End of Day Update:
Choppiness in the S&P 500 continued Tuesday when we recovered most of Monday’s selloff, the day that erased most of Friday’s gains. Three-days of nearly equal and opposite moves, but the one constant through all of this has been the driver: oil.
Equity traders cannot make a move until they first see what oil did overnight. Then, and only then, can they decide if they should buy or sell stocks. This trading mentality lead to a nearly perfect 98% correlation between oil and equities since the start of the year. This is the tightest link in more than 25-years, far eclipsing previous periods of elevated correlation that only approached 80%. Clearly this an abnormal link that cannot last, but as long as equity traders think the only thing that matters is the price of oil, that is the card we have to play.
The most impressive thing about today’s 1.4% pop is it came on the heels of a Chinese stock market meltdown. Shanghai fell more than 6% Tuesday and their bear market rout is carving out new lows. Chinese weakness triggered our January meltdown, but it seems traders have moved on to obsessing over oil prices and are increasingly indifferent to Chinese stocks. But this divergence might be short-lived since China, oil, and S&P 500 futures are tanking in overnight trade. If this weakness persists, the fourth whipsaw will unwind the bulk of Tuesday’s gains.
But as I warned in my last few blog posts, we should expect and be prepared for this type of volatility. Corrections larger than 10% rarely result in v-bottoms that rebounds to recent highs. Instead we see choppy trade as dip-buyers, regretful owners, and over-confident bears fight for control. One day we are saved, the next day the world is ending. And so the cycle continues until the market has battered, bruised, and humiliated bears, bulls, and everyone in between.
In normal, trending markets buy-triggers and stop-losses work well, but these are clearly are not normal times. Trading predetermined levels is the quickest way to give away money in choppy basing patterns like this. If you set a stop-loss 20-points under the market, you pretty much guaranteed yourself a 20-point loss. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, so how do you trade this market?
The simple answer is you don’t. The safest approach is to wait for normalcy to return where traditional risk management techniques protect you instead of guarantee losses. The other approach requires an iron stomach as you buy the dip, watch the market move against you, and rather than get scared out, buy even more. Every dip in the history has bounced and this one will be no different. Buy when other people are fearful is easy to say, but far harder to do.
That being said, the market is most likely forming a trading range between 1,940 and 1,820. Baring brief excursions we should expect to trade inside this range through the remainder of the quarter. Earnings were the one thing that could have saved us, but so far it hasn’t worked out that way. On the other side, runaway selloffs happen over days, not weeks. It’s been a week since we bounced off 1,810 and at this point the panicked rush for the exits abated. While we will almost certainly retest those lows, the second time we approach a level is less scary than the first. The initial dip triggered a surge of automatic stop-losses and flushed out the weak, but all of that selling already behind us and second retracement will have a harder time building critical mass.
For the ambitious, trading against this range is a third possibility. But since we are near the middle of this range, the prudent move is to wait until we approach one extreme or the other before trading against it.
Free blog posts Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Weekend video recaps coming soon!
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