There are different kinds of corrections in the stock market. None of them are pleasant to endure. This particular pullback appears to be one of the least painful. It is called a time correction.
Most investors are familiar with what I call the “gap down,” when markets drop 1-2-3% or more in a few days. We had a lot of those babies back in 2008-2009. Then there are the “slow bleed” sell-offs, where the markets drop a smaller amount but maintain a steady grind downward, punctuated by one or two feeble up days. So far this time correction, now in its second month, appears to be locked in a fairly tight trading range on the S& P 500, between 1,340 on the upside and 1,275 on the bottom.
A time correction can provide exactly the same outcome as its more dramatic (and debilitating) cousins. Remember why corrections occur in the first place. At a certain price level sellers believe the risk of holding stocks is too high given the perceived investment climate. There are several reasons that the bears want to sell: Libya, higher oil prices, the simultaneous fear of both inflation and slower growth, and stocks are extended and overbought. Sellers believe that the level of the S&P 500 is an attractive price in which to take some profits.
Then there are the buyers who believe the oil price will retreat as Middle East tensions dissipate over time. These bulls see the U.S. economy growing, unemployment falling and the Fed’s QE 2 continuing to provide support for the stock market. The bulls are looking for deals and are not willing to pay anymore than 1,300 or so for stocks as represented by the S& P Index level.
As new developments (negative or positive) come to the forefront, the buyers or sellers will react on any given day by pushing the averages up or down. What is important here is that over time (if the news remains the same) all the sellers who wish to sell will finally do so, leaving only buyers. At the same time the overextended, overbought condition of a great many stocks will have run its course leaving them in a condition to resume an uptrend.
Could stocks break through this range either up or down?
Of course they can and often do. In bull trends, such as the one we are in right now, it usually signals a selling climax. I don’t advise holding out for some climatic sell-off in order to buy this dip but rather accumulate equities as we trade closer to 1,300 and avoid chasing stocks on the upside unless some definitive solution to the Libyan problem suddenly materializes.
I personally believe that either Gaddafi will melt away, like the Wicked Witch of the East, or flee to Venezuela to his buddy Hugo, the Wizard of Venezuela. Oil prices will decline and the markets, now refreshed by this pause, will take you and me on a rapid and exhilarating ride higher.
In the meantime, patience would be a virtue that I would cultivate during these somewhat volatile times. If that doesn’t work, just stop eyeballing your portfolio every few hours and do something productive instead, like e-mailing me your investment questions.