Monday, July 27, 2009

Stocks Flat As Consolidation Appears Likely

US stocks spent the majority of the session in negative territory, only to catch a bid late in the day and record modest gains. As there were few major companies reporting earnings, traders searched for signs of a recovering economy in new home sales data, which surged 11% from the previous month.

At this point, such news from the housing sector is extremely positive, though foreclosures continue to escalate in hardest-hit areas of the county, such as Michigan, California and the Southwest.

Dow 9,108.51, +15.27 (0.17%)
NASDAQ 1,967.89, +1.93 (0.10%)
S&P 500 982.18, +2.92 (0.30%)
NYSE Composite 6,364.66, +27.20 (0.43%)

Internals were in line with the headline numbers, though the trading range was extremely narrow (80 points on the Dow). Not to put too fine a point on it, but nothing much was moving in any direction following a week of relatively strong gains. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners, 3886-2522 and new highs continued their recent reign over new lows, 213-86. Volume was moderate, as traders change positions in what may be another consolidation phase.

NYSE Volume 1,045,247,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,159,129,000

The issue for markets is once again technical, as indices have surged again to positions indicating a recovering economy and possible renewed growth, though signs of such are remain few and far between. With many of the major companies already having reported, the market is likely to experience a bout of profit-taking near term, though many indicators are pointing towards a continuation of the rally.

It would be nice to be able to sound the "all clear" horn, but macro-economic forces, especially the solvency and liquidity issues in the banking fortress, are still in a state of virtual shutdown. Further out, the only geopolitical zone which shows any potential for long-term growth is the Pacific Rim, India and China. The US and Europe remain basket cases with far too much overhang in government deficits, an indirect result of last fall's near catastrophe. Money to lend remains on short leashes, with only the best credit-worthy of borrowers able to dip into the pool. Small business in the private sector offers great potential, but is being stifled without financing, causing a serious negative feedback loop into the general economy.

The US is being kept afloat by the patchwork done by the Fed, Treasury and the continued funding of the huge swath of entitlement programs. Payments to beneficiaries of Social Security, state and local pensions, disability, unemployment insurance and welfare are providing a floor upon which the broader economy will try to grow. It's a very bottom-up approach, and entirely built upon the generosity of Congress and borrowed funds from a variety of sources, a good deal of it in the quantitative easing being undertaken at the Fed.

While it is entirely possible that the Obama stimulus plan will provide enough of a boost to avoid a rerun of 2008, there are serious issues such as inflation, ballooning state government deficits and the unusually high rate of unemployment. Until there are actual jobs being created, it's more or less a slowly plodding domestically-based cash economy without real gains in either productivity and job creation. As such, it's difficult to recommend any long-term stock buying. The market remains a casino for quick returns or losses.

Commodity trading was also sluggish. September light crude rose 33 cents, to $68.38. Gold gained 40 cents, to $956.30, and silver was up 12 cents, to $13.99. Oil remains overpriced in consideration of demand, flat to declining even in the full bloom of summer.

More companies report on Tuesday. The ones which will be watched the closest are Deutsche Bank (DB), Hitachi (HIT), Universal Health Services (UHS), United States Steel (X) and Valero Energy (VLO).

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