The warning signs for a stock market pullback are everywhere. Historically, a 17% move over 17 weeks (sans correction) is not only substantive in size, it may be "long in the tooth." What's more, the ultra-low levels on the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) demonstrate complacency.
Seasonal patterns are another concern. Specifically, a wide variety of economic reports notched better-than-expected results prior to the previous three springtime sell-offs. Could history repeat itself for a fourth consecutive year? I'm not so sure how much faith I would put in "Sell In May And Go Away." Nevertheless, every lengthy run-up tends to slam into profit-taking and/or the "unforeseen." Moreover, the most troublesome aspect of today's runaway U.S. stock train is the lack of participation from the emerging markets.
There are, however, a few stories that have flown under the radar. "Outside the box" may not even begin to describe them. (Note: These are not recommendations; rather, they are observations that may help the reader make a decision for his/her portfolio.)
1. iPath DJ UBS Cotton Total Return (BAL). Both the fundamentals and the technicals for cotton are starting to look rather cheerful. Fundamentally, China plans to stockpile the soft commodity in 2013, which is likely to encourage worldwide cotton demand/importing. Meanwhile, U.S. farmers have already decided to plant nearly 20% less fiber. Less supply worldwide implies a strong possibility of price appreciation.
Technically, the 50-day trendline for BAL crossed above its 200-day (i.e., bullish "golden cross") in February. The current price is roughly 33% lower than it was two years ago, leaving ample room for price gains.
2. RBS U.S. Large Cap Trend Pilot ETN (TRND). I wondered how long it might take for a basic trend-following concept to work its way up to $100 million in AUM. Although TRND has received very little publicity, it has made it to the "here to stay" ranks in a little more than two years time. More importantly, TRND does not try to outwit, outsmart, and outlast. TRND is fully invested in the S&P 500 if the index price is above its historical 200-day simple moving average for five consecutive days; conversely, if the price of the S&P 500 is below its historical 200-day for five consecutive days, TRND invests 100% in "cash" via an index for the three-month U.S. Treasury bill.
Trend-following with the long-term moving average has its flaws; most notably, it tends to be late to a bullish party. On the other hand, it nearly always keeps the powder dry and significantly minimizes the downside risk of bear markets. TRND may not have a long history as an exchange-traded tracker, but it is proving to be an effective risk-adjusted investment vehicle.
3. PowerShares Emerging Markets Technical Leaders (PIE). Most emerging market stock ETFs are heavy on the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China). The problem? If you are hanging with the largest emerging economies in 2013, you've been losing money. Note: Think Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO).
In contrast, PIE uses relative strength when conducting its quarterly rebalancing. With Thailand, Indonesia, and Mexico having had the best momentum in the most recent quarter, the continuation of that momentum has led to phenomenal gains in Q1 2013. Despite a tendency by some commentators to overplay the fundamental valuation card, individual investors should not underestimate the impact that technical analysis is having on successful portfolios.
Disclosure: Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial, Inc, and/or its clients may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds, and/or any investment asset mentioned above. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial, Inc. or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert web site. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships.