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Commitment of Traders Report Gives Bullish Signal at Trader’s Narrative

The Commitment of Traders (COT) report is issued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and shows how small speculators, commercials and large speculators have placed their chips in the futures markets.

In contrast to other indicators like sentiment, it is an invaluable source of market information because it objectively lays out how the three separate players are positioned. The only caveat is that it comes with a 3 day delay (so insiders can still have an edge) so by the time you look at the target, it may have already moved.

Nonetheless, as long as our time horizon is medium to long term it can still be useful.

The latest report COT was released last week on Friday May 25th 2007. It showed a remarkable change in the behaviour of the commercial hedgers (known as the “smart money”). They not only reversed their recent short run bet against a rally, but are now sitting on one of the largest aggregate net long positions in the past 10 years.

The S&P 500 COT report shows the commercial hedgers as net long as they were in the early part of 2003 while the “dumb money” small speculators are still as short as they were at the March 2007 market bottom. In short, they are equally bearish even as the market has shaken off the dip we had in late February and early March 2007.

Over at the Russell 2000 (the small caps) things are quite lopsided as well. The small speculators are net short as much as they were at the bottom of the market in the summer of 2006.

Here are a few examples of previous times the commercial hedgers were close to this net long:

    October 2005
    January 2004
    March 2004
    May 2004
    September 2003
    August - October 2002
    September 2001

With the exception of the 2004 instances, this was a fantastic tell that the market was headed up (on an intermediate to long term time horizon).

riskycheese.pngIt is unusual to see such a lopsided bullish position by commercials after the market has risen considerably. Usually they step in and scoop up the market when it goes on sale due to panic selling (September 2001, for example).

I would be more confident buying along with the commercials when the market has been spooked lower but under any circumstances, it is too risky to bet against them. That is what you’d be doing if you short this market right now.

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8 Responses to “Commitment of Traders Report Gives Bullish Signal”  

  1. 1 Mert

    How can I get more information about reading the COT reports?
    Thanks in advance,

  2. 2 Babak

    I’ll write a post about it. In the meantime, visit

  3. 3 mojave

    COT are posted EVERY friday, w/ data as of that previous Tuesday. (I don’t think the “2 week” delay statement is true.)

    From CFTC: ‘The Commitments of Traders reports are released at 3:30 pm Washington D.C. time. The “futures only” and “futures and options combined” reports are usually released Friday. The release usually includes data from the previous Tuesday. Due to federal holidays, reports may be released one day later. Please recall that Good Friday is not a federal holiday.’

  4. 4 Babak

    mojave, you’re right. This was changed rel recently. I’ll correct it.

  5. 5 Warren Shepherd

    Can you indicate precisely which numbers (amounts) for which products on which COT report? I looked and the numbers did not seem too one sided. On one of them, they looked pretty even. thanks………

  6. 6 Babak

    Warren, I’ve gotten a lot of questions re this so I will write an update shortly with details.

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