Friday, January 2, 2009

Optimistic Investors Push Dow Past 9000

It's a new year, so let's all buy the stocks we sold for losses in 2008.

That seemed to be the prevailing mentality as Wall Street staged its third consecutive rally in a row, starting 2009 off with a veritable bang.

Of course, this kind of optimism is exactly what bears like, even more than bulls. The January Effect seems to be in full flower, with investors jumping in with abandon. Apparently, there's still far too many plungers out there willing to take risks on stocks - even following the worst year on Wall Street since the 1930s - for a realistic bottom to form.

That a real, enduring bottom will form at some later date is almost assured, unless President Obama turns out to be a miracle worker instead of a politician. His administration begins in just 18 days, and investors are encouraged that a change of parties and policies will produce prosperity.

While stocks scrambled up the charts on Friday, economic news was less-than-reassuring. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index, a key measure of manufacturing strength or weakness, tumbled to 32.4% in December, following a reading of 36.2% in November. It was the lowest reading for this particular report since June 1980. The report included some nuggets of just how weak the manufacturing sector really is, including this:
"New orders have contracted for 13 consecutive months, and are at the lowest level on record going back to January 1948. Order backlogs have fallen to the lowest level since ISM began tracking the Backlog of Orders Index in January 1993. Manufacturers are reducing inventories and shutting down capacity to offset the slower rate of activity."

Despite that sobering bit of news, investors were undeterred from staking out positions.

Dow 9,034.69, +258.30 (2.94%)
NASDAQ 1,632.21, +55.18 (3.50%)
S&P 500 931.80, +28.55 (3.16%)
NYSE Composite 5,915.73, +158.68 (2.76%)

Another indication that the recent rally is unsustainable is the relatively low volume, which, for the past three sessions, including today's, were more in line with mid-Summer doldrums rather than an expanding market condition.

NYSE Volume 4,075,754,500
NASDAQ Volume 1,464,044,875

Advancing issues leaped ahead of decliners, 5084-1415. New lows outnumbered new highs, but by a very slim margin, 54-20. This indicates that the market is either headed for a long reversal rally or that this 3-day event is just about over. New highs have only surpassed new lows 4 or 5 times (on a day-to-day basis) in the last 14 months.

Commodities were mixed. Oil gained $1.74 per barrel, to $46.34. Gold lost $4.80, to $879.50. Silver gained 20 cents to $11.49.

It was a welcome relief rally for investors, who want to at least believe that the market cannot go down any more.

Did somebody say, "sucker rally?" We'll see in days and weeks ahead. Earnings for the 4th quarter will begin to flow to the street in three weeks and they're predicted to be short of expectations in a variety of industries, not the least of which will be retail.

It will be interesting to note the January Barometer, which is a highly accurate predictive tool based on the premise that whatever direction the S&P 500 ends the month is the direction for stocks the rest of the year.

The January Barometer was a highly useful predictor last year, when the S&P lost 90 points in January, presaging a 2008 total loss of 465 points.

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