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It now appears that this severe correction hit its low on December 24th, when the Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closed at 2351, representing a decline of 20% since October 3rd. SPX closed Friday at 2532, up 84 points on the day. The major market indices rallied strongly the day after Christmas, and gave traders hope. Technical analysts often look for what they call a follow through day after a correction low is recorded. This follow through day is considered the signal that traders may once again enter the market with some confidence that the correction is past. One begins counting days after the strong bullish move following the correction low (December 26th). The day count continues as long as the low price of day one isn’t broken. On day four or later, the analyst watches for a strong bullish trading day with volume equal or higher than the previous day. When that is achieved, the follow through day has occurred. Friday’s strong push higher satisfied the criteria for the follow through day. Trading volume in the S&P 500 has run below the 50-day moving average (dma) throughout the holidays. Thursday and Friday’s trading volume finally reached back up to the 50 dma.

Volatility, as measured by the S&P 500 volatility index, VIX, closed yesterday at 21.4%. The high point for VIX came on December 24th at 36%. This was almost an exact match of the peak in volatility in the February correction at 37%.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed yesterday at 1381, up 50 points. Russell has led this correction, down 25% from early October to December 24th. The NASDAQ Composite index closed yesterday at 6739, up 275 points. NASDAQ lost 23% from early October to the low on December 24th. I am a little surprised that NASDAQ’s correction wasn’t the largest of the broad market indices given the damage incurred by many of the high-tech names in the NASDAQ. Russell has led this correction from the beginning, trading lower and more consistently lower week after week.

Price trends since December 24th have been reassuring and the achievement of the follow through day this week probably contributed to Investors Business Daily changing their market assessment on Friday from “Market in Correction” to “Market in Confirmed Uptrend”.

I have never understood this correction from day one since it seemed to have no basis in solid economic terms. Yes, prices are higher, but companies have not grown earnings this rapidly in many years. Likewise, we have not seen GDP growth in the 3.5% range in decades. I believe this correction was largely self-inflicted. The financial news has been infected with the rancor of the front-page news. I am amazed at how often I have heard and read the term “recession” over the past several months. In my first economics course as an undergraduate, I learned that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. That definition hasn't changed, and we have been posting GDP growth numbers in excess of three percent. Recent GDP growth rates are light years from going negative. Businesses are complaining that they can’t hire people fast enough. Wage growth is at historic highs, while unemployment is at historic lows. Talk of recession makes no economic sense.

Why have we turned into a crowd of Chicken Littles?

I am encouraged by the recent market trends, but remain somewhat concerned about the volatility that appears to have become part of the normal market. Therefore, I may send out a trade alert this week, but I remain cautious. This market is going to have to show me that it has gotten over its “sky is falling” fears.

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According to what we all learned in Econ 101, higher interest rates are the tool used to slow a raging economy that is triggering runaway inflation. When the Fed was striving to recover from the financial meltdown of 2008, the FOMC’s target for inflation was a minimum of 2%. Bernanke frequently assured us that low interest rates weren't a problem as long as inflation remained contained at or below the FOMC target of 2%. Was Powell just trying to flex his muscle and show Trump who’s boss after Trump’s earlier tweets about the previous interest rate hikes? If so, Powell’s ego is costing ordinary Americans a lot of money. Earlier rate hikes this year could be justified, but this week’s rate increase, the fourth increase this year, just sent the market into the toilet for absolutely no good reason.

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closed today at 2417, down 51 points. SPX is now down 21% from October 3rd, meeting the traditional definition of a bear market as opposed to a correction. The S&P 500 lost 6.7% this week alone and is now down 10% for the year. Unless something dramatic happens, 2018 is going into the record books as a losing year.


On Wednesday morning, the markets appeared to be finding support amid speculation that the Fed would not raise interest rates again. After the announcement, the positive gains for the day were erased and the plunge began in earnest. Trading volume in the S&P 500 companies ran above the the 50-day moving average (dma) all week and spiked today, but that was to be expected since this was quadruple witching.

SPX has run along the lower edge of the Bollinger bands every day this week, and this is very unusual. The February correction was more normal, with occasional pops back higher during the pullback. This was an unusually severe week in the markets.

Volatility, as measured by the S&P 500 volatility index, VIX, closed today at 30%. As one might expect in a week like this one, VIX moved higher each day this week after opening Monday at 22%. VIX reached highs around 25% in the October correction, and hit 37% in February. This correction is getting serious.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed today at 1292, down 34 points. Russell opened the week at 1411 and lost 8.4% this week, once again leading the overall market lower, just as it has been since early October.

The NASDAQ Composite index closed today at 6333, down 195 points, or 3%. NASDAQ broke through its February’s correction low at 6874 on Monday and has not slowed down all week. NASDAQ’s trading volume mirrored SPX, running above average all week and spiking today with quadruple witching.

SPX joined NASDAQ in breaking its February correction low on Monday, but Russell had already broken that support level last week. That effectively leaves market technical analysts without an obvious support level to watch for a bounce, signaling the end of this correction. It leaves us wondering, when will the market find the bottom?

The final estimate of third quarter GDP growth was reported this morning at +3.4%. The disconnect of our economy’s health and this market is remarkable. But four interest rate hikes this year are taking their toll. And the uncertainties surrounding the trade negotiations with China continue to worry investors.

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The overall markets were down this week, with the Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closing Friday at 2914, down 16 points from last week’s close. Should we be concerned? There are certainly plenty of doomsayers on the sidelines who cry loudly each time the market falters even a bit. But I think they have cried wolf too many times.

Friday’s close was precisely at the all-time high logged by SPX on September 20th and remains well above the previous high at 2873 from January 26th. Therefore, it is much too early to speculate on any trend change, especially just after posting a GDP growth rate of 4.2%. Even if we figuratively back up and draw a trendline on SPX for the past two to three months, it is unquestionably strong and continuing to grow. Trading volume for the S&P 500 this week was near the 50-day moving average (dma) most of the week, and moved a bit higher on Friday. In general, trading volumes remain lackluster. It suggests that many traders are just letting their positions run and leaving any additional cash on the sideline.

Market volatility, as measured by the S&P 500 volatility index, VIX, wandered sideways this week, reaching intraday lows and highs of 11.6% to 13.2%, but closing Friday at 12.1%. This VIX trend, together with low to average trading volume, suggests relative calm among the large market participants. The exception to our story among broad market indices is the Russell 2000 Index (RUT) which has trended steadily lower since marking an all-time high of 1741 on August 31st. RUT broke its 50 dma on Wednesday, but posted a gain Friday.

The NASDAQ Composite index closed Friday at 8046, up over 107 points from Monday’s opening. NASDAQ’s has largely traded sideways during September, banded by the highs set at the end of August and bouncing off the 50 dma on the lower end of the trading range. Friday’s close is only 64 points or 0.8% off the 
all-time high on August 31st. Trading volume in the NASDAQ stocks was well above the 50 dma all week with the exception of Thursday.

With the title of this article, I posed the question of whether this week’s downtrend is merely a healthy pause in a bull market or represents a trend change. We should remind ourselves that markets always represent a discounted future view of the market’s collective corporate cash flows. The economic data remain very strong. When was the last time we saw a 4.2% quarterly GDP number? I don’t need to look it up. It has been a long time.

We stand at a unique point in American history. The old rule of journalists’ ensuring that their personal viewpoints were only visible on the editorial page is long gone. One of the consequences of this sea change is that my perception of the general state of the economy may be significantly distorted by a barrage of bad news and generally hateful commentary.

Focus on the economic facts. The economy is growing; unemployment is at record lows; wages are growing at strong rates; companies are complaining about being unable to fill jobs. In the last earnings cycle, more S&P companies beat analyst earnings estimates than has been the case in several years.

In spite of the weakness we saw in the broad market averages this week, the following stocks continue to trade higher: ILMN, LULU, MA, V, and WWE. AAPL has rebounded and is nearing its all-time high.

However, due to the generally negative news environment I described above, this market is very volatile. Watch your positions carefully and take your gains whenever you can. My trading group enjoyed a large gain on NKE with a trade on its earnings announcement this week. I could have almost doubled that gain by carrying the trade into next week, but I closed Friday for a 64% gain rather than hold for a gain of over 100% next week. It’s that kind of market. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just is.

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The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closed today at 2659, down 4.1% for the week. Today’s price action was wild, trading down as low as 2628 before recovering 31 points to close just above Wednesday’s close at 2656. Since SPX’s closing high on September 20th, this blue-chip index has lost 9.3%. Even more ominously, SPX is now underwater for the year, after opening at 2684 on January 2nd. The 200-day moving average (dma) that appeared to be acting as support last week is now long gone. Today’s close is 108 points below the 200 dma at 2767. Put another way, it would require a 4.1% gain for SPX next week to recover the 200 dma, close to what was lost this week. Trading volume in the S&P 500 companies steadily rose this week, peaking at 3.2 billion shares today, well above the 50 dma at 2.2 billion shares. Was this the so-called capitulation trading session, where everyone throws in the towel? Trading volume hit 3.3 billion shares at the low of the February correction.

VIX, the S&P 500 volatility index, peaked on Wednesday at 25.2% and declined a bit to close at 24.2% today. This is certainly a higher level of volatility, but I admit to being a bit surprised it isn’t higher. VIX peaked at 41% in the August 2015 flash crash and reached 33% in the recent February correction.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed today at 1484, after hitting an intraday low of 1459. Interestingly, RUT’s February correction low was 1464. It appears as though the February correction acted as support for RUT. Let’s hope so. RUT has been leading this market lower thus far. Since RUT hit a high on 8/31, this index has lost 14.8% of its value.

The NASDAQ Composite index easily broke through its October 11th low on Wednesday and looked like it was going lower yet this morning, hitting 7057 intraday. But NASDAQ recovered to close at 7167, down 4.3% for the week. The NASDAQ Composite index is down 11.6% since August 31st. NASDAQ’s trading volume rose steadily all week, peaking at 2.9 billion shares today, well above the 50 dma at 2.3 billion shares. NASDAQ’s trading volume peaked at 3.1 billion shares during the February correction.

I spent some time reviewing overall bull/bear market indicators this afternoon. Here are the salient points:

•    The CBOE put/call ratio was lower this week at 0.80, but the values posted on October 5th and 19th at 0.82 and 0.84, respectively, were closer to those of the February correction at 0.88.

•    The percent of NYSE stocks trading above their 200 dma dropped to a low of 26% today. The August 2015 flash crash and January 2016 correction posted similar numbers, but this indicator only declined to 57% in the February correction.

•    The percent of NYSE stocks trading above their 50 dma hit 12% today. The February correction drove this percentage to the same neighborhood, at 16%.

•    The CBOE SKEW index is a measure of the far OTM puts being bid up, suggesting the possibility of a black swan event. SKEW hit 122 today and posted a higher value of 137 during the February correction.

To my surprise, the various ratios and values are negative, but not nearly as severe as I would have expected. I shudder to think it might get worse before it gets better.


Serious damage has been done to previous market darlings:

•    ALGN is down 42% since this correction began. GRUB is down 41%; FB is down 33%; NVDA is down 32%; NFLX is down 29%; AMZN is down 19%; LULU is down 18%.

•    The IBD 50 stocks are down 22% since October 1st.

But there is some good news:

•    AAPL is only down 7% since the market highs, and ULTA is down 5%.

•    AAPL, MSFT, V, and UNH are all at or near relative strength highs since the correction began.

The severity of this correction is difficult to understand in light of such positive current economic data. Fear of the Fed increasing interest rates too rapidly and shutting down economic growth seems to be central to investor worries. I have read several articles citing fears of runaway inflation, but the current rate of inflation is at or near what previous Fed governors cited as the target for a healthy economy. Tariff wars and toxic politics round out the concerns. The market reaction certainly seems to be overdone.

I am waiting for the storm clouds to clear before entering any new trades. I am keeping a close eye on AAPL, MSFT, ULTA, UNH, and V. These are attractive candidates, but I don’t want to jump too soon.

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The bull market continues in spite of all of the negative news being headlined. It seems like all of the headlines are focused on negatives, intending to drive us all into depression. The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) opened at 2854 this week and closed at 2875, up 0.7% this week alone. SPX gapped open higher this morning, underscoring the bullish mood of the market. That was the second gap opening higher this week. Volatility remains relatively low at 12%, as measured by the VIX. Open a price chart on SPX from November, 2016 to the present and ask yourself, why am I surprised by this incredible chart?

I am at the MoneyShow in San Francisco and I must say this may be the best financial conference I have ever attended. I heard talks today by Jim Rogers, the famed hedge fund manager, Tom Sosnoff, of TastyTrade fame, and Gene Simmons, who I knew best as a member of the rock band, KISS. Gene Simmons stole the show. He encouraged the audience to have the courage to follow their dreams; he suggested each of us should strive to be a "psychopath with a conscience". The idea was to not be constrained by the norms or rules of business and/or society, but to have a conscience, i.e., don't hurt anyone. Simmons appears to relish negative labels such as brash, insolent, and irreverent. He believes that much of his success in multiple businesses is due to his willingness to entertain ideas that some would regard as crazy.

One of his current investments is a cannibus business in Canada (Invictus MD, ticker IVITF), starting up just as Canada is legalizing all marijuana. The irony is that Gene doesn't smoke, drink or do any drugs, including marijuana. His focus is on the medical applications of cannibus. He told some incredible stories about the positive medicinal effects, e.g., relieving epilepsy in children. His talk was also an extremely bullish presentation on the freedoms we have in this country that enable all of these business success stories. Simmons is very critical of the typical American's focus on leisure time and an unwillingness to work hard to succeed. One of his interesting anecdotes was to observe that we have two days off every week, or 104 days per year - he asked us, what have we accomplished with all of that time?

The presentation by Jim Rogers and Tom Sosnoff's interview of Gene Simmons were recorded and will be available on the MoneyShow web site in about a week. I encourage you to be sure and watch. It will be worth your time. And reporting from the minor leagues, my presentation, Options Don't Have To Be Risky, was also recorded and I think you will find it worthwhile.