Option Investor
Market Wrap

Head Fake Day

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Head fake--to do something to distract someone's attention, making them think you're going to do one thing and then do another. This is a very typical action we see on the Thursday prior to opex week. Whether the market is purposely manipulated to make that happen, or if it happens because opex position squaring is occurring, the result is the same. Typically we see the market take a nose dive into Thursday and then do a v-bottom reversal and spring to life into a rally into opex week.

To me it looks like manipulation--some very big players start the snowball rolling down the hill (it works particularly well if the market drops below an easily identified support level) and triggers sell stops along the way. The bears get excited and start entering short positions. In the meantime those who got the selling frenzy started begin covering their positions and start getting long the market, probably with cheap front-month call options that are bought with the money received from selling deep in-the-money front-month put options. And then the hook is set and "they" start reeling in their catch. Some big buy programs get the reverse process going and they haul in huge sums of money in the process.

I of course have no idea if that's the correct scenario but if I had the money to move the market that's exactly how I'd play it. It would be like taking candy from a baby without its mother around. It's also why this kind of move into opex often sees no follow through once opex is finished. It's usually false buying and once opex positions have been squared the market gets back to "normal". As I'll show in tonight's charts there is a price pattern that supports the idea that a bounce into the early part of the week will probably not hold and we'll head back down for what should be a final low for the year, perhaps before the end of next week and certainly by the end of the month, and then a multi-month rally into the new year.

Today the DOW dropped over 300 points, rallied over 900 points and closed the day up +553. All in a day's work (catch). When looking at the daily chart it looks very bullish with that big white candle today but I have to wonder if it will be any different than the other failed big white candles we've seen during the bear-market decline. One of these big rallies is of course going to stick and what I'm trying to figure out is which one that will be. At this time I think we're still due another leg down in the market and then we should be set up for a bigger rally. So we're getting close but I'm still waiting to see the whites of their eyes.

The risk for the bears is that they've got a lot of company right now. The short interest ratio and put/call data, not to mention the number of advisors who are bearish, is a warning that there are a lot of people leaning over the bearish side of the boat and looking for lower prices. Of course after today I would imagine quite a few people have reversed and feel pretty bullish about a "successful test" of the October 10th low. But of course that's what they said at the October 28th low. I'll stick with the price patterns and take my best guess off those, rather than what some talking head on CNBC thinks. I might not be right but I'll show you why I think we've got another leg down coming. More importantly I'll show you the price levels that are key to the upside which would negate my bearish expectations.

But back to my warning for the bears--while I think we're due one more leg down this is when it gets risky being short the market. With a lot of bearish company it's not hard to understand the tinder box we sit upon. Today's strong v-bottom reversal was just another example of the power of short covering. Getting follow through has been the bulls' problem but these short-covering rallies can fry your positions in a heartbeat. By the time some key levels to the upside start getting hit, because of the huge price swings we're seeing, much of your profits can vanish quickly. Therefore, while I believe the market has a date with the October 2002 low this month it's hard to recommend new short plays except on a day-to-day basis, such as with market calls on the live Market Monitor.

And assuming we do get the one more new low I believe it will be a very good setup to get long the market, for a trade. We will be due a multi-month rally (should take a little more time than the March-May rally) and while it may only be good for a ride back up to DOW 9K-10K that would be a good percentage move to try to capture.

Last Thursday I mentioned that I had hoped by this Thursday it would be a little clearer as to what the setup looks like for a finish to the decline and the setup for a rally. Unfortunately it's not much clearer although I do think we're much closer to finding out and could potentially put in a bottom before next Thursday, assuming we're going to get another leg down. But first let's take a look at the charts to see what the setup is for the next week.

S&P 500, SPX, Weekly chart
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The whole choppy mess since October 10 continues to look like a 4th wave correction, as labeled with the '4' above last week's high. 4th wave corrections are the pits when it comes to trading. They tend to be very whippy with reversals of reversals. Look at the price action since the October 10th low and I think we can all agree that's what we've seen. That's actually one of the things that adds credibility to an EW (Elliott Wave) count. I call it the smell test. EW analysis, like any other technical tool, is subject to interpretation. You can have alternate wave counts and two different Elliotticians can look at the same chart and have two very different counts. So I like to see if a count passes the smell test. It can follow all the EW rules but not "look" right. Right now the correction since October 10th "looks" like a 4th. If it walks like a duck...

If it's a 4th wave then the pattern needs a 5th wave down to complete the leg down from May (to complete the larger degree 3rd wave, labeled wave(3) on the chart) and that's what I continue to show--a drop down to a new low before a bounce into next year. There are a couple of ideas I'm currently entertaining but each points to a low for the year near the October 2002 low at 768. It's a bit messy but the daily chart shows the two higher-probability moves as I see them:

S&P 500, SPX, Daily chart
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I've got a parallel down-channel for price action since the October 14th high and the top of it is currently near 980. The pink wave count shows we should expect a rally up to that line before heading back down. It's a guess right now but I've also dropped in a downtrend line (red) to essentially show a descending wedge pattern for a move down from the last high on November 4th to a final low by the end of the month/beginning of December. I'm entertaining this idea because of the corrective wave structure in the decline from November 4th (the move down is only a 3-wave move and not a 5 which it needs to be in order to put in a bottom).

How confident am I that we have not seen the annual low yet? Very. I will lose that confidence if SPX rallies above 1008. The other indices and sectors have similar charts now and that adds to my confidence in the wave count. The 120-min chart below shows a little more detail of how the next couple of weeks could play out.

Key Levels for SPX:
- cautiously bullish above 1008
- bearish below 950

S&P 500, SPX, 120-min chart
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Both the parallel down-channel and the descending wedge idea that I discussed with the daily chart are shown. It's a guess right now for how high the bounce could get for the descending wedge idea. There's some confluence of Fibs near 934-935 so that's a level of interest. We should see a pullback first thing Friday morning and then another rally leg. Following an expected new rally leg tomorrow is when I'll be watching for a short entry. If SPX climbs above 935 then I think it will have a good chance of reaching 980 but I suspect it will be a big 3-wave move with a bigger pullback to shake out the longs first. Reaching the top of the parallel down-channel should be a good short entry.

Dow Industrials, INDU, Daily chart
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I've drawn in the same trend lines and wave count possibilities for the DOW as shown on the SPX charts. Both wave counts call for a low either at the March 2003 low (7416) or the October 2002 low (7197) and are within days of each other. So whether the DOW rallies up to the top of its parallel down-channel (near 9500) or only slightly higher than today's high (maybe up to 9000) in what will become a descending wedge pattern, they both point lower into the end of the month/beginning of December. It takes a rally above 9700 to negate the bearish wave counts as shown.

Key Levels for DOW:
- cautiously bullish above 9700
- bearish below 8640

Nasdaq-100, NDX, Daily chart
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The techs have been weaker than the blue chips and the consolidation pattern for NDX has a down slope to it. It already has a slight descending wedge appearance to it and therefore may only require one more leg down to finish it. At this point I think NDX will finish this year's decline slightly above its March 2003 low (near 940).

Because NDX may only require one more leg down this is a good example of why I think it could be risky on the short side very soon. Whether it chops lower in more of a down-up-down sequence as shown on the SPX and DOW charts, or only one more relatively small down move as shown in pink on the NDX chart, we're close to making a bottom. If the market moves lower next week and you're playing the short side I would pull stops down close and trail it lower. Don't plan on getting out at the low (and if you do catch the low, consider yourself lucky and not a genius and then let me know how you did it--wink).

I think it's too early to be playing the long side (except for day trades) but we're getting close to a decent buying opportunity. Keep your powder dry.

Key Levels for NDX:
- cautiously bullish above 1383
- bearish below 1383

Russell-2000, RUT, Daily chart
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The RUT's pattern and potential wave counts look like those for NDX. Depending on which downside pattern is playing out (assuming we're going to get another leg down) I see final support in the 380-420 area by the beginning of December.

Key Levels for RUT:
- cautiously bullish above 551
- bearish below 551

Banking index, BIX, Daily chart
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When I had mentioned earlier about the need for a 5-wave move to complete the move down, you can see on the bank's chart the 3-wave move down from the September high to the October low. Then we got a 3-wave bounce into the November 4th high. This is what's telling me we haven't seen the bottom yet. I've drawn in a similar descending wedge pattern but the shape of it is just a guess at this point. The banks could bounce a little higher before hitting the downtrend line from September but it should turn back down for a new low.

Transportation Index, TRAN, Daily chart
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Different sector, same pattern. We could still be inside a bigger correction that calls for a rally in the transports back up to the top of the trading range (back above 4000) so stay aware of that possibility. In fact a strong rally in this sector would be a good heads up that the broader market will probably do the same. But again, the pattern to the downside is not yet complete and therefore it calls for new lows yet to come.

Commodity Related index, CRX, Weekly chart
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This is a weekly chart of the commodity-related equities and therefore doesn't show any detail of the consolidation pattern since the October low. But the pattern is the same as the others in that it's looking for a 5th wave down to complete the count from the July high. Right now the Fib projection for the 5th wave (to equal the 1st wave) is very close to the 2002 low near 202.

Oil is nearing a support level and could be a very significant one:

Oil Fund, USO, Monthly chart
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This is a monthly chart of the crude contract going back to the bottom in April 1986. From there it's looking like a big A-B-C wave count. The c-wave is the move up from December 1998 and c-waves are 5-wave moves. As you can see it has stayed within a parallel up-channel (using log price scale because of the big price change over the years). The sharp pullback since July has brought price back to near the bottom of the channel. There's also an old internal trend line (red) intersecting the bottom of the channel where price has currently dropped to (as noted on the chart, they're near $55.

Price bounced off $54.67 last night and therefore we might have seen the low in oil. However the short-term pattern for the move down from November 4th looks like it needs one more decline to finish a 5-wave count (sound familiar?). I have a couple of Fibs and the trend line from 1998 pointing to potentially stronger support in the $51 to $54 area, shown better in the daily chart below.

The important point I'd like to make about this wave count, as I've depicted, is that it calls for a 5th wave higher before completing the rally leg off the 1998 low. My first reaction when I saw this chart was that there's no way for oil to rally to a new high from here. With the global economy circling the drain where's the demand going to come from to drive the price of oil higher? It's not, but what about the US dollar? It's looking strong right now but I have to wonder if the US government is going to kill the golden goose with all the debt it's taking on. That could tank the value of the dollar especially if the government is forced to monetize the debt and devalue the dollar. That's obviously complete speculation on my part but would help explain how and why oil is going to rally up to $200 in the next two years.

I show this chart for just one reason--it says we should head higher again while fundamentally (disregarding peak oil for the time being, while the global economy is tanking) I would think oil should head lower. For all those enjoying the low gas prices and heating oil prices, it may not last.

Oil Fund, USO, Daily chart
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The daily chart of oil zooms in on the decline from July and I'm showing potential support in the $51-$54 area, as mentioned above. There could be a very good opportunity presenting itself to trade oil from the long side. USO makes a very good choice which also has options.

Gold Fund, GLD, Weekly chart
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The weekly chart of gold shows an expectation for another small leg down to finish its decline from late September. It should then be ready for a bigger bounce before heading lower again next year. This is where the oil chart and gold diverge and has me scratching my head. The chart of the US dollar shows the likelihood for additional rally to complete a 5-wave move up from July before a large pullback to at least correct that rally. That would coincide with the big bounce I show for gold. Depending on how the dollar pulls back (correctively or impulsively) should help provide some clues as to the longer term pattern for the dollar, gold and oil (and other commodities). We'll have plenty of time to assess that but in the meantime, look for new lows in gold and oil as a buying opportunity soon.

Economic reports, summary and Key Trading Levels
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Initial unemployment claims continue to spike higher and are now at the highest level since September 2001. I think we've got quite a ways to go in this recession (maybe worse) before it gets better and unfortunately there will be a lot of people feeling the impact of this one. As for whether we're in a recession or a depression you probably already know the definition--when your neighbor loses his job and has to sell his house, further depressing the value of homes in the neighborhood, it's a sign of a recession; when you lose your job it's a sign of a depression.

I've been unemployed a couple of times and for those who are suffering through it, keep your chin up, network like you've never networked before and make finding a job your job, and treat it like a job. It will do wonders for your psyche knowing that you're doing what you have to do to find that next job. Or you can be a bum like me and write market commentary and trade for a living--contact Jim if you're interested in writing (seriously). As for trading for a living, I hope you have a supportive spouse as I do. There can be some very lean times.

The other economic reports today were trade balance and Treasury budget, both budget busting. So what else is new.

Tomorrow's reports could move the market if there are any surprises, up or down. We already know retail sales have taken a nose dive so any positive spin on those numbers could help the market.

Summarizing where we are, I think today's bounce is just another bear-market short-covering rally. The only question is how high it will get before turning back down. It's a wide target zone but right now I'm looking for SPX 930-980 for a high and then to go back to selling. We're in a potentially very choppy 5th wave down if it's a descending wedge pattern playing out. That would mean we finished a very choppy and whippy 4th wave correction and entered a very choppy and whippy 5th wave decline. It's common to see this and it simply means we remain in a very difficult trading environment.

I think it's a tad early to be thinking about a bottom for the market. I don't see enough evidence for an end to the decline and it would look best with at least one more new low. But the risk is on the short side now. While longs risk another drop to a new low, longer term positions shouldn't suffer much more damage (unless Nouriel Roubini will be correct sooner rather than later). But shorts run the risk of a much larger rally from here. If you're trading the short side keep a tight leash on it and don't let the market go much against you. You can see by today's rally how painful just one day can be.

I do like the setup for another short trade but it will have to become a little more obvious than it is at the moment as far as where the bounce will end. I'll be doing my best on the live Market Monitor to call it out but as I said, the upside target area is rather wide at the moment.

Good luck in this wild market and I'll be back with you next Thursday to see what opex brought us..

Key Levels for SPX:
- cautiously bullish above 1008
- bearish below 950

Key Levels for DOW:
- cautiously bullish above 9700
- bearish below 8640

Key Levels for NDX:
- cautiously bullish above 1383
- bearish below 1383

Key Levels for RUT:
- cautiously bullish above 551
- bearish below 551

Keene H. Little, CMT
Chartered Market Technician

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