Monday, April 12, 2010

Low Volume Bull Market: What to Make of It

One of the points I made in the recent indicator review concerned the relative absence of selling pressure in the stock market. Even on down days in the market, the number of declining stocks has not greatly exceeded the number of advancers. This pattern has also shown up in the NYSE TICK: we've seen relatively few readings of less than -800 during the day. Those clusters of selling pressure that have occurred have, for the most part, led to buyers scooping up value--not any sustained downturn.

We can see that relative absence of sellers in the market thus far this morning. We have only seen one NYSE TICK reading greater than +800 and none less than -800 to this point. As we can see from the blue moving average of TICK, however, the average TICK level has stayed above zero throughout the session. That makes it difficult for stocks to sustain any downturn.

If you think about it, the relatively low number of significantly high or low TICK readings suggests that not many programs are being transacted in the market: institutional activity is relatively light. That is exactly what we've been seeing in the volume statistics and in market volatility overall. Institutional players have no compelling reason to sell stocks, given continued low interest rates and firming economic activity. They also have no compelling reason to be big buyers, given opportunities that they perceive in other markets and other parts of the world.

The result is a relatively low volume drift upward. I do not necessarily see this as a sign of complacency or as a sign of an imminent market downturn. Rather, I suspect that U.S. stocks are not seeing major capital flows, as traders and investors perceive greater global, macroeconomic opportunity elsewhere: in the perceived safety of high yields and the growth stories of emerging markets.