A Disturbance In The Force: The Bull and Bear Case
David Fabian: Starting in the hole for the year sucks. It’s psychologically defeating and immediately makes you feel like you are playing catch up for the entire first quarter, if not the first half. Most investors I speak with are rightfully scared and questioning the “buy the dip” game plan that worked so steadily over the last several years.
Will this time be different?
By the numbers, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY) is down 5.86% for 2016 and 8.71% from its all-time high. Those statistics wouldn’t be all that bad if it weren’t for the headlines that have ceremoniously declared this the worst start to the year EVER for the stock market.
SPY closed on Friday near $192 and the bears are likely salivating at the prospect of another test of the August closing low near $185. That’s a downside gap of 3.8% and will be a technically significant level for the market to hold. A confirmed break below that support line may lead to a secondary wave of fear and selling pressure that catapults us into a new downtrend for 2016.
The flip side is that some unforeseen force suddenly lifts us out of the abyss and runs the markets higher from here. It seems improbable (as all sharp rallies do) that such an event could occur. However, this is typically the sort of crestfallen sentiment that is needed to spark a big shift in the market. SPY rallied 7% in just eight trading days during late September through early October of 2015. Risk happens fast in both directions.
Let’s examine some of the bull and bear cases that are causing a disturbance in the force this year.
- The market is well below its long-term moving average and off to its statistically worst start to the year ever.
- We are experiencing deflationary commodity pressures alongside tightening risk in high yield credit securities.
- Small cap stocks have fallen significantly harder than their large-cap peers. Momentum leaders are also losing their mojo.
- Market breadth has virtually disintegrated and left the average stock in bear market territory when measured from its 52-week highs.
- The turmoil in the Chinese stock market appears to be having a profound spillover effect on U.S. markets.
- The Federal Reserve is beginning its first fiscal tightening cycle since pretty much anyone can remember.
- Stocks are now in oversold territory based on relative strength readings and other technical metrics.
- The CBOE VIX Volatility Index (VIX) has reached a similar area (peak) where it was turned back in December 2015.
- The CNN Fear and Greed Index is registering extreme fear, which I can also confirm in the majority of my conversations with individual investors.
- Labor statistics show a continued strong pace of job growth and low unemployment readings.
- Many major banks and asset managers have come out with recent warnings to underweight or exit U.S. stocks. It is rare to see this level of concern this close to the highs.
- Pension and mutual fund assets are sitting on some of their highest cash levels in years.
There are countless other bullets that can be added to both of these lists. Furthermore, there is no shortage of noise and banter about the fate of the markets at this juncture.