10 June 2009

Golden Crosses

Bloomberg ran a premature piece yesterday by Julie Cruz on the golden cross. What is the golden cross? Here's an excerpt that explains the phenomenon:

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is approaching a so-called golden cross that’s considered a buy signal by analysts who make predictions based on patterns in price charts.

A golden cross occurs when the 50-day moving average, which is currently at 878.04 for the S&P 500, rises above the 200-day moving average, which is at 918.33, Bloomberg data show. The formation implies further gains for the stock market, according to this type of technical analysis.

“If the S&P can hold above its 200-day moving average, the potential for a golden cross increases,” Mary Ann Bartels and Stephen Suttmeier, technical analysts at Bank of America Corp., wrote in a report to clients yesterday.

The U.S. benchmark index’s 50-day moving average has been below the 200-day moving average since December 2007. The 40-day moving average already went above the 150-day moving average in May this year, forming a so-called silver cross, according to Bank of America.

As much as I enjoy playing with technical analysis, I find I'm still quite skeptical of its reliability and predictive capabilities. So I fired up charts of the S&P 500 since 1980 and picked out the twelve golden crosses over the past 30 years.

I have attached and annotated those twelve golden crosses in charts below. I have marked the date of the golden cross with a purple vertical line, the next day's open price with a red/green line, and charted the next six months-or-so to see if the trade was profitable or not. Please click on the image to make it large and legible.

Before considering the success rate of buying the index at the open following the golden cross event, one should note one significant caveat: the bull market of 1982-1999 encompasses nine of the twelve S&P 500 golden crosses since 1980. That means there's already a positive bias on these results. However, the most recent three golden cross trades were post-1999, and were all very profitable.

Taking into account upwards of a six-month holding period for the trade, my quick-and-dirty analysis says that golden cross trades numbered 1, 3, 8, 9, 10, and 12 provided excellent returns. Trades numbered 6 and 11 provided good returns. Trades 2 and 5 had their moments but were mediocre. And trades 4 and 7 were craptastic.

From this admittedly small sample size, the golden cross S&P 500 trade looks pretty good, but with a one-in-six chance for craptastic results, is far from foolproof. Golden crosses can engender golden blunders.

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