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This week’s price action in the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) has tracked almost perfectly sideways, closing Friday within a dollar of Monday’s open. Friday’s price action resulted in the classic doji candlestick, where the opening and closing prices are very close or identical (five cents apart on Friday). The doji candlestick is the result of market indecision; the strength of the bulls and the bears are almost perfectly matched. But note that this doji is very close to the all-time high of SPX, so the bulls are holding up this market very well.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) has been the weakest of the major market averages all year and the contrast last week was particularly stark as RUT ran steadily lower all week. RUT's bearish trend continued this week, but RUT bounced strongly on Friday, recovering almost all of Thursday’s losses. RUT now is running roughly at its March peak. RUT has now eclipsed four previous all-time highs and is almost three percent below its most recent high on July 25th. Support around $1396 held through June and July, so I will be keeping a close eye on that support level. If RUT breaks support, I will be concerned about the overall market following suit.

The SPX volatility Index, VIX, spiked up over 11% last week and essentially moved sideways with the markets this week, closing Friday at 10.0%. Volatility remains at historically very low levels. Some of the recent correction chatter is based on the history of periods of low volatility preceding a major correction. While that is true, they fail to note that those periods of low volatility may last a long time. As many wise traders have observed, you can lose a lot of money waiting on the market to do what you predicted.

This market is nearly perfect for my SPX iron condor trades with the August and September positions standing at gains of 14% and 4%, respectively. No adjustments have been necessary for these trades, in contrast to the July SPX iron condor that required three adjustments to finally reach a gain of 12%.

I am still playing this market as a sideways to bullish trend, but I am cautious. it is a nervous market. Many traders are concerned about giving back any of the gains from this bullish trend. Their hands are on their sell buttons.

The last two weeks have rattled many market analysts. As part of my effort to monitor the markets for my clients, I track several newsletters, read various blogs, and watch selected programs on the financial cable networks. The large number of analysts recommending their clients move to cash and/or hedge the markets by buying index put options has surprised me.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) closed yesterday at 2425, up 15, but the severe dip last Friday (6/30), and Thursday’s collapse down to 2423 unnerved many market participants. The bulls came back to the table yesterday, recovering all of Thursday’s losses, and bringing SPX solidly back to the middle of the recent trading range. The bulls have bought the dip one more time.

The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) price chart is markedly different from SPX or the NASDAQ Composite – much choppier, as RUT has largely just traded sideways all year. RUT traded down to the 50-day moving average (dma) this past Thursday, but recovered almost all of that loss yesterday. The Russell 2000 index has been much more volatile than the other major market indices. RUT hit an all-time high in late April, and then proceeded to decline to its recent trading lows by mid-May. Then RUT swung all the way back to match the April highs in early June.

The SPX volatility Index, VIX, spiked on last Thursday’s decline, and exceeded 15% briefly on Thursday this past week, but closed yesterday at 11.2%, well within the range from earlier this year. Comparing yesterday’s closing VIX at 11.2% with the minor pullbacks in April and May of 15% to 16% appears comforting, but if we look at the November 2016 correction, VIX peaked at 23%. And that didn’t happen overnight. It required nine days to climb from 12.9% to that high of 23%. We aren’t seeing that kind of volatility spike building here.

Trading volume is another critical market indicator, whether we are looking at an individual stock or a broad market index. Above average trading volume reinforces the momentum of the price move; everyone either wants to jump into this stock or everyone is trying to get out. Trading in SPX yesterday at 1.7 billion shares was well below the 50 dma at 2.1 billion shares. The NASDAQ Composite followed suit with 1.7 billion shares, below its 50 dma at 2.0 billion shares. This tells me that the large institutional traders are not panicked and making any large moves, whether that be moving to cash or going “all in”.

One final comparison is worthwhile. Pull up the SPX price chart for the flash crash of August 2015. For several days of the week preceding the flash crash on Monday and Tuesday, SPX traded lower and closed at or near the lows for the day. In recent weeks, we are seeing several long lower candlestick shadows – traders are buying when the market hits the intraday lows. They aren’t selling into the close.

I don’t believe this current price volatility is preceding a “sky is falling” moment. However, many market analysts are nervous, so we will continue to see price volatility. I remain cautiously bullish. Watch your positions carefully. Keep your stops tight.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


The S&P 500 Index (SPX) closed today at $2397, down $2 for the day. The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed at $1392, essentially unchanged (up twenty two cents). But the NASDAQ Composite Index closed up $18 for a new all-time high of $6121. Normally, we see these three major market indices to be somewhat in sync. Most commonly, we draw conclusions for the divergence of the large blue chips represented in the S&P 500 from the small to mid-cap stocks of the Russell 2000.

SPX is bouncing off resistance at the upper edge of a trading channel that dates back to March 1st. RUT has been even more neutral, currently in the middle of a trading channel that dates back to the first week of December. However, the NASDAQ is a different story. That price chart has been steadily climbing higher since the election and today was no exception. NASDAQ is being driven by the high technology stocks that are on fire. Stocks like AAPL, AMZN, FB, ISRG, PCLN, GOOGL and many others are driving the NASDAQ Composite. It wasn't long ago that Google was approaching $500, and I thought that to be rarified air, but no more. Many NASDAQ stocks are approaching $1,000 per share. PCLN closed at $1911 today. We are in the midst of a high tech boom in the stock market. Most smaller companies and the large traditional blue chips were not invited to the party.

I find it interesting that the very success of these NASDAQ stocks is scaring many analysts. Predictions of a correction or worse are common. Price measures, such as P/E ratios and dividend yields do indeed suggest an overbought market, but far from historical extremes. Recent earnings announcements have been very positive with large numbers of companies beating analyst estimates and the outlooks for next quarter have been generally positive. Anyone who has much market experience will be quick to tell you that corrections are exceedingly hard to predict. Bull markets will ignore a lot of negative news and then one day... they won't.

What is a trader to do? I have been buying diagonal call spreads on some of these hot NASDAQ stocks. I am hedging my bets a bit by selling the front dated call slightly in the money. That gives me a lower break-even price, allowing the trade to tolerate some minor pull-backs. But don't take a long nap. This market requires close monitoring.

The major market indices continue to trade sideways, and volatility is quite low. SPX closed today at $2391, up less than three dollars. The volatility index for the S&P 500 index, VIX, closed at 10.5% today, near the lows for this year. SPX has been trading in the range of $2320 and $2400 since mid-February. Powerful market forces are arrayed on either side of this market. The bulls are citing a more business-friendly administration, a reduction in regulations and prospects of tax reform. The bears cite several months of stellar market advances, high price/earnings ratios, and an aging bull market. It doesn't seem as though any negative news affects the market. Every dip is quickly bought, but the market can't seem to quite make the break-out to new highs either.

For the last couple of months, I have been loading my portfolio with iron condor positions on the S&P 500 index (SPX), The Russell 2000 index (RUT) and the NASDAQ 100 index (NDX). Today, I sold the NDX May 5375/5400 and 5800/5825 iron condor for a credit of $195 per contract. Yesterday, I sold the NDX June 5200/5225 and 5825/5850 iron condor for $506 per contract. The disadvantage of selling iron condors in this environment is the low implied volatility, which lowers the option premiums. On the other hand, that low volatility is one more sign of the sideways, treading water nature of this market, and that favors these trades.

Don't neglect trade management. Entering this positions and then going on vacation is a prescription for disaster. Be sure you have a clear plan for risk management, e.g., if SPX breaks down through $2300, I will buy one $2300 put for every ten condors. Establish a series of these rules and trade what the market gives you each day. Don't try to predict its movement tomorrow.

We are well into earnings season. IBM was weighing heavily on the Dow Jones Industrial Average today after disappointing analysts during their earnings announcement yesterday. But the heavier weight on the markets is the diminishing euphoria that pushed the markets higher after the election last year. The realities of politics and the difficulty of delivering on campaign promises is throwing cold water on this market.

The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closed down four dollars today at $2338, but the Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed five dollars higher at $1367. Volatility rose a bit with the VIX rising a half point to 14.9%.

Trading volume in the S&P 500 stocks ran at 1.9 billion shares today. Trading volume has run below the 50 day moving average (dma) since March 20th. Below average trading volume tells us that the large institutional players aren't panicking and selling, but it also tells you that those same players aren't going "all in" either.

Pull up the price chart for SPX. Draw trend lines at $2320 and $2400. SPX has traded sideways within this channel since mid-February. This  sideways trading channel is even more obvious in RUT, and has been in place since early December.

So what should we be trading today?

In spite of the overall market averages trending sideways, there are a few high fliers that deserve a bullish trade. Consider BABA, CMG and ISRG for straight forward bullish trades: long stock, covered calls, diagonal call spreads, etc.

Non-directional options trading strategies are perfect for this type of sideways market. Consider "at the money" calendar spreads, butterfly spreads, and iron condor spreads on the major market indices (SPX, RUT, and NDX).

Good trading.