Make Kitco Your Homepage

This is what is most dangerous about our stock market right now

Commentaries & Views

While many viewed unemployment, or the Covid virus, or the slowed GDP, or a myriad of other factors as reasons to believe the market is “dangerous,” I propose that these four-letter words are more dangerous to your investment account than anything else:

NEWS, BIAS, and HOPE

You see, many will turn to the news to determine which direction the market will move. Yet, much research has been done over the last several decades which suggests that news does not have the impact many believe.

In a 1988 study conducted by Cutler, Poterba, and Summers entitled “What Moves Stock Prices,” they reviewed stock market price action after major economic or other type of news (including major political events) in order to develop a model through which one would be able to predict market moves RETROSPECTIVELY. Yes, you heard me right. They were not even at the stage yet of developing a prospective prediction model.

However, the study concluded that “[m]acroeconomic news . . . explains only about one fifth of the movements in stock market prices.” In fact, they even noted that “many of the largest market movements in recent years have occurred on days when there were no major news events.” They also concluded that “[t]here is surprisingly small effect [from] big news [of] political developments . . . and international events.” They also suggest that:

“The relatively small market responses to such news, along with evidence that large market moves often occur on days without any identifiable major news releases casts doubt on the view that stock price movements are fully explicable by news. . . “

In August 1998, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article by Tom Walker, who conducted his own study of 42 years’ worth of “surprise” news events and the stock market’s corresponding reactions. His conclusion, which will be surprising to most, was that it was exceptionally difficult to identify a connection between market trading and dramatic surprise news. Based upon Walker's study and conclusions, even if you had the news beforehand, you would still not be able to determine the direction of the market only based upon such news.

In 2008, another study was conducted, in which they reviewed more than 90,000 news items relevant to hundreds of stocks over a two-year period. They concluded that large movements in the stocks were NOT linked to any news items:

“Most such jumps weren’t directly associated with any news at all, and most news items didn’t cause any jumps.”

External events affect the market only insofar as they are interpreted by the market participants. Yet, such interpretation is guided by the prevalent social mood. Therefore, the important factor to understand is not the social event itself, but, rather, the underlying social mood which will provide the “spin” to an understanding of that external event.

In fact, even Dennis Gartman, as he approached retirement, had to finally admit that "[w]e have learned that economic news doesn’t matter until it matters . . ."

I certainly hope it does not take Mr. Gartman another lifetime to learn the rest of the truth. That truth is that when negative economic news eventually seems to “matter,” it is simply because it is coincident with the downturn in the market and not the cause of it. To assume otherwise is to retain blinders when the market clearly ignores that negative news as it continues to rally (as we experienced during April and May), and then figuratively taking off the blinders when the market finally turns down.

Yet, many market participants and pundits are much like Mr. Gartman. In fact, they are no different than my children when they were smaller and would try to time the changing of the light from red to green. They would look at the traffic light, and say “now,” as they tried to time the light changing back to green. And, if it did not change, they would again say “now.” And, this would go on for maybe another 10 to 15 times, depending on how long the light takes to change. When the light finally changed while coinciding with one of their “now’s,” they proudly assume that they caught that timing ever so perfectly.

So, when I read pundits repeat reason after reason as to why the market will drop, I view it as akin to my 3-year-old child saying “now.” Eventually, the market will turn just like the traffic light will eventually turn and the pundit will react just as proudly as my 3-year-old, assuming they caught that timing ever so perfectly. But, clearly there is no prescience in their ability to identify the cause of that turn.

You see, just like my 3-year-old did not comprehend that there is something internal to the traffic light that caused the light to change, the pundits do not comprehend that there is something internal to the stock market that will direct it. If this has not been clear to market participants since we struck the bottom to the market in March, then there is nothing more for me to say. At the end of the day, my 3-year-old and the market pundit simply do not comprehend the true driver of that which they are attempting to time.

I think the following study explains this phenomenon best. In a paper entitled “Large Financial Crashes,” published in 1997 in Physica A., a publication of the European Physical Society, the authors, within their conclusions, present a nice summation for what directs the herding principle within financial markets:

“Stock markets are fascinating structures with analogies to what is arguably the most complex dynamical system found in natural sciences, i.e., the human mind. Instead of the usual interpretation of the Efficient Market Hypothesis in which traders extract and incorporate consciously (by their action) all information contained in market prices, we propose that the market as a whole can exhibit an “emergent” behavior not shared by any of its constituents. In other words, we have in mind the process of the emergence of intelligent behavior at a macroscopic scale that individuals at the microscopic scales have no idea of. This process has been discussed in biology for instance in the animal populations such as ant colonies or in connection with the emergence of consciousness.”

So, one has to honestly question if the Covid virus was simply coincident to a market downturn, rather than a direct cause. In other words, it may have been simply another “now” in the game played by my children, especially after the market had been extremely stretched to the upside.

Back in early 2018, I had outlined my expectation for the market to revisit the 2200SPX region before it would rally to 4000+. And, the fact that the market has rallied so strongly off that support target despite all the bad news, which has seemingly surprised everyone other than us . . . well . . . it does support how we view the markets from the lens of market sentiment. As many of my members have also noted:

“Avi helped give the confidence to go long at the right times, and gains have already paid for well over 40 years worth of monthly membership costs (profits over $50k). Without his guidance I was too afraid of the disconnect between the current economy/market pundits/"gurus" (Druckenmiller, Tepper, El Erian, etc.) and market action.”

“By following Avi's analysis, I had most of my money in cash before this down turn. . . .None of those financial news can logically explain these dramatic ups and downs. Only after joining Avi's service, I start to understand what really matters when it comes to investing and trading.”

The next dangerous four-letter word is BIAS. Once a bias has been established within the mind of an investor or pundit, it is quite rare to see that person be able to move away from that bias. As Albert Einstein once noted, “[f]ew people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions."

For example, even though the market provided us with a 35% crash back in February and March, recency bias caused most investors and pundits to not only sell near the lows, but it kept them from getting back into the market because they simply “knew” another crash was going to happen. That “crash” certainly happened, but it was in the opposite direction. (smile)

Yet, if you had read most of the articles on Seeking Alpha during the recent 50% rally in the SPX, all you heard was how the market was about to imminently crash again due to unemployment, or bankruptcies, or the 2nd wave of Covid, etc.

I think it is time for you to be honest with yourself. Did that rally surprise you? Were you following all the news, pundits and analysis which explained how the next crash was so certain to occur? Did that cause you to be looking down again while the market rallied 50%?

As one of our members recently wrote:

“Stop listening to the market talking heads and scouring the internet for flawed investing advice and learn why the vast majority of individual investors allow themselves to be manipulated into bad trading decisions. Avi and his team will educate and empower you with a ridiculously accurate analysis methodology that eliminates emotion from trading decisions, and gives you a crystal clear picture of risk/reward for a given trading vehicle.”

This brings me to my last, and most dangerous, four-letter word: HOPE.

While many were so certain that the next crash was about to occur, many investors shorted the market during that 50% rally. Were you one of them? Did you have a plan which would cause you to stop out when you realized the initial thesis for your short was wrong? Did you have an objective perspective which told you your initial thesis for your short was wrong? Or, did you ride the short all the way up during that 50% rally because of your “hope” that the next crash was imminent?

Unfortunately, many who shorted only covered when we approached the 3200SPX region, at least based upon the put/call ratios I was tracking. This means that, while many began to short the market based upon recency bias, the most dangerous four-letter word in the investment world – HOPE – kept many in those short positions during one of the strongest rallies in market history.

And, now that most of those short positions have been forced to cover, the market is setting us up for a larger degree pullback over the summer. While it is still possible that the market may make an attempt at the prior all-time high first, I think it is likely that we will see levels much lower than where we are today before we are ready to attack the 4000+ region.

So, now the questions you have to ask yourself are if you are going to allow the news to direct your investment thesis; if are you going to buy into the common bias or a recency bias about the market; and if are you going to maintain a losing position based upon your hope?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.