Is It Time To Worry About The Technical Divergences?
There has been an awful lot of discussion lately about the existence of "technical divergences" in the current market.
In English, a "divergence" occurs on the charts when the major indices and/or sectors are not all dancing to the beat of the same drum.
In short, in a strong market, "the generals" (the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq) tend to lead the market and "the troops" (the mid-caps and small-caps) follow along.
To be clear, this really isn't about which index is outperforming or underperforming. No, this is about "confirmation." In other words, if the Dow and S&P are at new highs, the rest of the major indices should also be movin' on up into their respective Promised Lands.
So let's get started.
The biggest divergence at the present time can be seen in the Russell 2000 small-cap index. This spring's "momentum meltdown" created a significant beating in the small-caps, which has caused the Russell to lag the blue chip indices. As such, the bulls can argue that this "divergence" is easily explained. However, other divergences have been cropping up lately that are worthy of attention.
Why Should We Care?
The problem here is quite simple. You see, history shows that the combination of narrow leadership and technical divergences between "the generals" and "the troops" has been present during the vast majority of market tops. As the saying goes, those ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Everyone knows that the current bull run has been one for the record books. And everyone knows that it has been an inordinate length of time since the market experienced a meaningful correction. Remember, this is the fourth longest period in the last 85 years without a -10 percent correction and the third longest stretch without a 20 percent drop.
Because of this, anyone who has been at this game a while is watching this "divergence" situation like a hawk. So, in an effort to be of service, here's a look at a bunch of charts to see if these divergences should be a reason to worry.
In Search Of The So-Called "Divergences"
The first chart to review is the ultimate "General" of the market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which hit another new all-time high on Friday.
Dow Jones Industrial Average - Daily
There is really nothing to complain about here. The index is at a new high. The index is above both its short- and long-term moving averages, which themselves, are moving up. Then there is a nice uptrend line on the chart dating back to February. As such, the trend clearly favors the bulls here.
However, a perfect example of a technical divergence occurred on Friday. The Dow finished in the green while all the other major indexes closed in the red with the small-caps losing more than 1.25 percent on the session. This is the type of action that keeps drawing attention to the "divergence" issue.
Next up, is the S&P 500, which is also a key "General" in the market.
S&P 500 Index (NYSE: SPY) - Daily
While the Dow appears to be marching merrily higher at the present time, there is less cheer in the S&P 500 index. Exhibit A here is the fact that the recent breakout to fresh all-time highs has been less than convincing.
On Friday, the red finish puts the validity of the breakout in question.
The bottom line here is that the bears will score a major victory if they can push the S&P back into the recent trading range. Therefore, 2005 is a key technical level in the coming days.
Next is the NASDAQ Composite, which up until just recently has been a clear leader and is up 9.65 percent on the year.
Nasdaq Composite Index - Daily
The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite did most of the heavy lifting in terms of leadership in the recent rebound. The Nasdaq led the way in breaking to new high ground in mid-August and appeared to be the clear leader.
However, more recently the league-leading Nasdaq has not confirmed the Dow and S&P's move to new high ground and appears to have lost momentum.
One easy explanation for the near-term divergence is the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE: BABA) IPO. The biggest IPO in U.S. history required those buying BABA to raise a monstrous amount of cash. Thus, the thinking is that investors likely rotated out of existing technology holdings and into Alibaba.
While the divergence in the NASDAQ is clearly only a short-term issue at this point and could easily be corrected, this remains something to watch.
Next let's check in on the Russell 2000 Small-Cap index.
Russell 2000 Small-Cap - Daily
If one compares the chart of the Russell 2000 to those of the S&P 500 and DJIA, a classic technical divergence is easily seen.
While the Dow and S&P are hitting new highs, the Russell is in both a short- and intermediate-term downtrends -- and is stuck in a broad range that has been in place since January.
While the divergence can be explained by the "momo meltdown," the key is to understand that "it is what it is" in the world of technical analysis and no explanations are considered.
As such, this is a whopper of a divergence and is unlikely to be rectified in the near-term.
Next, although not nearly as severe, a similar problem exists in the S&P 400 Mid-Cap index.
S&P 400 Mid-Cap Index - Daily
There are two problems with the chart above. First is the fact that the Middies have not confirmed the Dow and S&P's new high. Second, not only did the Mid-Cap index fail to move to new highs, but the index is also actually in a short-term downtrend. This is another classic divergence, at least from a near-term perspective.
It is important to recognize that this divergence could be rectified with as little as a 2 percent advance. Therefore, this remains a yellow flag situation as opposed to a reason to run for cover.
The Dow is in good shape. The S&P 500 confirmed the Dow's move, but just barely. The Nasdaq has diverged in the near-term. The Russell is still suffering from the "momo meltdown" and presents a classic, important divergence.
The mid-caps are also diverging, but not nearly to the same degree as the small-caps. Therefore, one can conclude that there are reasons to be nervous about the technical divergences among the major indices at this stage.
However, the question, of course, is whether or not they can be placed in the "bull killer" category.
Stay tuned for part II on digging into the sectors...
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