By Wallace Witkowski, MarketWatch
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Low stock trading volume and volatility are messing with investors' heads, fogging
their view of the stock market. One analyst thinks these doldrums could turn out to be the new norm.
Once again, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and the S&P 500 Index (SPX) finished the week at record closing
highs and the Russell 2000 Index (RUT) finally broke back into a gain on the year.
Stocks rose in lock step Friday following a jobs report that was in-line with expectations and unlikely to change any
tapering plans at the Federal Reserve.
But it all happened on the ninth-lowest volume day of the year. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell 8% to 10.73 on
Friday, its lowest close since Feb. 23, 2007. Low volume and low volatility, coupled with record-high stock prices, have
some investors nervous and thinking it might be 2007 again. That is, the rally before the plunge.
"Things are dull, and that's a bad thing for financial professionals who are always looking for the next big thing,"
said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx, in a recent note. "Volatility is the most powerful sensory
input for investors and brokers alike."
In the past week, daily trading volume has run below average compared to the average volume over the past four
quarters, according to Barclays data.
Low stock volatility and thin trading volume are having a strange effect on investors. It's a lot like when someone
is placed in an isolation tank, said Colas.
Read: What's lurking under the low VIX?
Are the markets in 'Altered States'?
With a lack of input, a mind in a sensory deprivation chamber seeks to make up its own input to compensate for the
deficiency, resulting in hallucinations. Low volatility and volume are having a similar effect on the market, Colas
reasons, resulting in "hallucinations" of both the bullish and bearish varieties.
For bears, the hallucination is that record high stock prices are solely the result of Federal Reserve easing, and
that everything will fall apart when easing is gone, Colas said. For bulls, the hallucination is that economic growth
with very little inflation is nearly guaranteed for the second half of the year.
While there may be a bit of truth in both, the "hallucination" is the part where the lack of market activity and
movement is pushing investors to fill in the blanks.
What's closer to the truth, Colas said, is that investors got so used to the levels of volatility and volume from the
crisis years that current levels seem unnaturally low by comparison. What's certain is that markets are structured
differently than in 2007, so perhaps current volume and volatility has become the norm for the new structure, he said.
"The appetite to move around has diminished," Colas said in an interview. "People are more confident in their
Colas said he's looking at oil as a possible source of action. Typical shocks in the market are often accompanied by
spikes in oil prices. Crude for July delivery (CLN4) settled slightly lower on the week and prices are generally
considered to be in a "sweet spot" heading into this week's OPEC meeting.
Surprise pullback likely
The longer the stock market remains quiet, however, the more likely a correction will blindside investors.
Take these statistics from the WSJ's data group:
A Dow bull market on average experiences a correction roughly every 12 months, their analysts note. The Dow is now up
approximately 59% from its last correction low on October 3, 2011 and is on its 32nd month without a 10% pullback.
Most investors are extremely and complacently bullish and are ignoring weaker seasonal historical trends that occur
around this time, said Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets.
Near-term, while many acknowledge that a pullback is coming, there's too much complacency and that makes a surprise
pullback very likely, according to Belski. Stocks have already spent half the year clawing their way back to low-to-mid
single digit gains for the year after an initial drop that followed 2013's 30% gain.
"I would be super careful as an investor being uber, uber-bullish right now after the huge move," he said.
Still, at its healthiest, a bull can run for quite a long time without a pause. The longest period without at least a
10% pullback was during the 1990-1997 run, at 82 months, according to the WSJ's data group.
All quiet on the earnings, data front
The quiet isn't just restricted to markets. This week is pretty thin on economic data and earnings.
May retail sales data is scheduled for release Thursday, with the University of Michigan consumer sentiment number
for June to be released Friday.
One spot of interest is Apple Inc. ( AAPL ) On Monday, it will start trading as a sub-$100 stock, after a 7-for-1 stock
split goes into effect.
Only one S&P 500 company reports earnings this week: H&R Block Inc. ( HRB ) on Wednesday.
Other companies of note reporting earnings include RadioShack Corp. ( RSH ) on Tuesday, Restoration Hardware Holding
Inc. ( RH ) on Wednesday, and Lululemon Athletica Inc. ( LULU ) on Thursday.
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