If there was ever a stock market indicator that makes us worry, it is when the general public gets very bullish. Nothing seems to yell “stock market peak” like a record setting sentiment number. A new sentiment tracker from Qontigo called ROOF (risk-on/risk-off) just registered a score of 4.8, which is in the 95th percentile historically. The ROOF score hit a low on October 2nd and has been rising since then.
FINSUM: Whenever we see readings like this it just always feels as though a correction is near. The reason why is that since people’s expectations are high, they are easily let down and get fearful/redemptive.
Bank of America has just published an important piece of data. The bank has put out the results of its sentiment survey of investors and has found that US investors are the most bearish they have been since the Financial Crisis. The survey was of fund managers, so is an indication of institutional investment sentiment. Allocations to equities among those polled hit their lowest level since March 2009, the month the stock market bottomed. “FMS investors have not been this bearish since the global financial crisis, with pessimism driven by trade war and recession concerns”, said BAML’s chief investment strategist.
FINSUM: It is hard to know how seriously to take this. It is certainly a pertinent piece of information, but is it a bearish indicator or a bullish contrarian indicator?
In our ongoing coverage of the best funds and products we met at the Inside ETFs conference (and in our regular course of business), we today want to highlight Exponential Funds’ American Customer Satisfaction ETF (ACSI). We met with the founding team of the issuer and the fund last month and were impressed with both their concept and implementation. The fund itself takes a different tack in choosing quality companies with good outlooks—instead of focusing solely on financial performance as most other funds do, it looks to extensive customer satisfaction surveys, and chooses the companies which are scoring most highly with consumers. It uses the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which was founded in 1994 at the University of Michigan, as the basis for its models. Customer satisfaction is a widely recognized metric and is ultimately a statement of economic value, so companies that score highly in the area are serving their customers well and are likely to thrive. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.66%.
FINSUM: We really like the angle this fund has developed as it takes a totally different view than mainstream ways of judging company outlooks. We see this as a long-term play that could have significant rewards.
As if there were not enough worrying indicators out there, Market Watch has featured a new worrisome measure. The paper interviewed a famous Wall Street quant who says that algorithms which track broad social media sentiment are showing significant risks of a serious decline in equities. The big worries on the public’s mind revolve around the escalating trade war between China and the US. The indicator also informs sector picks, to which strategist Yin Luo said “With U.S. stocks, we are bullish consumer discretionary, technology, and industrials over the medium horizon, and are negative on consumer staples and telecom services, where fundamentals remain relatively weak and momentum has been negative”.
FINSUM: We are always skeptical of these kinds of views because what people say on social media is not a very good reflection of what they are doing in their investment account. Further, there are likely mountains of people being assessed by the algorithms that have no trading/investment account, so their impact is nearly non existent.
Bloomberg has just made a bold call—they say the bull market ended yesterday. While stocks dropped sharply, 1.7% for the Dow, which basically eliminates all the progress they had made over the last couple of weeks, it is hard to say that it means the end of the bull market. The reason Bloomberg argues so is that the market has been stuck in a rut for three months, and yesterday, investors digested a dark survey which showed that Americans, on average, expect stocks to be lower 12 months from now, a sharp turnaround in sentiment. One portfolio manager from Stifel Nicolaus summarizes where the market is now, ”Investors have this understanding that equity markets are at lofty levels and we are in a low-return environment, so as the risk-free rate moves higher, even in a gradual manner, that becomes more of a competitive asset class”.
FINSUM: We are not particularly bearish, but do concede that if rates keep moving higher it is going to be hard for equities to do the same.