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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.

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:

Keep Reading

Combining the Smart Money Indicator with SACEMS and SACEVS

“Verification Tests of the Smart Money Indicator” reports performance results for a specific version of the Smart Money Indicator (SMI) stocks-bonds timing strategy, which 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). Do these sentiment-based results diversify those for the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) and the Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy (SACEVS)? To investigate, we look at correlations of annual returns between variations of SMI (no lag between signal and execution, 1-week lag and 2-week lag) and each of SACEMS equal-weighted (EW) Top 3 and SACEVS Best Value. We then look at average gross annual returns, standard deviations of annual returns and gross annual Sharpe ratios for the individual strategies and for equal-weighted, monthly rebalanced portfolios of the three strategies. Using gross annual returns for the strategies during 2008 through 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Verification Tests of the Smart Money Indicator

A subscriber requested verification of findings in “Smart Money Indicator for Stocks vs. Bonds”, where 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). To verify, we simplify somewhat the approach for calculating and testing SMI, as follows:

  • Use a “modern” sample of weekly Traders in Financial Futures; Futures-and-Options Combined Reports from CFTC, starting in mid-June 2006 and extending into early February 2020.
  • For each asset, take Asset Manager/Institutional positions as the smart money and Non-reporting positions as the dumb money.
  • For each asset, calculate weekly net positions of smart money and dumb money as longs minus shorts. 
  • For each asset, use a 52-week lookback interval to calculate weekly z-scores of smart and dumb money net positions (how unusual current net positions are). This interval should dampen any seasonality.
  • For each asset, calculate weekly relative sentiment as the difference between smart money and dumb money z-scores.
  • For each asset, use a 13-week lookback interval to calculate recent maximum/minimum relative sentiments between smart money and dumb money for all three inputs. The original study reports that short intervals work better than long ones, and 13 weeks is a quarterly earnings interval.
  • Use a 13-week lookback interval to calculate final SMI as described in “Smart Money Indicator for Stocks vs. Bonds”.

We perform three kinds of tests to verify original study findings, using 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. We calculate asset returns based on Friday closes (or Monday closes when Friday is a holiday) because source report releases are normally the Friday after the Tuesday report date, just before the stock market close. 

  1. Calculate full sample correlations between weekly final SMI and both SPY and TLT total returns for lags of 0 to 13 weeks.
  2. Calculate over the full sample average weekly SPY and TLT total returns by ranked tenth (decile) of SMI for each of the next three weeks after SMI ranking.
  3. Test a market timing strategy that is in SPY (cash or TLT) when SMI is positive (zero or negative), with 0.1% (0.2%) switching frictions when the alternative asset is cash (TLT). We try execution at the same Friday close as report release date and for lags of one week (as in the original study) and two weeks. We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance metrics. Buying and holding SPY is the benchmark.

Using inputs as specified above for 6/16/06 through 2/7/20, we find that: Keep Reading

Smart Money Indicator for Stocks vs. Bonds

Do differences in expectations between institutional and individual investors in stocks and bonds, as quantified in weekly legacy Commitments of Traders (COT) reports, offer exploitable timing signals? In the February 2019 revision of his paper entitled “Want Smart Beta? Follow the Smart Money: Market and Factor Timing Using Relative Sentiment”, flagged by a subscriber, Raymond Micaletti tests a U.S. stock market-U.S. bond market timing strategy based on an indicator derived from aggregate equity and Treasuries positions of institutional investors (COT Commercials) relative to individual investors (COT Non-reportables). This Smart Money Indicator (SMI) has three relative sentiment components, each quantified weekly based on differences in z-scores between standalone institutional and individual net COT positions, with z-scores calculated over a specified lookback interval:

  1. Maximum weekly relative sentiment for the S&P 500 Index over a second specified lookback interval.
  2. Negative weekly minimum relative sentiment in the 30-Year U.S. Treasury bond over this second lookback interval.
  3. Difference between weekly maximum relative sentiments in the 10-Year U.S. Treasury note and 30-year U.S. Treasury bond over this second lookback interval.

Final SMI is the sum of these components minus median SMI over the second specified lookback interval. He considers z-score calculation lookback intervals of 39, 52, 65, 78, 91 and 104 weeks and maximum/minimum relative sentiment lookback intervals of one to 13 weeks (78 lookback interval combinations). For baseline results, he splices futures-only COT data through March 14, 1995 with futures-and-options COT starting March 21, 1995. To account for changing COT reporting delays, he imposes a baseline one-week lag for using COT data in predictions. He focuses on the ability of SMI to predict the market factor, but also looks at its ability to enhance: (1) intrinsic (time series or absolute) market factor momentum; and, (2) returns for size, value, momentum, profitability, investment, long-term reversion, short-term reversal, low volatility and quality equity factors. Finally, he compares to several benchmarks the performance of an implementable strategy that invests in the broad U.S. stock market (U.S. Aggregate Bond Total Return Index) when a group of SMI substrategies “vote” positively (negatively). Using weekly legacy COT reports and daily returns for the specified factors/indexes during October 1992 through December 2017, he finds that: Keep Reading

Mutual Fund Managers Harmfully Biased?

Are there relationships between (1) the stock market outlook expressed by a U.S. equity mutual fund manager in semi-annual reports and (2) positioning and performance of that fund? In his October 2019 preliminary paper entitled “Are Professional Investors Prone to Behavioral Biases? Evidence from Mutual Fund Managers”, Mehran Azimi examines these relationships. Specifically, for each such U.S. equity mutual fund semi-annual report, he:

  1. Uses a word list to identify parts of fund reports that may contain stock market outlooks.
  2. Applies machine learning to isolate sentences most likely to present outlooks.
  3. Manually reads and rates these sentences as bearish, neutral or bullish.
  4. Computes fund manager “Belief” as number of bullish sentences minus number of bearish sentences divided by the total number of sentences isolated. Positive (negative) Belief indicates a net bullish (bearish) outlook.

He then employs regressions to relate fund manager Belief to fund last-year return, asset allocation, portfolio risk and next-year 4-factor (adjusting for market, size, book-to-market and momentum) alpha. Using 40,731 semi-annual reports for U.S. equity mutual funds and associated fund characteristics, holdings and returns during February 2006 through December 2018, he finds 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 during January 2004 (earliest available on Google Trends) through August 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Deeply Learned Management Sentiment as Stock Return Predictor

Can investors apply deep learning software to expose obscure but useful management sentiment in firm SEC Form 10-K filings? In their July 2019 paper entitled “Is Positive Sentiment in Corporate Annual Reports Informative? Evidence from Deep Learning”, Mehran Azimi and Anup Agrawal apply deep learning to detect positive and negative sentiments at the sentence level in 10-Ks. They train their model using 8,000 manually evaluated sentences randomly selected from 10-Ks. They then use the trained model to assign sentiments to all sentences in each 10-K. Their overall measure of negative (positive) sentiment is number of negative (positive) sentences divided by the total number of sentences in the 10-K. They assess impact of 10-K sentiment on stock performance based on 4-factor (market, size, book-to-market, momentum) alpha during short intervals after 10-K filing. Using 10-K filings for non-utility and non-financial U.S. public firms with at least 200 words, associated daily stock prices/trading volumes and daily 4-factor alphas during January 1994 through December 2017, they 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

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

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