Stock Exchange: Can Humans Compete with High Frequency Traders?

Many individual investors have been frustrated by the growing prominence of High Frequency Trading. Complicated algorithms can process new information and react in fractions of a second. It sounds intimidating, and in some sense, it is. Individual Investors would be poorly suited for direct competition.

Instead, stick to what the market is giving you. The connections made by these programs are often spurious – totally unrelated to the fundamentals of a given business. This is intentional. After all, they’re after a quick buck rather than a long-term investment.

For that reason, a stock being walloped for frivolous story in the 24-hour news cycle may present an attractive buying opportunity. It all comes down to the individual investor’s process and commitment to their goals.

To help give us perspective this week, we’re bringing in earnings expert Brian Gilmartin. Since 1995, Brian has managed Trinity Asset Management. You can find his regular writings on Fundamentalis.

This Week—Holmes sniffs out a deal

It can be tempting to make a trading decision based on a glance at its recent chart. Unfortunately, a stock that has underperformed in recent days might be providing a big opportunity. Holmes uses a mix of advanced trading techniques and technical analysis to avoid significant drawdowns. When he chases after a down stock, it’s because he sees some serious upside. Let’s see what he’s up to this week:

Holmes

Holmes: This week I’m buying  Jack-in-the-Box (Jack) a restaurant chain in the U.S. (95.98).

It’s not easy finding stocks that fit the exact criteria I’m looking for. I try to find stocks that have been trending higher, then have broken down below that trend, and have started to base a for reasonable period of time.

This gives me a good entry with limited downside risk and upside gains that may get back to the previous levels before the most recent debacle. I like risk/reward ratios of 2:1 or better.  With Jack, my downside is 93.70(Stop), my upside is 106, risking $2.28 to make $10.02. Woof Woof!

Brian: a comp miss sent the stock down to its 200-day moving average after February ’17 comp’s for JACK as the industry that the “low-end” consumer has taken a breather. Forward earnings and revenue estimates are a little weaker following the February ’17 miss, but JACK is trading at 20(x) expected ’17 earnings for expected 17% growth. Even if EPS growth slips to 15% or even low teens the stock is cheap on a PEG (P.E to growth) basis.

Holmes: Glad to hear you approve! Jeff is usually a bit harsher.

Brian: It’s not a bad pick, depending on how long you’re holding onto this one.

Holmes: My usual target is about 4-6 weeks, though I wouldn’t hesitate to unload this if another downturn became apparent.

Brian: Solid reasoning – for a talking dog, at least…

Oscar

Oscar: My big pick this week is the China Large-Cap ETF (FXI).

We’re in the midst of March Madness, so let’s call this pick a rebound. Not in the classic sense: that’s better suited for FXI’s behavior through early January.

Still, I made this my pick on 2/9 and hung with it for a couple of weeks. Now that we’ve seen another drop, I’m ready to jump off the bleachers and get back in the game.

Brian: BRIC’s and Emerging Markets have traded well since the bottom in Q1 ’16. FXI is the safer asset class in a crowded China ETF market. As someone who was never a fan of China as a strategic or even tactical asset allocation recipient, Emerging Market ETF’s might be a better risk / reward. The ETF is scraping along its 200-day moving average.

Oscar: So, you like this one too?

Brian: I’ve always thought China was like playing the US stock market in the late 1800’s – it is the Wild Wild West of outcomes, as a Communist country tries to centrally plan a free-market economy.

Oscar: It’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Felix

Felix:

Continental Resources (CLR) is my next long position.

The decline here has been sustained and significant, which I find attractive. At $43.22, there is definitely potential for the stock to improve near previous highs above the $55 mark. I could hang onto this one for months.

Brian: Continental took a beating on Wednesday as crude oil fell 5%. The Energy sector is a battleground sector as crude gyrates around $50 per barrel and CLR is leveraged to the price of crude. The stock is oversold and trading below its 200-day moving average.

Felix: I agree the stock is oversold, but I don’t like the sound of that “battleground.” How do I know when I’ve hit a proper valuation here?

Brian: Tell me what crude oil will do and you can figure out what CLR will do.

Felix: Uh oh.

Athena

Athena: I understand my methods are often met with skepticism. That’s why I like to pause now and then and reflect on some small successes. Let’s review my recent foray into Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

I recommended this stock back on 2/9/17, just after a huge spike in price. Put lightly, this was not my most-loved pick. That was fine by me. Because I had the right time frame in mind, I was able to collect a tidy sum and close out this position near the end of the month.

Brian: A semiconductor company that was a serial capital destroyer for most of its life and long an “also-ran” to Intel, AMD had an impressive string of “earnings beats” and raises in 2016. On the other hand, the valuation is stretched with the Street looking for $0.07 and $0.26 thus AMD is trading at 50(x) next year’s earnings.

Athena: Would you say something like this might be due for another pop in the near future? How hot is this trend?

Brian: The semiconductor space looks good both technically and fundamentally, and AMD is a resurgent laggard in the space.

Background on the Stock Exchange

Each week Felix and Oscar host a poker game for some of their friends. Since they are all traders they love to discuss their best current ideas before the game starts. They like to call this their “Stock Exchange.” (Check it out for more background). Their methods are excellent, as you know if you have been following the series. Since the time frames and risk profiles differ, so do the stock ideas. You get to be a fly on the wall from my report. I am the only human present, and the only one using any fundamental analysis.

The result? Several expert ideas each week from traders, and a brief comment on the fundamentals from the human investor. The models are named to make it easy to remember their trading personalities. Each week features a different expert or stock.

Questions

If you want an opinion about a specific stock or sector, even those we did not mention, just ask! Put questions in the comments. Address them to a specific expert if you wish. Each has a specialty. Who is your favorite? (You can choose me, although my feelings will not be hurt very much if you prefer one of the models).

Conclusion

The growing establishment of High Frequency Trading algorithms has changed the investment landscape. However, that doesn’t spell doom for the individual investor. Overreactions to trivial matters, like a POTUS tweet, can actually create bargain opportunities. Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Do not compete directly by trying to react more quickly to news.
  • Find a method that differs in time frame.
  • Do not use stops that become limit orders.  A random move can take you out of a position at a poor price.
  • If possible, use the HFT algorithms to your advantage.  If a stock is solid, consider buying dips by having some standing buy orders.

Take what the market is giving you.

2016 in Review: Best of the Silver Bullet Awards Part One

Since the earliest days of A Dash of Insight, Jeff has brought attention to journalists and bloggers who dispel myths in financial media. We congratulate these writers with the Silver Bullet Award – named in honor of the Lone Ranger, who lived by a strict code: “…that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.”

In a year rife with misinformation and disinformation, it is fitting that we gave out a record 23 Silver Bullet Awards in 2016. For that reason, we’ll be doing this year in two parts; our winners for the first half of the year are summarized below. Readers may also want to check into our 20132014, and 2015 compilations, as many of the same issues persist to this day.

Have any thoughts or predictions on what will dominate news cycles in 2017? Know of a great analyst flying below our radar? Feel free to post in the comments with any suggestions or nominations.

1/3/16

It didn’t take long to find our first Silver Bullet winner of 2016. Matt Busigin took on US Recession Callers ahead of the ISM data release:

Through a combination of quackery, charlatanism, and inadequate utilisation of mathematics, callers for US recession in 2016 are embarrassing themselves. Again.

The most prominent reason for recession calling may well be the Institute of Supply Management’s Manufacturing Purchasing Manager Index. The problem with this recession forecasting methodology is that it doesn’t work.

As we now know, the US economy did not slip into a recession in 2016 – lending further credence to Busigin’s critique of these methods.

2/7/16

Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment earned the second Silver Bullet award of 2016. While others were content to see doom and gloom in the level of margin debt on the NYSE, Hickey dismissed this as a minor concern.

Although declining margin levels are often cited as a bearish signal for the market, Hickey believes that it is a small concern given the indicator’s coincidental nature. On the other hand, the prospect of rising rates spooks investors much more, and holds them back from buying stocks.

“Margin debt rises when the market rises and falls when the market falls,” Hickey said. “If you look at the S&P 500’s average returns after periods when margin debt falls 10 percent from a record high, the forward returns aren’t much different than the overall returns for all periods.”

3/5/16

The causation-correlation fallacy is a favorite of ours on A Dash. Robert Novy-Marx distinguished himself with an excellent paper titled “Predicting anomaly performance with politics, the weather, global warming, sunspots, and the stars.”

“This paper shows that several interesting variables appear to have power predicting the performance of some of the best known anomalies. Standard predictive regressions fail to reject the hypothesis that the party of the US President, the weather in Manhattan, global warming, El Niño, sunspots, or the conjunctions of the planets are significantly related to anomaly performance. These results are striking and surprising. In fact, some readers might be inclined to reject some of this paper’s conclusions solely on the grounds of plausibility.”

We often note how bloggers and media search back to find tedious explanations and tie a day together. For more reading, we recommend our old post “The Costly Craving for Explanations.”

3/20/16

“Davidson,” by way of Todd Sullivan, was recognized for writing on the confusion of nominal and real data on Retain and Food Service Sales. His key takeaway:

Retail and Food Service Sales are at the highest levels ever measured and trending higher. Would you believe that today’s pace is more than 35% higher than our last recovery. Comments in the media would lead you to believe otherwise. Perhaps you have heard a number of recession forecasts. I have heard at least a dozen well known investors say a recession will occur before this year is out. My view differs considerably and remains very positive.

3/26/16

Jacob Wolinsky found it suspicious that Harry Dent was predicting the next big crash – and happened to have just the product to help investors cope. This “Rounded Top” chart had started to make its way across the panicky world of financial media:

The whole of Wolinsky’s article is still worth a read (especially given its twist ending).

4/3/16

The economic impact of lower oil prices in early 2016 was surprising to many observers. We recognized Professor Tim Duy for his research on the economic impact of lower oil prices.

This problem, however, just scratches the surface. Look at either of the first two charts above and two red flags should leap off the screen. The first is the different scales, often used to overemphasize the strength of a correlation. The second is the short time span, often used to disguise the lack of any real long term relationship (I hope I remember these two points the next time I am inclined to post such a chart).

Consider a time span that encompassed the entirety of the 5-year, 5-year forward inflation expectations:

4/10/16

If we spent a little time looking for the newest conspiracy theory about the Federal Reserve, we could probably give out the Silver Bullet every week. Ethan Harris of Bank of America Merril Lynch (via Business Insider) got this week’s award for shutting down a new “theory” about central banks and the dollar.

“There is a much simpler explanation for all of this. Central banks have turned more dovish because they are being hurt by common shocks: slower global growth and a risk-off trade in global capital markets,” he argued.

“Hence it is in the individual interest of the ECB to stimulate credit and bank lending, the BOJ to push interest rates into negative territory and the Fed to move more cautiously in hiking rates,” he continued.

Some may also point out that there’s a gap between Yellen’s recent messages and some of the recent speeches from FOMC members.

But Harris has thoughts on this, too:

  1. Yellen has consistently leaned more dovish than others.
  2. Most of those more hawkish speeches were from nonvoting members.

4/17/16

The mythology surrounding the Fed bled over into the next week as well. We gave Steven Saville a Silver Bullet award for targeting ZeroHedge with this very thorough rebuttal:

A post at ZeroHedge (ZH) on 8th April discusses an 11th April Fed meeting as if it were an important and unusual event. According to the ZH post:

With everyone’s focus sharply attuned on anything to do with the Fed’s rate hike policy, many will probably wonder why yesterday the Fed announced that this coming Monday, April 11, the Fed will hold a closed meeting “under expedited procedures” during which the Board of Governors will review and determine advance and discount rates charged by the Fed banks.

As a reminder, the last time the Fed held such a meeting was on November 21, less than a month before it launched its first rate hike in years.

As explained at the TSI Blog last November in response to a similar ZH post, these “expedited, closed” Fed meetings happen with monotonous regularity. For example, there were 5 in March, 4 in February and 5 in January. Furthermore, ZH’s statement that 21 November was the last time the Fed held such a meeting to “review and determine advance and discount rates charged by the Fed banks” is an outright falsehood. The fact is that a meeting for this purpose happens at least once per month. For example, there were 2 such meetings in March and 1 in February.

4/23/16

During the economic recovery following the Great Recession, critics often argued that net job creation emphasized part-time and low-paying jobs. Jeffry Bartash of MarketWatch thought to look at the data, and concluded the US economy is still creating well-paid jobs. The key takeaway is in the following chart:

5/8/16

Breaking down mean averages can produce some strange results, and you can never be sure how financial bloggers might spin that data. We gave a Silver Bullet award to Jeff Reeves for breaking down this baffling valuation of Tesla.

$620,000 for every car it delivered last year, or $63,000 for every car it hopes to produce in 2020.

By comparison, General Motors Co’s (GM.N) $48 billion market value is equivalent to about $4,800 for every vehicle it sold last year.

Reeves’ full article, still available on MarketWatch, is still very smart and very readable.

5/21/16

The “flattening” yield curve had become the newest scare issue by late May. Barron’s Gene Epstein and Bonddad’s New Deal Democrat both took this to task, with satisfying results. In particular, the latter’s article had a solid mix of compelling charts with snappy writing:

In the last week or so there have been a spate of articles – from the usual Doomer sources but also from some semi-respectable sites like Business Insider vans an investment adviser or two ,see here ( https://lplresearch.com/2016/05/19/is-the-yield-curve-signaling-trouble-… ) – to the effect that the yield curve is flattening and OMG RECESSION!!! Here’s a typical Doomer graph – that draws a trend line that ignores the 1970s and neglects to mention that 2 of the 4 inversions even within the time specified don’t fit:

5/29/16

We gave this week’s award to the former President of the Minneapolis Fed, Narayana Kocherlakota. As conspiracy theories persisted, he explained the nature of Fed meetings and their timing:

Timing alone, though, hardly merits so much attention. To understand why, consider two possible scenarios. In one, the Fed starts raising rates in June and then adds another quarter percentage point at every second policy-making meeting (once every three months) for the next three years. In the other, the Fed waits until the second half of 2017 and then adds a quarter percentage point at each of the next 12 meetings. The second path represents slightly easier monetary policy, but most economic models would suggest that there would be almost no difference in the effect on employment or inflation.

6/12/16

New Deal Democrat earned a second Silver Bullet award for his work debunking a notoriously deceptive chart:

“The problem with this graph is that includes two slightly to significantly lagging indicators.  Your employer doesn’t start paying withholding taxes until after you are hired.  State tax receipts aren’t paid until a month or a quarter after the spending or other taxable event has occurred.  Worse, since both have seasonality, both have to be measured on a YoY basis, which means the turn in the data will come after the actual turn in the economy.”

Conclusion – Part One

As always, you can feel free to contact us with recommendations for future Silver Bullet prize winners at any time. Whenever someone takes interest in defending a thankless but essential cause, we hope you’ll find them here. Expect to see Part Two of our Silver Bullet review later on in the week. Happy New Year!

Things I Don’t Care About — And Neither Should You!!

One of the biggest challenges for investors is filtering out bad, useless, or even costly “information.”  I have a method for screening out the noise and using my time more effectively.  Part of it is keeping the TV on mute and using TIVO to check out anything that is really significant.  You can also just skip articles that obviously do not meet the test.

Here is a good starting list of what to ignore.  Feel free to suggest additions.

  • The Hindenburg Omen – or any other method using BO (i.e. backtested overfitting) and failing the smell test.
  • Commentary from people who are famous for being famous – their websites confuse media appearances with credentials.
  • Tobin’s Q – a great idea fifty years ago, but not relevant for modern companies.
  • Bond guys opinions about stocks – don’t ask your barber if you need a haircut (Warren Buffett)
  • Stock guys opinions about bonds – see above.
  • PMI data lacking multiple business cycles – you have to start somewhere, but we do not need to believe it.
  • Recession predictions from some “expert” who cooked up a model last week – too few cases, too many variables.

You can save many hours and also avoid some bad decisions by rejecting this useless and harmful noise.