Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dark Thursday, Black Friday?

Anyone who was surprised by today's dramatic sell-off simply has not been paying attention. The signs were everywhere: weak second quarter corporate earnings, an outright implosion in the US housing market, sub-prime defaults beginning to leak over into mainstream mortgage loans and corporate lending, a market soaring (the Dow was up 30% in just the past year) over and beyond 50 and 200-day moving averages.

Everything was in place for a selling spree of monumental proportions and on Thursday, it all came to fruition.

Dow 13,473.57 -311.50; NASDAQ 2,599.34 -48.83; S&P 500 1,482.66 -35.43; NYSE Composite 9,654.43 -275.93

The day began badly with ExxonMobil (XOM) announcing - prior to the open - that it had fallen short of analyst expectations for the 2nd quarter. Boo hoo, the largest corporation in the world and the company held widely responsible for causing people so much pain for US motorists only booked $10.26 billion, or $1.83 a share, from $10.36 billion, or $1.72 a share, a year earlier. Analysts were hoping for $1.96 per share. They were sorely disappointed and the stock lost more than 6 % on the day.

At 10:00, with the Dow already down more than 100 points, the Commerce Department provided more proof that the US housing collapse was getting even worse than anticipated. New home sales were down 6.6% to 834,000 units, the biggest percentage drop in 6 months. Sales are 22.3% lower than they were a year ago. Additionally, the median price dropped to $237,900, down 2.2% from a year ago.

As the day progressed, the selling intensified. From noon through 2:30 p.m. the Dow fell by more than 200 points as volume reached historic levels.

So powerful was the downdraft, that even oil traders were scared. Crude, up to $77 earlier, fell through the afternoon, eventually closing down 73 cents at $75.15. Gold dropped another $11, with silver closing 20 cents lower.

The Dow bottomed at 13,335.30, a loss of nearly 450 points. Then, something strange happened, just like yesterday. The Dow jumped nearly 90 points in a matter of minutes. It was either the invisible hand of Maynard Keynes, but more likely the clandestine hand of the Plunge Protection Team (PPT), otherwise known as the working group on financial markets, created by Ronald Reagan to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown in October 1987.

As usual, the foreign press - in this case the London Telegraph - had the story more than a year ago.

Nevertheless, not even Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his able team of financial commandos could stem the tide. By days end, the markets were in tatters, with advancers swamped by declining issues by a ratio of 7-1. New lows hit a number I have heretofore never witnessed - 1110 - to only 104 new highs.

And whatever the interlopers did to spike the market, it broke the feeds to Yahoo Finance and CNN Money. The volume figures on Yahoo Finance were totally knocked out (see the chart at right).

Judging by the late figures, the volume was the highest of the year, surpassing the mark of 4.283 billion shares, set yesterday. The overall Dow drop of 311 points was second only to the China rot on February 27 of this year.

There were over 400 stocks reporting on the day, but the biggest stories belonged to ExxonMobil (XOM), Apple (AAPL, beat estimates, +8.74), 3M (MMM, beat estimates), Black & Decker (BDK, beat estimates on lower profit, lowered guidance, -6.88), Office Depot (ODP, met on lower profits, -1.79) and Dow Chemical (DOW, beat, -2.22).

There will be more tomorrow, as investors digest earnings after hearing the government's preliminary figures for 2nd quarter GDP prior to the market open. The so-called "experts" - who haven't been remotely close lately - are predicting 3.2% growth. After Q1's horrific 0.7% gain, anything short of that number will likely precipitate even more selling.

Make no doubt about it, without the interference from government insiders, today's loss could have easily been 500 or 600 points. This slide certainly isn't over. In fact, it's probably only the beginning of a long, painful unwinding of an equally-long credit binge.

The fear is not in the second quarter results, but in the future, with an interest rate drop now becoming more and more of a distinct possibility as the US lags behind other countries - developed and emerging alike.

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