Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bears Bite Back: Two O'clock Dump

The technical, oversold rally of the past three weeks may be coming to an end. As the Dow met resistance in the 12,750 range (as mentioned here yesterday) for the second time on Wednesday, stocks trailed off during testimony before the Senate Banking Committee by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

On Tuesday, the value of the US dollar vs. the Euro fell to its lowest level ever and continued to decline Wednesday, with the Euro pushing above $1.51 after Bernanke's comments failed to reassure that fighting inflation was a priority.

Essentially, Bernanke's approach is to keep the US economy from faltering into recession, regardless of the macro-economic implications. In simpler terms, US stocks will benefit more from exports as the value of the dollar falls. That's the game plan.

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All indices opened lower following more down-beat economic news. First, durable goods orders fell by 5.3% in January, and then the Institute of Supply Management's January manufacturing index offered a reading of 50.7, just above the break-even point, after posting a 48.4 number in December. Anything below 50 signals a contraction in manufacturing.

Reaching intra-day highs around the noon hour, stocks began a grinding descent until 2:00, when the S&P index slipped into the red. Like pebbles cascading down a woodland waterfall, the other indices followed. The NYSE Composite was next, followed by the Dow and the NASDAQ. By 2:03 all of the majors had turned negative but a tug-of-war between bulls and bears was just getting underway.

By day's end, buyers and sellers had battled to a draw, with the Dow and NASDAQ up, the S&P and Composite down. But clearly, much of the momentum created by last Friday's bogus announcement that a consortium of banks and financiers were working to rescue troubled monoline insurer Ambac Financial, has vaporized.

Dow 12,694.28 +9.36; NASDAQ 2,353.78 +8.79; S&P 500 1,380.03 -1.26; NYSE Composite 9,292.90 -9.90

Traders are eying the resistance levels and meteoric rise of the indices which have gained in the neighborhood of 8% over the past six weeks off the intraday lows of January 22-23.

Perhaps an even more emphatic argument for the bears can be made from the fact that advancing issues failed to push by decliners on Wednesday, with losers holding the edge, 3321-2910. New lows remained ahead of new highs, which, if the market was really showing resolve, should have flipped today, but failed to do so. There were 164 new lows to 130 new highs. The lows have held sway every day for four months straight, except for two days in December.

Sales of new homes dropped 2.8% from December, to an annual rate of 588,000, the third consecutive monthly decline. According to the Commerce Department report, the median price of a new home fell to $216,000 in January, down 15% from a year ago.

The double whammy for real estate - lower prices and slower sales - expresses just how deep the slump in housing really is. While some stock-picking pundits were saying the bottom in stocks was already in (Jan. 22-23) this week, the message from home buyers and sellers was clear: housing woes are far from over and may be getting even worse.

Crude prices settled $1.31 lower at $99.57 per barrel after hitting an all-time intraday high of $102.08. Gold rocketed to another all-time record close, finishing up $12.10, to $960.00. Silver added 49 cents to $19.33, slicing completely through the $18 level in just three days total.

Lest we forget, today is the one-year anniversary of the Chinese stock market contagion and Alan Greenspan's "recession" comment, which was the precursor and early warning sign of the market's August reversal.

NYSE Volume 3,773,681,750
NASDAQ Volume 2,165,846,500

An indication of the relative strength of stocks, here are the top ten Dow stocks for 2008 (after close of trading 2/26):

01) Up 8.1%. WMT
02) Up 7.3%. DD
03) Up 7.0%. HD
04) Up 5.8%. IBM
05) Up 5.5%. AA
06) Up 3.5%. BAC
07) Up 1.9%. DIS
08) Up 1.0%. CAT
09) Up 0.5%. PFE
10) Up 0.2%. JPM

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