Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Churn, Churn, Churn: Stocks Turning to Mush

Possibly, you may have noticed a pattern developing over the past week or so.

That pattern has the unmistakable earmarks of a major downturn for equities, with all of the major indices falling below their 50-day moving averages, and, as of today, staying below them. Unlike yesterday's miraculous midday turnabout, the trading pattern on Tuesday was emblematic of typical bear market sell-offs, with stocks gaining in the morning, but, without conviction, being sold off soundly into the closing bell.

Rationale for the sustained selling might be one of many. Maybe it was the -0.1% April PPI reading (note to the uninitiated: negative PPI is usually a sound indicator of outright DEFLATION, the one word the Federal Reserve and central bankers worldwide dread). Possibly, some sellers were spooked by the dismally-low number of building permits issued nationwide: 606,000 in April, after 685,000 in March.

Neither of those seemed to weigh on markets at the opening, as both figures were released at 8:30 am, prior to the famous ringing of the bell. So, when Meredith Whitney, who has been elevated to stock goddess status after her correct calls on the 2008 financial collapse, took aim at both the Washington political crowd pondering financial regulation and the banking sector, a cadre of investors may have been taking notice.

Not only was her editorial in the Wall Street Journal a warning shot to current reform efforts and the debased credit climate, but it was after her appearance on CNBC (see below) that stocks really began to extend their slide. Whitney's advice was to avoid financial stocks "at all costs," which must have sounded an alarm, because all the major bank stocks took hits on Tuesday.

Bank of America (BAC) was off 2.45%; Goldman Sachs (GS) fell by more than 5 points, a 3.70% decline; Citigroup (C) finished the session at 3.73, its lowest close since March 8th, a decline of 3.37% on the day.

Dow 10,510.95, -114.88 (1.08%)
NASDAQ 2,317.26, -36.97 (1.57%)
S&P 500 1,120.80, -16.14 (1.42%)
NYSE Composite 6,959.21, -104.62 (1.48%

As expected, declining issues exceeded advancers by a wide margin, 4859-1705, though new highs managed to stay atop new lows for at least one more day, 166-100. Volume was on the low side, though it should pick up as the week progresses toward options expiration.

NYSE Volume 6,716,525,500.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,279,330,000.00

Crude oil, after being up nearly $2.00 in early trading, slipped to its first close below the $70 mark in 2010. Oil sold off another 67 cents, to $69.41. Keeping with the deflationary tone of the day, gold fell grandly, off $13.40, to $1,214.30. Silver managed to buck the trend, but only by throwing in 2 cents to its price per ounce, trading at $18.86.

The current conditions are ripe for a continuation of the current selloff or a radical race lower, a circumstance which could arise should the major averages fail on their tests of the 200-day moving averages. Dropping below those levels, which are not far off, could incite an all-out rout in equities as the economy still appears to be on shaky footing and companies may have trouble meeting last year's earnings results heading into the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters. While the upcoming spate of earnings reports in July may not be very challenging, the October and January 2011 results will be difficult, as the comparisons are to quarters in which companies had cut staff and expenses to raw bone and most cannot afford to operate in that manner for extended periods of time. The latter half of 2010 appears to be setting up as a very challenging period for the general economy and stocks overall.

No comments: