Introduction to Relative Strength or Ratio 1-2

In part one we discussed how to construct and use relative strength ratios (RS) in trading and analysis. We also discussed common errors and best use. In part two we finish that general discussion. In part three we will analyze consumer staples verses consumers discretionary and begin to discuss other ratios that I find useful.

How do spreads correct? One mistake is assuming that a spread will always be corrected by the rich security moving lower to meet the cheaper security. In actuality there are multiple ways a spread can correct. For instance, the rich market corrects lower relative to the cheaper market, the rich market declines while the cheap market rises, or the rich market remains relatively fixed while the cheap market rallies. And remember, this is all done within the context of the broader market trend.

This isn’t particularly important when using spreads as informative to the business or market cycle (as I do). But if you are trading pairs (which outside of rates markets, I don’t) the legs should generally be market neutral or directionally ambivalent. Along this same line, if the dollar value of the two legs is vastly different, the share counts must be adjusted to close to money neutral or the disproportionally large side of the trade will dominate.

This can also be an issue when the notional amounts of the two instruments are very different. For instance, two-year futures verses ten-year futures. Twos represent 200k notional while tens represent 100k notional. They also have far different sensitivities (duration) to a given change in rates. It should also be recognized that some sectors or ETFs are dominated by one or two very large names that skew directionality in favor of those few names. Looking for ETFs comprised of equally weighted components will mostly eliminate this issue. For instance equal weighted consumer staples (RSPS) verses equal weighted consumer discretionary (RSPD).

It’s extremely important that you know what you are measuring. A good example is the change in the ratio between investment grade bonds (LQD) and high yield bonds (HYG). A quick glance at the chart might suggest that High Yield is weakening relative to Investment Grade. The easy conclusion would be that fundamentals in the high yield sector were deteriorating and investors were exiting HYG. While fundamentals are modestly deteriorating in HYG more quickly than in LQD, the dominant driver is the difference in duration between the two sectors. This can be seen when running the ratio between ten year and three-year treasuries and comparing it to LQD/HYG.

Many analysts smooth the RS line with moving averages. This is particularly useful when adjusting for the higher volatility of shorter time frames. This isn’t my preference. First, I prefer to use longer periods (particularly weekly) in my analysis. Second, while averages are useful, they aren’t an essential part of my own analysis toolkit. But there is value and moving averages can be used on spreads just as they are used on the underlying securities.

Finally, ratios can provide tremendous insight into economy and market cycles, for instance when, after a long RS decline, copper begins to strengthen relative to gold, the industrial economy may be entering the early stage of recovery. Or when consumer staples RS inflects higher relative to consumer discretionary it’s likely that the outlook for the consumer, and by extrapolation the economy, is weakening. In future parts we will discuss and illustrate several of these ratios.

And finally, many of the topics and techniques discussed in this post are part of the CMT Associations Chartered Market Technician’s curriculum.

Good Trading:
Stewart Taylor, CMT
Chartered Market Technician
Taylor Financial Communications