As a futures trader I routinely check the commitment of traders report released by the CFTC. For those who aren’t familiar with the report it is a breakdown provided by the CTFC of each Tuesday’s open interest for market positions in which 20 or more traders hold positions equal to or above the reporting levels established by the CFTC. It’s widely followed in trading circles and gives a glimpse into what the big money, commercial money and even the small money is doing with their positions.
What piqued my interest in this data were comments in Tuesday’s “Breakfast with Dave” by Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg implying that the equity markets were overly bullish because the commitment of traders showed a net bullish position of 151,000 contracts. Let’s put this in context, however. (See here for the current allocation of large institutions – a much more useful indicator).
I have found over the years that the commitment of traders report tends to be a fairly weak short-term indicator. In fact, the COT tends to be more useful in following the long-term trends of large institutions and where they are currently investing money. Mr. Rosenberg’s implication that the current net bullish position should be seen as a contrarian sign is not necessarily true. After all, big money moves prices and knowing where the big money is going is more often than not a good indicator of where to put your money as opposed to what to avoid. But let’s go even further.
One of my favorite indicators is actually the reporting of small speculators in the CFTC’s report. This shows us what the amateur and small-time futures traders are doing with their money. I have found over the years that this is a fairly reliable contrarian indicator. As you can see in the chart below these traders were net bullish in just 4 weeks over the last year. The last time small traders were substantially net bullish was just before the market crumbled at the beginning of 2009. But what is it telling us now? As of last week’s report it is showing the largest net short position since the week following the March 8th bottom. In other words, small speculators were this bearish just before the market took off on a 60% rally.
What can we glean from all of this? The big money is bullish and the small money is almost as bearish as they’ve been all year (a possible explanation for the skepticism of the rally). You can come to your own conclusions….
* All data in the chart is in thousands
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.