Sometimes there comes a point in battle where one army just gives up. It's called a capitulation.
The same thing occasionally happens in investing, and it can arrive in the form of panic selling.
"It's when the towel gets thrown in," says Vinny Catalano, chief investment strategist of New York-based Blue Marble Research. There are a lot of times when selling by investment professionals is rooted in pressure from clients wondering why you're losing money or not beating the market, he says.
If the pressure is great, then you'll get a lot of stocks being dumped all at once.
A great example of a capitulation came in 2008. Over the first eight months of the year the major indexes lost about 11% as problems in the banking system became apparent. By September investors were clearly agitated, and the S&P 500 index plunged from 1,255 on Sept. 19 to under 900 by Oct. 10.
That also coincided with historically high trading volume, but elevated volume isn't a necessary aspect, Mr. Catalano says. He points out that a temporary rally in stocks often comes within a few months before the real "bottom" is set. After that plays out, a rally can really get going again, as was the case in 2008-09.
The great thing about capitulations is that there is an opportunity to find bargains. "I live for those days," Mr. Catalano says, but "they don't happen often."
The recent selloff in biotechnology stocks likely isn't a capitulation, but rather just profit-taking within a bull market, he says. One clue is that people haven't given up on the biotech sector.