Monday, May 24, 2010

Still Sliding: Stocks Clobbered Once Again

Stocks continued to trade in very choppy manner, apparently awaiting the next shoe to drop for the global economy. The shock could come from Greece, Spain, Goldman Sachs, the Gulf of Mexico or any sector of any market, or from some completely unrelated area of commerce, politics or society.

Lindsay Lohan could give up drinking for a week and it might be enough for stocks to chalk down significant losses, that's how fragile world equity markets have become.

A canary in the proverbial coal mine might have been Spain's CajaSur bank, which was seized by Spain's central bank. The small savings bank signaled that the debt crisis in Europe may be expanding into the private sector and well beyond the borders of the "PIIGS" nations - Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

After an initial slow start, stocks gained momentum, with the Dow Jones Industrials briefly going positive around the noon hour and again at 1:00 pm. After that, however, it was mostly selling, as no market participants appear to have any conviction whatsoever. Even a solid report from the National Assn. of Realtors on April existing home sales - up 7.6% from a month ago and 22.8% from April 2009 - was tempered by an 11.5% increase in existing homes available for sale, to 4.04 million, roughly an 8 1/2-month supply.

Stocks gathered downside momentum in the final fifteen minutes of trade, with all major indices trading within earshot of their lows for the day. The Dow stumbled to its lowest close since February 10 (10,038.38), along with the S&P. Showing strength and trading in positive territory most of the session, even the NASDAQ finished well into the red.

Either a significant upside catalyst must emerge over the next two weeks - which could be in the form or improved jobs numbers next Friday (though that's a risky bet) - or stocks will either churn sideways to lower or fall completely over the cliff. The markets are in a mid-quarter correction of a cyclical bull inside a secular bear market. In other words, upside is severely limited near term and probably out the window, longer term. The 13-month-long rally of 2009-10 is already over, and a significant retracing is underway. Since stocks have barely breached the 10% level, downside risk is exaggerated at this juncture.

Looking at current global conditions, all the earmarks of severe deflation are present. Capital formation has been at a standstill for months, the real estate market in the US and Europe are still depressed, corporations have no pricing power, thus fueling long-lasting high unemployment. Debt overhang on state and national budgets is still severe. The losses by the banks from 2007-2008 are still sitting in the Fed's balance sheet and Europe is quickly becoming a basket case. A dissolution of the EU - even the expulsion of a few member countries - or debasement of the Euro could cause massive disruptions in global commerce and a worsening of global deflation.

To the surprise of nobody, financial stocks led the market lower. Technology was the best-performing sector, though only because others were so badly harmed. Unnerving was the fact that the Dow broke a string of ten consecutive Mondays with positive finishes, a signal that the individual investor has been nearly completely spooked out of the market and mutual fund managers may be moving more into cash.

Dow 10,066.57, -126.82 (1.24%)
NASDAQ 2,213.55, -15.49 (0.69%)
S&P 500 1,073.65, -14.04 (1.29%)
NYSE Composite 6,666.74, -108.71 (1.60%)

Losing issues beat winners, 4077-2405. New lows maintained their advantage over new highs, 112-69. Volume was subdued.

NYSE Volume 5,918,380,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,075,873,625

The winners were the metals, with gold ahead by a whopping $18.10, to $1,193.80. Silver followed with a gain of 35 cents, to $17.98. July crude finished at $70.21, up a mere 17 cents. Oil is poised to fall to even lower levels, despite the usual buying into summer months. The price was overbought during the winter, an a correction back to more reasonable levels around $60/barrel would not be out of the question.

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