The markets continued their slow march up this week with little to no real pull backs as the bulls relentlessly stepped in to support the markets any time there was a hint of a drop. We have now drifted in one direction(up) with relatively light volume and volatility for about a month on most of the major indices which is in stark contrast to the highly volatile back and forth movement we experienced for most of the latter portion of 2011. While we can’t truly know until we experience a substantial retracement on the current move, it appears that the market has had a change of character recently and is more likely to be bullish to neutral instead of the neutral to bearish undertone that characterized the back end of last year’s trading. In fact, the start to 2012 is somewhat reminiscent of the start we had in 2011 which also began with a slow and steady march up that seemed to defy gravity.
Looking at a near term chart of the e-mini futures contract for the S&P 500, we can see this low volatility uptrend clearly. Notice how the last several week’s worth of price action is confined to a single narrow range channel. As mentioned earlier, this is in stark contrast to the volatile oscillation that occurred prior to this move. We are now clearly above several key areas of resistance including all of the major moving averages and are poised to challenge last year’s highs. However, Stochastics has had an oversold reading for the entirety of the breakout and while we can continue this slow squeeze all the way to the highs, risk reward does not favor chasing momentum here unless your time frame is less than one to two days for a trade.
Of course, action has been completely bullish for several weeks now, and someone looking to short this should realize that the potential for us to squeeze to last year’s highs is very real. In fact, the nasdaq composite has already formed new highs this week and could be a harbinger of things to come from its relatively weaker peers. In addition to the possibility of a continued squeeze higher, another thorn in the short seller’s case right now is the potential change in character in the markets which could lead to a benign correction that drifts either sideways or slightly down and fails to offer proper rewards commensurate with the risk taken at this point.
As we can see on an older chart of the e-mini futures contract for the S&P 500, this exact scenario occurred during the end of 2010/beginning of 2011. Notice the long narrow channel which contained price action neatly for practically three months. Also note that we were oversold for basically the entire time as well.
While this scenario doesn’t have to play out exactly the same(and likely won’t), it should offer traders a hint of what can possibly occur over the next couple of months and serve as a good warning for those that are looking to short this type of action prematurely. On the other side of the coin, looking at the steep drops that occurred at the end of that run should also serve as a warning for anyone looking to chase extended price action into areas of potential distribution.
We are now a few weeks into the new year and while the character of the market appears to have changed, astute traders should keep an eye on price action and wait for the market to conform to their expectations/scenarios, instead of allowing the market to force them into poor trading decisions.
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