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Bulls Vs. Bears: Detailed Charts Projecting the Long-Term Outlooks

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In the recent past, I've discussed the importance of the current pivot zone, but these charts drive the point home and discuss what to look for.

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It goes without saying that the market is a dynamic environment. In order to keep up, we have to recognize when outlooks are changing, and then actively change with the changes.

Along those lines, Minyanville's founder, Todd Harrison, has put together an excellent list of 10 Trading Commandments. The second item on the list is "discipline trumps conviction." To paraphrase, he espouses that no matter how strongly we feel about a given position, we must defer to the principles of discipline and realize we are not "smarter than the market."

I wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy. Humans tend to cling vehemently to their belief systems, and while this can be an admirable trait in everyday life, it can make for difficulties when trading. Sometimes our beliefs lead us to condemn or praise the market's movements, as we assign judgments of right and wrong to the price action using our own arbitrary versions of "market morality" (i.e.- "It's just wrong for the market to keep going up here!").

The market has no morality (much like some of its big players!), and ultimately it's going to do whatever it's going to do, regardless of how strongly we believe in what it "should" do. It's somewhat like a wild animal -- if you get attacked by a wolf, the wolf isn't morally wrong for trying to eat you, it's just doing its thing.

With that in mind, in this article, I'm going to outline my interpretation of both the bull and bear cases, and what to watch for, as defined through Elliott Wave analysis of the long-term charts.

I've mentioned this next subject a few times over the past couple months: the market is still in a long-term inflection zone, due to the fact that we're quite close to the price highs of two very important long-term tops (2000 and 2007). Most interestingly, the pattern which has now formed could be interpreted in two fashions, and those interpretations are essentially diametrically opposed. Sometimes, the highest-probability interpretations will point the same direction, but in this instance, they do not. Thus the pattern is either a wind-up to another sustained launch, or an ending pattern, and I will explain this dichotomy in more detail below.

One sees this type of pattern with some frequency across all time frames, and the nice thing about this setup is that it will be reasonably clear to interpret as it begins breaking.

If I forget everything I think I know about the world's problems and just study the charts, the most obvious wave count is the bullish one. During 2008, I formed the opinion that we would experience a two-stage crash. I anticipated a cyclical bull market would follow the 2009 bottom, but I expected an "eye of the hurricane" effect. That bias stuck with me and colored my interpretation of the charts through roughly mid-2012, at which point the market's price patterns began challenging my view.

(If you're of the bearish persuasion, you'll probably find my Survival Guide for Bears in a Bull's World quite entertaining, and perhaps even a bit enlightening, since it's written from a journey of personal experience.)

And now, at this point, the pattern has evolved into one that suggests the "second stage" of any pending crisis could be forestalled for many years. It all hinges on the current inflection point.

The first chart is the long-term bull case for the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX), along with two potential targets. The bullish interpretation of the pattern is that a series of high-degree first-wave advances and second-wave corrections has formed. This would put the market within the belly of a third wave at Minor degree, and third waves are extremely powerful – as I've written about all year, the rally we've experienced since January began has undoubtedly been a third wave advance (though there remains some question on where to locate that rally within the long-term count, hence today's discussion).

The chart below outlines, in broad strokes, the expected result if this is indeed the middle of a high degree third wave rally. There are two ways to view the current structure bullishly, and they are noted in the middle breakout box (blue), and the lower black box. Either of these interpretations has a minimum expected target in the 1700's.

Note the series of 1's and 2's leading into the present wave (I refer to this pattern as "nested" first and second waves). This count probably has to be given the edge, unless and until the market begins to indicate otherwise -- but, going back to our earlier discussion, I would be cautious about too much "conviction" here, as we won't know with high certainty until the market clears this inflection zone.


Click to enlarge

The bear interpretation outlines an ending diagonal C-wave, which would complete the larger (B) wave at Cycle degree. Due to the scale of these waves, we wouldn't know this count was playing out immediately, but relative to the big picture, we would have a great deal of advanced warning. Key overlap of the last swing low would be a huge red flag to the bulls -- in fact, at this point, we probably don't want to see the market sustain trade beneath the 1450 area.

This wave count is exceedingly bearish from a long-term perspective, as it suggests the entire rally since 2009 will be retraced.


Click to enlarge

Finally, a quick update to the SPX hourly chart. On January 30, I warned that SPX was due to enter a chop zone, and the market has since lived up to that expectation. We're still within the chop zone, and it's simply unclear to me at the moment if blue wave 3 has completed a few points shy of the target zone, or if it still has farther to run. The wave count has gotten us this far and performed exceptionally well for the entire year, but every system reaches pivot moments when things become a bit fuzzy until the market clarifies its next move. This is one of those pivotal moments and at times like this, trend lines become high value.


Click to enlarge

In conclusion, the market is balanced at pivots across several time frames. For the near-term, the market remains in a chop zone. For the intermediate and long-term (assuming I forget what I think I know about the world), I have to continue favoring the bulls -- though the gravity of this inflection point tells us this is no time for complacency. As a trader, all I can do is work with what I see in the present, but we all know that things can turn on a dime in this market -- so I'll update the long-term outlook periodically, particularly if odds seem to be shifting into the bears favor. Trade safe.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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