Trying to identify the main reason for yesterday’s rout in stocks proved to be a sort of Rorschach test for market watchers, highlighting various insecurities and paranoias and healthy skepticisms.
Those worried about the timing of interest rate increases saw the 4 percent economic growth reported the day before and a hotter-than-forecast reading on employment costs. Those worried about world peace saw Ukraine and Israel. Those worried about fragility in credit markets saw Argentina’s default and Banco Espirito Santo. And some just saw a messy ink blot where the only thing they could identify for sure was the color: pure red.
The reaction in stock-index futures and Treasuries to the government employment data today provides a little more clarity to the image: Standard & Poor’s 500 Index contracts reversed an earlier drop of more than 0.7 percent and yields shot lower after payrolls grew less than forecast, the unemployment rate ticked up and average hourly wages were flat compared with the previous month. So like much of the last five or six years, yesterday was probably as much about the Fed as anything else.
However after the market closed at its lows of the day yesterday, there’s a big question mark hanging over the buy-the-dip strategy that has proven so fruitful in the last two years.
Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James Financial Inc., raised a lot of eyebrows earlier in the month when he called for a drop of as much 12 percent in the S&P 500. So he deserves a told-you-so moment today, even if it is a wee bit early to call this the beginning of a correction of that size.
Saut, who is actually long-term bullish on the market once some temporary weakness shakes out, wouldn’t buy this dip. He said in a note to clients that his phone was ringing off the hook yesterday with “What should I buy?” questions.
“Surely that has been the correct strategy, ‘buy the dips,’ for the past two years, however this time feels different,” he wrote.
He discussed a handful of technical chart items: the S&P 500 fell below its 50-day moving average, the Russell 2000 Index slid under both its 50-day and 200-day. The underperformance of small-caps even before yesterday was a bad sign, he wrote, because it shows the “troops” were retreating while the “generals” were advancing.
Robert Sluymer, technical analyst at RBC Capital Markets, read the charts differently. He wrote that short-term indicators including the relative strength index, a gauge of market momentum, showed a “technical case is developing for an oversold rebound in August” before more weakness later in the third quarter and then another rebound at the end of the year.
The market is “modestly” oversold based on the percentage of stocks trading at a new low, “but we’re not ready to make the tradeable bottom call,” was the call from Chris Verrone, head of technical analysis at Strategas Research Partners.
“‘Never on a Friday’ is a mantra that has served me well over the years, meaning once the markets get into one of these funks, they rarely bottom on a Friday,” Saut wrote. “Just like a heart attack patient doesn’t get right up off of the gurney and run the 100-yard dash, the stock market should not do that either.”
His report came out before the government jobs data. Reached by email to ask if the employment figures changed his thinking at all, he had a simple answer:
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