During my lifetime, one would only hear from the president of the United States on rare occasions. And each of those events would be highly scripted and carefully managed. None of us really knew who he was or what he was thinking. We only saw and heard the carefully managed persona. The internet hit the White House of President Obama. That was the first time I recall the White House having a web page and hearing people discuss what they had read there. The Twitter phenomenon certainly preceded President Trump, but I think he has been the first president to use this technology to communicate with the people in an almost continuous manner. Increased transparency is a good thing, just as I thought Bernanke initiating periodic news conferences helped us better understand the goals and activities of the FOMC. Greenspan was an excellent poker player but that left us in the dark most of the time.
The price volatility of the stock market has been increasing for many years. I have attributed much of that to the growth of large-scale algorithmic trading. President Trump’s tweets have added to this increased volatility. I am sure those computer programs track his tweets closely, looking for key words to trigger some lines of code. My acquaintances seem to be of two minds about the president’s tweets. Some welcome it as open and candid communication. Others complain that it isn’t “presidential”. There is truth in both perspectives. But one result is undeniable. The market reacts to President Trump’s tweets. Today was one more example. I keep thinking that the market will become accustomed to the president’s candor, but it is hard to teach computers to use different filters to parse language of different people. You and I do it all the time. Of course, it doesn’t help that the news media feign panic and outrage regardless of what President Trump tweets.
China issued a trade announcement this morning, announcing new tariffs on U.S. companies. As many have learned over the past two years, you cannot poke at this president and not expect a reaction. President Trump responded by increasing tariffs from 10% to 15% on some products and from 25% to 30% on other products. The market panicked.
The Standard and Poors 500 Index (SPX) closed at 2847 today, down 76 points or almost 3%. The only good news was a small bounce near the end of the trading session. Large down days that close at the low of the day are ominous. Today’s drop causes me to focus on that support level at 2820 formed about two weeks ago. Today’s carnage didn’t reach that level. As one might expect on a day like this, trading volume spiked today after running below average all week.
The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) closed down over 47 points at 1459, a loss of over 3%. Russell closed at 1487 on August 5th and even closed a bit lower at 1462 in the retest of the correction on August 15th. Today’s close even broke the low set on May 31st at 1465. It is interesting to note that the February 2018 correction hit a low of 1464, but the December 2018 correction bottomed out at 1267.
The NASDAQ Composite index behaved more like the S&P 500, not quite matching the August 5th low at 7726. NASDAQ lost 240 points or about 3% in today’s closing at 7752. I would draw the support line at the intraday low of August 5th, around 7663. If NASDAQ breaks that level, this could be much more than a transient, tweet inspired panic. NASDAQ’s trading volume ran below the 50 dma all week, but spiked today on this rapid pull back.
The China trade negotiations took center stage with President Trump’s tweet on August 1st and that led to the correction low on August 5th before bouncing. The markets recovered somewhat since then, but SPX and NASDAQ never regained their 50 day moving averages. Russell was even weaker in that it never even recovered to the 200 dma.
I have to admit I was caught by surprise today. It appeared like we had largely recovered from the August 5th correction, but that recovery was short lived. One conclusion is obvious. This market is fundamentally bullish. It quickly recovers from each rumor or tweet inspired panic. When we get some kind of trade deal signed with China, it will likely be full speed ahead. Until then, we are in a nervous and dangerous market. I will be watching the market very closely on Monday. I expect at least a small bounce Monday due to the extreme reaction of the markets today.
Be extremely diligent. Watch your positions carefully. In all cases, trip your stops aggressively. Don’t wait and hope in this market.