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Trying to understand the roller coaster market of the last two days

Pity the professional trader, who has to come in every day and put money on the line. You can't help but sympathize.

On Friday, traders went from complacent to a mild panic, from not caring to buying volatility, essentially shorting the market. Then, on Monday, traders reversed and essentially covered their short positions. All in two trading days!

What a ride! S&P futures fell 50 basis points on Friday and were down 30 points pre-open on Monday. They are up roughly 35 points Monday.

An old trader friend of mine called to vent his frustration this afternoon. This is a man who has traded professionally since the early 1970s (with both Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley) and traded his own money for the last 15 years.

"How do you trade when the S&P goes down 50 points on Friday, drops 20 points pre-open, then rises 35 points on Monday? How do you trade when one important Fed member says they want to raise rates on Friday, and then on Monday another important Fed voter says they likely will not raise rates?"

The short answer is, you can't.

Lael Brainard
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Lael Brainard

"It's like going to a casino," the head of one trading desk told me.

Of course, a large part of the trading community has thrown up its hands already and just blamed high-speed trading, or "skynet" trading as some guys down here call it. One trader said this type of trading has no valuation concerns, it's just machines scanning headlines and running momentum trades.

Then there are those still arguing about the Fed. Some insist Governor Lael Brainard is an outlier, like throwing out the high and low score when there are 12 judges.

Or, you can argue like my friend and colleague Rick Santelli, who said Monday that the Fed officials should just turn their microphones off and stop confusing us all (which they will, since the Fed blackout period begins now).

Still, what do you do? If you're one of those poor active traders, you become a technician. You buy on big down days and sell on strong rallies, and you don't ask questions! You don't wring your hands, Job-like, at the trading gods and demand to know what the hell is going on!

Lost in all this was JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's compelling comments. His initial comment supporting a 25-basis point rate hike dropped his own stock, but it quickly bounced back as he said he saw no real potholes in the U.S. economy.

At least one guy has a coherent point of view!

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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