Identifying Capitulation: How to Tell We've Hit Bottom
Are we there yet? This is the key question and it relates to finding the bottom of the market.
In many ways it's a pointless question. Even if we could identify the turning point in the market with a high level of certainty, there are very few people with the courage to enter at these low points.
The more important thing to look for are the features that will help to identify, first, the end of the market fall and second, the development of a market recovery. These two events may be separated by a few months, or by many months.
There are two important features that identify climax selling. The first is the rapid acceleration in the speed of the market fall. Like a Stuka dive-bomber, the market first rolls over slowly and then plunges in a vertical dive. This is fear at work.
The second feature is a massive increase in volume. This is panic. Ordinary people are desperate to get out of the market. Generally the funds and institutions got out of the long-side of the market many months ago. The selling in January and February was dominated by institutions and funds. The current panic selling is thousands of small orders from retail investors desperate to get out of the market.
During the bear market collapse, volumes decline. Fewer people want to buy stock so volatility increases because small trades have a disproportionate impact in a shallow market.
This selling climax shakes out all the weak hands in the market. It kills the margin speculators. It wipes out those who have finally lost patience. It removes the speculative money in the market because people think the risk is too great. This is also called capitulation. Everybody gives up – and it influences the thinking of a generation. My parents, who lived through the depression, could never entirely shake the idea that the market was a dangerous place.
The activity in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other global markets shows an acceleration of downwards momentum. The massive increase in volume has not yet developed and this suggests the market bottom is not yet established. There is a high probability that markets will see a selling climax in the next 3 to 5 days.
But here is the important difference. The recovery rally after climax selling is temporary. It is part of a longer-term consolidation pattern that may last months, or even a year, and make more new lows before a new sustainable uptrend can develop. The potential shape of the recovery is shown in the chart. The bull market rebound rally follows a temporary selloff. A bear market rebound rally follows climax selling. It is a relief really, but it is not part of a sustainable trend change.
After a bear market, volumes remain low. When you lose trillions of dollars it takes a long time for spare change to start rattling around the economy again. Spare change drives the bull market because money is available for speculation.
In the immediate bear market recovery period the market is dominated by professionals. Finance industry professionals are already being laid off. The least effective are the first to be let go. Only the best will survive the employment washout in the industry and these will be the ones defining the behavior of the consolidation and recovery market.
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When you trade in these market conditions you are most likely trading against these professional survivors. Education, not money, is the most important premium after the bear market.
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