The Plunge Protection Team Intervention Risk Indicator

By: Robert McHugh | Sun, Mar 5, 2006
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For the past several years, we have seen repeated "out of the blue" short-covering rallies just about the time a decline seems to be gaining some momentum. Our suspicion has been that the "Working Group" established by law in 1988 to buy markets should declines get out of control has become far more interventionist than was originally intended under the law. This group has since been dubbed the Plunge Protection Team. There are no minutes of meetings, no recorded phone conversations, no reports of activities, no announcements of intentions. It is a secret group including the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Head of the SEC, and their surrogates which include some of the large Wall Street firms. The original objective was to prevent disastrous market crashes. Lately it seems, they buy markets when they decide markets need to be bought, including equity markets. Their main resource is the money the Fed prints. The money is injected into markets via the New York Fed's Repo desk, which easily showed up in the M-3 numbers, warning intervention was nigh.

This past November, the Fed announced with little comment and no palatable explanation that it would no longer report the M-3 number after March 2006. It is now almost March 2006. Without the useful resource of M-3, we need to find other tools to monitor when the PPT is likely to intervene, and kill shorts.

For the PPT to be effective in driving markets higher, the potential for a sustained turnaround rally depends upon a high volume of open short interest. By measuring this short interest by the level of CBOE put options, we can gauge when markets are ripe for PPT intervention. The way it works is the PPT decides markets need intervention, a decline needs to be stopped, or the risks associated with political events that could be perceived by markets as highly negative and cause a decline, need to be prevented by a rally already in flight. To get that rally, the PPT's key component -- the Fed -- lends money to surrogates who will take that fresh electronically printed cash and buy markets through some large unknown buyer's account. That buying comes out of the blue at a time when short interest is high. The unexpected rally strikes blood, and fear overcomes those who were betting the market would drop. These shorts need to cover, need to buy the very stocks they had agreed to sell (without owning them) at today's prices in anticipation they could buy them in the future at much lower prices and pocket the difference. Seeing those stocks rally above their committed selling price, the shorts are forced to buy -- and buy they do. Thus, those most pessimistic about the equity market end up buying equities like mad, fueling the rally that the PPT started. Bingo, a huge turnaround rally is well underway, and sidelines money from Hedge Funds, Mutual funds and individuals rushes in to join in the buying madness for several days and weeks as the rally gathers a life of its own.

We are about to enter another one of these Bearish set ups. Many technical indicators are warning in spades of a significant coming decline. March is loaded with political risks, cyclical risks, and technical indicator risks. They all point down. With the Fed targeting March as the month M-3 will be hidden, we must presume they are literally loaded for Bear, ready to buy markets with an avalanche of fresh money, so much so that they do not want anyone to know. Thus the risk of PPT intervention at some point during the upcoming decline is quite high. Question: How will we know when conditions are ripe for the Fed and its PPT buddies to intervene? Are Bears wise to not play this next decline, or any future decline for that matter? If so, traders who like to play both up trends and down trends are destined to lose half their money making opportunities.

Below, we have developed what we call a Plunge Protection Team Risk Indicator. This indicator is based upon the premise that the most effective PPT intervention requires an extreme Bearish sentiment as measured by short interest. This indicator measures short interest from the level of CBOE put options outstanding. It simply compares a 10 day moving average of CBOE puts with a 30 day moving average of CBOE puts. Whenever the ratio of the 10 Day to the 30 Day rises above 1.18, we are at great risk of a short covering rally of some sort, probably PPT induced. In other words, whenever the 10 Day MA is more than 18 percent above the 30 Day MA, if you are holding short-term puts, or a short position of some other form, you may want to think about getting out with whatever profits or losses you have.

We have marked in red arrows those times over the past 18 months when the ratio exceeded 1.18. In each and every instance, at least a several day sharp rally developed. It does appear that in every instance, there was a day's notice before the spike reversal higher took off. It's sad we have to anticipate this central planning intervention into what used to be free markets, but if we can be prepared, then we can still trade both the ups and the downs profitably. Unfortunately, we must now deal with the metamorphosing of capitalism into corporatist fascism -- which simply means, what is good for corporations is right, at the expense of our nation's founding principles and individual rights. It means markets can never be allowed to drop for fear Wall Street firms' profits will shrink. It isn't about investment portfolio valuations, for it is proven that dips aid the safest known investment strategy individuals can use, long-term Dollar Cost Averaging. Dips can be good. They provide investments "on sale." It seems it's about political ratings, and television ratings, and commissions.

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Robert McHugh

Author: Robert McHugh

Robert D. McHugh, Jr. Ph.D.
Main Line Investors, Inc.

Robert McHugh

Robert McHugh Ph.D. is President and CEO of Main Line Investors, Inc., a registered investment advisor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and can be reached at The statements, opinions and analyses presented in this newsletter are provided as a general information and education service only. Opinions, estimates and probabilities expressed herein constitute the judgment of the author as of the date indicated and are subject to change without notice. Nothing contained in this newsletter is intended to be, nor shall it be construed as, investment advice, nor is it to be relied upon in making any investment or other decision. Prior to making any investment decision, you are advised to consult with your broker, investment advisor or other appropriate tax or financial professional to determine the suitability of any investment. Neither Main Line Investors, Inc. nor Robert D. McHugh, Jr., Ph.D. Editor shall be responsible or have any liability for investment decisions based upon, or the results obtained from, the information provided.

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