New Study: Investors are Incompetent – Now More than Ever

Indexes track stock market performance, but it’s much harder to track the performance of the ‘average investor.’ A new study, based on fund and money flow data, shows that investors tend to make many false decisions.

The first four months of 2014 are over. Although the S&P 500 hasn’t gone anywhere fast (up ~1.5% YTD), the average S&P 500 investor has almost certainly lost money. Why?

According to DALBAR’s annual behavior report, the average investor doesn’t just buy and hold. The average investor is fidgety, buys too high, sells too low, and underperforms the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) quite significantly (6.87% in 2013).

DALBAR evaluates investor behavior/performance by analyzing data from the Investment Company Institute (ICI), Standard & Poor’s, and other outlets that provide fund/ETF and money flow data.

Figures 1 and 2 will illustrate retail investors’ lack of timing. Figure 3 shows how ‘great’ professional money managers’ timing skills are.

Retail Investors’ ‘Skill’

Figure 1 plots the 2013 monthly S&P 500 performance against the monthly money flow. This illustrates the performance chasing nature of investors.

Investors tend to employ money after big gains (not before big gains or during periods of weakness). Such performance chasing (buying high) leads to sub-par returns.

Figure 2 shows how far the average investor trails behind the S&P 500.

In 2014 alone, investors chasing new all-time highs would have gotten burned three times (red dots in S&P 500 chart below).

Each time the S&P 500 broke out to new highs, the Profit Radar Report warned of a ‘fake out break out.’

Did professional money managers do any better?

Money Managers – ‘Blind Leading the Blind’

Based on a survey of professional managers conducted by the National Association of Active Investment Managers (NAAIM), the timing of the ‘pros’ has been rather poor as well.

Figure 3 plots the S&P 500 against the NAAIM Exposure Index, which reflects money managers’ exposure to equities.

Both graphs tend to move in the same direction. This means that even money managers fall into one of those two categories: 1) Trend follower 2) Performance chaser (that’s probably why even static index funds or ETFs tend to outperform actively managed mutual funds).

The stock market may be building another trap right now. The month of May is notorious for fooling the investing herd.

This year promises to be no different, although there may be a curious twist. Should you really sell in May and go away?

Expecting ‘Sell in May and Go Away’ Pattern? – Prepare for Surprise

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.

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

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S&P 500 ETF (SPY) Research

The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) is the world’s largest ETF. It is also one of the most cost and tax effective ways to gain broad exposure to stocks. But that alone doesn’t guarantee profits (nothing does). Here’s one way to increase your winning odds.

The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) is the world’s largest ETF ($145 billion in assets). It is also one of the most cost and tax effective ways to gain exposure to a broad basket of stocks.

Unlike mutual funds, ETFs trade like stocks and can be bought/sold anytime the stock market is open (mutual funds have to be redeemed, sometimes at the next day’s closing prices).

But – and that’s a big but – regardless of how great an ETF SPY is, if you buy and sell at the wrong time, you can still lose money.

iSPYETF (as in “I spy with my little eye”) and the iSPYETF Profit Radar Report are dedicated to delivering the best ETF research and identifying the best buy and sell opportunities for the S&P 500 and S&P 500 SPY ETF.

Spotting the best ETF opportunities isn’t easy, but the Profit Radar Report follows dozens of indicators, gauges, cycles and patterns to find the best high probability and low-risk setups.

Can you trust iSPYETF and the Profit Radar Report?

Well, we don’t have a crystal ball, but Investor’s Business Daily had this to say about Simon Maierhofer (Founder of iSPYETF and publisher of the Profit Radar Report):

“Simon says and the market is playing along” – Investors Business Daily

Below is a brief history of Simon’s market calls.

 

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.

S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq – The Deceptive Intricacies of Popular Stock Market Indexes

On first glance the performance of the Dow Diamonds (DIA), S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) and Nasdaq QQQ (QQQ) seems to be closely correlated. This first glance assessment, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s what separates the indexes from each other and why it’s important.

Index investing or ETF index investing is a popular and low-cost way to put your dollars to work, it’s like putting your portfolio on cruise control.

But driving on cruise control isn’t always the best way to get from A to B and doesn’t mean you won’t get into an accident. It merely means that you delegate speed control to your car.

Your level of commitment to your own portfolio ultimately dictates your style of investing: buy and hold via indexes or ETFs, buy and hold via actively managed mutual funds, or a more active approach to buying and selling.

Regardless of what type of investor you are, you need to be familiar with your investment vehicle(s) of choice, just like a driver needs to know the difference between automatic and stick shift.

Look Under the Hood

The S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Nasdaq are the most popular U.S. indexes and if you are an investor, odds are some of your money is invested in one or more of those three indexes.

Equity indexes are often described as a basket of stocks. Retirees or near retirees are familiar with the term nest egg and the comforting picture of many golden eggs nested up to provide a comfortable retirement.

But what if the basket of eggs is made up of one or two giant ostrich eggs that limit the space for other eggs? That wouldn’t be well diversified and one knock against the basket could scramble most of the retirement.

Hidden Ostrich Eggs

Financial ostrich eggs among major U.S. indexes are more common than you think.

IBM accounts for nearly 12% of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA or Dow Jones). Technically speaking, the DJIA is an average not an index. The DJIA is price weighted, in other words only the price of a stock matters, nothing else.

IBM is the most expensive stock of the DJIA and moves the index (or average) 20x more than Bank of America (BAC) even though IBM has only about twice the market capitalization (the price per share multiplied by the amount of outstanding shares) of BAC.

The ETF that best represents the DJIA is the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF. Its ticker is DIA, that’s why it has the nickname Dow Diamonds ETF.

The Nasdaq-100 and the PowerShares Nasdaq QQQ ETF (QQQ) hide another “ostrich egg,” – Apple. Apple accounts for a whopping 20% of the Nasdaq-100 Index. If you already own Apple or don’t believe Apple is the way to play technology, you may not want to own QQQ.

The S&P 500 Index – represented by the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) – provides more balanced diversification than the DJIA or Nasdaq-100. Apple, still the biggest player of the S&P 500, accounts for less than 5%. IBM has a weight of only 1.8%.

Considering the different composition of the three indexes, it’s remarkable how closely their day-to-day moves correlate.

The chart below provides a visual of the long-term correlation between the Dow Diamonds (DIA), S&P SPDR (SPY), and QQQs. Illustrated is the percentage change since April 1999 (when the QQQs began trading) to provide an apples to apples comparison of the three indexes.

The SPY and QQQ delivered a near identical return (+38%). The DIA is up 68% since April 1999. Of course the picture looks much different if you start measuring the return from the 2000 highs.

All three indexes and index ETFs share the commonality of having had very sizeable swings ranging from -60% to +60%. The Profit Radar Report advocates an investment approach that capitalizes on larger up moves and turns neutral or short during major down moves.

This approach can significantly enhance your return and reduce your exposure to risk.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

S&P 500 vs. Investors – Are Retail Investors Really the “Dumb Money?”

Retail investors have many choices to buy and sell stocks: Mutual funds and ETFs are just two of them. Regardless of the options, investors are often considered the “dumb money.” Is the dumb money really dumb?

Wall Street geniuses and the financial media often consider retail investors the “dumb money.” That’s ironic, because Wall Street and the media are notorious for dishing out group think advice that’s getting many of the small guys burned.

There’s plenty of data that shows that a plain index investing or index ETF investing approach (the real “dumb” buy and hold a basket of stocks approach) handily beats the returns achieved by Ivy League educated mutual fund managers that engage in actively buying and selling.

If you’ve read my articles before you know that I like to pick on Wall Street and the financial media, but today we’ll talk about the investing prowess of retail investors – the “dumb money.” Is the dumb money really dumb?

Is the Dumb Money Really Dumb?

One of the best measures of retail investor’s appetite for stock is the asset allocation poll conducted by the American Association for Individual Investors (AAII).

The chart below plots the S&P 500 Index (SPY) against investors’ portfolio allocation to stocks. Investors’ stock allocation pretty much waxes and wanes with the performance of the S&P and almost plots a mirror image of the S&P.

Unfortunately, the cliché is true; retail investors buy when stocks are high and sell when stocks are low. I believe this is due to crowd behavior and the forces of investing peer pressure rather than stupidity, as the term dumb money implies.

What else can we learn from this chart aside from the fact that retail investors tend to buy high and sell low?

The average allocation to stocks since the inception of the survey in 1987 is 60.9% (dashed red line). The S&P currently trades near a 52-month high, yet investors’ allocation to stocks is below average (60.5% as of August). This is unusual.

In fact, in the 21st century there’ve only been a couple of instances where investors’ stock allocation was below average when the S&P was near a 3+ year high. Those instances are marked with a red arrow. In August 2006 stocks went on to rally. In March 2012 stocks declined first and rallied later.

Lessons Learned

The lesson for investors is A) not to follow the crowd and B) not to follow Wall Street or the financial media.

The mission of the Profit Radar Report is to keep investors on the right side of the trade. A composition of indicators used identified the March 2009 and October 2011 lows as investable lows and got investors out of stocks at the 2010, 2011, and 2012 highs.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.