Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The SP 500, Apple Earnings and Feeding The A.D.D. Monster

The last hour of trading was intense on Tuesday and then all eyes were focused on Apple’s earnings which were released around 4:30 ET. The initial reaction to the earnings release is negative although as I write this AAPL is bouncing sharply higher in after market trading on strong volume.

To put the final hour’s volatility into perspective, at 3 P.M. Eastern Time the S&P 500 Index was trading at 1,217. A mere 12 minutes later the S&P 500 Index pushed 15 handles higher to trade up to 1,232. Then sellers stepped in and pushed the S&P 500 lower by nearly 12 handles in the following 20 minutes.

The price action was like a roller coaster and I was sitting watching the flickering red and green bars in real time with the anticipation of a child. It was the most excitement I have had in quite some time, but please don’t hold that against me. I don’t know whether reading my previous line makes me laugh or cry, but the truth must be heard I suppose.

Enough self deprecation, I want to get down to business with some charts and what is likely to happen in coming sessions. The sell the news event in AAPL has the potential to really change the price action tomorrow. If prices hold at lower levels, the indices could roll over sharply tomorrow. The S&P 500 E-Mini futures contracts are showing signs of significant weakness after the earnings miss by Apple in aftermarket trading.

Some other potentially game changing news items came out of Europe where Reuters reported earlier today that the Eurozone will likely pass legislation that will ban naked CDS ownership on sovereign debt instruments. Additionally, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stated this morning that a forthcoming FHA announcement involving a new housing refinance plan was going to be made public in coming days. The statement regarding the new FHA plan helped the banks and homebuilders show relative strength during intraday trading and likely were behind much of the intraday rally.

I would point out that the S&P 500 Index (SPX) broke out slightly above the August 31 highs before rolling over. The reason that is critical is because the S&P 500 E-Mini futures did not achieve a breakout, but tested to the penny the August 31st highs. I am going to be totally focused on tomorrow’s close as I believe it will leave behind clues about the future price action in the S&P 500 leading up to option expiration where volatility is generally exacerbated. The daily chart of the S&P 500 Index is shown below:

If Wednesday’s close is below the recent highs near 1,230 we could see this correction intensify. The price action on Tuesday helped stop out the bears and if we see a significant reversal tomorrow the intraday rally today will have been nothing more than a bull trap. The price action Tuesday & Wednesday could lead to the perfect storm for market participants where bears were stopped out and bulls are trapped on the potential reversal.

Another interesting pattern worth discussing is the head and shoulders pattern seen on the SPY hourly chart. The strong rally to the upside may have indeed negated the pattern, but if prices don’t follow through to the upside in the near term and the neckline of this pattern is broken to the downside we could see serious downside follow through. The hourly chart of the Spider SPY Trading ETF is shown below:

Ultimately there are two probably scenarios which have different implications going forward. The short-term bullish scenario would likely see prices breakout over recent highs and push higher toward the key resistance area around the 1,260 price level. The 1,260 price level corresponds with the neckline that was broken back in August that led to heavy selling pressure.

Bullish Scenario
If we do breakout to the upside, the longer term ramification may wind up being quite bearish as most indicators would be screaming that price action was massively overbought at those levels and a sharp selloff could transpire into year end. The daily chart of the S&P 500 Index illustrates the bullish scenario below:

Bearish Scenario
The short term bearish scenario would likely involve a break below Monday’s lows that would work down to around the 1,140 level or possibly even lower. If a breakdown took place, a higher low could possibly be carved out on the daily chart which could lead to a multi month rally that would likely see the neckline mentioned above tested around the holiday season. The daily chart of the S&P 500 below shows the bearish scenario:

There are a variety of reasons why either scenario could unfold. Most of the analysis that I look at argues that the bearish scenario is more probable. However, based on what happened in the final hour of trading on Tuesday and the surprise earnings miss from Apple anything could happen.

I will likely wait for a confirmed breakout either to the upside above recent highs or to the downside below the neckline of the head and shoulders pattern illustrated above before accepting any risk. I am of the opinion that risk is exceptionally high in the near term. I am not going to try to be a hero, instead I am just going to wait patiently for a high probability setup to unfold.

Until a convincing breakout in either direction is confirmed, I am going to sit on the sidelines. I am quite content just watching the short-term price action without taking on any new risk. For those that want to be heroes or feel they have to trade, I would trade small and use relatively tight stops to define risk. Risk is excessively high!

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JW Jones

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