The S&P 500 Index’s historic washout continued yesterday, culminating in nearly a 10% loss for the day, and leaving the benchmark index officially in bear market territory, just 16 trading days after setting a record high on February 19. In addition, the S&P 500 has now moved more than 4% each day this week, leaving investors and professionals alike wondering when this volatility could end. While nobody knows for sure, one thing we always look for at market bottoms are signs of extremes, both from a sentiment and price perspective.
From an anecdotal sentiment perspective, certainly fears of COVID-19 have reached the masses, with travel plans canceled and announcements of major events called off coming nearly every hour. However, investor survey data shows a similar story with the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Investor Sentiment Survey showing the highest percentage of bears since April 2013. In addition, the National Association of Active Investment Managers (NAAIM) Exposure Index, which represents the average exposure to US equity markets by the surveyed investment managers, reached its lowest level since September 2015. Following each of those instances, the S&P 500 rallied more than 13% over the next year.
Another way of gauging sentiment can be from the internals of the market. While the S&P 500 is now well below its 200-day moving average, that doesn’t mean each stock in the index has moved below its respective 200-day moving average. In fact, regardless of the broad market’s washout trend, when less than 20% of the individual components of the index are trading below their 200-day moving averages, it is considered an extreme. As shown in the LPL Chart of the Day, Thursday’s sell-off left less 6% of the S&P 500 there, a number last seen in March 2009. “These are truly frightening times,” explained LPL Financial Senior Market Strategist Ryan Detrick. “However, it is important to remember that the signs of panic we are seeing are typically found at or near major market lows.”
One of my favorite Wall Street quotes regarding volatility is from Mark Twain, who said: “October: This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February.”
To some, the buying and selling of a company’s stock by corporate executive officers and directors can be an indicator of Wall Street sentiment. In July 2020, the ratio of companies with executive buying compared with executive selling touched 0.27 – the lowest level in nearly 20 years.1
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