A tale of two risk managers; trend following vs. hedging with put options

Let’s get right to it.

Which do you prefer?

What you see in the chart is The S&P 500 stock index, which is an unmanaged index of 500 or so stocks, weighted by their capitalization (size of company) and it’s long-only, fully invested, and therefore fully exposed to the risk/reward of the stocks. The S&P 500 is often considered a proxy for “the stock market”, like the Dow Jones. The risk of the S&P 500 is unlimited, although all 500 stocks would have to fall to zero to lose all your money. It hasn’t done that before, but it has declined -56% just a decade ago. See the red arrow.

Before that period 2008-09, the S&P 500 declined -50% from 2000 to 2003. If something has declined this much before, it should be assumed it can and will again.

So, it’s risky.

And that’s the true risk. The worst historical drawdown is the real measure of risk. If some advisor is telling you risk is two or three standard deviations, run, don’t walk, out that door.

Since being fully invested in the stock market all the time is so risky, real investors with real money tend to want real risk management.

That is, not just “diversification”, which is often touted as “risk management.” Buying 500 stocks isn’t true diversification. Niether is buying 1,000 or 3,000 stocks.

To be sure, the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF holds 3,542 stocks. The next chart is the Vanguard Total Stock Market fund vs. the S&P 500 ETF. We don’t own either of them, so this doesn’t represent anything we’re doing at my investment company. It’s just an example, that yeah, the stock market is risky, not matter who you are, or how many you hold. Even with over 3,000 more stocks than the S&P 500, it falls the same.

But, to their credit, Vanguard does a good job saying their funds are risky. When I visited their website to see the number of holdings, it says:

Plain talk about risk

An investment in the fund could lose money over short or even long periods. You should expect the fund’s share price and total return to fluctuate within a wide range, like the fluctuations of the overall stock market. The fund’s performance could be hurt by:

  • Stock market risk: The chance that stock prices overall will decline. Stock markets tend to move in cycles, with periods of rising stock prices and periods of falling stock prices. The fund’s target index may, at times, become focused in stocks of a particular sector, category, or group of companies.
  • Index sampling risk: The chance that the securities selected for the fund, in the aggregate, will not provide investment performance matching that of the index. Index sampling risk for the fund should be low.

Risks associated with moderate to aggressive funds

Vanguard funds classified as moderate to aggressive are broadly diversified but are subject to wide fluctuations in share price because they hold virtually all of their assets in common stocks. In general, such funds are appropriate for investors who have a long-term investment horizon (ten years or longer), who are seeking growth in capital as a primary objective, and who are prepared to endure the sharp and sometimes prolonged declines in share prices that occur from time to time in the stock market. This price volatility is the trade-off for the potentially high returns that common stocks can provide. The level of current income produced by funds in this category ranges from moderate to very low.

Ok, so we’ve established that the stock market is risky and even a fund invested in thousands of stocks can decline over -50% and take years to recover.

So, we just answered: Why risk management?

It doesn’t matter how much the return is if downside drawdowns are so high you tap out before the gains are acheived.

It also doesn’t’ matter how big the gains are if you give it all up before selling and realizing a profit.

I digress.

I specialize in active dynamic management strategies. I’ve been developing and operating investment risk management systems for the past two decades. Since my focus is on managing the downside, within our risk tolerance, I’m left to let the horses run. If we can direct and control our drawdowns, within reason, it’s never a sure thing, then we are left to focus on the upside of profits.

To illustrate two different methods of risk management, I’m going to use the most simple examples possible. I’m also going to use indexes managed by others, instead of my own. It’s all about keeping it simple to make a point.

So, here we go. I explained the orange line is the S&P 500, fully invested in stocks, all the time, no risk management beyond the diversification of investing in 500 stocks across 10 sectors like financial, healthcare, and tech.

The blue line in the chart is the S&P Trend Allocator Index. The S&P 500® Trend Allocator index is designed to track the performance of a systematic trend-following strategy allocating between the S&P 500 and cash, based on price trends. If the S&P 500 is observed to be in a positive trend, then the index is allocated to the S&P 500, otherwise, it is allocated to cash. It’s a very simple form of trend following applied to stocks. When the S&P 500 is above its 200 day simple moving average, it invests in stocks. When it trends below the 200 day for more than 5 days, it shifts to cash.

The purple trend line, which has achieved the highest return, is the CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index. The CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index is designed to track the performance of a hypothetical strategy that holds a long position indexed to the S&P 500® Index and buys a monthly 5% out-of-the-money S&P 500 Index (SPX) put option as a hedge. It’s a defined risk strategy, using put options for dynamic hedging.

Trend Following vs. Hedging with Options

Which worked better?

For a closer look, here is the year to date return streams.

Clearly, hedging with 5% out of the money put options has achieved the better asymmetric risk/reward this time. Applying the simple trend following strategy of selling after the stock index declines below its 200 day moving average exited before the low of the S&P 500, but it remains uninvested, missing out on the upside. The trend following streastgy is down -23% year to date, which is worse than the S&P 500. The hedged index is actually positive for 2020. The hedge paid off, according to this index.

Let’s take a closer look at the downside via a drawdown chart, the % off highs. As expected, the S&P 500 stock index had the worst drawdown, so far. It declined -34%.

The strategy of buying 5% out of the money put options had a drawdown of -20%, which is about half of the S&P 500. The systematic trend following strategy was able to cut the drawdown a little short at -27%. The trend following strategy is currently still in its drawdown.

It’s out of the stock market, so it has also missed out on the recent uptrend. Although, it the stock market enters another waterfall decline, that may turn out better. But, to catch up with the fully invested stock index, that’s what would have to occur. The stock market would have to fall a lot, then the strategy reenter at a better point. However, trend following never enters the lows, and never sells the highs, either. Instead, it enters and exits on a lag and the 200 day moving average is a significant lag. For example, I new this trend following strategy would have at least a -11% drawdown, because when the stock market was at its high in February, the 200 day moving average sell signal was -11% lower.

However, this simple system also requires the index to remain below the 200 day average for 5 days, which is intended to reduce whipsaws. That’s why it didn’t initially sell on the first leg down. Instead, it sold after the second leg down. Since the S&P 500 is still below its 200 day moving average, this trend following system hasn’t invested in the stock market yet. In fact, it would have to stay above the 200 day for 5 days. It’s a symmetric trading system. It applies the same signal for the entry and the exit. I know that price trends drift up and crash down, so my version of this is an asymmetric trading system. I apply a different exit than the entry to account for the unique behavior of price trends since they drift up, but crash down.

How has systematic trend following worked on stocks over a longer period?

It’s had some challenges. Volatile periods, when a market swings up and down over shorter time frames, are hostile conditions for trend following methods. This index has only gained 7% the past 5 years after this recent drawdown. While it does cut the losses short, which is what trend following is known for, it has struggled due to market conditions.

I marked up the next chart, where I include its trend relative to the S&P 500 index. I labeled when it sold, which was three times. The first two times, selling with the trend following sell signal of a 200 day SMA avoided a little of the downside. This time it hasn’t helped so much. Overall, the trend following applied to stocks had lower relative strength than the fully invested stock index with no risk management. But, it avoided some downside. Over this short time frame, the downside loss mitigation probably isn’t deemed enough to account for the difference in the outcomes.

With risk management systems, we never expect them to achieve the same or better return than a fully invested stock index that is always exposed to the risk/reward of stocks. The stock index also doesn’t include expenses and it may not be invested in directly. Investors demand risk management because they don’t want the -50% declines they would endure being invested in the stock market with no exit and no hedge.

Speaking of hedge.

Neither of these risk management indexes I’m using for this example have been around long. The CBOE CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index started in 2015.

The CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index is designed to track the performance of a hypothetical risk-management strategy that consists of a long position indexed to the S&P 500 Index (SPX Index) and a rolling long position in monthly 5% Out-of-the-Money (OTM) SPX Put options. This is a relatively simple example, though executing it well isn’t so simple. The protective put strategy has achieved better asymmetry, this time. I say this time, because it doesn’t always work as well as it did this time. But, here it is.

As you can see, it lagged the stock index in the uptrend, until now. Lagging in the uptrend is expected. Buying a put option gives us the right to sell our stock below a certain price. It’s similar to buying home or car insurance. When we buy a protective put option, we literally pay a “premium” for a time period to expiration, like insurance. Some call it portfolio insurance. If we pay an insurance premium for years, it reduces our personal profit and loss statement. The protection is an expense. We’re willing to pay it to avoid large drawdowns. A skilled options trader can potentially execute it better, if an edge can be gained with timing the relative value of the options.

Asymmetric hedging beat the simple following strategy this time. I call it asymmetric hedging, because when we buy a put option, we have limited downside risk (the premium paid) but we have a maximum gain of the Strike price – premium paid. To learn more about a Long Put option, here is a video from the OIC.

The protective put strategy has achieved better risk/reward. I say this time, because it doesn’t always work as well as it did this time. Also, I said the Long Put protection strategy is an “asymmetric hedge” because it has a larger potential profit than the cost for the exposure. There are much better examples of what I call an asymmetric hedge, for example, going long volatility can have a substantial asymmetric payoff. Just look at the VIX. It spiked up more than ever in history, so even a small option position to be long volatility would have a tremendous payoff. Imagine if we spent just 1% of a portfolio but the payoff was 10% at the portfolio level. Yeah, that’s asymmetry.

Back to the comparison of trend following to hedging with options, here is the return streams over the past five years. I consider both of these risk management methods to be basic asymmetric risk/reward payoffs. The trend following system didn’t do so well this time, at least so far, but it still has limited downside risk and unlimited upside gain potential. If the stock market keeps going up and never trends down below its 200 day average, it would keep gaining.

But, if we believed that was what it will do, we wouldn’t care about risk management. Some people actually do put their money in stocks and stock funds and don’t consider limiting their downside. To each their own. Before this bear market is over, they may be crying about their large losses, as they did last time. But I’m guessing this time, if they do it again, they may learn the lesson. The stock market is risky, all investing involves risks as do all strategies. No strategy is perfect. We have to be willing to accept the imperfections and settle with a C sometimes, if we want to A over the long run. This isn’t college. Money compounds.

This leads me to one more thought to share. I was watching this video from Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund in the world. Dalio was speaking of this chart in his presentation. He calls it “The Holy Grail.”

In an ideal world, we could invest in 15-20 different assets that are uncorrelated and because one trends up with others are trending down, similar to the hedging strategy, we would achieve an edge from pure diversification. He says The Holy Grail is combining these unique returns streams, which has gains and losses at different times, but overall, the portfolio trends up to the upper right corner.

That’s in an idealized world.

You may know better. Shit happens in the real world. A joke going around is:

Started the year off January 1st: THIS IS MY YEAR!

By April, wiping my …. with coffee filters.

Now that’s funny right there! I don’t care who you are!

Yeah, I said it. It’s a sign of the times. We need to lighten up and laugh as much as we can, especially about the simple things in life, like running out of tp.

In bear markets, correlations go to one. That is, most everything falls. Why? Even if you have gains in some uncorrelated markets, if you have big losses in others, as a fund manger, you take the profits to help deal with the losses. It eventually pushes down the leaders, too. That’s just one of many examples. Here’s an old chart I’ve used for years to illustrate how diversification along can fail.

There is no free lunch, but Dalio is right, if we could combined 15 or so unique return streams, it could be an edge. The trouble is, what markets can you simply invest in that are truly disconnected from the others?

No many. Maybe long term US Treasuries along with stocks, but going forward, it’s not going to look like the past. US Treasuries will be tradable, but with the interest rate down to 1%, the upside in price is very limited, so is the interest income.

Uncorrelated Return Streams

I did both of this type of strategy, and more, in Asymmetry Global Tactical Fund, LP which was a private managed by another company I founded in 2012, Asymmetry Fund Management, LLC. What I believe is more of “The Holy Grail” isn’t making simple investment allocations into different funds or markets hoping for diversification from non-correlation, but instead, combining asymmetric trading systems that have unique return drivers and asymmetric risk/reward profiles. My different trading systems have different return drivers. Instead of market factors and conditions driving the return stream, the buy, sell, and risk management system extracts from the market a unique return stream. It’s a return stream we can’t get from just investing in some funds with different managers. They are mostly correlated, multiple asymmetric trading systems may be very uncorrelated from each other. For example, one system may trend follow longer term trends. Another may trend follow short term trends. Then, they are applied to difference markets, say stocks, bonds, currency, and commodities. Another complete different system may be volatility trading, aiming to gain from a volatility expansion. Add in some countertrend systems, that buys short term oversold and sell short term overbought, and it’s going to produce a unique return stream from everything else. What if the countertrend system is applied to different markets, then, each extracting a unique return stream.

That’s real diversification.

It can’t be achieved by just investing in different markets, or investing in a bunch of funds. But, someone like Dalio, or me, who has multiple trading systems and strategies, we may benefit from the edge of combining them, o even shifting between them.

But I have an edge, and a very big one, over Dalio. He’s got to move around billions. He can’t trade nimble as I can. My flexibility and nimbleness is an edge. I’m not ever going to manage 50 billion or 100 billion and would never want to. I already have what I want. I have enough. It allows me to focus, and be dynamic. I’m happier with little to no distraction.

Now, this is an overly simplified idealized example I’ve used here with the trend following and put buying hedging strategy, but just thing about how this would look if we combine them along with 15-20 others. The larger the money we manage, the more we need to just allocate capital into something rather than trading.

You can probably how these three trends are correlated in uptrends, then disconnect in downtrends. Some combination of them can smooth the ride. In this overly simple example, it would mean some exposer to long-only fully invested in stocks, all the time, no matter how far they fall. Another is always hedged, so it will lag on the upside, but limit the risk on the downside. Then, the trend following system absolutely exits in downtrends and waits for an uptrend. When the market is crashing, nothing looks better in our account that FDIC insured cash deposits.

But, I rotate, instead of allocate.

I would rather shift between markets to be exposed when I believe the risk/reward is asymmetric and avoid it when it isn’t.

Then, imagine if each of these have its own risk management to predefine risk in advance and a portfolio level drawdown control to limit overall drawdowns to less than the -30% of more than is common with the stock market.

So, there you go, a trend following system relative to a options hedging system, and a hint at how we see it. I’m an unconstrained tactical money manager. I don’t constrain myself to a box. I never liked being put in a box and I don’t fit well in any box. I’ll go were the money is treated best. Flexible, adaptable, nimble, unconstrained, and unbiased.

That’s just how I roll.

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

19 is the new 20, but is this a new low volatility regime?

We used to say the long term average for the Cboe Volatility Index VIX is 20.

Some would mistakenly say that VIX “reverts to the mean”, suggesting it is drawn to the average level of 20, which isn’t exactly the condition. It doesn’t cycle up and down to trend around 20 most of the time, but instead, it spends much of the time between 10 and 30.

Prior to 2015, the long term average of VIX since its inception was 20 and we heard the number 20 referenced with VIX often. ^VIX Chart

Since January 2015, we’ve seen the long term average decline to the 19 levels.  ^VIX Chart

So, 19 is the new 20.

What caused the downtrend in the long term average?

Obviously, it would take a very low level of readings to drive down the long term average of a volatility index introduced in 1993.

What happened in the past 5 years that impacted the prior 21 years of data so much to bring the 26-year average down?

A 5 year period of low implied volatility happened with an average of 15% and a low of 9.14%. Said another way; the past 5 years expected volatility priced into S&P 500 stock options has been about 25% lower than the prior two decades, or 75% of what we previously observed. Here is the trend for VIX from 2015 to today. A VIX level of 15 translates to implied volatility of 15% on the S&P 500. 
^VIX Chart

Is this a new low volatility regime?

Anything is possible, but I’m guessing the lower level of implied (expected) volatility may be driven by two facts that can both result in less concern for volatility.

  1. The current bull market that started in March 2009 is the longest bull market in history. It exceeded the bull market of the 1990s that lasted 113 months in terms of time, though still not as much gain as the 90s.
  2. The U.S. is in its longest economic expansion in history, breaking the record of 120 months of economic growth from March 1991 to March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. However, this record-setting run observed GDP growth far slower than previous expansions.

The aged bull market and economic expansion can naturally lead to some level of complacency and expectation for less downside and tighter price trends. When investors are uncertain, their indecision shows up in a wide range of prices. When investors are smugger and confident, they are less indecisive and it’s usually after a smooth uptrend they expect to continue.

Is it another regime of irrational exuberance?

“Irrational exuberance” was the expression used by the former Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan Greenspan, in a speech given during the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. The expression was interpreted as a warning that the stock market may have been overvalued. It was.

Irrational exuberance suggests investor enthusiasm drives asset prices up to levels that aren’t supported by fundamental financial conditions. The 90s ended with a Shiller PE Ratio over 40, far more than any other time in more than a century.

Is the stock market at a level of irrational exuberance?

Maybe so, as this is the second-highest valuation in the past 150 years according to the Shiller PE.

shiller pe ratio are stocks overvalued

But, the driver here is inflation. When inflation rates are really low, we can justify a higher price to earnings ratio for stocks, so they say.

A new VIX average level of 19 translates to the implied volatility of 19% on the S&P 500 instead of the former after of 20%. It isn’t a huge range difference.

Looking over the full 26 years of implied volaltity, the more elevated levels in the past included the late 90s into around 2003, which elevated the average. Since then, we’ve seen more spikes up but not as many volatility expansions that stay high for longer periods. ^VIX Chart

A behavior of implied volatility I’ve observed over time is it spikes up very fast when the stock market drops and then trends back down more gradually as stocks trend back up.  For this reason, derivatives of volatility provide us an opportunity for asymmetric hedging.

I doubt this is a new lower long term volatility regime. My guess is we’ll see a very significant volatility expansion again at some point during the next bear market and economic recession. Historically we’ve observed trends that stretch far and wide swing back the other way, far and wide.

At a minimum, it’s no time for complacency.

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

 

 

Investor sentiment is dialed up with stock trends

I believe there are many factors that drive stock prices and one of them is investor sentiment. However, enthusiasm and panic can also reach extremes, which drives the opposite trend.

When investors are extremely bullish they help drives up as long as they keep buying stocks. But, at some point, their buying enthusiasm or capacity to buy gets exhausted and the buying pressure dries up. We saw this in rare form in 2017 as investor sentiment was excessively bullish as prices kept trending up. In the chart below I show the breakout after a very volatile period (yellow) and a smooth uptrend in 2017 (green line), but then it was interpreted sharply early 2018 and then corrected even more by the end of ’18.

trend following breaktout uptrend 2017 crash 2018 asymmetic returns risk reward

In fact, as an example of the challenge of this period, if we had applied a trend following system that entered the breakout above the 2015-16 trading range and but didn’t exit at some point in the uptrend, this stock index declined all the way back to the breakout entry point. SPX trading trend following breaktout uptrend 2017 crash 2018 asymmetic returns risk reward

We can say the same for buy and hold; if someone held stocks over this period the end of 2018 they were looking back three years without much capital gain. So, the point in time investors decide to do their lookback makes all the difference.

Back to investor sentiment…

Another observation about investor sentiment is after prices trend up, investors get more and more optimistic about prices trending up, so the trend and momentum itself attract stock buying enthusiasm. At major bull market peaks, like in 1999, it brings out the masses. I remember grandmothers cashing out bank CD’s wanting to buy stocks then.

The same applies on the downside. After prices fall, investors become more and more afraid of deeper losses in their portfolio, which results in more selling pressure.

Everyone has an uncle point, it can either be predefined like mine is, or you can find out the hard day after your losses get large enough you tap out at lower prices. 

Since I shared my observations of investor sentiment in You probably want to invest in stocks last week, the CNN Fear & Greed Index, made up of 7 investor sentiment indicators, remains dialed up to “Extreme Greed”, so investors and the market seem to be optimistic about up-trending stock prices.

Fear and Greed Index

In fact, based on the historical trend cycle of the CNN Fear & Greed Index the market seems to be as optimistic about up-trending stock prices as it’s been in years. Only late 2017 did we see as much enthusiasm.

Fear and Greed over time

Who remembers how that turned out?

2018 Drawdown in stocks loss

On sentiment indicator, I noted last week that wasn’t as bullish as others were the AAII Individual Investor Sentiment Survey. That changed this week.

US Investor Sentiment, % Bull-Bear Spread is at 14.33%, compared to 3.17% last week and 9.09% last year. This is higher than the long term average of 7.72%. investor sentiment chart bull bear spread

So, individual investors are bullish, according to AAII.

What’s driving all this enthusiasm for the stock market?

The trend is up, and here is a chart of the S&P 500 market capitalization showing the value of the stocks in the index based on the current price.

S&P 500 market capitalization cap history

Most investors follow trends whether they realize it or not. Trend following can be a good thing as long as the trend continues. It’s when the trends change we find out who’s who.

You can probably see why I believe it is essential to actively manage investment risk and apply robust drawdown controls to avoid the bad ending. For me, it’s a combination of predetermined exits to cut losses short and asymmetric hedging.

 



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

Volatility is expanding, a little

To no surprise, the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index that represents the market’s expectation of 30-day forward-looking volatility, is trending up. 

VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION ASYMMETRIC RETURNS

So far, it isn’t much of a volatility expansion, but it’s elevated somewhat higher than it was. At around 15, the VIX is also well below its long term average of 18.23, although it hasn’t historically been drawn to the 18-20 level, anyway. The average is skewed by the spikes in volatility; volatility expansion. 

VIX is at a current level of 14.82, an increase of 0.80 or 5.71%% from the previous market day.

Here are the 50 and 200-day moving average values for VIX.

VIX MOVING AVERAGE

As I shared over the weekend, and it was quoted in today’s MarketWatch article “U.S.-Iran tensions will spark increased volatility — here’s how to play stocks, fund manager says“:

“So, on a short-term basis, the stock indexes have had a nice uptrend since October, with low volatility, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see it reverse to a short-term downtrend and a volatility expansion.

“For those who were looking for a ‘catalyst’ to drive a volatility expansion, now they have it.”

I was referring to the U.S. conflict with Iran, of course. 

The VIX index value is derived from the price inputs of the S&P 500 index options, it provides an indication of market risk and investors’ sentiments. VIX measures the implied ‘expected’ volatility of the US stock market. So, many market strategists use the VIX as a gauge for how fearful, uncertain, or how complacent the markets are. The VIX index tends to rise when the market drops and vice versa. During the 2008-2009 bear market, the VIX trended up as high as 80.86. Although the VIX cannot be invested in directly, securities like ETFs and derivatives based on it may provide the potential for an asymmetric hedge. For example, over the past year when the S&P 500 stock index was down -1% or more on the day, some of the ETFs based on long volatility spiked 10% or more. Volatility is difficult to time right, but when we do the payoff can be asymmetric. An asymmetric payoff is achieved when the risk-reward is asymmetric: maybe we risk 1% to achieve a payoff of 5%. Since long volatility has the potential for big spikes when volatility expands, it’s asymmetric payoff doesn’t require the tactical trader and risk manager to be as ‘right’ and accurate. So, the probability of winning can be lower, but the net pay off over time is an asymmetric risk-reward.

You can probably see why I pay attention to volatility and volatility expansions.

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

 

 

Stock market volatility, participation in the trend, REITs, and MLPs

The U.S. stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index reached reaches a new high, so volatility remains subdued. After prices trend up, investors become increasingly more confident and confident is reflected by a tight range in price. I saw this because the possible is also true; when investors and traders are indecisive, we see a more sideways volatile trend as the buying and selling pressure tries to decide in which direction to position capital. We observe this contracting volatility in the chart below. I colored the volatility band around the price based on an average true range to highlight its trend and range. The line on the top is the past 14-day average true range of the SPX showing historical volatility remains very low.

spx spy trading trend following

For a different perspective to see who historical vola.tiy is negatively correlated with the price trend, I drew the charts together below. When the stock market trends up, realized historical volatility as measured by and an average of the past 14-day true range of moment typically trends down.  As the stock market loses value, volatility increases. Volatility trading for an asymmetric hedge can result in a larger asymmetric payoff than the price itself.

spx negative correlation with atr volatility vix

As the SPX price trend is up, most of the stocks it tracks are in longer-term uptrends as evidenced by the below chart of the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 200 day moving average. Right now, 77% are trending up which is the upper end of the breadth recent cycle I marked with the line. Breadth indicates participation in a trend up or down. The more stocks are trending up, the more healthy an uptrend. However, these measures reach extends at their high and low extremes in the cycle.  While 77% of the S&P 500 stocks in uptrends are positive at some point the buying enthusiasm is exhausted and it’s usually signaled by high readings.

spx percent stocks above 200 day moving average

I’m not asserting this foretells a big down move, but instead, it’s situational awareness that the risk level is elevated.

Next, is the shorter-term trends. The percent of stocks above their 50 days moving averages has been sideways since mid-October. Currently, 73% of stocks are in short term uptrends. So, by this measure, they haven’t yet reached the recent cycle high in July.

spx percent of stocks above 50 day

I sorted the S&P stocks to see which were below their 50 day to look for a pattern. Sure enough, I see one; it’s mostly REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) which is no surprise since REITs have been weak recently. We don’t own any of the stocks. 

quantitative analysis of technical indicators.png

The Dow Jones REIT Index is designed to measure all publicly traded real estate investment trusts in the Dow Jones U.S. stock universe classified as Equity REITs according to the S&P Dow Jones Indices REIT Industry Classification Hierarchy. These companies are REITs that primarily own and operate income-producing real estate. Based on the observation above, it is no surprise to see this index of 175 real estate stocks is below its 50 day moving average, but is above the 200-day moving average and is oversold today. My relative strength systems that signal asymmetric rate of change suggest REITs are near a short term low.

REIT

This reminds me of another high dividend-yield sector. In Alerian MLP Index is diverging from crude and reaching new lows on November 20th I point out this same trend system suggested a countertrend rally was probable and sure enough, it gained 7% since then. Here is the updated chart of the Alerian MLP Index.

MLP ALERIAN OIL GAS ENERGY MLPS AMJ

REITs may not play out so well, but, what is, is.

The trend is your friend until the end when it bends. So far, this uptrend hasn’t since October has done little but drift up aside from the -3% dip last month and a volatility expansion that was little more than a blip.

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.

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

By and large, the stock market is correlated with consumer sentiment

I’ve shared some observations about investor sentiment this past week as sentient indicators and surveys have reached an extreme level of optimism.

When sentiment reaches an extreme, we should prepare for it to swing the other way, at least temporarily.

Why?

Because that’s what it does. Most financial and economic data cycles up and down, swinging like a pendulum as investors oscillate between fear and greed. Or, as I like to put it: oscillating between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

What about consumer sentiment?

The US Index of Consumer Sentiment is another sentiment survey, but it measures consumers instead of specifically investor sentiment about the stock market trend. The US Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS), as provided by University of Michigan, tracks consumer sentiment in the US, based on surveys on random samples of US households. The index aids in measuring consumer sentiments in personal finances, business conditions, among other topics. Historically, the index displays pessimism in consumers’ confidence during recessionary periods, and increased consumer confidence in expansionary periods.

US Index of Consumer Sentiment is at a current level of 95.70, an increase of 0.20 or 0.21% from last month. This is a decrease of 1.80 or 1.85% from last year and is higher than the long term average of 86.64.

US consumer sentiment is near the top of its historical range going back decades. There are only two times since its inception the level was high than it is now, such as the euphoric bubble of the late 1990s.

Consumer sentiment has been trending up the past decade until 2015 and has been drifting sideways at the historical peak range the past four years.

The art of contrary thinking suggests when everyone thinks alike, everyone is likely to be wrong. However, in recent years the crowd has been right. For example, US GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total value of goods produced and services provided in the US. It is an indicator to analyze the health of the US economy. GDP is calculated as the sum of Private Consumption, Gross Investment, Government Spending, and Net Exports. Two-quarters of consecutive negative real GDP growth is considered a recession. GDP is also used by the Fed (FOMC) as a gauge to make their interest rate decisions. In the post World War II boom years, US GDP grew as high as 26.80% in a year, but by the late 20th century 2-7% nominal growth was more the norm.

US GDP is at a current level of 21.53 trillion as of September, up from 21.34 trillion in the last quarter. This represents a quarterly annualized growth rate of 3.48%, compared to a long term average annualized growth rate of 6.26%. Although it shows the US economy has grown less than the long term average, the United States is now a developed country and long past the emerging country stage pre-WWII boom years. So, in the chart below we observe a correlation between consumer sentiment and GDP. Up until recently, they are trending in the same direction, but keep in mind GDP doesn’t necessarily have an upside limitation, while the consumer sentiment is a survey that can be more range-bound. Sentiment surveys tend to oscillate up and down in response to changing economic conditions.

Another note about GDP before I get a thousand emails from my economics friends and other global macro funds managers, US Real GDP Growth is measured as the year over year change in the Gross Domestic Product in the US adjusted for inflation. To make my point and keep it simple, I used the base GDP.

So, how does overall consumer sentiment correlate with the stock market trend and how do they interact with each other?

Below we chart the US Index of Consumer Sentiment overlayed with the S&P 500 price trend for general visual observation. By looking at the lines, we can observe they are correlated. Up to 2000, the stock market and consumer sentiment trended up. The stock market and consumer sentiment trended down from 2000 to 2003 or so.

But, from around 2003 to 2008 it would appear consumer sentiment was non-trending as it drifted sideways as the stock market trended up, however, the sentiment was just staying at its peak level. When I highlight the peak range below, it’s more obvious that sentiment remains at a high level for years and occasionally swings down. Americans are mostly optimistic about America! and we should be.

consumer sentiment correlation with the stock market intermarket analysis

Continuing to review the trends, the period from 2007 on is correlated again to the downside as stocks and consumer sentiment dropped sharply. Recall this stock index declined -56% from October 2007 to March 2009 and then took four years to reach its 2007 high again in 2013. We can see the bottom chart above is the correlation coefficient of these two data. Although the correlation oscillates up and down, it has remained in the upper range signaling it is more correlated that not.

The larger declines in consumer sentiment are related to recessions. We’ve only had two recessions since 1991. The 1990s was the longest period of economic growth in American history. The collapse of the speculative dot-com bubble, a fall in business outlays and investments, and the September 11th attacks, brought the decade of growth to an end. Notwithstanding these major shocks, the recession was relatively brief and shallow compared to the one we would see seven years later. I marked the recessions in gray to show how they fit into the big picture.

“As a general rule, it is foolish to do just what other people are doing, because there are almost sure to be too many people doing the same thing.”

William Stanley Jevons (1 September 1835 – 13 August 1882) was an English economist and logician. Irving Fisher described Jevons’s book A General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy (1862) as the start of the mathematical method in economics.

This is really about human behavior.  Emotions and sentiment rise and fall with events.

To be a successful investor over the long term, we must necessarily believe, feel, and do differently than the masses at the extremes. So, I monitor the extremes to see when they change. At the extremes, I hope to be doing the opposite of what our investment management clients and everyone else believe I should be doing. 

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

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

Can an optimistic investor sentiment measured by the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey trend higher?

Someone asked:

Can an optimistic investor sentiment in AAII Investor Sentiment Survey trend higher?

Another commented:

The AAII Investor Sentiment Survey is just over its long term average, so it has room to run.

Of course, bullish investor sentiment can trend higher. That is especially true when looking at just one survey measure like the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey.

Below I charted the Investor Sentiment, % Bearish and % Bullish using the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey data. Looking at the extremes, the end of 2017 was the highest % Bullish and the lowest % Bearish. If you recall, it was a very euphoric period with stocks trending up.

For another less noisy visual of this observation, I then chart the % Bullish – Bearish Spread. When it’s higher, more investors taking the survey are bullish. When it’s lower, more are bearish.

The peak optimism is clearly shown at the end of 2017 after the stock market had trended up with abnormally low volatility.

The peak cycle in pessimism was last December 2018, after stock prices had a waterfall decline.

To be sure, next, we overlay the % Bull-Bear Spread over the S&P 500 stock index. We can see visually the % Bullish reached an extremely high level in the last month of 2017 as the stock index trended up.  But, what happened afterward? aaii investor sentiment survey research backtesting

We see its lowest level over the period was the end of 2018 as stocks were in a waterfall decline.

The key is; what happened after the extreme level of bullishness?

It continued for a while, but I warned about it on January 24, 2018:

By the way, this past year is vastly different than the low volatility period I highlighted above. I was pointing out the stock index hadn’t dropped more than -4% in over a year and that was an unusually quiet condition. This past year has been more normal-looking from that perspective, with tow -5% – 7% drops after the waterfall.

Below is the trend from 2015 to 2018 to put it into perspective. Preceding 2017 were those two declines in 2015 and 2016. The beginning of which was considered a “flash crash.”

After stocks reached the second low, the trend up became smoother and smoother. Oh yeah, another blast from the past; I pointed that out, too, in November 2017.

Below is the trend from the January 26, 2018 peak through December 2018. The S&P 500 stropped -18% and more like -20% from the recovery high in October 2018 before the waterfall decline.

Here is the trend from January 1, 2017, to December 25, 2018. It’s what happened after the euphoric period. It was all but wiped out just a few months.

Can the investor sentiment get even more optimistic and drive stock prices even higher? Of course, it can! It has before! The Bull-Bear Spread is elevated, but not at its historical extremes.

But the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey isn’t necessarily a timing indicator by itself. It’s just a gauge. But, when combined with other observations I’ve discussed this week, the weight of the evidence suggests it’s a better time to reduce risk and hedge than to take on new risks as these surveys show investors are doing.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. 

Those who learn from the past have the potential to gain an edge from it.  

Have a great weekend!

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

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

Implied volatility as measured by VIX indicates a volatility expansion in the near term

Implied volatility as measured by VIX indicates wider prices in the near term. The CBOE Volatility Index VIX has increased to 20, which is it’s long term average, suggesting prices will spread out to 20%.

Along with a volatility expansion, as typical, we are seeing stock prices trend down.

My leveraged exposure to the long term U.S. Treasuries has offered an asymmetric hedge in recently. The long term U.S. Treasuries don’t always play out this way, but this time we’ve benefited from their uptrend and some negative correlation with stocks.

Gold is another alternative used as a hedge exhibiting relative strength and time-series momentum.

 If this is just a short term correction, we should see some buying interest near this point or a little lower. If last month’s lows are taken out, this may be the early stage of a larger decline.

We were well-positioned in advance this time, so we’ll see how it all plays out.

 

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

Mike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Asset Allocation hasn’t done any better

I’ve been hearing of how different active management strategies haven’t performed as well as the S&P 500 stock index the past five years. I can’t say it’s a big surprise since the SPX has been well into an overvalued level since 2013.

iShares Global Asset Allocation ETFs are an interesting example for GAA. Each of them has a percent in stocks and a percent in bonds. According to iShares:

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; for example, those with longer investment time horizons may consider the iShares Core Aggressive Allocation ETF.

Each ETF has a fixed allocation to stocks and bonds.

ishares global allocation ETF

So, the difference between them as they go from conservative to aggressive is what percent is in stocks vs. bonds. iShares Core Allocation brochure says these ETFs harness the experience of BlackRock and the efficiency of iShares ETFs to get a broad mix of bonds and global stocks. BlackRock is the largest asset manager in the world, so if it’s global allocation you want, I’m guessing these may be hard to beat. I’ve not invested in them nor do I recommend them, but I think they make for a good example of what can or can’t be accomplished with Global Asset Allocation.

Global Asset Allocation hasn’t done much better than alternative strategies. Over the past five years, the total return for the most aggressive ETF is 31%. Simple math says that’s around 6% over five years.

So, by this measure, Global Asset Allocation doesn’t come close to putting 100% of your money into a stock index fund. Below we see the SPY, for example, has doubled the iShares aggressive allocation and tripled the conservative allocation.

But, who invests all their money in the stock index all the time?

I don’t believe I know anyone who does.

Why?

A picture is worth a thousand words. The stock index has declined over -50% twice since 1999, so it could certainly do it again.

Next, we compare the S&P 500 which is fully invested in stocks all the time to their conservative allocation in terms of % off high to observe historical drawdowns. Clearly, there is a huge difference in the downside risk as well as the upside reward. For a conservative investor who can’t handle -50% drawdowns or more than, say -20%, investing all their money in something that declines that much isn’t an option.

When the valuation level is so expensive, it increases the possibility a big bear market may happen again.

The Shiller PE Ratio for example, is the second-highest it’s ever been. In fact, the only two times it was higher was Black Tuesday before the largest crash in American history and the 1995-99 bubble. This has also been the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

Shiller PE Ratio

So, we shouldn’t be surprised to see another bear market and recession in the years ahead. However, my main point here is these higher valuation levels suggest higher risk levels, so many active management strategies have probably taken less risk in the past five years.

But, it doesn’t seem Global Asset Allocation from the largest asset manager in the world hasn’t done any better.

May as well be honest and realistic about it.

Not convinced?

Think you or your investment advisor can do better than iShares managed by BlackRock at Global Asset Allocation?

Ok, I’ve added four more well known Global Asset Allocation funds. To keep the chart clean, I’m only comparing them to the top-performing iShares ETF, which of course is the most aggressive since it’s a bull market.

None of these funds have achieved a better result. The two best known active global allocation funds, BlackRock Global Allocation, and PIMCO All Asset have achieved a total return of only 15% the past five years.

The past five years have been very unusual. It’s a period of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history and the longest bull market.

It isn’t going to last forever.

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 should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data 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.

Charting and technical analysis of the stock market trend

I usually share more of my observations of the stock market trend when the shit hits the fan. The truth is, I enjoy volatility expansions more than the quiet, calm trends. There isn’t as much for me to talk about when the trends are calm and quiet.

I also try to point out, in advance, when I believe we may see a volaltity expansion like we are now. You shouldn’t expect it from me as I’m ultimately an investment manager, not a Mark Twain, so my own tactical trading decisions are my priority. Also, what I share here doesn’t necessarily represent what I am trading in our managed portfolios. In fact, I usually try to avoid mentioning any symbol, stock, ETF, etc. that I may be trading or invested in. As such, use my observations at your own risk as it is not investment advice. With that said…

Here is the one year chart of the S&P 500 with some basic technical analysis applied. The blue trend line I drew overhead is where we would have expected to see “resistance become support,” but it hasn’t. So, there wasn’t enough buying demand to overcome selling pressure today. Based purely on quantitative measures as I’ve shared over the past week, it isn’t a surprise to see a volatility expansion and price trends widen out.

stock market momentum and support resistence

I marked how the current decline relates to the past two. This one has turned down rather sharply and quickly as of today. The SPX stock index is down about -6% from it’s high of which nearly half of the loss is today.

I now expect we’ll see some buying interest step in… at least temporarily. Only time will tell if this becomes a waterfall decline like we saw October to December, or worse.

I haven’t mentioned any news items that could be used as catalysts. Last week it was the Fed and employment, today it’s China, Hong Kong, and Trump tweets. Contrary to what most people probably believe, the range of prices broadening out and price trends falling is something I thought we may see as a normal quantitative reaction. Whatever may get the blame, it’s just the market, doing what it does. I can assure you of only one thing: I’ve heard a wide variation of reasons today from different levels of people. On the financial news, it’s one thing, from global macro hedge fund managers, it’s another. For example, one mentioned the Chinese PLA army is building on the Hong Kong border…

“May you live in interesting times” 

Ironically, it is an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse.

In the meantime, my short term momentum systems are showing the broad stock index reaching its lower range of probabilities, so we “should” see it retrace up at some point, at least temporarily. Of course, there is always a chance of a waterfall decline the moves much deeper than a normal range of probabilities. In fact, we have already seen that now if you look at the chart. The price trend has moved below the “normal range of the market” as measured by the lower band.

We’ll see how it all unfolds.

If you want to follow along, sign up on the right to get automatic emails immediately when I share a new observation. 


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 should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data 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.

Is volatility setting up for an expansion?

I’m not going to be surprised if we see a VIX volatility expansion this week along with the range of stock prices spreading out.

There are plenty of potential catalysts that could drive volatility and uncertainty higher for those who need a story driving it.

According to Bloomberg:

As Fed officials begin their discussions on Tuesday they will have some more data with which to assess the economy. Personal income, pending home sales and consumer confidence statistics are all due that morning. Then on Thursday, the ISM manufacturing report is expected to show industry is stabilizing and continuing to expand. Friday’s trade data will be pored over for evidence that the skirmish with China is having an effect. Also next week, the Treasury will say on Wednesday how much money it needs to borrow amid rising budget deficits.

For me, the driver of a volatility expansion $VIX will just seem like a normal countertrend from a historically very low point. As vol has contracted into the 12’s it is at the low level of its cyclical range. This is when I start looking for a reversal.

VIX $VIX #VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION JULY 2019

VIX futures are at a 9.86% contango, so the roll yield is a little steep. That is, the September VIX future is about 10% higher in price than the August VIX price. The difference in the price creates a roll yield those traders who are short VIX options or futures hope to earn.

vix-futures-term-structu

Those of us more focused on the directional trend, especially countertrends, will be more alert to see volatility expand from here. The trouble is, the contango creates a headwind for the ETFs and ETNs we may want to enter long at some point. That’s because they may invest in both the front month and second month, so as they roll forward through time they are selling the lower-priced august to buy more of the higher-priced September. This negative roll yield is why the VIX based ETFs trend down over the long term. To trade them successfully, timing is important, but it’s also not so simple.

The next chart is the S&P 500 stock index with Bollinger Bands around the price trend set at two standard deviations from its 20 day moving average. While the VIX is an implied volatility index based on how the options market has priced options of the S&P 500 index stocks, these bands are measures of realized volatility. Actual volatility has also contracted recently.

bollinger bands realized volatility

Periods of low and contracting volatility are often followed by periods of higher and expanding volatility.

Let’s see how it goes…

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 should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data 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.

 

Will the stock market hold the line? or do we keep hedging risk? and opportunity for high income yield

The U.S. stock indexes declined -6.84% for the large-cap S&500, -11% for mid caps, and about -19% for small-cap stocks mostly in the single month of May.

asymmetric risk reward stock market

Since June 1st, however, these same stock indexes have started to trend back up.

stock market asymmetry

Over the past 3 months, momentum has turned negative for the stock indexes.

momnetum stocks 3 month

My strategy was to hedge off some of this downside risk. I then removed my hedges for a profit. It doesn’t always work out that way. A hedge position isn’t necessarily intended to be profitable through the entry and exit, but instead, the objective is to hedge off some of the downsides of long positions. Sometimes I hold them too long and lose their gains, other times I exit and realize a profit, and then there are times I exit them too soon with a profit but miss an even large profit. It ain’t perfect, nor does it need to be, and I’m okay with it.

My stock market observation yesterday, which I shared on Twitter, was:

This double bottom could be a likely short-term low if the holds the line… my guess is it’s more likely than not. If it breaks down further from here, though, it probably gets ugly like when it didn’t hold last December…

SPY $SPY buy signal countertrend trend following

So far, so good… as marked with a simple trend line.

SPY INVESTMENT MANAGER TACTICALA week ago the AAII Sentiment Survey showed an unusually high level of Pessimism and optimism at an unusually low level… signals to stalk the market for good risk/reward setups on the buy side.

behavioral finance economics investor sentmiment advisor

I exited my hedges a few days ago and increase my exposure to stocks. However, I did this at the same time my momentum and systematic trend following systems shifted from stocks to bonds or cash. So, my entries are based on signals from my countertrend and high-income yield systems. As prices fall in high yielding ETFs, their dividend yield increases.

Global X SuperDividend™ US ETF (DIV) is an interesting example. This is not investment advice for anyone to buy this ETF as I only provide advice and portfolio management to clients via an executed contract. It is useless to know what I would buy if you don’t know how much I would buy and when I would sell. With that said, the chart of Global X SuperDividend™ US ETF (DIV) shows as the price (blue line) declined to a double bottom, the dividend yield has increased to 7.6%. So, if I entered it here, it would be expected to yield 7.6% going forward. I am only using this for informational purposes, so I’m not including all the variables and risks it may not which can be found here.

The point is, you can see how as price falls in a high yielding asset, it’s yield rises.

Global X SuperDividend™ US ETF (DIV)

I have recently made my ASYMMETRY® High Income Yield Portfolio available to clients who seek high income from their portfolio and are willing to accept fluctuation in the balance. Up until now, I had been testing this strategy with my own capital. The portfolio focuses on asymmetric risk/reward opportunities for high-income yield and also adds an asymmetric hedging system to help with downside risk management. For more information on the strategy, contact me.

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.

Stock market reaching an interesting point but I hedged some risk a week ago

Stock market indexes are reaching a point they should find some buying interest if it exists. We’ll soon find out if they can hold the line, or see more selling pressure…

stock market asymmetry

My short term momentum indicators are reaching oversold at the same time the S&P 500 is testing the support area in green above as well as the 200 day moving average.

At the same time, the Long Term Treasury ETF is pushing on its upper band and becoming more likely to reverse back down within its average range. I sold a position for a small profit in TLT that was short term hedge.

TLT ASYMMETRY HEDGE $TLT ASYMMETRIC

My other hedges, which are much more asymmetric than TLT, remain in place to hedge off some market risk until the selling pressure seems to be drying up. My hedging isn’t necessarily intended to result in a profit if the stock market falls, but instead of offset losses in other positions we want to continue to hold. Although sometimes the payoff in the hedge is large enough I realize the profit while it’s there. However, if I took profits too soon every time we wouldn’t have the exposure for hedging purposes in larger waterfall declines. At this point, we have open profits in our remaining hedges.

We’ll 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.

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.

 

Putting my short-term technical analysis tactician hat on and hedging off equity risk

I’m dialing in to look at shorter-term technical analysis as my risk management systems are suggesting a risk of a stock market decline is becoming elevated.

tactician technical analysis analyst tactical manager trader

Zooming in to shorter time frames, the U.S. stock market advance appears to be becoming exhausted.

The chart below is the SPDR® S&P® 500 ETF, yesterday on a 5-minute chart. Now that’s zooming in! I’m not a day trader, but I’m monitoring the trend for signs of buying exhaustion and/or selling pressure to potentially take over. Yesterday this index ETF was up nearly .75% in the morning, then you can see it drifted down to close well below its VWAP for the day.

SPY VWAP MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH TREND FOLLOWING

The next chart shows the SPY trend going back for about six months. The recent stock advance has been impressive and I’m sure glad we participated in it, but I’m now applying some situational awareness. The strong momentum since the late December 2018 low could be becoming exhausted and may find some resistance for higher prices, at least temporarily.

SPY

As a tactician, since we had heavy exposure to stocks, I’ve been gradually reducing exposure and today started hedged off some equity risk to offset some of my market risks. I did that as opposed to taking large profits and realizing taxable gains. Fortunately, we took advantage of last years volaltity and made the best of it by executing significant tax loss harvesting. This time I decided to hedge some of our gains rather than realize them.

I may be wrong, but my risk management systems are elevated for at least a short term exhaustion, so I expect we’ll see some selling pressure overwhelm buying at some point from here. If it doesn’t, then it’s a good sign the momentum may be here to stay a while, but I’ll probably still wait for a reversal down to add more exposure in my tactically managed portfolio. My objective is asymmetric risk/reward, and from this starting point, I see more potential for downside than upside for stocks. My systems aren’t always right, but the magnitude of the gains are larger than the losses when it’s wrong. I call it ASYMMETRY®.

 

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 solely 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.

Asymmetry in the CBOE Index Put/Call Ratio suggests hedging

I pointed out yesterday the Stock market internals are signaling an inflection point. On a short term basis, some internal indicators are suggesting the stock market is at a point I expect to see a more significant breakout in one direction or another. That may sound like a symmetrical statement, but it’s the result of a symmetrical point that I consider midfield. From here, I look for signals of which direction the momentum shifts.

The asymmetry in the CBOE Index Put/Call Ratio suggests an increase in hedging yesterday. In the chart below, we see the Put/Call Ratio on Index options is at the high end of its range. I believe index options are used more for hedging by large institutions like hedge funds and pensions than for speculation by smaller individuals. I must not be the only one who recently hedged market risk. 

cboe index put:call ratio asymmetric hedging

Looking back over the full history, we see the current asymmetry of 1.55 puts to calls is a level that shows the asymmetry is on the upper range. When it gets too extreme, it can signal an overly pessimistic position.

cboe index put call long term history asymmetric hedge

The CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio which I believe is more of a measure of individual investor speculation remains at a normal level at this point. That is, we normally see the Equity Put/Call Ratio below 1 as it indicators more (speculative) call volume than put volume.

equity put call ratio asymmetric risk reward hedging

However, when the Equity Put/Call Ratio spiked up to an extreme in late December I thought it was a good indicator of panic. That turned out to be the case as it marked the low so far.

From here, I’m looking for signs of which direction the momentum is shifting. The CBOE Index Put/Call Ratio seems to suggest professional investors like me are more concerned about hedging against downside loss. They may be like me, setting on capital gains I prefer to hold (let the winners run!) so adding a hedge can help offset a loss of value. Yet, if we see a continuation up in the recent uptrend we simply take a smaller loss on the hedges that we can tax deduct.

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.

Investor Sentiment into the New Year 2019

Investor sentiment measures may be used as contrarian indicators. We expect the market to do the opposite of what the indicators are saying when they reach an extreme level of bullish/greed/optimism or bearish/fear/pessimism.  Identifying extreme levels of positive or negative sentiment may give us an indicator of the direction the stock market is likely to trend next.

I observe when sentiment reaches overly optimistic levels like it did late 2017 into January 2018, the stock market trend trends down or at least sideways afterward. In reverse, after investor sentiment becomes extremely pessimistic, the stock market tends to trend back up.

Although extreme investor sentiment may be used as a contrarian indicator, I do not base my investment or tactical trading decisions on it by itself. I use investor sentiment measures and indicators to indicate and confirm my other signals of a potential trend change. For example, when bullish investor sentiment is rising from a lower level but not yet reached an extreme high, it’s just confirming trend following. However, when bullish sentiment reaches an extreme it warns me to be prepared for a potential countertrend. All those who want to buy may have bought, so buying enthusiasm may be exhausted. That’s what I observed in January 2018. After prices fall investor sentiment shifts to bearish and they fear more loss. Once the level of fear reaches an extreme it begins to suggest those who want to sell have sold and we could see selling become exhausted and a selling climax.

We have two types of investor sentiment measures: Polls and indicators.

Investor sentiment polls actually survey investors to ask them what they believe about the market. The AAII Investor Sentiment Survey has become a widely followed measure of the mood of individual investors. Since 1987, AAII members have been answering the same simple question each week:

“Do you feel the direction of the market over the next six months will be up (bullish), no change (neutral) or down (bearish)?”

The results are then consolidated into the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey, which offers us some insight into the mood of individual investors.

Bearish investor sentiment is negatively correlated with stock market index returns. Below I created a chart of the S&P 500 stock index with an overlay of the % bearish investor sentiment. On the bottom, I added the correlation between the S&P 500 and the % bearish investor sentiment. We can visually see there is a negative correlation between investors getting more bearish as stock prices fall. For example, few investors were bearish in 2014 into 2015 until the stock index fell -12% in August 2015, then the % of bearish investors spiked up. We also saw the % of bearish investors extremely low in January 2018 as the stock index reached an all-time high. After the stock index declined -20% at the end of 2018 we saw the % of bearish investors spike up again. As we enter 2019, the % of bearish investors is at a historical extreme high level so we may be observing a selling climax as the desire to sell gets exhausted.

Bearish Investor Sentiment is Negatively Correlated with Stock Index Returns

Bullish investor sentiment is positively correlated with stock index returns, except after stock prices fall, then investors lose their optimism. In the chart below, we see the % of bullish investors trending up along with stocks 2014 into 2015, but then as prices fell late 2015 into 2016 they lose their optimism for stocks. We saw another spike to an extreme level of bullishness late 2017 into 2018 as the stock index reached all-time highs. The % of bullish investors declined with great momentum after prices fell sharply. As we enter 2019, the % of bullish investors is very low, leaving much room for the desire to buy to take over.

Bullish Investor Sentiment is Positively Correlated with Stock Index Returns

Investor sentiment surveys like AAII are useful tools to get an idea of extreme sentiment levels when selling pressure or buying enthusiasm may be becoming exhausted. However, their potential weakness is they are ultimately just polls asking people what they believe, not what they are actually doing. Regardless, they do seem to have enough accuracy to be used as a guide to confirm other indicators.

As I’ve observed extreme levels of investor sentiment and participation in the 2018 downtrend in global markets, I’ve shared these indicators several times. As we saw in the investor sentiment survey, the VIX spiked in 2015, then spiked again but to a lower high in 2016 as the stock index fell. The VIX spiked again in February 2018 as the S&P 500 quickly declined -10%. After prices trended back up implied volatility contracted all the way to the low level of 12. The stock index started to decline again, so the VIX once again indicated a volatility expansion. As we enter 2019, the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index VIX is at 25.42, just over its long-term average of 20. The VIX implies an expected volatility range of 25% over the next 30 days.

VIX VXX VXXB 2018 VOLATILITY EXPANSION TRADING INVESTMENT ADVISOR.jpg

I’ve shared several observations the past few months of the Put/Call Ratio. The Put/Call Ratio is a range bound indicator that swings above and below 1, so reveals a shifting preference between put volume to call volume. When the level is high, it indicates high put volume. Since puts are used for hedging or bearish trades, I consider it a contrary indicator at extremely high levels.

The Equity Put/Call Ratio measures the put and call volume on equities, leaving out indexes. The Equity Put/Call Ratio spiked to a high level of put volume when it reached 1.13 on December 21, 2018, as the stock index was declining. The high Equity Put/Call indicated options trading volume was much higher for protective puts than call volume. The Equity Put/Call Ratio is considered to be mostly non-professional traders who tend to be more bullish, so it keeps call volume relatively high and the ratio low. Its high level has so far turned out to be a reliable short-term indicator of a short-term low in stocks. As we enter 2019, the Equity Put/Call Ratio is at .60, which is at a normal range. We normally see more call volume than put volume in the Equity Put/Call Ratio, so the ratio is its normal level as you can see in the chart.

equity put call ratio 2018 spx spy

The CBOE Index Put/Call Ratio is applied to index options without equity options. We believe professional traders and portfolio managers mostly use index options for hedging or directional positions. The total volume of the Index Put/Call Ratio is asymmetric toward puts for hedging purposes. As we can observe in the chart below, the current level at the beginning of 2019 is 1.09 dropping about 35% from it’s December peak at 1.67.

INDEX PUT CALL RATIO CBOE 2018

We can visually see the tendency in Index Put/Call is around 1 as the Equity Put/Call Ratio is around 0.60. Equity Put/Call Ratio has a more optimistic/bullish tendency as individual stock options are used more for bullish bets as index options are used more as for hedging.

The CBOE Total Put/Call Ratio combines both equity and index options to create a range bound oscillator that swings above and below 1. With the Total Put/Call Ratio, I believe the put bias in index options is offset by the call bias in equity options. The Total Put/Call Ratio spiked to its highest ever reading of 1.82 on December 20, 2018, as the stock index was entering the -20% “bear market” level. I consider a level above 1.20 to be bullish as it indicates an extreme in put volume over call volume. A reading below 0.70 is more bearish since there is an asymmetry between call volume over put volume. Above 1.20 is an elevated put trading volume. As a bet that stock prices will fall or hedge against them, buying put options is a bearish sentiment. Of course, some of the volume could have been traders selling puts which are a very speculative bullish bet, but since I pointed it out the stock indexes reversed up sharply, so I believe it turned out to be a reliable short-term indicator of a short-term low in stocks. As we enter 2019, the Total Put/Call Ratio is at .98 which is still high. We usually see more call volume than put volume, so the ratio is typically well below 1 as you can see in the chart.

total put call ratio spx comparison

There is no better indicator of a shift in investor sentiment than price action. No one believes that any more than me. The direction of the price trend is the final arbiter, and I’ve believed it over two decades. Any indicator that is a derivative of price or non-price trend economic data has the potential to stray far from the reality of the price trend. The price trend determines the value and the outcome of a position. As we enter 2019, the S&P 500 stock index has declined -20% off it’s September high and after a sharp reversal up since December 24th, it’s currently in a short-term downtrend, but at a level, the countertrend back up may continue.

spy spx stock index 2018 bear market

Even if you don’t observe investor sentiment measures as an indicator or trade signal, it’s still useful to observe the extremes to help avoid becoming overly bullish or overly bearish and part of the herd. The herd tends to be wrong at extremes, and most investors tend to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. If I am to create better results, I must necessarily do the opposite of most investors.

As a tactical investment manager, I identify changes in price trends, inter-market relationships, investor sentiment, and market conditions aiming for better risk-adjusted returns. My objective is asymmetric investment returns, so I necessarily focus on asymmetric risk/reward positions, and that includes focusing on asymmetries between bullish and bearish investor sentiment.

 

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.

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