End of Day Update:
Stocks finished modestly higher, hugging 2,100 support for most of the day. The low-volume gain was good enough to snap a two-day selloff as traders sat on their hands ahead of Friday’s employment report.
While the financial media loves to hype up non-farm payrolls every month, it’s been years since the report materially affected the market beyond a couple of hours of volatility. Good numbers, bad numbers, and everything in between haven’t been enough to slow down our six-year old bull. And I don’t expect Friday will be any different. While pundits speculate about the risk of too much or too little, barring a black-swan catastrophe, employment will be ancient history by lunchtime.
I’ve been rooting for the breakout, but its inability to mount any kind of follow through is concerning. Trading inside a tight, 20-point range shows both bulls and bears are stubbornly sticking to their positions. That leaves the rest of us wondering which side has more staying power.
I gave the benefit of doubt to bulls because the market didn’t flinch in the face of bearish headlines from Greece, Ukraine, and China. It even rallied as the Fed’s rate hike chatter heated up. Markets that disregard bad news are the best ones to buy. But then we kept hitting a ceiling at 2,120. Demand completely dries up every time we approach this level and we slip back to 2,100 support. While confident owners who refuse to sell keep supply tight, we need fresh demand to keep pushing this higher.
It appears like February’s strong performance sucked in all the potential buyers and now there is no one left to extend this move. While this would be a lot easier if the market went up every day, we know periodic pullbacks are normal and healthy. We shouldn’t fear a dip to the 50-dma at 2,060.
Two red flags hinting at further weakness are the absence enthusiastic dip buying and lack of a painful capitulation bottom. The importance of enthusiastic dip buying is self-explanatory, but to find that bottom, we also need a brutal dip that flushes out the last of the hopeful. This is a relentless intraday selloff that punishes bulls by methodically marching lower until they cannot stomach the thought of watching another dollar evaporate. Only after the hopeful are flushed out and replaced with courageous dip buyers will we find the bottom.
While the market sold off in recent days and undercut support, most of this weakness happened at the open and prices rebounded into the close. That price action is fairly easy to hold through since the afternoon bounce reinvigorates the spirit of the hopeful. It doesn’t feel like we’ve had that completely demoralizing day where everyone gives up hope and decides to sell before it can get any worse. Buying the high-volume capitulation is a great way to capitalize on other trader’s emotions.
The market could bounce on Friday, but I need to see enthusiastic buying before I’ll be convinced. More likely this weakness continues until we refresh the bullish skew carried over from February’s strong performance.
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.