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posted on 12 March 2017

Technical Thoughts: How To Play Sector Rotation

by Jeff Miller, A Dash of Insight

Sector rotation is a regular media topic, but few really understand it. Stock moves are often described in sector terms - retail, transports, industrials, biotech, etc. You get the drift.

sector.rotation.caption

There has been a movement to define sectors in terms of ETFs, but the slicing and dicing was not very accurate. Trades often included companies that were not directly related to changing news or the economy. While this was not important for the ETF traders, it presented an opportunity for those who defined sectors differently from the standard ETFs - the real Sector Experts.

Oscar is our sector trader, so he is featured this week. We’ll discuss his method. We also have some interesting stock ideas from the rest of the gang.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange featured a helpful discussion on how to buy the dips. The comments were great as well. There is special value when readers engage with our crew of “technical analysts."

Today’s Theme

Sector rotation is a common trading and investment theme, but there is little agreement on what it really means. The introductory discussion (Investopedia) is helpful, but merely a starting point. For those who understand this process, this can be a very profitable trading method. As usual, I will conclude with a brief observation about the key points.

This Week - Playing Sector Rotation

Oscar

I’m back on REIT Real Estate (VNQ) this week. You might remember I picked this one back on December 15 (during a convenient little dip). It was fine for a short term holding, but I dropped in in early January once I’d made a modest profit.

My main problem with this sector is the volatility. The 200-day moving average is basically flat, but the prices have varied wildly. While VNQ was moving sideways, I was working other sectors with more of an upswing.

Still, I try to see the big picture. This sector is way off its all-time highs, and the stock has been appreciating in value all month. I’m okay with buying in again here - so long as I keep a close eye on it.

J: Why did you make the change in January?

O: I noticed that defenses were shifting against the rotation?

J: What?

O: You know. The Williams shift.

J: You are talking baseball?

O: Yes! Pitchers and catchers have reported - those happy words.

J: Many more teams have employed the shift. Even Joe Maddon, on occasion. The data-driven guys have nudged the game in a different direction.

O: Glad to see that you have noticed this trend.

J: I watched a White Sox game with my friend Ralph, (a brilliant trader, and the best baseball mind outside of baseball). We were in his seats behind home plate, watching Jim Thome at the plate. Left field was wide open. There was great opportunity because of the enemy expectations.

O: Are we talking baseball or stocks?

J: Both. How do you approach sector rotations?

O: First, I define sectors carefully. I do not accept some “textbook" definition. Next, I pick the right time frame. No reason to compete with those HFT guys, who change sectors because of a few words in a speech. Finally, I know when to exit.

J: And when is that?

O: When a different sector offers a better choice.

J: Do you want to elaborate on the VNQ decisions?

O: I monitor about 40 sectors and hold positions in the top three. When I sold the group in January, I bought some health insurance companies. When I bought back in, I sold China.

J: These were all sectors in the news - repealing Obamacare, trade agreement changes.

O: I don’t know about any of that. The chart tells all.

J: What about your current ratings and reader requests?

O: Here is the updated list. It does not show VNQ since no readers asked about it - but they should have!

Holmes

I like AutoNation (AN). Will higher lows lead to higher highs? In my training, this was a very positive signal. I do love to find stock that has dropped sharply without making a new low. The price action signals solid risk/reward plays for the short-term horizon. I don’t know why AutoNation fell from 52.50 to 47.68…but I see that is substantially higher than the previous low price on Nov 8 (40.26). I see a 3-4 dollar move in this name with a sell stop around 45.

J: In a pleasant change from your normal style, those emphasizing fundamentals agree with you. Look at the chart from Chuck Carnevale’s excellent F.A.S.T. Graphs site.

H: Dip-buying does not really reflect fundamentals.

J: Perhaps not directly, but it is easier to buy a dip when the value is there. Are you worried about the increase in sub-prime auto buyers?

H: I just explained why fundamentals are irrelevant for this trade.

J: The U.S. car market marks up the cars, and then gives rebates that you can count as part of the down payment. Over 30% of pickup truck buyers could not qualify for a credit card, but the payments get made.

O: As long as it keeps working for a few weeks. I will once again ring the cash register and move on!

Athena

I see short term potential here in Micron Technology (MU). Felix liked this one back in November of 2016 - in retrospect, a very wise move. At the same time, my goals are much different than his. Whereas Felix locked in a low price for long position, I’m comfortable buying up near the top and selling after a quick move.

This stock has been on the up-and-up since last May, with relatively few bumps in the road. The one exception, of course, is the downward slide MU has taken this month. That creates the opportunity for me to buy a small position, and look for it to appreciate within the next couple weeks.

J: This is one of the strangest fundamental charts I have seen. There is a valley of skepticism in this sector, with a sharp rebound expected.

A: That is the message of the market.

J: It is interesting to see that you and Felix agree. Readers often wonder what might bring you together.

A: Good question. I have wisdom while that fussbudget is eternally focused on twenty years ahead and whether his spice rack is organized.

Felix

I will once again begin with my responses to reader votes for the favorites list.

My list provides rankings within each zone, as well as the basics about buy, hold, and sell. The list includes the most recent reader questions as well as former requests where my rating has moved.

J: AMD is still on top?

F: It leads the reader list, but not my own.

J: I have had some questions about that. Readers want to know your own top picks.

F: If I talked about that here, I would be revealing what I recommend for your clients.

J: That is a problem. I want to be helpful to readers, but it should be a start for their own research. Do you have any fresh ideas of your own?

F: It’s nice of Athena to mention my mid-November Micron buy. I just wish I’d made the same move with Pandora (P). The absolute cratering of this holding in October of 2016 was a huge overcorrection. I wish I’d noticed it.

Despite that, I think now is an appropriate time for a long-term position here. The stock price has already grown from below $8.50 in early 2016. I’m optimistic that 2017 will bode similarly well. Count me in for at least 6 months on this one.

J: I am a regular Pandora listener. I hope they succeed in a highly competitive field - and that we make a profit on this investment!

Conclusion

Sector rotation is often cited, but seldom understood. There are several things you must get right.

  1. An accurate definition of each sector.

  2. An effective time frame - recognition, exploitation, exit.

  3. A proven testing process.

Sector trading reduces single stock risk, while presenting most of the gains. You are rewarded for getting the main trend right.

The Stock Exchange features the best technical ideas. We also provide contrasting opinions from fundamental investors. Each approach can be profitable, and both provide good lessons.

We welcome comments, suggestions, and followers for each character. Even Jeff. I try to have fun once a week in writing this, and I hope you get a chuckle or two from reading it. Here is how to join in.

Background on the Stock Exchange

Each week Felix and Oscar host a poker game for some of their friends. Since they are all traders they love to discuss their best current ideas before the game starts. They like to call this their “Stock Exchange." (Check it out for more background). Their methods are excellent, as you know if you have been following the series. Since the time frames and risk profiles differ, so do the stock ideas. You get to be a fly on the wall from my report. I am the only human present, and the only one using any fundamental analysis.

The result? Several expert ideas each week from traders, and a brief comment on the fundamentals from the human investor. The models are named to make it easy to remember their trading personalities.

Questions

If you want an opinion about a specific stock or sector, even those we did not mention, just ask! Put questions in the comments. Address them to a specific expert if you wish. Each has a specialty. Who is your favorite? (You can choose me, although my feelings will not be hurt very much if you prefer one of the models).

Getting Updates

We have a new (free) service to subscribers to our Felix/Oscar update list. You can suggest three favorite stocks and sectors. We report regularly on the “favorite fifteen" in each category - stocks and sectors - as determined by readers. Sign up with email to “etf at newarc dot com". Suggestions and comments are welcome. In the tables below, green is a “buy," yellow a “hold," and red a “sell." Each category represents about 1/3 of the underlying universe. Please remember that these are responses to reader requests, not necessarily stocks and sectors that we own. Sign up now to vote your favorite stock or sector onto the list!

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