Tag Archives: long-term

Short Covering Spike in the Sugar Market

The sugar market is currently displaying a number of characteristics that truly define what trading in the futures markets is all about both long and short-term as well as trend and countertrend strategies. Looking at the sugar futures market from a long-term trading perspective it is easy to see that short traders have been in control of the market since the last upward spike in prices last July. The sugar futures have steadily declined under the growing certainty of a large Brazilian harvest as well as declining demand in a slow global growth economy. These factors have combined to push sugar to its lowest traded prices since December of 2010.

All the telltale signs of a solid trend have accompanied the sell off in sugar. For example, open interest has skyrocketed from approximately 70k to more than 350k since the July 2012 high. There are two reasons that open interest swells as the market moves directionally. First of all, the market allows the people who are early to put on the correct position to stay in that position. I know this sounds simplistic but traders with profitable positions can rest easy and let the market do its own work. Secondly, the increase in open interest is attributable to more people climbing on the trend. Other than a minor spike last October, most anyone who has initiated a short position in the sugar futures market has been rewarded with profits quite readily. These two factors work hand in hand inviting more people to board the gravy train of easy trend riding profits.

The downward trend in sugar futures is well founded due to the expectations of a huge 2013 harvest that should be led by a record Brazilian harvest. This is news that everyone is aware of and this fundamental information has attracted good traders to the sell side of the market. Technical traders have also had an easy go of it since what rallies there have been have been capped nicely by the 90 day moving average. In fact, the last time the 30-day moving average crossed under the 90-day moving average was in August of last year. Finally, technical traders on the short side have collected profits due to the orderly decline of the market thus far rather than getting stopped out on any spikes in volatility.

This brings us to the current situation and our reasoning for looking for a buy signal in a downward trending market. First of all, the ballooning open interest happens to occur as the market has begun to stall. The market has traded between 16.69 and 19.25 since February 1st. This is a pretty tight range considering open interest has more than doubled since then. This means that there are more than 150k new short positions in the market over the last six weeks. Furthermore, none of these new short positions have had the chance to accrue much in the way of profits.

Technically speaking, these new short positions should be sweating. The sugar futures made a new low for the move last week, trading down to 17.56 and followed it up with a new low this week down to 17.55. Last week’s trading range was merely 22 points. The last time the market traded that tightly for an entire week was in September of 2010. Furthermore, this week’s new low, by one tick, has now been followed by a breach of last week’s high at 17.78. This creates an outside bar on a weekly basis. This is typically a good reversal signal for the next couple of weeks.

The new short positions will have protective stops placed relatively close to the market since risk should always be the number one consideration when determining a trade’s appropriateness. This week’s action clearly showed that the market has run out of people willing to create new short positions under 17.55. Markets always run to where the action is. The declining ranges combined with this week’s reversal bar lead me to believe that the next move is higher.

I expect the market to make some type of bottom here. However, it is always important not to sell a rocket or, buy a falling knife. We will enter the market through the use of a buy stop order. This means we will only buy the market if it can climb high enough to trigger our entry stop, which will be placed at 17.85. We expect this to begin triggering buy orders all the way up as traders take their profits or losses, accordingly. I expect the market could trade as high as the 90-day moving average at 18.74. More likely, it will stall out between the trend line dating back to July that now comes in at 18.47 and the 90-day moving average, now at 18.74. If our buy stops are filled, we will place a protective sell stop at 17.59, which should limit risk to just under $300 per contract.

Rarely do we find a contrarian play so clearly set up and with such a high risk to reward ratio. If we are right, the market will get us in on the long side just as 150k contracts are washed out on the short side thus creating a technical bottom in line with the seasonal tendency of the New York July sugar futures #11 contract.

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.

Long Only is Not Diversification

The cycle of bubbles will continue. Assets will always chase higher returns. The markets in the United States that are available for the general public to allocate funds to are mostly, “long only.” The general investing public is provided with a number of choices as to what they can buy to invest in. We’ve seen the cycle rotate from sector to sector within the stock market or, between stocks and bonds. Arts, antiques, cars and real estate have all had their periods when ownership was lucrative. Fortunately, being able to short sell commodities with a phone call or a mouse click is much easier than selling a car or a house when the market turns.

Lately, commodities have taken center stage as the thing to own. We’ve seen it in gold and oil and more recently in grains, agricultural commodities and stock index futures. Thirteen commodity futures markets set new records for commodity index funds’ open interest in 2010. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen commodity positions being transferred from the index funds to the small speculators. This transfer of positions from index and commercial traders to small speculators typically occurs near the end of a protracted move.

Bubbles are created through the over popularity of an asset class. The speed of the bubble cycle increases when leverage is involved. We’ve seen this in the stock market crashes of 1929 and 1987 and as recently as May of 2010 in the, “Flash Crash.” The world is still unwinding the over leveraged global mortgage debacle. The new vogue in leveraged assets has been the creation of commodity funds. Commodity funds have provided a long only investment entry into the futures markets for the novice investor. These funds have gone from non-existent to more than $370 billion in equity at the top of the first commodity bubble in 2008. We have since surpassed that total.

The commodity index fund market is no different than the mortgage backed security market was when it was marketed to the public as a way to, “ratchet up returns while providing diversification.” Investment office salespeople need products to sell. These products are usually a good idea at the beginning but, become overpopulated and over valued as a result of a good idea turning into the next big thing and eventually falling of their own weight.

I’ve suggested that the global economy is due to slowdown. Furthermore, the governmental response to the economic crisis has done little to right the long-term path of our economy. Over the last three years, the stock market is higher, reported unemployment is below 10% and gas prices have stabilized. However, it has taken a Herculean effort by the government, which has dropped the Federal Funds rate from 4.5% to 0, expanded the Treasury’s balance sheet by $1.5 trillion and printed $1 trillion on top of that just to bring GDP and our population’s complacency back to where it was at the end of 2007. This is the Government’s form of a leveraged asset, which is also becoming overvalued and overpopulated and is in peril of falling of its own weight.

Diversification among long only assets will not provide the type protection people expect when these markets begin to falter. Over the last five years, there have been 13 weeks when the S&P 500 closed more than 5% lower from week to week. Conversely, there has only been one week in the last 5 years when bonds have closed that much higher. That was the flight to quality run of November 21, 2008. That was the height of the panic of the meltdown. The truth is, when liquidation hits the market, it tends to cross all classes. These are the days when the commentators lead in with, “There’s a lot of red on the board today.” Gold, copper, oil, grains, cattle, etc. have all averaged at least as many large losses as the stock market. Forty percent of these losses coincided with large stock market declines. In this day of instant everything, instant liquidation to cash is only a few mouse clicks away in the futures markets rather than end of day fund settlements.

The futures markets were meant to be traded from the long AND the short side. Commercial traders use this feature to manage their own production and consumption concerns. Individual traders can also have this direct link to the commodity markets. The liquid flexibility of the futures markets allows individual traders to hedge their holdings through the direct use of short selling just as it allows leveraging of outright exposure on the way up.  The right brokerage relationship can make them the perfect tool in the hands of the individual managing their own portfolio as opposed to the long only fund salesman seeking out the next tool in the general public.

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.