The Ulcer Index Explained: Stress Measurement Tool Favored On The Trading Floor

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In this guide to understanding the Ulcer Index, we’ll show you what this chart looks like, teach you how to interpret it, and discuss some examples.

What Is the Ulcer Index?

The Ulcer Index attempts to measure the “stress” of holding a trade or investment by measuring price retracements.

The Ulcer Index is based on the notion that downward volatility is bad, but upward volatility is good.

How Is the Ulcer Index Different From Standard Deviation?

Standard deviation is the financial industry’s benchmark way of measuring the risk of a stock. It weighs equally both violent increases to the upside (upside volatility) and violent decreases to the downside (downside volatility),

In contrast, the Ulcer Index takes an arguably more enlightened approach that states that traders only care about the downside risk of a stock, not the upside risk. (Upside risk is considered equivalent to profits if a trader is long stock.)

What Does the Ulcer Index Look Like?

Chart 1 below shows various elements of the Ulcer Index:

Chart 1: Ulcer Index is a unique way of looking at volatility
Chart 1

Interpreting the Ulcer Index

On the very left of the chart, Intel stock had a strong, sustained movement higher, marked by the long string of green, bullish candlesticks. Notice that the Ulcer Index remained flat, well below the safe level.

  • Above safe level (>5): Many downward retracements, investment will cause the investor ulcers, stress, or difficult nights sleeping.
  • Below safe level (<5): A moderate to low number of price retracements to the downside; relatively few ulcers, stress, or difficult nights sleeping.

Measuring Drawdowns

A third of the chart from the left, there was a 14-day drawdown period. This drawdown period was seen with the sharp increase in the Ulcer Index. Once the price of Intel was making new highs past the drawdown period, the Ulcer Index fell.

The high price of Intel on the chart was marked by a large gap downward; the Ulcer reacted sharply to this drawdown, rising above the safe level.

Comparing Investments Using the Ulcer Index

Finance theory states that “the greater the risk ,the greater the potential reward“. Since the Ulcer Index believes that it is only downside risk that is important to the risk-averse investor, a comparison of stocks, mutual funds, commodities using the Ulcer Index might prove valuable.

A comparison of two stocks in the semiconducter sector is given in Chart 2 below:

  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) stock on the top and
  • Intel (INTC) stock on the bottom
  • Along with their respective Ulcer Indexes
Chart 2: Comparing investments using the Ulcer Index
Chart 2

AMD has a higher Ulcer Index than INTC. Therefore, during the space of price information on the chart above, AMD would be viewed as the riskier alternative.

To justify investing in AMD as opposed to INTC, AMD potential rewards would vastly have to outweigh INTC potential rewards.

Summary: The Ulcer Index’s Strength

The real strength of the Ulcer Index is its focus on only downside risk.

Thus, a stock gapping up 10% would affect the standard deviation calculation the same as a stock that gapped down 10%.

However, if an investor was long stock, which a vast majority are, the gap up would be viewed with joy, while the gap down would be viewed with horror.

While standard deviation has its place and is still useful, the Ulcer Index focuses on downside risk rather than the simple standard deviation/variance calculation that calculates upside and downside risk together.

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Further Reading

Learn more about technical analysis indicators, concepts, and strategies including:

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