FAANG Stocks and Momentum Trends

Markets trend in cycles and trends come and go like seasons from spring to summer to fall to winter. I like to observe a range of price trends and behavioral trends from short term to very long term secular trends.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the Nifty 50. The Nifty 50 were 50 stocks institutional investors admired.

The Nifty 50 stocks got their reputation during the bull market of the 1960s and early 1970s. They were considered “one-decision” stocks because investors were told they could buy and hold the shares forever. Nifty 50 stocks included IBM, General Electric (GE), and Coca-Cola (KO). Some of the Nifty 50 have had problems the past decade, like Xerox and Polaroid. More recently, we can add General Electric to not so nifty list.

The secular bear market of the 1970s started with the 1973–74 stock market crash and lasted until 1982.  Valuations of the Nifty 50 fell to low levels along with the rest of the stock market. Most of the Nifty 50 lagged the stock market indexes and then they weren’t so popular afterward. Trends can be fads and come and go, but the one thing we see driving fads in the stock market is their actual price trend. Stocks are loved at all-time highs, not so much after they decline.

Below are three of the better Nifty Fifty stocks. Buying and holding the stocks would require tremendous patience and acceptance of volatility and large drawdowns.  Coca-Cola had the best momentum overall. But, who could have held through the drawdown from the late 1990s that lasted a decade? How about Xerox?

nifty 50 ko ibm ge

Below are the % off high drawedowns of these “Blue Chips.” A -50% more decline that lasts for years is something an investor would have to tolerate more than once to own the stocks long term. This is why buy and hold investing doesn’t work for most investors. 

fifty 50 stock asymmetry ratio

Then in the 1990s, it was the tech stocks especially those involved in the Internet. More specifically, the “.com” stocks was a whole new level of popularity and euphoria. The overall stock market reached its highest valuation levels, ever. Most of the .com stocks no longer exist. Some of the technology stocks involved in building the infrastructure still do, like Cisco (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT), Oracle (ORCL), and Qualcomm (QCOM). But, many of the momentum stocks of the 1990s aren’t around to see their charts.

tech stocks

If investors only focused on is the right side of the chart, those several thousand percent gains look exciting. But, in the real world, even a -20% decline in the stock indexes as we saw in 2018 causes investor fear and panic selling. The investors holding the above stocks would probably need to be asleep at the wheel to have held them long term.

Looking at the total return alone isn’t sufficient, so I like to observe what I call the ASYMMETRY® Ratio, which is the total return chart above along with the drawdown. The ASYMMETRY® Ratio gives us a full picture of the asymmetric risk-reward if there is one. Clearly, the downside drawdowns were brutal by any measure. Maybe even more brutal than the Nifty 50.

1990s momentum tech stocks

Those are the momentum trends of the past.

Today we have the FAANG stocks. It stated as FANG and has since extended to FAANG. The FAANG stocks are Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX), and Google (GOOG). They have been some of the most popular momentum stocks and for good reason. These are some of todays greatest companies. Who can imagine Netflix going away today? Who could have imaged online Netflix taking out Blockbuster? Who can imagine Amazon eventually taking out Netflix? What if Walmart (WMT) or Target (TGT) figure out a way to compete with both? The reality is, there is probably some small company out there we don’t know about that will be the next big winner. We don’t have to attempt to find the needle in the haystack, we can just focus on the price trends and they’ll show up eventually.

I shared my observations in FANG Stocks were the Leaders but now the Laggards so I won’t rehash it. My mission here is a short term update.

So far in 2019, all of the FAANG stocks are trending up except for Apple (AAPL). Only one of the FAANG stocks have had stronger momentum than the First Trust Dow Jones Internet ETF (FDN) which is a more diversified version of FAANG type internet industry stocks. The clear leader has been Netflix (NFLX).  Here is a chart over the past month:

faang stocks fb aapl amzn nflx goog momentum asymmetric risk reward

The ASYMMETRY® Ratio looking at the total return vs. % off high drawdown gives us a better picture of asymmetric risk-reward. Below is their total returns over the past year.

fang faang stock momentum fb aapl amzn nflx goog

The FAANG stocks clearly have their downside risks and all of them are in drawdowns as we see below. However, they are recovering and the diversification of the ETF helped reduce its drawdown relative to the individual stocks.

 

faang stock asymetric risk reward momentum drawdown

We’ll see if the FAANG stocks resume their prior momentum we’ve seen over the past several years.

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.

An exhaustive stock market analysis… continued

I guess An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market wasn’t exhaustive enough, because I now have a few things to add.

First, since the financial news media, as well as social media like Twitter, is so bearish with all kinds of narratives about why the stock market is falling, I’ll go ahead and discuss it here. This observation will not be complete without first reading An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market so you know where I am coming from. If you haven’t read it already, I would before continuing so you understand the full context.

It is the financial news media’s business to report new information. We all know that if they want to get people to tune in, the fastest way is to provide provocative and alarming headlines and commentary. So, we shouldn’t be surprised to see distressing news.

There are always many reasons for the stock market to trend up or down. It isn’t hard to write some narrative attempting to explain it. The reality is, there are all kinds of causes that create an effect. None of them alone drive price trends. Ultimately, what drives price trends is behavior and sentiment which drives supply and demand. Behavior and investor sentiment may be impacted by the news and what people decide to believe.

I often say “what you believe is true, for you” even if it isn’t actually true. A person’s beliefs could be completely wrong and could be scientifically disproven, but if they still believe it, it’s their truth, so it’s true – for them. So, whatever you choose to believe is going to be your truth, so I suggest weighing the evidence to determine the truth if you want it to be more accurate. In science, we can’t prove the truth to be true, we can only disprove it as untrue.

Let’s look at some truths that I believe to be true based on empirical observation of facts.

The biggest news headline is probably the government shutdown. There have been twenty U.S. government shutdowns over the budget since 1976 by both political parties. Half of the time it was followed by stock gains and half the time declines. The average result is -0.40% and the median is 0%. So, historically a government shutdown hasn’t seemed to drive prices. Below is the table. It is what it is.

What does the stock market do after government shut down

Yesterday evening Steven Mnuchin, the 77th Secretary of the Treasury, tweeted a note that he had called the nations six largest banks to confirm they have ample liquidy for consumer and business lending and other market operations. The words “Plunge Protection Team” started trending in social media. Much of the response has been negative, which seems odd to me.

Since when was doing “channel checks” not a good idea?

It seems not doing it would be imprudent…

There are many things going on all over the world all the time, so we can always find narratives to fit the price trend and believe it’s the driver. Narratives and news also seem to drive more emotional responses since people like to hear a story. I focus on the data, which is the price action. Whatever is driving the markets is reflected in the price trend. The price trend is the final arbiter. Nothing else matters.

The Morningstar table of index performance shows the 2018 total return of large, mid, small cap stocks along with growth, value, and blend.

STOCK MARKET INDEX RETURNS 2018

The most popular broad-based indexes like the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average show 2018 is ending just the opposite of the way it started.

stock index performance return 2018

Let’s look at some price trends.

Yesterday I shared the Bullish Percent measures on the broad stock market indexes and each individual sector. We observed the percent of stocks in all sectors except for the Utility sector was already at historical lows after previous market declines. After today’s price action, we have some updated observations to explore.

The S&P 500 is in a bear market, commonly defined as a -20% decline from a prior price peak. What is most interesting is how fast it reached -20%.  In the chart below, I included the S&P 500 Total Return Index (including dividends), the S&P 500 Index price only, and the S&P 500 ETF (SPY). On a total return basis, the S&P 500 Total Return Index that includes no costs or fees didn’t quite close down -20% from its high, but the rest did. It’s close enough.

bear market 2018 October November December Crash

Though the stock indexes had declined -10% earlier this year, they had recovered to new highs by September and it appeared the primary uptrend would resume. Starting in October, the stock market declined again and attempted to recover twice in November. What came next was probably most shocking to those who follow market seasonality; the stock indexes are down over -15% in the month of December, which is historically one of the strongest months of the year. It seems this decline happening so fast and at the end of a calendar year is going to make it seem more significant.  Because it’s at year end it results in a “down year” instead of having time to recover during the normally seasonally strong period after October. The period from November to April historically has stronger stock market gains on average than the other months. Not this year.

The Utility sector reverses down to participation in the market decline. 

Yesterday I had highlighted the top range of the Bullish Percent chart in yellow to mark the high-risk zone above 70%. After today, the Utilities sector has declined below that range. Individual Utility stocks are now participating in the stock market decline.

Utilities Sector ETF XLU BULLISH PERCENT RELATIVE STRENGTH MOMENTUM

The Utilities sector ETF declined over -4% today and is now slightly down for the year.

Utilities Select Sector SPDR® ETF $XLU

During significant market declines, diversification sometimes isn’t the crutch it is promoted to be by most of the investment industry. Broad asset allocation and diversification do not assure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. In declining markets, we often see price trends cluster more as serial correlation. That is, prices begin to fall more just because they are falling. Investors sell because prices are falling. So, stocks, sectors, and markets can all become highly correlated to the downside. By the end of a market decline, all stocks, sectors, and markets are often participating.

The upside is, this panic selling is capitulation as the final weak holders stop resisting and begin to “sell everything!” We eventually see the selling dry up and buyers step in with enthusiasm at lower prices.

In the big picture, as I said in An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see prices falling with greater velocity since this is an aged bull market at high valuations and the same Fed actions that probably drove it up are probably going to reverse it in a similar fashion. I started this year warning of complacency from the 2017 low volatility uptrend and the potential for a volatility expansion. I also pointed out during the stock market peak in September that volatility had contracted to a historically very low level in VIX shows the market’s expectation of future volatility. Specifically, on September 25th I wrote,

“Looking at the current level of 12 compared to history going back to its inception in 1993, we observe its level is indeed near its lowest historical low.”

I ended it with;

“When the market expects volatility to be low in the next 30 days, I know it could be right for some time. But, when it gets to its historically lowest levels, it raises situational awareness that a countertrend could be near. It’s just a warning shot across the bow suggesting we hedge what we want to hedge and be sure our risk levels are appropriate.”

Well, that has turned out to be an understatement I guess.

What’s more important is what I actually did. On August 23th as the stock market began to appear overbought on a short-term basis, I took partial profits on our leading momentum stock positions. In hindsight, it would have been better to sell them all. By September 26th (when I wrote the above) I had reduced our exposure to only around 30% stocks and the rest in Treasury bonds. It still didn’t turn out perfectly as the stocks we did hold declined, too, and in many cases even more than the stock indexes. As we entered October, I shared a new observation “Here comes the volatility expansion” as stock prices fell and volatility increased. As prices fell to lower and lower levels, I started adding more exposure. At this point, prices have broadly become more and more extremely “oversold” and sentiment has become more negative. This has been a hostile period for every strategy, but I’ve been here before.

By the way, I have been a tactical portfolio manager for over twenty years now. The highlight of my performance history has been the bear markets. I executed especially well in the October 2007 to March 2009 period when the S&P fell -56%. My worst peak to trough drawdown during that period was only -14.3% and I recovered from it about six months or so later. That was compared to a -56% drop in the stock index that took several years to recover. In fact, I did so well at a time when very few did that it was almost unbelievable, so I had my performance verified by a third party accountant. I have considered writing about it and sharing the commentaries I wrote during the period and the tactical decisions I made. Make no mistake, it wasn’t easy nor was it pleasant. I didn’t lose the money others did, so I was in a position of strength, but it was still a challenging time. What I will tell you is I entered and exited various positions about seven or eight times over that two year period. We never know in advance when the low is in, or when a trend will reverse back down. Buy and hold investors just take the beating, I entered and exited hoping the average gain exceeds the average losses. The swings are the challenge. It takes great discipline to do what needs to be done. Most people had very poor results, for me to create good results, I necessarily had to feel and do the opposite of most people. The market analysis I’m sharing here as observations aren’t necessarily the exact signals I used to enter and exit, but they are part of the indicators I monitored during the crash. Every trend is unique. We have no assurance my methods will do as well as in the past. But, the one thing I feel confident in is I’ve been here before. This ain’t my first rodeo. I know what I’m doing and I’m disciplined in my execution. That’s all I can do. I’m dealing with the certainty of uncertainty, so I can’t guarantee I’ll do as well the next time around, but I am better prepared now than I was then.

So bring it. Get some. I’m ready. 

Yesterday I shared the extreme levels of Bullish Percent indicators for the broad market and sectors as well as other indicators like the Put/Call Ratios. I want to add to these observations with more indicators reaching an extreme. I’ve not seen these extremes since 2008 and 2009.

The Nasdaq has declined the most which is no surprise since it’s mostly emerging companies and heavily weighted in Technology. Market conditions have pushed the number of Nasdaq stocks hitting new lows to over 1,100 as of last week. Since the total number of Nasdaq issues is about 3,200 that has caused the value, in percentage terms, to jump to over 30% of the total. As you can see, the last time this many Nasdaq stocks hit new lows was the October 2008 low and the March 2009 low. The current level has exceeded other corrections since then and even the “Tech Wreck” after 2000. At this point, it becomes a contrarian indicator.

NASDAQ NEW LOWS PERCENT OF INDEX

To no surprise, the same trend is true for NYSE stocks. As of last week, the percent of stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange at new lows has reached the levels of past correction lows, but not as high as the 2008 period.

NYSE NEW LOWS PERCENT NYA INDEX

From here, I’ll share my observations of the relative strength and momentum of the sectors and stocks within them so we can see how oversold they have become. We already looked at the Bullish Percent of each sector yesterday, this is just more weight of the evidence.

First, I applied the Relative Strength Index to the S&P 500 daily chart. This RSI is only 14 days, so it’s a short-term momentum indicator that measures the magnitude of recent price changes to estimate overbought or oversold conditions. RSI oscillates between zero and 100, so it’s range bound and I consider it overbought above 70 and oversold below 30. Below we see the current level of 19 is very low over the past twenty years and is at or below the low level reached during past shorter-term market bottoms. However, we also see during prolonged bear markets like 2000 to 2003 and 2007 to 2009 it reached oversold conditions two to three times as the market cycles up and down to a lower low.

RSI SPX RELATIVE STRENGTH S&P 500 INDEX

Zooming out from the daily chart to the weekly chart, we see the extremes more clearly and this is one of them. On a weekly basis, this oversold indicator is as low as it’s been only at the low points of the last two major bear markets.

sS&P 500 RSI WEEKLY RELATIVE STRENGTH SPX

Zooming out one more time from the weekly to the monthly chart, we observe a monthly data point only highlights the most extreme lows. It’s the same data but ignores the intra-month data. On a monthly basis, the current measure isn’t as low as it reached at the bear market lows in March 2009 or October 2002. For it to reach that level, I expect the green area I highlighted in the price chart to be filled. In other words, this suggests to me if this is a big bear market, we could ultimately see the price trend decline to at least the 2015 high. It only takes about -10% to reach that level. However, as we saw in the shorter term readings, if history is a guide, it would most likely cycle back up before it would trend back down.

RSI S&P 500 MONTHLY RELATIVE STRENGTH INDEX SPX

You can probably see why I stress that longer-term price trends swing up and down as they unfold. Within a big move of 50%, we see swings around 10 – 20% along the way.

Let’s continue with this same concept to see how each sector looks. The broader indexes are made of the sectors, so if we want an idea of the internal condition of the broader market it is useful to look at each sector as I did yesterday with the Bullish Percent indexes.

Since we just had a -15% correction in August 2015 and January 2016, we’ll just focus on the daily RSI looking back four years to cover that period. Keep in mind, none of this is advice to buy or sell any of these sectors or markets. We only provide advice and investment management to clients with an executed investment management agreement. This observation is for informational and educational purposes only.

The Consumer Discretionary sector is as oversold as it’s been at historically low price points. A trend can always continue down more and stay down longer than expected, but by this measure, it has reached a point I expect to see a reversal up.

CONSUMER CYCLICAL SECTOR RELATIVE STRENGTH MOMENTUM RSI TREND

The price trend of Consumer Staples that is considered to be a defensive sector initially held up, but then the selling pressure got to it. It’s oversold as it’s been at historical lows.

consumer staples etf relative strength trend RSI XLP

The Energy sector has declined the most in 2018 and is oversold similar to prior price trend lows. We can see the indicator isn’t perfect as a falling trend sometimes reverses up temporarily, then trends back down to a lower low only to get oversold again. We’ll observe this same behavior at different times in each sector or market.

energy sector etf xle relative strength rsi momentum trend following buy signal.jpg

The Financial sector is deeply oversold to the point it has reached at prior lows. Any market could always crash down more, but Financials have reached a point we should expect to see at least a temporary reversal up.

FINANCIAL SECTOR ETF XLE IYF RELATIVE STREGTH MOMENTUM RSI

Healthcare is a sector that isn’t expected to be impacted by the economy, but it has participated in the downtrend. It’s also reached the oversold point today. You can see what happened historically after it reached this level. If history is a guide, we should watch for a reversal.

XLV HEALTH CARE ETF RSI MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

The Industrial sector is trending down but has now reached a point we could see a reversal back up.

XLI INDUSTRIAL SECTOR ETF MOMENTUM RSI

Clearly, the market decline has been broad as every sector has participated. The Materials sector reached the oversold level today.

XLB BASIC MATERIALS SECTOR ETF RSI MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

Real Estate has not been spared during the selloff. It has now reached an oversold level normally seen at lows, but historically it’s cycled up and down a few times before reversing up meaningfully. That can be the case for any of them.

XLRE REAL ESTATE ETF IYR MOMENTUM TREND FOLLOWING RSI

The Technology sector had been one of the best-looking uptrends the past few years. It’s now oversold after today’s action.

TECHNOLOGY ETF XLK IYR MOMENTUM RSI RELATIVE STRENGTH ASYMMETRIC RISK REWARD

Up until today, the Utility sector was the lone survivor, but it was one of todays biggest losers. It’s falling so sharply so fast it’s now oversold with the other sectors.

XLU IDU UTILITIES UTILITY SECTOR ETF ETFS MOMENTUM RSI

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

I’ve been here before. I’ve executed through these hostile conditions as a tactical operator. The more hostile it gets, the more focused in the zone I get. After the stock market has already declined, I start looking for this kind of panic selling and extreme levels for a countertrend. We’re seeing those levels now. Sure, it could get worse, but we have reached a point that lower prices are more and more likely to result in a reversal back up.

I’m just going to do what I do.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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.

 

An exhaustive analysis of the U.S. stock market

It’s a big task for me to use the word exhaustive when it comes to stock market analysis. Exhaustive is examining, including, or considering all elements or aspects; fully comprehensive. There is no way to consider all elements, but we can focus on how the price trends are actually trending and the behavior and sentiment that is driving the trend.

Many years ago a friend of mine once tried to debate me about what trend following is or is not. He argued that trend following is all lagging moving averages or breakouts. The more we discussed it, the more we both realized that isn’t true. What made us realize it was when I said:

A skillful trend follower wants to catch a trend early in its stage and capitalize on it until it ends.

That’s hard to argue against. Who would rather enter a trend later in its stage? Who wants to catch less of the trend? My point is: we should want to capture as much of a trend as possible and for me, that necessarily means I want to not only determine the direction of a trend but also observe when trends are likely to change direction.

I want to share this with you so you know where I’m coming from. My objective is all about ASYMMETRY®. For me, it’s all about asymmetric risk/reward. Asymmetric risk/reward is an expectation of average gains larger than average losses. It could be as simple as risking a loss of 10% for the potential to earn a gain of 20%. That’s an asymmetric payoff. If I did that with just a 50% probability, I would earn 5% on average. How much total return we would achieve over time would be controlled by how much capital I risk in each position. How much I risk in each position across the portfolio dictates my portfolio drawdown. The portfolio drawdowns relative to total return since inception creates an asymmetric risk/reward profile. So, everything I do involves ASYMMETRY® and that’s why it’s my trademark. As you read my observations you can probably see how I’m looking for exposure at lower risk levels and less exposure at higher risk levels and that can be counterintuitive. It can certainly go against investor sentiment and emotions at times.

Every decision we make is in the present moment. We can do nothing in the past. We can do nothing in the future. The only time we can do something is now, or not.

To get an understanding of an asymmetric risk/reward let’s look at an idealized situation. The chart below, unnamed because it doesn’t matter, is a price trend that gained over 100%. If your objective is an asymmetric payoff and you have perfect hindsight, what would be your best entry point?

asymmetric risk reward investment

Clearly, the price is trending from the lower left to the upper right, so the answer is the lowest price possible. As I said, in the real world we don’t know in advance the trend will continue, so we have to be willing to place our bet and let it unfold. When I enter a trend, I determine how much capital I’ll risk to see if it becomes an asymmetric payoff. If we were looking at the trend in 2016 with perfect hindsight, where would be the very best entry? Of course if would be the -15% dips in 2015 and 2016. The trouble is, as the price is falling sharply, it never seems there will be a catalyst to make the market trend back up. The news is always bad. Investor sentiment is very bearish. The sky is falling and all people want to do is duck for cover.

After trends have moved, I find it more productive to look for a change of trend.

After price trends up, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend back down.

After prices have fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend back up.

What I do as a tactical portfolio manager is systematic rules-based. Although, it isn’t so mechanical that my computers are doing it all and executing trades. I am Man + Machine, not Machine – Man. I make no bones about it. I ultimately make tactical decisions that are informed by all of the proprietary systems I’ve developed over the past two decades. Some of my systems are more automated than others, but ultimately I am the portfolio manager.

So, when I share market analysis observations, this is something different than specific trading signals to enter and exit. Market analysis is something I do to gain insights from my observations.

Observations are the action or process of observing something carefully in order to gain information.

Insights are the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of something.

Observations are “what is going on” and insights are “understanding what is going on.”

I can share my observations of what is going on, but I can’t necessarily give you the insight to understand it. Understanding is up to you. To gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of something you have to study it closely.

So, you can probably see why I believe it’s useful to do market analysis to get an understanding of the probabilities and possibilities. I do it by looking at the current price trend and where it’s been and more likely to go next.

Here we go.

I said this is going to be exhaustive, so I’m going to share my top down macro view of the U.S. stock market. I also do this for International stock markets, bonds, commodities, etc. but this is going to be focused on the U.S. stock market. However, I may throw in some relative comparisons of other markets to make a point. The top-down macro view is going to be in this order;

  1. Broad stock market index price trends and breadth
  2. Sectors within the stock market price trends and breadth
  3. Stocks within those sectors price trends and momentum

THE BIG PICTURE

The big picture is the overall long-term secular situation. In April I presented my big picture observations to a group of advisors. The two things I shared are:

  1. This is the longest bull market in history. At 9 years old, it’s very aged. The average length of a bull market is 4 to 5 years. Twice the average is aged by any measure.
  2. The Shiller PE Ratio was the second highest, ever. Only the 1999 bubble was higher. When the stock market is trading so expensive, we have to be prepared for the trend to reverse the other direction.

Below is a 20-year monthly chart of the S&P 500. I added the green highlight to show the current price is only -35% from the October 2007 high eleven years ago. Losses are asymmetric as they compound exponentially. Losses erode gains asymmetrically. For example, the price gain from the 2007 high to the current price is 56%, but it only takes -35% to decline back to that point. You may also consider the stock index is only 56% higher than its 2000 peak eighteen years ago.

stock market secular trend

In The REAL Length of the Average Bull Market I wrote: “Whether you believe the average bull market lasts 39 months, 50 months, or 68 months, it seems the current one is likely late in its stage at 54 months as of September 2013.” Yes, I was saying 5 years ago the trend seemed late stage – and it was. It just continued anyway, though was interrupted by two declines in the range of -15% in 2015 and 2016.

At the same time in late 2013, the Shiller PE Ratio was increasing to a very overvalued level. It only kept going higher. By January of this year, it reached 33x earnings, the second highest ever. In fact, the only two times it reached this extreme the stock market followed with the Great Depression crash and the -46% decline after 2000. After the current -18% decline in the S&P it is now down to 26.74. The median is around 15, secular bear markets often begin at 20 or higher, secular bull markets begin below 10.

The bottom line is:

Shiller PE Ratio

I’m guessing the unprecedented Quantitative Easing of the Federal Reserve helped to push the valuations to an extreme. The Fed is now unwinding the QE and raising interest rates, which may be partly why we are seeing prices fall. So, we certainly can’t overlook the situational awareness that this could eventually become a much worse bear market to the -50% level. However, if it does, it will usually unfold with many swings up and down along the way. Falling prices are eventually followed by sharp countertrend moves up. It’s when we see lower highs and lower lows over time that it becomes more evident it’s a big bear market.

One thing that’s been talked about a lot lately is the risk of an inverted yield curve. An inverted yield curve is when the short-term 3-month interest rate is higher than the long-term 30-year interest rate. The yield curve hasn’t inverted like it did in December 2006 and August 2000. The yield curve doesn’t suggest a recession anytime soon.

Here’s what an inverted yield curve looks like… when it inverted December 2006. A year later, the stock market started its decline of over -56%.
Here is the inverted yield curve in August 2000. In 2000, the yield curve was more accurate as to timing. The broad stock market declined -50%.
The normal yield curve, 3 month vs 30 year, has not inverted. The long-term interest rate is higher than the short-term rate. For the yield curve to invert, the short-term interest rate will have to increase higher than the longer-term interest rate. Or, the long-term interest rate decrease below the short term. Either way, that hasn’t happened yet.

How big are the stock market losses in 2018? 

Starting with a top-down view. First, the broad asset classes and styles like large, mid, small and value, growth, and blend using Morningstar Small Value is down the most at -19% YTD. Small Cap stocks are down the most. Large Growth and Large Cap generally have declined the least. The average U.S. Market index is down -8.58%. Keep in mind that index performance does not include any costs or fees and may not be invested in directly.

stock market sector asset class performance 2018

The table above also includes sectors. Energy and Basic Materials are down over -20%, so any tactical system that avoided them had an advantage.

Most investors don’t necessarily invest all of their money in the stock market all the time. Many instead do global asset allocation like I wrote about in Global asset allocation takes a beating in 2018. Fewer have an objective like mine; a global tactical strategy that shifts between markets by increasing and decreasing exposure aiming for asymmetric risk/reward. Here are iShares asset allocation ETFs YTD as a proxy for low-cost exposure to a global asset allocation of stocks and bonds all the time with no active risk management or tactical decisions. Each “risk level” has a different exposure to stocks/bonds. Even the most conservative allocation which is mostly invested in bonds is down -4% in 2018.

global asset allocation etf

I shared more detailed observations of global asset allocation Global asset allocation takes a beating in 2018.

For a more exhaustive observation of GAA trends, here I included some of the more popular active global allocation funds along with the iShares ETFs that track allocation indexes. Clearly, 2018 has been a hostile year for most every strategy; static, balanced, or tactical.

global asset allocation funds 2018 ETF ETFs

So, that’s the big picture. From there, let’s zoom in for a closer look for a shorter term observation.

The downside very quickly erodes the progress. However, the asymmetric nature of losses starts to really compound against capital after -20%. At this point, the S&P 500 is down -18%. It’s a little lower than 2016 and about the same as the decline in 2011.

2018 stock market loss

Though this has been a very long bull market, it has been interrupted by deeper “corrections” of more than -10%.

stock market drawdown bear markets asymmetric risk

In comparison, the 2003 to 2007 bull market corrections were less than -10%.

stock market corrections bear market average

When does the bleeding stop? 

After prices have already fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend and divergence.

The price trend itself is the final arbiter. It is what it is. A price that is trending down is going to continue to trend down until the desire to sell has been exhausted and drives prices low enough until the enthusiasm to buy takes over. After sharp selling pressure like we’ve seen since September, we’ll likely see some similarly sharp countertrend reversals up. Market trends don’t usually drift in a direction until it’s over, instead, we observe swings up and down as the price trend cycles. Short term cycles develop the longer term cycles.

Though the price trend itself is the final arbiter, the best way I have identified when trends are most likely to change direction at extremes is to observe extremes in investor sentiment and breadth. Ultimately, investor sentiment and the breadth is evident in the price, but at extremes, these measures can be a warning shot across the bow at high levels and indicate panic selling exhaustion at lows. From here, we’ll look at investor sentiment measures. We’ll also look at breadth indicators that quantitatively tell us the breadth of participation in the decline. The thinking is at some point these measures reach an extreme, suggesting the selling may be becoming exhausted and to prepare for a potential reversal. Since asymmetric risk/reward is my objective, I’m looking for lower-risk entries that have the potential for greater payoff than the amount I risk.

Investor Sentiment: Fear is Driving the Stock Market

A simple way to quickly observe overall investor sentiment is the Fear & Greed index, which tracks seven different indicators.

Fear Greed Index Low 2018 lowest levelIt’s the lowest level I’ve seen it, suggesting we’ve observed panic level selling. If you read my observations from the beginning of this year, you’ll see the opposite was true at the start of 2018.

FEAR GREED INDEX 2018 LOW

We’ve observed a round trip this year from Extreme Greed to Extreme Fear. Investor sentiment obviously swings up and down over time. As sentiment oscillates, it drives price tends to cycle, too. Even in bull markets, there are declines and in bear markets, we’ll see sharp upswings.

When investor sentiment is so bearish we see a spike in the words “bear market.” Google Trends shows the bear market talk on the Internet has spiked to the highest level in five years, even higher than 2015-16 and February this year.

GOOGLE TRENDS BEAR MARKET STOCK

I’m also hearing the typical talk about a 1987 type crash. The October 1987 -20% single day crash was 32 years ago but it’s still talked about today when prices fall. Markets are risky, so a crash is something we risk when we invest our money. The risk is partially why markets generate a return. We have to be willing to have exposure to risks that can come when no one expects it. Has modern market regulation and technology created any prevention of an ’87 type crash? Around 2012 circuit breakers were created to theoretically prevent a single day crash.

Circuit breaker thresholds: trading is halted market-wide for single-day declines in the S&P 500. Circuit breakers halt trading on the stock market during dramatic drops and are set at 7%, 13%, and 20% of the closing price for the previous day. There are also single stock limits and halts by the exchanges

Buy and hold, long-only asset allocation investors may take comfort in knowing there is some limit, but for those of us who actively manage our risk we prefer to deal with risk sooner if we can, but there is no assurance any strategy will always do as intended.  You can read more about circuit breakers in Measures to Address Market Volatility. The bottom line is these circuit breakers are intended to limit a single day waterfall decline, they do not control overall drawdowns.

How many stocks are participating in the decline? 

Another way to say it; How “washed out” is the stock market? To understand the internal condition, I look inside the indexes at the sectors and stocks. We’ll start with Breadth indicators, which quantitatively measure the percent of stocks in uptrends vs. downtrends.

  • When 70% of stocks are already in uptrends it signals a strong market trend but also suggests as most stocks have caught up and participated, buying enthusiasm may be getting exhausted.
  • When less than 30% of stocks are in uptrends, 70% of them are in downtrends, so the market trend is bearish. However, after most of the stocks have already fallen, at some point, it suggests we look for the exhaustion of selling pressure that could reverse the downtrend.

The percent of the S&P 500 stocks above their moving averages tells us how many of the 500 stocks are in an uptrend vs. a downtrend. When it’s declining, the market is bearish so we can see how many stocks are participating in the decline. When it reaches an extreme low, it may be an indication selling could be becoming exhausted. As we see, it has reached the low levels of past stock market lows with the exception of the low in March 2009.

PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

Notice the low was reached October 2008 and stayed down until late March 2009. In the massive crash when stocks fell over -50%, it stayed “oversold” for over 6 months. It’s an example of the limitations of countertrend signals in outlier events.

For a view of the short-term trends, I do the same for the 50 day moving average. Only 6% of the S&P 500 stocks are in uptrends, so 94% are in short-term downtrends. That’s the bad news for stock investors. The good news is, it’s reached the low range where we have historically seen a reversal up. A reversal up from here would be bullish, at least temporarily.

PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE

The S&P 500 Bullish Percent Index is the number of stocks in the S&P that are trading on a Point & Figure buy signal. By this measure, only 17% of the 500 stocks are in uptrends. I highlighted the top are in red to note the contrary indicator of breadth and green on the bottom to mark the contrarian bullish zone where downtrends may reverse to uptrends when selling gets exhausted. The S&P 500 Bullish Percent Index is below 2011, 2015 and 2016 stock market correction lows. BPI is considered overbought when above 70% and oversold when below 30%. Once it reaches the green zone, I start looking for a reversal up from a low level, which is a bullish signal. 

S&P 500 BULLISH PERCENT $BPSPX

Notice the current level is below the 2011 and 2015-16 decline, but not as low as the 2008-09 bear market when the stock index fell -56%.

We see the same scenario in the NYSE Bullish Percent, which applies the same method to the stocks trading on the NYSE.

NYSE BULLISH PERCENT

We’re not seeing any divergence in the breadth indicators, they are all down as most stocks have fallen. These are now at the level to look for countertrend signals.

The High-Low Index is a 10-day moving average of new highs vs. new lows. This breadth indicator shows when new highs outnumber new lows and when new highs are expanding. In general, new highs outnumber new lows when the indicator is above 50. New highs are expanding when the indicator is above 50 and rising. As with most range bound oscillator indicators, high is over 70 and low is below 30. Here we see it’s about as low as it has been. We also see how it can swing around for a year or two in a bear market. Since it can take time for prices to reach all-time highs and lows, the High-Low Index is more lagging than similar indicators.

High Low HILO SPX

Before we look inside the sectors, we’ll look at some other indicators of sentiment. This week, the CBOE Total Put/Call Ratio spiked to 1.82, which is its highest put volume over call volume ratio ever. We have data going back to 1995. As you can see in the chart, we normally see this ratio less than one as more calls trade than puts. A reading over 1 is usually a signal of pessimism as options traders appear to buy buying put options for protection or to speculate the stock market will fall. We’ve never seen put volume so high. Options traders appear to be very bearish, which has historically been a contrarian indicator at some point.

PUT CALL RATIO HIGHEST EVER 2018

By the way, big bear markets unfold in cycles as the trend swings up and down. In the last bear market, the stock indexes fell -15%, then gained 10%, then fell 20%, then gained 15%, along the way you never know in advance which direction it is going to trend next. Many tactical traders had trouble with the 2007 to 2009 period because of whipsaws. By the time they exited, the market trended up without them, then they reentered just in time for the next fall. This is the risk of tactical trading, whether the method is breakouts, momentum, relative strength, or any other rotation style. I know this because I’ve known over 100 other tactical traders for over two decades. The price swings are the challenge. For example, below is the 2008 – 2009 -56% decline. As you can see, the Equity Put/Call Ratio is on top. I drew green lines at its peaks to show they typically indicate a short-term price low, but probably not as well as it would in a correction within a primary bull market. The point is, sometimes signals work out well, other times they don’t. They don’t have to be perfect and none are. The key is asymmetry: higher average profits than losses over full market cycles.

2008 spx put call ratio study

One indicator showing some divergence is the VIX CBOE Volatility Index. Although the S&P 500 is about -5% lower than its February low when the VIX spiked up to nearly 40, the VIX is only at 30 this time. However, I point out it did the same thing in the lower low in January 2016. The VIX initially spiked more in the first decline in August 2015 but remained less evaluated at the lower low in January 2016. It appears the options market  expects elevated volatility, but not as much as an expansion as before. We’ll see.

VIX DIVERGENCE VOLATILITY EXPANSION

Drilling down, what about sectors? Below are the individual sectors YTD. Energy and Materials are down the most. Ironically, they are tied to inflation. Where is the rising prices (inflation) the Fed is supposed to be fighting?

SECTOR SPDRS MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

Sector Trends and Breadth 

To get an underatnding of the individual stock trends within a sector, I look at the bullish percent of the sectors.

First, we’ll observe the bullish percent of the Energy sector. Energy is down the most and only 3% of stocks in the index is an uptrend as measured by a point & figure buy signal. It’s as low as its been in 20 years. Though it could stay at this low level in a bear market as it did around 2008, it still swings up and down for those willing to trade it.

BULLISH PERCENT ENERGY SECTOR

The next biggest loser sector is Basic Materials, another commodity-related sector. I highlighted the current low level in green, which is nearly as low as it’s ever been in 20 years. These indicators are range bound, so they can only fall to 0% and as high as 100%.

BASIC MATERIALS SECTOR BULLISH PERCENT

The Financial sector is the third largest weight in the S&P 500 stock index at 13%. It’s down -18%, making it one of the biggest laggards. Banks, brokers, etc. are leading the market down and that isn’t a good sign for the economy of the market. Financials often lead in bear markets. However, as we see below, their participation in the fall is about as high as it’s ever been. On the other hand, we see how volatile and weak Financials were in 2007 to 2009. During that “Financial Crisis”, they were among the worst.

financial sector bullish percent momentum relative strength

The industrials sector, down about -18%, continues the trend of broad participation in the sell-off. It’s also reached the lowest it did in 2008 and 2011.

industrial sector bullish percent momentum

Consumer Staples is a sector that is supposed to hold up in market declines, but the index is down -12% year to date, which is more than the S&P. Staples stocks have participated as much as they did in prior corrections in 2011 and 2016, but not as much as around 2008.

consumer staples sector bullish percent index

The Technology sector is a big one because at 20% it has the largest weighting in the S&P 500. The Technology sector is down about -7% YTD. The Technolgy sector bullish percent is down below its lows in prior corrections and nearing the 2008 and 2009 lows. Keep in mind, once prices have moved to a low point, they eventually attract buying demand and reverse the other direction. These indicators help us see the levels it is more likely to happen and a reversal in these indicators increases the potential even more.

BULLISH PERCENT TECHNOLOGY

Consumer Discretionary is 10% of the S&P and down -5% YTD. Its bullish percent is as about as low as it’s been.

BULLISH PERCENT CONSUMER DISRCRETIONARY SECTOR

Another major sector is Healthcare, it’s the second largest weighting at 16% of the S&P 500. It’s flat for the year, but its bullish percent is very washed out.

HEALTHCARE SECTOR BULLISH PERCENT MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRETGH

The Utility sector is the lone survivor so far in 2018. Like Consumer Staples, Utilities are considered “defensive.” That expectation hasn’t held true for Consumer Staples down -12% this year, but the Utility sector is up 2% YTD. The first half of the year, Utilities were laggard as they are sensitive to rising interest rates, but the last half they’ve found some buying interest. As we see, the Utility sector momentum has been strong enough to keep its stocks in uptrends and into the higher risk zone. However, notice they tend to stay at higher bullish percent levels over time. Utilities don’t usually have strong momentum against other sectors, but they do tend to have less volatility. Of course, in the last big bear market that wasn’t the case as everything fell.

UTILITY SECTOR MOMENTUM TREND BULLISH PERCENT RELATIVE STRENGTH

The bottom line is the stock market could certainly be entering another big bear market. It’s long overdue as this bull is very aged and overvalued. Even if it is, it will include swings up and down along the way. That’s the challenge for all strategies that trade or invest in stocks. For buy and hold investors, it’s a challenge as stocks swing up and down and they have full exposure all the time and unlimited downside risk. For tactical traders, the swings are a challenge as we increase and decrease our exposure to risk and reward and none of our methods are perfect. The key, for me, in dealing with it is to hold the lowest risk, highest potential reward exposure. Barring we don’t see some waterfall decline, most of the market is at a point we should see a countertrend move up at least temporarily. If prices keep trending down, I’m guessing the upswing that does come will be just as sharp.

After prices have fallen, I start looking for signs of a potential countertrend and it could come at any time.

Someday in the future, stock investors will be giddy again and completely forget about how they feel right now. But for now, the trend is down, but the sentiment and breadth are at such extremes we should be alert to see at least a short-term reversal in the days ahead.

I hope you find this market analysis helpful. If you don’t believe it is exhaustive enough, I encourage you to read some of the other recent observations since they cover more detail on some of the topics above.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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.

 

Momentum stocks need to find some buying interest

The U.S. stock indexes were down nearly -2% today.

Prior to today, it appeared more likely the stock market would attempt to trend higher. The only positive about today’s price action was the volume was lighter. The S&P 500 stock index is now 2% above its October low and 5.4% above its February low.

To reverse the downtrend, selling pressure must be exhausted as buying demand becomes dominant. If we don’t see selling exhausted and buying interest in the coming days, it appears we may see the October lows revisited in the large-cap stock index. It’s only 2% away.

Looking at the bigger picture, a 2-year chart of the S&P 500 stock index shows its primary trend is still up with higher highs and higher lows, despite the volatile trading range in 2018. Nevertheless, the +/- 10% swings we’ve observed this year is a much higher range than we saw last year.

The stock market is seasonally in its best period of the year. That is especially true for November and December. Although, that hasn’t been the case yet with the S&P 500 down over -4% so far in November. For example, the seasonality chart shows the SPX has closed higher than it opened 70% of the time in November and 74% of the time in December. We’ll see if this matches the favorable odds or if it’s one of the 30% of times it doesn’t close positive.

The technology sector was the weakest today and it broke just below its October low. If its price has trended down low enough to attracting buying demand it could form a double bottom reversal and trend back up. If it continues to trend down enough, it could change its primary trend from up to down. Up until now, the tech sector has been the momentum leader. Technology is also the largest weight in the S&P 500 at 20%.

It could turn out to be positive that the former leading tech sector has lead the downtrend. Reversing leadership doesn’t normally sound like a good thing, except it is one of the main sectors weighing down the overall stock market the past week. Since it’s reached its October low already, we’ll see in the days and weeks ahead if it’s reached a low enough point to attract enough buying to overwhelm the selling.

In fact, momentum stocks have become the laggards recently. The S&P 500® Momentum Index is designed to measure the performance of securities in the S&P 500 universe that exhibit persistence in their relative performance. The momentum index is an index of stocks whose price trend momentum has outperformed other stocks. Indexes can’t be invested in directly, but we can use them to observe their trends. Here we see an index of stocks that were considered the leading momentum stocks have declined nearly -14% off its high, even more than the S&P 500 large-cap stock index. The technology sector overwhelms this momentum index with a 35.4% weighting. Tech had been so strong its weight is more than double the second largest weighted sector (Consumer Discretionary 15.4%).

You can probably see why I prefer to increase and decrease my exposure to the possibility of loss rather than just buying and holding an allocation with no predetermined exit. Because we know there is a point we’ll exit losers rather than let the losses become larger,  we won’t wait for losses to get too large and become the panic sellers. We observe many investors believe in buy and hold and passive asset allocation until they realize their losses get much larger than they expected and they respond more emotionally than they thought they would. I call it panic selling when they tap out because of fear rather than a predetermined exit point based on drawdown control.

The U.S. stock market remains in the range of an inflection point and we’ll soon see if it’s going to turn down into more of a downtrend or reverse back up. We’ll see how it all unfolds 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 trends up with momentum

When the stock market indexes swing up or down 1% or more I try to share my observations of the directional trend and changes in volatility. Continuing from my observation yesterday in Observations of the stock market decline and volatility expansion when I shared:

The good news is, we’ve now experienced some volatility expansion, stocks have now pivoted down to the lower end of their cycles, so maybe volatility will contract and stock prices resume their uptrend.

We’ll see.

Well, today we saw.

The U. S. stock market gains were broad across all sectors. Communication Services, Consumer Discretionary, Healthcare, and Technology were the relative momentum leaders.

stock market trend sector ETF momentum

Continuing with the % of S&P 500 stocks above their 50 day moving average as breadth indicator was another indication of broad upward momentum. 86% more stocks are trading above their shorter-term trend, an expansion from a low level. For those of us who like to enter trends early in their stage, this is a positive sign of improvement for the stock market.

percent of stocks above below 50 day moving average trend following momentum

We observe the same in the percent of stocks trending back above their longer-term trends. There was a 16% expansion in the stocks in the S&P 500 index trending above their 200 day moving average. The longer-term trend indicators are slower to respond, but this is more evidence of positive directional movement.

stock momentum percent of stocks above 200 day moving average trend following asymmetric

This is happening at a time when many investor sentiment indicators suggest fear has been driving stocks recently. A simple example is the Fear & Greed Index, which reached “Extreme Fear” a week ago.

CNN FEAR GREED INDEX SENTIMENT

As a portfolio manager for the past two decades, I have observed investor sentiment oscillate between fear and greed, but as a contrarian pendulum. Most investors feel the wrong feeling at the wrong time.

  • After prices rise, investors get more optimistic as they extrapolate the recent gains into the future expecting the gains to continue.
  • After prices fall, investors fear losing more money as they extrapolate the recent losses into the future expecting them to get worse.

What happens, though, is market trends move in multiple time frames of cycles up and down. Prices can overreact to the upside and downside and the majority of investors seem to get it wrong.

The level and direction of implied volatility is an indication of investor sentiment. I’ve shared my observations of the volatility expansion and noted some volatility contraction yesterday. So far, the volatility expansion has reversed to contraction, so the expected volatility as implied by options prices now suggests the market expects lower volatility in the weeks ahead.

VIX VOLATILITY CONTRACTION EXPANSION ASYMMETRIC RISK HEDGE ASYMMETRY

But, just as I pointed out on September 25th in VIX level shows market’s expectation of future volatility implied volatility can get it wrong. I pointed out then the implied volatility was very low signaling to me the market may have been wrong to expect such low future volatility, so it can reverse back up again.

In summary, today was a strong upward momentum day for the stock market and most stocks participated in the uptrend. After sharp declines like we’ve seen this month, the stock market sometimes reverses up like this into an uptrend only to reverse back down to test the low. After the test, we then find out if it breaks down or breaks out.

One day doesn’t make a trend, but for those who are in risk taker mode with stocks, so far, so good.

 

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.

U. S. Sector Trends

Yesterday I shared my observations of the overall stock market in The Stock Market Trend. Here are my observations of U. S. Sector trends to see which sectors are trending, which sectors have experienced declining momentum, and where they are year-to-date. Keep in mind, I use the actual index ETFs for observations since they represent real-world price trends including expenses, none of this is advice to buy or sell any of them for anyone.

Below are the sector trends year-to-date.

SECTOR ETF TRENDS TREND FOLLOWING MOMENTUM RELATIVE STRENGTH

Ok, I know that looks like a hurricane spaghetti chart to show potential cyclone paths, so here is a table showing the year-to-date price trends using the Select Sector SPDRs. In 2018, Healthcare, Consumer Discretionary, and Technology are still the leading sectors. I’ll point out the divergence with sectors like Basic Materials and Consumer Staples lagging in relative momentum.

SECTOR ETF MOMENTUM TREND FOLLOWING

A more interesting view is a visual observation of drawdowns year to date and recently. Here, we see that Basic Materials, Communication Services, Financials, and Consumer Staples are down over -10% from their highs.

dradown stock market year to date

For a stock market decline to stop and reverse, it has to reach a low enough point to attract enough buying demand to support higher prices.

The good news is the stock indexes, and many of these sectors are testing their longer-term trend lines. At the same time, they are reaching a point we could see at least a short-term reversal up from here.

Only time will tell if the recent price declines are just a correction in an ongoing uptrend in the U. S. stock market or the beginning of a more significant downtrend.

As a portfolio manager, I am a risk manager and risk taker.

The only way to create gains is to take some risk. The way to manage risk is to predefine how much I’m willing to lose in advance. My focus is on asymmetric risk/return. So, my objective is to take a risk when it is more likely to result in positive asymmetry.

The essential parts necessary to create asymmetric risk/return are:

Risk manager: decide in advance at what price to exit as a declining trend to manage the size of the loss. Determine how much of our portfolio we are willing to lose to see if price trends will become profitable.

Risk taker: decide when to enter a position to take that predefined risk to see if the potentially profitable trend unfolds in our favor to become a profit.

You can probably see how these market cycles and trends create both the potential for risks and rewards and we can decide how to tactically operate with them.

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.

 

Rising Interest Rate Impact on Real Estate and Home Construction

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates today and raised expectations for a fourth rate hike in December. They unanimously agreed to raise the federal funds rate a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%. The rate helps drive interest rates for mortgages, consumer loans, and credit cards. In 2019, the Fed expects at least three more rate hikes.

The rising trend in interest rates impacts many things beyond consumer credit. Ultimately, when the cost of borrowing increases it can impact real estate, homebuilders, and home construction.

The price trend of homebuilders and home construction stocks is down. The ETF of home builders and home construction stocks is down about -20% from their highs in January.

SPDR® S&P Homebuilders ETF XHB iShares Home Construction ETF $ITB

The price trends in Homebuilders stock ETF (XHB) and Home Construction ETF (ITB) show they really haven’t recovered from the fall that started in 2007.

home builders construction ETF sector ETFs

Below we add the 10-year treasury rate. Rising interest rates may be having some impact on real estate home builders and construction.

rising interest rates impact on housing real estate home builders construction

Rising interest rates are supposed to boost the profit margins of financials like banks and insurance. However, so far we observe the bank stocks and insurance stocks ETFs are trending mostly sideways since interest rates moved higher.

Bank ETF insurance ETFs rising interest rates

Another real estate sector is represented by the Real Estate sector ETF (XLRE), which seeks to provide precise exposure to companies from real estate management and development and REITs, excluding mortgage REITs. I shared some observations about the overall real esate sector earlier this year in Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks. The impact of rising rates has continued.

rising interest rate impact on real estate REIT

A clearer observation is seen in the chart of homebuilders stocks along with the trend in the 15-year and 30-year mortgage rate.

rising mortgage rate homebuilders home construction

Clearly, there seems to be some correlation between rising rates and falling real estate sector and industry groups like homebuilders and home construction stocks.

This is why I shift between markets and sectors based on their price trends instead of just allocating capital to them regardless of their directional trend. It’s also why we manage our risk in absolute terms with our intention of avoiding large losses created by significant down-trending price trends. I rotate between world markets rather than allocate to them.

 

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 U.S. stock market was strong in August, but…

August was a strong month for the U.S. stock market, but the broad S&P 500 stock index and leading sectors have reached short-term overbought extremes that often indicate short-term elevated risk.

My focus is to position capital in the primary direction of trends across different time frames, but trends can reach short-term extremes within the primary trend. We can focus only on the bigger trend, or we can try to take advantage of the short-term moves.

To understand where I am coming from for this observation, let’s define trend and extreme.

Trend is a direction that a price is moving, developing, evolving, or changing. A trend is a directional drift, one way or another. When we speak of price trends, the directional drift of a price trend can be up, down, or sideways. When I say a price is trending, it’s drifting up or down. I call sideways oscillation non-trending.

Extreme is reaching a high or the highest degree; very great, furthest from the center or a given point.

Tactical traders can be either directional traders or non-directional. For example, all investors are necessarily directional: they invest in a thing and want its price to go up.

A tactical trader can be directional: buying a stock, bond, commodity, or currency, hoping it will go up with them or they can sell it short hoping it will trend directionally down. They are directional traders, so they necessarily need to define the direction of the trend. Which way is it drifting?

However, not all traders are directional. Volatility traders who trade volatility through listed options or futures are trading movement itself, so when we trade volatility we aren’t concerned at all with the direction of the trend – we just want movement. Volatility traders may have no bias at all regarding the direction, we focus on volatility expansion or volatility contraction.

Trend Following is a directional strategy that requires the portfolio manager to determine the direction of the trend and enters that trend expecting inertia and momentum to continue in that direction. There are more than 300 published academic studies alone that prove that the most recent 3 to 12-month price momentum tends to continue rather than reverse. That doesn’t include the vast research and testing conducted by actual trading firms and hedge fund managers (like mine) that are not published to the public. These methods rely on directional trends to exploit for profit.

Countertrend is another directional strategy that requires the portfolio manager to determine the directional trend. However, my counter-trend system is designed to identify trends that are more likely to reverse and change direction than to continue. It may seem this strategy is the opposite of trend following, and in some ways it is, but countertrend systems are based on different time frames when executed correctly.

For example, a trend-following strategy that has been profitable has necessarily identified existing trends that have continued and trend following profits from the magnitude of those gains.

A counter trend can also be profitable and even combined with a trend following system. A counter trend system identifies reversals when the trend has changed or likely to change. The time frame, then, is different.

For example, while research shows that directional momentum over the recent 3 – 12 months tends to continue for another 12 months or longer, we also observe that trends have lasted 4-5 years tend to reverse and change trend.

You may notice stock market uptrends (bull markets) last about 4-5 years before they reverse into a downtrend (bear market). You may also notice investors and their advisers have a tendency to buy funds with the highest 5-year returns, only to catch the end of the excellent performance. You can probably see how they are “trend following” but using the wrong time frame. We find that trends actually reverse around the time those performance tables look appealing to investors. Counter trend systems aim to get positioned for big reversals in trend to profit from their directional change. Skilled counter trend portfolio managers develop and operate countertrend systems that are proven and quantified to identify and profit from such changes in trend.

We also observe short-term countertrends within the 30-day time frame.  Sometimes short-term extremes result in at least a temporary countertrend move in the opposite direction. These are shorter trend countertrends within an overall primary trend. Of course, countertrend reversals can also become longer trend changes, too.

Back to August, it was a strong month for U.S. stocks, but the broad indexes and leading sectors have reached higher risk levels in the short term.

sector rotation august 2018 stock market returnThe Technology sector reached a short-term overbought extreme in June and again in July and declined about -4% before resuming an uptrend.

The Consumer Discretionary sector where Amazon (AMZN) has a 25.5% weighting reached an overbought extreme in June and declined about -4% before resuming an uptrend.

The Healthcare sector has also shown strong momentum in its trend. It also reached a short-term overbought level, but only declined about -3%. However, by my measure, the Healthcare sector is more overbought than others.

These shorter trend trends are partly driven by investor sentiment. So, investor sentiment measures can be useful secondary confirming indicators to understand the condition of trends. At this point, most investor sentiment readings are only modestly elevated to levels that suggest greed is driving the market trend. Price could keep trending until enthusiasm is exhausted and sellers become dominant.

This is a very short-term observation of current trends. It’s just a near-term insight that we shouldn’t be surprised to see stocks decline at least a few percents in the weeks ahead.

And… it’s September… for those who follow seasonality, September has historically been one of the weakest months for stocks. I don’t make decisions based on seasonality. If stocks decline this month, the cause will be what I highlighted, not because which month it happens to be.

The bottom line is the broad stock indexes are trending up and led by a few strong sectors, but they’ve reached levels that my countertrend momentum systems suggest the risk of at least a temporary decline is elevated.

 

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

Earnings season is tricky for momentum growth stocks

Momentum stocks are stocks that show high upside momentum in their price trend. Momentum stocks are trending not only regarding their absolute price gains but also relative strength vs. other stocks or the stock market index.

Momentum stocks are usually high growth stocks. Since momentum stocks are the strongest trending stocks, their trends are often driven by growth in sales and earnings. Growth stocks are companies that are growing earnings at a rate significantly above average. Growth stocks have high increases in earnings per share quarter over quarter, year over year, and may not pay dividends since these companies usually reinvest their strong earnings to accelerate growth.

Now that we have defined what I mean by “momentum stocks,” we can take a look at some examples of momentum stocks and their characteristics like how their prices trend.

Grubhub Inc. ($GRUB) is an online and mobile food-ordering company that connects diners with local restaurants. GrubHub is a great example today of a high momentum growth stock.  GrubHub stock has gained 24% today after smashing Wall Street’s expectations. Earnings grew 92% to 50 cents a share, marking the fifth quarter in a row of accelerating EPS growth. Revenue soared 51% to $239.7 million, a quarterly best.

Grubhub $GRUB GRUB

Before today, GrubHub stock was in a positive trend that developed a flat base since April (highlighted on the chart). GRUB had already gained 60% year to date, but after such as explosive uptrend in momentum, it trended sideways for a while.

It is earnings season, which can be tricky for the highest momentum stocks. Once a stock has already made a big move, it could already have a lot of good news expectations priced in. That concerns some momentum stock traders. In fact, I know some momentum stock traders who exit their stocks before their quarterly earnings announcements. If they had exited GrubHub, they would have missed today’s continuation of its momentum. However, they would avoid the downside of those that trend in the other direction.

I’ve been trading momentum stocks for over two decades. Over the years I’ve observed different regimes of how they act regarding trend strength and volatility. There are periods of volatility expansion and contraction and other periods when momentum is much stronger.

Volatility is how quickly and how far the price spreads out. When price trends are volatile, it’s harder to stick with them because they can move against us. We like upside volatility, but smart investors are loss averse enough to dislike downside volatility that leads to drawdowns. To understand why the smart money is loss averse, read: “Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?“.

Strong upward trending stocks are sometimes accompanied by volatility. That’s to be expected because momentum is a kind of volatility expansion. Upward momentum, the kind we like, is an upward expansion in the range of the price – volatility.

That’s good vol.

But, strong trending momentum stocks necessarily may include some bad volatility, too. Bad volatility is the kind investors don’t like – it’s when the price drops, especially if it’s a sharp decline.

I mentioned GrubHub had gained 60% YTD. I like to point out, observe, and understand asymmetries. The asymmetry is the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, I prefer to skew them positively. What I call the Asymmetry® Ratio is a chart of the upside total return vs. the chart of the downside % off high. To achieve the gain for GrubHub, investors would have had to endure its price declines to get it. For GrubHub, the stock has declined -10% to -15% many times over the past year. It has spent much of the time off its high. To have realized all of the gains, investors had to be willing to experience the drawdowns.

grubhub stock GRUB

I point this out because yesterday I wrote “Asymmetry of Loss: Why Manage Risk?” where I discussed the mathematical basis behind the need for me to actively manage the downside risk. To achieve the significant gain, we often have to endure at least some of the drawdowns along the way. The trick is how much, and for me, that depends on many system factors.

Earnings season, when companies are reporting their quarterly earnings, is especially tricky for high momentum stocks because stocks that may be “priced for perfection” may be even more volatile than normal. Accelerating profit growth is attractive to investment managers and institutional investors because increasing profit growth means a company is doing something right and delivering exceptional value to customers. I’m more focused on the direction of the price trend – I like positive momentum. But, earnings are a driver of the price trend for stocks.

Earnings can trend in the other direction, too, or things can happen to cause concern. This information is released in quarterly reports.

Another example of a momentum stock is NetFlix. By my measures, GrubHub is a leading stock in its sector and NetFlix (NFLX) is the leader in its industry group, too, based on its positive momentum and earnings growth. As we see in the chart below, NFLX has gained 88% year to date. That’s astonishing momentum considering the broad stock market measured by the S&P 500 has gained around 5%, and its Consumer Services Sector ETF has gained 11%.

NetFlix NFLX $NFLX

However, NetFlix stock regularly declines as much as -15% as a regular part of its trend. It has fallen over -10% five times in the past year on its way to making huge gains. The latest reason for the decline was information that was released during its quarterly earnings announcement. The stock dropped sharply afterward.

netflix stock risk downside loss

But, as we see in the chart, it’s still within its normal decline that has happened five times the past year.

While some of my other momentum stock trader friends may exit their stocks during the earnings season, I instead focus more on the price trend itself. I predefine my risk in every position, so I determine how much I’ll allow a stock to trend to the downside before I exit. When a stock trends down too far, it’s no longer in a positive trend with the side of momentum we want. To cut losses short, I exit before the damage gets too large.

How much is too much? 

A hint is in the above charts.

If we want to experience a positive trend of a momentum stock, we necessarily have to give it enough room to let it do what it does. When it trends beyond that, it’s time to exit and move on. We can always re-enter it again it if trends back to the right side.

Sure, earnings season can be tricky, but for me, it’s designed into my system. I’m looking for positive Asymmetry® – an asymmetric risk/reward. What we’ve seen above are stocks that may decline as much as -15% as a normal part of their trend when they fall, but have gained over 50% over the same period.

You can probably see how I may be able to create a potentially positive asymmetric risk/reward payoff from such a trend.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns

Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns

In Growth Stocks have Stronger Momentum than Value in 2018 I explained the divergence between the return of the two styles of Growth and Value. I suggest the real return driver between size and style is primarily the index or ETF sector exposure. To be sure, we’ll take a look inside.

As I said before, the reason I care about such divergence is when return streams spread out and become distinctive, we have more opportunity to carve out the parts we want from the piece I don’t. When a difference between price trends is present, it provides more opportunity to capture the positive trend and avoid the negative trend if it continues.

Continuing with the prior observation, I am going to use the same Morningstar size and style ETFs.

Recall the year-to-date price trends are distinctive. Large, mid, and small growth is notably exhibiting positive momentum over large, mid, and small value.

growth stock momentum over value morningtar small mid large cap

To understand how these factors interact, let’s look at their sector exposure. But first, let’s determine the sector relative momentum leaders and laggards for 2018.

The leaders are Consumer Discretionary (stocks like Netflix $NFLX and Amazon $AMZN), Information Technology (Nvidia $NVDA and Google $GOOG). In third place is Energy and then Healthcare. The laggards are Consumer Staples, Industrials, Materials, and Utilities, which are actually down for the year. Clearly, exposure to Consumer Discretionary and Information Technolgy and avoiding most of the rest would lead to more positive asymmetry.

sector trend returns 2018

Below we see strongest momentum Large Growth is heavily weighted (41%) in Technology. The second highest sector weight is Consumer Discretionary, and then Healthcare is third. Large-Cap Growth is the leader just because it has the most exposure in the top sectors.

iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF

On the other hand, Large Value, which is down -3% YTD, has its main exposure in the lagging Financial and Consumer Staples sectors.

iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Value ETF

Dropping down to the Mid-Cap Growth style and size, similar to Large-Cap Growth, we see Information Technology and Healthcare are half of the ETFs exposure.

iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF

We are starting to see a trend here. Much like Large-Cap Value, the Mid-Cap Value has top holdings in Financials, Consumer Discretionary, and Utilities sectors.

 

iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Value ETF

Can you guess the top sectors of Small-Cap Growth? Like both Large and Mid Growth, Small-Cap Growth top sector exposures are Information Technology, Healthcare, and Consumer Discretionary.

iShares Morningstar Small-Cap Growth ETF

And to no surprise, the Financial sector 26% of Small-Cap Value.

iShares Morningstar Small-Cap Value ETF

So, Information Technology, Healthcare, and most Consumer Discretionary tend to be more growth-oriented sectors. Financials, Consumer Staples, Utilities, Real Estate, that is, the higher yielding dividend paying types, tend to be classified as Value. Each sector has both Growth and Value stocks within them, but on average, some sectors tend to include more Growth stocks or more Value stocks.

Value stocks are generally defined as shares of undervalued companies with lower prospects for growth.

A growth stock has higher earnings per share and often trade at a higher multiple since the expectation of future earnings is high. Growth stocks usually don’t pay a dividend, as the company would prefer to reinvest retained earnings back into the company to grow.

The Information Technology sector includes companies that are engaged in the creation, storage, and exchange of digital information. The Information Technology sector offers potential exposure to growth with the emergence of cloud computing, mobile computing, and big data.

Another Growth sector is Consumer Discretionary sector manufactures things or provides services that people want but don’t necessarily need, such as high-definition televisions, new cars, and family vacations. Consumer Discretionary sector performance is closely tied to the strength of the overall economy. Consumer Discretionary tends to perform well at the beginning of a recovery when interest rates are low but can lag during economic slowdowns

The Health Care sector is a Growth sector involved in the production and delivery of medicine and health care-related goods and services. Healthcare companies typically have more stable demand, so they are less sensitive to the economic cycle, though it tends to perform best in the later stages of the economic cycle.

It turns out, the three primary Growth sectors that tend to best strongest at the late stage of an economic cycle have been the recent leaders.

Consumer Staples sector consists of companies that provide goods and services that people use on a daily basis, like food, clothing, or other personal products.

The Financial sector is businesses such as banking and brokerage, mortgage finance, and insurance which are sensitive to changes in the economy and interest rates. They tent to perform best at the beginning of a business cycle.

This is why I prefer to focus my U. S. equity exposure on sectors and maybe the strongest momentum stocks within those sectors. Many traditional asset allocations use style and size to get their exposure to the stock market, but as a tactical portfolio manager, I prefer to get more specific into the trending sectors and their individual stocks.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Asymmetric force was with the buyers

In Asymmetric force direction and size determines a trend, I explained how the net force of all the forces acting on a trend is the force that determines the direction. The force must be asymmetric as to direction and size to change the price and drive a directional trend.

The asymmetric force was with buyers as they dominated the directional trend on Friday.

Friday’s gain helped to push the stock market to a strong week and every sector gained.

The S&P 500 stock index is about -3% from it’s January high and closed slightly above the prior high last week. I consider this a short-term uptrend that will resume it’s longer-term uptrend if it can break into a new high above the January peak.

After declining sharply -10% to -12%, global equity markets are recovering. The good news for U.S. stocks is the Russell 2000 small company index is closest to its prior high. Small company leadership is considered bullish because it suggests equity investors are taking a risk on the smaller more nimble stocks.

As you can see in the chart, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and International Developed Countries (MSCI EAFE Europe, Australasia and Far East) are lagging so far off their lows but still recovering.

So far, so good, but only time will tell if these markets can exceed their old highs and breakout into new highs, or if they discover some resistance force at those levels and reverse back down. As we discussed in Asymmetric force direction and size determines a trend it’s going to depend on the direction and size of the buyers vs. sellers.

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.

Betting on price momentum

“Don’t fight the tape.”

“Make the trend your friend.”

“Cut your losses and let your winners run.”

“These Wall Street maxims all mean the same thing—bet on price momentum. Of all the beliefs on Wall Street, price momentum makes efficient market theorists howl the loudest. The defining principle of their theory is that you cannot use past prices to predict future prices. A stock may triple in a year, but according to efficient market theory, that will not affect next year. Efficient market theorists also hate price momentum because it is independent of all accounting variables. If buying winning stocks works, then stock prices have “memories” and carry useful information about the future direction of a stock.”

James O’Shaughnessy, What Works on Wall Street: A Guide to the Best-Performing Investment Strategies of All Time 1st Edition (1996) 

 

Stock pickers market? Sector rotation with stocks for asymmetric reward to risk

After yesterdays 1.1% gain for the S&P 500, it is back in positive territory for the year. It’s been a very volatile start for 2018 with an abnormally strong trend in U.S. stocks late 2017 continued in January only to be wiped out in February. Below is a visual representation, showing the period November 2017 to the low last month. I point that out to show how quickly a trend can change and prior gains of 12% in just a three-month time frame and be erased in a -10% decline over 9 days. Most of the decline was in two days over that period.

With that said, as the broad stock market is lagging in its third month of the year so far, two sectors are leading. Consumer Discretionary (XLY)  and Technology (XLK). At Shell Capital, we monitor global market trends at the broad market level like the S&P 500 which is diversified across 500 stocks that are a part of 10 sectors. These sectors are tradable via ETFs. We can quickly get broad exposure to the overall stock market, or we can get more granular and get exposure to a sector in a low-cost structure with Sector ETFs.  I also monitor the individual stocks inside the sector ETF. When the overall market is in a positive trend, most of the stocks in a sector should be trending up. But, when the overall market has struggled to trend up, like this year-to-date, fewer stocks are trending up inside a sector.

The popular narrative becomes “it’s a stock pickers market.”

I don’t say that myself, I just observe when it is “a stock pickers market” naturally through my daily quantitative research. Here are some examples of my observation.

I pointed out yesterday in Buying demand dominated selling pressure in the stock market that only 32% of the 500 stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 50-day moving average. After yesterdays stock market gain, the participation increased to 40%. The 50-day moving average is a short-term trend indicator, so if 60% of the stocks are below that trend line, we can infer “most stocks are in short-term downtrends.” As of yesterdays close, only 203 (40%) of the S&P 500 are above their 50-day moving average, which means 297 are below it. You can probably see if the price trend continues up, we should see more and more stocks participate in the trend. In fact, if we don’t see more stocks participate, it necessarily means only a few stocks are driving the broad index trend up. I would consider that “a stock pickers market.” Of course, the trick is to see this in advance, or early enough in the stage to capitalize on it. We don’t have to know in advance what’s going to happen next, and we don’t, we just need to observe it soon enough to capture some positive asymmetry (P>L).

I like a visual representation, so here is the chart of the S&P 500 Percent of Stocks Above 50 Day Moving Average. I colored the top part of the chart red and labeled it “Higher Risk Zone” and the lower part green with the label “Lower Risk Zone”. The observation is when 80% of stocks are already trending positive that momentum is a good thing, but as a skilled risk manager, I begin to prepare for change. After most stocks are already trending up, the stock market has been trending up, so a skilled risk manager prepares for a countertrend reversal that is inevitable at some point. As I shared in my observation near the low, Stock Market Analysis of the S&P 500  when nearly all the stocks were already in negative trends as a skilled risk-taker, I look for that to reverse, too.

 

This is only a small glimpse at what I look at for illustration purposes to make the point how I can quantify a “stock pickers market.” After 83% of stocks were already in downtrends I shifted from a risk manager stance to risk-taker mode looking. That is, shifting from a reversal down in January after prices had already trended up to an extreme, to preparing for the decline to end after the stock index quickly dropped -10% and my many indicators were signaling me when and where to pay attention. I shared this to represent that I was not surprised to see certain stocks lead a trend direction when so many had shifted from positive trends to negative trends in a short-term time frame.

This leads me to my main point, which is very simple. A simple way to observe a “stock pickers market” is to see that certain stocks are leading the trend. Because so may stocks were in short-term downtrends, it isn’t a surprise to see a few strong relative strength leaders inside a sector. For example, in the Sector ETF performance table below, two leading sectors are Consumer Discretionary (XLY)  and Technology (XLK). They are up about 6-7% as the broad stock index is up 1.77%. Let’s see what is driving their stronger relative momentum.

Looking inside the Sector for the Leading Stocks 

Reviewing the holdings of the Consumer Discretionary $XLY ETF,  Amazon.com Inc $AMZN is 20.69% of the Consumer Discretionary Sector and has gained +30.28% for the year. A 20% weighting of a stock that has gained 30% results in a 6% contribution to the portfolio return. That is, this one large position has contributed 100% of the sectors return year-to-date. There are 84 stocks in the ETF. This doesn’t mean the other 83 stocks are flat with no price change. Instead, some of them were also positive for the year and some are negative. So far this year, they have offset each other. Some stocks in the sector have gained more than Amazon, but it makes the simple example because it’s exposure is the largest at 20%. Netflix $NFLX, for example, is the sector ETFs biggest gainer up 64%, but it’s 4.63% of the portfolio. However, because it’s gain is so strong this year its contribution at the portfolio level is still significant at 3% of the 5.66% YTD gain in the sector ETF. That is an extreme example. Why is it extreme? Let’s look at price charts of the year-to-date price trend, then the drawdown, which expresses the ASYMMETRY® ratio. The ASYMMETRY® ratio is a ratio between profit and loss, upside vs. downside, or drawdown vs. total return.

First, we observe the price trend for 2018 of the Consumer Discretionary Sector ETF $XLY, Netflix $NFLX, and Amazon $AMZN. The divergence is clear. But, you may notice they all had a drawdown a few weeks ago. All to often I see the upside presented, but not enough about the path we would have to endure to achieve it. To get a complete picture of asymmetric reward to risk, we want to see the drawdown, too, so we understand the ASYMMETRY® ratio.

Those are some big impressive short-term gains in those stocks. Clearly, this past performance may not be an indication of future results.  Too bad we can’t just know for sure in advance which is going to trend up with such velocity.  We can’t catch every trend, but if we look in the right way we may find some. In order to take a position in them, we’d have to be willing to experience some downside risk, too. As a portfolio manager, I decide how much my risk is in my positions and at the portfolio level by predefining when I’ll exit a losing position. But, to understand how much downside is possible in stocks like this and the sector ETF, I can examine the historical drawdown. We’ve seen a drawdown in the stock market already this year. Below we see the Consumer Sector ETF drawdown was about -8% a few weeks ago. Amazon wasn’t more, even though it’s gain is much more than the sector. That’s what I’m calling positive asymmetry and good looking asymmetric reward to risk in regard to the trend dynamics. Netflix declined -13%, but its gain is much higher. This is what leading stocks are supposed to look like. They have their risk and they could decline a lot more than the market if investors lose their enthusiasm for them, but we can manage that risk with our exit and drawdown controls.

I often say that it doesn’t matter how much the return is if the risk and volatility are so high you tap out before it is achieved. To better understand that, I want to show two more charts of these stocks. Below is what the YTD price change looked like at the February low. If investors watch their holdings closely and have emotional reactions, you can see how this would be viewed as “I was up 45% and now only 30%.” Many investors (and professional advisors) have difficulty holding on to strong trends when they experience every move.

One more chart to illustrate how it doesn’t matter how much the return is if the risk and volatility are so high you tap out before it is achieved. I don’t believe we can just buy and hold and reach our objective of asymmetric reward to risk. I believe risk must be managed, directed and controlled. To make the point, below are the historical drawdowns that have been -60% to -90% in these three. It doesn’t matter how much the return is if the risk and volatility are so high you tap out before it is achieved! To extract positive asymmetric reward to risk, we must necessarily do something different than buy and hold.

This may make you wonder: Why buy a sector ETF if you can buy the strongest stocks?

The divergence isn’t normally this wide. In a trending market, more of the other stocks would normally be participating in a trend. This is why I first explained that in an upward trending market we normally see the majority of stocks eventually trending together. When that is true, the sector ETF provides good exposure and limits the selection risk of just one or two stocks. Make no mistake, individual stocks are riskier. Individual stocks are more subject to negative news like disappointing earnings reports, negative product outlook, or key executives leaving the company, etc. So, individual stocks are more volatile and subject to trend in much wider swings both up and down. But for me, I apply the same risk management systems to predefine my risk at the point of entry drawdown controls as the trend unfolds in the stock, up or down.

Yes, it’s been a “stock pickers market” so far and that trend may continue. It just means that fewer stocks are leading the way for now and in a healthy trend more stocks will participate if the short-term uptrend continues to make higher highs and higher lows. As a tactical portfolio manager, my focus is on what seems to offer the positive ASYMMETRY® of a positive asymmetric reward to risk.

 

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.

Investment results are probabilistic, never a sure thing. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Buying demand dominated selling pressure in the stock market

Past performance is no guarantee of future results and that was the case today. After last weeks Selling pressure overwhelms buying demand for stocks for the third day in a row the enthusiasm to buy overwhelmed the desire to sell. Market prices are driven by simple Economics 101: when buying enthusiasm overwhelms sellers, prices rise. The S&P 500 gained 1.16% today and seems to have found some buying interest at the prior range I highlighted in green.

stock market florida investment advisor

Sector breadth was strong with Utilities, Real Estate, and Financials leading the way.

Sector rotation trend following

We don’t just invest and trade in U.S. stocks and sectors, I look for trends globally across the world. Though the Global ETF Trends monitor below shows many international countries were in the green, the good ole USA was one of the biggest gainers today.

global tactical asset allocation trend following global tactical rotation

Back to the U.S. stock market, in the chart below, I added Kelner Channels to illustrate a few things.

Keltner Channels are volatility-based envelopes set above and below an exponential moving average. This indicator is similar to Bollinger Bands, which use the standard deviation to set the bands. Instead of using the standard deviation, Keltner Channels use the Average True Range (ATR) to set channel distance.

Kelner Channels show the range of volatility has spread out and got wider since the stock market price trend trended above the upper channel in January, suggesting its uptrend was abnormal.  Since then, the trend reversed down and again traded outside the range of the Kelner Channel on the downside. It’s a good example of how the market can overreact on both the upside and downside.

stock market trading range ATR

In the chart above, I also include the Relative Strength Index, which is on its 50-yard line. You can see how it was reading “overbought” in January (and had been for months), then after that extreme it became oversold. This kind of price action presented us with an opportunity to turn on the swing trading systems. My countertrend systems signaled short-term entries in several stocks and ETFs very near the low prices.

I pointed out in Stock Market Analysis of the S&P 500 on February 9th near the lows the breadth of the stock market was oversold at a lower risk. Market analysis is best used as a weight of the evidence. You can probably see how these different indicators signaled a countertrend move was possible and this time that has happened so far. I say this time because it’s always probabilistic, never a sure thing. If the stock market were going to trend down -50% over a two year period it would start off this way being “oversold” and look “washed out”, only to get worse as it swings up and down on it’s way to a lower low. During times like this, a skilled swing trader or countertrend systems can help to generate profits as price trends swing up and down.

Below is an updated chart of the percent of stocks in the S&P 500 that are trading above their 50-day moving average. 12% more stocks are trading above their 50-day moving average after today, bringing it to 32%. I point this out because it gives us an idea of how many stocks are still left to trend back up. That is, based on this breadth indicator, there is room for stocks to keep trending up if buyers continue their enthusiasm. This is the opposite of the condition in the last months of 2017 and January when 80% or more stocks were already in positive trends. To revisit this concept I encourage you to read Stock Market Analysis of the S&P 500. 

SPX S&P 500 stocks above the 50 day moving average SPY

The bottom line is, the supply and demand for the stock market seems to be shifting back in control of buyers for now. Only time will tell if it continues in the days and weeks ahead. This is just a quick market analysis to look at what is going on, not investment advice. Our investment management and advice are only offered through an investment management agreement. If you want investment management or advice, contact us.

 

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.

Investment results are probabilistic, never a sure thing. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Industrial Sector Pulling Back as RSI Suggested it Could

In “Resolving Conflicts with Relative Strength” I discussed the conflict between high Relative Strength (a trend that is gaining more than others) and a high RSI (a trend that is considered overbought). I used the Industrial Select Sector SPDR ETF as an example. It has taken about five weeks, but the point can be seen clearly now.

Below is part of what I said on September 27, 2017, and following that I’ll share an update.

When I see the chart below, I think:

“The trend is up, it has moved up fast enough to be overbought in the short term, so it may pull back some and then the trend may resume to the upside”.

That chart was about five weeks ago. Below is an update on the trend in the U.S. Industrial sector. Since the sector got “overbought” based on a RSI reading over 70, the trend continued up (green highlight) and has since trended down about -3%. At this point, it is trading around the same price it was when it first became overbought. Now, it is getting closer to being “oversold” on a short-term basis.

So, as the Industrial sector was one of the strongest sector trends a few weeks ago, it also appeared overbought on a short-term basis. It is now drifting down to what may become a better entry point in what has otherwise been a strong directional trend.

We’ll see how it unfolds.

The U.S. Stock Market Trend

When we define the direction of a trend, we consider the most basic definitions.

  • Higher highs and higher lows is an uptrend.
  • Lower lows and lower highs is a downtrend.
  • If there is no meaningful price break above or below those prior levels, it’s non-trending.

Below is the past year of the S&P 500® stock index, widely regarded as a representation of large cap stocks. Notice a few key points. The top of the price range is just that: a range, with no meaningful breakout. The bottom is the same. The price trend has dropped to around the same level three times and so far, has trended back up. What’s going to happen next? At this point, this stock market index is swinging up and down. It would take a meaningful break below the prior low that holds to make a new “downtrend”. It could just as well trend up. We could put an exit point below those prior lows and let it all unfold.

Stock market trend

Of course, as I’ve mentioned a lot the past several months, other global markets and small company U.S. stocks and mid-cap stocks have been much weaker than large U.S. stocks and certain sectors within the U.S. You can read the details of this in The Stock Market Trend: What’s in Your Boat? As I pointed out then, in the chart below we can see the mid-size and small cap stocks have actually declined much more. But, the capitalization-weighted indexes are driven by their sector exposure.

small cap mid cap stocks

Some U.S. sectors are still holding up and still in uptrends. Below is the Technology sector index, for example. I consider this an uptrend, though volatile. Less volatile trends are easier to hold, more volatile trends are more difficult unless we focus on the directional trend.

Tech Sector Trend

Below is the U.S. Healthcare sector. It’s down, but not out. It’s still so far holding a higher low.

healthcare sector

The really weak markets that have been in more clear downtrends are the commodity related sectors like Energy and Basic Materials.  This could signal the beginning of a larger move down in other sectors if they follow, or not. But if we focus on “what’s in our boat” we are focused only on our own positions.

Energy Sector basic materials

The key to tactical decision-making is sometimes holding exposure to potentially positive trends and giving them room to see how they unfold: up or down. The other key is avoiding the clearest downtrends. Then, there comes a point when those trends change and reverse. Even the downtrends eventually become uptrends. We can be assured after that happens everyone will wish they had some exposure to it!

Never knowing for sure what will happen next it always involves uncertainty and the potential for a loss we must be willing to bear. I think the edge is predefining risk by knowing at what point to exit if the trend has really changed, accepting that, then letting it all unfold.

 

The Trend of the U.S. Stock Market and Sectors Year-to-Date

As of today, the below table illustrates the year-to-date gains and losses for the S&P 500® Index (SPY) and the 9 Sector SPDRs in the S&P 500®. We observe the current and historical performance to see how the U.S. Sectors match up against the S&P 500 Index.

So far, the S&P 500 Index is down -5.68% year-to-date. Only the Consumer Discretionary (XLY) and Health Care (XLV) are barely positive for the year. Energy (XLE) has entered into its own bear market. Materials (XLB) and Utilities (XLU) are in double-digit declines.

year to date S&P 500 and sector returns 2015-09-10_11-31-05

Source: http://www.sectorspdr.com/sectorspdr/tools/sector-tracker

The trouble with a table like the one above is it fails to show us the path the return streams took along the way. To see that. below we observe the actual price trends of each sector. Not necessarily to point out any individual trend, but we can clearly see Energy (XLE) has been a bear market. I also drew a red line marking the 0% year-to-date so point out that much of this year the sectors have oscillated above and below it and most are well below it now.

year to date stock market sector trends 2015-09-10_11-32-40

Source: http://www.sectorspdr.com/sectorspdr/tools/sector-tracker

Speaking of directional price trends is always in the past, never the future. There are no future trends, today. We can only observe past trends. In fact, a trend is today or some time in the past vs. some other time in the past. In this case, we are looking at today vs. the beginning of 2015. It’s an arbitrary time frame, but still interesting to stop and look to see what is going on.

As many global and U.S. markets have been declining, you can probably see why I think it’s important to manage, direct, limit, and control exposure to loss. Though, not everyone does it well as it isn’t a sure thing…

Low Volatility Downside was the Same

In Low Volatility and Managed Volatility Smart Beta is Really Just a Shift in Sector Allocation I ended with:

“Though the widening range of prices up and down gets our attention, it isn’t really volatility that investors want to manage so much as it is the downside loss of capital.

As a follow-up, below we observe the  PowerShares S&P 500® Low Volatility Portfolio declined in value about -12% from its high just as the SPDRs S&P 500® did. So, the lower volatility weighting didn’t help this time as the “downside loss of capital ” was the same.

SPLV PowerShares S&P 500® Low Volatility Portfolio

Source: http://www.ycharts.com

U.S. Sector Observation

I don’t often comment on a day’s price action in the stock market, but thought I would. The U.S. stock market reversed up somewhat today. Market trends swing up and down on their way to a larger trend. Notice at 3pm the stock indexes almost lost all their gain for the day.

stock market 2015-08-27_16-17-41

Source: https://www.google.com/finance

The interesting observation today was the leadership. Energy and Basic Materials have been the biggest losers the past three months and they moved up the most.

sector rotation returns ETF

Source: https://www.google.com/finance

Below are the U.S. sector returns over the past 3 months after todays close. You can see the two biggest losers were today’s winners.

ETF sector rotation

Source: http://www.stockcharts.com

It will be interesting to see if this is an oversold bounce or it reverses to a lower low.

Trends unfold as swings up and down over time. They don’t go straight up or down…

Why Index ETFs Over Individual Stocks?

A fellow portfolio manager I know was telling me about a sharp price drop in one of his positions that was enough to wipe out the 40% gain he had in the stock. Of course, he had previously told me he had a quick 40% gain in the stock, too. That may have been his signal to sell.  Biogen, Inc (BIIB) recently declined about -30% in about three days. Easy come, easy go. Below is a price chart over the past year.

Biogen BIIB

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

Occasionally investors or advisors will ask: “Why trade index ETFs instead of individual stocks?“. An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is an investment fund traded on stock exchanges, much like stocks. Until ETFs came along the past decade or so, gaining exposure to sectors, countries, bond markets, commodities, and currencies wasn’t so easy. It has taken some time for portfolio managers to adapt to using them, but ETFs are easily tradable on an exchange like stocks. Prior to ETFs, those few of us who applied “Sector Rotation” or “Asset Class Rotation” or any kind of tactical shifts between markets did so with much more expensive mutual funds. ETFs have provided us with low cost, transparent, and tax efficient exposure to a very global universe of stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, and even alternatives like REITs, private equity, MLP’s, volatility, or inverse (short). Prior to ETFs we would have had to get these exposures with futures or options. I saw the potential of ETFs early, so I developed risk management and trend systems that I’ve applied to ETFs that I would have previously applied to futures.

On the one hand, someone who thinks they are a good stock picker are enticed to want to get more granular into a sector and find what they believe is the “best” stock. In some ways, that seems to make sense if we can weed out the bad ones and only hold the good ones. It really isn’t so simple. I view everything a reward/risk ratio, which I call asymmetric payoffs. There is a tradeoff between the reward/risk of getting more detailed and focused in the exposure vs. having at least some diversification, such as exposure to the whole sector instead of just the stock.

Market Risk, Sector Risk, and Stock Risk

In the big picture, we can break exposures into three simple risks (and those risks can be explored with even more detail). We’ll start with the broad risk and get more detailed. Academic theories break down the risk between “market risk” that can’t be diversified away and “single stock” and sector risk that may be diversified away.

Market Risk: In finance and economics, systematic risk (in economics often called aggregate risk or undiversifiable risk) is vulnerable to events which affect aggregate outcomes such as broad market declines, total economy-wide resource holdings, or aggregate income. Market risk is the risk that comes from the whole market itself. For example, when the stock market index falls -10% most stocks have declined more or less.

Stock and Sector Risk: Unsystematic risk, also known as “specific risk,” “diversifiable risk“, is the type of uncertainty that comes with the company or industry itself. Unsystematic risk can be reduced through diversification. If we hold an index of 50 Biotech stocks in an index ETF its potential and magnitude of a  large gap down in price is less than an individual stock.

You can probably see how holding a single stock like Biogen  has its own individual risks as a single company such as its own earnings reports, results of its drug trials, etc. A biotech stock is especially interesting to use as an example because investing in biotechnology comes with a unique host of risks. In most cases, these companies can live or die based on results of drug trials and the demand for their existing drugs. In fact, the reason Biogen declined so much is they reported disappointing second-quarter results and lowered its guidance for the full year, largely because of lower demand for one of their drugs in the United States and a weaker pricing environment in Europe. That is a risk that is specific to the uncertainty of the company itself. It’s an unsystematic risk and a selection risk that can be reduced through diversification. We don’t have to hold exposure to just one stock.

With index ETFs, we can gain systematic exposure to an industry like biotech or a sector like healthcare or a broader stock market exposure like the S&P 500. The nice thing about an index ETF is we get exposure to a basket of stocks, bond, commodities, or currencies and we know what we’re getting since they disclose their holdings on a daily basis.

ETFs are flexible and easy to trade. We can buy and sell them like stocks, typically through a brokerage account. We can also employ traditional stock trading techniques; including stop orders, limit orders, margin purchases, and short sales using ETFs. They are listed on major US Stock Exchanges.

The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF objective seeks to track the investment results of an index composed of biotechnology and pharmaceutical equities listed on the NASDAQ. It holds 145 different biotech stocks and is market-cap-weighted, so its exposure is more focused on the larger companies. It therefore has two potential disadvantages: it has less exposure to smaller and possibly faster growing biotech stocks and it only holds those stocks listed on the NASDAQ, so it misses some of the companies that may have moved to the NYSE. According to iShares we can see that Biogen (BIIB) is one of the top 5 holdings in the index ETF.

iShares Biotech ETF HoldingsSource: http://www.ishares.com/us/products/239699/ishares-nasdaq-biotechnology-etf

Below is a price chart of the popular iShares Nasdaq Biotech ETF (IBB: the black line) compared to the individual stock Biogen (BIIB: the blue line). Clearly, the more diversified biotech index has demonstrated a more profitable and smoother trend over the past year. And, notice it didn’t experience the recent -30% drop that wiped out Biogen’s price gain. Though some portfolio managers may perceive we can earn more return with individual stocks, clearly that isn’t always the case. Sometimes getting more granular in exposures can instead lead to worse and more volatile outcomes.

IBB Biotech ETF vs Biogen Stock 2015-07-29_10-34-29

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

The nice thing about index ETFs is we have a wide range of them from which to research and choose to add to our investable universe. For example, when I observe the directional price trend in biotech is strong, I can then look at all of the other biotech index ETFs to determine which would give me the exposure I want to participate in the trend.

Since we’ve observed with Biogen the magnitude of the potential individual risk of a single biotech stock, that also suggests we may not even prefer to have too much overweight in any one stock within an index. Below I have added to the previous chart the SPDR® S&P® Biotech ETF (XBI: the black line) which has about 105 holdings, but the positions are equally-weighted which tilts it toward the smaller companies, not just larger companies.  As you can see by the black line below, over the past year, that equal weighting tilt has resulted in even better relative strength. However, it also had a wider range (volatility) at some points. Though it doesn’t always work out this way, you are probably beginning to see how different exposures create unique return streams and risk/reward profiles.

SPDR Biotech Index ETF XBI IBB and Biogen BIIB 2015-07-29_10-35-46

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

In fact, those who have favored “stock picking” may be fascinated to see the equal-weighted  SPDR® S&P® Biotech ETF (XBI: the black line) has actually performed as good as the best stock of the top 5 largest biotech stocks in the iShares Nasdaq Biotech ETF.

SPDR Biotech vs CELG AMGN BIIB GILD REGN

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

Biotech indexes aren’t just pure biotech industry exposure. They also have exposures to the healthcare sector. For example, iShares Nasdaq Biotech shows about 80% in biotechnology and 20% in sectors categorized in other healthcare industries.

iShares Nasdaq Biotech ETF exposure allocation

Source: www.ishares.com

The brings me to another point I want to make. The broader healthcare sector also includes some biotech. For example, the iShares U.S. Healthcare ETF is one of the most traded and includes 23.22% in biotech.

iShares Healthcare Index ETF exposure allocation

Source: https://www.ishares.com/us/products/239511/IYH?referrer=tickerSearch

It’s always easy to draw charts and look at price trends retroactively in hindsight. If we only knew in advance how trends would play out in the future we could just hold only the very best. In the real world, we can only identify trends based on probability and by definition, that is never a sure thing. Only a very few of us really know what that means and have real experience and a good track record of actually doing it.

I have my own ways I aim to identify potentially profitable directional trends and my methods necessarily needs to have some level of predictive ability or I wouldn’t bother. However, in real world portfolio management, it’s the exit and risk control, not the entry, the ultimately determines the outcome. Since I focus on the exposure to risk at the individual position level and across the portfolio, it doesn’t matter so much to me how I get the exposure. But, by applying my methods to more diversified index ETFs across global markets instead of just U.S. stocks I have fewer individual downside surprises. I believe I take asset management to a new level by dynamically adapting to evolving markets. For example, they say individual selection risk can be diversified away by holding a group of holdings so I can efficiently achieve that through one ETF. However, that still leaves the sector risk of the ETF, so it requires risk management of that ETF position. They say systematic market risk can’t be diversified away, so most investors risk that is left is market risk. I manage both market risk and position risk through my risk control systems and exits. For me, risk tolerance is enforced through my exits and risk control systems.

The performance quoted represents past performance and does not guarantee future results. Investment return and principal value of an investment will fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than the original cost. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance quoted, and numbers may reflect small variances due to rounding. Standardized performance and performance data current to the most recent month end may be obtained by clicking the “Returns” tab above.

Low Volatility and Managed Volatility Smart Beta is Really Just a Shift in Sector Allocation

There is a lot of talk nowadays about “Smart Beta”. Smart beta refers to an investment style where the manager passively follows an index designed to take advantage of perceived systematic biases or inefficiencies in the market. Smart beta defines a set of investment strategies that emphasize the use of alternative index construction rules to traditional market capitalization based indices.

Low volatility or managed volatility, for example, is considered a version of “smart beta” because its weights the stocks (and therefore sector exposure) differently:

The PowerShares S&P 500® Low Volatility Portfolio (Fund) is based on the S&P 500®Low Volatility Index (Index). The Fund will invest at least 90% of its total assets in common stocks that comprise the Index. The Index is compiled, maintained and calculated by Standard & Poor’s and consists of the 100 stocks from the S&P 500® Index with the lowest realized volatility over the past 12 months. Volatility is a statistical measurement of the magnitude of up and down asset price fluctuations over time. The Fund and the Index are rebalanced and reconstituted quarterly in February, May, August and November.

I bolded the main difference between this index ETF and the traditional capitalization-weighted S&P 500. The S&P 500 everyone knows about weights is 500 stocks holdings based on market capitalization, so the largest stocks are the largest positions in the index.

The Low Volatility Portfolio is really a play on sector allocation. Because it creates its position size based on each stocks past 12 months volatility, it’s weighting will simply depend on what was less volatile the past year. And, it will look back to rebalance and reconstitute quarterly in February, May, August and November. So, you may consider what it really does is shifts the position size and sector weighting.

Below is the index sector allocation for the S&P 500 like what is used for SPDR® S&P 500® ETF so we can see which sectors have the largest position size.

S&P 500 SPY sector weighting

Source: https://www.spdrs.com/product/fund.seam?ticker=spy

Now we observe the sector allocation of the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio. Notice is is heavily weighted in Financials (36%) and Consumer Staples (21%). That’s simply because those sectors stocks have demonstrated less realized volatility as measured by standard deviation over the past 12 months.

PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio SPLV

Source: https://www.invesco.com/portal/site/us/financial-professional/etfs/product-detail?productId=SPLV

Now, let’s observe the difference in return streams. Below is a relative strength comparison of the two since inception of  PowerShares S&P 500® Low Volatility Portfolio in May 2011. As you see, the low volatility index did have a smaller drawdown in 2011, but overall they’ve tracked the same most of the time. The real difference was the lower drawdown from the sector weighting helped reduce the loss in 2011 and that helped smooth out the returns for a few years. Since 2013 U.S. stock volatility declined, so that explains why the two indexes have trended more closely since.

S&P 500 low volatility vs capitalization

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

Over the past year, there is a little more divergence at times as we see below.

S&P 500 Low Volatility

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

You may consider that past realized volatility may not repeat into the future. In fact, it could reverse. But the real difference between these is the trailing realized volatility weighting changes the sector weighting. The sectors are the driver. Which sectors have the lowest 12 month historical volatility will determine the exposure to a volatility weighted index or fund. The risk to volatility weighting is the volatility of markets sometimes reach its lowest point at its peak in price as investors become more and more complacent and less indecisive, which is what causes a wider range in prices. I explained this in This is When MPT and VaR Get Asset Allocation and Risk Measurement Wrong.

Though the widening range of prices up and down gets our attention, it isn’t really volatility that investors want to manage so much as it is the downside loss of capital. I really manage volatility by actively increasing and decreasing exposure to loss.

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 are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. For informational purposes 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 provided 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.

Why Dividend Stocks are Not Always a Safe Haven

We often hear that high dividend stocks are a “safe haven” in market downtrends. The theory is the yield paid from dividend stocks offset losses in their price. Another theory is that money rotates out of risky assets into those perceived to be less risky: stocks that pay high dividends tend to be older cash rich companies that pay out their cash as dividends. In theory, that sounds “safer”.

I like to point out logical inconsistencies: when beliefs contradict reality.

The above may be true in some cases and it sounds like a good story. In reality, everything changes. The universe is transient, in a constant state of flux. This impermanence, that things are constantly changing and evolving, is one of the few things we can be sure about. It’s a mistake to base too much of an investment strategy on something that has to continue to stay the same. It’s an edge to be adaptive in response to directional trends.

Below is the year-to-date chart iShares Select Dividend ETF that seeks to track the investment results of an index composed of relatively high dividend paying U.S. equities. Notice that I included both the price change by itself (blue) and the total return that includes price plus dividends (orange). The “help” from the dividend over the past six months has helped a little. The price is down -3% but factoring in the dividend leaves the index down -2.33% for the year. The 0.7% is the dividend yield so far.

What has probably gotten investors attention, however, isn’t that their dividend stocks are down over -2% for the year, but that they are down over -4% off their high. That doesn’t sound like a lot: unless you are a conservative investor expecting a “safe haven” from high dividend yielding stocks…

In contrast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 1% over the same period  – counting dividends. You may be wondering what is causing this divergence? Below is the sector holdings for the iShares Select Dividend ETF.

The position size matters and makes all the difference. Notice in the table above the Utilities, Consumer Staples, and Energy Sectors are the top holdings of the index. As you see below, the Utilities sector is down nearly -9% year-to-date, Energy and Staples are down over -1%. They are the three worst performing sectors…

Source: Created by ASYMMETRY® Observations with www.stockcharts.com 

Wondering what may be driving it? For the Utility sector it’s probably interest rates. You can read about that in What You Need to Know About Long Term Bond Trends. I prefer to rotate between sectors based on their directional price trends rather than just allocate to them with false hope they may do something they may not. 

Why So Stock Market Focused?

Most investors and their advisors seem to speak mostly about the stock market. When they mention “the market” and I ask “what market?” they always reply “the stock market”.

Why so stock market centric?

It must be that it gets the most media attention or stocks seem more exciting?. After all, other markets like bonds may seem boring and few know much about the many commodities markets or the foreign exchange markets. There are many different markets and two sides to them all.

If it’s risk-adjusted returns you want, you may be surprised to find where you should have invested your money the past 15 years. To make the point, below is a comparison of the total return of the Vanguard S&P 500 stock index (the orange line) compared to the Vanguard Bond Index (the blue line). Yes, you are seeing that correctly. Using these simple index funds as a proxy, bonds have achieved the same total return as stocks, but with significantly less volatility and drawdowns. This is why we never look at just “average” return data without considering the path it took to get there. A total return percentage gain chart like this one presents a far more telling story. Take a close look at the path they took.

stocks vs. bonds

Created with http://www.ycharts.com

I showed the chart to one investment advisor who commented “It looks like the stock market is catching up”. If that’s what you think of when you view the chart, you may have a bias blind spot: ignoring the vast difference in the risk between the two markets.

Looking at the total return over the period identifies the obvious difference in the path the two return streams took to achieve their results, but below we see the true risk difference. Drawdowns are declines from a higher value to a low value and a visual representation of how long it took to recover the lose of capital. When we observe a drawdown chart like the one below, it’s like a lake. These charts together also help illustrate the flaw of averages. The average return of the stock and bond index have ended at about the same level and have the same average return, but the bond index achieved it with much less drawdown. You wouldn’t know that if you only looked at average returns. If you tried to walk across the stock market lake, you may have drowned if you couldn’t handle swimming in 40′ of water for so long. If that one didn’t get you, the 55′ may have. The stock index declined about -40% from 2000 – 2002 and took years to recover before it declined -55%.

stock and bond market risk historical drawdowns

Created with http://www.ycharts.com

You have to be wondering: why didn’t you just invest in bonds 15 years ago? Maybe you were focused on the prior period huge average returns in stocks?

Before I continue, let me place a very bold disclaimer here: PAST PERFORMANCE DOES NOT GUARANTEE FUTURE RESULTS. Another way that is stated is that PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO ASSURANCE OF FUTURE RESULTS. One more version is PAST PERFORMANCE MAY NOT BE AN INDICATION OF FUTURE RESULTS. If you remember, the 1990’s were a roaring bull market in stocks. People focus on the past expecting it to continue. That’s probably why you never thought to invest in bonds instead of stocks.

Some of the largest and most successful hedge funds in the world have done that very thing over this period and longer. But, they didn’t just invest in bonds. They leveraged bonds. We’ve seen in this example that a bond index fund has achieved just as much total return as stocks. If you are a stock market centric investor: one that likes the stock market and makes it your focus, then you necessarily had to be willing to endure those -40% to -55% declines and wait many years to recover from the losses. If you are really willing to accept such risk, imagine if you had used margin to leverage bonds. The bond index rarely declined -10% or more. It was generally a falling interest rate period, so bonds gained value. If you were willing to accept -40% to -55% declines in stocks, you could have instead leveraged the bonds 400% or 500%. If you had done that, your return would be 4 or 5 times more with a downside more equal to that of stocks.

Why so stock centric?

Of course, at this stage, the PAST PERFORMANCE IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY TO REPEAT INTO THE FUTURE. Just as the roaring stocks of the 1990’s didn’t repeat. To see why, read Stage and Valuation of the U.S. Stock Market and Bonds: The Final Bubble Frontier?.

From my observations of investors performance and their advisors, most people seem to have poor results the past decade or so, even after this recent bull market. An investment management consultant told me recently that investors and their advisors who are aware of the current stage of stocks and bonds feel there is no place to turn. I believe it’s a very important time to prepare to row, not sail. For me, that means focus on actively managing risk and look for potentially profitable trends across a very global universe of markets; currency, bonds, stocks, commodities, and alternatives like volatility, inverse, etc . That’s my focus in ASYMMETRY® | Managed Accounts.

The Volatility Index (VIX) is Getting Interesting Again

In the last observation I shared on the CBOE Volatlity index (the VIX) I had been pointing out last year the VIX was at a low level and then later started trending up. At that time, many volatility traders seemed to think it was going to stay low and keep going lower – I disagreed. Since then, the VIX has remained at a higher average than it had been – up until now. You can read that in VIX® gained 140%: Investors were too complacent.

Here it is again, closing at 12.45 yesterday, a relatively low level for expected volatility of the S&P 500 stocks. Investors get complacent after trends drift up, so they don’t price in so much fear in options. Below we observe a monthly view to see the bigger picture. The VIX is getting down to levels near the end of the last bull market (2007). It could go lower, but if you look closely, you’ll get my drift.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Next, we zoom in to the weekly chart to get a loser look.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Finally, the daily chart zooms in even more.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

The observation?

Options traders have priced in low implied volatility – they expect volatility to be low over the next month. That is happening as headlines are talking about stock indexes hitting all time highs. I think it’s a sign of complacency. That’s often when things change at some point.

It also means that options premiums are generally a good deal (though that is best determined on an individual security basis). Rather than selling premium, it may be a better time to buy it.

Let’s see what happens from here…

My 2 Cents on the Dollar

The U.S. Dollar ($USD) has gained about 20% in less than a year. We observe it first in the weekly below. The U.S. Dollar is a significant driver of returns of other markets. For example, when the U.S. Dollar is rising, commodities like gold, oil, and foreign currencies like the Euro are usually falling. A rising U.S. Dollar also impacts international stocks priced in U.S. Dollar. When the U.S. Dollar trends up, many international markets priced in U.S. Dollars may trend down (reflecting the exchange rate). The U.S. Dollar may be trending up in anticipation of rising interest rates.

dollar trend weekly 2015-04-23_16-04-40

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Now, let’s observe a shorter time frame- the daily chart. Here we see an impressive uptrend and since March a non-trending indecisive period. Many trend followers and global macro traders are likely “long the U.S. Dollar” by being long and short other markets like commodities, international stocks, or currencies.

dollar trend daily 2015-04-23_16-05-04

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

This is a good example of understanding what drives returns and risk/reward. I consider how long the U.S. Dollar I am and how that may impact my positions if this uptrend were to reverse. It’s a good time to pay attention to it to see if it breaks back out to the upside to resume the uptrend, or if it instead breaks down to end it. Such a continuation or reversal often occurs from a point like the blue areas I highlighted above.

That’s my two cents on the Dollar…

How long are you? Do you know?

Stock Market Year-to-Date and First Quarter

So far, the U.S. stock market isn’t doing so well. And, the gains and losses over the past quarter have been asymmetric. Consumer Discretionary (12.6% of the S&P 500 index) and Healthcare (14.8% of the S&P 500 index)  have barely offset the losses in four other sectors.

Below are the YTD gain and losses for the popular S&P 500 index and each sector in the index.

stock market first quarter performance 2015-04-02_12-38-10

source: http://www.sectorspdr.com/sectorspdr/tools/sector-tracker

But, that’s just one data point compared to another data point. Such a table would be incomplete without considering the path those gains and losses took to get there.

sector returns 2015 2015-04-02_12-41-15

source: http://www.sectorspdr.com/sectorspdr/tools/sector-tracker/charting

To see the results of asymmetric exposure and risk management in action across a global universe of markets, visit: http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/

Performance is historical and does not guarantee future results; current performance may be lower or higher. Investment returns/principal value will fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Absolute Return: an investment objective and strategy

Absolute returns investment strategy fund

Absolute Return in its basic definition is the return that an asset achieves over a certain period of time. This measure looks at the appreciation or depreciation (expressed as a dollar amount or a percentage). For example, a $50 stock drifts to $100 is a 100% absolute return. If that same stock drifts back from $100 to $50, its absolute return is -50%.

Absolute Return as an investment objective is one that does not try to track or beat an arbitrary benchmark or index, but instead seeks to generate real profits over a complete market cycle regardless of market conditions. That is, an absolute return objective of positive returns on investment over a market cycle of both bull and bear market periods irrespective of the direction of stock, commodity, or bond markets. Since the U.S. stock market has been generally in a uptrend for 6 years now, other than the -20% decline in the middle of 2011, we’ll now have to expand our time frame for a full market cycle to a longer period. That is, a full market cycle includes both a bull and a bear market.

The investor who has an absolute return objective is concerned about his or her own objectives for total return over a period and tolerance for loss and drawdowns. That is a very different objective than the investor who just wants whatever risk and return a benchmark, allocation, or index provides. Absolute returns require skill and active management of risk and exposure to markets.

Absolute return as a strategy: absolute return is sometimes used to define an investment strategy. An absolute return strategy is a plan, method, or series of maneuvers aiming to compound capital positively and to avoid big losses to capital in difficult market conditions. Whereas Relative Return strategies typically measure their success in terms of whether they track or outperform a market benchmark or index, absolute return investment strategies aim to achieve positive returns irrespective of whether the prices of stocks, bonds, or commodities rise or fall over the market cycle.

Absolute Return Investment Manager

Whether you think of absolute return as an objective or a strategy, it is a skill-based rather than market-based. That is, the absolute return manager creates his or her results through tactical decision-making as opposed to taking what the market is giving. One can employ a wide range of approaches toward an absolute return objective, from price-based trend following to fundamental analysis. In the ASYMMETRY® Managed Accounts, I believe price-based methods are more robust and lead to a higher probability of a positive expectation. Through my historical precedence, testing, and experience, I find that any fundamental type method that is based on something other than price has the capability to stray far enough from price to put the odds against absolute returns. That is, a manager buying what he or she believes is undervalued and selling short what he believes is overvalued can go very wrong if the position is on the wrong side of the trend. But price cannot deviate from itself. Price is the judge and the jury.

To create absolute returns, I necessarily focus on absolute price direction. Not relative strength, which is a rate of change relative to another moving trend. And, I focus on actual risk, not some average risk or an equation that oversimplifies risk like standard deviation.

Of course, absolute return and the “All Weather” type portfolio sound great and seem to be what most investors want, but it requires incredible skill to execute. Most investors and advisors seem to underestimate the required skills and experience and most absolute return strategies and funds have very limited and unproven track records. There is no guarantee that these strategies and processes will produce the intended results and no guarantee that an absolute return strategy will achieve its investment objective.

For an example of the application of an absolute return objective, strategy, and return-risk profile, visit http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/

Absolute Return as an Investment Strategy

Absolute Return Investment Strategy Fund Manager

In “Absolute Return: The Basic Definition”, I explained an absolute return is the return that an asset achieves over a certain period of time. To me, absolute return is also an investment objective.

In “Absolute Return as an Investment Objective” I explained that absolute return is an investment objective is one that does not try to track or beat an arbitrary benchmark or index, but instead seeks to generate real profits over a complete market cycle regardless of market conditions. That is, it is focused on the actual total return the investor wants to achieve and how much risk the investor will willing to take, rather than a focus on what arbitrary market indexes do.

Absolute return as a strategy: absolute return is sometimes used to define an investment strategy. An absolute return strategy is a plan, method, or series of maneuvers aiming to compound capital positively and to avoid big losses to capital in difficult market conditions. Whereas Relative Return strategies typically measure their success in terms of whether they track or outperform a market benchmark or index, absolute return investment strategies aim to achieve positive returns irrespective of whether the prices of stocks, bonds, or commodities rise or fall over the market cycle.

Whether you think of absolute return as an objective or a strategy, it is a skill-based rather than market-based. That is, the absolute return manager creates his or her results through tactical decision-making as opposed to taking what the market is giving. One can employ a wide range of approaches toward an absolute return objective, from price-based trend following to fundamental analysis. In the ASYMMETRY® Managed Accounts, I believe price-based methods are more robust and lead to a higher probability of a positive expectation. Through my historical precedence, testing, and experience, I find that any fundamental type method that is based on something other than price has the capability to stray far enough from price to put the odds against absolute returns. That is, a manager buying what he or she believes is undervalued and selling short what he believes is overvalued can go very wrong if the position is on the wrong side of the trend. But price cannot deviate from itself. Price is the judge and the jury.

Of course, absolute return and the “All Weather” type portfolio sound great and seem to be what most investors want, but it requires incredible skill to execute. Most investors and advisors seem to underestimate the required skills and experience and most absolute return strategies and funds have very limited and unproven track records. There is no guarantee that these strategies and processes will produce the intended results and no guarantee that an absolute return strategy will achieve its investment objective.

For an example of the application of an absolute return objective, strategy, and return-risk profile,  visit http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/

Absolute Return as an Investment Objective

Absolute Return objective fund strategy

In Absolute Return: The Basic Definition, I explained an absolute return is the return that an asset achieves over a certain period of time. To me, absolute return is also an investment objective.

Absolute Return as an investment objective is one that does not try to track or beat an arbitrary benchmark or index, but instead seeks to generate real profits over a complete market cycle regardless of market conditions. That is, an absolute return objective of positive returns on investment over a market cycle of both bull and bear market periods irrespective of the direction of stock, commodity, or bond markets.

Since the U.S. stock market has been generally in a uptrend for 6 years now, other than the -20% decline in the middle of 2011, we’ll now have to expand our time frame for a full market cycle to a longer period. That is, a full market cycle includes both a bull and a bear market.

The investor who has an absolute return objective is concerned about his or her own objectives for total return over a period and tolerance for loss and drawdowns. That is a very different objective than the investor who just wants whatever risk and return a benchmark, allocation, or index provides. Absolute returns require skill and active management of risk and exposure to markets.

Rather than a long article, this is going to be a series of smaller parts, building up to what absolute return really means.

For an example of the application of an absolute return objective, strategy, and return-risk profile,  visit http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/

Asymmetric Sector Exposure in Stock Indexes

When you look at the table below and see the sector exposure percents, what do you observe? Do these allocations make sense?

asymmetric sector ETF expsoure S&P 500 2015-03-24_16-39-11

That is the sector exposure of the S&P 500 stock index: I used the iShares S&P 500 ETF for a real-world proxy. The source of each image is the index website on iShares, which you can see by clicking on the name of the index ETF.

  • Asymmetric is an imbalance. That is, more of one thing, less of another.
  • A sector is a specific industry, like Energy (Exxon Mobil) or Telecom (Verizon).
  • Exposure is the amount of the position size or allocation.

Most of the sector exposure in the S&P 500 large company stock index is Technology, Financials, Healthcare, and Consumer Discretionary. Consumer Staples, Energy, Materials, Utilities, and Telecommunications have less than 10% exposure each. Exposure to Materials, Utilities, and Telecommunications are almost non-existent. Combined, those three sectors are less than 10% of the index. Industrial has 10% exposure by itself.  But this index is 500 large companies, what about mid size and small companies?

asymmetric sector expsoure S&P 500 2015-03-24_16-39-11

Below is the iShares Core S&P Mid-Cap ETF. Most of the sector exposure in the S&P Mid size stock index is Technology, Financials, Industrial. Healthcare, and Consumer Discretionary. Consumer Staples, Energy, Materials, Utilities, and Telecommunications have less than 10% exposure each. Exposure to Materials, Utilities, and Telecommunications are almost non-existent.

asymmetric sector exposure  S&P Mid-Cap ETF

We see this same asymmetric sector exposure theme repeat in the iShares S&P Small Cap index. Half of the sectors are make up most of the exposure, the other very little.

asymmetric sector exposure S&P small cap

This is just another asymmetric observation… the next time you hear someone speak of the return of a stock index, consider they are really speaking about the return profile of certain sectors. And, these sector weightings may change over time.

Fed Decision and Market Reaction: Stocks and Bonds

So, I’m guessing most people would expect if the Fed signaled they are closer to a rate hike the stock and bond markets would fall. Rising interest rates typically drive down stocks along with bonds. Not the case as of 3pm today. Stocks were down about -1% prior to the announcement, reversed, and are now positive 1%. Even bonds are positive. Even the iShares Barclays 20+ Yr Treas.Bond (ETF) is up 1.4% today.

So much for expectations…

Below is snapshot of the headlines and stock price charts from Google Finance:

Fed Decision and Reaction March 18 2015

Source: https://www.google.com/finance?authuser=2

Diversification Alone is No Longer Sufficient to Temper Risk…

That was the lesson you learned the last time stocks became overvalued and the stock market entered into a bear market.

In a Kiplinger article by Fred W. Frailey interviewed Mohamed El-Erian, the PIMCO’s boss, (PIMCO is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world) he says “he tells how to reduce risk and reap rewards in a fast-changing world.” This article “Shaking up the Investment Mix” was written in March 2009, which turned out the be “the low” of the global market collapse.

It is useful to revisit such writing and thoughts, especially since the U.S. stock market has since been overall rising for 5 years and 10 months. It’s one of the longest uptrends recorded and the S&P 500 stock index is well in “overvalued” territory at 27 times EPS. At the same time, bonds have also been rising in value, which could change quickly when rates eventually rise. At this stage of a trend, asset allocation investors could need a reminder. I can’t think of a better one that this:

Why are you telling investors they need to diversify differently these days?

The traditional approach to diversification, which served us very well, went like this: Adopt a diversified portfolio, be disciplined about rebalancing the asset mix, own very well-defined types of asset classes and favor the home team because the minute you invest outside the U.S., you take on additional risk. A typical mix would then be 60% stocks and 40% bonds, and most of the stocks would be part of Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

This approach is fatigued for several reasons. First of all, diversification alone is no longer sufficient to temper risk. In the past year, we saw virtually every asset class hammered. You need something more to manage risk well.

But, you know, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Since we are talking about downside risk, something that is commonly hidden when only “average returns” are presented, below is a drawdown chart. I created the drawdown chart using YCharts which uses total return data and the “% off high”. The decline you see from late 2007 to 2010 is a dradown: it’s when the investment value is under water. Think of this like a lake. You can see how the average of the data wouldn’t properly inform you of what happens in between.

First, I show PIMCO’s own allocation fund: PALCX: Allianz Global Allocation Fund. I include an actively managed asset allocation that is very large and popular with $55 billion invested in it: MALOX: BlackRock Global Allocation. Since there are many who instead believe in passive indexing and allocation, I have also included DGSIX: DFA Global Allocation 60/40 and VBINX: Vanguard Balanced Fund. As you can see, they have all done about the same thing. They declined about -30% to -40% from October 2007 to March 2009. They also declined up to -15% in 2011.

Vanguard DFA BlackRock PIMCO Asset Allcation

Charts are courtesy of http://ycharts.com/ drawn by Mike Shell

Going forward, the next bear market may be very different. Historically, investors consider bond holdings to be a buffer or an anchor to a portfolio. When stock prices fall, bonds haven’t been falling nearly as much. To be sure, I show below a “drawdown chart” for the famous actively managed bond fund PIMCO Total Return and for the passive crowd I have included the Vanguard Total Bond Market fund. Keep in mind, about 40% of the allocation of the funds above are invested in bonds. As you see, bonds dropped about -5% to -7% in the past 10 years.

PIMCO Total Return Bond Vanguard Total Bond

Charts are courtesy of http://ycharts.com/ drawn by Mike Shell

You may have noticed the end of the chart is a drop of nearly -2%. Based on the past 10 years, that’s just a minor decline. The trouble going forward is that interest rates have been in an overall downtrend for 30 years, so bond values have been rising. If you rely on bonds being a crutch, as on diversification alone, I agree with Mohamed El-Erian the Chief of the worlds largest bond manager:

“…diversification alone is no longer sufficient to temper risk. In the past year, we saw virtually every asset class hammered. You need something more to manage risk well.”

But, don’t wait until AFTER markets have fallen to believe it.

Instead, I apply active risk management and directional trend systems to a global universe of exchange traded securities (like ETFs). To see what that looks like, click: ASYMMETRY® Managed Accounts

Sectors Showing Some Divergence…

So far, U.S. sector directional price trends are showing some divergence in 2015.

Rather than all things rising, such divergence may give hints to new return drivers unfolding as well as opportunity for directional trend systems to create some asymmetry by avoiding the trends I don’t want and get exposure to those I do.

Sector ETF Divergence 2015-03-04_11-24-54

For more information about ASYMMETRY®, visit: http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/global-tactical/

 

Chart source: http://www.finviz.com/groups.ashx

 

 

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