Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor. When I describe my own trading activities, it is not intended as advice or solicitation of any kind.

05 October 2010

I Spy a Crossover

I'm running a mechanical trade in paperMoney on SPY that is based on Simple-Moving-Average Crossovers.  I just started running this trade, but I did a little back-of-the-envelope backtesting before I started and I really liked the way it performed over the last couple of years.  Since the 25-day SMA crossed the 200-day SMA to the upside today, it bears mentioning.

There are two competing indicators in this trade: moving average crossovers (MACO) and individual investment sentiment, which I use as a contrary indicator (CS).

Moving Average Crossovers
MACO is bullish when the SPY daily closing price is higher than the SPY 25-day SMA, which in turn is higher than the SPY 200-day SMA.  MACO is bearish in the opposite situation: when SPY closes below the 25-day SMA, which in turn is below the 200-day SMA.  In any other closing price configuration, MACO is neutral/flat.

If this was where it ended, this would be a classic long-term trend-following trade.  It would have killed in 2009, and been killed in 2010.

Contrary Sentiment
The American Association of Individual Investors publishes a set of weekly indicators based on surveys of their members.  They give the percentage of their responding members that are bullish, bearish, and neutral.  I have arbitrarily chosen the bullish indicator, and I use the prior calendar year's average value as a midpoint - this year, that midpoint is 36.8%.  I then set the entry lines 10% above and below that value.  I get a new value from AAII every Wednesday, when they publish the survey.

CS is bullish when the surveyed value is below (yes, below) the low entry line, bearish when the surveyed value is above (yes, above) the high entry line, and signals "exit" when the surveyed value crosses the midpoint.  I basically use it to fade individual investor sentiment, because I think most people are morons - especially those who spend money on a membership to a website so they can donate their time filling out surveys.

So when that bullish indicator is above 46.8%, CS will initiate a "short" signal, remaining in "short" state until the indicator drops below 36.8%.  When the bullish indicator is below 26.8%, CS will initiate a "long" signal, remaining in "long" state until the indicator rises above 36.8%.  I'm trying to only place bets against other investors when it is more or less universally agreed upon how great/shitty the world is.

As a momentum-fading indicator, CS kills in sideways markets like most of 2010 has been.  It gets killed in trending markets like 2009, where everyone got really excited and stayed really excited while the stock market rallied a gazillion points for no reason.

Putting it all together
Now I aggregate the signals thus:
  • If both CS and MACO say "flat/neutral", my position is flat
  • If CS and MACO disagree (long/short or short/long), my position is flat
  • If CS and MACO agree on a position (rare), I take that position
  • If one says "long" and the other "neutral", I'm long (but see below)
  • If one says "short" and the other "neutral", I'm short (but see below)
  • If there was a disagreement (long/short, short/long), and MACO goes to neutral/flat, I do not initiate a position until the next CS survey release is in the "initiate" zones.  I do not "back into" positions.
  • I only use closing prices for the MACO portion, and I trade the next day on the open.  If SPY gaps back through into neutral territory before the open, I treat it as no signal.  This basically just makes the backtesting easier.
In my backtesting, I compared various combinations of CS and MACO to a simple "buy and forget" strategy, resetting the entry price on 1 January each year.  I found that CS tended to keep MACO out of trouble by catching the tops and bottoms of the market trends really nicely.  On the other hand, MACO would keep CS from gritting its teeth and fading a long-term trend for a huge loss.  In fact, as a long-term trend asserted itself, CS would gradually drift into neutral territory, allowing MACO to get a position on and chase the trend.

The combination I describe above didn't consistently beat the "buy and forget" strategy, but: (a) it was a lot more fun; (b) buy-and-forget is what we all already do in our 401(k)s anyway - this whole trade is a diversification, in my opinion.  And, honestly, it has beat the snot out of "buy and forget" so far this year.

Where are we now?
The last entry signal in CS was "short" on 16 September, when the survey came out 50.89% bullish.  It has since drifted lower.  The most recent survey on 30 September was 42.5%, which would not cause a new position, but it remains "short" because we haven't gone through 36.8% yet.  We get a new survey tomorrow, and I'll go out on a limb and predict that it will remain above 36.8%.  In fact, for double-or-nothing I'll predict an up-tick from last week.

MACO, on the other hand, has been flat/neutral since 2 September, when SPY closed at 109.47: above the 25-SMA of 109.09 but below the 200-SMA of 111.79.  SPY has been trading above both of its moving averages since gapping higher over the weekend before 13 September, and today it finally dragged the 25-SMA higher than the 200-SMA at the close, generating a "long" signal:
  • SPY Close: 116.04
  • 25-day moving average: 112.46
  • 200-day moving average: 112.05
With MACO transitioning from "neutral/flat" to "long", there is a disagreement so the trade is flat.

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