VIX Seasonality Suggests Higher Readings

The VIX is back to 2007 levels and actively defying the contrarian implications of extra low VIX readings. Will the VIX drop much further? A look at VIX seasonality provides some clues.

When complacency reigns, investors get wet or at least so goes the saying. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has been trading below 15 for all of 2013, but the only ones getting ‘wet’ are VIX bulls and stock bears.

Still, the VIX is at a 73-month low and eventually there’s some money to be made buying VIX calls or long VIX ETFs. When will that be? VIX seasonality provides some clues.

VIX Seasonality

The first chart provides a visual of VIX seasonality based on data from 1990 – 2012. A devisor has been used to equally weigh each years’ performance.

In an average year, the VIX has seasonal lows in early and late February before spiking to an early March high. This would provide a short window for a seasonal move higher.

The average February to March VIX spike is less than 10%. Obviously, there’s more potential upside in 2013 as the debt and deficit ceiling quandary has the potential to springboard the VIX from its 73-month low.

However, the VIX seasonality chart suggests to eat your ice cream before it melts. In other words, locking in any gains (or carefully managing any gains) before the early-March seasonal high is prudent.

S&P 500 Seasonality

Most of the time there’s an inverse correlation between the VIX and the S&P 500. When the VIX goes down, stocks go up and vice versa.

Does S&P 500 seasonality confirm VIX seasonality? It would in a perfect world, but investing is about odds, not perfection.

The second chart plots overall S&P seasonality (1950 – 2012) and post election year seasonality against VIX seasonality. VIX seasonality (blue line) is inverted for easier comparison of trends.

The dashed red lines mark three trends that line up. One is a mild early-to mid February sell signal (sell signal for stocks, not VIX) followed by a weak late June buy signal and a strong October buy signal.

S&P seasonality also suggests that any February correction may be short-lived.

Seasonality charts capture the general trends of more than six decades and averaging of trends eliminates a lot of ‘seasonal noise’ along with potential setups.

Nevertheless, when seasonality agrees with other indicators (like sentiment, technicals, fundamentals) we get a stronger signal. This could be the case right now.

Long VIX ETPs include the iPath S&P 500 Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short Term ETN (TVIX).

Short S&P 500 ETFs include the Short S&P 500 ProShares (SH) and UltraShort S&P 500 ProShares (SDS).

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S&P 500: Rocky Season Ahead

The S&P 500 just nailed the best January gain since 1997 and 2013 forecasts are quite positive. Although the ‘Great QE Bull Market’ may not yet be over, seasonality suggests a rocky February.

The S&P rallied a decadent 5% in January and 2013 has been smooth sailing for stocks thus far.

The Federal Reserve probably deserves a fair share of credit for keeping the stock market humming.

Considering QE’s effect on the liquidity pool, it might be beneficial to look at stocks’ seasonal performance since the onset of ‘modern QE.’

The chart below compares the 2010, 2011, 2012 annual S&P 500 performances (2013 in red).

2011 and 2012 started out quite similar to 2013. In 2011, the S&P rallied until February 18 before correcting and turning choppy. In 2012 the S&P rallied until March 27, but a couple of 3-4% corrections introduced some choppiness already in late January. 2010 saw a mean 7% selloff materialize already on January 19.

A look at longer-term seasonality (going back to 1950) shows weak February performance in overall S&P 500 seasonality, post-election year seasonality, and post-election year seasonality with a democratic president.

CBOE Volatility Index or VIX seasonality shows a minor VIX low early in February (detailed seasonality charts for the S&P 500 and VIX are available to Profit Radar Report subscribers).

Sentiment (Article: How Worrisome is Bullish Sentiment?) suggests that a cooling period is approaching.

In short, February is quite likely to bring lower prices for U.S equities. Depending on your investment strategy and future outlook, this is either an opportunity to unload stocks before prices drop or pick up stocks at a lower price tag later on.

Insider Selling of Stocks is at Highest Level for the Year

Insiders are fearful of an impending sell off. When this happened earlier this year the S&P 500 quickly declined 10%. Other sentiment measures are reaching extremes too, but there’s a silver lining.

All major U.S. stock indexes continue to trade near multi-year highs, but insiders are selling stocks of the companies they own or manage at a pace not seen at any other time in 2012.

Investors Intelligence reports eight sales for each purchase and considers the current rush for the exits “panic selling.” The question we should ask is, “what do insiders know that we don’t?”

Another sentiment extreme can be seen in the high yield bond market, more appropriately called junk bonds. Companies just issued the third-highest amount of junk bonds.

The prior records were set in October 2010 and May 2011. Those two dates are marked in the chart below. I’ll explain in a moment the significance of those two dates.

Mutual fund managers tracked by the National Association of Active Investment Managers report that managers have a median exposure of 95% to equities. This is close to a six-year high and sets an 18-month record.

The Dow Jones just went an entire quarter without losing more than 1%. Jason Goepfert with SentimenTrader took a look at what happens historically when the Dow goes an entire quarter without a 1% decline, while trading close to a 52-week high.

There were 16 such instances since 1900. Over the next six months, the Dow was positive every time with a median return of +6%.

Getting back to the two dates highlighted in the chart above, we are currently in a situation where sentiment is becoming extreme. But just as Advil covers up pain, QE3 tends to neutralize extreme optimism.

Back in October 2010 it took several months before sentiment extremes caught up with stock prices. In May 2011 however, it resulted in a nasty sell off.

From a seasonal perspective October is an interesting month. It has hosted a number of crashes but also a number of important lows.

Looking at stocks, we see that the S&P 500 (S&P 500 SPDR – SPY) has been trading in a well-defined parallel trend channel. The strategy – as long as the S&P remains within this channel – is to sell when it reaches the top of the channel and buy at the bottom.

Once the bottom (of the channel) falls out, it’s probably time to become more bearish.

The Profit Radar Report monitors literally dozens of sentiment gauges, seasonal patterns, and technical developments to identify high probability investment opportunities for the best investment strategy.