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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.

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 2018 (1,674 surveys and 64  independent 6-month forecast intervals), we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Price Drivers?

What drives the price of gold: inflation, interest rates, stock market behavior, public sentiment? To investigate, we relate monthly and annual spot gold return to changes in:

We start testing in 1975 because: “On March 17, 1968, …the price of gold on the private market was allowed to fluctuate…[, and] in 1975…the price of gold was left to find its free-market level.” We lag CPI measurements by one month to ensure they are known to the market when calculating gold return. Using monthly data from December 1974 (March 1978 for consumer sentiment) through July 2019, 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 June 2019 (198 months), 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 June 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Sentiment Indexes and Next-Month Stock Market Return

Do sentiment indexes usefully predict U.S. stock market returns? In his May 2018 doctoral thesis entitled “Forecasting Market Direction with Sentiment Indices”, flagged by a subscriber, David Mascio tests whether the following five sentiment indexes predict next-month S&P 500 Index performance:

  1. Investor Sentiment – the Baker-Wurgler Index, which combines six sentiment proxies.
  2. Improved Investor Sentiment – a modification of the Baker-Wurgler Index that suppresses noise among input sentiment proxies.
  3. Current Business Conditions – the ADS Index of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, which combines six economic variables measured quarterly, monthly and weekly to develop an outlook for the overall economy.
  4. Credit Spread – an index based on the difference in price between between U.S. corporate bonds and U.S. Treasury instruments with matched cash flows. (See “Credit Spread as an Asset Return Predictor” for a simplified approach.)
  5. Financial Uncertainty – an index that combines forecasting errors for large sets of economic and financial variables to assess overall economic/financial uncertainty.

He also tests two combinations of these indexes, a multivariate regression including all sentiment indexes and a LASSO approach. He each month for each index/combination predicts next-month S&P 500 Index return based on a rolling historical regression of 120 months. He tests predictive power by holding (shorting) the S&P 500 Index when the prediction is for the market to go up (down). In his assessment, he considers: frequency of correctly predicting up and down movements; effectiveness in predicting market crashes; and, significance of predictions. Using monthly data for the five sentiment indexes and S&P 500 Index returns during January 1973 through April 2014, he finds 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 in fact 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 April 2019 (496 monthly sentiment readings), we find that: Keep Reading

Short-term Equity Risk More Political Than Economic?

How does news flow interact with short-term stock market return? In their April 2019 paper entitled “Forecasting the Equity Premium: Mind the News!”, Philipp Adämmer and Rainer Schüssler test the ability of a machine learning algorithm, the correlated topic model (CTM), to predict the monthly U.S. equity premium based on information in news articles. Their news inputs consist of about 700,000 articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post during June 1980 through December 2018, with early data used for learning and model calibration and data since January 1999 used for out-of-sample testing. They measure the U.S. stock market equity premium as S&P 500 Index return minus the risk-free rate. Specifically, they each month:

  1. Update news time series arbitrarily segmented into 100 topics (with robustness checks for 75, 125 and 150 topics).
  2. Execute a linear regression to predict the equity premium for each of the 100 topical news flows.
  3. Calculate an average prediction across the 100 regressions.
  4. Update a model (CTMSw) that switches between the best individual topic prediction and the average of 100 predictions, combining the flexibility of model selection with the robustness of model averaging.

They use the inception-to-date (expanding window) average historical equity premium as a benchmark. They include mean-variance optimal portfolio tests that each month allocate to the stock market and the risk-free rate based on either the news model or the historical average equity premium prediction, with the equity return variance computed from either 21-day rolling windows of daily returns or an expanding window of monthly returns. They constrain the equity allocation for this portfolio between 50% short and 150% long, with 0.5% trading frictions. Using the specified news inputs and monthly excess return for the S&P 500 Index during June 1980 through December 2018, they find that:

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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 January 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Momentum and Bubble Stocks

Do “bubble” stocks (those with high shorting demand and small borrowing supply) exhibit unconventional momentum behaviors? In their December 2018 paper entitled “Overconfidence, Information Diffusion, and Mispricing Persistence”, Kent Daniel, Alexander Klos and Simon Rottke examine how momentum effects for bubble stocks differ from conventional momentum effects. They each month sort stocks into groups independently as follows:

  1. Momentum winners (losers) are the 30% of stocks with the highest (lowest) returns from one year ago to one month ago, incorporating a skip-month.
  2. Stocks with high (low) shorting demand are those with the top (bottom) 30% of short interest ratios.
  3. Stocks with small (large) borrowing supply are those with the top (bottom) 30% of institutional ownerships.

They then use intersections of these groups to reform 27 value-weighted portfolios. Bubble (constrained) stocks are those in the intersection of high shorting demand and low institutional ownership, including both momentum winners and losers. For purity, they further split bubble losers into those that were or were not also bubble winners within the past five years. Using monthly and daily returns, market capitalizations and trading volumes for a broad sample of U.S. common stocks, monthly short interest ratios and quarterly institutional ownership data from SEC Form 13F filings during July 1988 through June 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

Exploiting Consensus Mutual Fund Conviction Stock Picks

Does combining the wisdom of multiple stock-picking models via ensemble methods, as done in forecasting landfall of hurricanes, improve investment portfolio performance? In their September 2018 paper entitled “Ensemble Active Management”, Alexey Panchekha, Robert Tull and Matthew Bell test the application of ensemble methods to active portfolio management, looking for consensus or near-consensus among multiple, independent stock picking sources. Ensemble diversification tends to neutralize biases among individual sources when: (1) sources are independent; (2) sources employ different approaches; and, (3) most sources achieve at least 50% individual accuracies. As sources, they use the holdings and weights of 37 actively managed U.S. equity large-capitalization mutual funds, focusing on high-conviction stock selections (those with large mismatches with respect to market capitalization). Specifically, every two weeks they:

  • Reform 30,000 randomly generated clusters of 10 mutual funds.
  • For each cluster, reform a long-only Ensemble Active Management (EAM) portfolio consisting of the 50 stocks with the highest consensus overweights within the cluster.
  • Calculate total returns for EAM portfolios, their respective clusters and the S&P 500 Index.

They debit performance of each EAM portfolio by the average contemporaneous expense ratio of the 37 mutual funds (average 0.94% across all years). To aggregate results, they calculate rolling 1-year and 3-year performances of EAM portfolios, mutual fund clusters and the index. Using daily estimated stock holdings and weights for the 37 mutual funds and associated stock prices as available during July 2007 through December 2017, they find that:

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