Commentary: Wall Street may need a little help from angels
I am standing on the sidewalk in front of a SoHo clothing store in lower Manhattan. It’s Fashion’s Night Out, and thousands of people are having a one-night fashion celebration. On this night, models, celebrities, and designers are encouraging customers to shop for clothes at reduced prices. Judging by the festive crowds and ringing cash registers, the night is a huge success.
Models and Money
In front of me are hundreds of awe-struck fans waiting in line to meet the angels: Victoria’s Secret Angels. Victoria’s Secret (NYSE:LTD), an American retailer of women’s clothes, is popular for its spectacular fashion shows and reasonably priced lingerie. The twelve Victoria’s Secret angels are some of the highest paid models in the industry, and a few go on to become supermodels. Victoria Secret’s Adriana Lima’s estimated annual income is eight million dollars; Alessandra Ambrosio’s estimated income is five million dollars.
Four angels suddenly enter the room, and the large crowd hushes. Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lily Aldridge, and Erin Heatherton walk over to me for an interview. These million dollar models are charming, and very knowledgeable about Victoria’s Secret products. (See photos of my interview with the angels here: http://bit.ly/nBT6Ev.)
Models and the Market
What do fashion models have to do with the stock market? Actually, the stock market and fashion industry are more alike than many people realize. The similarity? Both are based on a fantasy: one promises to make you beautiful while the other may make you rich.
Yet, when customers enter a fashion store, they expect to be seduced by gorgeous models. When investors enter the market, theydon’t expect to hear fantastic promises that won’t come true. Instead of beautiful models, investors often feel as if they’re looking at the Emperor’s new clothes.
Even if Wall Street hired a flock of lovely angels, it’s not easy to inspire faith in its products. Who cares that the stock market rose more than 70 percent from its 2009 lows? Because many investors didn’t earn back their money, they feel that the market is rigged against them. Unlike the fashion industry, Wall Street has lost its sex appeal.
In the last few months, some people have revolted against Wall Street by protesting against an unfair financial system. There is some truth to the complaints, so unless Wall Street wants to lose investors for the next decade, they’ll need to change the way they do business.
How Wall Street can bring investors back
As the protests grow louder and last longer, Wall Street may want to consider taking the following steps:
- Create a fair stock market
The stock market isn’t fair anymore. The market often goes up or down not based on fundamental or technical analysis but volume generated by high frequency traders (HFT) or flash traders. Although the increased volatility might help a handful of traders, it certainly doesn’t instill confidence in the system. In addition, some rules, such as the uptick rule, were eliminated or changed to favor insiders. If Wall Street wants to recover from the negative PR, they’ll need to create a fair stock market with logical regulations. Otherwise, it is buyer beware.
- Make a transparent stock market
Right now, there are almost two stock markets, one for the insiders and the other for everyone else. “The average investor is not privy to how Wall Street really works,” explains former hedge fund manager Shah Gilani. “If you don’t know what is woven in that cloth, it’s hard to tell what kind of quality it’s going to be.” If Wall Street truly wants to level the playing field, then “they’ll have to start looking at what’s good for the economy and investors, and not just for them,” he cautions. (Click here for my full interview with Gilani: http://bit.ly/o8Okax.)
- Punish wrongdoers
For years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) looked the other way while Bernard Madoff and others scammed individual investors. This gave the impression there were no consequences for illegal behavior. Lately, the SEC appears to have found courage, but some still want this agency defanged. When bad behavior is ignored or rewarded, it destroys people’s faith in the financial system. If individual investors or traders break the rules, they’ll get in big trouble. Who was penalized for helping cause the 2008 crash?
- Putting lipstick on a pig
This season, the fashion trend is bright, bold, and colorful, anticipating good times ahead. On Wall Street, however, the market trend is indecisive and volatile. Unless Wall Street undergoes an extreme makeover, even angels with lipstick can’t make it pretty again.
Note: Here’s the Marketwatch link to the article: http://bit.ly/tpkb6p
The following is an interview I had with former hedge fund manager Shah Gilani. He is also a contributing editor to bothMoney Morning and The Money Map Report.
Q. Would you say that Wall Street is transparent right now?
Gilani: No, it’s not. It’s confusing to investors. The average investor is not privy to how it really works. If you don’t know what is woven into that cloth, then it’s hard to tell what kind of quality it’s going to be. You can’t tell. Investors know there is a problem but they can’t put their finger on it. The problem would be self evident if they had an understanding of values.
Q. What do you see in the market right now?
Gilani: I see more volatility, particularly in the global markets. Debt is the problem in the global picture. The market is incredibly dangerous right now. Although investors want to make back their money, they also don’t want to get duped. They don’t want to be used as a backstop. Sadly, though, many don’t have a choice.
Q. What should investors do?
Gilani: Right now you have to cherry pick stocks. You also have to be an investor-trader. You have to be proactive, and look at your portfolio every day or two. You can’t wait a month anymore. The days of buying and falling asleep are over. You also have to put in stops, and have profit targets. And as your stock goes higher, raise your stops higher. That way, if the market falls, you can get out. The market moves so fast you could lose all of your profits in a matter of days.
Q. What is the problem with the market right now?
Gilani: The market is unfair but it doesn’t have to be that way. In my opinion, volatility has been engineered into the financial markets for the sake of Wall Street and traders, and to the enormous detriment of the public, investors, and the economy.
Q: Could you expand on that?
Gilani: Capital markets are set up to serve to raise cash, equity and debt, to facilitate business development, and to provide liquidity to investors providing financing so businesses can grow and share the wealth. Wall Street was set up to be the capital market’s intermediary, but they realized it’s better if they could be principal risk takers as well as market makers. Then they can trade their own book against the market, which includes their clients. Wall Street doesn’t like a calm market. There isn’t a lot of money to be made when volatility is low and spreads are super tight. In the old days, the market was calmer, which was bad for the traders on Wall Street.
Q. How did they change the system?
Gilani: The first thing they did was eliminate fractions. At the time, it seemed to make sense. After all, fractions came from the days when the Spanish, for example, cut up silver and gold into “pieces of eight.” Unfortunately, by moving to a decimal system, it destroyed liquidity by greatly reducing the “depth” of bids and offers investors were once willing to line up to execute. That changed the market. And now Wall Street specialists and market makers, instead of risking an eighth or a quarter, only risk a penny if they step in front of any client or book orders to try and profit themselves as a principal. Everyone seems to think that decimalization was good for the markets.
Q. Was there anything good about decimalization?
Gilani: The only positive was that transaction costs came down. Another problem it created was that no one knows where the liquidity is anymore. When specialists and market makers can step in front of client orders to take their positions essentially from them, it caused traders and institutional players to look for different venues. Now many high volume traders are going into hidden venues like dark pools. This is not good for investors or traders who don’t have the same access to multiple venues, or the market, but it is good for the Wall Street players. Instead of making the market more efficient for everybody, it decreased liquidity for the general public and increased volatility.
Q. Any other rules that caused problems?
Gilani: Eliminating the uptick rule was another mistake. The uptick rule was working just fine until they took it away. When you think back to all of the rules that Wall Street changed since the eighties: deregulation, decimalization, the uptick rule, allowance for multiple venues, no central order handling book, and the blind pools, it all adds up to a trader’s game. Wall Street is no longer facilitating A and B in the capital markets, but is all about making money for themselves now. That is why the Occupy Wall Street people are protesting. They know that something is wrong, but they don’t know what. They don’t know why they are protesting. Instead of a level playing field, all of the investors have been leveled. The tail is wagging the dog now.
Q. What’s the solution?
Gilani: We have to start looking at what is good for the economy and investors, not just Wall Street. But banks and lobbyists are pushing back. They don’t want the rules to favor investors. Let’s see what happens to the Volcker Rule, which will keep banks out of the securities business. We’ll see if that ever gets implemented as it was originally contemplated.
Q. Are there any other ways to stop the shenanigans?
Gilani: Wrongdoers should be punished. If fraud was done on purpose, and you made a lot of money and caused pain, you should not be able to walk away and hurt the economy and investors. The first place to hit them is in the wallet and claw back that money. If you do it legally, go for it. But if it was illegal, and you manipulated the system, then it’s fraud. If guilty of the crime, you should do the time. Make certain things are punishable by prison time. If guilty, they might even have to sell that second house in the Hamptons.
This article, which I wrote for Marketwatch, helps investors and traders understand the current market environment. It includes an interview with trader and author Toni Turner: http://bit.ly/qBcSN6
** Currently the most popular article on Marketwatch
Below is my extended interview with best-selling author and trader Toni Turner, who gave me a few insights into the current market environment. She is the author of A Beginner’s Guide to Day Trading Online, A Beginner’s Guide to Short-term Trading(2nd Edition), and Short-term trading in the New Stock Market, to name a few.
Q. What stocks do you study?
Turner: When I’m watching market action, I go through the nine sectors of the S&P 500. I always keep an eye out for sector movement and key industry groups like telecommunications and transportation. I watch these closely as well as the three major indices, which I also watch on weekly and monthly charts, as well as intraday. Often you see patterns on the long term charts that you can’t see intraday.
Q. Do you have a favorite indicator?
Turner: One indicator I use is Average True Range (ATR), which I use on the major indices. When the ATR starts to rise, and when the candlesticks get wider and wider, it means there is more concern and indecision. This year, much of the volatility started with the rebellion in Egypt and went through the spring months. Even though the market was rising, each weekly candle was getting wider and wider. That means the bulls can push the market higher, but the bears can also push it lower.
Q: Don’t traders like volatility?
Turner: We do like volatility but when it turns on a dime, you have to question how you can maintain a bullish or bearish bias. You want volatility, but you want the kind of volatility that makes sense. Currently, all it takes is one phone call between Sarkozy and other world leaders and the market can make a U-turn. My strategy is to establish the boss du jour. During all trading time periods, there is always a boss du jour. There is something that is leading the market; of course, in the case of the U.S. dollar, it might push the market in an inverse direction.
Q: What about right now?
Turner: You always want to identify the boss or whatever market or instrument is leading our financial markets. Right now the euro is the boss du jour. It is having a rough time. On most days, if the euro heads south, the market is going down. I have seen times when oil is the leader, and often it’s the S&P 500 or Dow futures. When there is this much uncertainty in the market, it creates a tremendous amount of volatility, and it’s difficult to play. It’s total uncertainty. It’s a headline-driven market, not driven by fundamentals based on a sound economy. It isn’t sound.
Q: What do you see on the chart?
Turner: Basic technical analysis teaches you how to identify confusion, which we identify by calling it congestion on a chart. Congestion on a chart, especially on a daily chart, is a series of stops and starts, and gap ups and downs. Right now we are witnessing the kind of congestion on stocks that are normally docile. For example, consumer and utility stocks such as Procter and Gamble, Wal-Mart, and Phillip Morris are acting like a kangaroo on speed. Normally, many of these defensive sectors are a yawn. Now, though, some of the most orderly value stocks are rising and falling like growth stocks, which make you wonder what is going on.
Q. Have you seen this before?
Turner: For many stocks, I can’t relate their current disorderly patterns to any recent period in history, possibly with the exception of 2008. Even in usual docile utility stocks, you can see mass confusion.
Q. What advice would you give to investors?
Turner: If you are an investor that is bottom picking, don’t buy an overpriced growth stock with bad fundamentals. I know that hedge funds are waiting to sell them short if there is a market downturn. Check the fundamentals like the P/E ratio, debt ratios, and earnings. If we get another downturn and you’re in a high-flying stock that was bid-up by traders, the hedge funds will come in and short the heck out of it. You might want to look at value stocks rather than growth stocks because value stocks don’t get as hammered as growth stocks in a downturn.
Q. What patterns do you see on a chart?
Turner: Right now in many stocks, I see a bear flag pattern formed of wide candles and big gaps. It tells me that traders are totally confused. The long, wide volatile candles on the S&P is also indicating there is no agreement since the first part of August as to where the market should go. It’s indecision. Perhaps experienced day traders might fare well in this market environment — if you pick the right stocks and catch an upswing or downswing. Experienced traders can make profits, but for most traders, standing aside is the best idea. Again, I think this headline-driven market is difficult for most people.
Q. Any final advice?
Turner: Out of all this chaos comes order. If you’re wise and don’t try to outsmart the market, and stay in cash right now, you’ll have money to trade when the market starts to go your way again.
Note: You can read more about Toni Turner at her website, http://bit.ly/Tseud
In this market, you’ll need every tool at your disposal to get into or out of the market. One of the most useful tools for detecting reversals is the candlestick. In this article just published by Marketwatch, I discuss candlestick strategies with expert Steve Nison: http://bit.ly/oHKMZh