Friday, December 11, 2009

Defying Dollar, Dow Closes Within 8 Cents of 52-Week High

For more than a little while, the trade has been to sell US dollars and buy US stocks. On Friday, the story was rather different, as buyers of Dow stocks, in particular, defied the dictum of the carry trade, buying stocks while the US Dollar was rising against other currencies. The questions on everybody's mind were, "Why?". Why now?", and "What about that Fed meeting next week?"

Answers for traders were not forthcoming, as they were bidding up Dow stocks to within 8 cents of its 52-week high at the close. That finish was meaningful, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which had to do with answers to the questions posed above.

Taking them one by one, here's a quick explanation:

Why? The reasons people buy stocks as they approach 52-week highs are as numerous as there are grains of sand on the beach, but in this case, it seemed to be with ulterior motive. Other possibilities include a massive short squeeze on Alcoa (AA), which was up a whopping 1.11, (8.22%). November retail sales came in better than expected (+1.3%) and the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment reading was higher, at 73.4, following last month's 67.4. Naturally, that good news should have produced a stronger dollar. They did, but, remember the ulterior motive. Read on.

Why now? Stocks were bid up precisely to just below their closing 52-week high just in case technical analysts were peering in on the activities, and they surely were. Today was a planned day for such a rise because it had two significant elements going for it. First, it was Friday, meaning positions would be locked in until Monday, and, second, there is a Fed meeting next week in which it is widely expected that the FOMC will leave rates unchanged, but give more hints as to the exact date of the first, in what no doubt will be a series of, rate hikes. The other kicker is that some of that dubious Dubai debt is supposed to be repaid on Monday, and, if it isn't, chaos in financial markets could ensue.

What about that Fed meeting next week? As answered above, the FOMC will meet to discuss policy on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 15th and 16th, culminating in a policy decision and statement on Wednesday, right around 2:00 pm. That also coincides with options expiration on Friday, and if you think there aren't a boatload of players in that space, betting and hedging on the Fed decision, maybe you should go back to playing euchre with friends for nickels and dimes.

Obviously, there is a good deal of money riding on the events of next week, and the markers were laid down yesterday and today, but especially today, with the apparent end of the dollar carry trade. Don't buy into the argument that positions short the dollar and long stocks don't matter any more. That trade was very prevalent and has yet to be unwound. Today's rise on the Dow was a shot fired across the bows of many hedge funds who are trapped in losing positions. Fireworks should be expected right out of the gate on Monday.

Whoever was in control of today's trade on the Dow was using a great deal of leverage, meaning that today's move was very transient and temporary. Ask yourself if you'd be buying stocks at the end of the year, just as they're reaching new highs - highs, mind you, that have yet to be surpassed in any meaningful way since the end of October. Consider these data points for closes on the Dow, all 52-week highs:

November 17: 10,437.42
November 23: 10,450.95
November 25: 10,464.40
December 1: 10,471.58

Today's close was at 10,471,50 and there was no confirmation by the S&P or, even more importantly, the Dow Transportation Index. Ooops!

As a point of reference to illustrate just how difficult this area of resistance is proving to be, consider these recent closes on the S&P:
November 17: 1110.32
November 18: 1109.80
November 23: 1106.24
November 24: 1105.65
November 25: 1110.63
December 1: 1108.86
December 2: 1109.24
December 4: 1105.98

Today's close of 1106.41 is another meaningless near-top. Clearly, there's a distribution pattern taking place which is preventing stocks from breaking out to new highs.

By all accounts, it's just not going to happen. At least not any time soon. Take heed of the usefulness of the dollar carry or risk trade, and ignore the movements of today as just so much market noise. Buy low, sell high. What do you think the real tradrs are doing here?

And just in case you were wondering, the Dow finished higher for the week, with the NASDAQ and NYSE Composite lower. The S&P actually ended the week with a fractional gain, or, essentially flat.

Dow 10,471.50, +65.67 (0.63%)
NASDAQ 2,190.31, -0.55 (0.03%)
S&P 500 1,106.41, +4.06 (0.37%)
NYSE Composite 7,125.12, +20.62 (0.29%)

Advancers outnumbered decliners, 4043-2402, though you would have hardly guessed it looking just at the tape. Dow stocks were 21 up with 9 down. The two biggest movers to the upside were Alcoa (AA) and Bank of America (BAC), two dubious leaders, to be sure. New highs beat new lows, 348-60. Besides the days before and after Thanksgiving, NASDAQ volume was the lowest since September 4, a date that also preceded a holiday - Labor Day. NYSE volume was about average.

NYSE Volume 4,408,781,000
NASDAQ Volume 1,762,412,125

More evidence of some deviousness at play came from the commodities pits, where oil sold off for the 8th straight day, losing 89 cents, to $69.65. Meanwhile, major oil company Dow stocks, Chevron (CVX) and ExxonMobil (XOM) both traded higher throughout the session and finished with small gains, though gains nonetheless.

Gold, one of the main catalysts behind dollar strength, traded down again, off $6.60, to $1,119.60. Silver followed suit, losing 10 cents, to $17.09.

One should be well advised going into next week to not read very much into this week's action. Since stocks are at their highs, you've likely missed the move if you were not participating. If you were in, this could be a great time to take a little off the top or close positions should that be your preference. There's been plenty of play in March Index options against the Dow and S&P in particular. Large positions have been placed well out of the money, and while they may be there for protection, the possibility of a sharp correction, which has not yet occurred since the March lows, is growing. Eventually, there is going to be a 10-20% or larger downturn, though the timing of such an event is uncertain.

All good traders, like Boy Scouts, should be prepared.

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