NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It may just be the summer doldrums, but the Hindenburg Omen -- a technical indicator of an impending stock market crash -- is suddenly as important a market mover as testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
The blog Zero Hedge, writing in a vein that seems made for professional boxing or WWE pay-per-view event hype, describes the Hindenburg Omen as "Easily the most feared technical pattern in all of chartism (for the bullishly inclined). Those who know what it is, tend to have an atavistic reaction to its mere mention."
In case you hadn't heard, last week's action on the New York Stock Exchange registered a technical anomaly known as the Hindenburg Omen. Read: Just like the doomed German airship, the markets are fated to crash and burn. Still worse, the trading action almost sparked Hindenburg Omen conditions. It takes two Hindenburg Omen trading days within a 36 day window to trigger the end of life in the markets as we know it.
Writing on RealMoney.com, Rev Shark notes of the market voodoo that "the logic behind this ominous-sounding indicator is this: When there are internal inconsistencies in the market that are causing a simultaneously high level of new highs and new lows, a greater risk exists that the resulting confusion and uncertainty will cause market players to exit... When the herd is confused and moving in two different directions, internally that is going to cause some problems."
But first the facts. There was a correction in the markets last week, and the sell-off triggered the Hindenburg conditions. The Hindenburg Omen occurs when an unusually high number of companies in the New York Stock Exchange reach 52-week highs and lows at the same time. The proportion of NYSE stock highs and lows must both exceed 2.2% of the total listed on the exchange. The Hindenburg Omen last occurred in October 2008, according to UBS data.
Additionally, the Hindenburg Omen is only valid in a rising market -- as measured by the NYSE composite rolling average over the past 10 weeks; the number of stocks at a 52-week high must not be more than twice those stocks at a 52-week low, and the Hindenburg set of apocalyptic conditions must occur twice in a 36 day period.
And that's not all. The Hindenburg Omen perfect storm must also include a negative measure in the NYSE McClellan Oscillator, a measure of market momentum. If it sounds like the flux capacitor of Back to the Future, you just don't know how to trade the charts.
The Hindenberg Omen does have a decent track record. A UBS strategist told Bloomberg that the Hindenburg Omen signaled itself seven times in 2008, before the S&P posted its biggest annual drop since the Great Depression. A confirmed Hindenburg Omen has occurred prior to every major stock market crash since 1985, according to various market sources with their finger on the panic button.
Jason Goepfert at Sentimentrader.com told RealMoney's Rev Shark that the Hindenburg Omen does have a fairly good track record of predicting weakness, especially when there are a cluster of such Omen days in a short time frame. The average return of the S&P 500 three months after the Omen is triggered is a loss of 2.6%, and the market was positive only 29% of the time.