Daily Update: A Little Support But A Lot Of Resistance

While Wall Street came back from the long weekend ready to take profit, the selling was anemic and didn’t last long. I think traders are finally waking up to the reality that “recession” is just another word that means the economy is slowing down . . . a speed bump and even at its most extreme, far from the end of the world.

Hints of the White House working more closely with the Fed to get consumer prices under control are welcome, but I’m going to need a more concrete demonstration of how they plan to do it. When fuel costs went wild in the 1970s, it took more than creating the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to shield U.S. households from the shock.

And with Russian oil off-limits now to most of the world, it would be nice if government policy could cushion the Fed’s explicitly recessionary flight plan a little. Either way, we’re seeing energy prices surge and bond prices drop today, while stocks aren’t giving up much of Friday’s big leap at all.

It looks a lot like welcome support after months of the market trying to hit bottom. But people talk so much about support and resistance that the words can lose their meaning. Let’s dig a little deeper today.

Support is any level at which stocks have a hard time dropping significantly. Different people calculate it in different ways, but it usually revolves around history and statistics.

Historical support shows us the minimum price sellers will take to exit their position. As long as the fundamental outlook doesn’t deteriorate, if they were reluctant to accept a lower bid in the past, they’re probably not going to budge in the present.

Statistical support acknowledges that prices gyrate with the market’s moods, but it takes a lot of effort to push them far beyond their established trend (up, down or sideways) for long. The only question is whether the trend is below you, in which case it serves as support, or above you. We’ll talk about resistance in a moment.

Any chart with statistical support can soar far above that trend line, ultimately pulling it higher as old data points fade in the rear view and new ones are made every minute. It can also drop back to the trend as a “test” of how firm the floor actually is.

When support holds, the chart tends to bounce in relief. When it doesn’t, the floor gives way and exposes additional downside below. And in general, support tends to hold because the trend itself demonstrates the price traders have been comfortable buying and selling.

But you need support first. The S&P 500 had multiple lines of support beneath it in early April, when the Fed really started talking tough on rate policy and Wall Street realized the fight against inflation wasn’t going to be a game.

Then those lines started cracking, one by one. First the index dropped below the 20-day trend, reflecting a near-term erosion in buying interest . . . the rally we loved after the March Fed meeting ran out of steam. Then longer-term 200-day support broke.

Only the middle-term 50-day trend was left, and after an uneasy couple of weeks, it cracked too. Since then, every effort to reclaim those lines has failed. Meanwhile, every move deeper to the downside dragged the lines themselves lower.

I’m pleased to report that as of Friday, the S&P 500 finally has 20-day support back beneath it. This is the weakest of the three major trends, reflecting the mood over the last three months. It’s a tentative, precarious floor that I would hesitate before loading with too much weight, let alone cash.

But for over a month, we had no floor below our feet at all. This is progress. If this line doesn’t hold, we could see the S&P 500 plunge another 10% to its recent low . . . and likely even beyond.

However, if the S&P 500 can nudge up as little as 2.5% and hold that level, suddenly we’ll have the middle-term trend back below us as well. Reclaiming the long trend will be trickier. I don’t think we’ll do it without at least a few abortive attempts.

After all, the longer the trend, the harder it is to meaningfully break through in either direction. When it’s beneath you, it’s a fairly firm floor that shows roughly the minimum sellers have accepted across the past year. When it’s above you, it’s an equally hard ceiling.

That’s “resistance.” Statistically, it’s going to take good news and a lot of hard work to push the S&P 500 up more than 6-7% from here. We’ll worry about that when we get there.

For now, I’m more interested in strengthening support at this level. We need to see that we’ve hit bottom. Day by day, the floor gets firmer. In two weeks, the bear extreme will roll out of the 20-day data and the floor can start rising.

That will be a good thing if it happens. Meanwhile, other indices are in a similar position. The NASDAQ is now 3% above the short-term trend . . . but it’s going to take a 16% rebound to break long-term resistance at this point. It can happen, but we’ll need good news to rise that far and hold the gains.

The Dow will probably make the first test, maybe as early as mid-June. And of course, it isn’t as heavily weighted toward Big Tech as its counterparts.

Amazon (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) have 20-day support back beneath them. They’re feeling good. But everything else in that bracket — from Apple (AAPL) down to Meta (FB) — is struggling to hold that line.

Until they find their floor, I’m sticking with the real economy and staying wary.