In this issue of “Risk Exceeds Reward – Why We Took Profits.”
- Market Struggles With All-Time Highs
- Sentiment Is Getting Overly Bullish
- Valuations Vs. Momentum
- Portfolio Positioning Update
- MacroView: The Fed Will Monetize All Debt Issuance
- Sector & Market Analysis
- 401k Plan Manager
Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week
Market Struggles With All-Time Highs
Last week, I started “Market Breaks Out” with the following paragraph.
“If you like volatility, then this past week was for you. On Monday, the announcement by Pfizer sent markets screaming higher. Subsequently, the market faded into the end of the day. Since the highs of September, the market is now just 0.50% higher today. Like I said, if you like volatility, you have gotten a good dose of it.
Fast-forward to this past Monday, and I can repeat the same opening.
“If you like volatility, then this past week was for you. On Monday, the announcement by Moderna sent markets screaming higher. Subsequently, the market faded into the end of the day. Since the highs of September, the market is -.65% lower today. Like I said, if you like volatility, you have gotten a good dose of it.
Importantly, just because the market is overbought, extended, and deviated from long-term averages does not necessarily mean an immediate correction. Such requires a catalyst. The overbought conditions provide the fuel for the correction. (We discuss the potential catalyst in “Portfolio Positioning” below.)
However, with the market slowly “leaking” over the past week, a “sell” signal is approaching. Over the last few months, it has paid to be a bit more cautious at this point.
Furthermore, with the number of stocks now trading above their 200-dma at the highest level we have seen over the last 5-years, short-term corrections have often followed.
As we wrote in “Bulls Go Ballistic,” bullish sentiment has surged post-election despite rising virus cases, returning shutdowns, and lack of stimulus.
At the same time, investors are rushing in; insiders are “selling out.”
For these reasons, we continue to suggest some caution through active portfolio risk management until some of the excesses get reversed.
Sentiment Is Getting Very High
As noted, it just isn’t domestic “sentiment” becoming extended. SentimenTrader shows that sentiment has shot up to extremes on a global basis as well. To wit:
“The stock market has mostly only gone in 1 direction since March: up. Since the various pullbacks along the way were very shallow, extremely optimistic sentiment never had a chance to properly wash out. As a result, sentiment across the world is now at sky-high levels. For example, our Smart Money/dumb Money Confidence Spread is at -0.69, one of the lowest readings ever.”
And optimism on an intermediate-term basis is at one of its highest readings of 83.
Importantly, and as we discussed on Tuesday, there is a plurality of indicators showing simultaneous outbreaks of optimism.
Buy The Rumor. Sell The News.
Jeffrey Marcus summed up our thoughts well in his Monday morning post to RIA Pro Subscribers (30-Day Risk-Free Trial)
“The recent rally has been driven by the former losers and much of this performance happened after the PFEs 11/9 announcement of very positive vaccine data. The moves since 11/9 are so dramatic that they have destroyed many statistical models.
Jon Quigley who manages $3.8 billion wrote to clients, that events that happened statistically should never happen. The occurrence statistically only happens roughly once every:
‘5,944,505,312,905,660,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 days in a normally-distributed return series, (Bloomberg 11/13/20).’
How long exactly is that? It equates to roughly
- 1 in every 1.629 x 10^76 years, OR
- 1.2 x 10^66 age of the universe.
“In a market run in part by models, machines, and day-traders, this probably should not have been a surprise. Its not a coincidence were seeing more 6 sig+ moves relative to history, Cem Karsan, founder of Aegea Capital Management LLC, tweeted, using the symbol denoting standard deviation.
These arent your fathers equity markets.
Jeff concludes with two questions.
- Is the current relative performance pattern sustainable?
- Should we now expect more fat-tail events?
His answers were simplistic:
- Maybe not; and,
So You Are Saying A “Crash” Is Coming?
No, that’s not what I am saying, implying, or even remotely suggesting.
For some reason, the markets have become more bipartisan than politics – with ‘bulls’ and ‘bears’ both ‘social distancing’ as much as possible.” – Real Investment Show
When it comes to investing, being either “bullish” or “bearish” is detrimental to your long-term returns. Confining yourself into one “camp” or the other stops you from evaluating data that may run contrary to your view. In behavioral finance, such is called “confirmation bias.”
To be a successful investor long-term, you must evaluate data for what it is and make decisions even if it runs contrary to mainstream views.
The data tells us the current market advance is well ahead of itself in the short-term. Historically, when “optimism” levels get to more extreme levels, the markets have experienced short- to intermediate-term corrections at the least, and sometimes more.
It is worth repeating my concluding point from last week:
“When people take ‘a little risk’ and get rewarded for it, they are then encouraged to take ‘a little more risk.’ As my colleague Victor Adair notes, ‘People in the ‘crowd’ don’t appreciate the risks they are taking because they’re surrounded by people who believe the market will keep going up.'”
Such is currently the case. Everyone is now thoroughly convinced that markets can not go down due to the Federal Reserve interventions.
Maybe they are right? Perhaps this time is different?
Unfortunately, it usually just about the time “the crowd” becomes overly optimistic that an unexpected outcome occurs.
As Bob Farrell once quipped:
“When all experts agree, something else usually happens.”
Valuations Vs. Momentum
My partner, Michael Lebowitz, penned an excellent piece this week on valuations and long-term returns. I highly suggest reading the entirety of the article, but here is the crucial point.
“Regardless of the economic environment, taking significant risks, and accepting pitiful expected returns is a bad idea. The average of the 10-year expected returns from the four gauges is -0.75%. When the Fed backs off, whether by its design or due to inflation, slower economic growth, or massive debt overhead, rich valuations will matter.”
“The NYSE is the only place in the world that when the sign says ‘Everyday high prices’, everyone gets excited. If Walmart had the same sign, instead of ‘Everyday low prices’, no one would show up.” – Peter Boockvar
Running With The Herd
As we have stated, “valuations” are a terrible “market timing” indicator. However, valuations tell you everything you need to know about future returns. It is about “sentiment” and “herd psychology” more than anything else in the very short-term.
As my colleague, Doug Kass observed on Thursday in his “Real Money Diary.”
‘Time and time again traders and investors robotically and often emotionally follow price and ignore the simple notion that higher stock prices are the enemy of the rational buyer and lower prices are the ally of the rational buyer.
Too often as stock prices rise, investors cheer and commonly ignore the consequences of buying at a high and elevated entry price.
And, too often as stock prices drop, investors panic and commonly ignore the consequences of selling at a low and depressed exit price.
Thanks to a changing market structure, where active investing is overwhelmed by passive investing, mentalities have changed. Such also helps explain the popularity and proliferation of exchange-traded funds, quant strategies, and products that worship at the altar of price momentum. In its essence, ‘buyers live higher and sellers live lower.’
This evolution in market structure has arguably resulted in the least informed investor base in history as machines and exchange-traded funds know nothing about price and everything about value.”
The problem is volatility has become a “wicked master.” As we saw in March, the “elevator down” can come swiftly. With investors piling into ETFs, and algorithmic quant strategies chasing momentum, markets will be more susceptible to wild future swings. When investors and robots try to “exit the theater” simultaneously, the drops will be swift with little notice.
Portfolio Positioning Update
Last Monday, just after Moderna made their vaccine announcement, I tweeted:
Our job is to adjust our allocations to capture profits and protect capital when the “risk/reward” profile becomes unbalanced. On Monday, we reduced our exposure by increasing our bond holdings last Wednesday and raising cash levels Monday. Such was the point I made Tuesday in our “3-Minutes” video.
A Catalyst For A Decline
When markets are incredibly exuberant and extended, all that is needed to spark a short-term corrective process is a “catalyst.”
Following Thanksgiving and into the first two weeks of December, mutual funds must distribute their capital gains and interest for the year. As shown below, fund managers are carrying some of the lowest cash balances on record; we could see selling pressure to make distributions.
We Play The Probabilities
While many will read this article as being “bearish,” it isn’t.
As portfolio managers, we manage the risk of capital loss against the potential for reward. In other words, we “we prepare for the probabilities, but leave room to adjust for the possibilities.”
No one knows with certainty what the future holds, which is why we must manage portfolio risk accordingly and be prepared to react when conditions change.
I am neither bullish nor bearish. I follow a straightforward set of rules that are the core of our portfolio management philosophy. We focus on capital preservation and long-term “risk-adjusted” returns. Importantly, no discipline is perfect. Nothing works “all the time.”
However, any discipline or strategy works better than “no strategy at all.”
Everyone approaches money management differently.
Such is just the way we do it.
If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.
See You Next Week
By Lance Roberts, CIO
Market & Sector Analysis
Analysis & Stock Screens Exclusively For RIAPro Members
S&P 500 Tear Sheet
The technical overbought/sold gauge comprises several price indicators (RSI, Williams %R, etc.), measured using “weekly” closing price data. Readings above “80” are considered overbought, and below “20” is oversold.
Portfolio Positioning “Fear / Greed” Gauge
The “Fear/Greed” gauge is how individual and professional investors are “positioning” themselves in the market based on their equity exposure. From a contrarian position, the higher the allocation to equities, to more likely the market is closer to a correction than not. The gauge uses weekly closing data.
Sector Model Analysis & Risk Ranges
How To Read.
- The table compares each sector and market to the S&P 500 index on relative performance.
- The “MA XVER” is determined by whether the short-term weekly moving average crosses positively or negatively with the long-term weekly moving average.
- The risk range is a function of the month-end closing price and the “beta” of the sector or market.
- The table shows the price deviation above and below the weekly moving averages.
Weekly Stock Screens
Currently, there are 3-different stock screens for you to review. The first is S&P 500 based companies with a “Growth” focus, the second is a “Value” screen on the entire universe of stocks, and the last are stocks that are “Technically” strong and breaking above their respective 50-dma.
We have provided the yield of each security and a Piotroski Score ranking to help you find fundamentally strong companies on each screen. (For more on the Piotroski Score – read this report.)
S&P 500 Growth Screen
Low P/B, High-Value Score, High Dividend Screen
Aggressive Growth Strategy
Portfolio / Client Update
The past week was crazy. On Monday, Moderna announced they might have a vaccine that could be 94.5% effective, trumping Pfizer‘s 90% effectiveness. That market rallied on Monday but gave it all back on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As noted last week, we finally got some “love” in our “value” stocks like CLX, CVS, CVX, and RTX. And this past week, due to more extreme extensions in these stocks, we took profits and raised cash levels by 5%. (See below)
With next week being a holiday-shortened week, the “inmates tend to run the asylum.” If we continue to see a relative increase in these value names, we will add some more incrementally. Having extra cash will give us a bit of protection against volatility. Also, as noted in the newsletter’s main body, we are about to enter the mutual fund distribution season, which could apply more pressure to stocks. We may raise more cash and hedge if our indicators turn lower.
This past week we made the following changes to portfolios, as we noted in real-time on RIAPRO.NET.
“As noted in this past weekend’s Real Investment Report the market has gotten back to more extreme overbought, extended, and bullish levels. Historically, such a setup has led to short-term corrections, or worse.
While the vaccine news on this morning is certainly welcome, the markets have already priced much of that into stocks currently. Considering a vaccine won’t be widely available to mid- to late-next year, the economic weakness will continue to weigh on profitability for now.
As such, we are taking profits in some of our more egregiously extended positions and will use a post-Thanksgiving correction to add back to holdings at a cheaper level.”
Equity Portfolio – Taking Profits
- CVX from 2.5% to 1.5%
- CMCSA from 3% to 2.5%
- GOOG from 2.5% to 2%
- AAPL from 3% to 2.5%
- VZ from 3% to 2.5%
- UNH from 2.5% to 2%
- CVS from 2% to 1.5%
- TLT from 15% to 12.5%
ETF Portfolio – Taking Profits
- CVX from 2.5% to 1.5%
- XLV from 9% to 8%
- XLP from 6.5% to 5.5%
- XLB from 3% to 2%
- TLT from 15% to 12.5%
As always, our short-term concern remains the protection of your portfolio. We have now shifted our focus from the election back to the economic recovery and where we go from here.
THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER
A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors
If you need help after reading the alert, do not hesitate to contact me.
Model performance is a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. Such is strictly for informational and educational purposes only, and one should not rely on it for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.
401k Plan Manager Live Model
As anRIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free), you can access our live 401k plan manager.
Compare your current 401k allocation to our recommendation for your company-specific plan and our on 401k model allocation.
You can also track performance, estimate future values based on your savings and expected returns, and dig down into your sector and market allocations.
If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.
Lance Roberts is a Chief Portfolio Strategist/Economist for RIA Advisors. He is also the host of “The Lance Roberts Podcast” and Chief Editor of the “Real Investment Advice” website and author of “Real Investment Daily” blog and “Real Investment Report“. Follow Lance on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and YouTube
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