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The markets paused today with SPX rising only two dollars to $2052 and RUT losing three dollars to close at $1099. Volatility continues to contract with the VIX dropping about two tenths of a point to 13.8%.

Trading volume was down dramatically after expiration Friday with 2.0 billion shares of the S&P 500 stocks. Trading on the NYSE dropped 52% and trading volume dropped 44% on NASDAQ.

The only economic data released today were existing home sales for February at 5.08 million, down from 5.47 million homes.

SPX opened weakly this morning and traded down to $2043 before rebounding to close at $2052. It seems as though everyone assumes the bull market is returning. This is surprising since it wasn't long ago that the doomsday gurus were on every finance cable network. The reality is probably in between those extremes. The basic U.S. economic data simply don't support the idea of a booming market. But those same data don't support the dire predictions of recession either. Stay tuned.

Equity and index options expire tomorrow at midnight. Many of you may think that today was expiration, but the options contract is a binding legal contract and the brokers need time to make all of the cash transfers and equity purchases and sales before the contracts expire. SPX settled at $2050.07 and RUT settled at $1097.85. I closed our SPX Mar 2050/2060 call spreads yesterday for $1.00; allowing them to enter expiration would have saved us some money; settlement at $2050.07 means one contract would have resulted in a $7 debit whereas we spent $100 to close one spread. But we would have been taking a big risk. Sometimes the difference between the Thursday close and settlement is large. It averaged $9 for SPX last year but ran as high as $23. If you are interested, download my SPX and RUT settlement spreadsheet.

SPX closed at $2050 today, up $9. RUT also continued to run, closing up $10 at $1102. Volatility continued to contract with VIX losing half a point to 14%.

SPX has now put the 200 dma in the rear view mirror. The high at $2078 from December 29th is the next resistance level. I am inclined to think the Fed induced euphoria will end by then. For example, here is a sobering stat: FactSet reports that the estimated profit margin for the first quarter for the S&P 500 is 9.3% - the lowest since 4Q 2012. If we exclude energy companies, it rises to 10% and that is the lowest since Q1 2014. Either way, that doesn't look like the economic strength one expects behind a bull market.

Enjoy your weekend. The tulips are sprouting outside. But we are expecting snow this evening. Let me go check why we are living here...

I admit to having greatly underestimated this bullish run. I keep studying the basic economic data, looking for the strong growth the market seems to imply. But I have made the mistake of discounting the role of the Fed and near zero interest rates. The market loves the Fed. The major indices opened weakly this morning, but it didn't take long for the bulls to reassert themselves. SPX ran up $13 to close at $2041 while RUT gained $17 to close at $1091.  Volatility continues to contract with the VIX dropping to 14.4%. Trading volume rose again today with 2.6 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading. Trading volume on the NYSE rose 17% and trading on NASDAQ rose 11%.

Initial unemployment claims came in at 265 thousand this week, up slightly from last week's 258 thousand. Continuing unemployment claims rose from 2.227 million to 2.235 million. The JOLTS job openings report cited 5.541 million job openings for January, up from 5.281 million. The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing survey increased to 12.4 for March, up dramatically from February's -2.8.

I closed the March SPX condor today in the Flying With The Condor™ service for a gain of 7.5%. That brings our year to date performance to -2.3%. As of today's close, SPX is finally positive for the year, up 0.1%. We are still working off our February loss.

SPX has now cleared the 200 dma and is above the bearish trend lines drawn from the November and December highs. The next resistance level is the high of $2078 from December 29th. I still find it hard to rationalize new highs in the market above $2078 (12/29/15) and $2103 (12/1/15). But I have been wrong so far...

After Yellen and the FOMC announced they were not raising interest rates, the market rallied. Free money wins once again. SPX ran up $11 to $2027 and RUT rallied $8 to close at $1075. Volatility pulled back with the VIX losing almost two points to 15.1%, the low for the year. Trading volume popped upward with 2.4 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading today. Trading rose 17% on the NYSE and trading increased 5% on NASDAQ.

Today's rally puts SPX firmly above the 200 dma, but can this rally continue? The economic data aren't what one would call booming.

The CPI reported a drop of 0.2% for February. This continues to amaze me. A flat CPI is completely opposite my own experience in the marketplace. Are your grocery bills flat or declining?

Housing starts increased to 1178k, but building permits fell to 1167k. But both numbers are positive for the real estate market. Industrial production decreased 0.5% in February after a 0.8% increase in January. And capacity utilization decreased to 76.7% in February. Do these numbers look like a booming economy?

Often, the day after the Fed announcement presents a market reversal as analysts think through market implications. We'll see. For now, it's time for the rose colored glasses.

The markets continued to trade in low volume and largely sideways today as traders await the announcement from the FOMC tomorrow afternoon. SPX traded down as far as $2005 before recovering to close at $2016 for a $4 loss today. RUT didn't recover, closing down $18 at $1067. Volatility was flat with the VIX unchanged at 16.8%. Trading volume was flat with two billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading, identical to yesterday's volume. Trading volume rose 2% on the NYSE and also rose 5% on NASDAQ.

Retail sales reported a decline of 0.1% for February, but that was an improvement over the -0.4% decline in January. What is everyone doing with their savings at the gas pump? The PPI for February declined 0.2%, down from a 0.1% increase in January. The Empire manufacturing survey (New York Federal reserve) increased to 0.6 in March, up from last month's -16.6.

Economic data continue to be pretty weak. It doesn't seem likely that the Fed will increase interest rates at this meeting, but who knows? I don't think we will see much movement in the market between now and 2 pm ET tomorrow.

The markets were quiet today as traders begin to anticipate the FOMC announcement on Wednesday. The prevalent opinion of the Fed watchers is that no interest rate hike is on tap, but many observers are worried.

SPX backed off three dollars to close at $2020 and RUT closed down $3 at $1084. Volatility rose a bit as traders begin to hedge positions; the VIX closed at 16.9%, up about 0.4 points.

There were no significant economic data reports today. The PPI, CPI, industrial production figures, capacity utilization, and weekly unemployment claims come later in the week, but the gorilla in the room is the announcement from the FOMC Wednesday afternoon.

Trading volume was down today with only two billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading today. Trading volume declined 14% on the NYSE and was down 18% on NASDAQ.

If the Fed announcement is a non-event for the market, will the bullish run of the past several weeks continue? SPX is holding right at the 200 dma, and depending on how one draws the bearish trend line from the November, December and January highs, SPX is at or slightly below that trend line. Traders are watching for a break-out above that trend line to be confident that the bulls are back in charge. Otherwise, the conventional wisdom is that this has been a short-lived rally within a bearish trend. It is hard to predict the market's reaction to the Fed's announcement. Every word will be parsed.

Yesterday, it seemed as though the market wasn't too happy with the ECB's announcement and Mario Draghi's news conference. But after some reflection, the bulls came out swinging this morning and never backed off. Apparently, negative interest rates are the friend of the bulls.

SPX closed up $33 at $2022. RUT closed at $1088 for a gain of $24. Volatility pulled back with the VIX dropping two points to 16.5%. Trading volume contracted a bit with 2.4 billion shares of the S&P 500 companies trading today. Trading volume dropped 9% on the NYSE and declined 8% on NASDAQ. SPX closed right at the 200 dma. I was surprised it didn't bounce off the 200 dma. We'll see on Monday. Breaking that level will confirm the end of the correction and send the doomsday folk to the back room.

There wasn't any significant economic data reported today. Traders will begin to focus on the FOMC meeting and announcement next week. We have long list of economic data coming out next week: PPI, CPI, retail sales, housing starts, building permits, and several others. But the Fed announcement is the biggy (technical term).

Have a great weekend. We are actually having some nice weather in Chicago.


The markets appeared to be just treading water today as they anticipate the meeting tomorrow with Mario Draghi and the ECB.

SPX closed up $10 at $1989 and RUT increased $5 to $1073. Volatility relaxed a little with the VIX falling about a third of a point to 18.3%. Trading volume continued to decline with 2.3 billion shares of the S&P 500 trading today. Trading volume declined 12% on the NYSE and also dropped 9% on NASDAQ.

No significant economic news came out today. Will Draghi's actions tomorrow push our markets higher? Or will it serve as a reminder that the central banks are running out of bullets? It is hard to predict the direction, but it will likely move our markets.

SPX has run up against resistance at $2000. That level and the 200 dma at $2020 are the levels that need to be broken before we can be reasonably confident the downdraft so far this year has been curtailed. Many analysts have drawn a bearish trend line from the December highs, and that trend line is very close to the 200 dma. So that level on SPX is crucial to watch.

So we wait on Mario...

Markets opened lower, traded even lower, recovered, and then sold off in the last two hours of trading to close at the lows of the day. SPX lost $23 to close at $1979. RUT fell $26 to $1068. Volatility rose with the VIX adding 1.3 points to 18.7%. Trading volume fell again today with 2.5 billion shares of the S&P 500 trading. Trading volume declined 2% on the NYSE and declined 6% on NASDAQ.

No economic data were released today. Are traders pulling back a bit in anticipation of the Fed meeting next week? Most analysts believe additional interest rate hikes are off the table, but the market may be apprehensive.

I had hedged my March and April iron condor positions Friday, but removed those hedges today.

No significant, market-moving economic reports are due this week. Will the market remain weak until after the Fed meeting?

The bulls have been on a strong run higher for the past couple of weeks. Today's slowing only seems natural. SPX broke through the magical $2000 level with a close at $2002, up two dollars on the day. RUT continues on a tear with a twelve dollar gain to $1094. When one thinks of the small caps as the "risk on" stocks, RUT looks very bullish. But RUT has far more to make up from the correction than does SPX. Even with the strong moves higher the past couple of weeks, RUT remains below the lows hit in the initial flash crash on August 24th.

Volatility was largely unchanged with the VIX at 17.2%. Trading volume pulled back today with 2.6 billion shares of the S&P 500 stocks trading. Trading volume on the NYSE declined 20% and trading on NASDAQ dropped 6%.

URBN was trading very strongly the past few days, probably in anticipation of its earnings announcement this evening. I entered this trade and shared it with my trading group today: URBN Mar/Apr 25/28 diagonal call spread for $234. Due to the high volatility before the announcement, I was able to sell the Mar call for 39% of the price of the long April $25 call. Even though the earnings announcement is a dicey time to go bullish on any stock, we hedged our downside nicely by selling so much premium to significantly reduce the cost basis in the long April call. In after hours trading, URBN has traded up to $31.44, so it looks like we have a big winner.

Now the market debate has turned from "the sky is falling" to "how high can it go?" I think both extremes are wrong. The basic economic data don't support a strong bull market. But those same data don't justify all of the doom and gloom of the past few weeks either. We may also see some treading water in the markets as the FOMC meeting next week comes into focus.