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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.

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

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-July 2020, we 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 July 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Returns After QE Announcements

In reaction to “Federal Reserve Holdings and the U.S. Stock Market”, a subscriber suggested analysis of market reactions to announcements (starts/ends) of major Federal Reserve System interventions, such as the series of quantitative easing (QE) initiatives. Reactions to such announcement should precede changes in actual holdings. To investigate, we look at cumulative returns of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) during the 30 trading days after each of the following announcements:

  • 11/25/08: QE-1 initiated
  • 3/16/09: QE-1 expanded
  • 3/31/10: QE-1 terminated
  • 11/3/10: QE-2 initiated
  • 6/29/12: QE-2 terminated
  • 9/13/12: QE-3 initiated
  • 12/12/12: QE-3 expanded
  • 10/29/14: QE-3 terminated
  • 3/23/20: “QE-4” initiated

Using daily dividend-adjusted prices for SPY and TLT spanning these dates, we find that: Keep Reading

Smart Money Indicator Verification Update

“Verification Tests of the Smart Money Indicator” performs tests of ideas and setup features described in “Smart Money Indicator for Stocks vs. Bonds”. The Smart Money Indicator (SMI) is a complicated variable that exploits differences in futures and options positions in the S&P 500 Index, U.S. Treasury bonds and 10-year U.S. Treasury notes between institutional investors (smart money) and retail investors (dumb money) as published in Commodity Futures Trading Commission Commitments of Traders (COT) reports. Since findings for some variations in that test are attractive, we add two further robustness tests:

Using COT report data, dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a proxy for a stock market total return index, 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as return on cash (Cash) and dividend-adjusted iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) as a proxy for government bonds during 6/16/06 through 4/3/20, we find that:

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