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Success Breeds Success

There are several sayings intended to keep us on the right path in our financial lives and in this day of data crunching, quantitative analysis, back testing and the never ending search for the best new method perhaps none is more true than, “Success breeds success.” When I first began my trading career in Chicago, I didn’t spend much time with new traders. Partly because many didn’t last long enough to get to know their last name and partly because I was married with a young child and a lot of bills to pay. I did spend time with as many of the grizzled veterans and established traders as I could. Early on, after what had been one of my worst days, I was full of self- doubt and felt the pressure of the world on my shoulders. I sat in the member’s break room, just off the S&P 500 trading pit with my head in my hands and an untouched cup of coffee in front of me. I hear a chair slide out at my table and a graveled voice of experience ask, “You bust out kid?” I look up to see Bill Katz who had been a member since the blackboard trading days on Franklin Street. I replied that I hadn’t and his point was that as long as you get to come back tomorrow, you’re still doing something right.

 

The point of this story is that many people ask me questions about why I follow the weekly Commitment of Traders Report (COT), what group I follow within the report and, why. The month of November has been a great illustration across multiple market sectors. This week, I’d like to explain how it all plays out.

 

The Commodity Trading Futures Commission (CFTC) tabulates the weekly Commitment of Traders Report based on the trading of several individual groups of traders. Over the last couple of years, in the interest of, “transparency,” the groups have been broken into several subsets as well. For our purpose, we can break it down into the following main categories.

 

Large Speculators – Any trader with an interest greater than the CFTC’s reporting level in any individual market.

 

Small Speculators – All individual traders with an interest less than the CFTC’s reporting level in any individual market.

 

Non-Commercials – Any organization trading in commodity futures with substantial reporting interest not tied directly to the production or consumption of the markets that they hold reportable positions in. These include Commodity Index Traders, Exchange Traded Fund managers and swap dealers.

 

Commercial Traders – Producers or consumers of commodities. These are the true hedgers in the commodity markets. These hedges can be directly tied to gold, corn and oil just as easily as bonds, currencies and stock indexes.

 

Following the commercial traders is, “Success breeding success.” This group of traders has a fundamental understanding of value either through the production of or, the end line consumption of the commodity market in question. These people make the calls on when to stock up on raw materials for future consumption or, when to sell forward production and base their livelihoods on their ability to ascertain value.  Furthermore, in the case of publicly traded companies like British Petroleum, Con Agra or General Mills, their research entreats themselves to the good graces of their shareholders and board members.

 

November’s trading was an excellent depiction of this mechanism at work. This month saw very strong rallies in metals, grains and the stock markets.  In these three market sectors non-commercial traders fueled the rallies. In fact, we saw soybeans, platinum and palladium either reach or, nearly reach record historical buying levels. The one thing these markets all had in common was momentum. These market sectors had all been in established upward trends. Many of the non-commercial traders represent commodity funds and exchange traded funds, which are obligated to maintain certain percentages of each market in their portfolios to match their disclosure documents. This forces them to buy more on the way up and sell more on the way down to maintain the proper allocation percentages. Their actions in the marketplace are mechanical and take little account of a market’s value when making their trading decisions.

COT Extreme Worksheet

Commercial traders played their hands like the World Series of Poker for the month of November. These same markets that rallied on the strength of non-commercial buying managed to reach their highs just as the threats of European solvency issues and a Chinese slowdown came in to turn the tide. The proactive analysis of the commercial traders throughout these recent market tops allowed them to position themselves favorably for the markets’ coming declines.  Their selling was quite obvious on the screens and reported by the CFTC in the COT report.

 

These reports also show us that the commercial traders have been active buyers of the energy market, decreasing their current net short position by more than 25% in the last week. This is representative of their perception of value in the face of the sell off early in the month in a market they’re expecting to be headed to new highs sometime in the near future.

 

There’s no shame in following the success of others. Following value driven trading actions by people whose livelihood depends on their successful analysis rather than the trading actions of someone following an allocation formula is my present day version of finding successful traders to guide me in the break room.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Managing Volatility with Options

Last week we discussed the growing volatility in many of the best trending markets of the year. We noted that the uptick in volatility had to do with three primary sources. China’s attempt to cap inflation and put the breaks on their over heating economy, Irish bank solvency issues and the nervous anticipation surrounding Spain and Portugal and finally, money managers who were late to arrive are trying to capture year end performance and match their benchmarks. We can now add some certainty to last week’s assumptions. China did raise their rates. The European Union is actively striking a deal with Irish banks as well as taking an official look at Spain and Portugal and finally, money is flowing into stock index futures.

 

We can see through the Commitment of Traders data that commodity trader index funds are flowing into the stock index futures. This group has added approximately 50,000 contracts on last week’s minor correction and contributed greatly to the market’s ability to close virtually, unchanged for the week. Money managers will frequently use the added leverage of futures when chasing performance on the long side of the market or when hedging the risk of their portfolio when a downturn is expected. The fact that this buying pressure has been more than offset by commercial short selling only increases the uncertainty at these levels as the market’s largest players fight it out with ever growing conviction.

The same pattern is playing out in several sectors as these forces work their way through the markets. We’ve seen soybeans rally nearly 36% this year and silver was up 67%. The commodity market’s biggest winner for 2010 was cotton. Cotton was up more than 125% until news began leaking out of Asia that the textile industry was slowing down. These markets have all contracted considerably over the last two weeks as questions persist about the health of the global economic system and the stability of international trading relationships are re-examined.

 

Taking a look at any of these charts quickly makes clear two things. First, the trend is most definitely higher. Two, the pullbacks in these markets, when calculated on a dollar basis, are large enough to test even the strongest of commodity bulls. Commodity markets are leveraged instruments whose contract sizes were determined many, many years ago when prices were much lower. Consequently, the dollar value of the same percentage swings is much greater at these elevated prices. For example, a five percent swing in cotton at this time last year translated to a $1,671 swing in your account balance. Today, that same five percent swing is worth nearly $3,000.

 

The question that I’ve been asked most frequently over the last two weeks is, “How can I trim the dollar value risks of my commodity account while maintaining a comfortable diversification in case the stock market craps out in the face of a Euro Zone meltdown and a constricted China?”

 

My first response is that some commodities offer multiple contracts in various sizes. There are currently four listed contracts for gold. These range from the full size, 100-ounce contract down to a micro contract of 10 ounces. If this doesn’t work for your market of interest, I suggest using options to construct a hedge on an existing position or limit the risk when initiating a new one. Many people hear the word, “options” and their eyes glaze over as their memory drifts back to trigonometry and exponential curves. A better way to think of options involves using the insurance industry as an example.

 

Insurance is used to transfer risk. Buying the policy limits the potential of loss for a fixed cost up front. The seller of insurance collects a fixed fee up front while assuming the liability of the risk associated with the policy. This means that there are two ways trade options. Buying an option provides you with full protection for a flat fee. However, like most insurance policies, you may never have a covered incident to collect on. The premium you’ve paid in for the coverage you’ve selected will expire just like any other policy. The alternative is to be the seller of the option. You will collect the premium up front and if there is no collectible claim during the period, you keep the all of the premium when the contract expires.

 

I’d like to introduce one technical term for options trading and provide one example of how this all fits together. Insurance agents have actuaries. Actuaries are the number crunchers that provide them with the expected payout on any given policy. They’re the ones that make car insurance more expensive for a 16-year-old boy than for his 40-year-old mother. In options trading, the actuary is called, “delta.” Delta determines the probability that that option will be, “in the money,” at expiration. If an option is in the money, then it would be a collectible insurance incident. Delta is a probability and is bound by the 0% to 100% probability scale.

 

Given the large imbalance of positions in the stock market, options can be used based on the degree of protection one wishes to purchase. An option with a delta of 15 means that the market believes there is a 15% chance that the it will qualify as a covered incident on the policy issued. This option can be used to provide 15% protection to an existing position or, cut the contract size of the given market by 15%. Either way, the option can be combined with a futures position to limit the volatility of the account’s balance. Given the magnitude of the global issues being discussed and the elevated levels that many markets are still trading at, limiting the volatility of the account’s cash balance seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

 

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Natural Gas Bottoming?

November natural gas may very well be forming a tradable bottom at these levels. There are several reasons for this.

1) Seasonal patterns in November natural gas tend from the last week of August through the first week of September.

November Natural Gas Seasonal Chart

2)The commitment of traders commercial category continues to add to their positions, adding 11,000+ contracts last week which places them within shouting distance of their all time record long position. Perhaps, more importantly, commercial traders are becoming increasingly bearish on crude while building net long positions in natural gas.

3) The crude oil spread versus natural gas is bumping up against solid resistance at crude oil priced at 20 times the natural gas price. This is reflective of the commercial traders price action.

4) The COT Signals triggered a buy signal for Monday’s trade which corresponded with a technical breakout to the high side.

There are two natural gas futures contract sizes. The full size carries a margin of $5,400 and recent average day range of $1,600. The mini contract is 25% of the full size contract. The margin requirement is $1350 and its daily range is around $400.

Please call with any questions.866-990-0777

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk in investing in futures.

Is the Commodity Pullback Over?

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk in investing in futures.

The last two weeks have brought considerable pullbacks in major trends including, the stock indexes, metals, grains and energies. We’ve also seen the most convincing U.S. Dollar rally in a year. This seems like a good place to take a step back and assess our positions on the broader markets.First, let’s break down the numbers and the correlations. The march of the commodity rally has been timed by the Dollar’s decline for nearly a year. Over the last month, we’ve seen the Dollar rally about 4% off of its lows. The rally became news over the last three weeks. Looking at a weekly chart, one can see that this is the first time the Dollar has taken out a previous week’s high and not immediately, closed lower the following week. Fortunately, we were able to see that the commercial trader’s momentum by using the Commitment of Traders Report had turned bullish on the Dollar beginning around Christmas time and we finally published a buy signal on January 19th’s COT Signals.The issues facing the commodity markets are twofold. First, the Dollar’s decline made our raw materials cheaper to purchase on the world markets. Secondly, as the commodity markets rallied, Commodity Index Traders, (CIT’s), are forced to buy more futures contracts as the value of their index rises. They are required to maintain a certain percentage of their indexes value allocated to the markets as stated in their prospectus. Consequently, as the commodity markets have declined, they’ve been forced shed contracts to maintain their waiting. Their influence on the markets can be seen in the disproportionate moves in the commodity markets – both on the way up, and on the way down. This is one of the reasons why the Dollar’s 4% rally has created the following declines:6.5% – 8% in the stock market15% give or take, in the grain markets15% in silver10% in platinum5% in gold14% in crude oil13% in unleadedOak, so where do we stand? Throughout this decline, the Commitment of Traders Report has seen commercial traders increasing their rate of buying in the raw materials markets and increased their selling in the stock indexes to correspond with their buying of the Dollar. We have watched the momentum of their purchases increase in the raw materials just as the Commodity Index Traders positions have declined and watched the opposite hold true in the negatively correlated U.S. Dollar vs. stock indexes. This is the classic example of why we follow the momentum of buying or selling within the commercial trader category. We’ve been patiently waiting and waiting with relatively few trading opportunities. As of Friday, we reached oversold levels in many of the markets that still maintained bullish momentum. Beginning on Tuesday’s trade, our proprietary indicator began ticking out buy signals in the energies and metals. This was followed immediately with buy signals 9 other markets. This means that our methodology has kicked out 16 buy signals in the last two days. That’s 16 buy signals out of 36 markets tracked. Finally, I would like to briefly note the background themes over the last month as this has built. We have the Dollar devaluing concerns of the health care bill which were mitigated by Brown’s victory. The equity market concerns over earnings realized through labor market cost savings and finally, the governmental budget issues which are beginning to kick out inflationary signals in our own programs. Our end of January position leaves us with reasonable demand for raw materials and inflationary concerns over the bond market leading to weakness in the stock indexes.