But if you have no feel for what the expectational environment is, you're kind of flying blind. You might have a good feel for the fundamentals and the technicals, but very often it's the expectational backdrop that makes the difference.
For example, many investors are frustrated because they own a stock and the stock's earnings meet or perhaps even exceed expectations. And lo and behold, the stock goes down and people are at a loss to explain why. But for other stocks, the earnings come in and exceed expectations, and the stock skyrockets. Why the difference
The reason is sentiment. Very often, the sentiment had been excessively bullish before the positive earnings report. In the days before the announcement, there may have been a heavy accumulation of call options. So there is a lot of anticipatory buying of the stock, which then pretty much has run its course when the earnings come out.
But with these and other measures, you must wait until they get to some kind of extreme level before they carry contrary implications. For example, when everybody who could potentially be bullish is already bullish, then essentially most of the buying power in that particular market has been dissipated. At that point, the market becomes very vulnerable to selling because there isn't enough buying to offset the selling.
Similarly, if only a very, very smal...
Perhaps they have even shorted the market. That means the market has become more primed to move upward because if buyers should come in they will not encounter much selling pressure because the selling has already occurred.
So imagine a poll today that says 80 percent of futures traders are bullish. Remember that people, whether futures traders or individual investors or market-letter writers, tend to be trend followers. Their opinion tends to be a reflection of what's going on in the market.
So if 80 percent are bullish that doesn't mean that the market is at its peak. No. 1, you would expect them to be bullish, and, No. 2, they can always get more bullish.
I think this points out a trap that the bears have fallen into. They've noticed signs of bullishness, namely the amount of money that's flowing into mutual funds, the investment clubs, the Beardstown Ladies' books and so on. You get into trouble when a market is in a powerful technical trend and you analyze it without reference to the fact that you expect people to be bullish in a bull market.
When a stock rises on positive earnings, which also occurs often, there may have been a lot of concern about the earnings report and investors may have bought a lot of put options, or shorted the stock.
Without a measure of sentiment that is accurate, you can go down all kinds of blind alleys. Some of those who have been bearish on the stock market will tell you that there are many more investment clubs than there were 15 years ago, or that mutual funds now outnumber the stocks on the Big Board. These are all good cocktail-party things to talk about, but they're not really measures of sentiment that have parameters associated with them. They're just anecdotal.