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Short-Selling 101

With the stock market falling for the next few weeks, or even months, it’s time to rehash how to profit from falling markets one more time. There is nothing worse than closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. No doubt, you will receive a wealth of short selling and hedging ideas from your other research sources and the media at the next market bottom. That is always how it seems to play out. So I am going to get you out ahead of the curve, putting you through a refresher course on how to best trade falling markets now, while stock markets are still only 3% short of an all time high, and unchanged on the year. Market’s could be down 10% by the time this is all over. That is my line in the sand! There is nothing worse than fumbling around in the dark looking for the matches after a storm has knocked the power out. I’m not saying that you should sell short the market right here. But there will come a time when you will need to do so. So here are the best ways to profit from declining stock prices, broken down by security type: Bear ETFs Of course the granddaddy of them all is the ProShares Short S&P 500 Fund (NYSEARCA: SH ), a non-leveraged bear ETF that is supposed to match the fall in the S&P 500 point for point on the downside (see prospectus ). Hence, a 10% decline in the (NYSEARCA: SPY ) is supposed to generate a 10% gain the in the SH. In actual practice, it doesn’t work out like that. The ETF has to pay management operating fees and expenses, which can be substantial. After all, nobody works for free. There is also the “cost of carry,” whereby owners have to pay the price for borrowing and selling short shares. They are also liable for paying the quarterly dividends for the shares they have borrowed, around 2% a year. And then you have to pay the commissions and spread for buying the ETF. Still, individuals can protect themselves from downside exposure in their core portfolios through buying against it. Short-selling is not cheap, but it’s better than watching your gains of the last seven years go up in smoke. Virtually all equity indexes now have bear ETFs. Some of the favorites include the PSQ , a short play on the NASDAQ (see prospectus ), and the DOG , which profits from a plunging Dow average (see prospectus ). My favorite is the RWM , a short play on the Russell 2000, which falls 1.5X faster than the big cap indexes in bear markets (see prospectus ). Leveraged Bear ETFs My favorite is the ProShares Ultra Short S&P 500 (NYSEARCA: SDS ), a 2X leveraged ETF ( prospectus ). A 10% decline in the generates a 20% profit, maybe. Keep in mind that by shorting double the market, you are liable for double the cost of shorting, which can total 5% a year or more. This shows up over time in the tracking error against the underlying index. Therefore, you should date, not marry, this ETF or you might be disappointed. 3X Leveraged Bear ETFs The 3X bear ETFs, like the UltraPro Short S&P 500 (NYSEARCA: SPXU ), are to be avoided like the plague ( prospectus ). First, you have to be pretty good to cover the 8% cost of carry embedded in this fund. They also reset the amount of index they are short at the end of each day, creating an enormous tracking error. Eventually, they all go to zero, and have to be periodically redenominated to keep from doing so. Dealing spreads can be very wide, further added to costs. Yes, I know the charts can be tempting. Leave these for the professional hedge fund intra day traders they are meant for. Buying Put Options For a small amount of capital, you can buy a ton of downside protection. For example, the April $182 puts I bought for $4,872 allowed me to sell short $145,600 worth of large cap stocks at $182 (8 X 100 X $6.09). Go for distant maturities out several months to minimize time decay and damp down daily price volatility. Your market timing better be good with these, because when the market goes against you, put options can go poof, and disappear pretty quickly. That’s why you read this newsletter. Selling Call Options One of the lowest risk ways to coin it in a market heading south is to engage in “buy writes”. This involves selling short call options against stock you already own, but may not want to sell for tax or other reasons. If the market goes sideways, or falls, and the options expire worthless, then the average cost of your shares is effectively lowered. If the shares rise substantially they get called away, but at a higher price, so you make more money. Then you just buy them back on the next dip. It is a win-win-win. I’ll give you a concrete example. Let’s say you own 100 shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ), which closed on Friday at $95.13, worth $9,513. If you sell short 1 July, 2016 $100 call at $1.30 against them, you take in $130 in premium income ($1.30 X 100 because one call option contract is exercisable into 100 shares). If Apple close2 below $100 on the July 15, 2016 expiration date, the options expire worthless and you keep your stock and the premium. You are then free to repeat the strategy for the following month. If closes anywhere above $100 and your shares get called away, you still make money on the trade. Selling Futures This is what the pros do, as futures contracts trade on countless exchanges around the world for every conceivable stock index or commodity. It is easy to hedge out all of the risk for an entire portfolio of shares by simply selling short futures contracts for a stock index. For example, let’s say you have a portfolio of predominantly large cap stocks worth $100,000. If you sell short 1 June, 2016 contract for the S&P 500 against it, you will eliminate most of the potential losses for your portfolio in a falling market. The margin requirement for one contract is only $5,000. However if you are short the futures and the market rises, then you have a big problem, and the losses can prove ruinous. But most individuals are not set up to trade futures. The educational, financial, and disclosure requirements are beyond mom and pop investing for their retirement fund. Most 401ks and IRAs don’t permit the inclusion of futures contracts. Only 25% of the readers of this letter trade the futures market. Regulators do whatever they can to keep the uninitiated and untrained away from this instrument. That said, get the futures markets right, and it is the quickest way to make a fortune, if your market direction is correct. Buying Volatility Volatility (VIX) is a mathematical construct derived from how much the S&P 500 moves over the next 30 days. You can gain exposure to it through buying the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN (NYSEARCA: VXX ), or buying call and put options on the VIX itself. If markets fall, volatility rises, and if markets rise, then volatility falls. You can therefore protect a stock portfolio from losses through buying the VIX. My latest on the VIX is available here . Selling Short IPOs Another way to make money in a down market is to sell short recent initial public offerings. These tend to go down much faster than the main market. That’s because many are held by hot hands, known as “flippers,” and don’t have a broad institutional shareholder base. Many of the recent ones don’t make money and are based on an, as yet, unproven business model. These are the ones that take the biggest hits. Individual IPO stocks can be tough to follow to sell short. But one ETF has done the heavy lifting for you. This is the Renaissance IPO ETF (see prospectus ). Buying Momentum This is another mathematical creation based on the number of rising days over falling days. Rising markets bring increasing momentum, while falling markets produce falling momentum. So selling short momentum produces additional protection during the early stages of a bear market. BlackRock has issued a tailor made ETF to capture just this kind of move through its iShares MSCI Momentum Factor ETF (NYSEARCA: MTUM ) ( prospectus ). Buying Beta Beta, or the magnitude of share price movements, also declines in down markets. So selling short beta provides yet another form of indirect insurance. The PowerShares S&P 500 High Beta Portfolio ETF (NYSEARCA: SPHB ) is another niche product that captures this relationship. The Index is compiled, maintained and calculated by Standard & Poor’s and consists of the 100 stocks from the SPX with the highest sensitivity to market movements, or beta, over the past 12 months. The Fund and the Index are rebalanced and reconstituted quarterly in February, May, August and November. (See prospectus .) Buying Bearish Hedge Funds Another subsector that does well in plunging markets are publicly listed bearish hedge funds. There are a couple of these that are publicly listed and have already started to move. One is the Advisor Shares Active Bear ETF (NYSEARCA: HDGE ) ( prospectus ). Keep in mind that this is an actively managed fund, not an index or mathematical relationship, so the volatility could be large. Oops, Forgot to Hedge Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Cash-To-Debt Ratio Demonstrates Why Riskier Assets Have Limited Upside Potential

Cash on corporate balance sheets grew at a 1% pace to $1.84 billion in 2015. That’s a record level of dollars on the books. On the other hand, debt grew at a clip of nearly 14.8% to $6.6 trillion from $5.75 trillion. That’s a 15% surge in debt obligations. In fact, American companies have grown their debt load at a double-digit annualized rate since the economic recovery began in 2009. Doing so has put corporations in a precarious situation – circumstances where cash as a percentage of debt is lower than at any time since the Great Recession. Obviously, the data points themselves are unnerving. Yet, the trend for cash as a percentage of total debt over time may be even more alarming. Consider what transpired between 2006 and 2008. Cash growth began to slow. Debt began to skyrocket. And cash as a percentage of debt steadily declined until, eventually, stocks of corporations found themselves losing HALF of their value. Are stocks set to log -50% bearish losses going forward? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Yet the notion that debt can perpetually grow at a double-digit rate without adverse consequences is about as inane as the idea that the U.S. government’s debt troubles are irrelevant to the country’s well-being. At least in the U.S. government’s case, its leadership can print currency and/or manipulate borrowing costs. (Note: That is not an endorsement of policy; rather, it is an acknowledgement of government power.) Companies? They’re at the mercy of the corporate bond market such that, when existing obligations are retired, new debt may need to be issued at much higher yields to entice investors. Think about it. Ratings companies like S&P may find themselves downgrading scores of corporate bonds to junk status due to ungodly cash-to-debt ratios. What’s more, yield-seeking investors might squeamishly back away from speculation if spreads between corporates and treasuries widen further. Additionally, Fed efforts to raise overnight lending rates may push junk yields further out on the ledge where the combination of widening spreads, rating agency downgrades and Fed policy direction collectively reinforce a negative feedback loop. By many accounts, low-rated bonds have been struggling for quite some time. Get a gander at the three-year chart of the SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: JNK ) below. Granted, the bounce off of the February lows is astonishing. (Channel your gratitude toward a 70%-plus recovery in crude oil prices.) Nevertheless, the total return for JNK is a scant 1.4% over the three-year period. That is negligible reward for a huge amount of risk . In contrast, the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: IEF ) offered a total return of 9.2% over the same period. That is low risk for reasonable reward. The problem may only get worse. At present, junk status (‘BB’) is the average rating for companies issuing bonds. How bad is that historically? It’s worse than before, during or after the financial collapse in 2008-2009. Indeed, you have to travel back to the 2001 recession to find an average rating as anemic as the one that exists right now. It is certainly true that when the European Central Bank (ECB) announced its quantitative easing (“QE”) intentions in the first quarter, the reality that they’d be acquiring corporate bonds as well as sovereign debt provided a fresh round of speculative yield seeking. Income producing assets that had been struggling under the worry of multiple Fed rate hikes in 2016 – emerging market sovereigns via the PowerShares Emerging Markets Sovereign Debt Portfolio ETF (NYSEARCA: PCY ), the SPDR Barclays International Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: BWX ), high yield via the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: HYG ), crossover corporates via the iShares Baa-Ba Rated Corporate Bond ETF (BATS: QLTB ) as well as the iShares Intermediate Credit Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: CIU ) – rocketed higher. On the flip side, the belief that yield-seeking and risk-seeking behavior will occur as long as central banks keep borrowing costs subdued is flawed. In the bond world, bad ratings eventually override yield-seeking speculation. In the stock world, stretched valuations eventually cap upside potential . It is worth noting, in fact, that the S&P 500 has been flat for 18 long months, which roughly corresponds to when corporate earnings peaked back on 9/30/2014 . Disclosure: Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial, Inc, and/or its clients may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds, and/or any investment asset mentioned above. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial, Inc. or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert web site. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships.

Should You Short S&P 500 With ETFs This Summer?

It seems that the S&P 500 has left its sunny days behind! This key U.S. index last hit a record high of 2,131 on May 21, 2015, and lost about 4.3% in the last one year (as of the May 19, 2016). As a matter of fact, the index suffered corrections ( down over 10% from previous highs) during this timeframe and could not really regain its lost ground. The hollowness of this one year becomes more prominent when you look at 45 record highs in 2013 and 53 in 2014, as per Wall Street Journal. Though the start of 2015 was equally grand with 10 highs till May 21, the journey afterward was simply lackluster. This makes it imperative to understand investors’ perception on the S&P 500 before it approaches its anniversary of highs on May 21, 2016. What’s Behind This Decline? There are plenty of reasons. One of the main factors is the global market crash that was induced by the Chinese currency devaluation and extreme plunge in oil prices last summer. Since then China and oil have been a pain in the neck. In addition to this, earnings recession, overvaluation concerns, Fed liftoff in December and ambiguity over the Fed’s next moves amid global growth issues challenged the broader market. If this was not enough, when market watchers were almost sure about a delayed policy tightening in the wake of threats to the stability of the U.S. economy, the latest Fed minutes hinted at the possibility of a June hike. As an instant reaction, the S&P 500 fell to its lowest level since March on May 19. The reason for this fall was the fear of shrinkage in liquidity in the stock market. Turbulent Times Ahead for S&P 500? A volley of upbeat data released lately on retail, housing, inflation and consumer sentiments may boost the Fed’s confidence that the economy can now digest an additional hike. Then again, the global market is still edgy and has all the power to derail the U.S. index if the Fed acts alongside. In today’s concept of an open economy, it is hard to bet on a large-cap stock index just on the basis of domestic market recovery. First, if the Fed strikes, the greenback will jump hurting the profitability of companies with considerable exposure in foreign lands. More than 30% of the S&P 500 revenues depend on international economies. Plus, investors should note that IMF, while slashing global growth forecasts recently, reduced the U.S. growth forecast for 2016 too from 2.6% to 2.4% . After all, though inflation is rising, it is yet to reach the level where it can digest further hikes comfortably. In April 2016, American inflation was at 1.13%. Notably, a rise in rates lowers inflation. Also, uncertainties regarding election in November flares up risk in the S&P investing. Earnings of the S&P 500 index are likely to decline 6.7% in the first quarter of 2016 while revenues are expected to fall 1% as per the Zacks Earnings Trends issued on May 18. Though the trend looks up from the second quarter onward with expected earnings reduction of 6% for the ongoing quarter, earnings growth of 0.4% in Q3 and again growth of 7.3% in Q4, it is less likely for the S&P 500 to jump before late second half. Analyst Bearish on S&P 500 In March 2016, Goldman commented that the index in overvalued. It recently noted that “the forward P/E multiple of the S&P 500 index ranks in the 86th percentile relative to the last 40 years. They note that the median stock in the index trades at the 99th percentile of its historical valuation on most metrics.” Goldman also noted that historically the S&P 500 index is fairly range-bound until November in a presidential election year. Bank of America believes that the S&P 500 could slip to its February lows, while Morgan Stanley has applied the famous maxim “Sell in May and go away” to stocks at least till November. All in all, no great news is expected from the S&P 500 in the coming summer. Short via ETFs? Going by the above thesis, the S&P 500 will likely see rough trading ahead, but investors could easily profit from this decline by going short on the index. There are a number of inverse or leveraged inverse products in the market that offer inverse (opposite) exposure to the index. Below we highlight those and some of the key differences in each: ProShares Short S&P500 ETF (NYSEARCA: SH ) This fund provides unleveraged inverse exposure to the daily performance of the S&P 500 index. ProShares UltraShort S&P500 ETF (NYSEARCA: SDS ) This fund seeks two times (2x) leveraged inverse exposure to the index. ProShares UltraPro Short S&P500 (NYSEARCA: SPXU ) Investors having a more bearish view and higher risk appetite could find SPXU interesting as the fund provides three times (3x) inverse exposure to the index. Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bear 3x Shares (NYSEARCA: SPXS ) Like SPXU, this product also provides three times inverse exposure to the index. Bottom Line We would also like to note that the relative strength index of the S&P 500 based ETF (NYSEARCA: SPY ) is presently 43.92. This indicates that the fund is yet to enter the oversold territory. Original post