T2108 Update – January 25, 2012 (Trading volume remains VERY light, too light)

(T2108 measures the percentage of stocks trading above their respective 40-day moving averages [DMAs]. To learn more about it, see my T2108 Resource Page. You can follow real-time T2108 commentary on twitter using the #T2108 hashtag. T2108-related trades and other trades are posted on twitter using the #120trade hashtag)

T2108 Status: 86% (overbought day #16)
VIX Status: 18.3
General (Short-term) Trading Call: Close more bullish positions, begin/expand bearish positions

Reference Charts (click for view of last 6 months from Stockcharts.com):
S&P 500 or SPY
SDS (ProShares UltraShort S&P500)
U.S. Dollar Index (volatility index)
VIX (volatility index)
VXX (iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN)
EWG (iShares MSCI Germany Index Fund)

T2108 closed for a 16th straight day in overbought territory. Watching the market melt up is almost like watching the grass grow in front of a freshly painted house. To keep things somewhat interesting, I will now start counting down the distance to a fresh 52-week and near 4-year high. The S&P 500 is now 2.9% away from these new heights. For now, I am assuming this resistance will hold. I am not creating scenarios for what happens if I am wrong on that guess as I will remain focused on the odds for what typically happens during an overbought period.

The S&P 500 is now up 5.4% for the year. The index closed overbought on the first trading day of the year. The 3.8% gain since that close is around the 85th percentile of performance for the maximum return in an overbought period. This is the best performance I have measured in the first 16 days of an overbought period. Around 81% of all overbought periods lasted fewer days than this one. In other words, this overbought period is VERY stretched and is reaching the extreme of extremes. As such, it is surely testing the patience of everyone and anyone with bearish positions.

With the Federal Reserve promising to extend near-zero interest rates through at least late 2014, and perhaps likely to consider any other accomodative measures it can, traders must assume that the market will continue to see extremes in performance – meaning extremes will follow extremes. For you statistically minded folks, prepare to keep living in the tails of distributions (who knows, maybe extremes start to become average after awhile?). This overbought period is steadily and stubbornly squeezing itself into a rapidly thinning tail!

The most disturbing thing about this rally – and it seems like this is a persistent pattern of rallies since 2009 – is that volume is incredibly light. Light trading volumes used to matter a lot. The stock market seemed to feed off volume to make any large advances and certainly declines. Over the past few years, declines have occurred on heavy trading, but extended rallies have never sustained high trading volume. The motto for this imbalance has been “it doesn’t matter until it does.” Suddenly, one day, steep selling ignites to wipe out the long fought gains of weeks and months within days. The S&P 500’s gains for 2012 could be easily wiped away with two sharp selling days similar to what we saw in 2011.

So, I decided to quantify the lightness of the volume for this rally by comparing it to relevant periods in 2011. Here are some interesting stats using the S&P 500 volume as reported by FreeStockCharts.com:

  1. Trading volume is down 25% year-over-year for the first 16 trading days of the year. At this time last year the S&P 500 was up 2.4% year-to-date. This year, the index is up 5.4%.
  2. Year-to-date average daily trading volume is 28% below average trading volume from the top of 2011 (May 2) to the closing bottom (Oct 3).
  3. The summer is supposed to be a placid time of year when traders go relax at the beach. Year after year, that folklore is violated, yet it persists. 2011 of course saw some vicious selling and sharp bounces. Defining the “trading summer” as starting the day after Memorial Day and ending the day before Labor Day, I found that year-to-date average daily trading volume is down 30% from the average daily trading volume of last summer!

In other words, no matter how you look at it, trading volume is very light right now. This is yet one more warning sign even as the price chart points firmly up and to the right in a near straight line from December’s lows.

For folks who care about fundamentals, I end with this counterpoint from CNBC’s Fast Money. Paul Hickey from Bespoke Investments concludes that the market has not been cheaper in 20 years based on comparing current valuations to historic valuations. He is predicting the S&P 500 will gain 11% on the year at some point. The strangest conclusion was that a rallying dollar is historically good for equities.

Charts below are the latest snapshots of T2108 (and the S&P 500)
Refresh browser if the charts are the same as the last T2108 update.

Daily T2108 vs the S&P 500
T2108 vs. the S&P 500 (DAILY)

Black line: T2108 (measured on the right); Green line: S&P 500 (for comparative purposes)

Weekly T2108
Weekly T2108
*All charts created using
freestockcharts.com unless otherwise stated

Related links:
The T2108 Resource Page
Expanded daily chart of T2108 versus the S&P 500
Expanded weekly chart of T2108

Be careful out there!

Full disclosure: long SDS; long VXX

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