analyzing the past week in stocks

a roller coaster ride

The past five or six days of stock market trading around the globe have been very unusual, to put it mildly.  To recap quickly, the S&P 500 (which will be my main focus here) peaked on July 31st at a value of 2114.  On Thursday August 21st, the index closed at 2026.  Then…

—on Friday the 21st, the S&P fell by 3.2%

–on Monday the 24th, the S&P opened down 5.2%–with major stocks falling by as much as 20%.  The index rallied back to breakeven before fading late in the day to close down 4%.

–on Tuesday the 25th, the index opened up slightly, added 2.5% to the initial print and then turned around to close 1.5% lower.

–on Wednesday, the index gained 4%+.

–on Thursday the S&P opened up slightly, rose steadily to gain a total of 2.5%, reversed course to lose almost all of that  …before reversing course again to end the day at +2.4%.

All this occurred on 2x -3x normal volume each day.

To add to the fun, the computers at Bank of NY-Mellon, which prices a good number of ETFs, failed over last weekend and still aren’t functioning normally.  So for days, traders of ETFs lost the NAV anchor on which to base their actions.  This may be a reason for my impression that bid-asked spreads for ETFs were wider than normal earlier this week.

As I’m writing this early Friday afternoon, the S&P is flattish.  Volume is about half – two-thirds of what it was earlier in the week.

why?

If the question is why a sharp decline now rather than, say, two weeks ago, there’s never a good answer.

If the question is what forces caused the big fall–and equally sharp rebound–that’s almost as difficult.  We might view this week as the panic-filled culmination of an equity slide that began on the first trading day of August and which is based, I think, mostly on extended valuation.  The decline in the oil price below $40 a barrel can’t have helped sentiment.  Nor would spirits have been perked up by the weakness of Chinese stocks as speculative excess continues to be washed out of that market.

Of course, battling computer trading algorithms could have been the driving force.  That would at least explain how quickly everything moved.

For my money, though, a technical correction in a pricey market is a good enough story.

 

A more important question for us as investors is whether the selling, however motivated, is over.  The optimistic part of me (which is virtually my entire body) says that the rebound from the opening lows on Monday is an important positive psychological sign.  However, I think volumes have to return to normal, time has to pass, and the market has to begin to drift upward before I’ll be completely convinced.

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that this week has seen the establishment of an important resistance level for the S&P.  Remember, I’m not yet willing to bet that this is the case.  But if it is, three considerations are important:

–the market often rises for a while, but then returns to visit the prior low before bouncing up again off it.  This action forms the so-called “double bottom,”–which technicians take as a very bullish sign

–in a major reversal of direction, market leadership often changes, meaning some star groups become clunkers going forward and some clunkers regain the market limelight.  Although I’d scarcely call this past week a major event, we should still look carefully for hints of leadership change

–we’re fast approaching the yearend selling season for mutual funds (most mutual funds have a fiscal year that ends on Halloween), which typically extends from mid-September to mid-October.  The prospect of such selling could keep a lid on stocks over the next weeks, and would be the vehicle for retesting Monday’s lows.

what to do?

That’s my topic for Monday.

 

 

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