"The market certainly has been anticipating the Fed would raise rates, but if they don't is it because the economy is too weak? And do we see problems with earnings, with the stronger dollar? That's why we're having these 100-, 200-points days, both on the upside and the downside," said Paul Nolte, senior vice president, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.
"Are valuations too high? Does the Fed come back in, and help things out? There are multiple-choice answers, and all of them are plausible. The easy answer is a lot more difficult to discern at this point," Nolte said
"We're stuck in a volatile market, and it'll probably take the better part of this quarter to figure out" the underlying questions fueling the ongoing uncertainty, Nolte added.
"What is shocking to me is how heavy the buildup is in put options on the VIX by people expecting volatility to come down, and I'm not sure why," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Schwab Center for Financial Research.
"We're darn near a three-year high on option interest call ratio, you have to go all the way back to June 2012 to see people accumulating as many puts relatives to calls," Frederick said.
On the other side of the equation is S&P 500 options used by institutions as hedging tools is relatively high, so one side is expecting volatility and the other is saying not so much, Frederick said.
"We have two big factions on opposites sides, that means volatility is likely to remain," Frederick said.
Day-to-day swings in absolute value moves in the S&P 500 come to 18.23 points, versus 10.97 in January of 2014, calculated Frederick. Day-to-day volatility is 66 percent higher so far this year versus January of last year, and 80 percent higher compared to all of 2014, Frederick figures.
Compared to the average of the last 14 years, day-to-day volatility is 87 percent higher, Frederick said.
The slew of earnings in the week ahead include Exxon Mobil on Monday, UPS and Walt Disney on Tuesday and Twitter on Thursday.