The indexes opened slightly lower in early trade after yesterday’s reversal. While yesterday’s loss was modest at -0.3%, the intraday range was the widest we’ve seen in weeks as the S&P500 sold off from a fresh 4-year high. What does this tell us? Simply that the market doesn’t go up in a straight line. Most of August was an easy hold for bulls as the market drifted higher with low volatility. But the market doesn’t like to be easy, so it has to throw in a few hiccups here and there just to keep everyone on their toes.
I’m suspicious of this bearish reversal because obvious shorts rarely work, and hard to hold longs often do. Much like a rodeo bull, the market is bucking off longs with weak conviction. Yesterday was an eye-opener as the reversal rained on the bull’s new-high parade and gave bears something to sink their teeth into. No doubt a lot of the surge to a new high was bears covering shorts and bulls buying the breakout, but once all that automatic buying ended, no one was left to step in and support the market. For such a noteworthy move, volume was noticeably absent. Yesterday had the highest volume in over a week, but still well under average. This means there was not a whole lot of buying on the pop, nor mass selling on the slide lower.
There are four investor moods that move markets, enthusiasm by bulls, enthusiasm by bears, apathy by bulls, and apathy by bears. The low volume yesterday is more indicative of apathy by both bulls on the rally and apathy by bears on the sell-off. This is simply continuing the summer’s low volume trend. As I’ve shared before, my interpretation is big money is reluctant to commit new capital near recent highs and bears are exhausted from trying to drive it down.
Like anything in the markets, this could break either way as 50% of the money is on each side of the trade. If buyers give up on this market first, bears will win and it will slide lower due to the absence of new money. But if bears continue losing money, they will start changing their stripes and come over to the bull side. Their buying will provide the initial lift for the market and it will be followed by chasing from formerly reluctant money managers who fear being left behind by a rising market.
I expect bears threw everything they had at yesterday’s sell-off and if that was the best they could do, the bull case remains solidly in tact. The one wildcard is how many weak longs are still holding and prone to being spooked out of the market. But once the market chases all of them off, we’ll be ready to resume the rally. Sell early, or hold through the pullback, but try to avoid selling emotionally in the middle of a pullback because most often your breaking point will be the exact low of the correction, before the market resumes higher.
The market broke from its low volatility rally yesterday, but that is no surprise. We shot up in a short squeeze and then sold off due to a vacuum of follow on buying. But one day does not make a trend. Yesterday’s intraday range was 1.1%, which was exciting by recent standards, but hardly noteworthy when compared to price swings earlier this summer. The low volatility trend continues for the time being.
The market threw us a curve ball yesterday to make sure we are paying attention. Anyone not expecting it was shaken out and this cleared the deck for a continued move higher. No doubt we could see more red, retesting the 1400 consolidation, but I expect we’ll find support there and resume the low volatility climb higher.
No matter what anyone remembers from the good old days, there was never an easy time to invest in the market. We remember where something started and where it finished, but seem to forget all the white knuckle zigs and zags in between. Holding is never easy and we shouldn’t expect that here either. The key to surviving these gyrations is to buy right and not chase. The further away from the breakout you buy, the greater chance you have of getting shaken out in a normal and healthy pullback.
Now that is the bull case, since no one has a crystal ball and the market can throw off the best traders, lets build a plan B so we know what to look for if our original thesis starts breaking down. We should see support at the recent 1400 consolidation. Decisively breaking through this on volume demonstrates a high level of vulnerability to the recent rally. At this point we should be unwinding our longs and looking for opportunities to short. Don’t get overly aggressive at the first hints of a breakdown because often the market likes to throw in a head fake before resuming its previous trend. And even if we do fall under 1400, the bull market is not dead, a pullback to the 50dma would not be an unreasonable thing for a bull rally to do. But there is no reason to hold through that pullback.
Everyone’s favorite stock AAPL is showing resilience after yesterday’s sell-off. The thing about these favorite stocks is they go longer and further than anyone thinks possible. AAPL cannot go up forever, but there is still gas in the tank. I continue to be skeptical of AAPL’s long-term prospects as the most valuable company in the world because I see them dropping the ball to Android the same way they lost the PC battle to MSFT 20 years ago. AAPL is a great and innovative company, but they don’t do well in the low-cost producer commodity markets. How much more innovation can they push into phones and tablets? The clones are on their heels and by some measures even out performing AAPL’s hardware. There will always be a place for AAPL’s marquee and premium products, but that isn’t enough to keep it the biggest company in the world. But that is then and this is now. I’m a trader, not an investor, and clearly the momentum is behind AAPL and the stock has room to run with all the support for it. But trade this stock, don’t fall in love with it. As William O’Neil often says, “all stocks are bad…..unless they go up.”
HD is holding up nicely since its breakout out. This stock has multiple tailwinds behind it, good earnings, housing recovery, and big money’s attraction to blue chip names in this economic environment. What’s not to like? This isn’t a 10x growth opportunity, but it could work for a nice trade if someone is scared of owning high-beta stocks like MLNX, KORS, or FRAN.
All the fear over the impending fiscal cliff is just noise. Anyone who has followed politics knows even the most trivial decisions are pushed to the edge. Brinkmanship is the name of the game in politics. If you don’t push decisions to the deadline, you are doing something wrong. This is negotiations 101, agree too early and you gave up too much. Congress is nothing but one giant negotiation between the two parties and both sides will hold out until the last possible moment, trying to get a better deal for their constituents. This is the way the game has always been played and to expect anything different now would be naive. Quoting Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” All this hype over the Fiscal Cliff is just trying to sell newspapers.
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.