To get a better sense of the recent change in market trading behavior, consider this: the current daily average true range (ATR, 14) of the S&P 500 Index (SPX) is 31.77, which translates into an average percentage range of 1.70% based on yesterday's close, the highest it's been - on a point basis - in 3 years. Compare this to just one month ago when the ATR was 13.27, which translated into an average percentage range of a mere 0.76%! Volatility is clearly here. How long it stays is a different question.
Another aspect to consider is the fact that the S&P 500 is treading the positive year-to-date line, closing up 0.78% YTD as of yesterday's close (10/16/14). At one point - September 18 - the S&P 500 was up YTD by 8.82%. Having given back virtually all of those gains again speaks to increased volatility that we've seen in the market.
The most recent example of a similar type of market (that I can recall) was 2011 - specifically late summer and fall of 2011 during the whole budget fiasco and downgrade of U.S. debt. While the the headlines were completely different and separate then than they are now (for the most part at least), I thought it may be helpful to compare 2011's performance with this years performance to see if there are any similarities - or differences - that may be useful.
I've created a chart of 2011's "intrayear" year-to-date performance for the S&P500 as well as the S&P 500's YTD performance so far this year (note: the charts below are simply a rolling YTD performance tracker for each year). As you can see from the charts below, in 2011 the SPX fell hard during August of 2011, from being up about 7% for the year to falling down to over -10% YTD. After bottoming right around the beginning of October, SPX then recouped those losses in a volatile fashion and ended up closing flat that year.
Comparing this to 2014's YTD performance so far, you can see there are some similarities and differences. You can see that for 2014, SPX chopped around in the beginning of the year before finally trending up, albeit relatively mildly later this year, which is a bit different than 2011's chart. However, more noticeable (IMO) is the similarity - the increased volatility that sprung up right around the same time. Make sure when you're looking at the chart to mentally readjust for the incomplete data for 2014.
So using 2011 as a guide, perhaps we rally back some near the end of Q4 which has historically been a positive period. Granted, in 2011 the SPX was rallying from being down sharply YTD while the SPX today is still positive. Note: I want to stress you shouldn't try to use 1 solitary data point in your analysis (like we're doing here). I'm not saying we have to do anything. All I'm doing is just trying to get an idea of what could happen going forward.
|SPX Performance YTD - 2011|
|SPX Performance YTD - 2014 (partial)|
|SPX Performance YTD - 2013|
|RUT Performance YTD - 2011|
|RUT Performance YTD - 2014 (partial)|
So maybe we rally later this year. Maybe not. I don't know. I'll keep my mouth shut and let the market do the talking. I thought this trip down Memory Lane might be fun nonetheless.