Thursday, December 10, 2009

Some trading slack still left

Technical analysts like to look backwards. They look at chart patterns earnestly – hoping to decode the signs of change in a price level. Looking back to predict the future is the modus operandi of the market technician. Some like to say that “this time things are different”, that the forces acting on the market today are far different from the forces that moved the market decades ago. Most often, though, history proves to be a sage advisor. In truth, the market is evolving – like the world it reflects – and there are new and complicating variables that make it difficult, maybe impossible, for even the most revered oracle to see clearly through the fog. One changed factor that has made a difference in the markets is the tremendous expansion of capital and trading. Compared to the liquidity of today, the markets of a generation ago were homespun, almost quaint.

The total market capitalization of the Toronto Stock Exchange – itself just a tiny component of a vastly grown global equity market – has increased from about $100-billion in the mid-1960s to over $1.7-trillion currently. But the size of the market, both locally and globally, implies a new variable only in so much as that growth in capital corresponds to an increasing propensity to trade. Trading is what creates price changes in securities. It is the force of change on valuations – and it expands market volatility. More trading demands better information, better pricing discipline, and more efficient markets.

Given the latest market meltdown that last statement may have you in stitches – we seem to move from one bubble to the next. However, trading expansion is undeniable and consequential to the movement of prices. On the TSX average daily trading volume is up almost 678% in the last 15-years. But average daily transactions are up over 3,179%! Clearly, a new type of investor has come to the fore. From a growing number of actively managed accounts under the wing of institutional portfolio advisors to the small retail investor trading from home computers, there is a tremendous force of energy fuelling stock price movements. The character of that trading shows that market timing activity – a heightened intensity of trading – in the plummeting average traded value in recent decades. Average traded value on the TSX was about $50,000 fifteen years ago – now it’s one-fifth that level.

The market downturn last year stalled out the growth in transactions. Looking back to the market bust of 2000 the TSX showed a similar decline and plateau of transactions. Not until five years later, did the number of weekly trades begin a new trajectory. Notably, the current market rally that has added 50% to the S&P/TSX Composite Index has been accompanied by diminished average weekly transactions. At the March market low the TSX recorded about 4.4-million weekly trades. Average weekly transactions over the last three months numbered only 3.7-million – a drop of 17%. Average weekly volume of shares traded, however, is only 4% below the March price level low. And although shares are transacting at a better rate now than when the S&P/TSX Composite Index peaked in Q2 of 2008 (up 20%), that growth is less than the growth of the volume of shares traded (up 23%).

What does the slipping transaction growth rate in the current rally suggest? Perhaps it is telling us that that despite worries that the market is overextended, the retail investor has not yet arrived at the party. There may be more room for either a continued uptrend or at least a flattening of the market trend as opposed to a severe pullback in the coming quarters. A rapid increase in the number of transactions is concurrent with a selloff, to be sure, but it can also occur in advance of that selloff – at a market price level peak. In recent market price level peaks the rate of transaction growth was significantly higher than the rate of volume of shares growth. Although this is consistent with the long-term trend described already, the current market conditions seem to offer relatively favourable support of a bullish outlook.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Metal Mining edge

For all the angst about the collapsing U.S. dollar in the past few months, the greenback is now trading essentially at the same level it did before the financial crisis imploded capital markets and sent economies worldwide into recession. Although many financial institutions are far from sound, investors have taken apocalyptical risk out of the equation and have shifted back to their usual modus operandi of maximizing relative returns on capital. However, faith in the store of value represented in the international reserve currency is highly strained, and capital flows show the lost confidence could send the dollar spiralling further. This fear is currently driving commodity markets and the gold sector. The question for equity investors is how best to play this bet against the greenback?

Currency and commodity exchange traded funds are direct investments that small investors can now trade. There are funds, too, that specialize in markets of commodity strength – which would include Canadian equities – or non-dollar denominated markets, especially Euro-zone. Emerging markets, too, are a magnet for capital wary of the declining U.S. currency. Even the stocks of multinational U.S. corporations, like Coca-Cola Co. (KO-N) and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT-N), that derive much or most of their earnings from foreign markets are considered dollar-hedging investments.

In this monetary environment Canadian investors are again sitting in a sweet spot thanks to the heavy commodity bias of our market. The mining sector is outperforming the broad TSX market by 26 per cent since mid-summer and is not yet showing signs of relinquishing its leadership role. Gold stocks are comparatively unspectacular – up by no better than the 11 per cent that the S&P/TSX Composite Index has advanced over the period. However, “black gold” producers – the energy sector – are showing some relative strength, outperforming the market by 7 per cent. Investors should start to look at the relative movement of these sector plays on the falling U.S. dollar, which fell another five per cent against a basket of currencies represented in the U.S. Dollar Index (DXY-I) over the past three months. In times of dollar instability there are appreciable but varying effects on the stocks of the producers of both hard commodities and oil.

During the last Stock Trends Bearish trend of the U.S. Dollar Index from the summer of 2006 to the trembling of the financial crisis two year later metal mining stocks were largely in a strong bullish trend. Gold stocks, though, were in a flat trend throughout the period. So, too, with energy stocks – although they rallied strongly when crude oil prices peaked and put a stranglehold on global economic growth. Investors can learn from the last stint of dollar devaluation: commodity inflation can be largely benign until it hits energy prices. The current market stock market performances of these sectors suggest a similar scenario. Investors can continue to weight in the bullish mining sector, but beware the return of triple digit crude oil prices.

While the relationship of gold and oil is typically a commodity focal point of investors worried about currency fluctuations, metal mining stocks are also showing the relative value of other commodity hard assets, like copper and iron ore. Generally, these industrial-use commodities do not have the allure of traditional stores of value found in precious metals, and move cyclically with the global economy. Certainly, the strength of the mining sector is a strong vote of confidence in the economic recovery likely in place. But investors are also responding to dollar weakness by bidding up these assets even further. Mining stocks will continue to attract investment flows while the greenback remains in a bearish trend.

The relative performance of metal mining stocks versus energy stocks took an about face at the end of last year in the pit of the financial crisis. This shows that investors started to favour these industrial commodities over the bleaker energy fundamentals. In fact, mining stocks have performed much better than gold stocks since the March stock market bottom. Charts of the price movement of the S&P/TSX Mining Index versus the price movement of the S&P/TSX Energy Index show just how favourably investors have fared in hard commodities relative to investors weighted in another dollar denominated commodity – crude oil. When compared on the same basis, investors in gold stocks have not benefited as well during this period of dollar weakness.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shippers leaving port?

A notable lagging group in the stock market’s recovery has been marine shippers. While the rest of the transport sector shows the wheels of commerce once again turning, the shares of shippers have been stuck at port, victims of excess capacity and uncertainty about global shipping demand. The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of international shipping prices for dry bulk cargoes, has recovered from its 2008 low, but still remains 78% shy of its high in the summer of 2008. Although this price weakness reveals that marine transporters are still in a difficult position, investors seem to be awakening to a hope that the demand part of the equation is improving for the shippers. After months under water, some of these shipping stocks are floating again.

The Claymore/Delta Global Shipping Index (SEA-N) exchange traded fund tracks the performance of marine shippers, both dry bulk, container ships, and tankers. Although lacking the trading volume and price momentum that fuelled a rally in the second quarter, the ETF is Stock Trends Bullish. Of particular interest, though, is the dry bulk shipping stocks. The share prices of carriers of crude oil and liquefied natural gas have been comparatively buoyed – the stock of Teekay Corp (TK-N), for example, is up 37% in the last three months and is hitting new 52-week highs. A resurgence of the depressed dry bulk shippers (transporters of raw materials like iron ore, coal, and grain) and container ships (generally carrying consumer and industrial finished goods) - is a signal that the global economic recovery is real, and not an illusion of economic wishful thinking. Judging by a nascent recovery of some of these stocks, investors are gradually betting that reality will be catching up with our prayers.

Although it is too early to declare a solid shift in trend for the group, the appearance of certain dry bulk and container shippers in the Stock Trends filters for Weak Bearish stocks, as well as strong recent price moves suggests that investors should keep an eye on the progress of their developing trends. Among stocks currently alerting of trend changes are Seaspan Corp. (SSW-N), TBS International Ltd. (TBSI-Q), Paragon Shipping Inc. (PRGN-Q), and DryShips, Inc. (DRYS-Q). Recent price moves by Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX-N), Danos Corp (DAC-N), and diversified shipper Frontline Ltd. (FRO-N) reflect a sign of hope, too. International Shipholding Corp. (ISH-N), Overseas Shipbuilding Group (OSG-N), Navios Maritime Holdings Inc. (NM-N), and Safe Bulkers, Inc. (SB-N) have been trending bullish since mid-summer – all adding to the encouraging signal coming from the shippers.

Most of these names may be unfamiliar to the average investor. However, they represent an important bellwether of the vitality of the global economy. Although the precariously fragile U.S. economy factors heavily in a clean bill of health, the global economy and international trade to emerging markets will be a key indicator of demand factors that will continue to drive the materials and industrial sectors. The same factors that drive up the price of raw materials will eventually make its way to filling the shipping capacity that has dragged on maritime haulers since the 2008 global collapse. When the Baltic Dry Index and the stocks of dry bulk shippers start to trend bullish investors can begin to rest more comfortably.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Feelin’ healthy

Lost amid the percolating anticipation investors have placed in the market’s advance is the quiet rehabilitation of health care stocks. Gold and oil stocks are under increasing pressure to bust loose, a trader’s dream – but investors should take a good look at the reassuring trends in a defensive sector that has its own building steam. U.S. health care stocks have been trending positively with the rest of the market since the March market bottom, despite the polarizing political debate about health care insurance in America. Only the financial sector, itself coming off life-support, has performed better than healthcare stocks over the past three months. The health sector promises leverage with its stable of biotech and pharmaceutical stocks, yet generally offers investors defensive cover in the event of a market reversal. Obamacare or not, the stock market is grabbing on to some traditional health care anchors.

During the bear market of last year the S&P Healthcare Index showed its relative price performance over the broad market through the last half of 2008 until the market bottomed in March of this year. When the financials took the market in a tailspin, health care stocks sank with the rest of the market – just not so badly. That is the desired outcome for a defensive sector: relative price performance. But now pharmaceutical stocks, north and south of the border, are showing a performance premium in a bull market. Almost all of the big cap pharma names are in Stock Trends Bullish trends and outpacing the S&P 500 over the recent summer months. Even with its massive acquisition of Schering-Plough Corp. (NYSE:SGP) in the works, Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) is up 18% since early June; and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) is up 13%, a tidy vote of market confidence that was good cover for the company’s recently announced details of its $2.3-billion settlement of criminal charges. Investors can feel good about pharma’s solid footing in the current market environment.

The Health Care Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLV) represents the 13.4% weighting of health care stocks in the S&P 500 and is the most actively traded exchange traded fund in the sector. The next most transacted health care portfolio is the Pharmaceutical HOLDRs (PPH-N), which generally has less than 10% of the number of transactions XLV logs in every week. There are other funds specialized in biotech, medical devices, and healthy services, as well as leveraged Rydex health care ETFs, but XLV is the liquid center of investors’ broad exposure to the group. However, four key big cap pharma stocks account for 34% of the weighting of the fund – Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Pfizer, Merck, and Wyeth (NYSE:WYE). Wyeth is the best performer of the group – hitting new 52-week highs at the end of August – but all of these important stocks are currently in bullish trends, with both JNJ and MRK poised to rally off trend line support.

Stock Trends Bullish since early July, XLV has been quietly advancing along its price channel, making new 2009 highs during the summer as the U.S. health care political debate heated up. The ETF’s price pattern could see the sector add another 10% in the third quarter, especially as Congress works toward clearing uncertainty about health care insurance reform. The bullish trend of the sector indicates that investors are betting on calmer heads prevailing, and are looking for further upside if the broad market continues to advance. If a market correction is instead forthcoming, health care stocks should still be a good play.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Position sizing - fixed investments

Most novice investors, and many experienced ones, do not develop a sophisticated money management trading plan. Last week this column highlighted the importance of an exit strategy, of limiting losses in individual trades, as a trading practice that improves investment returns over the long-term. But there is another question that should be asked when developing a trading strategy: how much should be invested in each position? Many investors know that they will not be so fortunate to have maximized investment in winning positions, and minimized investment in losing positions. Few will ever be so charmed. However, investors can attempt to optimize their money management so that they can most benefit from their trading strategy. Adjusting the amount invested in each position, within the limits of available capital, can affect your portfolio returns.

The Stock Trends TSX Portfolio trading strategy, a model portfolio that has been active for over 15 years, operates on a fixed investment premise. All 440 positions taken were bought for the same transaction cost ($10,000). Whether a large cap stock valued at $25, or a small cap stock trading at $2.50, all trades were limited to the same dollar value exposure. The implication of these equal investments is greater risk (and profits) on lower priced stocks. How would the overall investment return of this portfolio record change if the invested amount for each trade was variable, instead of fixed? This is the kind of question active investors should ask of their own money management.

If the trading history of the Stock Trends TSX trading strategy is replicated with either random or variable investment costs on individual positions, the investment returns of the portfolio change. A random quantity of shares (between 200 and 2,000, for example) invested shows us that portfolio returns can be considerably different. Although the average amount invested in this example remains close to the $10,000 invested in the actual model portfolio, a random sequence of shares invested (correspondingly changing the invested amount to random costs) produces a range of portfolio returns that differ considerably from the actual results.

While the fixed investment strategy of the Stock Trends TSX Portfolio has produced an annualized 39% return on average investment, the random invested amounts for the same trading record results in a range of annual returns from a low of 23% to as high as 59%. Remember, the individual trades only differ by the amount invested - prices and order of trades remain the same – and so does the individual percentage return on each trade. Only the dollar value of the gains and losses varies. Where increased invested capital in winning trades and decreased invested capital in losing trades more favourably reflect the best outcomes, the portfolio returns improve.

The reason for these variable results becomes more apparent when the trading record of the portfolio is adjusted instead to be a fixed number of shares. If we again keep the average amount invested over the 400 positions close to $10,000, but always trade the same number of shares – say 1,000, for example - the return over the entire period is comparable to the actual portfolio result, again about 39% annualized return on average invested capital. However, dropping the number of shares traded to 500, thereby halving the average amount invested on individual trades, reduces annualized portfolio returns to 32%. Doubling the average amount invested by buying 2,000 shares in each position, though, increases annual return over the period to 43%. Notably, annual returns maximized at 46% regardless of how high the average invested amount is adjusted to.

The result of the fixed number of shares example occurs because the varying amount invested is in relation to the price of the stock. Although the example of the random investments highlights that overall portfolio returns can be optimized if the trader is somehow weighted heavily in winning trades, this is an unlikely probability. An investor would have to know in advance which trades were going to be the big winners and increase the invested capital. More reasonable expectations are needed. In reality, we are never certain which stocks are going to be the best performers.

Varying investment amounts can improve portfolio returns based on the price of stocks, but only to a certain level. For that reason, Stock Trends maintains that it is best to use a fixed investment rule. However, that may not be the best case scenario for all strategies, and investors can look at their own trading records to see how their results would change with different money management rules. Position sizing is an under-appreciated aspect of trading.

A detailed trading record of the Stock Trends TSX Portfolio is found at

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Money management and an exit strategy

Investors serious about succeeding on their own need to learn an important lesson about trading first: stock picking is not the most crucial aspect of being a successful trader. Money management and a trading plan will determine investment returns over extended periods. Knowing how much to invest and how to take a loss, more than always picking winning stocks, are the skills that mark most professional traders. Of course, every trader wants to imagine they are going to be right most of the time, that they have a special gift for picking stocks. In truth, that expectation is unrealistic. In fact, novice investors learn quickly that being wrong – and taking losses – comes a lot easier than they imagined. For the unprepared, this awakening is brutal.

If taking losses is such a big part of trading, how does anyone walk away from the market ahead of the game? A surprising revelation to the uninformed is that some of the best traders in the world are making a handsome living by picking losing stocks most of the time. They perform this magic by limiting their losses and maximizing their gains. In other words, their trading plan allows them to manage a string of relatively small losses before irregular big winning trades make up for the pain of an unforgiving market. When a trader’s account takes a dip – called a drawdown – he or she stays committed to their plan, largely because it forces the trader to respond quickly to a trade gone bad. This demands an almost inhuman capacity to set aside one’s emotions – our ego, our fears – and to pull the sell trigger. No insisting that the market is wrong, that it will get things right and see things your way soon. Instead, a good trading plan insists on a prescribed exit strategy before the trade is entered.

Stock Trends provides a good example of how a trading plan can help turn the reality of a miserly market into appreciable investment returns. Recall that Stock Trends is a system of categorizing stocks based on a moving average system of analysis. It is a rigid system, simple in its definitions, but consistent in its comprehensive application to the North American Stock market. For over 16-years the Stock Trends indicators have been published for stocks listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. This has been an interesting testing ground for applying a mechanical trading system – a model portfolio derived from a trading plan with prescribed buying and selling triggers based on Stock Trends indicators and technical triggers. The Stock Trends TSX Portfolio has been filtering the weekly market activity and applying the same trading strategy since 1993 with positive results – a 39% annualized return on average investment.

The trading record for this strategy provides important insight applicable to every investor’s approach to the market. Over the almost 16-years of trading 440 stock positions have been taken. Each position is limited to a fixed investment of $10,000, with the buy criteria specified by Stock Trends’ Bullish Crossover trend indicator as well as minimum price and volume requirements. The important aspect of the buy strategy is the limited exposure – one assumes trading equity of at least $50,000. The second part of this attempt to limit exposure to losses is found in the exit strategy. One of the sell triggers is a stop loss provision (8% trailing stop on the highest closing price). Although the exit strategy is based on weekly trading, and has some implied exposure to abrupt daily stock movements, it has been relatively successful in managing trading losses.

In line with expected results, the Stock Trends TSX Portfolio trading record shows that only 40% of positions taken were winning trades. It turns this middling success rate into positive returns by keeping losing positions relatively contained. The average loss of losing positions is 10% (all results include trade commissions). The average gain of winning trades approaches 30%. Most revealing is the distribution of returns on these trades. The vast majority of returns are clustered between -10% and 10%, with the accompanying graph showing the skewness of the distribution curve. This should be the typical expectation of a trader: relatively few big winners compensate for the more numerous in-field hits.

Obviously, a big factor in every trading system is the order of the trades. Excessively long strings of trading losses challenge every investor, and can wipe out many unprepared investors. Stock Trends Portfolio loss runs have reached a high of 12 consecutive trading losses, however most losing strings end at four. The maximum drawdown on trading equity was 35% (in a period between late 1998 to mid-1999), not particularly great, but still better than the 45% drawdown that the TSX delivered after the 2000 peak – a crushing collapse that buy-and-hold investors did not recover from until five years later. The recent bear market hurt, too – another 49% drawdown!

Investors, big and small, should have a trading plan in place that helps remove some of the self-defeating aspects of our personal profile which handicap success. Dealing with trading losses is difficult, but learning how to act systematically with them will protect an investor from developing costly emotional attachments to individual trades. Keeping a detailed trading record is an important part of understanding how to make your trading plan work for you. As the Stock Trends model  portfolio illustrates, you do not have to be a perfect stock picker to  succeed in the market.

The market is not a level playing field, nor should it be

There has been growing debate about institutional trading practices, with politicians and the public again demonizing moneyed players on Wall Street. These practices are facilitated by technology that has made speed of execution an advantageous and profitable backroom for dealing securities microseconds before they become available to the broader trading public. A recent article by MSN’s Michael Brush explains this high speed trading, flash trading, and black pools. Coming to the defence of these practices are investment professionals like Donald Luskin and Chris Hynes, co-authors of a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that fuelled expected wrath from investors who smell rats on Wall Street again.

However, the anger of the public on these technologies and alternate markets is simply another form of populism. The notion of equality and a level playing field in the markets is misguided. Markets operate at many levels, from small investors with sleepy mutual funds held for years at their bank to highly capitalized banks with multi-million dollar trades executed many times a day. Markets now operate 24-hours a day in a broad range of securities and assets. The key growth for these tremendously important  capital markets is liquidity – the ability of the industry to bring in capital to individual markets and spur trading. Without liquidity the world’s markets would collapse into the dark ages.

How could there be a level playing field in the high stakes game of investing? Without expanding institutional liquidity the markets would become extremely volatile. Without technology driving the growth of institutional liquidity the capital stock does not grow.

Too often critics of the market – markets where the best rise to the top based on human and capital resources – cry foul because their utopian desire for equality is transgressed. But the beauty of a free market is that it expands the pie, and gives every player a chance at growing assets. However, not every player is entitled to the same resources. Risk and reward are the underlying determinants of the playing field. The more you put at risk, the more resources – human and capital – demanded. Wall Street represents the the best, the brightest players in the market. It is capitalized accordingly. This has always been the case.

It is important that ordinary investors recognize the benefits of free markets and the way resources are allocated by pricing mechanisms. Yes, it would be great if everyone had access to the same computers, the same capital, the same acumen. But that vision is a corruption of the human condition, it is the disabling framework of socialism.

Every day trader knows that the propensity of making profits does not improve with the frequency of trading. High speed trading and back room dealing does not improve the prospect of success any more for the players, either. Every buyer must find a seller. Every winner meets a loser. That is the market.

The market should not be viewed as some egalitarian model. It is not. Instead, it is a mechanism for growth where every player has a role and an opportunity to build their assets commensurate with their human and capital resources. Fairness is not a single level playing field.  If we try to make it so, we will handicap growth and violate our liberty.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Washington Stock Exchange

The stock market is supposed to be the bastion of the free market – ownership of private enterprise swaying to the demand and supply of private capital. However, judging by recent trading activity that model seems strangely defunct. As last week’s trading record shows, quasi-government enterprises are the stocks most attracting investors. Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM), Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE), American International Group (NYSE:AIG), as well as government-beholden Citigroup (NYSE:C), and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) are notably at the top of the market’s most actively traded stocks. The market seems intent on speculating that this public-private contract has a positive outcome. Whatever the result, this is where the trading action is.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Duh! … another zero level thinker

The following is an excerpt from a speech by James Montier of Société Générale in London on the problems with the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH). (thanks to John Mauldin).

Montier shares again his 2004 replication of Keynes’ beauty contest, and shows us just how difficult it is to outsmart a market. A humorous example of the Nash equilibrium at work in an imperfect world.


The undue focus upon benchmark and relative performance also leads Homo Ovinus to engage in Keynes' beauty contest. As Keynes wrote:

"Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the price being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preference of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one's judgment, are really prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees"

This game can be easily replicated by asking people to pick a number between 0 and 100, and telling them the winner will be the person who picks the number closest to two-thirds the average number picked. The chart below shows the results from the largest incidence of the game that I have played - in fact the third largest game ever played, and the only one played purely among professional investors.


The highest possible correct answer is 67. To go for 67 you have to believe that every other muppet in the known universe has just gone for 100. The fact we got a whole raft of responses above 67 is more than slightly alarming.

You can see spikes which represent various levels of thinking. The spike at fifty reflects what we (somewhat rudely) call level zero thinkers. They are the investment equivalent of Homer Simpson, 0, 100, duh 50! Not a vast amount of cognitive effort expended here!

There is a spike at 33 - of those who expect everyone else in the world to be Homer. There's a spike at 22, again those who obviously think everyone else is at 33. As you can see there is also a spike at zero. Here we find all the economists, game theorists and mathematicians of the world. They are the only people trained to solve these problems backwards. And indeed the only stable Nash equilibrium is zero (two-thirds of zero is still zero). However, it is only the 'correct' answer when everyone chooses zero.

The final noticeable spike is at one. These are economists who have (mistakenly...) been invited to one dinner party (economists only ever get invited to one dinner party). They have gone out into the world and realised the rest of the world doesn't think like them. So they try to estimate the scale of irrationality. However, they end up suffering the curse of knowledge (once you know the true answer, you tend to anchor to it). In this game, which is fairly typical, the average number picked was 26, giving a two-thirds average of 17. Just three people out of more than 1000 picked the number 17.

I play this game to try to illustrate just how hard it is to be just one step ahead of everyone else - to get in before everyone else, and get out before everyone else. Yet despite this fact, it seems to be that this is exactly what a large number of investors spend their time doing.

by James Montier of Société Générale

Position sizing

Most of us enter the stock market burdened with faulty biases and misguided conceptions about how to succeed in our trading program. We think that we can beat the market by being smarter than the market. We think that we will establish a winning method of stock selection by way of superior information, that the road to profits will be paved by our consistent ability to pick winners. In short, we enter the market with an emotional commitment to our own judgement. Unfortunately, it is this highly individualized bias that is our ultimate nemesis. Experienced traders know that the key to market success has less to do with a uniquely developed style and method of picking stocks, and more to do with a disciplined execution of sensible and rigid money management principles.

These “judgement biases” are described meaningfully by Van K. Tharp, in his significant contribution to the business of trading, Trade your Way to Financial Freedom (McGraw-Hill,1999). Our trading systems are handicapped by the fact that we typically trade our beliefs about the market, we accept conventional representations of information, and adopt trading practices that undermine trading success by inadequately protecting against actual risk. Further, we consistently and foolishly bet against the odds and succumb to undisciplined approaches to trading.

What precisely are we talking about here? Let us assume that a trader has developed a trading system that generates a positive expectancy – a profitable trading strategy that either has a superior winning percentage (% of winning trades) or a superior profit factor (where the profits of winning trades far exceeds the losses of losing trades). There remains a variable that will, in fact, determine the actual long-term profitability and risk factor that results: the position size.

An often-cited experiment by Ralph Vince, who has been an seminal author of important trading analysis treatises (Portfolio Management Formulas and The Mathematics of Money Management), tested the gambling performance of 40 Ph.D’s on a simple computer game with a 60% chance of winning. Each were given $1,000 in play money and instructed to bet however much money they wished (or could) over 100 trials. The end result was that only two made money.

The undoing of this group of individuals, in fact, is the undoing of many traders: we tend to bet more when we think we are going to be right (or need to be right), and bet less when we are less certain of the outcome. In other words, our emotions have dictated our risk. If the 40 Ph.D’s had religiously accepted the mathematical probability that a constant bet of $10 over 100 turns would have resulted in a 20% gain. Yet, these individuals were inclined to vary their bets (risk) in hopes of achieving better results.

There are varying methods of determining what is an optimal position size. Some are related to drawdown. Some are related to other statistical variables that a given trading system produces. But for general purposes we can simply recognize some basic common sense principles. First, in order to trade properly one must remove emotional attachment to a position. The only way this can be done is if there is enough available trading capital to allow for actual risk. You cannot trade effectively with inadequate capital. Second, traders must limit risk in a quantifiable fashion. For the purposes of retail traders like the majority of Stock Trends followers, a benchmark of 1-2% of available trading equity should be at risk in each trading position (Where the risk is defined by a quantifiable measure. For example, the average loss per trade plus one standard deviation.)
Obviously, position size will be determined by available capital, so the money management guidelines will be predicated by sufficient funds available. Finally, constant position sizing will enable a trading system to minimize the hazardous effects of our inherent, emotionally charged biases.

The best analysis tools I’ve seen that provides position size guidance is the m3 Money Management Modeler, designed by trader Brian Ault of Fulcrum Shift Trading. Brian’s platform looks at trading as a probability assignment, taking essential input variables to determine HOW MUCH to trade on given positions – either stocks or options. Traders, advanced and novice, should learn how to incorporate this kind of risk analysis in their trading strategies. A good trading plan should factor  in probability analysis.

[Most of this is post is a reprint of a Stock Trends Weekly Reporter editorial from 2003]

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Golden time to take out some insurance

If investors had a crystal ball that could map the market course ahead, they would want to know the answer to one critical question: whither the greenback? Although monetary excess and fiscal strains appear aligned for a humbling slide in the value of the U.S. dollar, an uncertain economic recovery and the timing of a dollar downdraft has the market conflicted. A picture of this angst is found in the gold sector, where dollar bears typically find a comforting lair. Gold stocks have been trending flat for months, lost in a trading range amid the broad market’s rally off its March low. The strength of emerging markets – many up over 30% in the last three months - may reflect some of the money flows that would have gravitated toward precious metals instead of dollar assets. However, as the global stock market rally becomes vulnerable to a pullback, investors should anticipate an approaching watershed moment for bullion and prepare for bullish price momentum in gold stocks.

After rallying from an October low of 150 to a February peak of 350, the S&P/TSX Global Gold Index  has since bounced between its 2009 high and long-term 40-week moving average trend line. The 13-week average price level, at 315, seems to be the magnetic center for the gold index while base metal mining stocks rocket ahead at an impressive clip. A continued consolidation at this level suggests that a rally back to 350 could be ahead for the gold stock index – especially if bullion prices gain traction during this summer stock market rally.

The price of gold hit a two-month high early this week, dabbling with the $970 level. Investors should be keying on the metal over the coming weeks - advances in bullion prices that stretch toward the $1,000 high water mark will bring appreciable upside opportunity for investors weighted in gold stocks. A rally to this psychological barrier will be an important technical signal for the investment landscape, surely providing investors with enticing odds for doubling down on inflationary pressures built into the U.S. monetary structure. Tremendous liquidity has been pumped into the banking system and few market participants have full confidence that the Federal Reserve has the political will to deliver a winning exit strategy if the U.S. employment picture remains sour. Investors enjoying the market ride this summer would do well to hedge their bet on a prolonged bullish trend for equities with increased exposure to the gold sector.

The iShares S&P/TSX Global Gold Fund (TSX:XGD) is currently categorized as Stock Trends Weak Bullish – the exchange traded fund has been dancing along its trend line support for a month. Trading activity has been stable but uninspired through the last quarter, but now would be a good entry point for investors. The fund’s price pattern formed over the past four months is the technical framework for a trade. The triangular continuation pattern – share price has gradually converged toward its current mean at $19.60 - suggests that a breakout move toward the $21 level would be bullish. Sharing this chart pattern are big cap gold stocks Agnico-Eagle Mines (TSX:AEM) and Goldcorp (TSX:G), both showing leadership for the group.

Some specific gold plays are already showing strong bullish trends and tipping toward better things ahead for the rest of the group. Leading small cap gold stocks include Golden Star Resources (TSX:GSC), West Timmins Mining (TSX:WTM), Queenston Mining (TSX:QMI), and Lake Shore Gold (TSX:LSG) – all shining performers. If investors get spooked by a sharp correction when the summer stock market rally reaches exhaustion, these and other precious metal stocks will be fruitful insurance policies.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Good news from Media stocks

A sign of an improving economy is the bullish turn of media stocks. The Stock Trends Picks of the Week report includes a number of them this week, including McClatchy Co (NYSE:MNI), and the Journal Communications (NYSE:JRN) – both breakout stocks advancing on high volume.  Media General (NYSE:MEG) and the New York Times (NYSE:NYT) also have made surprising moves and appear in the report. Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) is in a Stock Trends Bullish trend and is poised to rally off trend line support. Expect continued advances from Liberty Media (NASDAQ:LMDIA), as well.

Investors can play the sector with the Powershares Dynamic Media ETF (NYSE:PBS).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Real estate stocks step out of the darkness

If the recession is over, will real estate stocks turn out the lights? The stock market rally off of its March low has been both spectacular and global, leaving disbelievers with an empty punch bowl. What could have been a sucker’s rally is now threatening market bears and sideline-sitters with lost profits and an uncomfortable spell of performance anxiety. Everyone remembers the origin of the U.S.-made global recession – a collapsed housing bubble and a decimated over-leveraged financial system. Accordingly, investors can be forgiven if they find the reflation trade characterized by steaming hot commodities a suspect barometer of economic vitality. But the revitalized TSX financial services sector –up 23% in the last three months – and in particular, the positive trend in real estate stocks signal that the Canadian stock market is closing the door on the bear market.

The S&P/TSX Real Estate Index has been in a Stock Trends Bullish category since the end of June and recorded healthy gains in the last two weeks. Leading the group is Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust (CWT.UN-T), H&R Real Estate Investment Trust (HR.UN-T), and Chartwell Senior Housing Real Estate Investment Trust (CSH.UN-T) - all outpacing the advancing S&P/TSX Composite Index by over 15% in the past three months. Although there remains a general weakness in trading volume among many of the REIT’s listed on the TSX, almost all are currently categorized as Stock Trends Bullish. Boardwalk Real Estate Investment Trust (BEI.UN-T), among this positive trending group, is an attractive technical trade as it moves off its current support level to set up for a stronger finish to the summer.

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (REI.UN-T) has stalled since peaking in its spring rally two months ago, a sign of anxiety about earnings struggles that were spelled out in second quarter results released this week. But the technical signs show the units consolidating and perhaps ready to deliver price advances ahead. Economists have tempered their words about economic recovery – an upside surprise for resource driven regions in the country give room for optimism for these funds. Improved real estate conditions sprouted in the spring, a trend that should carry through the rest of the year.

Developers are also enjoying a snappy recovery. Melcor Developments (MRD-T) is up 65% year-to-date after the stock rallied off the 13-week moving average trend line and returned to the $7.50 level last week. Trend support provides investors with timely entry signals because it verifies an existing trend and reaffirms the market’s supply and demand dynamic for an advancing stock. An improving economy will expand earnings expectations and help extend the stock’s price momentum in the latter half of the year.

Stock Trends Bullish indicators have signalled good times for the stocks and units of Canadian commercial contractors, too. Churchill Corp (CUQ-T) and Bird Construction Income Fund (BDT.UN-T) are trading along their intermediate tend line and have the potential to rally above their spring highs with the improving economy. Churchill’s stock is up 48% in 2009, and may be cued up to advance ahead of its second quarter results to be announced in a couple of weeks. A build up of positive news in the sector, including the strength of SNC-Lavalin Group (SNC-T), could help these stocks keep pace with the rally in commodity stocks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Transports sending positive trend signals

If the market is right about its bullish commodity story, transportation and industrial stocks should be feeling some love. Investors know that the supply chain is an important barometer of real economic activity – when the goods are moving the companies that factor into the wheels of commerce enjoy a positive upside. That is why the trend of shipping stocks is a critical indicator of the market’s vitality. Dow Theory, for instance, links a bullish trend in the transports as a supporting measure of the trend in industrial stocks. Although this linkage is not an infallible measure of the market, it does provide us with a reason to focus on the emerging trends in transport and industrial stocks.

The Dow Jones Transport Index (DJT-I) has flat lined in the past two months after a rally off its bottom earlier in the year. However, it is a recent Stock Trends Bullish Crossover, indicating that the short-term 13-week moving average trend line has crossed above the long-term 40-week moving average trend line. Similarly, the S&P Industrials Index turned Stock Trends Bullish at the beginning of the month. Both indexes had been in Stock Trends Bearish trends since the beginning of 2008. The timing of this change in trend category follows the emergence of a Bullish trend for the benchmark S&P 500 Index.

Transport stocks that have been highlighted recently in Stock Trends screens include CSX Corp.(CSX-N), Overseas Shipholding Group Inc.(OSG-N), FedEx Corp. (FDX-N), and Union Pacific Corp.(UNP-N). Leading the Marine transports is International Shipholding Corp (ISH-N) which has advanced 19% since the stock’s Bullish Crossover in mid June. Although Canadian National Railways (CNR-T) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP-T) are underperforming the group, Canadian truckers Trimac Income Fund (TMA.UN-T), TransForce Inc. (TFI-T), and Mullen Group (MTL-T) have been prized Stock Trends Bullish stocks. Stock Trends also gave a positive nod to logistics software supplier Descartes Systems Group (DSG-T) a couple of months ago.

Additional support for the bullish prospect for transports is found in the industrial sector. Leading the group is Oshkosh Corp (OSK-N) a manufacturer of industrial transports, is trading at a 52-week and outperforming the S&P 500 Index by 115% in the last three months. It turned Stock Trends Bullish at the end of May at $11.87 and is now making new 52-week highs above $26. Other land transport equipment stocks out-performing the broad market and in Stock Trends Bullish trends include Cummins Inc. (CMI-N), Greenbrier Cos. (GBX-N), and Trinity Industries (TRN-N). Caterpillar Inc. (CAT-N) is a current Stock Trends Bullish Crossover, and pleased investors this week with a positive outlook - beating earnings expectations. The stock jumped to a Tuesday high of $41.45 - 23% above last Friday’s close - before settling back its current level at $38.50. Investors are encouraged by the improved condition of these industrials. They are canaries flying in the mine shaft.

A quiet little canary Canadian investors can keep an eye on is Stella Jones Inc. (SJ-T). The stock of this industrial supplier of utility poles and railway ties has proven in the past to maintain consistent price trends. Before it turned bearish at the beginning of 2008, SJ had maintained a Stock Trends Bullish trend for over five and a half years. The stock had a Stock Trends Bullish Crossover at the beginning of June but has pulled back to its trend line support level. If the stock advances off support, investors can put another check mark next to their list of bullish indicators.

Under the Cypress Semiconductor tree

One tech stock I wish was under my Christmas tree last year: Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE:CY). The stock hit another 52-week high today making this the 18th week since late February that the stock has climbed to a new high. The stock was a Stock Trends pick in early February when it traded at $5.23 and has been on a powerful rally since. Shares reached $10.55 today and look to advance further as the tech sector gathers momentum.

Monday, July 20, 2009

First Quantum leap

Shares of First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) have been on a tear recently. They closed Friday up 20% on the week, and have added another 9% this morning. The stock is now trading at $68.50 - $20 more than the price the shares traded at when FM was a prominent Stock Trends Pick of the Week at the beginning of May.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


One of the current Stock Trends TSX Portfolio holdings is giving market surfers a gnarly wave today. Dragonwave (TSX:DWI) is up 15% and reached a high of $6.01 this morning. The stock had a Bullish Crossover on May 8 when it was picked up by the model portfolio. A rebound in the market may help add to the 63% unrealized gain now logged in by DWI.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dragon slayer

DragonWave  Inc. (TSX:DWI) has moved through $5, reaching a high this morning of $5.05. DWI is a current Stock Trends TSX Portfolio holding, bought at the Stock Trends Bullish Crossover on May 8 at $3.58.

Canadian Corporate bonds continue upward trend

On days when commodity shares take a bit of a pullback, its always interesting to see which stocks defy the market dip. Corporate bonds are notably strong and have given trend traders an option outside of the equity market. The iShares Canadian Corporate Bond E.T.F. (TSX:XCB) edged to another 52-week high today as the TSX dipped on retreating energy shares. XCB is 8-weeks into a Stock Trends Bullish trend. Although the ETF has underperformed the TSX over the past 13-weeks, investors should be exposed to corporate bonds.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Cott’s got a good fiz going

Cott Corp (TSX:BCB) keeps giving shareholders a nice pop for their portfolios. The stock is up again today, reaching $6.75. BCB joined the Stock Trends TSX Portfolio when the stock had its Bullish Crossover at the beginning of May at $4.72. Here’s hoping this rally has legs.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A new day for Ford

Thank goodness for the Detroit Red Wings. Without the hopes and excitement of another Stanley Cup playoff run, the denizens of this city must be dark and desperate. Bankruptcy and unemployment. Now the government and the unions are left holding an empty bag. But wait….a glimmer of hope! Ford Motors (NYSE:F) is now a Stock Trends Bullish stock. Its Bullish Crossover ends 84-weeks in the Stock Trends doghouse.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Beyond the Bull

A colleague of mine, Ken Norquay of Castlemoore Inc., has published a new book – Beyond the Bull.  Available at Amazon.


Synopsis of Beyond The Bull

The old stock market is dead. What worked in the 1980s and 1990s hasn’t worked in the new century. You don’t believe me? Check the 10-year rate of return on your equity mutual funds. What went wrong?

Old Paradigm: clients have financial needs. The industry has licensed salesmen to sell to those needs. Banks, mutual fund corporations, brokerage firms and insurance companies have financial products to sell to those clients. It’s a salesman’s world. It’s all about telling customers what they should buy and shy they should buy it.

New Paradigm: it’s financial war. There are winners and losers. Win, don’t lose.

Beyond the Bull helps modern investors understand the truth about modern stock markets. Ken Norquay, a 33-year veteran of the financial wars, applies ancient wisdom to modern financial markets. The “salesmen” aspect of the stock markets clouds the reality of modern finance; sugar coated reality exposes investors to unnecessary financial risk. Beyond the Bull will help investors see through the bullmanship.

But let’s not blame the salesmen. Beyond the Bull wants you to look at yourself first. It’s your money that’s at risk. Are you your own worst enemy in the financial wars? Is there a gap between the reality of today’s markets and what you think about today’s markets?

This is not a time for despair and inaction. Beyond The Bull will help its readers adjust their financial thinking to suit the reality of today’s financial markets.


1. The dominant figure in the stock market is the salesman. The salesman’s art is persuasive bullmanship. In the salesman’s world, everyone wins.

2. But the stock market is more like military combat:

-Luck counts.

-Deception is a key feature of the stock market.

-It is complex, not simple.

3. Because our human nature is to seek pleasure and avoid pain, we can be our own worst enemy in the stock market.

4. The ‘Theory of Contrary Opinion’ illustrates why most investors lose money over the long term. We explain this in detail.

5. Beyond the Bull [BTB] explains in detail how to succeed in investing by understanding our own primitive brain functions and learning to think objectively.

6. BTB introduces a new paradigm of objective thinking about the markets and deal with the salesman’s bullmanship.

7. In financial combat, there are five key spheres we must master in order to be winners. BTB reviews these five things in detail and encourages readers to take more responsibility for their own financial fortunes.

Profits in a bottle

A number of bottlers are popping. Cott Corp. (TSX:BCB) has moved aggressively off its bottom in the past couple of weeks and jumped another 41% this morning. The stock turned Stock Trends Weak Bearish after its move to the $1.91 close on April 17. It now trades at $3.40.

Also joining Cott in shifting sentiment for the industry is Pepsi Bottling Group (NYSE:PBG), PepsiAmericas (NYSE:PAS), and Coca-Cola Enterprises (NYSE:CCE) – all current Stock Trends Picks of the Week selections.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Percolating stocks

Not hard to notice all the coffee stocks advancing nicely. Today’s movers include Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR), up 39%, and Diedrich Coffee (NASDAQ:DDRX), up 28%. That’s hot coffee! DDRX was a Stock Trends breakout stock, recording a Bullish Crossover last week. It’s aggressive surge was in keeping with some other coffee stocks. Caribou Coffee Co. (NASDAQ:CBOU) is another that made the Stock Trends Picks of the Week report recently. Include in that group of java movers icon Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), joining DDRX and CBOU as selections. GMCR was an earlier Stock Trends Pick of the Week selection at $41.50 in the early days of February. It’s trading at $73 today. That’s a real buzz!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TMX Group

A Bullish Crossover stock at the end of March, TMX Group (TSX:X)  rallied off support from the intermediate trend line (the 13-week moving average) last week. Look for X to move through price resistance at $38.19.

The trend roadmap

When to be in a market, when to be out? This is the basic evaluation trend analysis attempts to deliver to investors and traders. The underlying assumption of this approach is that stocks trend as market sentiment builds in one of three possible directions – up, down, or flat. In the case of bullish or bearish trends, investors are best to harness these forces and allow the market to deliver profits. For that reason investors should gravitate toward Stock Trends Bullish (if holding long positions), or Stock Trends Bearish (if holding short positions, with qualifications).

Although there is no certainty to price action, trend followers must determine if the prevailing trend is waning and be alert for moments when sentiment is shifting. In Stock Trends parlance these moments of weakening trend are signalled by a Weak Bearish or Weak Bullish indicator. Investors should be watchful of these stocks and ETFs. The triggers for buying and selling are often being hit.

Quick reference Guide to the Stock Trends symbols

Monday, April 27, 2009

Extra bases for ONY, TUN

Stock Trends Portfolio is overdue for an outlier winner. Infield hits and quick out innings hardly make for a profitable trading system. You need a home run every so often.

Perhaps one of the current holdings will deliver. Both Oncothyreon (TSX:ONY), up 26%, and Tundra Semiconductor (TSX:TUN), up 15%, had a great session today.

Technically speaking

Tech stocks have been among the leading sectors in the rally since the market low. Currently, the S&P Technology Index is outperforming the S&P/500 by 14% over the past three months. Among these performing stocks are the likes of Corning (NYSE:GLW), Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), and Motorola (NYSE:MOT). Many of these holdings have been recent Stock Trends Picks of the Week.

An exchange traded fund heavily weighted in these stocks is iShares North American Technology - Multimedia Networking Fund (NYSE:IGN). It has traded actively in the past month as weekly share volume is now 5-times it’s previous average. IGN has been Stock Trends Weak Bearish since the end of March and has advanced from $17.35 to its current $21 level since that time. It has had a nice string of weekly higher highs and higher lows. Look for continued price momentum in IGN.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Food stocks shopping bag

Although the market’s attention is oft in other sectors, consumer staples and related services are providing investors with a good trend trading opportunity. In the the current economic context this is an expected rotation, although the S&P Consumer Non-Cyclical Index remains in a bearish trend. A select group of food products and food retailers stocks outperformed the market in the last quarter and are showing up in the Stock Trends trend filters. Some stocks that are currently Stock Trends Weak Bearish and worth watching include Delmonte Foods (NYSE:DLM), Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), Food Technology Services (NASDAQ:VIFL), Whole Foods Markets (NASDAQ:WFMI), Cracker Barrel Old Country (NASDAQ:CBRL), and Diamond Foods (NASDAQ:DMND).

Monday, April 06, 2009

Canadian financials

Canadian financial stocks are due to join any market revival. The sector flushing has left no country unaffected, but Canadian institutions should be poised for some relative performance gains if the current market rally has legs. The iShares S&P/TSX Financials ETF (TSX:XFN) is Stock Trends Weak Bearish and is in our watch. The share price ($15.47) is rapping the resistance overhead that dates back to mid-February.

An important component of the S&P/TSX Financials Index is Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) – it has shown some prospect of battling out of its bearish trend in recent weeks, although the stock is still Stock Trends Bearish. MF will be an significant signal toward a qualified turn in the TSX’s financial sector. Clearance through the 13-week moving average trend line should allow the stock to regain the $20 level. Look for MF to turn Stock Trends Weak Bearish soon.

Encouraging trend signals

The March rally has moved many stocks into areas above downside resistance, an encouraging prospect for the bottoming out process. Stock Trends monitors for price movements above the secondary trend and categorizes these as Weak Bearish. Currently, 47% of trending stocks on the NYSE are Weak Bearish – See the Stock Trends NYSE Trend Distribution table and graph. The Stock Trends Picks of the Week filter focuses on these breakout opportunities, where price momentum pulls the stock out of a long-term bearish trend. If the market continues to rally, these stocks will be primary drivers.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Nvidia chipper

Thinking about the potential for Nvidia’s Ion and inexpensive Nettops and Netbooks? Nvidia Corp. (NASDAQ:NVDA) is a current Stock Trends Pick of the Wick selection. It has rallied with the rest of the tech stable, and is primed to move past $12. Trading volume has been consistently strong over the past month. The coming trading sessions will tell us a lot about the prospect of NVDA and a developing bullish trend. Support along the trend lines suggests continued price momentum. Stock Trends Bullish Crossover approaching.

Stock Trends TSX Portfolio out of hibernation

A sign of the improving trend picture for the TSX is renewed activity in the Stock Trends TSX Portfolio. There are two new buys currently, the first since February. The bear market put the lid on trades for this trend following system. There have only been 20 trades from the summer of 2007 until these most recent buys.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Big Blue due

Two elder statesmen of computing technology are lead performers of the Dow Jones Industrial Index in 2009. International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) show the most aggressive price momentum going into Q2. IBM has outperformed the S&P 500 by 29% in the past 13-weeks, as it closed above $100 for the first time since early October. Look for this favourite tech blue chip to continue its move through to $110, as the price momentum is sustained.

Signs of spring - RONA, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Lowes

Investors can be encouraged by the movement of home improvement retail stocks. A key to economic recovery is the housing sector, and certainly the performance of stocks like Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Lowes Cos. (NYSE:LOW) reflects the sentiment that consumers have regarding their primary assets. Both HD and LOW have rallied nicely off their March bottom along with the rest of the market. They are Stock Trends Weak Bearish and now serve investors a key trigger for a bullish trade as they challenge overhead resistance. Should these stocks advance through resistance in the coming weeks look for a continued rally in these important retail stocks.

Canadians can also look to Canadian Tire (TSX:CTC.A) and RONA Inc. (TSX:RON), also Stock Trends Weak Bearish. RON is a current Stock Trends Picks of the Week.

Mining stocks pulling a load

The top two performing TSX blue chip stocks in the past three months are First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) and Inmet Mining (TSX:IMN). The mining sector is up 45% over the period, and is helping lift the TSX into a promising technical area. The S&P/TSX Composite Index is now Stock Trends Weak Bearish and challenging the channel resistance area of 9,200.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Money management trading application

Too often investors come to the market table without proper money management training. They are keen to score, in hockey parlance, but not willing to backcheck. They are anxious to prove how smart they are, to bask in winning trades.  Not surprisingly, these unrealistic expectations set investors up for a rude awakening. How many times have investors misunderstood the probabilities that are stacked against them. Good traders know these odds and manage their trades to minimize losses. Always.

There is no shame in acknowledging the truth: no trader will be right all the time. In fact, even the best traders will be wrong more than they are right. More sobering is another truth: every active trader will have extended periods of crippling losses. These drawdowns on capital are the true test of a trading plan. How does your trading deal with inevitable drawdowns? Would your capital be wiped out if you suffered 10 consecutive losses? Would your trading tendencies change? What does your trading plan direct to minimize the dangers of extended drawdowns?

These questions should be on the mind of every self-directed investor. Before entering a trade know your probabilities – probability of success, probability of meeting profit targets, and the probability of variable losses. Indeed, if a trader learns how to work with these probabilities and devises a money management plan, trading can become a manageable business. And a successful one.

A good starting point is your own trading record. Keep track of your trades. Learn about the basic metrics of your trading strategy and find tools to help turn these metrics into a systematic trading plan. Stock Trends followers should be versed in this kind of systematic trading, but an even more rigorous methodology will be advanced by Stock Trends colleague Brian Ault, whose Fulcrum Shift Trading venture will lend a powerful introduction to his M3 Money Management Modeler – a powerful application the guides traders through the risk/reward analysis of position sizing.

Visit the Stock Trends Traders Network and follow some of Brian’s informative tutorials on the M3 Money Management Modeler. Stock Trends would like to direct our trading audience to this extremely helpful and powerful money management tool.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Riding FAS Bull popular

The hot potato in this market is the Direxion Financial Bull 3X ETF (NYSE:FAS). Last week it logged 1.788-million transactions, while weekly trading volume was 1.6-billion shares. Investors want to be bullish about the financial sector, and are willing to roll the dice - leveraged for winning big.  The extreme volatility of this beast goes without saying, but the potential for a big move in FAS must be enticing for quite a few traders. Another 303-million shares traded today as FAS advanced to close at $5.50.

Spare change

A current Stock Trends Pick of the Week selection is Coinstar Inc. (NASDAQ:CSTR). The stock’s secondary (13-week moving average) trend line has been trending positively since mid-December, advancing from the $16 level to its high today at $33 in solid fashion. It has been Weak Bearish since January 16, and has been in the Stock Trends sights since. If the current recession drags on expect CSTR to continue its run as hard-hit consumers dig deeper in their couches for lost change. It’s all good for Coinstar and its self-service coin-counting machines.

RuggedCom sends a message

Another notable stock on the TSX making new 52-week highs is RuggedCom Inc. (TSX:RCM).  This communications networking provider has been trending nicely, opening at a high of $26.89 this morning before tapering off to $25. The stock was a Stock Trends Pick of the Week on January 30 at $17.74.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

China internet

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Big cap tech stocks have been among the better performers year-to-date. The Nasdaq 100 Index is in positive territory with a 5.6% gain over the last three months, thanks in good part to last week’s respectable move. However, the secondary trend line (13-week moving average) remains flat and uninspiring.

A more compelling industry segment of the tech sector, though, is internet infrastructure. Exchange traded funds weighted in this area are moving. The HOLDRs Internet Infrastructure Fund (NYSE:IIH) and HOLDRs Broadband Fund (NYSE:BDH) are examples of ETFs investors can trade. Alternatively, trading AsiaInfo Holdings (NASDAQ:ASIA) would be a more aggressive China play on internet infrastructure. The stock has broken out in the past month and now trades at $17.17, up considerably from its March low of $11.03 after a 25% lift last week. ASIA is a Stock Trends Bullish Crossover, and a worthy trade in this space.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Semiconductors conducting

Tech stocks have delivered for investors in the recent rally (if we can call it that). Notable in this group are semiconductor stocks. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index (SOXX) has outperformed the S&P 500 by 27% year-to-date. Comparatively, the broader sector index – the S&P Technology Index – has outpaced the S&P 500 by 15%. Among the better achieving exchange traded funds (ETF) in this space are the Proshares Ultra Semiconductor Fund (NYSE:USD) and the SPDR Semiconductor Fund (NYSE:XSD) and the iShares N.A. Semiconductor Fund (NYSE:IGW) – all besting the broad market by over 30% YTD. Lagging the performance of these ETFs is the HOLDRs Semiconductor Fund (NYSE:SMH) and the Powershares Dynamic Semiconductor Fund (NYSE:PSI). Investors can compare the trend and momentum of these exchange traded funds in the weekly Stock Trends Online listings.

Smith & Wesson gun play

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When the economy goes south and the government gets big the people know its time to hunker down. And they load up for bear. Not surprisingly, a stock like Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ:SWHC) is a big winner. It is up 170% in 2009. Indeed, from its low of $1.53 at the end of October (not coincidentally on the eve of Barrack Obama’s electoral victory) SWHC now finds its way to last week’s high of $6.89. Trading in the stock was especially robust in recent weeks. The stock has been a Stock Trends Pick of the Week selection and is a Bullish Crossover Prediction.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pharma meds working

Pharma stocks are finding traction in the current market. Some are hitting 52-week highs, including Immunogen Inc. (NASDAQ:IMGN). The stock advanced to $7.19 this morning before dropping back to $7. IMGN was a Stock Trends Pick of the Week selection February 6 after its breakout to $5.06. Another pharma stock hitting a high today is SXC Health Solutions (NASDAQ:SXCI). It was a Stock Trends Bullish Crossover on January 9 at $17.50 as its secondary trend line started to improve. The stock hit $22 in early trading this morning. Meanwhile, Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ:MYGN) also hit a new high ($46.74) today, a day in which the stock was split 2:1.  The stock has been Stock Trends Bullish since its Bullish Crossover last summer. It was a Stock Trends Pick at $26.44 (post-split).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aurizon horizon

Gold stocks making some headway today.  Among those hitting a new 52-week high on the TSX is Aurizon Mines (TSX:ARZ). It tapped above $6 today. ARZ is among a number of gold stocks that were highlighted in January and early February as Stock Trends Picks of the Week. It first hit our buy signals at $4.33 on January 23. It is also a new member of the S&P/TSX Composite Index effective March 23.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Promising Osisko

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Osisko Mining (TSX:OSK) continued last week’s press through resistance to make a new 52-week high today, the stock’s first day trading as a member of the S&P/TSX Composite Index. OSK is a current Stock Trends TSX Portfolio holding. It closed at $5.61 today, off from the afternoon high of $5.74.

Thinking about nationalizing?

Yesterday’s news that Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) will merge with Petro-Canada (TSX:PCA) to create a $43.3-billion integrated energy giant brings Canada closer to the final chapter of the country’s unseemly dalliance with energy socialism. Petro-Canada’s origin dates back to the oil crisis of the 1970s and Pierre Trudeau’s nationalistic energy policy. The hands of government still remain on the enterprise, as the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act still regulates the control of Petro-Canada.

Given the considerable challenges the energy business must overcome, this merger reflects the expanded need for rationalization and integration to finance and produce energy resources like the oil sands. Suncor has picked an opportune time to buy PCA, and investors can expect more oil patch M&A activity. However, as a reminder of how invasive and controlling the hands of government are on nationalized enterprise free-market participants would do well to view the contents of the act that governs Petro-Canada. This is the language of control, this is the language of socialism. Beware “the Minister”.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Alcoa spark

The surge in commodity stocks last week following the Fed’s move to monetize U.S. Treasury debt was pronounced. Gold and silver stocks were the big winners, but industrial commodities also lit up. Alcoa (NYSE:AA) advanced 14% on unusually high volume of trading. Over 1.1 million transactions last week turned over 552-million shares. The stock remains Stock Trends Bearish, but the level of trading in AA was a positive signal for a breakout from the prevailing baseline.

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Commodity markets take the helm

Investors can expect renewed pressure on U.S. dollar assets as the U.S. administration monetizes its growing debt.  A primary driver of emerging and commodity markets is the growth trajectory of the global economy. Has globalization been derailed by the financial crisis? Will it recover soon? The uncertainty surrounding the ability of the global economy to unhinge from the troubled fiscal and monetary predicament burdening the United States recovery is acute. Although deflation remains a primary immediate concern, the seeds for re-inflation are planted. Expect capital flows to reflect the dismal prospect for the U.S. dollar. Investors should keep an eye on performing international markets. Currently, commodity markets like Norway, Chile, Brazil, Canada and Australia are ascending. The Stock Trends ranking of Relative Strength for international markets helps sort the winners and losers.




Biovail fails

Biovail (TSX:BVF) pressed above the key $15 resistance level last week but failed to hold, dropping 5% on Friday to close at $13.84. The stock drew our attention in January when it was a Bullish Crossover. But last week's failed move signals an exit from this trade.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Financial mustard seeds

Up among the swelling gold stocks on the TSX is National Bank of Canada (TSX:NA). The stock has out-performed the S&P/TSX Composite Index by 43% over the past 13-weeks - an impressive standard amid the crippled financial sector. The big Canadian banks lag NA's bouyancy, but investors can consider this a mustard seed for the sector. Include in that hopeful spin the improved trend picture of TMX Group (TSX:X) and Canaccord Capital (TSX:CCI).

Silver slipper

As the market turns increasingly to commodities and precious metals investors can look for some leverage in silver. The price of silver has risen 23% since the beginning of the year, closing Friday at $13.65. Silver stocks have enjoyed an even better ride. Silver Wheaton (TSX:SLW) is up almost 50% in the past three months thanks to a big pop last week. The stock is one of several precious metal stocks on this week's Stock Trends Picks of the Week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bearish sentiment will not easily dissipate

Don't be suckered into another bear rally yet. Hungry bottom feeders have got a lot of buying ahead to make yesterday's move sustainable. The foundation is far too weak to put all your marbles down. No need to look further than the Stock Trends distribution of trending stocks: it remains highly bearish. Stick with the winning sectors: precious metals, long bonds, and technology. Investors eager to call this a bottom for financial stocks are brave risk-takers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Big Board gets a Bell Curve

Not surprisingly, the NYSE had to change its market capitalization listing rules in the current bear market. With stocks like Citigroup (NYSE:C), General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) all flirting with a share price level that would trigger delisting - a $1 minimum - the exchange temporarily suspended its minimum rule late last year and lowered the minimum market cap to $15-million last month. Now the lower standard is being floated as a more permanent fix. This is a sign of the time, but surely raises some questions about standards going forward. The Big Board ain't so Big anymore.

Monday, February 23, 2009


It's always telling to see a stock hit a new 52-week high while the rest of the market suffers. Eldorado Gold (TSX:ELD) scaled to $11.60 this morning. The stock was a Stock Trends Pick of the Week on January 9 at $9.25. It turned Stock Trends Bullish a month ago.

Nova's Middle East saviour

Maybe we need a lot more foreign vultures at the table. Abu Dhabi's state owned IPIC has swooped in to offer $6 share for downtrodden Nova Chemicals Corp. (TSX:NCX, NYSE:NCX). Trading in NCX was notably slim last week as the stock stabilized after several weeks of heavy trading and gruesome losses. This offer was likely very swift in the making.

Tech relative strength

Most investors are running for cover. The question they should ask, though: what cover? most of our trend signals point toward precious metals - and for good reason. But technology stocks are also garnering a stalwart reputation in the market downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 index has outperformed the S&P 500 over the last three months by 12%. The Powershares Nasdaq 100 ETF (NASDAQ:QQQQ) is currently Stock Trends Bearish, but its relative strength has been on an upward trend since November. Investors should feel reasonably comfortable weighting some of their holdings in tech.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Out with the plastic, in with the cheese

First it was doughnuts, now it's cheese - Canada's blue chip club is slowly becoming a food emporium instead of an industrial complex. Replacing the beleaguered plastics and chemicals firm Nova Chemicals Corp (TSX:NCX) in the S&P/TSX 60 Index is Canada's largest cheese maker, Saputo Inc. (TSX:SAP). SAP now joins Tim Horton's (TSX:THI) as the latest consumer stock added to the blue chip index. Oh, I may be forgetting about the addition of T-shirt maker Gildan Activewear (TSX:GIL), but the message remains the same: Canada's economy is exceedingly lightweight when it comes to the consumer sector. The TSX will remain the domain of the resource and financial sectors.