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Sentiment Indicators

Investors/traders track a range of sentiments (consumer, investor, analyst, forecaster, management), searching for indications of the next swing of the psychological pendulum that paces financial markets. Usually, they view sentiment as a contrarian indicator for market turns (bad means good — it’s darkest before the dawn). These blog entries relate to relationships between human sentiment and the stock market.

Analyst Long-term Earnings Growth Forecasts and Stock Returns

Should investors buy stocks of companies for which analysts have issued very high earnings growth forecasts? In the March 2021 revision of their paper entitled “Diagnostic Expectations and Stock Returns”, flagged by a subscriber, Pedro Bordalo, Nicola Gennaioli, Rafael La Porta and Andrei Shleifer update and extend prior research on the relationship between analyst long-term earnings growth forecasts and future returns of associated stocks. They define long-term forecasts as expected annual increase in operating earnings over the next three to five years. To relate these forecasts to stock returns, they each December form ten equal-weighted portfolios by ranking stocks into tenths (deciles) based on annual geometric average forecasted long-term  earnings growth. They hold these portfolios until the next December, rebalancing each back to equal weight monthly. They focus on the highest long-term growth (HLTG) and lowest long-term growth (LLTG) decile portfolios. Using analyst earnings growth forecasts since December 1981 for a broad sample of U.S. common stocks and associated stock returns since December 1978, all through December 2016, they find that:

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Measuring Crypto-asset Price and Policy Uncertainty

How uncertain are investors about cryptocurrencies, and what drives their collective uncertainty? In their March 2021 paper entitled “The Cryptocurrency Uncertainty Index”, Brian Lucey, Samuel Vigne, Larisa Yarovaya and Yizhi Wang present a Cryptocurrency Uncertainty Index (UCRY) based on news coverage, with two components defined as follows:

  1. UCRY Policy -weekly rate of cryptocurrency policy uncertainty news minus average weekly observed rate, divided by standard deviation of weekly observed rate, plus 100.
  2. UCRY Price – weekly rate of cryptocurrency price uncertainty news minus average weekly observed rate, divided by standard deviation of weekly observed rate, plus 100.

They distinguish between these two types of cryptocurrency uncertainty to understand differences in behaviors between informed (policy-sensitive) and amateur (price-sensitive) investors. Using 726.9 million relevant date/time-stamped news stories during December 2013 through February 2021, they find that: Keep Reading

Consumer Sentiment and Stock Market Returns

Business media and expert commentators sometimes cite the monthly University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index as an indicator of U.S. economic and stock market health, generally interpreting a jump (drop) in sentiment as good (bad) for future consumption and stocks. The release schedule for this indicator is mid-month for a preliminary reading on the current month and end-of-month for a final reading. Is this indicator predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months? Using monthly final Consumer Sentiment Index data and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index during January 1978 through February 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Consumer Inflation Expectations Predictive?

A subscriber noted and asked: “Michigan (at one point) claimed that the inflation expectations part of their survey of consumers was predictive. That was from a paper long ago. I wonder if it is still true.” To investigate, we relate “Expected Changes in Prices During the Next Year” (expected annual inflation) from the monthly final University of Michigan Survey of Consumers and actual U.S. inflation data based on the monthly non-seasonally adjusted consumer price index (U.S. All items, 1982-84=100). The University of Michigan releases final survey data near the end of the measured month, and the long-turn historical expected inflation series presents a 3-month simple moving average (SMA3) of monthly measurements. We consider two relationships:

  • Expected annual inflation versus one-year hence actual annual inflation.
  • Monthly change in expected annual inflation versus monthly change in actual annual inflation.

As a separate (investor-oriented) test, we relate monthly change in expected annual inflation to next-month total returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT). Using monthly survey/inflation data since March 1978 (limited by survey data) and monthly SPY and TLT total returns since July 2002 (limited by TLT), all through February 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Combining Economic Policy Uncertainty and Stock Market Trend

A subscriber requested, as in “Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?”, testing of a strategy that combines: (1) U.S. Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) Index, as described and tested separately in “Economic Policy Uncertainty and the Stock Market”; and, (2) U.S. stock market trend. We consider two such combinations. The first combines:

  • 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) for the broad U.S. stock market as proxied by the S&P 500 Index. The trend is bullish (bearish) when the index is above (below) its SMA10 at the end of last month.
  • Sign of the change in EPU Index last month. A positive (negative) sign is bearish (bullish).

The second combines:

  • SMA10 for the S&P 500 Index as above.
  • 12-month simple moving average (SMA12) for the EPU Index. The trend is bullish (bearish) when the EPU Index is below (above) its SMA12 at the end of last month.

We consider alternative timing strategies that hold SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) when: the S&P 500 Index SMA10 is bullish; the EPU Index indicator is bullish; either indicator for a combination is bullish; or, both indicators for a combination are bullish. When not in SPY, we use the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the return on cash, with 0.1% switching frictions. We assume all indicators for a given month can be accurately estimated for signal execution at the market close the same month. We compute average net monthly return, standard deviation of monthly returns, net monthly Sharpe ratio (with monthly T-bill yield as the risk-free rate), net compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key strategy performance metrics. We calculate the number of switches for each scenario to indicate sensitivities to switching frictions and taxes. Using monthly values for the EPU Index, the S&P 500 Index, SPY and T-bill yield during January 1993 (inception of SPY) through September 2020, we find that:

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Economic Policy Uncertainty and the Stock Market

Does quantified uncertainty in government economic policy reliably predict stock market returns? To investigate, we consider the U.S. Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) Index, created by Scott Baker, Nicholas Bloom and Steven Davis and constructed from three components:

  1. Coverage of policy-related economic uncertainty by prominent newspapers.
  2. Number of temporary federal tax code provisions set to expire in future years.
  3. Level of disagreement in one-year forecasts among participants in the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Survey of Professional Forecasters for both (a) the consumer price index (CPI) and (b) purchasing of goods and services by federal, state and local governments.

They normalize each component by its own standard deviation prior to 2012 and then compute a weighted average of components, assigning a weight of one half to news coverage and one sixth each to tax code uncertainty, CPI forecast disagreement and government purchasing forecast disagreement. They update the index monthly at the beginning of the following month, potentially revising recent months. Using monthly levels of the EPU Index and the S&P 500 Index during January 1985 through September 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Small Business Owner Sentiment and the U.S. Stock Market

Throughout each month, the National Federation of Independent Businesses surveys members on ten components of business conditions they anticipate six months hence. They issue findings on the second Tuesday of the following month in “Small Business Economic Trends”, including a Small Business Optimism Index (SBOI). Are the expectations of responding small business owners a “grass roots” predictor of U.S. stock market behavior? To check, we relate changes in SBOI to U.S. stock market returns. Using monthly levels of SBOI, the S&P 500 Index (a proxy for the U.S. stock market) and the Russell 2000 Index (representing smaller stocks) during January 2003 through September 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Relative Sentiment plus Machine Learning for Stock Market Timing

Do economic expectations of sophisticated investors relative to those of unsophisticated investors predict stock market returns? In the September 2020 revision of his paper entitled “Relative Sentiment and Machine Learning for Tactical Asset Allocation”, flagged by a subscriber, Raymond Micaletti investigates use of relative Sentix sentiment for tactical asset allocation. He each month constructs relative sentiment factors for regional U.S., Europe, Japan and Asia ex-Japan equity markets as differences in 6-month economic expectations between respective institutional and individual investors. He then applies machine learning algorithms to test 990 alternative strategies of relative sentiment for each region, augmented by both cross-validation and adjusted for data snooping. He tests usefulness of the most significant backtest results in two ways:

  1. Translation of relative sentiment to equity allocations ranging from 0% to 100% for each equity market, with the non-equity allocation going to either bonds or cash. As benchmarks, he uses the average monthly equity allocation of relative sentiment strategies, with the balance allocated to bonds or cash, rebalanced monthly.
  2. Ranking of regions by relative sentiment to predict which equity markets will be outperformers and underperformers next month.

Using monthly Sentix sentiment data as described, monthly returns for associated equity market indexes and spliced exchange-traded funds (ETF) and monthly returns for the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index during August 2002 through September 2019 (with a 3-month gap in sentiment data during October 2002 through December 2002), he finds that: Keep Reading

Active Investment Managers and Market Timing

Do active investment managers as a group successfully time the stock market? The National Association of Active Investment Managers (NAAIM) is an association of registered investment advisors. “NAAIM member firms who are active money managers are asked each week to provide a number which represents their overall equity exposure at the market close on a specific day of the week (usually Wednesday). Responses can vary widely [200% Leveraged Short; 100% Fully Short; 0% (100% Cash or Hedged to Market Neutral); 100% Fully Invested; 200% Leveraged Long].” The association each week releases (usually on Thursday) the average position of survey respondents as the NAAIM Exposure Index (NEI).” Using historical weekly survey data and Thursday-to-Thursday weekly dividend-adjusted returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) over the period July 2006 through August 2020 (736 surveys), we find that: Keep Reading

AAII Investor Sentiment as a Stock Market Indicator

Is conventional wisdom that aggregate retail investor sentiment is a contrary indicator of future stock market return correct? To investigate, we examine the sentiment expressed by members of the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) via a weekly survey of members. This survey asks AAII members each week (Thursday through Wednesday): “Do you feel the direction of the market over the next six months will be up (bullish), no change (neutral) or down (bearish)?” Only one vote per member is accepted in each weekly voting period.” Survey results are available the market day after the polling period. We define aggregate (net) investor sentiment as percent bullish minus percent bearish. Using outputs of the weekly AAII surveys and prior-day closes of the S&P 500 Index from July 1987 through mid-August 2020 (1,725 surveys), we find that: Keep Reading

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