Does Your Firm Use Active ETFs?

Christi Shell was recently asked by ETF.com “Does your firm use active ETFs”.

Christi Shell Capital Management

Her answer from the interview:

Our portfolio manager, Mike Shell, doesn’t currently include active ETFs in our universe of tradeable ETFs, but that doesn’t mean he’d never include them. He tactically shifts between ETFs, based on investor behavioral measures and supply/demand. So our portfolio management style itself is the active management; we are, essentially, actively managing beta.

We use ETFs to gain specific exposure to a return stream such as a sector, country, commodity or currency. With an index ETF, we pretty much know what we’re going to get inside the ETF. (Of course, indexes are reconstituted by a committee of people, so we don’t know in advance what they’ll do. However, an index follows some general rules systematically.)

Therefore, if we discover an ETF we believe has a strategy and return stream that we want access to, then we would add it, whether it’s active or not.

Christi Shell is Managing Director and Certified Wealth Strategist® at Shell Capital Management LLC. Christi has 27 years in financial services ranging from bank management to wealth management giving her a unique skill set and experience to help clients get what they want.

Source: http://www.etf.com/publications/etfr/does-your-firm-use-active-etfs

Global Stock and Bond Market Trends 2Q 2018

Yesterday we shared the 2nd Quarter 2018 Global Investment Markets Review, which used a broad range of indexes on performance tables to present the year-to-date progress of world markets. The issue with a table that simply shows a return number on it is it doesn’t properly present the path it took to get there. In the real world, investors and portfolio managers have to live with the path of the trend and we can see that only in the price trend itself. So, today we’ll look at the price trends of stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, sectors, and other alternatives like volatility. I don’t just look for potentially profitable price trends in stocks and bonds, I scan the world.

How is the market doing this year? Which market?

First, a quick glance at global markets including commodities, stock indexes, volatility, ranked by year-to-date momentum. We wee the CBOE Volatility Index $VIX has gained the most. One clear theme about 2018 is that volatility has increased and this includes implied or expected volatility. Overall, we see some asymmetry since the markets in the green are more positive than the markets in the red. The popular S&P 500 stock index most investors point to is in the middle with only a 2% gain for the year. Commodities like Cocoa, Lumber, Orange Juice, and Crude Oil are leaders while sugar, live cattle, and soybeans are the laggards. Most investors probably don’t have exposure to these markets, unless they get it through a commodities ETF.

 

Most investors probably limit themselves to the broad asset classes, since that’s what most financial advisors do. So, we’ll start there. Below are the trends of broad market ETFs like the S&P 500, Aggregate Bond, Long-Term Treasury. For the year, Emerging Markets has the weakest trend – down nearly -6%. Developed Markets countries are the second weakest. The rising U.S. Dollar is helping to put pressure on International stocks. The leader this year is Commodities, as we also saw above. The Commodity index has gained 8% YTD.

What about alternative investments? We’ll use liquid alternative investments as an example since these are publicly available ETFs. I’ve included markets like Real Estate, Private Equity, Mortgage REITs, and the Energy MLP. Not a lot of progress from buying and holding these alternative investments. This is why I prefer to shift between markets trying to keep capital only in those markets trending up and out of those trending down.

liquid alternative investments

The Volatility VXX ETF/ETN that is similar to the VIX index has gained so much early in the year I left it off the following chart because it distorted the trends of the other markets. It’s one of the most complex securities to trade, but we can see it spike up to 90% when global markets fell in February.

VIX VXX

Looking at the price trend alone isn’t enough. It would be incomplete without also considering their drawdowns. That is, how much the market declined off its prior high over the period. Analyzing the drawdown is essential because investors have to live with the inevitable periods their holdings decline in value. It’s when we observe these decline we realize the need for actively managing risk. For me, actively managing risk means I have a predetermined exit point at all times in my positions. I know when I’ll exit a loser before it becomes a significant loss. Many say they do it, I’ve actually done it for two decades.

The alternative investments are in drawdowns YTD and Energy MLP, and Mortgage REIT is down over -10% from their prior highs. The Energy MLP is actually down -51% from its 2014 high, which I don’t show here.

alternative investment drawdowns risk management

Next, we go back to the global asset class ETFs to see their drawdowns year-to-date. We don’t just experience the gains, we also have to be willing to live with their declines along the way. It isn’t enough to provide an excellent investment management program, we also have to offer one that fits with investors objectives for risk and return. The most notable declines have been in Emerging Market and developed international countries. However, all of these assets are down off their prior highs.

GLOBAL ASSET CLASS RISK MANAGEMENT TREND FOLLOWING 2018

Clearly, markets don’t always go up. The trends so far in the first six months of 2018 haven’t offered many opportunities for global asset allocation to make upward progress.

This is why I rotate, rather than allocate, to shift between markets rather than allocate to them. We also trade in more markets than we covered here, like leading individual stocks. The magnitude of these drawdowns also shows why I believe it is essential to direct and control risk and drawdown.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

2nd Quarter 2018 Global Investment Markets Review

It is no surprise to see global equity markets stall after such a positive trend last year. As we will see, the weakness is global and across both bonds and stocks.

Before we review the year-to-date gains and losses for indexes, I want to share some of the most interesting asset allocation indexes I’ve seen.

Keep in mind: we don’t offer this kind of asset allocation that allocates capital to fixed buckets of stocks and bonds and then rebalances them periodically. As a tactical portfolio manager, I don’t allocate to markets, I rotate between them to focus my exposure on markets in a positive trend and avoid (or short) those in a negative trend. I don’t need to have exposure to falling markets. We consider our portfolio a replacement (or at least a compliment) to traditional “asset allocation” offered by most investment advisors.

I want to present some global asset allocation indexes because, in the real world, most investors don’t allocate all of their investment capital to just stocks or just bonds; it’s some combination of them. If they keep their money in cash in the bank, they aren’t investors at all.

To observe what global asset allocation returns look like, we can look at the Morningstar Target Risk Indexes:

The Morningstar Target Risk Index series consists of five asset allocation indexes that span the risk spectrum from conservative to aggressive. The family of asset allocation indexes can serve as benchmarks to help with target-risk mutual fund selection and evaluation by offering an objective yardstick for performance comparison.

All of the indexes are based on a well-established asset allocation methodology from Ibbotson Associates, a Morningstar company and a leader in the field of asset allocation theory.

The family consists of five indexes covering the following equity risk preferences:

  • Aggressive Target Risk
  • Moderately Aggressive Target Risk
  • Moderate Target Risk
  • Moderately Conservative Target Risk
  • Conservative Target Risk

The securities selected for the asset allocation indexes are driven by the rules-based indexing methodologies that power Morningstar’s comprehensive index family. Morningstar indexes are specifically designed to be seamless, investable building blocks that deliver pure asset-class exposure. Morningstar indexes cover a global set of stocks, bonds, and commodities.

These global asset allocation models are operated by two of the best-known firms in the investment industry and the leaders in asset allocation and indexing. I believe in rotating between markets to gain exposure to the trends we want rather than a fixed allocation to them, but if I all I was going to do is asset allocation, I would use these.

Now that we know what it is, we can see the year-to-date return under the YTD column and other period returns. All five of the risk models are down YTD. So, it’s safe to say the first six months of 2018 has been challenging for even the most advanced asset allocation.

Below are the most popular U.S. stock indexes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average which gained the most last year is down this year. The Tech heavy NASDAQ and small-cap stocks of the Russell 2000 have gained the most.

The well-known bond indexes are mostly down YTD – even municipal bonds. Rising interest rates and the expectation rates will continue to rise is putting pressure on bond prices.

Morningstar has even more indexes that break bonds down into different fixed-income categories. Longer-term bonds, as expected, are responding most negatively to rising rates. The most conservative investors have the more exposure to these bonds and they are down as much as -5% the past six months. That’s a reason I don’t believe in allocating capital to markets on a fixed basis. I prefer to avoid the red.

Next, we observe the Morningstar style and size categories and sectors. As I wrote in Growth has Stronger Momentum than Value and Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns, sectors like Technology are driving the Growth style.

International stocks seem to be reacting to the rising U.S. Dollar. As the Dollar rises, it reduced the gain of foreign stocks priced in foreign currency. Although, some of these countries are in negative trends, too. Latin America, for example, was one of the strongest trends last year and has since trended down.

At Shell Capital, we often say that our Global Tactical Rotation® portfolios are a replacement for global asset allocation and the so-called “target date” funds. Target date funds are often used in 401(k) plans as an investment option. They haven’t made much progress so far in 2018.

It is no surprise to see most global markets down or flat in 2018 after such a positive 2017.

But, only time will tell how it all unfolds the rest of the year.

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

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

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

The week in review

The week in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

When risk equals the return, there is no gain.

When profit equals loss, there is no progress.

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

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

I want my profits to far surpass my losses.

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

I want more profit, less loss.

You probably get my drift.

 

Here are the observations we shared this week: 

Growth has Stronger Momentum than Value

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

 

Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns

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

 

Trend Analysis of the Stock Market

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

 

Trend of the International Stock Market

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

 

Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks

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

 

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

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

 

Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive

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

 

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

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

 

Investor sentiment gets more bearish

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

 

Is it a stock pickers market?

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

 

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.

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks over the past year.

A commodity is a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that are usually used as inputs in the production of other goods or services.

Soft commodities are goods that are grown, such as wheat, or rice.

Hard commodities are mined. Examples include gold, helium, and oil.

Energy commodities include electricity, gas, coal, and oil. Electricity has the particular characteristic that it is usually uneconomical to store, and must, therefore, be consumed as soon as it is processed.

The Commodity Trend

At first glance, we see in the chart commodities ETF Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF has trended meaningfully above the popular S&P 500 index of U. S. stocks. The relative outperformance is clear over this one-year time frame. Commodities, as measured by this ETF, are in an absolute positive trend and registering relative momentum.

Commodity ETF trend following commodites natural resources $GNR $GSG $DBC

Examining a price trend is incomplete without also considering its downside. On the downside, I look at the % off high drawdowns over the period. We see that commodities were more volatile than stocks before 2018 with four dips around -4%. Since the stock market -10% decline that started in February, commodities declined, too, but not as much as U. S. stocks.

asymmetry ratio commodity drawdown

Looking back at the trend chart, I added a simple trend line to show that communities are trending directionally better than the popular U. S. stock index. So, my quantitative Global Tactical Rotation®  system that ranks an unconstrained global universe of markets including bonds, stocks, commodities, currencies, and other alternatives like real estate signaled this trend has been generating asymmetric risk/return.

commodity ETF trend commodities

What is the that Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF? (the bold emphasis is mine)

The Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund seeks to track changes, whether positive or negative, in the level of the DBIQ Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Index Excess Return™ (DBIQ Opt Yield Diversified Comm Index ER) plus the interest income from the Fund’s holdings of primarily US Treasury securities and money market income less the Fund’s expenses. The Fund is designed for investors who want a cost-effective and convenient way to invest in commodity futures. The Index is a rules-based index composed of futures contracts on 14 of the most heavily traded and important physical commodities in the world. The Fund and the Index are rebalanced and reconstituted annually in November.

This Fund is not suitable for all investors due to the speculative nature of an investment based upon the Fund’s trading which takes place in very volatile markets. Because an investment in futures contracts is volatile, such frequency in the movement in market prices of the underlying futures contracts could cause large losses. Please see “Risk and Other Information” and the Prospectus for additional risk disclosures. Source: Invesco

The challenge for some investors, however, is that Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF generates a K-1 tax form for tax reporting. That isn’t a terrible issue, but it means instead of receiving the typical 1099 investors receive a K-1. Some investors aren’t familiar with a K-1, and they can obtain them later than a 1099.

Then, there may be other investors who simply prefer not to own futures for the reason in the second paragraph of the above discription: “Because an investment in futures contracts is volatile, such frequency in the movement in market prices of the underlying futures contracts could cause large losses.” In reality, all investments have risk and stocks can have just as much risk of “large losses” as commodity futures, but it’s a matter of investor preference and perception.

Since we have a wide range of investor types who invest in my ASYMMETRY® Investment Program I could gain my exposure to commodities in other ways. For example, the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF often has a similar return stream as ETFs like DBC that track a commodity futures index, except is actually invests in individual stocks instead.

Key features of the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF

  • The SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF seeks to provide investment results that, before fees and expenses, correspond generally to the total return performance of the S&P® Global Natural Resources Index (the “Index”)

  • Seeks to provide exposure to a number of the largest market cap securities in three natural resources sectors – agriculture, energy, and metals and mining

  • Maximum weight of each sub-index is capped at one-third of the total weight of the Index

Below we see the price trend of this ETF of global natural resources stocks has been highly correlated to an ETF of commodities futures.

global natural resources ETF replacement for commodity ETF no K1

In fact, as we step the time frame out to the common inspection date of each ETF in 2011, the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF has actually outperformed Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF overall in terms of relative momentum.

commodity ETF global natural resources trend following no K1

The bottom line is, commodities “stuff” is trending up over the past two years and when the price of “stuff” is rising, that is called “inflation”.  Commodities and global natural resources have been in a downtrend for so long it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this trend reverse up. Only time will tell if it will continue, but if we want exposure to it, we can predefine our risk by deciding at what price I would exit if it doesn’t, and let the trend unfold.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.Buying and Selling ETFsETFs are flexible and easy to trade. Investors buy and sell them like stocks, typically through a brokerage account. Investors 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.

ETFs are subject to risk similar to those of stocks including those regarding short-selling and margin account maintenance. Ordinary brokerage commissions apply. In general, ETFs can be expected to move up or down in value with the value of the applicable index. Although ETF shares may be bought and sold on the exchange through any brokerage account, ETF shares are not individually redeemable from the Fund. Investors may acquire ETFs and tender them for redemption through the Fund in Creation Unit Aggregations only. Please see the prospectus for more details. After-tax returns are calculated based on NAV using the historical highest individual federal marginal income tax rates and do not reflect the impact of state and local taxes. Actual after-tax returns depend on the investor’s tax situation and may differ from those shown. The after-tax returns shown are not relevant to investors who hold their fund shares through tax-deferred arrangements such as 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts. Performance of an index is not illustrative of any particular investment. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. As with all stocks, you may be required to deposit more money or securities into your margin account if the equity, including the amount attributable to your ETF shares, declines. Unless otherwise noted all information contained herein is that of the SPDR S&P Global Natural Resources ETF. S&P – In net total return indices, the dividends are reinvested after the deduction of withholding tax. Tax rates are applied at the country level or at the index level.

 

 

Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive

Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive

Index funds and ETFs are often called “passive”, but in reality, they aren’t. Indexes change as their committees add and remove stocks or bonds from them. Though we generally know the exposure we can expect from an index ETF and we can see its holdings, we never know for sure in advance what stocks they’ll add or remove.

Not that we need to, we don’t.

But if we did know, we could front run them. Stocks that get added to an index trend up as all the index funds tracking that index have to buy the stock.

The opposite is true for stocks removed from the index.

General Electric (GE) was the last original Dow stock and was recently removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. So, the 30 stocks in that index are completely different today than the stocks it held when it started.

Alternative investment strategies are sometimes criticized for being too “black box”, implying the systems and methods are proprietary and are not disclosed to investors. The truth is, we can say the same for the most popular stock indexes. Indexes are also a black box since we don’t know what they’ll do next.

There are reasons they keep some things a secret, just as some of us keep the finest details of our systems and strategies private. Some things are intellectual capital and if you want to invest with someone who has it, well, you’ll just have to settle for not knowing every precise detail. If you don’t like it, don’t invest.

The U. S. Sector indexes have some changes coming.

In November 2017, S&P Dow Jones and MSCI announced that the Global Industry Classification Standard, or GICS, telecommunication services sector would be broadened and renamed “communication services.” The communication services sector will add select media, entertainment, and consumer Internet stocks from the consumer discretionary and information technology sectors to its current telecommunication services constituents.

In mid-January 2018, SPDJI/MSCI released a list of the largest companies affected by the GICS update. SPDJI/MSCI plans to release a full list of affected securities on July 2, 2018, and provide a finalized list of affected securities on Sept. 3, 2018, before the GICS update takes effect after the market closes on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. This classification change will impact index funds that focus on the telecommunications, information technology, and consumer discretionary sectors.

Here is a diagram of the changes.

STOCK MARKET STOCKS SECTOR ETF ETFS SPDR SPY

Sector SPDRs has already launched their ETF for the communications sector.

Communication Services Sector $XLC is designed to reflect modern communication activities and information delivery mechanisms. Industries include Telecommunications, Media, Wireless, Entertainment and Internet Media. Components include Alphabet, Disney, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Netflix.

The media talks about the so-called “FANG” stocks, which is Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google. Well, this ETF is almost the FANG ETF.

fang stocks in xlc communication sector

So, we’ve adjusted our sector systems accordingly to adapt to these new changes.

 

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.

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. Most recent month-end performance is available in the Performance topic. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Sector SPDRs are subject to risk similar to those of stocks including those regarding short selling and margin account maintenance. All ETFs are subject to risk, including possible loss of principal. Sector ETF products are also subject to sector risk and non-diversified risk, which will result in greater price fluctuations than the overall market.

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

In late 2017, implied volatility, as measured by the VIX CBOE Volatility Index, was at abnormally low levels. I pointed out many times that vol is mean reverting, so when expected volatility is extremely low we can expect it to eventually reverse. The VIX spiked up over 200% in February and has remained more elevated than before.

VIX $VIX #VIX VOLATILITY INDEX CBOE RISK MANAGEMENT ASYMMETRIC ASYMMETRY

In the chart, I used a 50-day moving average for observation of how the VIX has remained more elevated than pre-February.

Volatility is asymmetric; when the stock market falls, implied volatility tends to spike up.

The VIX long-term average is 20, so the current level of 15-16 still isn’t high by historical measures, but the expected volatility is elevated above where it was.

Below is the VIX so far in 2018 in percentage terms. It shows the 200% gain that has since settled down, but it’s remaining higher than before.

VIX VOLATILITY 2018 RISK MANAGEMENT ASYMMETRY GLOBAL ASYMMETRIC ETF ETFS

The VIX has spiked up 45% the past 5 days.

VIX VOLATILITY ASYMMETRIC SPIKE GAIN THIS WEEK 2018 ASYMMETRY RISK

As I shared in The enthusiasm to sell overwhelmed the desire to buy March 19, 2018, I expect to see more swings (volatility) than last year, and that would be “normal” too. I said:

I define this as a non-trending market. When I factor in how the range of price movement has spread out more than double what it was, I call it a non-trending volatile condition.

Until we see either a new all-time high indicating a continuing longer-term uptrend or a new low below the February and April low indicating a new downtrend, the above holds true.

It’s a good time for a VIX primer from the CBOE:

What does it mean?

Some consider the VIX the “fear gauge”. When there is a demand for options, their premiums rise. Investor demand for options typically increases when they are concerned about the future, so they use options to hedge or replace their stocks with limited risk options strategies. Rising volatility also drives the VIX, since the VIX Index is a calculation designed to produce a measure of constant, 30-day expected volatility of the U.S. stock market, derived from real-time, mid-quote prices of S&P 500® Index

What is volatility?

Volatility measures the frequency and magnitude of price movements, both up and down, that a financial instrument experiences over a certain period of time. The more dramatic the price swings in that instrument, the higher the level of volatility. Volatility can be measured using actual historical price changes (realized volatility) or it can be a measure of expected future volatility that is implied by option prices. The VIX Index is a measure of expected future volatility.

What is the VIX Index?

Cboe Global Markets revolutionized investing with the creation of the Cboe Volatility Index® (VIX® Index), the first benchmark index to measure the market’s expectation of future volatility. The VIX Index is based on options of the S&P 500® Index, considered the leading indicator of the broad U.S. stock market. The VIX Index is recognized as the world’s premier gauge of U.S. equity market volatility.

How is the VIX Index calculated?

The VIX Index estimates expected volatility by aggregating the weighted prices of S&P 500 Index (SPXSM) puts and calls over a wide range of strike prices. Specifically, the prices used to calculate VIX Index values are midpoints of real-time SPX option bid/ask price quotations.

How is the VIX Index used?

The VIX Index is used as a barometer for market uncertainty, providing market participants and observers with a measure of constant, 30-day expected volatility of the broad U.S. stock market. The VIX Index is not directly tradable, but the VIX methodology provides a script for replicating volatility exposure with a portfolio of SPX options, a key innovation that led to the creation of tradable VIX futures and options.

To learn more about the CBOE, Volatility Index VIX visit their VIX website.

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.

 

 

Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks

Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks

The interest rate on the 10 Year Treasury has gained over 20% so far in 2018, but I noticed it’s more recently settled down a little.

interest rate TNX $TNX

One of my ASYMMETRY® systems generated a short-term momentum signal today for the Utility and Real Estate Sectors. This signal indicated the short term trend is up, but it may have reached the point they may pull back before they continue the trend.

We see in the chart below, Utility and Real Estate Sectors are down so far in 2018, but they are gradually covering.

Utilities and Real Estate XLU XLRE $XLRE $XLU TREND MOMENTUM

I find it useful to understand return drivers and how markets interact with each other. The direction of interest rates, the Dollar, inflation, etc. all drive returns for markets.

In the chart below, I drew the black arrow to show where interest rates started declining this month and Utility and Real Estate Sectors trended up.

rising interest rate impact on real estate REIT housing utilities

Utility and Real Estate Sectors are sensitive to interest rates. These sectors use leverage, so as interest rates rise, it increases their cost of capital. Another impact is higher interest rates on bonds compete with them as investments. Utility and Real Estate Sectors are high dividends paying sectors, so as bond yields trend higher investors may start to choose bonds over these equities.

Below is a 1-year chart. You can see how interest rates increasing over 30% over the past year has had some impact on the price trend of the Utility and Real Estate sectors.

interest rate reit utilities sector

But, at the moment, these sectors have trended up, as interest rates have settled down.

 

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.

 

 

 

Is this correction and volatility normal?

With perfect hindsight, we now all know that January 26th was the recent price peak in the U.S. stock market. Since then, the S&P 500 has declined about -10% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average about -12%. For simplicity, I’m going to focus on U.S. stock market here.

I wasn’t surprised to see the decline and am not surprised to see “more volatility,” because it would be getting back to “normal.”

But I see recent price action has sure gotten the attention of many on social media. Some even seem dazed and confused.

I’m not surprised about that, either.

On January 11, before stock market declined prices started swinging up and down (volatility), I shared an observation with my friends on Twitter and a warning:

On January 24th, I again warned of complacency. The message was clear:

At this point, this is a normal and expected “correction” of what was an upside overreaction in the prior months. The stock index has declined about -10%, regained some of the loss in March and more recently retested the February 8th low. As long as the lows hold, I consider this a normal correction.

stock market spx

Sure, the decline was sharp and fast, but that’s no surprise for me after such an upside move. I said it was “expected” because, as I pointed out above, 2017 was very abnormal because it lacked the typical -5% to -10% declines we normally see over most 12 month periods in the stock indexes.

Another way I define a “normal correction” is a simple trend line drawn under the price over the past 12 months. Without adding a lot of complicated looking indicators to express it, below we see the stock index has just “reverted to its trend.” The peak in December and January was an abnormal overreaction on the upside, which I pointed out as it was happening. The recent -10% decline has simply put the trend back in a more normal range.

stock market normal correction trend

What is normal, typical, or expected? 

I’m observing a lot of commentaries as if this correction and volatility isn’t normal.  The fact is, many people often include their emotions and feelings along with price action.

Investors perceive what they believe is driving a price trend and what they believe is always true for them.

The February decline was commonly blamed on “the machines,” which got a little silly.

This time, it’s geopolitics.

I believe it’s just the market, doing what it does, and there are so many drivers at the same time I don’t bother to attempt such a narrative. My narrative is simple; the force of sellers took control and outweighed the enthusiasm of buyers.  It is just the market, doing what it does.

I’ve been seeing and experiencing these trends so closely for so long and I remember the regime shifts. I want to share with you my observations of what have been “normal” corrections in terms of drawdowns. A drawdown is the % decline from a prior price high to its low. I show only the period of the past 9 years, which is one of the longest bull markets in history (without a -20% decline).

stock market historical bear market length drawdowns

As you can see, since April 2009, we’ve seen four declines of -15% or more and it took them several months to recover.

These declines of -15% or more are why many people have been unable to hold on to the stock market since the March 2009 low with any meaningful allocation to stocks. When prices fall -10%, investor sentiment shifts from greed to extreme fear. Some of them may even begin to tap out by selling their stock holdings for fear of more losses.

To be sure, here is an investor sentiment indicator at the February 8, 2018 low.

Investor sentiment Februrary 8 2018

In fact, investment managers like me who have dynamic risk management systems may even sell to reduce exposure to loss as an intentional drawdown control. But this time, as I pointed out, the stock market was already at risk of a reversal before this decline. So, a robust risk management system may have reduced exposure before the decline, not after.

We find that declines over -10% get more attention, especially when they get down to -15%. Those can also be more hostile conditions for trend systems, too, as risk management systems cause us to exit and later re-enter.

The point is, over the past 9 years a -15% decline has been a “normal” occurrence and there are many -5% (or more) declines too.

It is only at a -10%, so far, and that’s not unusual.

I intentionally used the last 9 years. Not to show an arbitrary 9 year period, but instead to intentionally leave off March 2009. I did that because the first three months of 2009 was a -24% decline, a continuation of the 2008 waterfall decline. The stock market was still in the bear market that began October 2007. So, this wouldn’t be complete without a reminder of what that period looked like before I go on to show the pre-2008 period.

All bear markets do necessarily begin with declines of  -10%, -15%, -20% . They are actually made of many swings up and down along the way. We often hear people speak of the last bear market as “2008” as though the only loss was the -37% decline in the S&P 500 in 2008.

That is far from reality.

The decline was -56%.

2008 stock market drawdown length of bear market

The drawdowns we’ve seen since 2008 are more than twice what we saw in the bull market from 2003 to 2008 after the “tech wreck.” Below we see the typical decline then was closer to -5% with only a few getting into the -7% or more range. 2004 to 2008 bull market low volatility

Clearly, it was a lot easier to hold a larger allocation of stocks, then.

What is normal and what has changed?

The last 9 years has been more hostile for passive asset allocation investors to hold on to their stock positions because the declines were -15% or so and take months to recover. It’s also been more challenging for active risk managers since a drawdown control system necessarily reduces exposure as prices fall with the intent to control drawdown.

But, to define what is normal today, a -10% to -15% decline is within a normal corrective drawdown.

The recent past matters simply because that’s what investors and traders anchor to. Most people put more emphasis on the recent past. Our experience and how much we’ve studied and observed the trends determine how much we can recall easily. I’ve been an investment manager most of my life, over two decades now. For me, it hasn’t been a hobby or part-time venture, it’s what I do and who I am. So, my memory of these trends and intuitions about what is normal, or not, is what it is.

If you are wondering, here are the drawdowns for the S&P 500 going back about 70 years. I highlighted the -15% declines or more, which obviously gets investors attention.

stock market bear market length and dradowns

Clearly, there are a lot of -15% or greater declines. In fact, there are several -30% and three in the -45% or larger drawdowns.

Knowing this, it’s why I say:

We believe world markets require active risk management to avoid large losses and directional trend systems to position capital in profitable price trends.

And, I also say:

It doesn’t matter how much the return is if the downside risk is so high you tap out before it’s achieved.

But at this point, you can probably see that the current -10% decline is so far within a “normal correction.”

Though, as I shared in The enthusiasm to sell overwhelmed the desire to buy March 19, 2018, I expect to see more swings (volatility) than last year, and that would be “normal” too.

I define this as a non-trending market. When I factor in how the range of price movement has spread out more than double what it was, I call it a non-trending volatile condition.

Markets decline to a low enough point to attract buying demand. Only time will tell how it all plays out from here.

If you enjoyed this, I encourage you to read “What About the Stock Market Has Changed? A Look at Ten Years of Volatility” 

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.

 

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 support 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.

The markets always go back up?

Someone recently said: “the markets always go back up!”.

I replied: “Tell that to the Japanese”.

The chart below speaks for itself. Japan was the leading country up until 1990. The NIKKEI 225, the Japanese stock market index, has been in a “Secular Bear Market” for about 25 years now. I believe all markets require active risk management. I suggest avoiding any strategy that requires a market “always go back up” because it is possible that it may not. Or, it may not in your lifetime

Long Term Japan Stock Market Index NIKKEI

Source: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/japan/stock-market

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE OF FUTURE RESULTS. Investing involves risk a client must be willing to bear.

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…

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Hasn’t Managed Downside Risk

 shares an interesting observation in Fortune ” Warren Buffett’s Berkshire lost $11 billion in market selloff“. He points out that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A or BRK.B) is tracking the U.S. stock indexes on the downside. He says:

“…during the worst of the downturn from mid-July to the end of August. That represents a 10.3% drop. The good news for Buffett: His, and his investment team’s, performance was likely not much worse than everyone else’s. During the same time, the S&P 500 fell 10.1%.”

Comparing performance to others or “benchmark” indexes is a what I call a “relative return” objective. Comparing performance vs. our own risk tolerance and total return objectives is an “absolute return” objective. The two are very different as what I call “relativity” is more concerned about how others are doing comparatively, while “absolute” is more focused on our own situation.

The article also said:

“If you are invested in an index fund, you may have outperformed the Oracle of Omaha, slightly.”

Let’s see just how true that is. Since the topic is how much Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has lost during this stock market decline, I’ll share a closer look.

A picture speaks a thousand words. As it turns out, the guru stock picker is actually down -13.4% off it’s high looking back over the past year. That’s about -4% worse than the SPDR® S&P 500® ETF (SPY) that seeks to provide investment results that, before expenses, correspond generally to the price and yield performance of the S&P 500® Index. I am using actual securities here to present an investable comparison: SPY vs. BRK.B.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Lost compared to stock index

As we observe in the chart, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway began to decline off it’s high at the end of last year while the S&P 500® Index started last month. I have observed more and more stocks declining over the past several months. At the same time, more and more International markets have entered into their own bear markets. So, it is no surprise to see a focused stock portfolio diverge from a broader stock index.  points out some of the individual stock positions in ” Warren Buffett’s Berkshire lost $11 billion in market selloff

Below is the total return of the two over the past year. We can see the high in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B was in December 2014.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Lost compared to stock index total return

I believe world markets require active risk management and defining directional trends. For me, that means predefining my risk in advance in each position and across the portfolio.

Chart source: http://www.ycharts.com

Read the full Fortune article here: ” Warren Buffett’s Berkshire lost $11 billion in market selloff

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.

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 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.

US Government Bonds Rise on Fed Rate Outlook?

I saw the following headline this morning:

US Government Bonds Rise on Fed Rate Outlook

Wall Street Journal –

“U.S. government bonds strengthened on Monday after posing the biggest price rally in more than three months last week, as investors expect the Federal Reserve to take its time in raising interest rates.”

My focus is on directional price trends, not the news. I focus on what is actually happening, not what people think will happen. Below I drew a 3 month price chart of the 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT), I highlighted in green the time period since the Fed decision last week. You may agree that most of price action and directional trend changes happened before that date. In fact, the long-term bond index declined nearly 2 months before the decision, increased a few weeks prior, and has since drifted what I call “sideways”.

fed decision impact on bonds
Charts created with http://www.stockcharts.com

To be sure, in the next chart I included an analog chart including the shorter durations of maturity. iShares 3-7 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEI) and iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEF). Maybe there is some overreaction and under-reaction going on before the big “news”, if anything.

Government bonds Fed decision reaction
Do you still think the Fed news was “new information“?

Trends, Countertrends, in the U.S. Dollar, Gold, Currencies

Trend is a direction that something is moving, developing, evolving, or changing. A trend is a directional drift, one way or another. When I speak of price trends, the directional drift of a price trend can be up, down, or sideways.

Trends trend to continue and are even more likely to continue than to reverse, because of inertia. Inertia is the resistance to change, including a resistance to change in direction. It’s an important physics concept to understand to understand price trends because inertia relates to momentum and velocity. A directional price trend that continues, or doesn’t change or reverse, has inertia. To understand directional price trends, we necessarily need to understand how a trend in motion is affected by external forces. For example, if a price trend is up and continues even with negative external news, in inertia or momentum is even more significant. Inertia is the amount of resistance to change in velocity. We can say that a directional price trend will continue moving at its current velocity until some force causes its speed or direction to change. A directional trend follower, then, wants keep exposure to that trend until its speed or direction does change. When a change happens, we call it a countertrend. A countertrend is a move against the prior or prevailing trend. A countertrend strategy tries to profit from a trend reversal in a directional trend that has moved to such a magnitude it comes more likely to reverse, at least briefly, than to continent. Even the best long-term trends have smaller reversals along the way, so countertrend systems try to profit from the shorter time frame oscillations.

“The one fact pertaining to all conditions is that they will change.”

                                    —Charles Dow, 1900

One significant global macro trend I noticed that did show some “change” yesterday is the U.S. Dollar. The U.S. Dollar has been in a smooth drift up for nearly a year. I use the PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish (UUP). Below, I start with a weekly chart showing a few years so you can see it was non-trending up until last summer. Clearly, the U.S. Dollar has been trending strongly since.

u.s. dollar longer trend UPP

Next, we zoom in for a closer look. The the PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish (UUP) was down about -2% yesterday after the Fed Decision. Notice that I included a 50 day moving average, just to smooth out the price data to help illustrate its path. One day isn’t nearly enough to change a trend, but that one day red bar is greater in magnitude and had heavy volume. On the one hand, it could be the emotional reaction to non trend following traders. On the other, we’ll see over time if that markets a real change that becomes a reversal of this fine trend. The U.S. Dollar may move right back up and resume it’s trend…

U.S. Dollar Trend 2015-03-19_08-21-35

chart source for the following charts: http://www.stockcharts.com

I am using actual ETFs only to illustrate their trends. One unique note about  PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish Fund (Symbol: UUP) is the tax implications for currency limited partnership ETFs are subject to a 60 percent/40 percent blend, regardless of how long the shares are held. They also report on a K-1 instead of a 1099.

Why does the direction of the U.S. Dollar matter? It drives other markets. Understanding how global markets interact is an edge in global tactical trading. Below is a chart of Gold. I used the SPDR Gold Trust ETF as a proxy. Gold tends to trade the opposite of the U.S. Dollar.

gold trend 2015-03-19_08-22-41

When the U.S. Dollar is trending up, it also has an inverse correlation to foreign currencies priced in dollars. Below is the CurrencyShares Euro ETF.

Euro currency trend 2015-03-19_08-23-03

Foreign currencies can have some risk. In January, the Swiss Franc gaped up sharply, but has since drifted back to where it was. Maybe that was an over-reaction? Markets aren’t so efficient. Below is a chart of the CurrencyShares Swiss Franc to illustrate its trend and countertrend moves.

swiss franc trend 2015-03-19_08-23-23

None of this is a suggestion to buy or sell any of these, just an observation about directional trends, how they interact with each other, and countertrend moves (whether short term or long term). Clearly, there are trends…

To see how tactical decisions and understand how markets interacts results in my real performance, visit : ASYMMETRY® Managed Accounts

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

This is When MPT and VaR Get Asset Allocation and Risk Measurement Wrong

This is When MPT and VaR Get Asset Allocation and Risk Measurement Wrong

I was talking to an investment analyst at an investment advisory firm about my ASYMMETRY® Managed Account and he asked me what the standard deviation was for the portfolio. I thought I would share with you and explain this is how the industry gets “asset allocation” and risk measurement and management wrong. You see, most people have poor results over a full market cycle that includes both rising and falling price trends, like global bull and bear markets, recessions, and expansions. Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior, SPIVA, Morningstar, and many academic papers have provided empirical evidence that most investors (including professionals) have poor results over the long periods. For example, they may earn gains in rising conditions but lose their gains when prices decline. I believe the reason is they get too aggressive at peaks and then sell in panic after losses get too large, rather than properly predefine and manage risk.

You may consider, then, to have good results over a long period, I necessarily have to believe and do things very different than most people.

On the “risk measurement” topic, I thought I would share with you a very important concept that is absolutely essential for truly actively controlling loss. The worst drawdown “is” the only risk metric that really matters. Risk is not the loss itself. Once we have a loss, it’s a loss. It’s beyond the realm of risk. Since risk is the possibility of a loss, then how often it has happened in the past and the magnitude of the historical loss is the mathematical expectation. Beyond that, we must assume it could be even worse some day. For example, if the S&P 500 stock index price decline was -56% from 2007 to 2009, then we should expect -56% is the loss potential (or worse). When something has happened before, it suggests it is possible again, and we may have not yet observed the worst decline in the past that we will see in the future.

The use of standard deviation is one of the very serious flaws of investors attempting to measure, direct, and control risk. The problem with standard deviation is that the equation was intentionally created to simplify data. The way it is used draws a straight line through a group of data points, which necessarily ignores how far the data really spreads out. That is, standard deviation is intended to measure how far the data spreads out, but it actually fails to absolutely highlight the true high point and low point. Instead, it’s more of an average of those points. Yet, it’s the worst-case loss that we really need to focus on. I believe in order to direct and control risk, I must focus on “how bad can it really get”. Not just “on average” how bad it can get. The risk in any investment position is at least how much it has declined in the past. And realizing it could be even worse some day. Standard deviation fails to reflect that in the way it is used.

Consider that as prices trend up for years, investors become more and more complacent. As investors become complacent, they also become less indecisive as they believe the recent past upward trend will continue, making them feel more confident. On the other hand, when investors feel unsure about the future, their fear and indecisiveness is reflected as volatility as the price churns up and down more. We are always unsure about the future, but investors feel more confident the past will continue after trends have been rising and volatility gets lower and lower. That is what a peak of a market looks like. As it turns out, that’s just when asset allocation models like Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) and portfolio risk measures like Value at Risk (VaR) tell them to invest more in that market – right as it reaches it’s peak. They invest more, complacently, because their allocation model and risk measures tell them to. An example of a period like this was October 2007 as global stock markets had been rising since 2003. At that peak, the standard deviation was low and the historical return was at it highest point, so their expected return was high and their expected risk (improperly measured as historical volatility) was low. Volatility reverses the other way at some point

What happens next is that the market eventually peaks and then begins to decline. At the lowest point of the decline, like March 2009, the global stock markets had declined over -50%. My expertise is directional price trends and volatility, so I can tell you from empirical observation that prices drift up slowly, but crash down quickly. The below chart of the S&P 500 is a fine example of this asymmetric risk.

stock index asymmetric distribution and losses

Source: chart is drawn by Mike Shell using http://www.stockcharts.com

At the lowest point after prices had fallen over -50%, in March 2009, the standard deviation was dramatically higher than it was in 2007 after prices had been drifting up. At the lowest point, volatility is very high and past return is very low, telling MPT and VaR to invest less in that asset.

In the 2008 – 2009 declining global markets, you may recall some advisors calling it a “6 sigma event”. That’s because the market index losses were much larger than predicted by standard deviation. For example, if an advisors growth allocation had an average return of 10% in 2007 based on its past returns looking back from the peak and a standard deviation of 12% expected volatility, they only expected the portfolio would decline -26% (3 standard deviations) within a 99.7% confidence level – but the allocation actually lost -40 or -50%. Even if that advisor properly informed his or her client the allocation could decline -26% worse case and the client provided informed consent and acceptance of that risk, their loss was likely much greater than their risk tolerance. When the reach their risk tolerance, they “tap out”. Once they tap out, when do they ever get back in? do they feel better after it falls another -20%? or after it rises 20%? There is no good answer. I want to avoid that situation.

You can see in the chart below, 3 standard deviations is supposed to capture 99.7% of all of the data if the data is a normal distribution. The trouble is, market returns are not a normal distribution. Instead, their gains and losses present an asymmetrical return distribution. Market returns experience much larger gains and losses than expected from a normal distribution – the outliers are critical. However, those outliers don’t occur very often: maybe every 4 or 5 years, so people have time to forget about the last one and become complacent.

symmetry normal distribution bell curve black

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/68%E2%80%9395%E2%80%9399.7_rule

My friends, this is where traditional asset allocation like Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) and risk measures like Value at Risk (VaR) get it wrong. And those methods are the most widely believed and used . You can probably see why most investors do poorly and only a very few do well – an anomaly.

I can tell you that I measure risk by how much I can lose and I control my risk by predefining my absolute risk at the point of entry and my exit point evolves as the positions are held. That is an absolute price point, not some equation that intentionally ignores the outlier losses.

As the stock indexes have now been overall trending up for 5 years and 9 months, the trend is aged. In fact, according to my friend Ed Easterling at Crestmont Research, at around 27 times EPS the stock index seems to be in the range of overvalued. In his latest report, he says:

“The stock market surged over the past quarter, adding to gains during 2014 that far exceed underlying economic growth. As a result, normalized P/E increased to 27.2—well above the levels justified by low inflation and interest rates. The current status is approaching “significantly overvalued.”

At the same time, we shouldn’t be surprised to eventually see rising interest rates drive down bond values at some point. It seems from this starting point that simply allocating to stocks and bonds doesn’t have an attractive expected return. I believe a different strategy is needed, especially form this point forward.

In ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical, I actively manage risk and shift between markets to find profitable directional price trends rather than just allocate to them. For more information, visit http://www.asymmetrymanagedaccounts.com/global-tactical/

 

Trend Change in Dollar, International Stocks, Gold?

Directional trends tend to persist. When a price is trending, it’s more likely to continue than to reverse. A directional trend is a drift up or down. For example, we can simply define a uptrend by observing a price chart of higher highs and higher lows. A downtrend is an observation of lower highs and lower lows. For a trading system, we need to be more precise in defining a direction with an algorithm (an equation that mathematically answers the question). The concept that directional trends tend to persist is called “momentum“. Momentum is the empirically observed tendency for rising prices to rise further. Momentum in price trends have been exploited for decades by trend following traders and its persistence is now even documented in hundreds of academic research papers. Momentum persists, until it doesn’t, so I can potentially create profits by going with the trend and then capturing a part of it.

But all trends eventually come to an end. We never know in advance when that will be, but we can determine the probability. Sometimes a trend reversal (up or down) is more likely than others. If you believe markets are efficient and instead follow a random walk, you won’t believe that. I believe trends move in one direction, then reverse, then trend again. When I look at the charts below, I see what I defined previously as “a trend”. I have developed equations and methods for defining the trend and also when they may bend at the end. More importantly, I observe them when they do bend. For example, to capture a big move in a trend, say 20% or more, we can’t get out every time it drops -2%, because it may do that many times on its way to that 20%. So, trend following means staying with the trend until it really bends. Counter-trend trading is trying to profit from the bends by identifying the change in the trend. Both are somewhat the opposite, but since my focus is these trends I observe them both.

Inertia is the resistance to change, including a resistance to change in direction. I could say then, that it takes inertia to keep a trend going. If there is enough inertia, the trend will continue. Trends will almost always be interrupted briefly by shorter term trends. For example, if you look at a monthly chart of a market first, then view a weekly chart, then a daily chart, you’ll see different dimensions of the trend and maybe left with a different observation than if you just look at one time frame.

Below I drew a monthly charge going back nearly 12 years. As you can see, the U.S. Dollar ($USD) has been “down” as much as -40% since 2002. It’s lowest point was 2008 and using my definition for trend, it’s been rising since 2008 though with a lot of volatility from 2008 to 2011. We could also say it’s been “non-trending” generally since 2005, since it has oscillated up and own since then without any meaning breakout.

All of charts are courtesy of http://www.stockcharts.com

Next we observe the weekly price trend. In a weekly chart we see the non-trending period, but ultimately over this time frame the Dollar gained 9%. The Dollar has been at a relatively low price range during this time. For those who want to understand why a trend occurs: A low currency is a reflection of the U.S. debt burden and lack of economic growth. We can only say that in hindsight. Most of the time we don’t actually know why a trend is a trend when it’s trending – and I don’t need to know.

You can probably begin to see how “the trend” is a function of “the time frame”. The most recent trend is observed in a daily chart going back less than a year. Here we see the U.S. Dollar is rising since July. I pointed out in “Interest Rates and Dollar Rising, Commodities Falling” how the Dollar is driving other markets.

The Dollar is now at a point that I mathematically expect to see it may reverse back down some. Though a trend is more likely to persist and resist change (inertia), trends don’t move straight up or down. Instead, they oscillate up and down within their larger trend. If you look at any of the price trend charts above, you’ll see smaller trends within them. It appears the Dollar is now likely to change direction at least briefly, though maybe not very much. As I mentioned in “Interest Rates and Dollar Rising, Commodities Falling”, it seems that rising interest rates are probably driving the Dollar higher. The market seems to be anticipating the Fed doing things to increase interest rates in the future. Let’s look at some other trends that seem to be interacting with the Dollar and interest rates.

The MSCI EAFE Index is an index of developed countries. You can observe the trend below. International stocks tend to decline when the Dollar rises, because this index is foreign country stocks priced in Dollars.

Below is the MSCI Emerging Markets index, which are smaller more emerging countries. MSCI includes countries like Russia, Brazil, and Mexico as “emerging”, but some may be surprised to hear they also consider China an emerging market. The recent rising Dollar (from rising rates) has been partly the driver of falling prices.

Another market that is directly impacted by the trend in the Dollar is commodities. Below we see the S&P/GSCI Commodity Index.

I am sharing observations about global macro trends and trend changes. We previously saw that the Dollar was generally in a downtrend and at a low level for years. When the Dollar is down, commodities priced in Dollars may be up. One commodity that became very popular when it was rising was Gold. When the Dollar was falling and depressed, Gold was rising. Below is a more recent price trend of gold.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dollar trend to reverse back down some in the short-term and that could drive these other markets to reverse their downtrends at least briefly. Only time will tell if it does reverse in the near future and by how much.

In the meantime, let’s watch it all unfold.

Global Market Trends and Returns 3rd Quarter 2014

The end of a quarter is a popular time for investors to review what happened over the past three months. Below we review some three-month price trends to get an idea of the direction and magnitude of return streams for a wide range of world market indexes.

In the chart below, we see the U.S. Dollar ($USD) was in the strongest rising directional trend and increased smoothly. The second most increasing trend in magnitude was U.S. Long Term Treasury Bonds (TLT), though it made its move in just the past two weeks. The popular large company stock index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) and the broad-based bond index Barclay Aggregate Bond Index (AGG) lost a little during the quarter. Small company stocks, the Russell 2000 ($RUT), and the commodities indexes ($USD and GSG) lost over -9%. As I pointed out in “Interest Rates and Dollar Rising, Commodities Falling” interest rates started drifting up, driving up the U.S. Dollar, which then drove down many commodities. The decline in small company stocks is probably more a sign of an aging bull market in stocks.

Charts courtesy of: http://www.stockcharts.com ©StockCharts.com

Looking closer within the U.S. stock market at its individual sectors, the Healthcare and Technology sectors ended the quarter with the largest gains of around 3%. Energy was by far the largest losing sector over the past three-months with a decline of nearly -10%. Other weakness was Industrial and Utilities. That may be suggesting something about the markets anticipation of the economy.

I also include a bar chart below of the sectors for a different visual of the advance and decline within sectors. The trouble with only looking at the quarter end result is that it ignores what happened along the way. For example, in the line charts above we can see how the trends unfold.

I pointed out in “Interest Rates and Dollar Rising, Commodities Falling” that interest rates started drifting up, driving up the U.S. Dollar. When the Dollar and interest rates rise it can directly impact other markets like commodities, international stocks priced in Dollars, and interest rate sensitive markets like real estate and utilities. In the next chart I include the U.S. Dollar again to show its steady increase the past three months. Then we see that commodities like Gold (GLD), interest rate sensitive markets like Utilities (IDU), U.S. Real Estate REITs (IYR), and Mortgage REITs (REM) all declined materially. International stocks in Developed Countries (EFA) and Emerging Markets (EEM) also declined around 5 to 7%. None of these three-month price trends are permanent, but for those of us who tactically rotate between these world markets it is useful to understand how they all interact with each other.

You may notice when I speak of these trends I use past tense. The past tense is a grammatical tense whose principal function is to place an action or situation in past time. When I speak of trends, I’m always speaking of the past trend, never the future. These charts are created by looking back three months. It is not possible to draw a chart of realized trends looking forward three months. If we could do that, we would only need to do it once. If we could know for sure what just one of these trends would do in the future we could leverage a large bet, take the profit, pay the tax, and be done forever. Instead, we only have past price trends to study and draw inference from. Past data is all we have. As it turns out, that’s all I need.

 

Playing with Relative Strength

I discussed in my interview with Investor’s Business Daily in 2011 titled “How Mike Shell Uses Relative Strength To Trade ETFs” some very basic concepts of how I apply proprietary relative strength systems to ETFs in a tactical ETF managed portfolio. Though we can develop all kinds of sophisticated algorithms to define relative strength, momentum, and directional price trends, at the end of the day the concept is very simple.

Up until now (a signal that something has changed) small company stocks where lagging large company stocks. To illustrate what that looked like, I stopped the relative chart below in Mid-May. You may observe that the blue line (the Russell 2000 index of small company stocks) was lagging and with a higher range of swings (more volatile). The black line is the S&P 500 stock index weighted toward larger stocks.

small company stocks lagging large

Source: http://www.stockcharts.com

Next we update the chart to today’s date. Over the past month, small companies caught up. However, they are now at the prior high, so we’ll find out in the weeks ahead if the relative out-performance continues, or if it finds some resistance and reverses back down.

small cap stocks relative strength to large company stocks

Below I have zeroed out one side to express only the relative change of the small cap index while holding the large cap index steady. Here we see only the relative difference between small and large over the past year.

relative strength of small vs large ETFs

You can probably see how relative strength isn’t just about strength, there is also relative weakness. And, relative change oscillates over time.

Is market timing [short-term trading back and forth among asset classes] really a good idea?

In October 2004, Jason Zweig interviewed Peter Bernstein for MONEY Magazine. The title was Peter Bernstein interview: He may know more about investing than anyone alive. Peter L. Bernstein was an early pioneer of tactical asset allocation thinking. He wrote about valuation-based asset allocation and being tactical in decisions rather than passive. He believed what I believe: we should take more risk when its likely to be rewarded and less risk when it is less likely to be rewarded. He published several books about it.

In the interview, Zweig asked:

“Is market timing [short-term trading back and forth among asset classes] really a good idea?”

Bernstein answered:

“For institutional investors, the policy portfolio [a rigid allocation like 60% stocks, 40% bonds] had become a way of passing the buck and avoiding decisions. The problem was that institutions had settled on a [mostly stock] asset allocation because in the long run, they concluded, that’s the only place to be. And I think the long run ain’t what it used to be. Stocks don’t have to do well in the future because they did well in the past. In fact, the opposite may be more likely.”

Source: http://money.cnn.com/2004/10/11/markets/benstein_bonus_0411/

Based on the chart below, which shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a stock index that cannot not be invested in directly) since that interview in 2004, I’d say Bernstein was right. Over the next decade, the stock index went on to gain 65%, but it dropped nearly that much along the way. That doesn’t seem to be the kind of asymmetry® that investors are looking for. If you look at it close enough, you can probably see why it makes sense to take more risk at some points, less risk at others. Though, it’s probably at the opposite times most investors do. So, most will advise investors not to try to do it. Like most things in life, some do it much better than others and have active track records that reflect it.

stock market index since 2004

source: https://stockcharts.com/freecharts/perf.php?$indu

My INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY® Interview and Portfolio Management

Portfolio Management is about buying and selling many different positions over time, not just one “pick”. I often say it’s like flipping 10 coins at the same time with each having a different payoff and profit or loss. It could be a completely random process (like flipping a coin), but if we can positively skew the payoffs (asymmetric payoffs) we end up with more profit than loss (asymmetric returns). And, as a portfolio manager I may flip that coin 100 or 500 times a year. The fact is: if the expectation for profit is positive we want to do it as often as possible.

Picking just one position is like flipping the coin just once. Its outcome may have an expected probability and payoff that is positive, but will be determined by how it all unfolds. We can never control the outcome at the point of entry. It’s the exit that always determines the outcome. We can say that same whether we are speaking of stocks, bonds, commodities, and currencies or buying and selling private businesses: if you actually knew for sure the outcome would be positive you would only need to do it once – but you don’t. So deciding what to buy is a small part of my complete portfolio management process. It’s what I do after I’m in a position that makes it “management”. To manage is to direct and control. If all you do is “buy” or “invest” in a position, you have no position “management”.

But when Trang Ho at INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY®recently asked me “What ‘s the one position you would choose over the next several months and why”, I gave her the first position I thought of – and the most recent position I had taken. I primarily get positioned with the current direction of the trend and stay with it until it changes. That may be labeled “trend following”. I define the direction of the trend (up, down, sideways) and then get in that direction until it changes. Trends don’t last forever. There is a point when the probability becomes higher and higher of a reversal. I call that a “counter-trend”. I developed systems that define these directional trends more than a decade ago and have operated them for-profit since. What I can tell you from my experience, expertise, and empirical evidence is that stock market trends, like many other market trends, cycle up and down over time. So, portfolio management is a daily routine of position management that includes predefining risk at the point of entry, taking profits, and knowing when to exit to keep losses small. That exit, not the entry, determines the outcome.

You may consider these things as you read my recent interview in Investors Business Daily titled: Market Strategists: 5 Contrarian ETF Investing Ideas.

Read More At Investor’s Business Daily: http://news.investors.com/investing-etfs/090613-670234-contrarian-etf-investing-ideas-stock-market-strategists.htm#ixzz2gNp8bWUT

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a Black Box

The black box:

In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its input and output but without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is “opaque” (black). Almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, or the human brain.

Blackbox.svg

The opposite of a black box is a system where the inner components or logic are available for inspection, which is sometimes known as a clear box, a glass box, or a white box.

Almost all investment programs are actually a black box. That is, the investment manager may allow the investor to see the holdings, but most investment strategies have many parts and parameters that are undisclosed to the public or even its investors. There is strong logic behind not disclosing ones intellectual property beyond the obvious. And, it isn’t just about intellectual property, it may be a fiduciary issue, too. When the public knows what a portfolio manager is going to do in advance, other portfolio managers can front-run the trade. Just ask Russell whose indexes are more transparent and we believe they’ve had issues because of it. I think a portfolio manager has an obligation to avoid that. And,  it just makes sense.

We can say the same for stock indexes like the Dow Jones Industrial Average or other Standard & Poors indexes. By now, it is public knowledge that the committee that oversees the Dow Jones Industrial Average has made 6 significant changes to the 30 stocks that make up the index. The Index Committee dropped Alcoa, Hewlett-Packard, and Bank of America, and added Goldman Sachs, Nike and Visa. Did you know in advance they would do that? We didn’t know until after they announced it. Why? because it’s something a committee decided. As we defined above, what is going on in the human brain is a black box. When people are going to make decisions, we can’t determine for sure in advance what the output will be.

Though we can’t actually invest in an index directly, index investors and traders gain exposure to indexes through index funds like exchange traded funds (ETFs). We say that ETFs allow us to gain exposure to a market, sector, country, etc. in a low-cost, transparent, and efficient format. But, the transparency is in regard to the index holdings and maybe the universe they select from, but not necessarily how they decide to add and delete holdings (causing the index ETF we may own to buy and sell the underlying stocks, bonds, etc.).

Is that process a black box? Yes, it is.

We know only parts of the input, we know the output, but we don’t actually know in advance the inner workings of the decision. An index like the Dow Jones Industrial Average is a system that can be understood in terms of its input and output, but not necessarily any knowledge of its internal workings. In the recent case of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the changes will take effect with the close of trading on Sept. 20th. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was explained in a statement:

“we were prompted by the low stock price of the three companies slated for removal and the Index Committee’s desire to diversify the sector and industry group representation of the index,” S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, the company that oversees the Dow”

Only the “low price” part of that is rules-based. The Index Committee made the decisions to reflect their desire. That doesn’t seem different from an “Investment” Committee that makes such decisions for a fund or other investment program. It isn’t.

What do you really know about indexes? We know the Dow is a price-weighted index, meaning the bigger the stock price, the larger the position for the stock, and vice versa. That is different from indexes such as the Standard & Poor’s 500, which are weighted by components’ market capitalization. But, we don’t know enough about how the Index Committee makes its decisions to have known in advance what stocks they will change. If we did know that, we could buy the new stocks and sell the outgoing stocks in advance of their announcement. That’s one reason they don’t publish it. However, the black box index goes beyond that. They couldn’t publish it before they decide the changes – they didn’t know either what the output would be until the committee members gave their input. Though many indexes may appear more quantitative (systematic decisions based on predefined rules) they are just as qualitative based on judgement and opinion (an Index Committee makes the decisions, so you don’t actually know what they’ll decide – it isn’t so “rules-based”). My point is: we couldn’t have known the outcome in advance because there was an internal meeting involved to decide.

But an index fund investor doesn’t really need to know this information in advance. Neither does an investor in any investment program. That’s why they are an “investor”. If they are a “portfolio manager” or “trader” they can do it themselves and make their own decisions deciding every little detail. When we choose to invest in any fund, index or not, we necessarily leave part of the process to the deemed expert. In the case of the index, the expert is the index provider like S&P Dow Jones Indices.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average index is totally transparent in regard to its holdings, but a black box in regard to how the additions and deletions are decided.

Stay tuned: I’ll get into this more next week…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 288 other followers

To learn more about the Dow Jones Industrial Average, visit its learning center which shows the Ins & Outs of the Dow since 1896 and read Dow Jones Industrial Average Historical Components.

Are Leveraged ETFs Driving Market Volatility?

Believe it or not, there are some people involved in the investment industry who are against Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). ETFs provide transparent exposure to a wide range of global markets at a low cost. ETFs have allowed us to gain access to return streams many didn’t have access to just a decade ago. For example, if you want to trade Silver, you can now get that exposure with an ETF (SLV). Previously, you would have to buy actual silver bars and deal with them. Or, trade silver actual futures or options. There is nothing wrong with trading the options and futures, but it sure is simpler to get exposure to that return stream with an ETF in many types of accounts. I monitor 25 different countries in my universe that we can access through ETFs. When I started developing my quantitative trend systems in 2001 to 2003 I decided to apply them to sector and country ETFs instead of futures as most others did at the time. ETFs have changed the way we get exposure and it’s a good thing.

Since the May 2010 Flash Crash (when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped -9% intraday for those who may have forgotten).  It was the biggest one-day point decline, 998.5 points, on an intraday basis in Dow Jones Industrial Average history. Some thought it could have be caused by ETFs: Leveraged ETFs, the Flash Crash, and 1987, for example.

It seems ETFs and especially leveraged or “geared” ETFs are an ongoing debate about their potential impacts on the market price and volume – especially at the end of the trading day.

Dave Nadig and S.M. Brorup at IndexUniverse.com explored it again recently in Geared ETFs Drive The Market. Or Not.  One conclusion:

“In the end, even with $3 billion in levered and inverse financials, the daily rebalance trade is still likely “just” a few hundred million on a big day. That gets spread across hundreds of financial stocks in the large- and small-cap indexes.”

The bottom line is it doesn’t seem the amount of money invested in these leveraged or inverse ETFs is large enough relative to the total amount of money in the market to make a significant impact. However, market prices are driven by the most basic economics: supply and demand. Any trading activity has the potential to move a price, but we haven’t yet seen any empirical evidence to say leveraged ETFs are the cause of the big price swings we see more of since 2008. Instead, you may consider that investors and traders are just more responsive to changing prices – good or bad.

There are some things we just don’t know for sure, until we do. In the mean time, I consider the possibilities, give them some deep thought, factor it in, so I am prepared for whatever happens next. All things are always uncertain: enjoy it.

%d bloggers like this: