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The New Year’s Sentiment Cross Currents at Trader’s Narrative

The New Year’s Sentiment Cross Currents

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Welcome to 2009 and the first trading day of the new year!

The last sentiment overview of 2008 didn’t paint a pretty picture. And it seems that things have continued to deteriorate from there.

CBOE Put Call Ratio
Here’s a chart of the 15 day simple moving average of the CBOE put call ratio (equity only):

cboe put call ratio Jan 2009

Unless you zoom out you will miss that in the past few years this indicator has fallen into a rather clear upward channel. In light of this channel, we are now very close to a bearish low for the put call ratio. As you can see, in the past this has coincided with very weak markets going forward.

ISE Sentiment
Surprisingly, just before the stock market got a year end boost - the S&P 500 rising from 870 to 930 - the ISE Sentiment index reached 206 on December 29th 2008.

The last time the ISE Sentiment index was close to this level was back on October 29th 2007 when it reached 192. Before that, the last time the call put ratio was above 200 was in May 2006, just before the market entered a period of weakness lasting until October of the same year.

If we look at the equity only ISE Sentiment data, the recent top came on the second to last day of trading of the year, on December 30th 2008 when it reached 234 - meaning that retail option traders on the ISE exchange bought over twice as many call options as put options. The last time this bearish level was surpassed was in October 2007. So obviously this is an ominous warning for anyone who is long this market.

Here’s a chart of the ISEE sentiment ratio (equity only):

ISE sentiment Jan 5th 2009

Silver Lining
The only bright spot I can find in sentiment land is the recent data regarding portfolio allocation from the AAII. I’ve mentioned this before back in the sentiment overview for the week of October 3rd 2008.

According to the survey respondents at AAII, in October of last year, the retail investor in the US allocated 35% in cash, 51% equities and the rest in bonds. They have now moved to 42% cash and only 42% equities (and the rest in bonds).

This is significant because for the whole history of this indicator, retail investors have never allocated as much (or more) cash as equities. Clearly, this shows a despondency which contrarian investors spend most of their days sighing for in vain.

Although we have now surpassed any historical equivalent of an extreme for this sentiment indicator, it is interesting to note that the last two times that the allocation for cash and equities came close (but didn’t match) was in late 1990 and late 2002. Both brilliant spots to put cash to good use.

This dovetails well with some other reasons already outlined for long term optimism. It seems that we are in for a rough patch in the short term but clear sailing for those who will grit their teeth and bear it. No pun intended ;-)

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3 Responses to “The New Year’s Sentiment Cross Currents”  

  1. 1 Russ Abbott

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    It would really be useful if you could post the S&P as an overlay to the indicators you post. That way we could see how extremes in the indicators match up to in the S&P.


  2. 2 Babak

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    good point Russ, sometimes I do and other times because it makes the charts too crowded I leave it out.

  3. 3 Mr Risk

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    In the face of such negative news and general pessimism, the first days of the new year have been strong. Unlike a few months ago, this rise in the stock markets seems harder psychologically for many investors to buy on the way up. That cash on the sidelines (shown in the AAII survey) has got to be upside fuel down the road.

    Except for the Put/Call Ratio, Babak, would you consider other sentiment indicators showing this a wall of worry?

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