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When the Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) gapped open lower and plunged on May 17th, traders panicked, but the bulls came back strongly the very next day and drove the market to new highs within several days, culminating in another all-time high at $2454 this past Monday. SPX traded weakly lower this week, opening Monday at $2443 and closing Friday at $2438. Most of this week’s trading was negative, but Friday was a moderately positive day. I find it interesting that trading volume spiked Friday. Last Friday’s trading volume spike was typical of options expiration. Yesterday’s spike suggested strong bullish support. The bulls are still in control.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) price chart stands in contrast to the almost perfectly bullish SPX price chart for the past six months. RUT has largely traded within a sideways channel since December. This is the most bearish indicator we currently have on this market. RUT opened the week at $1407 and closed yesterday at $1415. Last week’s spike higher to $1427 was short-lived. Russell’s position lagging the market indices may be contrasted with the NASDAQ Composite, which has been extremely bullish since mid-April. And this week’s trading continued that pattern as NASDAQ opened the week at $6197 and closed yesterday at $6265. The Goldman Sachs memo on June 9th took the wind out of NASDAQ’s sails by criticizing the high stock prices of many of the high tech market darlings: GOOGL, FB, AMZN, NFLX and others. NASDAQ opened June 9th at $6330 and is still struggling to get back to those levels.

NASDAQ’s trading volume spiked higher on Friday, just as we saw in SPX. It is interesting to note that trading volume yesterday exceeded the trading volume spike on June 9th as NASDAQ sold off.

Market volatility remains at historical lows, as measured by the VIX, closing at 10.0% on Friday.

Many market gurus are proclaiming an overbought market, but the bulls are strongly defending any attempts to push the market lower. You saw evidence of that bullish support in the trading volume spikes Friday on an otherwise modestly bullish day. If one watches any of the political commentary on cable TV, you would conclude that the country is on the verge of collapse. Yet this bull market just continues higher. Political intrigue, terrorist incidents and even crazies like Kim Jong Un don’t phase this market. But this is a nervous bull market. Consider the market 
sell-offs of March 31st, May 17th and June 9th. All were triggered by events that didn’t seem very significant. But all of these pull backs were immediately bought by the bulls, and the market went on to set new highs in each case. Investors really don’t have a choice. We have to continue to trade this bullish trend. But it remains a nervous market. This is no time for complacency. Watch your positions carefully. Keep your stops tight.

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Many market analysts are becoming disillusioned with this market. At first they were enjoying the ride higher, but more and more market professionals are turning bearish. 
 
My assessment is bullish but cautious.
 
The essence of my case for remaining bullish is the following: The S&P 500 Index has been trading sideways in the range of 2405 to 2445 for about a month now. If we study the candlesticks over the past two weeks, we observe several long lower shadows - that shows the buying strength of the bulls coming through on every pull back. Another bullish sign is the strength of the markets in the face of so much bad news: political turmoil, terrorism, poor jobs reports, etc. Consider a case in point: the Labor Department reported a very weak 138k new jobs in June, but the market shrugged it off.
 
But I also remain cautious:
 
The sudden pull backs we have seen repeatedly this year show how many institutions have their finger on the sell button. But they are quickly buying as soon as they are sure it's safe. They are bullish but nervous. Buying the dips is still working.
 
The bottom line for us individual investors is to continue to play this market from a bullish perspective. However, we must rigorously apply our risk management. Close out trades quickly when they turn south. Close out the gains quickly as well. Position your trades with a bit more safety margin.

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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.

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With apologies to Charles Dickens, this market reminded me of his great book, A Tale Of Two Cities.

Today’s markets gave us a wide range of price action with a huge decline on NASDAQ contrasted with the small caps in the Russell 2000 index finally coming to life after trading sideways all year. What should we conclude?

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) opened the week at $2437 and closed today, essentially unchanged, at $2432. Today’s price action on SPX ranged widely, trading up as high as $2446 this morning, but then trading down to $2416 this afternoon, before recovering somewhat into the close. SPX trading was very bullish over the last fifteen minutes of trading today. Trading volume spiked during those last few minutes. I find this significant increase in trading volume as prices recovered to be a very bullish signal – another example of market participants buying the dip. The bulls are still in control.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) has stubbornly lagged behind the other major market indices all year, but RUT woke up late this week, with large moves higher yesterday and today. RUT closed today at $1422, up $6. This close is right at the upper edge of the trading range that RUT has held since last December. RUT broke out and traded as high as $1434 earlier today, but couldn’t hold that high. Historically, small and mid-cap stocks always lead bullish markets upward and bearish markets downward. When traders are bullish, they tend to buy higher beta stocks with higher profit potential. Conversely, when markets cool, these same high beta stocks are the first to be sold. Russell’s apparent revival may be a leading indicator of the continuation of this bullish trend higher yet. I will be watching RUT next week to see if it can break out and close well above the upper edge of the trading range. That would be the final bullish indicator that has been missing thus far.

The Dow set an all-time high today, RUT made a valiant effort to break out of its sideways trading range, and SPX remained essentially unchanged. But the NASDAQ Composite told a completely different story. NASDAQ plunged $114 to close at $6208, nearly a 2% decline. This huge decline on NASDAQ was triggered by a Goldman Sachs report critiquing the high stock prices of the high tech market leaders such as Apple, Google, Nvidia, and FaceBook. The resulting high tech sell off triggered the S&P 500 volatility index (VIX) spiking up over 12% today, but VIX recovered significantly, closing at 10.7%, only up about a half percent on the day.

The bullish strength of this market is remarkable when you consider all of the political and global distractions. This market consistently trades higher, seemingly ignoring all of the negative distractions. I will continue to play this bullish market trend, but I am keeping my stops reasonably tight. It remains a nervous market. When in doubt, I close.

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The markets opened weakly today, probably fueled by the weak earnings report from Macy's and perhaps the continuing soap opera in Washington. SPX opened at $2395 and fell as far as $2382 before bouncing and closing at $2394, down five dollars on the day. There is a strong support level at $2380 that was established on May 3rd and 4th, and that support was reinforced today. RUT traded in similar fashion, trading down as far as $1380 before recovering some of the losses to close at $1390, down $9. RUT has been trading at or just above $1390 for the past seven sessions.

Today's spike lower sent volatility upward, with the VIX hitting a high at 11.2% before settling back to 10.6%. Trading volume on both the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ Composite came in below the 50 day moving average today, in spite of this morning's plunge lower. That tells me that no one hit the panic button.

The price behavior of today's markets reinforces the fact that the bulls are firmly in control of this market. Buying the pull backs remains a profitable strategy.

The resilience of these markets is notable. My conclusion is that a break out to the upside is the most probable immediate future. The fact that volatility didn't completely erase its intraday spike higher suggests today's decline made some traders uneasy. I remain bullish but also very cautious.