Can We Still Trust the Investors Intelligence Sentiment Poll?

Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome is often considered insanity.

By that definition, some analysts are legitimately insane. Why?

Because they’ve doomed the stock market based on bullish investor sentiment, and have been doing so for many months, even years.

You will see what I mean upon further inspection of the chart below.

Since late 2013, the Investors Intelligence (II) survey of advisors and newsletter writers has shown (extreme) bullish sentiment.

Illustrated via the chart is the percentage of bearish advisors. This percentage has been around 14 since late 2013, which happens to be the lowest since 1987.

And since late 2013 (and way before that), Elliott Wave International (one of many market forecasting services that’s been spreading doom and gloom) has been warning that a 2008-like meltdown is directly ahead.

The cold fact is that the S&P 500 has tagged on another 20%+ since 2013.

This is not the data’s fault. It’s the interpreter’s fault … and an unfortunate symptom of tunnel vision. Perhaps the II poll has just become too popular to be effective as contrarian indicator, and lost its mojo.

II is not the only sentiment data available, and it’s the analyst’s responsibility to determine the validity of the II survey in context with other sentiment data. Now more than ever, it’s important to widen the horizon and look at other sentiment gauges.

The Profit Radar Report monitors dozens of sentiment indicators and consistently publishes at least six every month.

For example, the February 19 Profit Radar Report Sentiment Picture summed things up as follows: “In short, sentiment is elevated, and may be a short-term drag, but is not indicative of a major market top.”

Throughout 2013 and 2014, the Profit Radar Report pointed out the lack of excessive optimism and likelihood of higher stock price (click here for a more complete record or the 2014 sentiment analysis).

Here is a look at the latest Sentiment Picture, published on May 29.

The two charts categorize various sentiment gauges as either opinion poll (what investors say) or money flow (what investors do).

The American Association for Individual Investors (AAII) and National Association of Active Investment Managers (NAAIM) opinion surveys do not confirm the bullish (bearish for stocks) tone of the Investors Intelligence poll.

Three other sentiment gauges more closely related to actual money flow do not show any real extremes.

What’s the moral of the story?

Don’t trust fear mongers or ‘one trick pony’ predictions based on any single sentiment gauge.

We live in a complex world. We need complex analysis.

Oh, on by the way, purely based on sentiment, stocks could continue to grind higher.

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report. The Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (S&P 500, Dow Jones, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. All Profit Radar Report recommendations resulted in a 59.51% net gain in 2013 and 17.59% in 2014.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.


Exactly How Worrisome is Bullish Sentiment?

Contrarian investors love to use sentiment as a general overbought/oversold measure. There’s no denying that Wall Street and Main Street have surrendered to the allure of higher prices, but just how much of a threat does bullish sentiment pose right now?

If you have skin in the game, you probably know something about the game.

If you have money invested in stocks, you probably have noticed the increasingly bullish forecasts.

Sentiment is a valuable contrarian indicator, but exact danger levels are difficult to quantify. How worrisome is the current bullishness?

Inverse Contrarianism

We saw a rare phenomenon in early January. Investors turned bullish, but the media publicized the bearish implications of bullish investors.

The January 13, Profit Radar Report pointed out the following: “Last week’s most notable development is the uptick in investor optimism. This normally contrarian development is tapered by the unusual media attention.

A headline on the Yahoo!Finance homepage reads: ‘Is the crowd’s cheery mood reason to fear the rally’s end?’ CNBC published articles such as: ‘Why the VIX’s recent plunge may be bad for stocks’ and ‘Where is the wall of worry?’

A contrarian indicator with so much mainstream attention is not contrarian anymore. Hopefully a continued move (perhaps through a laborious process) to around 1,490 will silence the contrarian publicity and better align overall sentiment with our upcoming technical short setup.

Market Silenced the Media

The S&P 500 has rallied 40 points since mid-January and did indeed silence suspicious media outlets.

Now we see headlines like these:

CNBC: Market Bears on The Brink: ‘I Can’t Fight Anymore’
CNBC: S&P 1,500: Last Barrier Before New Record
Reuters: The Great Rotation: A Flight to Equities in 2013
Bloomberg: Nouriel Roubini Faces the Music: Did Dr. Doom get it Wrong?

This is the most bullish I’ve seen the media in well over a year, but admittedly my self-composed “Headline Sentiment Index” lacks the trackability needed for a good indicator.

Other sentiment gauges do have a long track record and the Profit Radar Report takes a detailed look at four of them every month.

Below is the January 2013 Sentiment Picture (the Profit Radar Report prepares one detailed Sentiment Picture per month for subscribers on record).

Like gauges in your car’s instrument cluster, the monthly Sentiment Picture provides a quick summary of what’s going on.

Illustrated are the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), Equity Put/Call Ratio, the percentage of bullish advisors/investors polled by Investors Intelligence (II), and the American Association for Individual Investors (AAII).

Shaded red areas denote the minimum/maximum sentiment extremes seen at prior highs.

Here’s a quick rundown of the four indicators:

The VIX is in danger territory (red box).

The Equity Put/Call Ratio is not per say in danger territory, but not far away from where a market top could be.

The percentage of bullish advisers polled by II is getting in the red danger zone.

The percentage of bullish investors polled by AAII is in the red zone.


Investor enthusiasm is high enough to where it could cause a sizeable correction, but not extreme enough to force a turnaround. A break below support would probably elicit more selling.

And one thing is for sure, there are plenty of buyers that could turn into sellers and drive prices lower. The Profit Radar Report pinpoints the support levels that, once broken, will cause more selling.