Of course, we don’t and can’t know who these other traders are, and even if we did it wouldn’t do us much good, because there are millions of them spread out across the globe trading away at any one time. However, the fact that there are so many competitors out there can work in our favour. Why? Because a crowd that big leaves a trail that we can follow and that can provide us with an edge.
Tracking the markets thinking
One of the methods that we can use to gauge what the rest of the market is thinking and doing is to look at what they are buying, selling and saying. That is measuring the sentiment towards the markets, and doing that in aggregate.
There are several ways in which we can do this. For example, we could study the weekly Commitment of Traders reports that are produced by the US CFTC which track changes in positioning in listed futures contracts (including FX majors) among key investor and trading groups. However, these reports are released three days in arrears, late on Friday afternoon in the USA. What’s more, they are not exactly user friendly in terms of their layout or the way that the data is presented or in the ease of interpretation (the CFTC is not known for its beautiful charts!).
Perhaps a more simplistic way to track trader sentiment is to look at what’s happening to the prices of safe-haven assets such as gold, the Japanese yen and Swiss franc and government bonds. If these instruments are rising in price, then that’s a sign of Risk-Off sentiment among traders.
If those safe-haven assets are strengthening when risk assets such as equities and Emerging Market currencies like the South African rand, Brazilian real and Turkish lira etc. are weakening, then you will know it’s risk-off. Of course, if we see risk assets appreciating while safe-havens are falling in price, that’s an indicator of Risk-On sentiment among market participants.
However, there are quite a few items to monitor the strategy outlined above. Since we are trying to gauge the aggregate sentiment of the crowd, it would be good if we had an indicator to gauge sentiment across a wide range of assets as well.
True we could try to use the VIX and other volatility indices, volatility is a measure of the rate and severity of price changes within an instrument or market. It tends to rise sharply as markets become fearful and trend lower when fear subsides and greed re-asserts itself. But once again, this would mean monitoring multiple items from different sources, to which we may have varying degrees of access.