Taking Turns: Money for Nothing, Reversals for Free

Ok, I admit it. The title’s a riff on a lyric from the old Dire Straits song Money for Nothing. You’ve probably heard it, or maybe you wish you hadn’t. Either way, it’s relevant because I often see traders talking about “the 12:00 turn”, or “the 9:00 turn” or a reversal that’s supposed to magically materialize at specific times of trading day. Of course, the implication here’s that if you only knew about it ahead of time you could place (or close) your trade and rake in the coin. You know… money for nothing, chicks for free.

So I decided to ask and answer the questions. Can you get money for nothing? Are chicks really free?


For this study I took the last 90 days of 1 minute data from each of the instruments in below, used the Acme Zig Zag to export the swing data then graphed it in Excel. The only real variable in each of the instruments is the setting for the minimum swing size. I wanted to filter out the itty-bitty ones and still end up with sample size (aka “the N”) that could product statistically significant results.  So I experimented a little with each instrument until I came up with a minimum swing that produced somewhere between 1000-2000 swings over that 90 day period. The specifics are in each section below.

All times are Pacific/UTC-8.


CL – West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil

  • Minimum Swing Size: .2 point
  • Sample Size: 1706

CL definitely has a tendency to reverse in the 8:00-8:20 window, as well as the 11:00-11:30 window. Some other notables are the long poles near the half hours between 6:00-7:30… the first 90 minutes of the session.


ZB – US Treasury Bond

  • Minimum Swing Size: .1 point
  • Sample Size: 1961

ZB has several common reversal times, the 5:30-5:40 window being the most prominent with other notables around 6:00, 7:00 and 11:45 – 12:00.

ES – S & P 500 Index

  • Minimum Swing Size: 5 points
  • Sample Size: 1762

Because the US equity indexes have the most significant cash-versus-futures session of all the instruments in this study it’s not really surprising that the most prominent reversal times are the open and close of the cash session. But it’s worth calling out the cluster of times from 9:00-9:15 AM as well as 11:15-11:40. There are some other long poles in there that tend to coincide with clock times,but honestly, they’re probably not frequent enough to call an edge. One thing I can say, though, is that ES operates on a rhythm not really apparent in the other instruments.

NQ – NASDAQ 100 Index

  • Minimum Swing Size: 15 points
  • Sample Size: 2501

NQ’s the rowdy kid. It starts the cash session kicking and screaming, then settles down considerably. As with ES, there’s a cluster of regularity around 9:00 and then another 11:15-11:30. This shouldn’t be too surprising –  there’re a number of stocks in common with these two indices.


RTY – Russel 2000 Index

  • Minimum Swing Size: 3 points
  • Sample Size: 2057

Like NQ, RTY’s also a pretty violent out of the session gate. Many of the names in this index are not particularly liquid, so it’s not really a shock that this thing is basically a mosh pit that settles down after not too long. After the initial herks and jerks, the 6:50-7:05 and 7:30-8:15 windows yield a lot of swings, though I’d be hard pressed to say this is specific enough to trade with or against. Like the other stock indices, that 11:15-11:40 window has something to it. Buy and sell programs are tending to start up in this window once Wall Street gets back from their 3 Martini lunches.


Money for nothing? Chicks for free?  Probably not, sadly. But is there enough regularity in these instruments that you should be paying attention and be ready to act during significant time windows? Absolutely.


Until the next time… trade ’em well.

New Market Study: Most Probable Days for Highs and Lows of the Week

Got another refreshed market study ready for all y’all, fresh out of the number cruncher.

Have a look »

New Market Study: Most Probable Times for Highs and Lows of the Day – 10 Futures Contracts

Nerd alert number 2 for the week… and fresh off the data press.

Let’s go.

New Market Study: Directional Potential of Popular Futures Contracts

Nerd alert…

I’ve just published a new data-focused market study on a bunch of futures contracts. Curious? You know you are.

Head on over now

Call, Raise or Muck?

I really never do this. I mean do my weekend homework out loud. But there’s so much happening, or about to happen, if nothing else I feel like I need coalescence my thoughts with some writing. Here goes…

So now that OPEC has decided to play their hand (probably last real hand of cards, but that’s another post) and raise the stakes in the oil game I thought it only fitting to watch There Will Be Blood 4 or 5 times in a row. Daniel Day Lewis blows me away every time.

With OPEC’s decision the stakes have moved from monetary to existential. It’s not only about price per barrel but about whether certain governments will be able to afford to maintain their status quo going forward. Venezuela is an obvious one, Russia certainly a most important other. Over the weekend Russian oil men have been saying “Da, veee can leeve wit zeextee doular oil.”  But what else would they say? If you watched any of the Sochi Olympics you know the unofficial Russian national motto is “Don’t be a pussy.” You have to expect a non-flinch.

But in my view the door’s been opened to all kinds of unintended consequences. As of late I have become a ravenous student of WW1 and of WW2 in particular. WW2 is an object lesson in full-frontal, all-in existential gamesmanship and in the impacts of unintended consequences on plans put in motion by all sides. So many small, unpredictable events happened to each sides’ plans along the way which had an out-sized impact on the actual outcomes. If you have a couple hours to kill and you’re interested in this subject, a concise way to see it animated is in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!. In my view the energy markets are a new kind of modern war, and right now OPEC has just decided to (metaphorically) bomb US/Canadian oil’s Pearl Harbor. Watch the movie. You’ll see the parallels, methinks. There will be a reaction.

I think the most pressing question the WTI market must answer Monday and Tuesday maybe is whether there are any longs left to muck their cards. We saw an outsize range on Friday and the highest one-day volume since 2011. But the question on my mind is whether the margin clerks were able to reach all the (big) clients they were too timid to summarily liquidate. Put another way, was this significant enough capitulation to see some interesting upside soon?




My read says not just yet, probably. But on the other end if you are wanting to take delivery of some crude oil early next year (or need to hedge low and long), there has never been a better time in the last 4 years to buy! Buy! BUY! with both hands. This kind of buying would likely rebalance the market over the next few days (at the bottom of the long term profile balance area above). If the actual crude consumers are pretty well stocked up short term they’ll wait and we’ll know it. In the intraday time frame there are enough growling, salivating speculators participating to shove this contact around pretty easily and wildly. So unless those other time framers come ready to party there’s not a lot of doubt in my mind we’ll test the $60 mark. This happens to be about the 2x standard deviation of the long term VWAP from July 2008 (shown above). So not only would that make the range almost poetically symmetric, there’s some Fibonacci confluence around there too. That handle is also close enough to the lower 1 sigma implied volatility range I tweeted  a couple days ago to be very plausible. If the OTF-ers do show up to take control and/or a pile of late shorts need to cover, the Thursday low of 67.75, 70.00 handles are clear targets/points of potential resistance and within 1 sigma implied volatility strike zone too.

Here’s one other interesting chart I thought I’d share. While I am only a small-scale farmer who does not lock in or hedge against energy prices, I find it interesting to look at the relative performance of oil versus several natural resources and agricultural commodities which, in general, take lots of oil to produce and bring to market:



5-year relative performance of WTI against corn, wheat, sugar, coffee, copper, natural gas, lumber and cattle.


Seen this way, WTI has pretty much reverted to the mean and then some. This is in general bullish for producers and transporters of everything else (sans natural gas, I guess). So I’ll see your barrel and raise you a bushel.

To the Spoos and Beyond

This has to be the most dispised rally of recent memory. Longest period of closes above the blah blah SMA blah blah. The Honey Badger Market don’t care. (S)he just don’t. All the destruction discussed above has in no small measure created this monster below:



So you can’t love the short WTI trade and hate the long SP500 trade. It’s totally irrational given this kind of correlation. But now it’s gone vertical, Top Gun style. Supersonic. There are multiple bogies on the 6 and I think we all know what happens to parabolic moves. This move will probably be – at least in the shortest of terms – somewhat self-governing given the recent brutality suffered by the SP 500 energy sector. This sector makes up over 8% of the SP500 (as of Nov 28), and the big ol’ bear flag and Friday’s price action says there’re more grisly candles to come:





Despite the weakness in energy and (to a lesser extent) materials, the other itsy bitsy sector spiders are still crawling up the spout.




You can see some of the above sector weakness (and possible sector rotation appearing) in the momentum and advance/decline indicators:




So it would’t be a surprise to see the beginnings of some sector rotations here as well as some additional margin calls in the large cap energy sector which I’m thinking will mute at least some of the ES upside for a bit. Black Friday retail sales news flow will begin in earnest Monday as well and it remains to be seen what offsetting or accelerating effects this might have. All that said, we have several nearby branches on the ugly tree to be hit, should we fall off:




Given also that we have a pregnant b-shaped balance from the holiday week (not shown) the most interesting prices, again given the way it looks right now, are the gap and VPOC below at 2060-61 and another pair down at 2052-51. Any more below that and I’ll look for a retreat to the 2036 composite HVA/balance/Nov 20 support area. To the upside we have 2 holiday week VPOCs in the 2072 area as well as an open gap at 2074 and a 2075.25 ON high.

But I’ll wait to see the overnight session then decide how I’ll play my cards for tomorrow.

UPDATED: Initial Balance Breakouts by the Numbers

A fresh batch of data for the long-term initial balance (IB) breakout study has just been run and written up. It’s always illuminating to see how the market morphs over time. And it does. Sometimes imperceptibly, but always inevitably.

Want to know what’s changed? Have a look here…

Updated Market Study – Breaking the Initial Balance Range

Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Or something hot off the press, like there is here.

Trade ’em well today. It’s a tricky one…

Spotlighting the 30 Year US Treasury Bond Futures Contract

Hot off the keyboard we have a brand new spotlight of the 30 year T-Bond. If you’re used to the index futures, the ZB’s a horse of a different color for sure.
Check it out…

Updated Market Study – Tick by Tick Volume Analysis, Part 3

Hope everyone is doing well out there in trading land. It’s been a while, maybe too long, but I’ve gone and freshened up one of our most popular market studies.

Curious? You know you are. ;-} Have a look here…

Market Study Bootcamp: Part 2 – Popping the Big Questions

It’s been a long time. Much longer than I would have liked since Part 1 of this series. Things have been extremely busy here on The Ranch and, as they say, better late(er) than never.

But here it is, the next installment of the Market Study Bootcamp. We’re ready, dressed in our white lab coats, clipboards in hand, pocket protectors stuffed, glasses taped, to do a little information science.

Since all good science starts with a question, we will too. That question is “what does our instrument look like?” When I say look, I don’t mean literally look, as in what appears in the reflection when you hold a chart up to the mirror. I mean what are its general characteristics? As I posited in Part 1, I think in order to be successful trading any instrument, you really need to know it like a spouse, sibling, parent, best friend, etc. You need to develop an intuition for how it behaves and what makes it tick – so to speak. But that’s a qualitative kind of knowledge, and in order to gain that kind of intuitive understanding, it can help to first get to know an instrument quantitatively.

That can seem like a dauntingly big job. But not necessarily so, if you focus on the big picture and refuse to be mired in the minutiae. Case in point – below are the four major elements I want to understand as an intraday trader trying to play the swings:

  • How frequently does it swing? I want to know how many times per day it tends to swing or rotate. This is a key facet of any instrument. I’ve said many times before that you really should trade instruments suited to your temperament and natural disposition. For example, do you prefer quick, all-out effort of sprinting or the strategic and duration challenges of the marathon?
  • What is the magnitude of the swings? If we traded every swing precisely and perfectly, what are the most frequent potential rewards for any risk taken? This should be self-evident in terms of its importance. You’re in the risk management business as a trader, and a huge part of managing risk is understanding “whens and whethers” of the possible rewards.
  • How long do the swings take? What is the distribution of swing durations?  How long we should be waiting for a swing to play out is again a key facet of becoming intimate with your instrument. Is its style of price action fast and furious or is the tempo generally slow and low? Again, it’s all about whether you and your instrument are compatible. There’s no right or wrong answer here. If it feels good do it, I say. ;-} If not, find another partner.
  • When are the swings swinging? Again, an important compatibility question. If the instrument in question is at its most frisky early in the session but you’re not a morning person… well… let’s leave it at that. This is a family trading blog. ;-}

In any case, we’re going on our first “date” today with West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil, also known as NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil (symbol: CL). Want to be a fly on that particular wall?

Read the Instrument Spotlight Study – NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil here »

Until Part Three… trade ’em well.