Sunday, 14 August 2011

When markets go haywire

August 2011 for many will go down in history as a period of increased volatility on the markets. Stock markets all over the world, Swiss franc and gold swung up and down, markets began to resemble a rollercoaster. This is probably one of more apposite metaphors rendering goings-on on the markets over last two weeks, but if you opt for a blunt comparison, get on to New York Post cover which drew a parallel between stock price quotations and a prostitute’s pants. I thought Polish tabloid Fakt beats anything else in terms of stupidity, but again I was wrong.

Looking back on the last weeks, the recent turmoil should not haven taken us aback. In June I even had a clear inkling of an upcoming tumble, as in the light of macroeconomic situation and recurring patterns markets tend to follow, what happened was absolutely predictable.

The bull market of 2009 – 2011. Hmm, am I not going too far by claiming the bull market is over? Well, technically it is, as stock indices have fallen by more than 20% from their peaks. OK, let’s start over. The last bull market began in February 2009 when economies were in the doldrums and stocks were down some 60% - 70% down from their peaks noted in 2007. Stimulus programmes aimed at reviving economies, cheap money injected into financial markets and scale of preceding bear market conjured up an abrupt bull market that lasted until August 2009. Within six months stocks soared by some 60% - 70%, then ensued the second wave of bull market, of moderate growth of price, intermingling with periods of downbeat expectations, such as those in early February 2010 or in late spring 2010 when Greece was about to go bust for the first time. With time, and as markets were flooded by cheap money printed by the FED, speculators got immune to bad news. Markets slowly rose to reach peaks in late April 2011. WIG20, the index of Warsaw Stock Exchange covering 20 blue chips (which will later be a benchmark for me) rose between 17 February 2009 to 28 April 2011 by 123% and peaked at 2,942 points. The invisible barrier of 3,000 points was close at hand, yet out of reach, just as 4,000 in October 2007 when WIG20 hit its ever-time high of 3,941 points. Then markets behaved typically (this means there was no speculative bubble) for a cyclical downturn. Peak was reached with difficulties, then stocks retreated and a slow descent ensued. The phase of descent which usually lasts between two and three months, here lasted slightly longer, but the scale of consequent sell-off made up for the long wait. In a typical scenario after the sell-off there’s a correction upwards and then begins the longest phase of bear market, when price gradually decline and more and more people lose their hope and sell stocks with losses, until the cycle reaches its trough, i.e. the moment when it just can’t be any worse.

I did expect it. I knew debt ceiling dispute in the United States could be a spark to set the flame on the markets and even began selling stocks and putting money on bank deposits. But as the fateful 2 August was drawing nearer and markets did not discount the technical-default scenario I assumed nothing bad would happen and stocks would even shoot up when the debt ceiling deal would be struck. Indeed, by means of give and take Democrats and Republican agreed to increase the debt ceiling and bring down government expenses, but this happened at hour eleven and did not put markets at ease.

I knew sooner or later things would look really dreadfully but put back the decision to sell all stocks, but after all, as Scatts said, I learnt a valuable lesson. On 2 August 2011, in the eve of the crash around 30% of my portfolio was in stocks, share with the biggest weighting was JSW, bought in IPO in early July and sold in only 20% (with profit).

Now let’s look at the timeline of the turmoil.

2 August 2011 – WIG20 drops by over 1%, although debt ceiling is poised to be raised and problem of the US default is postponed by two years.

3 August 2011 – WIG 20 drops by 3.26% and breaks the resistance at 2,600 points which was said to open the door for a bigger correction. It seems markets should get over the news on US debt deal. I don’t buy, nor sell.

4 August 2011 – during the trading session WIG20 floats below 3 August close, only after US market open it begins to decline. At the end of the day it plummets by 3.55%. I’m livid, this was bound to happen and I didn’t get rid of all stocks, to make it worse, some of my buy orders were executed and boosted my stock holdings.

5 August 2011 – I bet on that day the market should bounce back. It does for a moment when US non-farm payroll data are announced. Some of my take-profit orders are executed, I sell more or less the same securities as bought the day before. I’m calm, panic has reached its climax, now it’ll only get better. WIG20 down by mere 1.63%.

6 August 2011 – not a trading day, but I wake up to hear the news US sovereign rating was downgraded. A tsunami on the markets is in the offing…

8 August 2011 – I decide to make two bets – either market has discounted and nothing happens, or the S&P report on the downgrade will bring about the second, bigger wave of panic. To my surprise both scenarios materialised. In the morning stocks were up and I sold some and in the afternoon when market participants in the US set out to sell stocks, I bought the same stocks back at lower prices and inadvertently became a day-trader. When markets opened I sold all crappy stocks, incurring losses, to garner more money to buy shares in solid companies. WIG20 tumbled by 2.34%. Stock indices in the US fall by over 4% (DJIA) or devilish 6.66% (S&P 500).

9 August 2011 – I say to myself nothing lasts forever and again place buy and sell orders, waiting for any of possible scenarios to materialise. Buy will be executed, if stocks really plummet (price decreasing by at least 8%), sell will go if prices rise by only 1%. Sell-off continues and I keep buying stocks, average purchase prices decline. Despite corrective rallies in the US WIG20 falls by 3.20%, but it end the day much higher than intra-day drop by over 5%.

10 August 2011 – Anna Jantar’s song Nic nie może wiecznie trwać reverberates in my head, but I need a deep breath, I don’t try to buy nor sell anything. I need to think things over and protect my psyche. I wrote MA thesis on speculative bubbles and I know adverse market conditions can severely impact one’s mental health. At the end of another harrowing day (WIG20 down by 5.16%) I count my assets. An equivalent of one and a half of my monthly salary has vanished into the air. I knew there were risks in the game, this loss is still better than giant outstanding debts in Swiss franc my colleagues have…

11 August 2011 – in the morning, before going to work I transfer an amount of money that reduces share of safe assets in my portfolio to 50% to my brokerage account and make a huge bet that stocks will plummet again and place huge buy order at levels some 7% lower than Wednesday’s close on really solid stocks. Lucky me, this materialises, blue chip stocks are very volatile and I managed to buy a lot very near troughs. Then the market skyrockets and within a day on some stocks I gained 10% This proves still too little to make up for my previous losses. My move is an example of aggressive speculation that could or even should have ended in a very painful way, but somehow I was in the luck and it didn’t. On that day WIG20 reached the intra-day low of 2,115 points. I checked and the last time it had been that low on 30 July 2009. Over two years of bull market wiped out within a week! Despite losses I draw pleasure from experiencing it. At the end of the day WIG20 rises by 4.53%

12 August 2011 – I decide to sell some stocks of JSW which hit me the most, if they rise, I do so and don’t try anything else. Everything indicates the panic is gone and stocks should make a move upwards and give me the chance to recover my losses.

Try to ask me what future holds – I won’t tell you, I’m helpless. On one hand I still hold the view that bear market is inevitable due to macroeconomic conditions. On the other hand companies are doing well and their stocks seemed very cheap recently. A rebound would be a typical scenario subsequent to the sell-off we witnessed, but what then.

My speculative strategy is not to buy anything, unless prices drop more than 10% below lows recorded on Thursday. If my stocks reach the price near my break even point, I’ll start selling them gradually. There is no other way, time of risky actions taken to win back money is over, now it’s time to stay on the safe side. If market returns to levels above 2,500 points I still won’t be buying anything, but will protect my profits by stop-loss orders and pull out of the market if it goes under again. In the long run there are too many problems to let markets go up. I think I’ll prefer a bank deposit, but hey, will I be able to live without little dose of gambling stock market offers? Safety should be then more important to me than pleasure…

In fact this is all about psychology. Normally when the market goes haywire and plummets as it did over last two weeks, people fall into panic, institutional traders sell because their stop-loss orders activate, but someone buys these stocks. Thank God I kept a cool head and didn’t panic, although there were moments I wanted to sell all stocks just to keep my head quiet and forget about the nightmare of mounting losses. I persevered, my first big sell-off when I was in the market didn’t break my back and thanks to a stupid, risky strategy of catching a falling knife I didn’t lose a lot (now my loss equals only one monthly salary). This lesson has to be learnt.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, Bart, very interesting.

I'd make two comments, not because I know any better just another opinion:

1/ Compared to me you do an awful lot of trading. I did something similar when I started out but now I find I prefer to let the market come to me rather than me chase it all over the damned place! Of course day traders do even more trading and investors do a lot less but I find myself somewhere in the middle. If I make 3 trades a month that's a lot for me these days. Many months go by without any trades, recently at least.

2/ I never place stop orders and very rarely place buy orders. I always prefer to buy and sell "live" so to speak. I use a website to give me live prices as the trading platform is always a while behindthe real price. There have been many many times I've thanked God I don't use stop orders because they would have incurred real losses that I need not have taken and the Market Makers often use them to hoover up stocks just before rising the price again. I will occasionally use a buy order but only if I really want a stock and don't have the time or ability to check the web system. In general, I don't trust the markets and want as much control as I can get over what is bought or sold.

Good luck with your porfolio.

student SGH said...

Thanks for the contribution Scatts!

1/ Let's face it, I'm a speculator. A day without a trade is a not a day of living it up. The only things that prevents me from day-trading is that I can't do it at work (officially forbidden adn blocked). At the end of the day it does me good as when I place orders before the market opens, I have to work out a strategy. If I could do it during the trading, I'd act on the spur of the moment. My stats - some 50 trades a months.

2/ Some time ago I made up my mind to use stop-loss orders to cut losses or protect profits, but then adrenaline was only stronger. Stop-loss orders are used mostly by professionals who have risk management policies saying the loss should not exceed a specific amount or per cent. And note that stop-loss order only increase magnitude of sell-offs and heighten panic. One stop-loss activates another one.

Scatts, may we be the ones who buy at the bottom.

Take care!