Friday, June 18, 2010

Quad-Witching Became a Quad-Whimper

Quietly ending one of the more unusual weeks on Wall Street, Friday's normally highly-anticipating quadruple witching (market index futures, market index options, stock options and stock futures expiring) ended with abnormally light volume over the final two trading days.

This is a disconcerting episode for traders, as volatile activity is the norm on these days, and the lack of volume suggests that the market is experiencing a severe lack of confidence, even among high-risk types who usually deal in these issues. Also to be considered is the quality of Tuesday's exceptional rally (the Dow gained 214 points), in that much of the options trading which normally could have held until later in the week, was actually conducted on this one, seminal session, making more than just a few traders wonder exactly why stocks were so sought-after on just that one day, as the rest of the week was flat and devoid of velocity.

The consensus being positive on that one day, and then nothing, brings up some interesting propositions, none of them particularly positive going forward. Were insiders moving early to avoid what they might consider an imminent turn? Was the rally thus concocted wholly on the backs of options and futures trades, rendering any gains as temporary flights of fancy? Could this just be a sign of the times, with Summer fast approaching, traders simply lost interest?

Supposing the latter of those preceding questions to be the best of a bad lot, good reasons for owning stocks generally have not appeared. Thus, with everyone cautious, the potential for a panic run on the sell side could occur out of thin air, just like much of the funds used to purchase stocks in the first place.

This kind of sentiment also bears the deflationary trademark, in which buyers will defer purchases, thinking prices will be lower tomorrow, the next day, the day after that, and so on, and, in that regard, we are in complete harmony with the instinct of the herd. Deflation manifests itself in many ways, but one clearly recognizable feature is sluggish trade, and if this week's action can't be described as sluggish, then nothing can.

As I've said previously, the market has three to four more weeks of waiting for 2nd quarter earnings reports, and the void may be filled with sell orders or simply a lack of meaningful movement. Whether this analysis is correct or mere whistling in the wind will be fairly known by the end of trading on Tuesday of next week. The market is seeking direction and the initial two days after witching days of any variety are generally reserved for reloading, shoring up strong positions and shedding weaker ones.

Dow 10,450.64, +16.47 (0.16%)
NASDAQ 2,309.80, +2.64 (0.11%)
S&P 500 1,117.51, +1.47 (0.13%)
NYSE Composite 6,988.24, +6.20 (0.09%)

Advancing issues slipped past decliners again, 3615-2861. New highs beat back new lows, 160-77.

NYSE Volume 5,356,428,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,044,128,250

Crude oil for July delivery gained 39 cents, to $77.18. Gold made a new high, gaining $9.70, to $1,257.20, while silver was also impressive, adding 41 cents, to $19.18.

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