Technical analysts are warning about impending “death crosses” in the major stock averages, even though this bearish signal gave a false alarm last summer when it actually marked the bottom in equity exchange traded funds for 2010.

“A death cross is nearing on the S&P 500, a sell signal where the 50-day exponential moving average dives through the 200-day exponential moving average. In the last five years there have only been three occurrences on the S&P 500,” said Tarquin Coe at Investors Intelligence.

“There was one in January 2008 and that proved reliable as the index went onto lose over 50%,” he added. “There were two consecutive death-crosses last summer, one in July and then another in August. Both of those signals failed as did a head-and-shoulders top at the time. It was a bull market so bearish patterns/signals were doomed to fail.”

As last summer demonstrated, the bearish technical indicator has a mixed track record. However, the death cross in financial ETFs earlier this year presaged the sell-off in bank stocks. [Bank of America Caught in Downtrend; Financial ETF Sees ‘Death Cross’]

Also, the recent stock sell-off arrived after the S&P 500 and ETFs tracking the index formed a large “head and shoulders” topping pattern. [Bear Trap or Top in S&P 500 ETFs?]