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The S&P 500 is perfectly content hanging out between 2,700 and 2,900, a range it’s been stuck inside since early April. As shocking and unprecedented as the headlines have been, it is definitely strange to watch stocks slip into a relatively tight trading range.
Uncertain markets are typically volatile. And without a doubt, this market had its share of volatility in February and March. And by some measures, it is still incredibly volatile with 2% and 3% moves occurring multiple times a week. The difference is now most of these big swings are offset by equally large swings in the opposite direction. One day up, the next day down.
One way to interpret this sideways grind following a strong runup is distribution. Smart money is getting out and dumb money is getting in. And to a certain extent, it is hard to not see that point of view when looking at this stubbornly resilient market. This is the worst economy since the Great Depression, yet the S&P 500 is only down 15%. The Nasdaq even less. Something definitely doesn’t compute.
The next big move hinges on what comes next. Do infection rates continue to moderate? Will the virus largely disappear once warmer summer temperatures arrive? Will a stir-crazy public start going back to their normal routine even without a vaccine? That’s the scenario this optimistic market is pricing in. And so far that is the way things are progressing.
But success in the market doesn’t come from predicting what comes next. It comes from understanding the risk/reward and exploiting skewed opportunities to our advantage. If the market is expecting good things, then most of those good things are already priced in and there is not a lot of upside left for recent buyers. On the other hand, these optimistic projections put a lot of air underneath us if there is even the slightest hiccup along the way. Limited upside and unlimited downside, that’s definitely not a risk/reward skew I want to own, let alone be buying.
I like the way this market is trading and it deserves our utmost respect. Only a fool is stubbornly shorting this strength. But the bear is no more foolish than bull buying stocks with reckless abandon at these levels. Both sides are making the same mistake and allowing their bias to cloud their judgment. While these ideologues are arguing why their side is better than the other, opportunists are grinding out a few bucks from this rally and that dip. Smart money doesn’t care who wins. All they care about is following the market’s lead.
While I don’t trust this market, I know better than to fight it. I’m fully prepared to short this strength, but I won’t pull the trigger until I see those cracks forming. And if those cracks never show up, then I’m just as content grabbing this rebound and riding it all the way back to the highs. It makes no difference to me** as long as I’m making money. (**For the country and front-line workers, I definitely hope this is a sharp v-bottom recovery taking the economy back to the highs a quickly as possible.)
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Tags: S&P 500 Nasdaq $SPY $SPX $QQQ $IWM