The market and investors are in an odd juxtaposition. For the most part, the media and analysts remain pretty bearish, yet the market continues to rise. Fears of an economic slowdown are persistent. With all this in mind, what is the best way to play the market? Barron’s says you should sell puts, cashing in on investors’ fears and desire to buy puts. For instance, one could sell puts on the Financial Select SPDR (XLF), which is at a high water mark but is still quite vulnerable to a downturn because of fears over the economy and rates.
FINSUM: Granted, this is a nickel and dime strategy but it sure beats fearful money sitting in a money market account not earning much.
Calm and collected asset manager Vanguard has just made an eye-opening call about 2020. The firm’s chief economist and investment strategy chief, Joseph Davis, says there is a 50-50 chance of a correction in 2020. The market hasn’t seen a correction since December 2018, when it dropped to within a hair of a bear market. Davis says he usually sees about a 30% chance for a correction in any given year. Vanguard says that while investors were too pessimistic about recession chances this year, next year they’ll be too optimistic about re-inflation.
FINSUM: Seems a reasonable call, if rather safe.
One of the biggest ratings agencies on Wall Street has just put out a stern warning on the junk bond market. Moody’s says that high yield debt may fall “significantly” after a big rally this year. In a quote that captures the general disbelief that has accompanied the junk bond rally this year, Moody’s economist John Lonski says ““High-yield bonds have rallied mightily despite the lack of any observable broad-based acceleration of either business sales or corporate earnings”. Moody’s thinks that if performance of the underlying companies in the space does not improve, then there will be a reckoning, saying ““If the anticipated improvement in the fundamentals governing corporate credit quality do not materialise, a significant widening of high-yield bond spreads is likely”.
FINSUM: Irrational exuberance?
If one thing is for sure about markets at the moment, it is that investors are less worried about the economy and less stressed about the chances of a bear market. That is exactly why the market is at risk. The market’s fear index, the VIX, jumped a whopping 16% yesterday, signaling some underlying anxiety building after a calm and positive stretch. One of the factors that is looming over markets is whether the tariff deadlines on China get delayed or not, which will be a sign of progress or failure on the trade deal. Further, fears over the election, and higher rates, are likely to dampen corporate spending and slow the economy.
FINSUM: Our worry is that the anxiety level at the moment does not seem to be matching the real risk, which ironically is when the chance of a market downturn is at its highest.
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.