Anyone looking at their 401(k) portfolio performance since the end of August will undoubtedly be very happy (and extremely surprised), as the market has climbed steadily higher despite i) increasingly declining trading volume and ii) consistent and material withdrawals from domestic equity mutual funds. Furthermore, if anyone was merely looking at the trading action in regular hours, one would think there was absolutely no profit made since early September. The reason for that: all the upside since September 14th has come exclusively from after hours action. The chart below demonstrates the relative performance of regular hour trading in the SPY as well as that in the extended session. The notable observations: gaps, gaps, gaps. Every single day, minimal volume pushes the futures index higher. Good news, bad news, it don't matter to the Goldman S&P and Russell 1000 futures desk: they just lift every micro offer, giving the impression that the market is unstoppable, often leapfrogging each other as the latest viagra'ed GDP or unemployment rumor is spread. Come morning, it is time for the HFT brigade to come in and scalp their trillions of pennies while leaving the market unchanged, then at 4pm handing it off again to leveraged futures manipulation and dark pools. In a nutshell, this is the secret of the past quarter's phenomenal market performance.
A longer-term chart highlights the regime changes since the March lows, when for several months in a row, regular hours would carry the broader market higher, then would flatline, and let the futures trading desks take over. Rinse. Repeat. That way both the HFTs and dark pools end up happy.
The observant among you will immediately realize what this implies: not only is there no volume breadth to the recent move in the markets, but the actual push higher likely occurs on at most tens of thousands of futures contracts on a daily/weekly basis. The fact that literally several blocks of AH trades, used persistently, can move the market higher by 6% over the past 3 months, even as regular trading accounts for absolutely no part of this move, and that the SEC finds nothing troubling about this phenomenon, should be sufficiently telling about how "efficient" US markets have become.
The reason for this focus away from regular hours trading is simple: all After Hours does is provide leverage due to the much shallower trading overnight. Zero Hedge is currently finalizing ES volume data to determine just what leverage the futures desk as JPM and Goldman uses in their interminable push to make the Dow 36,000, working title of "EV/EBITDA = Infinity (Or Better Yet, Negative)? Who Gives A Shit: The Fed Has You Covered", the bestseller it was always meant to be.
chart h/t CreditTrader