Market Report: first year of a bull market, or end of a bubble?

This bull market is unique because unlike past bull markets, this one began with extreme speculation. Historically, extreme speculation occurred at the end of multi-year bull markets. This is why the markets are currently exhibiting extremely bullish signs (e.g. breadth today is similar to what you see at the start of multi-year bull markets) and extremely bearish signs (e.g. speculation today is similar to what you see at the end of multi-year bull markets). How do we reconcile these two opposites?

Let’s take a look at some bullish & bearish factors:

Subsiding volatility

VIX closed below 20 for the first time in almost a year. The past year was a nervous one for markets: stocks rallied, but investors and traders were consistently on edge.

Historical cases of elevated but subsiding volatility led to more gains for stocks over the next 6-12 months:

  1. July 1999: the dot-com bubble lasted for another 9 months.
  2. May 2003: stocks rallied significantly over the next 9 months:
  3. December 2009: stocks rallied over the next year, but there was a significant correction along the way

Fund flows

The recent VIX spike saw record inflows into the leveraged VIX ETF (UVXY).

Such strong inflows typically occurred after a VIX spike. Since VIX spikes when stocks fall, the S&P usually rallied higher over the next 3 months:

Bonds

Rising interest rates are pushing bond prices down. The Treasury Bond ETF TLT’s 9 week RSI is extremely low:

TLT could fall a little further over the next few months, but historically this was bullish over the next 9-12 months:

TLT’s historical data is limited. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Treasury Bond Index has more historical data. Once again, this was bullish for Treasury bonds:

Correlation

Plenty of traders have compared the S&P 500 over the past year to 1999, 2009, 1987, or (insert random year here). From a statistical point of view, the S&P 500 over the past year is most correlated to these other 1 year periods in history:

These historical cases saw a slightly greater than average chance of the S&P pushing higher over the next 2 months:

Falling economic uncertainty

As I noted on Tuesday, economic & policy uncertainty in the U.S. is decreasing:

The Uncertainty Index has dropped below 100 for the first time in almost a year. Historically, long periods of high (but easing) uncertainty led to more gains for stocks:

Rampant trading & speculation

Now that we’ve covered the bullish signs, let’s look at the bearish signs. It’s not hard to see signs of extreme risk taking.

U.S. equity volume has surged to its March 2020 highs. The only difference? Volume surged in March 2020 as stocks crashed (which is normal). Volume is surging today as stocks rally. Typically, volume goes up in a crash and volume goes down in a rally.

This volume is flowing into highly speculative names:

So while traders and small speculators bet on more gains, corporate insiders are using this once-in-a-decade opportunity to cash out:

Conclusion: market outlook

How do we reconcile the disparity between these two opposing forces? (extremely bullish momentum vs. extremely bearish excess)

There’s no black-and-white answer. Instead of relying on a definitive answer, my approach is diversify my portfolio into 3 strategies. Diversification reduces volatility in one’s aggregate portfolio.

  1. Long term portfolios should be highly defensive right now. This speculative bull market may last another 6 months or even 9 months, but stocks are a poor investment on a 3-5 year time frame. There are better opportunities in other markets (e.g. private markets).
  2. Medium term portfolios should go neither long nor short since risk:reward favors neither side. Extreme speculation can always become more extreme, but the risks are also staggering.
  3. Short term trend-focused portfolios should continue to ride the bull trend because no one knows exactly when it will end.

2 comments add yours

  1. The technical indicators for this market are still very good, but the fundamental indicators (Shiller P/E, Buffet Indicator, etc.) certainly are not.

    Your historical data (and other data as well) would indicate there are further gains to be expected. And if those gains occur, then the fundamental indicators will likely be stretched even further.

    That certainly could happen. Markets can get to ridiculous valuations before reality sets in. But eventually, about the time everyone throws in the towel and starts to buy, that’s when it happens. In the meantime, we could see another 10-15% appreciation.

    I think the thing that could reduce and delay a really bad ‘event’ from occurring is some significant correction (or corrections) along the way. That, along with some sideways consolidation, would likely temper any significant drop. But, of course, you could still get the drop.

    So far, we’re not getting any of that behavior, which is what is most worrisome to me. The Fed is fueling this market, and if that stops, it will likely get ugly quickly. But no sign of that at this point.

    So the market probably is still going up. My investments are going up. Even so, it’s getting scarier every day. Too much ‘up’ is not a good thing. We need some ‘down’, and there hasn’t really been any for a long time. That’s what’s really scary.

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