Most of our trading is based on the consensus opinion of the commercial trader group as reported in the weekly Commitment of Traders report. We track their behavior in a couple of different ways but the simple conclusion is that we want to buy when they’re buying and sell when they’re selling. You’ll see the net commercial trader position plotted in the second pane of the stock index charts, below. We measure their actions on a sum and momentum basis. This allows us to determine how anxious the commercial traders are to get their trades executed at a given price level which, in turn, tells us a lot about the importance of a given area. Obviously, the previous year’s lows are an important area. Based on the collective actions of the commercial traders across the major indices, we’ve issued a COT Buy signal.
This has been a tumultuous week in the equity markets as news events and political leveraging have sent markets in China and Greece down by more than 5% and 11%, respectively. Here in the US, Wednesday’s action attempted to mimic the global markets but was met by a solid bid in the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Index around the Thanksgiving lows. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 found support near the critical 1150 level that has propped it up since late October. We published a short take in Equities.com earlier in the week projecting expected weakness in the equity markets due to the shift in the commercial traders’ position over the last couple of weeks. This has led many to ask exactly how we use these reports to forecast trading opportunities in the commodity markets. We’ll use this week’s piece to explain our approach in detail within the context of today’s equity markets.
We frequently describe the discretionary portion of our COT Signals advisory service as a three step process. First of all, we only trade in line with the momentum of the commercial traders. It has long been our belief, three generations worth, that no one knows the commodity markets like those who whose livelihood’s rest upon the proper forecasting of their respective market. This includes the actual commodity producers like farmers, miners and drillers along with the professional equity portfolio managers using the stock index futures to hedge and leverage their cash portfolios. Tracking the commercial traders’ net position provides quantitative evidence of both the long and short hedgers’ actions within an individual market. The importance of their net position lies in the collective wisdom of this trading group. Their combined access to the best information and models is summed up by their collective actions. The final part of the commercial equation lies in tracking the momentum of their position. Their eagerness to buy or, sell at a given price level is equally important as the net position. We only trade in the direction of commercial momentum. Finally, commercial trader momentum is the bottom indicator on the chart below.
The second step of this process is how we translate the weekly commitment of traders data into a day by day trading method. Commercial traders have two primary advantages over the retail trader. First of all, they have much deeper pockets and they have the ability to make or, take delivery of the underlying commodity as needed. Secondly, they have a much longer time horizon. Think, entire growing season or their fiscal year on a quarter by quarter basis. Therefore, we have to find a way to minimize risk and preserve our capital. We do this by using a proprietary short-term momentum indicator on daily data. The setup involves finding markets that are momentarily at odds with the commercial traders’ momentum. If commercial momentum is bearish, we are waiting for our indicator to return a short-term overbought situation. Conversely, if commercial traders are bullish, we wait for a market to become oversold in the short-term. The short-term momentum indicator is labeled in the second graph.
Once we have a short-term overbought or, oversold condition opposite of commercial momentum, an active setup is created. The trigger is pulled when the short-term market momentum indicator moves back across the overbought/oversold threshold. Waiting for the reversal provides two key elements to successful trading. First of all, it keeps us out of runaway markets. Markets are prone to fits of irrationality that catch even the most seasoned of commercial traders off guard. News events, weather issues and government reports can all wreak havoc unexpectedly. Waiting for the reversal also provides us with the swing high or low that is necessary to determine the protective stop point that will be used to protect the position. Everywhere there is a circle, red or blue, was a trading opportunity in the S&P 500 this year. Within each circle, the highest or lowest value was the protective stop point. It is imperative to know the protective stop prior to placing any trade. This allows the trader to determine the proper number of contracts to trade relative to their portfolio equity. Risk is always the number on concern of successful trading. Currently, the protective stop levels are 17980 in the Dow, 1189 in the Russell 2000 and 2079 in the S&P 500.
Currently, the Dow, S&P 500 and Russell 2000 all contain this same set of circumstances. Given the lofty valuations, the speed of the recent rally and recent global economic developments it seems prudent to expect a retreat from these highs. Clearly, that is what the commercial traders, who were MAJOR buyers at the October lows believe is about to happen. We’ll heed their collective wisdom as they’ve successfully called every major move in the stock market for 2014.
The commercial traders have been on fire when comes to predicting the stock market in 2014. I suppose this makes sense since they’re the ones with access to the best information and modeling available. This explains the huge moves we’ve seen in their net positions based on the Commitment of Traders reports. Somehow their neural and social networks have put them in the right position for nearly every trade this year as you can see on the chart below.
Here’s a snapshot of one of the programs we’ve written that’s also been published in Futures Truth. The program is based on following the commercial traders’ actions based on the data collected in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) weekly Commitment of Traders Report.
We track the net position of the commercial trader category as well as the momentum of the pressure they’re putting on the market and use that as the basis for determining when to be long the Russell 2000 futures.
Here are three more Mechanical Commitment of Traders Programs that you can combine into a single equity curve.
You must register by email verification to access all 33.
John Mauldin recently wrapped up his annual Strategic Investment Conference and shared some insights from his illustrious speakers. In his world, the information he passed on in his summary was simply nuggets. In my world, I had to go digging for context to put it all together. As a trader, I live in a day-by-day world. As such, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture and at times, the proper context from which to view the macroeconomic landscape. Reading the notes from Mauldin’s speakers clearly illustrated two main points for my own trading.
The stock market doesn’t seem to know whether good news is good or bad news is good. The equity markets have sold off between 4 and 6 percent since we published this key reversal in early March with the small cap Russell 2000 and Nasdaq 100 tech stocks peaking a month before the big Dow and S&P stocks rolled over. April’s unemployment report supplied the catalyst for the Dow and S&P sell off but again the question becomes, “is bad news still good for business friendly easy monetary policies or, does good news mean we’re finally back on track?” Based on a number of factors, it appears the answer is somewhere in the middle. The Goldilocks equity market likes its data neither too hot nor, too cold.
Actively participating in the markets comes with the understanding that the trader’s gut will be checked frequently and deeply. The primary cause of this is the trader’s degree of certainty in an uncertain world. It’s been proven over and over again that once an individual feels that they have enough information to make a decision, they will. Additional information provided after the fact typically raises the degree of certainty that the correct decision was made, rather than raising the degree of accuracy. So, I sit in front of the Federal Reserve Board’s announcement this afternoon involved up to my eyeballs in the US Dollar, Euro currency, 10-year Treasury Notes and the Russell 2000 stock index.
Each one of these positions is the result of mechanical trading programs that I’ve developed, tested and traded. Therefore, there are no arbitrary decisions or adjustments to be made. This leaves me in front of the screens sitting on pins and needles waiting for a range of possibilities to materialize. Given my experience with the markets, I expect the outcome to be somewhere in the middle. Rarely does it turn out one sided either positively or, negatively.
Let’s review the possible outcomes and the gut wrenching turmoil that comes with sitting on several large positions as I try to close out the books for 2013. My oldest position on the books is short the Euro FX. I stand to profit if the Euro currency weakens against the US Dollar. I’m short the market near the top of its range based on my research into the Commitment of Traders Reports. I know that there’s about a 60% chance the Euro will back off these highs by about a penny and a half. However, the market’s continuing consolidation near these highs puts me in a position where I could be stopped out of the market with a loss even before the Fed announces its decision this afternoon. The market’s proximity to my stop loss order contributes greatly to my angst.
The opposing position to the Euro is my long US Dollar Index position. Again, I’m long the US Dollar Index against a basket of currencies, which is dominated by the Euro. If the Fed suggests that they will begin to taper quickly, the Dollar should rally. Pulling stimulus out of the economy will place fewer Dollars in future circulation thus, increasing the value of the Dollars already in the market. The Dollar would rally and the Euro would fall. Both of my currency positions would be profitable.
Tapering by the Fed would most likely crush my 10-year Note position. Frankly, the discretionary trader in me can create the strongest case for owning 10-year Notes and betting against taper talk. Based on my analysis of the commercial traders in the 10-year Note I fully expect any decline in Treasury prices to be short lived. Commercial traders have accumulated their largest net long position in the 10-year Note since April of 2005. Commercial traders have dominated the big moves in the Treasuries with uncanny accuracy. If they’re right about no taper talk this afternoon, Treasuries will rally substantially and I’ll profit from my position….while losing on my currency trades.
This leads to my final position. I use a pretty fancy program for developing my day trading systems. Whereas my swing-trading program is based on the fundamental data inferred from the collective positions of the markets’ participants, my day trading programs are strictly technical. Knowing that the markets will unfailingly put a man to the test, it should come as no surprise that my day trading programs now have me long two units of the Russell 2000 stock index heading into this afternoon’s announcement. Furthermore, while I have some expectations of how the currencies and Treasuries will react to the Fed’s decision, the stock market’s reaction is far less predictable. If the Fed tapers, the stock market may rally further based on the assumption of a strong economy leading to further gains. However, the collective reaction could very well be violently lower as tapering could signal the end of the free money that many believe has fueled the rally to this point.
Discretionary traders face conflicting data like this all of the time and pick and choose which markets they’re in and when they’re in them. Systematic traders follow the signals generated by their programs without question. The cruelest aspect of trading is the market’s uncanny ability to seek out a traders’ weak spot and twist agony’s knife. I’ve been actively trading for more than 20 years and the trepidation of a pending report never goes away. This is where the classic line, “Plan your trade. Trade your plan” has the most value. Remember, additional information acquired after the fact doesn’t increase the odds of being right, it simply tricks the mind into greater certainty of the existing thought pattern.
The equity markets have just been rip roaring strong. Companies like FedEx, Google, Morgan Stanley, Walt Disney and Boeing have all gained more than 40% this year. The equity markets have made new all time highs, eclipsing the pre-crash highs from 2007 with hardly a shudder and soldiering on past the tech bubble highs of 2000. Recently, the technical analysts at Merrill Lynch came up with a four-year target of 2300 in the S&P 500. This is based on their analysis of the long-term pattern that was triggered by the new highs. The S&P 500 has climbed more than 150% since March of 2009. While I’m the first to admit that I’ve left a lot of money on the table by not sticking with the long side of equities, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there’s always another trade. Therefore, I will not be committing new money to the long side of the equity market at these levels in 2014.
The way I see it, there are two opposing forces at work here. First, we have the Federal Reserve Board that keeps pumping money into our economy. The Fed continues its easy money policies indefinitely. There are seven voting members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Six of them have been broadly categorized as dovish, in favor of easy money/stimulus. There are four more rotating members from the national Federal Reserve Banks. This is where things may get a bit interesting. Three of the rotating members gaining a vote in 2014 are centrist to hawkish. While the doves are still clearly in control, especially with Janet Yellen expected to assume the Presidency of the Board, the dialogue in the minutes of their meetings could change substantially.
The easy money policies have favored the equity markets in a couple of different ways. The artificially depressed interest rates have forced investors to accept more risk for returns that used to be outside the scope of retiree investing. The stretch for yield has driven a boom in riskier corporate bonds as investors move down the ladder in an attempt to maintain their portfolio’s value. This has caused a surge in lower credit bond prices reminiscent of the sub prime mortgage debacle of the mid 2000’s. Investors’ lack of satisfaction with the governmentally manipulated yield curve has led them to seek returns in the stock market specifically, through high yield investments like Real Estate Investment Trusts and utilities. What has gone unnoticed is the disappearance of nearly half of the companies listed on U.S. exchanges. Therefore, there’s more money than ever chasing a smaller number of stocks in the last 25 years.
Secondly, we have reached valuations that bode poorly for long term investing. Research abounds on the usefulness of long-term valuation models. Very simply, expecting these returns to continue through long-term investment at these valuations would set an historical precedence. Anything can happen in the world of markets but the odds clearly show that bull markets do not begin when the P/E ratio of the S&P 500 is above 15. The S&P 500’s P/E ratio currently stands above 19 and Nobel Prize winning Yale economist Robert Schiller’s cyclically adjusted price earnings (CAPE) ratio is over 25. Both of these will continue higher as long as the equity markets continue to climb. Neither is sounding the, “Everyone to cash,” alarm bell. Their history simply suggests that it would be foolish to expect these multiples to continue to climb and climbing P/E ratios are necessary for stock market growth.
Closing in on 2014 has left many money managers whose performance is benchmarked against index averages scrambling to catch up. There are two ways a manager can do this. First, wait for a sell off and try to buy in at a discount. This is part of the reason that the weakness in July, August and October was so quickly recovered. Second, apply leverage so that the manager’s fund gains more than $1 for every $1 the market moves. Leverage seems to be the move of choice. This year has seen a huge inflow into equity mutual funds, which have to be benchmarked to their index. By comparison, each of the last two years saw net equity mutual fund outflows. The added influx of cash has led investment managers into the futures markets, specifically the S&P 500 futures. The most recent Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Commitment of Traders report shows a 10% growth in leveraged longs as well as a 5% decline in leveraged shorts. Finally, margin debt on the stock exchange itself has also reached an all time high.
The case I’ve laid out says nothing about where we’re going. Liken this presentation to a new home survey. The place has curb appeal. The neighborhood is growing. The government is supporting its growth. Each new home sells for more than the last. What could be wrong with buying now? Well, the inspector may inform you that everything you believe to be true is resting on a shaky foundation. The house may stand for years or, not. Personally, I’d rather be in on the ground floor than looking for a window to jump out of having climbed in at the top.