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The S&P 500's Comebacks Are Fizzling at a Historic Pace Due to Twitchy Traders

August 27, 2023
minute read

The recent volatility within the S&P 500 has prompted notable fluctuations, with a consistent trend of shifting from positive territory to losses shortly after the commencement of each trading session. This recurring pattern has characterized the month of August, acting as an impediment to any endeavors aimed at revitalizing the previously robust US stock market rally, which encountered a standstill earlier in the month.

Intriguingly, the S&P 500 has witnessed nineteen trading sessions in August, and during this period, not a single instance of consecutive gains has materialized. If this trajectory persists, August would mark the first month without consecutive upward movements since April 2002. This historical context brings to mind the challenging financial landscape following the dot-com bubble's burst and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

This trend underscores the prevailing lack of conviction among investors, contrasting the swift surge driven by advancements in artificial intelligence, better-than-anticipated earnings, and anticipations of the Federal Reserve's interest rate cuts in response to a cooling economy. By the conclusion of July, the S&P 500 had experienced an impressive upswing of nearly 30% from its nadir in October.

Subsequent developments have led to a perceptible shift in sentiment, primarily propelled by the economy's unexpected resilience and persistent inflation. Market sentiments now anticipate the Federal Reserve's inclination to maintain higher interest rates. This sentiment was reinforced by Chair Jerome Powell's address in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he reiterated the central bank's commitment to further rate hikes, if necessary, to counteract inflation.

Todd Sohn, an ETF and technical strategist at Strategas Securities LLC, noted that the equity market had witnessed an exuberant phase leading up to late July, and its current cooling phase is marked by a sense of uncertainty regarding the future course of interest rates. Clarity on the Federal Reserve's stance could potentially serve as the next catalyst to shape market direction.

The reasons behind the market's stall are evident. At the start of the month, the S&P 500 was in close proximity to a 5% distance from reclaiming its all-time high, despite the lingering economic uncertainties. However, a combination of rising yields, apprehensions about interest rates, and unfavorable seasonal patterns provided skeptics with an advantage.

Market observers held optimism that Nvidia Corp., a major contributor to the tech-stock surge driven by artificial intelligence, would provide impetus to the rally. However, even Nvidia's robust projections shared on Wednesday failed to reignite the market momentum. Morgan Stanley strategist Michael Wilson viewed this as a sign that the ongoing rally is reaching a state of "exhaustion," which could potentially foreshadow further declines.

The historical instances of the S&P 500 enduring extended periods without consecutive positive days correlate with tumultuous times. Such scenarios transpired during the initial wave of the pandemic in March 2020 and earlier in October 2018 when apprehensions about decelerating growth unsettled investors. Similarly, in 2015, during the S&P 500's first year of negative performance following the financial crisis, there were two instances of at least 25 days without consecutive positive days.

Chad Morganlander, senior portfolio manager at Washington Crossing Advisors, conveyed that the current landscape is presenting a less conclusive scenario for bullish perspectives. He pointed out that valuations are less compelling, and considering the S&P 500's proximity to the 4,400 level, much of the favorable factors appear to have already been priced in.

Eric Ng
John Liu
Editorial Board
Bryan Curtis
Adan Harris
Managing Editor
Cathy Hills
Associate Editor

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