Monthly Archives: September 2013

Gold Stocks and the Month of October

Well that didn’t pan out.  Gold stocks in September that is.  At the end of August I wrote about the historical tendency for gold stocks to perform well during the month of September (For the record, I also highlighted the fact that monthly seasonal trends are always far from a “sure thing” and that there is never any guarantee that a particular seasonal trend will work out “this time around.” Hey, at least I got that part right).

Still, whenever you write about the historical tendency for a given stock/index/commodity/etc to move in a particular direction during a particular period you expect at least a little cooperation.  Not this time.

With one trading day left in September gold stocks have proven to be just about the worst place you could have been during September 2013.  As I write both tickers FSAGX and GDX are both down over 10% for the month.  Ouch. 

So should I issue an apology, and blather on about “where my analysis broke down” and “what I should have done differently” and so on?  Maybe, but in reality a seasonal trend by itself is nothing more than a play on the odds.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.  Fortunately, I have been around the markets long enough to know that, well to paraphrase – “stuff happens.”  Which I think is fairly succinctly captured in:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #20: The markets don’t always do what you want them to do.  Deal with it.

I have also been around long enough to know that it is your own responsibility to make sure that things that go completely and utterly and entirely the wrong way are not allowed to do too much damage to your trading account.  So when it comes to potential trades based on seasonal trends (and come to think of it, just about any other trading method), the two questions to ask are:

1. Am I going to take the trade?

2. How much capital will I allocate?

Allocating capital, i.e., “money management”, is one of those “boring” topics that makes everyone’s eyes glaze over.  Which is a shame given that it is one of the most critically important pieces of business for any trader or investor to take care.

For example, consider again gold stocks in the month of September.  If a trader had allocated 20% of his or her trading capital to gold stocks in the last month, they would have lost about 2% of their account.  Not good obviously, but also not exactly catastrophic.  Now consider the trader who decided to “roll the dice” and “bet the ranch” and “go for the gusto” and [your euphemism here] and put 100% of his or her trading capital into gold stocks.  That trader just lost 10% in a month.  Ouch. 

Now as a sidebar and for the record, a 10% down month does not qualify as “catastrophic.”  It certainly qualifies for “Wow, that really sucks” status, but anyone who survived September/October of 2008 can at least acknowledge the fact that these things can be overcome in the long run.  Thus and ironically, the even bigger danger of a -10%+ month is the potential psychological damage that can affect your thinking the next time around (“Wow, I don’t want to experience that again, therefore, maybe I’ll just sit out the next trade – or 10.”  Also typically known as “the trades that would have made you whole.”)

So all of this leads to a few more key takeaways:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #48: Your biggest enemy in the markets are unexpected events.  Your 2nd biggest enemy is you.  Control the enemy you can and allocate capital wisely to control the enemy you cannot.    

Jay’s Trading Maxim #108: He who “bets the ranch” so to speak, invariably ends up “renting a small apartment” – so to speak.

OK, so you get the idea.  That all being cleared up – but with the painfully wrong result in September still at top of mind – it’s time to talk about gold stocks in the month of October.  Gulp.

Gold Stocks in the Month of October

So here we go again.  At the moment gold stocks are dirt cheap relative to the price of gold bullion (and have been for some time) and gold stocks are extremely oversold (granted they have been “oversold” for about nine months now), so it seems that gold stocks are long overdue for a sharp bounce to higher ground.  So given the potential for a sharp rally at any time and the spectacularly wrong result during the month of September, I am somewhat hesitant to point out the long-term historical performance of gold stocks during the month of October.  But hey, the show must go on.

Figure 1 displays the, um, growth(?) of $1,000 invested in Fidelity Select Gold fund (ticker FSAGX) from the end of September through the 19th trading day of October starting in October 1988.

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Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 invested in FSAGX from end of September through October Trading Day 19 (1989-2012)

Figure 2 displays the year-by-year % gain/loss achieved by ticker FSAGX during the first 19 trading days of October

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Figure 2 – Year-by-Year FSAGX results from end of September through October Trading Day 19 (1989-2012)

For the record:

-Net loss: (-76.5%)

-# of times UP: 7 (29%)

-# of times DOWN: 17 (71%)

-Average % +/- all years (-4.9%)

-Average % gain during 7 UP years: +7.1%

-Average % loss during 17 down years: (-9.8%)

Summary

So are gold stocks destined to decline between the end of September and the close on October 25th (the 19th trading day of October 2013)?  Didn’t we learn anything this past month?  Nothing is guaranteed in the financial markets, especially when it comes to seasonal trends.  All we know for sure is that over the past 24 years this period has witnessed a decline in gold stocks 71% of time. 

This leads us right back to the two questions I posed earlier:

1. Am I going to take the trade? (more on this in the next post)

2. How much capital will I allocate?

Same as it ever was.

Jay Kaeppel 

Predictions are ‘Fun’ (But Trends are ‘Useful’)

Predictions are fun.  Not terribly useful, granted.  But fun.

In every field of endeavor there are people who are considered “visionaries”, i.e., persons who are able to envision how certain futures trends and events will unfold and are able to articulate their “vision” in advance of said trends and/or events.  A great example of this is the late Steven Jobs.  Jobs (in case you just recently awakened from a coma, in which case, “welcome back”) was the driving force that led Apple to introduce a series of breakthrough (and wildly popular) products in the field of personal electronics.  But to say that Steven Jobs was an exception to the rule would be a minor understatement.

Unfortunately, there is something about the financial markets (quite possibly the lure of easy money) that seems to inspire people to make what seems to be far more predictions than in most other fields.  For every prediction Steven Jobs ever made about the future of personal electronics, there were approximately 6,256,375 random predictions made at about the same time regarding the stock market. 

Equally unfortunately, for every 6,256,375 financial market predictions made, approximately 6,256,368 of them don’t pan out.  In a nutshell, the “winning percentage” for financial market predictions is so low you essentially have to go underground to get an accurate reading.  Ironically, this doesn’t seem to deter anyone from “trying again.” (In the immortal words of Glenn Frey, “the lure of easy money – it’s got a very strong appeal”).  Indeed.

So what is an intrepid investor to do?  Well, for starters, consider the following:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #37: Recognizing the trend right now is worth far more than a thousand predictions on what will happen next.   

This is a more succinct version of the earlier version which stated:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #37: It’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen in the stock market over the next [insert your preferred time frame here].  And when I say “really hard” I mean “really, really hard”.

These particular maxims evolved from a recurring and disturbing pattern of events that basically went something like this:

1) One guy would predict that the market would go up over the next x-months.  And in fact it actually would.

2) Suddenly everyone – myself included – couldn’t wait to hear what this “oracle” had to say next.

3) Maybe he would get another call right, but eventually he would get it almost exactly and completely wrong – either confidently advising everyone to “buy” just before a big market drop, or shouting “SELL” right before – you guessed it – the next big rally.

4) Then everyone would scurry off to follow another advisor who had correctly “predicted” the rally that the last guy had missed.

5) So on and so forth, repeat, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

So what’s an investor/trader to do?

#1. Respect the trend

To truly appreciate “the power of the trend”, pause for a moment and reflect on all of the economic and political news that you have digested so far during 2013.  Now consider the action of the stock market so far in 2013.  Let me sum things up as succinctly as possible:

News: Bad

Stock Market: Good

This juxtaposition makes little sense to many people.  “If the news is all bad and the economy is still not really picking up (and so on and so forth), it’s just a matter of time before the stock market figures this all out and tanks.”

And perhaps that will ultimately prove to be true.

But take one more look at the action of the stock market in 2013 and think about what an investor would have missed had he or she succumbed to fear.

In the end, ignoring the news and simply respecting the trend was the thing to do.

Same as it ever was.

#2. Recognize Historical Tendencies

 OK, here’s where it starts to get tricky.  First off, clearly all trend experience pullbacks along the way.  At the present time a person would be hard pressed to say that the stock market is not in an uptrend.  And based on everything I have said so far one might assume that I would simply say “play the long side” of the market and forget the blips.

But like I say, even the most obvious trends experience pullbacks.  Also, if at the outset of any calendar year you asked the question, “when is the stock market most likely to experience trouble”, the answer of “September and/or October” would have been correct a high percentage of the time.

So here we sit in late September.  Most of the major averages have broken out to new highs and the Fed just announced QE2IB (“Quantative Easing to Infinity and Beyond”).  So alot of the people who have been focusing in the bad news all year are reaching a point of “bear exhaustion.”  In other words they are saying “OK, OK, the trend is bullish, I get it.”  Given this confluence of factors no one should be surprised to see the stock market pullback in the weeks ahead.

Still, out of respect to the primary trend I prefer to “hedge” rather than to pound the table and shout “sell everything”!  (Although for the record there is something cathartic about actually pounding on the table and shouting “sell everything!”  Go ahead, try it once, you’ll see what I’m talking about). I still like the idea of holding VXX calls as I wrote about here (http://jayonthemarkets.com/2013/09/17/looking-to-vxx-just-in-case/. If the stock markets does have a sell off in its near futures, the VIX Index will almost certainly “spike” to higher ground, and VXX call options have the potential to soar.  As I write the November 14 VXX call is trading at $1.42.  Not a bad hedge for $142.

Jay Kaeppel 

We’re All Just FedHeads Now……..

I have to admit that I am getting a little frightened.  While the masses (I think you know who you are) celebrated yesterday’s Fed announcement (for the record, the phrase QE, or “quantitative easing” is out, and QG, or “quantitative gushing” is in, mostly because it is more succinct than QFH, or “quantitative fire hosing”) that the easy money will continue to, um – somehow “flow” does not seem like a strong enough word – the stock market’s Pavlovian response to “another round of punch”, so to speak, sets up an even darker prospect for that day that is most assuredly “out there”, when the Fed finally says, “no more for you”.

Picture a room fool of crack addicts and every month the dealer walks in and announces “more free crack for everyone!”  If you are having trouble visualizing it, just think of yesterday afternoon in the stock market.  Now the one thing we know for sure in all of this is that someday the Fed will have no choice but to “taper.”    Which raises the “mildly important” question: If the masses react in a wildly bullish Pavlovian manner when the Fed “giveth”, then can we make a reasonably intelligent guess as to how the market will react when the Fed “taketh away?”  “Yes we can.”

So picture that same room full of crack addicts again.  Now this time imagine the dealer walks in and announces “sorry, no more crack for you.”  Now picture what happens next in that room.  Now picture that happening in your 401K……..

The VIX and Gold Stocks

In recent posts I reaffirmed my bullishness (http://tinyurl.com/kx27bpn)on gold stocks and highlighted a simple “throwaway” hedge using call options on ticker VXX (http://tinyurl.com/k8gedgy).  Well obviously, the “hedge” trade using VXX was a bust as volatility tanked when the “(Pavlovian) dogs started barking.”  But the option only cost $161 so I am inclined to let it ride “just in case” the revelers sober up sooner than expected.  As a side note, that’s the purpose of a “hedge”.  You risk a “couple of bucks” on the chance that it will pay off big if things go “the other way.”

On the other side of the coin, gold and gold stocks went – for lack of a better phrase – “berserk” after yesterday’s Fed announcement.  As I type in the “wee” hours, gold futures are $75 above their recent low a few days ago and ticker NUGT – the triple leveraged (speaking of “crack like investment things”) gold stock ETF – was up over 27% yesterday alone.  “Alex, I’ll take Inflationary Fears for $100.”  Hey, wait a minute.  If Fed easing (“gushing?”) is inflationary then why is the stock market going wild?  Oh well, who am I to question why?

Summary   

I am by and large a “go with the trend” kind of guy.  So while I can voice my own (and I am guessing that for a lot of you, your) fears, the reality is the trend of the stock market is “up” (in case you hadn’t noticed).  But do keep your eyes peeled between now and the end of October.  Key price levels:

QQQ: 78.72

SPY: 171.24

IWM: 106.08

These are the 9/16 highs that were obliterated yesterday.  Watch to see if the market runs out of gas and these ETFs fall back below those levels.  While I have always been hesitant to use phrases like “blown it’s load” (as in “the market has”) when attempting to write a professional piece, oddly, it seems that it may be appropriate here.  So to close simply note that now is a time to be paying close attention to the action of the market.  Enjoy the ride but don’t forget to look down once in a while.  Which leads us directly to:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #46 which clearly states: “Don’t gaze at the stars while sprinting.”

Forward, Fellow Fedheads!

Jay Kaeppel

Looking to VXX – Just in Case

In Figure 1 below you will see a chart of ticker VXX, an ETF that tracks the VIX Index. 

jotm20130917-01  Figure 1 – Ticker VXX (Chart courtesy of AIQ TradingExpert)

Given:

  • The fact that September and October have historically been the scene of a lot of stock market wreckage.
  • That the Fed is due to say “something” about tapering soon
  • The fact that VXX is at about its lowest level in years
  • And the fact that VXX “spikes” to higher ground when the stock market stumbles.

Does it seem at all possible that VXX might be about ready for its next “spike”?  Now understand that that is not a prediction but merely an observation that the possibility seems “ripe”.  So it might be time to consider what I sometimes refer to as a “throwaway” trade.

My definition of a “throwaway” trade is one whereby based on the “possibility” of “something” in particular occurring, one enters into a very low cost trade that has the prospect of paying off in a big way based.  But do not confuse this with a “lottery ticker” mentality, because the trade is based on some realistic expectation that the “something” might actually occur.  Is it really that hard to picture a VIX spike sometime in the September/October timeframe?

So here is one example possibility (though not necessarily a recommendation) using an option on VXX.  This trade was found using software at www.OptionsAnalysis.com.  It involves simply buying 1 November VXX 14 strike price call option for $161.  The particulars appear in Figures 2 and 3. 20130916-02

Figure 2 – VXX November 14 Call Option (courtesy www.optionsanalysis.com)

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Figure 3 – VXX November 14 Call Option (courtesy www.optionsanalysis.com)

If VXX were merely to return to its August 30th high of 17.34, this trade would essentially double in value.  If “something” really crazy happens and VXX soars to sharply higher levels the profit could be quite a bit more.

Again, I am not saying that VXX is sure to soar between now and the end of November.  I’m only saying that I might be willing to risk $161 just in case.

Jay Kaeppel

The End of September…or Once More into the Fray

I have written often about seasonal trends in various financial markets.  I have highlighted many trends that have worked well over time – with the key words in that sentence being “over” and “time”.  Because, obviously nothing works all the time.  For example, historically the month of September has been very good for gold stocks and very bad for the stock market.  How’s that working out this time around?  So far, gold stocks are down about 9% since August 30th and the S&P 500 is up +3.3%.

So do we chalk it up as an “off year” for September seasonal trends in gold and stocks?  Maybe.  But then again, maybe not so fast.  Because both of these markets have previously exhibited something of a split personality during the month of September.  Let’s review.

Figure 1 displays the performance of gold stocks (using Fidelity Select Gold, ticker FSAGX as our benchmark) during two different periods.  The blue line represents the growth of $1,000 invested in gold stocks during just the first 8 trading days of September starting in 1989 and extending through the 8th trading day of September, 2013.  20130916-01

Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 invested in gold stocks (ticker FSAGX) during the first 8 trading days of September (blue line) versus all other September days (red line) since 1989

For the record:

-The first 8 trading days of September has showed a gain only 14 out of 26 years, with a cumulative gain of +7.4% (which works out to an average gain of +0.86%).

Trading days 9 through 21 of September has showed a gain 17 out of 25 years, with a cumulative gain of +167% (an average gain of +4.52%).

So I am not giving up on gold stocks in September just yet.

As for stocks, as I wrote about here (http://tinyurl.com/mtez9cw) the stock market has displayed a strong tendency to decline after the 11th trading day of September (Tuesday, Sep. 17 this year) through the end of the month.  So with QQQ breaking out to new highs as I write, it comes down to this: if the market fails to sustain the breakout above last week’s highs in the next several days, no one should be surprised to see the market decline into the end of the month.

When you also factor in anecdotal “things” like the Fed scheduled to “speak” about tapering and a bull appearing on the cover of Time magazine (que the scary shower scene music)  a little bit of hedging (with put index options or VXX call options) would appear to be in order if the market drops back below the highs of the week ending 9/13/13.

Jay Kaeppel

My Thanks to Trader’s Library

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Trader’s Library Trading Forum this past weekend on one of my favorite topics – seasonal trends in the markets.  My thanks to all those in attendance.  As an instructor there is nothing better than having the opportunity to teach people who really want to learn more about who to improve their trading.

It was also great to mingle with the other speakers and to sit in on their presentations.  I like to fancy myself as a guy who knows a lot about markets and trading.  Silly me.  It is a good and humbling experience to be reminded once in awhile of just exactly how much you still don’t know, as I learned during a number of sessions this past weekend.

Finally, my thanks to John Boyer and his staff, with a special shout out to Danielle for all of her help in making it so that all I had to do was show up and start talking.  A true professional.  And I was reminded that – as in any organization – it is the people who “handle the details” who really make the difference.

T-Bonds and Japanese Stocks, Inversely….

People like to “understand” things.  I guess it’s only human nature.  And especially if we are going to invest our hard earned money, then we really want to have some understanding of what it is we are getting into and why we have some realistic expectation that it should work.

And it all sounds exactly right.  In theory.

The famous old adage is that “Knowledge is Power.”  And this is true, ironically, everywhere except in the financial markets.  This leads us directly to:

Jay’s Trading Maxim #112: In the financial markets, too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing – especially if it is the direct result of too much thinking.

Japanese Stocks versus T-Bonds

For some reason the price action of t-bonds and Japanese stocks have long experienced an “inverse” relationship.  To put it into “highly technical” terms, when Japanese stocks “zig” t-bonds tend to “zag” and vice versa.  (I warned you it was highly technical).

Now I am certain that there is a perfectly good explanation for this typically inverse relationship.  Unfortunately I personally have no idea of what it might be.  In all candor there is a part of me that is itching to make up some BS explanation about how it is all related to relative economic growth, exchange rates, Fed policy and the price of tea in China. 

But as a proud graduate of “The School of Whatever Works” I personally don’t actually care all that much about “why” this is the case, only “how consistently” this is the case.  Based on what I have seen (to my way of thinking) the answer is “consistently enough.”

Figure 1 displays two charts. On top is the spot price for T-Bonds and on the bottom is ticker EWJ – an exchange traded fund that tracks the MSCI Japan Index.     

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Figure 1 – US T-Bonds (top) versus Japanese Stocks (ticker EWJ)

What we find is that T-Bonds tend to perform better when the 5-week moving average for ticker EWJ is below the 30-week moving average.  And vice versa.  So just how well does a 5-week and 30-week crossover work?  Figure 2 displays two equity curve lines starting in September 1997.

-The blue line displays the growth achieved by holding a long position of one t-bond futures contract only on those days when the EWJ 5-week moving average is below the EWJ 30-week moving average.

-The red line displays the growth achieved by holding a long position of one t-bond futures contract only on those days when the EWJ 5-week moving average is above the EWJ 30-week moving average.

jotm20130909-02 Figure 2 – Long position in t-bond futures during bullish periods (blue line) versus bearish periods (red line) since September 1997

For the record:

-A long position held in t-bond futures when the EWJ 5-week average was below the EWJ 30-week average gained over $81,600

-A long position held in t-bond futures when the EWJ 5-week average was above the EWJ 30-week average lost over $36,092.

The last crossover was the EWJ 5-week average moving above the EWJ 30-week moving average on 11/30/2012.  Since that time t-bond futures have fallen 21 points (or $21,000 per contract).  Ticker TLT – the exchange traded fund that tracks the long t-bond has fallen -17.5% since that time.  Ticker TBT – ProShares Ultra Short 20+ Yr. Treasury ETF has advanced +33%.

Summary

So why are Japanese stocks and U.S. t-bonds typically inversely correlated?  Excellent question!  My frank advice is to try asking Google.  In the meantime simply note that the EWJ 5-week moving average is presently remains above the 30-week moving average (in case the whole “inverse” thing is confusing you, this is still bearish for t-bonds). 

However, the gap between the 5-week and 30-week average is at its narrowest point since it crossed over to bearish territory back in November of 2012.  If Japanese stocks exhibit more weakness in the near-term we might see the EWJ 5-week average drop below the EWJ 30-week 5-week average in the not too distant future.

Given that t-bonds are extremely oversold and that the “consensus” seems to be that interest rates are “destined to rise” (thus implying that bond prices will fall), from a contrarian point of view, the EWJ 5-week and 30-week moving averages are something you might want to keep an eye on.

Jay Kaeppel

The Keys to September Success

Alright, so the pundits – myself included – have issued all of the usual warnings about the fact that September has historically been the worst month of the year for the stock market.  So at this point, a lot of investors may be feeling some trepidation (my big word for the day, hope you enjoyed it) t this point.

For the moment I offer three “rays of hope”.

1) Most of the September “damage” in the stock market has a tendency to occur after the 11th trading day of the month.  For 2013, that means after the close on 9/17. http://tinyurl.com/mtez9cw

2) According to research from Wayne Whaley of Witter & Lister, Inc., when the S&P 500 is up during July and down during August, September has showed a gain 11 of 15 times, including the last 8 in a row. http://tinyurl.com/pyh838a

3) A simple two fund portfolio may improve your odds of success during the month of September

Simple Two Fund September Portfolio

For reasons that I will make no attempt to explain (mostly because I am not sure that I can), certain sectors have showed a tendency to perform better during certain months.  The month of September – despite it’s well earned nasty reputation – is no exception.   Let’s consider a two fund portfolio split evenly between health-care related stocks and gold stocks.

For testing purposes we will use Fidelity Select Medical Delivery (ticker FSHCX) and Fidelity Select Gold (ticker FSAGX).  That being said, there are many alternatives for those who would prefer to use an ETF or another fund family, as displayed in Figure 1.20130903-01

Figure 1 – Alternative funds

As with all things in the exciting world of investing – and particularly so when considering seasonal trends – there is never any guarantee that even the best method will generate a profit the next time around.  So things are generally best considered on a long-term basis.  That caveat out of the way, the performance for this two fund portfolio versus the S&P 500 only during the month of September appears in Figure 2.

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Figure 2 – Annual results, 2-fund September portfolio versus the S&P 500 Index

Figure 3 displays the growth of $1,000 generated during September by the two fund portfolio versus the S&P 500 Index.

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Figure 3 – Growth of $1,000 invested in the 2-Fund September portfolio (blue line) versus $1,000 invested each September in the S&P 500 Index (red line).

A few facts and figures of note, starting in 1994:

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Figure 4 – Comparative Results: 2-Fund Portfolio versus S&P 500

Summary

So is it time to “Sell everything” and “bet the ranch on medical and gold stocks”?  Um, probably not.  As I mentioned earlier, despite historical results there is no guarantee that the 2-Fund Portfolio will show a gain for the month of September, let alone outperform the S&P 500.  Still, one of our primary jobs as investors is to look for an “edge” in the markets whenever and wherever we can, and consider the relative pros and cons.  The stock market in the month of September has a pretty checkered past.  The simple 2-Fund portfolio I’ve discussed here has displayed a decided long-term edge on the overall market.

We’ll see what happens this time around.