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Making money in this market is like playing 'whac-a-mole': Traders

The S&P 500 has been stuck in a range over the past 18 months, but trends under the market's surface remind one technical analyst of a well-known arcade game.

"We have been referring to this as a 'whac-a-mole' market, because just as one sector rolls over, another pops up to pick up the slack," MKM technical analyst Jonathan Krinsky wrote to CNBC on Thursday.

"We've had these mini bear markets across different sectors, but just as each time one sector rolls over, you see another sector take strength and kind of take its place," he added Thursday on CNBC's "Power Lunch." "So the net result of that is that the market's gotten nowhere, there's no trend in the S&P 500, and we're really just in this long-term trading range."

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According to Krinsky, the rolling weakness first hit the energy and materials sectors in late 2014 before moving to other industries. The trend has recently cycled through to retail stocks, which have slid amid generally weak earnings.

Erin Gibbs, equity chief investment officer with S&P Investment Advisory, points out that stocks have also been in a "valuation trading range," with the S&P's forward price-to-earnings ratio remaining 15.5 to 17.5 over the past two years.


"That's partially because we keep hitting these peaks as new sectors hit new highs and then we see these mini bear markets come back down," she said.

Both Gibbs and Krinsky believe that the S&P's next move is likely to take stocks lower.

"Right now we're starting to head back towards the mid-range" of valuations, Gibbs said Thursday on CNBC's "Power Lunch." "Near term, I can see the S&P 500 go back down another 3 percent or even 6 percent, particularly if the market isn't happy with the Fed raising rates and investors moving money out of the equity markets. That would actually bring us towards normal, reasonable valuations."

From a technical perspective, Krinsky points out that "there's been a lot of talk about this 2,035, 2,040 level in the S&P 500, that is kind of your key support. If we close below there, we're kind of looking at a test to the 200-day moving average, which is down to 2,011. But remember that's still declining, so it's not a great support because the slope of it is still moving down."


Krinsky thinks the market could drop to 1,960 if the S&P 500 is unable to hold those support levels.

The S&P opened Friday morning at 2,042, before promptly moving back through the well-worn 2,050 level.

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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Brian Sullivan

Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F,1PM-3PM ET), one of the network's longest running programs, as well as the host of the daily investing program "Trading Nation." He is also a frequent guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and other NBC properties.

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