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It is difficult to discern a direction for the markets today. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) has steadily tracked higher since early November, but the daily price changes have become more volatile, gaining one day and then giving it back the next day. Many market observers are becoming more concerned about whether the market prices accurately reflect the current economic situation of this country. SPX closed the week at 3841, down 12 points. However, this close represented an increase of 1.3% over this shortened week, but it doesn’t “feel” like the market traded higher. Trading volume on the S&P 500 has remained at or below the 50-day moving average (dma) all week.

VIX, the volatility index for the S&P 500 options, closed Friday at 21.9%. VIX opened Tuesday morning at 23.0% and declined slightly through the week. Historically, these twenty-plus levels of implied volatility are rather high. Often this level of volatility was typical of minor pullbacks and was temporary. It is sobering to realize that it has been nearly a year since VIX was below 20%. VIX spiked up several times in 2018 and 2019 and settled down to levels around 12%. And if we go back to 2017-2018, VIX ran at foundational levels of approximately 10-11%. My point is to caution us not to become accustomed to these high levels of volatility. VIX is flashing caution. Stay alert.

IWM, the ETF based on the Russell 2000 group of companies, hit all-time highs last week and closed Friday near those highs at 215.00. IWM seems to be more solid than the broad market. The stocks that make up the Russell 2000 are the high beta stocks that are sold first when institutions get nervous. Thus far, IWM is holding up well and serves as a bullish signal.

The NASDAQ Composite index closed Friday at 13,543 , up 12 for the day, and up 3.1% for the week. The traditional high-tech stocks continue to lead this market. NASDAQ’s trading volume stands out, having remained well above average for the first four weeks of this new year.

The commentary from the “sky is falling” crowd is increasing in volume, and I certainly understand the underlying concerns. However, we have a clear choice: hide under the bed or remain invested. Solid risk management is especially important in this market.

As I mentioned above, VIX has been running above 20% since early last year. Be sure you have clear stops in place for all of your positions and monitor those positions every day. Stay alert.