Wednesday’s market spooked traders of all stripes. The Standard and Poors 500 index (SPX) gapped open at $2383, down $18 from Tuesday’s close, and then proceeded to break through the 50-day moving average (dma) at $2369 and closed at $2357. The bulls reasserted themselves on Thursday and Friday, closing today at $2382, up $16 on the day. This didn’t quite recover all of Wednesday’s losses, but it was close. SPX has traded in the sideways range of $2320 to $2405 since mid-February and today’s close moved us toward the upper half of that trading range.
Trading volume on SPX spiked higher on Wednesday’s decline, but then pulled back as the market recovered. Thursday and Friday’s trading volume remained above average, which acts as a reinforcement of the market’s recovery. Although one could argue that trading volume wasn’t very strong for the past two days, so the reinforcement of the move was modest.
The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) has the strongest sideways trading pattern of all of the major market indices with a range of $1350 to $1420, held since early December. Wednesday’s decline was most severe on RUT, taking the index price down close to the lower edge of this trading range that remained as solid support since early December. Russell recovered weakly yesterday and today, closing at $1367 today, up $6. But this recovery effort fell short of the opening of $1388 on Wednesday. Once again, RUT is behaving more bearishly than the blue chip stocks of the S&P 500. That is a sign of traders’ hesitation in this market. The bulls are in control, but this isn’t an “all in” moment.
The S&P 500 volatility index (VIX) spiked up to 15.6% during Wednesday’s sell off, but closed today at 12.0%. This isn’t back to the very low volatilities we witnessed during most of May, but it is well within the range for most of 2017.
The markets have been trapped in a sideways trading pattern for several months now. The bulls are treading water and supporting this market for now, but that may change at some point. This week’s price action was reassuring, but sideways markets don’t last forever. At some point, the perceptions shift one way or the other.