Time to Retire the 20% Bull/Bear Market Rule

By: Michael Ashton | Tue, Sep 1, 2015
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Officially, Crude Oil has had the worst bull market ever.

According to a headline on Bloomberg on Monday, Crude is in a bull market. The headline screamed "WTI CRUDE CLOSES UP 29% FROM AUG 24 LOW, ENTERS BULL MARKET"! On Tuesday, after a 7.7% fall from Monday's close (-100%, annualized), the bull market doesn't seem so...well, ebullient.

Okay, sure, this is a pet peave of mine. I don't know whose idea it was to call a 20% advance from the prior low a bull market, and a 20% decline from the prior high a bear market, but I am pretty sure that they didn't intend for that 20% to be applied to all markets, at all times. So a 5-year Treasury Note is not in a bear market until it falls 20 points (or...is that 20% of the current yield? I guess it depends who writes the headlines!), but energy futures which can move 20% in a couple of days, or corn futures which can double literally overnight if there is a drought, can be in bull and bear markets a couple of times per month. Does this make sense?

Add to this the obvious absurdity of the idea that we can know in advance whether an asset is in a bull or bear market. If you are telling me that Crude rallying 20% off the lows means that it is in a bull market, and that means I can be long Crude comfortably, knowing it is likely to rally from here - then you need to quit telling me anything and go make a fortune trading.

We can only know a bull market or a bear market in hindsight. That is, even if 20% is the magic number (and I can't think of why that would be so), the best we can say is that Crude was in a bull market on Thursday, Friday, and Monday when it rallied about 27%. Does that help us, going into Tuesday?

Evidently not!

 


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Michael Ashton

Author: Michael Ashton

Michael Ashton, CFA
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Michael Ashton

Michael Ashton is Managing Principal at Enduring Investments LLC, a specialty consulting and investment management boutique that offers focused inflation-market expertise. He may be contacted through that site. He is on Twitter at @inflation_guy

Prior to founding Enduring Investments, Mr. Ashton worked as a trader, strategist, and salesman during a 20-year Wall Street career that included tours of duty at Deutsche Bank, Bankers Trust, Barclays Capital, and J.P. Morgan.

Since 2003 he has played an integral role in developing the U.S. inflation derivatives markets and is widely viewed as a premier subject matter expert on inflation products and inflation trading. While at Barclays, he traded the first interbank U.S. CPI swaps. He was primarily responsible for the creation of the CPI Futures contract that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange listed in February 2004 and was the lead market maker for that contract. Mr. Ashton has written extensively about the use of inflation-indexed products for hedging real exposures, including papers and book chapters on "Inflation and Commodities," "The Real-Feel Inflation Rate," "Hedging Post-Retirement Medical Liabilities," and "Liability-Driven Investment For Individuals." He frequently speaks in front of professional and retail audiences, both large and small. He runs the Inflation-Indexed Investing Association.

For many years, Mr. Ashton has written frequent market commentary, sometimes for client distribution and more recently for wider public dissemination. Mr. Ashton received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Trinity University in 1990 and was awarded his CFA charter in 2001.

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