Thursday was a fairly uneventful day for the S&P 500. Early strength gave way to midday losses, but rather than tumble lower, prices recovered and we finished flat. While the price action was fairly “meh”, meh isn’t a bad thing given how dramatic volatility has been. A little bit of nothing helps calm frayed nerves, and that is never a bad thing.
This neutral price action continues what I wrote about on Tuesday:
While the intraday moves have been huge, the directional moves have not. We are still stuck inside the two-month-old trading range between 2,600 and 2,800. The thing to remember about market collapses is they are breathtakingly quick. Markets don’t wait to see how bad things are before they tumble, traders race for the exits at the first hints of trouble. But that isn’t happening here.
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On Monday, the S&P 500 briefly broke under October’s lows. But rather than trigger an avalanche of defensive selling, supply dried up and we bounced 60-points above the intraday lows. That was four days ago and so far the market resisted the invitation to collapse under those lows.
That said, the last three day’s has seen early gains fizzle and we closed well under the intraday highs. Multiple weak closes is never an encouraging sign. And as usual, the market is giving us conflicting signals. It is up to us to determine what it means.
I really like how decisively the market held support this week. But I’m disappointed we couldn’t add to those gains and these weak closes are a concern. What does this mean for what comes next? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where we don’t have enough information and we need to see what the market does next.
A decisive rally Friday tells us all is well and we are on our way back up to 2,800. But a fourth weak close means a near-term test of 2,600 is ahead. And of course the most frustrating outcome, another indecisive day like Thursday that doesn’t tell us anything.
I continue to give the market the benefit of doubt because Monday’s reversal was so decisive. But my faith isn’t infinite and unless the market starts doing something constructive, we will likely stumble back to 2,600 support. From there, the situation gets more precarious because few things shatter confidence like screens filled with red. But if we withstand that second test without collapsing, the market is generously giving us another dip-buying opportunity.
The headlines have been overwhelmingly bearish lately between arresting a key Chinese executive to Trump threatening to shut down the government. While none of this is good, the pullback in prices means a good chunk of the negativity has already been priced in and these discounts compensate us for taking the risk. Most of the time reality turns out far less bad than feared, and that is probably what will happen this time too. But 2,600 is our line in the sand. Fail to defend that level and things will get worse before they get better.
What’s a good trade worth to you?
How about avoiding a loss?
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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.