SAN FRANCISCO -- Given that I've previously used this space to give light (and credence) to the
value stock argument, you might think I'd be crowing after
Wednesday's session. Nobody flicked a switch, rang a bell or sent out a memo signaling that the time had come to switch back into the blue-chips. But it sure felt that way as the
soared 320 while the
retreated 124, its third-straight triple-digit decline.
But I'm not crowing. And it's not (just) because I've been burned before by thinking that various events heralded value's return.
It's just that as ugly and wrenching as the past three days have doubtless been, I don't think there's been enough damage done to the tech/biotech stock complex to change the mindset of most investors. I have yet to see evidence -- anecdotal or otherwise -- to suggest that the ardor for tech stocks expressed in the emails I received following those value stock articles has been replaced by an equal (or greater) level of hatred and loathing. Nor do I believe that logic and reasoning -- that is, using traditional price-to-earnings relationships to determine fair value for stocks -- is suddenly back in favor.
That doesn't mean it can't get nastier still for the four-lettered stocks. But until investors show the kind of sustained adoration for
as they have for
, I think you have to give the Comp the benefit of its demonstrated ability to rebound rapidly from previous steep declines.
But enough of my ramblings.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's session, a lot of market pros and pundits were left scratching their already shaking heads (it's not easy) over what -- if anything -- spurred the techlike moves in some recently dowdy industry groups such as transports, pharmaceuticals and cyclicals.
Positioning ahead of Friday's triple-witching session was suggested by a few traders as a potential reason, although many confessed that was just an educated guess. So I contacted Steve Kim, equity derivatives strategist at
, who keeps a close eye on such developments.
"Definitely, some of it has to do with expiration," but that's more of a "fuel" for the move than a "trigger," Kim said.
The fuel being $27 billion of put contracts on the
index options, which currently outpace calls by $10 billion, according to Kim. (For the newbies: Puts are bets that a corresponding index or stock will fall; calls are bets that said index or stock will rise.)
"The way the hedge is, they have to short into weakness and buy back into strength," he said, suggesting there was a lot of buying back going on in today's strength. The strategist also noted it's been unusual for puts to outstrip calls in recent years, because the market has been in a general uptrend. "This time around, investors are nervous in general."
An open question is whether investors choose to let those puts expire Friday, try to unwind them or roll them forward into the June contract.
Those decisions -- along with some key economic data -- no doubt will have some effect on how the remainder of the week turns out.
Meanwhile, it's fair to say that some investors were caught leaning the wrong way this week. While puts topped calls on the S&P 500, calls on the
unit trusts have far outnumbered puts, Kim said (although there's
evidence that the pendulum is swinging).
Since last Friday, the QQQs are down 10.2%.
Still Bullish After All These Years
In the midst of today's wild blue-chip rally,
announced changes to its model portfolio that included a reduction of equity exposure to 55% from 60% and a subsequent increase in cash to 10%. The bond allocation remained unchanged at 35%. (Whew!)
Aghast at the news, I called Alfred Goldman, chief market strategist at the St. Louis-based firm. For those unfamiliar with Goldman, I should point out that my aghastation (aghastness?) stemmed from the fact that he has been one of the most steadfast, avowed and outspoken bulls in recent years. Be it in conversations with me or with other writers, or during his frequent appearances on
, the strategist could almost always be counted on to put an optimistic spin on market developments. "A pause that refreshes" is one of Al's favorite ways of describing (almost) any downturn.
So it was with some trepidation/excitement that I called him today to ask whether he was reining in his famously bullish outlook. Other market watchers with similar credentials -- such as
professor Jeremy Siegel and Edward Kerschner, chairman of investment policy at
-- have published reports recently indicating their concern about valuations and, hence, the bull market itself.
Going by the journalists' rule of thumb that "three equals a trend," Goldman joining them would signal that
significant has changed.
But, "I have a different outlook" was all Goldman would say about his firm's allocation change before he abruptly switched me to Mark Keller, chairman of A.G. Edwards' investment strategy committee.
Keller was not available and did not respond to my request for additional comment. But I was heartened nonetheless, knowing that even in erratic (dare I say "capricious") times like these, there are some things you can still count on -- like volatility, taxes and Al Goldman being bullish.
Aaron L. Task writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at