I must at this point concede to the notion that the present focus for short-term traders is all about geopolitics---and no longer (for the moment) about fears over when the Fed will adopt a tighter-money policy (begin raising interest rates). In fact, present geopolitics should serve to alleviate those concerns for the time being.
Today's trading clearly told that story: Stocks traded in the green early in the day immediately following news that Vladimir Putin met with the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan to explore ways of ending the fighting in Ukraine. But traders later retreated when NATO's Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that Ukraine has his organization's support should Russia take military action, along with news that the US and Turkey were considering airstrikes in Iraq. The Dow closed down 75 points (.46%), the S&P 500 was off .46% as well, and the NASDAQ finished the day down .56%.
Earlier this evening I received a news alert that President Obama has indeed authorized air strikes against Islamic state militants if they advance toward the city of Erbil, where the U.S. has diplomatic personnel. Upon receiving that alert I took a look at U.S. stock futures prices, as well as how the Asian markets were trading, and, as I suspected, everything was getting hammered. Dow futures were off over 160 points, and Asia was just plain ugly. Then, a little while ago, China's most recent trade data was released, which showed its exports surging way beyond any economist's expectation. As I type, the Shanghai index has rallied into the green and Dow futures have recouped about a hundred points. But don't hold your breath: Barring the announcement of Russian troops doing a 180 by sunrise in the U.S., I'm doubtful that the China data bounce will hold. That said, I can't tell you how many times over the past 30 years the market has totally surprised me and traded against what the headlines portended. You simply cannot time these things!
I guess I should clue you in on the technicals as well: To add insult to the bulls' recent injury---even after the China bounce---S&P 500 futures are trading below their 100 day moving average, which has been a strong technical support level of late. Breaching that could trigger further technical-based selling.
When I'm better positioned (currently away from the office), I'll take a look at present short interest (tracks bets made that the market will drop) and the put/call ratio (another key sentiment indicator). I expect to find bearishness up, and traders looking to make money on a further decline. Which ultimately sets the stage for those outsized upward bounces (as short sellers cover their positions [buy stocks] to avoid getting creamed when the market turns back around) once things begin to calm down. Don't know when that occurs, or from what level, but that's a prediction I'm very comfortable making (as long as I'm not guessing when it occurs).
And, lastly, to bring it all home, as of today's close the Dow and the S&P 500 are both off a little more than 4% from their recent peaks. Meaning, we're not quite halfway to a 10% correction---which used to occur on an annual basis. So, while things may indeed get worse before they get better (safe to expect they will), thus far---from a historical stock market perspective---these geopolitical events have, surprisingly, been virtual nonevents.
I'll keep you posted...