Trader Talk

With Wednesday's triple-point drop in the Dow, volatility and trading volume return

Key Points
  • The stock market is showing more volatility than we've recently been accustomed to.
  • Much of the market's movement is linked to the rise in 10-year yields, which are at multimonth highs on strong economic reports and rumors of John Taylor possibly becoming Fed chair.
  • Wednesday's volatility looks high in comparison to the relative calm experienced in recent months.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Traders are seeing something they haven't seen in a while: more volume and more volatility.

The recent rise in interest rates is the initial catalyst. The 10-year yield is at the highest level since mid-March after a strong durable goods report and speculation that Stanford economist John Taylor is a stronger possibility to be named the next Fed chairman.

High yield ETFs are under some pressure on high volume. Much of this should calm down if President Donald Trump does what many traders want him to do: reappoint Janet Yellen or name Jerome Powell as Fed chair, and then name Taylor to be vice chair.

In trading technicals, the initial breakdown occurred at 9:45 a.m. EDT, when the broke below Tuesday's lows and sell programs kicked in.

Then, at 10:15 a.m., the market took another leg down. The only headline was from The Wall Street Journal, which said the GOP was still considering changes to 401(k) deductions in the tax plan despite Trump's vow to preserve that feature of the popular retirement plans.

As of early afternoon, the Dow was down 168 points.

It looks like a lot of volatility, but it isn't. The Dow Jones industrial average used to move in a 125 to 150-point range every day, so this is not unusual on an historical basis. We just haven't seen it in a long time.

As for corporate earnings, while there have been complaints about some parts of AMD's numbers, most of the other companies reported numbers in line or better, including Freeport McMoRan, Hess, Norfolk Southern and Boeing.

What is unusual is the market's recent relentless uphill climb: The Dow has added 5,400 points in 18 months for an average gain of 1,000 points every 3.6 months. It has risen more than 400 points since it first passed 23,000 on Oct. 18.

When you have those kinds of gains, traders are sitting on huge profits, and it's easy to hit the sell button when you see some weakness in the market, technical or not.

You can see this in the action of ETFs. The biggest decliners have been in the sectors with the biggest momentum: semiconductors, biotech and robotics and artificial intelligence.