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Sentiment Overview: Week Of July 31st, 2009 at Trader’s Narrative

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The Dow Jones was in fine summer condition putting in the best July performance since 1989 and its best month since 2002. Are we in thin air territory yet? To find out, check out the sentiment summary for this past week:

After 6 weeks of the bears continuously trouncing the bulls in the AAII weekly sentiment poll - something we hadn’t seen since the low in March earlier this year! - the bulls are back. The most recent survey of retail investors shows that optimists rose 10% points to reach 48% and the bears fell 11% points to just 31%.

We need the retail investor to return to the stock market for there to be a real and prolonged recovery. But such a jump in sentiment is troubling. Previously it has not supported higher prices going forward.

Investors Intelligence
The percentage of bulls jumped to 42.4% and the bears decline to 31.1%. So we continue to see a healthy amount of optimism from the average stock newsletter editor, although not excessively so. And this week’s numbers take us back to where Investors Intelligence sentiment was at the beginning of this month - when the S&P 500 was trading some 110 points lower.

Money Market Cash Levels
Believe it or not, there is more than $3 trillion sloshing around in money market funds. But the nominal amount of funds isn’t really that helpful to us since just like GDP it continues to grow along with the economy. What is helpful in determining where we are in the big scheme of things is the movement between equity markets and money markets.

Obviously when investors are fearful, they sell anything and everything ‘risky’ and put their money in the protective but less lucrative vehicle of money market funds. That’s exactly what we saw in March of this year: Tsunami Of Cash Just Waiting To Be Invested. Unbelievably, the total assets of money market funds was higher than equity funds!

That has now returned to its normal historic ratio with total money market funds decreasing to just $3 trillion. But it isn’t only the return to the historical pattern that is noteworthy. What we’re seeing is not an orderly and mild shower of liquidity but a veritable tsunami as both retail and institutional investors move massive amounts of assets from cash. Not only are they moving record shattering amounts, they are doing so in just one month’s time. So whether this recent rally is the real thing or not, large and small players are reacting to it with the reflexes of a cobra.

While this may be interpreted as very bearish, you have to note that not every single dollar taken out of money market funds is automatically put in the equity market. In fact, only a small portion is destined there. Had every single dollar been invested in the stock market by the way, we would probably bee looking at the S&P 500 at least 30% higher from where it is. The rational take away from this measure then is that the participants in the financial markets are recovering from the shell shock they suffered earlier this year and late last year.

Option Traders
Yesterday when we briefly broke above 990 on the S&P 500 index, the CBOE put call ratio (equity only) hit 0.50 - that magically half point marker is significant because it shows the average option trader’s raucous disregard for risk as they reach for the long side. Historically, it takes the market a few days to digest this before reacting lower. However, the last time the put call ratio plumbed these depths was in mid-April, earlier this year. And it was totally ignored by the market on its merry way higher.

On Wednesday (July 27th 2009) the ISE sentiment index (equity only) reached 220. That’s the highest level since June 15, just before it started a protracted decline from the June swing highs. As well, we’ve seen several days of higher ISEE data so the 10 day moving average that I track has inched higher as well. The last time the short term moving average was around 170 was in early June, just as the market ran out of steam.

Rydex Market Timers
Traders in the Rydex family of mutual funds have once again reached for the stars. These are fast, market timers who switch between the Nova/Ursa (bull/bear) funds to make money on either side of the market. As a group, they are a good contrarian indicator when they reach an extreme. As they have now.

The last time they caused us to mind their positions was back in mid June 2009 when they had a herded into a bullishly lopsided extreme.

Insiders Selling
Corporate insiders are once again selling their own company’s shares at a pace that is alarming. According to Vickers Weekly Insider Report, more than 4 shares are being sold now for every 1 share bought by an insider. To find a higher ratio we need to go back to October 2007. While this may appear to be a bright, red blinking light, there’s more reason to treat it as a cautionary yellow.

That’s because insiders, for all their reputation, do not have such a great track record in timing their own shares. They obviously do have an edge on others but they aren’t perfect and certainly can be wrong. But more often than not, they are right but tend to act too early - by about a year.

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6 Responses to “Sentiment Overview: Week Of July 31st, 2009”  

  1. 1 HappyReader

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    Great stuff, really helps my investments. Much appreciated!!

  2. 2 burt

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    Very good blog! I have it on my favored list in Google Reader.

    The trouble with a lot of the sentiment indicators is that they represent fast traders, or at least people in close touch with the market. As you note, the real question is whether the normal going away buyers of stocks will return. This includes retail, but also many institutional investors who have greatly reduced their risk.

    One way of getting a handle on this is looking at customer trading statistics. In my experience, institutional traders tend to trade quite a bit. They may claim to be long term players, but they do trade also. Right now volume is terrible, and what volume there is is mostly computers trading with each other. The NYSE publishes these stats, so we will be able to see it unfold. Until then, I can’t see a major technical correction. Of course if truly bad news occurs, that’s another story.

  3. 3 tradeking13

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    Re: Tsunami Of Cash Just Waiting To Be Invested

    When I buy stock in the open market, where does the seller put the proceeds of the transaction?

  4. 4 Babak

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    tradeking, who’s to say? maybe it is paying for a margin call, maybe it is being withdrawn to put a down payment on a house, maybe it is a pair trade, etc…

  5. 5 Tyler

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    Re: the Money Market Cash Levels

    I am seeing the total MM at 3,633.79 billion. Taxable MM at 3,190.45 billion. US Equity Market cap at 11,995.9587 billion. That creates ratios of MM to Equity Market Cap of .3076 and .2732, respectively.

    From 2003 to mid 2007 the ratios were low to mid teens. Obviously, we should not assume we get back to those levels. But with MM still yielding next to nothing, the fire power still seems out there…to the tune of hundreds of billions.

    What am I missing? I am happy to send you charts of the work, just let me know how/where.



  6. 6 Babak

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    Tyler, you can email me at babak AT tradersnarrative DOT com

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