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Weekly Trader’s Outlook

Equities move two steps forward; one step back

Follow me on Twitter @RandyAFrederick. I’ll tweet interesting observations about volatility, put/call ratios, technical signals, economics, option block trades and other unusual activity.

Weekly Market Review:

Earnings Summary

Q1 earnings season has just begun. With 20 companies (4%) of the companies in the S&P 500 reporting, below are the aggregate results for Q1 (so far) relative to the final results from recent quarters.

Quarter EPS beats        Rev beats

Q1 ‘20            89%                  74%

Q4 ’19               74%                  64%     

Q3 ‘19               78%                  58%

Q2 ‘19               76%                  56%

Q1 ‘19               77%                  57%

Q4 ’18               73%                  60%     

Q3 ’18               82%                  61%     

Q2 ‘18               84%                  72%

Q1 ‘18               81%                  74%

Q4 ’17               78%                  76%     

Q3 ’17               78%                  68%     

Q2 ‘17               77%                  69%

Q1 ’17               78%                  63%

Q4 ’16               73%                  53%

Q3 ‘16               72%                  55%

Q2 ‘16               72%                  53%

Q1 ’16               72%                  52%

Average            75%                  58%

Do not extrapolate the above results beyond the current week, as it is extremely early in the reporting season. From a growth standpoint, Q1 EPS so far is -10.4% y/o/y versus the consensus estimate of -2.9%. Q1 revenue so far is +5.1% y/o/y. This compares to +0.6% and +3.4% respectively in Q4.

Below are some of the higher-profile companies that reported earnings this week.  

Earnings Recap

Symbol            Actual  Estimate

RH                    3.72      3.59

MKC                 1.08      1.03

CAG                 0.47      0.49

PVH                 1.88      1.70

KMX                 1.30      1.13

WBA                 1.52      1.46                 

CHWY            -0.04     -0.10

PLAY                0.80      0.70

STZ                    1.96      1.65

Economics Recap

Better (or higher) than expected:

  • Pending Home Sales for Feb: +2.4% vs. +1.0% est
  • Consumer Confidence for Mar: 120.0 vs. 110.0 est
  • Chicago PMI for Mar: 47.8 vs. 40.0 est
  • ADP Employment Change for Mar: -27k vs. -150k est
  • ISM Manufacturing Index for Mar: 49.1 vs. 44.5 est
  • Trade Deficit for Feb: -$39.9B vs. -$40.0B est
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Mar: +0.4% vs. +0.2% est
  • Average Workweek for Mar: 34.2 vs. 34.1 est
  • ISM Services Index for Mar: 52.5 vs. 43.0 est

On Target:

  • None

Worse (or lower) than expected:

  • Case-Shiller Home Price Index for Jan: +3.1% vs. +3.2% est
  • Construction Spending for Feb: -1.3% vs. +0.6% est
  • Initial (weekly) Jobless Claims: 6.648M vs. 3.763M est
  • Factory Orders for Feb: 0.0% vs. +0.2% est
  • Nonfarm Payrolls for Mar: -701k vs. -100k est
  • Unemployment Rate for Mar: 4.4% vs. 3.8% est
  • Underemployment Rate (U-6) for Mar: 8.7% vs. 7.0% last month
  • Labor Force Participation Rate for Mar: 62.7% vs. 63.3% est

This was a heavy week for economics because it included the reports on the March employment situation. First, I’d like to highlight Initial Jobless Claims. As you can see, claims came in way above the estimate and also way above last week’s 3.307M level. Department of Labor data only goes back to 1967, and prior to last week, the largest single week reading since 1967 was 695k on 10/2/82. The chart below illustrates just how dramatic the jump in the last 2 weeks has been relative to other unusual spikes.

Claims

Source: Schwab Center for Financial Research

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

I’d also like to highlight some of the March employment reports. Nonfarm Payrolls, the Unemployment Rate, the Underemployment Rate, and the Labor Force Participation Rate were all worse than expected. Since the cutoff for the reporting period was March 12th, considering the skyrocketing Initial Jobless Claims (discussed above) these numbers are likely to be even worse next month.

Unemployment

Source: Schwab Center for Financial Research

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Market Performance YTD

Here is the 2020 YTD (versus 2019 full-year) performance of the market broken down by the 11 market sectors (as of the close on 4/2/20):

                                                            2020 YTD                      2019 Final

  1. Cons Staples                            -12.5%                          +24.0%
  2. Healthcare                                 -14.1%                          +18.7%
  3. Info Tech                                  -14.5%                          +48.0%
  4. Utilities                                     -16.9%                          +22.2%
  5. Communications Svc              -19.0%                          +30.9%
  6. Consumer Disc                         -22.5%                          +26.2%
  7. Real Estate                               -23.7%                          +24.9%
  8. Materials                                   -28.9%                          +21.9%
  9. Industrials                                 -29.7%                          +26.8%
  10. Financials                                 -34.8%                          +29.2%
  11. Energy                                       -49.1%                          +7.6%

Source: Bloomberg L.P.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Here is the 2020 YTD (versus 2019 full-year) performance of the major U.S. equity indices (as of the close on 4/2/20):

                                                            2020 YTD                      2019 Final

  • S&P 500 (SPX)                             -21.8%                          +28.9%
  • Nasdaq Composite (COMPX)    -16.6%                          +35.2%
  • Dow Industrials (DJI)                 -25.0%                          +22.3%
  • Russell 2000 (RUT)                    -35.0%                          +23.7%

Technicals

After falling nearly 34% in only a 5-week period, the SPX mounted an impressive comeback; +12.9% over the last 8 sessions, including the sharpest 3-day rally (from 3/24 through 3/26) since the Great Depression. Numerous times after the decline began, I recommended that traders wait for at least 2 consecutive solid up days before doing any bargain hunting, and even then, buy only in small amounts.

As I mentioned last week, the SPX went from 2/12 through 3/23 without 2 consecutive up days, and during that time it fell about 27%. Perhaps even more importantly, there were 5 separate days during that period, in which the SPX gained more than 4% in a single day, but there was no follow-through the next day. Any of those could have been seen as buy signals to traders who did not observe the “2-up-day rule”, and all of them would have resulted in further losses in subsequent days. As I said last week, no plan is foolproof, and no strategy works every time. The 2-up-day rule should be viewed as a “first” sign of a potential buying opportunity, not as an “all clear” flag.

The current trend in the SPX is best described as a bear market rally because (based on a close-to-close basis) it has not yet closed up 20% (2,684) from the 3/23 low (2,237), which would signify the start of a new bull market. It also has not closed below 2,237, which would signify the continuation of the bear market that began back on 2/19. Thus 2,237 remains the primary downside technical support, with some potential interim support at 2,351 if it does head back in that direction.

SPX

Source: StreetSmart Edge®

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Bear Market Trends

It is impossible to know for certain, but since the SPX did not hit a new low this week, the optimistic perspective still assumes the bear market ended on Monday (3/23). If that level holds, at only 33 days this will have been the shortest bear market ever in duration, and 5th worst in magnitude. As I mentioned above (based on a close-to-close basis), if the SPX closes below 2,237 before it closes above 2,684, the bear market continues.

Bear Markets

Source: Schwab Center for Financial Research

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Option Volumes:

At the end of March, aggregate industry volume averaged a massive 30.4M contracts per day. That was above the very high level in February of 29.9M contracts per day and well above the March 2019 level of 19.6M contracts per day. According to my records, this makes March the highest options volume month ever; exceeding February, which had been the highest.

Open Interest:

OI Change:

In reviewing Cboe open interest (OI) data (where greater than 95% of the index activity occurs), I observed the following changes over the past week:

In reviewing VIX data for the past week I observed the following:

  • VIX call OI was +8.6%              
  • VIX put OI was -2.6%                

These changes reflect a small bias toward the call side, so I see them as moderately bearish for equities this week.

In reviewing SPX data for the past week I observed the following:

  • SPX call OI was -4.4%  
  • SPX put OI was -2.1%              

It is unusual to see declines during a non-expiration week, so it likely reflects that some participants are trading less because persistent volatility has complicated the trading environment. That said, these changes do reflect a modest bias toward the put side this week, so I see them as moderately bearish for equities this week.

In reviewing Exchange Traded Products (ETP) data (which includes SPY & QQQ) for the past week, I observed the following:

  • ETP call OI was +2.6%             
  • ETP put OI was +2.6%              

These changes reflect a no bias toward the call or put side this week, so I see them as neutral for equities this week.

Combining VIX, SPX & ETP data this week, overall I see the Index/ETP OI Change as moderately bearish in the near-term.

In reviewing Cboe Equity Option data (where about 35% of all option activity occurs) for the past week I observed the following:

  • Equity call OI was +5.4%                      
  • Equity put OI was +3.4%                      

These changes reflect a small bias toward the call side this week, so I see the Equity OI Change as moderately bullish in the near-term.

OI Participation

Index OI Participation is currently +17.4% versus 2018 levels, so I see it as bullish in the long-term.

Equity OI Participation is currently +12.4% versus 2018 levels, so I see it as bullish in the long-term.

Open Interest Put/Call Ratios (OIPCR):

The VIX OIPCR is down 10 ticks to 1.02 versus 1.12 last week. At this time, VIX options traders are holding (long or short) 102 puts for every 100 calls. This decrease is not insignificant, but it also is not inconsistent with the move in the VIX index, which was -14.63 (-22.3%) through Thursday (4/2).

With the VIX down more than 30 points from its recent all-time high but still historically elevated, I see the VIX OIPCR as moderately bullish in the very near-term for the markets. Despite this drop, this ratio remains quite elevated from a historical perspective as it is still substantially above the 200-day SMA of just 0.46. As a result, I see it as moderately bullish in the long-term.

This week the SPX OIPCR is up 2 ticks to 1.70 versus 1.68 last week. At this level this ratio is just above a 13-month low and it remains sharply below the 200-day SMA of 2.16. Under normal circumstances, this ratio tends to move in the same direction as the SPX, but these are still not normal circumstances. The SPX has fallen a modest 14.57 points (-0.6%) through Thursday (4/2), and SPX option traders (who are almost entirely institutional) may be expecting the index to level off a bit in the near-term. At this low level I see the SPX OIPCR as neutral in the near-term for the market. Since it has finally stopped falling after 5 weeks of declines, I see it as moderately bullish in the long-term.

The normally stable Equity OIPCR is down 1 tick to 0.99 from 1.00 last week. As equities have fallen very modestly through Thursday (4/2), equity option traders appear to have slightly reduced their downside hedging. However, this ratio remains quite balanced so I see the Equity OIPCR as neutral in the near-term for the market. But since it is now slightly further below the 200-day SMA of 1.02, I see it as now moderately bullish in the long-term.

Cboe Volume Put/Call Ratios (VPCR):

The Cboe VIX VPCR had moved from moderately bullish to bullish this week. The 1.62 reading on Thursday (4/2) was bullish but the current reading of 0.42 as I’m writing this (mid-day Friday 4/3) is on the low end of neutral. Since this ratio tends to decline throughout the day, I see it as volatile in the very near-term.

The Cboe SPX VPCR has been mostly neutral this week. The 1.57 reading on Thursday (4/2) was neutral, but the current reading of 1.62 as I’m writing this (mid-day Friday 4/3) is moderately bearish. While intraday levels tend to decline as the day goes on, I see it as neutral in the very near-term. With a 5-day average of 1.48 versus 1.30 last week, it is neutral in the long-term.

The Cboe Equity VPCR has moved from neutral to moderately bearish this week. The 0.82 reading on Thursday (4/2) was moderately bearish, and the current reading of 0.85 as I’m writing this (mid-day Friday 4/3) is moderately bearish. While intraday levels tend to fall throughout the day, I see it as moderately bearish in the very near-term. With a 5-day moving average of 0.75 versus 0.64 last week, it is moderately bearish in the long-term.

Since volume based put/call ratios are very reactive and very short-term in nature, near-term usually means just a day or two, while long-term is more like a week.

ISE Retail Sentiment Index (ISEE):

The ISEE closed just below 100 every day this week. Since this gauge measures only retail opening activity and it is actually a call/put indicator, a level below 100 means that retail option traders on the ISE are trading fewer calls than puts. While the intraday level at the time of this writing is 51, I see the ISEE as moderately bearish in the near-term. Since this ratio has closed below 100 in 22 of the last 22 sessions, I see the ISEE as moderately bearish in the long-term.

OCC Volume Put/Call Ratios (VPCR):

The OCC Index VPCR has moved from moderately bearish to bearish this week. As a result, I see it as bearish in the near-term. It has been bearish or moderately bearish in 19 of the last 20 sessions, so I see it as still moderately bearish in the long-term.

Likewise, the OCC Equity VPCR has also moved from moderately bearish to bearish this week. As a result, I see it as bearish in the near-term. Since this ratio has been bearish or moderately bearish in 30 of the last 30 sessions, I see it as moderately bearish in the long-term.

Volatility:

Cboe Volatility Index (VIX)

While the SPX has continued to move up and down over the past couple of weeks, the trend in the VIX has been mostly lower. The SPX is up 289 points (+12.9%) since the 3/23 low, but the VIX is down more than 31 points (-38.4%) during that same period, which implies that the peak in panic may be over; at least for now. At its current level around 50 (at the time of this writing) the VIX is still implying intraday moves in the S&P 500 of 65-70 points per day (down from 80-90 points at this time last week); in either direction. The 20-day historical volatility is 259% this week versus 275% last week.  

As I mentioned in the OIPCR section above, the VIX was -14.63 (-22.3%) through Thursday (4/2). However, by historical standards volatility is still excessively high. As I stated last week, anxiety in the VIX often starts above 30 and panic starts above 40, so we remain very much in the panic zone. At this level I see the VIX as volatile in the very near-term for the equity markets. And since the VIX has closed above 40 for the last 20 sessions, I see it as volatile in the long-term.

On a week-over-week basis, VIX call prices have fallen and VIX put prices have risen. At -89 versus -242 last week, the VIX IV Gap (the average IV of VIX calls less the average IV of VIX puts) has risen sharply but since it is still moderately negative, it remains moderately bullish in the very near-term. And while the gap has been negative for 6 weeks now, it continues to widen and narrow frequently, so I see it as still volatile in the long-term. Keep in mind, this is not only a contrarian indicator, it tends to be one of the earliest and shortest-term indicators I discuss in this report, so it can also change directions very quickly.

VIX Futures

The VIX futures curve remains in backwardation again this week, which means that near-term contracts are still priced higher than those in the later expirations. With the exception of a very small bump in the October expiration (related to uncertainty surrounding the presidential election), and also the December expiration (which is now priced slightly above the November expiration), other months are mostly priced cheaper throughout the year than their preceding month. While this is unusual, it is likely to continue until the VIX index comes back down to more normal levels. At the moment, the difference between the sum of the 3rd and 4th month futures and the 1st and 2nd month futures is -15.42 versus -23.44 last week. This increase is primarily due to falling prices in the near-term months.    

As of this writing (mid-day Friday 4/3), the nearest VIX futures contract (which expires on 4/8) was trading at 48.00; nearly 2 points below the spot VIX level of 49.82. Adjusting this price for the risk premium factor (which takes into account the time until expiration), the Risk Premium Adjusted Price (RPAP) is 47.08; nearly 3 points below the spot price.

With an adjusted level that is more than 2 points below the spot price, futures traders are indicating that they believe the VIX is likely to fall modestly in the near-term. Therefore, I see VIX futures as moderately bullish in the near-term for the market. The RPAPs of the next two closest monthly futures contracts are 45.40 and 37.97 respectively. With the RPAPs of the further-dated contracts both also below the spot price, I see VIX futures as moderately bullish in the long-term for the SPX.

Since VIX futures are typically much less reactive to current market conditions than the VIX index, near-term for VIX futures usually means a few days, while long-term means a couple of weeks.

The VIX remains quite elevated by historical standards and the VIX Hedging Effectiveness is still Good in the near-term. At the moment, this means that options on the VIX (and possibly other volatility-related products) are showing some sensitivity to market volatility, and may be somewhat effective as hedging tools in the very near-term. VIX Hedging Effectiveness is Very Good in the long-term.

VIX Hedging Effectiveness is a manner of measuring the magnitude of VIX moves relative to the magnitude of SPX moves in the opposite direction. When the VIX is highly reactive, VIX related products can serve as potentially effective hedging tools, when the VIX is not very reactive, traditional hedging techniques may be a better choice.

Global Review/Outlook:

North America

Most of these numbers will have increased by the time you read this, but at the time of this writing over 1M cases of the COVID-19 virus have now been confirmed globally, including over 54,000 fatalities. Unfortunately, the US now has the largest total number of cases with more than 245k, but only the third highest number of fatalities at just over 6k. As you can see, with the market’s consolidation this week, the first 90 days impact is little changed; thus still worse than all other viruses in the table.

Virus

Data obtained from multiple third party sources; accuracy not guaranteed

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Please keep in mind, since the US is a large country, there are smaller countries (mostly in Europe) that have a higher per capita case rate. Additionally, testing capabilities are still limited in many areas, so the actual infection rates are probably much higher almost everywhere.

I’ve also been watching US state level data, and as you can see, New York alone accounts for about 38% of all the cases in the US.

Virus by State

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Asia

Crude oil prices have fallen so much in recent weeks that this week China announced it would be buying oil to restock its emergency reserves. That along with comments from President Trump that he would be brokering a deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut production, boosted crude prices late in the week.

Europe

The COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow in Europe. Spain is now leading the way with over 117k cases and over 10k fatalities, followed by Italy with over 115k cases and over 13k fatalities, and Germany with over 87k and over 1k respectively.

Economic reports for next week:

Mon 4/6

None

Tue 4/7

Consumer Credit for Feb - This measure of consumer debt is a lagging indicator that rarely affects the markets. This report covers auto loans, credit card debt and other personal debt.

Wed 4/8

None

Thu 4/9

Initial Jobless Claims - For the week ending 3/29/20, claims were up 3,341k to 6,648k after being up 3,026k the prior week. The 4-week moving average now stands at 2,606k, up 1,608k from the prior week. With this huge increase, the 4-week moving average is now 1,938k above the highest level on record (674k), which occurred back in 1982.

PPI for Mar – The Producer Price Index measures inflation at the wholesale or manufacturing level.

University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment for Apr – This is the first report for April. The final report for March fell to 89.1 from 101.0 previously.

Wholesale Inventories for Feb – This report covers manufacturing inventory data, so it is not a good indicator of consumer activity, but it may have ramifications on future GDP levels.

Fri 4/10

None

Interest Rates:

Since the Fed cut interest rates essentially to zero back on March 15, there is virtually no chance of any changes in the foreseeable future, so I am suspending this section indefinitely.

Outlook:

While volatility has eased back from record high levels, signs of bargain hunting are waning and forward progress has stalled. Until good news arrives from the front lines of the virus battle, the market is likely to continue its current pattern of two steps forward; one step back.

Bottom Line:

On one hand, equities have been quite resilient given the historically weak economic data (Jobless Claims, Payrolls, Unemployment, PMIs, etc.), as most of them were even worse than expected. On the other hand, despite the massive monetary and fiscal rescue plans launched in the past 2 weeks, equities are still searching for positive news on fighting the virus. Unfortunately substantive progress remains elusive and optimism scarce. Until that changes, volatility will likely remain elevated and equity gains subdued.

Until something changes, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Bargain hunting during pullbacks can be very difficult.
  • If you are going to trade, consider reducing your average share size and dollar amounts per trade.
  • Implied volatility is still elevated, and that means both calls and puts are very expensive.
  • If you are going to trade directional option strategies, consider using spreads instead of long calls and puts.
  • If you are going to hedge your equity positions using options, consider using collars instead of protective puts.
  • Spreads and collars can both help minimize the adverse impact of volatility swings.
  • High volatility usually means large price swings in both directions.
  • If you find high volatility unsettling, you may want to avoid trading altogether in the near-term.

As you can see below, the indicators are still over the map and unlike the last 2 weeks, this time there is little indication of another oversold bounce. Therefore a directional forecast is too difficult so the outlook for next week is just Volatile.

Composite

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Key:

OI = Open Interest

OIPCR = Open Interest Put/Call Ratio

VPCR = Volume Put/Call Ratio

IV = Implied Volatility

+ means this indicator has changed in a bullish direction from the prior posting.

– means this indicator has changed in a bearish direction from the prior posting.

+/ – means this indicator has changed bi-directionally; i.e. last week was either Volatile, N/A or Breakout

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Looking to the Futures

Important Disclosures:

Options carry a high level of risk and are not suitable for all investors. Certain requirements must be met to trade options through Schwab. With long options, investors may lose 100% of funds invested. Multiple leg options strategies will involve multiple commissions. Protective puts increase your cost basis in the underlying security. Please read the options disclosure document titled "Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options."

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