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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.

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 mid-July 2022, 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-July 2022, we find that: Keep Reading

Best Brands Investment Performance

Do the Best Brands, as published annually by Interbrand based on net present value of predicted incremental earnings due to brand, offer superior investment performance due to pricing power and superior operating practices? In their June 2022 paper entitled “Is Buffett Right? Brand Values and Long-run Stock Returns”, Hamid Boustanifar and Young Dae Kang examine the investment performance of Best Brands. Best Brands companies must be global, have publicly available financial data, be visible and have the expectation of positive long-term profitability above the cost of capital). Up to 2007 (subsequently), Interbrand published Best Brand lists in July or August (late September or October). The authors each year reform a Best Brands portfolio limited to U.S. firms the first day of the month after publication, thereby excluding immediate announcement effects on stock prices. For stocks encompassing multiple brands (e.g., Google and YouTube for Alphabet), they map brands to stocks by summing brand values. Using firm characteristics, accounting data and stock prices for a broad sample of U.S. stocks during 2000 (the first Best Brands list) through 2020, 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 May 2022, we find that: Keep Reading

Testing the Equity Mutual Fund Liquidity Ratio

A reader requested evaluation of the Fosback Index and its Ned Davis variant. The creators of these indicators argue that a high (low) ratio of cash equivalents to assets among equity mutual funds indicates strong (weak) potential demand for stocks. The Investment Company Institute (ICI) surveys mutual fund managers monthly (with a lag of about a month) to measure the aggregate equity mutual fund liquidity ratio (LR). Only past year-end values of LR are readily available. Norman Fosback adjusts raw LR based on current interest rates, reasoning that mutual fund managers have more (less) incentive to hold cash when interest rates are high (low). We adjust the effect of interest rates via linear regression of annual LR against year-end yield of the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill). We then define the difference between raw and adjusted values as Excess LR and relate this variable to annual returns of the Fidelity Fund (FFIDX) as a proxy for U.S. stock market total performance. Using year-end values of aggregate equity mutual fund LR from the 2021 Investment Company Fact Book, Table 15, year-end T-bill yield and annual returns for FFIDX during December 1984 through December 2021 ( 36 years), 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 November 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. city average, All items). The University of Michigan releases final survey data near the end of the measured month. 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 January 1978 (limited by survey data) and monthly SPY and TLT total returns since July 2002 (limited by TLT), all through October 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

In Search of the Bear?

Is intensity of public interest in a “bear market” useful for predicting stock market return? To investigate, we download monthly U.S. Google Trends search intensity data for “bear market” and relate this series to monthly S&P 500 Index returns. For comparison with the “investor fear gauge,” we also relate search data to monthly CBOE option-implied S&P 500 Index volatility (VIX) levels. Google Trends analyzes a percentage of Google web searches to estimate the number of searches done over a certain period. “Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents to compare relative popularity… The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.” Using the specified data as of 9/14/2021 for the period January 2004 (earliest available on Google Trends) through August 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Aggregate Account Debt/Credit as Stock Market Indicators

“Margin Debt as a Stock Market Indicator” investigates whether NYSE margin debt predicts future stock market returns. Since updates to this variable are not available, we instead consider the following three aggregate monthly investment account metrics from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as alternative margin-related indicators of investor sentiment:

  1. Margin account debt (aggressive use of borrowed funds).
  2. Cash account credit (dry powder with perhaps conservative intent).
  3. Margin account credit (dry powder with perhaps aggressive intent).

FINRA generally updates these metrics during the third week of the month after the measured month. We relate each metric to future SPDR S&P 500 Trust (SPY) returns as a proxy for U.S. stock market returns. Using end-of-month values of the aggregate account metrics and monthly dividend-adjusted SPY prices during January 1997 (except February 2010 for margin account credit) through August 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Should Investors Care About “the Way Things Are Going”?

Are broad measures of public sociopolitical sentiment relevant to investors? Do they predict stock returns as indicators of exuberance and fear? To investigate, we relate S&P 500 Index return and 12-month trailing S&P 500 price-operating earnings ratio (P/E) to the percentage of respondents saying “yes” to the recurring Gallup polling question: “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?” Since individual polls span several days, we use S&P 500 Index levels for about the middle of the polling interval. To calculate market P/E, we use current S&P 500 Index level and most recent quarterly aggregate operating earnings. Using Gallup polling resultsS&P 500 Index levels and 12-month trailing S&P 500 operating earnings as available during July 1990 (when polling frequency becomes about monthly) through mid-August 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

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