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Experience with Ultra funds - QID and QLD

I have written about the ProShares Ultra funds in previous posts. I would like to recount some of my observations on using these funds to capture gains on swings in the market.

My premise has been that with reasonable market timing, an investor should be able to jump in and out of these funds and capture a reasonable portion of profits in both market downswings and upturns.

I chose to experiment initially with the ProShares UltraShort QQQ (QID). The NASDAQ seemed weak back in January and February so I loaded up on QID. Sure enough we got a market break in late February. As the market tanked, QID gained at twice the rate the PowerShares NASDAQ 100 ETF (QQQQ) declined. So far so good.

After the initial break in the market, the NASDAQ took a couple of weeks establishing a bottom and then began rising. I watched as my profit disappeared. I held on because economic readings led me to believe that the market would move lower rather than rise to new highs. I, and many others with a bearish opinion, were proved wrong.

What do we make of this? My first reaction is to say that ETFs like QID and its cousin the ProShares Ultra QQQ (QLD) should be used for short term situations. Due to their volatility (they attempt to capture twice the performance of the underlying index) one needs to be especially careful in choosing entrance and exit points. These ETFs are for traders, not the buy-and-hold investor.

So I finally gave in and sold my shares of QID. At one point I had a gain of over 8% after four weeks but I managed to fritter that gain away and end with a loss of 5.3%.

Still interested in experimenting with these Ultra funds I decided that if QID was not performing then perhaps I should be thinking about investing in QLD. And so I did. On April 20, I purchased QLD at $87.94. As of April 25, it is up to $90.80, for a 3.25% gain in three days.

Now what? Are we in a new leg in the bull market? should I maintain a short-term outlook on QLD and pull the plug at the first sign of a market decline? As always, market timing is extremely difficult. For now, it seems that the bulls are in charge and the focus is on the positive. We'll hang on but we will be keeping a sharp eye on things and a ready trigger finger.

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