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Sentiment Overview: Week Of October 17th, 2008 at Trader’s Narrative

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Here is this week’s stock market sentiment overview:

Sentiment Surveys
In last week’s sentiment overview, ChartCraft’s Investor’s Intelligence sentiment survey came in at a 14 year low (for bullishness). This week there were only 22.4% bulls with bearishness remaining unchanged. This week’s numbers take the II to a 20 year record! From a contrarian point of view, the message is clear.

The AAII sentiment survey is whistling a different tune however. The bears fell dramatically from 61% to 40% and the bulls rose to 41%. That’s a dramatic shift. Not only for the decrease in bears but because technically we now have slightly more optimists than pessimists. For confirmation of a market bottom and a healthy rally, I’d prefer to see continued doom and gloom.

There was a similar uplift in mood for the Consensus sentiment survey. Bullish sentiment rose from last week’s 21% to 36%. Again, not the sort of thing that gives contrarians confidence for a sustainable rally.

Now this is just insane. The VIX closed the week at 70.33 - that is a record, in case you’re keeping track. But a new all time high record isn’t what makes my eyebrows levitate. It is that the VIX ended higher than on October 10th 2008 - when the market closed lower than on Friday. So while the market is now higher, fear - as measured by the VIX - is actually more pronounced. Interesting.

volatility vix and spx compared october 2008

TED Spread & LIBOR
The credit markets are continuing to thaw with both LIBOR and the TED spread falling. But, and that is a big but, we are no where near normalcy. Both indicators are at extremely elevated levels. They difference is that they are now going in the “right” direction (if you are a bull). But they still have a long ways to go to totally unwind.

Sell Side Indicator
The Sell-Side indicator measures the equity allocation recommendation of the average Wall St. strategist to their clients. As you can imagine, as a group they are a great contrarian indicator just like the newsletter editors (Investor’s Intelligence) or the retail investors (AAII). Here’s a good article which explains it in more detail.

Right now the average allocation is 58% - which is the lowest level in 10 years. However, if you look back more than that, it is clear that we are near levels which would only suggest a cyclical bottom for the stock market, not a secular one (at best):

sell side indicator merril lynch long term chart

University of Michigan Sentiment Survey
If we needed another sign that the US consumer is totally pessimistic, the recent Michigan sentiment survey shows an even lower reading than the last time I mentioned it in May (Conditions of a New Bull Market: Consumer Sentiment). At 57.5%, it is now lower than anything we’ve seen in almost 30 years. This is saying a lot when you consider all the shocks that the financial markets have been buffeted with over that time:

reuters michigan consumer survey oct 2008

The lowest reading in the history of the survey was in May 1980, 51.7%. This most recent result is preliminary and may be changed when it is finalized on October 31st 2008. We actually saw a lower reading than this most recent number in June 2008 with 56.4%. Then things seemed to improve to 70.3% only to fall down again. In any case, these small details matter less than the overall picture showing a shell-shocked consumer.

As you’d imagine, in the upside down world of contrarian sentiment, extremely pessimistic consumer sentiment is bullish.

Hedge Fund Redemptions
Forget mutual fund redemptions, hedge funds, the sophisticated investment vehicles of wealthy individuals and institutions is hemorrhaging assets to the tune of $210 billion. It seems most aren’t absolute return vehicles but closed index funds because in the recent quarter, they produced terrible results for their clients. According to hedge fund watchers, this looks to be the worst year both in terms of asset flows and returns.

Of course, not all hedge funds suffered. Andrew Lahde posted +860& returns and closed shop after just one year.

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