Stocks take their wildest 2-day ride in 17 years

 

Wednesday and Thursday marked the biggest one day rally and worst one day drop for the Dow Jones Industrial average (^DJI) for all of 2014. That’s the first time those extremes have been hit on back to back days in nearly 17 years.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average goes on its wildest ride in 17 years.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average goes on its wildest ride in 17 years.

Then again, neither 2014 nor this sell-off are over just yet. With pre-market futures for the Dow off by more than 100 points it’s likely the Dow will have given back all of this year’s gains and be negative for the year when the market opens. 

That’s sort of a good thing. This sell-off has been noteworthy in its volatility but with decidedly too little fear. Yes the (^VIX), the deeply flawed measure of “fear” among traders, has risen 24% in the last 5 trading days but it’s still in the teens. To put that in perspective, the VIX topped out over 20 in February of this year. Historically about 40 on the VIX is the point at which it can be fairly assumed there’s genuine fear in the market.

There are plenty of fundamental reasons to be afraid. There’s a rational risk of a global slowdown and the Fed screwing things up more than they already have. There is still largely irrational concerns that Ebola is about to kill thousands of Americans and cripple our economy beyond anything the Fed can possibly help. Combining justified and irrational fears is generally a toxic mix for stocks.

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S&P Volatility Index (^VIX)

So where do we go from here? As most of you know, when markets get emotional I turn to the technicals. Specifically my patent-pending Purple Crayon system. Mock it if you want but these silly pictures have allowed me to survive three major crashes and a few bubbles relatively unscathed so I’m sticking to them.

With the Dow poised to erase its yearly gains, it can be viewed as a good wash-out catalyst but grown ups, or at least professional traders use the S&P 500 for their charts. The next big line of support is the 200-day moving average at 1,904. Look for traders to start trying longs if and when we get there but frankly, I’m not so sure it holds.

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Next support level for S&P 500 is 1,904.

Next support level for S&P 500 is 1,904.

The best trend lines are those that the maximum number of people can draw and understand. I ran a long-term chart of the S&P 500 and ran a line from the lows of the summer of 2011 through today. That line has been a critical support multiple times. If you project it out you get 1,800. That level intersects rather nicely with supportfrom the last year or so. It’s also a nice round number… again, part of the point is to keep these things simple. Traders watch big round numbers so you should as well.

If 1,904 fails stocks I have air pocket risk down to 1,800 on the S&P. That’s another 6.6% lower from where we closed yesterday. If we get there the S&P 500 will be negative for the year and the VIX will be at least 40, depending on how fast the drop comes.

1,800 is your Maginot line. If stocks fall below that the war is over and the Bears won. I’m not saying it happens but let’s put it this way: if you lost all your investment gains for the year would you be inclined to buy stock or would you panic and sell everything before you lost more? If the answer is the latter you should maybe take some money off the table ahead of time. If not, simply buckle up and look for opportunities where you can find them.