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Stock Market Selloff Missing One Key Element—Panic

One of the main reasons the stock market hasn't sold off more aggressively in the face of all the bad news is that it is missing one key ingredient — panic.

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Despite the drop in major indexes to near-correction levels, the May and early-June selloff has been fairly ordinary, and that can be good news and bad news.

An orderly selloff is a sign of a strong stock marketwhere investors are merely cashing in on profits and getting ready for the next buying wave.

But a sort of controlled chaos often can be healthy too, as it roots out all the market stragglers while setting the stage for a bottom and a hard charge back up the charts.

For now, the market seems to be stuck between chaos and complacency, and thus the slow bleed lower.

Some market strategists are hoping for a bit more.

"Sometimes at the end of intermediate- to long-term declines, you need at least a mini if not major capitulation to get rid of the last weak holders and allow for longer-term investors to acquire stocks at depressed levels," said Mark Arbeter, chief technical strategist at Standard & Poor's.

Arbeter had hoped that the 276-point Dow industrials drop after Friday's dismal jobs reportwas "that final flush out." But judging by Monday's action, the selling is not over.

Stocks gradually dripped lower during the session as yet another wave of weak economic reports came rolling in to dampen any hopes for at least a dead-cat-bounce rally.

So went another rough day for buy-side managers who hoped that the market would get all its European debt crisis fears and worries over U.S. economic growth out of its system.

"The correlation of stock performance (Friday) and during recent weakness has all the signs of throwing everything out of one’s portfolio, which, to us, is a sign of capitulation," Arbeter said.

"Recent weak days have seen declines among cyclical sectors highly correlated and the same has been true of the defensive sectors," added. "We have also seen former stock leaders get smashed during weak days, another sign of capitulative activity."

Yet other indicators paint a less clear picture of whether capitulation is in sight.

The American Association of Individual Investors, which conducts an online poll to gauge market sentiment, has the bears firmly in control with a 42 to 28 percentage lead over the bulls.

But Investors Intelligence, which samples the mood of newsletter editors, has the bulls actually hitting a four-week high of 39.3 percent to just 24.5 percent on the bearish side.

TrimTabs, a market research firm that puts out a weekly data compendium that is widely followed in the market, says it is "cautiously bearish" because not all the signs are pointing to a huge market selloff.

The firm points to two contrarian indicators — cash flows to exchange-traded funds indicating bearishness — as signs that the market remains too cautious to indicate a major selloff is in the works.

Also, TrimTabs's proprietary Demand Index remains at "fully bullish" levels, while insider buying accelerated in May, another sign of optimism for the stock market.

Still, the firm advises investors to be careful that the trend can change quickly.

TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman has been a frequent critic of global central bank intervention to prop up failing economies, and he says investors are tiring of the continuing bailoutheadlines.

"When a system is based on confidence and the people running the system are constantly lying or delusional, systemic failure becomes more likely," Biderman said.

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