Sunday, November 26, 2017

Embrace the Blow-off (but with a stop-loss discipline)

Preface: Explaining our market timing models
We maintain several market timing models, each with differing time horizons. The "Ultimate Market Timing Model" is a long-term market timing model based on the research outlined in our post, Building the ultimate market timing model. This model tends to generate only a handful of signals each decade.

The Trend Model is an asset allocation model which applies trend following principles based on the inputs of global stock and commodity price. This model has a shorter time horizon and tends to turn over about 4-6 times a year. In essence, it seeks to answer the question, "Is the trend in the global economy expansion (bullish) or contraction (bearish)?"

My inner trader uses the trading component of the Trend Model to look for changes in the direction of the main Trend Model signal. A bullish Trend Model signal that gets less bullish is a trading "sell" signal. Conversely, a bearish Trend Model signal that gets less bearish is a trading "buy" signal. The history of actual out-of-sample (not backtested) signals of the trading model are shown by the arrows in the chart below. Past trading of the trading model has shown turnover rates of about 200% per month.

The latest signals of each model are as follows:
  • Ultimate market timing model: Buy equities*
  • Trend Model signal: Bullish*
  • Trading model: Bullish*
* The performance chart and model readings have been delayed by a week out of respect to our paying subscribers.

Update schedule: I generally update model readings on my site on weekends and tweet mid-week observations at @humblestudent. Subscribers will also receive email notices of any changes in my trading portfolio.

Yield Curve freakout
I received a considerable amounts of feedback to my post last week (see 2018 outlook: Last charge of the bulls) over my comments about the risks posed by a flattening yield curve. Interest in the term "flattening yield curve" has spiked, but consistent with levels last seen when the yield curve flattened to this level.

My readers highlighted some recently published articles indicating that a flattening yield curve doesn't matter.
  • Scott Grannis wrote a thoughtful piece about the contrary indicators that point to a slowdown.
  • Cullen Roche at Pragmatic Capitalism concluded that a flattening yield curve isn't a concern until it inverts, and that analysis from the Cleveland Fed indicated that the current yield curve implies a 12% chance of a recession.
  • Tim Duy observed that a flattening yield curve is a typical market reaction in a tightening cycle, though it suggests that "the economy remain mired in a low rate environment for the foreseeable future" and the Fed probably didn't expect it to flatten this much.
  • Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harder voiced concerns about inverting the yield curve in a Bloomberg interview.
  • The San Francisco Fed released a paper entitled, "A new conundrum in the bond market?", that was reminiscent of Greenspan's hand wringing over the flattening yield curve even as the Fed raised rates in 2005.
I agree 100%. The more the authorities pay attention to a metric, the less the metric matters. In some instances, the metric can be gamed, just like China's regional GDP growth statistics.

Even though an inverted yield curve has been an uncanny leading indicator of recession, it may not work this time because of the effects of the Fed's quantitative easing (and now quantitative tightening) program on the bond market. Indeed, the Fed's own estimates showed that its QE programs had pushed the 10-year yield down by 100 bp, which had the effect of manipulating the shape of the yield curve.

There are sufficient contrary indicators that the economy is booming, and the near-term odds of a recession is low. Those conditions are consistent with my belief that the stock market is undergoing a terminal blow-off phase, but Scott Grannis' work also hint at how investors might look for signs of a market top.

Investors can embrace the blow-off, but I can also offer you some risk control techniques that can act as a kind of stop-loss discipline.

The full post can be found at our new site here.

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