DEFINITION of 'Climax'

A climax is a market condition that is characterized by escalated trading volume and sharp price movements at the end of a bull or bear market cycle for company shares, an index or a commodity. Climaxes are usually accompanied by extreme sentiment readings, either mass euphoria at market peaks or pessimism at market bottoms.

BREAKING DOWN 'Climax'

Market climaxes often occur at the end of long bull or bear cycles as investors presume that the trend presently in place is not going to reverse course in the near term. Climaxes generally result from a last rush of investors who finally buy into a rising market or sell into an ongoing market decline. In both situations, a climax usually signals the end of a long-running market trend.

Buying Climaxes

One of the clearest signals of the end of a bull market is a buying climax, during which volume escalates to extreme levels and bullish euphoria permeates media coverage of stocks, market indices or commodities. The key trait of a buying climax is the exhaustion of demand as the last buyers enter the market. The final surge of buying typically leads to price spikes, which may last for days, weeks or months. As demand wanes, prices can go into steep declines as sellers attempt to unload positions in the relative absence of buyers.

The end of the tech bubble in the year 2000 is a prime example of a buying climax. Starting in November 1999, the NASDAQ Composite gained 65% on its way to its buying climax high of 5,132 in March 2000 on steadily increasing volume, based on euphoria over the New Economy. Over the following 30 months ending in September 2002, the index declined by 76%.

Selling Climaxes

The beginning of a selling climax is often signaled by steadily increasing volume on the sell side of the market as growing pessimism accelerates the downtrend. As the selling climax approaches, the last sellers finally capitulate, driving shares sharply lower. Once the supply side of the market abates, growing demand can move prices substantially higher over a short period of time.

The rebound in oil prices in early 2016 is an example of a selling climax. After making a high in June 2014, oil prices declined steadily for 17 months, capped by a selling climax in January 2016. After making its selling climax low of $26.55 per barrel on Jan. 20, 2016, oil prices appreciated by 80% over the following four months.

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