Thursday the S&P500 finished down a modest 0.2%, but how it got there was anything but a smooth ride. Stocks gapped 0.5% lower at the open and it only got worse from there. At the height of the selling, we shed 1.5% and undercut the 200dma and 2,600 support. But just when things were the most hopeless, supply dried up, prices rebounded, and we even briefly poked our head into the green. Anyone just looking at the closing price would have no idea what happened today. But maybe that isn’t a bad thing given all the people that made poor trading decisions reactively selling the midday weakness. This is one of those times when ignorance really was bliss.
The selling actually started Wednesday shortly after the Fed announced their latest policy decision. Even though they kept interest rates steady, they confirmed their plans to continue raising rates later this year. That was followed by revelations Trump’s money was used to coverup his alleged affair with a porn star. Combined those headlines set off a selling spree that didn’t end until we shed 60-points and violated the support.
Even though they fueled a dramatic ride, the headlines driving this selloff were suspicious at best. The Fed did exactly what they said they would do, and everyone expected them to do. No surprises and it is simply a continuation of previously stated policy. Policy that hasn’t moved the stock market in a meaningful way over the last five years. Even 2013’s “Taper Tantrum” was a flash in the pan and erased within a couple of months. Would today’s policy statement turn out any differently? No, of course not. But that didn’t stop people from overreacting and reflexively rushing for the exits.
The same goes for Trump’s brewing sex scandal. Maybe its “fake news”, maybe “where there is smoke, there is fire”. Either way it doesn’t really matter to the market. The stock market rallied after Trump’s election on expectations of regulatory relaxation and tax cuts. He delivered both of those promises last year and the market got everything it wanted. If the Trump administration goes down the toilet, it will be a political scandal, not an economic problem. For confirmation of this thesis, all we have to do is look at Clinton’s impeachment in the late 90’s. While it dominated headlines and monopolized Congress, the economy and stock market chugged along, totally oblivious to what was going on in D.C. In fact Congress getting bogged down by a political scandal is actually a good thing because that keeps those fools from screwing up anything more important. The less Congress does, the better it is for the economy and the stock market.
And while a lot of traders were scrambling for the exits today “before things get worse”, there really wasn’t any meat to the headlines and is why the selling stalled so quickly. This is only the latest in the long list of headlines that failed to break this market. Why where these headlines any more significant than the last time the Fed bumped interest rates? Or Muller raided Trump’s lawyer’s office? Or the escalating Trade War with our allies and China? These headlines didn’t matter any more than the others and is why prices bounced.
Days like today challenge our resolve. Without a doubt the selling felt real. But the thing to remember is by rule, every dip feels real. If it didn’t, no one would sell and we wouldn’t dip. Given the huge directional moves over just a few minutes, I actually suspect computer algorithms are driving a lot of this volatility. These computer programs look at all the same data and make the same trading decisions at the same time. That herd behavior triggers these cascading selloffs and explosives surges higher. But the thing to remember is algorithmic traders only represents a small fraction of the total money in the stock market. Once all of these small trading firms go “all in”, or “all out”, the buying/selling stalls and prices reverse to more normal levels.
The only way to survive periods like this is to have conviction in your positions. Or to simply ignore the market. Anyone who checked their stocks at 5 o’clock tonight totally missed the temptation to sell at a much lower levels. That’s the problem with watching the market too closely when you don’t have enough conviction in your trading ideas, the market’s volatility chews you up and spits you out.
As I’ve been saying since February, we are in a trading range. That means buying weakness and selling strength. Stick with what is working until something changes. Did something change today? Nope. That means today’s weakness was a buying opportunity, not a chance to bailout “before things get worse”. Maybe we slip a little further, but that’s not a big deal. Remember, risk is a function of height. The lower prices go, the less risky it is to buy. If this market wanted to crash, it would have happened months ago. There have been more than enough excuses to send prices tumbling. Instead, every time we slip to the lows, supply dries up and prices rebound. This is a resilient market, not a weak one. And the only people losing money are the ones overreacting to these gyrations. They lose money buying when they are feel confident (high) and sell when they are fearful (low). If we want to make money, do the opposite of most people. That means buying fear and selling confidence.
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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.