How you could have seen December’s dip and bounce before it happened

By Jani Ziedins | End of Day Analysis

Jan 10

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What a difference a few days makes. Three weeks ago the financial world was collapsing and desperate sellers were scrambling for the exits. This week everything is peachy as the market erased the pre-Christmas bloodbath. But this isn’t a surprise to those of us that have been paying attention.

December 20th, I wrote the following:

“While I like these discounts, the looming holidays complicate the situation. What would normally be an attractive buying opportunity might struggle to get off the ground since big money already left for Aspen. Their absence puts impulsive retail investors in charge and that is rarely a good thing. Luckily, these little guys have small accounts and their emotional buying and selling cannot take us very far.

We saw similar emotional selling knock 100 points off the market during the Thanksgiving week. But a few days after the holiday, the market rallied 170-points when big money returned to work and started snapping up the discounts. No doubt we could see the same thing this time around.”

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The market one-upped the Thanksgiving rebound and recovered 250-points since the Christmas holiday. Those of us that kept our cool enjoyed the ride. Unfortunately, those that panicked are kicking themselves right now. But that is the way the market works. It rewards thoughtful and deliberate decisions while it punishes the impulsive and reactive.

The key to surviving periods like this is selling poor price-action, not fear. By the time fear is running through the herd, it is too late to sell because most of the damage has already been done. In fact, selling fear is often the exact wrong move to make because capitulation and a rebound is usually just around the corner.

So what is the difference between poor price-action and fear? Most of the time poor price-action shows up before the crowd gets nervous. This is the stalling when the market should be going up. But it is so subtle that most in the crowd missed it. We saw this in early December and I pointed it out in my December 13th blog post:

“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.”

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Everyone knows what happened next. But the thing to remember is the market was flashing these warning signs days before the crash through support. A savvy trader could have bailed out a full 300 points above the eventual bottom.

I will be the first to admit I have been, and continue to be, bullish. But just because I believe in the economy doesn’t mean I need to ride stocks down. The biggest advantage individual traders have is our size allows us dart in and out of the market with ease. We don’t need to ride these waves lower as long as we know what to look for.

But that was then and this is now. What most readers want to know is what comes next. And as I often remind people, the market doesn’t move in a straight line. The rebound from the Christmas lows has been a beautiful thing, but rebounds only go so far before they run out of gas. As expected, the rate of gains has slowed as we approached the prior lows near 2,600. What was once support has now turned into resistance.

I still believe in this market over the medium- and long-term, but things could get a little bumpy over the next few days and weeks. Last month’s fear turned into this month’s hope. Unfortunately, hope leaves us vulnerable to disappointment.

As always, the market can do one of three things; up, down, or sideways. Momentum is clearly higher and the longer we hold near 2,600 resistance, the more likely it is we will break through it. Trump striking a deal with Democrats and the Chinese will send prices surging higher. But if we don’t pause and consolidate recent gains, that breakout will be fragile and vulnerable to a pullback. I would be selling a sharp breakout, not buying it. This would be a buy the rumor, sell the news kind of thing.

Markets consolidate one of two ways. Either they take a step back, or they trade sideways for an extended period of time. Given how volatile the market has been and how much uncertainty there is in the headlines, boring, sideways trade seems highly unlikely. Instead, this market most likely needs to take a step back before continuing its climb higher. Whether that step-back starts Friday or waits until the 2,600 breakout fizzles is anyone’s guess, but at least we know what to expect and that helps us get ready to trade it.

I would rather be taking profits at these levels than adding new money. A near-term dip to 2,500 that bounces would be a great buying opportunity. An unsustainable breakout above 2,600 that fizzles could be an interesting shorting opportunty.

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How about avoiding a loss?
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About the Author

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.

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