Jan 29

AM: New highs….again

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at 1:22 EST

S&P500 daily at 1:22 EST

AM Update

The S&P500 bounces back after early selling and makes a new high.  AAPL challenges $460, but runs into resistance

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The market had an open invitation to selloff after yesterday’s dip and this morning’s early weakness, but it bounced back and made new highs instead.  This price-action is supportive of 1500 and if we hold through the close, the market is not ready for a pullback.

MARKET SENTIMENT

How far can this thing go?  That is what most traders are asking themselves right now.  They are interested in buying this market because last fall’s worries are ancient history, but they are hesitant to chase a market that ran this far and is poised for a pullback.  They are stuck in this indecision, but each point higher pushes them closer to buying.  The thing about chasing is it is not like a breakout or breakdown where everyone is watching the same levels and a flood of orders his the market at once.  Chasing is a gradual phenomena where traders change their minds over time.  It is this steady stream of new buyers that allows the market to drift higher in spite of all the calls for a pullback.  No doubt this cannot go on forever, but it usually last longer than most people expect and that is exactly what is happening here.

One way these things end is when a larger wave of regret hits traders in unison after the market continues marching higher without them.  Buying picks up and the pace of gains accelerates until most traders can no longer stand sitting out and jump in headfirst, but this surge marks the end of the rally as buying finally exhausts itself.  So far this pause at 1500 shows buying isn’t getting out of hand just yet.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
I’ve been wary of a pullback for a few days, but the market’s resilience around 1500 is indicating support, not exhaustion.  No one has a crystal ball and our understanding of the market evolves with each new piece of information.  Barring a weak close today, the market is supported by new buyers and still has more room to run.

My initial hesitation was due to stop-loss and breakout buying that pushed us through 1500.  These buyers have limited resources and their support usually fades within a couple of days.  Since we held these levels for a third day, it shows real support from follow up-buying and this is more than a short-squeeze.

Alternate Outcome:
Markets don’t always exhaust themselves in a single push higher and we could see a rolling top here at 1500.  Watch for a material violation of new support at 1500, but until then stick with the trend.

AAPL daily at 1:23 EST

AAPL daily at 1:23 EST

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL rebounded from recent lows and is challenging $460 in late morning trade.  A lot of buy-the-dip traders bought AAPL at $460 after earnings, only to watch it plunge under $440 within 24-hours.  No doubt a lot of these buyers are filled with regret and looking to exit their impulsive AAPL trade at break-even.  We also had people hold AAPL through earnings who failed to sell the initial dip to $460 and they promised themselves they would finally sell if the stock regained $460.  Attitudes like this make technical levels behave like support and resistance.  When regretful owners jump at the chance to sell at $460, that will hinder further advancement.

While $460 will provide some resistance,  the major roadblock up ahead is $500 where a huge swath of regretful investors would love to get their money back.  We will probably bump up against $460 for a couple of days, maybe even turn back from it, but the real level to watch is $500.  Any swing-traders should wait to buy the break above $460 and look to sell around $490.  On the lower side  a break under $450 signals a lack of support and we will see new lows.

Stay safe

Jan 28

PM: Modest decline

By Jani Ziedins | End of Day Analysis

S&P500 daily at end of day

S&P500 daily at end of day

PM Update

Markets broke the streak of up-days  but that is a good thing.  AAPL bounced today, but is this the real deal?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The S&P500 dipped less than 0.2% and ended an impressive streak of eight up-days.  While the fractional decline doesn’t constitute material selling, it does break the streak and lets us move past the obsession with counting up-days.  Volume was right around average as holders were not spooked by modest selling and the market closed a hair above 1500.

MARKET SENTIMENT

This was the first time the market didn’t set a new closing high in nearly two-weeks.  Buying took a break simply because there was so much of it since the start of the year.  Trading would be easy if the market went up every single day, but we are not that lucky and actually have to work for our money.  Today was the second close above 1500 and it would be nice to see two more closes at this level to confirm support.  But at the same time, some selling here is normal, expected, and healthy.  I would be more concerned about the sustainability of this rally if we kept heading higher than if we dipped and found support.

Complacency is creeping into the market, but it is just starting and not pervasive yet.  There are still a lot of recent sellers watching this market rally without them and they are tempted to jump on any pullback.  Big money managers under-weight this market are also struggling with the lesser of two evils, getting left behind or buying the top.  But the longer they wait for the pullback, the more uncomfortable they become watching the market head higher without them.  It is easier to justify losses when the entire market dips than explaining why they failed to keep up with a rallying market.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
It would be hard to count today as real selling.  The dip was minor and volume was average.  The market can refresh through either selling or sideways trading.  Today’s move was sideways and supportive of 1500, but we need to hold these levels a couple more days before we can stop expecting a pullback.

The market clearly wants to go higher and long-term investors should keep holding, but those out of the market or with shorter timeframes should wait a couple of days for the market to either pullback or build a solid base at 1500.

Alternate Outcome:
A sustainable rally goes two-steps forward, one-step back, but not every rally is sustainable or predictable.  We could continue rallying after today’s modest 0.2% pullback, but just because the market heads higher doesn’t mean we need to be part of it.  If the market doesn’t look sustainable, sit it out.  There are eleven months left in the year and there is no reason to force a trade that is less than ideal.

AAPL daily at end of day

AAPL daily at end of day

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

We all know AAPL will bounce, the question is when.  It still sounds like most people are claiming AAPL is oversold and poised for a bounce and no doubt they will be proven right, but we have to ask when and how much before deciding to make this trade.  If a lot of nervous holders are waiting for that bounce, it won’t happen.  If swing-traders are buying the dip, it won’t happen either.  I’m suspicious of all the people who think AAPL is oversold and makes for an easy trade back up to $500.  No doubt it will get there, but it might need to go through $425 first.

People are very emotionally attached to this stock and I understand the reluctance to sell when it could bounce any day now.  Rather that just cut out, set an upside target and downside stop-loss.  Maybe $490 on the upside and $430 on the downside.  Then stick to these levels.

Jan 28

AM: Embrace the pause

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at 1:07 EST

S&P500 daily at 1:07 EST

AM Update

The market is trading sideways at 1500 and AAPL’s early rebound is filling owners with new hope.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The S&P500 dipped under 1500 in early trade, but recovered that psychologically significant level by midday.  A bit of sideways trade is constructive for a continuation.  The market has seen few down-days this year and a little distribution and profit taking should be expected, even welcomed.

MARKET SENTIMENT

The market isn’t worried about much here.  The only negative story making headlines is AAPL’s collapse, but that damage is contained and largely a single stock event.  Complacency is always something to be wary of, but it isn’t enough to bring the market down by itself.  It isn’t complacency that tops out the market, but investors being fully invested when they feel comfortable.  Running out of new buyers is the underlying structural event that causes complacent markets to peak.  So while complacency is creeping in here, many investors who sold toward the end of last year are not fully reinvested yet and it is their buying that is holding up this market.   It takes time for these sideline watchers to be won over and buy back in and we are still in the middle of this process.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The market probably needs a couple down-days as part of the two-steps forward, one-back.  This is the process of moving forward and don’t let modest weakness spook anyone.  For those that are holding, they can keep holding.  For those looking for a place to get in, wait for some weakness, but don’t wait too long because the dip will be shallow and quick.

Alternate Outcome:
A move above 1505 says the market is ready to keep going.  Of course a sharp advance on gigantic volume would likely be capitulation and signal a near-term top, but a more casual move above 1505 is putting the squeeze on shorts and pressuring those watching from the sidelines.  This is a chasing rally and as long as traders are watching from the sidelines there will be fuel to propel this market higher when they start buying back in.  We also need to be wary of a confidence rattling headline, but so far the market is pretty happy with the world and not too worried about last year’s headlines.

AAPL daily at 1:08 EST

AAPL daily at 1:08 EST

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL bounced back from early weakness and recovered $450.   We might even see the stock come up even more, but don’t be fooled, this is just a dead cat bounce to squeeze late shorts and keep hopefully owners holding on.  Anyone looking for a V-bottom is going to be disappointed.  Sharp bottoms form in over-sold stocks like we have in AAPL, but they also require an unexpected catalyst that decisively reverses the trend.  With the next earnings report three-months away, it will be a long time before we get another actionable catalyst   Further, at this juncture the market is no longer impressed with earnings out of AAPL and it needs to see something new to bring the stock back to life.  The market has clearly decided AAPL is a mobile phone company with increasing competition from Samsung on the high-end and low cost-rivals on the other end of the scale.  The market already expects strong phone sales, new phone models, and some kind of dividend/buy-back.  None of these events will reinvent the company or stock.  If anyone thinks AAPL will come back just because it is a great company will be waiting a long, long time.

I know many people are reluctant to sell AAPL here, but at least put a plan in place.  Pick levels above and below where you will sell the stock and stick to these.

Stay safe

Jan 27

LA: How far can this go?

By Jani Ziedins | Weekly Analysis

S&P500 weekly at end of week

S&P500 weekly at end of week

Look Ahead

Four-weeks into the year and money managers are already behind the eight-ball.  As for AAPL, there are plenty examples of everyone’s favorite stock losing its mojo and trading sideways for years at a time.  Will this be AAPL’s fate?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The market has been up every week this year.  Quarters often exhibit a consistent personality and so far this is starting out as a bullish quarter.  This would suggest the rally has legs and any dip should be considered a buying opportunity.

MARKET SENTIMENT

A lot of money managers are already behind their benchmarks and we are just a few weeks into the new year.  Last year was a difficult year for big money and this year is not starting out any easier.  At the end of 2012 many traders were reluctant to buy the Fiscal Cliff drama and chose the more conservative route of sitting it out.  That would have been a smart move if the market imploded, but it didn’t and instead shot up aggressively, leaving many traders behind.

From the first day of the year these under-invested managers were already lagging their benchmarks.  Rather than chase too-far, too-fast, they waited for the inevitable pullback.  But while they’ve been waiting, the market has continued higher, putting on even more pressure.  Things got even worse last week when AAPL imploded, but the indexes held firm.  AAPL is the single largest holding by most money managers and this put them even further behind the indexes.  It is already shaping up to be a cruel, cruel 2013 and the year is only beginning.

Why all this matters is money managers are faced with a major dilemma, keep waiting for the pullback at the risk falling even further behind, or bite the bullet and jump on board the bandwagon.  This is “deja vu all over again” as most money managers were stuck in this same place last January.  As long as traders are waiting for the pullback, it won’t happen and that is why the market continues rallying.  Once these guys reach their breaking point and jump on the bandwagon, the market will run out of new buyers and we nose over.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
We have not seen any real selling in 12-trading sessions and the biggest down day of the year is a modest 0.32%.  For those brave enough to buy the Fiscal Cliff paranoia and stick through to0-far, too-fast, it’s been a fantastic start to the year.  While the market cannot go up every day, any weakness should be looked at as a buying opportunity.  I would be reluctant to buy here, but if the market dips for a day or two, that is an invitation to join the rally

Alternate Outcome:
While the trend is clearly higher, we could breakdown at any time if a nasty headline spooks the market or we simply run out of buyers.  Rallies always end, but typically they go further and longer than most expect.  We might see a dip to support this week, but don’t expect the market to breakdown.  Smart money is buying the weakness, not selling it.

AAPL weekly at end of week

AAPL weekly at end of week

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

There are a lot of people defending the intrinsic value in AAPL and if it was a great buy at $550, then it is a steal at $450.  And while they might be right, the market doesn’t agree and we all know what happens to traders who argue with the market.

There are plenty of examples of iconic businesses with great growth, but their stock price stagnated for a decade.  MSFT is well off it’s all-time highs and has been dead money for over a decade.  Same exact thing from CSCO.  WMT finally regained its 2000 high thirteen-years later.  SBUX peaked in 2006 and didn’t regain that level for five more years.  Even AAPL traded sideways for over a decade after surging 700% between 1985 and 1987.  Without a revolutionary new product, expect AAPL to join the ranks of has-beens, at least in traders’ eyes.

The question any AAPL owner needs to ask is how long are they willing to hold to get their money back. No doubt we could see a bounce back to $500 and that would make for a great short-term swing-trade, but any strength in AAPL should be sold.  MSFT, WMT, CSCO, and SBUX were great companies with strong growth and industry leading profitability,  but that didn’t prevent the stock from stagnating for long stretches.  There is a lot of profit to be made swing-trading AAPL, but buy-and-hold investors are not going to see new highs any time soon.

Stay safe

Jan 26

WR: 4th in a row

By Jani Ziedins | Weekly Analysis

S&P500 weekly at end of week

S&P500 weekly at end of week

Weekly Review

Another up week as this rally knows no limits, but a strong market didn’t save AAPL traders who are stuck wondering what to do with their losing positions.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The S&P500 rallied another 1.1% this week, making the 4th consecutive weekly gain and 8 out of the last 10.  Weekly volume was lower than average but only because of the holiday shortened week.  We are 61-points above the 10-week moving average and 102-points above the 40-week moving average.  Outside of a few weeks of weakness in the final weeks of the year, the market has rallied non-stop from November’s 1340 lows.

MARKET SENTIMENT

Following the financial news and trader forums, most of last month’s worries are long forgotten and the market is pretty pleased with the world.  The market often swings between extremes of pessimism and complacency.  Last November and December the world was falling apart and now everything seems fine.  Funny how that works.

The contrarian in me is suspicious of this rally, but the thing to remember is moves in the direction of the go further and longer than anyone expects.  While people have called for a pullback since the huge Fiscal Cliff spike, the market has marched higher instead.  Obviously this cannot continue indefinitely, but when in doubt, stick with the trend.  Eventually this market will run out of new buyers, but it hasn’t happened yet.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The market rallied over 100-points nearly non-stop in less than a month.  While the market goes further and longer than anyone expects, there are times when the odds are in your favor and others when it is best to sit it out.  Right now is time for sitting.

Alternative Outcome:
The market will only pullback when everyone stops calling for a pullback.  Are we there yet?  Obviously not since the market is up eight-days in a row.  The market can go even further if it means humiliating the experts and gurus, but while the market can go higher, that doesn’t make it a good trade.  We are here for the easy, high-probability money and jumping on this rally is late in the game.  While more upside might remain, that doesn’t make it a good trade.

AAPL weekly at end of week

AAPL weekly at end of week

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

I received a lot of questions from holders of AAPL about sticking with their positions after last week’s plunge. The simple answer is only hold is if your original trading plan calls for holding in situations like this.  If you bought at $550 and acknowledged that the stock could continue falling another 20% before rebounding, continue holding.  But if you bought at $550 and didn’t expect the stock to dip under $500, then clearly your original thesis is invalid and there is no reason to keep holding at $450.

AAPL could bounce at any time, but even if it does, selling is still the right thing to do.  This isn’t about what works this one time, but about how we want to trade over our career.  I have friends who are still holding CSCO they bought at $60 and waiting for it to come back 13-years later. Can anyone actually claim that is the smart trade?  What is the difference holding AAPL at $450?  Personally I don’t care if AAPL comes back or not, when a trade violates my original thesis, I get out.   This is larger than a single trade and is about being a successful trader.  Undisciplined traders might get lucky here and there, but the traders who stick to his plan will succeed over the long haul.

Stay safe

Jan 25

PM: Close above 1500

By Jani Ziedins | End of Day Analysis

S&P500 daily at end of day

S&P500 daily at end of day

PM Update

The S&P500 continues making new highs, but who is buying and why are they buying?  That is the key to understanding where we go from here.  After some reflection I realized why I blew the AAPL call and hopefully this will keep me from making the same mistake in the future.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The S&P500 finally closed above 1500 and finished near the day’s high.  Volume was slightly above average as a decent number of traders show a willingness to buy stocks at these levels.  But are they buying stocks here because they think the market is headed higher, or are they buying for other reasons, such as covering an index short as part of unwinding their hedged AAPL position?  Understanding motivation is an important part of figuring out where we are headed.

MARKET SENTIMENT

Stocks are making a strong move after breaking resistance at 1470 and have come 30-points in six-trading days.  The last down-day of any real significance was 13-trading sessions ago when the market dipped a measly 4-points.  To find a more meaningful sell-off you have to go back to the final days of last year during the Fiscal Cliff gridlock.

It is amazing how calming a smooth rally is on the nerves and there is far less fear in the market than the closing weeks of 2012.  But as a contrarian trader, I feel more comfortable when everyone else is nervous.  It is nice to think the market can rally for dozens of days without selling off, but typically the real world isn’t so easy.  There is no reason to expect a major pullback, but some selling would be normal after rallying 100-points in less than a month.

One of the more interesting dynamics at play is the market’s strength in the face of AAPL’s collapse.  I wrote why hedge funds are buying the index as they unwind their AAPL potion in this morning’s blog post.  The concern for traders is this short-covering is not an enduring phenomena and without new buyers expecting higher prices, we risk running into a ceiling real soon.  But that is a good thing, pullbacks are a health and normal part of moving forward.  When we go too-far, too-fast, it doesn’t end well.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
There is no reason the market cannot rally 14+ consecutive days without a minor pullback, but the further we go, the more we push our luck.  Knowing how the markets work, it would be foolish to suggest people rush out and buy after so many up-days.  Can we go higher?  Sure.  But is that a high-probability trade?  Of course not.

The bigger challenge is figuring out how far the inevitable down-days will go.  Will it be another 4-point dip before rallying the next day?  Or will we pull back to support at 1470?  We tend to go down faster than we go up, so we could easily retest 1470 over a couple of days next week.  But don’t short the market expecting a lot more selling than that.  Take profits early and often in any counter-trend trade.

Alternate Outcome:
If the expected outcome is a down-day after 13 up-days, then the alternative is another dozen up-days.  That surely would surprise market participants as they watch in awe as the market leaves them behind.  While the contrarian view says we should expect the unexpected, we also need real buying to propel a move like this.  If new buyers develop a fear of heights, the market peak will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Can we rally for a month without any real selling?  Sure.  It is likely?  No.

AAPL daily at end of day

AAPL daily at end of day

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL gave up another $10 as hopeful traders waited in vain for the expected rebound.  But I can’t be too critical, Wednesday afternoon I was an AAPL bull too.  As part of my blown call, I’ve done some reflection on why I got it so wrong.  It turns out I fell for one of the things I often warn other people about and that is thinking the contrarian trade is going against trend.  AAPL’s decline had clearly gotten a little out of hand and that obviously meant traders were overly bearish in the name.  But what I forgot is contrarian is going against the crowd, not the trend.  If I dug a little deeper I would have realized most traders felt there was real value in AAPL and it was only time before the stock bounced back.  The crowd expected a bounce, not a $50 selloff, and that is why we ended up with the plunge lower.

Contrarian trades work because people trade their conviction.  People own what they think will go up and sell what they think will go down.  If everyone expects AAPL to bounce, they already own it in anticipation of the bounce.  But if everyone already owns AAPL, who is left to buy?  That is exactly what happened on Wednesday and Thursday, AAPL put up good numbers, but the stock plunged because everyone who wanted AAPL already owned it and no one was left to buy.

I know better, but that still didn’t keep me from developing a blind spot when I was convinced of the value in AAPL.  The saving grace is I limited my losses by keeping my position size reasonable and cutting my losses quickly.

Stay safe

Jan 25

AM: AAPL keeps sliding

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at 1:12 EST

S&P500 daily at 1:12 EST

AM Update

Markets break above 1500 in early trade, will they be able to hold it through the close?  AAPL cannot catch a bid and is under $440.  What will it take to finally get the stock to bounce?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

Stocks opened strong, breaking through the 1500 barrier in early trade, but couldn’t hold those gains and dipped under this key level by mid-morning.  The market found a floor at 1495 and is attempting another assault on 1500.  It will be interesting to see how the market closes and if the pattern of early weakness followed by closing strength is changing.

MARKET SENTIMENT

The S&P500 continues defying weakness in AAPL and broad market investors are unfazed by AAPL’s troubles.  AAPL posted great earnings and is not indicating signs economic weakness; it is simply an isolated story of an over-owned stock.  That is why selling has not spread beyond AAPL.

But how does this unexpected strength affect broad market sentiment?  Some people theorize hedge funds were long AAPL and short the index as a hedge.  They thought AAPL was going to outperform the indexes, but were afraid of economic and political risks taking all stocks, including AAPL down.  In situations like this, they buy AAPL and short the S&P500.  This limits their exposure to the difference between AAPL and the S&P500, allowing them to make money even if AAPL declines, as long as the broad market declines even more.  This is a great way to isolate a single stock’s story from wider economic concerns.

A quick example will better illustrate this concept.  Lets say a major European bank becomes insolvent overnight and requires a high-profile bailout.  All stocks tank on this news, but some more than others.  If AAPL falls 5%, but the S&P500 with its heavy exposure to financials falls 7%, then the hedge fund actually made 2% that day because AAPL outperformed the S&P500.  (-5%) – (-7%) = +2%   This simple idea is the entire reasons hedge funds exist.  They reduce risk by hedging out broad market risk, allowing them to focus exclusively on individual stock stories.  But obviously this only works when they are right about the individual stock story.

Why this matters to the broad market is many of these hedge funds were short the S&P500 as part of their AAPL trade and when they sell out of AAPL, they are also buying back their S&P500 short.  If this really is the case, this is a temporary  lift because short covering is not driven by expectations of higher prices. We need to see other buyers step in to keep this rally going.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The market is taking it’s time at 1500, which is supportive of these levels as long as people are buying for the right reason.  Momentum chasers and short covering represents a small sliver of available money in the market.  While it is large enough to move the markets when they work together, they don’t have staying power to keep prices up by themselves.  This is why we want to see three or four days of support at a level before feeling confident other buyers are also buying these levels.  Today is the second day of trade around 1500 and if we keep this level through Monday and into Tuesday, it proves there is more to this new high than just short covering and we can stay long or add new positions.

Alternate Outcome:
With too many people waiting for the expected pullback, the market continues marching higher, crushing bears and filling traders watching from the sidelines with regret.  These two groups are the ones that keep buying the market and pushing it higher.  With as much selling as we saw between September and November, there are still lost traders holding cash and ready to chase this thing higher.  Breaking through 1505 and closing strong would show this market is still ready to move.

AAPL daily at 1:12 EST

AAPL daily at 1:12 EST

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

Another bad day for AAPL as it dropped under $440.  If AAPL was a great buy at $550, then it is a screaming deal at $450, but the question any AAPL bull must ask is where are all the buyers?  With continued weakness, new buyers are clearly not interested in this stock at $450 even though a lot of people who swear by the huge intrinsic value.  What this tells us is everyone who believes in AAPL is already fully invested, leaving no one else buy.

I was one of those people until yesterday, but the 10% decline on record earnings invalidated my thesis and in these situations there is nothing left to do but get out and reassess.  AAPL could easily find a floor around $450, but the same thing was said about $550.  The truth is these things go longer and further than anyone expects and clearly that is happening here.

There are two groups of traders watching this stock.  One is value investors attracted to the low P/E and dividend.  The other are holders desperate for a rebound.  The question becomes who will move first.  Value investors, especially those that resisted the temptation to buy AAPL at $500 are an obviously a patient bunch and waiting to see how low this will go.  On the other side are the hopeful owners insisting there is real value in AAPL and it is only a matter of time before it recovers.  At this point it seems far more likely the hopeful crowd will be demoralized by the steady march lower and eventually sell when they just can’t take it anymore.  Once everyone completely hates the stock, it will finally find a bottom and start rallying.  Both FB and NFLX had to go through this cleanse of maximum pessimism before they bottomed.  We should expect the same from AAPL, meaning we need to get rid of all these hopeful owners before this stock can bounce back, and that means lower prices in the near-term.  Apple Inc is a great company, but it will take time for the AAPL stock to work through its supply and demand imbalance.

The best way to trade situations like this is to sell and reassess with a clear head.  If you still believe in the story, buy back in when the price action supports your thesis.  No one is right about every trade and we all lose money, the difference is successful traders admit defeat and move on.

Stay safe

Jan 24

PM: S&P500 breaks 1500

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at end of day

S&P500 daily at end of day

PM Update

The S&P500 market another new high, but it wasn’t able to hold those gains into the close.  Is this the start of a pullback to support or just another bear-trap?  AAPL was pummeled and never caught a bid, finishing at the day’s lows.  What does that mean for the near-term trade?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The market showed impressive strength in the face of AAPL’s collapse.  The S&P500 broke above the psychologically important 1500 level while AAPL plunged 10%.  In a break from recent character, the market started strong and finished weak, failing to hold 1500.  One day does not make a new trend, but it is noteworthy enough to watch more closely.  Much like the rest of the month, volume was above average and most traders are actively participating in this market.

The last time the market printed 1500 was long before the financial meltdown and this is a significant milestone. It took a few years, but the market is finally getting its mojo back and encroaching on the all-time high, just 75-points away.  All the people who bailed on the market years ago because it was broken can’t be all that happy with their emotion-driven decision to shun equities and stick their money in 1% bonds.

MARKET SENTIMENT

It is noteworthy the market couldn’t hold 1500 and retreated back to the 1490s.  We have seen a lot of buying over the last two-and-a-half months and it would be perfectly reasonable for the market pullback to support before resuming the uptrend.  The market needs periodic rests to maintain quality ownership.  If prices rise too quickly, conservative investors get nervous and sell to emotional momentum traders.  Momentum buyers are notoriously weak-kneed and bail in droves when the trend turns against them.  While volatility is good for swing-traders, it is bad for investor confidence and everyone benefits from a stable market.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The preferred outcome is a modest pullback and consolidation of recent gains.  A nice and steady rally is preferable to a dramatic sawtooth ride for most investors.  Without a near-term pause, I will grow increasingly suspicious of the sustainability of this rally.  The market doesn’t need to pullback, but it should at least digest gains.  We saw nice sideways trade following the Fiscal Cliff  spike and that allowed the market to continue higher.  We need to see something similar to confirm the durability of this rally to 1500 and beyond.

Alternate Outcome:
Seeing the S&P500 bump its head on 1500 might be a tad too obvious because the market hates being predictable and this could be yet another bear trap before surging higher.  The market will pullback at some point, but trends are far more likely to continue than reverse because they continue countless times, yet reverse only once.  While the market can continue higher, it gets harder and harder for the rational trader to keep holding.  It is foolish to holdout for top-dollar and most often it is preferable to get out on the way up.

The market is one big head game and most people do better selling into strength because selling weakness leaves them filled with regret over not selling earlier.  The temptation is to wait for the market to go back up to the previous high, but more often than not the market steps lower, leaving the trader with even more regret at not selling the first dip.  And beyond this, the early seller has a huge psychological edge because he is watching the pullback with cash in hand and hungry to buy.  Compare this to the guy riding the elevator down, nervously trying to decide if he should get off or not.  By the time the market finally chases him out, the early seller is buying back in and ready to ride the trade back up.

I’ve read countless interviews with successful traders and I have yet to find one who claims his key to success is selling on the way down.  Every single one claims they sell too early, many going even further and saying that is the number one key to their success.  Maybe they are on to something.

AAPL daily at end of day

AAPL daily at end of day

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

AAPL’s massive plunge caught a lot of people, including myself, off guard and that is why it happened.  The most noteworthy thing is the stock never caught a bid and finished at the lows of the day.  This is the most owned stock by big money and they failed to prop up their most important investment.  Big money knows the market is a game of perception and often they will defend their positions by buying shares to prevent a major selloff.  I was surprised we didn’t see that with AAPL, especially in after-hours trade when it would have been a lot easier to manipulate the market.  Based on this completely absent defense, it seems everyone already has as much AAPL as they can handle and no one is able or willing to put new money at risk.  That is a scary prospect for the stock.  No matter how solid the fundamentals, if there are no new buyers, the stock will continue languishing.

The problem for people hoping for a rebound is the biggest catalyst came and went and there really isn’t anything over the next few months to trigger a strong move.  The iPhone5S will be met with a yawn.  Management was hostile to questions over their cash hoard, so don’t expect much movement on that anytime soon.  Apple TV is still a R&D project.  And virtually all the other good news concerning global sales is already baked into the stock.  Without a reason new for investors to buy, it seems we are stuck at these levels for a while.  The stock could rally or slide another $20 or $40, but any expectations of recovering $600 in the next few months are a pipe-dream.  Apple Inc remains a great company, but it’s stock is out of favor and everyone who believes in the story already has all the stock they can handle.

Stay safe

Jan 24

AM: Markets surge while AAPL tanks

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at 1:00 EST

S&P500 daily at 1:00 EST

AM Update

AAPL tanks and the market breaks 1500, what’s going on here?

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The market ignored all the noise over AAPL’s plunge and broke above 1500 in early trade.  Clearly the AAPL story is a single-stock event and the rest of the market is doing fine without its leadership.

MARKET SENTIMENT

I am surprised at the market’s resilience when the index’s biggest member stumbles in a bad way, but this is just another example of the market doing the least expected thing.  The market clearly wants to go higher and it is winning over reluctant traders with each passing day.  The only question is how many reluctant traders are left to win over before we run out of new buyers?

Today is the first day in a while that started strong and it will be interesting to see what happens in the second half of the day. Often these things go further and longer than most expect and that is clearly the case here.  Earnings have been fairly decent, even AAPL put up good numbers, so it seems the economic recovery is still intact and things are turning out better than feared.

It appears the Debt Ceiling showdown is being postponed and the market has yet to find a new fatalistic obsession.  Right now the only thing bothering traders seems to be too-far, too-fast and that is easily overcome by the market’s continued strength.  The thing we need to keep an eye on is the level of cynicism remaining in the market, if this market wins over too many fans, then we are approaching saturation and will run out of new buyers.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
The market clearly wants to go higher and it would be foolish to try to short such a strong market, but that widespread attitude could be the thing that finally lets a short work.  Those that are still in the market can move up their stops and hold for a little longer, but there is nothing wrong with locking-in profits and waiting for the next trade.  The difficult trade is for those on the outside looking in.  It is tough to watch other people make money, but never force a trade just because you feel like you are being left behind.  There will be countless profit opportunities over the next 11-1/2 months.  If you missed this trade, just wait for the next one.

Alternate Outcome:
Last year’s Q1 rally continued for 3-months and we could easily see something similar here, but we need to look at what made last year’s Q1 rally possible.  The summer of 2011 saw a massive selloff between the downgrade of US debt and financial instability in Europe.  The markets sold off nearly 20% in a matter of days followed by moths of volatile sideways trade prior to the record-setting 2012 Q1 rally.  Compare that to this summer’s 8% dip and concern over spending another four years with the same Democrat in the White House.  These are two radically different setups and they will most likely produce different results as well.

The fear of a global depression in 2011 gave traders flashbacks to 2008 and they sold in droves.  It was the pervasive pessimism and huge pool of sellers that provided the fuel for the 2012 Q1 rebound.  We also had a wave of selling last summer, but it was far smaller, meaning the fuel for this Q1 rally is more limited.  No doubt we can keep going higher, but it needs to be part of a sustainable grind higher, not a race to 1600 that will inevitably run out of gas and come back down.

AAPL daily at 1:00 EST

AAPL daily at 1:00 EST

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

What can we say about AAPL?  AAPL reported one of the most profitable quarters in the history of the world and investors blasted the stock for being too predictable, stable, and profitable.  The ironic thing is if Cook came out and said we are changing our strategy and sacrificing margins for market-share, the stock would have shot up like a rocket.  For whatever reason, investors are punishing AAPL for its high-dollar, high-margin product lineup and predicting it is the next Blockbuster Video and on the verge of going out of business.  But the truth is smartphones have barely penetrated the global market and there is so much upside that both AAPL and Samsung will hardly be able to keep up with demand.  But everyone assumes because AAPL isn’t selling a $15 smart phone that they are headed out of business.  Someone better tell BMW and Nordstroms that they don’t have a viable business model because they don’t sell scooters or have dollar bins for poor people.

But no matter what, we trade the market and the market doesn’t like AAPL.  What we are watching is the cleansing process; AAPL was the most loved stock on Wall Street and now it has to become the most hated before it can recover.  NFLX and FB went through the same thing and provide a roadmap for AAPL’s eventual recovery.  My mistake was thinking sentiment had bottomed, but where I went wrong was not recognizing that a stock as loved as AAPL was needs to become even more hated than what is normally required to bottom.  This plunge to $450 certainly goes a long way to achieving that goal.  It might not be the final bottom, but we are getting close.

Hopefully most people closed out their trades and are not willing to ride this thing down.  While Apple Inc. might be a great company, we trade the stock and stubbornness should never let us go down with the ship.  The greatest advantage individual investors have is our nimbleness.  We can get in and out of positions in seconds and if we don’t take advantage of this, we give up the only edge we have on large institutions.  I’m not promoting overtrading, just saying that we don’t have to go down with the ship.  Sell out of AAPL here, clear your head, look for the right entry and jump back on board when the time is right.  There is no reason any of us should ride AAPL from $700 to $450.  That is the way people go broke.  Take our loss and move on.

Stay safe

Jan 23

PM: AAPL plunges after-hours

By Jani Ziedins | Intraday Analysis

S&P500 daily at end of day

S&P500 daily at end of day

PM Update

The S&P50o notched another new high, but the big headline is AAPL’s poor performance in after-hours trade following its earnings release.  The company announced record earnings, but the market was unimpressed and pummeled the stock.  It is okay to be wrong in the markets, but it is fatal to stay wrong.  Anyone caught on the wrong side of this trade needs to follow their trading plan.

MARKET BEHAVIOR

The S&P500 traded fractionally higher, but it was enough to set another new high.  Today’s volume was above average, but the lowest out of the last four days.  Good earnings from blue-chip companies propped up the tech sector, at least during regular hours.  Of course everyone knows what happened after-hours, but we will get to that later.

MARKET SENTIMENT

The market keeps pushing higher, but in a tentative way.   We see early weakness followed by a rebound and modest gains.  1500 is just a few points away and the rally lacks the enthusiasm and conviction to make a strong move higher, but this is not a bad thing.  Caution is a common characteristic of sustainable rallies.  Brashness, overconfidence, and complacency are hallmarks of major tops.  Reluctance to over-commit here means many traders are still holding back and their available reserves are the fuel that can continue pushing this market higher if they are compelled to chase a move higher.

But enough about this stuff, everyone wants to hear about AAPL.  AAPL is the largest member of the S&P500 and NASDAQ indexes.  No doubt today’s after-hours selloff will be felt by the indexes tomorrow and could be a catalyst for a near-term market top.  AAPL closed lower by 10% at the end of after-hours trading and is primarily responsible for a 0.4% drop in SPY and 1.5% in loss in QQQ in after-hours.  AAPL has largely been a single-stock story recently as it traded near 52-week lows while the S&P500 was making 5-year highs, but is this story big enough to shift market sentiment and finally trigger pullback?  It will be interesting to watch.

TRADING OPPORTUNITIES

Expected Outcome:
Tomorrow will be a real test for the market.  If the pattern of strong closes continues, it is showing signs the market wants to keep going higher.  But if the market cannot shake early weakness, look for bears and nervous holders to pile on the selling and push the marked back down to 1470.

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

Swing and a miss.  Obviously I blew my AAPL call.  Not that it was a bad trade, it just didn’t work out and that is all that matters.  AAPL had one of the most profitable quarters in the history of the word, yet the stock was pummeled 10% after-hours.  We don’t trade fundamentals, we trade stocks and when the stock goes the wrong way we lose money.  Simple as that.

For those of us in AAPL, we need to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  It is perfectly normal, even expected to be wrong in the markets, but what is fatal is staying wrong.  Successful traders take their lumps and move on and that is what we need to do here.

In Wednesday morning’s post I wrote about position size.  Using a 3% risk target and the option market’s expected move of 7%, I came up with a maximum position size of $43k for a $100k account.  Lets see how this trade did if the after-hours selloff holds into Thursday.

At the height of selling, AAPL was down 11% from Wednesday’s close, so lets use that number.  An 11% loss was larger than the option market’s prediction of 7% and 11% of $43k is a $4,730 loss, or a 4.73% hit to the $100k model portfolio.  While an ugly number, it certainly is not a catastrophic loss and easily lets the trader live to fight another day.  The original 3% loss limit was conservative to begin with because as we just saw, sometimes things can get carried away.

But from a risk management perspective, a 5% loss is not that big of a deal.  We took a calculated risk and sometimes these things don’t work out.  But this isn’t just rationalization, a 5% loss is very manageable if we don’t let it grow.  It takes 14-consecutive 5% losses to lose 50% of a portfolio’s value.  (it is not 10 because the losses get smaller as the portfolio shrinks)  But f we let this loss get away from us, it only takes six 10% losses to wipe out half of a portfolio.  This is why cutting losses early is such an important part of success in the markets.

If any of you are in AAPL, don’t feel bad, it was a calculate risk and it didn’t work out.  These things happen and if you are having a difficult time with this, trading might not be the right thing for you.  But no matter what, we need to figure out how to move on.  After-hours trading sessions are notoriously illiquid and the price action we saw this evening might not represent what happens tomorrow.  The after-hours crowd most likely got the direction right so don’t expect AAPL to rally tomorrow, but the size of the loss can be distorted by the thin trade.

Obviously the market will open weak, but where it goes from there is key.  No doubt many traders saw the horrible headlines screaming 10% loss in AAPL and the market will open with a wave of sell orders.  But where the market goes from there will set the tone for the rest fo the day.  One strategy for trading gap downs is to let the market stabilize in the first five-minutes of trade.  If supply dries up after the initial wave of selling, prices can actually rebound through the day.  Take the low of the first five-minutes of trade and use that as your stop-loss.  Continue holding as long as the market stays above this level and if you are lucky you will recover a decent chunk of the early selloff.  But if the market starts selling and breaks the stop-loss, get out!  The first loss is often the best loss.  Take your 5% loss and move on to the next trade.

Tomorrow’s AM post will get more into how to trade AAPL going forward.

Stay safe