Do IBD Follow Through Days Provide A Quantifiable Edge? (Intro)

The S&P 500 currently stands about 11% below its October 11th highs. The rally attempt that began near the end of November officially failed last week as the November lows were undercut. Growth-oriented traders everywhere are now eagerly awaiting the next Investors Business Daily Follow Through Day so that they may more aggressively put their capital to work. The IBD Follow Through Day is a technical tool to help investors time market bottoms. My first introduction to the Follow Through Day was in William O’Neil’s book How To Make Money In Stocks. The Follow Through Day is both widely followed and widely accepted as an early signal of a market bottom – but does is really provide investors with a quantitative edge?

While their descriptions are sometimes inconsistent the basic concept and claims of the Follow Though Day may be summed up as follows:

1) After a significant market decline, rather than trying to pick a bottom, investors should wait for a signal from the major averages to let them know the market is likely to begin a new uptrend. This signal is the Follow Through Day.
2) A Follow Through Day is a day where one of the major averages makes a significant rise (currently defined as 1.7% – previously defined as 1%) on increased volume.
3) Follow Through Days may occur starting on day 4 of an attempted market rally. Follow Through Days occurring after day 10 are deemed less reliable.
4) There has never been a market bottom followed by a bull rally without one.

While at first glance the Follow Through Day seems straightforward, much of it is either vague or inconsistent. IBD says that the concept is backed by decades of research. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, details of this research have never been released to the public. It is difficult to duplicate this research because IBD is vague about important terms – such as what they consider a significant market decline to be and what would determine “success” after a Follow Through Day occurs. But just because vague terms and inconsistencies make the research difficult to duplicate doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. As you may be beginning to realize, I believe the subject deserves a significant amount of consideration. Rather than try and cover it all at once (and subject everyone to an incredibly long blog entry) I will be doing a series of reports over the next week or two to take an in-depth look at IBD Follow Through Days. In these reports I will attempt to answer such questions as:

1) Are Follow Through Days predictive of a new bull rally?
2) Has there ever been a bull rally without one?
3) Do they do a good job of picking a bottom (or do they frequently miss too much of the move)?
4) Do they work better after small or large market declines?
5) Do Follow Through Days occurring more than 10 days after a market bottom yield lower success rates?
6) Can I devise a successful trading system using Follow Through Days?

The market put in a strong reversal day last Wednesday. Monday is the first day that a Follow Through Day is possible. Will it provide investors with a quantitative edge? You’re going to find out…

…first installment tomorrow.

Do Reversal Bars Really Work?

The market finally decided it had endured enough selling and put in a strong afternoon reversal. The bar looks nice on a chart, but is it indicative of a longer-term reversal? To test it I ran the following quantitative study (as usual each trade is $100,000):

Over the first 1-7 days, it appears to be a toss-up, but as you look a little bit further out there appears to be a solid edge to the upside. One reason the edge appears to be lower in the first few days is that the market has just made a large move up. Frequently this initial thrust takes a few days to digest (more on that lower down).

What I find especially compelling about this scenario are the size of the average winners – especially when compared to the average loser. If the reversal bar works, the expectation is for somewhere around a 4-5% follow through in the next 2-4 weeks based on these results. Note the win/loss ratios and profit factors once you get out more than 10 days. They’re quite good.

For a more detailed look I evaluated the results 14 days out. That would put us at the end of the month and the next Fed meeting. Obviously no one will be worried about this backtest when the Fed is about to announce.

Fourteen days out 16 of 24 trades were winners. Of those sixteen winners, all of them pulled back at least 0.5% from the reversal day close at some point. The average drawdown among those 16 winners was 2.6%. The largest drawdown among winning trades was 6.6% which occurred after the reversal bar last August 6th. Five of the sixteen winners actually posted a lower low before turning higher again. In other words, it’s probably not neccessary to chase this trade. There will most likely be some backing and filling which should allow for a better entry point or some scaling in.

This one gets stamped “quantifiable edge”.

Some Hard Data I Looked At Last Night

I saw several articles and blogs today that suggested strong upside edges were in place. This opposed my findings from last night. Only one of these bothered to show any statistics. When I saw this I decided I had made a mistake in not showing data to go along with my comments. Below are two studies that typified what I was seeing last night.

The first looks at buying the Nasdaq any time it closes lower 8 days in a row and selling X days later.

The second looks at buying the S&P 500 any time the S&P, Dow and Nasdaq all close with an 8-period RSI below 25 and selling X days later.

$100,000 per trade.

I found no compelling evidence for an immediate bounce with these studies. When adding additional trend and breakdown filters as I mentioned last night, the numbers looked even worse.

Perhaps a true washout or a solid reversal could get us the quantifiable edge we seek…

Hard Selloff But No Sizable Short-Term Edge

The first 5 days of 2008 have been brutal – and so were the last 3 days of 2007. The Nasdaq has finished lower all 8 days while the S&P 500 and Dow 30 each have had two marginally up days during the period. After all this selling you would think there would be some solid quantifiable edges based on price oscillators.

I ran several tests tonight looking at such things as RSI, Stochastics, percent drops and consecutive lower closes on the major indices. The story was the same whereever I looked. Chances of a bounce within the next 3-5 days weren’t much better than a coin flip. When I took into account the longer term picture of the market and included such factors as the market is trading below its major moving averages or that is has just recently broken below consolidation levels the results looked even worse. In most cases risks outpaced rewards by a fair amount and a coin flip was generous odds.

A bounce may happen any day, but the VXO study I posted the other night laid it out pretty well. Risks remain elevated. My Capitulative Breadth Indicator (CBI) was the one piece of evidence showing a strong edge to the long side. As I noted earlier, that edge has dissipated. Stepping back and waiting for a better edge to appear looks like the right thing to do at this point.

Capitulative Breadth Indicator Update

There have been some strong moves up this morning (and yesterday) in stocks that matter to my Capitulative Breadth Indicator(CBI). It will almost certainly close at 3 or lower this afternoon (down from 7). This will signal a fairly quick end to the trade. It is important to understand that the drop in the CBI does NOT indicate the rally attempt will fail. Rather it indicates the capitulative excess has been reduced. The bounce I was looking for arrived. I will be taking profits before the end of the day.

My Capitulative Breadth Indicator

A few years ago I did a study of capitulative action – both among individual stocks as well as indices. From that I devised a system which I have now traded for close to 2.5 years. The most interesting aspect of this system is what I call my Capitulative Breadth Indicator. Without going into much detail the basic indicator looks to measure the breadth of capitulation among a select group of large cap stocks. The idea is that once enough of these stocks meet my criteria, not only they – but the market as a whole, is extremely likely to reverse sharply.

I’ve included a chart below which shows my indicator along with the S&P 500 over the course of 2007:

I generally use two levels to identify extreme capitulative breadth. The first level is a reading of “7” and the second is a reading of “10”. To show the significance of these levels I created a strategy which would buy the S&P whenever my indicator hit a stated level and then exit the trade when it returned to “3” or lower. This can be seen above with the buy and sell markings on the chart.

Below are some basic stats in a table from one of my presentations using different entry levels and “3” or below as the exit:

A few things should be noted:

1) The stats in the table are from 1/1/95 to present. I began trading in 9/2005. The rest is backtested.
2) The August action was extremely unusual in the fact that the indicator dropped rather sharply down to “3” on a day when the market also dropped sharply. This was due to a gap up that morning which served to reduce the indicator before the market collapsed. In actuality the August signal was actually good since the trade could have come off in the morning. The “system” results don’t reflect this.
3) The tool does an excellent job of alerting me to times when a strong bounce is likely. It only does an ok job of timing that bounce. In other words, the signals may frequently be early. See the November action on the chart for a good example of this. Nicely profitable trades that tested my nerves greatly before the exit came. For this reason I typically like to scale in to these kind of trades.

You’ll notice on the chart that the indicator hit “7” on Friday. This indicates a strong bounce is likely coming (but does not preclude further downside first).

I also use this indicator to look at individual groups and sectors. Based on what I am seeing there, it appears the groups with the best possibility of outperforming on the bounce are 1) Consumer and 2) Technology.

I will continue to update you on significant changes in the Capitulative Breadth Indicator (over 10, at or under 3, etc.).

I’ve posted a lot of stuff tonight. In summation: 1) The VXO is telling me we could bounce at any time, but until we do it’s gonna be ugly. 2) My Capitualtive Breadth Indicator is telling me the bounce should be fairly strong – probably at least strong enough to get back above where we are now. 3) My tiny watch list indicates to me that a strong bounce may not be enough to spark a rally. The upcoming bounce may be playable but don’t hang on too long – there may be further to drop afterwards.

Good trading,
Rob Hanna

What The VXO Is Telling Me Now

I like to use the VIX (or VXO) as a tool for timing the market. When looking at the VXO I normally relate it to a short-term moving average rather than looking at absolute levels. Below is one test I ran this weekend that I found particularly interesting.

I looked to see what happened if you bought the S&P 500 under the following conditions:

1) The VXO closes at least 10% above its 10-day moving average for 3 days in a row.
2) The VXO closes at its highest high in the last 10 days.

In other words, fear has been relatively high over the last 3 days and is now at its highest recent point (if you accept that high option premium is indicative of fear among market participants).

$100,000 per trade. Results below:

At first glance the results seemed to indicate a decent probability of a bounce and profitable system. Closer examination revealed something even more interesting to me. I’ve bolded the last column which shows the size of the average losing trade. When things go wrong – they go REALLY wrong. The average loss was nearly 4.5% in the S&P over the next 6 days!

Next I added a third condition to the test. I wanted to see what happened when the above circumstances occurred while the market was trading below it’s 200 days moving average (as it is now). Again $100,000 per trade. Even scarier Avg Loss column below:

The probability of a bounce is now down to about 50-50 and the average loss is startling. Nearly 6% downside over the next 6 days for the losing trades!

My interpretation: there’s a good chance we could get a bounce here – but if we don’t…watch out!

Good trading,
Rob Hanna

Potential Leadership Is Lacking

I use several quantitative techniques for my short-term trades (days), and this blog will primarily focus on short-term quantifiable edges. I also trade using intermediate-term timeframes (weeks). My intermediate-term trading has typically been focused around high-growth momentum plays. Each weekend I run scans to come up with a list of candidates that meet my criteria from a fundamental and momentum standpoint. I then scroll through the list of stocks to try and find stocks that appear to be setting up in basing patterns and whittle the original list down to create my weekly watch list (although many stocks I’ll frequently just carry over from the previous week as well).

When evaluating the market’s health, one area I always look at is leadership. I believe strong leadership can generate a lot of buying enthusiasm. Investors become more interested in the market and rallies can generate significant momentum. People see certain stocks breaking out that quickly making huge gains and they want to find the next one. Momentum begets more momentum in this manner. Therefore, not only do I look at leadership, but POTENTIAL leadership. Potential leadership can many times be found in my watch list – for those are the high growth stocks that are on the verge of completing basing formations. If they succeed in breaking out they may become the next leaders.

When looking at whether a potential rally could have legs, I look at what my watch list is telling me. This week my list is saying to me that picking’s are slim. If we do get a bounce here, there seems to be a good chance it will be little more than that. Stocks are going to need some time to form proper bases before breakouts can build the kind of momentum that will spark investor enthusiasm enough to generate a significant bull move.

Rob Hanna