S S&P 500: What's Up With All The Final-Hour Stick Saves?

You won't often see a professional financial writer quote the Urban Dictionary, but here we go: a stick save in finance is defined as "when institutions manage to move the market up in the last minutes of trading thus ensuring an 'up' day, even though a 'down' day was in the making." That's a pretty spot-on definition from a decidedly non-financial source.

It's also all-too-familiar to S&P 500 watchers lately. Sure, we see this type of market behavior sometimes and might laugh it off as "manipulation" or "the Plunge Protection Team" in action, but it's been especially flagrant - and frequent - as of late.

I mean, they're not even trying to hide it anymore. Shouldn't they at least make an attempt at subtlety?

(Click on image to enlarge)

Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

Sure it was a "Freaky Fed Day," but the ending was just too perfect: the downward head-fake, the three-'o-clock wobble, and the last-minute swoop upwards - much like Superman saving Lois Lane, but without the romance and good feelings.

There's nothing to feel good about, really, when retail traders get stopped out just to watch some mysterious force send the S&P right back up, just before closing time. And in this instance, they landed the plane almost perfectly at 3,000 and nearly flat for the day, though just ever-so-slightly green; evidently, the thought of letting the market close red or below 3,000 is utterly unacceptable.

Am I the only one who's observed that this phenomenon seems to be happening more frequently lately? Lest we forget, it also happened the previous day - not a Fed announcement day, mind you:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

I could cite other recent examples, but you get the idea. So, who's behind this last-minute levitation act?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm willing to stick my neck out and venture a guess: I suspect the culprit is institutional investors, since the retails aren't well organized and don't have enough capital to move a market index (maybe they could move a penny stock, but not the S&P 500). The 'tutes are, I'll bet, doing an old-school rope-a-dope on the retail crowd, running their stops and tag-teaming their way to a swift 3:50 profit. Rinse and repeat, works every time. Still, I dare not attempt to trade it; their behavior is starting to form a recognizable pattern, which means they'll have to switch it up soon.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Am I dead on, or dead wrong? 

Disclosure: David Moadel is not a licensed or registered investment advisor, and has no position in any securities listed herein.

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Alpha Stockman 2 years ago Member's comment

Good theory. Any other possibilities besides institutional investors?

David Moadel 2 years ago Author's comment

Thank you for the comment Alpha Stockman, that was pretty much all I could come up with, without delving into conspiracy-theory territory...

Angry Old Lady 2 years ago Member's comment

Ah, come on, but conspiracy theories are so much fun! Just joking, I respect that.

David Moadel 2 years ago Author's comment

LOL thank you for the comment