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Stocks are hitting record highs—very, very quietly

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How to navigate calm markets

Record highs for stocks are often associated with big moves and earth-shaking events. But that doesn't exactly describe Monday's action.

The S&P 500 briefly touched an all-time intraday high on Monday morning, as it moderately extended its Friday gains. That was before equities decided to follow oil lower.

Interestingly, the recent record levels have been seen even as market volatility has collapsed. Going back to July 14, the S&P has only traded in a 1 percent range from high to low. And throughout the whole month of July, the S&P only enjoyed a single move with a magnitude of 1 percent or more.

Yet even the sobriety with which stocks have hit record highs is a bit too much for some.

"In our view, equities remain in their 'fat and flat' range and are now just near the upper end. As a result, we downgrade equities to Underweight in our three-month asset allocation," Goldman Sachs equity strategist Christian Mueller-Glissmann wrote in a much-discussed Sunday note to clients.

The situation has caused the tactical bears considerable consternation.

"We've yet to have the blow-off top accompanied by huge volume that I've been looking for here," Michael Block of Rhino Trading Partners wrote Monday. "So even if I'm negative on this market short term, I have to throw up my hands and say that this situation could persist for quite some time."

And with the CBOE Volatility Index trading at levels that imply a lack of anticipation that big moves are around the corner, the market largely appears to believe the same.

Translation: Even more mild records may be around the corner.