EC Moving Averages: December 2018 Month-End Update

Here is the 12-month variant:

12-Month MA

The 10-month exponential moving average (EMA) is a slight variant on the simple moving average. This version mathematically increases the weighting of newer data in the 10-month sequence. Since 1995 it has produced fewer whipsaws than the equivalent simple moving average, although it was a month slower to signal a sell after these two market tops.

10-Month EMA

A look back at the 10- and 12-month moving averages in the Dow during the Crash of 1929 and Great Depression shows the effectiveness of these strategies during those dangerous times.

Dow 1928-1940

The Psychology of Momentum Signals

Timing works because of a basic human trait. People imitate successful behavior. When they hear of others making money in the market, they buy in. Eventually, the trend reverses. It may be merely the normal expansions and contractions of the business cycle. Sometimes the cause is more dramatic — an asset bubble, a major war, a pandemic, or an unexpected financial shock. When the trend reverses, successful investors sell early. The imitation of success gradually turns the previous buying momentum into selling momentum.

Implementing the Strategy

Our illustrations from the S&P 500 are just that — illustrations. We use the S&P because of the extensive historical data that's readily available. However, followers of a moving average strategy should make buy/sell decisions on the signals for each specific investment, not a broad index. Even if you're investing in a fund that tracks the S&P 500 (e.g., Vanguard's VFINX or the SPY ETF) the moving average signals for the funds will occasionally differ from the underlying index because of dividend reinvestment. The S&P 500 numbers in our illustrations exclude dividends.

The strategy is most effective in a tax-advantaged account with a low-cost brokerage service. You want the gains for yourself, not your broker or your Uncle Sam.

Note: For anyone who would like to see the 10- and 12-month simple moving averages in the S&P 500 and the equity-versus-cash positions since 1950, email us for an Excel file (xlsx format) of the data. Our source for the monthly closes (Column B) is Yahoo! Finance. Columns D and F shows the positions signaled by the month-end close for the two SMA strategies.

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