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The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) opened this week at 3155 and closed today at 3185 for a rise of nearly 1%. On Thursday, SPX’s 50 day moving average (dma) finally broke above the 200 day dma at 3021. A basic sign of recovery for a stock or an index is when the 50 dma overtakes the 200 dma. The S&P 500 remains nearly 6% underwater from the March correction. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies has been running very low for the past several weeks. Today’s trading volume at 2.4 billion shares was well below the 50 dma at 3.1 billion shares. Today was the ninth trading session in succession with trading volume running below the 50 dma. I interpret this as general apprehension on the part of traders. We’re nervous about what tomorrow brings, and we are keeping a lot of cash on the sidelines. It is difficult or impossible to analyze what price makes sense for this market, given the extensive damage done by the shutdown. It is difficult to have the confidence “to go all in.”

VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, closed today at 27.3%. The recent low was 24.5% on June 5th. It may be hard to remember in the midst of this chaos, but volatility was running around 12% back in January. The current levels of volatility serve as a reminder that this remains a dangerous market.

IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, traded lower this week, closing Friday at 141.31, down 2.8% on the week. IWM bounced off of its 50 dma at 137.30 yesterday. Weakness in the small to mid-cap stocks has always been a reliable indicator of the market’s acceptance of risk. Like many of our citizens living in fear of the coronavirus, many traders are hiding under the bed, afraid for their investments.

The NASDAQ Composite index closed today at 10,617, a new all-time high for this index. NASDAQ gained 2.5% this week alone. Since June 29th, NASDAQ has been trading nearly straight upward, a run of 8.7%. But trading volume has been running below the 50 dma over this entire bullish run. This reinforces what we see with trading in the S&P 500.

I freely admit that I do not understand this market. Why is it possible that the NASDAQ composite has now set a new all-time high in the midst of the most severe (and self-inflicted) economic damage this country has seen since the Great Depression? Add in the rioting, looting, murder, and arson we are seeing in all of our major cities. Even more surprising, in almost every case, our government has stood by helplessly and allowed the mob to burn our cities, tear down statues, and even usurp public and private property and declare a new state. Many mayors and governors even defend the mob. The rule of law is not being enforced. Our very civilization is being threatened. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the NASDAQ hit new highs. The son of an acquaintance asked his dad why Costco was open, but they couldn’t go to church. Children often see the obvious that adults somehow miss.

You may disagree with my view of current events. A common response once was, “It’s a free country”, but it is now dangerous to express your views. Our civilization and our freedom are under siege. The S&P 500 remains 6% below its pre-correction highs and the Russell 2000 is 16% below its pre-correction highs. This week’s unemployment data improved but eighteen million remain on the unemployment rolls. I certainly wish the best for our leaders as they attempt to resurrect our economy. However, it is going to be a long, hard climb out of this hole.

The risk of this market is most succinctly illustrated by the current levels of volatility. Higher levels of implied volatility also communicate higher risk. As many of you know, the most conservative stock and options trade is a covered call on a blue-chip stock. My Conservative Income trading service has been using those trades this month and we are now up 3.7% for the month and up 13% for the year. You wouldn’t know we had a severe market correction. Those are better than average returns for this type of trading. Those elevated returns are a direct result of the higher levels of volatility that drive higher option prices and higher returns for this conservative style of trading.

The bottom line: It isn’t necessary to continue to hide under the bed from a financial viewpoint. We only took a 10% loss in March when the market lost 35%. And now we are up 13% year to date while the market remains down 6%. That is called risk management. Carefully weigh the risks of this market. Set tight stop losses and follow them with great discipline.

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The coronavirus correction in March took the stock prices of the S&P 500 companies down by 35%. Ouch! How did your portfolio do? As many of you know only too well, the damage isn't over. The S&P 500 remains 8% underwater.

The perennial argument is Buy and Hold vs. Timing the Market. The Buy and Hold camp tells us that it is impossible to sell at the highs and buy back at the lows. Perfect market timing is impossible, but open a price chart of the S&P 500 index. It was obvious to everyone by the last week in February that the market was in serious trouble. Depending on when you started closing positions that week, you would have limited your losses to something on the order of 10-12%.

But the Buy and Hold crowd rode the market down to the 35% low on March 23rd. And those portfolios have still not returned to positive territory. Many investors are afraid to see how badly they have been hurt and are just not opening their accounts. The Buy and Hold crowd became the Hiding Under the Bed crowd.

Some will argue this is a matter of risk. Conservative investors have been told that actively trading their stock portfolio is a high risk game. The results year to date in two of my trading services, each of which mirror my portfolios at Charles Schwab and E*Trade, serve as excellent real life examples.

The Conservative Income trading service mirrors the covered calls and cash secured naked puts in my E*Trade account. When used with solid blue chip stocks, these are widely regarded as the most conservative stock and option trading strategies available to the retail investor. When the market lost 35% in March, this service lost 10%. One month later, this portfolio had returned to break-even for the year. As of today, the year to date returns for investors in this portfolio is +13%, while the S&P 500 is still down 8%. This portfolio takes low risk positions and survived the correction very well. Taking more risk isn't necessary to protect your portfolio from corrections in the market.

Dr. Duke's Trading Group uses a variety of option spreads that incur moderate to high levels of risk. Our low point during the March correction was -36%, approximately the same as the overall market. But that is where the similarity ended. This portfolio had returned to break-even after six weeks. Year to date, our trading group has gained 132%. Members of this group are certainly taking more risk, but they survived the correction very well.

Whether an investor uses conservative, low risk trading strategies or chooses to incur higher levels of risk doesn't affect the trader's ability to survive a correction.

The difference is risk management.

Conservative trading strategies lead to a tighter spread of wins and losses, i.e., the standard deviation of the results is smaller. The average gains over time will be positive if trades are managed well. But these trades take less risk and therefore result in smaller net gains over time.

Trading strategies that incur higher risk lead to a wider spread of wins and losses, i.e., the standard deviation of the results is larger. But, again, the average gains over time will be positive if trades are managed well. One of the fundamental laws of finance tells us that the potential of higher gains is always accompanied by higher levels of risk. The higher returns of the trading group are an excellent illustration of that principle.

The crucial learning here is that the level of risk you take in your trading does not affect the ability of your portfolio to survive a correction. The ability to survive the correction is rooted in risk management:

•    Choose trading strategies consistent with your risk profile.
•    Learn as much as you can about the trades you choose to employ.
•    Trade small. Trading small gives you the time to build experience without losing the farm.
•    Develop and follow a trading system, i.e., a system of rules for entering, managing, and exiting each trade.
•    Both greed and fear are dangerous emotions. Your trading system is the cure.


If you are tired of watching your portfolio swing back and forth in these volatile markets, check out the private coaching and group classes offered by Parkwood Capital. Subscribe to the Conservative Income service or Dr. Duke's Trading Group. If you aren't happy at the end of one month, we will refund your subscription.

Happy Independence Day!

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The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) opened this week at 3200 and continued to trade higher through Wednesday but then the long recovery came to a stop. SPX closed today at 3041, for a 5% decline just this week. Thursday’s trading broke the 200-day moving average (dma) but the index opened higher today and closed well above the 200 dma. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies has been choppy for the last two weeks, running along below and just above the 50-day moving average (dma).

VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, had declined since the peak of the correction, and reached 24.5% last Friday, matching lows from late February. VIX moved higher this week and spiked as high as 43% on Thursday. VIX closed today at 36.1%, reminding us that this remains a nervous, and therefore dangerous, market.

IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, closed at 138.27, up 3.24 points today, but closed the week with a 9.2% decline. As usual, the small to mid-cap stocks in the Russell 2000 trade lower faster whenever traders get spooked.

The NASDAQ Composite index tumbled Wednesday and gapped open lower Thursday for a large loss. NASDAQ closed at 9589, up 96 points today, but lost 2.4% for the week. NASDAQ continues its role as the broad market leader, recovering its 
pre-correction high this week, but taking less of a hit as the market sold off over the past two days.

This was an interesting week in this trip back from the correction. The first surprise is how NASDAQ actually tacked on gains over the pre-correction highs. How does that make any economic sense? Even today’s close remains just below the previous highs.

I don’t think anyone has sufficient data to even roughly estimate where the market averages should settle after this man-made recession. So all we can do is trade what we see and have a bias toward the high-tech stocks that seem to have some immunity to the market damage. This week’s trading reminded us that this market will continue to be quite volatile. We closed our INTC trade this week for a 63% gain, but our AMD position took a hit with the market decline on Thursday.

Remain vigilant. Be prepared to go to cash quickly if necessary. Stay calm and remain disciplined.

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The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) opened this week at 3094 and declined through the week to close Friday at 3009, down 2.7%. Friday’s trading broke the 200-day moving average (dma) at 3021. Roughly speaking, this brings SPX back to where we were about a week ago. Friday’s close is 11% below the high prior to the correction. Personally, I think that represents an extremely optimistic assessment of the economic damage. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies has generally run below the 50-day moving average (dma) over the past two weeks. I am unsure why trading volume spiked so much yesterday. The spike last Friday was due to quadruple witching, but yesterday’s spike is puzzling.

VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, which had declined since the peak of the correction, spiked up to 43% on June 11th and closed Friday at 35%. We may be becoming numb to these levels of volatility, but it is worth reminding ourselves that these are historically high levels of volatility. This remains a nervous, and therefore dangerous, market.

IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, traded lower this week, closing Friday at 140.24, down 2.6% on the week. IWM broke down through its 200 dma on June 10th and is now approaching its 50 dma at 134.01.

The NASDAQ Composite index tumbled Friday afternoon, losing 260 points to close at 9757, down 1.9% for the week. Perhaps more significantly, NASDAQ surrendered its pre-correction high at 9817 on Friday. This week appeared to be the splash of cold water on the strong bullish trend since the correction lows in late March. It remains difficult to explain why the NASDAQ composite should be valued higher than it was in February after all of the economic damage done by the coronavirus lockdown of the economy. I don’t have hard supporting data, but I think the market pricing that corresponds to the current state of this economy is lower yet.

The S&P 500 is now 11% below its high on February 19th. This week’s unemployment data reported twenty million continuing unemployment claims. How can we have twenty million unemployed and yet value the S&P 500 companies only 11% below the pre-correction high? The media have continued their push to fuel the panic. Have you noticed the shift in emphasis? Since the beginning of the pandemic, the evening news always led with the number of covid deaths and projections of an eventual death toll of two to three million and mortality rates of 10% or more. Now the headlines focus on the number of covid cases, which are increasing as testing becomes more widely available. The mortality rate is now on the order of 0.2% or less, more in line with a serious flu season. And the inconsistencies abound. Our governor thinks it is perfectly acceptable to walk shoulder to shoulder with protesters without a mask but continues to order churches closed.

Regardless of how you view the current events, the high levels of volatility drive higher option prices and offer trading opportunities. On the other hand, higher levels of implied volatility also communicate higher risk. Allow me to illustrate with one example from this week. On Thursday I sold the COUP Jun(6/26) 270 call for $715 and then rolled out to Jul(7/2) on Friday for a credit of $618. I collected $1,333 in two days on an investment of $25,718. Of course, next week could bring a very different story – that illustrates the pros and cons of this trading environment.

Carefully weigh the risks of this market. Set tight stop losses and follow them with great discipline.

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The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) gapped open Friday morning and continued to trade higher through the day, closing at 3194. The S&P 500 index is now only 6% below the pre-correction high. That doesn’t seem possible, but it is what it is. The 200-day moving average (dma) is now far behind us. It appears as though the pre-correction high at 3386 is now the next resistance level. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies popped higher late this week, and spiked up to 4.7 billion shares today, well above the 50 dma at 3.3 billion shares.

VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, closed Friday at 24.5%. Although the VIX has steadily declined from the peak of the correction, the current level of volatility remains historically high. Traders should keep this volatility level in mind as we watch the markets just continue higher.

IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, gapped open higher Friday morning and closed at 150.20. IWM broke out well above its 200 dma at 146.57. IWM appears to be accelerating in its run higher, but remains 11% below its pre-correction high at 168.16.

The NASDAQ Composite index steadily traded higher this week and closed Friday at 9814. NASDAQ has now recovered its pre-correction high (to be precise, today’s close was 0.03% below the previous high). This should be good news, but it worries me.

Market analysts are trying to determine where the markets should be priced in light of the economic damage created by the overreaction to the coronavirus. The markets corrected between 32% and 43%. As of today’s close, the NASDAQ Composite has now recovered all of its correction losses. The S&P 500 companies are only off 6% from the pre-correction highs. How is this possible? Have we become too optimistic about this recovery? The strength of today’s market blew my mind. All three of the indices above gapped open strongly and never looked back.

What do we know about the economic damage?  I have seen estimates ranging from thirty to forty million Americans unemployed. The numbers being bandied about for small businesses that will never reopen are frightening. Even the current huge unemployment estimates may be low. How can the current market levels make economic sense? Many analysts were saying the market was overbought before this correction. Now what do they think?

However, one of the most fundamental of trading rules is to trade what you see and not what “you think should be happening”. I am continuing to make good money in this market. But don’t forget the market summary above. If market analysts start to reassess their estimates of the economic damage, this market could take a tumble. Remain vigilant. Be prepared to go to cash quickly if necessary. Stay calm and remain disciplined.