At 11:13 a.m. I received an email from my editor, Lee Montgomery:
Dave Kansas and I were wondering if you might be interested in doing a column for today on looking for the bottom. In your discipline, are you looking for signs from the bond market, from tech stocks, from market bellwethers like Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report and Merck (MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Report, or other?
Of course, like a fireman hanging out at the station house, I was expecting something like this. And, I guess the appropriate response would be something like, "Well, yes, the bond futures are rock-solid, and my top three list of indicator stocks --
-- are all holding steady. And of course, factoring in the
effect, at 1:34 p.m. precisely, well, then I'm going to start buying!"
Uh, yeah, well almost. But c'mon Lee, sure I use entrails, but
not those kind of lame entrails.
No, I use my own lame entrails! And those, folks, are the signals that my own stock selections send me. And should you have to run and buy more
(GCTY:Nasdaq) before you finish this column, I'll save you some time: I'm sure not shorting anything right now. In fact, I did one trade this a.m.: I went long
! And what's that mean to me? It means to me,
will probably buy Netscape! Whoops. Sorry. It means, maybe, just maybe, this whole collapse is closer to marking a bottom than it is the start of
Here's my rationale:
1) I historically start shorting at the start of a downtrend, particularly at the start of a small-cap downtrend. For many of you, I'm betting your portfolio hit its peak about mid-April. So not surprisingly, I started going heavily short late March, and had been heavily short until about early August.
Now that's not any magical look at the market. No, it's simply what my candidates were telling me: from late March to early August I was overwhelmed with good stocks to short. So I could care less what the averages were doing -- for me, that meant a bear market was going on, and I was definitely going to participate.
OK, the flip side of this equation is when my shorts start to dry up. Now stop me if you've heard all this before, but when my short candidates disappear, the odds are that the market is done collapsing.
Yeah, I know, it's now after noon, and the Dow is down 203 and the
down 54. "Boy, Gar, that really feels like a market bottom ... you
!" Well, all I can say is: Aug. 7, one short trade; Aug. 10, no short trades; Aug. 11, no short trades. So ... if the market is going to continue to collapse, then where are my shorts?
2) I'm actually getting a few longs. And when the market is collapsing, I
get any longs. Never. And when I start getting long trades, I'm sometimes early, but rarely, totally wrong. No, when I start to see even a few long candidates, well, then there's at least a slim chance the bottom is near.
Want proof? OK, Aug. 6, one long; Aug. 7, one long; Aug. 10, three longs; Aug. 11, one long. OK, granted, I'm not exactly living it up on the long side -- and frankly, I did get stopped out of a few of these -- but shoot, if I had to lean to one side, right now the action is on the long side.
So, there you have it: zippo shorts and a sprinkling of longs. That usually means one of two things: either a permanent bottom, or a temporary bottom.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am most definitely
a contrarian. If you've read even one of my columns, you know that I'm nothing more than a short-term trend follower. I don't guess. I don't hypothesize. And I don't ever play long shots. I just look at the charts and try to hit a lot of singles.
All that being said, don't put on your party hat yet. Remember, last week in my special
Pain on the Wane column I thought we had another 5% down to go. And then we had the mini-rally, and all the bulls came out, and yucked it up. But, sorry all, I still think that 5% target is valid. So ... a quick check of my math and that says Dow 8062. So, if you can stand it, hang in there. I'm at the firehouse if you need me!
Gary B. Smith is a freelance writer who trades for his own account from his Connecticut home using technical analysis. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. This column, Technician's Take, appears every Monday. Smith also writes Charted Territory, which appears every Wednesday, and TSC
Technical Forum, which runs Saturdays.