Which Indicators Point To A Lower S&P? Very Few

| About: SPDR S&P (SPY)


Technicals: The trend is up, the FOMC drift is in effect, and we're about to exit the buyback blackout window.

Sentiment: The NAAIM Exposure Index shows active managers are very bullish on the S&P, CBOE's total put/call ratio has risen slightly over the past few weeks.

Rates: High yield spreads are now below 4%.

Macro: Industrial production turned positive YoY last week, the unemployment rate is below its long-term trend, and S&P EPS is still down over the past year.

In a previous article, I outlined both the purpose and construction of the Simple Stock Model. Keep reading for a quick run-down if you're new to the model; otherwise, you can skip down to "Technicals" for the updated data.

Investors are constantly exposed to sound bites and data points presented without any proper context. You might have read an article about how stocks have historically bounced when sentiment has reached a negative extreme. Or that you should be out of the market if it's trading below its 200-day moving average.

When I come across articles like that, I always thought it was shortsighted to base an opinion on the S&P on only one indicator without also considering a wide variety of other inputs.

The goal of the model is to help you form a data-based outlook on the S&P. Additionally, at the end of this article, I showcase a composite model that incorporates all of the indicators I use, so your view can be comprehensive, as opposed to having tunnel vision on only one indicator.

How the Model Works

Each article is broken down into four main sections: technicals, sentiment, rates and macro. Each section includes a number of different indicators. For each indicator, there's a "filter rule" for when to be out of the market. In the spirit of simplicity, the filter rule is always binary, dictating either 100% long exposure to the S&P or a 100% cash position. The S&P is represented by the SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY). Let's dive into an example graph. All graphs are from Simple Stock Model.

The above data is from Yahoo Finance. The graph shows the price momentum indicator within the technicals section. The bottom portion plots the momentum metric over time and the top portion plots the historical performance of following the filter rule.

For each indicator, new data each weekend is used to generate a long SPY or cash position for the next week. For the above momentum example, SPY's dividend-adjusted close as of Friday is the main input. Using this, I calculate the 12-month total return. For each indicator on this site (except for the macro data), I take a four-week average of the main indicator input.

So, for this example, I'm taking the four-week average of 12-month total return momentum. Why four weeks? To reduce false positives and whipsaws when an indicator is bouncing slightly above or below its filter rule. There's nothing special about a four-week average. You could use two or eight weeks and reach similar results.

Data is compiled as of Friday's close. Buying or selling decisions occur on Monday's close. I do this, as opposed to making trades at Monday's open, simply because I had a more reliable data source for dividend-adjusted close data. It's also important to reflect realistic transaction costs. Each simulated historical performance graph factors in a $10 trade commission and a 0.02% spread on SPY for each buy or sell. Commissions and spreads are lower now, but considering SPY started in 1993, I chose to use these above-average numbers.

Now you understand the methodology behind the model. Each week, I'll cover a handful of indicators, especially those that have changed positioning over the past week. Let's get started with some technicals.


The age-old trend following approach is to have long exposure to the S&P, if the index is above its 200-day moving average. That works, but you get whipsawed with a lot of false signals. That's why I use a 4-week average of SPY's distance relative to its 200-day moving average. It's a bit slower on catching big moves but signals fewer false positives. The S&P is currently well above its 200-day moving average. Data is from Yahoo Finance.

The next FOMC meeting is on February 1, which means we're inside of the historically positive FOMC drift period. The FOMC drift is the tendency of equity prices to rise more often than average in the days leading up to a FOMC meeting. My pre-FOMC drift period is defined as 20 trading days. Since 1993, only being long during this period has beaten the returns of a buy and hold strategy while only being invested in the S&P ~75% of the time. Data is from Yahoo Finance.

We're almost out of the buyback blackout period. During this period, companies suspended their share repurchase programs in advance of Q4 earnings announcements. By the beginning of February, most companies will have reported earnings. This means that their buyback programs will be active again. As a percentage of total NYSE volume, corporate buybacks have increased over the past few years. Data is from Yahoo Finance.


The NAAIM Exposure Index measures how bullish or bearish active investment managers are on the S&P. The index has quickly risen as active managers have gotten extremely bullish. In fact, my preferred measure of the NAAIM Exposure Index (the four-week average) has rarely been this high. Data is from the National Association of Active Investment Managers.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange reports three different put/call ratios: Total, index and equity. The total put/call ratio combines both measures. I choose to analyze the total put/call ratio since it gives the most comprehensive view of options market sentiment. Historically, it's actually paid to cut exposure to the S&P when the ratio is low, meaning investors are optimistic and buying relatively few puts. The 4-week average of the total put/call ratio is currently 1.0. Data is from the CBOE.


The difference between the interest rate of a high yield (NYSEARCA:HYG) bond and a Treasury of comparable maturity is called a high-yield spread. The narrower the spread, the more optimistic investors are about the probability of risky U.S. corporations being able to cover their interest payments and eventually pay off their debts.

When investors grow more uncertain, they will demand a higher rate on high-yield bonds and cause spreads to widen. High-yield spreads have fallen for months now and have now broken below 4%. Data is from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Database.


Last week's industrial production data was a positive development. Industrial production measures the total value of output for all manufacturing, mining, and electric and gas utility facilities located in the United States. It's a key economic indicator and is a good way to quickly gauge how the manufacturing portion of the U.S. economy is doing. With last week's data, industrial production turned positive YoY. Historically, this has been a positive sign. Data is from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Database.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of the total workforce that is unemployed and actively seeking employment during the previous month. It is a lagging economic indicator, but a persistently rising unemployment rate indicates a weak labor market and thus potentially weak consumer spending. The current unemployment rate is 4.7%, below its 12-month average of 4.9%. Historically, this has also been a positive sign. Data is from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Database.

Earnings growth for the S&P 500 is largely driven by sales growth and profit margin expansion. Additionally, share buybacks are a contributing factor in earnings per share growth. People view EPS growth as a sign of the improving profitability of American companies. S&P earnings per share have fallen by -1.7% over the past twelve months. Data is from Standard & Poor's.

That wraps up the weekly update on some of the individual indicators. Now for the composite model.

Composite Model

Think of each indicator as a building block that helps form an overall opinion. One study might say current sentiment has historically been bullish on stocks. Who cares? That's just one data point in isolation. I'm interested in a bigger-picture view with more context. A picture that also factors in what's going on with macro data, interest rates, etc. The composite model does just that.

Here's how it works: Each indicator is given a score of 1 or 0 depending on its current reading relative to its filter rule. If S&P earnings are down over the past year and the filter rule for that metric is to be out of the market if yearly earnings growth is below 0%, then that indicator gets a 0. The table below summarizes data from all the previous sections and assigns a 1 or 0 to each indicator based on its current reading.

All 22 indicators are averaged to form the composite score. If the composite score is greater than 0.6, the model is invested in SPY. Think of 0.6 as the overall filter rule for the composite model.

There's nothing special about 0.6 - it results in being invested in SPY about 80% of the time. I could have used a higher filter rule like 0.75 to only be exposed to the S&P when more indicators are saying to be invested, but this results in less time exposed to the market since it's a "stricter" cut-off. The chart below plots each individual category average score and the overall composite score.

So where do we stand? Technical data is strong. The short-term trend is up, the FOMC drift is in effect, buybacks are starting back up, and we're in a seasonally positive period of the year.

The biggest negative for the market? Overly optimistic sentiment. There were fewer bulls in the AAII survey last week. But the NAAIM Exposure Index, CBOE's total put/call ratio, the growth in the number of SPY shares outstanding, and an extremely low spot VIX all reflect a massive amount of optimism in the market.

High yield spreads are well below their long-term trend. The macro picture improved a bit last week with the positive data on industrial production. ISM PMI data is strong and the unemployment rate is below its long-term average. The only negative macro indicator is that S&P EPS growth is still negative over the past year.

Overall, the composite model is long. This is because the composite score is 0.77, above the cut-off filter of 0.60. I hope this article can help you out in your own investing endeavors. Do let me know in the comments below if you have any questions!

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: The author does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked in this article or incorporated herein. This article is provided for guidance and information purposes only. Investments involve risk are not guaranteed. This article is not intended to provide investment, tax, or legal advice. Performance shown for each indicator is of a simulated hypothetical model. Performance is simulated and hypothetical and was not realized in an actual investment account. Performance includes reinvestment of all dividends. All risks, losses and costs associated with investing, including total loss of principal, are your responsibility.

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