Monday, June 2, 2008

June Swoon: Stocks Tank on Bank Boos

June began about as badly as any month could with the markets battered on all sides, but mostly in the finance/banking areas, as Standard & Poors downgraded the credit ratings of three giant brokerages - Lehman Brothers (LEH), Merrill Lynch (MER) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

Along the way, the ratings agency made sure to revise its ratings on Bank Of America (BAC) and JP Morgan Chase (JPM) to negative, thereby branding the two banks as damaged goods.

Additionally Washington Mutual (WM) and Wachovia (WB) each had their issues, resulting in changes of top management.

It was not a good day to be in the business of banking. Nor was it one to be holding stocks of almost any kind (something I've been repeating often since October of last year). Only frantic buying in the last half hour of trading saved the markets from a complete meltdown.

Dow 12,503.82 -134.50; NASDAQ 2,491.53 -31.13; S&P 500 1,385.67 -14.71; NYSE Composite 9,316.52 -84.56

The Dow, in particular, tested the lows of May 23 (12,479.63), but essentially put in what can only be seen as a double bottom on an intraday basis, at today's low of 12,427. Since the Dow is still below both its 50 and 200-day moving averages, all that can be said of last week's 4-day rally is that it was mostly a mirage. There's little upside to the market considering all the turbulence in the credit markets.

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On the day, declining issues hammered advancers by a margin of more than 5-2. 4366 stocks were down, while only 1919 ended with gains. New lows finished ahead of new highs, 221-132, but the spread expanded significantly, signaling more losses for the markets ahead.

For a change, the commodities markets didn't have much of an impact on equity trading. Oil gained a marginal 41 cents, to 127.76, while gold added $5.50, to $897.00. Silver ended up 5 cents, to $16.91.

The highlight of economic releases was this morning's reading on April construction spending, which was down only 0.4% due to growth of commercial building and multi-housing units, which offset another horrid month in home building. The residential real estate market is still searching for a bottom which is likely to not be reached until sometime during the winter of '08-'09 - and that is still a long way off.

High gas and food prices, a seized-up credit market and continuing foreclosures and bank writedowns, there's really no catalyst for any upside market moves. Any rallies will be met with suspicion and pessimism as the US economy suffers through a deep and long recession, which, according to official figures, hasn't even begun.

The balance of this week is a little light on the economic news front until Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls data for May. Auto and truck sales for May roll out on Tuesday, as do April Factory Orders. After that, just a revision to first quarter productivity on Wednesday and the usual Thursday Unemployment Claims.

The Non-Farms Payroll figure for May should be interesting following the very suspect -20,000 reported for April. The expectations are for a loss of another 50,000 to 60,000 jobs - not what the market needs at this juncture. Even if the report is highly fudged, any rally caused by it will be short-lived as stocks are sure to retest the January and March bottoms.

Best advice is to take some profits here if you have any, and stay out of the markets this week. On Saturday, place a sizable bet on Big Brown to win the Belmont Stakes and complete racing's Triple Crown. He may be close to even money or even 4-5 by post time, but that's a much better return - with a lot less risk - than anything you'll find in US equity markets for now.

NYSE Volume 1,073,309,000
NASDAQ Volume 1,950,997,000

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