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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.

 

 

 

 

 

One Not So Bullish Sentiment Indicator

One indicator that we follow is that of the 5-Day Equity Put/Call Ratio.  In fact it was one of the indicators that helped lead us to call for a correction back on January 12th in our post “It’s Time For A Pullback In Stocks”.  A few days later the SP500 started its 9% pullback.

So what is it saying right now?  If you look at the chart below you can see that the reading on the 5-Day Equity Put/Call ratio is at its lowest (most bearish) level in over four years with a reading of .50. This of course coincides with a near new high in the SP500. (Click on chart to enlarge)

SP500 and 5-day Equity Put/Call Ratio

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

While we aren’t calling for a new correction, we do think that we are likely in for a pullback of sorts before moving higher.  We remain bullish in the medium term as breadth remains strong and many industry groups continue to break out.  While shorting is definitely an option, in light of our longer term outlook we have instead opted to hedge our long exposure with some slightly out of the money options.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-We hold long positions in several industry group ETF’s and puts on the SP500.

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

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

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/

Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed

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)

SP500 VIX

sp500-vix

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

dax-vix-volatility-index

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)

MOVE Index

move-index-merrill-option-volatility-index-treasuries

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

jpmvxyg7-g-7-volatility-index

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

jpmvxyem-emerging-market-volatility-index

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

ovx-oil-volatility-index

Gold VIX

gvz-gold-volatility-index

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

junkdex-vs-sp500-2009

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

qqqq-weekly-chart-short-setup

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

spy-sp500-etf-daily-chart

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.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

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.

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: Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/09/02/mispriced-risk-macro-trader