Patience is the scarcest commodity on Wall Street these days. Everybody is frustrated if not exhausted.
And until stocks prove they can thrive in the Fed’s increasingly chilly shadow, there just isn’t a lot of hope for immediate gains. Very few investors with a middle-term focus are optimistic about the next few months.
To conserve your confidence through the coming season, you need to concentrate on either ultra-short-term trades or ignore the headlines entirely in pursuit of a longer-term win.
You need either more patience than your fellow investors . . . or more speed. And despite all the day-to-day dread, the big money on Wall Street feels pretty good about where stocks are going in the coming year.
Look at options prices expiring 12 months from now. The bulls are paying enough for in-the-money calls on the S&P 500 that they won’t even break even unless the index climbs 10% between now and next March.
That isn’t hype or speculation. The market itself is backing up that target with real money. If all the big money on Wall Street is wrong, so be it . . . but if you believe big money determines where asset prices go, the odds are pretty good that stocks will rise significantly in the next year.
Of course not everybody is a bull. Big accounts hedging their bets are paying enough for in-the-money puts that we could easily see the S&P 500 fall another 8% between now and March.
The spread between those scenarios happens to be roughly the same as the S&P 500 trading channel in the past year. The puts are betting on another test of the recent low. The calls price in another surge to the peak.
Neither side of the trade anticipates a crash. But with the market as a whole already looking a little beaten up, someone who buys the dip and holds on a year can make 10-11% in that period of time.
Guess what? That’s what the S&P 500 does in an average year. While any given year will deviate from that norm, the twists and turns will balance out to a net 10-11% gain.
And that’s what big money sees coming. If that wasn’t the case, these calls would be worthless. Instead, implied time value is fairly high.
We just have to get there first. Looking across the options chain, I think confidence will pick up a little over the summer and then jump after the November mid-term elections.
That’s eight months away, so if you’re tired and unsteady, it might be too long to wait for instant gratification. You can probably bank 10-11% on the S&P 500 in any given year . . . but what about THIS year?
Take that average gain as your benchmark. Will you settle for that or do you want a bigger thrill? This isn’t Las Vegas. When we chase higher performance, we need to do it more efficiently than simply feeding money into a slot machine.
As I mentioned, when patience runs low, we can make up for it with speed. I keep money moving in my options trading accounts, where we’re in and out of positions in days if not hours.
It isn’t glamorous and it isn’t foolproof. All we want to do in a sideways market is catch a stock that’s poised to move a few cents and then buy the options that turn those pennies into percentages.
We’ve been grinding about 0.15 to 0.20 net percentage points of profit a day in those strategies, which is where the lack of glamor comes in. But those fractional points stack up pretty well over time.
And in a market where stocks at best trend sideways and 60% of the S&P 500 is down YTD, not a lot of long-only strategies are even having that much fun.
Let’s get ultra real for a moment. Every day we’re not having any fun in the market . . . not showing any sign of progress or even just holding what we have . . . is a drag on our mood.
Human beings need at least a pulse of reinforcement to stay on course. Otherwise we naturally pivot to something less frustrating.
Reinforcement looks scarce in the coming weeks. There just aren’t a lot of constructive forces forcing stocks higher, and the ones that do move up tend to get lost in the overall negative noise.
If you’re feeling the drag, it’s okay to set your longer-term positions on autopilot and step away for a little while. You don’t need to exit into cash. Just park in the best stocks you can find and collect dividends while you rest.
That’s what the big money accounts on Wall Street are doing. They see the light at the end of the tunnel and are happy to park until the clouds lift.
The alternative is grinding a percentage point or two. Big money can’t do that as well. Despite what you hear about high-frequency trading, they aren’t especially fast.
Even the ones who are moving in and out of positions at automated speeds don’t do it the way we do. They’re arguably moving too fast to get much of a thrill at all, and their profit per trade can get infinitely small.
Pick your style, fast or slow. Just don’t expect a lot of big instant wins in between.