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Some Thoughts On Market Timing Part-1

This is the first in a series on what timing is, what it isn’t, and some right ways to do it. 

In recent days I have been experimenting with one of our proprietary indicators to expand its use. I named this indicator a “Risk Index” with the idea being when the indicator is high the risk are low and when the indicator is low the risks are high. As you can see in the chart below a higher percentage reading indicates a more favorable market and a lower reading indicates a less favorable market.

US Equity Risk Index

US Equity Risk Index

Our risk index is simply the percentage of out timing models that are bullish or bearish each week. For US equities we run 10 different models that look at trend, valuation, interest rates, inflation, sentiment, breadth, and intermarket relationships. I estimate that 53% of the individual components in the 10 models are equity trend based. There are a few reasons for this but the most important gets at the heart of timing. We use timing tools to help us first lower risk and in a distant second to increase returns. It turns out that trend following indicators while not a “Holy Grail” do a great job at keeping you in the big moves and minimizing your downside.

Our models come from many places. If you are familiar with Nelson Freeburg, Marty Zweig, and Ned Davis you would recognize a few of the models and would be able to see the inspiration in the other models.* Five of the 10 are straight from their material and the other five while homegrown take inspiration from their work. All the models have been backtested and while most of them slightly improve returns they all drastically improve drawdowns which is our primary goal.

So if each of these models is solid in its own right why would we take a consensus approach? There are several reasons but the two that stand out are that you never know when the market is going to change and invalidate a model. Now we can stand a prolonged period of under-performance but we cant handle a catastrophe.  If a model underperforms for a long enough period of time we would take it out if we could see that something had changed. As an example I once created a breadth based system that I was able to backtest and it generated low 20% returns with the worst drawdown being just over -7%. Well I got to use it for about a year before decimalization came and within weeks the results when to hell. I suspected something was off but it took a few more months to confirm it. I still update it and monitor it as it displays a certain segment of market behavior but its risk/reward is no longer favorable.

Of course most of the models in the risk index are based on weekly data and are longer term in nature. Still the risk is very real that something changes and some of them cease to be useful. By taking a consensus approach any downturn based on a degrading model can be minimized.

We are not going to get into the specifics of each model but instead how almost any model, in this case a consensus model, can be used. Don’t worry because in a future post we will go over how to build a simple but effective long term timing model.

So we have a US Equity model that is based on the buy/sell signals of 10 separate timing models. How can we use it? We could backtest it and see what readings give the best risk/reward and trade it that way but what inspired this post was the idea that we would just invest X% of a portfolio depending on the reading. If the model said that 50% of the models were on buy signals we would invest 50% of the portfolio and change it each time the buy signals percentage changed.  If that went well, it did, and sufficiently cut risk, it did, we could then experiment with different levels of leverage.

We did this with the data we had on hand and got the following results. Trading SPY-SP500 ETF, and using the total return series so that includes dividends, we got the following results. Buy and hold did fine on the upside but had a -50.77% drawdown. Timing trailed a bit on the upside but only suffered a -13.67% max drawdown. Finally by using a full 2X leverage we were able to cut buy and hold risk in half and increase returns by 1.89 times. In case you are wondering by using only 1.2X leverage you beat buy and hold by a few bucks but your max drawdown is still under -15%.

Risk Index SPY Returns and Drawdowns

Risk Index SPY Returns and Drawdowns

Looking at a chart of the equity curves for each of the strategies you can see how timing plus leverage killed buy and hold. Of course while max drawdown was far less the intermittent drawdowns were sometimes larger. Take 2011 for example when the market corrected just enough to turn the model down to 10% bullish only to rocket higher. That is the main risk to any system as you can get whipsawed in and out during a longer term trend. Of course anytime you are using leverage you can expect to have higher volatility at times as you are seeking higher returns.

Risk Index Equity Curves

Risk Index Equity Curves

Looking at the individual drawdown charts shows just how risky buy and hold is as the SPy-SP500 ETF was down over -50%. This of course requires a 100% return just to get back to breakeven.

Buy and Hold Drawdowns

Buy and Hold Drawdowns

Looking at the drawdowns for the timing without leverage equity curve you can see that while it has a lot of little drawdowns it has only had three double digit drawdowns since early 2008 with the worst one being -13.67%. It may have lagged in total return but not by much and as such would have been a lot easier to handle. Of course as we discussed one would only need 1.2X leverage to achieve equal returns with buy and hold with less than 1/3 the risk.

Timing Drawdowns

Timing Drawdowns

Finally we have the drawdown chart of the timing strategy but using 2X leverage. As you can see the worst drawdown was half of that of buy and hold. Of course the next two worst drawdowns also hit -20% in contrast to buy and hold which only had one more -20% drawdown. Still the overall risk has been cut in half and the returns almost doubled.

Timing Plus Leverage Drawdowns

Timing Plus Leverage Drawdowns

 

Why do we only have the risk index back to 4/11/08? We are working on extending it back a few decades but as we were building these we had some data limitations on two of our homegrown models. When we finish building them out we will share the results with our subscribers as well as the blog.  For now however we think that capturing most of the carnage of 2008 along with the correction of 2011 does a decent job of what can be accomplished with a good timing model and a few different ways to use it.

One aspect of this model that we like is that is gives a specific allocation percentage instead of just a buy/sell signal. This will be the purpose of a future post but if you go back and read all the Marty Zweig stuff, and Zweig was a timer if there ever was one, he never said to go all in or all out.

“How should you, the reader of this book, react to the constantly changing circumstances? Basically, I think you should shun the idea of buy-and-hold. I consider it a fallacious strategy. In the coming decade we are likely to see more bear markets and deeper ones. To lower risk, there will be periods when you should peel back your investments, in the stock and bond markets. It’s a matter of degree. You don’t have to go 100% to cash but you should cut back as risk rises and invest as risk recedes. I believe my market-timing methods in this book will help you do just that.”Marty Zweig from “Winning On Wall Street”

If you go read Howard Marks book “The Most Important Thing” you will find variations of the same concept. If you are a traditional value guy/gal your heart just skipped a beat as I said Howard Marks in the same post as “market timing”. The reality is that all active management has the same goal-minimize risk and maximize reward. Marks in his excellent book talks about assessing the range of future outcomes and  discusses risk throughout both his book and other writings. Despite different approaches both Marks and Zweig have the same goal. be aggressive when their indicators-be they book values or how much the ZUPI moved-say to be aggressive and back off when things look risky.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research

 

*I can’t write this and not give credit where credit is due. Nelson Freeburg the late publisher of Formula Research was a fantastic guy and his publication as well as correspondence has had a great influence on me. In fact while the idea of combining timing models together was not new, the way in which he did it elevated my thinking to a new level in his January 15, 1998 issue “The Power of a Composite Stock Market Model”. The components of my risk index are very different but if you read that report you can not help but see similarities.  Aside from that report however he put out more interesting and functional models than anyone I know of. If you can get a hold of any, or all, of them you will be better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time For A Pullback In Stocks

After a 72% move higher in the SP500 a lot of bears are saying that the market has gone far enough and that we are due for a new crash that will take us back to and in some cases past the lows of 2008.  While a crash is possible and probably justified we are instead looking for something along the lines of a modest pullback to maybe a 10% correction.

One of our favorite sentiment indicators is that of put/call ratios.  We use the 5-day equity only put call ratio to warn of high risk areas and to point our low risk areas.  As you can see in the chart below we are currently at a reading of .51 which is not only below out “high risk” threshold but is also the lowest reading in over a year.  While the signal could be wrong it is hard to argue that options traders are not overly one sided right now.

5-Day Equity Put/Call Ratio and SP500

sp500-5-day-equity-put-call-ratio

In case you want to see more bearish sentiment look no further than the 10-day total put/call ratio.  Anything below .75 is typically considered very bearish and right now we have a reading of .68 which is the lowest reading in two years.  Needless to say this indicator is also showing that option traders are too bullish.

10-Day Total Put/Call Ratio and SP500

sp500-10-day-total-put-call-ratio

One price based indicator that we use at The Macro Trader fairly extensively is what we call a reversion to the mean chart.  Basically it takes a long term reading of the market, normalizes it, and then gives an overbought/oversold reading.  We then plot one and two standard deviation lines above and below the mean.  As you an see in the chart below we are about 1.5 standard deviations above the mean which is significantly higher than we saw for most of the 2002-2007 bull market suggesting that things are a bit overdone.

SP500 RTM Chart

sp500-reversion-to-the-mean-chart

Add to all of this a TD Sequential sell signal a few day ago and how near we are to a 50% retracement of the crash and things look less like a buying opportunity and more like a selling/shorting opportunity.  Again we are not calling for a new low, just a pullback/correction.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-The Macro Trader is short the SPY-Sp500 ETF

US Dollar Correlations Breaking Down

Over the past year one of the biggest themes has been to short the US Dollar and go long anything that is considered risky.  If you bought stocks, any grade of corporate bond, commodities, even real estate stocks and you would have made money.  Many strategists, The Macro Trader included, used the falling US Dollar as a reason to go long stocks, bonds, commodities, etc.  The reason of course is that since the March bottom the USD and the SP500 have been almost perfectly inversely correlated.  Well that relationship appears to be breaking down right now as the US Dollar has been rallying and other risk assets have not been falling in sympathy.

In the chart below you can see how as the US Dollar has fallen, the SP500 has risen.  In fact when there is a wiggle in the USD there is an opposite move in the SP500.  As you can see in the bottom right hand corner the USD is rallying while in the top right hand corner the SP500 is still looking strong. (Click on chart twice to enlarge)

US Dollar vs SP500

sp500-and-us-dollar

Of course if this inverse correlation is falling apart the correlation between the SP500 and the Euro is also falling.  Apparently, at least for now, you are able to be short the EUR/USD and still be long stocks and make money.  Looking at the chart below you can see almost the exact opposite of what we see with the US Dollar.  As the SP500 has moved higher the Euro has climbed as well until the last few weeks as the Euro has tumbled and equity markets as well as other risk assets have managed to remain strong and in many cases hit new highs. (Click on chart twice to enlarge)

Euro vs SP500

sp500-and-euro

What do we take from this?  One thing is that the carry trade using the US Dollar was not as heavy as many people feared.  Another thing is that the market is always changing and that many intermarket relationships work well in some periods and fall apart in others.  As always it is important that we have solid risk management principles and that we are open to change.  For now we are short the EUR/USD and long equities…but that could change tomorrow.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-The Macro Trader is long several equity index ETFs such as IWF, EWZ, and MOO and we are short the FXE-Euro ETF.

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: US Dollar Correlations Breaking Down
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/12/16/us-dollar-correlations-breaking-down/

Macro Trading Using Relative Strength

Since the start of our newsletter we have been using a relative strength table that looked at Fidelity Select Sector Funds to show what industry groups are leading and which groups are lagging. The relative strength calculation is similar to the style used by Bill Oneil and IBD but is slightly shorter term in nature. We used the Fido Funds due the their price history and breadth of different groups. Now that there are not only enough different industry group ETF’s, but also the needed price history we have revamped the model to use ETF’s instead.

We publish one list for United States industry groups and one that is focused on global ETF’s with several country and a few sector specific ETF’s. These tables are valuable in a few ways. One is that we have developed a trading model based upon them that uses the rankings along with buy, sell, and money management rules. Over time this model has beaten the market with far less risk. The other way that these tables are useful is that they show you what is strong and what is weak.

While this concept is not rocket science we are consistently surprised how little attention it is given by other traders. By using relative strength we can see what is really working and where investors are going. Many times the supposed “hot sector” is not really that hot. By looking at the tables we can see what is really working and what is not. For instance looking at the Global RS Ranking table below you can see the leaders and the laggards. While it is no surprise that Brazil is at the top when was the last time you saw someone on CNBC telling you to buy Indonesia or Turkey? Yeah we missed that segment as well. (click on table twice to enlarge)

Global RS Rankings

Global-ETF-Rankings

Right now this table is confirming to us that for the most part developed nations are weak and should be sold and that emerging markets are strong and should be bought. No, this is not the first or the only tool that told us this same thing but it is one way in which we can systematically be long the best areas of the world and short the worst areas of the world. It also gives us a road map of where investors are putting their money and where they are withdrawing it.

Another point worth noting is that while we are starting to run this as a “standalone system,” the system represents only a part of our portfolio. In our trading and our newsletter model portfolio we use several different methods in order to build a less correlated portfolio trading across asset classes.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-We are long EWZ-Brazil, EWT-Taiwan, and EWM-Malaysia

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Macro Trading Using Relative Stength
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/11/10/macro-trading-relative-strength/

Is Risk Dead? Or Is This A Bear Market Junk Rally?

In our last post we discussed how we at The Macro Trader think that risk is vastly under-priced.  We looked at several different volatility indexes as well as Bill Luby and VixandMore.com’s JunkDEX.  The JunkDEX shows how well stocks like AIG, FNM, C, CIT, and BAC are doing.  As you can see in our previous post “Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed” the JunkDEX  has had a monster rally.  Usually this would signal at least a short term top as speculative fever burns out.   Obviously the rally was not done and we are up since then.

To more quantitatively show the huge run up in risky assets we went looking for some factor based indexes that would show the performance of “good” and “bad” companies.  In our search we came across some custom stock baskets from Goldman Sachs that use Edward Altman’s famous Z-score to separate stocks into strong and weak balance sheet indexes.

The Altman Z-score uses 5 financial ratios.  Altman took the 5 ratios and using statistical techniques was able to build the Z-score which predicts a companies probability of failure.  The higher the score the safer the business is and the lower the score the more danger there is of insolvency.

As was to be expected the performance between the weak and the strong balance sheet stocks has been drastic over the last 6-months.  As you can see in the chart below the low Z-score basket has vastly outperformed the high Z-score basket.  In fact the weak balance sheet basket has done almost twice as good as the strong balance sheet basket of stocks. (click on chart to enlarge)

Goldman Sachs SP500 Strong and Weak Balance Sheet Baskets 6-Months

goldman-custom-strong-weak-balance-sheet-baskets-6-month

While the result is not too surprising it is an example of bad investor behavior.  Academics as well as practitioners have found time and time again that safe low volatility stocks outperform risky volatile stocks over a full market cycle.  In fact if you look at the chart below you can see how the roles between the strong and the weak balance sheet baskets are totally reversed.  The strong balance sheet stocks are positive for the last five years while the weak balance sheet stocks are still very negative.  Another thing to notice is that the junk stocks went down a lot faster and more consistently then the quality stocks when the market tanked over the last two years. (click on chart to enlarge)

Goldman Sachs SP500 Strong and Weak Balance Sheet Baskets 5-Years

goldman-custom-strong-weak-balance-sheet-baskets-5-year

So what are we to take from all of this?  We think that the market is far too speculative given the current economic backdrop.  Earnings while “better then expected” are at record lows, unemployment is at highs not seen since the depression, we are experiencing deflation for the first time in several decades, the consumer is retrenching and not consuming, and really the only true “green shoot” was that it is not yet the end of the world.

Yes, we can go higher from here but the odds do not favor being heavily long right now.  Our basic forecast at The Macro Trader is that in the not too distant future we will have a correction if not worse and we will be able to buy stocks at a better price then where they are currently sitting.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-In The Macro Trader newsletter we are short some QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Is Risk Dead? Or Is This A Bear Market Junk Rally?
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/09/11/is-risk-dead-global-macro-trader/