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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 October 2019, we find that:

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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:

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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 2019, 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 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

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

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

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

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