An incredible stat about the Dow shows just how strangely stocks are trading

Eighteen years ago, when the Dow Jones industrial average was trading at half its current level, 100-point daily moves were twice as significant. That's just math.

What's surprising is that they happened much more often.

So far this year, the Dow has only closed higher or lower by more than 100 points on 13 days, including Wednesday— a bit more than a quarter of its sessions. If this pace keeps up, 2017 will be the year with the second least 100-point moves since 2006.

This even though 100 points represents less than 0.49 percent of the Dow's average closing level in 2017, so such moves are far less significant than they have ever been before.

A notable comparison can be drawn by looking back at 1999. That was the year when the Dow first broke above 10,000, a feat accomplished for the first time in intraday trading 18 years ago on Thursday. In that exuberant year, even though 100 points was 0.95 percent of the Dow's average closing level, the index managed 88 such moves, meaning that the Dow closed 100 points higher or lower more than 1 out of every 3 sessions.

The subtle irony is that when the Dow broke above 20,000, some pointed out that it no longer made sense for the financial press to make a big deal out of 100-point moves. While this may be true, such moves are actually more newsworthy insofar as they happen less.

Number of 100-plus-point moves 13 90 124 84 73 63 104 76 92 146 78 33 35 46 65 118 99 106 88 62
% of sessions with 100-plus-point moves 26.53% 35.71% 49.21% 33.33% 28.97% 25.20% 41.27% 30.16% 36.51% 57.71% 31.08% 13.15% 13.89% 18.25% 25.79% 46.83% 39.92% 42.06% 34.92% 24.60%
100 pts as % of avg. Dow level 0.49% 0.56% 0.57% 0.60% 0.67% 0.77% 0.84% 0.94% 1.13% 0.89% 0.76% 0.88% 0.95% 0.97% 1.11% 1.09% 0.98% 0.93% 0.95% 1.16%

Of course, the lower number of 100-point days comes alongside a host of stats pointing out just how abnormally quiet stocks have been. The CBOE Volatility Index has remained anomalously low, and the S&P 500 has not fallen by 1 percent or more since early October, the longest such streak since 1995.

While some have blamed the lack of movement on a prevailing "buy-any-dip" mentality, Miller Tabak equity strategist Matt Maley says falling correlations among stocks also have something to do with it.

"As some groups have moved higher, others have lost some steam ... and thus they're offsetting one another & we're not getting the big move in the entire market on single days like we did previously," Maley wrote to CNBC on Thursday.

He added enthusiastically: "At some point, this will all change ... and we'll go back to a more volatile market (in both directions) ... it ALWAYS does!!!!"

Once that happens, investors should remember not to get too jittery if the Dow rises or falls 400 points. After all, given current levels, that's less than a 2 percent move.


Trades to Watch

Trader Bios


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.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

Read more