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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

SPX closed higher again today at 2850. The all-time high from January 26th is 2873. SPX is now well above the 50 dma at 2774. July was a strong bullish month for the S&P 500, and now August is off to a strong start. Are we overdue for at least some sideways action? One concern of mine derives from the trading volume. The last three trading sessions have been very bullish and yet the trading volume has been consistently below the 50 dma and falling each day. Declining volume is not the sign of a strong bullish market.

The mid to small cap stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000 index (RUT), have been trading less bullishly. RUT has been trapped in a sideways trading range from about 1640 to 1710 for the past two months. RUT closed at 1684, just above the 50 dma and the middle of that trading range.

I closed the put spreads in our August iron condor on SPX, resulting in an 11% gain. This will free up capital to enter the November position. In the meantime, our September iron condor on RUT stands at an 11% gain, but due to rolling the puts higher sometime ago, we have a 22% potential gain on this position, so we will probably hold this position for a while longer.

An interesting tidbit: 413 of the S&P 500 companies have now reported earnings in this cycle. 79% of those companies have beat the analysts estimates. Over the past four quarters, an average of 72% of the S&P 500 beat analyst estimates.

Record corporate earnings are providing the foundation for this strong bullish market. As long as trade tariff negotiations appear to be moving positively, the S&P 500 may have a shot at breaking its January all-time high.

We start our Conservative Income Strategies course this evening at 8:00 pm CT. You may attend this first class free of charge and decide whether this course would be useful for you. Register for the private webinar here. Students in previous courses this year paid for their tuition several times over during the course just by following Dr. Duke's trades.

 

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) has been locked in a sideways dance since June 25th when it closed at 2717. SPX opened this morning at 2734, and then plunged to 2716, below the the 50-day moving average (dma) at 2721. But then it rebounded and, as I write this blog, is trading up twenty points at 2734. The 50 dma has acted as a strong support level for the past couple of weeks. But these wide swings in price within a single daily trading sessions are unsettling. Monday morning's weak market tripped several stops in my positions, but by the end of the trading session Monday, the market had rebounded. Tuesday's market was exactly the opposite, opening positively and trading higher, only to give back all of those gains before the market closed.

I am sure I wasn’t alone in closing several positions Monday morning because the market was looking so weak. But then SPX recovered and traded up over 28 points to close for a nice gain. Tuesday was exactly the opposite: large positive futures leading to a positive open and a strong morning of bullish trading, but the last hour of trading gave it all back and SPX ended the day in the red.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) has traded much more bullishly than SPX most of this year. RUT didn’t pull back as far during the February correction and put on a remarkable run from the first of May through June 20th, gaining nearly 11% in eight weeks. The difference has continued this week with Russell posting nice gains in each trading session this week. RUT is currently trading at 1673, up 12 points. The Russell 2000 index is predominantly made up of domestic companies. These stocks may not be as spooked by the prospects of a trade war and that may explain this divergence of SPX and RUT.

The current sideways trend in the prices of the S&P 500 and the wide price swings we are seeing almost daily are more evidence of the indecision and uncertainty. Traders are nervous and they are running from one side of the ship to the other. Corporate earnings are setting records, beating analyst estimates at unusually high rates. Companies are even complaining of being unable to fill open positions! But you wouldn’t know that by watching the major market indices. Corporate earnings and virtually all of the hard economic data are very positive, but that doesn’t seem to assure traders. News is interpreted with the worst possible implications. The doom and gloom folks must be enjoying this moment in time.

The downside for those of us trading this market was illustrated Monday. The markets opened lower and continued lower, tripping several of my stops. Then the market recovered and thumbed its nose at me. Don’t let those events cause you to lose your trading discipline. Risk management is always the name of the game.

One of the characteristics of this nervous market is overreaction. A recent example is Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG). Its new CEO revealed his turnaround plan for the company last week and the stock price plunged over 6% the next day. Contrast CMG with the overall market Monday and Tuesday. While the major market indices were giving back early gains, CMG gained 5%. I took advantage of that overreaction, going long CMG stock on Friday and selling a put spread on Tuesday.
This market presents many opportunities, but it remains an uncertain, nervous market. Keep your stops close.

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) fell out of bed on Friday, reacting to news of new tariffs being applied to China. SPX traded as low as 2762 before bouncing to close at 2780. Interestingly, SPX opened on Monday at precisely 2780, so we closed the week absolutely flat. The trading volume spike Friday was due to options expiration, so that may be ignored. Trading volume remains lackluster, running near the 50-day moving average (dma) and trending slightly lower.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) followed its big brothers and traded down on Friday but recovered even more strongly than SPX. RUT closed Friday at 1684, down less than a dollar. Thursday’s close at 1685 was another all-time high for RUT and Friday’s close reaffirmed that high.

The NASDAQ Composite index also traded lower on Friday and then recovered much of its losses, closing down 15 points at 7746. NASDAQ set another all-time high on Thursday, closing at 7761, not too far above Friday’s close. NASDAQ turned in the strongest weekly return of the major market indices, gaining 99 points or 1.3% from Monday’s open to Friday’s close.

The S&P 500 index’s volatility index, VIX, closed Friday at 12.0%, roughly flat for the week (opened Monday at 12.4%).

The big question is the widely accepted rationale for Friday’s down day, trade tariffs and the fear of a “trade war”. Headlines from financial articles include, “Why the trade war is going to get worse”, and “the conflict will escalate into a technological cold war”. Those are scary headlines, but the market clearly doesn’t take it seriously. SPX recovered Friday’s losses nicely and the other major market indices remain at or near all-time highs. The low level of volatility doesn’t suggest much concern about trade wars on the part of the large institutional traders.

In my opinion, we have an interesting market. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like we have fully recovered from the February correction. The market remains nervous, expecting the other shoe to drop. On the other hand, the trading action is decidedly bullish. Even on days like Friday, where it seemed like a very negative day, most of the losses were recovered and volatility remained flat. 

How should we trade this market? For your non-directional trades, position the trade with more safety margin to the up side, and take more risk on the down side. This takes advantage of the largely sideways trading pattern, but counts on the underlying bullish trend.

Our Conservative Income service remains up about 12% for the year, so there is a lot to be said for conservative option selling. In this market, the turtle beats the rabbit.

For all of your trades, position your stops close. This is a “better safe than sorry” market.

Many conservative investors are scared away from options because of the horror stories and the "get rich quick" schemes. But even the most conservative stockholder should learn about using put options to protect the stock portfolio. Buying a put option to protect a stock position before the company’s earnings announcement constitutes a prudent management of risk. One may also buy index put options to protect the entire portfolio when a market correction appears likely. Some conservative investors maintain a small ongoing position of index put options as “portfolio insurance”.

Selling options as a method for generating income is well known, but largely misunderstood, because of the marketing hype and the horror stories of misuse. The covered call is created when one sells a call option against the trader’s stock holding and is widely considered the safest of all options trading strategies. In fact, some brokers only offer covered calls to their clients who wish to trade options.

Selling put options has a notorious reputation. Like many things in life, selling puts may be dangerous in the wrong hands. Following three simple rules opens selling put options to the conservative investor:


1.    Only sell puts on solid blue-chip stocks.
2.    Always have the cash available in the account to buy the stock if the put is exercised.
3.    Always have a contingent stop loss order entered that will execute automatically if the stock pulls back below the break-even price.


Wilshire Analytics published a study that compares the buy and hold strategy on the Standard and Poors 500 companies with selling covered calls and selling cash secured puts on those stocks. Over a period of thirty years, the selling cash secured puts strategy outperformed the buy and hold strategy. More importantly, the risk of these option selling strategies, as measured by the standard deviation of the returns, was over 30% less than the risk of the buy and hold approach. The maximum account drawdowns over this thirty-year period were about 30% less for the options strategies, and the recoveries from the drawdowns in the options strategies were almost half that of the buy and hold. Many academic studies have confirmed these results.

Have I piqued your interest? Come to the Traders EXPO on July 22nd in Chicago and hear my presentation, How Conservative investors Use Options. Introduce yourself. Maybe we can get a cup of coffee and discuss trading.

 

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) turned in another sideways performance this week, opening at 2726 and closing at 2721, down five points for the week. I have drawn a downward trending line on my SPX chart, starting with the high on January 26th and then touching the March 13th peak. Many analysts had concluded that the bull market was over and were pointing to this trend line. But then SPX broke through that trend line on May 9th and even gapped open higher the next day, and that price action appeared to confirm that the bull market was alive and well.

I drew a new trend line on my SPX chart this week that tracks this bull market back to November 4th, 2016. That trend line remained unbroken until the February 8th correction this year. On May 11th and then again on May 14th, SPX closed above that long term bullish trend line. But then we started treading water. In the next trading session, May 15th, SPX opened at 2719, only two points below today’s close. SPX remains above the recent bearish trend line, but SPX is also below the long-term bull market trend line. The market has just wandered sideways for nine trading sessions and is in what I am calling “no man’s land” – not bullish and not bearish.

Trading volume is an important technical indicator that we may understand in a very pragmatic sense. When we see trading volume spike higher, it reinforces the price direction. Increasing volume on a price spike higher accentuates the bullish nature of that price move, and conversely for price declines. The recent trend in trading volume confirms the sideways, non-directional nature of this market. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies has been well below the 50-day moving average (dma) for the past sixteen trading sessions. In fact, if we exclude just five days of above average trading volume, this low volume trading market is in its eighth week.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) has traded much more bullishly than SPX most of this year. RUT didn’t pull back as far during the February correction and has put on a remarkable run from early May through this past Monday, gaining nearly 6% in less than a month. Conventional wisdom ascribes this difference to the fact that the Russell 2000 index is predominantly, if not entirely, made up of domestic companies. These stocks may not be as spooked by the prospects of a trade war and may explain the divergence of SPX and RUT.

The S&P 500 index’s volatility index, VIX, opened the week at 13.4%, and closed today at 13.2%, essentially unchanged for the week. These markets and the accompanying volatility remind me of Goldilocks – not too hot and not too cold.

This is an unusual market in my experience. Corporate earnings are setting records, beating analyst estimates at unusually high rates. Companies are even complaining of being unable to fill open positions – what a change! But you wouldn’t know that by watching the market recently. News is interpreted with the worst possible implications. The doom and gloom folks must be enjoying this moment.

ABMD, HFC, and NFLX continue to trade higher this week in this sideways market.