Market Sentiment

What is Market Sentiment?

Market sentiment is a term coined to explain the collective feelings or attitudes toward a particular market or asset. Understanding market sentiment alongside market fundamentals and technical analysis is crucial for decoding financial market movements.

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The market sentiment definition extends beyond mere optimism or pessimism. It encapsulates the prevailing emotions and attitudes that influence buying and selling decisions within the stock market and other financial arenas.

Always remember, that behind all the number crunching and even the algorithms in markets, there are human beings, and humans have emotions – they are sentimental.

Techopedia Explains the Market Sentiment Meaning

Techopedia Explains the Market Sentiment Meaning

It is the collective mindset of investors and traders that gets reflected in the pricing of financial securities. This sentiment can swing from extreme optimism to deep pessimism, influencing market behavior along the way.

Understanding market sentiment today or this week, or this year, involves recognizing how it serves as a thermometer for the market’s emotional climate. It is not an exact science but an interpretive art that gauges the general consensus about the market or a particular asset.

Various factors contribute to shaping this sentiment, including:

  • Economic indicators
  • New technologies
  • The cost-of-living
  • Political events
  • Corporate news

Comprehending any kind of market sentiment definition requires acknowledging its fluid nature. It can change swiftly in response to new information or broader economic shifts, reflecting the collective reaction of market participants.

Top 5 Indicators of Market Sentiment

Here is a list of the top five sentiment indicators that effectively capture the emotional pulse of the market:

Fear and Greed IndexPut/Call RatioCommitment of Traders (COT) ReportAAII Sentiment SurveyInvestors Intelligence Bull/Bear Ratio

This index aggregates various data points, including market momentum, volatility, and volume, to provide a single gauge of the market’s prevailing sentiment, categorizing it into ‘fear’ or ‘greed.’

This ratio offers insight into investor sentiment by comparing the volume of traded put options to call options, with higher values indicating bearish sentiment and lower values suggesting bullish sentiment.

While primarily used in commodities, the COT report provides valuable insights into the positioning of different market participants, helping gauge sentiment in broader markets when analyzed correctly.

This weekly survey from the American Association of Individual Investors gauges the sentiment among individual investors, offering a direct measure of their bullish or bearish outlooks.

Derived from a survey of investment newsletter writers, this ratio provides a sentiment perspective from market professionals, contrasting bullish and bearish opinions.

Bespoke Investment Group
Source: Bespoke Investment Group

Other sentiment indicators like the ‘NDR Crowd Sentiment Indicator’ discussed further below can also be used as well as indicators, such as the VIX for volatility or the advance/decline index for market breadth.

Sentiment vs. Breadth vs. Volatility Indicators

Sometimes market breadth indicators, such as the Advance/Decline Line or High/Low index, are mentioned alongside stock market sentiment indicators. Breadth should be considered a technical indicator, not a sentiment indicator. Breadth specifically provides insights into the number of stocks showing strength versus weakness. They help assess the overall strength and health of a market movement by showing whether it is supported by a broad number of stocks or just a few large ones.

Volatility, as measured by the VIX index, is one way to view the market’s expectations for future volatility and is sometimes referred to as the “fear gauge.” Higher VIX levels typically indicate increased uncertainty or fear among investors, suggesting bearish sentiment. Conversely, lower VIX values can imply complacency or bullish sentiment. While both volatility and sentiment indicators provide insights into market dynamics, they measure different aspects.

Impact of Market Sentiment on Prices

Market sentiment tends to move in cycles over time, which after-the-fact is always very easy to spot but a lot harder at the time.

​​finance.yahoo
Source: ​​finance.yahoo

Sentiment in Bull MarketsSentiment in Bear MarketsSentiment at Turning Points

In bull markets, rising prices can enhance positive sentiment, creating a feedback loop where increasing optimism fuels further gains. This cycle of rising prices boosting sentiment, which in turn pushes prices even higher, is the best time to “go with the crowd” during periods of strong market momentum.

In bear markets, declining prices often lead to deteriorating sentiment. This negativity can perpetuate further selling, driving prices down in a self-reinforcing cycle of bearish sentiment and declining values. In such environments, following the crowd means acknowledging the downward trend, and cutting back on new positions or actively going short the market.

When sentiment reaches extreme bullishness or bearishness, it might be indicative of a market turning point. Turning points tend to be the best opportunities to invest but are the hardest to time. At these extremes, prices may be overly inflated or unduly depressed, suggesting a potential reversal. Hence, when sentiment is exceedingly bullish, caution is advised as the market might be nearing a peak. Conversely, extreme bearish sentiment might signal a market bottom, presenting a contrarian opportunity.

Limitations of Using Market Sentiment

Market sentiment is inherently subjective in nature, so it can be ambiguous or even misleading at times, particularly when different sentiment indicators provide conflicting messages.

While extreme readings might suggest impending market turning points, they are not always reliable and can be premature indicators. Acting on these signals alone risks positioning against the prevailing market trend, potentially leading to losses or missed opportunities to capitalize on ongoing trends.

Examples of Market Sentiment

The chart below shows the S&P 500 Index juxtaposed with the NDR Crowd Sentiment Poll, which gauges market sentiment.

S&P 500 and NDR Crowd Sentiment Indicator

S&P 500 and NDR Crowd Sentiment Indicator
Source: NDR.com

Focusing on the two circled areas indicating periods of extreme bearish sentiment, let’s discuss these two instances:

  1. The first circled area, located around the early 2000s, corresponds with a period of significant market downturn known as the dot-com bubble burst. The sentiment poll’s low readings reflect extreme pessimism, which occurred as investors lost confidence in the sustainability of tech stocks and the broader market.
  2. The second circled area, occurring around 2008-2009, represents the market sentiment during the global financial crisis. The sentiment poll again shows extremely low readings, indicating pervasive fear and bearishness in reaction to the collapse of major financial institutions, housing market failures, and fears of a severe global recession.

The Bottom Line

Market sentiment reflects collective investor emotions, influencing stock prices and market trends. Sentiment indicators, such as the Put/Call Ratio and Fear and Greed Index, gauge this mood, though they carry limitations and are best used with other analyses. Extreme sentiment can signal potential market turning points, warranting a cautious approach.

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Jasper Lawler
Financial expert

Jasper cut his teeth on Wall Street as a stockbroker and honed his analytical skills with the City of London's top trading firms. Today, he applies his financial expertise to content creation as the founder of Trading Writers, a niche content marketing agency for the finance sector. Jasper's articles can be found on Techopedia, Seeking Alpha, UK Investor Magazine, Trade2win, Investing.com, FXStreet, Trading212.com, FlowBank.com, and Capital.com. His analysis has been quoted in prestigious publications such as the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, and City AM. Jasper's transition from stockbroker to content creator highlights his deep understanding of the financial markets…