Saturday, November 5, 2016

Markets | The Trump Trade?

Keynesian beauty contest is an interesting concept that shows a group of perfectly rational agents trying to predict the outcome of an event may not converge on the most expected case, provided their risk and reward depends on what most others think. I think something similar happens in the markets around a big event. Rarely it is clear what are the implications of different possible outcomes of such events. In such a scenario, a trader's immediate pay-off depends on how good he is at predicting market reaction (as opposed to the actual implications). As a result collectively the market ends up reacting in some ways that very few people may actually believe.

Next week's presidential election is such an event. There are strong evidences that economy has significant impact on election outcomes. however the reverse result is very weak if any. Performance of a large globally connected economy depends on more things beyond the control of the Oval Office than we give credit for. However the markets seem to have already formed an opinion and trading according to the poll results in recent week. This is not only the US market but across the globe. The common denominator is an expectation of underperformance with a republican win.

The consensus is more or less a status quo with a democratic victory and large uncertain changes with the republic candidate in office. Honestly, I think it is too early to say what will be the policy changes as we hardly have any clue on specific policies apart from election promises. For example it is usually considered republican victory will be good for defense stocks. However if Mr Trump carries out his promise on cutting down on NATO, will that necessarily be the case? He promised to unwind trade agreements. But sure there will be something to replace it, will that be very different than the existing one, and will that have really any significant impact on trades, prices and job? Or may be you should buy Apple? - he is sure to threaten EU to withdraw the taxation case and make America great again! My personal take is Mr Trump promised things, but post election (if he wins) it will be hard to deliver on many of them except in a much run-down version. Hence in the base case, sooner than later, we focus back on things like earnings and economy and inflation once the initial reaction is over.

However, the market is close to pricing in a crash scenario for an outcome favoring the republican candidate. The VIX (and volatility of VIX) are tad shy of last August peaks. The implied skew and (near-month) implied correlation in S&P 500 are racing sky-wards (and interestingly with a quite flat vol convexity, i.e. high skew and very low smile). There is a high amount of uncertainty. 

And if you are planning to take decision (being flat is one of them), I have already written about how to generally think about positioning under uncertainties before. If you are a hedger, you know what you need to do - that's quite it. And if you are a speculator, after all the analyses and mumbo-jumbo, basically you have to choose a side (rally or sell-off) and stick to it. And the only things that matter are:
  1. what is your expectation and how that looks from risk-reward already priced in the markets and 
  2. How to optimize your responses in case you are wrong.

The first one is commonly understood. At present the markets are definitely pricing a large sell-off. This is in the background of decent economic news and improving global PMIs. Technically most markets across the globe has or on the verge of confirming a bearish signal (see chart above). The asymmetric pricing in the downside suggests there are large price move expected, but at the same time it makes the risk-reward unattractive compared to the upside. And based on the past history in S&P which has breached a technical support recently, the distribution of near term returns favors the upside statistically (albeit with a rather large uncertainty spread around that). The chart shows the historical price distribution after such technical breaches (categorized in to three types of technical formation - megaphone, triangle and channel, and whether the existing trend was ascending or descending, and also if the breach is of resistance (up) or support (down))1. We are in a down breach within an ascending megaphone (see the figure above).

As far as the second point is concerned, if you are positioning for downside and it turns out wrong, your responses are limited if you assume it will be a relief rally, (not a sustained one). Alternatively, if you are positioning for the upside and if you are wrong, you will have plenty of opportunities to react. We will sure enter a period of high volatility and there will be plenty of trading opportunities.

So it appears purely based on the second criteria, a long risk positioning is preferred2. Of course this assumes the outcomes are fairly priced from criteria one and you do not have any strong view on either outcome.

Note: 1) This is based on systematic technical analysis, for details see here, for code page go here. You can select or de-select series on this interactive chart
2) this is not an investment or trading advice, do your own due diligence, form your own opinion. See the disclaimer page.

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