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Santoli: Market showing signs of withstanding overbought conditions as rally pauses

This is the daily notebook of Mike Santoli, CNBC’s senior markets commentator, with ideas about trends, stocks and market statistics. Is the “Never short a dull market” rule in effect? Sleepy, hovering indexes gain a bit of intraday strength — again — as model-driven investors methodically lift equity allocations along with fundamental investors finding themselves underexposed to stocks and perhaps newly reassured by the market’s technical strength and the economy’s apparent ability to withstand what tightening the Federal Reserve has left to do. The S & P 500 is still sitting about 1% below the intraday high from Tuesday which is also the 200-day average. It’s also the spot where the simple trend line down from the January peak awaits. Yes, the market is still overbought on a short-term basis, but the tape’s ability to sustain overbought conditions is one mark of a sturdier demand setup, often present early in new advances. One of the first jobs on any pullback would be to hold above the early-June highs, also coinciding with the March lows, from which an earlier strong but brief rally attempt started. Bond yields are easing back after their climb Thursday. The Fed minutes stirred another round of debate about whether the market is right to project a peak in the federal funds rate between 3.5% and 4% over the next several months. Minutes combined restatements of the committee’s vigilance and insistence on seeing a clear downward trend in inflation before easing back along with concern about the lagged impact of the tightening in place and the chance of overdoing it. A dip in weekly jobless claims and a pop in Philly Fed manufacturing index add some slight comfort that the economy is holding together through the summer, even as spending shifts to necessities and services. Home sales were profoundly weak, though, which remains a big GDP headwind — even if it will blunt the inflationary impact of housing costs. Most strategists are in “don’t chase the rally” mode, a typical message after a scary downturn when the speed of the rally has made the technical setup appear more improved than the fundamental inputs. It doesn’t mean the Street is wrong, but it makes sense to be open-minded to the chance that the market is behaving like more of a panicky “growth scare” is passing rather than multi-wave descent into recession and rolling bear market. Retail investors are also slow to leave aside their bearishness, still showing more bears than bulls in the AAII sentiment survey for a 20th consecutive week. There’s much puzzlement about the leadership of utilities (new absolute and relative high vs. S & P 500). But over a two-year span, industrials are right there with them and looking like one of the healthier cyclical groups. Dips in the speculative tech areas show the recent chase into lower-quality parts of the market has paused at least. Market breadth is evenly split today. The VIX snoozing under 20, and the VIX futures curve in the gentle upward slope of a stable market. So far, there are no real fireworks or tail-wagging-dog effects of Friday’s options expiration.

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