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.

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.

investor-emotion-market-cycles-fear-hope-greed1

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.

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

The popular stock indexes are now down about -5% year to date.

dow jones stock market

The popular stock indexes are now about -13% off their highs.

stock market dow jones spx spy dia

I don’t normally include the NASDAQ since it’s so overweight the Technology sector, but it’s down -17% off its high and the Russell 2000 small-cap index is down -19%. The year started off very strong and is ending with weakness so far.

nasdaq russell 2000 dow jones

I pointed out earlier this year that Emerging Markets and Developed countries stock markets were already in a bear market if we define it as -20% off highs. Here we see they are down even more than the U.S. stocks year to date.

emering markets stocks

I warned before that with interest rates rising, bonds may not provide the crutch they have in past stock market declines. That has been the case in 2018. Even with the long-term Treasury gaining recently from being down -12%, it’s still down -6% year to date.

BOND ETF TLT LQD AGG ETFS

Many investors are probably wondering what’s going to happen next. I said a week ago in Stock Market Observations that stocks have fallen far enough that “We would expect to see some potential buying support at these levels again.” For these popular stock indexes, they are now at the point of the February and April lows and reaching an oversold level by my momentum measures.

We are looking for signs that selling pressure is drying up as those who want to sell have been exhausted and new buying demand increases to take over. Some signs of stock prices reaching a low enough point to attract more buying than selling are observed in investor sentiment measures and breadth indicators.

A simple easy to follow gauge of investor sentiment is the Fear & Greed Index, which is a composite of seven Investor sentiment measures. The investor sentiment reached an “Extreme Fear” zone again.

investor sentiment fear greed index

Investor fear by this measure has been high for the past few months. At some point, we would expect to see those who want to sell have sold. However, if this stock trend becomes a bear market we would expect to see this gauge remain low for a long time. Although, the stock indexes will swing up and down along the way.

fear and greed over time investor sentiment stock market

Another observation of investor sentiment reaching an extreme was last week’s AAII Investor Sentiment Survey. Last week pessimism spiked to its highest level since April 2013, while optimism fell to an unusually low level.

bearish investor sentiment

For some historical context, the % of bearish investors has reached the high level it did at the 2016 stock market low. When investor fear reaches such extremes, it’s a contrary indicator.

bearish sentiment

A bear market is a process, not an event. At -13% it’s hard to say if this will become a bear market, though there are some potential drivers that could cause stocks to fall more over time.

The first warning sign for the big picture is earlier this year the Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500 reached the second highest level ever, with data going back before 1880.

Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500

The only two times the Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500 had reached this “overvalued” level was 1929 and 1999. Of course, 1929 was followed by The Great Depression and 1999 was followed by the Tech Bubble Burst. The only time I pay attention to the PE ratio is for a big picture assessment of valuation when it reaches extreme highs or lows. At such a high level of valuation, we shouldn’t be surprised to see volatility and stocks decline. The unknown is if it keeps declining much more to reach an “undervalued” level at some point. So far, with -13% decline, the Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500 has declined from 33 at the beginning of the year to 28 now. Twenty or higher is considered high, 10 or less is considered low. It is what it is.

A bear market is a process, not an event, which means the stock market will swing up and down along the way. For example, historical bear markets are made up of swings of -10%, +8%, -14%, +10%, each swing doesn’t make a higher high, but instead prints a lower high and lower lows. The good news is, the swings are potentially tradable. However, for those tactical traders who attempt to trade them, it isn’t easy and it doesn’t always feel good. These kind of periods are volatile, so a skilled tactical trader has to increase and decrease exposure to the possibility of gain and loss. For me, predefining risk is essential, but so is holding the predetermined exposure to give a trend room to play out.

Some potentially positive news is the breadth indicators suggest most stocks are participating in the downtrend. That doesn’t sound positive unless you realize as stocks get washed out on the downside the selling pressure is eventually exhausted, at least temporarily. Below is one indicator we observe to see what is going on inside S&P 500 stock index. It’s the percent of the 500 stocks in the index that are trending above their 50-day moving average. When this indicator is low, it signals stocks may be nearing a level of selling exhaustion as most of them are already in downtrends. However, if this does become an actual bear market of -20% or more, we’ll see this indicator swing up and down along with the price trend. At this point, it’s in the green zone, suggesting the stocks may be near the “washed out” area so we could see some demand take over supply in the days or weeks ahead.

As you can see below, the percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average has now reached the low level it did in February and back in August 2015 and January 2016 that preceded a reversal back up.

percent of stocks above 50 day moving average

I shared my observations of this breadth indicator back in February when I explained it in more detail if you want to read it Stock Market Analysis of the S&P 500. I also shared it in October when the current downtrend started. In October, the percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average was still high and hadn’t declined much. That isn’t the case now. As you can see, even this longer term breadth indicator is now entering the green zone. As more stocks have already declined, it becomes more and more likely we’ll see selling exhausted and shift to buying demand as prices reach lower more attractive levels for institutional investors.

As you can see below, the percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average has now reached the low level much below February and now down to the levels reached in August 2015 and January 2016 that preceded a reversal back up in stocks.

stock market breadth percent of stocks 200 day

Another indicator that measures the participation in the trend is the S&P 500 Bullish Percent index that I have been observing for over two decades. This is the percent of stocks on a Point & Figure buy signal, which often traces a pattern something similar to the 50 day and 200-day moving averages as it has the past four years. As we see below, this indicator is reaching the low level not seen since August 2015 and January 2016 that preceded a reversal back up.

buliish percent index

At this point, we haven’t yet seen enough buying enthusiasm to overwhelm the desire to sell. But, many of these indicators I’ve been monitoring for nearly two decades are reaching a level we should see some shift at some point. If we don’t, the stock market may enter into a more prolonged and deeper bear market. However, historically lower lows are made up of cycle swings along the way, so we should still see at least some shorter-term uptrends.

I’m starting to hear a lot of “bear market” talk in the news and on social media, so I thought I would put the current decline into context. My mission isn’t to take up for the stock market, but instead to present the facts of the trends as they are. I was defensive at the beginning of the year and then added more exposure after prices fell. I predefine my risk by predefining my exits in all of my positions, so any exposure I have has a relatively short leash on how low I’ll allow it to go before I cut my loss short, rather than let the loss get large. I am never a market cheerleader, but because I was already defensive near the peaks, I may have the potential to take advantage of the lower prices. I’m almost always going to be a little too early or a little too late and that is fine. It’s never been perfect but has still achieved the results I want the past two decades.

To put the current decline into historical contacts, we can simply compare it to the last decline of -10% or more, which was around August 2015 and January 2016. For nearly two years, the stock index was range bound with no upside breakout.

stock market 2015 2015 decline bear market

Looking closer at the % off highs, we see the late 2015 decline was -12% and the first few months of 2016 was about -15%.

stock market decline 2015 2016 asymmetric risk reward

Here is 2018. So far, it isn’t actually as much of a decline.

bear market stocks stock market

Another interesting observation I’ll share is the trend in the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX). Below is the 2015 to 2016 period again with the S&P 500 in the top panel and VIX volatility index in the bottom panel. We see the VIX spiked up sharply around August 2015 when the stock market decline. However, when the stock market recovered the loss and then declined again to a lower low, the VIX index didn’t reach the same high level the second time. The volatility expansion wasn’t nearly as high even though the stock index reached an even lower low.

VIX VOLATILITY expansion 2016

We are observing that same divergence in volatility this year. The VIX spiked over 100% when stocks fell -12% around February this year. The stock market recovered and printed a new high in September, then has since fallen -13% from that high. This time, however, the implied volatility VIX index hasn’t spiked up nearly as high.

divergence volatility expansion vix

What could it mean? When the VIX increases it is an indication of expected future 30-day volatility implied by the options on the stocks in the S&P 500. When the VIX increases, it means options traders are probably using options to hedge against market declines. I’m guessing it could signal that hedging and possible selling enthusiasm could be drying up. That seems to be what it suggested in 2015 to 2016 when it did the same, then the stock market trended up into 2017.

We’ll see how it all unfolds from here, but the stock market has clearly reached an inflection point. Stocks have trended down to a low enough level we should see some buying demand if it’s there. You can probably see why I believe markets require me to actively manage my risk through predefined exits and hedging to extract from it the asymmetric risk-reward I want.

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

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/growth-has-stronger-momentum-than-value/

 

Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/sector-trends-are-driving-equity-returns/

 

Trend Analysis of the Stock Market

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/trend-analysis-of-the-stock-market/

 

Trend of the International Stock Market

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/26/trend-of-the-international-stock-market/

 

Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/interest-rate-trend-and-rate-sensitive-sector-stocks/

 

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/expected-volatility-stays-elevated-in-2018/

 

Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/sector-etf-changes-indexes-arent-so-passive/

 

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/28/commodities-are-trending-with-better-momentum-than-stocks/

 

Investor sentiment gets more bearish

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/28/investor-sentiment-gets-more-bearish/

 

Is it a stock pickers market?

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/29/is-it-a-stock-pickers-market/

 

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