This Indicator Might Have Saved You From The 2008 Crash

We spend a lot of time showing you how to use options to generate income and hedge your portfolio. Investors are slowly opening up to the idea of actively using options for market-beating returns and consistent income.

And While many have shed their reservations about using options for trading, there is another use for derivatives that we haven't talked about much.

One of our favorite uses for options is not for direct buying or selling, but as a gauge of market sentiment.

No indicator is perfect. But this is one of the most widely followed by professional traders. It can actually help you time the market. In fact, you could have used this to avoid much of market crash in 2008.

The Put-Call Ratio

The put-call ratio is an extremely easy-to-use indicator and marvelous in its simplicity. The ratio is the number of put options traded divided by the number of call options traded over a given period, usually one month or more.

For example, if there were a total of 2.9 million put options traded on the exchange and 3.2 million call options traded, the put-call ratio would be 0.91 for the period. Since calls, which represent an option to buy, outnumber puts, the measure would indicate bullish sentiment.

The ratio is most often used as a contrarian indicator -- a way of betting against the investment herd. When the ratio is extremely high, i.e., many put options relative to calls, contrarian investors reason that traders are overly pessimistic. When the ratio reaches extreme highs or lows, it may mean that the bullish or bearish outlook has gone too far and the potential exists for a market reversal.

For example, if everyone is buying calls and overly bullish, then the potential for new buyers may soon hit a limit, and the market will fall when the bulls start taking profits. Conversely, if everyone is selling, then the market may turn higher when buyers start scooping up lower prices.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) website provides historical data for the put-call ratio on equities, indices, and the overall total. The equity put-call ratio measures options traded on individual stocks. The index put-call ratio focuses on options traded on the major indices. The total put-call ratio is an aggregate measure of the two.

Since professional traders often use index options to hedge their portfolios, the index put-call ratio is usually above 1. Traders and investors are generally much more optimistic on individual stocks, so there are typically fewer puts relative to calls in the equity put-call ratio, meaning a measure of less than 1.

Using the Put-Call Ratio for Market Timing

We like to use the CBOE Total Put-Call Ratio (CPC) because it combines equity and index options for a more inclusive view of market sentiment. Since the daily ratio makes for a muddled chart, the best way to use it is through a simple moving average to smooth the data. Some traders use the 10-day moving average for short-term market direction. We like using the 120-day moving average for longer-term market movements.

You can see the total put-call ratio from 2006 through today in the graph below. The 120-day moving average is noted in red, with bullish and bearish paramaters placed at 1 and 0.85, respectively. (Note: this is just a loose parameter, not a hard-and-fast rule.) When the ratio is around 0.85, it means there are much fewer puts relative to calls traded and the market may be overly bullish. Conversely, a ratio of 1 is well above the long-term average and may indicate an overly pessimistic sentiment.

Put-to-Call ratio

After the put-call ratio moves beyond one of the boundaries, you may want to wait for confirmation of a turn in sentiment by waiting for the ratio to significantly correct from the boundary line. This may mean that you miss some of the initial change in sentiment, but it also helps avoid some of the false shifts indicated by the ratio.

Related Articles

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Other Topics


Latest Markets Videos

    Street Authority

    Founded in 2001 by industry veterans, StreetAuthority is a financial research and publishing division of Investing Daily. Our mission is to help individual investors earn above-average profits by providing a source of independent, unbiased — and most of all, profitable — investing ideas. Unlike traditional publishers, StreetAuthority doesn’t simply regurgitate the latest stock market news. Instead, we provide in-depth research, plus specific investment ideas and immediate action to take based on the latest market events.

    Learn More