Stocks hold most of last hour’s gains–and that’s important

An extremely volatile day–but the market held most of its gains into the close–and that’s important if you’re trying to figure out whether we’ve seen the last (for a while, at least) of this week’s selling.

Let’s take a look at the Standard & Poor’s 500 index as an example.

The index opened strong–it stood at 2775 at 10.03 a.m. New York time–and then went into decline. By 12:52 p.m. it was down to 2730. And then it rallied to 2770 by 2:49 p.m.

At this point three things could have happened. Traders (human and computer) could have sold stocks lower again. Take those profits while they were available. Or the market could have rallied further–not likely I’d say ahead of the weekend and after the beating stocks had taken this week, but certainly possible. Or the market could have hung tough, preserving most of those afternoon gains into the close.

And the last of those three is what actually happened. The S&P 500 closed the day at 2767, just about its 2:49 level.

That bodes well for the stability of the market next week and a continued recovery of some of this week’s losses. To me holding most of the gains of the last hour is an indication that traders and investors think that next week will see stocks continue to move higher. Why else hang on to today’s positions? (Which doesn’t, of course, mean that today’s action is “correct.” But this is the sentiment that it indicates.)

For the day the S&P 500 finished up 1.42% and the Dow up 1.15%. The NASDAQ Composite was the big winner with a gain of 2.29%.

What we saw hold at the end of the day was a move to risk. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) finished up 2.89% on the day. The Technology Select Sector SpDR ETF (XLK) closed ahead 3.21%.

And a move away from hedging against risk. The CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX), which measures how much traders and investors are willing to pay for hedges in the options market, closed the day down 14.69% to 21.31.