Apple's breakdown could mean the stock market retests the October low, chart analysts fear  

  • Apple could be a key to whether the market re-tests October lows, as it trades just above a key technical level, strategists said.
  • Apple, a market bellwether, was sharply lower Monday on concerns about iPhone sales, but tech more broadly has also been beaten up.
  • Strategists say if the S&P 500 fails to hold key levels around 2,700, it could break down about another 5 percent to 2,603, its October low.
Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
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Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

Stocks are at a turning point, and it could be Apple and other technology names that help decide whether the market revisits October lows.

The S&P 500 was down about 2 percent Monday, at 2,726, and technical analysts say it needs to hold a level just above 2,700 or it could drop about 100 points to test recent lows. The S&P touched an intraday low of 2,603 on Oct. 29.

"If the market is going to show commitment to the recent rally, then 2,700 holds, and if 2,700 doesn't hold, everyone and their mother is going to be talking about a retest of 2,603, and one thing to watch is Apple. If Apple goes past $190, and goes into the $180s, you're talking about a retest of the lows," said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com.

The S&P 500 also fell back below its 200-day moving average of 2762, a signal to some strategists the longer term trend could really be changing.

Strategist said investors have not shown enough fear, and there's been no true capitulation in the sell off. "Excluding today, the bounce from the 29th to Friday, this 8 percent move was not accompanied by resounding internals. That left us a little uncomfortable," said Todd Sohn, technical analyst at Strategas Research. "I think there's a debate here, a possibility [the lows] are in play." But he said the market could also retest the February low of 2,530.

"The other thing is when you look at risk appetite, it hasn't been there. Staples, utiltites and REITs are leading," he said.

Strategists were watching Apple's 200-day moving average at $193.25, and the stock was holding so far able to hold just above it Monday, finishing the day at $194.17. Apple fell 5 percentMonday after one of its key suppliers cut its outlook, suggesting possible weakness in iPhone sales.

"I'm curious to see how Apple responds...You have some other names that were leadership stocks in tech coming back tot he 200-day and they're struggling to hold," said Sohn. He said Alphabet, Netflix and Amazon have all dipped below the 200-day.

The 200-day moving average is a momentum indicator, and i is calculated just how it sounds - it is the average closing price over a 200-day period.

"For us it's a guide for trend. It's a helpful indicator of just seeing the big picture. If you're above it, wildly above it, you're in pretty good shape, "said Sohn. "But if you start to test it, more and more, it's usually an indicator for a change in trend."

Apple and the 200-day moving average

Source: Strategas

On the S&P 500, an area near 2,700 will be key. "2,700 was a level that held leading up to the mid-term election. The 50 percent retracement from 2,603 to 2815 was 2700ish," said Redler.

Mark Newton, chief technical analyst at Greywolf Execution Partners, said tech could decide the market's fate. "If Apple is still trending down, there is no evidence of bottoming. We should not be surprised. The stock, like other techs, is still trending lower," he said, adding longer term trends are still positive.

The S&P levels Newton is watching are 2,711 and then 2,709. "If that breaks, it calls for a much deeper retracement," he said. "If we get under that it's going to be a legitimate retest, which is truly going to bring out a lot of fear."

Newton said if more fear comes in that could set the stage for a seasonal bounce in the market. "I don't think we could say with a lot of confidence, there needs to be this year end rally, and now everyone is looking for it. They're scratching thier heads. It doesn't seem to be fear. It's confusion, and when confusion turns to fear that's when you see a trading low," he said.

How Apple trades over the next several days will be key for the market, and the way the market trades will be a factor in deciding how it trades into next year.

"That's a wild card. You are in a very strong seasonal period and so far you've ignored it," said Sohn. "You want to be mindful you still can get a rally into the next several weeks, but how does that leave us for 2019? If you get a market rally for year end, and the participation isn't great, that's an important indicator for 2019. Let's say you made new highs but participation was weak. That's going to set up negative divergences."

Sohn said he was watching the performance of stocks that are high-beta, and they've been lagging, a negative signal.

Source: Strategas Research