200-Day MA Sell Signals - Should You Ignore these Death Crosses?

By Simon Maierhofer,

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SAN DIEGO (ETFguide.com)  Believe it or not, despite a rising market, there are a number of notable death crosses in economically sensitive sectors/markets.

Death cross. It sounds dangerous, but is it something we should worry about right now? What is a death cross? Which indexes are marked by the death cross and what does it mean for the stock market?

A death cross occurs when the 50-day simple moving average ( SMA ) drops below the 200-day SMA and shows that the market is losing momentum. It is never a bullish signal but is not always 'deadly' bearish.

A number of economically sensitive industry sectors and asset classes just saw such a bearish crossover of the moving averages.

Banks & Financials

Bank of America is trading at its lowest price since May 2009.
JP Morgan is trading at its lowest price since November 2011.
Citigroup is within striking distance of its 52-week low.
Goldman Sachs is the lowest it's been since April 2009.

Together those four companies account for 25% of the Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLF). It may not be a surprise to some to find the financial sector marked by a death cross, although it should be.

No sector benefitted more from QE2 than banks (NYSEArca: KBE) and financials. Banks not only got to borrow money for next to free, they also got more than a trillion dollars to invest in a stock market that's more than doubled since the 2009 low.

If bank and financial stocks can't rally in this environment, when can they? The market obviously knows something investors don't. With or without the SMA crossover, the weakness of financials is longer-term troublesome.

Rebound Related Commodities

There are a number of commodities that should be getting more expensive in a rebounding economy. Out of all the commodities, copper is the only one said to have a PhD in economics. As an industrial metal, copper is used in everything from houses to tech gadgets. It's therefore said that it has an ability to foretell the future for stocks.

The 50-day copper SMA crossed below the 200-day SMA on June 23. Ironically, this crossover has been more of a buy than a sell signal, as prices have been rising and the SMA's are just about ready to create a 'golden cross.' That's when the 50-day SMA moves above the 200-day SMA.

Steel is a staple in the building industry. No big construction project can be built without steel. Steel prices are somewhat reflective of global construction activity. Steel prices saw a death cross on June 20. The silver lining here is that the 20-day SMA has crossed back above the 50-day SMA just a few days ago. This is a mini golden cross.

The United States Oil Fund just saw a death cross; however the 50-day SMA for the actual oil price futures has yet to slice below the 200-day SMA. Just a few months ago, the media spoon-fed us that rising oil prices are a sign of the worldwide economic recovery. If that logic is correct, what do falling or stagnant oil prices mean?


The Shanghai Composite and the iShares FTSE China ETF (NYSEArca: FXI) just saw a death cross. The richest country in the world has seen stocks slide continuously since the 2007 top.

Emerging markets (NYSEArca: EEM) produced a death cross yesterday and the broad MSCI EAFE Index (NYSEArca: EFA) is just a few days away from the nearly inevitable.

What Does it Mean?

Obviously, SMA crossovers are a lagging indicator. In most cases it takes several months of declining prices before a death cross appears. By the time the 50-day SMA drops below the 200-day SMA, a large portion of the (initial) decline may already be over (see copper).

This doesn't mean that the death cross is unreliable as a buy/sell signal. In fact, there've been nine crossovers  (death and golden crosses combined) for the S&P (NYSEArca: SPY) since 2000. Six signals turned out to be accurate with an average gain of 19.35%. Three signals were wrong and led to an average loss of 10.15%.  66% accuracy with a 2:1 risk/reward ratio is not shabby.

There hasn't been a death cross in the S&P but based on the indicators discussed above, now is not the time to embrace stocks unconditionally. The VIX (Chicago Options: ^VIX) is within striking distance of the 16 level. Every decline below 16 over the past years has resulted in nasty sell offs.

If you wait for a death cross for the S&P before selling, you may have to stomach a drop below 1,250 before getting a SMA crossover sell signal. Who wants to lose 5 - 10% before getting a sell signal?

On the other hand, who wants to lock in gains now and forfeit future potential gains?

Best of both Worlds

Making trade or investment decisions solely based on SMA crossovers is like communicating via snail mail if you could use e-mail - any received message is delayed.

A more effective and pro-active approach is to identify significant support or resistance levels. Since the market tends to react to major resistance levels, it is prudent to sell against resistance while buying against support. Support/resistance levels are fractal and can be used by long-term investors as well as swing or even day traders.

Using important Fibonacci levels and trend lines that stretch over two decades, the ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter identified trouble (resistance) ahead previously on April 3, 2011: 'In terms of resistance levels, the 1,369 - 1,xxx (reserved for subscribers) range is a strong candidate for a reversal of potentially historic proportions.'

This was followed up by a May 1 recommendation to short the S&P against the first Fibonacci resistance at 1,369.

What about support? On June 15, the ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter stated that: 'The 200-day SMA at 1,257 is sandwiched between the 1,255 Fibonacci projection level dating back to 2002 and this week's s1 at 1,259. Wednesday's low was at 1,261.9. If this low is not enough, there is a strong cluster of support at 1,259 - 1,245. A drop into the 1,259 - 1,245 range would prompt us to close out short positions and leg into long positions.'

Keep in mind that all this action happened within a period of time that was void of any 50/200-day SMA crossovers.

Will the S&P (SNP: ^GSPC) and other major indexes like the Dow Jones (DJI: ^DJI) and Nasdaq (Nasdaq: ^IXIC) challenge their previous highs?

They may, but no death cross will ring a bell at the top and none of the above mentioned death crosses may prevent a new recovery high.

Resistance levels, on the other hand, have a much better track record of identifying important resistance points and market tops.

The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter uses complex technical analysis to identify important support/resistance levels and accompanying trade recommendations. The most recent update shows the likely target range for a large-scale market top.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Investing ETFs
Referenced Stocks: SMA

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