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Something 'extremely rare' is happening in the market

The market has moved in an ultra-tight range since the Brexit vote in late June, but as the water looks calm from above, some traders say there's something lurking beneath the surface.

The S&P 500 has closed within 3 percent of its all-time high every single day since late June. Such a record, according to LPL Financial, has not occurred since the first half of 1995.

"What has happened the past four months is truly historic, in that nothing has happened. For equities to trade in this tight of a range near all-time highs is extremely rare and we probably have the election to thank for it, as big money would rather wait until the results before making any moves," LPL Financial senior market strategist Ryan Detrick wrote in a note titled "Equities Are in a Historic Holding Pattern."

Detrick notes, too, that October has historically been the most volatile month in the market, "but that has not held at all in 2016," and he expects a spike in volatility before the end of the year given the presidential election.

Furthermore, the S&P has closed up or down 1 percent just once; the last time such an event occurred during an election year was 1996.

But despite these very meager moves overall, several sectors have been quite volatile.

"Yes, the market hasn't really moved a lot. But when we peel back that onion, a lot has been moving. If you look at, let's say, technology, for example, that's up almost 14 percent since Brexit. So what you'd seen post-Brexit really was a move to a risk-on type of trade," Stacey Gilbert, head of derivative strategy at Susquehanna, said Thursday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

The hotter trades prior to this time were "yield-based" sectors, like utilities and telecom stocks, Gilbert noted, which are now starting to underperform.

"So net-net, you add them up together, and you're going to get that the S&P 500 feels range-bound, but when you pull it back, there are sectors that are certainly moving and outperforming ones over the others," she said.

Ultimately, Gilbert said, investors should play this market full of stocks with high valuations by simply "digging deeper into what you know."

"You pick the sectors you like, you pick the stocks you like. And it becomes a market where you can add value when you're doing a little bit of research, not just saying, 'I'm going to buy the index, this is it and we're going to move up from here.'"

The quiet market may also be in part a result of investors being in a sort of holding pattern, according to Erin Gibbs, equity chief investment officer at S&P Global.

With the election looming and Federal Reserve meetings — in which an interest rate hike may be decided — on the docket, as well as third-quarter earnings coming out that may prove more positive than previous quarters, investors may be holding off.

"So I don't see a lot of cash flows piling into equities right now," Gibbs said. "We've got the election soon, we've got the Fed rate rise. I think investors are sort of waiting to see what happens, as well as earnings growth, before they really make decisions on what's going to push the market ahead."


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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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