Market Insider

US stocks trade cautiously, but so far there is no red alert that Turkey crisis will spread

Key Points
  • U.S. stocks slumped with global equities, as fears about Turkey's currency crisis continued to rattle markets. 
  • Strategists said there's plenty of caution in the market, but U.S. stocks may decouple from the trend even if emerging markets continue to decline.
  • U.S. stocks usually perform poorly in August, one of the most volatile months. 
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. U.S. stocks fluctuated in volatile trading in the aftermath of Donald Trump's surprise presidential election win, as speculation the Republican will pursue business-friendly policies offset some of the broader uncertainty surrounding his ascent.

U.S. stocks could stay under pressure in thin August trading as Turkey's currency craters, but so far there is no sign of contagion from the lira crisis across global markets.

The just last week was on trajectory toward breaking its January high, but it has since retreated and been on the defensive since Turkey's latest crisis bubbled up.

Traders are watching for any new developments ahead of Tuesday trading, after Turkey's currency fell 35 percent since last week with no sign of stopping. Turkey came under the most recent pressure after the U.S. last week slapped sanctions on it for holding an American pastor and then doubled sanctions on Turkish metals.

"August is not a great month to begin with. There's not a lot of volume. I'm not going to use August as a fortune-telling month for the rest of the year," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Management. "In many respects you expect August to go in the opposite direction. … I think we just need to take August off and figure out what the game plan is for September."

The S&P 500 was down 11 points Monday at 2,821, after coming within about 1 percent of its high of 2,872.

Scott Redler, partner with, said traders have become cautious, since there is concern the market may have been setting up a double top. If so, that could mean a bigger decline is coming.

"It pushed now to where we're below 2,825, which isn't the most bullish signal. That was Friday's low," said Redler. "It doesn't mean game over for the longer term, but traders are probably more on their toes than they've been in awhile."

Redler said the S&P also broke through the important 2,842 level, where it gapped down Friday.

"The longer we stay below 2,842, the longer people are going to be pointing to it," he said of the possibility of a double top. "A little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out] was taken out of the trade."

Meanwhile, Todd Sohn, technical analyst with Strategas, said there are a few positives to watch while markets work through developments in Turkey. Sohn said the situation with Turkey may play out like the Mexican crisis in the mid-1990s, when global emerging markets fell about 30 percent but the U.S. traded sideways.

Since its high, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF EEM is now down about 18.5 percent, in large part due to the steep decline in Chinese stocks, which have been in a bear market. That compares with the S&P 500, which is now 1.8 percent away from its January high.

Sohn said other factors are also signaling a lack of fear about contagion.

"You're not seeing the credit stress we'd all see if something worse was going on here. That could change, but you're not seeing it yet," he said.

As stocks sold off, he noted another positive was that tech favorite Apple hit a new all-time high Monday, though it did not close there. Amazon also made a similar move to a new high.

"I think if you are a more short-term tactical trader, you may want to take a step back," said Sohn. "But for me, I try to take a longer-term time frame and look at this as a slight pause in an uptrend. ... I would argue we've been in a correction for the whole year, since the January high."

Redler said the market is testing the 21-day moving average on the S&P 500, a short-term momentum indicator.

"We've been above that since July 6, when the market broke above it," he said. "When we took out that 2,730, now we're testing the 21-day, which is 2,822."

The S&P finished about a point below that level. Redler said the market is still in "wait and see" mode.

"It could be cash is a position in this market until we get a little more market discovery," he said. "You still have China and the trade talks. Nobody's talking about it, but there's no progress on that. We came in this week not knowing what to expect, and the bulls did not take the ball back."