Jul

26

 I have heard discussion lately about the market shaking out weak positions on a decline, but I think that the whole concept of "shaking out" weak longs is, on its face, silly.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, the DOW is at 1500. That 1500 is made up of the shares outstanding of the Dow, times the prices per share.

So, the Dow falls to, say 1490. What has happened at an underlying basis is that net money has been pulled out of Dow component stocks.

Then, say it quickly bounces up to 1500. What does that represent? Net money flowing into Dow stocks.

The pundits will say that there was a "shakeout of the weak longs" on the drop, which somehow makes the market go up under some sort "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link" theory.

But what really happened? The same amount of money that flowed out flowed back in.

How can we possibly interpret what that means? Was the money that flowed out weak money, with the money that flowed back in "strong"? How is a guy that wouldn't buy at 1501 a "strong" sort of bull if he buys at 1499?

I don't buy it.

Charles Pennington replies: 

The only rigorous thing we can say about a 10-point down move followed by a 10-point recovery is that the magnitudes of the two changes in market capitalization are equal.

That doesn't preclude the idea that the down move might have been from something like forced selling due to margin concerns, or as one might put it, the sellout of the "weak longs". It's not silly to talk about weak longs; their selling could be different. It would be by definition hurried, and not reflecting the sellers' opinion of the market.

One could also speculate that once these margined-up traders have sold, they won't be selling again, and that that's bullish.

That may or not be correct, but it's not a silly idea.

James Sogi comments:

The market can drop like the breathtaking morning and midday airdrops Wednesday when buyers pull bids reducing liquidity. An example is when price skips over a price tick down when all the bids are pulled or the spread becomes .5. Here is a situation where no money is changing hands but price drops not due to selling pressure, but due to lack of a bid and Globex moving the inside market.

There is no "money flow", rather there is drying up of liquidity. This can be quantified rigorously in microstructure. This is the third and fourth dimensions behind most screens. The afternoon runs back up were even more violent and sudden than the drops, which had a measured quality to them except as it culminated.

It is ironic and a consummation of recent moves that after all the fireworks today we are just above where we were last night. 

Adam Robinson writes:

I understand the point Prof. Pennington is making about weak and strong longs, and while it may be useful as an explanatory or thinking construct for interpreting market action — I use it myself to distinguish the "strength" of conviction" (largely a function of capitalization, of course), I don't see how this notion has any predictive value.

More fundamentally, on reflection, the entire notion of weak vs. strong (as well as the notion of "smart money") seems suspect even as a construct.

Let's agree, arguendo, that a weak long is a trader less able or less willing (than a strong long) to tolerate adverse movements or adverse "noise" (i.e., random fluctuations against his position). (By the way, the notion of "noise" itself in trading is problematic since the analog, carried over from information theory, assumes the existence of a "true signal". That is to say, you can't have noise without having communication, just as you can't have dirt without having an underlying system in which the matter is considered dirt.) To return, let's say that the market moves against our "weak long" and he sells. He is forehead-slapping "weak" only if the market moves up shortly after he sells.

But if the market continues down, our bull was lucky he was weak. Had he been stronger and the market decline more protracted or precipitous, he'd have endured more pain before ultimately abandoning his position.

But even more fundamentally, these distinctions also confound process and outcome by ignoring the impact of random fluctuations (i.e., luck).

A speculator can analyze the market as "correctly" as his insights and statistics allow, put on a position, and yet the trade can be a loss.

More simply put, a "correct process" does not always guarantee a favorable outcome, owing to the intervention of luck — at least in the short run. In the long run, the correct process should prevail (although even that may be tautology).

As Damon Runyon said, "The race is not always to the swift, nor battle to the strong — but that's the way to bet." 

Ronald Weber adds:

Why don't we just call them margin-long and cash-long instead of weak/strong long, then everyone would be happy!

The fact that many names ended well off their lows could indicate that the shorts are "weak" (or "timid") and eager to close their positions, or that the margin-longs have been taken on a ride! We'll see…


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