Thursday the S&P 500 tumbled sharply for the first time since last week’s big plunge. The market opened modestly lower, but the selling accelerated after the U.S. Secretary of State pulled out of a big economic summit in Saudi Arabia, heightening tensions between the two nations following the disappearance of a journalist. The market was already on edge after last week’s selloff, and it didn’t take much to push traders back into a selling mood.
But the thing we cannot forget is markets never move in straight lines, especially when emotions are this high. And not only are these sharp back-and-forth moves normal, they are actually part of the healing process. Every fearful seller over the last ten days has been replaced by a confident dip buyer. Out with the weak, in with the strong. While it would be more fun to watch the market zoom right back to the highs, that’s not the way this works. Buying dips are never easy, and that is true this time too.
Early weakness pushed us under 2,800 support. Without a doubt, quite a few traders used this widely followed technical level as a stop-loss. Their autopilot selling pushed the market down even further, triggering the next tranche of stop-losses, adding even more selling pressure. It didn’t take long for regretful owners to start having flashbacks of last week’s plunge and they reactively bailed out “before things got worse”. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, their fearful selling created the very plunge they feared. But by early afternoon, we exhausted the supply of fearful sellers, and prices found support near the 200dma.
There are two ways this story can play out. Bears believe this nine-year economic expansion is on the verge of collapse and it will take the “overvalued” stock market down with it. Blame it on interest rates, trade wars, or downright old age, pick your favorite reason. Or alternately, this is just another one of the 100+ dips and gyrations this nine-year-old bull market weathered on its way higher.
While everyone loves predicting a top, what is more likely, the thing that happens 100+ times, or the thing that only happens once? Remember, bull markets bounce countless times, but they die only once. Could this be the top? Sure. But is it likely? Not even close. The odds are heavily skewed in favor of the continuation, but that never stops people from calling every dip a top.
The thing about this weakness is it is built on the premise that things will get worse. No one is afraid of 3.25% Treasury yields. The are afraid of 3.25% becoming 4.25%, and then 5.25%. Things need to get worse for the worst case scenario to materialize. But on the other hand, if things turn out less bad than feared, prices will rebound. Despite all the naysaying, there are plenty of reasons for stocks to keep going up. Namely, earnings are up 19% this quarter, while stock prices most definitely haven’t kept up with this phenomenal earnings growth. That sounds pretty bullish to me.
Bears need a lot of things to get worse for their thesis to turn into a reality. I just don’t see it happening. Reality is almost always less bad than feared and no doubt this time won’t be any different. People pray for a pullback so they can jump aboard the hot trade they missed, unfortunately, most people are too afraid to buy the dip when the market finally answers their prayers. This game is never easy, but that is what makes it so rewarding when we beat it.
Expect prices to remain volatile as the market comes to terms with recent events. But remember, collapses are brutally quick. The longer we hold last week’s lows, the less likely it is we will undercut them. The most nimble day-traders can buy these intraday dips and sell the intraday bounces. Those of us with a little longer timeframe can buy the larger dips and sell the larger rebounds. The biggest level ahead of us is 2,870 resistance where last week’s plunge started and is likely where this rebound is headed. It won’t be a straight line, but markets that fall down the elevator shaft usually land on a trampoline.
All of this assumes the worst is behind us. All bets are off if we undercut last week’s lows. That tells us buyers are afraid of this market and nothing shatters confidence like screens filled with red. But until then, this rebound is alive and well and believe it or not, we could see new highs before year-end.
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