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Market Extra: Stock-market bears seen keeping upper hand as S&P 500 drops below 3,900

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The U.S. stock market was set for an important technical test Friday, with major indexes on track for a lower open that would see the S&P 500 index break below a closely watched support level that could augur a deeper slide.

Chart watchers have identified the 3,900 level as the bottom of an important range of support for the large-cap benchmark. The S&P 500
SPX,
-1.25%

ended Thursday at 3,901.35 as stocks stumbled in the afternoon. Stock-index futures were sharply lower ahead of the opening bell Friday, sinking after a stark profit warning from shipping giant — and economic bellwether — FedEx Corp.
FDX,
-22.86%

rattled investors.

S&P 500 index futures were down 1.2% ahead of the opening bell. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.99%

dropped more than 350 points, or 1.1%.

Options expiration could add to volatility, analysts said. Friday marks a so-called quadruple witching day, with the expiration of individual stock options, stock-index options, stock-index futures and single-stock futures.

“Index options will expire on the open…, so a lot of that option gamma that has helped to support the market will be gone at the opening,” said Michael Kramer, founder of Mott Capital Management, in a Thursday evening note.

“That means if the sellers show up in force [Friday], there could be enough for the index to finally break that 3,900 support and begin another drop to around 3,835. That is where the next big gap to fill in the market rests,” he wrote.

Market risk “is elevated as long as the index sits below 3,900,” said technical analyst Andrew Adams in a Wednesday note for Saut Strategy, warning that “the deeper we drop the more likely we have begun a new wave to the downside that will take us to lower lows.”

The S&P 500, which has tumbled into a bear market this year, set a closing low for the year at 3,666.77 on June 16.

: Why FedEx’s profit warning is such bad news for the U.S. economy

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