Thursday, March 22, 2007

Prediction for the Market

Hi all.

Normally it would be time for Friday Tech Files but in these turbulent market times I wanted to spend my time today analyzing the recent market activity. Regular readers will know that I called the market drop just a couple days in advance and moved everything not in the finance wonk portfolio to cash - so what do we do now that the market has bounced? (for more on a review of my results see my shameless "I was right" post)

Well, there are two things I'm looking at right now: imputed volatility and investor behavior. Imputed volatility (measured numerically in indexes like the VIX index) is a neat measurement derived from options pricing of the expected market volatility implied in the prices people are trading options at. It represents the markets current thinking about volatility. A couple years ago I did a historical study (20 pages and unfortunately not something I can publish as it contains proprietary data) on implied volatility.

Turns out high VIX scores precede jumps UP in the markets, but not drops. That is to say that the whole market feels the positive glow as people decide a slump is over and start to invest, but that right up until a drop everyone is predicting things are fine. During this last week runup the VIX dropped off a cliff as investors shut their eyes to risk and jumped in the market. That's actually a bad sign.

The second thing I'm watching is investor behavior. During the last 4 months or so of climb before the drop we saw a pattern where investors would have little response to bad news, then pump up shares when anything could be interpreted as reducing the risk of inflation. Clearly nobody felt a downturn was a threat and inflation was the only concern.

The drop hit shortly after the first serious concerns about recession surfaced (link to post of mine just before drop). It was these concerns which drove the market down.

This week investors returned to the thought that inflation was the only risk. The Federal reserve altered their language and specifically acknowledged that the economy faces risks and yet the market went up. Meanwhile the implied volatility guages dropped, showing that investors were looking at this recent drop as a chance to throw their money in the market and look smart... a sure sign we're near the top.

Meanwhile the next few quarters will see reduced earnings growth, much of the subprime market failures effect on the economy has yet to unwind (KB homes profit down 84% already!), and commodity and labor inflation will be squeezing prices. At some point all these chickens have to come home to roost.

In my usual fashion I'm going to bravely and uncertainly call the future and invite your feedback: I believe that a year from now the market will be less than 5% above where it is now - possibly FAR below that. Why is this an important point? Because you can make 5% risk free in a good bank account (like at E-trade) so anything lower from the market means holding cash is smarter.

The market may go up a bit from here as you get a rush of the "last in" people piling into the market, and there will be downdrafts from hedgies unwinding their leverage, but ultimately I'm keeping my pile of cash.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Ramesh Shankar said...

Good call! The downside is far larger than the upside at this point.

I personally feel that the housing bust is being discounted by the market. It is huge.

If somebody has not equity in the home they purchased, they'll walk.

However, there are plenty of white collar folk who have built up equity and plan to pay back their mortgages - however, they bought at the top and will slowly see home prices sink yer over year.

So, this is not a subprime issue alone. Most people have bought more house than they could afford.

I feel that consumer spending will decline from now on. This will definitely affect consumer retail - stores like Walmart, Costco, Target, Best Buy etc.

Home builders are toast - historical lows for home builders are price-to-book of 0.5. It might even go lower in this bust. Market is not reflecting this yet.

Auto is already in recession. Detroit is becoming a ghost town and I recently read an atricle where foreclosed homes fetched less than 30K in auctions (less than the price of a decent car). Of course, they could be crappy homes, but people are afraid to bid because everybody expects home prices to go even lower.

I cannot see much positives in the economy going forward. However, it seems certain that the Fed will cut interest rates and that might boost the market temporarily.

10:49 AM  

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