May 17

S&P500 daily @ 1:20 EDT

Markets moved lower in early trade, continuing recent weakness.  The question remains how much longer can this continue?

One thing to remember is the current price is a balance between bulls and bears.  Moves occur when a slight imbalance occurs between bulls and bears due to new information or changes in sentiment.  The result is prices adjust to relocate that precise point where exactly half the money is on each side of a trade.  So while you have an opinion one way or the other, 50% of the market has the opposite view and this disagreement is what makes markets work.  The challenge for a successful trader is figuring out which side to pick.

The interesting thing to ponder is if this sell-off has become too obvious as we clearly broke support?  Most often profits go to those who get on a trade early and those showing up late are stuck with the bill.  Keeping this in mind, can we continue assuming the upward bias and overbought condition remains in the face of these horrible technicals?

Using an analogy, it seems the market is on thin-ice.  Apprehension has been building as prices decline and renewed fear of headlines is haunting traders.  But the thing about thin-ice is you only get in trouble if it breaks.  The market could easily skate past this thin patch unscathed and come out the other side ready to rally.  If this is the case, we might see the market begin bottoming soon.  But the danger with thin-ice is we are one bad headline away from a plunge where everyone panics at the same time.

Last summer we found ourselves in a similar position with lots of storm clouds on the horizon leaving investors fidgety.  Then the one headline hit that sent everyone running, S&P downgrading US debt.  The downgrade was telegraphed for months and the actual result of the downgrade turned out trivial as the Treasury market rallied in the face of the downgrade.  But once the selling started in the equity market, it quickly spiraled into a two-week free-fall as the S&P500 lost 17%.  The market was in the mood to sell-off and it found its excuse.  Could this market be setting up for the same thing right now?

The silver-lining to our current sell-off is it has been fairly orderly and so nothing like the fall-off-the-cliff we experienced last summer.  Further, traders who saw the world did not come to an end due to Euro contagion last fall will feel a sense of been-there-done-that and won’t be as panicky this time around.

All of this is a long way of saying, I think we are one bad headline away from a material sell-off, but baring that, the market could find support soon.  But if the latter case plays out, the rebound won’t signal an all-clear as any rally still has significant technical and sentiment resistance to breakthrough before moving to new highs.

As for how to trade this, the short is a bit long in the tooth as it has become fairly obvious and the market doesn’t like being obvious.  Anyone putting on new short now is a late to the party unless their game plan is entirely based on a waiting for that backbreaking trigger to send the market tumbling.  But when comparing the risk/reward, the short continues to be the more attractive trade because on the long side you are currently risking ~$3 of downside to make ~$1 of upside.   With that skew, the best play continues to be waiting.

AAPL daily @ 1:20 EDT

AAPL is dragging down the NASDAQ and its relative strength line is breaking under recent lows as it continues its trend of under performance after its awe inspiring rally last quarter.  There doesn’t seem to be much technical support because the previous rally was nearly straight up without much consolidation.  This could be hindering the stock from arresting its slide.  And much like the gold trade, sometimes overbought/oversold sentiment overrules fundamentals.  By all measures, AAPL continues to be a great company, but the trade appears too crowded and it will take some time to rebalanced sentiment before it can resume its move higher.

LULU is selling off aggressively as it is breaking support at the $70 level.  LNKD is also dropping 5%, but it is still remains above its 50dma.  These are reminders no matter how strong a stocks, very few can make progress in the face of a weak market, and high beta stocks feel the pressure more than most.

Stay safe.

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About the Author

Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and writer who has successfully traded stocks and options for more than a decade. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA and M.S. Marketing from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes manufacturing engineering at Fortune 500 companies, structural engineering, small business consultant, collegiate instructor, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two young children.