The thud you heard on Friday was the market hitting the floor. Friday's 2.5% dip was the biggest daily loss in 2012 (so far), and even carried the Dow (DIA) back into the red for the year. Oh, and the move also pulled all the major indices under their key 200-day moving average lines too.
All in all, it's about the last thing a long-term bull wants to see. Yet, it may be a little too early to throw in the towel. We'll explain why in a moment, right after examining the economic numbers that did the dirty deed last week.
It was a jam-packed week last week, but almost all of the attention was on employment numbers, which were - in simplest terms - discouraging. Not only did May's payroll growth only increase by 69K versus expectations of 168K, April's original estimate of 115K new jobs was adjusted to 77K. The unemployment rate edged higher to, from 8.1% to 8.2%.
It was a small step in the wrong direction, but a step in the wrong direction at a point when it's the last thing the market needed to see. Initial and ongoing unemployment claims weren't any more encouraging either.
Payroll Additions, as of May, 2012
But hey, it's not like the jobs picture was the only thing that sent stocks to new multi-month lows last week. The GDP growth rate for Q1 is most likely going to roll in at 1.9%, under prior estimates of 2.2%. And the consumer confidence score fell from 68.7 to 64.9 last month.
And real estate? Yeah, it's still struggling too. The Case-Shiller index said home prices fell 2.6%, and pending home sales fell 5.5% in April.
In light of all that, it's no wonder stocks were/are getting hammered.
The coming week will be less busy in terms of economic numbers, hopefully giving the bulls a much-needed break. And, what little we're getting isn't all that important, save factory orders (Monday) and consumer credit (Thursday).
Factory orders should be up 0.1% for April after March's disastrous 1.9% plunge. Consumer credit - fixed loans - should increase by a whopping $12.7 billion after a near-record-breaking $21.4 billion increase in March. T he vast majority of the swelling consumer credit level is fueled by student loans, which are under legislative fire. Again though, there's nothing in the lineup that should have a big impact on the market.
The official stats are more than a little alarming. The S&P 500 Index (SPX) (SPY) dropped 39.78 points last week…a 3.0% loss that left it at 1278.04. Worse, it left the index under some key floors that would have, ideally, stopped the bleeding.
The chart below says it all. The S&P 500 was holding the line until Friday. With Friday's plunge though, the index closed below the 200-day moving average line (green) as well as below the 20-day and 50-day lower Bollinger bands. The market was already in a pattern of lower lows and lower highs, but this one took the downward effort into 'red alert' territory.
S&P 500 & VIX - Daily
You'll also notice the 20-day average (blue) has crossed under the 100-day moving average line (gray), and the 50-day moving average line (purple) is about to do the same. It's undeniable proof that - at least for now - the bigger trend has turned for the worst. It's not yet a full-blown bear market, but Friday was a big blow.
And, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) (VXX) is also in a solid uptrend now… with some strength we hadn't yet seen from the VIX.
With that all in mind, now put it all in perspective with the weekly chart. It's with the longer-term version of the S&P 500's chart we can see the VIX has indeed pushed off the long-standing support line at 13.0 (dashed). Indeed, the way the VIX is rising and the market is falling is looking a whole lot like the meltdowns seen in May of 2010 and July of 2011.
S&P 500 - Weekly
So what? Assuming this meltdown plays out like the last two have, the market (QQQ) (IWM) may have more downside to go before hitting the ultimate bottom. See, with the prior two dips, once the lower Bollinger band and/or 200-day moving average lines failed to hold the market up, stocks continued to slide a little lower. It wasn't a lot lower, and it didn't fall a lot longer. They did both lead to at least a little more pain.
Is there any chance this time around will be different, and that the market will rebound right away without looking back? Sure. Anything's possible. The size and speed of Friday's dip does feel kind of like a capitulatory, blowout day that flushes all the would-be sellers out and leaves only the buyers behind. That's a pretty risky assumption at this point though, as it wasn't a gigantic, huge-volume selloff, and the VIX isn't absolutely through the roof. We may (probably will) get a dead-cat bounce out of the move lower, but given the way the prior two big selloffs looked, we can't say we're at 'the' bottom yet.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.