Tagged: Earnings Season

Who Is Selling

“Who’s selling?”

It was 2001. I’d look up and there’d be the CEO leaning in the door of my office. This was back when my buns rode the gilded surface of the IR chair. I’d look at my computer screen and our shares would be down a percent or so.

“Somebody, apparently,” I’d say. “Let me make a few calls.”

Today we have Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, iPhones, and Tesla. None of these existed in 2001. The Intercontinental Exchange, formed a year earlier to trade derivatives, now owns the NYSE. What’s remarkable to me is that against this technological wave many issuers, not counting the growing horde with Market Structure Analytics, are still making calls to get answers.

Why wouldn’t everybody be modeling market behavior and measuring periodic change? But that’s another story.

So. What if nobody’s selling and your price is down?

Impossible, you say. For price to decline, somebody has to sell.

Let me tell you about two clients releasing earnings last week.

But first, say I’m a high-frequency trader and you’re reporting. I rent (borrow) 500 shares of stock trading at $25 apiece. Say the pre-open futures are negative. At the open, I explode ahead of all others by three microseconds to place a market order to sell 500 shares. My order plunges the market 8%. I immediately cover. And for the next six hours I and my HFT compatriots trade those 500 shares amongst ourselves 23,000 times. That’s volume of 11.5 million shares.

The huge move in price prompts swaps counterparties holding insurance policies for Blackrock and Vanguard into the market, spawning big block volumes of another 6 million shares. Now you’ve traded 17.5 million shares and your price, after dropping 8%, recovers back 3% to close down 5% on the day.

So who’s selling? Technically I, an HFT firm, sold 500 shares short at the open. I probably paid a $200 finance fee for them in my margin account.

You’re the IRO. You call your exchange for answers. They see the block data, the big volumes, and conclude, yup, you had some big-time selling. Conventional wisdom says price moves, massive volume, block trades – that’s institutional.

You’re getting calls from your holders saying, “What’s going on? I didn’t think the numbers looked bad.”

Your CEO is drumming fingers on your door and grousing, “Who the HELL is selling?!”

Your Surveillance firm says UBS and Wedbush were moving big volumes. They’re trying to see if there are any clearing-relationship ties to potential institutional sellers.

The truth is neither active nor passive investors had much to do with pressure or volume, save that counterparties for passive holders had to cover exposure, helping price off lows.

Those clients I mentioned? One saw shares drop 9% day-over-day. In the data, HFT was up 170% day-over-day as price-setter, and indexes/ETFs rose 5.3%. Nothing else was up. Active investment was down. Thus, mild passive growth-selling and huge HFT hammered price. Those shares are already back in line with fair value because the selling was no more real than my 500-share example above (but the damage is done and the data are now in the historical set, affecting future algorithmic trades).

In the other case, investors were strong buyers days before results. On earnings, active investment dropped 15%, passive investment, 8%, and HFT soared 191%. These shares also coincidentally dropped 9% (programmers of algorithms know limit up/down triggers could kill their trading strategies if the move is 10% at once).

They’re still down. Active money hasn’t come back. But it’s not selling. And now we’re seeing headlines in the news string from law firms “investigating” the company for potentially misleading investors. Investors didn’t react except to stop buying.

This is the difference between calling somebody and using data models. Don’t fall in love with models (this is not a critique of Tom Brady, mind you). But the prudent IRO today uses Market Structure Analytics.

Sun and Goggles

Mayday!

That’s the word quarterback Peyton Manning should’ve used Sunday, instead of Omaha! But we congratulate Coach Pete Carroll, a gentleman, and his bruisers from the Puget Sound.

Speaking of bruising, earnings season and macro factors collided like particles in an accelerator as January slopped into February. With just 58% of our client base reporting thus far, it could be premature to deconstruct it. But I know the question burns in IR minds: Can we understand what’s going on?

People sequenced the human genome. We can measure variance in light as finite as a flashlight blinking…on the moon. We can create money from nothing. Surely we can map market behaviors.

I was skiing in Steamboat last week during a whiteout. It was though I was floating. I had no clear sense of where the slope was until I carved, and I could not gauge my speed until I turned. Powder is forgiving so I wasn’t worried.

But this is how the market seems many times, right? It’s amorphous. There’s no definition to movement. No clarity.

The next day in Steamboat, the sun shone brightly and with goggles suited to light, fresh powder took on the rich and textured characteristics of a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Slopes were luxuriant and vivid.

There are two pillars to market movements, like bright light and the right goggles. I’m not suggesting one can perfectly matrix outcomes. But core principles can be observed.

Remember: We said the market reached a statistical top in our behavioral data on Dec 27. We then warned that if institutions shifted from equities with options-expirations Jan 16-22, the first shoe to drop would be Jan 23-24.

That happened.

In the days since we’ve warned that Shoe No. 2 of a process of retrenching from equities and shoring up institutional risk-hedges could occur during January window-dressing, which would mean Feb 3-4 could be ugly.

That happened.

Markets reached a statistical market bottom, behaviorally, on Feb 3. The same sentiment-reading registered in our data-analytics roughly June 28, 2013, and again about Aug 11, 2013, the last two times data indicated market bottoms (markets then rebounded).

(Warning: This time could be different. We’ve never massively removed central-bank support from global risk assets before.).

You must cease viewing the market as just investment and instead see it as risk-management and data. These are the pillars. One is sun, the other goggles. If risk managers shift resources in asset classes, it will impact trading data that machines consume, because movements depend on mathematical models now. (more…)

Macro IR

We’re a day late this week in deference to an important birthday yesterday. After 236 years, there are lines and age spots but the countenance still juts, resolute.

Do people send you group emails sometimes with those images where if you stare at them, suddenly you see something else? Here are two verbal versions, headlines I saw Tuesday:

“European stocks rallied for a third day as hope mounted that central banks in Europe and the U.S. will act to bolster economic growth.”

“U.S. stocks extended a rally for a third day on Tuesday as sharp gains in oil prices lifted energy shares and traders factored in increased expectations for central bank stimulus.”

Do you see what’s freakishly wrong with these? Stocks rose despite conditions that should depress stocks. Because central banks might offer free money.

Markets have always been barometers of economic health. Now they’re moving on money alone, disaffected from the factors that once could be relied upon like the piers and stanchions of a venerable republic.

IR folks, think about this. It cuts to the quick of the job. We’re heading into earnings season. We’re planning call scripts and press releases. We’re thinking about discussion and analysis for quarterly filings.

Yet the markets we use as a mirror for the value of these efforts are doing the exact opposite of what they have always done. They are valuing supplies of currency rather than its commercial use. (more…)

The 11.1% Occupying Earnings

The One Percent is a catchy phrase. But statistics highlight the 11.1%.

It’s earnings season. Fifty-seven percent of our clients have reported, our data show. In the past five days across the Nasdaq segment, rational investment activity – which means what you think it means – was 11.1% of volume.

Translating, just over one of ten trades in Nasdaq-listed companies (the NYSE was better but could flip-flop next week) resulted from active investment. Statistically, 88.9% of volume – not as cool as 99% but we report what the data show – was driven by something besides thoughtful investment.

Did your stock behave as you expected when you reported?

Our first client to report plunged through hedges and closed down 13%, and we hadn’t hit options expirations (Apr 18-20). A host of clients with calls before Apr 20 beat expectations and gave solid guidance. Half closed up; the other half, down.

Do the 11.1% matter? Unequivocally. So do the 88.9%. I’ll give you examples. A small-cap tech company last week closed down 6% on a miss and weak guidance, but data showed shares trading in what we call the “Midrange,” meaning money had mixed reactions. The stock’s up now.

Wait a minute, you say. How can money have mixed reactions to a miss? A lot of money doesn’t value shares on multiples alone. Any more than world markets peg the US dollar to its redemption value from the US Treasury (zero).

Shares have relative value, and speculative value. Relative value means “what’s this stock worth compared to alternatives in the group or market?” Speculative value means “will this stock help me net a profit in a portfolio of things that fluctuate?” Good answers to both questions can mean stocks rise on – or right after – misses. (more…)