S&P 500 – Technical Analysis Shows the Trend

Markets are inherently unpredictable, but technical analysis is the most accurate forecasting tool available to investors. Since technical analysis is based on past price action, it is quite simple to confirm (or expose) when and where technical analysis has been right or wrong.

Some define technical analysis as mumbo jumbo, others (and that’s the official definition) see it as a method of forecasting prices based on past market activity.

Isn’t using past market activity (or prices) to forecast future prices like driving by looking in the rearview mirror? That’s a great question.

The Past Matters

Why does the past matter? Allow me to use a tennis analogy. Roger Federer (possibly the best ever all-around tennis player) has never won a clay court match against Rafael Nadal (possibly the best ever clay court tennis player) at the French Open Tournament (one of the big four Grand Slam tournaments).

Who do you think has a mental advantage the next time Federer and Nadal meet at the French Open? Federer knows he’s never beaten Nadal at the French Open, Nadal knows he’s never lost to Federer at the French Open.

Federer has to overcome a mental ‘resistance’ to beat Nadal at the French Open. I use the term mental ‘resistance’ because it relates to resistance (and/or support) seen in the securities market.

Charts of specific securities, such as the S&P 500, reflect the mental state of the composite of all investors. Charts reveal past price areas where either sellers or buyers prevailed, creating areas of support or resistance.

Being unaware of previously established support/resistance levels is like climbing a ladder without knowing which steps are broken.

Past Significance of Support/Resistance Levels

The proof is in the pudding, so let’s take a look at a 14-year chart of the S&P 500 Index (corresponding ETF: SPDR S&P 500 ETF – SPY).

The chart includes four long-term support/resistance levels made up of two trend lines (red lines) and two parallel channels (black and dashed lines).

The trend channels are created by connecting the 2002 and 2009 lows with the 2000 high (dashed black line) and 2007 high (solid black line). Since the last touch point of this channel is the 2009 low, it could be used as a guide only thereafter.

2000 High Parallel Channel

In May 2011, the S&P approached the upper dashed parallel channel resistance (gray circle). I remember that time vividly as my wife and I were vacationing on a little island in the Bahamas (for some reason the market usually sells off when I’m on vacation).

My May 1, 2011 update for subscribers featured the chart below and stated: “The chart below updates the S&P’s position relative to various resistance levels and the ideal target range for a potentially historic market top. The ideal target range is between 1,369 and 1,382.

The next day (May 2, 2011) the S&P briefly spiked as high as 1,370.58  (right into the 1,369 – 1,382 target range) on news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. The stock market euphoria was short-lived, as the S&P sold off, fell below trend line support (pink line) and ultimately plunged as much as 20%.

The S&P 500 paid attention to this parallel channel once more in November 2011, when it was used as a springboard for the most powerful leg of the post-2009 QE bull market.

2007 High Parallel Channel

In January 2013 the S&P 500 approached the ‘big brother version’ of the same parallel channel (this time the upper line was created by the 2007 not the 2000 high – gray circle).

The parallel channel resistance coincided with trend line resistance (red line). This was powerful resistance and I thought stocks would pause and temporarily reverse there … but they didn’t.

With that resistance out of the way, it was clear that the S&P wanted to test its all-time high and the next trend line resistance (red line) around 1,593.

It barely shows on the weekly bar chart, but the S&P was actually repelled by trend line resistance at 1,593 in April (subscribers of the Profit Radar Report went short at 1,593 and closed out short positions at 1,540).

This (temporary) decline from 1,593 to 1,536 left several open chart gaps (one at 1,588), that’s why we expected a deep retracement. That deep retracement however, turned into a rally to even higher highs.

With the S&P above the last trend line resistance and with no other overhead resistance levels caused by prior support/resistance levels left (the S&P carries no more ‘inherited technical burdens’), there is nothing holding stocks back.

That doesn’t mean stocks can’t and won’t decline, but as long as prices remain above trend line support, the larger trend is simply up.

Unlike the S&P 500 and Dow Jones (which are trading at all-time highs), the Nasdaq-100 still trades well below its heyday highs of the year 2000. This means there are more well-defined support and resistance levels available.

Those support/resistance levels are powerful risk management tools and can be used to find low-risk entries and high probability trade set ups.

At the time of this article’s publication, the Profit Radar Report is long the Nasdaq-100 with a stop-loss just beneath an important long-term support.

The Profit Radar Report reveals key support/resistance levels along with low-risk and/or high probability trade set ups.

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Despite Extreme VIX Movements, Option Traders are ‘Lukewarm’

According to the VIX, option-traders are complacent and have been complacent for many months. The bearish VIX implications however, have not been confirmed by two historically accurate options-based sentiment indicators.

The VIX soared 43% on Monday, collapsed 19% on Tuesday and is up nearly 30% today. Just before that, the VIX fell to the lowest reading since February 2007.

Although the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) is rushing from one extreme to the next, options traders as a whole have been remarkably ‘non-committal’ or lukewarm from a sentiment point of view.

This sentiment deviation is illustrated by the chart below. The CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio has been narrowing in a triangle shape formation void of extremes. The 2010, 2011 and 2012 market highs were preceded by at least one daily reading below 0.5 and a drop of the 10-day SMA below or at least close to 0.55.

The 2013 Equity Put/Call Ratio low was at 0.54 on March 6 (the 10-SMA has yet to fall below 0.6). The recent all-time highs caused no put/call sentiment extremes.

Quite to the contrary, the VIX has rushed from one extreme to the next. For that reason, the Profit Radar Report noted back in November that the: “VIX has been of no use as a contrarian indicator and will be put on ‘probation’ until it proves its worth again.” Yes, the VIX is still on probation.

A SKEWed Market?

The CBOE publishes another options-based index like the VIX, it’s called the CBOE SKEW Index. The SKEW in essence estimates the probability of a large decline.

Readings of 135+ suggest a 12% chance of a large decline (two standard deviations). A reading of 115 or less suggests a 6% chance of a large decline. In short, the higher the SKEW, the greater the risk for stocks.

The chart below juxtaposes the SKEW against the S&P 500. Last week the SKEW fell as low as 117. This was odd as readings below 115 (dashed green line) are generally bullish for stocks.

Conclusion

The CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio and SKEW index proved to be valuable contrarian indicators in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The current option-trader sentiment is not bullish, but it’s not as bearish as one would expect to see at a major market top.

To an extent, option-trader sentiment is in conflict with other bearish sentiment extremes discussed recently. When sentiment indicators conflict, technical analysis and support/resistance levels become even more valuable.

The April 10, Profit Radar Report highlighted key resistance at 1,593 and stated that: “A move above 1,593 followed by a move back below 1,590 will be a sell (as in go short) signal.”

As long as prices remain below key resistance, the trend is down until stocks find key support.

S&P 500: Bearish RSI Divergence Waives Red Flags

The December 2, Profit Radar report predicted new recovery highs, but warned that: “Any new recovery high marked by a bearish price/RSI divergence could mark the end of this rally.” That’s exactly where we’re at now.

Research studies show that investors as a group buy high and sell low. The media fuels this kind of crowd behavior, trashing stocks near a bottom and hyping them up near the top.

The “headline index” – a fictitious index based on a not entirely worthless evaluation of media sentiment – depicts a media more cheery than any other time in 2012. The upside is limited whenever the media is implying a sustainable rally.

But this article isn’t about sentiment or the media; it’s about a technical divergence. One that incidentally runs contrary to the media’s blissful mood.

RSI Basics

The Relative Strength Index (RSI) is a very basic and commonly used momentum indicator. I usually don’t subscribe to popular indicators (the more folks use any given indicator the less effective it is), but RSI just happens to work very well for me (perhaps because I use an unusual setting to make it more ‘special’).

My simple theory is to look for unconfirmed highs or lows. Any new price high/low unconfirmed by a new RSI high/low is a bearish/bullish divergence. This theory works at multiple time frames. I like to use it for spotting highs/lows that last for weeks or months.

This simple strategy has helped me to identify the May 2011 top and October 2011 and June 2012 lows.

Bearish RSI Divergence

The chart below is visual evidence that every bigger top since 2010 (vertical dashed red lines) sported a bearish RSI divergence (new price high without new RSI high).

The September 14 high fooled me, because there was no bearish divergence (dashed green line). Due to the lack of divergence, I refused to abandon my outlook for new recovery highs above 1,475, which at the time was quite unpopular.

Via the September 30, Profit Radar update I stated that: “The September 14 recovery highs for the S&P, Dow, Russell 2000, and XLF were all accompanied by new RSI highs. It would be rare for stocks to form a long-term peak without a bearish price/RSI divergence. Because of this lack of divergence we expect new recovery highs.”

The December 2, Profit Radar update again noted that: “The decline from September 14 – November 16 was a correction on the S&P’s journey to new recovery highs. This scenario is supported by the lack of bearish price/RSI divergences at the September 14 high, continuous QE liquidity, and bullish seasonality. There is no specific target, but any new recovery high marked by a bearish price/RSI divergence could mark the end of this rally.”

Something’s Changed

As of last week, the S&P 500 recorded new recovery highs above 1,475 void of a new RSI high. In itself, that’s not a sell signal, but it’s a red flag.

As with any indicator, RSI divergences become more potent when confirmed by other technical indicators or support/resistance levels.

I was excited to discover two important resistance levels not far above current trade. In fact, one of the resistance levels caused a major S&P 500 reversal in May 2011, one that shaved nearly 300 points off the S&P.

It can be treacherous to buck a QE-stock market on a mission, but this major inflection point along with the bearish RSI divergence and increasingly bullish sentiment suggests definite caution ahead.

The Profit Radar Report reveals the key resistance level (and target for this rally) along with conservative and aggressive trade recommendations to take advantage if this strong inflection point.

Will The S&P 500 Reward Politicians Shenanigans With New Recovery Highs?

It seems like the stock market is rewarding short-sighted politics and alibi deficit deals, but that’s not the case. The stock market seems to have a specific agenda revealed by a little-known but effective indicator.

I don’t like to dignify bad behavior. That’s probably why I’ve only written about the fiscal spectacle once before (December 7: Will the Fiscal Cliff Really Send Stocks Spiraling?).

Stocks rallied strongly on news that Congress approved a quick fix that buys a little more time. Will the S&P 500 and SPY ETF even go as far as reward politicians’ shenanigans with new recovery highs?

Confession Time

I have to admit that we didn’t get to profit (at least not much) from this week’s explosion to the up side. That’s not because it wasn’t expected.

The December 23 Profit Radar Report wrote that: “The decline from September 14 – November 16 was a correction on the S&P’s journey to new recovery highs. This scenario is supported by the lack of bearish price/RSI divergences at the September 14 high, continuous QE liquidity and bullish seasonality.”

The same update also warned that: “the S&P is littered with resistance levels from 1,417 – 1,440. This suggests that any immediate up side may be choppy.”

In fact, the up side was so choppy that it diluted many support/resistance levels and made it tricky to find a low-risk buying level. The chart below (it looks busy, that’s why there was no low-risk entry) highlights the support/resistance levels rendered nearly useless by 5 weeks of zig zagging back and forth.

This is frustrating, but crying over spilled milk is of no benefit. There will always be another trade set up, in fact a huge setup is in the making right now.

Wednesday’s move above 1,448 unlocked a number of temporarily bullish options. The up side from here is probably going to be choppy and limited, but should lead to the best low-risk sell signal in well over a year.

I am using a little-known but effective strategy to project the target (and reversal zone) for the current rally. Effective because the strategy is a mirror image of the strategy I used to pinpoint the April 2011 high (at S&P 1,365), which led to a 300-point free fall.

This strategy suggests a new recovery high followed by a major top. I don’t know if the reversal will be as significant or more significant than the one in April 2011, but investing is a game of probabilities. The odds for a low-risk entry just don’t get much better than this.

The latest Profit Radar Report reveals the little known strategy used to project the target for this rally along with the actual target level for a potentially epic reversal.

Russell 2000 and S&P MidCap 400 Butting Up Against Resistance

The Russell 2000 and MicCap 400 Indexes helped us identify weakness for stocks in early November. Now they’ve come back to touch major support/resistance levels and may be once again the “canary in the gold mine.”

About a month ago we looked at the Russell 2000 (small cap stocks) and S&P MidCap 400 (mid cap stocks) indexes to determine whether there’s more down side for the broader market.

Our focus was in particular on the trend line that connected the October 2011 low with all subsequent lows. It was a well-defined support level that created a pretty technical picture.

On November 7/8 the Russell 2000 (corresponding ETF: iShares Russell 2000 ETF – IWM) and S&P MidCap 400 Index (corresponding ETF: SPDR S&P MidCap 400 ETF – MDY) dropped below their respective trend lines.

This foreshadowed lower prices ahead and triggered a sell signal. However, the quick sell off left open chart gaps (particularly for the Nasdaq-100), that’s why the Profit Radar Report didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the post-election sell off and sold S&P 500 short positions at 1,348.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we see the MidCap 400 Index back above trend line resistance (previously support) and the Russell 2000 Index butting up against trend line resistance.

The first chart below provides a closer look at the Russell 2000 (support is colored green, resistance red). Right beyond the red trend line resistance is another resistance cluster made up of a descending trend line and previous highs/lows.

So there’s a strong resistance range ahead for the Russell 2000 (the same is true for the S&P 500) and it may take a couple of attempts to push beyond. The beginning of December tends to have a brief seasonal lull, which (combined with resistance) may drive the Russell 2000 (and stocks in general) a bit lower.

But small caps in particular sport a strong bullish seasonal bias starting in mid-December.

Mid caps have performed a bit better as they have already pushed above trend line resistance, now support. Nevertheless, resistance made up of prior failed highs is straight ahead.

The technical picture for mid caps looks more bullish than that of small caps, but even mid caps have room to retest the green support line before making another run higher.

Both indexes and their corresponding ETFs trade above their up sloping 200-day SMAs.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.