If over the past six months or so it has seemed as if you were partying like it was 1999 it might be time to reevaluate your stance. One thing that we have been taking a closer look at lately is the pricing of risk. Obviously when investors think that risks are low they will demonstrate risk seeking behavior. We have seen this as the SP500 has climbed 56.6% from the March lows to the highs on 8/28/09. With a rise like that you would think that 2008 never happened, of course if you believe that then you also believe in a land of make believe with money trees, the fountain of youth, and SI models for all of us.
Of course some investors counter saying that while things could be better we are seeing the beginning of a recovery. They then say that while the market will likely climb slower, that it will still climb higher.
While the above scenario is possible, anything is possible. The more important question is to decide if the rewards outweigh the risk involved in being long equities right now. Or even if at this point the better risk reward trade is to the downside.
Lets look at a few “risk gauges” or “fear indexes” as the press likes to call volatility indexes. The first is of course the VIX. After spiking to all time highs in October and November of 2008 we are already well on our way towards what was considered a “normal” level back in early 2008 before Bear Stearns. The potential risks were obviously very mispriced at the beginning of 2008, are they mispriced again? While likely not as off as they were at the beginning of 2008 we still think that there are a lot more real and potential risks then the market is currently pricing in. (Click on chart to enlarge)
What about foreign markets? How do investors perceive the potential risks abroad? Well if the VDAX is any gauge then investors see a rosy future in Europe as well. Again maybe there are no big risks and maybe the EU is rock solid. Then again maybe not. With the complete lack of liquidity that businesses have had over the past several months in the EU it is really surprising that the VDAX is back to pre-crisis levels. (Click on chart to enlarge)
German DAX VIX
What about other asset classes? What are investors saying about potential risks? Using the MOVE Index which measures the range in which Treasury yields are expected to move over the next 12-months we can see that even here investors are becoming increasingly complacent. What happened to the runaway inflation that we keep hearing is right around the corner? Right now the market is saying that we will be in a 130 basis point range for the next 12-months. In The Macro Trader weekly newsletter we are long the TLT 20+ Year Treasury ETF and are expecting a bigger move then is currently implied via the MOVE index. (Click on chart to enlarge)
Even in the currency markets we are seeing extreme complacency. Apparently investors the world over are back to selling dollars in exchange for anything. While the USD has its issues other currencies do to. Right now the currency markets are not participating in the Keynes beauty pageant where you are trying to pick the girl that you think the judges will think is the beautiful. No, with the current state of the global economy we are in the least ugly pig contest where we are only trying to find the least ugly. That being said investors do not appear to see a lot of volatility any time soon. (Click on chart to enlarge)
JPM G-7 VIX
Even the emerging market currency volatility index is showing complacency. What happened to the banking issues in Eastern Europe? Apparently they vanished, or at least that is what it seems as though the market is telling us. (Click on chart to enlarge)
JPM Emerging Market FX VIX
Even commodities markets are pricing in realtively low risk. While the price history of the Crude Oil and Gold volatility indexes does not go back as far as we would like, you can get a feel for what is happening as both indexes are dropping at a very steady rate. Do investors really think that volatility will stay that low? What happened to the oil spike if demand comes back? And what happens if gold breaks $1000 on fears of hyper inflation? (Click on charts to enlarge)
Crude Oil VIX
Another excellent tool to evaluate the blind risk taking happening right now in the stock market is the JunkDEX invented by Bill Luby over at VIX and More. By taking an equal weighting of junk stocks AIG, FNM, C, CIT, and BAC you can see how crazy or composed investors are acting. While we have seen, and actually use, an index of high momentum stocks we had never thought of making an index that tracks junk stocks to gauge investors risk appetite.
As you can see in the chart of the JunkDEX below the junk led the market off the bottom and then lagged until the last month when the index shot up +157.36% in a little over a month. While it has pulled back over the last two days we are still in awe that investors are dumb enough to buy this junk at these prices. (Click on chart to enlarge)
VIX and More JunkDEX* vs SP500
After looking at all of this we need to ask ourselves if the rewards outweigh the risk to stay long? Or if we should be flat or short. In case you have not guessed we currently think that the risk reward is pointing to the downside.
Looking at the QQQQ we have a setup with a solid risk to reward situation. As you can see in the chart below the QQQQ has rallied back to its 50% retracement level, its 200-week moving average, and its downtrend line extending from October 2007. While it could of course rally higher we like the risk reward enough to have put on a modest short position in our weekly Macro Trader newsletter. (Click on chart to enlarge)
QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF
While not quite as nice of a setup as the NASDAQ 100, the SP500 also looks like a solid risk reward trade to the short side. As you can see in the chart below of the SPY-SP500 ETF it has rallied up to the upper Bollinger Band and has already started to come back in. We are looking for a move back to at least the $95-96 area. (Click on chart to enlarge)
SPY SP500 ETF
Obviously anything can happen. The market could go up every day for the next year, or it could go down every day, but our job as traders is to look for the best risk to reward scenarios that we can find and place trades on probable scenarios and right now we think the most likely scenario is for the market to at least have a pullback if not a correction back towards its 200-day moving average. Of course if this happens we will see the volatility indexes tick upwards to more realistic levels given our current economic environment.
*Our JunkDEX differs a bit from the one you can see at VIX and More. After looking into it we found that we built the index by simulating a $1000 investment in the index and in the SPY and Bill built it by normalizing the index starting value so we have slightly different values. But don’t worry as the chart looks essentially the same and shows the same investor insanity.
Disclaimer-In The Macro Trader newsletter as well as our accounts we are currently short some QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF and long some TLT 20+ Year Treasury ETF.
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Title: Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed