August 8th, 2013

Portfolio Management: Part 4 – “Preservation” or “Growth”? Why Not Have Both

Asset Allocations

 

The debate about portfolio management centers on whether one needs to “predict” or “react” for good performance.  The professionals settle that for themselves by claiming that since no one can predict the future, the best anyone can do is to diversify into many different asset classes (i.e., equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, domestic and foreign, income and growth, large and small capitalization).  Economists like John Mauldin fall into this camp.  He and other perma-bear economists have been seeing top for most of the last 10-15% of the market’s move.  Mauldin recently wrote:

“This is a terrific time to take some profits and diversify away from the growth-oriented risk factors that dominate most investors’ portfolios. Instead of concentrating risk in one asset class or one country, investors can boost returns and achieve more balance by taking a global view, by broadening the mix of core asset classes, and by weighting those return streams to achieve balance across potential economic outcomes (rather than trying to predict the future) …..

 

broadening this mix of core assets – so that you have some element of your portfolio that responds positively to every potential economic season – and managing the relative allocations to each economic scenario may be your biggest opportunity to add value in the investing process.  You have a lot to gain from diversifying as broadly as possible, eliminating unrewarded costs, reducing your reliance on equity risk, and reining in the emotional mistakes that often lead investors to dramatically underperform.”

What these portfolio managers don’t understand is that one doesn’t necessarily have to predict where the market will be next week, next month or next year.  They claim that the only way to protect a portfolio against uncertainty when funds need to be withdrawn is to allocate assets among different classes based on today’s predictions and then rebalance periodically.  But an alternative approach is to aim for the highest returns while at the same time reacting and responding to abnormal and unexpected volatility immediately after it occurs.

In the previous article about the “Ultimate Buy-and-Hold Strategy” , the basic premise was that by assembling a specific mix of asset classes for a very long time (actually, 42 years) you would have reduced the volatility of a portfolio without significantly and not reduced its return.  However, nearly everyone would agree that, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been wonderful to have had the foresight to assemble a portfolio in 1970 and hold it until today, or 42 years.  But would that same approach produce the best results if you were to assemble the portfolio today, at the end of a 13-year secular Bear Market?  Thirteen years hence would we be better off if we assumed today that the next 13 years would be more similar to the 1982-2000 Bull Market than either the secular Bear Markets of the 1970′s and 2000′s?

We can’t predict the future but the odds are that the next 13 years won’t be even similar to the past 13 years.  Using the same data as Merriman’s, the “Buy-and-Hold” portfolio management approach delivers much different results had the portfolio started at different points and had different end dates?  As an alternative test, four hypothetical $200,000 portfolios were split into two parts, 60% in equities and 40% in fixed income, and rebalanced annually.  The annual returns since 1970 for equities and fixed income securities came from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.  The four test portfolios were:

  • 1970-2012 (the 42 year “buy-and-hold” base case),
  • 1982-1999 (the last 17 year secular bull market),
  • 2000-2012 (the current 12-year secular bear market) and
  • 1970-1982 (the previous 12-year secular bear market).

There’s no question that, regardless of when the Portfolio was originally created, the 60/40 blended portfolio would always have been less volatile (as measured by the standard deviation of the portfolio’s annual change in value) than a 100% stock portfolio but more volatile than a 100% fixed income portfolio (click on images to enlarge).

Portfolio 1970-2012
Portfolio 1970-1982
Portfolio 2000-2012
Portfolio 1982-1999 But what is also true is that at end of the holding period, your portfolio would be worth more if you had been 100% in stocks than if you had blended in a percentage of fixed income …. sometimes much more.  As a matter of fact, if you had started your portfolio at the beginning of 1982 and held it somewhere close to the top of the Secular Bull Market when the Tech Bubble burst, then your portfolio would have delivered an average annual 19.12% and wound up worth 166% of the 60/40% mix and 388% of a fixed income only portfolio.  [Due to the spectacular decline in interest rates since the crash of the real estate bubble in 1977 - a trend that was as unprecedented as the secular bull market of the 1980-90's - a fixed income portfolio would have out-performed an equity portfolio by 152% but neither delivered much more than 7.2% average annual return for the 12 years.]

As I see it, you shouldn’t have to pick a single goal.  Are you wealthy enough to focus on “preservation” rather than “growth” in your portfolio?  Are you so preoccupied in other matters than you can’t react to changes in trend of any particular asset class; remember, both the Tech Bubble burst and the Financial Crisis evolved over 6 months.  Catch up on the major economic and business news once a week, make only incremental adjustments (i.e., not more than 10% of the portfolio at each decision) and you’ll be able to manage your portfolio.  You don’t need to predict the future you only need to review, react and respond as changes demand.  Portfolio management shouldn’t be day-trading but it can be more than just a “buy-and-hold” portfolio.  You can generate growth as well as preserve your capital.

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January 2nd, 2013

Shaking Off the Fear

If you’re an individual investor, one of the most important articles of last week besides the focus on the “Fiscal Cliff” debacle was an article in the December 29 Washington Post entitled “Bull market roars past many U.S. investors“.  The gist of the story was that “Americans have missed out on almost $200 billion of stock gains as they drained money from the market in the past four years, haunted by the financial crisis……Individuals are withdrawing money as political leaders struggle to avert budget cuts that threaten to throw the economy into a new slump.”

According to the Post, much of the damage to investors is “self-inflicted” because of fear and anxiety brought on by market volatility and memories of past “crashes”.  However, U.S. growth has improved and earnings tied to the economic are expanding.  Those improvements have been reflected in stock prices.  Of the 500 stocks comprising the S&P 500 Index, 481 are higher now than they were in March 2009 or when they entered the gauge.  Some of the statistics supporting these conclusions are:

  • Investors are lowering the proportion of stocks they own in retirement funds during a bull market for the first time in 20 years.
  • The proportion of stocks in the assets in 401(k) and IRA (excluding money market funds) fell to 72 percent from 72.5 percent in 2009.
  • The percentage of households owning stock mutual funds has dropped every year since 2008 to 46.4 percent in 2011, the second-lowest since 1997. [Of course, this could also result from the wide choice, availability and acceptance of competitive ETFs]
  • New money has gone to the relative safety of fixed-income investments as corporate bonds and Treasuries have received nearly $1 trillion since March 2009.

Housing is making a comeback and housing stocks were among the leaders last year, banks are on the mend and financial stocks were also among the best performers and 2013 auto sales are projected to approach 1.5 million. Is it time then for individual investors to begin fearing declines in the value of their fixed income investments as interest rates reverse (regardless of Bernanke’s protestations to the contrary) and start moving money back into stocks?

Meanwhile, institutional investors (the group I call the “herd”) hasn’t fared that well in the market either.  According to in December 26 Wall Street Journal article entitled “2012 Was Good for Stocks, Bad for Stock Pundits“,

  • At the end of 2011, Mr. Cramer warned investors to avoid bank stocks. Oops. They were one of the best-performing sectors in 2012. He urged investors to avoid real estate, but housing prices are up more than 2% from a year ago…..and the stocks of home builders, as measured by the S&P Homebuilders exchange-traded fund, are up 53.6%.
  • Of the 65 market “gurus” tracked during the last few years by CXO Advisory Group, the median accuracy for market calls is 47%. If that sounds low, or you wonder about the quality of the pundit, consider that the list includes such well-known names as Bill Fleckenstein (37%), Jeremy Grantham (48%), Bill Gross (46%) and Louis Navellier (60%).

So how do I deal with the noise coming from the “talking heads” and the uncertain produced by the market?  I maintain my equanimity in the face of volatility by relying on how market participants have behaved during similar situations in the market’s history.  I rely on my Market Momentum Meter to give me some indication of what market participants believe will happen, on average, in the near-term as reflected in their collective buying and selling decisions.  It’s measure by whether they are pushing prices up or down and the momentum behind those decisions.

The Market Momentum Meter turned a bright Green on January 31, 2012 when the Index was 1312.41, or 10.25% under today’s close of 1462.42.  It wasn’t Green for only 10 trading days during the year (the longest period was 7 days around the November correction low:

Like a parent who never quite trusts riding in a car that his kid is driving, I didn’t fully trust my own creation.  It took me a few months after that Green signal at the end of January to increase the money I had in stocks.  As hard as I tried to totally drown out the noise (news) about Euro debt and currency problems and, more recently, the fiscal cliff debates, I never could bring myself to be fully invested and, like corporate America, always had a significant amount of cash on the sidelines.  And then in after the November elections, as the Market reacted to the realization of a second Obama term and continued Congressional stalemate, it looked for a couple of weeks like we might see a repeat of the 2011 market implosion.  Fortunately, I waited this one out and saw money begin flowing back into stocks as prices quickly recovered.

Like many other market participants, I need additional “guarantees”.  Even though the Meter says that these sorts of market conditions in the past have lead to higher prices and that it’s all clear to be fully invested with relatively low risk, I still want to see the Index continue its assault on the all-time highs by first crossing above where it stalled out last September.  When that happens (which could be next week), I’ll feel more comfortable putting rest of cash to work.

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August 29th, 2012

Every Trading Range Is Not a Reversal Top

One of the “Talking Heads” regularly trotted out by CNBC to share his wisdom is Dennis Gartman.  He usually makes some sort of esoteric, useless recommendation like “I’m not buying gold in Dollars but am buying it in [Australian Dollars, Indian Rupee, Thai Baht, Japanese Yen or some other currency which is equally meaningless to his US audience but meant to make him sound like a true authority.  Instead, I just chuckle at his pomposity.

In any event, he's been taking a different tack recently calling for a market decline.  One June 4, Gartman announced the beginning of a new Bear Market:

"The weak U.S. jobs report for May and a deterioration in the U.S. economy will lead the U.S. Federal Reserve to announce another round of quantitative easing as early as this month....could come as early as the Fed’s next meeting on June 19-20, or at the following meeting on July 31-Aug. 1. The central bank will want to ease as “far ahead” of the U.S. presidential election in November as possible, so it doesn't come off as being "politically amenable" to the current administration...."I'd much rather be optimistic than pessimistic, but I think the European governments have forced me into being somewhat pessimistic,....But will [QE3] have a bullish effect on the stock market? Probably not. The fact that they need to do it alone is very disturbing.”

On June 4, the S&P 500 was 1278.18, or 10.35% lower than today’s close.  Not having changed his mind (nor learned his lesson), Gartman went back on the CNBC air to reiterate his nervousness:

“We saw divergences between the transports and the Dow Industrials — old-style, Dow-type theory things — a lot of people having been bullish.  Now I’m just neutral.  I’m flat, and I’m nervous.”

So what’s causing all this angst for those who are supposed to be cool and collected?  I’d say it’s their superimposing what they see in the global macro-economic environment onto the market’s narrow range.  A friend of mine used to say that “if the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail”.  In a similar paraphrasing vein, “if you’re basically a pessimist then every trading range looks like a reversal top.”

The market must be offering a lot of fodder for pessimist these days because, if you are so inclined, you can envision a “double-top” emerging from the huge trading range the market’s been stuck in since March:

Yes, if I squint hard enough I can can perhaps begin seeing the possibility of an emerging double-top.  But the market is far from clearly completing the left shoulder.  The May trough is the single pivot “defining” the lower boundary of the horizontal channel (two, if you consider the pivot point at the November 2011 peak to be a part of this emerging pattern) and that is a long way from a fully formed congestion pattern.

I don’t deny that there may be a correction around the corner but it’s a long way to a fully formed reversal top.  I’m also cautious but not so worried as to be ready to start dismantling my portfolio of excellent stocks.  One of the reasons I’m not ready yet to see the market’s reversal top is that, at the individual stock level, I see too on my watchlist as if they’re ready to finally break above key resistance levels.  One typical example of many is SRCL, one a leading momentum stock:

So let’s not walk around with a hammer breaking everything because all you see are nails.  Let’s not allow our basic caution mistake every trading range as a reversal top.

 

August 16th, 2012

Scaling the Wall of Worry

Are we at a bullish or bearish pivot point?  If you’re looking for market advice from CNBC you’re looking at the wrong place.  The best way to get viewers is to create and stimulate controversy and that’s what CNBC does every single day.  You get a lot of different opinions but you can’t get just one straight opinion that you can act on.

A perfect example was how they juxtaposed, on two successive days earlier this week, Jeremy Segal of Wharton Business School articulating a bullish outlook followed the next day by Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners pushing a bearish perspective today.  Interestingly, couched inside both opinions were opposing opinions on the impact of Romney’s selection of Ryan as his V.P. candidate:

  • First, they put on Jeremy Siegel who endorsed the Ryan selection because of Ryan’s budget-cutting efforts and suggested that, as a consequence, the market will advance to around 1500.
  • Kass came the next day suggesting than Ryan’s selection will lead to Obama’s reelection and driving the the market down to 1300 (interestingly, he started his pitch by using an invalid and inaccurate technical view  of the market) because of Ryan’s conservative history and his known hostility towards Bernanke.  Kass believes that the highs for the market have already been made.

So what is the average investor to do?  Which opinion should we embrace?  Or is watching merely a total waste of time.

If you’re obsessed with trying to guess the upcoming election’s impact on the market then you have to come up with answers to a series of difficult and highly subjective questions:

  • Is a Romney win looked on favorably or not? an Obama reelection?
  • Is the market already discounting the election of one or another candidate?
  • If there was a market bias towards one candidate vs. the other then would an upset create an adverse market reaction after the election?
  • How does control of Congress factor into the equation?
    • What if Congress is split?
    • What if Congress is controlled by the same party?
    • What if control of both houses goes to the opposing party?

And those are just the questions that easily roll off the top of my head.  Clearly spending much time trying to answer these questions is futile.  Making investment decisions today based on what you have figured out to be the correct answer to each of these questions is foolish.

There can only be four options that drive your investment decisions today based on your prediction of an event in a little more than 11 weeks.  Sell, buy, do nothing or ignore the  election and base your decision on what’s happening today.

My answer is always to “follow the herd” rather than make my own fundamental analysis.  I’m not proud; I want to do what the majority of the money sloshing around the market is doing today rather than trying to second guess whether they are right or wrong in going in the direction that they are.  I want to know how strong the market’s momentum is and the direction in which it’s driving.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s no doubt as to that answer.

For the first time since October 2009, the market next week as measured by an index of the 500 stocks comprising the S&P 500 Index will create a situation where the market’s current level will be above its average level over the prior 50 days  which will be higher than its level over the average of the prior 100 days which will be over the average of the prior 200 days.  Finally, they will all be higher than the market’s average level for the past 300 trading days.  The same will soon also be true for the index of stocks comprising the Dow Jones 30 Industrials and, for the Dow Theory followers, the DJ Transports.

On July 17, four weeks ago when the S&P 500 closed at 1357, I described the market’s consolidation flag and went out on a limb to say a cross above 1420-25 would lead to the market climbing to 1575.  Today, the market closed at 1415, or 4.27% above that July 17 close.  Hopefully, all the uncertainties and “Alerts” and “Breaking News” and “Earnings Season” jabbered about on CNBC didn’t scare you away from being in the market.  It didn’t scare the big money herd who have been accumulating stocks and, in the process, forcing prices higher.  They may reverse course but, I doubt it more ever day.

Come back often to check on the market’s progress.  Better yet, become a Member and see where I’m putting my money to take advantage of this advance … while it lasts …and the Industry Groups from which I select the stocks I buy.

May 24th, 2012

Moving Averages: Trend Inidicator or Resistance/Support Level

There are almost many discussions in technical analysis circles as to whether moving averages are predictive and form resistance and support levels or whether they instead exclusively depict historical information (like, the average price of a stock over the past 200 trading days) and indicate trends (like, the average price over the prior 200 days continues to improve).  I’m not going to take either side other than to say you can’t use one to the exclusion of the other.  What I can say is that the 200- and 300-dma’s have performed extremely well as support over the past week (click on image to enlarge):

It could purely be happenstance or it could be that the close proximity of the two moving averages intensifies their support support capabilities or it might just be that a few more trading days will see the Index cross both moving averages indicating a dramatic deterioration in the market’s health and future prospects but for the time being it does break some temporary comfort and relief to those of us who are of the “technical persuasion”.

Where to from here?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But what I do say is that I’m relieved that I have a discipline that insulates me from all the speculation we’re bombarded with daily in the business media by neutralizing the day-to-day volatility and helps me focus on the longer term picture.  My Market Momentum Meter distills the market’s trend over a number of time horizons and translates the analysis into a single number which, when compared to experience over nearly 50 years of market data, indicates what market tactic (all cash or fully invested) which will like generate the best likely outcome.

My Market Momentum Meter is at the borderline and may soon suggest a more conservative, risk-off approach but for the time being it still indicates that the market’s longer-term trend continues to be “provisionally, moderately bullish”.

 

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May 21st, 2012

Echoes of 2009, 2010 and 2011

Today’s post features excerpts from the Recap Report I sent to Members this past Sunday evening. After seeing today’s (Monday) recovery, I thought it would be worthwhile for all blog readers also to see it.

As part of each Weekly Report, members also see the current position of the Market Momentum Meter and what extrapolation of alternative market trends in terms of S&P 500 levels over alternative time horizons might produce in respective Meter signals.  This is important for evaluating true market risk and portfolio strategies for dealing it.

=============================================================================================================================

This week’s Report is very difficult to write. There was so much going on last week and the market acted so horribly. Europe was still a huge question mark, the over-hyped Facebook IPO was characterized as a disappointment (to all but Zuckerberg and about 1000 other insiders). Worst of all, the market had its worst decline of the year with a drop of 4.30%; the tech heavy Nasdaq Composite Index did even worse with a 5.28% decline. Stocks in the Model Portfolio fared poorly declining 5.95% but fortunately the 40% cash position cushioned the portfolio’s net drop to more constrained 3.92%.

This is the third year in which the market has tanked entering the summer months (the “sell in May” syndrome working overtime). The one consolation is that in both of those prior instances there was a respite and early stirrings of a recovery soon after the Index penetrated below the 300-dma (in time not in level). This Friday’s intra-day low touched the 300-dma and closed just above it (click on image to enlarge):

I know this looks complex with many horizontal trendlines but one can think of it in terms of the market climbing up a step set of stairs. Each resistance level that the market has successfully crossed above winds up later being a landing it steps on in preparation for the assault on the next resistance level.

That’s what may be happening again (speaking technically only and putting aside any discussion of the continually evolving fundamental causes like Greece, unemployment rate, declining price of gold, oil and other commodities, a harder than expected landing in China and the ever nearer Presidential election).

If this will be the third time around, then the current correction is close to the end/bottom. There may be another 2-3% left on the downside to 1250-1260 or to about the level of the neckline of the previous head-and-shoulders top.

As they say, there are harmonies (or echoes) in the market but never exact replicas. If this is the extent of the decline that the market suffers after having all this bad news thrown at it then the optimist in me thinks that any positive news on any front could result in a bottoming and reversal of direction again (and we won’t know what positive news it was that caused the market to reverse course until way after the fact).

Rather than thinking about how bad things could get, a better “contrarian” approach might be to think of this correction as our last opportunity to climb aboard the train that we missed climbing on three times before (2009, 2010 and 2011 bottoms). Some called the March, 2009 low at 666 as a “generational bottom” and it truly was. We had an opportunity to make up for being to fearful to act then in 2010 and again in 2011. This may be the next and hopefully last opportunity. Let’s not obsess above the bottom of the value and look instead to the climb up the other side to the market’s previous all-time high peak of 1576 made in October, 2007.

May 3rd, 2012

Rohrbach on Market Timing

I shouldn’t but I will anyway.  I shouldn’t whine but you’re all friends or you wouldn’t be reading this so I’ll borrow your shoulder to cry on and your ear to hear my complaint.  OK, here it goes, “I don’t understand why more of you haven’t subscribed?”

I happened across a series of interviews on Forbes.com with Jim Rohrbach of Investment Models about using moving averages to spot trend changes.  The essence of Rohrbach’s message is that:

  • “[You] can’t look into the future. If you can just identify when the trend changes, that’s all you need.”
  • “[Most traders] don’t know how to identify a change in the trend in the market, and it’s not that difficult, if you spend the time to try to figure it out.”
  • [most investors] are being told constantly by brokers, etc., ‘Don’t try to time the market…it can’t be done.’
  • [Rohrbach] “spent seven years working on the mathematics of that thing. I kept stumbling, but I finally came up with a way where I can take certain ingredients, which I’m not going to tell you what they are, and if I applied them to the mathematics, I could tell on a daily basis what the trend of the market was for that day.”
  • “Convert the action of the market into a number. That number represents the trend for today. If the market is going up several days in a row, that number will go up, and vice versa.  But you’ve got to know the ingredients, and you’ve got to use mathematics. Don’t listen to those guys on the Street, or wherever, who tell you the reasons for the market going up or down, because they have nothing to do with reality.”
  • “And you’ve got to stay in [Apple] if you’re really going to capitalize on this thing. If you get out because Apple dropped ten points today, that might be a big mistake…… Stay in, stay in, stay in. Even if the market goes down 200 points.”
  • “You don’t have to be smart. You have to be intelligent. You have to have a strategy that tells you when to get in and out….if you have something that’s worked for 40 years, then once you know where the market’s going, the trend of the market, then you can start playing around with individual investments.”
  • “Just play it with the market. It’s telling you—and I know that’s kind of difficult for the average person to do, and it’s also very difficult for them to have the discipline to act on every signal. Your emotions get involved in this game, especially when your money’s involved.”

I tell you all this because I want to demonstrate what I’ve been writing here about since starting this blog over six years ago are the same things that others in the know have been doing also.  I also studied the market’s action since 1963, almost 50 years worth of history, and came up with my own mathematical indicator as to the strength of the market’s momentum and direction; I call my indicator the Market Momentum Meter.

If market conditions remain relatively unchanged over the next several weeks, the Market Momentum Meter will approach a critical level early in June.  Members to Instant Alerts see what the Meter’s reading is each time I make a trade; each day’s reading is recapped in the Weekly Report.

Rohrbach charges $395/yr for his market timing service or, as he says, “about a dollar a day”.  My service is less expensive plus you can see how I translate my Market Momentum Meter into actual trades shortly after their execution.  I also keep track of the the performance of those trades in a Model Portfolio because market timing needs to be followed with a high success factor in stock selections (even the best in baseball strike  out once in a while).

The market is at a critical point.  Is it correcting or reversing?  Should you sell in May and go away or buy in anticipation of a market resurgence?  Become a member to see what I’ve done.  Don’t put it off, act now!

April 23rd, 2012

The Lower Boundary is Becoming Clearer

Less than two weeks ago I wrote ““Identifying the Boundaries of Stock Chart Congestion Areas” in which I talked about three potential bottom boundaries of the congestion area that was developing and might eventually turn into a recognizable chart pattern.  With time, the emerging chart pattern is becoming clearer and, I must add, a bit more worrisome.

 

The discussion of “boundaries” is actually at the core difference between fundamental and technical analysis.  In fundamental analysis, analysts look at the slowing Chinese manufacturing index, Spanish debt refunding, elections in France and the upcoming U.S. elections, this quarter’s corporate earnings reports and the guidance for the year, upcoming Fed meetings, jobs reports, etc., etc.  Those analysts would then attempt to distill and prioritize the voluminous and disparate data facts into a consistent picture.  Finally, they will translate that picture into not what it means today, where it all might be headed in the future and what the impact might be on the stock market and individual stocks.

Needless to say, there are about as many divergent opinions about each of these data points as there are analysts willing to speak about them.  Some of those opinions are meaningful and reliable while most are guess that are about as useful as yours or mine.

Technical analysts, on the other hand, focus more on the actual decisions continuously being made by millions of investors, whether rightly or wrongly, rather than the reasons for their having made them.  They look at the continually changing balance (or imbalance) between supply (sellers) and demand (buyers) as reflected in transaction prices and volumes.  The primary focus begins with whether that balance is shifting on a continuous basis in one direction or another because when that imbalance starts it tends to be self-perpetuating, reinforcing and continues for some time (i.e., momentum).

The market, after having risen nearly 30% since October, is currently almost perfectly balanced between buyers’ demand and sellers’ supply.  Based on investors’ various interpretations of those fundamental facts, nearly an equal number see the facts portending a bearish future as those who see the facts leaning in a more bullish direction.  In other words, about as many see the market glass as half-full as see it half-empty.

Our search for boundaries is an attempt to learn when that equilibrium balance starts tilting in one direction or another.  Sometimes the balance continues for a few weeks and sometimes it takes months.  In the last post, I inserted three possible bottom boundaries.  As a result of today’s severe open, one of those supporting trendlines was penetrated; if there isn’t a quick strong bounce before the close and into tomorrow, then more downside can be expected.  If the demand is insufficient to absorb the supply of those investors who see a pessimistic outlook then the market will break below both of the remaining support levels and will continue lower until a new equilibrium balance forms at lower levels.

April 18th, 2012

Hold on to your winners and quickly sell your losers

The previous post explored challenges posed by a stock that disappoints, in this case, the disappointing reaction to news that HALO was requested to provide additional information to the FDA on a new drug they had submitted for approval.  According to my “selling rules” discipline,

In short, decisions to sell stocks should be the exception rather than the rule and those exceptions fall into the following categories:

  • individual stocks where risks associated with that stock appear to have increased:
    • Sell a stock that you may have bought incorrectly (i.e., too early, too late after a breakout buy point, a stock pattern fails or you erred in reading a chart incorrectly) and performance disappoints shortly after the purchase.
    • Sell any stock that has a surprise including such events as reporting an accounting error, a badly missed earnings announcement, a significant top management change or terminated merger and acquisition discussions. [example, HALO's announcement of more delays in FDA approval of a new drug].
    • Sell a portion of a stock position that, because of a large run, ends up comprising too large a percentage of your total portfolio and thereby increase its risk (a large position in NFLX or PCLN are examples).
    • Reduce exposure to an industry group if it falls out of favor (for-profit education stocks come to mind).
    • Sell a stock that has underperformed the market and you expect to continue doing so over the near term future as measured by its relative performance during the time you’ve held it (of course there are many of these I could name).
  • Sell a stock opportunistically to generate funds to take advantage of a stock you believe has relatively greater potential than the successful stock position you’re selling. I discourage this because it often results in nothing more than account churning and ultimately worse performance for the total portfolio over the long run.

But stocks follow chart pattern rules more often than they disappoint, especially when they have the wind of a favorable market behind their back.  The following three stocks have moved extremely well after crossing above significant resistance levels (stocks that I had add to my portfolio over the past couple of months).  According to the Sell Rule Discipline, there’s no apparent need to sell these stocks even if the market enters into a “Sell in May ….” sort of consolidation over the summer (click on images to enlarge).

  • INTU
  • IACI
  • CLB

While astute chart reading is important to being successful in the stock market (the number one requirement being that purchases need to be timed with market health and momentum), an even more critical factor to successful performance is to “hold on to your winners and quickly sell your losers“.  Just because these stocks show double digit appreciation since purchase, there’s nothing to indicate that the market won’t resume advancing after it consolidates.

These stocks and others that have crossed above significant resistance levels may retreat along with the market but there’s nothing to indicate that they need to be sold …. unless they fall below those resistance level breakouts and market momentum moves from consolidation to clear reversal.

April 12th, 2012

Identifying the Boundaries of Stock Chart Congestion Areas

I was traveling this week so, fortunately, I wasn’t able to react to the ups and downs of the market this week.  If I had, I would have been closing some really good positions on Monday and Tuesday and then kicking myself as I scrambled to put them back on Wednesday and Thursday.  The lesson to be learned that was reinforced yet again is to turn off the CNBC, tune out the noise of all those explanations (read “rationalizations”) for why the market had done what it had done and to focus intently on the longer term for true trend reversals.

For the past several weeks I’ve been writing to members in my Weekly Recap Report that

“This narrowing, trading range can’t continue indefinitely and, I believe, will in all probability be resolved with the market falling below the bottom trendline as contrasted with a highly unlikely blow-out cross above the upper boundary.  I’m guessing the cross (the “collision”) will take place as the market approaches the horizontal resistance trendline extrapolated to occur sometime towards the end of April.  Coincidentally, that also coincides with everyone launching into their seasonal ‘Sell in May and go away’ discussions.  Taking that course of action would have been the right move to take in 2010 and 2011 and could again be true this year.”

But even that wasn’t sufficient to call this week’s action as a reversal.  There are millions of investors around the world making a huge number of trading decisions every day.  It takes more than a few hours, days and even weeks of trading to have this ship, the market, list to the other side as the majority of them run from one side (the bull side) to the other (the bear side).

One of the most difficult challenges in charting is distilling from the daily action the true boundaries of emerging chart pattern that are emerging from the congestion of what will, with the clarity of perfect hindsight will be either an obvious reversal or consolidation pattern.  Boundaries require pivot points, the short-term reversals made be either the market or individual stocks.  I’ve inserted three possible bottom boundaries based on the market’s recent behavior:

The important take-aways from this exercise are:

  1. Don’t get wedded to one point of view or another too early as to the market’s future course (and that’s what we’re most interested in since it determines 50% of each stock’s performance).  Congestions, those times when sellers and buyers, bulls and bears, supply and demand are fairly much in balance struggling to take control of the future trend.
  2. Regardless of how astute or knowledgeable you may think you are, it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome and nothing you do can change what the ultimate outcome will be.  The best course is to wait for the trend.
  3. Don’t get wedded to what you think will be the pattern likely to emerge.  Supply and demand is dynamic and constantly in flux.  It’s difficult making money during these congestion periods but profits are relatively easy to come by when either a bullish or bearish trend emerges.

It’s only after several pivot points are made over an extended period of time (weeks or months) that solidify the trendlines will you be able to determine whether the congestion will in all likelihood be a consolidation, a top reversal or a bottom reversal ….. and then the market will confound you further by either doing the opposite or continuing adding further clarity to the congestion area.