This week’s plunge in U.S. stocks triggered a technical indicator known as the Hindenburg Omen that may signal a more severe selloff, according to analysts who follow charts to predict market moves.
The market signal, named for a German zeppelin that caught fire and crashed more than seven decades ago, occurs when an unusually high number of companies in the New York Stock Exchange reach 52-week highs and lows. The indicator last occurred in October 2008, according to UBS AG.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index yesterday completed the biggest three-day decline since July 1, after an unexpected increase in unemployment claims added to evidence an economic recovery is weakening. The benchmark gauge for U.S. stocks has dropped 3.4 percent so far this week as Federal Reserve policy makers said growth “is likely to be more modest” than they previously forecast.
The indicator may suggest “a savage equity downturn is imminent,” said Albert Edwards, a London-based strategist at Societe Generale SA, who has told investors to favor bonds over stocks for more than a decade. “Equities are tottering on the edge as increasingly recessionary data becomes apparent. It would not take much to tip them over that edge.”
The Hindenburg signal was triggered yesterday as the proportion of stocks reaching new one-year highs and lows both exceeded 2.2 percent of the total listed on the NYSE, according to Michael Riesner, a technical analyst at UBS in Zurich.
The number of stocks at a 52-week high must not be more than twice the number marking lows, the technical theory also says, according to analysts. The indicator is only valid in a rising market, as defined by the NYSE Composite Index’s rolling average value in the last 10 weeks. It must also occur when the NYSE McClellan Oscillator, a measure of market momentum, is negative.
The Hindenburg Omen must be confirmed with a second occurrence within 36 days, according to Riesner. He said the signal occurred seven times in 2008 as the S&P 500 posted its biggest annual drop since the Great Depression.
“It’s an interesting name but what you really have as a technical background is a classic distribution phase in the market,” Riesner said. “It’s the classic tug of war between bulls and bears that you have there.”
In technical analysis, investors and analysts study charts of trading patterns and prices to predict changes in a security, commodity, currency or index. UBS is ranked as the top bank for equity technical analysis and charting according to a 2010 Thomson Extel survey.