- Major stock indices are selling off this week in what could be the start of a choppy period of trading.
- Technical strategists and analysts do not expect a sharp sell-off for now and say 4,000 on the S&P 500 could be the stopping point.
Stocks are now in a choppy period, and technical analysts say it has the look of a short-term pullback.
Strategists say it would make sense for this week's selling to fit in the pattern of many pullbacks with a 3% to 5% decline.
But corporate earnings season could decide the fate of the sell-off, which took the S&P 500 to Tuesday's close of 4,134, a decline of 1.2% from record highs on Friday.
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"This is the quick move lower to relieve the overbought nature of the market," said Scott Redler, chief strategic officer with T3Live.com. He follows the market's short-term technicals. "A normal pullback can see 3,983 to 4,000 and still be healthy."
Redler said the 50-day moving average at 3,985 has been an intermediate support level since November, and the S&P 500 has not traded below it for more than a session or so since.
If the index goes below the 50-day moving average, that could be a sign of negative momentum.
"Last week was frustrating. ...The S&P was at an all-time high, while many of the growth stocks were getting battered," said Redler.
He said while it seems the sell-off will be shallow, it's still not clear it will be.
Strategists said 4,000 could provide support for the S&P 500.
"It's a pause that refreshes," said Ari Wald, head of technical analysis at Oppenheimer.
"It doesn't change our longer term outlook that the bull market is still intact. It's a run of the mill consolidation after a run-up in the S&P 500," he added.
Redler said the sell-off in high-growth names, including special purpose acquisition companies and clean energy stocks, and the volatility in cryptocurrencies have been watched as potential warnings of a broader market decline — but that remains to be seen.
"If that were to be, it really would be how the FAANG names, which have been strong the last two weeks, report over the next few days," Redler said.
The first of the FAANG companies to report was Netflix, which released earnings after Tuesday's close. The stock plunged after it reported new subscribers of 3.98 million, well below the 6.4 million expected.
Other FAANG names — Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook— report next week.
"The next three or four days here will decide if we go to S&P 4,000, which will be just testing the prior breakout," Redler said. He said Netflix could weigh on high-growth tech.
The market sell-off matches the seasonal pattern expected for April trading, where the S&P 500 typically is higher, but the first half of the month is the stronger period. The index is up about 4% for the month so far.
"It was overbought suddenly," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "It's healthy to see the sell-off. Obviously you're always worried about a deeper sell-off, but most likely it's not."
She said it's a change in tone when buyers don't come in right away and buy the dip.
"The fact is we have an overbought market going into the sell-off when we look at some of the metrics that we use," Krosby said. "Then you started to have concerns about the recovery. You have concerns about Covid. You have concerns about vaccines."
Some of the defensive sectors have outperformed recently. Utilities are up 0.8% in the past two sessions and are up more than 9% in the past month. Real estate investment trusts were the best performers for the week so far, up 1.5%.
Consumer discretionary, financials and energy are all down more than 2% so far this week.
Krosby said she was concerned about the outperformance of defensive utilities, but found power companies that will benefit from infrastructure spending are the ones with higher prices.