Tag Archives: futures

Commitment of Traders Report Sees Dovish FOMC

The Commitment of Traders report published weekly by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission breaks down the weekly market participants into several categories. In the age of big data, we reach a point where it’s easier to collect than it is to make sense of. We keep it simple at COTSignals.com by focusing our analysis on the commercial trader category of the Commitment of Traders Report. Subjectively, it makes sense that the people with a hand in producing or, consuming a given commodity have a fundamental sense of value that speculative traders simply lack. Furthermore, producers and end line users of a given commodity base their actions on the best collective models and strategies focused on their singular market. Quantitatively, we’ve proven the correlation and predictive value of their actions time and again.

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Soybean Meal Futures Set to Climb

The grain markets may finally be perking up in spite of declining energy costs and record harvests. We’ve previously mentioned the oat futures as the first of the grain markets to budge in, “Combining Buy Signals in the Oat Futures.” Today, we’re looking at soybean meal and the set of indicators we use to drown out the voices of hyperbole both in print and on TV. Quantitatively speaking, the soybean meal futures have triggered a COT Buy Signal. More importantly, you can see the consistency and magnitude of these plays on the chart below.

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Spread Trading the Russell 2000 Vs. S&P 500

The stock market has made a lot of noise this week with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing above 15,000 for the first time in history. In fact, all of the major averages are up about 18% year to date. There is a general consensus that the massive liquidity operations the Federal Reserve board has implemented are the primary contributor to the market’s rally. However, there are several competing theories as to where the top may be. This week, we’re going to take a look at seasonal tops in the Russell 2000 small cap stock index compared to the S&P 500 large cap index to try and lock in some profits while minimizing downside risk.

The Russell 2000 is a stock index made up of small companies with a median market capitalization value of around half a billion dollars. This compares to the S&P 500 market capitalization average of nearly 28 billion dollars. Another way of putting this in perspective is that the Russell 2000’s largest company by market cap is Alaska Air as compared to the S&P 500’s largest company, Apple. The important thing here is to differentiate the small cap growth stocks of the Russell 2000 from the large caps that make up the S&P 500.

The reason for this is that small caps and large caps tend to behave differently. Small caps tend to lead. Therefore, they overshoot the tops and the bottoms. The smaller nature of the stocks in the Russell 2000 means that it takes less money to move the underlying stock. Small companies are also easier to grow. Of course, extra growth comes with extra risk. The composition of the Russell 2000 changes regularly due to new companies being added while others are removed. The large cap indexes like the S&P 500 are more stable due to the massive size of the companies it’s comprised of. Steady, stable, predictable growth is what is hoped for in the S&P 500.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Sell in May and walk away.” There is a bit of truth to this as the primary stock market gauges are typically flat through the summer with a bit of upside bias and lots of downside volatility. In fact, this seasonality is even more pronounced in the Russell 2000, which tends to bottom in August. In other words, growth is minimal while full risk exposure remains. This is not an ideal risk to reward scenario. Over the last ten years, the Russell 2000 has called the late spring / early summer top correctly eight times. The two years it was wrong were 2008 and 2009 when the markets had already been beaten down. The average profit on the trade I’m about to detail was $4,250 for the other eight years.

There are two different ways to lay this trade out. The complicated way would be to find the least common multiple of the underlying futures contracts and work out the rest of the equation as percentages and then translate the percentages back into dollars and cents. Fortunately, we can simply use the futures contracts as they are and buy an S&P 500 futures contract while simultaneously selling a Russell 2000 futures contract.

This application takes advantage of the Russell 2000’s larger built in multiplier. Calculating the value of the Russell 2000 futures contract is as simple as multiplying the index by its $100 multiplier. Thus, a June mini-Russell 2000 contract trading at 970.00 has a cash value of 970.00 X $100 = $97,000. Meanwhile, the mini-S&P 500 has a built in $50 multiplier. Therefore, the mini-S&P 500 futures contract has a cash value of 1625.00 X $50 = $81,250. Buying one mini-S&P 500 futures contract and selling one mini-Russell 2000 creates a net short cash value of  $15,750 worth of small cap stocks.

The maximum value for this spread position was $16,671 in May of 2011. This represents the farthest the Russell 2000 futures have climbed above the S&P 500. We recently made a high of $16,200 two weeks ago.  Currently, this spread is trading at $15,350. I expect the recent April high to hold. If the market trades above the recent high of  $16,200, I will exit the trade at a loss. Recently, the average price for this spread is around $11,500. Therefore, I will use this support as the first place to look for profits. This sets up a trade that is slightly short the stock market through exploiting seasonal and market capitalization biases. Furthermore, this trade has had a relatively high historical winning percentage and is currently providing us with a 4-1 risk to reward ratio.

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.

Customer’s Question


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.

I received the following email from one of my more erudite customers. I think, between us, we raised more questions than we answered. You will see my response below. Andy, I sent that same article (Swiss Bank say “goodbye to US”) to a European friend that I frequently have global economic discussions with.  He excused it as the “Swiss being the Swiss”.  He said they have been complaining for years as almost all of the European countries have demanded the same transparency from them. He feels that their historic dependence on secrecy and neutrality has been crumbling as the world gets smaller and hasn’t seen them as “playing ball”.  This is the sound of a “baby crying because its not getting its way”.  They used to command respect in international finance, but are becoming far less significant or impactful.  Excuse it.  Ignore it, he said.  It signals desperation, as to lash out against the US is an old European ploy to garner support from there brothers on “the continent”, in a “we stand together” approach.  He reminded me that their list of complaints about the US government approach to the economy and the private sector is, 1) well know , and, 2) the same complaints that you hear in the US itself.  “Who needs them to remind us of the obvious?  Its just rubbish!  Throw it away.”  Interesting …………… As I constantly try to summarize and update my outlook, her are my latest random thoughts……. Although a double dip recession is theoretically possible, what are the realistic chances when money is being printed around the world and interest rates are so low?? As our major companies have globalized over previous decades, and that pace continues to accelerate, is the statistical relevance of the US economic indicators disconnecting from our own stock market?  So many of our prognosticators and experts base there predictions and interpretations on models built from another era.   The rest of the world’s indicators are showing a bottom in place and a standard upturn based upon overprinting of currency and low interest rates – full steam ahead.  The fact is that we have the same, but our banks are holding onto money to protect themselves from the government changing the rules, and the housing glut is feeding the negative impact on household wealth perceptions.  So, our government policy nightmare could feed domestic fears of deflation, economic slowdown, and continued unemployment, while the rest of the world is full steam ahead.  They may worry about potential inflation, fed by the voices of the gold bugs and their own fears based upon many a small country’s own history.  But as you rightly pointed out, it will not be based upon scarcity of labor, material, or capital.  But those three factors usually only come into play at the end of the cycle.  Inflation is prompted by too much cheap money  funding speculation, which fuels growth, expansion, hyper growth and eventually scarcity of labor or material (usually not capital, as what politician in his/her right mind would shut off the spigot which provides their power?)  And since in a globally developing world with 2/3 of the population at poverty levels, and global companies able to readily locate or relocate production to cheaper labor markets – labor inflation will not be a problem.  This leaves only material, raw or manufactured, as the instrument of limited supply – too much money chasing limited supply. And those with true needs for production, will be punished by speculators crowding into their space. Gold is a monetary option, not an inflation indicator.  It is a currency equalizer.  It has risen in response to the drop in the USD, which is in response to our government’s unclear policies.  Gold should drop when these become clearer (the rules of the game) and the game restarts. Although the floor has risen as all currencies are being devalued. Also, has the education of the US investors expanded sufficiently that global investing differentiation has reached the level whereby their personal wealth could be positively impacted by successful investment returns from emerging or global markets, such that they spark retail here?  Or will they focus on reinvesting to rebuild wealth (having been burned recently) and link consumption directly to job security and taxes? We are seeing the condensed cycles we discussed previously.  Easy money has only been around for a year and already everyone’s worried about inflation. So where does that leave me?  With the intention of getting in early and out on time ….. Short term (start of cycle) opportunities would appear to be:  Emerging market stocks, and US stocks of global companies, or banks, small companies with a global labor supply or consumer market but little exposure to materials with potential price spikes or limited supply (SHIT !!!!!! Just realized I’m in the wrong business !!!!)  Perhaps some real estate. Middle term (mid cycle) opportunities would appear to be:  Global stocks and US stocks of global companies, raw materials with limited supply or long windows of new supply coming on stream Long term (late cycle) opportunities would appear to be: Start looking for tops:  to short all stocks, to sell commodity futures, End of cycle opportunities:   Short everything, buy bonds (as interest rates will need to be lowered in the next recession), hold cash (to start buying at the beginning of the next cycle). What should I do today?   Looks like commodities should have a floor, due to cheap money and economic recovery world wide.  So I should stop shorting against minor pullbacks.  Perhaps the only fear of a double dip is domestically?  Although global growth is recovering, it is no where near levels to spark commodity demand – just speculation due to cheap money, and limited alternatives.  Commodities may stay in a range for some time. (When gold retreats, so will many other commodities) Play USD recovery when policies become clearer. Invest in merging markets. Drink wine…. My response: There’s an awful lot to go on here. PhD’s  are working overtime to generate responses to each of your individual questions and you expect me to digest it, whole? I do have a couple of thoughts on some of your points. I’ve read it three times now, and I think I’m starting to wrap my head around it.     1)    Double dip recession – I think it’s very likely if the tax plans go through. It seems to me that taxes will rise and this will hurt our economy both by slowing new employment and, in turn, undercutting federal estimates of planned tax collection. Furthermore, these taxes will provide no long term benefits whatsoever to our infrastructure, our individuals or, our corporations. As you and I have discussed, profits have come through cost cutting and one time stimulus injections. We’re generating zero domestic demand and our exports are increasing, primarily, through the effect of the declining Dollar and its effect on the agricultural markets. Finally, on the inflation/deflation debate of the double dip, I think I’ve gotten my head around to the following argument for deflation as our primary focus. We’ve already had the excess land and labor argument and I think deleveraging has put a damper on capital demand. Throughout the financial crisis, we have g
lobal deleveraging on an unprecedented scale. In addition, the money that the governments are printing is going into a banking system where it is being used by the to fix their own balance sheets. Therefore, the newly printed money is not being lent out, has no velocity and is generating less inflation than would historically be the case.     2)    I tend to think that models have a finite lifespan. Through my experiences in programming them, I have separated quite a bit of wheat from the chaff. There are technical indicators showing our bottom in place like the major divergences in negative momentum from the March lows. There are fundamental indicators like the explosion in jobless claims two months ago or, so followed by declining claims that tends to serve as a predictive indicator. There are the earnings reports, particularly in the financials, that all would indicate the worst is behind us. Remember when the LIBOR (see U.S. Interest Rate Futures) had its own 24 hour window on CNBC through the crisis? I think that globalization has put the U.S. markets in a basket of “tradeable markets.” It’s no different than U.S. investors placing money overseas. Any investor is simply looking for return on investment. As long there are sectors or, markets as a whole, people will design new trading strategies to increase their risk to reward ratios and, in doing so, become less concerned with a market’s internals as the day’s closing price will be the only meaningful metric. This WILL continue to create bubble after global bubble. We will ALWAYS seek out our own financial best interest. The education of U.S. investors is to ride the wave until it crashes then, look for the next one. Ignorance is bliss the whole way into the beach.     3)    Where do we stand in the cycle? The simple version is to invest anywhere there is a growing middle class  with an historically high savings rate, both in population and demographic. That description does not exist domestically.

Volume & Open Interest 101

The following is reprinted from the Chicago Board of Trade

Volume and Open Interest

Next to price, volume is the most frequentlycited statistic in reference to a futurescontract’s trading activity. Each unit of volumerepresents a contract traded. When a traderbuys a contract and another trader sells thatsame contract, that transaction is recordedas one contract being traded. Therefore,the volume is the total number of long orshort positions.Open interest, on the other hand, refers to thenumber of futures positions that have not beenclosed out either through offset or delivery. Inother words, the futures contracts that remainopen, or unliquidated, at the close of eachtrading session.To illustrate, assume that a trader buys 15contracts and then sells 10 of them back tothe market before the end of the trading day.His trades add 25 contracts to the day’s totalvolume. Since 5 of the contracts were notoffset, open interest would increase by 5contracts as a result of his activity.Volume and open interest are reported dailyand are used by traders to determine theparticipation in a market and the validity ofprice movement. For instance, if a marketmoves higher on low volume some tradersmay not consider this an important pricemovement. However, the same pricemovement on high volume would indicatethat an important trend may be emerging.Combining volume and open interest alsoyields an interesting perspective on themarket. If a contract experiences relativelylow volume levels but high open interest,it is generally assumed that commercialparticipation, via the commitment of traders report is high. This is becausecommercial hedgers tend to use the marketsfor longer-term hedging purposes, puttingtheir trades in and keeping them until they’reno longer needed to manage a given pricerisk. Conversely, high volume with low openinterest may indicate more speculative marketactivity. This is because the majority ofspeculators prefer to get in and out of themarket on a daily basis.