Trading Desk: More Than A Zero-Sum Season

Long-suffering investors can be forgiven for feeling frustrated. The mingled relief and hope that drove last month’s rebound seem to have hit their limit, leaving stocks once again at the mercy of market gravity.

Was it all just another mirage like the abortive rallies we cheered again and again last year, only to watch Wall Street keep chasing new lows every time?

That’s the fear among the bruised and the weary who have given up on greed and are now running low on patience. But I don’t think so.

Across key areas of the market, chart after chart is telling me that through the day-to-day noise, momentum actually points up and not down for the first time in over a year.

Of course it’s subtle because there is a lot of noise out there. The rollercoaster probably has a dip or two left on its track.

We’re still in the early stages and there’s still a lot of wreckage to clear away before Wall Street can really get back to work. But it’s starting to look like the bulls have won. Life is going to start getting easier again instead of harder.

More Than A Feeling

Just look at the NASDAQ, the most battered of the big benchmarks. It’s retreated close to 5% lately, which leaves it a full 26% depressed from where it was at the end of 2021 . . . even after surging 20% from the December low.

However, it’s the bears who are on the defensive now. We know this because if the trend of last year was still in control, the high-tech NASDAQ would have struggled to clear 2,850 last month.

Instead, the pattern of lower and lower peaks broke hard and fast. Suddenly this end of the market was 8% above where the bear scenario predicted it would top out.

That’s what’s different about this particular rebound. Previously statistical and historical resistance held, creating a fairly hard ceiling that stocks just couldn’t push past even on their most optimistic days.

This time, the ceiling finally opened up. When that happens, what was once resistance starts to firm up as support. The ceiling becomes a tentative floor.

And while there’s nothing keeping the NASDAQ from dropping another 4-6% to test that floor, it’s going to take a steep 10% decline to even suggest that what we’ve just seen was a fleeting pause on the way down.

In the meantime, the pattern of lower and lower bottoms has decisively ended. Since early November, every downswing now fails to take the NASDAQ quite as low as the one before. The bears are having to work harder . . . and they’re still surrendering a little ground with every cycle.

At this point it would take a 16% swoon to take Big Tech back to the depths. A move like that requires a strong negative catalyst. Where do you think it will come from?

The Fed could theoretically reverse course again and start talking tough. That’s unlikely. Even in the face of persistent inflation, every rate hike proves that the economy is more resilient than before.

Along with that, we could finally see an official recession call. Again, that’s unlikely as long as the job market remains too hot for comfort. It might not feel like a boom, but as investors, we call a recession when corporate earnings go over a cliff.

And corporate earnings are effectively over for the NASDAQ until April. Guidance for the current quarter wasn’t great, but people who were betting on the cliff were the ones who are disappointed right now.

Maybe the cliff comes in three months. Maybe in six. Maybe it never quite manages to arrive. That’s life on Wall Street boiled down to the essentials.

Some Big Tech Knifes Are Still Falling

Of course not every gigantic stock in the NASDAQ is contributing equally to the recovery. It pains me to point out that Apple (AAPL) remains in a soft downward spiral . . . as though the giant of Cupertino was a prisoner of its own defensive scale.

Mighty AAPL still needs to surge 15% from here to break that gentle downtrend. Until it does, the long-term ceiling holds and the bear market for this $2 trillion company does not end.

I think it’s more likely that this stock will retreat another 3-8% before it even feints meaningfully in the bullish direction. And if those support levels crack, it’s a long way down from there.

Despite all the short-term noise around competing artificial intelligence platforms, I think Alphabet (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) are in much better technical shape. Along with a reviving Amazon (AMZN), these three names are now leading the NASDAQ on that upward pattern I outlined above.

So are Meta (META) and Netflix (NFLX), but they’re realistically too small now to exert much influence on the benchmark as a whole. And while Tesla (TSLA) has shocked some and delighted others, there isn’t a lot of confidence on that chart yet.

All of TSLA’s recent fire has come because its ghastly collapse from $300 in mid-September to $100 was too exaggerated to be real. The bears got ahead of themselves on that one.

But the stock is still down a blistering 38% from that September peak, let alone levels it commanded early last year. Until TSLA proves it can hold $225 (or even better, $250), this is more of a bounce than a self-sustaining bull run.

Let’s see where the seven stocks I’ve just mentioned take the NASDAQ in the next three months. When May rolls around, I bet AAPL will have underperformed the rest. And TSLA is a wild card. If it clears $250, it’s a short hop to $320 . . . but that’s a big hypothetical at this point.