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Posts Tagged ‘SKEW’

Very low SKEW

Posted by Dan on June 17, 2019

In 2015 I posted an article, explaining why watching SKEW is more important than watching the VIX: Forget the VIX, watch the SKEW.

In brief, SKEW index has a history of staying relatively high during bull markets and suddenly become low at the start of bear markets. This is what happened both at the 2000 and 2007 stock market peaks.
The article (April 2015) pointed out that SKEW was once again dropping to lower levels, and this did indeed lead to the first serious corrections in years, with the S&P 500 finding a major low in early 2016.

I revisited this topic in March 2017, when a persistently high SKEW suggested the bull market would continue: SKEW is high again. The market kept climbing until mid 2018, with SKEW staying very high.
But since last October, SKEW has made a significant drop and has stayed low even though the market has rebounded to near its records. This is what we have now:


Days with SKEW below 120 have become the norm and the 50 week MA of the SKEW (blue) is dropping below the 300 week MA (green). The previous time this kind of crossover happened was in early 2008, when the global financial crisis was starting. The same thing happened in August 2000, when the dotcom mania led to a major bear market (see charts in the 2015 article).
If SKEW stays this low then I would remain very very careful. If SKEW gets back above 130 more regularly then we could well see a continuing bull market. So, I keep an eye on it.

Another measure I use to detect possible market tops is “ATR%”, which was shared in this article a few years ago: Why the VIX is so low and why you shouldn’t worry about it yet. Back then real volatility was extremely low, and as my research pointed out, markets do not peak on record low volatility. Major peaks tend to be made on higher volatility. That means we usually get plenty advance warning before the market actually turns down.

Right now we have this situation where real volatility is already well above recent record lows. Here is the updated daily ATR% for S&P 500:


All time record lows for daily ATR% were reached in October 2017. The market has meanwhile set two further record highs with ATR% well above those lows. This is the kind of setup we have seen at previous major peaks. A reason for caution.

The same is seen in weekly ATR% for S&P 500:


Weekly ATR% reached a 56 year low in early 2018. Market has printed two further record highs with weekly ATR% well above those lows. So, volatility is already climbing with the S&P 500 still going up. That’s how markets tend to peak, but it doesn’t mean things will crash tomorrow. Historically the lowest weekly ATR% values tend to happen in the second half of secular bull market advances, but usually somewhat nearer to the middle of the move. E.g. in the 1990s bull market the lowest ATR% levels came in 1994 and 1995, more than five years before the end of the move. The roaring 1920s are also a good example:


The lowest weekly ATR% was recorded in 1925, right in the middle of the move. Subsequent years brought rising volatility in a rising market, ending with both prices and volatility blowing off in the final ten months. That could happen again.

The recent low weekly ATR% came in early 2018. If that was again near the middle of the move then we would have another 5 to 7 years of bull market ahead of us, which would result in a major peak around 2025 accompanied by high volatility. Crazy you might think, but it would make this period similar to the 1950-60s, where the US had very high public debt (post WW2) combined with very low interest rates and ongoing productivity gains because of major innovation.
How high would the market go in that extended bull scenario? On previous occasions the S&P 500 typically doubled from the lowest weekly ATR% point to its peak several years later. If that happens again we would be looking for S&P 500 to reach 5000 or 6000 in the mid 2020s.

Posted in Market Commentary | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

SKEW is high again

Posted by Dan on March 20, 2017

Stocks have been pulling back a bit in recent weeks, but so far it seems to be the “short and shallow” variant as described in my most recent post. The Nasdaq has easily held above 5800 and is already pushing back towards its recent highs. This means the scenario for a further 5% surge before summer stays firmly on the table and is gaining traction. Let’s have a look at the current S&P 500 chart:

^SP500 (Daily) 6_17_2015 - 3_17_2017

The trend line since the November lows is being tested but holds up well. The Earl (blue line) has bottomed out and is headed higher, this is short term bullish. The slower Earl2 (orange line) has a bearish divergence in place and that is a medium term warning sign. The MoM indicator is back in the neutral zone and can go either way. The bearish divergence in the Earl2 indicates a serious risk for a significant pullback, but it would get invalidated if the Earl2 turns back up near the neutral line. That would probably happen if the S&P 500 climbs above the March 1 highs. So, what will it be? This is the kind of situations where keeping an eye on investors’ mood is most important.

Right now lots of technical traders probably see a strong potential for a sharp pullback if the blue trend line gives way. And that’s why the CBOE SKEW index reached a new all time high last Friday. This means traders are overpaying for “crash insurance”. But, as I pointed out in this article a few years ago, major crashes are typically preceded by a period of relatively low SKEW readings. When there is widespread confidence and feel-good about the economy then people don’t buy crash insurance puts. Then SKEW becomes low and complacence high. But that’s not what we see at the moment. Here is a chart showing the recent years evolution of SKEW index:


The early 2015 highs were accompanied by relatively lower SKEW values for months and that’s when we got some significant drops later that year. Then SKEW reached new record highs in the days before the Brexit referendum, as investors were buying crash insurance again, but most of that crash insurance became worthless as the market surged to new highs in the ensuing weeks. More often than not overpriced cash insurance does not pay off. But bears keep trying and now we have record high SKEW again. Will their crash bets pay off this time? If history is a guide then the answer is: probably not.
And in that case we can expect something like this:


On a breakout above the March 1 highs the market will probably head for the upper boundary of its trend channel (blue) since the early 2016 lows. That boundary is currently in the 2500-600 area, so that would be my initial target for such a move.

This bullish case would go on the back burner if the S&P 500 makes a close below 2350. Such a failure could come this week, because our LT wave for March suggests weakness until the 29th. If no downside action is seen and the bullish scenario can survive this weaker period then we are probably headed for a mad April. Be ready.

Posted in Financial Astrology, Market Commentary | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Forget the VIX, watch the SKEW

Posted by Dan on April 20, 2015

In the recent weeks I have been recommending to stand aside and stay cautious until the stock market offers a bit more clarity. And it is not as if we have missed much by doing so. Friday’s drop tells us that some caution is warranted at this point. Is it just a one day dip, or the start of a bigger storm? I don’t know, but my indicators are still not looking good. And this week I will add something else to keep an eye on, the SKEW index, that little brother of the widely watched VIX index. But, more on that later on in my post. Let’s start with our weekly look at the Nasdaq chart and see if we can read something in the tea leaves (click image to enlarge it):


The Nasdaq remains stuck within a huge narrowing wedge. A breakout (up or down) will be inevitable sooner or later. The most recent rally in the Nasdaq has petered out just short of its March highs, and now the Earl and MoM indicators are turning down already. The slower Earl2 remains flat near the zero line, so can go either way from here. This is not the kind of setup I want to buy.
Friday’s dip has taken the Nasdaq down to the lower border of the wedge. It may try to hold on for a few more days, but with indicators turning down and a new lunar red period starting later this week, we have an elevated risk for a sudden drop. The 4800 level is still a major support, and below that it would go down to 4700 quickly, with 4550 the next major support.
This doesn’t mean a drop *has* to happen, but it’s just an unattractive risk/reward ratio to be long at this point.


Many people like to watch the VIX index, also known as the “fear index”. Personally, I have never found the VIX to be useful. At the most it is a concurrent indicator, it has no predictive value. Yes, the VIX goes up when there is panic in the market. But the VIX (~fear) being low doesn’t mean the market is going to panic anytime soon. Sometimes the VIX is low (and stays low) because volatility is and stays low.
The VIX has a little brother in the SKEW index, and that one is more interesting to watch. Here is a good introduction on the SKEW. The SKEW index is calculated on the basis of far out of the money options (with average duration of about 30 days), and is specifically designed to measure perceived “tail risk”. E.g. if many investors are afraid that the market may crash, they can buy some protective put options at strike prices that are 10% below the market. Those options are usually inexpensive and in the case of a sudden drop those option can become very profitable bets. If there is a lot of demand for this kind of “crash insurance”, then the premiums of those options rise more than rest of the options spectrum, and that gets reflected in a higher SKEW index. So, basically, when the SKEW is high it tells us that a lot of crash insurance is being bought, and when the SKEW is low it means that investors are buying less insurance (for example because they feel safe that the market will not drop in the next month).

But as an old trader used to say: “In the stock market it never rains when everybody is wearing boots”. The market will rarely crash when “everybody” is loaded up on crash insurance. It would take highly unusual news to create the necessary selling to get a crash. Because the people who have crash insurance do not need to sell (they are protected), and those who sold the crash insurance have no incentive to sell either (because that would be like shooting themselves in the foot on purpose). Crashes are generally caused by (small) investors panicking, and they are less likely to panic if they own crash insurance in the form of out of the money puts.

If we study the history of the SKEW index since the early 1990s we can see that concept in action. Here is a chart showing how the SKEW behaved going into the 2000 market top. (click image to enlarge it):

SKEW 2000

During the 1990s bull market the SKEW averaged around 115. A few brief panics in 1997 and 1998 made investors more aware that the market was becoming risky, so more crash insurance was being bought, lifting the SKEW index above 120 with peaks above 140. Note that this was the equivalent of buying boots after the flood. Most of this crash insurance expired worthless because the market kept rising. So, the good folks who sold those out of the money put options were raking in nice premiums month after month. And the people who bought crash insurance gradually stopped doing it, because it never paid off. A few dips in late 1999 again pushed the SKEW above 120, but lower than at its peaks in 1998. And by early 2000, with the market at record highs the SKEW started dipping below 110, its lowest level in years. For some reason investors stopped buying crash insurance at the top. Perhaps they felt too good. Fear disappeared and complacency took its place. Buying out of the money put options had not worked for years, and investors gave up on it. And when nobody had boots, that’s when it started to rain..

And surprisingly, the SKEW stayed below average for most of the market’s slide into the 2003 lows. People did not buy much crash insurance when it would have paid off. Then as the market recovered and kept climbing in 2003-2006, people started worrying about another crash and they bought more out of the money puts again to be on the safe side. From late 2003 until early 2007 the SKEW index stayed above average with regular spikes above 130. Image (click to enlarge):

SKEW 2005

Of course, once again most of that crash insurance never paid off, because just like 1998-99, the market kept climbing 2004 to 2007. And then the same thing happened in 2007, investors got tired of wasting money on crash insurance that never pays off. And the SKEW index started going down, just when the market was on the verge of crashing (click image to enlarge):

SKEW 2007

By the end of 2007 the SKEW had dropped below its historic average again, and the demand for crash insurance remained low (as evidenced by low SKEW) for most of the slide into the 2009 lows. In August 2008, right before the most dramatic part of the crash, the SKEW was even trading below 110.

After the 2009 lows, investors had once again learned to hedge against tail risk (buying boots after the flood). The SKEW traded above historic average again, as people stayed fearful during the recovery that started in 2010. And then something funny happened (click image to enlarge it):

SKEW 2010

In late 2013 the SKEW started trading at even higher levels, with occasional spikes above 140. That hasn’t happened before. Apparently, with the market at new record highs, plenty of people became convinced that a crash was coming again. Having seen big losses twice in the recent decade, many traders may have been determined to not get caught in the next crash without insurance. Fear ruled, despite record highs. But once again, all those premiums paid for out of the money put options have only been profits in the pockets of those who sell those options. The market has kept going up in 2014.
But since the beginning of 2015 we suddenly see a strong downtrend in the SKEW. This is the first sign that we may be getting into a new stage of complacency. Markets are at record highs (just like in 2000 and 2007) and the SKEW drops to lows suggesting that crash insurance is no longer in vogue. That can be a deadly combination, so we want to keep an eye on the SKEW. And if it goes on to drop to 110 for extended periods, then we will know it is that time again.

Good luck,


Posted in Financial Astrology, Market Commentary | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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