At the Edge of Chaos: Sell Signal Possible, But Upside Reversal Could be Just as Sudden

Algo-driven markets can swing on a dime. Therefore, despite the recent volatility, investors should not discount the possibility of another up leg once the dust clears in the next few days to weeks, as the Federal Reserve won’t be raising interest rates or stopping its asset purchases anytime soon.

Certainly the writing’s been on the wall for the past few weeks as the market’s breadth, which I’ve noted repeatedly and will expand upon below, has been weakening. Nevertheless, even as it seems that dark clouds are gathering, it’s also important to recognize that, if the algos stick to their usual way of operating, when the market rebounds, it will likely be as spectacular as the recent decline has been unsettling.

Stay Focused as Selloff Could be Temporary

It’s always disconcerting to watch an algo-fueled selling binge materialize, but these days it’s a fact of life if you’re an investor. As a result, when prices start to decline rapidly, it’s important to keep a dual mindset. First, protect your current investments. Second, and equally important, prepare for the next change of the trend; the almost inevitable and eventually sizable bounce.

Above all, consider the primary factor which favors higher stock prices, the Federal Reserve’s liquidity machine. It’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, which means that once the selling is over, the algo programs that recognize the Fed is still in easing mode will likely kick in and prices will rebound. Moreover, with COVID-19 attempting to move to the background as a focal point for the moment, the U.S. presidential election and related issues, such as the economy and social unrest, now become the primary focal points on Wall Street. Investors should expect continued price volatility, especially with polling data suggesting a tightening race and news items suggesting a highly contested post-election period.

Finally, anyone who doubts the volatility thesis should look back to last week, where a 450-point Dow Industrial Average gain was followed by an 800-plus point drop the next day and even more volatility on September 4 as pre-holiday thin trading exacerbated the downside. But be that as it may, the story developing inside the market is just as important as what the indexes tell us. That’s because, as investors vote with their money, we can gather valuable information not just about the market’s general trend but also about where the money is flowing and where the odds of success are highest.

At the February 2020 Money Show in Orlando, I correctly predicted that COVID-19 was likely to be a chaotic event and advised investors on how to stay on the right side of the markets. Now, as the stock market is starting to show signs of stress, I am returning to the Money Show with my latest analysis and predictions. To learn how to manage what lies ahead and how to pick stocks with explosive potential in any market, join me at the Virtual Money Show Expo on September 16, 2020. Go here to register free of charge.

Market Sets Expectation on Major Investment Themes

When allocating money into market sectors, it’s useful to consider what the major theme that brings money into any particular sector is. For example, in the case of biotechnology (IBB), in the not-so-distant past money flow was most affected by the potential for COVID-19 vaccines and/or cures. And, although initially the sector benefited from this trend, most recently money has been flowing out of this area.

Digging deeper into the dynamic, we can see the difference between two stocks and what the market is betting on. First, we can see that antiviral drug leader Gilead Sciences (GILD), whose remdesivir drug has recently received a broad approval for the FDA in treating COVID-19, does not have the market’s confidence. That’s because the studies show that remdesivir is barely effective against the virus and, even though the company sold the government a large supply, the market sees little further gain from the drug.

Meanwhile, the vaccine angle on COVID-19 is still somewhat viable, which is why Pfizer (PFE) is showing some relative strength given that the company expects to have what it considers a fairly definitive answer regarding its vaccine candidate by October. If the vaccine is effective, PFE would likely have first mover advantage.

The problem, however, is that even if Pfizer’s vaccine is at least adequate in its ability to prevent COVID-19 infection and the FDA gives it accelerated approval, there is no way to know whether:

  • Pfizer can get the vaccine to the market before flu season starts, or
  • The immunity will be long-lasting or adequate against a virus which is likely to continue mutating

My point is not to deliver a scientific presentation, but to illustrate the level of analytical digging that is likely to be necessary when trying to invest in a market where the volatility and the risk, as exemplified by an 1100 swing in the Dow Industrials in two days, are on the rise due to the election.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other secular themes that are moving market sectors and individual stocks, as I discuss directly below.

CarMax Rides Out First Wave of Selling

Shares of used car sales giant CarMax (KMX) held up during the recent wave of selling, suggesting that, at least for now, one major on-the-ground trend, the move away from public transportation due to COVID-19 is still considered valid.

Not a day goes by when I’m driving that I don’t see countless temporary plates, with the majority of them on used cars. Of course, KMX doesn’t sell all the used cars in the U.S., but it certainly sells its fair share, both at the retail and wholesale level. This business model diversification gives KMX an advantage, while the company has at least two macro income streams.

Moreover, with earnings due on or about 9/24/2020, it will be very interesting to see what the company says about the state of the used car market, where price pressures have been increasing of late due to limited supply and increasing demand. In addition, the company’s shift to online car marketing and selling, at least as part of their sales process was showing positive signs of a liquidity improvement by the end of the June quarter, along with a return to nearly normal sales levels.

Investors should also consider that used car demand is rising and that supplies are lagging, setting up the same type of supply and demand situation experienced by homebuilders prior to their big run in 2020. Indeed, putting all these factors together suggests that the odds of better-than-expected earnings are well above decent and likely explains why the stock is holding up at the moment.

Technically, the stock remains under accumulation, with both Accumulation/Distribution (ADI) and On Balance Volume (OBV) moving higher during the recent consolidation period.

NYAD Flirts with Duarte 50-50 Sell Signal

Two weeks ago, it seemed that the bulls might have gotten a reprieve, as the New York Stock Exchange Advance Decline line (NYAD) found support at its 20-day moving average and was within reach of a new high, a fact which would have confirmed the uptrend.

Furthermore, with the RSI indicator for NYAD breaking below 50, we now have to wait for confirmation from the 50-day moving average, which did not happen on 9/4/2020 even during a very volatile market session. However, should NYAD break below its 50-day moving average along with the RSI’s fall below its 50 level, if it remains, we could well have a Duarte 50-50 sell signal and the odds of a full-blown correction. If that were to happen, it would be very high.

Still, as of the close on 9/4/2020, the full signal had not developed, much as what we saw in July, 2020 – after which the market recovered. Nevertheless, until proven otherwise, the uptrend in stocks is now suspect and prudent investors should be monitoring their sell stops or taking profits in order to boost cash levels.

With Uptrend in Question, Risk Management is the Number One Focus

Certainly the Fed isn’t going to raise interest rates anytime soon, which means that, until proven otherwise, the stock market is more likely than not to have a floor of support underneath it at some point. Moreover, the fourth quarter of an election year tends to be bullish.

On the other hand, this market has come a long way over the last few months and the technical picture has been slowly weakening for several weeks. Putting it all together, it’s not hard to see that some sort of correction has not only been overdue, but that it may actually be developing as we speak.

So, as I said last week, what it means is that the best anyone can do is to trade wisely by focusing not just on the market’s trend, but on the action in each individual position. It’s also wise to trade in small lots, taking profits when warranted and keeping reasonable sell stops in place.

Meanwhile, as with any correction or pull back, the market is giving us an opportunity to put together a shopping list.

As this correction works its way through the markets, I will be putting together a shopping list of stocks with huge upside potential when the dust clears. To make sure you are there when the market gives us the all clear, take a FREE trial or subscribe to Joe Duarte in the Money by clicking here.

Joe Duarte

In The Money Options

Joe Duarte is a former money manager, an active trader and a widely recognized independent stock market analyst since 1987. He is author of eight investment books, including the best selling Trading Options for Dummies, rated a TOP Options Book for 2018 by and now in its third edition, plus The Everything Investing in Your 20s and 30s Book and six other trading books.

The Everything Investing in Your 20s and 30s Book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It has also been recommended as a Washington Post Color of Money Book of the Month.

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