very trade involves a buyer and a seller, so as long as markets are open there can never be a literal “buyer’s strike.”
But in the first weeks of 2016, ceaseless selling pressure has so dominated the action that it at least appears would-be buyers are in a tacit work slowdown.
Forget new-year retirement contributions or bidding for bargains after a tough 2015 for most stocks. Those liquidating stocks, by choice or need, have swamped demand so far.
There is much discussion of extraordinary drivers of selling pressure, perhaps from sovereign wealth funds and other commodity-rich interests forced to turn equity holdings into scarce dollars. While such players are not major owners of U.S. stocks, the chatter has a kernel of evidence, and the virtue of matching the daily rhythm of the market lately.
With most U.S. institutions expecting little from the market for 2016 from the start, they appear unmotivated to step in the way of a hostile tape, general world economic slippage, a deepening oil glut and flaring signals of capital-market stress.
It’s pretty safe to say the Main Street investor will not be first to start throwing money at the market. More than $20 billion fled equity funds the past two weeks, says Bank of American Merrill Lynch. And the American Association of Individual Investors’ weekly poll showed fewer bulls than any time since 2005, a level close to a post-1987 low.
With the S&P 500 down 8 percent this young year and off nearly 10 percent from Dec. 29, it’s worth asking what might stoke buyers’ energy, even only to allow for a temporary break in the oppressive selling.