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.

Keeping the mind right with investor sentiment indicators

Investors oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

After their portfolio trends up, they extrapolate recent gains into the future.

After their portfolio falls, they extrapolate recent loss into the future, expecting the damage to continue.

Investors mostly follow the trend, and this extrapolation bias helps to drive price trends.

Of course, not every investor follows the trend. Some are more fearful all the time, others are more optimistic, but I believe most oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

The fear of missing out happens when they hear the stock market has made significant gains, and they don’t have the same exposure to it. Not enough exposure could mean 100% exposure to stocks, or it could mean leverage for aggressive investors and traders. The fear of missing out sucks them in, often at the wrong time. They’ll almost always feel this way after the fact when it’s too late.

As Walter Deemer says:

“When The Time Comes To Buy, You Won’t Want To” 

The fear of losing money happens when the investment portfolio is falling, and investors extrapolate the losses into a fear of losing more money. Since not all of us are trend followers, some will fear loss after significant gains, expecting a countertrend.

Regardless of whether an investor’s behavior is more driven by trend-following or countertrend expectations, they all seem to oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

We quantify this investor sentiment into indicators that may be used as signals. Two examples are the Fear & Greed Index and the AAAI Investor Sentiment Survey.

The AAII Asset Allocation Survey turned bullish again last month, with investors saying they have more capital allocated to stocks.

AAII allocation survey bullish

However, neutral investor sentiment is at the upper end of its historical range, suggesting investors are indecisive. They’ll turn bullish if stocks continue to trend up. They’ll get bearish if stocks trend down.

neutral investor sentiment at uppper end of range AAII

Instead of polling the AAII members to crowdsource by for their opinions, the Fear & Greed Index gauges sentiment from seven different indicators.  The Fear & Greed Index had shifted down from Extreme Greed to a more moderate Greed back to Extreme Greed. Again, following the price trend as stocks fell, so did their enthusiasm.

fear and greed index

Below is a visual of the Fear and Greed over time. You can probably see some evidence of my observation that investors oscillate between greed and fear in cycles. Although most of this data is in the middle of the chart, it also reaches extremes. It’s the extremes I pay attention to as both a countertrend signal and also to help investment management clients with behavior modification. Most of the time I want to follow the trend, but at the extremes is when I may deviate from the crowd.

fear and greed index over time

It isn’t enough to be a successful investment manager, we also have to help clients modify their behavior. Most people simply tend to do the wrong thing and the wrong time, and I believe the edge is avoiding that enough so that my average gains far exceed my average losses – that’s ASYMMETRY®. But, even if we create consistently upward sloping asymmetric investment returns, it isn’t enough without keeping the mind right.

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

What about consumer sentiment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

consumer sentiment correlation with the stock market intermarket analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone asked:

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

Another commented:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. 

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

Have a great weekend!

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

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

Investor optimism is reaching extremes

Ok, so this isn’t anything new. I just discussed it last week in “Investor sentiment signals greed is driving stocks as the U.S. stock market reaches short term risk of a pullback.” The sentiment indicators keep confirming the same signal: that investors are very optimistic about future gains.

It’s the kind of sentiment we often see before a decline.

The Fear & Greed Index is a simple combination of seven different indicators that are considered investor behavior measures. It includes the Put/Call Ratio, the net new 52 week highs and lows, stock price breadth, market momentum, the yield spread between junk bonds and investment-grade, and market volatility.  It’s a useful gauge to monitor against your own sentiment and behavior. The Fear & Greed gauge remains at a high level, signaling “Extreme Greed” and excessive optimism.

Fear & Greed Index What emotion is driving the market now?

Just as the stock market cycles up and down over time, so does investor sentiment. In fact, I believe investor sentiment oscillating between fear and greed is what drives stocks in the short run.

We measure this investor behavior with these different indicators. For example, the number of stocks hitting 52-week highs exceeds the number hitting lows and is at the upper end of its range, indicating extreme greed. The S&P 500 is 4.90% above its 125-day average is another above the average than has been typical during the last two years and rapid increases like this often indicate extreme greed.

The Put/Call Ratio shows during the last five trading days, volume in put options has lagged volume in call options by 50.13% as investors make bullish bets in their portfolios. This is among the lowest levels of put buying seen during the last two years, indicating extreme greed on the part of investors.

Stocks have outperformed bonds by 4.50 percentage points during the last 20 trading days. According to the Fear & Greed Index, this is close to the strongest performance for stocks relative to bonds in the past two years and indicates investors are rotating into stocks from the relative safety of bonds.

Junk bond demand shows investors in low-quality junk bonds are accepting only 1.84% in additional yield over safer investment-grade corporate bonds. This spread is down from recent levels and indicates that investors are pursuing higher risk strategies.

Investors tend to feel the wrong feeling at the wrong time as they oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money.

Another useful gauge I follow is the AAII Sentiment Survey. Since 1987, AAII members have been answering the same simple question each week. The results are compiled into the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey, which provides insight into the mood of individual investors. Today’s AAII Sentiment Survey shows Investors are optimistic again. Optimism is above 40% on back-to-back weeks for the first time since August 2018.

AAII Investor Sentiment Survey

The investor misbehavior of thinking, feeling, and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time doesn’t just include individual investors, but also many professional investment managers.

‘Fear of missing out’ triggers huge fund manager shift from cash to stocks,

The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch investment fund managers survey shows fund manager cash levels are lowest in six years  and

“Investors are experiencing Fomo—the fear of missing out—which has prompted a wave of optimism and jump in exposure to equities and cyclicals,”

According to ‘Fear of missing out’ triggers huge fund manager shift from cash to stocks, Bank of America Merrill Lynch says:

The survey of 230 managers running $700 billion of assets found cash levels dropped 0.8 percentage points to 4.2%, the biggest monthly drop since Nov. 2016 and the lowest cash balance since June 2013.

Like individual investors, many investment managers also oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money. This may be especially true for relative return mutual fund type active managers who aim to beat an index benchmark. If they are underperforming their index after an uptrend, they may feel the fear of missing out and increase their exposure. If they lose as much or more on the downside, they may tap out after the fact to avoid further losses.

An objective of absolute returns necessarily requires seeing, believing, and doing things differently as an independent thinker.

As investors seem to be taking on more risk, I see indications that stocks may be near a point of buying exhaustion. Keep in mind, these investor sentiment surveys are on a lag. It was probably this very optimism that pushed stocks to this higher level.

If there is enough enthusiasm left to keep driving prices higher, the uptrend will continue as long as optimism prevails. If instead these indicators and surveys are a signal of buying exhaustion, we’ll see prices fall at some point from here.

I focus on these extremes in investor sentiment.

So, it may be a good time to reduce or hedge off some risk.

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

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

Investor fear has been driving the stock market down

I like to observe the return drivers of price trends. Though I primarily focus on the direction of the price trend and volatility, I also consider what drives the price trend.

Yesterday I suggested the stock market was at a point of pause and possible reversal back up in The stock market is holding its breadth… for now.  I shared some examples of how the percent of stocks in a positive trend had declined to a point that could indicate the selling in the near term could be drying up.

So far, today’s sharp reversal up seems to confirm at least a short term low.

Up until today, the S&P 500 stock index was down about -6% off its high. In May it dropped -8% before reversing back up to a new high. I express these drawdowns in the % off high chart below. This is year-to-date, since January 1.

Just for reference, this -6% decline looks more similar to May when I expand the time frame to 1 year instead of just year-to-date. We also see the October to December waterfall decline was a much deeper -20%.

Of course, if you look close enough, the pattern prior to the much steeper and deeper part of that fall looks similar to now, with the price trend testing the prior low, recovering, then falling sharply another -10%. I’m not pointing this out to say it will happen again, but instead that it’s always a possibility, so risk management is essential.

What is driving this decline?

Fear.

It’s that simple.

Some are afraid of another recession signaled by an inverted yield curve, others of the Trump Tweets, others by the Fed lowering interest rates or not doing it fast enough. I’ve heard some hedge funds are afraid China will invade Hong Kong, others are concerned of the China tariffs. Some people probably wake up afraid and fear everything that can possibly happen, as such, they experience it as if it did.

I prefer to face my fears and do something about them.

Investors have reached an extreme level of fear in the past few weeks as evidenced by the -6% decline in the stock index. We can also see this reflected in the investor sentiment poll. The AII Sentiment Survey shows optimism is at an unusually low level and pessimism is at an unusually high level for the 2nd consecutive week.

investor sentiment extreme trading

Such extreme levels of investor sentiment often proceed trend reversals. So, these extreme fear measures along with the breadth measures I shared yesterday, I’m not surprised to see the stock market reverse up sharply today.

Another interesting measure is the Fear & Greed Index, which is a combination of multiple sentiment indicators believed to measure investor sentiment. The Fear & Greed Index has reached the “Extreme Fear” level, so by this measure, fear is driving prices.

fear greed index

Over time, we can see how the Fear & Greed Index has oscillated up and down, swinging from fear to greed and back to fear again. I highlight the current level has reached the low point it typically does before it reverses up again, with the exceptions of the sharp panics in 2018.

advisor money manager using fear greed index extreme behavior

I have my own proprietary investor sentiment models, but here I share some that are simple and publicly available. I’m not suggesting you trade-off of these, as I don’t, either, but instead use them to help modify your investor behavior. For example, rather than use these indicators to signal offense or defense, investors may use them to alert them to their own herding behavior. Most of the time, we are better off being fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.

These measures aren’t quite robust enough to be timing indicators by themselves, my signals are coming from other systems and I’m using these to illustrate what’s driving it.

Over the past 12 months, as of right now the stock index is up 2.48%. That’s including today’s 1.5% gain.

Only time will tell if it holds the line, but as I’ve zoomed in to a 3-month time frame, we can see the first line of support that needs to hold.

We are long and strong at this point, so;

Giddy up!

 

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

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

Investor sentiment gets more bearish

Investor sentiment gets more bearish

Investor pessimism shifted to an unusually high level for the time this year. It spiked up from 24% bearish to 41%.

investor sentiment investment strategy

Bearish investor sentiment is now as high as it was in April after the stock declined a second time and formed a double bottom. Interestingly, this time the stock market is only down about 6% from its high. The last time investors were so bearish it had reached -10%, for the second time.

bearish investor sentiment

Investors may be turning more bearish more quickly since the stock market remains in a drawdown. Investors tend to feel the wrong thing at the wrong time at extremes so this could be a bullish signal.

Investor optimism declined more moderately and still remains within its normal long-term range. We can see how optimism trend up to an extreme in January as the stock index reached an all-time new high and investors were becoming euphoric.

bullish investor sentiment signal

Investor sentiment measures show that investors do the wrong thing at the wrong time as their beliefs about future stock market returns reach the more extreme levels.

A good investment program isn’t enough to help clients reach their objectives.

We necessarily have to help them avoid the typical misbehavior the majority of investors fall in to.

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

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

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

Growth Stocks have Stronger Momentum than Value in 2018

Growth Stocks have Stronger Momentum than Value in 2018

After a sharp decline in stock prices in February that seemed to shock many investors who had become complacent, the stock market indexes have been trying to recover.

At this point, the popular S&P 500 has gained 1.75% year-to-date and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down -2.56%. I also included the Total Stock Market ETF, which tracks an index that represents approximately 98% of the investable US equity market. Though it holds over five times more stocks than the 500 in the S&P 500 SPY, it is tracking it closely.

stock market index returns 2018 SPY DIA

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was the momentum leader last year, but the recent price action has driven it to converge with the other stock indexes. Past performance doesn’t always persist into the future.

Dow was momentum leader

What is more interesting, however, is the divergence at the size, style, and sector level.

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

equity style box

  • The vertical axis of the style box graphs market capitalization and is divided into three company-size indicators: large, medium and small.
  • The horizontal axis seeks to represent stock funds/indexes by value, growth, and blend which represents a combination of both value and growth.

Looking at their distinct trends, we observe a material divergence this year. As we see below, the S&P 500 Growth Index ETF has gained 16.45% % over the past 12 months, which is triple the S&P 500 Value ETF. So, Growth is clearly exhibiting stronger momentum than value over the past year. But, notice that wasn’t the case before the February decline when Growth, Value, and Blend were all tracking close to each other.

 

Equity Style and Size Past 12 Months

Year to date, the divergence is more clear. Growth is positive, the blended S&P 500 stock index is flat, and Value is negative.

momentum growth stocks 2018

Showing only the price trend change over the period isn’t complete without observing the path it took to get there, so I’ve included the drawdown chart below. Here, we see these indexes declined about -10% to as much as -12% for the Value index.

The Value index declined the most, which requires more of a gain to make up for the decline. The Value ETF hasn’t recovered as well as the others.

To look even closer, we can get more specific into the style and size categories. Below we show the individual Morningstar ETFs that separate the stock market into the Large, Mid, and Small size stocks and then into Growth vs. Value.

All three at the top are Growth. The three at the bottom are Value. So, the divergence this year isn’t so much Large vs. Small cap, it’s Growth vs. Value.

Clearly, Growth stocks are leading the stock market so far in 2018.

Why do we care about such divergence?

When there exists more difference between price trends, it provides more opportunity to capture the positive direction and avoid the negative trend if it continues.

In part 2, we’ll discuss how sector exposure is the primary driver of style/size returns.

 

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

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

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

You want to be fearful when others are greedy?

“You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy. It’s that simple.… ” – Warren Buffett

Investors are emotional and we can profit from it.

Though investors are emotional, they can also manage their emotions to feel the right feeling at the right time.

Market trends are both the result of investor behavior and driven by it. Anyone who watches “the market” has had feelings of fear and greed at some point. Those who “watch it closely” feel it often.

  • Fear: I am losing money! Is it ever going to stop?
  • Worried: How much more money will I lose?
  • Defeated: I’ve lost so much money I don’t know what I’m going to do.
  • Hope: I hope I make money this time. I hope it keeps going up!
  • Greed: I’m up X%! Up! this, Up! that. I’m up!
  • Euphoric: I’m going to tell everyone how much I’m UP! Up, up, and away!

All of these feelings and reactions drive directional price trends. Emotions also determine investor’s results. Investor behavior determines investor’s results as much as their investment program or the market.

fear-and-greed-index-explaination-cnn

Investor sentiment just reached “Extreme Greed” again. Investor sentiment tends to swing from “Fear” to “Greed” a few times a year, mostly reacting to the price trend. That is, we don’t see the majority of investors getting fearful when others are greedy. Instead, we see them get fearful after prices have fallen and they’ve lost some value. We don’t see investors getting greedy after prices fall, we instead see them get greedy after prices have already gained and they are “up”.

Being “up” in a position doesn’t mean anything if it’s “down” in the next period.

Being “up” in a position is an open profit until it’s closed.

An open profit is just the markets money until it’s realized by selling it.

A realized gain is a profit that has been taken by selling.

The Fear & Greed Index I used above is one that is simple to follow for anyone who wants to give themselves a reality check.

If you find yourself feeling euphoric and talking about how great “the market” or your investments are “doing”, this measure is likely dialed to the right for “Extreme Greed”.

If you find yourself fearful of more losses after losses you may be taking too much risk, but it could also be near a turning point. One the one hand, you don’t want to reach your uncle point and tap-out. So, you predefine your tolerance for loss and match that with an investment program that includes risk management and drawdown control.

You want to avoid doing the wrong things at the wrong time- as the quote said.

Although the Fear & Greed Index equally weights seven different sentiment indicators, the most prominent of them is the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index®), which is a key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices. When the VIX gets really low like it is now, it suggests that expectations for near-term volatility is very low.  I say “really low” because, as you can see, its current level of 10.74 is about as low as it’s gotten since introduction in 1993. That’s a contrary indicator because it’s at such an extreme. It seems the market is getting complacent and any surprise will shock them.

vix-cboe-volatility-index

What does this mean?

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

And, those who apply the simple-sounding strategy of “You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy.” may start to take some profits and preparing to take advantage of, or avoid, a later decline.

It doesn’t mean it will be a large decline, though it could be. For example, the last time I pointed out “Investor Optimism is Reaching Extreme” was December 9th of last year. As you can see below, the stock index dropped only about -2% over the next two weeks. That’s a small drop. Based on history, we expect to see swings of stock index prices of -5% to -10% two or three times a year. When I see such overbought conditions as I see now, I expect that level of normal decline.

decline-since-fear-and-greed-index

The upward trend in U.S. stocks has mostly been uninterrupted since last November. You can probably see how this just adds to the weight of the evidence that we shouldn’t be surprised to see a “normal” drop at some point. As a tactical trader, I prefer to avoid large declines when I can and take advantage of them.

We’ll see how it unfolds this time…

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.

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