Feeling and Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time

Last week I shared the observation that VIX Implied Volatility is Settling Down. The VIX Index is a  measure of the market’s expectation of future volatility, so the market is pricing in less volatility from here.

However, looking over the past five years, we can apply the 200-day simple moving average to the VIX to see vol oscillate between low vol regimes and a volatility expansion. Currently, it’s still somewhat a volatility expansion in comparison to recent periods, though the 17.80 level is below the long term average of 20. Everything is relative and evolving, so it depends on how we look at it.

vix volatility expansion regime change

Growing up on a small farm in East Tennessee I learned to “make hay while the sun shines.” Disasters happen if we try to make hay all the time or at the wrong time. I know many investors have a passive, all in, all the time approach, but I also saw farmers try to make hay in harsh weather. We have a better experience if we plan to make hay when the sun is shining rather than during a thunderstorm.

I believe the timing is everything.

Markets, especially stocks, are not normally distributed. We observe waterfall declines far beyond what is seen within a normal bell curve. These “tail risks” shock investors and cause panic selling. As panic selling drives prices lower, it results in more panic selling. Unfortunately, most investors natural inclination is to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we see them getting too optimistic at peaks like January 2018 and then panic at lower prices like December 2018.


If I am to have better results, I must necessarily be seeing, believing, and doing something very different than most people. In fact, what I’m doing should appear wrong to them when I’m doing it. So, to do the right thing overall, I must necessarily appear wrong to most when I’m doing it. That’s what I do, and I’m not afraid to do it. I just do what I do, over and over, and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to ride in our boat.

I occasionally share a glimpse of the many indicators that generate signals that help to inform me. Most of these indicators I share aren’t actual trade signals to buy or sell, but instead, I use them for situational awareness. I don’t want to be one of the people in the above chart. I prefer to instead reverse it. If I’m going to experience any feelings, I want to feel greed when others are in a panic and feel fear when others are euphoric. That’s how I roll at the extremes. More often, we are in a period between those extremes when I just want to be along for the ride.

In several observations recently like An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market on December 23rd, I covered the Put/Call Ratios and other indicators because they had spiked to extreme levels. In some cases, like the CBOE Total Put/Call Ratio spiked to 1.82 in late December, which is its highest put volume over call volume ratio ever.

A put-call ratio of 1 signals symmetry: the number of buyers of calls is the same as the number of buyers for puts. However, since most individual stock investors buy calls rather than puts the ratio of 1 is not an accurate level to gauge investor sentiment. The long term average put-call ratio of 0.7 for the Equity Put/Call Ratio is the base level I apply. Currently, the Equity Put/Call Ratio is back down to 0.54, which indicates a bullish investor sentiment. A falling Put/Call ratio below its longer-term average suggests a bullish sentiment because options traders are buying a lot more calls than puts. In fact, it’s a little extreme on the bullish side now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the stock market decline some and this level trend back up.

equity put call ratio asymmetric risk reward

The Index Put/Call Ratio is often greater than one because the S&P 500 index options are commonly used by professional investment managers to hedge market risk. At 0.99 I consider this to signal there isn’t a lot of hedging right now so I wouldn’t be surprised to see stocks pull back some and the ratio trend up more. It isn’t an extreme bullish sentiment, but maybe a little complacent.

cboe index put:call ratio aymmetric risk reward

So, in just about four weeks we’ve seen the sentiment of investors swing from one extreme back within a more normal range. I can’t say the current levels are extreme enough to be any significant signal, but they are drifting that way.  Investors currently see this is a “risk on” regime, so we’ll go with the flow until it changes. By these measures and others, we are seeing them approach a level to become more aware of an elevating potential for a counter-trend.

The good news is, none of this has to be perfect. Asymmetric risk-reward doesn’t require a 100% win ratio, it’s about the average gain exceeding the average loss. For me, it’s more about magnitude than probability.

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

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

Stock market investor optimism rises above historical average

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

AAII Investor Sentiment Survey

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

It is my observation that investor sentiment is trend following.

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

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

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

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

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

Back to investor sentiment…

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

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

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

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

Falling optimism and rising pessimism can drive prices down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

stock market 2018 level and drawdown

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

Only time will tell…

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


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

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

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


The week in review

The week in review

In case you missed it, below are all of the observations we shared this week. When there are more directional trend changes and volatility, I find more asymmetries to write about. That’s because I look at markets through the lens of “what has changed”?

When I observe more divergence between markets and trends, I see more asymmetries to share.

When global markets are just trending up together and quiet, investor sentiment is usually getting complacent, I typically point it out, since that often precedes a changing trend.

All of it is asymmetric observations; directional trends and changes I see with a tilt.

The opposite is symmetry, which is a balance. Symmetry doesn’t interest me enough to mention it.

When buying interest and selling pressure are the same, the price doesn’t move.

When risk equals the return, there is no gain.

When profit equals loss, there is no progress.

In all I do, I’m looking for Asymmetry®.

I want my return to exceed the risk I take to achieve it.

I want my profits to far surpass my losses.

I want my wins to be much greater than my losses.

I want more profit, less loss.

You probably get my drift.


Here are the observations we shared this week: 

Growth has Stronger Momentum than Value



Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns



Trend Analysis of the Stock Market



Trend of the International Stock Market



Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks



Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018



Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive



Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks



Investor sentiment gets more bearish



Is it a stock pickers market?



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