonishing loss like -50%.

I am not willing to hold on to losing positions near that long or let my losses get that large. But even for a tactical portfolio manager like myself, I have to be willing to expose our capital to risk and endure some drawdowns. I just choose to limit my drawdowns by predefining risk through my exits and/or hedging. I prefer to avoid the price action below the green line in the chart above.

This has been one of the worst ends of the year in history. In fact, as of now, this is the 2nd worst December in S&P 500 history. It is the worst in MSCI World global stock index history.

worst decemember in history

The only good news I can share is the stock market has reached an oversold level based on short-term momentum and investor sentiment measures are at extreme bearish levels. Both are contrary indicators. These indicators normally signal a reversal back up at some point. Although, if enough investors wish they had sold, they may sell as prices trend up, so the trend could swing around for a while. It means volatility may continue for some time.

Todays AAII Investor Sentiment Survey shows optimism and pessimism remain outside their typical ranges: bullish sentiment is unusually low and bearish is unusually high. Historically, both have been followed by higher-than-median six- and 12-month returns for the S&P 500 index, particularly unusually low optimism. Again, this is a contrary indicator as investors as a crowd tend to feel the wrong feeling at the wrong time at extremes.

AAII Sentiment Survey

The fear and greed index that measures investor sentiment using multipe indicators is down to five, which is about the most extreme fear level it’s ever been.

investor sentiment fear greed index

One of the indicators in the Fear and Greed Index is the Put/Call Ratio is used as a contrarian indicator to gauge bullish and bearish extremes. The sentiment is considered excessively bearish when the Put/Call Ratio is trading at relatively high levels. One a normal day, the Put/Call Ratio is less than one since options traders tend to trade calls more than puts. Today the Put/Call Ratio is at 1.82, so options traders are buying many more puts for protection against a market decline or as a directional bet. Put/Call Ratio is at 182% is an extremely high level, the highest ever recorded. The Put/Call Ratio data goes back to 1995 and 1.2 has historically been an extreme high.

Put Call Ratio 2018 December highest ever recorded

The bottom line is, fear of lower prices is driving the stock market, and the bears have been in control. However, sentiment has reached such an extreme we would expect to see a countertrend reversal up at least temporarily. Even if this is the early stage of a lower low and a bear market, it will include many swings up and down along the way. What the trend does once it finally drifts up will be telling of the bigger picture. Bear and bull markets are both a process, not an event. In a bear market, prices trend up down to lower lows and lower highs. The swings along the way result in fear of missing out and the fear of losing more money which leads to overbought and oversold conditions.

I believe risk must be actively managed through increasing and decreasing exposure to the possibility of loss because markets are risky. The stock market can decline -50% or more and take years to trend back up, so I believe drawdown controls are necessary to preserve capital rather than allowing losses to get too large. Once a portfolio declines more than -20%, the losses grow exponentially and become harder to recover.

We’ll see how it all plays out. We’re still waiting to see those investors who are “greedy when others are fearful” overwhelm the sellers enough to change the trend.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Global asset allocation takes a beating in 2018

Most financial advisors and financial planners recommend to their clients some type of global asset allocation. Their global asset allocation models usually include a range of bonds, U.S. stocks, and International stocks. Some may include what are considered alternative investments like real estate (REITs), private equity, or tactical trading, but most of them keep it plain vanilla. This asset allocation method is called “strategic asset allocation” since it usually applies some form of portfolio optimization of historical returns and volatility to determine the weight between stocks and bonds.

Who can blame them? asset allocation and diversification is easy to sell and easy to defend. If someone sells their business or retires with a large 401(k), it’s easy to sell them on diversifying their assets. If the markets go down it isn’t their fault, it’s the market that’s doing it. Is it too much drawdown or volatility? They just recommend a change to less stocks and more bonds. Of course, that only works when bonds aren’t falling too.

Since many actively managed mutual funds failed to avoid losses during the last bear market 2007 to 2009, many advisors shifted their strategic asset allocation from actively managed mutual funds to index funds. It’s easy to see why; their clients lost a lot of money, even as much as -40% for a balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds. If they were more invested in stocks, it was as much as -50% or more.

If a mutual fund was supposed to be “active,” I can see how such losses would be unacceptable. If an investor is paying more for portfolio management, they probably expect to have a more asymmetric risk/return profile than what long-only exposure to stock indexes all the time would provide for less cost. Index funds and ETFs are cheap because they simply provide exposure to market risks and rewards. They provide this exposure all the time, so when markets fall as they do in a bear market, they lose value and have no stop loss for risk management.

I also use index ETFs to gain exposure to markets, countries, and sectors, but I don’t just buy and hold them, I increase and decrease my exposure to actively manage my risk/reward. My objective is an asymmetric risk/reward, so I want to avoid the larger losses as I try to capture gains. For me, it starts at the individual position level and flows through to the portfolio level. I’m entering positions we expect to result in an asymmetric risk/reward payoff; positions with a higher expected gain than its potential loss. I do this over and over, and they don’t all have to result in asymmetry. We just need the average gains to exceed the average losses over time to achieve a positive asymmetric risk-return profile. It’s an absolute return objective, meaning our focus is on our own payoffs and risk-reward profile, not trying to track what a stock index is doing. My strategy is unconstrained from the limitations of a fixed benchmark. Our objective is more about making money with a predetermined amount of absolute risk, not relative returns and tracking indexes. As such, the return stream is expected to be unique.

That isn’t what active mutual fund managers do.

The typical active mutual fund has an objective of relative return vs. an index benchmark. As I’ve been an investment manager for over two decades, I’ve seen the relative return comparisons become more and more intense. Brokerage firms and investment advisors have created sophisticated performance reporting programs to compare their performance to chosen benchmarks. Active mutual funds have a mandate to “beat” and index. For example, some of them aim to beat the large growth, mid value, or small growth asset classes. Most of them attempt to beat their benchmark by filtering through the stocks in the index and picking better stocks. If a relative return is their objective, they are not focused on managing downside risk. Instead, they are focused on tracking the benchmark and getting ahead of it. Many of them probably attempt it by holding a more focused portfolio or with a portfolio of the higher momentum stocks relative to the benchmark. Since risk management isn’t their objective, they view any overweight in cash as a risk of underperformance. That’s what traditional “active managers” do. What I do is typically called “tactical management” since my objective is absolute return, not relative return, and I want to actively control my drawdowns through risk management. For example, I could be positioned in all cash in a bear market, hedged, short, or long volatility.

So, there is an important distinction between “active managers” with a relative return benchmark-beating objective and those of us with an unconstrained strategy and focus on absolute returns. Mutual funds are typically relative return managers trying to beat a benchmark, hedge funds are typically absolute return managers creating their own unique return stream. Although, typically means that isn’t always the case.

Ok, so, the headline was about the performance of Global Asset Allocation this year.

Back to global asset allocation.

Some financial advisors and media enjoy disparaging all types of active management. They talk about how relative return managers like most mutual funds don’t beat their benchmarks. They’ll point out how absolute return hedge fund type strategies may manage downside risk, but don’t earn as much return as an all-stock portfolio. Most of the time, it isn’t a reasonable comparison. For example, saying the Barclays Hedge Fund Index underperformed the S&P 500 the past decade isn’t complete without also considering the drawdowns. In the last bear market, the S&P 500 declined -56% while the Barclays Hedge Fund Index that includes a composite of thousands of hedge funds declined only -24%. I will suggest the stock index loss was so large most tapped out while the Barclays Hedge Fund Index was low enough that investors could have held on.

It doesn’t matter how much the return is if the risk is so high you tap out before its achieved. 

This year has been a challenging and hostile year for all investment strategies.  While those who adhere to a long-only fully invested asset allocation all the time will talk about the performance of active managers, theirs isn’t much to speak of, either. I know a lot of advisors, and we work with some who invest in my portfolio. Most of their global asset allocations are very simple, and now many of them use index funds and charge an advisory fee for the asset allocation and rebalancing.

There are some mutual funds that offer a varying method of asset allocation. I am not recommending any of these funds, this is for educational and informational purposes only. Some popular ones that come to mind are BlackRock Global Allocation (MDLOX), Arrow DWA Balanced. PIMCO All Asset All Authority (PAUAX), DFA Global Allocation 60/40 (DGSIX). BlackRock Global Allocation, Arrow DWA Balanced, and PIMCO All Asset All Authority are active allocation funds while DFA Global Allocation is a passive allocation fund managed by Dimensional Fund Advisors. Below are their year-to-date total returns, including dividends. (To see their full history click on the links in their names above.)

Global Asset Allocation Funds

I know financial advisors who are big advocates of large asset managers like Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), PIMCO, and BlackRock. Advisors often tout how large they are and how many academics or how many analysts and portfolios managers they have on staff. I included the Arrow DWA Balanced fund because it’s managed by Dorsey Wright, which isn’t as large, but I know advisors use it. Most advisors who offer asset allocation models are doing their own asset allocations for their clients. The above returns are the result of each of these asset managers doing the allocation and investment selection. So, I would expect when it comes to global asset allocation, those funds should be as good as it gets. How is a financial planner who isn’t a portfolio manager going to do better?

Some may say “What about Vanguard? They are some of the cheapest funds you can buy?”. I don’t know of a Vanguard global asset allocation fund like the DFA fund, but they do have a balanced 60/40 fund that doesn’t include exposure to international. Below is their balanced allocation fund along with their International stock fund. Though their fund isn’t down -7% like the global allocation funds, if you added 20% of their International to make it “global,” we can see it would be similar.

vanguard asset allocation funds

Since indexing and ETFs have become more popular than mutual funds, today we have some interesting ETFs that track global asset allocation indexes so we can better understand the return streams of global asset allocation.

iShares is a BlackRock company, the world’s largest asset manager with $6.29 trillion in assets under management. If an investor thinks a large size with many professionals is the key to investment success, they would probably BlackRock is the best. Of course, I don’t agree, since the most skilled portfolio managers I know are small, focused, specialized firms with all their skin in the game. BlackRock’s iShares offers the iShares Core Allocation Funds, which are ETF allocations of ETFs. Each iShares Core Allocation Fund offers exposure to U.S. stocks, international stocks, and bonds at fixed weights and holds an underlying portfolio of iShares Core Funds. Investors can choose the portfolio that aligns with their specific risk considerations like investment time horizon and risk tolerance; for example, those with longer investment time horizons and higher risk tolerance may consider the iShares Core Aggressive Allocation ETF.

More specifically, the iShares Core Allocation Funds track the S&P Target Risk Indexes. So, not only do you have BlackRock’s portfolio management managing the fund, but they are tracking S&P Target Risk Indexes. Here is their description:

S&P Dow Jones Indices’ Target Risk series comprises multi-asset class indices that correspond to a particular risk level. Each index is fully investable, with varying levels of exposure to equities and fixed income and are intended to represent stock and bond allocations across a risk spectrum from conservative to aggressive.

In other words, they each provide varying allocations to bonds and stocks. The Conservative model is more bonds, the Aggressive model is more stocks.

S&P Target Risk Conservative Index. The index seeks to emphasize exposure to fixed income, in order to produce a current income stream and avoid excessive volatility of returns. Equities are included to protect long-term purchasing power.

S&P Target Risk Moderate Index. The index seeks to provide significant exposure to fixed income, while also providing increased opportunity for capital growth through equities.

S&P Target Risk Growth Index. The index seeks to provide increased exposure to equities, while also using some fixed income exposure to dampen risk.

S&P Target Risk Aggressive Index. The index seeks to emphasize exposure to equities, maximizing opportunities for long-term capital accumulation. It may include small allocations in fixed income to enhance portfolio efficiency.

Below is an example of the S&P Target Risk Index allocations and the underlying ETFs they invest in. Notice their differences is the 10% to 20% allocation between stocks and bonds.

Global Allocation Index Construction

These ETFs offer low-cost exposure to global asset allocation with varying levels of “risk,” which really means varying levels of allocations to bonds. I say they are “low-cost” because these ETFs only charge 0.25% including the ETFs they are invested in. Most financial advisors probably charge 1% for global asset allocation, not including trade commissions and the fund fees they invest in. Even the lowest fee advisors charge at least 0.25% plus the trade commissions and the fund fees they invest in. With these funds, investors who want long-only exposure all the time to global stock and bond market risks and returns, they can get it cheap in one fund.

Now that we know what they are, below are their total returns including dividends year to date in 2018. (To see the full history click: iShares)

global asset allocation fund ETF

The % off high chart shows their drawdowns from their price high.

global asset allocation ETF ETFs

Global asset allocation is having a challenging year in 2018 because U.S. stocks, International stocks, and bonds are all down this year.

Of course, a calendar year doesn’t mean a lot. What we do over 15 or 20 years or more is what matters. But, as low-cost index asset allocation advisors talk about the performance of active managers and hedge fund type managers, 2018 has included conditions that have been hostile for all kinds of strategies.

As I said yesterday if this market volatility and correction develops into a full bear market, the asset allocations that are fully exposed to downside risk will test investors’ tolerance for drawdowns.

How deep can drawdowns be for such a globally diversified portfolio? Looking at the historical % off high of DFA Global Allocation and Vanguard Balanced gives a historical example. Even two of the efficient allocation funds available had drawdowns of around -35% to -40% in the last bear market. If it’s done it before, it can certainly happen again.

DFA Global Allocation Vanguard Balanced

Those of us applying active risk management and hedging strategies aim to limit the drawdowns within a tolerable amount rather than allowing them to become too large. For me, more than -20% becomes exponentially more difficult to tolerate and recover from. We have to deal with the -10% or so drawdowns sometimes since we can’t avoid them all. We necessarily have to take some risk to gain exposure to the possibility of gains.

Ok, so my headline was a little exaggerated. Drawdowns of -5% to -12% isn’t exactly a “beating”, but that’s the kind of headline we often see about active management and hedge funds.

You can probably see why I believe it’s essential to actively manage risk and position capital in the direction of price trends.

 

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Momentum stocks need to find some buying interest

The U.S. stock indexes were down nearly -2% today.

Prior to today, it appeared more likely the stock market would attempt to trend higher. The only positive about today’s price action was the volume was lighter. The S&P 500 stock index is now 2% above its October low and 5.4% above its February low.

To reverse the downtrend, selling pressure must be exhausted as buying demand becomes dominant. If we don’t see selling exhausted and buying interest in the coming days, it appears we may see the October lows revisited in the large-cap stock index. It’s only 2% away.

Looking at the bigger picture, a 2-year chart of the S&P 500 stock index shows its primary trend is still up with higher highs and higher lows, despite the volatile trading range in 2018. Nevertheless, the +/- 10% swings we’ve observed this year is a much higher range than we saw last year.

The stock market is seasonally in its best period of the year. That is especially true for November and December. Although, that hasn’t been the case yet with the S&P 500 down over -4% so far in November. For example, the seasonality chart shows the SPX has closed higher than it opened 70% of the time in November and 74% of the time in December. We’ll see if this matches the favorable odds or if it’s one of the 30% of times it doesn’t close positive.

The technology sector was the weakest today and it broke just below its October low. If its price has trended down low enough to attracting buying demand it could form a double bottom reversal and trend back up. If it continues to trend down enough, it could change its primary trend from up to down. Up until now, the tech sector has been the momentum leader. Technology is also the largest weight in the S&P 500 at 20%.

It could turn out to be positive that the former leading tech sector has lead the downtrend. Reversing leadership doesn’t normally sound like a good thing, except it is one of the main sectors weighing down the overall stock market the past week. Since it’s reached its October low already, we’ll see in the days and weeks ahead if it’s reached a low enough point to attract enough buying to overwhelm the selling.

In fact, momentum stocks have become the laggards recently. The S&P 500® Momentum Index is designed to measure the performance of securities in the S&P 500 universe that exhibit persistence in their relative performance. The momentum index is an index of stocks whose price trend momentum has outperformed other stocks. Indexes can’t be invested in directly, but we can use them to observe their trends. Here we see an index of stocks that were considered the leading momentum stocks have declined nearly -14% off its high, even more than the S&P 500 large-cap stock index. The technology sector overwhelms this momentum index with a 35.4% weighting. Tech had been so strong its weight is more than double the second largest weighted sector (Consumer Discretionary 15.4%).

You can probably see why I prefer to increase and decrease my exposure to the possibility of loss rather than just buying and holding an allocation with no predetermined exit. Because we know there is a point we’ll exit losers rather than let the losses become larger,  we won’t wait for losses to get too large and become the panic sellers. We observe many investors believe in buy and hold and passive asset allocation until they realize their losses get much larger than they expected and they respond more emotionally than they thought they would. I call it panic selling when they tap out because of fear rather than a predetermined exit point based on drawdown control.

The U.S. stock market remains in the range of an inflection point and we’ll soon see if it’s going to turn down into more of a downtrend or reverse back up. We’ll see how it all unfolds from here.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Pattern Recognition: Is the S&P 500 Forming a Head and Shoulders Bottom?

I don’t always share when I observe stock market patterns unfold, but when I do, it’s usually to inform (or aggravate) my friends who don’t understand (or want to understand) technical analysis.

Long before I started developing computerized trading systems based on quantitative signals I learned and applied chart patterns and trend lines to determine if a trend was up, down, or sideways. Said another way, up until 15 years ago I identified the direction of price trends visually looking at a price trend on a chart. I later defined up, down, and sideways with mathematical equations that help to systematize the process of trend identification. I believe my starting out learning trends by hand and visual representation helped me to develop better quantitative trend systems. The two go hand in hand.

We can define the direction of a trend with an equation as simple as momentum. For example, I have 14 different definitions of momentum and equations that define it. A simple one is X period rate of change. If it’s positive, the trend is up. If it’s negative, the trend is down. The factor that determines the trend direction is the time frame. Many academic types like using simple time series momentum methods like this because it’s easy to backtest. Pattern recognition is more difficult, so fewer have developed systems to automate pattern recognition and make it testable.

Chart patterns have historically been more visual. Chartists or technical analysts look at the chart of a price trend to determine if there is a pattern. The pattern we are looking for tells the story of supply and demand. The chart of a price trend shows us what has been going on with the battle between supply and demand from buyers and sellers. We may get an idea of who may be winning the battle and position our capital in that direction. For example, when prices are rising the buyers are in control and when prices all falling selling pressure is dominant. So, pattern recognition is just another form of trend following. Instead of using X-day breakouts, moving average, or channel breakouts, it’s using a pattern that is believed to tell the story of price action. We don’t make decisions based on a pattern, but the underlying asymmetry between buyers and sellers that caused the pattern and the direction of the price trend.

Simple > Complex

To me, it’s a much more simple way to determine if buyers or sellers are in control of the price trend than trying to find a fundamental narrative. There are so many different reasons for buying demand and selling pressure we could never really know why one is dominating the other. The news attempts to explain it, but the truth is, investors could be buying or selling based on perceived fundamentals, trend lines, moving averages, stop losses, buy stops, fear of missing out, fear of losing money, or tax reasons. Rather than trying to figure out what the majority is thinking, the pattern of the price trend tells the net result of all the buying and selling. It fits the idea of simple beats complex and if we simply stay with the direction of the trend we can’t be too wrong for too long. Someone making decisions based on things other than the price trend itself has the potential to stray far away from the reality of the price.

To me, chart patterns are really just a little more elaborate versions of trend lines. A trend line is just a line marking a chart such as how I marked the higher highs and higher lows yesterday in Divergence in the Advance-Decline Line May be Bullish. 

I observed today the S&P 500 seems to be forming a head and shoulders bottom pattern. The head and shoulders pattern happens when a market trend is in the process of reversal either from a bullish or bearish trend.  There are two kinds of head and shoulders.

  • A head and shoulders top is a pattern that forms after an uptrend. After it is completed, it signals a reversal of the trend from up to down.
  • A head and shoulders bottom is an inverse of the head and shoulders top. The head and shoulders bottom forms after a downtrend and signals a change of trend from down to up.

Below is the chart of a theoretical index used to represent an idealized head and shoulders. It includes both head and shoulders tops and head and shoulders bottoms. Stockcharts offers this index for educational purposes to see what idealized head and shoulders look like. You may notice each top and bottom are a little different – they aren’t perfect.

head and shoulders pattern recognition

I put the green box around a head and shoulders bottom. You can see why when you look at the S&P 500 stock index chart below.

head and shoulders bottom patterns recognition

An inverse head and shoulders pattern is simply a downtrend caused by selling pressure, interrupted by a brief reversal (left shoulder), a selling climax (head), an interruption again (right shoulder), then it would move on to new highs. Moving on to new highs will determine if it is completed as a reversal bottom, or not. To reverse the downtrend, selling pressure must be exhausted as buying demand becomes dominant.

Many patterns like the head and shoulders rely on volume as confirmation, so chartists can make it as complicated as they want, or keep it simple by looking at the pattern. For my purpose, I’m going to keep it simple and say we’ll know if this is indeed a head and shoulders bottom reversal pattern if it follows through on the upside. If it does, we would expect the price trend of this index to at least reach its old highs. If the price doesn’t hold and it doesn’t follow through to the upside, it’s probably going to at least test the prior low again.

Either way, patterns are never completely accurate. It’s probabilistic, never a sure thing. The head and shoulders is simply a pattern formation commonly seen after a downtrend that, if completed, may signal the end of the downtrend and reversal into a new uptrend. It’s based on the visual representation of the battle between supply (selling pressure) and demand (buying interest). For example, when the head and shoulders bottom completes the low point in the (inverse) head, it marks the point when those who wanted to sell have sold. So, the right (inverse) shoulder signals selling has dried up and buyers are taking over. It is completely normal to observe profit-taking after an advance, so the last few days is normal even if this is a reversal up. You can probably see how volume gets involved to confirm the pattern. In the case recently, the volume was high at the lows signaling selling pressure. The volume is declining on the right shoulder. The good news is, the volume didn’t expand on these recent down days.

Let’s see how it all unfolds.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

The stock market is swinging its way to an inflection point

Trying not to sound like a broken record, I’ll share a few updates from what I said last in Observations of the stock market downtrend. 

The stock market is at an inflection point. An inflection point is a time of meaningful change in a situation; a turning point. The reality is, there are many inflection points within market cycles and price trends. So, we observe different inflection points across different time frames. For those who watch the stock market daily as a professional portfolio manager, we observe every move. But, the overall focus needs to be on the bigger trends. Every market cycle and price trend is made up of smaller cycles as prices swing up and down on their way to forming a directional trend. Market cycles don’t trend straight up or down.

The U.S stock indexes have dropped about -10% in October, giving up gains for the year. Many investors probably believe October is historically the worst month of the year for the stock market because of famous October declines. September is actually the worst month historically, but October is historically a volatile month. It just so happens, this decline occurred inside of October.

I don’t use seasonality as a signal for my decisions, but we’ve all heard of “sell in May and go away.” The period from May through October is supposed to be the weak season and November to April is the stronger season for stocks. The S&P 500 had defied the expectation that stocks would be weak last summer and gained nearly 10% from May through September, then lost the gain in October. Many leading growth stocks that previously showed the strongest momentum declined even more than the stock indexes. I pointed out a few months ago that international stock indexes including both emerging and developed countries were already in downtrends. So, the global equity markets were generally down in October.

That’s the bad news for anyone invested in these markets.

The good news is after those who wanted to sell have sold, prices eventually reach a low enough point to attract new buying interest.

I focus on what the price trends are actually doing, so I’ll share my observations of the trends and update some sentiment and breadth indicators I’ve discussed in previous observations.

First, we look at what the price trend is actually doing. Below is the S&P 500 stock index year-to-date. We see after declining about -10% from its September high, the stock index has reversed back up to the price of the prior low on October 11th.

 

In technical analysis of price trends, we say “prior support may become resistance” and that may be what happens next. We shouldn’t expect prices to trend straight up or down, they swing up and down. Prices making higher highs and higher lows form uptrends or lower lows and lower highs form downtrends. So, it wouldn’t be abnormal to see the stock index trend back down to the low again, or it could pause and continue the recent upward direction.

For a sustained move higher, those who want to sell need to have sold and prices need to have reached a low enough point to attract new buying demand.

Have those who want to sell, sold?

To get an idea for observation of investor sentiment, we can look at a few simple indicators. I explained the thinking behind the Fear & Greed Index in Observations of the stock market downtrend.

The Fear & Greed Index is based on 7 indicators of investors sentiment and can be a useful gauge to help investors keep their own sentiment in check. It currently remains at an “Extreme Fear” level, which is typical after a stock market decline and a high level of bearish sentiment that has historically preceded stock prices reversing back up- as those who want to sell have sold. However, in a prolonged bear market, this oscillating indicator could stay low for a long time or it could swing up and down along with price trends.

But, nothing illustrates buying and selling, supply and demand, better than the actual price trends. Another interesting indicator I’ve shared in recent observations is the percent of stocks in the S&P 500 that are trading above their short-term moving average.

 

It shows us how many stocks have participated in an uptrend or downtrend. When it reaches a high point and most stocks have participated in an uptrend, it may be nearer a reversal back down. Price trends don’t move straight up. When it reaches a low level is indicates most stocks have declined and at an extreme, it can suggest capitulation – those who want to sell may have sold. But, prices don’t trend straight down. Prices swing up and down along the way to drifting directionally. At this point, this indicator has reached the February and April lows and reversed up.

Shorter term, it’s an inflection point as I highlighted. If more stocks trend back up, we’ll see this trend higher.

Let’s see how it all unfolds…

 

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Observations of the stock market downtrend

Observations of the stock market downtrend

In the last observation I shared about the stock market, “The stock market trends up with momentum,” we saw the stock market reverse back up with strong momentum. The S&P 500 stock index had declined about -7% from its high, then reversed back up 3%. I discussed how investor behavior and sentiment drives market prices. Many investor sentiment measures signaled investor fear seemed to be in control, driving down prices. Volatility had spiked and then started to settle back down. Many individual stocks in the S&P 500 had declined enough to signal shorter-term downtrends, but then they reversed up. I closed by saying:

In summary, today was a strong upward momentum day for the stock market and most stocks participated in the uptrend. After sharp declines like we’ve seen this month, the stock market sometimes reverses up like this into an uptrend only to reverse back down to test the low. After the test, we then find out if it breaks down or breaks out.

One day doesn’t make a trend, but for those who are in risk taker mode with stocks, so far, so good.

The part I bolded with italics has turned out to be the situation this time.

Below is a year to date price trend of the S&P 500 stock index. As of today, my observation “the stock market sometimes reverses up like this into an uptrend only to reverse back down to test the low” is what we are seeing now.

stock market trend

I’ve always believed investment management is about probability and possibilities, it’s never a sure thing. The only certainty is uncertainty, so all we can do is stack the odds in our favor. As I said before, “After the test, we then find out if it breaks down or breaks out.” 

The positive news is, investor sentiment measures are reaching levels that often precede short-term trend reversals back up.

The bad news is if the current trend becomes a bigger downtrend these indicators will just stay at extremes as long as they want. We have to actively manage our exposure to loss if we want to avoid large losses, like those -20% or more that are harder to overcome.

Down -10% is one thing, down -20% is another. Any investor should be willing to bear -10% because they will see them many times over the years. Only the most passive buy and hold investors are willing to bear the big losses, which I define as -20% or more.

Nevertheless, I see some good news and bad, so here it is. I’ll share my observations of the weight of the evidence by looking at relatively simple market indicators. I don’t necessarily make my tactical decisions based on this, but it is instead “market analysis” to get an idea of what is going on. Observations like this are intended to view the conditions of the markets.

Fear is the dominant driver. 

The Fear & Greed Index tracks seven indicators of investor sentiment. When I included it a week ago, it was at 15, which is still in the “Extreme Fear” zone. The theory is, the weighting of these seven indicators of investor sentiment signals when fear or greed is driving the market. Clearly, fear is the dominant driver right now.

fear greed index investor sentiment behavioral finance

At this point, we can see investor sentiment by this measure has now reached the low level of its historical range. In this chart, we can see how investor sentiment oscillates between fear and greed over time in cycles much like the stock market cycles up and down.

fear and greed back test over time investor sentiment indicator

I believe investor behavior is both a driver of price trends, but investors also respond to price trends.

  • After prices rise, investors get more optimistic as they extrapolate the recent gains into the future expecting the gains to continue.
  • After prices fall, investors fear losing more money as they extrapolate the recent losses into the future expecting them to get worse.

Investor sentiment and price trends can overreact to the upside and downside and the herd of investors seems to get it wrong when they reach an extreme. We observe when these kinds of indicators reach extremes, these cycles are more likely to reverse. It is never a sure thing, but the probabilities increase the possibility of a reversal. But, since there is always a chance of a trend continuing longer in time and more in magnitude, it is certainly uncertain. Since there is always a chance of a bad outcome, I  have my limits on our exposure to risk with predetermined exits or a hedge.

Speaking of a hedge. 

I started pointing out my observation several weeks ago of a potential volatility expansion. If you want to read about it, most of the past few weeks observations have included comments about the VIX volatility index. Over the past few days, we’ve observed a continuation in the volatility expansion.

vix hedge volatility expansion asymmetric hedge asymmetry

Implied volatility has expanded nearly 100% over in the past 30 days.

vix volatility expansion trading

As a tactical portfolio manager, my first focus is risk management. When I believe I have defined my risk of loss, I become willing to shift from risk manager to risk taker. I share that because I want to point out the potential for hedging with volatility. Rather than a detailed exhaustive rigorous 50-page paper, I’m going to keep it succinct.

My day job isn’t to write or talk about the markets. I’m a professional portfolio manager, so my priority is to make trading and investment decisions as a tactical investment manager. I’m a risk manager and risk taker. If I never take any risk, I wouldn’t have any to manage. The observations I share here are just educational, for those who want to follow along and get an idea of how I see things. I hope you find it helpful or at least interesting. It’s always fun when it starts new conversations.

To keep the concept of hedging short and to the point for my purpose today, I’ll just share a simple chart of the price trend of the stock index and the volatility index over the past 30 days. The stock index has declined -8.3% as the implied volatility index expanded over 95%. You can probably see the potential for a hedge. However, it isn’t so simple, because these are just indexes and we can’t buy or sell the VIX index.

vix volatility as a hedge stock market risk management

The purpose of a hedge is to shift the risk of loss from one thing to another. The surest way to reduce the possibility of loss is to simply sell to reduce exposure in the thing that is the risk. That’s what I do most of the time. For example, when I observed a potential volatility expansion, I reduced my exposure to positions that had the possibility of loss due to increased volatility. Once prices fall and volatility contracts, maybe we increase exposure again to shift back to risk-taking. If we take no risk at all, we would have no potential for a capital gain. So, tactical portfolio management is about increasing and decreasing exposure to the possibility of gain and loss. If we do it well, we create the kind of asymmetric risk/reward I aim for.

So, any hedging we may do is really just shifting from one risk to another, hoping to offset the original risk. Keep in mind, as I see it, a risk is the possibility of loss. I’ll share more on hedging soon. I have some observations about hedging and hedge systems you may find interesting.

Most stocks are participating in the downtrend. Below is an updated chart of the percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 that are above their 50-day moving average. If you want to know more about what it is, read the last observations. The simple observation here is that most stocks are declining.

stock market breadth risk indicator

Much like how we saw investor sentiment cycle and swing up and down, we also see this breadth indicator oscillate from higher risk levels to lower risk levels.

  • After most stocks are already in uptrends, I believe the risk is higher that we’ll see it reverse.
  • After most stocks have already declined into downtrends, it increases the possibility that selling pressure may be getting closer to exhaustion.

The good news is, at some point selling pressure does get exhausted as those who want to sell have sold and prices reach a low enough level to bring in new buying demand.

That’s what stock investors are waiting for now.

These are my observations. I don’t have a crystal ball, nor does anyone. I just predetermine my risk levels in advance and monitor, direct, and control risk through my exits/hedging how much I’m willing to risk, or not. We’ll just have to see how it all unfolds in the days and weeks ahead.

Only time will tell if this is the early stage of a bigger deeper downtrend or just another correction within the primary trend.

I hope you find my observations interesting and informative.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Observations of the stock market decline and volatility expansion

Observations of the stock market decline and volatility expansion

On September 25th I shared in VIX level shows market’s expectation of future volatility when I pointed out a low level of expected volatility as implied by the VIX index.

I said:

The current level of the VIX index has settled down to a lower historical level suggesting the market expects the future range of the price of the S&P 500 to be lower. Below is the current level relative to the past year.

I went on to explain my historical observations of volatility cycles driven by investor behavior:

The VIX Index is intended to provide a real-time measure of how much the market expects the S&P 500 Index to fluctuate over the next 30 days. The VIX Index reflects the actual order flow of traders

Since investors tend to extrapolate the recent past into the future, they usually expect recent calm markets to continue and violent swings to persist.

After the stock market declines and volatility expands, investors extrapolate that recent experience into the future and expect volatility to continue. Sometimes it does continue, but this time it gradually declined as the price trend became calmer.

When markets have been calm, traders and investors expect volatility to remain low. Before February, the VIX implied volatility had correctly predicted low realized volatility for months. But, both realized and expected volatility was so low that many investors were shocked when stock prices fell sharply, and volatility expanded.

When the market expects volatility to be low in the next 30 days, I know it could be right for some time. But, when it gets to its historically lowest levels, it raises situational awareness that a countertrend could be near. It’s just a warning shot across the bow suggesting we hedge what we want to hedge and be sure our risk levels are appropriate.

I shared the chart below, showing implied volatility at the low end of the cycle over the past year:

Since that date, we’ve indeed witnessed a volatility expansion of more than 90% in the VIX index and a decline in the S&P 500 stock index over -6%.  Implied volatility has expanded and stocks declined. As implied volatility is now starting to contract, below we can see the recent expansion as it trended from 12 to 24. Today its back to its long-term average of 20.

Stock market indexes, both U. S. and international, have declined 6 – 7% from their highs.

At this point, this has been a normal short-term cycle swing in an ongoing uptrend that is frequently referred to as a “correction.”

To be sure, we can see by looking at the % drawdowns in the primary uptrend that started in March 2009.

Markets cycle up and down, even within overall primary uptrends. As we see over a nine-year period, the current decline is about average and half as deep as the largest declines since 2009.

You can probably see what I meant by situational awareness of the markets cycles, trends, and volatility levels.

It isn’t enough to just say it or write about it. My being aware of the situation helps me to do what I said, which is worth repeating:

But, when it gets to its historically lowest levels, it raises situational awareness that a countertrend could be near. It’s just a warning shot across the bow suggesting we hedge what we want to hedge and be sure our risk levels are appropriate.

As far as the stock market condition, I like to see what is going on inside. Just as volatility swings up and down in cycles, so do price trends. As I’ve pointed out before, I observe prices swinging up and down often driven by investor behavior. For example, many investors seem to oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

“The less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own.” – Warren Buffett

One visual way to observe the current stage is the breadth of the stock market as I shared last week in The Stock Market Trend. Below is the percent of stocks in the S&P 500 index trending above their 50 day moving averages often used as a short-term trend indicator. This is a monthly chart since 2009 so we can see how it oscillates up and down since the bull market started. At this point, the number of stocks falling into short-term downtrends is about what we’ve seen before.

stock market breadth asymmetric risk

The risk is: this continues to be an aged old bull market, so anything is possible. That is why my focus every day is situational awareness. But, there is always a risk of a -10% or more decline in the stock market, regardless of its age or stage.

The good news is, we’ve now experienced some volatility expansion, stocks have now pivoted down to the lower end of their cycles, so maybe volatility will contract and stock prices resume their uptrend.

We’ll see.

All that is left to do is observe, be prepared, and respond tactically as it all unfolds.

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

The Stock Market Trend

The stock market declined with heavy selling pressure on a major stock market anniversary that I haven’t heard anyone mention.

October 10, 2018, is the 10-year anniversary of the waterfall decline of 2008.

Below is the S&P 500 stock index from October 9, 2007 to October 10, 2008. I remember it very well. It was the first part of the waterfall decline up to this day 10 years ago.

stock market decline 2008

But, as a reminder, while this bear market is often called the “2008 Financial Crisis” and misquoted as being only about the year 2008, it actually continued through March 9, 2009.

average length of bear market crash 2008.jpg

With stock indexes only about -5% or so off their all-time highs, we are far from that today.  But, the stock market decline today was impressive in magnitude and broad across all sectors.

stock market sector ETF October 10 2018

The breadth of the decline was unmistakable by the 50% decline in the % of stocks in the S&P 500 trading above their 50 day moving average. The percentage of stocks trading above the moving average is a breadth indicator that measures internal strength or weakness in the stocks in the index and the index itself. We say that breadth is strong when the majority of stocks in an index are trading above their moving average. Since the 50-day moving average is used to measure the short-medium term trend, it reveals that only 24% of the 500 stocks in the S&P 500 index are above their short-term trend.

percent of stocks above 50 day moving average SPX SPY.jpg

I colored the top red and the bottom green because the extreme highs and extreme lows can signal overbought and oversold levels.

The indicator is an oscillator that cycles between 0% and 100%.

After most stocks have trended up, we say an uptrend has broad participation, which is positive. However, markets cycle and oscillate up and down, so once most stocks have already been in uptrends at some point they reverse back down.

After most stocks have trended down, we say a downtrend becomes washed out. As selling eventually gets exhausted because those who want to sell have already sold.

Next, we observe the % of stocks in the S&P 500 index that are trending above their 200 day, which a longer term trend signal. 19% of the stocks declined below their 200 day moving average today leaving about half of the stocks still in a longer-term uptrend.

SPX BREADTH PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

Since we are talking about moving averages and the S&P 500, below is the index itself with the 50 and 200 day moving average. Notice the 50 day moving average has been too tight to contain the uptrend. In other words, entering and exiting it would lead to many buys and sells and whipsaws like in June. The 200 day has better contained the trend since April, but notice if it were used as an exit it would have resulted in selling at the low. This observation is just using these moving averages as a very simple way to define uptrend vs. downtrend, it is not a complete trading system. Such measures are never perfect, and they don’t have to be.

stock market SPX 200 day moving average trend following

Today’s decline was impressive because the stock indexes declined over -3% in a single day. One day doesn’t make a trend, but it was enough to erase most of the year to date gains for the stock index.

stock market year to date 2018 trend following momentum

 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 of America’s largest companies declined even more than the S&P 500. There was even more weakness in small companies, momentum stocks, and an ETF tracking the top-ranked growth and momentum stocks by Investor’s Business Daily declined nearly -6%. As a proxy for leading growth and momentum stocks, this is an indication the leaders declined the most today.

stock market momentum ETF trend following asymmetric

You can probably see why I believe it’s essential to actively manage risk by knowing in advance when to exit a loser to cut losses short as well as understanding the market risk level. For those of us who weren’t fully exposed to the decline who have the capital to eventually buy at lower prices, we get to take advantage of a falling trend.

Over the past week, I shared observations of volatility expansion as the implied volatility index has been trending up. Below is its year to date trend.

VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION

Here it is over the past week since I mentioned it. I included the S&P 500 stock index to illustrate as the stock market declined about -5% the past week, implied volatility expanded 98%.

SPY SPX VIX ASYMMETRIC RISK REWARD

We’ll see in the days and weeks ahead if this is the beginning of a more significant downtrend that becomes a waterfall decline or if it was enough to exhaust the selling pressure of those who wanted to sell.

 

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

Divergence in Global Asset Allocation

We’ve observed divergence across global markets since September, so those invested in a static global asset allocation probably notice it the most. I focus my U.S. equity portfolio exposures more granularly into individual stocks and sectors rather than these broad asset classes, but I still monitor them all. I’ll share some recent observations.

Since the first of September, I observed small cap stocks started to trend down. In the chart below, up until September, we see small cap stocks (orange) had trended up with the best momentum since the drop in February and April. Large and mid-cap stocks trends converged with each other until recently when mid-cap stocks turned down more than the large stocks index. At this point, the small company stock index year to date trend has declined to converge with the popular S&P 500 stock index of mainly large companies.

stock market divergence between large and small cap stocks

To get a better visual of the recent divergence, I draw a chart of the % off high to see each of their drawdowns. Here we see the S&P 500 has barely declined off its high. The weakness is in mid-cap stocks and even more in small-cap stocks. Investors who have the typical asset allocation portfolio hold some static mix of small, mid, and large. They probably notice unusual strength until September, then those gains faded away.

divergence small and large cap trend following momentum

But, the divergence isn’t just in U.S. stocks. In fact, U.S. stocks have been the strongest trends in the world recently. Bonds, for example, have been in a downtrend. Here are three bond index ETFs year to date. The broad U.S. Aggregate Bond index has declined nearly -5%, corporate bonds -7%, and the long-term U. S. Treasury -10% this year alone.

bond trend momentum losses in 2018

Yes, that is U. S. Treasuries, U.S. government bonds, down over -10% year to date. However, the downtrend in bonds didn’t just start this year. This trend has been going for a while, so here we see the % off high the past three years for a better view of the downside. The long-term U.S. Treasury index is down about -21% from its top three years ago. So, to the extent that static global asset allocation portfolios have a fixed allocation to bonds, you can probably see how they weigh down a portfolio. In fact, to the point of offsetting gains in stocks if their weight is enough.

bond fund ETF drawdowns risk

In May 2015 I warned of this when I shared Allocation to Stocks and Bonds is Unlikely to Give us What We Want and What You Need to Know About Long-Term Bond Trends. I suggested that bonds may not provide a crutch in the next bear market. In fact, in September 2015 I shared that Bonds Aren’t Providing a Crutch for Stock Market Losses.

You can probably see why I prefer to rotate and shift between markets based on trends and tactical decisions rather than a fixed asset allocation to them.

Market trends move in cycles over time. No market price trends up all the time. Even within long-term uptrends, markets cycle up and down along the way with smaller trends within the larger trend. For example, the small-cap divergence at this point is a smaller divergence. Before small stocks declined, they had stronger momentum.

When it comes to bonds or other investments that pay interest or dividend yield, there can be some positive about the price trend falling. As the price trends down, the yield it pays trends up. I discussed this in more detail last spring in When I apply different trend systems to ETFs. But I’ll share an example here.

Since the long-term Treasury is down the most, I’ll use it as an example. First, let’s consider as risk-conscious investors, we should naturally prefer to position our capital in the safest investments possible if we can achieve our return objective with it. In other words, if we can get the capital gains and yield we want from government bonds, we would prefer that over even more risky stocks. All markets and all investments have risks and investors who have held long-term Treasuries (or other bonds) the past few years have certainly experience that even fixed income has risks.

However, for those of who didn’t buy and hold bonds the past few years, their yields are beginning to look more interesting as the price has declined. We can illustrate that very clearly with the chart below showing the declining price trend of the long-term Treasury, but the yield is rising the lower the price falls. Clearly, if we were going to have some exposure to these bonds, we would prefer them now over prior periods because the yield it pays is higher.

TLT long term treasury

So, there is divergence within U.S. stocks and also some divergence within bonds and interest rates. Most investors who have an asset allocation have a global asset allocation, not just U.S. stocks, and bonds. The more “sophisticated” institutional style portfolio like the endowments and pension funds allocate capital to International markets, real estate, and commodities, etc.

In Emerging Markets Reached a Bear Market Level I shared an observation that the emerging markets index has declined -20%. Below is the total return of the emerging markets and developed international stocks markets.

emerging markets international stocks 2018 drawdown trend momentum EEM EFA

As always, to get the full view of the downside risk we have to observe the drawdown in terms of % off high. Here we see that international developed and emerging markets are still in downtrends. With both of them down between -11% and -21%, you can see how their declines could offset any gains from U.S. stocks in static global asset allocation.

emerging market drawdown risk management

Since our topic is divergence across global markets and we are taking a global macro view for typical global asset allocation, we’ll include real estate (REITs) and private equity. This real estate index ETF seeks to provide precise exposure to companies from real estate management and development and REITs, excluding mortgage REITs. Since private equity, like what some of the pensions and endowments invest in, is actually private companies instead of publically traded company stocks, we’ll use the Global Listed Private Equity index ETF. The Index it tracks includes securities of 40 to 75 private equity companies, including business development companies (BDCs), master limited partnerships (MLPs) and other vehicles whose principal business is to invest in, lend capital to or provide services to privately held companies (collectively, listed private equity companies). Once again, any exposures to these markets aren’t helping global asset allocation in 2018.

real state and private equity trends momentum global tactical asset allocation

I didn’t want to end on a downtrend, so I saved the commodity indexes for last. For a proxy for commodities, we observe trend price trend of index ETFs like the iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust. It seeks to track the results of a fully collateralized investment in futures contracts on an index composed of a diversified group of commodities futures. Unlike other markets, the price of “stuff” has trended up lately. Only time will tell if the trend continues, but the rising price of commodities can be considered inflation.

commodity ETF trend following momentum asymmetric risk

You may be wondering, what is the big global macro driver of most of these trends?

As I shared in the observation in The Trend in Interest Rates and the Impact on the Economy and Stock Market and Rising Interest Rate Impact on Real Estate and Home Construction:

Interest rates are rising for the first time in over a decade.

rising interest rates trend .jpg

Some divergence isn’t necessarily a bad thing for those of us who are willing and able to tactically shift between global markets and actively manage risk.

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

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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 volatility expansion continues like tropical storm Michael that could become a hurricane

The volatility expansion observation I shared last week has continued.

If you haven’t followed along, I suggest reading VIX level shows the market’s expectation of future volatility and Here comes the volatility expansion to see where I am coming from.

Implied volatility as measured by the CBOE Volatility Index $VIX has gained about 45% in the past three trading sessions, so volatility is expanding.

VIX $VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION VOL TRADING ASYMMETRIC.jpg

I discussed what a rising VIX and volatility expansion means in the prior observations.

Rising implied volatility means rising expectations for future volatility as implied by options prices. Ultimately, Implied volatility is determined by the price of options contracts.

In other words, implied volatility is driven by supply and demand and order flow.

An increase in options buying increases the price of options which results in higher implied volatility.

The net selling of options decreases the price of options which results in lower implied volatility.

Volatility isn’t directional.

Volatility is a measure of movement and how wide prices spread out, which says nothing about the direction of the price trend. Prices can be trending up sharply and volatility measures could expand.

Here are some examples:

Trending up with volatility expansion: a price trend that gains 10% a day for several days is a directional uptrend, but it’s also volatile. We would say the trend is up, but it’s also a volatility expansion as the price range is expanding.

Non-trending with volatility expansion: a price trend that cycles up and down around 5% a day for a long time with no clear direction up or down is a non-trending condition, but it’s also volatile. We would say it is non-trending, but it’s also a volatility expansion.

Trending down with volatility expansion: a price trend that declines 10% a day for several days is clearly a downtrend, with volatility. We could say the trend is down with expanding volatility.

Most of the time, the risk is asymmetric since we tend to see increased volatility when we see falling prices. As prices fall, more investors and traders respond to the simple fact the prices are falling and they are losing money. This serial correlation with falling prices can lead more prices falling even more as investors sell because prices are falling.

However, occasionally we may observe prices trending down with volatility contraction. A falling price trend with contracting volatility is necessarily going to be a slower downtrend with less directional movement. Instead of 5% or 10% declines, it may be 1 or 2% declines. A downtrend without volatility expansion would be observed as a slower decline that would necessarily take longer for a large loss to develop. For example, a -30% loss would happen much faster with -10% down periods than it would at a rate of -1%. You can probably see how volatility expansions in downtrends get the attention of someone who wants to manage their drawdown.

I’ll share some more detailed ways to observe volatility to decide if volatility is expanding or contracting.

At the top of the chart is the S&P 500 stock index. The bands around the stock index are 2 times the stock index average true range over the past 20 days. The dotted line in the center of the bands is the 10-day moving average. Price trends move in cycles, so they oscillate up and down over time. When we apply bands around the price trend is gives us a visual representation of a “normal” range of prices around the trend. We observe the price trend tends to oscillate or cycle up and down within certain parameters – the range. When this range spreads out, I call it volatility expansion. When the range contracts, it’s volatility contraction. Volatility itself also tends to cycle between expansion and contraction. We can see that here.

volatility expansion stock market VIX ATR

Below the price trend chart with bands of the average true range (ATR) I included a chart of ATR, standard deviation, and the VIX. Both standard deviation and average true range are actual, historical, and realized volatility. These indicators are measuring how the price of the index has actually expanded or contracted. As I pointed out before, the VIX is a measure of options prices on the stocks in this index, so it’s driven by expectations of future volatility over the next 30 days determined by the price of options. ATR and standard deviation are the actual range of movement of the index.

I started with the year-to-date time frame to show how the price trend spread out as it started swinging up and down at the beginning of the year and has since trended up with lower volatility; smaller cycles, smaller swings.

Just as we observe market price trends tend to cycle and swing up and down over time, so does volatility. p

  • Price trends may reach an extremely high or low point, then reverse in the other direction.
  • Volatility may reach an extremely high or low point, then reverse in the other direction.

When we see volatility reach an extreme low/high point, we can expect to see it drift the other way eventually. Investors and traders who only believe trends in price and volatility only go one way are those who get surprised and caught in a loss trap.

Now, let’s zoom in for a closer look with just a three-month time frame to observe what has been going on more recently.

I highlighted in green the recent volatility expansion I pointed out last week. Notice the forward-looking VIX index at the bottom turned up sharper and has trended up higher than its last cycle high last month. However, realized historical volatility as measured by standard deviation and the average true range of index prices has also trended up, but on a lag relative to the forward-looking VIX.

Volatility expansion stock market risk management vix asymmetric risk reward

So, you can probably see why I’m calling it a volatility expansion. It is drifting up, though it could certainly trend up a lot more, or it could reverse back down. For now, the rising prices in options suggest there is demand for protection and it is probably in response to something the market believes may lead to increase risk or volatility. It could be something seasonal like earnings season or it could be as simple as the month of October is historically one of the most volatile months.

Speaking of October…

October is a typical month to see hurricanes in the Gulf and Atlantic, too. Right now, we have Michael (no relation) coming up through the Gulf of Mexico. As of this morning, Michael was just a named storm, but its expected to expand into a Category 2 or 3 hurricane by the time it reaches the Florida panhandle to our favorite places like Sandestin, Miramar Beach, Destin, and the 30A area like Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. The intensity, speed, and how wide the storm spreads out to reach higher categories is a lot like volatility expansion in market price trends. Most people prefer to experience calm and quiet. We would prefer to see the storm contract and slow down its speed.

Although the tropical storm monitors have ways of measuring the probability of speed, expansion, etc. we are always dealing with the certainty of uncertainty. Hurricanes can shift and drift in different directions, speed up or slow down, and expand or contract. How we respond is a matter of situational awareness of measuring the cone of uncertainty as best we can. Some of us do it better than others. Some of us prepare more timely and respond better than others.

Right now we have some volatility expansion and we are positioned as such. The implied volatility index suggests the market believes we’ll see some price swings (up and down) this month.

We’ll see how it all plays out.

Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

Let’s hope Michael doesn’t give me a bad name.

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here comes the volatility expansion

Nine days ago in VIX level shows market’s expectation of future volatility I shared an observation that the implied volatility VIX, a measure of expected future volatility that is implied by option prices, had reached an extremely low point. I explained what that means and how I use it:

When the market expects volatility to be low in the next 30 days, I know it could be right for some time.

But, when it gets to its historically lowest levels, it raises situational awareness that a countertrend could be near.

Today we have some volatility expansion.

The VIX Volatility Index has gained 35%. It implies the market now expects higher volatility. Specifically, the market expects the range of prices to spread out over 15% instead of 12%.

VIX $VIX Volatility Expansion asymmetry asymmetric convexity divergence

The popular stock indexes are down over -1% for the first time in a while.

stock market asymmetry asymmetric risk

As I said nine days ago, it should be no surprise to see some volatility expansion. Volatility is mean reverting, which means it tends to oscillate in a high and low range and reverse back to an average after its reaches those cycle highs and lows.

Implied volatility had reached its historical low end, so it’s expanding back out. Stock prices are also spreading out and declining so we shouldn’t be surprised to see more movement in prices in the coming weeks.

At around the same time volatility was contracting and calm, my momentum indicators were signaling stock indexes and many individual stocks were reaching short-term extreme levels that often preceded a short-term decline. These systems prompt me tactically reduce exposure to stocks to dynamically manage our risk.

Only time will tell how it all plays out. We’ll see how it unfolds from here.

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

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 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. 

Stanley Druckenmiller on his use of Technical Analysis and Instinct

Stanley Druckenmiller has a 30-year track record that is considered “unrivaled” by many. From 1988 to 2000, Druckenmiller was a portfolio manager for George Soros as the lead portfolio manager for Quantum Fund. He founded Duquesne Capital to manage a hedge fund in 1981 and closed the fund in August 2010.

Kiril Sokoloff of Real Vision interviewed him recently and shared parts of the interview on YouTube.

I watched the full 90-minute interview and noted some observations I’ll share.

Speaking of dealing with “algo trading” and “the machines,” Kiril Sokoloff asks Stan Druckenmiller:

“Let’s talk about the algos. We haven’t seen the algos sell, we’ve only seen them buy. We saw a little bit of it in February when there was some concentrated selling. We saw it in China in 2015, which was scary. Most people weren’t focused on that but I was and I think you were, too.

They (algos/machines) are programmed to sell when the market is down -2%. The machines are running and can’t be stopped and a huge amount of trading and money is managed that way. We’ve been operating in a bull market and a strong economy.

What happens when it’s a bear market and a bad economy, will things get out of hand?”

So, knowing that and knowing we’re at risk of that any moment… what are you watching for? …. how are you protecting yourself? What are you watching for? 

Stanley Druckenmiller answers:

“I’m going to trust my instincts and technical analysis to pick up this stuff up. 

But what I will say… the minute the risk reward gets a little dodgy I get more cautious than I probably would have been without this in the background.”

What was most fascinating about the rare interview of Stanley Druckenmiller is that some of us have figured out a successful tactical trading global macro strategy using the common elements of price trends, relative strength, risk management, and momentum combined with a dose of instinct all applied to global markets.

You can see for yourself at:

This wasn’t the first time Stan Druckenmiller spoke of his use of technical analysis and charts. In Part IV “Fund Managers and Timers” of The New Market Wizards in 1992, Jack Schwager included an interview with Stanley Druckenmiller titled “THE ART OF TOP-DOWN INVESTING.”

When asked what methods he used, he spoke of earnings, and then:

“Another discipline I learned that helped me determine whether a stock would go up or down is technical analysis. Drelles was very technically oriented, and I was probably more receptive to technical analysis than anyone else in the department. Even though Drelles was the boss, a lot of people thought he was a kook because of all the chart books he kept. However, I found that technical analysis could be very effective.”

Then, he was asked about his experiences during the 1987 stock market crash:

Jack Schwager: What determined the timing of your shift from bullish to bearish?

Stanley Druckenmiller: It was a combination of a number of factors. Valuations had gotten extremely overdone: The dividend yield was down to 2.6 percent and the price/book value ratio was at an all-time high. Also, the Fed had been tightening for a period of time. Finally, my technical analysis showed that the breadth wasn’t there—that is, the market’s strength was primarily concentrated in the high capitalization stocks, with the broad spectrum of issues lagging well behind. This factor made the rally look like a blow-off.

Jack Schwager: How can you use valuation for timing? Hadn’t the market been overdone in terms of valuation for some time before you reversed from short to long?

Stanley Druckenmiller: I never use valuation to time the market. I use liquidity considerations and technical analysis for timing. Valuation only tells me how far the market can go once a catalyst enters the picture to change the market direction.

Jack Schwager: The catalyst being what?

Stanley Druckenmiller: The catalyst is liquidity, and hopefully my technical analysis will pick it up.

Well, that sounds familiar.

What is most fascinating to me is that I’ve come to the same conclusions through my own experience over more than two decades without knowing Stanley Druckenmiller or others similar to him beforehand. I have to admit that I didn’t remember having so much in common with his strategy because I read The New Markets Wizards so long ago.

Some of us have discovered very similar beliefs and strategies through independent thinking and our own experiences. When I discover that others have found success I see the common characteristics and that confirms what drives an edge.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

 

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The Trend in Interest Rates and the Impact on the Economy and Stock Market

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates and raised expectations for a fourth rate hike in December. The Fed unanimously agreed to raise the federal funds rate a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%.

But, what does that mean?

The Federal Funds Rate is the interest rate at which depository institutions like banks and credit unions lend their reserve balances to other banks and credit unions overnight, on an uncollateralized basis. The U.S. Target Federal Funds Rate is at 2.00%, compared to the previous market day and 1.00% last year. This is lower than the long-term average of 2.61%.

The interest rate the borrowing bank pays to the lending bank to borrow the funds is negotiated between the two banks. The weighted average of this rate across all such transactions is the Effective Federal Funds Rate. The Effective Federal Funds Rate is at 1.91%, compared to 1.91% last month and 1.16% last year. This is lower than the long-term average of 4.83%.

Below we chart the trend of the Federal Funds Rate and the Effective Federal Funds Rate over the past 5 years. The trend in interest rates is clear.

Federal Funds Rate Interest Rates Effective Target

Why do we care about rising interest rates?

The Federal Funds Rate drives interest rates for mortgages, consumer loans, and credit cards. For example, loans based on the prime rate will be adjusted to reflect the trend in the Federal Funds Rate.

The rising trend in interest rates impacts many things beyond consumer credit cards. Ultimately, when the cost of borrowing increases it can impact real estate, homebuilders, and home construction as I pointed out in Rising Interest Rate Impact on Real Estate and Home Construction.

We haven’t seen the Federal Funds Rate this high in over 10 years.

Federal Funds Interest rate last 10 years

The Federal Funds Rate was much higher at around 4.5% at the peak of the stock market in October 2007. The Fed quickly and sharply lowered interest rates in response to the economic recession in 2008. The U.S. Fed kept a zero interest rate policy like Japan from December 2008 through December 2015.

federal funds rate since october 2007 bull market peak

Many investors wonder how the change in the directional trend of interest rates impacts the stock market. It is no surprise that mutual fund companies who want investors to keep their money invested in their funds that stay fully invested all the time will present data showing rising interest rates don’t impact stocks.

The Fed has been steadily raising rates to keep the U.S. from growing so fast that inflation gets out of hand. Increasing the cost of borrowing will likely slow down spending at some point for both consumers and capital spending of businesses.

The Federal Funds Rate seems to trend follow the stock market. Looking at a chart from the stock market peak in January 2000, we see the Fed Funds Rate was 6%. The Fed lowered the rate to around 2% during the -50% stock market decline and economic recession. I marked the recession in gray.

FED FUNDS RATE TREND FOLLOWING STOCKS ECONOMIC RECESSION

The Fed naturally increases and decreases the Fed Funds Rate in response to changing conditions.

After an economic expansion and the stock market appears highly valued, the Fed begins to raise interest rates to prevent inflation.

After the stock market declines and an economic recession, the Fed begins to lower interest rates to help stimulate recovery. In the chart above, we can see the zero interest rate policy after the crash of 2008 -2009 is abnormal.

Below is the trend Federal Funds Rate going back to the 1950’s. The interest rate has been much higher in the past, but not kept so low.

federal fed funds rate long term history trend following

Now that interest rates are trending up again it’s going to be interesting to observe how it impacts the economy and the stock market.

Many investment advisors and fund companies will probably try to use the data to show a silver lining. If your money is invested buy and hold into funds that are fully exposed to market risks all the time, those funds incentive is to keep you invested in them regardless of the level of risk.

I don’t believe market returns give us what we want over a full market cycle. After the stock indexes have gained for 10 years without a -20% or more bear market, many investors have probably become complacent with their exposures to market risks. That is especially true with one the longest bull market in history and the second highest valuation.

Along with long uptrends, we can experience devastating downtrends that result in large losses. That’s what we’ve experienced the past 25 years. The giant uptrend 1995 – 1999 was reversed from 2000 -2003. The uptrend 2003 to 2007 was reversed 2008 – 2009 and didn’t recover its 2007 high until 2013.

Rather than full exposure to market risk and reward all the time, I believe we must manage risk to increase and decrease exposure to the possibility of gain and loss.

It doesn’t matter how much the return is if the downside risk is so high you tap out before it’s achieved.

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Rising Interest Rate Impact on Real Estate and Home Construction

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates today and raised expectations for a fourth rate hike in December. They unanimously agreed to raise the federal funds rate a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%. The rate helps drive interest rates for mortgages, consumer loans, and credit cards. In 2019, the Fed expects at least three more rate hikes.

The rising trend in interest rates impacts many things beyond consumer credit. Ultimately, when the cost of borrowing increases it can impact real estate, homebuilders, and home construction.

The price trend of homebuilders and home construction stocks is down. The ETF of home builders and home construction stocks is down about -20% from their highs in January.

SPDR® S&P Homebuilders ETF XHB iShares Home Construction ETF $ITB

The price trends in Homebuilders stock ETF (XHB) and Home Construction ETF (ITB) show they really haven’t recovered from the fall that started in 2007.

home builders construction ETF sector ETFs

Below we add the 10-year treasury rate. Rising interest rates may be having some impact on real estate home builders and construction.

rising interest rates impact on housing real estate home builders construction

Rising interest rates are supposed to boost the profit margins of financials like banks and insurance. However, so far we observe the bank stocks and insurance stocks ETFs are trending mostly sideways since interest rates moved higher.

Bank ETF insurance ETFs rising interest rates

Another real estate sector is represented by the Real Estate sector ETF (XLRE), which seeks to provide precise exposure to companies from real estate management and development and REITs, excluding mortgage REITs. I shared some observations about the overall real esate sector earlier this year in Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks. The impact of rising rates has continued.

rising interest rate impact on real estate REIT

A clearer observation is seen in the chart of homebuilders stocks along with the trend in the 15-year and 30-year mortgage rate.

rising mortgage rate homebuilders home construction

Clearly, there seems to be some correlation between rising rates and falling real estate sector and industry groups like homebuilders and home construction stocks.

This is why I shift between markets and sectors based on their price trends instead of just allocating capital to them regardless of their directional trend. It’s also why we manage our risk in absolute terms with our intention of avoiding large losses created by significant down-trending price trends. I rotate between world markets rather than allocate to them.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What trends are driving emerging markets into a bear market?

In Emerging Markets Reached a Bear Market Level we noted the emerging markets index has declined -20%, which is considered to be in bear market territory. The emerging markets index includes 24 countries classified as emerging countries.

To see the country exposure, we examine the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF holdings. China is about 31%, South Korea is about 15%, Taiwan is over 12%, so the top three countries make up 58% of the country exposure. Add India at 10% and the top four countries is a dominant 68% of the exposure. Clearly, we’d expect the drift of these top holdings to dominate the trend.

what countries are emering markets ETF ETFs

Below we see the 2018 price trends of the emerging markets ETF and the top four countries that make up 68% of the emerging markets index ETF exposure. We see that South Korea and China are the primary downtrends that are trending close to the emerging markets index ETF. Taiwan and India have stronger relative momentum.

emerging markets $EEM china $FXI india south korea 2018 trend

To get a better understanding of what is driving the downtrend, we draw the % off high charts to see the drawdowns. From this observation, we can see what is really driving the trend. Of the top four countries in the index, the negative momentum of China and South Korea are driving the trend down. China is down -24% over the past year as South Korea is down -17%.

emerging market ETF trends

Taiwan and India have stronger relative momentum since they have trended up more recently since July. Prior to July, they were trending closer to China and South Korea.

You can probably see why I include the individual countries in my global universe rather than just the broad emerging markets index ETF that includes 24 countries. I want to find potentially profitable price trends, so I increase my opportunity to find them when I give myself more options.

There are 24 countries represented in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index and we’ve looked at the top 4 because they are given 68% of the exposure. That leaves only 32% in the other 20 countries. So, in regard to understanding what is driving the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, viewing the trend of the top holdings is enough to get an idea of the countries driving returns. But, in wanting to go find potentially profitable price trends, I research all the countries trends.

What about the rest of the emerging markets countries? 

Looking at the other 20 countries classified as emerging markets, I’ll divide them into groups. First, we’ll look at the other countries that are down -10% or more year-to-date. Then, I’ll draw a chart of those that are down this year,  but not as much. We’ll end with the few that are positive in 2018.

Emerging markets countries down the most year-to-date include Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, Philippines, Chile, Poland, and Peru. Priced in U.S. dollars, these countries are down between -14% and -52%. Turkey is down the most.

emerging markets countries down 2018 $EEM

Looking at their % off high shows us the drawdown over the past year, which is a different perspective. If you had held one of these ETFs, this is the amount it would be down from its highest price over the past year.

Emerging markets countries down the most 2018

Clearly, these emerging countries are in downtrends and a bear market if we define a bear market as a -20% decline. Keep in mind, these ETFs are foreign stocks priced in U.S. dollars, so to U.S. investors, this is what the trends of these countries look like.

Next, we observe emerging markets countries that are down less than -10% in 2018. Russia, Columbia, Thailand, and Malasia are down between -3% and 8% so far. Their trends are generally down: lower highs and lower lows.

emering markets year to date 2018

We can see the downtrends in a different perspective when we view their drawdowns as a % off high over the past year.

emering market countries percent off high asymmetric risk reward

I saved the best for last. The strongest trending top momentum emerging markets countries so far in 2018 are Mexico, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Saudi Arabia was previously classified as a smaller frontier market, but, this summer MSCI announced it will include the MSCI Saudi Arabia Index in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

top momentum emerging markets countires 2018

Hearing names like Mexico, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar may highlight home country bias for some investors. Home country bias is the tendency for investors to favor companies from their own countries over those from other countries or regions.

I don’t have a home country bias. I am open to finding potentially profitable price trends in any country around the world. We encourage investors to be open to global trends and not limit their choices, but if our clients don’t want exposure to any specific country, we are able to exclude it in our ASYMMETRY® Managed Portfolios.

While the United States is the single largest economy in the world, according to JP Morgan it accounts for only a small fraction of global GDP and just over 35% of the world’s capital markets. Yet, studies show that U.S. investors have nearly 75% of their investments in U.S.-based assets. As we’ve shown here, there has been a good reason to avoid emerging countries for now, but as we explain in Emerging Markets Reached a Bear Market Level there are times when these countries present strong relative momentum over U.S. stocks.

This is why I tactically shift between global markets based on their directional price trends rather than a fixed buy and hold global asset allocation.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. stock market was strong in August, but…

August was a strong month for the U.S. stock market, but the broad S&P 500 stock index and leading sectors have reached short-term overbought extremes that often indicate short-term elevated risk.

My focus is to position capital in the primary direction of trends across different time frames, but trends can reach short-term extremes within the primary trend. We can focus only on the bigger trend, or we can try to take advantage of the short-term moves.

To understand where I am coming from for this observation, let’s define trend and extreme.

Trend is a direction that a price is moving, developing, evolving, or changing. A trend is a directional drift, one way or another. When we speak of price trends, the directional drift of a price trend can be up, down, or sideways. When I say a price is trending, it’s drifting up or down. I call sideways oscillation non-trending.

Extreme is reaching a high or the highest degree; very great, furthest from the center or a given point.

Tactical traders can be either directional traders or non-directional. For example, all investors are necessarily directional: they invest in a thing and want its price to go up.

A tactical trader can be directional: buying a stock, bond, commodity, or currency, hoping it will go up with them or they can sell it short hoping it will trend directionally down. They are directional traders, so they necessarily need to define the direction of the trend. Which way is it drifting?

However, not all traders are directional. Volatility traders who trade volatility through listed options or futures are trading movement itself, so when we trade volatility we aren’t concerned at all with the direction of the trend – we just want movement. Volatility traders may have no bias at all regarding the direction, we focus on volatility expansion or volatility contraction.

Trend Following is a directional strategy that requires the portfolio manager to determine the direction of the trend and enters that trend expecting inertia and momentum to continue in that direction. There are more than 300 published academic studies alone that prove that the most recent 3 to 12-month price momentum tends to continue rather than reverse. That doesn’t include the vast research and testing conducted by actual trading firms and hedge fund managers (like mine) that are not published to the public. These methods rely on directional trends to exploit for profit.

Countertrend is another directional strategy that requires the portfolio manager to determine the directional trend. However, my counter-trend system is designed to identify trends that are more likely to reverse and change direction than to continue. It may seem this strategy is the opposite of trend following, and in some ways it is, but countertrend systems are based on different time frames when executed correctly.

For example, a trend-following strategy that has been profitable has necessarily identified existing trends that have continued and trend following profits from the magnitude of those gains.

A counter trend can also be profitable and even combined with a trend following system. A counter trend system identifies reversals when the trend has changed or likely to change. The time frame, then, is different.

For example, while research shows that directional momentum over the recent 3 – 12 months tends to continue for another 12 months or longer, we also observe that trends have lasted 4-5 years tend to reverse and change trend.

You may notice stock market uptrends (bull markets) last about 4-5 years before they reverse into a downtrend (bear market). You may also notice investors and their advisers have a tendency to buy funds with the highest 5-year returns, only to catch the end of the excellent performance. You can probably see how they are “trend following” but using the wrong time frame. We find that trends actually reverse around the time those performance tables look appealing to investors. Counter trend systems aim to get positioned for big reversals in trend to profit from their directional change. Skilled counter trend portfolio managers develop and operate countertrend systems that are proven and quantified to identify and profit from such changes in trend.

We also observe short-term countertrends within the 30-day time frame.  Sometimes short-term extremes result in at least a temporary countertrend move in the opposite direction. These are shorter trend countertrends within an overall primary trend. Of course, countertrend reversals can also become longer trend changes, too.

Back to August, it was a strong month for U.S. stocks, but the broad indexes and leading sectors have reached higher risk levels in the short term.

sector rotation august 2018 stock market returnThe Technology sector reached a short-term overbought extreme in June and again in July and declined about -4% before resuming an uptrend.

The Consumer Discretionary sector where Amazon (AMZN) has a 25.5% weighting reached an overbought extreme in June and declined about -4% before resuming an uptrend.

The Healthcare sector has also shown strong momentum in its trend. It also reached a short-term overbought level, but only declined about -3%. However, by my measure, the Healthcare sector is more overbought than others.

These shorter trend trends are partly driven by investor sentiment. So, investor sentiment measures can be useful secondary confirming indicators to understand the condition of trends. At this point, most investor sentiment readings are only modestly elevated to levels that suggest greed is driving the market trend. Price could keep trending until enthusiasm is exhausted and sellers become dominant.

This is a very short-term observation of current trends. It’s just a near-term insight that we shouldn’t be surprised to see stocks decline at least a few percents in the weeks ahead.

And… it’s September… for those who follow seasonality, September has historically been one of the weakest months for stocks. I don’t make decisions based on seasonality. If stocks decline this month, the cause will be what I highlighted, not because which month it happens to be.

The bottom line is the broad stock indexes are trending up and led by a few strong sectors, but they’ve reached levels that my countertrend momentum systems suggest the risk of at least a temporary decline is elevated.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The week in review shows some shifts

Much of the observations I shared last week are continuing to be more apparent this week.  So, in case you missed it, this may be a good time to read them.

Earnings season is tricky for momentum growth stocks

I discussed how earnings season can drive a volatility expansion in stocks, especially high growth momentum stocks. The stock market leaders can become priced for perfection, so we never know how investors will react to their earnings reports. To achieve asymmetric returns from momentum stocks, we need a higher magnitude of positive reactions than adverse reactions over time. On a quarterly basis, it can be tricky. The gains and losses as much as 20% or more in the most leading momentum stocks like Facebook ($FB), Google ($GOOGL), Twitter ($TWTR), Grub ($GRUB), and NetFlix ($NFLX) have since provided a few examples.

Front-running S&P 500 Resistance

In Front-running S&P 500 Resistance I shared an observation that many market technicians incorrectly say support and resistance appear before it actually does. We won’t know if resistance to a price breakout exists until the price actually does pause and reverse. I suggested the S&P 500 may indeed pause and reverse, but not because the index drives the 500 stocks in it, but instead because my momentum indicators suggested the $SPY was reaching a short-term overbought range “So, a pause or reversal, at least some, temporarily, would be reasonable.” As of today, the S&P 500 has paused and reversed a little. We’ll see if it turns down or reserves back up to continue an uptrend.

Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?

asymmetry of loss losses asymmetric exponential

In Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk? I showed a simple table of how losses compound exponentially. When losses become greater than -20%, it becomes more exponential as the gains required to recover the loss are more and more asymmetric.  This simple concept is essential and a cornerstone to understanding portfolio risk management. Buy and hold type passive investors who hold a fixed allocation of stocks and bonds are always fully exposed to market risk. When the market falls and they lose -20%, -30%, -50% or more of their capital, they then face hoping (and needing) the market to go back up 25%, 43%, or 100% or more just to get back to where they were. This can take years of valuable time. Or, it could take a lifetime, or longer. Just because the markets have rebounded after being down for four or five years from their prior highs doesn’t guarantee they will next time. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Trend following applied to stocks

In Trend following applied to stocks, the message was short and sweet: gains are produced by being invested in stocks or markets that are trending up and losses are created by stocks trending against us. Investors prefer to be in rising stocks and out of falling stocks. But, as I showed in Earnings season is tricky for momentum growth stocks the trick is giving the big trends enough room to unfold. In fact, applying trend following and momentum methods to stocks is also tricky. It’s a skill that goes beyond just looking at a chart and it’s not just a quantitative model.

Stock market investor optimism rises above the historical average

About two weeks ago,  the measures of investor sentiment showed a lot of optimism about future stocks prices, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see some stocks fall. When a lot of enthusiasm is already priced in, investors can respond with disappointment when their stocks don’t live up to high expectations.

Much of the momentum and trend following in stocks is driven by an overreaction to the upside that can be accompanied by an overreaction to the downside. A robust portfolio management system factors these things in.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Earnings season is tricky for momentum growth stocks

Momentum stocks are stocks that show high upside momentum in their price trend. Momentum stocks are trending not only regarding their absolute price gains but also relative strength vs. other stocks or the stock market index.

Momentum stocks are usually high growth stocks. Since momentum stocks are the strongest trending stocks, their trends are often driven by growth in sales and earnings. Growth stocks are companies that are growing earnings at a rate significantly above average. Growth stocks have high increases in earnings per share quarter over quarter, year over year, and may not pay dividends since these companies usually reinvest their strong earnings to accelerate growth.

Now that we have defined what I mean by “momentum stocks,” we can take a look at some examples of momentum stocks and their characteristics like how their prices trend.

Grubhub Inc. ($GRUB) is an online and mobile food-ordering company that connects diners with local restaurants. GrubHub is a great example today of a high momentum growth stock.  GrubHub stock has gained 24% today after smashing Wall Street’s expectations. Earnings grew 92% to 50 cents a share, marking the fifth quarter in a row of accelerating EPS growth. Revenue soared 51% to $239.7 million, a quarterly best.

Grubhub $GRUB GRUB

Before today, GrubHub stock was in a positive trend that developed a flat base since April (highlighted on the chart). GRUB had already gained 60% year to date, but after such as explosive uptrend in momentum, it trended sideways for a while.

It is earnings season, which can be tricky for the highest momentum stocks. Once a stock has already made a big move, it could already have a lot of good news expectations priced in. That concerns some momentum stock traders. In fact, I know some momentum stock traders who exit their stocks before their quarterly earnings announcements. If they had exited GrubHub, they would have missed today’s continuation of its momentum. However, they would avoid the downside of those that trend in the other direction.

I’ve been trading momentum stocks for over two decades. Over the years I’ve observed different regimes of how they act regarding trend strength and volatility. There are periods of volatility expansion and contraction and other periods when momentum is much stronger.

Volatility is how quickly and how far the price spreads out. When price trends are volatile, it’s harder to stick with them because they can move against us. We like upside volatility, but smart investors are loss averse enough to dislike downside volatility that leads to drawdowns. To understand why the smart money is loss averse, read: “Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?“.

Strong upward trending stocks are sometimes accompanied by volatility. That’s to be expected because momentum is a kind of volatility expansion. Upward momentum, the kind we like, is an upward expansion in the range of the price – volatility.

That’s good vol.

But, strong trending momentum stocks necessarily may include some bad volatility, too. Bad volatility is the kind investors don’t like – it’s when the price drops, especially if it’s a sharp decline.

I mentioned GrubHub had gained 60% YTD. I like to point out, observe, and understand asymmetries. The asymmetry is the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, I prefer to skew them positively. What I call the Asymmetry® Ratio is a chart of the upside total return vs. the chart of the downside % off high. To achieve the gain for GrubHub, investors would have had to endure its price declines to get it. For GrubHub, the stock has declined -10% to -15% many times over the past year. It has spent much of the time off its high. To have realized all of the gains, investors had to be willing to experience the drawdowns.

grubhub stock GRUB

I point this out because yesterday I wrote “Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?” where I discussed the mathematical basis behind the need for me to actively manage the downside risk. To achieve the significant gain, we often have to endure at least some of the drawdowns along the way. The trick is how much, and for me, that depends on many system factors.

Earnings season, when companies are reporting their quarterly earnings, is especially tricky for high momentum stocks because stocks that may be “priced for perfection” may be even more volatile than normal. Accelerating profit growth is attractive to investment managers and institutional investors because increasing profit growth means a company is doing something right and delivering exceptional value to customers. I’m more focused on the direction of the price trend – I like positive momentum. But, earnings are a driver of the price trend for stocks.

Earnings can trend in the other direction, too, or things can happen to cause concern. This information is released in quarterly reports.

Another example of a momentum stock is NetFlix. By my measures, GrubHub is a leading stock in its sector and NetFlix (NFLX) is the leader in its industry group, too, based on its positive momentum and earnings growth. As we see in the chart below, NFLX has gained 88% year to date. That’s astonishing momentum considering the broad stock market measured by the S&P 500 has gained around 5%, and its Consumer Services Sector ETF has gained 11%.

NetFlix NFLX $NFLX

However, NetFlix stock regularly declines as much as -15% as a regular part of its trend. It has fallen over -10% five times in the past year on its way to making huge gains. The latest reason for the decline was information that was released during its quarterly earnings announcement. The stock dropped sharply afterward.

netflix stock risk downside loss

But, as we see in the chart, it’s still within its normal decline that has happened five times the past year.

While some of my other momentum stock trader friends may exit their stocks during the earnings season, I instead focus more on the price trend itself. I predefine my risk in every position, so I determine how much I’ll allow a stock to trend to the downside before I exit. When a stock trends down too far, it’s no longer in a positive trend with the side of momentum we want. To cut losses short, I exit before the damage gets too large.

How much is too much? 

A hint is in the above charts.

If we want to experience a positive trend of a momentum stock, we necessarily have to give it enough room to let it do what it does. When it trends beyond that, it’s time to exit and move on. We can always re-enter it again it if trends back to the right side.

Sure, earnings season can be tricky, but for me, it’s designed into my system. I’m looking for positive Asymmetry® – an asymmetric risk/reward. What we’ve seen above are stocks that may decline as much as -15% as a normal part of their trend when they fall, but have gained over 50% over the same period.

You can probably see how I may be able to create a potentially positive asymmetric risk/reward payoff from such a trend.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

 

 

 

Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?

“The essence of portfolio management is the management of risks, not the management of returns.” —Benjamin Graham

Why actively manage investment risk?

Why not just buy and hold markets and ride through their large drawdowns?

Losses are asymmetric and loss compounds exponentially.

The larger the loss, the more gain is required to recover the loss to get back to breakeven.

The negative asymmetry of loss starts quickly, losses more than -20% decline start to compound against you exponentially and with a greater magnitude the larger the loss is allowed to grow.

If your investment portfolio experiences a -20% loss, it needs a 25% gain to get back the breakeven value it was before the loss.

asymmetry of loss losses asymmetric exponential

At the -30% loss level, you need a 43% gain to get it back.

Diversification is often used as an attempt to manage risk by allocating capital across different markets and assets.

Diversification and asset allocation alone doesn’t achieve the kind of risk management needed to avoid these large declines in value. Global markets can fall together, providing no protection from loss.

For example, global markets all fell during the last two bear markets 2000-2003 and 2007-2009.

global asset allocation diversification failed 2008

It didn’t matter if you had a global allocation portfolio diversified between U.S. stocks, international stocks, commodities, and real estate REITs.

Diversification can fail when you need it most, so there is a regulatory disclosure required: Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss.

This is why active risk management to limit downside loss is essential for investment management.

I actively manage loss by knowing the absolute point I’ll exit each individual position and managing my risk level at the portfolio level.

Active risk management, as I use it, applies tactics and systems to actively and dynamically decrease or increase exposure to the potential for loss.

My risk management systems are asymmetric risk management systems. Asymmetric risk management intends to manage risk with the objective of a positive asymmetric risk/reward.

My asymmetric risk management systems are designed to cut losses short, but also protects and manages positions with a profit.

After markets trend up for a while without any significant interruption, investors may become complacent and forget the large damage losses can cause to their capital and their confidence. When investors lose confidence in the markets, they tap-out when their losses are allowed to grow to large.

I prefer to stop the loss before it gets too large. How much is too large depends on the client, but also the math. As seen here, I have a mathematical basis for believing I should actively manage investment risk.

It’s why I’ve been doing it for two decades. Because I understood the math, I knew I had to do it over twenty years ago and developed the systems and tactics that proved to be robust in the devastating bear markets I’ve executed through since then.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Stock market investor optimism rises above historical average

“Optimism among individual investors about the short-term direction of the stock market rebounded, rising above its historical average.”

AAII Investor Sentiment Survey

The AAII Investor Sentiment Survey is a widely followed measure of the mood of individual investors. The weekly survey results are published in financial publications including Barron’s and Bloomberg and are widely followed by market strategists, investment newsletter writers, and other financial professionals.

It is my observation that investor sentiment is trend following.

Investor sentiment reaches an extreme after a price trend has made a big move.  After the stock market reaches a new high, the media is talking about and writing about the new high, which helps to drive up optimism for higher highs.

When they get high, they believe they are going higher.

At the highest high they are at their high point — euphoria.

No, I’m not talking about cannabis stocks, I’m just talking about the stock market. Cannabis stocks are a whole different kind of high and sentiment.

A few years ago, I would have never dreamed of making a joke of cannabis stocks or writing the word marijuana on a public website. Who had ever thought there would be such a thing? But here I am, laughing out loud (without any help from cannabis).

Back to investor sentiment…

Excessive investor sentiment is trend following – it just follows the price trend.

Investor sentiment can also be a useful contrarian indicator to signal a trend is near its end. As such, it can be helpful to investors who tend to experience emotions after big price moves up or down.

  • Investor sentiment can be a reminder to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
  • Investor sentiment can be a reminder to a portfolio manager like myself to be sure our risk levels are where we want them to be.

Although… rising investor optimism in its early stages can be a driver of future price gains.

Falling optimism and rising pessimism can drive prices down.

So, I believe investor sentiment is both a driver of price trends, but their measures like investor sentiment polls are trend following.

For example, below I charted the S&P 500 stock index along with bullish investor sentiment. We can see the recent spike up to 43% optimistic investors naturally followed the recent rise in the stock price trend. investor sentiment July 2018

However, in January we observed something interesting. Investor sentiment increased sharply above its historical average in December and peaked as the stock market continued to trend up.

Afterward, the stock market dropped sharply and quickly, down around -12% very fast.

Maybe the investor sentiment survey indicated those who wanted to buy stocks had already bought, so there wasn’t a lot of capital left for new buying demand to keep the price momentum going.

The S&P 500 is still about -2.4% from it’s January high, so this has been a non-trending range-bound stock market trend for index investors in 2018. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was last years more gaining index and it is still -6% from its high.

stock market 2018 level and drawdown

The stock index will need some buying enthusiasm to reach its prior high.  We’ll see if the recent increase in optimism above its historical average is enough to drive stocks to new highs, or if it’s a signal of exhaustion.

Only time will tell…

I determine my asymmetric risk/reward by focusing on the individual risk/reward in each of my positions and exposure across the portolio. For me, it’s always been about the individual positions and what they are doing.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

Is it a stock pickers market?

Is it a stock pickers market?

Sometimes the stock market is trending so strongly that the rising tide lifts all boats. No matter what stocks or stock fund you invest in, it goes up. That was the case much of 2017.

Then, there are periods when we see more divergence.

When we observe more divergence, it means stocks, sectors, size, or style has become uncorrelated and are trending apart from each other.

I pointed out in Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns; there is a notable divergence in sector performance, and that is driving divergence in size and style. Growth stocks have been outperformance value, and it’s driven by strong momentum in Technology and Consumer Discretionary sectors.

When specific sectors are showing stronger relative momentum, we can either focus more on those sectors rather than broad stock index exposure. Or, we can look inside the industry to find the leading individual stocks.

For example, Consumer Discretionary includes industries like automobiles and components, consumer durables, apparel, hotels, restaurants, leisure, media, and retailing are primarily represented in this group. The Index includes Amazon, Home Depot, Walt Disney, and Comcast. Consumer Discretionary is the momentum leader having trended up 9.7% so far this year as the S&P 500 has only gained just under 1%.

momentum sectors

If we take a look inside the sector, we see the leaders are diverging farther away from the sector ETF and far beyond the stock market index.

momentum stocks consumer discretionary sector NFLX AMZN AAPL

In fact, all the sectors 80 stock holdings are positive in 2018.

The Consumer Discretionary sector is about 13% of the S&P 500. As you can see, if these top four or five sectors in the S&P 500 aren’t trending up it is a drag on the broad stock index.

ETF Sector Allocation exposure S&P 500

So, Is it a stock pickers market? 

When we see more divergence, it seems to be a better market for “stock pickers” to separate the winners from the losers.

Another way to measure participation in the market is through quantitative breadth indicators. Breadth indicators are a measure of trend direction “participation” of the stocks. For example, the percent of the S&P 500 stocks above or below a moving average is an indication of the momentum of participation.

Below is the percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average tells us how many stocks are trending above their moving average (an uptrend). Right now, the participation is symmetrical; 52% of the stocks in the S&P 500 are in a positive trend as defined by the 50 day moving average. We can also see where that level stands relative to the stock market lows in February and April and the all-time high in January when over 85% of stocks were in an uptrend. By this measure, only half are trending up on a shorter term basis.

SPX SPY PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 1 YEAR

The 200-day moving average looks back nearly a year to define the direction of a trend, so it takes a greater move in momentum to get the price above or below it. At this point, the participation is symmetrical; 55% of stocks are above their 200-day moving average and by this time frame, it hasn’t recovered as well from the lows. The percent of stocks above their 200-day moving average is materially below the 85% of stocks that were participating in the uptrend last year. That is, 30% fewer stocks are in longer trend uptrends.

SPY SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERGAGE 1 YEAR

In the above charts, I only showed a one-year look back of the trend. Next, we’ll take a step back to view the current level relative to the past three years.

The percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average is still at the upper range of the past three years. The significant stock market declines in August-September 2015 and December-January hammered the stocks down to a very washed out point. During those market declines, the participation was very asymmetric: 90% of the stocks were in downtrends and only about 10% remained in shorter-term uptrends.

SPX SPY PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

The percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average also shows a much more asymmetrical situation during the declines in 2015 and 2016 when the stock index dropped around -15% or more. Only 20% of stocks remained in a positive trend.

SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

Is it a stock pickers market?

Only about half of the stocks in the index are in uptrends, so the other half isn’t. So, if we avoid the half that are in downtrends and only maintains exposure to stocks in uptrends and the trends continue, we can create alpha.

But, keep in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should have any exposure at all in the S&P 500 stock index because happens to have the highest sector exposure in the leading sectors.

But, for those who want to engage in “stock picking”, the timing has a higher probability now to diverge from the stock index than last year because so fewer stocks are in uptrends and more are in downtrends.

For individual stocks traders willing to look inside the box, this is a good thing.

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

When I apply different trend systems to ETFs

In my portfolio management, I primarily want to identify trends and get positioned with that trend. As long as there is uncertainty, we’ll see trends. Investor sentiment and expectations underreact to information causing the price to adjust gradually and that’s what produces a trend. The trend following systems I wrote about in My Introduction to Trend Following are designed to buy an asset when its price trend goes up, and sell when its trend goes down, expecting price movements to continue.

We also see the overreaction of investor sentiment and their expectations. After price keeps rising, investors may become overly enthusiastic, which causes prices to overreact and move up to an extreme that matches their sentiment. We saw that the last part of 2017 and it continued in January. We say these markets have become “overbought” and mathematical indicators can signal a countertrend.

We also sometimes see investor sentiment and their expectations plunge as they panic when prices are falling. We say these markets have become “oversold” and mathematical indicators can signal a countertrend. Looking back over the past two months, we may have seen an overreaction on the upside, then an overreaction on the downside. I say that because the stock market very quickly dropped -10%, then recovered most of it a few weeks later.

Someone asked recently “Do you invest and trade in all ETFs and stocks using the same trend system?” The answer is “not necessarily.” As I described above, trend following and countertrend systems are very different. Trend following systems can be multiple time frames, but usually longer trends of at least several months to years. Countertrend moves are normally shorter term as a market may get overbought or oversold, but it doesn’t usually stay that way a long time. For example, the S&P 500 was overbought the last few months of 2017 and that was an anomaly. It was one of the most overbought periods we’ve seen in the stock indexes. So, it was no surprise to see a fast -10% decline.

My point is, different trend systems can be applied to markets. Both trend following and countertrend are trend systems, they just intend to capitalize on a different trend in behavior – overreaction or underreaction.

When I apply my countertrend systems to markets, a great illustration is the high dividend yield market. A great example is the Global X SuperDividend® ETF $SDIV which invests in 100 of the highest dividend yielding equity securities in the world.

Below is a price chart in blue and it’s dividend yield in orange over the past five years. As you can see, the price trend and dividend yield have an inverse correlation. As the price goes up, the dividend yield from that starting point goes down. That is, if we invest in it at higher prices, the dividend yield would have been lower. But, as the price goes down, the dividend yield from that starting point goes up. If we invest in it at lower prices, our future income from dividend yield is higher.

 

For example, I highlighted in green the price was at its low when the yield was also at its highest at 8%. Investors who bought at the lower price earn the higher yield going forward (assuming the stocks in the index continue paying their dividend yields). If we invested in it in 2014 the yield was 6%. High yielding stocks are not without risks. High yielding stocks are often speculative, high-risk investments. These companies can be paying out more than they can support and may reduce their dividends or stop paying dividends at any time, which could have a material adverse effect on the stock price of these companies and the ETFs performance. You can probably see how an ETF that includes 100 of these stocks may be more attractive to gain exposure rather than risking a few individually.

This is an example of when we may use a countertrend system. As I am more inclined to invest in positive trends, this is an example of a situation I may be more willing to buy low. But, I always focus on Total Return. All of my systems include Total Return data that includes the dividend yield, not just the price trend. So as I explain this, keep in mind we still apply my risk management and trend systems but we consider and account for the high yield that makes up its total return.

Below is a chart of the Global X SuperDividend® ETF $SDIV from the low point in 2016 (I highlighted in green above). I charted both the price trend by itself as well as the Total Return which includes dividends. Had someone invested in it at the low, we saw above their yield would be 8% and the impact is evident in the difference. With the dividend yield included, the return was 36% and 18% without it. In other words, the dividend was half the return over this period. The higher the dividend yield at the point of entry, the more it can have an impact on Total Return.

As a special note for our investment management clients who are invested in ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical. We do not reinvest dividends. Instead, we want the cash dividends to go into the cash portion of our portfolio. Since we usually have some positions that generate a monthly yield, it provides the cash balance we need to cover any slippage between trades, investment management costs, as well as provide cash for other investments. I mention this, because any position we hold like this with a high yield may not appear to have as large of a percentage gain since it only represents the price return, not the total return. That is simply because we are using the cash instead of reinvesting the dividends.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

February Global Market Trends

After a very positive January for U.S. and international stocks, in February it only took 10 days for the S&P 500 to decline -12% intraday and a -10% drawdown based on closing price.

stock market decline drawdown februrary 2018

Yet, February ended with the S&P 500 only down -3.5% after that -12% intra-month drawdown.  For the month, International (MSCI EAFE) and Emerging Markets declined the most viewing the below board based indexes. The U.S. Dollar gained 1.8%.

global market returns february 2018 loss drawdown

Next, we view February global market returns relative to the S&P 500 stock index by holding it constant. This visual shows us how much markets gained/lost net of the S&P 500, Though in the absolute trend table above I showed bonds declined in absolute return, they gained relative to the S&P 500,

global market trend returns relative to spx spy S&P 500

Of course, one month isn’t a trend. In fact, I’m going to explain how this is an intentional logical inconsistency. Speaking of one time period in isolation, be it a month, year, or series of years is just an arbitrary time frame. What’s worse is viewing just the result over a time frame, like the month of February above, in just a table format.

A return stream is precisely that; a stream. A return stream is a continuous price trend in a continuous specified direction. Continuous is forming an unbroken whole; without interruption. So, I like to view return streams as price trends on a chart so I can see how the trend really unfolded over the period. Observed as a visual price trend, we see both the good and the bad of the price action along the way. You can probably see how it does that better than a simple performance table, monthly return % of the period or the bar chart above.

stock market decline februrary 2018

In the chart above, we see how much the price trends of those markets declined along the way before closing the month yesterday. I wrote about the short-term risk reversal in Stock Market Analysis of the S&P 500 suggesting it may reverse back up at least temporarily and retrace some loss and it did.

Now, what is essential about looking at performance data and trends is what the investor experiences. Investors experience what they choose to experience. For example, suppose and the investor is fully invested in the stock market, they could experience the month one of three ways.

  • If the investor only looks at his or her month-end statement, they would experience either the month end “-3.5%”.
  • If the investor watches their account or market indexes closely every day, they experienced every daily move and the full -12% decline and then some recovery.
  • Some may not pay any attention at all either because they are disinterested or they have an investment manager they trust to manage their risk-taking and risk management for them.

Investors and traders get to choose what time frame they watch things. I’ve always observed that “watching it too closely” can lead to emotional mistakes for many. For me, I’m paying attention and may zoom in and pay more attention when trends get more volatile or seem to reach an extreme. But, I’m a tactical portfolio manager, it’s what I do. I can view short term or long term trends alike with self-discipline. I have an edge that has been quantified by a long track record of 14 years in the current portfolio I manage.

I said this recently on Twitter:

If the investor doesn’t like to see such losses like those experienced in many markets in February, they may choose to instead not be fully invested in stocks all the time. That’s what I do. I’m not invested in any specific market all the time. My exposure to risk and return increases and decreases over time based on trends and my risk systems. I intentionally increase and decrease my exposure to the possibility of loss and gain. I’m also unconstrained so I can do it across any global market like bonds, currency, stocks, commodities, or alternatives like REITs, inverse (shorting), or volatility.

According to the American Association of Individual Investors, the decline was so quick most individual investors didn’t seem to respond:

Majority of Investors Avoided Taking Action in Recent Market Correction

“This week’s Sentiment Survey special question asked AAII members what portfolio action, if any, they took in response to the recent market correction. The majority of respondents (62%) said they didn’t make any change or only made a small change. Many of these respondents described themselves as being focused on the long term, viewing this month’s correction as being only temporary in nature or not severe enough to warrant any action. A few of these respondents described the correction as lasting too short of a time for them to take advantage of it. Nearly 33% respondents said they took advantage of the decline to buy stocks or funds. Some said they took advantage of the reduced prices to either add to current positions or buy new holdings. Just 7% of respondents said they sold stocks during the correction. A small number of respondents said they sold some positions and then bought new positions.”

I say investors should find and do what helps them, not make it worse. Know yourself, know your risk, and know your risk tolerance. That’s what we do.

So, that is what happened during the month of February, and a little asymmetric observation to go with it.

 

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

Investment results are probabilistic, never a sure thing. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Asset Class Returns are Driven by Sector Exposure

The popular U. S. stock indexes closed in the red for the year Monday, erasing their big starting gains in January. As I mentioned many times; quick gains can be lost even faster. The financial news has mostly been quoting the Dow Jones Industrial Average because it had gained the most year-to-date. It had gained over 7% in January, but lost that gain, and then some, in two days. After just a few days, the Dow Jones dropped -14% in the futures market and -8% on a closing basis. That was enough to wipe out recent gains and mark the index down nearly -2% for the year.

I discussed the market risk in our portfolio commentary for our investment management clients, and we were positioned for it. I also explained it in In remembrance of euphoria: Whatever happened to Stuart and Mr. P? and In the final stages of a bull market. So, it should have been no surprise.

But, when I looked at the asset class performance table, I saw some interesting divergence. Large Cap Growth is still outperforming Small Value. As most of the U.S. equity asset classes were in the red, Large Growth remained positive on the year. I thought I would share a look as to why.

I am a tactical portfolio manager, so my focus is on finding trends and shifting to the trends I want and avoiding those I don’t. That’s a lot different than “asset allocation.” Financial advisors who create asset allocation models for their investment clients normally allocate into funds in the asset class style box. This is also typical with 401(k) plans. They offer funds that provide broad exposure to an asset class style box, rather than the individual stock market sectors I prefer to focus on. So, we often hear style box asset classes quoted like “Large Growth is beating Small Value” or “Large Caps ard leading Small Caps.”

According to Morningstar:

The Morningstar Style Box is a nine-square grid that provides a graphical representation of the “investment style” of stocks and mutual funds. For stocks and stock funds, it classifies securities according to market capitalization (the vertical axis) and growth and value factors (the horizontal axis).

Below is a recent performance for the equity markets. As you see, U.S. Large Growth was leading with a 2.89% gain year-to-date, Small Value was down -4.83%.  When we observe such a divergence, it makes us curious what is causing it.

 

To understand what is driving the return, we take a look inside to see “what is different.” Below is the sector exposure breakdown of Large-Cap Growth.  We can understand the sector exposure of the iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF. Clearly, the big standout is heavy exposure to Information Technology. The other two larger exposures are Consumer Discretionary and Health Care.

Large Growth Stocks Outperform Small

Next, we observe the sector exposure of the Small Value asset class. We can see the sector exposure in the holdings of iShares Morningstar Small-Cap Value ETF.

The Small Value index has 22% exposure to Financials since many financial sector stocks are smaller companies. The other top sector exposures are Industrials, Consumer Discretionary, Real Estate, and Energy.

Small Value Stocks Underperforming Why are

What is different?

Clearly, the single largest difference is that Large Growth is very heavily exposed to the trend in Technology sector. Technology is 50% of Large Growth while it’s only 8% of Small Value. On the other hand, Financials is only 5% of Large Growth but its the largest exposure in Small Value at 22% of the index.

Stock market asset class returns are driven by their sector exposure. Recently, the Tech sector has been one of the mightiest trends, so it’s helped Large Growth also appear more dominant over equity styles that hold less of it. I would preferably look inside and find out what return driver is causing the difference, then get exposure to that trend in momentum.

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

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

Investment results are probabilistic, never a sure thing. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Black Monday: Huge Losses a Reminder of Risk

30 years ago today, global stock markets collapsed. The U.S. stock market represented by the S&P 500 had gained over 35% year-to-date. Investors were likely optimistic. It only took a single day to erase the gain.

The loss on Black Monday was -31.5%. Notice that a -31.5% decline more than erased a 35%+ gain. In fact, after the index had gained over 35% for the year, it was down nearly -9% after a -31% decline.

 

As I explain in Asymmetric Nature of Losses and Loss Aversion, losses are asymmetric. Losses compound exponentially, which is what makes risk management and the pursue of drawdown control worthwhile.

Below we see it in action. It only took a decline of -31% to erase over 60% of a 100% gain since 1984. The S&P 500 stock index had gained over 100% since 1984. The -31% decline brought the gain all the way down to 37%. Losses are very asymmetric.

Black Monday is talked about as a single one-day event, but really it wasn’t. Several weeks of weakness led up to a big down day. But, it would have taken a rather tight risk management system to have exited.

Looking even closer, the % off high chart shows the stock index was about -7% off its price high for several weeks before the crash. So, a drawdown control and risk management system trading this index would have had to exit because of this trend.

It doesn’t have to happen in a single day to erase a lot of gains.

Let’s remember this one.

And more recently, this one.

Today is a reminder that markets are risky and they necessarily require risk management.

 

 

Even Hurricane Irma Hasn’t Shaken Recent Investor Greed

It has been over a week since Hurricane Irma came smashing through South Florida. Hurricane Irma was an extremely powerful and catastrophic Cape Verde type hurricane, the strongest observed in the Atlantic since Dean in 2007. I saved the radar image below on my phone. The yellow star is my home in Tampa Bay. Of course, we evacuated northwest to the spend a few days in Rosemary Beach in the panhandle. As Irma shifted more into the gulf, we drove on to Knoxville days in advance of her. Better safe than sorry.  We returned several days after she passed and fortunately, our neighbors were safe and our homes weren’t damaged in our area. However, many still were without power for a week. Our area is a new development, so our power lines are underground. We weren’t just lucky – we were better prepared. I’m not a fan of relying on luck to survive.

Hurricane Irma Maria

Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 Hurricane as she approached Florida. Irma was only two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused severe damage to the Houston, Texas area.

This has been a very volatile hurricane season.

But, we can’t say the same about stock market volatility.

Amazingly, the U.S. stock market has remained resilient. In fact, the range of how much the prices have spread out has gotten tighter lately and the declines are smaller. We can see this in the chart below that shows % off highs of the S&P 500 stock index.

low volatility

This is also reflected in the investor sentiment, which has once again become extended to the point of “Extreme Greed” on the Fear & Greed Index. This index uses several indicators to estimate investor fear and greed.

Fear and Greed Index Investor Sentiment

Calm and quiet periods are nice, but eventually, an inertia comes along and changes that trend. You would think two destructive hurricanes in two weeks would be that inertia, but investors in stocks aren’t shaken just yet.

In fact, below I drew a chart of world market returns since Irma struck the United States. Generally, most of the markets are flat. Initially, most markets declined, but overall “safe assets” like U.S. Treasuries, Gold, and Real Estate Investment Trusts actually declined around -2% since Irma.

market returns since irma

Cash has been as good as anything since that period – and with no risk.

We shouldn’t be surprised to see a meaningful decline at some point and prices trending in a wider range.

We’ll see.

VIX Trends Up 9th Biggest 1-day Move

About a week after a hedge fund manager who is popular with the media but has a poor track record of managing risk said “please stop talking about the low VIX”, it gains 44.4% in a single day – its 9th biggest 1-day move. He was suggesting the low VIX wasn’t an indication of high risk. If you have followed my observations, you know that I disagree. I’m one who has been talking about the low VIX and suggesting it is one of many indications of complacency among investors. That is, investors hear “all time new highs” and get overly optimistic instead of reducing their risk or being prepared to manage downside loss.

VIX biggest moves

I point out the hedge fund manager’s comment because I believe a low VIX is an indication of complacency because it measures expected implied volatility for options on the S&P 500 stocks. When implied volatility gets to historical low points, it means options traders aren’t paying high premiums for hedging “protection”. Others can believe what they want to believe. I don’t just point out observations at extremes. I actually do something.

As I pointed out recently in “No Inflection Point Yet, But… ” the VIX was at an extreme low. About a week later this other fund manager implies it may not be meaningful. That’s exactly what we expect to hear when the expected volatility gets to such an extreme low. We expect to see it shift the other direction at some point. I like to follow trends until they reach an extreme – and reverse.

Here is what it looked like.

VIX 9th biggest one day move

More importantly, here is what the stock indexes looked like on Google Finance after the close:

Stock market down Korea

Another observation I shared in “No Inflection Point Yet, But…” is that leading stocks can sometimes be more volatile and yesterday was no exception. While the stock indexes were down around -1.5% some of the most popular stocks were down about twice as much:

FANG stocks downSource: Google Finance

Of course, this is all just one day. We’ll see if it continues into a longer trend.

It’s always a good time to manage risk, but sometimes it’s more obvious than others.

Is this the Inflection Point for Stocks?

As if the election result wasn’t enough, the U.S. stock market has surprised most people by trending up since last November.

But, it has been stalling since March. The S&P 500 drifted down about -3% into March and April.

The stock market seems to be at an inflection point now.

Understanding the market state is an examination of the weight of the evidence.

The weight of the evidence seems to suggest defense.

My first indicator is always the actual price trend itself. If we want to know what is going on, there is no better observation than the actual price trend. The price action tells us what force is in control: supply or demand. And, we can see the potential for the inflection point – when the direction is changing. In the chart below, I highlight a recent point of “resistance”. I call it resistance because the stock index hasn’t broken above the March high and is instead drifting sideways.

average age of bull market top

Investors sometime assume a prior price high will automatically become “resistance” just because it’s the price range they expect to see the price trend stall. Resistance is the price level where selling is expected to be strong enough to prevent the price from rising further. We can see that recently in the chart. As the price advances towards the prior peak, supply may overcome demand and prevent the price from rising above resistance. For example, it may be driven by investors who wished they had sold near the prior peak and had to wait as the price recovered again. They anchor to that prior high. Once it gets back to the prior peak, they exit. Prior highs don’t always become “resistance” as expected. Sometimes demand is strong enough to break through and keep trending up. At this point, we see there has been some resistance at the prior high. I highlighted it in yellow in the chart above. So, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the price decline if this resistance holds for a while. Or, it could be an inflection point.

The S&P 500 stock index is mainly large companies. Smaller companies tend to lead larger companies. Their price trends move in a wider range and they sometimes move faster, so they get to a point sooner. That’s why we say small company stocks “lead” large company stocks. In that case, I highlight below that the small company stock index, the S&P 600 Small Cap ETF, reached its prior, but found resistance and reversed down. The soldiers may lead the way for the Generals.

Small Cap

It seems that the stock index is stalling at a time when investors are complacent. When investors are complacent or overly optimistic an inflection point is more likely. The CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index)  is very low. The CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index®) is a key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices. The VIX® historically trends between a long-term range. When the VIX® gets to an extreme, it becomes more likely to eventually reverse. In the chart below I show the price level of the VIX® since its inception in 1993. We can see its long-term average is around 20. I highlighted in red its low range is around 12 and it has historically spiked as high as 25 or 60. This means the traders of options are expecting lower volatility in the weeks ahead at a time when other things seem to suggest otherwise.

As I continue sharing some observations, I’m going to get farther away from my main decision maker which is the directional price trend, but you’ll see how these indicators help to quantify the state of the trend and the potential for an inflection point. As we keep going, keep in mind that indicators are a derivative of the price at best or a derivate of something unrelated to the directional price trend. In the case of the VIX® Index index above, it’s a measure of options (a derivative) on the stocks in the S&P 500. When we start looking at things like economic growth and valuations we are necessarily looking at things that are a derivative of price, but not as absolute as the price trend itself. The direction of the price trend is the arbiter.

Another signal of an inflection point is breadth. That is, what percent of stocks are rising or falling. Since I have mentioned the S&P 500 stock index, I’ll show the S&P 500 Bullish Percent Index below. The Bullish Percent is a breadth indicator based on the number of stocks on Point & Figure buy signals. Developed by Abe Cohen in the mid-1950s, the Bullish Percent Index was originally applied to NYSE stocks. Cohen was the first editor of ChartCraft, which later became Investors Intelligence. BP signals were further refined by Earl Blumenthal in the mid 70’s and Mike Burke in the early 80’s. The S&P 500 Bullish Percent shows a composite of the 500 stocks in the S&P 500 index that are in a positive trend. The S&P 500 Bullish Percent recently reversed to a column of O’s from a high point of 80, which means about 80% of the S&P 500 stocks were in a positive trend and about 8% of them are now in a negative trend. In addition to the direction, the level is important because we consider the level above 70% or 80% to be a higher risk (red zone) and the levels below 30% to be lower risk (green zone). So, more and more stocks within the index are starting to decline. This weak “breadth” or participation could be a signal of a change in trend.

Bullish Percent

I’m not necessarily a big user of economic indicators. I believe the stock indexes are the leading indicator for the economy, so that’s my guide. However, I have a strong sense of situational awareness so I like to understand what in the world is going on. The total return of stocks is a function of three things: earnings growth + dividend yield + P/E ratio expansion or contraction. Since earnings growth has made up nearly 5% of the historical total return of the S&P 500 since 1926, it does matter in the big picture in regard to expected return. Today, we observe the headline in the Wall Street Journal:

GDP Slows to Weakest Growth in Three Years

The U.S. economy’s output grew at the slowest pace in three years during the first quarter, underscoring the challenges facing the Trump administration as it seeks to rev up growth.

The New York Times says:

G.D.P. Report Shows U.S. Economy Off to Slow Start in 2017

■ The economy barely grew, expanding at an annual rate of only 0.7 percent.

■ The growth was a sharp decline from the 2.1 percent annual rate recorded in the final quarter of last year. It was the weakest quarterly showing in three years.

■ Consumption, the component reflecting individual spending, rose by only 0.3 percent, well below the 3.5 percent rate in the previous quarter.

The Takeaway

The first-quarter performance upset expectations for a Trump bump at the start of 2017.

If you want an economic catalyst for why prices could stall or reverse down, there you go. You see, earnings growth of stocks is part of GDP. GDP is the sales of all U.S. companies, private and public. The earnings growth of the S&P 500 is the earnings of those 500 companies. In other words, GDP of the economy is highly connected to EPS of an index of 500 stocks.

This recent stall in the price trend and economic growth along with a dash of complacency comes at a time when stocks are “significantly overvalued”, according to my friend Ed Easterling at Crestmont Research:

“In the first quarter the stock market surged 5.5%, well more than underlying economic growth. As a result, normalized P/E increased to 29.4—significantly above the level justified by low inflation and low interest rates. The current status remains “significantly overvalued.” The level of volatility plunged over the past quarter and is now in the lowest 4% of all periods since 1950. The trend in reported earnings for the S&P 500 Index reflects a repeating pattern of overly-optimistic analysts’ forecasts. Earnings and volatility should be watched closely and investors should heighten their sensitivity to the risks confronting an increasingly vulnerable market.”

Oh, and one more thing: Monday will be May. I’m not a huge fan of using seasonality as an indicator to enter or exit the stock market, but there is some tendency for certain periods to gain or lose value historically. For example, a common seasonality is “Sell in May and go away”. Depending on the historical time frame you look and which index, some periods show a “summer slump”. One theory is many investors and traders go on vacation in the summer, so volume is light. They return after the summer and take more action.

So, maybe this will be a good time to sell in May and go away. Not because it’s May, but instead because the weight of the evidence suggests this could be an inflection point.

We’ll see.

March 9th is the Bull Market’s 8-Year Anniversary

I observed many headlines pointing out that March 9th is the 8th anniversary of the current bull market in U.S. stocks.

The rising trend in stocks is becoming one of the longest on record. It is the second longest, ever.

Looking at it another way, March 9, 2009 was the point that stock indexes had fallen over -50% from their prior highs.

Since most of the discussion focuses on the upside over the past 8 years, I’ll instead share the other side so we remember why March 9, 2009 matters.

 ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

– George Santayana

When investors speak of the last bear market they mostly call it “2008” or “o8”.

However, the end of the last bear market was actually March 9, 2009 and the beginning was October 2007.

Below is a chart of the S&P 500 stock index from October 9, 2007 to March 9, 2009. The price decline was -56%.

No one knew that March 9, 2009 was the lowest it would go. It could have gotten much worse.

Talking only about the gains since the low leaves out the full story.

When we research price trends, we must necessarily consider the full market cycle of both rising and falling trends. For example, below is the price trend since the peak nearly 10 years ago on October 9, 2007.  Even after such a large gain, the Risk-to-Reward Ratio isn’t so good if you had to hold through the big loss to achieve it. That is, investors had to experience -56% on the downside for how much gain?

It isn’t the upside that causes so much trouble, it’s the downside.

That’s why we must manage risk to increase and decrease exposure to the possibility of gain and loss.

Asymmetric Volatility

Volatility is how quickly and how far data points spread out.

Asymmetric is not identical on both sides, imbalanced, unequal, lacking symmetry.

This time of year we are reminded of asymmetric volatility in the weather. The wide range in the temperature is highlighted in the morning news.

This morning, it’s 72 degrees and sunny down south and below freezing and snowing up north.

asymmetric-volatility

Source: MyRadar

Some of the news media presents the variation in a way that invites relative thinking. Just like the financial news programs that show what has gained and lost the most today, the weather shows the extreme highs and lows.

Those who watch the financial news may feel like they missed out on the stock or market that gained the most, then be glad they weren’t in one that lost the most. Some feelings may be more asymmetric: they feel one more than the other.

Prospect Theory says most of us feel a loss much greater that we do a gain. It’s another asymmetry: losses hurt more than gains feel good (loss aversion).

If you are up north trying to stay warm, you may wish you were down south sitting on the beach.

If you are down south trying to stay cool, you may wish you were up north playing in the snow!

It really doesn’t matter how extreme the difference is (the volatility). The volatility is what it is. Volatility is just a range.

What matters is what we want to experience.

If we want to experience snow we can fly up north.

If we want to experience sunny warmth we can fly down south.

If we want less volatility, we could live down south in the winter and up north in the summer.

We get to decide what we experience.

So Goes January, So Goes the Year?

 

Focusing on an arbitrary time frame is called “reference dependence.” It regards the comparative nature of human perception. It also concerns the tendency of people to compare things to some reference point. Perception of an outcome depends on the reference point that a person chooses. The reference point or time frame is arbitrary and is based on random choice or personal whim.

The idea of reference dependence reminds me of when I watched Arkansas play Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl last week.

After the first quarter, Arkansas was beating Virgina Tech 17-0. If we judged the game at that reference point, the score was so one-sided that it seemed like Arkansas was going to decimate Virginia Tech.

arkansas-virginia-tech-first-halfSource: http://secsports.go.com/scores/football/arkansas-razorbacks

By halftime, the score was 24-0. Arkansas was ahead by three touchdowns and a field goal. The momentum was evident. The game appeared to be a terrible mismatch. If we placed bets, it would have been for Arkansas to win the game. At that point, this outcome was most probable.

When a game is close, fans “watch it closely.” However, when the score broadened to 24- 0, many fans probably stopped paying attention and expected Arkansas to be the winner.

Yet football has four quarters, not just two.

Three touchdowns and a field goal are a tough lead to overcome. It would require Virginia Tech first to play very well with their defense so as to prevent Arkansas from scoring more points against them. Then, they would need their offense to score many touchdowns and field goals just to catch up.

In the third quarter, that’s exactly what they did.

arkansas-virginia-tech-final-score

By the end of the third quarter, Virginia Tech had scored 21 points to make the score 21–24. In the final and fourth quarter, they scored another 14 points to take the lead 35–24. They scored 35 points, and their defense held Arkansas to zero in the second half. It was a high-volatility game – swinging from one extreme in one period to another extreme in the next.

Now, look at it from the perspective of a Virginia Tech fan. By halftime, they were losing 0–24. All hope was gone. They may have stopped watching. If they were at the game, they might have left at halftime.

The end of the game was the only time frame that mattered.

Global markets operate in the same way. Our perception is just the result of our reference point – the time frame we choose. Below is the S&P 500 stock index over 18 months from January 2015 to June 2016. Overall, it was non-trending and volatile.

non-trending-stock-market-period

It wasn’t just U.S. stocks. Developed countries and Emerging Markets countries declined even more as they trended in wider swings.

global-market-trends-returns-asymmetric

 

You can probably see why very few people invest all their money all the time in the stock market. It doesn’t matter how much the return is if the risk is so high that you reach your uncle point before it’s achieved. At some point, investors decide to look, and when they do, their perceptions depend on the reference point they choose. For this reason, global markets require risk management, and investors need behavioral management. If the swings of 10% to 25% observed over the past two years aren’t enough to shake out every investor, the declines of -50% or more that we’ve seen the past fifteen years probably are.

Much like the Belk Bowl, the stock index was down and out for most of the period but ended the year positively in the final quarter.

last-quarter-spy

 

As investors, our most important reference point is, ultimately, our full investment time horizon. For most people, that means their entire lifespan. For those who establish trusts, foundations, or endowments with their money, their reference point goes beyond their own lives. Investment management is different from football in that the score compounds for as long as you have money invested. It is not just one season, or one quarter, or a single game.

The end is the only time frame that matters. Everything in between is just you deciding to compare one reference to another.

I titled this observation, “So Goes January, So Goes the Year.”

You can probably see how arbitrary it is to say that.

By the way, you can see on the chart that the stock market dropped sharply last January, but it ended positively for the year.

“So Goes January, So Goes the Year”?

Not always.

The end is the only time frame that really matters.

Investor Optimism is Reaching Extreme

As it often does, the U.S. stock market trended the complete opposite of what market pundits expected after the election.

Clearly, a Presidential election can be the blame for volatility we saw this year before the election. However, instead of crashing down U.S. stocks regained their previous losses quickly. Along with that, investor sentiment shifted from fearful a month ago to much more optimistic as prices trended up. At this point, investors have probably forgotten how volatile markets were the first part of 2016. Once the losses are regained, they eventually forget the stock indexes were down -12% or more in January and February.

Investors tend to get optimistic (or even greedy) after prices have gone up and then fearful after prices go down.

I am not necessarily a contrarian investor. I mainly want to be positioned in the direction of global markets and stay there until they change. But markets sometimes get to an extreme – increasing the probability of a reversal. At this point, a tactical trader can hedge, reduce exposure, realize profits, or wait until an actual reversal to respond.

My purpose of pointing out these extremes in investor sentiment (fear and greed) is to illustrate how investors’ feelings oscillate between the fear of missing out (if global markets have gone up and they aren’t in them) and the fear of losing money (if they are in global markets and they are falling). Fear and greed is a significant driver of price trends. When stock market investor sentiment reaches an extreme, it often reverses trend afterward.

Indicators suggest that investors are pursuing higher risk strategies and that investor optimism has reached a short-term extreme. I like to use the Fear & Greed Index that is a simple snapshot for anyone to see. Below is the reading as of yesterday as it reached “Extreme Greed.”

cnn-fear-greed-index

We shouldn’t be surprised to see the recent upward price trend reverse down, at least temporarily.

Along with that, we could see investor sentiment reverse from “Extreme Greed” to “Fear” as prices fall.

It’s OK to feel and experience your feelings… if you feel the right feeling at the right time.

Indicators like this can help investors observe how they tend to feel the wrong feeling at the wrong time.

 

To learn more, below are some of my previous observations about sentiment reaching an extreme greed level of optimism.

Investor Optimism Seems Excessive Again

It’s official: extreme greed is driving the stock market

What emotion is driving the market now? Extreme Greed

Essence of Portfolio Management

Essence of Portfolio Management

“The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns. Well-managed portfolios start with this precept.”

– Benjamin Graham

The problem is many portfolio managers believe they manage risk through their investment selection. That is, they believe their rotation from one seemingly risky position to another they believe is less risk is a reduction in risk. But, the risk is the exposure to the chance of a loss. The exposure is still there. Only the perception has changed: they just believe their risk is less. For example, for the last thirty years, the primary price trend for bonds has been up because interest rates have been falling. If a portfolio manager shifts from stocks to bonds when stocks are falling, bonds would often be rising. It appears that trend may be changing at some point. Portfolio managers who have relied on bonds as their safe haven may rotate out of stocks into bonds and then their bonds lose money too. That’s not risk management.

They don’t know in advance if the position they rotate to will result in a lower possibility of loss. Before 2008, American International Group (AIG) carried the highest rating for an insurance company. What if they rotated to AIG? Or to any of the other banks? Many investors believed those banks were great values as their prices were falling. They instead fell even more. It has taken them a long time to recover some of their losses. Just like tech and telecom stocks in 2000.

All risks cannot be hedged away if you pursue a profit. If you leave no chance at all for a potential profit, you earn nothing for that certainty. The risk is exposure to an unknown outcome that could result in a loss. If there is no exposure or uncertainty, there is no risk. The only way to manage risk is to increase and decrease the exposure to the possibility of loss. That means buying and selling (or hedging).  When you hear someone speaking otherwise, they are not talking of active risk management. For example, asset allocation and Modern Portfolio Theory is not active risk management. The exposure to loss remains. They just shift their risk to more things. Those markets can all fall together, as they do in real bear markets.

It’s required to accomplish what the family office Chief Investment Officer said in “What a family office looks for in a hedge fund portfolio manager” when he said:

“I like analogies. And one of the analogies in 2008 brings to me it’s like a sailor setting his course on a sea. He’s got a great sonar system, he’s got great maps and charts and he’s perhaps got a great GPS so he knows exactly where he is. He knows what’s ahead of him in the ocean but his heads down and he’s not seeing these awesomely black storm clouds building up on the horizon are about to come over top of him. Some of those managers we did not stay with. Managers who saw that, who changed course, trimmed their exposure, or sailed to safer territory. One, they survived; they truly preserved capital in difficult times and my benchmark for preserving capital is you had less than a double-digit loss in 08, you get to claim you preserved capital. I’ve heard people who’ve lost as much as 25% of investor capital argue that they preserved capital… but I don’t believe you can claim that.Understanding how a manager managed and was nimble during a period of time it gives me great comfort, a higher level of comfort, on what a manager may do in the next difficult period. So again it’s a it’s a very qualitative sort of trying to come to an understanding of what happened… and then make our best guess what we anticipate may happen next time.”

I made bold the parts I think are essential.

If you are like-minded and believe what we believe, contact us.

Situational Awareness

Chuck Yeager was a famous test pilot and the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. He understood the risk, so he was prepared.

Chuck Yeager

“I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.”

– Brigadier General Chuck Yeager
Yeager, An Autobiography

Image source: http://www.chuckyeager.com/