KCR’s work leans heavily on sentiment for good reason. The presence of our in-house academic and co-founder does not mean we are advocates of efficient markets. Much of the research in behavioral finance that our systematic approach to fundamental research leans on is dedicated to finding undue pessimism and optimism. These are often a critical ingredient in generating outsized returns.

Our CFTC “Are Cleantech Stocks a Short?” spoke to this directly. In that work, we highlighted how investors’ rampant over-optimism for unproven “clean tech,” despite awful fundamentals and excessive equity positioning had set investors up for disaster. While the average stock we panned has plunged -40% since publication, we believe that work merits revisiting. There are still many stocks in that list that might have further to fall.[1]

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Recently, the wonderful Topdown Charts put out a fantastic thread on the dispersion between equity positioning, sentiment, and cash balances. The chart below is terrific, and the subsequent walk-through illuminating. Their thread highlighted how equity sentiment was at 2009 lows, but equity positioning had fallen only slightly. A later chart in the thread shows much of that selling appears in increased cash balances.

Portfolio Allocations vs Surveyed Sentiment

Source: Topdown Charts, Refinitiv, ICI, AAII, II

Looking at the distribution of equity valuations, KCR has a hunch about what happened here.

Investor pessimism appears to have manifested itself in one of the most pernicious applications of behavioral finance – the disposition effect. This is when we sell our winners and hold our losers to avoid the mental pain of taking a loss. Who have been the biggest winners this year? Energy and their near neighbors like fertilizer.

Any of the energy stocks we have advocated for since early ’21 would work perfectly but let’s look at CF Industries. This fertilizer stock has soared 70% since we wrote it up in October last year. Would you want to be long that chart? The sentiment must be incredibly bullish right? We think not, let us explain.

Absolute Return of CF Industries


Let’s drill down one layer. Nikkei Asia’s recent article Farming Out: China’s overseas food security quest explains China’s ever more aggressive pursuit of food security amidst drought and energy shortages.  They note that the nation’s drought is so severe that: