The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) opened this week at 3094 and declined through the week to close Friday at 3009, down 2.7%. Friday’s trading broke the 200-day moving average (dma) at 3021. Roughly speaking, this brings SPX back to where we were about a week ago. Friday’s close is 11% below the high prior to the correction. Personally, I think that represents an extremely optimistic assessment of the economic damage. Trading volume for the S&P 500 companies has generally run below the 50-day moving average (dma) over the past two weeks. I am unsure why trading volume spiked so much yesterday. The spike last Friday was due to quadruple witching, but yesterday’s spike is puzzling.
VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, which had declined since the peak of the correction, spiked up to 43% on June 11th and closed Friday at 35%. We may be becoming numb to these levels of volatility, but it is worth reminding ourselves that these are historically high levels of volatility. This remains a nervous, and therefore dangerous, market.
IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, traded lower this week, closing Friday at 140.24, down 2.6% on the week. IWM broke down through its 200 dma on June 10th and is now approaching its 50 dma at 134.01.
The NASDAQ Composite index tumbled Friday afternoon, losing 260 points to close at 9757, down 1.9% for the week. Perhaps more significantly, NASDAQ surrendered its pre-correction high at 9817 on Friday. This week appeared to be the splash of cold water on the strong bullish trend since the correction lows in late March. It remains difficult to explain why the NASDAQ composite should be valued higher than it was in February after all of the economic damage done by the coronavirus lockdown of the economy. I don’t have hard supporting data, but I think the market pricing that corresponds to the current state of this economy is lower yet.
The S&P 500 is now 11% below its high on February 19th. This week’s unemployment data reported twenty million continuing unemployment claims. How can we have twenty million unemployed and yet value the S&P 500 companies only 11% below the pre-correction high? The media have continued their push to fuel the panic. Have you noticed the shift in emphasis? Since the beginning of the pandemic, the evening news always led with the number of covid deaths and projections of an eventual death toll of two to three million and mortality rates of 10% or more. Now the headlines focus on the number of covid cases, which are increasing as testing becomes more widely available. The mortality rate is now on the order of 0.2% or less, more in line with a serious flu season. And the inconsistencies abound. Our governor thinks it is perfectly acceptable to walk shoulder to shoulder with protesters without a mask but continues to order churches closed.
Regardless of how you view the current events, the high levels of volatility drive higher option prices and offer trading opportunities. On the other hand, higher levels of implied volatility also communicate higher risk. Allow me to illustrate with one example from this week. On Thursday I sold the COUP Jun(6/26) 270 call for $715 and then rolled out to Jul(7/2) on Friday for a credit of $618. I collected $1,333 in two days on an investment of $25,718. Of course, next week could bring a very different story – that illustrates the pros and cons of this trading environment.
Carefully weigh the risks of this market. Set tight stop losses and follow them with great discipline.