It’s been a dramatic few days for global markets as the near universally expected “Bremain” turned out to be a shocking “Brexit” instead. The S&P 500 was complacently resting near all-time highs the night before the vote, but a few short hours later we found ourselves in the middle of a panic driven selloff. Friday’s selling extended through Monday morning, but by Monday afternoon we were running out of fearful sellers and found support near 2,000. Then Tuesday we surprised nearly everyone when we rebounded 1.8%. The question on everyone’s minds is what comes next? Is this a dead cat bounce before tumbling lower, or is the worst already behind us?
It’s been analyzed to death from countless other sources, but the Cliff Note’s version is the Brexit is more political than economic, especially when viewed from U.S. shores. A strong dollar, weak oil, and potential economic slowdown in Europe will be headwinds for our energy and export companies, but this is nothing new. Our service based and import heavy economy survived these headwinds all year and this is largely more of the same. This means the “Brexit” selloff is a buying opportunity, not a precursor to something much worse. If anything, this political uncertainty delays a Fed rate hike on the short end of the yield curve and the flight to safety is pushing down yields on longer end. Low interest rates leads to investors bidding up the prices of stocks and the risk to the markets from increasing rates gets put off yet again.
That’s the big picture. But what we really want to know is how to trade this and for that we need to zoom in. The Brexit is a large, ambiguous mess that no one understands because nothing like this has happened before. It would be a mistake to assume two-days of selling is all it took to fully price in the risks and headlines that will come out over the next weeks and months. While it was nice to see global markets bounce Tuesday, it is premature to call this thing over. Currently the market is expecting a rather smooth and painless transition for Britain. But all it takes is for one loud-mouthed politician to start spouting off that now is the time to reconsider and renegotiate these free trade agreements. Or another from Europe to say that London won’t get a free pass and needs to suffer the consequences of their decision. Right now politicians on both sides of the English Channel are humbled and meek from this gigantic rebuke. But give it a couple of days and soon they will find their big mouths again. When they do, expect the market to shutter and reel. At best we should expect the market to remain range bound for a while. That means these pops should be sold, not chased. We will survive this and pull out of it this fall, but expect it to be a bumpy ride between now and then.
What can we learn from this? Was the vote as unpredictable as people are claiming? I’ll be the first to admit I fell for it. I was nearly certain Britain would vote to stay in the EU. But just because that was the most likely outcome doesn’t mean it was a good trade. The previous runup in price ahead of the vote created a very poor risk/reward and is why I chose to be in cash ahead of the vote.
Quoting last Thursday’s Premium Analysis sent to Subscribers the day before Britain’s historic Brexit vote:
Traders are fixated on Thursday’s Brexit vote and this drift up to 2,100 resistance tells us the crowd is optimistic and expecting a favorable outcome. This positive outlook is somewhat unusual because more often than not the market fears uncertainty and typically prices in the worst, but this time traders are buying ahead of what they think will be a Stay result. Unfortunately for those positioning for pop, they will be disappointed because a big chunk of this buying is happening ahead of time. If no one is left to buy the headline, we could actually stumble into a sell the news situation. The market hates to be predictable and right now the least expected outcome would be a selloff following what most bulls are hoping for.
While I agree with the crowd that a Stay vote is the most likely outcome, I don’t want to buy ahead of the vote because much of the upside has already been realized. Since this Brexit drama never really pressured prices, there is not a lot of upside to be realized once this weight is removed. While we could surge 20-points in a knee-jerk relief rally, we could also open down 40-points if the Leave crowd surprises everyone. That is a poor risk/reward even if the reward is a higher probability outcome.
What’s a good trade worth to you? How about avoiding a loss?
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Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and writer who has successfully traded stocks and options for more than a decade. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA and M.S. Marketing from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes manufacturing engineering at Fortune 500 companies, structural engineering, small business consultant, collegiate instructor, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two young children.