There is always a risk to any trade, but I feel more so when the trade becomes very crowded. With money surging into active ETF’s this year as investors of all types look for ways to capitalise on the new all-time highs seen in the indices, we are now in a position where a lot of money is following the same few companies.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the author described the surge of cash now flooding exchange-traded funds, prompting asset managers to launch trading strategies that could be undone by a market downturn. According to Morningstar Inc. data, total inflows into ETFs worldwide crossed $1 trillion for the first time in November, surpassing last year's $735.7 billion. Along with rising markets, money has driven global ETF assets to nearly $9.5 trillion, which is more than double where the industry stood at the end of 2018.
Almost all that money went into low-cost index funds run by Vanguard Group, BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp., which together control about three-quarters of all U.S. ETF assets. The move into these ETF's is due to a lack of high-yielding alternatives as well as the 18-month bounce from the 2020 lows.
Twenty of the fastest-growing ETFs, largely managed by Vanguard and BlackRock, this year attracted nearly 40% of all flows, charged an average fee of less than 0.10%, and tracked benchmarks, which is an ideal recipe to attract money from retail clients above anything else.
Looking at the top-performing ETF's most of the money is flowing into ETF's that track the benchmark indices like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY). This is not a problem when the markets are buoyed by fiscal stimulus and a loose monetary policy. It is also not a problem when the global economies are trading in a low volatility environment as we saw before the 2020 pandemic sell-off.
When looking into the SPY and Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ) ETF's it becomes slightly more concerning that these ETFs are reliant on a small handful of companies.
Over half (53.40%) of the QQQ is trading on the back of Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp, Amazon.com Inc., Google (Alphabet A, C), Facebook Inc. (Meta), Tesla, NVIDIA Corp., PayPal & Adobe. Looking into SPY and we see the same names make up nearly a third (27.37%) of the ETF's holdings. Now for an ETF or fund to do well, you only need one stellar component. Just ask Cathie Wood, whose ARK fund is riding on the back of Tesla.
Of the top 3 holdings by weighting, Apple and Microsoft are clearly in an uptrend, with Amazon having less of a bullish time in 2021.
Today the latest FOMC meeting is due to conclude, with market participants and analysts expecting a policy shift that sees the Fed moving into a tightening cycle. Which is currently being priced in as the benchmark indices drop as the fear is that the Fed will be taking away the punch bowl of QE support.
Between the June 16th FOMC meeting which was the pivot for the Fed to turn more Hawkish to the most recent November meeting, the major indices had been generally moving higher. The emergence of Omicron becoming the COVID-19 “variant of concern” has put considerable pressure on these ETF’s that track the benchmark indices. That has also been combined with the notion that the Fed will speed up their asset purchase tapering to get to the rate hikes needed to squash inflation. For the most part of the year, the Fed was convinced that the inflation would be transitory but they themselves have obviously lost patience and no doubt there has been some political pressure to do something. The worry for the market is that the FOMC will lead the other central banks down a path that will overcompensate and bring the markets down with a policy mistake.
The IWM which follows the Russel 2000 has been on several occasions the canary in the coal mine, which has led the stock markets lower into the GFC and the Covid crashes. Looking at the first chart which compares the IWM (RTY) with the SPX (SPY), NDX (QQQ) and INDU (DJI) it is clear to see that the small caps are once again leading the large caps lower under the current conditions. What is also noticeable is that when the VIX rises sharply the IWM is often the most volatile of the indices too. Just recently the VIX made its way up to 31.40, a level not seen since the start of the year.
The ActvTrader platform tracks the Russell 2000 with their UsaRus CFD and over the course of the 2021 range, the current price action is indicating that we have pulled back into the range from the years low to high by 61.8%, which to a lot of trend followers would be an ideal level to attempt a long new position.
Unfortunately for traders looking to get long at the Fibonacci level is the fact that most retail traders on the platform are also remaining bullish on the Russel 2000. This leads me to believe that there will in fact be a squeeze on these positions possibly taking out the stops below the swing lows formed throughout most of the year to date. The driver for this assumed drop in prices is most probably going to be COVID related as small to medium enterprise businesses bear the brunt of the pandemic losses whereas large corporations receive help from the governments when needed.
On a macroeconomic level barring all disruptions caused by the pandemic continuation, the fiscal flows are still at a rate above the pre-pandemic level and there was a resolution to the debt ceiling problem early this morning which will allow the debt ceiling to be raised. This means the government can spend more in to the economy which will generally flow into the markets acting as a support. There is also likely to be a resolution to the Build Back Better Act which will put more money into the economy through welfare and infrastructure plans.
Assuming the market hasn’t fully discounted for the tapering of asset purchases and the multiple unknowns around the latest COVID situation, I am expecting the Russel 2000 to continue falling, as we are making new lower lows and lower swing highs on the daily time frame. For those that are requiring a less risky strategy than an aggressive breakout, waiting for a move towards 2100 and then waiting for a return to the 2138 level as a retest of old support would be a good start to initiating a short. Other than that, waiting for a return to the daily 200 EMA as the setup, and placing a stop above a swing high would be another way to initiate a short before trailing a stop down the 20 or 50-period EMA.