What’s going to happen next with the stock market?

I respect history. The past is no guarantee of future results, but it’s all we have to draw statistical inference from, so we need to understand its risks and rewards. We use past data to determine future possibilities. If we don’t know where we’ve been, we unlikely know where we’re going. It’s essential to have a deep understanding of time, the past, the present, and the future that doesn’t exist. I have great respect for the past, but I’m always here, now, at this moment. As a professional decision-maker, I can only do something now or not now. I can’t do anything in the past. I can’t do anything in the future. It’s now, or not. This alone has removed a lot of behavioral issues for decision making. I review historical trends and my decisions, but I don’t get stuck there at a time I can’t actually do anything. It is what it is, so I accept it and learn from it. If we want to learn from the past, we necessarily must know what it was. That’s why I observe charts of price trends, investor sentiment, global macroeconomic trends, volaltity, and momentum.

A global macro strategy is a hedge fund style investment and trading strategy typically focused on the overall economic and political views of various countries or their macroeconomic principles. Positions in a global macro portfolio may include long and short positions in various equity, fixed income, currency, commodities, and other alternatives like volatility. Although most global macro hedge fund strategies may be focused on views of macroeconomic trends, my focus is on directional price trends.

The price trend is the final arbiter, if you keep disagreeing with the trend, you’ll lose.

The longer you disagree with the trend, the more you lose.

Other indicators like sentiment, rate of change (momentum/relative strength), and volatility are confirming indicators for the price trend. For me, they signal when a trend may be reaching an extreme, becoming more likely to reverse. I like to be positioned in the direction of the price trend, but I’m situational aware of when the trends may be reaching an extreme and likely to result in a countertrend.

So, let’s see what in the world is going on. I concentrate on what has changed. If a trend or level hasn’t changed, it doesn’t warrant the attention, so my systems signal when something has changed. I then examine the rate of change, which is why I speak of momentum, velocity, and relative strength. The trend tells us the direction of change, but the rate of change indicates how fast it’s changing.

Investor Sentiment: are investors bullish, feeling positive about the future direction of stock price trends? or bearish, feeling stock prices will fall?

US Investor Sentiment, % Bullish is an indicator that is a part of the AAII Sentiment Survey. It indicates the percentage of investors surveyed that had a bullish outlook on the market. An investor that is bullish believes the stock market will trend higher. The AAII Sentiment Survey is a weekly survey of its members which asks if they are “Bullish,” “Bearish,” or “Neutral” on the stock market over the next six months. The percent of bullish investors is slightly below average, so the bullish individual investors haven’t really changed much.

US Investor Sentiment, % Bearish is at 49.73%, compared to 52.07% last week and 27.20% last year. Pessimistic investor sentiment materially higher than the long term average of 30.4%, so this is a change. Individual investors are generally more bearish than they were. When their bearishness reaches a historical extreme, they’ll likely be wrong. As you see in the chart, investors are abnormally negative on the future of stock price trends right now.

The stock market will reverse its current trend when prices are pushed down to a low enough point to attract new buying demand.

Stock prices will also reach their bottom when investors who want to sell have sold, so there is no overhead resistance.

Nothing tells us more about market dynamics better than the price trend itself, but investor sentiment measures like AAII Investor Sentiment Survey indicates if do-it-yourself individual investors are capitulating. When their bearishness is at a historical high it may confirm with the price trend those who want to sell have probably already sold. So, their desire to sell has less impact on an uptrend.

If most of the investors with a desire to sell have already sold they won’t be selling as prices trend up, so the market will have less resistance as it trends up. For example, the S&P 500 stock index had gained nearly 5% in the first two months this year. It peaked on February 19th. then all hell broke loose. The S&P 500 dropped -34% in just three weeks, so the S&P 500 was down -31% for the year at that point.

Some of the selling pressure was driven by systematic trading, such as trend following and momentum. As rules-based systematic trading pushed prices lower and lower, other investors were panic selling to avoid more losses. The trouble is, individual investors tend to sell into the bloodbath when prices reach their lowest points. Emotional reactions are driven by falling prices. People sell because prices are falling and they are losing money. Systmatic rules-based systems also sell to avoid more loss, but do so based on predefined exits to manage risk and drawdown controls.

What I observed in the early stage of this waterfall decline is what seemed to be an overreaction from an initial under-reaction.

At the peak on February 19th, here is what the stock index looked like as it trended to an all-time high. This is three months of history. What I noticed, then, was the relative strength indicator didn’t follow it up. This was a very negative divergence.

At the same time, I was seeing other bearish signs of a major market top. To be sure, here are the observations I shared in January and February.

I was a little early with my boldest statement on January 18th: Now, THIS is what a stock market top looks like! Stock Market Risk is Elevated.

But, fortunately, I acted on it. Seeing a very bullish cover of one of my favorite investment publications was the final straw, along with all the other things I observed that seemed to signal a major top in stock prices.

I don’t always sell my stocks because the market risk seems elevated, but when I do it’s because the weight of the evidence is overwhelming.

But, it didn’t work out perfectly and it never does, so I don’t have an expectation of perfection. If I did, I could have never created the asymmetric risk/reward return profile I have, especially the downside risk management and drawdown control. It’s an imperfect science with a dash of art.

I’m okay with that.

Asymmetric investment returns are created from a positive mathematical expectation, not being right more often than wrong, but instead losing less when I’m wrong and earning more when I’m right. The rest of you are simply focused on the wrong thing. You want to be right, and it ain’t happin’. I’m not right all the time, either. But when I’m wrong, I cut it short. I don’t let the wrong become really wrong. I take the loss. I love taking losses. I do it all the time. It’s how and why I have smaller losses, rather than large ones. It’s the only Holy Grail that exists. The Holy Grail is asymmetry: larger average gains than losses. This positive mathematical expectation doesn’t require me to know the future and be right all the time. Instead, I focus on what I can actually control, and that’s mainly the size of my losses. If I limit the size of my losses, I’m left to focus on the upside of profits. That’s my edge, and it isn’t just a mathematical edge, it’s a psychological edge, a behavioral edge. It’s not easy to execute for most people because you want to be right, so you’ll hold those losses hoping they’ll recover. If they do and the price trends back up, then you may sell, if you remember you wish you had before at those higher prices, before you saw a -30% loss.

That’s resistance.

If you wait to sell when the price trends back up some, you’re selling creates resistance if there are enough of you driving the volume of selling pressure. If you instead feel more bullish now that prices trended up some, you may hold on, hoping it continues up. In that case, you’re not the overhead resistance at higher prices causing the halt that prevents the price from trending higher. If enough volume is like you, prices will keep trending up because the rising prices aren’t met with a stronger desire to sell than the enthusiasm to buy.

Here is the full -34% downtrend. It was the fastest downtrend of this magnitude in history.

What in the world was going on? The first leg down, which we only know in hindsight it was the “first”, was a sharp downtrend of -13%. The stock market falls so far, so fast, it becomes deeply oversold with the relative strength index at only 19. The relative strength of 30 is low. Below 30 is oversold and below 20 is extremely oversold. Under normal circumstances, this results in a short term bounce at a minimum, and when I say normal, I’m talking about looking at over a century of history.

To make the point clear, using a simple measure of relative strength as an indicator in the lower section of the chart below, the last times it reached such an oversold level were the lows in late 2018.

But, if you notice, the second time the SPX got so oversold in 2018, the price trend was significantly lower. So, the risk of a countertrend signal like this is even after the price trend reverses back up, it may later reverse back down to an even lower low. It did then, and it did it again this time.

To illustrate what happened from there, I’ve marked up the next chart pretty well. Keep in mind, I don’t necessarily trade the S&P 500 index. I’m simply using it as a proxy for the overall market. I focus more on more granular ETFs like sectors and individual equities. To see the trends play out, walking through time, the first part is the red vertical arrow to point out the first level of extreme oversold conditions as the stock market dropped -13%. My managed portfolio was in short term US Treasuries during this because I hold sold weeks ago.

So, because of my risk management from elevated risk levels, we were in a position of strength, as I call it. I mean we were not participating in the -13% waterfall decline, so as others (who are losing money quickly) are getting more and more bearish, I’m getting bullish. Once stocks got oversold, however, I invested in stocks again. Of course, you can see what happened afterward. The next leg down was even worse and we got caught in it. Like I said, my tactical trading decisions are never perfect timing, nor does it have to be. I just need my average profits to be larger than my average losses to create positive asymmetry. I eventually reduce risk exposure again to zero and then I’m back to looking to buy again, which I have. This is for educational purposes, so I’m leaving out all the other things going on, too, such as buying US Treasuries, etc. The point is, this is what in the world was going on.

Looking at the chart again, a few more points to make. Notice the two red horizontal lines I drew are showing a price range that could be resistance. I say that because of 1. it’s the first area of a prior high, so those who wish they’d sold there may sell now. 2. the relative strength is now at its halfway point and specifically, its average level, so we may see some mean reversion. We’ll see.

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On the bullish side, however, just as individual investors are really bearish, I’m seeing some divergence again in the price momentum. The green arrow shows it. As the stock market reached a low, down -34% off its high, the momentum didn’t make a new low. It didn’t even reach the prior low or even close to it. Instead, it’s making a higher low and higher high.

If I claim the February divergence was bearish because the relative strength didn’t confirm the all-time new high, then I’ll also claim the opposite is true: this is a bullish divergence.

What’s going to happen next with the US stock market?

We’re about to find out!

Only time will tell, but from what I’m seeing, the crowd is expecting a retest of the lows or even lower lows, and that seems reasonable. A global recessional is imminent at this point. But, the stock market has already fallen -34% from its high, so anything is possible. This could be it, for all we know. If most people believe it will get worse, the capital markets have a funny way of proving the crowd wrong. At least temporarily, as it’s doing right now. But, the big picture isn’t real positive.

We now have unprecedented jobless claims and unemployment. American’s are going to be hurting without jobs. That chart is so ugly I don’t want to show it.

We also have unprecedented intervention from the federal government and the Federal Reserve. So have central banks around the world responded.

I believe the last five years of this bull market and economic expansion were driven by the Federal Reserve Zero Interest Rates Policy and other forms of quantitative easing. What was then unprecedented Fed action drove the longest bull market and economic expansion in US history. It also drove the stock index to its second-highest price to earnings valuation in 140 years. I’ve pointed out many times before the Shiller PE Ratio for the S&P 500 was over 30 and the only time it was “more expensive” was the late 1990s. That didn’t end well. It was higher than 1929 just before the Great Depression.

The S&P 500 Shiller CAPE Ratio, also known as the Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings Ratio, is defined as the ratio of the S&P 500’s current price divided by the 10-year moving average of inflation-adjusted earnings. The metric was invented by American economist Robert Shiller and has become a popular way to understand long-term stock market valuations. It is used as a valuation metric to forecast future returns, where a higher CAPE ratio could reflect lower returns over the next couple of decades, whereas a lower CAPE ratio could reflect higher returns over the next couple of decades, as the ratio reverts back to the mean.

The S&P 500 Shiller CAPE Ratio was at a high level of 33, which was higher than the long term average of about 17. Today is has declined to 25.42, while still well above an “overvalued” level, it could be justified by the low inflation we are seeing. Right now, we are looking at deflation as prices of stuff are falling.

I don’t have to correctly predict with the direction the stock market will trend next. I instead increase and decrease exposure to the possibility of risk/reward aiming for asymmetric risk-reward. I tactically trade the cycles and swings as I’ve done many times before. We achieve an asymmetric risk-reward when the downside potential is less than the upside. We achieve asymmetric investment returns when our average profits exceed our average losses. I call it ASYMMETRY® and everything I do centers around it.

Do you really want to know the harsh reality of what the stock market is going to do next?

Most likely the opposite of what you think.

Contact us here if we can help.

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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.


Periods of high volatility are followed by volatility contractions

Prior to the volatility expansion that started a month ago, my mantra was:

Periods of low volatility are followed by volatility expansions.

The other side to it is:

Periods of high volatility are followed by volatility contractions.

Yes, indeed, after the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) shattered it’s former all-time high when implied volatility spiked to 83, it is now settling down retracing about half of what it gained. For now, it’s a volatility contraction.

For a closer look, here is the trend zoomed in to the one year chart.

The stock market as measured by the S&P 500 made a solid advance today by any measure. According to Walter Deemer, today was a 90.3% upside day with 2732 advances and 276 declines. So far, March 23rd was the lowest point and the stock market is trying to recover some of the losses. The day after the low was March 24 was a 93.9% upside day with 2791 up and 244 down, which was even stronger. So, the advance off the low is showing some thrust, but only time will tell if it can continue, or if this is just an oversold bounce.

Getting more technical with the charting, the candlesticks show some bullish patterns. However, the S&P 500 has already reached the mid way point in my momentum measures were I expect if it’s going to stall, this is where it happens.

Many people believe the news headlines drive stocks prices, but today is yet another example that it isn’t necessarily that case. The news was bad today, with headlines like “U.S. Death Toll From Coronavirus Tops 10,000” and “U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Moved to Intensive Care” and then “Virus Puts a Prison Under Siege.”

US Initial Jobless Claims last week was off the charts. Provided by the US Department of Labor, US Initial Jobless Claim provides underlying data on how many new people have filed for unemployment benefits in the previous week. Given this, one can gauge market conditions in the US economy with respect to employment; as more new individuals file for unemployment benefits, fewer individuals in the economy have jobs. Historically, initial jobless claims tended to reach peaks towards the end of recessionary periods such as on March 21, 2009, with a value of 661,000 new filings.

US Initial Jobless Claims is at a current level of 6.648M, an increase of 3.341M or 101.0% from last week. This is an increase of 6.436M or 3,004% from last year and is higher than the long term average of 353698.

If there was anything we learned from the last 11 years is the truth behind the axiom “don’t fight the Fed.” Fed intervention and the passage of a record-breaking $2.3 trillion US fiscal stimulus has supported fragile consolidation across many markets, including Treasuries, agency mortgage-backed securities and money markets.

A global recession is now imminent.

They won’t call it for another year or two, but I will now. We’ll see negative GDP growth across the world, although it may well recover as sharply as it fell. Once restaurants, etc. finally open back up, they will be in high demand. So, if restaurants can hang in there, there will be brighter days ahead. Right now, we just don’t know how long it may take.

As for the Coronavirus and data, we’ve discovered many issues with the data being reported by states. I’ve been monitoring it waiting for some improvements before sharing any more quantitative analysis.

This ain’t my first rodeo riding a bucking bear. I operated successfully through the 2008-09 bear market as well as the 2000-03 bear market. Both of them included ugly recessions with people losing their jobs, etc.

This one will be worse. But, again, there’s also a good chance the recovery is just as stunning as the waterfall decline.

So, stay tuned.

Periods of high volatility are often followed by volatility contractions and that’s what we’re seeing now. However, it is highly likely we won’t be seeing a VIX at 12 anytime soon as I expect elevated implied volatility for a long time, driven by demand for hedging with options. It’s likely to be similar to post 1987 when the risk of a price shock remains price into options.

I’ve got a lot more to share, but timing is everything.

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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.

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Quantitative Technical Analysis of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 Trend

My expertise is the quantitative and technical analysis of trends, momentum, countertrends, and volatility as well as tactical risk management and hedging. As the investment manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical and ASYMMETRY® Managed Portfolios, professionally, I apply it to global market price trends for portfolio management. The methods and systems are robust, so the skills can be applied to understand trends of a pandemic, too.

Since I expect to see the speed of new Coronavirus COVID – 19 cases to increase exponentially, I’m going to start sharing my observations on it from the lens of a “quant” and a technical chartist.

I’m concerned many American’s will become overwhelmed at the sheer speed of growth.

It’s going to happen, but we have to put it into perspective. I’m going to help.

It’s essential to look for the logical fallacy of the herd and consider how they may be wrong. A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions.

The herd gets trends wrong at extremes, then become shocked by the staggering swing the other way. The trend and momentum of this virus isn’t a lot different than capital markets as it contains a fundamental, in this case, physical science element, and a whole lot of human emotion and behavior.

Just like capital markets. 

People initially underreact, then they panic because they underreacted, then they overreact.

We’re seeing it now. I know people who initially laughed it off, now those same people have swung to the extreme on the other side. If you underreact, you’re likely to overreact and panic.

This pandemic is spreading at an exponential rate with no significant risk management or drawdown control tools to apply except for social distancing. For example, in investment management, we can hedge our positions or exit early to avoid more losses. Here, the risk management is to avoid contact with other people. Why? because this is an ASYMMETRIC UNCERTAINTY, as there are many parts of it we are unsure about such as whether contagious asymptomatic carriers exist. Asymptomatic carries are those not yet showing symptoms who are infected and don’t know it yet. In “Authorities should use data science tools to be precise in QUARANTINE mandates” I discuss how we can use asymptomatic data from digital thermometers as an early warning sign.

If someone has it and doesn’t show symptoms, they spread it unknowingly. So, we don’t know if taking temperatures at airports and such has any impact at this time.

It seems the most critical issue right now is N95 masks and protective supplies for our Physicians and medical professionals. This is their time and we need to support them. The next issue seems to be a ventilator shortage, and that’s a big one. If hospitals reach their capacity, especially with a limited number of ventilators, the death rate will increase, with nothing else to slow or stop it but social distancing. 

The key, right now, is to slow down the spread of Coronavirus affording more time for more testing, spread out the hospital/ventilator use, and find a vaccine. Read: Social distancing. Stay home, hunker down, it’s simple.

With that said, the next trend, then, will be the overall impact on the country and the world from shutting down for so long. All of which are asymmetric uncertainty and unknowable, just like the future of global capital markets I deal with every day.

So, here we are, at the longest economic expansion in American history and the longest bull market in stocks and bonds, and we now have a catalyst for the cycles and trends to swing the other way.

INTRODUCING: A Quantitative Technical Analysis of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 Trend

First, all of the information provided is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed. So, we immediately realize there are limits to the data, since we can’t independently verify if a country, state, or county is reporting accurately.

Now that we have enough data from which to begin to draw inference, or charting trends, we us the data from Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The Center for Systems Science and Engineering takes a multidisciplinary approach to modeling, understanding, and optimizing systems of local, national, and global importance.

First shared on January 22, 2020, the Coronavirus Tracker tracks the progression of Coronavirus (also known as 2019-nCoV or COVID 19) across the world. COVID 19 was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019. On January 13, 2020 Thailand reported the first international case outside China, while the first cases within China, but outside of Wuhan were reported on January 19, in Guangdong and Beijing. Since then, the virus spread across the world.

As any good chartist, we’ll start at the top and work our way down into more granular observations. This is just my first observation, so later I’ll add more detail and analysis of the trends and momentum over time.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a global pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China in 2019. The virus has sparked a global economic slowdown because countries including China, Italy, and Iran having more than 1000 deaths within the first few months of the virus emerging. The virus also caused many countries to provide fiscal and monetary stimulus. For example, in the United States, the Federal Reserve conducted two surprise rates cuts to lower the Federal Funds rate to nearly 0%. Additionally, parts of the world implemented a complete lockdown of cities to prevent the spread of the virus. The Coronavirus pandemic eclipsed 10,000 cases on February 1, 2020, and 100,000 cases on March 6, 2020.

World Coronavirus Cases is at a current level of 691,867, up from 660,706.0 yesterday, which is a change of 4.72% from yesterday. This first chart can be somewhat misleading, so here is lesson one. This is a linear chart, so each level on the y-axis (horizontal axis) is the spacing is equal between the number of cases.

In comparison, below is the logarithmic chart. Logarithmic scales use percentage moves for spacing, rather than number of cases, so a log scale emphasizes the rate of change in a way that linear scales do not.

Notice how different looking the trend is for the same data. The top chart, linear,  is an equally spaced grid of the number of cases. The linear chart plots the number of cases exactly as they are in person terms. For example, in the beginning there wasn’t nearly as many cases as now, so it’s at a lower level. So, when there was only 1,000 cases and now there are nearly 700,000 cases, the grid spacing on the chart doesn’t change. So, the earlier cases seem small on the chart because as a fixed number it is much smaller than more recent larger numbers.

The logarithmic chart corrects this issue and instead shows us the trend of the rate of change based on percentage moves. So, when the number of cases changes from 100 to 200, it’s a 100% change and it gets the same spacing as a change from 30,000 to 60,000, which is also a 100% change. A log chart helps us to normalize the data and see the trend in rate of change terms. The log chart is unique in that it shows a very fast uptrend early on that has sense slowed its rate of change.

Which scale is right? They both are. They just show the data in different ways. We primarily us logarithmic scales for price trends, especially longer time frames. We use linear charts with short term trends, when the data doesn’t spread out that much, or when we view an oscillator like breath indicators showing the percent of stocks in uptrends vs. downtrends.

One more example of the difference between the two, but this time with less words, more the picture. This is the World Coronavirus Cases Per Day on a linear chart, which makes me wonder if all the data is in, or it is really dropped that much. It’s possible it did, as the number of cases per day should decline at some point, so we’ll see tomorrow.

Here is the same date in the logarithmic chart. Applying the rate of change, it doesn’t look so strange because the percentage change isn’t as much as it appears in number form.

Next we look at the worst part: World Coronavirus Deaths, Death Rate, and Deaths per day. For now, I’ve put them on one chart for quick observation of the trend. The death rate at the world level is high at 4.77%, which may not be a predictor of the US death rate.

US CORONAVIRUS COVID – 19 CASES

In later observations, I’ll start analyzing the trends including ratios between them, correlations, spreads, and such, to see if we can find any signals in the noise. Next is a overall summary of US Coronavirus Cases, Deaths, Death Rate, and Cases Per Day, and Deaths Per Day. These trends are up, except the death rate, which was initially greater and has since declined. The general older age of some of the early infected on a cruise ship may have driven the higher rate initially.

The US Death Rate is an important number as it normalizes the number of deaths as a rate of change we can use to compare to other areas.

Speaking of comparison to other areas, I have other countries data, too, and also the US States. Since our clients are in the US, I’ll focus mainly here and within our states. We may eventually get more granular into county level data.

US States: Florida, Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, California, New York

Since most of our clients are in these states, here is the percentage change to normalize the growth to compare.

New York has by far the highest number and rate of cases. California has the least! I pointed out in Increasing evidence social distancing policies at the state level are causing decreases in the viral transmission of Coronavirus COVID 19 that the quick response of California seems to have slowed their growth.

I’m in Tampa Bay, so here’s a look at Florida. As the number of tests administered is increasing, so is are the number of cases.

As we get more data over time, the number of hospitalizations will be more and more telling. At this point, it’s 526 out of 3,763 cases, or about 14%. This percentage will become much more accurate as the sample size increases.

The death rate for Coronavirus in Florida is declining, but it’s too early and we don’t have a large enough sample size to draw a statistical inference from it just yet. We hope to see the death rate stay this low.

I’m going to monitor this data once a day, just as I monitor global market trends around the world. When I observe something asymmetric or useful, I’ll share it. In addition to viewing the trends and rate of change (momentum), I’ll also do some studies of ratios, correlations, and spreads to see if we can spot any patterns. If you have any questions for charting requests, contact me at the top of the page.

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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.

Authorities should use data science tools to be precise in QUARANTINE mandates

As I was writing this follow up to the Kinsa data US Health Weather Map, my conclusion is it seems Authorities should use all the data science they can to be as precise as possible for any government-mandated quarantines. I thought so because I believe, although social distancing is essential to slow the spread of COVID – 19,  a government-mandated quarantine is a very big step. A government-mandated quarantine, especially one mandated at the federal level, has its risks. I’m thinking in terms of the impact on the individual mental and physical health of Americans, our communities, and the economy. At the federal level, their duty is to make decisions in the best interest of the overall situation.

Data Science

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and systems to extract knowledge and insights from many structural and unstructured data. Data science is related to data mining and big data.

I’m doing a Twitter poll that asks: Do you believe a broad quarantine worth the cost to the individual mental/physical health, community, and the economy? As of this writing, here are the results so far.

Twitter Poll Q

Polls such as Twitter polling is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a form of data science in that it gives us an idea of the opinions and observations of a large group of people. It also starts a conversation around the topic if it’s thought-provoking.

As I said in Increasing evidence social distancing policies at the state level are causing decreases in the viral transmission of Coronavirus COVID 19 the exponential trend in new cases in the US is already underway, so I’m now focusing on the inflection point. I’m concerned many Americans will be more panicked when they see how fast the spread compounds in the weeks ahead, so you should be prepared for it. However, as the trend is adrift, I’m thinking of inertia such as social distancing and how we can potentially find any signals in the noise.

I shared in Increasing evidence social distancing policies at the state level are causing decreases in the viral transmission of Coronavirus COVID 19 the best tool I’ve seen so far that may have some useful predictive ability is the Health Weather Map by Kinsa.

The U.S. Health Weather Map is a visualization of seasonal illness linked to fever – specifically influenza-like illness. The aggregate, anonymized data visualized on the map is a product of Kinsa’s network of Smart Thermometers and accompanying mobile applications, and Kinsa is providing this map and associated charts as a public service.

Kinsa has updated its atypical Illness map to reflect the cumulative amount of atypical illnesses we’ve observed since March 1.  Previously the Health Weather Map reflected only new atypical illness, updated daily. Kinsa says:

As widespread social distancing measures take effect, feverish illness levels are dropping, and we feel this way of looking at the data gives a more accurate and comprehensive view of what’s happening. Change is effective as of March 27.

Here is the chart today. Since we are in Tampa Bay in Florida, I especially notice the red here in south Florida. The Miami-Dade area has especially active atypical data from their thermometers. The map above shows us how much influenza-like illness above the normal expected levels Kinsa has detected since March 1.

HEALTH WEATHER MAP KINSA

The time series chart allows us to compare Kinsa’s observations of the influenza-like illness level in the U.S., in orange and red, against where we’d expect them to be, in blue, and see how that relationship has changed over the past few weeks,

time series chart allows you to compare Kinsa observations

I made a gif video of the map taking a closer look around south Florida including Tampa Bay and Miami-Dade to show the level of detail.

kinsa health weather map

I’m thinking this data is likely to have predictive power and may help authorities to monitor, track, and make decisions about quarantines and such.

Just imagine the ability to electronically monitor certain health measures of thousands or millions of people around the country. That’s essentially what we have here, and it’s a  visualization of seasonal illness linked to fever, specifically influenza-like illness, which is a common characteristic of Coronavirus COVID – 19.

The CDC says:

“People may be sick with the virus for 1 to 14 days before developing symptoms. The most common symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are fever, tiredness, and dry cough.”

So, it seems identifying and tracking the trend as soon as possible is essential.

Aside from a concern, Americans will start to panic more when they see a very fast accelerating growth of new cases, I’m now concerned about how they may react to a government-mandated lockdown. We are seeing evidence the social distancing is working and needs to continue, but a government-mandated quarantine may have more mental trama to it.

As I was writing this, I saw the President tweeted he is considering a more targeted quarantine:

It seems the more precise they can be in deciding areas to lock down the better. I believe it because when we look at the map of confirmed cases, the red areas are distinct. Much of the US doesn’t have any cases at all. So, I can see why the federal authorities hesitate to quarantine the entire country.

COVID 19 CASES US

But, if they can more precisely define the risk areas using the tools available, the data from the map from Kinsa’s network of Smart Thermometers and accompanying mobile applications may help them to see early warning signs in new areas. 

As a libertarian myself, I’m not an enthusiast of the federal government mandating a shutdown, and I prefer to at least let the state, county, and city make their own decisions. I’m also one to try to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem, so we are self-quarantined to the extent we can and I support a more precise government-mandated quarantine.

The reality is, we don’t know if the cost of a broad quarantine is worth the cost to the individual mental/physical health, community, and the economy, so the best thing is to be as precise as possible about managing the risks.

I believe tools like the US Health Weather Map can be part of the solution.

We are working on a report of the COVID – 19 trends I’ll be sharing shortly. I’m going to start analyzing the trends quantitatively. Don’t miss out, sign up to get the email:

Join 48,144 other followers

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.

Good news for the stock market

Something we have warned about for a while now is the elevated valuation level of stocks in general.

To be sure, I search for “Shiller PE” here on ASYMMETRY® Observations to mention the most recent times.

I promise I’m not just tooting my own horn here. The intent is to make the point that these things were present before this market crash and it’s starting to get cleared up. The same person who wrote about it then is now looking for the trend to change. But, to fully understand, we have to go back and see where we are coming from to know where we are now.

February 6, 2020 19 is the new 20, but is this a new low volatility regime?

I wrote:

  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

Before that, on January 17, 2020 in

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

Before that, on January 17, 2020 in What’s the stock market going to do next? I included:

THE BIG PICTURE 

First, I start with the big picture.

The S&P 500 is trading at 31.8 x earnings per share according to the Shiller PE Ratio which is the second-highest valuation level it has been in 150 years. Only in 1999 did the stock index trade at a higher multiple times earnings.

Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500

This price-earnings ratio is based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio), Shiller PE Ratio, or PE 10.

What is the P/E 10 and how is it calculated?

  1. Look at the yearly earning of the S&P 500 for each of the past ten years.
  2. Adjust these earnings for inflation, using the CPI (ie: quote each earnings figure in 2020 dollars)
  3. Average these values (ie: add them up and divide by ten), giving us e10.
  4. Then take the current Price of the S&P 500 and divide by e10.

The bottom line is, the stock market valuation has been expensive for a while now. The only time I factor in the price-earnings ratio is in the big picture. Although it isn’t a good timing indicator, it is considered a measure of the margin of safety for many investors and at this elevated level, there is no margin of safety by this measure.

As such, risk seems high in the big picture, which suggests investors should access their exposure to the possibility of loss in stocks and stock funds to be prepared for a trend reversal.

As a matter of fact, I was quoted three times in Barron’s and MarketWatch in November 2019 and January 2020 warning of the elevated risk level in stocks because of their valuation, the length of the bull market that is 11 years old, and what was a very low level of volatility.

I’m a true independent thinker, and have evidence of that as well. I’m sure my friends at Barron’s may not have liked it when I poke a little fun at the cover on January 18th and made it as clear as it could be! Here is what I wrote in Now, THIS is what a stock market top looks like!

To be fair, I also included how Barron’s had been right before on their cover, but I was just using this as a confirming sign along with many other things I was already seeing.

I followed with;

My observations this week seem especially important because risk levels have become more elevated, yet individual investor sentiment is extremely optimistic.

As I’ve had very high exposure to stocks, I have now taken profits in our managed portfolios.

It’s a good time to evaluate portfolio risk levels for exposure to the possibility of loss and determine if you are comfortable with it. 

Here is the good news. After more than a -30% decline, the S&P 500 Shiller PE is down to 21, which is now within a more normal range, especially if we can assume low inflation. It’s still highly valued, but not the extremely overvalued 32 I warned about several times this year.

At 32 times earnings, it was the second most expensive time for stocks in American history. Second only to the late 1990’s and above Black Tuesday, just before the Great Depression.

The S&P 500 Shiller CAPE Ratio, also known as the Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings ratio, is defined as the ratio the the S&P 500’s current price divided by the 10-year moving average of inflation-adjusted earnings. Shiller PE was invented by Yale economist Robert Shiller and has become a popular way to understand long-term stock market valuations. It is used as a valuation metric to forecast future returns, where a higher CAPE ratio could reflect lower returns over the next couple of decades, whereas a lower CAPE ratio could reflect higher returns over the next couple of decades, as the ratio reverts back to the mean.

The mean is 16.70, so it still has a way to go for mean reversion.

The only good thing about falling stock prices is, if you have a lot of cash, as we’ve had, you get to buy stocks and equity ETFs at lower risk entry points. I’m not often a value investor, but I am when prices actually become fairly valued to undervalued.

Another way to observe valuations of the big picture is the S&P 500 PE Ratio. The S&P 500 PE Ratio is the price to earnings ratio of the constituents of the S&P 500. The S&P 500 includes the 500 largest companies in the United States and can be viewed as a gauge for how the US stock market is performing. The price to earnings ratio is a valuation metric that gives a general idea of how a company’s stock is priced in comparison to their earnings per share. Historically, the S&P 500 PE Ratio peaked above 120 during the financial crisis in 2009 and was at its lowest in 1988. I marketed the high, low, and average in the chart.

The trouble is, this PE metric did skyrocket in the last bear market. It’s because in recessions and bear markets, earnings decline. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the S&P earnings over the last twenty years with the recessionals in gray.

It all makes more sense when we see all three of the stock market return drivers in one chart. Earnings fall, price falls, dividend increases as the price decrease, and PE spikes up.

Next I show all four; price trend, PE trend, earnings cycle, and dividend yield.

So, the good news is, the US stock market is becoming less overvalued. The downside is, a recession seems imminent as earnings was already expected to slow. This is at least one less risk in the big picture, but we’ll see how it all unfolds from here.

Bear markets are difficult and with all the negative headlines right now, I know it’s hard for people to see light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t see it, either, but as a tactical investment manager, I increase and decrease exposure to the risk/reward and in a volatility expansion, I expect wider swings.

These are fascinating times and past bear markets have been the highlight of my professional investment management career, so sign up if you want to follow along with email notifications of new observations.

Let us know if we can help.

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.

You probably want to sell stocks, now

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

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

On January 11, I wrote:

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

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

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

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

fear greed index

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

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

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

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

stocks stock market at all time high

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

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

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

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

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

What has changed?

A lot has changed since then.

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

The speed of the decline was most impressive.

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

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

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

 ― Warren Buffett

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

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

That’s what I’ve been doing.

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

It all seems so uncertain, but it always is.

“Don’t fight the Fed.”

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

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

RISK MANAGER / RISK TAKER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would it take?

I have no idea.

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

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

It’s what I call ASYMMETRY®.

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

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

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

Bolted to the chair

Mark Twain’s mother said:

“I only wish Mark had spent more time making money rather than just writing about it”.

I am no Mark Twain.

I’m a tactical trader, so that’s my first purpose.

I’m not always going to take the time to write it out in a format I can share here.

I’ve been bolted to the chair this week but didn’t spend any time sharing my observations.

Instead, I encourage you to do what I did. I went back and reread some observations from January to see what I was seeing and thinking then.

I think about:

What has changed?

How has sentiment changed?

How has the trend direction changed?

Has volatility changed?

Has momentum changed?

Has the narrative changed?

What didn’t we know then we do today?

Is what we believe today congruent with what we believed then?

Here’s what I read:

 

If you do this, you’ll see why.

Historic day for the stock market

Today was just a reversal of Friday’s late-day surge.

SPX SPY TRADING

The stock market is even more washed out.

With the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates and buying back bonds, the long term US Treasury Index reversed back up.

long term treasuries

The stock indexes are down to their 2018 lows and if the selling doesn’t dry up, we may see a mean reversion of the last 10 years. It wouldn’t be surprising for many reasons, especially when we see it happens to be the area of trouble in 2015-16. Keep in mind, the Fed has been a key return driver for the last several years. It doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

spx mean reversion

I’m a risk manager, risk-taker, so I increase and decrease exposure to asymmetric risk/reward as conditions change over time. When I see signs of the selling pressure drying up or buying enthusiasm overwhelming the selling pressure, I’ll be looking to buy stocks again.

That is all.

Let me know if we can help.

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

Panic selling drove a waterfall decline and washout for the stock market

Growing up in East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains, I observed a lot of waterfalls.

Wiki says a fall of water is an area where water flows over a vertical drop or a series of steep declines in the course of a stream or river.

According to National Geographic, a waterfall is a river or other body of water’s steep fall over a rocky ledge into a plunge pool below. Waterfalls are also called cascades. The process of erosion, the wearing away of earth, plays an essential part in the formation of waterfalls.

waterfall decline in stocks stock market

What we have witnessed in the global equity markets is a waterfall decline, the question now is if the plunge pool has developed.

water fallAn overhang in a waterfall can sometimes protrude out enough to form a base, or even drive the water to flow upward for a while, but the waterfall isn’t over until the plunge pool develops.

waterfall overhang spring hill

Using the S&P 500 stock index as a proxy, it’s pretty clear there wasn’t much of an overhang along the way. For example, in the middle of this 3-year chart, we see how the decline in late 2018 played out. It had a lot of overhangs as the stock market was swinging up and down for several weeks.  Now, compare that to this time…

SPY SPX

What we have here is panic selling.

Investors tend to underreact and overreact to new information.

Underreaction: Trends begin to drift in a direction as people initially underreact to change, so the price trend unfolds gradually.

Overreaction: Sometimes, investors overreact to new information, so the price is driven too far, too fast. When the market overreacts, prices overshoot too high, or too low.

At the bottom of a waterfall is a plunge pool, where the water settles. What does the plunge pool look like as it develops? It’s a floor that has enough support the water stays were it is.

The trouble is, in the market, we don’t physically see the rock bottom. Unlike in physical science, an exchange market is a social science because it’s human behavior. Don’t think this is humans? Maybe it’s the computer algorithms? They are created and operated by humans.

I apply quantitative tools to get a read on how extreme investor sentiment is.

In analyzing market trends and price action, we can see what is going on with market internals, such as breadth. The NYSE Bullish Percent was developed by Abe Cohen was the first breadth indicator. Abe Cohen was an early pioneer of Point & Figure charting and created the NYSE BP in the mid-1950s. The NYSE Bullish Percent is a market risk barometer that measures the percent of stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange that have a Point & Figure buy signal, so they making higher highs, so they are in uptrends. The NYSE Bullish Percent is washed out. It hasn’t been this low since the waterfall decline in October 2008.

NYSE BULLISH PERCENT

The challenge with countertrends is they can also trend farther than you would ever believe is possible. It’s because markets don’t follow a normal distribution. Instead, market trends have fat tails, meaning some gains and losses exceed an otherwise normal distribution, as we see in physical science. As such, the overreactions can overshoot and just keep overshooting. We never know for sure when a trend has stopped. What we can do, however, is apply quantitative tools to gauge and guide. I use these as a guide and barometer for overall market risk.

The percent of the S&P 500 stocks above the 50-day moving average is washed out to 1%. In fact, only 7 of the 505 stocks in the S&P 500 are in a short term uptrend. While in a big bear market such as 2008-09, these conditions can continue for a long time, historically, this lower level of risk eventually offers the potential for asymmetric risk/reward. That is, the possibility for reward is greater than the risk it takes the achieve it. Or, the magnitude for a reward is greater than the downside risk, which can be predetermined with options or an exit (i.e., stop-loss.)

$SPXA50R breadth is washed out crash 2020

A material change that has occurred the past week is the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 200 day moving average, or longer-term uptrends have washed out. Only 5% of the stocks are in uptrends now, so 95% of them are in long term downtrends. That doesn’t sound good, but when it reaches an extreme, it suggests to me the selling pressure is intense and could eventually dry up.

percent of stocks above 200 day

This is about as oversold the stock market gets, both internally looking at the individual stocks and the indexes. Sure, it can get more oversold and stay there for as long as sellers have the desire to sell, but it has reached the point the odds of a short term reversal is increasing the lower it goes.

Yesterday I asked: where do you think we are in the cycle of market emotions?

THE CYCLE OF MARKET EMOTIONS

Clearly, when stock indexes drop 8-10% in a single day after already well off their highs, it is driven by emotional panic.

The US Investor Sentiment poll from AAII is released on a few day’s time lag, but Bearish % of those polled is another measure up to 2008-09 levels.

AAII INVESTOR SENTIMENT MARKET CRASH 2020

 

To no surprise, the Fear & Greed Index was penned all the way back to 1 after yesterday’s close.

fear greed panic market crash 2020

What we have here is a washout. A washout is an event or period that is spoiled by constant or heavy rain. We may see more rain, but it’s a washout nonetheless. A washout in the stock market is when prices have been flooding down so hard, so broad, it seems like a washout of rain.

As you can imagine, with a waterfall, heavy rains increase the volume and speed of water flow. A washout pushes the river to its limits.

The desire to sell has been overwhelming any buying interest that remains for a few weeks now. This has been the fastest decline in US stock market history. I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised if we believe a trend stretched far in one direction is more prone to snap back harder and faster. That’s what we’ve seen here.

This is the end of the longest bear market in US history, and it has indeed ended with a bang. That also means this is the beginning of a bear market. What we don’t know in advance is how long it will last or how low it will go. If we knew it would be -50%, we could simply sell short and profit from the fall. If we knew this was “the bottom,” we could use leverage to maximize gains on the upside. But, none of us know the outcome in advance, not the biggest banks, not the largest asset managers, and neither you nor I. The edge I do have is accepting this reality and embracing it to the point I drove me to create risk management systems to limit the downside when I’m wrong and focus on the things I can control. I’ve operated tactically through periods like this many times before in the last two decades, so I’ll just do what I do, which means I’ll execute many entries and exits until we find the trend. In conditions like we’ve seen this year, they’ll be countertrends. Once trends do develop, they’ll be trend following.

What I’ve typically seen in past bear markets is many cycles up and down along the way. That isn’t what we’ve seen this time, so far. This reminds me more of September 11, 2001, after the World Trade Center was attacked. The difference is, the S&P 500 was already down about -17%, and since the planes hit the World Trade Center in New York, the NYSE was closed. The New York Stock Exchange remained closed until the following Monday. This was the third time in history that the NYSE experienced prolonged closure, the first time being in the early months of World War I[2][3] and the second being March 1933 during the Great Depression.

It may not play out this way this time, but countertrends should be expected. Here is what the stock market did after the exchange opened after September 11. The SPX dropped -12% quickly, but then investors become patriotic, and it recovered a few weeks later. Of course, this happened inside a bear market that started in 2000 and didn’t end until 2003.

stock market v recovery september 11 9:11

Is this so different than 9/11? Of course, it is. Every new moment is always different. But, we’ve experienced these things before. I was much more of a rookie 20 years ago when I walked into my investment firm office to see the planes hit. It was an incredibly emotional and panicked time in American history. At the time, it wasn’t just the one attack, we wondered what would be next. It was the Pentagon, and another plane was hijacked. We didn’t know what to expect, it was uncertain. When would we be attacked again? Where? Would it wipe us out?

We didn’t know.

Portfolio managers and tactical traders must be here, now, in the present moment, not dwelling on the recent past, there will be time for that later when things are calm and quiet. But even then, we can’t do anything in the past, we can only do it now.

I hope this helps.

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

 

 

 

Self-discipline, Panic Selling, and the Cycle of Emotions

At the moment, the popular US stock market indexes are down over 25% from their years year-to-date.

STOCK MARKET CRASH 2020

Looking at the Cycle of Market Emotions, where do you think we are at this moment?

THE CYCLE OF MARKET EMOTIONS

The magnitude and speed of the decline are impressive by any measure. For example, below I charted two different historical (realized) volatility measures around the stock index.  The green area is a channel of average true range, which I used to define the normal noise of the market. The waterfall decline has been anything but normal, as it has exceeded two times its average true range several times. We can say the same for the standard deviation, which is the red line.

stock maket crash volatility

This price action is a “black swan” outside anything ‘normal’, so this is an extreme level of panic selling.

Looking at the Cycle of Market Emotions, this is the panic phase

Based on price action across global markets including many alternative assets like Real Estate, Energy MLPs, and investor sentiment measures, this is the panic, capitulation, and despondency phase. The reality of a bear market has to the fore and investors are panicking. Many panic and tap-out from the market from of fear of further losses. Those who stay in and endure the decline may become despondent and wonder whether the markets are ever going to recover. They’ll start to think “this time is different” and we’ve never seen anything like this before.

We haven’t, and this time is necessarily different, as it’s a new moment that never before existed. All market trends are unique because all new momentums are unique – never existed before. But, that doesn’t mean we can use the past to understand future possibilities. History is all we have as a guide and our past experience is essential at times like this.  As my focus is on investor behavior and how it drives market trends, momentum, and volatility, I’ll be sharing my beliefs on this in the days ahead.

Ironically, it’s times like this investors fail to realize markets also reach the point of maximum asymmetric risk/reward after such a radical waterfall decline. We never know in advance if it will keep trending down or reverse. This downtrend has been a fine example as it wasn’t interrupted my much of a countertrend back up. But in the big picture, the more extreme a price move, the higher the likelihood of a swing the other way – at least short term. I said the same about the uptrend. I like uptrends, but sometimes when it comes to momentum; the higher they go, the lower they fall. That’s what we’re seeing now. Investors should also be prepared for the opposite; the speed and magnitude of this decline may result in correspondingly strong countertrend reversals.

THE CYCLE OF MARKET EMOTIONS

This is panic level selling.

This is a volatility expansion, so expect prices to swing up and down.

This price trend will reverse when the selling pressure has exhausted and has driven prices down to a low enough point to attract the enthusiasm to buy.

Surely the trend is nearing that level at least on a short term basis. Market trends are a process, not an event, but this one has been a much faster and deeper process – and it feels like an event.

At times like this, it’s essential to be stoic. For me, as a professional investment manager who has tactically operated through many times like this before, a stoic is being calm,  emotionally intelligent, focus on the things I can control and let go of those I can’t and most of all self-discipline.

Self-discipline is the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.

I started increasing exposure to stocks after they fell because my managed portfolio was in a position of strength. I was in US Treasuries at the January stock market high, so we missed the first big leg down. We’re participating now as I increased exposure the last two weeks, so my tactical decisions are never perfect and never a sure thing. I don’t have to get it perfectly right every time, which is impossible. I just keep doing what I do, over and over, with great self-discipline and the calm of a stoic.

Hang in there friends, this too shall pass.

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

 

 

 

Why I’m not surprised to see such a volatility expansion

On November 15, 2019, I published “Periods of low volatility are often followed by volatility expansions” and included the below chart.

The point is just as the title said, when stock prices trend up quietly, they are eventually interrupted by the loud bang of falling prices.

Average True Range ATR use in portfolio management trading volatlity

In this case, it took a few months to see it play out.

Below, I updated the chart so it still has the same starting date, but shows us what happened after I posted it. The 11/15/19 day is labeled on the chart. It had a small decline shortly after, but then resumed the uptrend.

2020 stock market crash volatility expansion

In fact, the stock index went on to gain 9% from that point and was interrupted by only two small countertrend declines of 3-4%.

That is, until February 19th.

Since the peak, the stock index has declined -19% and volatility has exploded.

The volatility measure I used in the chart is an average of the true range, which accounts for a full price range of the period. The average true range is also what I used to draw the channels above and below the price trend to define “normal” price action.

The average true range of the price trend has increased by 420% since December, from 17 to 97. I know it shocked most people in the market and while I didn’t expect a -19% waterfall in just three weeks, I expected a volatility expansion and mean reversion. As I exited stocks a little early, we see now it didn’t matter this time as the stock market has given up far more upside than we missed out on over those few weeks.

Next, let’s look at a chart of implied volatility as indicated by the VIX based on how the market is pricing options. Implied vol spiked over 200%. I also included the 30-Day rolling volatility of the S&P 500 ETF. Implied volatility lead realized, historical, volatility to the upside.

volatilty expansion vix realized

So, the condition of the US stock market is volatile one as prices and swinging up and down, and only December 2008 in the middle of the Financial Crisis was it higher.

vix volatility trading asymmetric risk reward

If the VIX is a fear gauge, it’s signaling a lot of fear.

Again, “Periods of low volatility are often followed by volatility expansions” and that’s what we got. This time it got stretched on the upside so far it has snapped back to very quickly and violently correct it.

The good news is, the opposite is also true; periods of high volaltity are eventually followed by volatility contractions.

But, just as before, as it took time for the volatility contraction to become a volatility expansion, we’ll probably see a continuation of price swings and elevated volatility for a while.

Eventually, this too shall pass.

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

 

Profiting from the Madness of Crowds

If we want to profit from the madness of crowds, we necessarily need to believe and do different things than the crowd at the extremes.

You may have heard the stock market was down a lot yesterday. I consider yesterday’s price action a black swan event.  The -8% one-day decline was the worst day for S&P500 since 2008 and the 19th worst day since 1928.

The popular S&P 500 stock index dropped -7.6%, which was enough to trigger a circuit breaker to halt trading for the first time in 23 years. Circuit breakers are the thresholds when, if reached during a single-day decline in the S&P 500, trading is halted. Circuit breakers halt trading on US stock markets during dramatic price declines and are set at 7%, 13%, and 20% of the closing price for the previous day.

After yesterday’s waterfall decline, the price trend of the S&P 500 lost the 24% gain it had achieved a month ago.

stock market lost 2020 gain

Interestingly, we’re seeing “mean reversion” as the SPX is now all the way back to the same level it reached in January 2018. In investment management, mean reversion is the theory that a stock’s price will tend to move to the average price over time. This time it did.

mean reversion SPX SPY S&P 500

US equity investors would have been better off believing the market was too overvalued then and shifting to short term Treasuries. But, who would have been able to do that? Who wouldn’t have had the urge to jump back in on some of the enormous up days the past two years? There’s the real challenge: investor behavior. And yes, some may even look back and say they knew then but didn’t do anything. If we believed it then, we can go back and read out notes we made at the time. But, it wouldn’t matter if a belief isn’t acted on. I’m a trigger puller, I pull the trigger and do what I believe I should do in pursuit of asymmetric risk/reward for asymmetry.

Dow Jones is down -16.4% YTD at this point.

dow jones 2020 loss

The Dow Jones has also experienced some “mean reversion” over the 3-year time frame.

dow jones 2020 loss bear stock market

Mid-cap stocks, as measured by the S&P 400, are down, even more, this year, in the bear market territory.

mid cap stock in bear market MDY

Small-cap stocks, considered even riskier, are now down -23% in 2020.

small cap stocks are in a bear market

Clearly, the speed and magnitude of this waterfall decline have been impressive since the February 19th top just three weeks ago. Decreases in these broad stock indexes of -20% are indications of a strong desire to sell and yesterday, panic selling.

So, -20% from peak, the stock market decline has reached bear market territory and is now nearly in-line with the typical market-sell off since 1928 that preceded an upcoming recession.

Global Equity Market Decline

And by the way, it wasn’t just US equities, the selling pressure was global with some markets like Russia, Australia, Germany, Italy, and Brazil down much more.

stock stock market selloff

Extreme Investors Fear is Driving the Stock Market 

Indeed, after Extreme Fear is driving the stock market according to investor sentiment measures. A simple gauge anyone can use is the Fear & Greed Index, which measures seven different indicators.

As of today, it shows the appetite for risk is dialed back about as close to zero it can get.

what is driving the stock market

In the next chart, we can observe the relative level of the gauge to see where it is comparable to the past. While this extreme level of fear can stay elevated for some time, it has now reached the lowest levels of 2018. It’s important to note this isn’t a market timing indicator, and it does not always provide a timely signal. As you can see, at prior extreme lows such as this, the fear remained extreme for some time as the indicator oscillated around for a while. It’s a process, not an event. Investor sentiment measures like this tell us investors are about as scared as they get at their extreme level of fear is an indication those who wanted to sell may have sold.

fear greed investor sentment over time

Monitoring Market Conditions

My objective is asymmetric investment returns, so I look to find an asymmetric risk-reward in a new position. An asymmetric return profile is created by a portfolio of asymmetric risk-reward payoffs. For me, these asymmetric payoffs are about low-risk entries created through predefined exits and how I size the positions at the portfolio level. As such, I’ve been entering what I consider to be lower risk points when I believe there is potentila for an asymmetric payoff. Sometimes these positions are entering a trend that is already underway and showing momentum. The market is right most of the time, but they get it wrong at extremes on both ends. I saw that because of my own personal observations for more than two decades of professional money management, which is confirmed, markets and behavior really haven’t changed.

Humphrey B. Neill, the legendary contrarian whose book “The Art of Contrary Thinking,” published in 1954, including the same observations nearly seventy years ago.

“The public is right more of the time than not ” … but “the crowd is right during the trends but wrong at both ends.”

As market trends reverse and develop, we see a lot of indecision about if it will keep falling or reverse back up, which results in volatility as prices spread out wider driven by this indecisiveness. Eventually, the crowd gets settled on once side and drives the price to trend more in one direction as the majority of capital shifts enough demand to overwhelm the other side.

Risk Manager, Risk Taker

At these extremes, I have the flexibility to shift from a trend following strategy to a  countertrend contrarian investment strategy. My ability to change along with conditions is why I am considered an “unconstrained” investment manager. I have the flexibility to go anywhere, do anything, within exchange-traded securities. By “go anywhere,” I mean cash, bonds, stocks, commodities, and alternatives like volatility, shorting/inverse, real estate, energy MLPs, etc. I give myself as broad of an opportunity set as possible to find potentially profitable price trends. So, as prices have been falling so sharply to extremes, I was entering new positions aiming for asymmetric risk/reward. I was able to buy at lower prices because I had also reduced exposure at prior higher prices. As trends became oversold as measured by my systems, I started increasing exposure for a potential countertrend.

On ASYMMETRY® Observations, I’m writing for a broad audience. Most of our clients read these observations as do many other investment managers. My objective isn’t to express any detail about my specific buying and selling, but instead overall observations of market conditions to help you see the bigger picture as I do. As long time readers know, I mostly use the S&P 500 stock index for illustration, even though I primarily trade sectors, stocks, countries; an unconstrained list of global markets. I also share my observations on volatility, mostly using the VIX index to demonstrate volatility expansions/contractions. At the extremes, I focus a lot of my observations on extremes in investor sentiment and breadth indicators to get an idea of buying and selling pressure that may be drying up.

Market Risk Measurement 

One of my favorite indicators to understand what is going on inside the stock market is breadth. To me, breadth indicators are an overall market risk measurement system. Here on ASYMMETRY® Observations, I try to show these indicators as simple as possible so that anyone can understand.

If we want to profit from the madness of crowds, we necessarily need to believe and do different things than the group at the extremes.

One of my favorite charts to show how the market has de-risked or dialed up risk is the percent of S&P 500 stocks above the moving average. As you see in the chart, I labeled the high range with red to signal a “higher risk” zone and the lower level in green to indicate the “lower risk” zone.

percent of s&P stocks above moving average 2020

I consider these extremes “risk” levels because it suggests to me after most of the stocks are already in long term uptrends, the buying enthusiasm may be nearing its cycle peak. And yes, it does cycle up and down, as evidenced by the chart. As of yesterday’s close, only 17% of the S&P 500 stocks are trending above their 200-day moving average, so most stocks are in a downtrend. That’s not good until it reaches an extreme level, then it suggests we may be able to profit from the madness of crowds as they tend to overreact at extremes.  The percent of S&P 500 stocks above the longer-term moving average has now declined into the green zone seen in late 2018, the 2015-16 period, 2011, but not as radical as 2008 into 2009. If this is the early stage of a big bear market, we can expect to see it look more like the 2008-09 period.

We can’t expect to ever know if equities will enter a bear market in advance. If you base your trading and investment decisions on the need to predict what’s going to happen next, you already have a failed system. You are never going to know. What I do, instead, is focus on the likelihood. More importantly, I predefined the amount of risk I’m willing to take and let it rip when the odds seem in my favor. After that, I let it all unfold. I know I’ll exit if it falls to X, and my dynamic risk management system updates this exit as the price moves up to eventually take profits.

Zooming in to the shorter trend, the percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average has fallen all the way down to only 5% in an uptrend. This means 95% of the S&P 500 stocks are in shorter-term downtrends. We can interpret is as nearly everyone who wants to sell in the short term may have already sold.

stock market breadth risk management market timing

I can always get worse. There is no magical barrier at this extreme level that prevents it from going to zero stocks in an uptrend and staying there a long time as prices fall much more. But, as you see in the charts, market breadth cycles up and down as prices trend up and down.

If we are in the early stage of a big bear market, I expect there will be countertrends along the way if history is a guide. I’ve tactically traded through bear markets before, and the highlight of my career was my performance through the 2007-09 period. I didn’t just exit the stock market and sit there, I traded the short term price trends up and down. If someone just exited the stock market and sit there, that may have been luck. If we entered and exited 8 or 10 different times throughout the period with a positive asymmetry of more significant profits than losses, it may have required more skill. I like my managed portfolio to be in synch with the current risk/reward characteristics of the market. If that is what we are achieving, we may have less (or hedged) exposure at the peak and more exposure after prices fall. I believe we should always be aware of the potential risk/reward the market itself is providing, and our investment strategy should dynamically adapt to meet these conditions.

If we want to profit from the madness of crowds, it means we have some cash or the equivalent near trend highs and reenter after prices fall. It may also be achieved by hedging near highs and using profits from the hedge to increase exposure after prices have dropped. It sounds like a contrarian investor. To be a contrarian investor at extremes to profit from a countertrend, we study crowd behavior in the stock market and aim to benefit from conditions where other investors/traders act on their emotions. These extremes of fear and greed are seen at major market turning points, presenting the disciplined contrarian with opportunities to both enter and exit the market.

This crowd psychology has been observed for many decades, and unfortunately, investors and traders are excellent lab rates to study the behavior.

Believe it or not, 179 years ago, in 1841, Charles Mackay published his book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” in which discussing the South Sea Bubble and Dutch Tulip Mania as examples of this mass investment hysteria. People haven’t changed. As a crowd, we the people still underreact to initial information and then overreact at the extremes.

As Mackay observed nearly two centuries ago:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Once people begin to go with the crowd, their thinking can become irrational and driven by the emotional impulses of the crowd rather than on their own individual situation.

According to studies like DALBAR’s Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (QAIB), individual investors have poor results over the long haul. QAIB has measured the effects of investor decisions to buy, sell and switch into and out of mutual funds over short and long-term timeframes since 1994 and finds people tend to do the wrong things at the wrong time. If we want to create different results from the majority, we must necessarily believe and do things differently.

At this point, we’ve seen fund flows from stocks to bonds reach extreme levels across multiple time frames as panic selling set in. I’m glad to say, while imperfect as to timing, I have done the opposite by shifting to short term US Treasuries at the prior high stock prices and then started rebuying stocks last week. Of course, I have predetermined points I’ll exit them if they fall, so I remain flexible and may change direction quickly, at any time.

I’m seeing a lot of studies showing that history suggests single-day waterfall declines like yesterday were followed by gains over the next few weeks. Rather than hoping past performance like that simply repeats, I prefer to measure the current risk level and factor in existing conditions.

It’s important to understand, as. I have pointed out many times before, that the US stock market has been in a very aged bull market that has been running 11 years now. And the longest on record. The US is also in the longest economic expansion in history, so we should be aware these trends will eventually change. But, when it comes to the stock market, longer trends are a process, not an event. Longer trends unfold as many smaller swings up and down along the way that may offer the potential for flexible tactical traders to find some asymmetry from the asymmetric risk/reward payoffs these conditions may create.

It’s also important to be aware the volatility expansion and waterfall decline the past three weeks seems to indicate a fragile market structure with a higher range of prices, so we’re likely to observe turbulence for some time. These conditions can result in amplified downtrends and uptrends.

Falling prices create forced selling by systematic investment managers similar to what we saw in the December 2018 market crash. As I’ve seen signals from my own systematic trend following and momentum systems shift, it’s no surprise to see some increased selling pressure that may be helped by more money in these programs.

We are in another period of extremes driven by the “madness of crowds,” and my plan is to apply my skills and experience with the discipline to tactically operate through whatever unfolds.

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

 

 

 

Coronavirus quick take and useful resources to track COVID-19

The Coronavirus outbreak is the current headline scare. I focus on data, data mining, analyzing trends, momentum (rate of change), and volatility. I like my information succinct and factual, so when I look at Coronavirus COVID-19, I’m not reading opinions and other nonsense, I’ve focused on the facts in the data, its trend, and rate of change. I took some time today to get my head around what is going on. Here, I share the best resources we found.

As of this writing, here are the Total Confirmed Coronavirus cases, Total Deaths, and Total Recovered. I’m using an outstanding website from Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE.

CORONAVIRUS TOTAL CONFIRMED CASES

Is Coronavirus COVID-19 being overhyped?

Only time will tell. But, there are things we can do in advance to be pro-active and situationally aware.

The single best resource I’ve found is the map from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. It draws data from global disease control agencies on Coronavirus cases for a worldwide view of coronavirus cases in real-time. You can zoom in on the map and get detail to monitor an area.

Here is what the Coronavirus around the world looks like.

coronavirus worldwide

Here is the Coronavirus map of the US.

coronavirus us cases

I’m in the Tampa, Florida area, so here is how we can zoom in to see the details.

coronavirus tampa florida

In the bottom right, we can observe a chart of the mainland China cases, other locations, and total recovered.

coronavirus chart of dealth cases recovery

At this time, the orange line represents China, and the rate of change has shifted from exponential growth to leveling off. However, there is a risk of a pandemic, according to the CDC. In the CDC Risk Assessment, they say two of the factors have been met for a pandemic, and; “As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.”

I’m watching for a new virus since it will trigger the label “pandemic.” 

Specifically, here is a useful passage from the CDC to know: (the bold is mine)

Risk Assessment

Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern. The risk to the general public from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people; the severity of resulting illness; and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccines or medications that can treat the illness). That this disease has caused severe illness, including illness resulting in death is concerning, especially since it has also shown sustained person-to-person spread in several places. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.

It is important to note that current circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC’s risk assessment will be updated as needed.

Current risk assessment:

  • For most people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. This virus is not currently widespread in the United States.
  • People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on the location.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on the location.

CDC has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19.

What May Happen

More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that sustained person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including throughout communities in the United States. It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur.

Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, and workplaces, may experience more absenteeism. Mass gatherings may be sparsely attended or postponed. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and sectors of the transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.

According to the data from Johns Hopkins CSSE, a peak was reached on February 13, 2020, when the number of cases spiked. February 14 was also a big day of new cased reporting. However, just looking at the downtrend in the data before the spike, it seems like China may have underreported leading up to the 13th.

CORONAVIRUS DAILY

Coronavirus is getting the blame for the stock market decline. If you’ve been reading my observations here the past few months, you know I don’t believe news drives the stock market as much as people think. To be sure, we can simply look back over past observations, and it may surprise you.

So, February 19 was the peak price for the stock market index, which I labeled on the chart as well as the February 13 spike. If the news of Coronavirus is causing the stock market to fall, it underreacted.

IS CORONAVIRUS CAUSING STOCK MARKET STOCKS TO FALL

I’m not downplaying Cornonviris COVID-19 as the risks are real and it’s an asymmetric uncertainty. If we get it wrong, the risk of loss is substantial, and we just don’t know how it will unfold. What I do know is what I can control. Be prepared with situational awareness. What if it does become a pandemic? Prepare for the possibility as best you can, then let it all unfold.

I glance over headlines to see what the herd is thinking and doing, but I prefer analyzing the data myself, directly. So, I’ll continue monitoring the interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real-time with the exceptional resource Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE.

I’m also monitoring the narrative from the CDC updates at Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

And then there is the Florida Health Department, which has a dynamic page that may be useful for confirmation: Florida 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

florida 2019 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19

 

So, those are the resources. It seems the essential thing to do is be prepared with supplies and monitor the number of outbreaks, its trend, and momentum. But, maybe more important is the possibility of it becoming a pandemic, which will be called if a new virus. It’s worth reading again from the CDC:

That this disease has caused severe illness, including illness resulting in death is concerning, especially since it has also shown sustained person-to-person spread in several places. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.

It is important to note that current circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC’s risk assessment will be updated as needed.

Is this really driving the stock market?

Go back and read my observations for the past few months and decide for yourself. I believe it was initially just the market, doing what it does. However, if this does spread rapidly in the US and cannot be contained as well in the US as they supposedly have in China, and is a pandemic, it could be just enough catalyst to tip over what is already a slowing economy.

Beyond that, I encourage you to learn from the past, as I do, by reading what was just a few weeks ago.

November 16, 2019: Periods of low volatility are often followed by volatility expansions

November 21, 2019: I was quoted in Barron’s: Investors are ignoring two major risks to stocks, warns fund manager

January 6, 2020: I was quoted in MarketWatch: U.S.-Iran tensions will spark increased volatility — here’s how to play stocks, fund manager says

January 21, 2020: What could go wrong

At the time, you have thought I was early, but… it wasn’t raining when Noah build the ark. 

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

 

 

Wrong narrative? Feeling the Bern of socialism may have been even scarier

Yesterday, after the “emergency” interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve, the US stock market trended down to close -2.8%.

Top news headlines looked like this:

fed rate cut march 2020

They were rather alarming, the largest since the financial crisis, and “emergency cut” and “to combat virus fear.”

What if much of the selling pressure in the stock market has been more by “Fear the Bern” more than coronavirus? Stock index futures are up about as much as they fell yesterday after Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday.

stock market feared bernie sanders fear the bern

Prior to last night, Sanders appeared highly likely to secure the nomination; the odds plunged from 65% to 16% now.

You may consider the possibility large stock market investors were more concerned about the recent Bernie Sanders lead over Joe Biden than coronavirus.

Feeling the Bern of socialism may have been even scarier. 

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

 

The Fed did what?

At 10 AM yesterday morning, the Fed cut rates.

The actual statement is worth reading.

March 03, 2020

Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement

For release at 10:00 a.m. EST

The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. In light of these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals, the Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/2 percentage point, to 1 to 1‑1/4 percent. The Committee is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.

Voting for the monetary policy action were Jerome H. Powell, Chair; John C. Williams, Vice Chair; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; Richard H. Clarida; Patrick Harker; Robert S. Kaplan; Neel Kashkari; Loretta J. Mester; and Randal K. Quarles.

 

I highlighted in green the 10 AM spike up in the S&P 500 stock index. Then, after the initial reaction, the stock market trended down to close -2.8%.

stock market declined fed rate cut

Normally, an interest rate cut is positive for stocks. But, this time it was considered an “emergency” rate cut (the media term for it today) “In light of these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals.” 

The headlines were negative.

fed rate cut march 2020

Every new bear markets need a catalyst to get the blame. If this decline were to unfold into a material bear market, down -20% or more, it would be because of its valuation level of this aged bull market in stocks. As stated before, this economic expansion and the bear market is the longest ever in history in terms of time. At elevated valuation levels, we can expect higher volaltity expansion and deeper price swings. Although, these swings can also produce potential tactical trading proprieties.

According to the CME Fed Funds Futures Probability Tree, the futures market seems to expect rates are going much lower, like zero.

Fed Funds Futures Probability Tree Calculator

FOMC meetings probabilities are determined from the corresponding CME Group Fed Fund futures contracts. Probabilities of possible Fed Funds target rates are based on Fed Fund futures contract prices assuming that the rate hike is 0.25% (25 basis points) and assumes the Fed Funds Effective Rate (FFER) will react by a like amount. The probability of a rate hike is calculated by adding the probabilities of all target rate levels above the current target rate.

The Effective Fed Funds Rate long term historical trends are in the next chart.

Effective Fed Funds Rate March 2020

The US 10 Year Treasury Rate has fallen to its lowest level, ever, so it’s not in uncharted territory. With the 10 Year Treasury Rate at about 1%, it was 2.72% a year ago, and the long term average is 4.5%.

uncharted territory 10 year treasury rate

The 10-year treasury is the benchmark used to determine mortgage rates and the most liquid and most traded bond in the world. Financial analyst use the 10-year yield as their “risk-free” rate when valuing a stock, bond, or markets.

Low-interest rates are great for borrowers, but not savers. The continuation of the downtrend in interest rates will continue to punish those who save their money in the bank rather than invest it in stocks, bonds, etc.

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

 

 

Global Asset Allocation: Risk and reward isn’t a knob we turn to get what we want. 

I don’t believe I know anyone who invests all of their money in the stock market, all the time.

In order to invest all of your money in the stock market all the time, you’d have to be willing and able to accept a downside loss (drawdown) of -50% or worse. I say that because it’s the historical drawdown.

S&P 500 Stock Index Historical Drawdowns

In the S&P 500 Stock Index Historical Drawdowns chart below, we see -20% several times, -30% a few times, and -45% or more three times. It happens, it can happen, and it will happen again. It’s why I prefer to instead actively manage my risk for drawdown control.

Losses are exponential the deeper they get and too hard to overcome.

To truly understand the risk, I think we have to know if a market has fallen -50% in the past, it could certainly do it again in the future, or even worse. So, the risk isn’t some multiple times a volatility measure like Value at Risk, but instead, the possible loss is at least the worst historical drawdown. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future returns, so it could be worse next time, for all we know.

Since most people probably don’t have the risk tolerance, risk capacity, or financial ability to take that much risk, most investors invest in some fixed allocation of cash, bonds, and stocks. If they use an advisor, they most likely are further diversified into International markets to make it a diversified portfolio of Global Asset Allocation (GAA). To track Global Asset Allocation, I use the S&P Target Risk Indexes for Global Asset Allocation.

The short story is, S&P allocates between equities and fixed income.

TARGET RISK ALLOCATION

How has a Global Asset Allocation performed so far in 2020 through February?

To answer, I look at these S&P Target Risk Index. But, keep in mind, these indexes do not include fees such as advisory fees or trading costs. Clearly, more risk is not always compensated with more return. All of them are down, but the more aggressive allocation to stocks hasn’t resulted in more return, but less, so far.

Global Asset Allocation GAA performance 2020

In fact, the % off high shows the drawdown for each of the Target Risk Indexes. You can probably see why “growth” and “aggressive” isn’t always as it sounds.

Global Asset Allocation GAA Target Risk Drawdown

Risk and reward isn’t a knob we get to turn to get what we want.

I prefer to rotate, rather than allocation, and actively increase and decrease my exposure to the possibility of risk and reward. It’s the only way I know that has the potential for my objective of asymmetric risk-reward.

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

I’ve been here before; stocks are entering the zone

Based on breadth and short term momentum indicators, the U.S. stock market is entering what I consider to be the green zone. The green zone is the lower risk area, which is the opposite of the higher risk red zone. As I pursue asymmetric risk-reward by structuring trades with asymmetric payoffs, I’d rather lower my risk in the red zone and increase it in the green zone. Said another way, to structure trades with an asymmetric payoff, I believe the positive asymmetry comes from increasing exposure in the green zone and reducing exposure in the red zone. However, it isn’t a buy or sell signal for me, but instead a risk indicator. My buying and selling is an individual position decision, but my stock portfolio is probably going to be in synch with these overall market risk analysis at extremes.

S&P 500 Percent of Stocks Above 50 Day Moving Average is an indicator showing the percentage of stocks in the S&P 500 that closed at a higher price than the 50-day simple moving average. The chart below was updated after Friday’s close. Only 3% of the stocks in the S&P 500 Index are trading above their 50-day moving average, a short term trend line.

BREADTH PERCENT ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE SPX 500

If you want to see how I applied it in the last big stock market decline, read “An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market” late December 2018 when I suggested the probability was in favor of reversal back up was high. The next day, on December 24, 2018, in “An exhaustive stock market analysis… continued,” I shared:

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

I’ve been here before.

I’m seeing similar signals now, as you can see in the above chart, the participation in the downtrend has now reached the same level as the price lows of 2018.

Now, make no mistake, trends downtrends can continue. Price trends can unfold unlike anything ever seen in the past as every new moment is unique, having never existed before – so past performance is no guarantee of future results. I have never actually been here before, no one has, but I’ve experienced this kind of condition many times before.

I’ve shared many times, my indicators measure buying and selling demand, so when most stocks are already participating in uptrends, it signals those who wanted to buy have already. I believe the same is true for downtrends; aftermost stocks are already in downtrends, those who wanted to sell may have already sold, their selling becomes exhausted, and when prices are pushed down low enough, it attracts buyers to buy. It’s all probabilistic, never a sure thing. It seems many investors were shocked by the speed and magnitude of his waterfall decline – I was not. If you’ve followed my observations, you’ve read enough to know anything is possible.

The S&P 500 Percent of Stocks Above 500 Day Moving Average is also entering what I considered the green zone.

spx trading advisor

As such, the stock market looks deeply oversold to me. Since I already reducted exposure before this decline, we view this period from a position of strength. It doesn’t always work out so well, it’s always imperfect, but I’m not sitting here down -13% from two weeks ago taking a beating hoping the losses stop.

stock loss 2020 drawdown

Managing risk when it’s at a high level for drawdown control offers the potential to be in a position of strength at times like this, and it’s my preference. Portfolio managers with cash or profits from hedging now can enter stocks and markets at lower-risk entry points with a more favorable asymmetric risk-reward profile than before.

Although, as John Galt shared with me this next chart this morning on Twitter and said, “These are the pros & they were blindsided,” not all professionals are in a position of strength. The chart shows the net exposure to stock index futures at a high level.

spx futures exposure

Everyone gets what we want from the market; as we decide what we get.

If we want to avoid drawdowns, we reduce the risk of drawdown.

If we want to avoid missing out on gains, we stay invested to avoid missing out on gains.

Regardless of choice, it’s never going to be perfect. Those who expect it to be are always disappointed and unable to execute as a tactical operator. This is a human performance that prefers the “C” students. If we weren’t included to get perfect “A,” we have an edge for this skill. I focus my perfection on execution, but not on the individual outcomes.

I accept losses, so I’m able to cut them short. I’ve never taken a loss that was a mistake.

For me, not taking the loss as I had predetermined would be the mistake.

I love taking losses.

It’s why I have smaller ones. I prefer to cut my losses short, rather than let them become big losses.

If I didn’t love taking losses, I would have large losses like others do. Most investors hold on to their losses, hoping to recover from them. Sometimes it works, but when the big one comes, it doesn’t. I prefer more control, so I make active decisions and manage accordingly. Never expecting it to be perfect, accepting the imperfections.

My energy goes into my focus and discipline. For me, it’s all about mindset. I’m a perfectionist on how I execute my tactical trading decisions, which is the activity within my control.

When I enter a position, I can’t control what it will do afterward, but my exit will determine the result every time.

When I exit a position, I can’t control what the security does afterward, but I can re-enter it again if I want, or be glad I got out. Or, I may imperfectly not re-enter and later notice it trended up more. I still didn’t miss out, I made my choice.

So, yeah, I’ve been here before, in this kind of situation. All new moments are always unique. This time has never existed yet, so it’s necessarily unknowable and uncertain. When we accept it and embrace it, we can make decisions and go with the flow. The good news is, this seems like a lower risk level, and though it may make an even lower low at some point and yet unfold into a major bear market, it’s an asymmetric trading opportunity for me.

I enter my positions with predetermined exits in case I’m wrong, and let it rip.

Oh, and I glance at headlines and make note of them at extremes.

bearish bloomberg news coronavirus

I’ll just leave this right here for later reference.

WSJ bearish coronavirus news

I hope this helps.

Have questions? Need help? Get in touch here.

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

 

Permabear delight

I love music, so it plays in the background in my office, instead of financial news. Sure, I have Bloomberg playing on a TV, but with the volume down. I rarely turn it up, unless someone I know is speaking of something I’m interested in. My day is filled with music, a wide range of music, so when I thought “delight” and typed out “permabear delight,” I heard three different songs.

A permabear is an investment manager or investor who is always negative about the future direction of the markets and the economy in general, no matter what. The parts of the word help us understand its meaning: “Perma,” which means permanent and “bear,” which is someone who believes the market will fall (a “bear” market.) 

I’ve never been called a permabear in my 20+ year investment management career. But recently, a new follower asked if I am a permabear. It’s understandable because all he’d read was the past few months of my observations, and I have indeed been increasingly bearish. I got utterly bearish late January as my tactical trading signals, risk management, and drawdown control systems guided me to remove our stock market exposure to zero. The signals from my signals drive any “feeling” of bearishness I may have. Additional factors are extreme investor bullishness, implied volatility at extremes, and people wanting to get more aggressive. This is the part I often share here, hoping to help people observe how they feel the wrong feeling at the wrong time, and by doing so, they may eventually learn to feel the right feeling at the right time.

I tend to feel the right feeling at the right time. It’s something I’ve intentionally worked on, daily, for over two decades now, and with repetition comes increased skill and experience. For long term readers of my observations, I hope you’ve observed that. For our investment management clients, they’ve seen it in action in real-time. So, I become increasingly bearish as my quantitative systems signal risk levels are elevated. But, I also become bullish when the algorithms signal a price trend and volatility may have moved too far, too fast. When price trends move too far, too fast, I consider it an overreaction to information. I’ve discussed it a few times lately, especially regarding the coronavirus outbreak. I believe we witnessed an initial underreaction to how investors may eventually react, and then what appears to be an overreaction. At least in the short term.

So, now, I’m far from a permabear myself. I have investment manager friends who are permabears, and their performance reflects it. I also have friends who are permabears and have been unable to invest their money outside an FDIC insured bank account. That has been a big risk to them over the decades, but they may not know it, but to each their own. Banks need CD savers so they can lend the money out to borrowers at higher rates. It all seems to work out as everyone gets what they want.

At this point, the widely followed stock indexes have declined sharply with speed. The S&P 500 is down -14% from its recent all-time high, and the Dow is down over -15%.  The chart below is the % off high to put these drawdowns into context. It still isn’t as deep as late 2018, but it is now very close and happened much faster.

stock market drawdown 2020

While this may be a buying opportunity for those of us who had cash to increase exposure at these lower prices, it’s always possible it could trend lower. What seems more likely at this point is prices get low enough to attract buying enthusiasm, and if it’s enough, it reverses this waterfall decline, at least temporarily. After that, this may well be the bigging of the next big bear market. It’s a process, not an event, although this decline does look much more like an event than usual since it was so far, so fast.

I’ve now become short term bullish on the stock market. My systems which have been quantified and scientifically tested for robustness are now signaling prices are now at a level we consider oversold and a countertrend back up, at least retracing some of the recent waterfall declines that appear to be an overreaction. For example, below is the current chart of the S&P 500, which is down another -3% today. Below the price trend is a  simple 14-day measure of relative strength, a momentum indicator measuring the magnitude of recent price changes to evaluate overbought or oversold conditions. Today it has reached 20, which is the point I consider oversold. In fact, it’s now as low as it was during the late 2018 -19% waterfall decline.

stock market crash februrary 2020

Of course, after prices fall, so does investor enthusiasm to invest in stocks. It is no surprise to see the Fear & Greed Index made up of seven different sentiment measures reach the “Extreme Fear” level.

cnn fear greed Warren Buffett said when it comes to investing in stocks, it is smart to be “Fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Although I do a lot more tactical strategies that he does, at these extremes we have something in common.

We don’t invest our grocery money in stocks, but this may eventually prove to be a positive asymmetric risk-reward opportunity when risk is defined with a predetermined exit (stop loss) or positions structured in a way that define or limit downside risk.

A permabear, on the other hand, are maybe singing “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” by TLC, I’m hearing a diversified genre of some Rapper’s Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang, Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band, and Dixieland Delight by Alabama if you want to follow along.

I’m about to take the longest trip to Florida to Tennessee of my life. I hope you have a great weekend. As always, next week will be fascinating. Investors will either fear losing more money or fear missing out if they tapped out at low prices. I have bypassed both in our managed portfolios as we avoided the waterfall decline, so we’re in a position of strength to increase exposure to risk and reward. If you sell higher, you can buy lower. At this point, we can tolerate some downside from any new exposure from here as we know its mathematically becoming less likely, and we are now positioned to not have any fear of missing out if the trend reverses up.

I hope this helps!

Have questions? Need help? Contact us here.

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

 

Is the panic selling drying up?

After yesterday’s continued selling pressure, only 7% of the S&P 500 stocks remain in uptrends as measured by the 50-day moving average.

percent of stocks above moving average

As most stocks are participating in the downtrend, this breadth measure is about as low as it was in December 2018.

In case you are wondering, here are some of the few stocks in the index that are still above their trend line. I don’t consider this a buy list and we don’t own any of them directly.

stocks above moving average

Another sign of a strong desire to sell is the new highs-new lows as a percentage. It’s as low as it’s been the past year, as new lows are dominating.

new highs new lows percent

As expected, a chart of advance – declining stocks as a percentage is at the low end of its range and about as low as it can get as declining stocks are dominant.

advance decline percent

When investors are panic selling, prices can always trend lower, but this data shows mathematically prices have reached an extreme level on the downside that now appears to be an overreaction. We should be close to seeing this panic selling dry up as selling becomes exhausted and these lower prices attract buyers. After that, we’ll see if any countertrend back up continues, or eventually reverses back down. As I’ve said recently, given this bull market is very aged and we’ve seen the longest economic expansion in history, I believe the years ahead will require tactical trading and risk management.

I hope this helps!

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. I observe the charts and graphs to visually see what is going on with price trends and volatility, it is not intended to be used in making any determination as to when to buy or sell any security, or which security to buy or sell. Instead, these are observations of the data as a visual representation of what is going on with the trend and its volatility for situational awareness. I do not necessarily make any buy or sell decisions based on it. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Dow Jones is down -10% off its high

Dow Jones is down -10% off its high. I don’t pay much attention to the Dow Jones Industrial Average as it’s a price-weighted index of 30 stocks. But, the S&P 500 capitalization-weighted index of approximately 500 stocks seems a better proxy for “the market,” and it’s not far behind.

Here is the percent off high (drawdown) chart year to date.

dow jones down over 10 %

We don’t own either of these ETFs, they are for illustration only. In fact, our portfolio is was 85% U.S. Treasuries, and 15% invested in high dividend-yielding positions. One of them has a dividend yield of 9.8% and the other 11.9%, so while their prices may be falling with the stock market, we have some margin of safety from the high yield. In fact, as the prices fall, the yield rises from that starting point.

Speaking of dividend yield below is a visual of the dividend yield of the S&P 500 (1.84’%) and the Dow (2.27%), which are relatively low historically. But, as prices fall, the yields will rise, assuming the stocks in the index keep paying dividends.

stock dividend yield

In the above chart, I’m using the ETF dividend yields as they are real-time. Since the ETFs have only been trading for two or three decades, to see what I mean by “long term” I look at the S&P 500 Stock Index dividend yield (calculated as 12-month dividend per share)/price) to see how low the yield has been the past twenty years.

long term stock dividend yield

So, the future expected return from dividend yields on these stocks indexes is relatively low, looking back 150 years. The spikes you see are after stock market crashes as the price falls, the yield rises, as with bonds. Low dividend yield also suggests the stock market is overvalued. A higher dividend yield indicates the stock market is undervalued, and if nothing else, investors earn a higher income from the dividends from a lower starting price.

Back to the year to date, the short term, the S&P 500 is now down -5% in 2020, and the Dow Jones is down -7%.

stock market drop 2020

I believe this may be the fastest -10% decline in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial average.

I’m just glad we aren’t in it.

This is when drawdown controls and risk management pays. More importantly, it’s when discipline pays as some investment managers intend to manage risk to limit their drawdowns; they don’t excel in doing it. Discipline is a personal edge. It doesn’t matter how good our scientifically tested quantitative models and systems with a mathematical basis for believing in them if we lack the discipline to execute them with precision. But, I can go on to say that it isn’t enough for me to have all the discipline either, as we much necessarily help our investment management clients stick with it, too. So, investor behavior modification is part of our wealth management services. It’s why Christi Shell is not only a Certified Wealth Strategist® with over twenty-six years of experience helping high net worth families with the overall management of assets but also a certified Behavioral Financial Advisor® (BFA®) to help them manage themselves.

It’s what we do.

Need help? Contact us here.

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. I observe the charts and graphs to visually see what is going on with price trends and volatility, it is not intended to be used in making any determination as to when to buy or sell any security, or which security to buy or sell. Instead, these are observations of the data as a visual representation of what is going on with the trend and its volatility for situational awareness. I do not necessarily make any buy or sell decisions based on it. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Stock market recoveries are a process, not an event

After yesterday’s close, the popular stock market indexes, including the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and NASDAQ were down around -3% for the day.

stock market

Adding volatility bands around the price trend and its 20 day moving average illustrates a volatility expansion as prices have spread out to a wider trading range. The S&P 500 stock index traded below its lower volatility band, which expands as the price action becomes volatile. Volatility bands and channels help to answer: Are prices high or low on a short term relative basis? The recent price action is relatively high at the upper band and low at the lower band. By the way, I observe the charts and graphs to visually see what is going on with price trends and volatility, it is not intended to be used in making any determination as to when to buy or sell any security, or which security to buy or sell. Instead, these are observations of the data as a visual representation of what is going on with the trend and its volatility for situational awareness. I do not necessarily make any buy or sell decisions based on it. 

volatility expansion bollinger band

At this point, the stock index has traded below its band, demonstrating panic level selling pressure outside what I consider a normal range of price action. 

Volatility channels are even more useful when combined with other indicators for confirmation. Next, I add a momentum measure for confirmation the index is oversold on a short-term basis. It can get more oversold, but a short term reversal now becomes likely if the desire to sell has become exhausted. 

spx spy countertrend trend following asymmetric risk reward

The potential good news for those with exposure to loss, in the short term, we may see a countertrend move back up to retrace some of the stock market losses. However, this will be the test to see if selling pressure has been exhausted or if prices have been driven down low enough to attract sufficient buying interest to push the price trends back up.

Another observation I’ll share is after the close, we recalculated the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 200 day moving average using the end of day prices. The percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average is now at the 50-yard line, whit bout half of the SPX stocks in a longer-term uptrend and a half in a downtrend. Obviously, that’s more stocks now below the trend line than when I shared it yesterday.

percent of spx stocks above below 200 day moving average

A more significant decline is seen in the percent of stocks above their 50-day moving averages, which fell 38% to only 23% of S&P 500 stocks trading above their shorter-term moving average trend line.

percent of stocks above below 50 day moving average breadth

So, at least on a short term basis, selling pressure has pushed stocks down to the point more are in downtrends than uptrends.

Next, we’ll see if sellers have pushed prices low enough to attract significant buying demand. I expect to see at least a short term countertrend back up, as investors overreacted to the downside, but only time will tell if any countertrend up is sustainable long term. My longer-term indicators are neutral at this point, so there could be more selling if investors and traders anchor to prior highs wishing they’d sold previously and sell into an uptrend.

My objective is asymmetric returns, so I focus on asymmetric risk-reward. After prices seem to trend up too far, too fast, by my quantitative mathematical calculations, the asymmetric returns from future prices are limited, and the asymmetric risk is increased. After prices seem to fall too far, too fast, by my quantitative mathematical calculations, the asymmetric risk-reward profile becomes more positive. And, all of it is probabilistic, none of it is ever a sure thing.

It’s a process, not an event.

As I shared yesterday; Stock prices may not be finished falling, but some opportunities for asymmetric risk-reward may be present for those willing to take risks.  

Need help? Contact us here

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. I observe the charts and graphs to visually see what is going on with price trends and volatility, it is not intended to be used in making any determination as to when to buy or sell any security, or which security to buy or sell. Instead, these are observations of the data as a visual representation of what is going on with the trend and its volatility for situational awareness. I do not necessarily make any buy or sell decisions based on it. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

 

Stock prices may not be finished falling, but some opportunities for asymmetric risk-reward may be present for those willing to take risks

Based on my velocity measuring algorithms, the stock indexes are now starting to get oversold. That is, the stock indexes are reaching a point we could see at least a short term countertrend back up, on a short term basis. These measures are based on short term market overreactions, such as when price decline sharply beyond a point we expect mathematically over a period. It certainly doesn’t mean the price trend can’t fall farther as they often do but instead signals a potential countertrend that could drive prices to retrace some of their loss. However, if the downtrend price trend becomes a prolonged and deeper downtrend, these countertrend measures fail to perfectly time the low. Investment management is probabilistic, never a sure thing, so I never expect anything more.

What matters most is if I wanted to take some risk right now on a short term oversold market, I would predefine my exit to cut my loss short if it doesn’t work out and let it rip. We never know for sure in advance when prices will reverse, I can only determine when it is more likely.

The challenge right now, in addition to some other observations I’ve shared recently about valuation, etc. is stock market breadth is far from oversold. So, my breadth measures do not yet suggest any significant selling pressure has been exhausted. I believe when investors sell stocks with great enthusiasm, it shows up in the percent of stocks above and below the trend lines. After prices have plummeted and most of the stocks have fallen into downtrends I start to wonder if the desire to sell is losing steam. At this point, these indicators don’t yet signal a significant panic level selling, so that’s the risk from this point.

I’ll share some of the price trends and indicators I look at when stock prices are falling.

First up is the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 50-day moving averages. As the chart shows, last month about 82% of the stocks were above their shorter-term trend line. I consider levels above 80% to be a higher risk zone. As we see below, the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 50-day moving averages made a lower high since January and now is falling at 38%.

breadth percent of stocks below 50 day

While we don’t use it as a market timing indicator, it instead provides some situational awareness of the risk of decline. After most stock prices have already risen, where does more demand come from? At higher levels, I consider the enthusiasm to buy may be becoming exhausted. It once again seems to be what has happened here as investors were enthusiastic about stocks until recently.

Another warning shot across the bow was when this breadth measure failed to confirm an all-time new high in the stock market. Below is the same indicator as above, but I overlayed it with the price trend of the S&P 500. As the SPX trended up to an all-time new high, the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 50-day moving averages showed a material divergence, indicating fewer stocks were participating in the uptrend. I’ve been monitoring these indicators for two decades now and from my experience, a divergence like this that indicates less participation and “breadth” of the trend is a warning sign. In a healthy uptrend, most stocks are trending higher, so the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 50-day moving averages is increasing, not decreasing.

breadth failed to confirm new stock market high february 2020

For a longer-term context, below is the percent of S&P 500 stocks above their 200 day moving averages. I consider below 20 or 30% to be an overreaction to the downside, but currently, 66% of stocks are above this longer-term trend line. On the one hand, higher participation is positive, but it’s declining from a relatively high level, which makes it more negative. It also provides us with the awareness that stocks could certainly fall a lot more. The times when less than 20% of these stocks were above their 200-day moving average was periods of notable stock market drawdowns.

percent of stocks above 200 day moving average long term breadth

So, these are some examples of why I started reducing our exposure to zero a month ago and only recently have been increasing exposure by rotating back out of US Treasuries into high dividend yield positions. The nice thing about high dividend yield positions is as the price falls, the dividend yield increases. It’s one time when I buy after prices fall, so we earn the dividend yield from that point forward. My timing is rarely perfect and it doesn’t have to be.

By way of example only, below is a chart of the Alerian MLP Index price and dividend yield. MLP’s are Master Limited Partnerships and in this case, they are publically traded. The Alerian MLP Index is the leading gauge of energy infrastructure Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). The capped, float-adjusted, capitalization-weighted index, whose constituents earn the majority of their cash flow from midstream activities involving energy commodities, is disseminated in real-time. I’m using this index for illustration to show how (1) the price trend of the MLP index has fallen with energy prices and (2) since its holdings pay high dividend yield, as the price falls, the yield trends up as seen in the chart.

MLP high dividend yield strategy

The purple line shows the dividend yield is 9.41% based on the current price and the price is making a new low. This is one of the most extreme examples right now to make the point. It not only makes the point that buying lower prices in high yield securities can potentially capture asymmetric risk-reward, but also these high yielding securities are not without risks that need to be managed. The risk is made obvious by the price trend chart, which is down -27% over the past year.

As with most things in life, timing is everything. If we had entered a position with the risk/reward profile that existed a year ago, it was more risk than reward, as the high yield income from dividends wouldn’t have been enough to offset the loss from the price decline. But, in the case of exposures that provide higher potential income streams from dividend yield at lower prices, you can probably see how to offset the potential from asymmetric returns from an asymmetric risk-reward payoff. But again, it isn’t so simple and requires risk management, because there is no guarantee stocks, bonds, or MLPs will always keep paying their yields.

In summary, my short term velocity algorithms suggest the popular stock indexes are nearing a short term level we could see a countertrend, but the bigger picture isn’t so positive as there remains plenty enthusiasm to be exhausted. In other words, in late December 2018, my indicators suggested an extreme level of panic selling has happened and it was likely becoming exhausting. It turned out to be exactly what happened. The current measures are nowhere near that level of oversold, but if sellers aren’t panicking to sell it will not get there, either.

At this point, the stock index is only -6% off its high, which is just short of the decline last summer and well within a normal decline. We typically see 2-3 price declines of -5% annually.

february 2020 stock market decline drawdown amount

To put it into context, the current stock market decline is less than 1/3rd of the waterfall decline over a year ago.

stock market historical drawdowns

Only time will tell if the desire to sell is being exhausted. Fortunately, we had already de-risked our portfolio before this started and are now looking to take on new asymmetric risk-reward positions as they present themselves. My risk management and drawdown control systems handle the rest.

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 and feelings can be data-driven, quantitative, applying the scientific method, supported by a mathematical basis for feeling and believing

Investor sentiment and feelings can be data-driven, quantitative, applying the scientific method, supported by a mathematical basis for feeling and believing

Individual investors are notably less bearish now, according to the AAII Sentiment Survey.

US Investor Sentiment, % Bearish is an indicator that is a part of the AAII Sentiment Survey. It indicates the percentage of investors surveyed that had a bearish outlook on the market. An investor that is bearish, will primarily believe the US stock market will trend lower in the next six months.

Bearish US Investor Sentiment dropped 25%, so only 26.4% of the investors surveyed expect the stock market to fall in the next 6 months. Bearish sentiment is now below its average over the past year, but far from an extreme reading. I marked the high, low, and average on the chart.

Investor Sentiment less bearish

The most extreme level of bearish sentiment historically going back to 1989 is all the way down to only 6% Bearish, which we haven’t seen since 2003.

bearish extreme sentiment

If you notice, the Bearish level has held a higher low the past decade. That is, recent stock market peaks haven’t resulted in those extreme lows since the investor survey started 22 years ago. So, behavior and sentiment surveys aren’t an exact science, nor are they intended to be. Below we see a Bearish level of 20% has been the common low in Bearish sentiment.

bearish investor sentiment signal

I could put the data into a table format and show a mode analysis, which is a study that shows when Bearish sentiment spikes or falls, what happens to the stock market. Since I apply the scientific approach to trends and cycles, I have certainly tested the indicators I observe scientific for quantitative analysis. I require a mathematical basis behind believing what I believe. If it doesn’t test out mathematically using the scientific approach, it would be of little use. To know what is of use, or not, requires quantitative testing. I don’t share my quant work, but instead, prefer to show observations of the trends in the data. When presenting my research, I do so visually.

In the chart below I overlay the % Bearish sentiment in orange over the S&P 500 % off high (the drawdown) in purple. We can visually see how they interact with each other. As the stock market falls, Bearish investor sentiment % spikes up. I highlighted these times.

stock market drawdowns bearish sentiment

Investors become more afraid of falling prices after they fall. Investors also extrapolate the recent past into the future, so they expect falling prices to beget further falling prices. We can hypothesize this because investors are more Bearish at lower prices, less so at higher prices.

Okay, so far I’ve only shown the Bearish sentiment.

What about Bullish investor sentiment? 

US Investor Sentiment, % Bullish is a gauge of the AAII Sentiment Survey. It registers the percentage of investors surveyed that had a bullish outlook on the market the past week. An investor that is bullish, will primarily believe the market will trend higher in the next six months.

US Investor Sentiment, % Bullish increased 41.33% the week of February 13, 2020. The % Bullish investor sentiment was the most notable change over the last week. Individual investors are notably more Bullish. However, although the Bullish sentiment is well above the average of the past year, individual investor enthusiasm isn’t yet at the highest level reached over the past year, which I marked in the chart.

bullish investor sentiment 2020

Meanwhile, the Fear & Greed Index, driven by 7 market sentiment indicators, is Neutral.

cnn fear greed index predictive

So, while individual investors are becoming more bullish about the stock market trend for the next 6 months, they haven’t quite yet reached an extreme level that often signals buying enthusiasm is becoming exhausted. But, the rate of change in Bullish investor sentiment is worth making note of for situational awareness as investors usually believe and do the wrong things and the wrong time at extremes.

coronavirus headlines

So far, the US stock market has been resilient, especially considering the headlines have been dominated by the virus updates and images of people around the globe bearing masks.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

John Maynard Keynes

I’ve kept more of my market risk hedged-off than I’d like (in hindsight) if market prices don’t fall to a lower-risk point, but we’ll see how it unfolds from here.

My edge is discipline and my tactical decisions are completely intentional and come from a fully committed state, so I don’t fear losing money or missing out. I tend to feel the right feeling at the right time, as my feelings are data-driven, quantitative, applying the scientific method, supported by maths for a mathematical basis for feeling and believing. Oh, and a heavy dose of stoicism.

I also change as the facts do, and the only facts that ultimately matter are price trends.

Have a Happy Valentines Day and weekend, friends!

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.

 

The trend in Coronavirus, underreactions, and overreactions

Investor sentiment oscillates between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

Investor enthusiasm typically follows the recent trend.

After prices fall, enthusiasm wains as investors fear losing more money.

After prices trend up, investors fear missing out.

Some may literally oscillate between these feelings intraday, daily, or weekly, depending on how closely they watch.

I also believe investors underreact and overreact to new information, such as the “news.”

An overreaction is when price trends become overbought or oversold, driven by positive or negative investor sentiment. It’s why we see price trends crash down or rise into bubbles.

Overreactions can drive prices up or down too far, too fast.

An underreaction is when investors initially underreact to new information, so the price trend drifts up or down over time, rather than an immediate gap up or down. This underreaction drives price trends!

All of this is why my focus is on the direction of price trends, along with volatility, investor sentiment, and multiple time frame momentum.

I’ve also recently pointed out the news isn’t necessary to cause, or driver, of daily price action or price trends (directional drifts), even though most people probably believe it is.

We see an excellent example lately with Coronavirus.

Below is the latest chart from Google Trends, showing an interest in Coronavirus over time. The numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time.

  • A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term.
  • A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular.
  • A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

According to the data, it started January 19, 2019, and interest peaked January 28 at 100. Since then, interest in Coronavirus has trended down to a current level of 44, suggesting the term is less than half as popular as it was just three weeks ago.

coronavirus trend interest chart

It seems that news gets tiring, and people lose interest.

Or, maybe people initially overreact and spend a lot of time researching the topic, and then their enthusiasm drifts down from the peak. So perhaps they underreact later?

Or, maybe in the case of Coronavirus, the waning interest was helped by understated data?

coronavirus infections trend

Other global macro fund managers I know were relieved, but then a few of us noticed China had changed in their diagnostic criteria. We now see the spike in the above table.

Yet, the U.S. stock market blows it off. Since the first talk of Coronavirus, the U.S. equity market declined about -3% but has gained 1.5% in total. The China MSCI Index, on the other hand, dropped -10% priced in U.S. Dollars and is down about -3%. The Emerging Markets Index, including China and other emerging countries, has trended a similar path.

stock market performance since coronavirus china emerging markets

It doesn’t seem to be a terrible reaction to me. Especially when we consider much of China is shut down as they attempt to stop the spread.

I believe the small decline we saw in the U.S. was just the market, doing what it does, as the U.S. stock index was extended on the upside, and volaltity was contracted. I was expecting to see some volatility expansion and a price drop based on the mathematics of momentum, velocity, and volatility. We saw it.

At this point, the trend is your friend until the end when it bends, but after that small correction, it seems we’ll soon find out if the upward momentum can continue. It comes at a time when there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the slowing and stopping the Coronavirus, so direct yourself accordingly. In the meantime, the headlines have turned much more cynical.

Yahoo Finance:

At the moment, the forward volatility expected by the options market as implied by the cost of options is just below its average over the past year. It’s far below the high of 24 when it spiked in August, and well above the low of 11.54 several weeks ago.

vix volatility coronavirus impact

It will also be interesting to see if the interest in the term “Coronavirus” trends back up as the cases crow asymmetrically, or if it stays the same, or drifts down.

Either way, I believe there is a lot of asymmetric information going on here with China. Asymmetric information is a situation when one person or group has more or better information compared to another. It appears the Communist Party of China may be applying some strategic ambiguity in how they share their data. Another asymmetry is the illusion of asymmetric insight, a cognitive bias whereby people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them.

The below chart is the latest rest of world count with a trend line forecast through the end of the month.

coronavirus trend

I’m guessing we will find out soon if the market has underreacted to the news of rising confirmed cases and if investors then overreact on Monday after more data is released over the weekend.

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.

Global Macro: My favorite economic chart, consumer sentiment, and debt

People typically share their opinions based on their own personal observations of what they see and hear going on around them.

What we believe is always true, for us.

An advantage of a quant, or quantitative analyst, is the ability to study the data and trends to observe what is really doing on.  Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data. Then, we get to see how it compares to our own unique observations.

A friend of mine who happens to be a business broker helping people buy and sell businesses commented he thinks the next big recession will be caused by consumer debt. As we discussed it a few minutes, his opinion was based on his own observation that it seems the people around him are living “high on the hog” as we say it down South. In other words, people are taking on heavy debt and spending what they earn rather than saving and investing.

I can see why he may perceive it that way if your neighbors have a fleet of newly leased luxury cars in the driveway and seem to be taking vacations beyond what you believe they can afford. In some cases, if not many, it may be true their personal debt to income ratio may be maxed out. They may be buying cars, boats, and trips instead of saving and investing their excess earnings.

But, everything is relative.

Sometimes when things are good people want to take some extra chips and reward themselves. In fact, some of the greatest rainmakers I have known do this very thing. Many hard-charging producers of wealth also enjoy the rewards from their work.

Some of us get as much satisfaction from seeing our investment accounts grow from investing our excess earnings. Maybe we are more Introverts, so motivation comes from within, rather than impressing others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the fruits of our labor. As everything is relative, we may be only eating a slice of an apple from a cart of dozens. But, for those who don’t have dozens of apples, it may seem more.

It’s an illusion of asymmetric insight, which is a cognitive bias whereby people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them.

Others are more extroverted and willing to spend all of their money in the present moment, rather than plan for the future. In this case, they may spend their earnings as fast as they get it, so there is no “excess” earnings to worry about. I suppose if you spend it all, you’ll have less stress about investing it, but you’ll be on the treadmill forever. While those who spend all of their earnings don’t have to concern themselves with the capital markets and investment management, they may not sleep well at night with all the uncertainty the lack of a secure future can bring. But, some of them may not think that far and not worry about it at all.

Consumer sentiment also has a role in how we all spend our money. When people are optimistic about the future, we are more willing to spend. There are infinite factors that drive sentiment, rational or not. For example, with a great credit score, you could get a car loan at 2% for years and such a low rate of cost to borrow may be more enticing to buy new cars. Even wealthy investors will take advantage of low rates since it doesn’t require withdrawing from investment funds and the borrowing cost is minimal. We can say the same for mortgage rates. The wealthiest of investors probably achieved it with some level of leverage. For example, business owners may use debt early on to grow their company and then when they sell it, it may either be debt-free or the net capital gain is much higher than it would have been without using the leverage to grow. Some use of debt or leverage can be good and it’s even essential in some areas such as real estate to maximum return on equity.

So, on the topic of debt, rates, savings, and such, here are some charts of the data.

First, let’s look at consumer sentiment. The US Index of Consumer Sentiment from the 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.

Take out the 1999 euphoric period and consumer sentiment by this measure is about as high as it gets.

consumer sentiment michigan

Historically, the index displays pessimism in consumers’ confidence during recessionary periods, and increased consumer confidence in expansionary periods. So, in the next chart, we highlight recessions in gray.

consumer sentiment recessions

Does consumer spending match consumer sentiment?

As consumer sentiment is relatively high, spending as measured by US retail sales is at an all-time high. I note some divergence since around 2017 as sentiment has remained elevated but cycling up and down mostly above its average as retail sales trends up.

consumer spending sentiment retail sales global macro trend

Employment and interest rates are a drive of these global macro trends. I observed in Employment, Coronavirus, it’s just the market, doing what it does… that unemployment is at historic lows. When most people who want to work are working that’s probably helping consumer sentiment. Gotta love such low unemployment! But, as a risk manager, we also use it as a reminder of situational awareness since nothing lasts forever.

US UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

What about the savings rate?

This is one of my favorite non-market global macro trend charts. Total savings is trending up.

savings rate consumer sentiment

Aside from employment, some other drivers of consumer sentiment are probably the trend and level of retail gas prices, auto loan rates, credit cards, home equity lines of credit, and mortgage rates. While we much prefer to see our fellow American’s use less debt, relatively low rates make borrowing more attractive. Again, some of the wealthiest families may even borrow at low rates and keep their capital invested. So, debt isn’t just borrowing because they can’t afford it otherwise.

The US Retail Gas Price is the average price that retail consumers pay per gallon, for all grades and formulations. Retail gas prices are important to view in regards to how the energy industry is performing. Additionally, retail gas prices can give a good overview of how much discretionary income consumers might have to spend.

We’ve enjoyed some relatively low gas prices for the past five out of ten years. You may have noticed it at the pump or observed the lack of gas price headlines.

gas price past 10 years

I first showed the more recent period to point out we tend to have recency bias, as we weight the most recent experience the most. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” kind of mindset.

Next up is the longer-term trend in retail gas prices. I marked the high and low along with the average gas price going back to 1990.

gas price trend long term trend following

While the retail gas price has been elevated above average, it’s far from the highest levels of the past.

Is there really causation here between the price of gas and consumer sentiment?

There has been a negative correlation between the price of gas and consumer sentiment, so yes. I’ll say they are related the past decade in that a down-trending gas price helped drive up consumer sentiment.

gas price consumer sentiment negative correlation

I’m going to save some interest rates for another observation, so next up is my favorite chart.

The Federal Reserve Board’s Household Debt Service and Financial Obligations Ratios convey how much of US household income is being spent on repaying debts and mortgages. It includes data specific to renters and homeowners. The homeowner data includes income spent on automobile lease payments, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance.

US Household Debt Service as Percent of Disposable Income and US Household Consumer Debt Service as a Percent of Disposable Income are both at relatively low levels. Debt service is about as low as it’s been. Consumer debt service is below average. 

consumer debt as percent of disposable income

So, in the big picture, my friend is wrong. The consumer debt situation is better than it may seem.  By and large, this trend tells us our fellow American’s aren’t nearly as in debt as they were 10 to 15 years ago and overall, have less debt to disposable income than they’ve had in decades.

So, hopefully, in the next recession, American’s won’t have such a difficult time from being upside down drowning in their debt.

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.

Employment, Coronavirus, it’s just the market, doing what it does…

It seems most people probably believe the news drives the stock market.

I can see why, since the news headlines want to tell a story.

We like a great story. We want to hear the narrative. We definitely want to believe we know the causation of things going on around us.

Do you believe the news drives stock price trends?

Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Praises China’s Response to Outbreak as Death Toll Passes 600 – New York Times 

The Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan China has grown exponentially as asymmetric uncertainties usually do. According to Worldometer, there are now 31,535 of which 4,826 (15%) in critical condition 638 deaths and 1,778 have recovered. 
number of Coronavirus Cases
The Coronavirus outbreak only started less than a month ago, but its rate is exponential.
coronavirus total cases deaths
This is not the kind of asymmetry we want to observe. I hope a cure is found soon to save these human lives.
How has the stock market reacted?

The S&P 500 gained over 3% the past 5 days anyway… 

spy spx trend following etf

It’s just the market… doing what it does…

This morning, in the U.S. we get great news on employment data.

The US Unemployment Rate measures the percentage of total employees in the United States that are a part of the labor force but are without a job. It’s one of the most widely followed indicators of the health of the US labor market and the US economy as a whole. Historically, the US Unemployment Rate reached as high as 10.80% in 1982 during a notable recessionary period.

The low Unemployment Rate has been a bright spot for the U.S. economy since unemployment trended up sharply in 2008 and peaked at 10.10% in November 2009, the highest level since ’82. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here the trend. from January 2007 to November 2009 as Unemployment Rate increased sharply from 4.4% to 10.10% in about two years.

us unemployment peak 2008 2009

Looking at the US Unemployment Rate in the bigger picture, below are the trends and cycles going back over sixty years. US Unemployment Rate is at 3.60%, compared to 3.50% last month and 4.00% last year. This is lower than the long term average of 5.73%. The last recession was the second-highest unemployment and it has recovered even smoother than before.

US UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

The headlines today:

January adds a much stronger-than-expected 225,000 jobs, with a boost from warm weather” – CNBC

The stock indexes are down over -0.50% anyway…

I say: It’s just the market, doing what it does… 

I believe investors underreact and overreact to new information “news.”

An overreaction is when price trends become overbought or oversold driven by psychological and investor sentiment reasons rather than fundamentals. It’s why we see crashes and bubbles, over short term and long term periods.

An underreaction is when investors initially underreact to new information such as earnings announcements, which leads to a predictable price drift. In other words, underreaction drives price trends!

Prices drift up or down over time when investors underreact to information.

Prices overshoot, trade up or down too far, too fast, when investors overreact to information.

This why my focus is on the direction of price trends, along with volatility, investor sentiment, and multiple time frame momentum.

My directional trend following systems are designed to catch the trends that drift from underreaction.

My countertrend systems signaled by momentum, extreme investor sentiment, and volatility analysis, are engineered to capitalize on overreactions.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Energy and MLP’s are the most oversold sector

The energy sector is the most oversold so far.

By oversold, I mean a condition where there has been enough selling pressure to drive prices down to low enough levels which overextended or excessive on a short-term basis, suggesting the downtrend could be an overreaction. When price trends overreact in the short-term by moving potentially too far, too fast, the trend becomes likely to reverse back up, at least temporarily. Afterward a countertrend back up, however, a short-term oversold trend may later reverse down again in continuation of a downtrend. So, observing a short-term oversold condition may not result in a long-term trend reversal up, but instead, my increase the odds of a short-term retracement. In the chart below of the energy sector index, we see an overall downtrend since the price on the left side is higher than the right a year later, however, we also observe the price swings along the way, which are shorter-term overbought/oversold countertrends.

Image

Energy sector is -43% from its early 2014 high.

Image

Energy sector is almost near its 2016 low.

Image

Energy implied volatility is relatively low and below average.

Image

Alerian MLP energy index is at a new low

Image

With the energy sector momentum signaling its price trend may have dropped too far, too fast,  the dividend yield on the MLP index is at its high post-2016 at over 9%.

ENERGY MLP ETF

As the price falls, the dividend rises from that starting point, so it’s the one time we apply countertrend systems to capture future income from dividends. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the energy sector catch some buying enthusiasm soon if the overall stock market can hold up. Sometimes the weakest sectors show strength even as other sectors fall.  Of course, the risk of a falling trend is it may keep falling and they can trend down far more than expected. The trouble is, when a trend does fall more than expected, it results in serial correlation; prices keep falling because, well, prices are falling! Waterfall declines are contagious, so you can probably see the ‘risk premium’ involved in this high dividend yield. There is no free lunch and nothing is without risks.  I deal with risks by managing them through predefined exits, drawdown controls, and hedging.

So, I probably enter and exit a more global opportunity set of markets than most do since the risk for me is how I define it and how the position is structured, not the security itself.

I’m off to the Super Bowl in the morning! Unfortunately, my Tennessee Titans didn’t make it and my Tampa Bay Bucs didn’t come close, but I’ll be there anyway.

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 shifts

We’ve seen a notable shift in investor sentiment.

AAII Sentiment Survey:

Pessimism surged to its highest level in more than three months, while optimism plunged. Plus, this week’s special question asked AAII members to share their thoughts about the S&P 500’s low volatility.

aaii investor sentiment

With the data, I drew a chart to see how bullish and bearish sentiment oscillates in cycles and the notable drop in optimism and spike in fear.

investor sentiment before coronavirus

The bull-bear spread chart has reversed down below its average level of the past year.

bull bear spread chart aaii sentiment

The Fear & Greed Index made up of seven different sentiment indicators is neutral now, down from Extreme Greed a month ago.

fear greed index analysis backtesting investor sentiment

One of the seven indicators is Safe Haven Demand.

Stocks and bonds have provided similar returns during the last 20 trading days. However, this has been among the weakest periods for stocks relative to bonds in the past two years and indicates investors are fleeing risky stocks for the safety of bonds.

safe haven demand

The Put-Call Ratio is another showing fear.  It is still among the highest levels of put buying seen during the last two years, indicating extreme fear on the part of investors.

So, it seems it only took a -2.6% drop to shirt investor sentiment from extremely bullish to more bearish and neutral.

bearish sentiment

We’ll see how it goes from here.

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.

Global Macro: is the coronavirus outbreak crushing the China ETF and causing the volatility expansion?

The past five days have been a little choppy in price action.

SPX january 2020

If you’ve been following my observations, it should be a surprise as a volatility expansion was expected.

The VIX CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index has gained 34% the past five days, so it’s a volatility expansion indeed. At the 17 level, the VIX now implies a 17% volatility in prices over the next 30 days. So, the options market traders expect more vol.

VIX asymmetric risk reward return

I’m no day trader, but I monitor global macro trends daily both systematically through my programs as well as manually and visually. For me, the global macro trend includes other countries and over 100 markets including volatility.

Speaking of other countries…

Below is the US equity index drawdown so far relative to the Emerging Markets Index and EAFE which is developed international countries. Emerging Markets EM is the laggard.

SPY EFA EEM

Looking deeper, here are the country holdings for EEM. China, Taiwan, South Korea, and India are the main exposures in the EM index.

emering markets countires eem holdings

Here are the price trends of China, Taiwan, South Korea, and India that are the principal exposures in the EM index.

global macro trends coronavirus

The drawdowns of these emerging markets countries have been notably greater than the US so far. China and Brazil have fallen the most. As we have been positioned in short tern U.S. Treasuries recently, We have no exposure to these markets.

global macro trend following

I’m sure many investors believe it’s caused by the Coronavirus spreading across China and now the world. At this point, it may be driving some selling for some, but it’s really the market, doing what it does. To be clear, I’m saying the market would respond similarly regardless of the news headlines, because of the math. For some, that may sound provocative and I hope it is at least thought-provoking because I mean it.

To be sure… my assumption is testable.

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan city, Central China, in December 2019. It is believed to have originated from wild animals, passing to humans due to the wildlife trade and wet markets. However, Google Trends doesn’t show any activity until January 17th and then it jumped on January 24th.

when did coronavirus outbreak first make headlines

Next, I chart the price trend of the MSCI China stock index ETF along with the CBOE China ETF Volatility Index. Cboe Options Exchange (Cboe) now applies its proprietary Cboe Volatility Index® (VIX®methodology to create indexes that reflect expected volatility for options on select exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Cboe calculates and disseminates the Cboe China ETF Volatility Index (ticker VXFXI), which reflects the implied volatility of the FXI ETF.

Here we see the price trend up to January 17th was up over the past year and the implied volatility was near its low.

china stock trend coronavirus impact on market volatility

And to be sure, here is the chart going back a decade and I marked the lowest point of the China ETF VIX index to show implied volatility had reached an extreme low this month prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

china stock etf vix coronavirus

So, here is the price trend of the China ETF and its volatility index over the past 30 days. The low implied volatility was January 17th, so I was expecting a volatility expansion regardless of any news headlines that would suggest the blame for it. Indeed that’s what we’ve seen.

china etf stocks market vix volatility coronavirus

I believe the markets do what they do and some news gets the headline and the blame. Trends trend and then reverse because mathematically, they reach extreme lows and highs in their momentum making them more likely to reverse direction.

We have no way of knowing exactly why there has been enough selling pressure from investors and traders drive down China stocks, but I expected a volaltity expansion anyway, so if I had exposure to the China ETF  I would have responded accordingly. I didn’t and still don’t, so this is simply for informational purposes, as always.

I believe my systems and methods are robust because I focus on the actual direction of the price trend and its volatility, and the price trend is the final arbiter.  I’ve been doing what I do, over and over, for over two decades now. I’ve just gotten better at it with experience.

I don’t care so much about what news may be driving the trend, I focus on the market overreaction and underreaction and that’s observed in the price and volatility.

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.

 

 

 

 

Here comes the volatility expansion, but is the coronavirus outbreak in China to blame?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 460 points and headlines mostly blame the coronavirus outbreak in China as it spreads around the world.

A few headlines this morning:

Stocks Tumble Around the World on Virus Jitters

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus

What’s Being Done to Limit the Spread of the China Virus

Millions Left Worried, Angry and Isolated After Wuhan Lockdown

Stocks Drop on Coronavirus Fears

The Dow industrials fell about 400 points as detection of coronavirus in new patients in the U.S., Australia and France led to escalating concerns about the containment and potential economic impact.

People love a good story, so the narrative gets the blame for falling prices.

As I shared in What’s the stock market going to do next? and Periods of low volatility are often followed by volatility expansions, it’s really just the market, doing what it does.

The stock market is declining simply because it was priced for perfection. You can see in the chart below, as the price trend of the S&P 500 stock index trended up the past several months, its volatility, or the range of prices, was tight.

Who doesn’t love a quiet uptrend?

It was a nice quiet uptrend, suggesting investors were complacently enjoying the ride. I was to until it reached an extreme, then I hedged off some risk, then reduced the possibility of loss completely by taking profits and shifting to short term U.S. Treasuries.

This time, I was just a little early with my hedging, but that was ok. The higher stocks trended up and more volaltity contracted, the more likely the trend would reverse down and volatility expands.

That’s what we’re seeing now.

volatlity expansion spx spy dia vix

While an SPX at 3200 is a ‘normal’ range for the market to move, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price trend decline to the blue line I marked on the chart.

Of course, as I said in Now, THIS is what a stock market top looks like!, it could be an even larger peak, too.

Anything is possible, which is why we necessarily need to actively direct and control the possibility of loss for asymmetric risk-reward.

I don’t believe this price decline is driven by the coronavirus outbreak in China as it spreads around the world. I think it’s just the market, doing what it does, as I’ve shared the past several weeks. Some catalyst gets the blame for it.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global TacticalMike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas 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.

What could go wrong

Investors, including millionaires and fund managers, are really bullish.

According to E-Trade Financial:

“In Q4 of last year, even as stocks gained, millionaires were cautious and possibly worried about a repeat of the plunge in the fourth quarter of 2018. Now 76% of these wealthy investors grade the U.S. economy highly, and there has been a 16% increase in investors who expect the market to rise by as much as 5% this quarter, according to an E-Trade Financial quarterly survey provided exclusively to CNBC.”

Then, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s regular survey of global fund managers:

“The FOMO — fear of missing out — market did not come out of nowhere.

Last November, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s regular survey of global fund managers found that global fund managers’ cash levels posted their largest decline since President Donald Trump’s 2016 election as investors rushed to take on risk.”

After reading that, I thought: With everyone so bullish, what could go wrong? 

Place tongue in cheek image here.

Following up with my reaction over the weekend to Barron’s cover in Now, THIS is what a stock market top looks like!, I finally got around to reading the article “Ready or Not, Here Comes Dow 30,000.”

Barron’s said:

“Investors are responding to a set of conditions- low interest rates, muted inflation, and massive cash returns from U.S. companies – that make putting money into stocks the rational thing they can do.”

So, the reach for yield drives the stock market because:

“Some 80% of companies in the index cash-return yields higher than treasuries.”

Below I compare the S&P 500 stock index ETF dividend yield to the 10 year Treasury rate. By this measure, the 10 year is 1.84%, which is 0.14% more than the SPY.

10 year treasury yield compared to S&P stock index yield

However, since the Treasury yield curve is relatively flat, the one-month Treasury is 1.54%, so there isn’t much of a spread or premium between the interest rate earned for just one month over 10 years.

10 year treasury yield compared to S&P stock index yield

Moving on to “What Can Go Wrong” they say rising bond yields are a risk to equities.

Of course, rising prices (inflation) is a driver of rising bond yields.

So, inflation may be the driver of a longer-term downtrend in stocks if these markets interact this way.

Since 2012, the Federal Reserve has targeted a 2% inflation rate for the US economy and may make changes to monetary policy if inflation is not within that range. So far, the FED has been successful ‘on average’, but there have been some uptrends in inflation.

US INFLATION RATE DRIVES BOND YIELD PRICE

Next, I added the high and low inflation rate since 2012 and highlight above 2% in yellow. 

inflation rate drives bond yield price high low

By and large, inflation cycles within a range. With the current inflation rate at 2.29%, which is a little higher than the Fed 2% target, I suppose global macro traders should pay attention to the trend and rate of change of inflation. 

What could go wrong?

There are always many things that can cause a market to fall. We’ve got a U.S. Presidential election this year, an impeachment, now a new virus.

A quick glance at headlines shows:

BREAKING NEWS

CDC expected to announce first US case of deadly Wuhan coronavirus

Changes to impeachment rules

So, there are always many things that could go wrong and be regarded as a catalyst for falling prices, but I focus on the direction of the price trend, momentum, volatility, and sentiment as my guide.

The direction of the price trend is always the final arbiter.

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.

 

How low can implied volatility VIX go?

Volatility measures the frequency and magnitude of changes, both up and down, that we experience over a certain period of time.

When we speak of volatility in the financial markets, we necessarily mean the magnitude of price movements, both up and down, over time.

So, volatility is how quickly and how far a price trend spreads out.

The more dramatic the price swings, the higher the level of volatility.

Volatility can be measured using actual historical price changes (realized volatility) or it can be a measure of expected future volatility that is implied by option prices.

The VIX Index is a measure of expected future volatility.

The VIX index is a calculation designed to produce a measure of constant, 30-day expected volatility of the U.S. stock market, derived from real-time, mid-quote prices of S&P 500® Index (SPX) call and put options.

When the VIX is low, a lower level of volaltity is implied, or priced in, to the options. When the VIX is high, expected volaltity is high.

Recently, the implied volatility index VIX has been very low at times. As seen below, I added the low of the past year to the chart, which was 11.54, which is lower than today.

VIX record low volatility expansion contraction

But, the long term average VIX level is 19 and the lowest level the VIX has reached since its inception was 9.14 reached late 2018.

VIX long term average low and high level

To put the 9.14 level into perspective, here is the past three years and how low the VIX was in 2018 as complacency set in.

VIX lowest level 2018

Can stocks keep trending up and implied volatility drift lower?

Absolutely.

But, what happened after it did?

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.

 

 

Now, THIS is what a stock market top looks like!

Stock Market Risk is Elevated

I walked out the front door this morning with a cup of coffee to take the pup out and pick up my weekly Barron’s in the driveway.

When I got inside, I opened it up and BEHOLD! 

Barrons cover signal indicator

Gracing the cover of Barron’s is:

“Dow 30,000 THE MARKET’S BIG RUN: Why stocks could vault past the milestone”

I haven’t read the article, as the cover is signal enough for me.

The Magazine cover indicator says that the cover story on the major business magazines is often a contrary indicator.

I’m sure they made a great case for higher stock prices.

The trend is your friend until it ends.

Markets can remain irrational longer than you expect, but there are times when markets overreact and the probability of a trend reversal becomes more and more likely.

This looks like one of those times.

I searched for other headlines:

Dow 30,000 Barron's

I found a few.

barron's dow 30,000 melt up won't stop

And as a friend on Twitter pointed out, it’s way ahead of schedule. In 2017 Barron’s said :

“Next Stop Dow 30,000” and followed with “the Dow could surpass 30,000 by the year 2025.”

dow 30,000 2017 barron's call

So far, Barron’s was right on that prediction. Below is the Dow price trend since the cover in 2017. But, consider the Dow is near 30,000 five years earlier than expected. 

dow performance barron's 2017 30,000 call to 2020

Notwithstanding the Dow is only about 2% from 30,000, the articles are calling for more uptrend. Sure, it’s possible this calm uptrend will continue to drift up without a volatility expansion, but it’s become much less likely as I see it.

I love me some good quiet uptrends, but all good things eventually come to an end.

In the case of equity market trends, these calm uptrends usually end when the majority least expect it.

That seems to be the case now.

Right now, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is signaling the higher likelihood of a volatility expansion. I say this because the Dow price trend has drifted above its average true range volatility channel and the Bollinger Band® lines plotted two standard deviations away from a 20-day simple moving average. These volatility measures visually illustrate volatility expansions and contractions and signal when a price trend moves outside it’s “normal” range. I call it “the normal noise of the market.” Periods of low volatility are often followed by volatility expansions.

dow 30,000 trend

My observations this week seem especially important because risk levels have become more elevated, yet individual investor sentiment is extremely optimistic.

As I’ve had very high exposure to stocks, I have now taken profits in our managed portfolios.

It’s a good time to evaluate portfolio risk levels for exposure to the possibility of loss and determine if you are comfortable with it. 

For more information on my observations that risk is becoming elevated, read:

You probably want to invest in stocks

Investor sentiment is dialed up with stock trends

Is gold a good buy right now?

What’s the stock market going to do next?

Questions, comments, need help? email me here.

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.

What’s the stock market going to do next?

Last week, I ended “You probably want to invest in stocks” with: Is it a good time to buy stocks? That’s my next observation as I’ll share the big picture.

As promised, here is my observation and insight on the big picture as well as the short term possibilities.

THE BIG PICTURE 

First, I start with the big picture.

The S&P 500 is trading at 31.8 x earnings per share according to the Shiller PE Ratio which is the second-highest valuation level it has been in 150 years. Only in 1999 did the stock index trade at a higher multiple times earnings.

Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500

This price-earnings ratio is based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio), Shiller PE Ratio, or PE 10.

What is the P/E 10 and how is it calculated?

  1. Look at the yearly earning of the S&P 500 for each of the past ten years.
  2. Adjust these earnings for inflation, using the CPI (ie: quote each earnings figure in 2020 dollars)
  3. Average these values (ie: add them up and divide by ten), giving us e10.
  4. Then take the current Price of the S&P 500 and divide by e10.

The bottom line is, the stock market valuation has been expensive for a while now. The only time I factor in the price-earnings ratio is in the big picture. Although it isn’t a good timing indicator, it is considered a measure of the margin of safety for many investors and at this elevated level, there is no margin of safety by this measure.

As such, risk seems high in the big picture, which suggests investors should access their exposure to the possibility of loss in stocks and stock funds to be prepared for a trend reversal.

WHY MANAGE THE POSSIBILITY OF LOSS? WHY NOW?

That’s about as far as I go with “fundamental valuation” as quantitatively, I know to focus more on the direction of trends, momentum, and volatility.

So, let’s take a look.

STOCK MARKET MOMENTUM SEEMS STRETCHED.

I love me some up trends and momentum, but… sometimes all the gains come in a short period… and that’s what we’ve seen the past three months.

SPX SPY TREND AVERAGE LEVEL PAST YEAR

Just for fun, I included the average level of the S&P 500 (SPX) in the chart to show what level would be “mean reversion” if it happened. I don’t expect it to drop the low, but it’s interesting to see, nevertheless.

Next, I include the relative strength of SPX which measures the velocity of the price trend recently.

S&P relative strength momentum asymmetic returns

I highlighted the upper area red because when relative strength is really high, it often results in a price decline. Think of it as a “too far, too fast” indicator, but like all signals, it’s imperfect.

I highlighted the lower level as green because when prices fall so far, so fast that its relative strength is this low, the trend eventually reverses back up. It’s a measure of selling exhaustion.

Looking at the same data, but from a different angle, here you can see the correlation between the higher and lower relative strength levels and what happened next with the price trend.

SPX SPY RSI RELATIVE STRENGTH

In observing relative strength daily for over two decades now, in my observations, this level of relative strength suggests this is in the high-risk zone.

But, quantitative analysis of price trends is best observed through different confirming indicators.

THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE 

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip too much of a detailed definition, but the percent of S&P 500 stocks trading above their 200 day moving average is a measure of market breadth. Market breadth shows us what percent of stocks are participating in the trend. Right now, 87% of the S&P 500 stocks are trading in longer-term uptrends as defined by the 200-day moving average.

percent of stocks above 200 day moving average SPX SPY

The high participation in the trend is a good thing until it reaches higher levels and extremes, then I start wondering where the next buying enthusiasm is going to come from. I start looking for the buying pressure to dry up. The red line I drew marks the three peak levels over the past year for reference.

In case you are wondering, here is how high the current level is relative to the past fifteen years.

investment trading offense and defense risk management

It’s up there.

I analyze markets as to the direction of the trends, momentum, volaltity and investor sentiment.

VOLATILITY LEVEL AND DIRECTION 

When it comes to volatility, I look at both the direction and rate of change in volatility, but also the level. I also split volatility into two completely different parts: implied (expected) volatility and realized (historical) volatility.

Starting with implied volatility, the VIX is extremely low again at 12.19. As we see in this long term chart, volatility cycles up and down over time, but it doesn’t really “revert to the mean.” To illustrate it, I included the long term average of 19.

VIX $VIX LONG TERM AVERAGE OF THE VIX

The bottom line is, implied volatility, which is the expected volatility as implied by options prices shows a very low expected range of prices over the next 30 days. That’s positive until it isn’t.

At such low levels in implied volatility, we should expect to see another volatility expansion.

Next is the historical volatility on the S&P 500 index, which is the 30 Day Rolling Volatility. Here we calculate 30 Day Rolling Volatility as Standard Deviation of the last 30 percentage changes in Total Return Price * Square-root of 252 then multiplying the standard deviation by the square root of 252 to return an annualized measure. 252 is the number of trading days in a year.

I’m sure you needed to hear that. I won’t do it again.

S&P 500 spx spy historical realized volatility expansion

I drew a red line over its history to highlight the current level. Historically, it’s on the low end. Volatility is commonly used as a measure of a security’s riskiness. Typically investors view a high volatility as high risk.

However, the opposite is true.

Volatility decreases over time as price trends up and by the time the price peaks, investors so confident the trend will continue they become very complacent. When volatility is extremely low as it is now, it’s when the risk of a price decline increases.

The opposite is also true. When volatile expands to a high level, it does so because prices have fallen and investors are indecisive, causing the range of stock prices to spread out. Prices spreading out is volatility and we see it spike at stock market lows.

What’s going to happen next?

The trend is up, it’s a quiet uptrend as volatility is contracting, and most stocks are trending up.

Everything is good until it isn’t.

KNOW YOUR RISK LEVEL AND RISK TOLERANCE. 

Everything is impermanent, nothing lasts forever, so this too shall pass and by my measures, it’s getting closer.

So, I implemented my drawdown control and took profits on stocks today.

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.

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.

You probably want to invest in stocks

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

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

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

fear greed index

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

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

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

options speculation index

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

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

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

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

stocks stock market at all time high

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

aaii investor sentiment

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

US Investor Sentiment, % BEARISH

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

US Investor Sentiment % Bullish

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

 

investor sentiment for trading

AAII guesses:

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

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

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

Individual investors have a lot of opinions based on news:

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

Here is a sampling of the responses:

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

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

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

“Earnings versus forecasts.”

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

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

Is the AAII Sentiment Survey a Contrarian Indicator?

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

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

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

It goes on to add:

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

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

Two important conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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