The markets took a break for the funeral of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and I'd bet most investors are grateful for the pause in the "Groundhog Day," Yogi Berra "déjà vu all over again"-type action we've been going through since, yes, October.
Yeah, the market just did what it did just last month; the FAANGs rolled over and played dead, only to come roaring back for a seemingly strong push up north and, just when things looked brighter, tanked again.
Rally and swoon, rally and swoon… While there is still a fighting chance for the old bull, it's looking increasingly grim.
We're rapidly getting to the point that investors who are unprepared or out of position could be in some serious danger.
That's why I'm looking so closely at these specific numbers.
The Dow and S&P 500 were both scant millimeters away from doing that at Tuesday's close – the day after a fairly healthy rally.
If, when the bell rings in a couple of hours this morning, stocks catch the bid and resume an upward crawl, we might be out of the woods. But the futures gains we saw Wednesday morning were essentially peanuts, so I'm not betting that way.
The market looks like nothing so much as a wounded bull in a one-sided bullfight. Has the matador drawn his sword to administer the coup de grace to this old bull?
Maybe. It all depends on the big indexes holding – and building – on the following levels.
Here's What I'm Watching Closely Right Now
The Dow Jones Industrial Average: If stocks fall to 24,000, we're going down to 23,500 in a New York minute. If that's the case, this bull market is probably done.
The S&P 500: The broadest and most significant index was sitting at just above 2,700 at Tuesday's close. There's important support at 2,600 – if we break that… get ready to see the S&P test 2,550 in a heartbeat. Below that? Yikes – support is all the way down at 2,400.
The NASDAQ Composite: This tech-heavy group of stocks can be notoriously twitchy when volatile winds blow. There's support at 7,000, then 6,800, and at 6,500. Below that… we're looking at the prospect of a bear run that could last a shockingly long time.
The FAANG stocks themselves are worth keeping an eye on, too, because they figure so prominently in the minds of investors, which makes them a major driver of that all-important market psychology.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has support in the neighborhood of $115 and $120. If shares fall below that, it's going to be uglier than it's been… and it's already been mighty ugly.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) can lean on support at $160, then $140. If the stock should slip below that, then something's truly wrong with investors' hopes and dreams.
Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) has support at $1,400, $1,375, and $1,200. Any lower, and it's "Look out below!"
Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) is looking at support levels at $200. Anything lower than that, and it really is anyone's guess.
Google parent Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has support in the region of $1,000 to $980. Its next support is all the way down at $900. If by some weird twist of fate Google gets to those basement levels, the markets themselves should look more like a smoking crater in the ground.
If that's the case… well, the bright side is, there will be bottom-fishing opportunities like we haven't seen since 2009.
In the meantime, build up a healthy cash position – 10% to 20% – to stay safe and jump on any potential opportunities. Be very careful about taking any big long positions you can't escape – yes, "escape" is the word – in a heartbeat, and look for opportune moments to get short with puts or even short-selling shares.
These levels aren't where we are… yet. They're where we could get to. Beware – you've been warned.