Revisiting a Losing Market-Neutral Trade

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In a post here in December ("Market Neutral Investing in China's Fast Food Industry"), I mentioned a market neutral trade I had entered going long Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM), the largest fast food operator in China, and shorting Country Style Cooking Restaurant Chain, Ltd. (CCSC), a start-up fast food chain in China. I figured the bigger potential there was on the short side.

Reasons I shorted CCSC as part of this trade

  • + Its chart looked weak, with the stock trending down since its IPO last fall
  • + Its valuation looked pricey relative to its earnings, even after adjusting for growth estimates.
  • + Anticipated selling pressure when the 6 month IPO lockup period expired for insiders.

Getting Stopped out for a Loss

I used double digit trailing stops on this trade, and got stopped out of CCSC at $25.38, for a loss of 11.3% on the short side on Jan 4, so I sold out of YUM as well, at $48.21, for a loss of 4.8% on the long side. Total loss of 8% on this market neutral trade. Below is a chart of both stocks from when I entered the trade, on December 2nd, 2010, until when I exited, on January 4th, 2011. 



Hindsight is 20/20

Had I used wider stops, I might have stayed in the trade long enough to profit from it. Below is a chart of both stocks from when I entered the trade, on December 2nd, 2010, until Monday, May 9th, 2011. Note the selloff at the beginning of March: the company released earnings on March 2nd, missing analysts' estimates.


This wouldn't have applied in the case of CCSC, since it doesn't have options traded on it, but a suggestion that has come up recently from a couple of Portfolio Armor users is extending its algorithm to find optimal calls for hedging short positions.

Recall that with Portfolio Armor (available as a web app, and an iOS app) you just enter the symbol of the stock or ETF you’re looking to hedge, the number of shares you own, and the maximum decline you’re willing to risk, (your threshold). Then the app uses an algorithm developed by a finance Ph.D. candidate to sort through and analyze all of the available puts for your position, scanning for the optimal ones to get you the level of protection you want at the lowest cost.

Adding the ability to hedge short positions with optimal calls is something I'm considering adding, if enough users request it. If we do add that functionality, we'll probably raise the price, to offset the development cost, but those who subscribed to the web app beforehand would be grandfathered in at the current cost. I don't know if we'd add the functionality to the iOS app too, but there again, if we do, current users would get the upgrade without paying more.