Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fear Overwhelms Market in Final 1/2 Hour

After hugging the flat line for almost the entire session, investors took to the sidelines in the final 1/2 hour of trading on Thursday in advance of Friday's pre-market November Non-farms Payroll report. Stocks had held up well through most of the session, even in light of a poor reading from ISM Services, which slipped back from expansion to decline in the course of one month, dropping from 50.6 in October to 48.7 in November.

That initially caused some slippage at 10:00 am when the report went public, but stocks quickly regained their footing and vacillated along the break even mark for most of the day afterwards. Prior to the opening, investors received good news on employment, as the Labor Dept. reported another decrease in initial unemployment claims, dropping to 457,000 for the most recent week.

Other news was mixed, though mostly negative. Productivity was revised downward for the third quarter from 9.5% (which was a bit unbelievable) to a more tepid 8.1%. Retail sales from a wide swath of national retailers was horrible, however, with many of the top mall stores reporting November sales down anywhere from 2-20% from a year ago. The combined figures showed a decline of 0.3% from last November, a horrible showing, considering last year's sales were down 7.7% from 2007. The only area showing any strength were discounters, though not all of them were posting positives.

These numbers reflect a growing concern that the entire recovery has been built on liquidity, the main beneficiaries of such largesse being the banks and Wall Street. As such, it's no surprise that while Main Street's interests wither and die, stock race higher and banks - like Bank of America - are able to find the means to pay back all $35 billion in TARP funds doled out by the feds last year.

Consumers are not spending as though times are good. Clearly they are not and this is being reflected in poor showings at the mall and department stores during the holidays. Even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday offered some hope, beyond those high promotion days, the US consumer seems already hunkered down for the holidays, intent on not splurging and running up more debt. The simple fact of life is that many consumers have no more credit with which to spend, either having reached their limits, already defaulted or had their lines reduced by the ever-popular banks and credit card companies.

Cracks are beginning to appear in the media's recovery story everywhere, though the most notable statement on the financial condition of the world can be found in the price of gold, which continues to reach new highs as a put against all fiat currencies.

Today's setback for equities should not be taken lightly. There are many indications that the US recovery is not as robust as many would like to believe, and, as goes the US, so goes much of the rest of the world. The hardest hit areas will be in developed nations such as Europe and Japan. The dislocations caused last week by the cries for help from Dubai may have been the canary in the coal mine, with more horrific debt stories still to come.

Time will tell, but today's market response in advance of November jobs data is not encouraging.

Dow 10,366.15, -86.53 (0.83%)
NASDAQ 2,173.14, -11.89 (0.54%)
S&P 500 1,099.92, -9.32 (0.84%)
NYSE Composite 7,157.05, -65.37 (0.91%)

Simple indicators, which reverse course in the final hour of trading, underlined the sell-off in graphic detail. Declining issues outpaced advancers, 4235-2215, a nearly 2-1 margin. New highs exceeded new lows, 448-90, though those figures are highly suspect due to the level of late-day selling. Most of the highs were reached early in the day and erased in the late portion of the session. Volume was not dramatic, holding at the usual levels. The one caveat is that the last time sellers beat down the averages in advance of a jobs number - on October 1 - the report came in as expected and the indices quickly recovered to their previous highs.

This time around, the market is looking for a loss of just 125-150,000 jobs during November, though whispers have circulated suggesting only 100,000 jobs lost for the month. Any number under 100,000 would surely repudiate today's late-day selling and spark a rally on renewed confidence, though it appears that the gloom and doom crowd has thus far had their way. Tomorrow's Non-farm Payroll Report and the official unemployment rate will be released at 8:30 am.

NYSE Volume 5,517,375,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,011,226,125

Oil once again finished lower, losing 14 cents, to $76.46. To the surprise of nobody, gold gained again, up $5.20, to $1,218.20. Silver did not respond in kind, losing 22 cents, to $19.11. Copper and platinum were likewise priced lower. Gold has truly set its own course.

Almost unnoticed was the US dollar trade, which was stronger against the Yen and Pound, but weaker against the Euro, resulting in a small gain on the Dollar Index. That also helped the bears beat down stocks by limiting the risk (or risk-free, as it should be identified) trade off a weaker dollar. should the dollar resume its decline, stocks would once again become the investment of choice, consequently trading higher.

Not all, but much will be revealed before tomorrow's opening bell.

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