Category Archives: jay kaeppel

The Big Canary in the Coal Mine…

Technology is what it’s all about these days.  Technology (primarily) runs on semiconductors.  If the semiconductor business is good, business is good.  OK, that’s about as large a degree of oversimplification as I can manage.  But while it may be overstated, there is definitely a certain amount of truth to it.

So, it can pay to keep an eye on the semiconductor sector.  The simplest way to do that is to follow ticker SMH.  Keeping with the mode of oversimplifying things, in a nutshell, if SMH is not acting terribly that’s typically a good thing.  So where do all things SMH stand now?  Let’s take a look.

Ticker SMH

As with all things market-related (among other things), beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  A quick glance at Figure 1 argues that SMH is inarguably in a strong uptrend, well above its 200-day moving average

Figure 1 – SMH in an uptrend (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

A glance at Figure 2 suggests that SMH has just completed 5 waves up and may be due for a decline.

Figure 2 – SMH with potentially bearish Elliott Wave count (Courtesy ProfitSource by HUBB)

And Figure 3 highlights a very obvious bearish divergence between SMH weekly price action and the 3-period RSI indicator – i.e., SMH keeps moving incrementally higher while RSI3 reaches slightly lower highs each time.  Speaking anecdotally, this setup seems to presage at least a short-term decline maybe 70% of the time.  Of course, the degree of decline varies also.

Figure 3 – SMH with 3-period RSI bearish divergence (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

So, what does it all mean?  First off, I am not going to make any predictions (if you knew my record on “predictions” you would thing that that is a good thing).  I am simply going to point out that one way or the other SMH may be about to give us some important information.

Scenario 1 – SMH breaks out to the upside and stays there: If SMH breaks through the upside and runs, the odds are very high that the overall stock market will run with it.

Course of action: Play for a bullish run by the overall market into the end of the year.

Scenario 2 -SMH breaks out briefly to the upside but then falls back below the recent highs: This would be at least a short-term bearish sign.  Failed breakouts are typically a bad sign and the security in question often behaves badly after disappointing bullish investors.  In this case, if it happens to SMH it could follow through to the overall market.

Course of action: If this happens, you might consider “playing some defense” (hedging, raising some cash, etc.) . Failed breakouts often make the market a little “cranky” (and cranky is one of my fields of expertise).

Scenario 3: SMH fails to breakout and suffers an intermediate-term decline.  If I were to fixate only on the bearish RSI3 divergence I showed earlier in Figure 3, this would seem like the most likely result. 

Course of action: If SMH sells off without breaking above recent resistance, keep an eye on SMH price via its 200-day moving average.  Simple interpretation goes like this: If SMH sells off but holds or regains it’s 200-day moving average then the bullish case can quickly be re-established; If SMH sells off and holds below its 200-day moving average, that should be considered a bearish sign for the overall market.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

Yes, the Stock Market is at a Critical Juncture (and What to Do About It)

As usual, you can pretty much see whatever you want to see in today’s stock market.  Consider the major indexes in Figure 1, displayed along with their respective 200-day moving averages.

Figure 1 – Major Indexes (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

If you “want to” be bullish, you can focus on the fact that all 4 of these major indexes are presently above their respective 200-day moving averages.  This essentially defines an “uptrend”; hence you can make a bullish argument.

If you want to be “bearish”, you can focus on the “choppy” nature of the market’s performance and the fact that very little headway has been made since the highs in early 2018.  This “looks like” a classic “topping pattern” (i.e., a lot of “churning”), hence you can make a bearish argument.

To add more intrigue, consider the 4 “market bellwethers” displayed in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Jay’s Market Bellwethers (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

(NOTE: Previously I had Sotheby’s Holdings – ticker BID – as one my bellwethers.  As they are being bought out, I have replaced it with the Value Line Arithmetic Index, which has a history of topping and bottoming prior to the major indexes)

The action here is much more mixed and muddled.

*SMH – for any “early warning” sign keep a close eye on the semiconductors.  If they breakout to a new high they could lead the overall market higher. If they breakdown from a double top the market will likely be spooked.

*TRAN – The Dow Transports topped out over a year ago and have been flopping around aimlessly in a narrowing range.  Not exactly a bullish sign, but deemed OK as long as price holds above the 200-day moving average.

*ZIV – Inverse VIX is presently below it’s 200-day moving average, so this one qualifies as “bearish” at the moment.

*VAL-I – The Value Line Index is comprised of 1,675 stocks and gives each stock equal weight, so is a good measure of the “overall” market.  It presently sits right at its 200-day moving average, however – as you can see in Figure 3 – it is presently telling a different story than the S&P 500 Index.

Figure 3 – S&P 500 trending slightly higher, Value Line unweighted index trending lower (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

The Bottom Line

OK, now here is where a skilled market analyst would launch into an argument regarding which side will actually “win”, accompanied by roughly 5 to 50 “compelling charts” that “clearly show” why the analysts’ said opinion was sure to work out correctly.  Alas, there is no one here like that. 

If the question is, “will the stock market break out to the upside and run to sharply higher new highs or will it break down without breaking out to new highs?”, I sadly must default to my standard answer of, “It beats me.”

Here is what I can tell you though.  Instead of relying on “somebody’s opinion or prediction” a much better bet is to formulate and follow an investment plan that spells out:

*What you will (and will not) invest in?

*How much capital you will allocate to each position?

*How much risk you are willing to take with each position?

*What will cause you to exit with a profit?

*What will cause you to exit with a loss?

*Will you have some overarching “trigger” to cause you to reduce overall exposure?

*And so on and so forth

If you have specific answers for the questions above (you DO have specific answers, don’t you?) then the correct thing to do is to go ahead and follow your plan and ignore the myriad prognostications that attempt to sway you one way or the other.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

Beating the Bond Market

Suddenly everyone is once again singing the praises of long-term treasuries.  And on the face of it, why not?  With interest rates seemingly headed to negative whatever, a pure play on interest rates (with “no credit risk” – which I still find ironic since t-bonds are issued by essentially the most heavily indebted entity in history – the U.S. government) stands to perform pretty darn well. 

EDITORS NOTE: We combined Jay's 2 articles on Beating the Bond Market into one article. Later in the article Jay uses AIQ TradingExpert Matchmaker tool to reveal that convertible bonds and high yield corporates have a much higher correlation to the stock market than they do to the long-term treasury. 

But is it really the best play?

Long-Term Treasuries vs. “Others”

Because a later test will use the Bloomberg Barclays Convertible Bond Index, and because that index starts in 1986 and because I want to compare “apples” to “apples”, Figure 1 displays the growth of $1,000 since 1986 using monthly total return data for the Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Long Index.

Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 in Long-Term Treasuries (1987-2019)

For the record:

Ave. 12 mo %+8.2%
Std. Deviation+9.0%
Max Drawdown(-15.9%)
$1,000 becomes$12,583

Figure 2 – Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Long Index (Jan 1987-Jul 2019)

Not bad, apparently – if your focus is return and you don’t mind some volatility and you have no fear of interest rates ever rising again.

A Broader Approach

Now let’s consider an approach that puts 25% into the four bond indexes below and rebalances every Jan. 1:

*Bloomberg Barclay’s Convertible Bond Index

*Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Very Liquid Index

*Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Long Index

*Bloomberg Barclay’s Intermediate Index

Figure 3 displays the growth of this “index” versus buying and holding long-term treasuries.

Figure 3 – Growth of $1,000 invested in 4-Bond Indexes and rebalanced annually; 1987-2019

Ave. 12 mo %+8.0%
Std. Deviation+6.8%
Max Drawdown(-14.8%)
$1,000 becomes$11,774

Figure 4 – 4-Bond Index Results; 1987-2019

As you can see, the 4-index approach:

*Is less volatile in nature (6.8% standard deviation versus 9.0% for long bonds)

*Had a slightly lower maximum drawdown

*And has generated almost as much gain as long-term treasuries alone (it actually had a slight lead over long-term treasuries prior to the rare +10% spurt in long treasuries in August 2019)

To get a better sense of the comparison, Figure 5 overlays Figures 1 and 3.

Figure 5 – Long Treasuries vs. 4-Bond Index

As you can see in Figure 5, in light of a long-term bull market for bonds, at times long-term treasuries have led and at other times they have trailed our 4-Bond Index.  After the huge August 2019 spike for long-term treasuries, they are back in the lead.  But for now, the point is that the 4-Bond Index performs roughly as well with a great deal less volatility.

To emphasize this (in a possibly slightly confusing kind of way), Figure 6 shows the drawdowns for long treasuries in blue and drawdowns for the 4-Bond Index in orange.  While the orange line did have one severe “spike” down (during the financial panic of 2008), clearly when trouble hits the bond market, long-term treasuries tend to decline more than the 4-Bond Index.

Figure 6 – % Drawdowns for Long-term treasuries (blue) versus 4-Bond Index (orange); 1987-2019

Summary

Long-term treasuries are the “purest interest rate play” available.  If rates fall then long-term treasuries will typically outperform most other types of bonds.  On the flip side, if interest rates rise long-term treasuries will typically underperform most other types of bonds.

Is this 4-index approach the “be all, end all” of bond investing?  Is it even superior to the simpler approach of just holding long-term bonds?

Not necessarily.  But there appears to be a better way to use these four indexes – which I will get to below

So, all-in-all the 4-bond index seems like a “nice alternative” to holding long-term treasuries.  But the title of these articles says “Beating the Bond Market” and not “Interesting Alternatives that do Just about as Well as Long-Term Treasuries” (which – let’s face it – would NOT be a very compelling title).  So, let’s dig a little deeper.  In order to dig a little deeper, we must first “go off on a little tangent.”

Bonds versus Stocks

In a nutshell, individual convertible bonds and high yield corporate bonds are tied to the fortunes of the companies that issue them.  This also means that as an asset class, their performance is tied to the economy and the business environment in general.  If times are tough for corporations it only makes sense that convertible bonds and high yield bonds will also have a tougher time of it.  As such it is important to note that convertible bonds and high yield corporates have a much higher correlation to the stock market than they do to the long-term treasury.

In Figures 1 and 2 we use the following ETF tickers:

CWB – as a proxy for convertible bonds

HYG – As a proxy for high-yield corporates

TLT – As a proxy for long-term treasuries

IEI – As a proxy for short-term treasuries

SPX – As a proxy for the overall stock market

BND – As a proxy for the overall bond market

As you can see in Figure 1, convertible bonds (CWB) and high-yield corporates (HYG) have a much higher correlation to the stock market (SPX) than to the bond market (BND).

Figure 1 – 4-Bond Index Components correlation to the S&P 500 Index (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

As you can see in Figure 2, long-term treasuries (TLT) and intermediate-term treasuries (IEI) have a much higher correlation to the bond market (BND) than to the stock market (SPX).

Figure 2 – 4-Bond Index Components correlation to Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

A Slight Detour

Figure 3 displays the cumulative price change for the S&P 500 Index during the months of November through April starting in 1949 (+8,881%)

Figure 3 – Cumulative % price gain for S&P 500 Index during November through April (+8,881%); 1949-2019

Figure 4 displays the cumulative price change for the S&P 500 Index during the months of June through October starting in 1949 (+91%)

Figure 4 – Cumulative % price gain for S&P 500 Index during June through October (+91%); 1949-2019

The Theory: Parts 1 and 2

Part 1: The stock market performs better during November through April than during May through October

Part 2: Convertible bonds and high-grade corporate bonds are more highly correlated to stocks than long and intermediate-term treasuries

Therefore, we can hypothesize that over time convertible and high-yield bonds will perform better during November through April and that long and intermediate-term treasuries will perform better during May through October. 

Jay’s Seasonal Bond System

During the months of November through April we will hold:

*Bloomberg Barclay’s Convertible Bond Index

*Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Very Liquid Index

During the months of May through October we will hold:

*Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Long Index

*Bloomberg Barclay’s Intermediate Index

(NOTE: While this article constitutes a “hypothetical test” and not a trading recommendation, just to cover the bases, an investor could emulate this strategy by holding tickers CWB and HYG (or ticker JNK) November through April and tickers TLT and IEI May through October.)

Figure 5 displays the growth of $1,000 invested using this Seasonal System (blue line) versus simply splitting money 25% into each index and then rebalancing on January 1st of each year (orange line).

Figure 5 – Growth of $1,000 invested using Jay’s Seasonal System versus Buying-and-Holding and rebalancing (1986-2019)

Figure 6 displays some comparative performance figures.

MeasureSeasonal System4 Indexes
Buy/Hold/Rebalance
Average 12 month % +(-)+11.9%+8.0%
Std. Deviation %8.7%6.8%
Ave/StdDev1.371.18
Max Drawdown%(-9.2%)(-14.8%)
$1,000 becomes$38,289$11,774

Figure 6 – Seasonal Strategy versus Buy/Hold/Rebalance

From 12/31/1986 through 8/31/2019 the Seasonal System gained +3,729% versus +1,077% (3.46 times as much) as the buy/hold and rebalance method.

Summary

The Seasonal Bond System has certain unique risks.  Most notably if the stock market tanks between November 1 and April 30, this system has no “standard” bond positions to potentially offset some of the stock market related decline that convertible and high yield bonds would likely experience. Likewise, if interest rates rise between April 30 and October 31st, this strategy is almost certain to lose value during that period as it holds only interest-rate sensitive treasuries during that time.

The caveats above aside, the fact remains that over the past 3+ decades this hypothetical portfolio gained almost 3.5 times that of a buy-and-hold approach.

Question: Is this any way to trade the bond market?

Answer: Well, it’s one way….

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

A Simple Alternative to Buy-and-Hold

The Good News regarding the stock market is that in the long run it goes “Up”.  The Bad News is that along the way there are harrowing declines (think -40% or more) as well as long stretches of 0% returns (From Dec-2000 through Sep 2011 the S&P 500 Index registered a total return of -4%. The stock market also went sideways from 1927 to 1949 and from 1965 to 1982). 

Large declines and long flat periods can shatter investors financial goals and/or affect an investor’s thinking for years to come.  Given the rip-roaring bull market we have seen in the last 10 years it may be wise to reiterate that “trees don’t grow to the sky.”  Don’t misunderstood, I am not attempting to “call the top” (as if I could), it’s just that I have been in this business a while and – paraphrasing here – I’ve seen some “stuff.”

What follows is NOT intended to be the “be all, end all” of trading systems.  In fact, since 1971 this “system” has beaten the S&P 500 Index by just a fraction.  So, one might argue in the end that it is not worth the trouble.  But here is the thing to consider: If you would like to earn market returns WITHOUT riding out all of the harrowing declines and the long sideways stretches – it is at least food for thought.

The Monthly LBRMomentum Strategy

There are two indicators involved: a 21-month moving average of the closing price of the S&P 500 Index and a momentum indicator that I call LBRMomentum.  The calculations for LBRMomentum appear at the end of the article.  LBR is an acronym for Linda Bradford Raschke as it uses a calculation that I first learned about from something written by, well – who else – Linda Bradford Raschke (If you want to learn what the life of a professional trader is all about, I highly recommend you read her book, Trading Sardines). 

A Buy Signal occurs:

*When LBRMomentum drops to negative territory then turns higher for one month, AND

*SPX currently or subsequently closes above its own 21-month moving average (in other words, if LBRMomentum rise from below to above 0 while SPX is below it’s 21-month MA, then the buy signal does not occur until SPX closes above its 21-month MA)

*A Buy signal remains in effect for 18 months (if a new buy signal occurs during those 18 months then the 18-month bullish period is extended from the time of the new buy signal)

*After 18-months with no new buy signal sell stocks and move to intermediate-term treasuries until the next buy signal

See Figures 1 and 2 for charts with “Buy Signals” displayed

Figure 1 – LBRMomentum Buy Signals (courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Figure 2 – LBRMomentum Buy Signals (courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Figure 3 displays the cumulative total return for both the “System” and buying-and-holding SPX.  As I mentioned earlier, following the huge bull market of the past 10 years the next results are roughly the same (Strategy = +11,769, buy-and-hold = +11,578%).

Figure 3 – Growth of $1,000 invested using LBRMomentum System (blue line) versus S&P 500 Index buy-and-hold; 1971-2019

But to get a sense of the potential “Let’s Get Some Sleep at Night” benefits of the System, Figure 4 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in the S&P 500 ONLY when the System is bullish. 

Figure 4 – Growth of $1,000 invested in SPX ONLY while LBRMometnum System is Bullish

Figure 5 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in the Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Intermediate Index ONLY when the LBRMomentum System is NOT bullish.

Figure 5 – Growth of $1,000 invested in SPX ONLY while LBRMometnum System is NOT Bullish

The things to notice about Figures 4 and 5 are:

a) the lack of significant drawdowns and,

b) the lack of long periods with no net gain. 

In other words, this approach represents the Tortoise and not the Hare. The intent is not so much to “Beaten the Market” but rather to avoid being “Beaten Up by the Market.”

Figure 6 displays some relevant comparative performance figures.

MeasureSystemBuy/Hold
CAGR %10.06%10.03%
Std. Deviation%10.2%16.7%
CAGR/StdDev0.980.60
Worst 12 mo. %(-15.5%)(-43.3%)
Maximum Drawdown %(-17.6%)(-50.9%)
% 12-month periods UP93%80%
% 5-Yr. periods UP100%89%

Figure 6 – Performance Figures

Note that the Compounded Annual Growth Rate is virtually the same.  However, the System clearly experienced a great deal less volatility along the way with a significantly lower standard deviation as well as far lower drawdowns (-17.6% for the System versus -50.9% for buy-and-hold).  Note also that the System showed a 12-month gain 93% of the time versus 80% of the time for buy-and-hold. The System also showed a gain 100% of the time over 5-year periods (versus 89% of the time for buy-and-hold).

The last “Buy Signal” occurred on 3/31/2019 and will remain in effect until 9/30/2020.

For the record, this “System” has significantly underperformed buy-and-hold over the past 10 years.  Still, if earning a market return over the long-term – without worrying as much about massive declines and long, flat stretches is appealing – it is food for thought.

LBR Momentum

LBRMomentum simply subtracts the 10-period moving average from the 3-month moving average as shown in the code below

LBRMomentum is simpleavg([close], 3) – simpleavg([close], 10).

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Trend-Following

Let’s face it, many investors have a problem with riding a trend.  When things are going well they fret and worry about every blip in interest rates, housing starts, earnings estimates and the price of tea in China, which often keeps them from maximizing their profitability.  Alternatively, when things really do fall apart they suddenly become “long-term investors” (in this case “long-term” is defined roughly as the time between the current time and the time they “puke” their portfolio – just before the bottom).

Which reminds me to invoke:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #6: Human nature is a detriment to investment success and should be avoided as much as, well, humanly possible.

So, it can help to have a few “go to” indicators, to help one objectively tilt to the bullish or bearish side.  And we are NOT talking about “pinpoint precision timing” types of things here. Just simple, objective clues.  Like this one.

Monthly MACD

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Figure 1 displays the S&P 500 index monthly chart with the monthly MACD Indicator at the bottom.Figure 1 – Monthly S&P 500 Index with MACD (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

The “trading rules” we will use are pretty simple:

*If the Monthly MACD closes a month above 0, then hold the S&P 500 Index the next month

*If the Monthly MACD closes a month below 0, then hold the Barclays Treasury Intermediate Index the next month

*We start our test on 11/30/1970.

*For the record, data for the Barclays Treasury Intermediate Index begins in January 1973 so prior to that we simply used an annual interest rate of 1% as a proxy.

Figure 2 displays the equity curves for:

*The strategy just explained (blue line)

*Buying and holding the S&P 500 Index (orange) line

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Figure 2 – Growth of $1,000 using MACD System versus Buy-and-Hold

Figure 3 displays some “Facts and Figure” regarding relative performance.

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Figures 3 – Comparative Results

For the record:

*$1,000 invested using the “System” grew to $143,739 by 6/30/2019

*$1,000 invested using buy-and-hold grew to $102,569 by 6/30/2019

*The “System” experienced a maximum drawdown (month-end) of -23.3% and the Worst 5-year % return was +7.3% (versus a maximum drawdown of -50.9% and a Worst 5-year % return of -29.1% for Buy-and-Hold)

So, from the chart in Figure 2 and the data in Figure 3 it is “obvious” that using MACD to decide when to be in or out of the market is clearly “better” than buy-and-hold.  Right?  Here is where it “gets interesting” for a couple of reasons.

First off, the MACD Method outperforms in the long run by virtue of missing a large part of severe bear markets every now and then.  It also gets “whipsawed” more often than it “saves your sorry assets” during a big bear market.  So, in reality it requires ALOT of discipline (and self-awareness) to actually follow over time.

Consider this: if you were actually using just this one method to decide when to be in or out of the market (which is NOT what I am recommending by the way) you would have gotten out at the end of October 2018 with the S&P 500 Index at 2,711.74.  Now nine months later you would be sitting here with the S&P 500 Index flirting with 3,000 going “what the heck was I thinking about!?!?!?”  In other words, while you would have missed the December 2018 meltdown, you also would have been sitting in treasuries throughout the entire 2019 rally to date.

Like I said, human nature, it’s a pain.

To fully appreciate what makes this strategy “tick”, consider Figures 4 and 5. Figure 4 displays the growth of equity when MACD is > 0 (during these times the S&P 500 Index is held).

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Figure 4 – Growth of $1,000 invested in S&P 500 Index when MACD > 0.

Sort of the “When things are swell, things are great” scenario.

Figure 5 displays the growth of $1,000 for both intermediate-term treasuries AND the S&P 500 Index during those times when MACD > 0.

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Figure 5 – Growth of $1,000 invested in Intermediate-term treasuries (blue) and the S&P 500 (orange) when MACD < 0.

Essentially a “Tortoise and the Hare” type of scenario.

Summary

Simple trend-following methods – whether they involve moving average using price, trend lines drawn on charts or the MACD type of approach detailed herein – can be very useful over time.

*They can help an investor to reduce that “Is this the top?” angst and sort of force them to just go with the flowing while the flowing is good.

*They can also help an investor avoid riding a major bear market all the way to the bottom – which is a good thing both financially and emotionally.

But everything comes with a cost.  Trend-following methods will never get you in at the bottom nor out at the top, and you WILL experience whipsaws – i.e., times when you sell at one price and then are later forced to buy back at a higher price.

Consider it a “cost of doing business.”

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

Where We Are

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was this: “Don’t tell the market what it’s supposed to do, let the market tell you what you’re supposed to do.”

That is profound.  And it really makes me wish I could remember the name of the guy who said it.  Sorry dude.  Anyway, whoever and wherever you are, thank you Sir.

Think about it for a moment.  Consider all the “forecasts”, “predictions” and “guides” to “what is next for the stock market” that you have heard during the time that you’ve followed the financial markets.  Now consider how many of those actually turned out to be correct.  Chances are the percentage is fairly low.

So how do you “let the market tell you what to do?”  Well, like everything else, there are lots of different ways to do it.  Let’s consider a small sampling.

Basic Trend-Following

Figure 1 displays the Dow Industrials, the Nasdaq 100, the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 clockwise form the upper left.  Each displays a 200-day moving average and an overhead resistance point.

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Figure 1 – Dow/NDX/SPX/RUT (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

The goal is to move back above the resistance points and extend the bull market.  But the real key is for them to remain in an “uptrend”, i.e.,:

*Price above 200-day MA = GOOD

*Price below 200-day MA = BAD

Here is the tricky part.  As you can see, a simple cross of the 200-day moving average for any index may or may not be a harbinger of trouble.  That is, there is nothing “magic” about any moving average.  In a perfect world we would state that: “A warning sign occurs when the majority of indexes drop below their respective 200-day moving average.”

Yet in both October 2018 and May 2019 all four indexes dropped below their MA’s and still the world did not fall apart, and we did not plunge into a major bear market.  And as we sit, all four indexes are now back above their MA’s.  So, what’s the moral of the story?  Simple – two things:

  1. The fact remains that major bear markets (i.e., the 1 to 3 year -30% or more variety) unfold with all the major averages below their 200-day moving averages.  So, it is important to continue to pay attention.
  2. Whipsaws are a fact of life when it comes to moving averages.

The problem then is that #2 causes a lot of investors to forget or simply dismiss #1.

Here is my advice: Don’t be one of those people.  While a drop below a specific moving average by most or all the indexes may not mean “SELL EVERYTHING” now, it will ultimately mean “SEEK SHELTER” eventually as the next major bear market unfolds.  That is not a “prediction”, that is simply math.

The Bellwethers

I have written in the past about several tickers that I like to track for “clues” about the overall market.  Once again, nothing “magic” about these tickers, but they do have a history of topping out before the major averages prior to bear markets.  So, what are they saying?  See Figure 2.

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Figure 2 – SMH/Dow Transports/ZIV/BID (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

The bellwethers don’t look great overall.

SMH (semiconductor ETF): Experienced a false breakout to new highs in April, then plunged.  Typically, not a good sign, but it has stabilized for now and is now back above its 200-day MA.

Dow Transports: On a “classic” technical analysis basis, this is an “ugly chart.” Major overhead resistance, not even an attempt to test that resistance since the top last September and price currently below the 200-day MA.

ZIV (inverse VIX ETF): Well below it’s all-time high (albeit well above its key support level), slightly above it’s 200-day MA and sort of seems to be trapped in a range.  Doesn’t necessarily scream “SELL”, but the point is it is not suggesting bullish things for the market at the moment.

BID (Sotheby’s – which holds high-end auctions): Just ugly until a buyout offer just appeared.  Looks like this bellwether will be going away.

No one should take any action based solely on the action of these bellwethers.  But the main thing to note is that these “key” (at least in my market-addled mind) things is that they are intended to be a “look behind the curtain”:

*If the bellwethers are exuding strength overall = GOOD

*If the bellwethers are not exuding strength overall = BAD (or at least not “GOOD”)

A Longer-Term Trend-Following Method

In this article I detailed a longer-term trend-following method that was inspired by an article written by famed investor and Forbes columnist Ken Fisher.  The gist is that a top is not formed until the S&P 500 Index goes three calendar months without making a new high.  It made a new high in May, so the earliest this method could trigger an “alert” would be the end of August (assuming the S&P 500 Index does NOT trade above it’s May high in the interim.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

What the Hal?

Some industries are cyclical in nature.  And there is not a darned thing you – or they – can do about it.  Within those industries there are individual companies that are “leaders”, i.e., well run companies that tend to out earn other companies in that given industry and whose stock tends to outperform other companies in that industry.

Unfortunately for them, even they cannot avoid the cyclical nature of the business they are in.  Take Halliburton (ticker HAL) for example.  Halliburton is one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry.  And they do a good job of it. Which is nice.  It does not however, release them from the binds of being a leader in a cyclical industry.

A Turning Point at Hand?

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A quick glance at Figure 1 clearly illustrates the boom/bust nature of the performance of HAL stock.Figure 1 – Halliburton (HAL) (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Which raises an interesting question: is there a way to time any of these massive swings?  Well here is where things get a little murky.  If you are talking about “picking timing tops and bottoms with uncanny accuracy”, well, while there are plenty of ads out there claiming to be able to do just that, in reality that is not really “a thing”.  Still, there may be a way to highlight a point in time where:

*Things are really over done to the downside, and

*For a person who is not going to get crazy and “bet the ranch”, and who understands how a stop-loss order works and is willing to use one…

..there is at least one interesting possibility.

It’s involves a little-known indicator that is based on a more well-known another indicator that was developed by legendary trader Larry Williams roughly 15 or more years ago.  William’s indicator is referred to as “VixFix” and attempts to replicate a VIX-like indicator for any market.  The formula is pretty simple, as follows  (the code is from AIQ Expert Design Studio):

*hivalclose is hival([close],22).

*vixfix is (((hivalclose-[low])/hivalclose)*100)+50.

In English, it is the highest close in the last 22-periods minus the current period low, which is then divided by the highest close in the last 22-periods. The result then gets multiplied by 100 and 50 is added.

Figure 2 displays a monthly chart of HAL with William’s VixFix in the lower clip.  In a nutshell, when price declines VixFix rises and vice versa.

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Figure 2 – HAL Monthly with William’s VixFix (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Now let’s go one more step as follows by creating an exponentially smoothed version as follows (the code is from AIQ Expert Design Studio):

*hivalclose is hival([close],22).

*vixfix is (((hivalclose-[low])/hivalclose)*100)+50. <<<Vixfix from above

*vixfixaverage is Expavg(vixfix,3).  <<<3-period exponential MA of Vixfix

*Vixfixaverageave is Expavg(vixfixaverage,7). <<<7-period exp. MA

I refer to this as Vixfixaverageave (Note to myself: get a better name) because it essentially takes an average of an average.  In English (OK, sort of), first Vixfix is calculated, then a 3-period exponential average of Vixfix is calculated (vixfixaverage) and then a 7-period exponential average of vixfixaverage is calculated to arrive at Vixfixaverageave (got that?)

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Anyway, this indicator appears on the monthly chart for HAL that appears in Figure 3.Figure 3 – HAL with Vixaverageave (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

So here is the idea:

*When Vixfixaverageave for HAL exceeds 96 it is time to start looking for a buying opportunity.

OK, that last sentence is not nearly as satisfying as one that reads “the instant the indicator reaches 96 it is an automatic buy signal and you can’t lose”.  But it is more accurate.  Previous instances of a 96+ reading for Vixfixaverageave for HAL appear in Figure 4.

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Figure 4 – HAL with previous “buy zone” readings from Vixfixaverageave (Courtesy  AIQ TradingExpert)

Note that in previous instances, the actual bottom in price action occurred somewhere between the time the indicator first broke above 96 and the time the indicator topped out.  So, to reiterate, Vixfixaverageave is NOT a “precision timing tool”, per se.  But it may be useful in highlighting extremes.

This is potentially relevant because with one week left in May, the monthly Vixfixaverageave value is presently above 96.  This is NOT a “call to action”.  If price rallies in the next week Vixfixaverageave may still drop back below 96 by month-end.  Likewise, even if it is above 96 at the end of May – as discussed above and as highlighted in Figure 4, when the actual bottom might occur is impossible to know.

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Let me be clear: this article is NOT purporting to say that now is the time to buy HAL.  Figure 5 displays the largest gain, the largest drawdown and the 12-month gain or loss following months when Vixfixaverageave for HAL first topped 96.  As you can see there is alot of variation and volatility.  

Figure 5 – Previous 1st reading above 96 for HAL Vixfixaverageave

So HAL may be months and/or many % points away from an actual bottom.  But the main point is that the current action of Vixfixaverageave suggests that now is the time to start paying attention.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

A Different Kind of Bond Barbell

The “barbell” approach to bond investing typically involves buying a long-term bond fund or ETF and a short-term bond fund or ETF.  The idea is that the long-term component provides the upside potential while the short-term component dampens overall volatility and “smooths” the equity curve.  This article is not intended to examine the relative pros and cons of this approach.  The purpose is to consider an alternative for the years ahead.

The Current Situation

Interest rates bottomed out several years ago and rose significantly from mid-2016 into late 2018.  Just when everyone (OK, roughly defined as “at least myself”) assumed that “rates were about to establish an uptrend” – rates topped in late 2018 and have fallen off since.  Figure 1 displays ticker TYX (the 30-year treasury yield x 10) so you can see for yourself.

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Figure 1 – 30-year treasury yields (TNX) (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

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In terms of the bigger picture, rates have showed a historical tendency to move in 30-year waves.  If that tendency persists then rates should begin to rise off the lows in recent years in a more meaningful way.  See Figure 2.Figure 2 – 60-year wave in interest rates (Courtesy: www.mcoscillator.com)

Will this happen?  No one can say for sure.  Here is what we do know:  If rates decline, long-term treasuries will perform well (as long-term bonds react inversely to the trend in yields) and if rates rise then long-term bond holders stand to get hurt.

So here is an alternative idea for consideration – a bond “barbell” that includes:

*Long-term treasuries (example: ticker VUSTX)

*Floating rate bonds (example: ticker FFRAX)

Just as treasuries rise when rates fall and vice versa, floating rate bonds tend to rise when rates rise and to fall when rates fall, i.e., (and please excuse the use of the following technical terms) when one “zigs” the other “zags”.  For the record, VUSTX and FFRAX have a monthly correlation of -0.29, meaning they have an inverse correlation.

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Figure 3 displays the growth of $1,000 invested separately in VUSTX and FFRAX since FFRAX started trading in 2000.  As you can see the two funds have “unique” equity curves.

Figure 3 – Growth of $1,00 invested in VUSTX and FFRAX separately

Now let’s assume that every year on December 31st we split the money 50/50 between long-term treasuries and floating rate bonds.  This combined equity curve appears in Figure 4.

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Figure 4 – Growth of $1,000 50/50 VUSTX/FFRAX; rebalanced annually

Since 2000, long-treasuries have made the most money.  This is because interest rates declined significantly for most of that period.  If interest rise in the future, long-term treasuries will be expected to perform much more poorly.  However, floating rate bonds should prosper in such an environment.

Figure 5 displays some relevant facts and figures.

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Figure 5 – Relevant performance Figures

The key things to note in Figure 5 are:

*The worst 12-month period for VUSTX was -13.5% and the worst 12-month period for FFRAX was -17.1%.  However, when the two funds are traded together the worst 12-month period was just -5.0%.

*The maximum drawdown for VUSTX was -16.7% and the maximum drawdown for FFRAX was -18.2%.  However, when the two funds are traded together the worst 12-month period was just -8.6%.

Summary

The “portfolio” discussed herein is NOT a recommendation, it is merely “food for thought”.  If nothing else, combining two sectors of the “bond world” that are very different (one reacts well to falling rates and the other reacts well to rising rates) certainly appears to reduce the overall volatility.

My opinion is that interest rates will rise in the years ahead and that long-term bonds are a dangerous place to be.  While my default belief is that investors should avoid long-term bonds during a rising rate environment, the test conducted here suggests that there might be ways for holders of long-term bonds to mitigate some of their interest rate risk without selling their long-term bonds.

Like I said, food for thought.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

A Useful Interest Rate Indicator

2018 witnessed something of a “fake out” in the bond market.  After bottoming out in mid-2016 interest rates finally started to “breakout” to new multi-year highs in mid to late 2018. Then just as suddenly, rates dropped back down.

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Figure 1 displays the tendency of interest rates to move in 60-year waves – 30 years up, 30 years down.  The history in this chart suggests that the next major move in interest rates should be higher.Figure 1 – 60-year wave in interest rates (Courtesy: www.mcoscillator.com)

A Way to Track the Long-Term Trend in Rates

Ticker TNX is an index that tracks the yield on 10-year treasury notes (x10).  Figure 2 displays this index with a 120-month exponential moving average overlaid.  Think of it essentially as a smoothed 10-year average.

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Figure 2 – Ticker TNX with 120-month EMA (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Interpretation is pretty darn simple.  If the month-end value for TNX is:

*Above the 120mo EMA then the trend in rates is UP (i.e., bearish for bonds)

*Below the 120mo EMA then the trend in rates is DOWN (i.e., bullish for bonds)

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Figure 3 displays 10-year yields since 1900 with the 120mo EMA overlaid.  As you can see, rates tend to move in long-term waves.

Figure 3 – 10-year yield since 1900 with 120-month exponential moving average

Two key things to note:

*This simple measure does a good job of identifying the major trend in interest rates

*It will NEVER pick the top or bottom in rates AND it WILL get whipsawed from time to time (ala 2018).

*Rates were in a continuous uptrend from 1950 to mid-1985 and were in a downtrend form 1985 until the 2018 whipsaw.

*As you can see in Figure 2, it would not take much of a rise in rates to flip the indicator back to an “uptrend”.

With those thoughts in mind, Figure 4 displays the cumulative up or down movement in 10-year yields when, a) rates are in an uptrend (blue) versus when rates are in a downtrend (orange).

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Figure 4 – Cumulative move in 10-year yields if interest rate trend is UP (blue) or DOWN (orange)

You can see the large rise in rates from the 1950’s into the 1980’s in the blue line as well as the long-term decline in rates since that time in the orange line.  You can also see the recent whipsaw at the far right of the blue line.

Summary

Where do rates go from here?  It beats me.  As long as the 10-year yield holds below its long-term average I for one will give the bond bull the benefit of the doubt.  But when the day comes that 10-year yields move decisively above their long-term average it will be essential for bond investors to alter their thinking from the mindset of the past 30+ years, as in that environment, long-term bonds will be a difficult place to be.

And that won’t be easy, as old habits die hard.

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Figure 5 is from this article from BetterBuyandHold.com and displays the project returns for short, intermediate and long term bonds if rates were to reverse the decline in rates since 1982.Figure 5 – Projected total return for short, intermediate and long-term treasuries if rates reverse decline in rate of past 30+ years (Courtesy: BetterBuyandHold.com)

When rates finally do establish a new rising trend, short-tern and intermediate term bonds will be the place to be.  When that day will come is anyone’s guess.  But the 10-year yield/120mo EMA method at least we have an objective way to identify the trend shortly after the fact.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.

Trend-Following in One Minute a Month (A Quick Update)

This article is intended to be a quick update to this article.  The original idea is based on the theory propounded by Ken Fischer that suggests that one should not worry about a “top” in the stock market until after the market goes at least 3 months without making a new high.

Three things to note:

*Like all trend-following methods the one detailed in the linked article will experience an occasional whipsaw, i.e., a sell signal at one price followed some time later by a new buy signal with the market at a higher price.

*Like any good trend-following method the real purpose is to help you avoid some significant portion of any major longer-term bear market, i.e., 1973-74, 2000-2002, 2007-2009).

*The secondary purpose is to relieve an investor of that constant “Is this the top, wait, what about this this, this looks like the top, OK never mind, but this, this time it definitely has to be the top” syndrome.

The Rules

For a full explanation of the rules please read the linked article.  In general, though:

*A “Sell alert” occurs when the market makes a 6-month high, then goes 3 full calendar months without piercing that high

*The “trigger” price is the lowest low for the 3 months following the previous high

*A “Sell signal” occurs at the end of the month IF the “trigger” price is pierced to the downside during the current month

*The “trigger” is no longer valid if the S&P 500 makes a high above the high for the previous 6 months prior to an actual “Sell signal”

*If a “Sell signal” occurs then a new “Buy signal” occurs when the S&P 500 makes a high above the high for the previous 6 months

Sounds complicated, but its’s not.  Figure 1 displays the signals and alerts and trigger prices since 2005.

Green Arrows = Buy Signal

Red Arrows = Sell Signal

Red horizontal lines = Sell trigger price

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Figure 1 – One Minute a Month Trend-Following Alerts, Trigger prices and Signals (Courtesy AIQ TradingExpert)

Note that actual sell signals occurred in 2008, 2011 and 2015.  The signal in 2008 was a life-saver, while the signals in 2011 and 2015 resulted in small whipsaws.  Sorry folks, that’s just the nature of the beast.

Interestingly, there have been two “Sell alerts” in the last year.  The first occurred at the end of April 2018, however, that alert was invalidated at the end of August 2018 when the S&P 500 pierced the previous 6-month high.  Another alert occurred at the end of December 2018.  The “Trigger price” is the December 2018 low of 2346.58.  That trigger is still active but could be invalidated if the month of May 2019 makes a high above whatever the high for April 2019 turns out to be.

The key point here is that despite the volatility and painful sell-offs in October and December of 2018, the “system” has remained on a buy signal.

Where to from here?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Jay Kaeppel

Disclaimer:  The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources.  While I believe the data to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information.  The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice, an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security.