Yesterday’s musings on an S&P 500 doji strategy led to a general discussion of stocks and market crises. I promised to analyze a price-moving average cross strategy and to analyze the performance in times of exceptional volatility.
The results are in and they’re exactly what I predicted. I’m shamelessly tooting my own horn on this one – it’s so rare where strategies do exactly what I predicts.
SPY Crisis Strategy Rules
The trading rules only initiate short trades. No long positions are allowed.
Enter short next bar at market when:
The price crossed and closed below the 20 day SMA on the last closed bar
The trader believes that a crisis environment either currently exists or is about to exist
Exit an open short trade when:
The price crosses and closes above the 20 day SMA on the last closed bar
The position size is equal to a fixed dollar value divided by the current share price. As an example, SPY currently trades at $169.24. If you wanted to control a position size worth $1,000, then the number of shares is the floor of $1,000/$169.24 = 5 shares.
This strategy is intended to be timely for the current trading environment. Based on all of my proposed definitions below, most of the crisis alarm bells are ringing at the moment.
Defining a crisis
The most difficult part of this type of strategy comes from defining a “crisis environment” quantitatively. Crises don’t happen very often by definition, so I don’t think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to quantity the crisis bit. That said, a few obvious crisis indicators come to mind based on basic market mechanics.
The morons on Tout TV (CNBC and company) keep on screaming how cheap stocks are. I’m not a fundamental trader, but the PE ratio contains useful information. Even the most hard core technical analysis buff would agree that companies generating huge positive cash flow and earning growth have to appreciate at some point. The argument isn’t about if that type of stock will rise; it’s just a question of when.
I don’t see how anyone could possibly look at the current PE ratio of 19.3 and argue that stocks are cheap. They aren’t. Stocks are currently very expensive based on a historical comparison.
VIX is a CBOE benchmark index that allows traders to compare the price of front month options traded on the S&P 500. A more detailed explanation of the VIX is available on Wikipedia if the concept is new. There’s nothing magical about the 20 level. It’s my general experience that most traders consider that number the one to watch. They think of VIX < 20 as "normal" and VIX > 20 as a severe market move.
Options are effectively leveraged bets on market movements with fixed downside risk. When traders load up on puts, they’re expecting the market to fall. When traders buy more calls, they’re expecting the market to rise.
The put call ratio is simply the number of put contracts traded / the number of call contracts traded. A number > 1 means that more puts were purchased that day than calls, indicating an expectation of a market drop.
Theory has it that short term traders are wrong, making the put call ratio a contrarian indicator. I see the put call ratio as more of a lagging indicator.
When a move is real and already happened, traders react too late and buy protection that they no longer need. The 2008 financial crisis a great example when the ratio spiked to 1.5, a wild number. Just in the past week the ratio went as high as 1.3 before settling back down. The volatility in the number indicates a panicky crowd in my opinion.
Leverage is a two way sword. The theory is that it’s a way to multiply returns by risking debt in the market.
Most traders, and especially retail traders, wind up using leverage as the rope to hang themselves with. Stocks are most commonly purchased with cash among investors. Unlike forex and futures where almost every trader enters a position with leverage, the average retail stock trader enters a position using only the cash present in his account.
An increased willingness among traders to move from cash to margin debt is typically a sign of froth, bubble fever or whatever you want to call it. The chart of margin debt from Business Insider and Zero Hedge show that stocks are currently trading near historical highs.
The 20 day SMA price cross strategy is a great way to run account protection whenever market warning signs are going off. The warning signs may not predict the precise market turning point, but the strategy can function as an effective form of insurance.
The strategy would roughly break even over time if someone were foolish enough to run it that way. Say that you mistime the crisis. Big deal. This type of strategy can run for months without causing irreparable harm to the account.
The signals can run in the background. If you’re only a little bit right with your crisis predictions, the risk reward ratio is massively in your favor. If you’re wrong, the consequences appear to be slow losses that lose a couple of percentage points per quarter. If you’re feeling edgy, I think it’s a great strategy to run in the background to calm your mind.