Observations of the stock market decline and volatility expansion

Observations of the stock market decline and volatility expansion

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stock market breadth asymmetric risk

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

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

We’ll see.

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

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

The Stock Market Trend

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

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

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

stock market decline 2008

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

average length of bear market crash 2008.jpg

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

stock market sector ETF October 10 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPX BREADTH PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

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

stock market SPX 200 day moving average trend following

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

stock market year to date 2018 trend following momentum

 

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

stock market momentum ETF trend following asymmetric

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

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

VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION

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

SPY SPX VIX ASYMMETRIC RISK REWARD

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

 

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

The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

The volatility expansion continues like tropical storm Michael that could become a hurricane

The volatility expansion observation I shared last week has continued.

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

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

VIX $VIX VOLATILITY EXPANSION VOL TRADING ASYMMETRIC.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Volatility isn’t directional.

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

volatility expansion stock market VIX ATR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volatility expansion stock market risk management vix asymmetric risk reward

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

Speaking of October…

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

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

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

We’ll see how it all plays out.

Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here comes the volatility expansion

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

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

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

Today we have some volatility expansion.

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

VIX $VIX Volatility Expansion asymmetry asymmetric convexity divergence

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

stock market asymmetry asymmetric risk

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

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

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

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

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

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. 

Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?

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

Why actively manage investment risk?

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

Losses are asymmetric and loss compounds exponentially.

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

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

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

asymmetry of loss losses asymmetric exponential

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

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

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

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

global asset allocation diversification failed 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Is it a stock pickers market?

Is it a stock pickers market?

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

Then, there are periods when we see more divergence.

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

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

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

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

momentum sectors

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

momentum stocks consumer discretionary sector NFLX AMZN AAPL

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

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

ETF Sector Allocation exposure S&P 500

So, Is it a stock pickers market? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

Is it a stock pickers market?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold Isn’t Always A Hedge or Safe Haven: Gold Stock Trends Have Been Even Worse

For several years we often heard investors suggesting to “buy gold”. We could throw in Silver here, too. They provide many theories about how gold bullion or gold stocks are a “safe haven”. I’ve written about the same assumption in Why Dividend Stocks are Not Always a Safe Haven.

In fact, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF website specifically says about the gold stock sector:

“A sector that has historically provided a hedge against extreme volatility in the general financial markets”.

Source: http://www.vaneck.com/gdx/

When investors have expectations about an outcome, or expect some cause and effect relationship, they expose themselves in the possibility of a loss trap. I will suggest the only true “safe haven” is cash. 

Below is a 4 year chart of two gold stock ETFs relative to the Gold ETF. First, let’s examine the index ETFs we are looking at. Of course, the nice thing about ETFs in general is they are liquid (traded like a stock) and transparent (we know what they hold).

GLD: SPDR Gold “Shares offer investors an innovative, relatively cost efficient and secure way to access the gold market. SPDR Gold Shares are intended to offer investors a means of participating in the gold bullion market without the necessity of taking physical delivery of gold, and to buy and sell that interest through the trading of a security on a regulated stock exchange.”

GDX: Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF: “The investment seeks to replicate as closely as possible, before fees and expenses, the price and yield performance of the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index. The fund normally invests at least 80% of its total assets in securities that comprise the Gold Miners Index. The Gold Miners Index is a modified market-capitalization weighted index primarily comprised of publicly traded companies involved in the mining for gold and silver.”

GDXJ: Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF seeks to replicate as closely as possible, before fees and expenses, the price and yield performance of the Market Vectors Global Junior Gold Miners Index. The Index is intended to track the overall performance of the gold mining industry, which may include micro- and small capitalization companies.

Gold stocks vs Gold

Source: Shell Capital Management, LLC created with http://www.stockcharts.com

Clearly, gold has not been a “safe haven” or “provided a hedge against extreme volatility in the general financial markets”. It has instead demonstrated its own extreme volatility within an extreme downward price trend.

Further, gold mining stocks have significantly lagged the gold bullion index itself.

These ETFs have allowed for the trading of gold and gold stocks, SPDR Gold explains it well:

“SPDR Gold Shares represent fractional, undivided beneficial ownership interests in the Trust, the sole assets of which are gold bullion, and, from time to time, cash. SPDR Gold Shares are intended to lower a large number of the barriers preventing investors from using gold as an asset allocation and trading tool. These barriers have included the logistics of buying, storing and insuring gold.”

However, this is a reminder that markets do not always play out as expected. The expectation of a “safe haven” or “hedge against extreme volatility” is not a sure thing. Markets may end up much worst that you imagined they could.  As many global and U.S. markets have been declining, you can probably see why I think it’s important to manage, direct, limit, and control exposure to loss. Though, not everyone does it well. It isn’t a sure thing…

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For informational and educational purposes only, not a recommendation to buy or sell and security, fund, or strategy. Past performance and does not guarantee future results. Please click the links provide for specific risk information about the ETFs mentioned. Please visit this link for important disclosures, terms, and conditions.

Uncharted Territory from the Fed Buying Stocks

I remember sometime after 2013 I told someone “The Fed is buying stocks and that’s partly why stocks have risen so surprisingly for so long”. He looked puzzled and didn’t seem to agree, or understand.

The U.S. Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) has been applying “quantitative easing” since the 2007 to 2009 “global financial crisis”. Quantitative easing (QE) is a type of monetary policy used by central banks to stimulate the economy when standard monetary policy has become ineffective. The Fed implements quantitative easing by buying financial assets from banks and other financial institutions. That raises the prices of those financial assets and lowers their interest rate or yield. It also increases the amount of money available in the economy. The magnitude they’ve done this over the past seven years has never been experience before. They are in uncharted territory.

I was reminded of what I said, “the Fed is buying stocks” when I read comments from Bill Gross in “Gross: Fed Slowly Recognizing ZIRP Has Downside Consequences”. He says companies are using easy money to buy their own stock:

Low interest rates have enabled Corporate America to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars “but instead of deploying the funds into the real economy,they have used the proceeds for stock buybacks. Corporate authorizations to buy back their own stock are running at an annual rate of $1.02 trillion so far in 2015, 18 percent above 2007’s record total of $863 billion, Gross said.

You see, if we want to know the truth about market dynamics; we necessarily have to think more deeply about how markets interact. Market dynamics aren’t always simple and obvious. I said, “The Fed is buying stocks” because their actions is driving the behavior of others. By taking actions to increase money supply in the economy and keep extremely low borrowing rates, the Fed has been driving demand for stocks.

But, it isn’t just companies buying their own stock back. It’s also investors buying stocks on margin. Margin is borrowed money that is used to purchase securities. At a brokerage firm it is referred to as “buying on margin”. For example, if we have $1 million in a brokerage account, we could borrow another $1 million “on margin” and invest twice as much. We would pay interest on the “margin loan”, but those rates have been very low for years. Margin interest rates have been 1 – 2%. You can probably see the attraction. If we invested in lower risk bonds earning 5% with $1 million, we would normally earn 5%, or $50,000 annually. If we borrowed another $1 million at 2% interest and invested the full $2 million at 5%, we would earn another 3%, or $30,000. The leverage of margin increased the return to 8%, or $80,000. Of course, when the price falls, the loss is also magnified. When the interest rate goes up, it reduces the profit. But rates have stayed low for so long this has driven margin demand.

While those who have their money sitting in in bank accounts and CDs have been brutally punished by near zero interest rates for many years, aggressive investors have borrowed at those low rates to magnify their return and risk in their investments. The Fed has kept borrowing costs extremely low and that is an incentive for margin.

In the chart below, the blue line is the S&P 500 stock index. The red line is NYSE Margin Debt. You may see the correlation. You may also notice that recessions (the grey area) occur after stock market peaks and high margin debt balances. That’s the downside: margin rates are at new highs, so when stocks do fall those investors will either have to exit their stocks to reduce risk or they’ll be forced to exit due to losses. If they don’t have a predefined exit, their broker has one for them: “a margin call”.

Current Margin Debt Stock MarginSource: http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/charts/markets/nyse-margin-debt.html?NYSE-margin-debt-SPX-since-1995.gif

If you noticed, I said, “They are in uncharted territory”. I am not. I am always in uncharted territory, so I never am. I believe every new moment is unique, so I believe everyone is always in uncharted territory. Because I believe that, I embrace it. I embrace uncertainty and prepare for anything that can happen. It’s like watching a great movie. It would be no fun if we knew the outcome in advance.

 

My 2 Cents on the Dollar

The U.S. Dollar ($USD) has gained about 20% in less than a year. We observe it first in the weekly below. The U.S. Dollar is a significant driver of returns of other markets. For example, when the U.S. Dollar is rising, commodities like gold, oil, and foreign currencies like the Euro are usually falling. A rising U.S. Dollar also impacts international stocks priced in U.S. Dollar. When the U.S. Dollar trends up, many international markets priced in U.S. Dollars may trend down (reflecting the exchange rate). The U.S. Dollar may be trending up in anticipation of rising interest rates.

dollar trend weekly 2015-04-23_16-04-40

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Now, let’s observe a shorter time frame- the daily chart. Here we see an impressive uptrend and since March a non-trending indecisive period. Many trend followers and global macro traders are likely “long the U.S. Dollar” by being long and short other markets like commodities, international stocks, or currencies.

dollar trend daily 2015-04-23_16-05-04

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

This is a good example of understanding what drives returns and risk/reward. I consider how long the U.S. Dollar I am and how that may impact my positions if this uptrend were to reverse. It’s a good time to pay attention to it to see if it breaks back out to the upside to resume the uptrend, or if it instead breaks down to end it. Such a continuation or reversal often occurs from a point like the blue areas I highlighted above.

That’s my two cents on the Dollar…

How long are you? Do you know?

Asymmetric Nature of Losses and Loss Aversion

Loss Aversion:

“In prospect theory, loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.”

For most people, losing $100 is not the same as not winning $100. From a rational point of view are the two things the same or different?

Most economists say the two are the same. They are symmetrical. But I think that ignores some key issues.

If we have only $10 to eat on today and that’s all we have, if we lose it, we’ll be in trouble: hungry.

But if we have $10 to eat on and flip a coin in a bet and double it to $20, we may just eat a little better. We’ll still eat. The base rate: survival.

They say rationally the two are the same, but that isn’t true. They aren’t the same. The loss makes us worse off than we started and it may be totally rational to feel worse when we go backward than we feel good about getting better off. I don’t like to go backward, I prefer to move forward to stay the same.

Prospect Theory, which found people experience a loss more than 2 X greater than an equal gain, discovered the experience of losses are asymmetric.

Actually, the math agrees.

You see, losing 50% requires a 100% gain to get it back. Losing it all is even worse. Losses are indeed asymmetric and exponential on the downside so it may be completely rational and logical to feel the pain of losses asymmetrically. Experience the feeling of loss aversions seems to be the reason a few of us manage investment risk and generate a smoother return stream rather than blow up.

To see what the actual application of asymmetry to portfolio management looks like, see: Shell Capital Management, LLC.

 

asymmetry impact of loss

Diversification Alone is No Longer Sufficient to Temper Risk…

That was the lesson you learned the last time stocks became overvalued and the stock market entered into a bear market.

In a Kiplinger article by Fred W. Frailey interviewed Mohamed El-Erian, the PIMCO’s boss, (PIMCO is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world) he says “he tells how to reduce risk and reap rewards in a fast-changing world.” This article “Shaking up the Investment Mix” was written in March 2009, which turned out the be “the low” of the global market collapse.

It is useful to revisit such writing and thoughts, especially since the U.S. stock market has since been overall rising for 5 years and 10 months. It’s one of the longest uptrends recorded and the S&P 500 stock index is well in “overvalued” territory at 27 times EPS. At the same time, bonds have also been rising in value, which could change quickly when rates eventually rise. At this stage of a trend, asset allocation investors could need a reminder. I can’t think of a better one that this:

Why are you telling investors they need to diversify differently these days?

The traditional approach to diversification, which served us very well, went like this: Adopt a diversified portfolio, be disciplined about rebalancing the asset mix, own very well-defined types of asset classes and favor the home team because the minute you invest outside the U.S., you take on additional risk. A typical mix would then be 60% stocks and 40% bonds, and most of the stocks would be part of Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

This approach is fatigued for several reasons. First of all, diversification alone is no longer sufficient to temper risk. In the past year, we saw virtually every asset class hammered. You need something more to manage risk well.

But, you know, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Since we are talking about downside risk, something that is commonly hidden when only “average returns” are presented, below is a drawdown chart. I created the drawdown chart using YCharts which uses total return data and the “% off high”. The decline you see from late 2007 to 2010 is a dradown: it’s when the investment value is under water. Think of this like a lake. You can see how the average of the data wouldn’t properly inform you of what happens in between.

First, I show PIMCO’s own allocation fund: PALCX: Allianz Global Allocation Fund. I include an actively managed asset allocation that is very large and popular with $55 billion invested in it: MALOX: BlackRock Global Allocation. Since there are many who instead believe in passive indexing and allocation, I have also included DGSIX: DFA Global Allocation 60/40 and VBINX: Vanguard Balanced Fund. As you can see, they have all done about the same thing. They declined about -30% to -40% from October 2007 to March 2009. They also declined up to -15% in 2011.

Vanguard DFA BlackRock PIMCO Asset Allcation

Charts are courtesy of http://ycharts.com/ drawn by Mike Shell

Going forward, the next bear market may be very different. Historically, investors consider bond holdings to be a buffer or an anchor to a portfolio. When stock prices fall, bonds haven’t been falling nearly as much. To be sure, I show below a “drawdown chart” for the famous actively managed bond fund PIMCO Total Return and for the passive crowd I have included the Vanguard Total Bond Market fund. Keep in mind, about 40% of the allocation of the funds above are invested in bonds. As you see, bonds dropped about -5% to -7% in the past 10 years.

PIMCO Total Return Bond Vanguard Total Bond

Charts are courtesy of http://ycharts.com/ drawn by Mike Shell

You may have noticed the end of the chart is a drop of nearly -2%. Based on the past 10 years, that’s just a minor decline. The trouble going forward is that interest rates have been in an overall downtrend for 30 years, so bond values have been rising. If you rely on bonds being a crutch, as on diversification alone, I agree with Mohamed El-Erian the Chief of the worlds largest bond manager:

“…diversification alone is no longer sufficient to temper risk. In the past year, we saw virtually every asset class hammered. You need something more to manage risk well.”

But, don’t wait until AFTER markets have fallen to believe it.

Instead, I apply active risk management and directional trend systems to a global universe of exchange traded securities (like ETFs). To see what that looks like, click: ASYMMETRY® Managed Accounts

“There is always a disposition in people’s minds to think that existing conditions will be permanent …

“There is always a disposition in people’s minds to think the existing conditions will be permanent,” Dow wrote, and went on to say: “When the market is down and dull, it is hard to make people believe that this is the prelude to a period of activity and advance. When the prices are up and the country is prosperous, it is always said that while preceding booms have not lasted, there are circumstances connected with this one, which make it unlike its predecessors and give assurance of permanency. The fact pertaining to all conditions is that they will change.”  – Charles Dow, 1900

Source: Lo, Andrew W.; Hasanhodzic, Jasmina (2010-08-26). The Evolution of Technical Analysis: Financial Prediction from Babylonian Tablets to Bloomberg Terminals (Kindle Locations 1419-1423). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

You can probably see from Dow’s quote how trends do tend to continue, just because enough people think they will. However, price trends can continue into an extreme or a “bubble” just because people think they will continue forever. I like to ride a trend to the end when it bends and then be prepared to exit when it does finally reverse, or maybe reduce or hedge off some risk when the probability seems high of a change.

idowcha001p1

Image source: Wikipedia

Charles Henry Dow; November 6, 1851 – December 4, 1902) was an American journalist who co-founded Dow Jones & Company. Dow also founded The Wall Street Journal, which has become one of the most respected financial publications in the world. He also invented the Dow Jones Industrial Average as part of his research into market movements. He developed a series of principles for understanding and analyzing market behavior which later became known as Dow theory, the groundwork for technical analysis.

Asymmetrical Risk Definition and Symmetry: Do you Really Want Balance?

Asymmetric is imbalance, uneven, or not the same on both sides.

Risk is the possibility of losing something of value, or a bad outcome. The risk is the chance or potential for a loss, not the loss itself. Once we have a loss, the risk has shifted beyond a possibility to a real loss. The investment or position itself isn’t the risk either, risk is the possibility we may lose money in how we manage and deal with it.

Asymmetrical Risk, then, is the potential for gains and losses on an investment or trade are uneven.

When I speak of asymmetric risk, I may also refer to the probability for gains and losses that are imbalanced, for those of us who can determine probability. If the probability of losing something or a bad outcome is asymmetric, it means the risk isn’t the same as the reward.

Asymmetric risk can also refer to the outcome for profits and losses that are imbalanced, after we have sold a position, asset, or investment.

Some examples:

If we risk $10, but earn $10, the risk was symmetrical.

  • We risked $10
  • We earned $10 – we just broke even (symmetry).

Symmetry is the outcome when you balance risk and reward.

If we risk $10, but earn $20, the risk was positively asymmetric.

  • We risked $10
  • We earned $20

If we risk $10, but lose $10, the risk was symmetrical.

  • We risked $10
  • We lost $10 – we lost the same as we risked.

If we risk $10, but lose $20, the risk was an asymmetric risk.

  • We risked $10
  • We lost $20 – we lost even more than we though we risked.

Strangely, I often hear investment advisers say they want to balance risk and reward through their asset allocation.

Do you?

It was when I noticed my objective of imbalancing profit and loss, risk and reward, was so different from others that I knew I have a unique understanding and perception of the math and I could apply it to portfolio management.

You can probably see how some investors earn gains for years, then lose those gains in the following years, then earn gains again, then lose them again.

That’s a result of symmetry and its uncontrolled asymmetrical risk.

You can probably see why my focus is ASYMMETRY® so deeply that the word is my trademark.

Stock Market Trend: reverse back down or continuation?

I normally don’t comment here on my daily observations of very short-term directional trends, though as a fund manager I’m monitoring them every day. The current bull market in stocks is aged, it’s lasted much longer than normal, and it’s been largely driven by actions of the Fed. I can say the same for the upward trend in bond prices. As the Fed has kept interest rates low, that’s kept bond prices higher.

Some day all of that will end.

But that’s the big picture. We may be witnessing the peaking process now, but it may take months for it all to play out. The only thing for certain is that we will only know after it has happened. Until then, we can only assess the probabilities. Some of us have been, and will be, much better at identifying the trend changes early than others.

With that said, I thought I would share my observations of the very short-term directional trends in the stock market since I’ve had several inquiring about it.

First, the large company stock index, the S&P 500, is now at a point where it likely stalls for maybe a few days before it either continues to trend up or it reverses back down. In “Today Was the Kind of Panic Selling I Was Looking For” I pointed out that the magnitude of selling that day may be enough panic selling to put in at least a short-term low. In other words, prices may have fallen down enough to bring in some buying interest. As we can see in the chart below, that was the case: the day I wrote that was the low point in October so far. We’ve since seen a few positive days in the stock index.

stock index 2014-10-22_15-06-14

All charts in this article are courtesy of http://www.stockcharts.com and created by Mike Shell

Larger declines don’t trend straight down. Instead, large declines move down maybe -10%, then go up 5%, then they go down another -10%, and then back up 7%, etc. That’s what makes tactical trading very challenging and it’s what causes most tactical traders to create poor results. Only the most experienced and skilled tactical decision makers know this. Today there are many more people trying to make tactical decisions to manage risk and capture profits, so they’ll figure this out the hard way. There isn’t a perfect ON/OFF switch, it instead requires assessing the probabilities, trends, and controlling risk.

Right now, the index above is at the point, statistically, that it will either stall for maybe a few days before it either continues to trend up or it reverses back down. As it all unfolds over time, my observations and understanding of the “current trend” will evolve based on the price action. If it consolidates by moving up and down a little for a few days and then drifts back up sharply one day, it is likely to continue up and may eventually make a new high. If it reversed down sharply from here, it will likely decline to at least the price low of last week. If it does drift back to last weeks low, it will be at another big crossroads. It may reverse up again, or it may trend down. Either way, if it does decline below low of last week, I think we’ll probably see even lower prices in the weeks and months ahead.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the stock index does make a new high in the coming months, one of my empirical observations that I think is most concerning about the stage of the general direction of the stock market is that small company stocks are already in a downtrend. Below is a chart of the Russell 2000 Small Cap Stock Index over the same time frame as the S&P 500 Large Cap Stock Index above. Clearly, smaller companies have already made a lower low and lower highs. That’s a downtrend.

small company stocks 2014 bear market

Smaller company stocks usually lead in the early stage of bear markets. There is a basic economic explanation for why that may be. In the early stage of an economic expansion when the economy is growing strong, it makes sense that smaller companies realize it first. The new business growth probably impacts them in a more quickly and noticeable way. When things slow down, they may also be the first to notice the decline in their earnings and income. I’m not saying that economic growth is the only direct driver of price trends, it isn’t, but price trends unfold the same way. As stocks become full valued at the end of a bull market, skilled investors begin to sell them or stop investing their cash in those same stocks. Smaller companies tend to be the first. That isn’t always the case, but you can see in the chart below, it was so during the early states of the stock market peak in 2007 as prices drifted down into mid 2008. Below is a comparison of the two indexes above. The blue line is the small stock index. In October 2007, it didn’t exceed its prior high in June. Instead, it started drifting down into a series of lower lows and lower highs. It did that as the S&P 500 stock index did make a prior high.

small stocks fall first in bear market

But as you see, both indexes eventually trended down together.

As a reminder to those who may have forgotten, I drew the chart below to show how both of these indexes eventually went on to lower lows and lower highs all the way down to losses greater than -50%. I’m not suggesting that will happen again (though it could) but instead I am pointing out how these things look in the early stages of their decline.

2008 bear market

If you don’t have a real track record evidencing your own skill and experience dealing with these things, right now is a great time to get in touch. By “real”, I’m talking about an actual performance history, not a model, hypothetical, or backtest. I’m not going to be telling you how I’m trading on this website. The only people who will experience that are our investors.

 

 

VIX® gained 140%: Investors were too complacent

Several months ago I started sharing some of my observations about the VIX ( CBOE Volatility Index). The VIX had gotten to a level I considered low, which implied to me that investors were too complacent, were expecting too low future volatility, and option premiums were generally cheap. After the VIX got down to levels around 11 and 12 and then started to move up, I pointed out the VIX seemed to be changing from a downward longer term trend to a rising trend.

As I was sharing my observations of the directional trend and volatility of VIX that I believed was more likely to eventually go up than down, it seemed that most others were writing just the opposite. I know that many volatility traders mostly sell volatility (options premium), so they prefer to see it fall.

As you can see in the chart below, The VIX has increased about 140% in just a few weeks.

VIX october

Chart courtesy of http://www.stockcharts.com

For those who haven’t been following along, you may consider reading the previous observations:

A VIX Pop Then Back to Zzzzzzzz? We’ll see

Asymmetric VIX

VIX Shows Volatility Still Low, But Trending

VIX Back to Low

The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge

Is the VIX an indication of fear and complacency?

What does a VIX below 11 mean?

What does the VIX really represent?

The VIX, my point of view

The VIX, as I see it…

Volatility Risk Premium

Declining (Low) Volatility = Rising (High) Complacency

Investors are Complacent

 

Asymmetric VIX

In The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge I explained how the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) tends to react with sharper and with greater magnitude than stock indexes. There is an asymmetric relationship between stock index returns and the VIX. Below includes yesterdays action when the S&P 500 stock index was down 2% and the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) spot gained 27%. The chart is a good visual of how, when the stock index falls, implied volatility spikes up.

 

asymmetric vix

source: http://www.stockcharts.com

I have been sharing some observations about the VIX recently because it had gotten do a low level not seen in many years. It’s an indication that investors have become complacent about risk. When a trend gets to an extreme, it’s interesting to observe how it all plays out.

 

 

The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge

Asymmetric payoff VIX

The VIX is asymmetric, its distribution is non-symmetrical, it is skewed because it has very wide swings. The volatility of volatility is very volatile. There is an asymmetric relationship between stock index returns and the VIX. This asymmetric relationship is what initially makes the VIX interesting for hedging against S&P 500 volatility and losses.

Since I started the series about the extremely low VIX level Monday, like The VIX, as I see it…, The VIX has gained 17% while the S&P 500 stock index has lost about 1%. The VIX is asymmetric. While the VIX isn’t always a perfect opposite movement to the stock indexes, it most often does correlate negatively to stocks. When stocks fall, the implied (expected) volatility increases, so the VIX increases. Asymmetry is imbalance: more of one thing, less of the other. For example, more profit potential, less loss or more upside, less downside.

An advantage of the VIX for hedging is that it is asymmetric: it increases more than stocks fall. For example, when we look at historical declines in the stock index we find the VIX normally gains much more than the stock index falls. For example, if the stock index declined 5% the VIX may have gained 30% over the same period. That ratio of asymmetry of 6 times more drift would allow us to tie up less cash for a hedge position. Of course, the ratio is different each time. Sometimes it moves less, sometimes more.

When the VIX is at a low enough level as it’s been recently, the asymmetric nature of the VIX makes it an interesting hedge for an equity portfolio. The best way to truly hedge a portfolio is to hedge its actual holdings. That’s the only true hedge. If we make a bet against an index and that index doesn’t move like our positions, we still have the risk our positions fall and our hedge does too or doesn’t rise to offset the loss. I always say: anything other than the price itself has the potential to stray far from the price. But the asymmetry of VIX, its potential asymmetric payoff, makes it another option if we are willing to accept it isn’t a direct hedge. And, that its derivatives don’t exactly track the VIX index, either. None of the things we deal with is a sure thing; it’s always probabilistic.

This week has been a fine example of VIX asymmetry. The chart below shows it well.

The VIX is Asymmetric

Note: The VIX is an unmanaged index, not a security so it cannot be invested in directly. We can gain exposure to the VIX through derivatives futures, options, or ETNs that invest in VIX futures or options. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell VIX derivatives. To determine whether or not to take a long or short position in the VIX requires significantly more analysis than just making observations about its current level and direction. For example, we would consider the term structure and implied volatility vs. historical volatility and the risk/reward of any options combinations.

Declining (Low) Volatility = Rising (High) Complacency

When we speak of trends, we want to recognize a trend can be rising or declining, high or low. These things are subjective, because there is infinite ways to define the direction of a trend, its magnitude, speed, and absolute level. So, we can apply quantitative analysis to determine what is going on with a trend.

Below we see a quote for the CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX). The VIX is a measure of the 30 day implied volatility of S&P 500 index options. It is a measure of how much premium options traders are paying on the 500 stocks included in the S&P 500. So, it is a measure of implied or expected volatility based on how options are priced, rather than a measure of actual historical volatility based on a past range of prices. Without going into a more detailed discussion of the many factors of VIX, I’ll add that the VIX is a fine example of an index that is clearly mean reverting. That is, the VIX oscillates between high and low ranges. Once it gets to a high level or low-level, it eventually reverts to its average. Said another way, it’s an excellent example of an index we can apply countertrend systems instead of trend following systems, because the VIX swings up and down rather than trending up or down for years.

The VIX has a long-term average of about 20 since its inception. At this moment, it is 11.82. It’s important to realize the flaw of averages here, because the VIX doesn’t actually stay around 20 – it instead averages 20 as it swings higher and lower.

VIX CBOE Market Volatility below 12

 

I used the above image from CNNMoney because it shows the rate of change in the VIX over the past 5 years on the bottom of the chart. Notice that over the past 5 years (an arbitrary time frame) market volatility as measured by VIX has declined -63.78%. To get an even better visual of the decline and price action of the VIX, below is a chart of the volatility index going back to 2001.

Do you see a trend? Do you see high and low points?

VIX Long term average high and low

We observe the current level is low by historical measures. In fact, it’s about as low at it has been. The last time the volatility index was this low was 2006 – 2007. That was just before it spiked as high as it has been during the 2007 – 2009 market crash. You can probably see what I mean by “mean reversion” and “countertrend”. When the stock market is rising, volatility gets lower and lower as investors become more complacent. Most investors actually want to get more aggressive and buy more stocks after they have already risen a lot for years, rather than realizing the higher prices go the more risky they become. We love trends, but they don’t last forever. What I think we see above is an indication that investors have become complacent, option premiums are cheap, because options traders aren’t factoring in high volatility exceptions. However, we also see that the VIX is just now down below 12.5, and area the last bull market reached in 2006 and that low volatility stayed low for over a year before it reversed sharply. Therein lies the challenge with counterrend trading: we don’t know exactly when it will reverse and trends can continue longer than we expect. And, there are meaningful shorter term oscillations of 20% or more in the VIX.

I also want to point out how actual historical volatility looks. Recall that the VIX is an index of market volatility based on how options are priced, so it implies the expected volatility over the next 30 days. When we speak of historical volatility, there are different measures to quantify the historical range prices have traded. Volatility speaks of the range of prices, so a price that averaged 100 but trades as high as 110 and low as 105 is less volatile than if it trades from 130 and 70. Below I charted the price chart of the S&P 500 since 2002. The first chart below it is ATR, which is Average True Range. ATR considers the historical high and low prices to determine the true range. A common measure is the standard deviation of historical returns. Standard deviation is charted below as STDDEV below the ATR. Below Standard Deviation is the VIX.

VIX and S&P 500 historical market volatility

Notice that the measures of volatility, both historical and implied, increase when stock prices fall and decrease when stock prices rise. Asymmetric Volatility is the phenomenon that volatility is higher in declining markets than in rising markets. You can see why I say that volatility gets lower and lower as prices move higher and higher for several years. Then, observe what happens next. Right when investors are the most complacent, the trend changes. Prices fall, volatility spikes up. They feel more sure about things after prices have been rising, so there is less indecision reflected in the range of daily trading. When investors feel more uncertain, they become indecisive, so the range of prices spread out.

Based on these empirical observations, we conclude with the title of this article.

The VIX is an unmanaged index, not a security, so it cannot be invested in directly. We can gain exposure to the VIX through derivatives futures or options. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell VIX derivatives. To determine whether or not to take a long or short position in the VIX requires significantly more analysis than just making observations about its current level and direction. For example, we would consider the term structure and implied volatility vs. historical volatility and the risk/reward of any options combinations.

 

 

 

Fact, Fiction and Momentum Investing

Fact, Fiction and Momentum Investing

Abstract

It’s been over 20 years since the academic discovery of momentum investing (Jegadeesh and Titman (1993), Asness (1994)), yet much confusion and debate remains regarding its efficacy and its use as a practical investment tool. In some cases “confusion and debate” is us attempting to be polite, as it is near impossible for informed practitioners and academics to still believe some of the myths uttered about momentum — but that impossibility is often belied by real world statements. In this article, we aim to clear up much of the confusion by documenting what we know about momentum and disproving many of the often-repeated myths. We highlight ten myths about momentum and refute them, using results from widely circulated academic papers and analysis from the simplest and best publicly available data.

Read the full paper: Fact Fiction and Momentum Investing

Source: Israel, Ronen and Frazzini, Andrea and Moskowitz, Tobias J. and Asness, Clifford S., Fact, Fiction and Momentum Investing (May 9, 2014). Can be found at SSRN: Fact, Fiction and Momentum Investing

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