Tag Archives: stock market

The AP Hack Crash Facts

The first article of mine that was picked up by the Sandusky Register was written in the late afternoon on May 6th, 2010 as I put together the notes for our clients explaining the “Flash Crash,” what and how it had happened. Tuesday afternoon the Twitter account of the Associated Press was hacked and the following tweet was sent from their account, “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” The stock market plunged one percent in less than three minutes. Within five minutes, it had returned to its previous level. Let’s take a look at some of the issues this brings to the trading table.

The market is always the boss. Traders at their desks can employ a thousand models suggesting the market should move in a certain direction. However, anyone sitting at a trading desk or on the trading floors will tell you, when you’re in the market, you’re playing the market’s game on the market’s terms. Therefore, when prices move rapidly and unexpectedly against a trader’s position self-preservation kicks in and the trader exits the position – THEN searches for the catalyst that suddenly turned the market against them. Rule number one in trading is self-preservation.

This mentality is best evidenced by protective stop loss orders that automatically trigger when a market moves beyond the trader’s loss threshold. Meanwhile, another group of traders prefers to exercise their own orders in which case, they’ll manually enter their order as the market exceeds their pain tolerance. These two groups were the ones hit with losses as they raced each other to the bottom in an attempt to unload their positions. For the record, our protective sell stops were also hit on the way down. Think of it as a bank run. There’s always enough cash to cover the withdrawals of those at the front of the line.

The traders most deeply affected by the sudden downdraft and ensuing return to normalcy were the day traders and the high frequency traders. Our position in the Russell 2000 stock index yesterday was a day trade on the long side of the market based on follow through from Monday’s outside day. Monday’s outside day is defined by falling through Friday’s low only to turn around and close above Friday’s high. This is a very bullish signal when coming at the extreme of a recent move. This outside bar combined with some other analysis put us on the long side. Protective stops had been placed and adjusted throughout the trade leading to a small win. In this case, not placing a protective stop would’ve been much more profitable but, what if the Associated Press had been right?

Once the market began to sell off, high frequency traders joined in the game. High frequency trading is day trading without the human input. Humans write the computer programs and the programs being fed the live data stream automatically executes the trades at the exchange. These programs have replaced the scalpers you’re used to seeing on TV in the trading pits yelling at each other. High frequency trading gets a bad rap for increasing market volatility but gets no credit for providing market liquidity. Liquidity is THE most important aspect of U.S. financial markets. Liquidity is why we are the global financial capital. Without liquidity there is no one to take the other side of the trade. Without liquidity there is no market.

Finally, let’s put it all together. The market was quietly trading up about half a percent on light volume when the AP’s tweet was posted. Volume exploded by a factor of 10 as the market declined. The volume surge that was taking day traders and tightly placed protective stops out of the market was being replaced by high frequency trading programs that are ALWAYS called to action by volatility and volume. Ironically, the same high frequency trades that made a killing during the flash crash actually got burnt by the, “Hack Crash” as the market returned to normal faster than newly initiated short positions could be covered at a profit.

There is little predictive value in the events of the, “Hack Crash.” However, there are some key takeaways for traders. First is the importance of protective stops. One never knows what could happen next. Second, verify news reports. I have the AP’s iPhone app, which alerts me to breaking news and had no mention of the tweet until after the fact. Therefore, the corporate disconnect between Twitter and their app was my first clue it was bogus. Finally, cut the high frequency traders some slack. Their programs are based on risk and reward just like our own and the liquidity they provide in times of dramatic events is exactly what allows us to get out of the market and keep some powder dry until the smoke clears.

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.

Capitalizing on Fear in the S&P 500

The S&P 500 is within spitting distance of the 2007 highs. Remember 2007 when the economy was rolling along and everyone used the equity from their first house to buy a second or, third? Home ownership became everyone’s entitlement – the American way. Five years of deleveraging later and we’ve figured out that corporations know how to manage their businesses better than the bureaucrats know how to run our economy. Corporate balance sheets are healthy and Interest rates are at all time lows. Unfortunately, the government can’t figure out spending for a quarter, let alone an entire fiscal year.

We have written extensively on the topic of using stock index futures to hedge your retirement account. Typically, the response is, “How can I sell something I don’t own?” This week we are going to discuss Volatility Index futures. This is a product offered by the Chicago Board Options Exchange and it trades opposite the stock market. Therefore, buying VIX futures provides protection from a downdraft in the stock market while simultaneously limiting the risk of the hedge position.

First, it’s important to understand that volatility in the stock market is primarily associated with fear. Stock market declines put fear into the market’s participants. Fear generates wild swings in the market. Therefore, volatility increases with fear. The stock market collapse of 2008 was even wilder than the post tech bubble crash of 2000. The winter of 2008 saw the average monthly range in the S&P 500 increase to more than 145 points per month. This meant that the stock market had an average range between the month’s high and low of more than 20%. This continued for eight consecutive months.

VIX futures trade monthly and they are a direct measure of the volatility expected within the next 30 days. Therefore, if the price of the VIX futures is 17.00, the market expects that the S&P 500 futures may move as much as 17% over the next 30 days. The all time high for the VIX futures is 80.86, set in November of 2008.

This leads us to the second point. Fear is an emotion. Emotional actions exceed rational behavior in the markets. The all time high in the VIX futures suggested that the market could be priced more than 40% higher or lower from the prices we were trading at the time within 30 days. The S&P 500 closed at 812 in November of ’08. The VIX price suggested that by Christmas, we could’ve been trading as high as 1136 or as low as 487. The reality was that we traded from a low of 730 to a high of 836 in December of 2008. Clearly the imagination of the market’s participants got the best of them.

VIX futures are also an easy market to conceptualize in both pricing and movement. The current price is the market’s expected volatility between now and the expiration of the contract. The April VIX futures are trading at 16.50. That implies a volatility envelope of 8.25% higher or, lower. Volatility must be measured as a +/- envelope.  This suggests that the S&P 500 futures, which are currently trading near 1484, should be between roughly, 1606 on the high side and 1362 on the low side when the April VIX contract expires. The all time high for the S&P500 is 1695 in March of 2000 and the market hasn’t traded above 1600 since September of 2000.

The pricing of VIX futures is simply $1,000 multiplied by the index level. The April VIX futures trading at 16.50 has a full contract value of $16,500. This represents a multi year low. The all time low was 12.77 set on May 11th, 2007 while the previously mentioned all time high of 80.86 goosed the full contract value up to $80,860. May, 2007 was the same month that the S&P 500 traded back above 1500 for the first time since the 2000 tech bubble burst and should help to provide an apples to apples comparison of the relationship between the VIX futures and the broadest stock market benchmark, the S&P 500. The real key is that while the S&P 500 declined by 50% for a potential loss of $37,500 between May of ’07 and March of ’09, the VIX futures surged by more than 600% or, a potential profit of more than $68,000.

The trade that we are looking at hinges on two ideas; One, that political discord among the bureaucrats in charge of the U.S. budget will find a way to add some drama to the markets or, secondly that buying the VIX futures provides a supported position with limited risk as a hedge against another 50% decline in the stock market.

The 3.73 point difference between where the April VIX futures are currently trading and the all time low of 12.77 equals a potential loss of $3,730 dollars per contract, which is about equal to a minimal 5% decline in the mini S&P 500 futures at $3,710. However, any decline more serious than that could set the market’s emotions roiling and we’ve already illustrated the excess returns achieved through owning volatility futures, rather than outright shorting of the stock indices.

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.

Commercial Traders Cap Copper

Copper is frequently referred to as the economist of the metal markets. This is because copper is used in nearly everything that’s made. If it’s not in the final product, it’s certainly in the production facilities and the machines used to make it. Therefore, one assumes that the more copper a business or country buys, the more production they see in their near future. This is part of the reason copper has such a high correlation with rising stock markets. In fact, the correlation relationship between the copper market and the S&P 500 hasn’t been negative since the financial meltdown in early 2009.

The copper market made an all time high in January of 2011 at $4.7735 per pound. Since then, the market has consolidated primarily between $3.25 and $4 per pound. The consolidation continues to tighten and can be easily seen on a weekly chart as the trend lines that define the highs and lows continue to converge. The news will tell you that the reason the market is in limbo is due to the fiscal cliff negotiations and that once a deal is struck, the market will see enough of the estimated $2.5 trillion pent up dollars in the domestic corporate coffers to push it back beyond its highs.

I would suggest an alternative scenario in that the copper market has been fueled by growth overseas in developing markets and that it may have run its course for the near term. The top performing stock market for 2012 is Turkey. Their market is up nearly 50% for the year. Much of their success has been due to their ability to create a stable and labor friendly manufacturing center. Rounding out the top ten for the year are – Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Estonia, Nigeria, Kenya, Denmark, Germany and India, respectively. Germany is the only G7 country on the list and India is the only one of the BRIC’s to make the list. Clearly, this has been a good year for developing countries.

Digging deeper into the numbers behind the copper market we find some signs that the market price may not be supported by the development of the aforementioned economies. In fact, the deeper we dig, the more it looks like the market is being propped up by inflation expectations and speculative purchases. The main issues are the Chinese and U.S. economies since they are the number one and two copper consumers in the world, respectively.

Commercial traders have sold more than 12,000 contracts, about 25% of their position, over the last month and now hold the smallest net long position since late April. This selling has been enough to turn commercial traders’ momentum negative and set up a sell signal as the last bit of this rally has been driven by speculators and index funds.

This type of behavior is typical of a market that is moving sideways. Speculative participants tend to be buyers at the highs and sellers at the lows for two primary reasons. First of all, they’re afraid to miss the next big move. Secondly, they can’t match the commercial traders’ staying power and end up forced out of the market every time the market looks like it’s about to fall. This is exactly why we use the commercial traders to signal which side of the market we should be on and then use the speculators to create a bounce to sell or a dip to buy within the context of our overall outlook.

That being said, we will be looking for opportunities to sell March copper futures on any speculative rallies that stop short of the downward sloping trend line from the January 2011 highs, which now comes in at $3.7330 on the weekly chart. We’ll maintain this stance as long as commercial traders continue their selling pressure as we believe that is what will ultimately force the speculators to abandon their long positions.

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.

Tax Hikes We’ll All Feel

The election is over, the dust is settling and the economic landscape is coming into focus. The fiscal cliff and the Federal debt ceiling dominate the immediate foreground. Both of these issues come down to the business practices of revenues and expenditures.  However, since this is the government and not a business it will be subjected to gamesmanship and hyperbole as both political parties spin their solutions in an attempt to come out, “a winner.” Unfortunately, the reality is that regardless of the spin, you and I will end up paying more for the year that’s already past as well as the coming years.

The post election stock market selloff is no aberration. Wealth, for many has come through the ownership of equities. When it comes to the vast ownership of equities we can quickly narrow the demographic to investors who’ve chosen wisely over the years and benefitted from their patience in the market. However, the economic crisis of 2008 saw the equity markets halved in the blink of an eye. When global market uncertainty is combined with rising estate and capital gains taxes, its no wonder that investors are pulling money out of a stock market that has very nearly recovered to 2007 levels, especially when the rally appears to have run its own natural course.

The estate taxes and capital gains tax increases may seem a bit out of touch with the everyday person but the alternative minimum tax (AMT) is something that will affect more than 70% of U.S. tax payers, according to the New York Times. Here’s the real world perspective you need prepare for. The Washington Post stated that the average income tax refund is $3,000. The expansion of the AMT will levy taxes on individuals earning less than $200,000 and married couples earning less than $250,000. The cost as applied to the middle 20% of all earners will be $888. The net effect will be nearly a $4,000 adjustment to your lifestyle. Furthermore, there will be no tax refund. In fact, odds are you’ll have to pay more taxes instead.

The combined effects of the tax increases for the middle 20% of earners ($40k-$65k) will be an increase of about $2,000. However, it is important to understand that this is an additional pay in, on top of the tax refund you probably won’t receive. Therefore, the net change in your spending habits will have to account for about $4,000 less in 2013. The same numbers for the top 20% (more than $108k) is about a $14,000 difference.

The second part of the fiscal cliff is the debt ceiling. Most of us are now familiar with this term thanks to the political standoff last summer that brought about the first credit downgrade of U.S. Treasuries in history. The debt ceiling is currently set at $16.4 trillion Dollars. The argument over the debt ceiling is the same as our family deciding which bills to pay except, rather than laying out a course of action, the politicians simply ask the Treasury to print more money. These arguments are about funding the same programs that they already passed (but shouldn’t have) in the budget. Technically, if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling then the government has to decide who gets paid and who doesn’t, just like the rest of us.

The debt ceiling has, historically, been a non-event. It has been raised 76 times since it was first enacted in 1962. However, the economic welfare of this country and its citizens is being held hostage by both political parties as they attempt to find a deal that works best for themselves individually, rather than us collectively. Currently, there is talk of forcing the U.S. off the fiscal cliff in order to gain a political advantage as one side blames the other. The sad part is that it really would come down to whom has the best spin-doctor to sell the U.S. population on their version of what happened. After all, it’s not like someone is going to stand up and take responsibility. I believe the reality is that the truth is usually somewhere in the middle and most decisions aren’t as black or white as they first appear. Therefore, very little will be done, just enough to keep us rolling. Alarmingly, that may be the biggest problem of all as we are tossed back and forth between Scylla and Charybdis.

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.

Who is Pushing the Stock Market?

We turned bearish on the stock market rally near the end of August, as a result, we’ve missed out on the last leg of the rally from 1400 to 1450 in the S&P 500. The August highs presented us with a fundamental picture that was becoming increasingly bearish and combined with the European unrest, stepping aside seemed like the appropriate action. The primary analysis simply stated that the forward returns didn’t justify the added risk necessary to capture them. The fundamental picture hasn’t changed and recent metrics suggest most of the big money is also seeking the safety of the sidelines.

Nothing has changed, fundamentally to cause me to change my mind. In fact, several measures of sentiment are becoming increasingly bearish. First of all, the general public continues to support this rally. The Market Vane bullish consensus, Investment Insiders consensus and Consensus, to which I’m a contributor, are all near or, at their highs for the year. Fortunately, it does appear that they’ve finally taken some money off of the table in the last week. In spite of this, they still hold a larger position now than they did at the beginning of the year.

Ideally, the markets would see a shift in open interest, which measures the total degree of involvement, from owning the stock market to selling stock index futures. The further the market rises, the more selling pressure small traders should put into the S&P 500 futures. This would allow them to lock in some gains while still holding their stock positions. Thus, not incurring any capital gains taxes or, missing any dividend payments. The holding pattern as it currently stands looks like it’s ready to leave the small investors holding the hot potato.

Deeper analysis from Barron’s shows that stock market insiders, those who are buying or, selling the stock of their employer has increased to its most bearish level since February of last year. Barron’s insider ratio now stands at 40 sellers to every buyer. This type of selling comes from individual employees and corporate officers understanding that their respective companies cannot continue their bull runs. Recent filings of insider transactions include sales of Allied Nevada Gold Corp., Tiffany & Co., General Mills, Capital One Financial Corp. and Franklin Resources. This type of broad based selling needs to be noted.

Barry Ritholtz published a chart this week detailing the relationships between the business cycle peak and the market peak. There were fourteen occurrences between 1929 and today. The common words of wisdom have always been, “The markets lead the economy by 6-12 months.” His research shows that the average is actually just less than four months. This means you may not have as much time to manage your finances as you thought. I’ll also throw a chart published by JP Morgan this week on market inflection points into the cycles mix. They looked at the ’97, ’02 and ’09 bottoms. All three bottoms saw the S&P 500 double from its lows followed immediately by a 50% decline. The current S&P 500 rally is 113% off the ’09 lows.

Finally, I’d like to translate the metrics we’ve used into real world trading by discussing the behavior of the commercial traders at this critical juncture. Despite the market’s rally, large traders and commercial traders are both pulling money out of the market. Money flow in the Dow Jones is negative for the month and commercial traders began exiting the market in earnest after the first week of September. In fact, commercial participation in the market is the lowest it’s been since August of 2011.

Their declining participation leads to declining market volume. Declining market volume leads to an end of the move. Home runs are hit by sticking with the trend. Clearly, the trend is up and I turned a home run into a ground rule double. Fortunately, the S&P 500 is setting up a chart pattern that may help us cross home plate. The weekly chart shows consolidation at the top accompanied by declining volume. Technically, that’s a setup for a pull back. The trade is to place a sell stop at last week’s low of 1424. This order becomes a sell order only if the market trades that low. Your profits continue to run unless the market trades down to 1424. This also allows a short entry prior to testing support at 1395.

Take heed of the fundamental and technical levels we are approaching in the S&P 500. Use it as a benchmark to compare your other holdings. Many people have been lulled into a false sense of confidence that the market always comes back. I’d like to remind you that the rallies back from the ’02 and ’09 lows were fueled by more and more economic stimulus. Whether you believe that more is on the way or, not wouldn’t you like to protect yourself from the next 50% decline?

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.

Bear Market Debt Ceiling Rally Should be Sold

Trading the stock markets has become, as much about guessing what the next news piece will be from the European Central Bank or the White House as it has market knowledge. News driven markets are notoriously tough to trade. This can be seen in lower trading volumes as market participants wait on the sidelines for things to sort themselves out and then rush in all at once when they think the market has given them an answer. Patience is the better part of valor. Successfully trading news event driven markets means having a sound strategy waiting to be put into action once the dust begins to clear. I think this is one of those times and this is the plan I’ll be implementing.

The debt ceiling and the Greek debt problems are hanging like a black cloud over the stock markets. Many believe that a resolution of these issues will lead to a reactionary stock market rally. I hope this is true because I’ll be selling stock index futures based on the assumption that a post debt ceiling resolution rally will be short lived and that the sell side of the market will be the proper side to trade from.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, I believe that we have been in a secular bear market since the financial meltdown of ’08. Starting with that assumption, we have seen corporate profit margins soar since the market bottomed. However, most of this has been due to cost cutting of both labor and financing. As a result, corporate earnings are at their highest margin since their peak in ’06. This means that it is unrealistic to expect corporate profit margins to continue to rise.

Secondly, if we consider this a bear market rally, which I do, we have measurable statistics that say the stock market has NEVER rallied four straight years within the context of a secular bear market. We are in the third year of a rally, which already puts us into the 17% probability area. Furthermore, the average gain for consecutive up years in a bear market rally is 42%. The Dow is currently trading around 12,500. This is a cumulative gain of 43% from the ’09 close on a year over year basis. This puts us at the tail end of a bear market rally by historical measures.

Thirdly, we face structurally high unemployment here in the U.S. We need to average 115,000 new jobs every month just to maintain 9% unemployment. We averaged 78,000 per month throughout 2010. We are slightly ahead of pace in 2011 averaging 124,000. However, to lower the unemployment rate by 1%, we would need to average 240,000 per month for an entire year. The best decade ever for job growth was the technology driven 90’s when we averaged 181,000 per month for the decade.

Declining tax receipts based on lower corporate profits, lower employment numbers and disgruntled consumer sentiment combined with legislatively burdensome small business policies leaves little room for new hiring and small business growth. The last twelve months has seen the weakest small business growth in more than a decade.

Without another technological revolution or the mass renovation of our countries’ infrastructure, we will continue to fall behind developing nations.

These are the fundamental forces at work behind the constant news reports of who’s to blame for the last failed debt ceiling proposal and why I’ll be looking to sell the market. Therefore, when it is finally resolved, and I believe it will be. I expect the market to rally as a sigh of relief brings fresh money to the market like lambs to the wolf.

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.

Diversification is not Immunization

Every market crash or bursting bubble is like the ice cream truck calling kids to the street. Portfolio managers and re-balancers know they get the opportunity to truly be heard only when something goes wrong.

Most people live their lives reacting to new stimulus. If something hurts, they don’t do it again. If something works, there’s no reason to change. Portfolio managers attempt to anticipate areas of pain and mitigate that pain wherever possible. However, there are times when efficient portfolio analysis, modern portfolio theory and just plain common-sense investing will still force one to endure periods of pain.

Portfolio composition is usually based on a collection of assets that tend to relate to each other in a predefined and expected way.

There are three basic relationships:

— Positive correlations: Two asset classes rise or fall together, predictably.

— Negative correlations: One class rises when the other falls and vice versa, predictably.

— Non-correlational: No predictable relationship.

The right balance of these relationships across multiple asset classes will smooth out returns and help to insure the predictable performance of one’s portfolio.

There’s an old saying from statistics 101: “Correlation does not equal causation.” We can measure how markets move relative to each other, but without understanding their relationships, we can’t say for certain what caused what. Sometimes, understanding “why” has a bigger impact on one’s portfolio than the actual mix of assets.

Last week we saw many markets fall. The stock market is lower, as are precious metals, bonds, grains, coffee, sugar, cocoa, crude oil and the energy markets. Many of the classic market relationships people use to balance their portfolios failed to behave in the anticipated manner and did not balance the risks associated with investing. Markets can and do, behave in unanticipated ways.

Commodity markets have been trending toward generally higher prices. The stock market has also had a nice rally and is up more than 9 percent since Labor Day. During this time, the Federal Reserve Board also announced a second round of quantitative easing to keep interest rates low and weaken the U.S. dollar. Consequently, bonds have rallied in price while the dollar has fallen.

The sudden about-face in many of the markets is twofold. First, the news regarding Ireland’s financial health has become increasingly pessimistic. Ireland was on the financial default radar, along with Greece, more than six months ago. Ireland has been very proactive in implementing domestic austerity measures to rein in spending. Furthermore, Ireland has also steadfastly maintained its financial issues are limited to a few banks that became overleveraged during their own housing bubble.

Unfortunately, the European Union has the same fears about Ireland and Greece we did in the U.S. with our own domestic banks and that is that every bank was more overextended than initially thought, requiring an even bigger lifeline to maintain solvency. Finally, Portugal and Spain are also on the verge of financial insolvency themselves.

The second fear to hit the markets was China’s announcement Wednesday its economy may be overheating again. Rumors are circulating China may follow several banks in Korea in raising its interest rates to slow down inflation and thus, economic growth. The data coming out of China certainly reinforces the idea it may constrict lending in the near future. China has a published cap on the amount of money its nationalized bank will lend in any calendar year and it is quickly approaching that ceiling.  The fears are also evident in China’s stock market, which has slid more than 5 percent in the last few sessions.

These two events combined to cause havoc in our domestic markets as they immediately unraveled the underpinnings of our market rallies. The Chinese news sucked the demand out of the commodity markets. China’s clampdown on inflation is pulling money out of the commodity markets and reducing overseas demand for raw materials. The news from Ireland and the European Union has the equity markets spooked. For many investors, the 50-percent correction in the equity markets from our own financial crisis is all too real and all too recent. Our domestic stock market’s rally and the quickly approaching year’s end makes it easy for many traders and investors to simply pull money out of the markets.

News events shock the markets and broadly sweeping economic forces create seismic shifts in market behavior. During these turbulent times, typical market relationships may fail to behave in the predicted manner.

As the Chinese economy becomes a first class consumer, we must accept our role as a supplier, rather than our historical position of end line consumer. As a supplier, we need to recognize the demand-needs of our trading partners. This is a broadly sweeping change that will affect the commodity markets for years to come.

News from Ireland and the European Union can shock the stock market, reawakening nightmares of 2008, but plans can be made to account for these events.

It does require proactive management of one’s portfolio. The old days of the passive hedge and allocation strategies may be gone.

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.

Stock Market Players are Increasing their Bets

There’s a difference between a tradeable rally and a fundamentally sound trend. The stock market has been exceptionally strong since Labor Day, turning positive for the year around the middle of September. During this period the two dominant news themes have been the Republican party’s campaign gaining momentum and the Federal Reserve Board’s verbalization of their willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the economy churning. Additionally, we are heading into the strongest seasonal period for the stock market on an annual basis. When these factors are combined with equity managers who have to put money to work on the long side to keep pace with the index, we see a stock market that defies logic by gaining momentum as it rallies.


The S&P has had three outside bars in the last five trading sessions. Typical market movement is just over one outside bar per month. Analysis of these three days shows that they all started lower based on overnight concerns and finished higher on the day’s trading here in the U.S. Whether the buying that came in was from fund managers trying to get capital into the market at a discount, traders covering their short positions or foreign money coming in to buy our equities at a dollar denominated discount is irrelevant. Buying is buying.


We’ve clearly identified the trend is higher. There are sectors with fundamental support like Potash, ADM, ConAgra, Freeport McMoran and so forth. These commodity based companies should rally in an economic environment dominated by a declining dollar. It’s good to own, “stuff.” In fact, the basic materials sector is up over 20% on the year, led by precious metals. An argument can also be made that the historically low interest rates have created a new type of carry trade, where borrowed money is being put to work owning, “stuff.”


The flip side of the stock market’s rally combines technical resistance, bearish commercial positions and a deteriorating labor market. Technically, resistance comes in another 2.5% higher around the April highs at 1200. Also, the market has lost about 15% of its open interest since making the August lows. Healthy trends are supposed to gain open interest as they progress.


Moving to the commercial positions, the open interest peak at the August lows coincided with the last commercial net long position. Over the last couple of weeks, the commercial traders have moved to a dead net short position. This includes a record short position in the Nasdaq. This type of behavior is a perfect illustration of why we follow the commercial traders. Small speculators and funds were accumulating short positions at the August lows while the commercial traders were buying the market against them. We are seeing the exact opposite play at the market’s top, right now. Small speculators and funds are putting money to work in the market as the commercial traders have gone from long position liquidation to outright short position initiation over the last two months.


Finally, the public unemployment rate held steady at 9.6% for the month of September. However, looking deeper into the data, we see that the economy has added only one month’s worth of new jobs over the last year and 90% of those jobs have gone to hiring workers over the age of 65. Employers are paying minimum wage for experience and reliability, not rebuilding long- term work forces. The data also shows that part time workers for, “economic reasons,” which means they can’t find full time employment is the highest ever recorded. The last piece of doom and gloom comes from Richmond Federal Economic Conditions Survey, which shows that companies are issuing a hiring freeze with the one of the largest single month declines that the Number of Employees Index recorded in the last decade. This is reinforced by the plunge in the Workweek index and the New Orders Index.


We may be approaching a climactic event in the stock market. The data spreads that went into crating this article have never been wider. The Federal Reserve Board is talking about a second round of quantitative easing. Their dialogue has created a rush into tangible assets like the commodity markets. It is supplying an artificial floor for the stock market and it has created a rush to buy short and medium treasuries. These moves are based on conjecture and hyperbole. What if the Fed sits tight? The markets have provided the Fed with the action they’ve been unable to create through their own actions. Inflation, low interest rates and a healthy stock market are exactly what they’ve been trying to construct. What happens when these bubbles burst?

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.


Commercial Traders Ahead of the Game

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission publishes a weekly report entitled, “Commitment of Traders Report.” This report totals the positions by all major commodity market players and breaks them down into a few important categories. The category that is most predictive of future moves in the commodity markets is the Commercial Trader category. This group is made up of people who are hedging their need for the physical commodity to meet future production as well as the producers of physical commodities who are trying to get their future production sold at the best possible prices. These are the professionals whose livelihood depends on their ability to ascertain value in their particular markets. Following their behavior in the commodity markets is very similar to following the reportable insider trading in the stock market, in which employee transactions of large amounts of stock must be reported to the Securities Exchange Commission.

Following the commercial trader category provides keen insight into the commodity markets. Some examples are seasonals, divergences and macro economic expectations. Comparing year over year action against established seasonal trends can allow traders to catch a glimpse into the expected strength or weakness of the current cyclicality in a market. Crude oil typically experiences its greatest strength from early July through the end of August. This year, the commercial buying came in just as expected and the market made its most recent low on July 6th and has rallied from $71.50 to almost $83 dollars per barrel.

Divergences appear when a market makes a new multi month high or low that is not validated by the commercial traders’ actions. For example, today’s news that China’s property market is cooling off has already been reflected in the market by commercial traders who have sold this rally relentlessly and capped the rally for six straight trading sessions under $3.40 per pound.

Both of these examples tie into the macro economic expectations of commercial traders. The seasonal rally in crude oil has been cut short by heavy commercial selling over the last two weeks due to expected softness in global crude oil demand. Recent energy reports show that gasoline levels here in the U.S. are at a six-week high and our refineries are trending toward decreased capacity utilization. Furthermore, China, the world’s largest crude oil consumer, has decreased their imports 15% since June.

The capping of prices in the copper market by commercial traders is further evidence of an expected economic slowdown. Commercial traders who follow the markets that provide their livelihood are among the first to know and analyze important information. They were aware that China’s copper and iron ore shipments are down for the first time in four months and that their crude oil consumption is 15% lower for July.

Finally, we can extend this same analysis to commercial positions in other actively traded markets as well. The disappointing projections are for a weaker stock market, low bond yields and higher agricultural prices. The build up of short positions in the stock market over the last three weeks has been considerable. Clearly, professional traders’ expectations of the stock market are negative. This can be partially verified by the buildup of short maturity debt. Interest rate futures across the strip expect to see continued buying even in the face of added government stimulus and a weakening U.S. Dollar. In fact, one of the most fundamental traders of all time – Warren Buffet, has shown that they are increasingly buying short- term treasuries. This omen portends the possibility of profiting on a flight to quality as people pull money out of a falling stock market and place it in U.S. Treasuries for liquidity and protection.

Finally, professional traders in the grain markets have been making their stand in two ways. First, buyers of grains are supporting higher and higher floor prices. This means the folks at Nabisco, Quaker Oats and Frito Lay are all expecting the growing overseas middle class to put a squeeze on the United States’ ability to remain the, “bread basket to the world.” Sellers of grains, on the other hand, are more willing to let the markets spike higher and higher before capping their profit potential. This was witnessed over the last month as overseas growing issues forced U.S. grain prices up 28% in corn, over 50% in oats and the price of wheat nearly doubled.

Trading alongside of the commercial traders has been quoted as, “Following the elephants.” This provides three benefits. Their actions are reported weekly, making their path easy to find. They cut a wide enough swath through the market to allow us to slip in and out at our convenience. Finally, they offer a tremendous amount of protection. Trading the markets is hard enough on your own. Why not allow the elephants to guide you?

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.

Short Selling the Futures Market

Since the stock market’s dramatic sell off on May 6th, it has traded sideways to lower. The market has made new lows twice since then while each rally attempt has been capped by resistance roughly half way back to the top. Technically speaking, this is called consolidation and consolidation usually means continuation. The idea of an object in motion remaining in motion goes back as far as Isaac Newton and it still holds true to this day. This motion is what trends are made of and that is why consolidation is viewed as a pause in the existing trend’s general direction and in this case, the trend is down.

Over the last two months of consolidation we’ve also seen volatility increase to the downside. There have been twice as many big down days as there have been big up days. The largest down day came as the result of June’s monthly unemployment report, which resulted in a sell off of 4.5% to nearly 6%, depending on the stock index. Additionally, this month’s unemployment report comes out Friday, July 2nd. The national rate currently stands at 9.7% while Ohio is full a percent higher at 10.7%. Furthermore, several leading economists feel that our unemployment situation has yet to peak. Finally, July through October is typically, the seasonally weakest period of the year for the stock markets.

Clearly, there are no guarantees as to the future direction of any market. However, it is unwise not to take into account the current weighting of pros and cons when making financial decisions. That being said, what actions are available to someone who has owned a stock like General Electric for so long that the dividends and splits of the stock have left them with a cost basis of virtually nothing? Therefore, any sales of the stock would be subjected to substantial capital gains taxation. The typical response in this situation is one of helplessness. Just ride it out. The stock market comes and the stock market goes.

There is an active alternative to this feeling of habitual helplessness. That alternative is the calculated use of the futures markets. The construction of a futures contract is based on the agreement to either make or, take delivery of a given contract by the contract’s future delivery date. This is the basis of the old cliché, “Where do you want your load of pigs?” The reality is that less than one percent of the futures contracts traded are ever delivered and those delivered, are by design. Every trade in the futures market requires a buyer and a seller. The usefulness of futures is that it doesn’t matter how you initiate the trade. You can create a new position as either the buyer or, the seller and exit the trade prior to the delivery date thus, eliminating delivery issues.

Lets walk through a real world scenario using the General Electric example above. The owner of the General Electric stock wishes to protect their investment without having to pay the capital gains taxes on a lifetime or, generations of accumulation. Assuming the expectation of the stock market is lower, an appropriate amount of stock index futures can be sold to create a new position. This is called a short position and it makes money if the market declines in value. The portfolio has been protected by, “selling high.” If the market does decline or, the perspective on the market changes, the futures trade is offset by buying back what has been sold. This is, “buying low.” The cash difference between what has first been sold high and then covered by, buying low, is the profit accrued on the trade. This profit can be used to offset the loss in Cedar Fair on the broad market’s decline.

This same strategy can be used to generate protection or, profit in any market that is expected to fall. These include agricultural contracts like corn, soybeans or, cattle and also include things like the U.S. Dollar or gold and silver. The commodity markets were designed from the beginning to be used as a tool to hedge risk. This tool is available and applicable to a wide range of individuals and their respective needs. Furthermore, we can track the professional’s trading positions through the Commitment of Traders Report and use it as guide to time the entr4y of a short position. The next time a market is expected to decline don’t just sit there helplessly and watch the market value of your holdings – stocks, cash, precious metals, grains, etc. decline with it. Once educated, ignorance is no longer an excuse.

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.