One of the things I like to do when I see the markets bounce is what I call my “atheist check.” Essentially, I take a look at the current and recent numbers for the ISEE to see if there are many believers who are flocking to buy call options. The lower the number, the more atheists there are that are still out there (or ‘undecideds’ if you prefer the political metaphor to the religious one), and therefore the larger number of potential converts available. Contrarians love potential converts, as they are the future fuel for subsequent bull legs. Generally, when I see an ISEE number (they use a call to put ratio, not a put to call ratio like the CBOE does) of 120 or below, I consider this to be a bullish signal. An ISEE of under 100, which signifies more people opening new put positions than call positions, is very bullish.
As a rule, an ISEE of under 100 is relatively rare, particularly over extended periods. What I find noteworthy about the current market is that the ISEE has closed below 100 for five of the past six days and at 92 as of 12:50 EST today, is on target to make that six of seven. The only other time that the ISEE has registered six of seven sub-100 closes since the exchange began keeping records in October 2002 is in August 2007, at the very bottom of the selloff caused by the first iteration of a subprime panic.
As far as I am concerned, the current ISEE data is almost as compelling as the 37.50 VIX spike we had in August. While the VIX demonstrates how fearful the atheists are, the ISEE reveals how many of them are out there and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, which comes from John Bender and appears in Jack Schwager’s Stock Market Wizards, “It's not the current opinion of the stock that matters, but rather the potential change in the opinion.”