Back in September 2007, when I thought the markets were a little too frothy, I created a list of Overripe High Fliers. A few weeks later, in From Overripe to Vulnerable? I took the current list of 14 overripe high flier stocks that had been drawing a great deal of speculative attention into something I called the OHFDEX – an index based on those overripe high fliers.
Not only was the timing of the OHFDEX impeccable, but the post became so popular that it spawned a number of follow-up posts, including, OHFDEX One Year Later.
In the spirit of the original OHFDEX, I have been watching closely the recent speculative frenzy in some stocks that have come to be known as “junk financials.” These are financial firms that were the recipients of government bailout funds during the financial crisis and now sell at valuations substantially below 2007 levels. They include American International Group (AIG), Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE), Citigroup (C), CIT Group (CIT) and Bank of America (BAC). In the last few weeks, these stocks have routinely accounted for 30% or more of the total volume on the NYSE and on Friday alone the group of six traded 2.53 billion shares.
While I find the transition from risk-averse behavior to risk-tolerant behavior on the part of investors to be an important step in the healing process, the recent headlong rush into risk-seeking behavior has me more than a little concerned. How healthy can the markets be when speculation in six companies that were all but bankrupt a few months ago now accounts for one out of every three shares traded each day?
In order to track the speculative interest in junk financials, I have created what I am calling the JunkDEX, which consists of equally weighted positions (as of 1/2/09) in AIG, FNM, C, CIT and BAC (I elected to omit FRE due to the strong similarities with FNM.) I scaled the JunkDEX so that it had the same value as the SPX at the beginning of the year. As this week's chart of the week below shows, the JunkDEX led the S&P 500 index down from January through March, bottomed two days earlier and rallied impressively through the middle of May. From May through early August, the JunkDEX lagged the SPX significantly, before spiking dramatically during the past 3 ½ weeks.
The JunkDEX looks as if it may be approaching a blow-off top. If this turns out to be the case, I expect it will signal an imminent top in the broader markets, just as the OHFDEX did.
Going forward, I will keep an eye on speculative activity in the junk financials and in the JunkDEX for clues about the sustainability of the recent bull leg. I will update the performance of the JunkDEX, as appropriate and suggest that traders treat these stocks with extra caution, whether long or short.
[Disclosure: short AIG at time of writing]