Archive for the ‘Stock Market’ Category

The Markets Need Psychotherapy

Monday, December 15th, 2014

“The whole idea that the stock market reflects fundamentals is, I think, wrong.  It really reflects psychology.  The aggregate stock market reflects psychology more than fundamentals.”

Robert Shiller, Nobel Prize-winning economist

Tired of low returns?  You may be a bond investor.

Bond investors have been “growing tired of low returns, the endless warnings that rates are about to rise, and constant reminders of the dangers of riskier bonds,” according to Jeffrey Matthias, CFA, CIPM of Madison Investment Advisors.

At the same time, they’ve watched the stock market continue to break new records every time there’s another sign that a central bank somewhere may buy a few bonds or lower interest rates into negative territory.

“None of us have ever lived through this kind of extreme, long-lasting suppressed rate environment,” Matthias wrote, and, as a result, those bond investors who are mad-as-hell-and-are-not-going-to-take-it-anymore have been frustrated enough to take on a lot more risk for a little more yield. Central Bank Assets

When you chase yield, you catch risk.  It’s a dangerous reaction to the yin and yang of investing – fear and greed.

“Typically, when markets are moving higher,” Matthias wrote, “most investors turn greedy and want more.  Should an investor’s more conservatively positioned portfolio produce lower returns when the market surges, the investor may regret not having taken more risk.  In contrast, should a riskier portfolio drop significantly in market value, the opposite may happen and an investor may begin to regret (his or her) decision to have invested in risker assets.  This can be accompanied by a fearful overreaction.”

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Satan Is a High-Frequency Trader

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Satan is now firmly in control of the markets.

No, we’re not talking about Ben Bernanke, aka Edward Quince.  His time has passed.  We’re talking about a high-frequency trader who also happens to be hell’s CEO.

satanAs evidence, consider Thursday’s market plunge.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell 334.97 points, its largest loss of the year.  The drop took place, as Zerohedge noted, after “ ‘someone’ canceled-and-replaced orders for 666 contracts 26 times in the 1130ET to 1200ET period,” after which “selling accelerated lower, no reversal, to close at the lows on heavy volume.”

The number 666 is, of course, the winning number in hell’s lottery.  To trade 666 contracts 26 times, you need a lot of capital in your account.  Most traders would avoid using the devil’s number, but someone – or, more likely, some firm – was trying to make a statement.

What could it mean?  That Satan is in charge, of course.

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Isn’t summer supposed to be the time when life slows down and the world takes a vacation?

That may be the case for some of us, but the despots of the world are working overtime.  Consider just a few of the world crises taking place this summer:

  • Russia’s conflict with Ukraine continues.  The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by pro-Russian rebels has done little to stop it.
  • Hamas is fighting with Israel over Gaza.  A cease fire is in place, but Hamas has shown little respect for previous cease fires and it is unlikely that this crisis has ended.
  • Muslim terrorists known as ISIS are making inroads in Iraq.  It’s reached the point where President Obama has reversed his policy and announced that U.S. military airstrikes will take place “if necessary.”
  • Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad continues to slaughter his people, while the country’s conflict threatens to spill over into Lebanon.
  • The newly inaugurated Libyan parliament has called for a cease fire and threatened to act against warring militias that continue fighting.
  • Al-Qaeda-linked sect Boko Haram continues to hold more than 200 schoolgirls captive in Nigeria.
  • Iran is developing nuclear weapons, although the U.S. State Department said U.S. and Iranian officials had a “constructive discussion” this week about Iran’s nuclear program.  There’s some conjecture that, even if Iran were to agree to halt its nuclear development program, it could outsource the program to North Korea.

    Gaza today.

    Gaza today.

Remember the end of the Cold War, the resulting “peace dividend” and the economic growth of the ’90s?  Remember life before the financial crisis?  Much has happened since then and most of it has not been good.

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Bad News – The Economy May be Recovering

Friday, August 1st, 2014

“This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”

                                                                    Prince

Imagine this.  After more than five years of mediocre economic growth and a quarter of “negative growth,” the economy grew at a rate of 4.0% in the second quarter.

At least that’s what the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said.  The BEA previously estimated that the economy shrank by 2.9% during the first quarter, but has readjusted its analysis and now says that the economy shrank by 2.1% in the first quarter.Inventory

From 2.9% “negative growth” to 4.0% positive growth is a swing of nearly 7% in a span of just three months.

That’s quite a swing … but do you believe it?  After all, Q1 growth was reported at -1%, -2.9% and finally -2.1%, so how much confidence should we have in the BEA’s first report for Q2?

Meteorologists are often criticized for erring on the weather, but they’re forecasting.  The BEA is trying to tell us what happened more than a month ago – and still can’t get it right.

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The Fed Goes Long

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Few investors today would consider investing in long-term Treasury bonds.

The yield curve, which measures the spread between interest rates for short-term and long-term bonds, is not as flat as it has been in recent years, but that’s faint hope for investors.

A 10-year Treasury is still yielding less than 3% interest.  If the Federal Reserve Board achieves its goal of pushing inflation up to 2%, the real interest on a 10-year bond purchased today will be under 1%, payable at maturity.yield-curve-investwithalex

If the Fed overshoots its goal and inflation moves higher, which is highly likely, a 10-year bond would produce a negative yield.  What’s the probability that inflation will remain lower that the current yield on a 10-year Treasury over that entire period?

The U.S. has not had a period when inflation remained below 3% for a 10-year period since the days of the Great Depression.  During the period of recession then slow growth that we’ve experienced since the financial crisis began in 2008, inflation has remained low and the Fed’s focus has been on fighting deflation.  But when the economy improves and normal growth returns, inflation is likely to move significantly higher, as higher inflation is a byproduct of a healthy economy.

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Shining a Light on Dark Pools

Friday, April 11th, 2014

“Unless there are some changes, there’s going to be a massive crash, a flash crash times ten.”                                            Ron Morgan and Brian Levine, Goldman Sachs

As recently as 2005, dark pools made up 3% to 5% of trading activity.  Today, it’s 12%.

Dark pools are like fraternal clubs, but without the secret handshake.  No one talks about them, so they’re a mystery to the world at large.  Many were unfamiliar with dark pools until this past week, when The Wall Street Journal announced that Goldman Sachs is planning to close its Sigma X dark pool, which is one of the industry’s largest and darkest pools.  (Goldman has not confirmed that action.)Dark Pools 2

So what is a dark pool?  It’s a stock exchange where trading takes place in the “dark,” which means the size and price of orders are not revealed to other participants.

To some extent, dark pools are a reaction to high-frequency trading (HFT), which we discussed last week and in other previous posts.  When trades take place in the dark, algorithmic traders can’t take advantage of them.

Theoretically, if dark trades, which are typically high volume trades, took place in the light of day, high-frequency traders would amplify the impact of such trades and potentially cause another flash crash.  Or worse.

But on Wall Street, of course, nothing is ever that simple.  There’s more to dark pools than that.  Consider some of the questions that dark pools raise:

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Good Market Rigging vs. Bad Market Rigging

Friday, April 4th, 2014

“The markets are rigged. … These firms make their money by front-running trades. They’re using their speed advantage to buy shares first and then selling them back at a higher price. The result is higher prices for investors in those shares. That’s rigged.”                                                                                                                                      Michael Lewis

Based on the Federal Reserve Board’s actions of the past five years, you may have thought that “market rigging” was a good thing.  After all, a great deal of wealth has been created from the Fed’s bond buying – although, granted, almost all of it went to those who were already wealthy.

But suddenly, high-frequency trading is being charged with rigging the markets and it’s creating a bit of a furor.  Apparently the Fed is responsible for good rigging and HFT is responsible for bad rigging.  Consider this week’s HFT-related news:

  • Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, was interviewed by “60 Minutes” in advance of publication of his book, Flash Boys, in which he makes the case that HFT rigs the markets against the small investor.

  • There was the heavy backlash from those who disagree with his conclusion … that is, the people who make money off of high-frequency trading.  Supporters contend that HFT has created liquidity and reduced the cost of trading for small investors.  In other words, the market is rigged against small investors, but it costs them less to make a trade.  Yippee!!
  • Then there’s The Wall Street Journal’s announcement this week that HFT is being investigated by the FBI – not the Securities and Exchange Commission (although it is participating in the investigation), the FBI.  You know, the guys who investigate bank robberies, money laundering, drug cartels and the Mafia.  And now you can add high-frequency trading to that list.  Apparently, insider trading was already taken. (more…)

Think Like a Rat

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Experiments show that if you put rats in a maze and give them a jolt of electricity when they go the wrong way, they will eventually go the right way.

Apparently, humans may not be that smart.Two white laboratory rats in a maze

OK, we’re smarter than rats.  We know better.  But we believe what we want to believe.  And right now, a majority of those who invest believe the “trend is our friend.”

We forget that what goes up must come down, regardless of how many bonds the Fed buys.  It’s a scary world and no amount of irrational investor confidence can keep the market aloft forever.

In the first decade of the new millennium, we lived through two difficult bear markets, each of which chopped stock prices nearly in half.  The bear market of 2000 to 2003 was caused by the irrational belief that tech stock prices moved in only one direction.  The bear market of 2007 to 2009 was caused by the irrational belief that housing prices moved in only one direction.

So here we are just five years removed from the last bear market and investors are acting as though stock prices move in only one direction.  Investors have already forgotten that bubbles burst.

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Fundamentally Flawed

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Imagine if the outcome of a football game depended more on the weather than on the talent of the players.

Weather, indeed, can have an impact and should, but its role is usually to test the talents of the players, not to be the primary factor in the outcome.  When it is the primary factor, anything can happen.  In such cases, would you put money on the game?

The weather is not the number one factor affecting the performance of the stock market these days, but neither is the talent of the players – that is, the fundamental performance of publicly held companies.

In recent years, The Federal Reserve Board has held sway over the market’s performance via quantitative easing, although under former Chair Ben Bernanke, it was somewhat more predictable than the weather.AUDJPY

Now, with tapering under way, that may change (we’ll see, as many expect plenty of bond buying ahead).  Yet other world events may replace QE in determining the performance of the market.  That means potentially greater volatility than we’ve experienced in the easy money era.

It doesn’t take much to affect today’s global economy, especially when the impact of events is amplified by high-frequency trading.  Consider, for example, the impact of the falling yen and Australian dollar on the S&P 500.

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We Told You So

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Sometimes the best investment advice is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

When the stock market was in free fall during the financial crisis, many investors who had hung on for as long as they could take it finally gave up and sold their stocks, locking in huge losses and missing out on a historic rally.

Last summer, with the first hint that the Federal Reserve Board would be tapering its bond purchases, interest rates began to rise and investors sold bonds in record numbers.  In many cases, investors moved more money into stocks, as the market continued to set records throughout 2013 after a brief drop that was fueled by taper talk. Bond Chart

That’s proven to be a mistake, as bonds have so far outperformed stocks in 2014.  In fact, 10-year Treasuries have outperformed the S&P 500 by about 620 basis points.

We’ve suggested that investors not give up on bonds and likewise suggested that gold may shine again, in spite of its tarnished 2013 performance.  Recent trends suggest that it’s worth repeating this advice.

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