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Markets hesitated today as Alcoa was set to kick off this earning season. SPX opened higher but couldn't hold the highs and closed down $6 at $2042. RUT lost $3 to $1094. Volatility rose about one full point with the VIX closing at 16.2%. Trading volume was basically flat with 2.1 billion shares of the S&P 500 trading today. Trading volume rose 7% on the NYSE, but fell 3% on NASDAQ.

Alcoa (AA) beat analyst earnings estimates but missed sales estimates, so shares were lower in after hours trading. Traders often watch AA for a guage of basic industrial strength. The big banks report later this week and will be watched for additional clues of overall economic strength. Analysts' earnings estimates have been revised downward significantly more than usual as the first quarter progressed, so more attention than usual is being paid to the sales and earnings data as well as the outlooks for the next quarter for the blue chip stocks.

Several members of the FOMC are speaking this week in advance of the beige book being released Wednesday. I am unsure all of this increased transparency is good for the markets. It seems to contribute to the daily price volatility.

If earnings do come in lower this quarter as analysts have predicted, today's market weakness may be the new normal for several weeks.

Several reports of the decline of first quarter earnings have been receiving a lot of attention on Wall Street. FactSet summarized the changes of analyst earnings estimates for companies in the S&P 500 for the first quarter of 2016. The aggregation of the earnings estimates for all the companies in the index dropped by 9.6% during this period. By comparison, the average decline in quarterly earnings estimates over the past 10 years is 5.3%. Analysts don’t like what they are seeing in 2016 and this began to weigh on the market in this week's trading. SPX dropped $21 to close at $2045 and RUT lost $13, closing at $1096. Volatility rose with the VIX closing up 1.3 points to 15.4%.

Trading volume rose today with 2.5 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading. Trading volume rose 15% on the NYSE but was nearly flat on NASDAQ (up 0.4%).

The ISM services index came in at 54.5 for March, up from 53.4. JOLTS job openings dropped slightly in February, from 5.604 million to 5.445 million.

An article in IBD today speculated that the high tech sector may be particularly hard hit in this earnings season. FactSet's report issued last week, but that story is gaining visibility and worrying traders. All of the craziness of the presidential primaries probably isn't helping either.

The markets were subdued today, probably due to many traders taking an extended long weekend. The fact that markets remained closed in Europe may have influenced those decisions. SPX closed at $2037, up one dollar. RUT also closed up one dollar at $1073. Volatility rose a half point to 15.2%. Trading volume reflected the small market gains with only 1.7 billion shares of the S&P 500 stocks trading today. Trading dropped 17% on the NYSE and declined 12% on NASDAQ.

Pending home sales were encouraging, increasing 3.5% in February, a big improvement over January's 3.0% decline.

The balance of the week is loaded with economic data: Case Schiller housing prices, ADP private payrolls, Chicago PMI, ISM manufacturing index,  and construction spending. And the week ends with the jobs report, aka, the non-farm payrolls report.

Until tomorrow...

We had become accustomed to higher prices every day, but it had to slow down eventually. Yesterday's market shook off the Brussels attack, but pulled back a bit today for no apparent reason. SPX closed down $13 to $2037 and RUT gave up $22 to close at $1076. Volatility rose almost one point with the VIX at 14.9%. Trading volume was up slightly with 2.1 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading. Trading on the NYSE rose 8% and trading volume was up 11% on NASDAQ.

New home sales came in at 512 thousand for February (annualized); this is a small increase from January's 502k.

The 200 dma at $2017 should act as support for the SPX. The resistance level at $2050 has now been reinforced; it will be even harder to break through next time. RUT is back in the neighborhood of the August flash crash retest. Earlier this month, RUT thrashed in this area for about two weeks and never did break through the August flash crash levels at about $1105. We may be caught in this choppy market for a while.

The markets paused today with SPX rising only two dollars to $2052 and RUT losing three dollars to close at $1099. Volatility continues to contract with the VIX dropping about two tenths of a point to 13.8%.

Trading volume was down dramatically after expiration Friday with 2.0 billion shares of the S&P 500 stocks. Trading on the NYSE dropped 52% and trading volume dropped 44% on NASDAQ.

The only economic data released today were existing home sales for February at 5.08 million, down from 5.47 million homes.

SPX opened weakly this morning and traded down to $2043 before rebounding to close at $2052. It seems as though everyone assumes the bull market is returning. This is surprising since it wasn't long ago that the doomsday gurus were on every finance cable network. The reality is probably in between those extremes. The basic U.S. economic data simply don't support the idea of a booming market. But those same data don't support the dire predictions of recession either. Stay tuned.

Equity and index options expire tomorrow at midnight. Many of you may think that today was expiration, but the options contract is a binding legal contract and the brokers need time to make all of the cash transfers and equity purchases and sales before the contracts expire. SPX settled at $2050.07 and RUT settled at $1097.85. I closed our SPX Mar 2050/2060 call spreads yesterday for $1.00; allowing them to enter expiration would have saved us some money; settlement at $2050.07 means one contract would have resulted in a $7 debit whereas we spent $100 to close one spread. But we would have been taking a big risk. Sometimes the difference between the Thursday close and settlement is large. It averaged $9 for SPX last year but ran as high as $23. If you are interested, download my SPX and RUT settlement spreadsheet.

SPX closed at $2050 today, up $9. RUT also continued to run, closing up $10 at $1102. Volatility continued to contract with VIX losing half a point to 14%.

SPX has now put the 200 dma in the rear view mirror. The high at $2078 from December 29th is the next resistance level. I am inclined to think the Fed induced euphoria will end by then. For example, here is a sobering stat: FactSet reports that the estimated profit margin for the first quarter for the S&P 500 is 9.3% - the lowest since 4Q 2012. If we exclude energy companies, it rises to 10% and that is the lowest since Q1 2014. Either way, that doesn't look like the economic strength one expects behind a bull market.

Enjoy your weekend. The tulips are sprouting outside. But we are expecting snow this evening. Let me go check why we are living here...

I admit to having greatly underestimated this bullish run. I keep studying the basic economic data, looking for the strong growth the market seems to imply. But I have made the mistake of discounting the role of the Fed and near zero interest rates. The market loves the Fed. The major indices opened weakly this morning, but it didn't take long for the bulls to reassert themselves. SPX ran up $13 to close at $2041 while RUT gained $17 to close at $1091.  Volatility continues to contract with the VIX dropping to 14.4%. Trading volume rose again today with 2.6 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading. Trading volume on the NYSE rose 17% and trading on NASDAQ rose 11%.

Initial unemployment claims came in at 265 thousand this week, up slightly from last week's 258 thousand. Continuing unemployment claims rose from 2.227 million to 2.235 million. The JOLTS job openings report cited 5.541 million job openings for January, up from 5.281 million. The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing survey increased to 12.4 for March, up dramatically from February's -2.8.

I closed the March SPX condor today in the Flying With The Condor™ service for a gain of 7.5%. That brings our year to date performance to -2.3%. As of today's close, SPX is finally positive for the year, up 0.1%. We are still working off our February loss.

SPX has now cleared the 200 dma and is above the bearish trend lines drawn from the November and December highs. The next resistance level is the high of $2078 from December 29th. I still find it hard to rationalize new highs in the market above $2078 (12/29/15) and $2103 (12/1/15). But I have been wrong so far...

After Yellen and the FOMC announced they were not raising interest rates, the market rallied. Free money wins once again. SPX ran up $11 to $2027 and RUT rallied $8 to close at $1075. Volatility pulled back with the VIX losing almost two points to 15.1%, the low for the year. Trading volume popped upward with 2.4 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading today. Trading rose 17% on the NYSE and trading increased 5% on NASDAQ.

Today's rally puts SPX firmly above the 200 dma, but can this rally continue? The economic data aren't what one would call booming.

The CPI reported a drop of 0.2% for February. This continues to amaze me. A flat CPI is completely opposite my own experience in the marketplace. Are your grocery bills flat or declining?

Housing starts increased to 1178k, but building permits fell to 1167k. But both numbers are positive for the real estate market. Industrial production decreased 0.5% in February after a 0.8% increase in January. And capacity utilization decreased to 76.7% in February. Do these numbers look like a booming economy?

Often, the day after the Fed announcement presents a market reversal as analysts think through market implications. We'll see. For now, it's time for the rose colored glasses.

The markets continued to trade in low volume and largely sideways today as traders await the announcement from the FOMC tomorrow afternoon. SPX traded down as far as $2005 before recovering to close at $2016 for a $4 loss today. RUT didn't recover, closing down $18 at $1067. Volatility was flat with the VIX unchanged at 16.8%. Trading volume was flat with two billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading, identical to yesterday's volume. Trading volume rose 2% on the NYSE and also rose 5% on NASDAQ.

Retail sales reported a decline of 0.1% for February, but that was an improvement over the -0.4% decline in January. What is everyone doing with their savings at the gas pump? The PPI for February declined 0.2%, down from a 0.1% increase in January. The Empire manufacturing survey (New York Federal reserve) increased to 0.6 in March, up from last month's -16.6.

Economic data continue to be pretty weak. It doesn't seem likely that the Fed will increase interest rates at this meeting, but who knows? I don't think we will see much movement in the market between now and 2 pm ET tomorrow.

The markets were quiet today as traders begin to anticipate the FOMC announcement on Wednesday. The prevalent opinion of the Fed watchers is that no interest rate hike is on tap, but many observers are worried.

SPX backed off three dollars to close at $2020 and RUT closed down $3 at $1084. Volatility rose a bit as traders begin to hedge positions; the VIX closed at 16.9%, up about 0.4 points.

There were no significant economic data reports today. The PPI, CPI, industrial production figures, capacity utilization, and weekly unemployment claims come later in the week, but the gorilla in the room is the announcement from the FOMC Wednesday afternoon.

Trading volume was down today with only two billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading today. Trading volume declined 14% on the NYSE and was down 18% on NASDAQ.

If the Fed announcement is a non-event for the market, will the bullish run of the past several weeks continue? SPX is holding right at the 200 dma, and depending on how one draws the bearish trend line from the November, December and January highs, SPX is at or slightly below that trend line. Traders are watching for a break-out above that trend line to be confident that the bulls are back in charge. Otherwise, the conventional wisdom is that this has been a short-lived rally within a bearish trend. It is hard to predict the market's reaction to the Fed's announcement. Every word will be parsed.