Many Technical Strategies Didn't Escape Meltdown -- And Now Lag S&P

The recent struggles of many top fundamental-focused stock-pickers — Warren Buffett, Bill Miller, David Dreman — have been well-documented. But according to Bloomberg, many technical-based stock-selection strategies have also been hammered during the recent bear — and now are significantly lagging the market in the rebound.

“Ever since the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index peaked in October 2007, six of eight [popular technical] strategies — which are supposed to make money whether stocks rise or fall — failed, according to back-testing data compiled by Bloomberg,” write Michael Tsang and Eric Martin. “As the bear market erased $11 trillion from the value of U.S. equities, buy and sell signals from those six technical indicators produced losses of as much as 49 percent, the data show.”

Of the eight systems — stochastics, Bollinger bands, relative strength, commodity channels, parabolic systems, the Williams %R indicator, the directional movement indicator, and the moving average convergence/divergence method — two fared quite well from Oct. 2007 to March 9 of this year, a period in which the S&P 500 lost 56.8%. The directional movement Indicator method produced a 24% gain, while the moving average convergence/divergence method gained 25.9%. The other six methods, however, were down between 24% and 49%.

From the March 9 low through May 1 of this year, however, the S&P surged almost 30%, while five of the eight timing strategies were in the red, according to Bloomberg. The only method that came close to the S&P’s returns for the period was the relative strength method, which gained about 22%.

When you put the two periods together — starting at the beginning of the bear market in October 2007 and ending on May 1 of this year — six of the eight timing methods lost between 22% and 44%. (The directional movement indicator method and moving average convergence/divergence method were the gainers.) That means most beat the S&P’s 44% loss, which is to be expected in a bear market environment. Technical market-timing strategies tend to fare better than buy-and-hold methods during bear markets, and worse during bull markets. The big question now is whether the timing methods pared losses enough during this bear to overcome the underperformance they may produce in the next bull. Given how much ground they’ve given up in the past two months or so, it doesn’t look too promising for them.

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