Divergence in the Advance-Decline Line May be Bullish

With the stock market swinging up and down with the volatility expansion we’ve seen since February many investors are probably wondering which way stocks are going to trend.

Individual investors should be aware of the big picture.

The primary trend has been up since March 2009 with several declines interrupting it along the way. In fact, there have been eight declines more than -10% and three of them were between -15% and -20%. But, none have been over -20%, which is the level most define as a “bear market”. So, this is the longest bull market in U.S. stocks in history.

Many investors may realize that trends cycle up and down and when a trend moves longer or farther than normal, they may be expected to swing the other way longer and farther. For this reason, the intelligent investor is probably on alert for signs of the beginning of a change in the primary trend from a bull market to a bear market.

Market cycles aren’t just the longer primary trends, they are made up of many smaller trends that may be tradeable swings up and down. Avoiding a large bear market isn’t as simple as predicting it and then exiting the stock market until it’s over. We never know for sure in advance when a primary trend shifts from positive to negative and back to positive. In the real world, we focus on shorter time frames and have to deal with the short-term price swings that happen as a trend unfolds.

Despite the recent volatility and the down days, at this point, the U.S. stock market primary trend remains up. We say that because this two-year chart shows higher highs and higher lows. For that to change, we would need to see the stock index decline and stay below the prior lows. Of course, that is a possibility, but those who are following the trends respond to the actual change of trend.

stock market trend following

One positive confirming indicator is improving breadth during the recent swing up from the October low.

The Advance-Decline Line is a breadth indicator that indicates the level participation of the stocks in an index like the S&P 500. For example, a broad advance shows the internal strength that is lifting most boats, which is bullish. A narrow advance would show a  mixed market that is selective instead of broad participation. So far, we’ve seen the S&P 500 Advance-Decline Line make a higher high in the upswing, even though the S&P 500 index itself has declined the past few days.

bullish divergence advance decline line $spx $spy

One of the characteristics of the Advance-Decline Line is that it treats all 500 stocks the same, giving them equal weight. The standard S&P 500 stock index that investors track is a capitalization-weighted index that weights the largest stocks in the index much more heavily. Since the Advance-Decline Line gives each of the 500 stocks equal power, it emphasizes small and mid-cap stocks more. To get a more accurate view of the Advance-Decline Line relative to the stock index, we can use the S&P 500 Equal Weighted Index. I included it below. As we see, the equal-weighted stock index has trended up more similar to the Advance-Decline Line – and both of them made a higher high.

advance decline bullish divergence spx equal weight

We continue to observe a much more volatile market condition than we saw in 2017. That should be no surprise since the CBOE Volatility Index indicates implied volatility has been elevated as we’ve seen this volatility expansion. However, it’s at 20 today, which is its long-term average.

vix volatlity expansion asymmetric asymmetry

Looking back over two years, the next chart shows how much more elevated implied volatility was over last year.

volatility expansion 2018 vix $VIX trading asymmetry asymmetric

Volatility is mean reverting, which means volatility tends to swing from higher states to lower states. Although the VIX long-term average is 20, it rarely stays at that level. Instead, it swings up and down.

2018 has been a volatile year for stocks by any measure, but it may seem even more volatile since 2017 was so quiet.

So far in 2018, the S&P 500 stock index has been down -1% or more on 21 days.

In 2017, stocks only had a -1% or more down day 4 days the whole year.

By that measure, does it make 2018 a volatile year? Or 2017 a calm year?

2016 had 22 days the S&P 500 stock index was down over -1%

2015 had 32 days the S&P 500 stock index was down over -1%

By this measure, 2017 was an unusually calm year for U.S. stocks. 2018 isn’t a lot different than 2015 and 2016.

Individual down days don’t make a trend unless you are a day trader, which we are not. We measure market risk by actual drawdown. Below is a chart of the drawdowns for the stock index year to date. The S&P 500 has declined -10% twice. A -10% within a year is normal, along with a couple of -5% drops. But, two -10% declines in a 12 month period isn’t all that abnormal, either.

stock market drawdown 2018 $SPX $SPX

One thing that may make the price trend swings and volatility seem unusual this year was the lack of it last year. Below is last year, when we didn’t see any drops more than -4%.

stock market volatility drawdown

On January 24, 2018, I said:

I tell ya what… we haven’t seen a drawdown in the popular stock indexes in nearly a year and a half. We would normally see three or four. Those who don’t think that is important will probably be the investors who are dazed when we do see one.

Markets cycle and swing up and down over time, and so does volatility. At this point, we are observing an overall primary uptrend in U.S. stocks but the shorter-trend trend this year has shown us broader swings of +/- 10% or so as volatility has expanded and price swings have spread out.

Despite the down days Friday and today, the short term trend is relatively positive with positive participation as measured by the Advance-Decline Line. Only time will tell how it all plays out from here.

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

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

The stock market is swinging its way to an inflection point

Trying not to sound like a broken record, I’ll share a few updates from what I said last in Observations of the stock market downtrend. 

The stock market is at an inflection point. An inflection point is a time of meaningful change in a situation; a turning point. The reality is, there are many inflection points within market cycles and price trends. So, we observe different inflection points across different time frames. For those who watch the stock market daily as a professional portfolio manager, we observe every move. But, the overall focus needs to be on the bigger trends. Every market cycle and price trend is made up of smaller cycles as prices swing up and down on their way to forming a directional trend. Market cycles don’t trend straight up or down.

The U.S stock indexes have dropped about -10% in October, giving up gains for the year. Many investors probably believe October is historically the worst month of the year for the stock market because of famous October declines. September is actually the worst month historically, but October is historically a volatile month. It just so happens, this decline occurred inside of October.

I don’t use seasonality as a signal for my decisions, but we’ve all heard of “sell in May and go away.” The period from May through October is supposed to be the weak season and November to April is the stronger season for stocks. The S&P 500 had defied the expectation that stocks would be weak last summer and gained nearly 10% from May through September, then lost the gain in October. Many leading growth stocks that previously showed the strongest momentum declined even more than the stock indexes. I pointed out a few months ago that international stock indexes including both emerging and developed countries were already in downtrends. So, the global equity markets were generally down in October.

That’s the bad news for anyone invested in these markets.

The good news is after those who wanted to sell have sold, prices eventually reach a low enough point to attract new buying interest.

I focus on what the price trends are actually doing, so I’ll share my observations of the trends and update some sentiment and breadth indicators I’ve discussed in previous observations.

First, we look at what the price trend is actually doing. Below is the S&P 500 stock index year-to-date. We see after declining about -10% from its September high, the stock index has reversed back up to the price of the prior low on October 11th.

 

In technical analysis of price trends, we say “prior support may become resistance” and that may be what happens next. We shouldn’t expect prices to trend straight up or down, they swing up and down. Prices making higher highs and higher lows form uptrends or lower lows and lower highs form downtrends. So, it wouldn’t be abnormal to see the stock index trend back down to the low again, or it could pause and continue the recent upward direction.

For a sustained move higher, those who want to sell need to have sold and prices need to have reached a low enough point to attract new buying demand.

Have those who want to sell, sold?

To get an idea for observation of investor sentiment, we can look at a few simple indicators. I explained the thinking behind the Fear & Greed Index in Observations of the stock market downtrend.

The Fear & Greed Index is based on 7 indicators of investors sentiment and can be a useful gauge to help investors keep their own sentiment in check. It currently remains at an “Extreme Fear” level, which is typical after a stock market decline and a high level of bearish sentiment that has historically preceded stock prices reversing back up- as those who want to sell have sold. However, in a prolonged bear market, this oscillating indicator could stay low for a long time or it could swing up and down along with price trends.

But, nothing illustrates buying and selling, supply and demand, better than the actual price trends. Another interesting indicator I’ve shared in recent observations is the percent of stocks in the S&P 500 that are trading above their short-term moving average.

 

It shows us how many stocks have participated in an uptrend or downtrend. When it reaches a high point and most stocks have participated in an uptrend, it may be nearer a reversal back down. Price trends don’t move straight up. When it reaches a low level is indicates most stocks have declined and at an extreme, it can suggest capitulation – those who want to sell may have sold. But, prices don’t trend straight down. Prices swing up and down along the way to drifting directionally. At this point, this indicator has reached the February and April lows and reversed up.

Shorter term, it’s an inflection point as I highlighted. If more stocks trend back up, we’ll see this trend higher.

Let’s see how it all unfolds…

 

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

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

Is it a stock pickers market?

Is it a stock pickers market?

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

Then, there are periods when we see more divergence.

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

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

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

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

momentum sectors

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

momentum stocks consumer discretionary sector NFLX AMZN AAPL

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

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

ETF Sector Allocation exposure S&P 500

So, Is it a stock pickers market? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

Is it a stock pickers market?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stock Market Decline is Broad

We typically expect to see small company stocks decline first and decline the most. The theory is that smaller companies, especially micro companies, are more risky so their value may disappear faster.  Below, we view the recent price trends of four market capitalization indexes: micro, small, mid, and mega. We’ll use the following index ETFs.

Vanguard ETFs small mid large micro cap

Since we are focused on the downside move, we’ll only observe the % off high chart. This shows what percentage the index ETF had declined off its recent highest price (the drawdown). We’ll also observe different look-back periods.

We first look back 3 months, which captures the full extent of the biggest loser: as expected, the micro cap index. The iShares Micro-Cap ETF (IWC: Green Line) seeks to track the investment results of an index composed of micro-capitalization U.S. equities. Over the past 3 months (or anytime frame we look) it is -13% below its prior high. The second largest decline is indeed the small cap index. The Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB: Orange Line) seeks to track the performance of the CRSP US Small Cap Index, which measures the investment return of small-capitalization stocks. The small cap index has declined -11.5%. The Vanguard Mega Cap ETF (MGC) seeks to track the performance of a benchmark index that measures the investment return of the largest-capitalization stocks in the United States and has declined -9.65%. The Vanguard Mid-Cap ETF (VO) seeks to track the performance of a benchmark index that measures the investment return of mid-capitalization stocks and has declined -9.41%. So, the smaller stocks have declined a little more than larger stocks.

Small and Micro caps lead down

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

Many active or tactical strategies may shift from smaller to large company stocks, hoping they don’t fall as much. For example, in a declining market relative strength strategies would rotate from those that declined the most to those that didn’t. The trouble with that is they may still end up losing capital and may end up positioned in the laggards long after a low is reached. They do that even though we may often observe the smallest company stocks rebound the most off a low. Such a strategy is focused on “relative returns” rather than “absolute returns“. An absolute return strategy will instead exit falling trends early in the decline with the intention of avoiding more loss. We call that “trend following” which has the objective of “cutting your losses short”. Some trend followers may allow more losses than others. You can probably see how there is a big difference between relative strength (focusing on relative trends and relative returns)  and trend following (focusing on actual price trends and absolute returns).

So, what if we look at the these stock market indexes over just the past month instead of the three months above? The losses are the same and they are very correlated. So much for diversification. Diversification across many different stocks, even difference sizes, doesn’t seem to help in declining markets on a short-term basis. These indexes combined represent thousands of stocks; micro, small, medium, and large. All of them declined over -11%, rebounded together, and are trending down together again.

stock market returns august 2015

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

If a portfolio manager is trying to “beat the market” index, he or she may focus on relative strength or even relative value (buy the largest loser) as they are hoping for relative returns compared to an index. But a portfolio manager who is focused on absolute returns may pay more attention to the actual downside loss and therefore focuses on the actual direction of the price trend itself. And, a key part is predefining risk with exits.

You can probably see how different investment managers do different things based on our objectives. We have to decide what we want, and focus on tactics for getting that.

Asymmetric Returns of World Markets YTD

As of today, global stock, bond, commodity markets are generating asymmetric returns year to date. The graph below illustrates the asymmetry is negative for those who need these markets to go “up”.

Asymmetric Returns of World Markets 2015-04-10_10-52-47

source: http://finviz.com

 

Stock Market Peak? A Tale of Two Markets

One of the early warning signs that a bull market in stocks is nearing its end is increasing selectivity. As more investors begin to believe a peak may be near based on statistical analysis or valuation, they may get positioned more defensively. Eventually we observe some stocks participating in a rising trend as others trend down early. Over the past several weeks we have observed a material divergence between large company stocks like those in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA) vs. small company stocks like those in the Russell 2000 Index (IWM). As you can see below, the Russell 2000 index has declined nearly 9% while the Dow Jones Industrial has gained about 2%. Since the Dow Jones Industrial is more popularly quoted in the media, most investors probably believed “the market was still rising”. But unless you only have positions in the largest company stocks, you’re noticing that isn’t the case in terms of the broad market. Small company stocks tend to lead on the downside, so we shouldn’t be surprised if we see the larger companies follow them down at some point. You can probably see how this basic observation leads to further study of market breadth: looking at what percent of stocks are rising vs. falling.

Is this the “tail” of two markets?

stock market peak small cap large company stocks

Data: http://www.stockcharts.com

Of course, the direction of the overall market is interesting to monitor, but it only matters what positions we have at risk.

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