Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Rush to the Exits at Quarter's End

On the final day of trading for the second quarter - the midpoint of the year - traders and investors took a look back on what has gone before and peered into an uncertain future.

By the end of the day, their assessment was clear: this is no time to be heavily invested in equities. Thus, in the final hour of trading, all of the major US indices took a severe turn to the downside finishing the day - and the quarter - with what turned from a trickle into a complete rout.

Stocks had held their own through most of the session, trading slightly above the unchanged mark for the most part, but, when it came down to concrete buying or selling decisions, everybody hit the sell button nearly simultaneously. A delay of a few moments could cost thousands, or even millions, of dollars, so once the trend was in place after 3:15 pm, the volume increased and near panic ensued. Only a serious effort in the final fifteen minutes - most likely by the PPT and some delighted short-sellers covering positions for the day - kept the markets from melting down completely.

Even as rescuers came to aid at the close, the Dow finished with a new closing low for the year, finally coming to rest on a number it hasn't seen since November 3, 2009, nearly 8 months ago.

The consensus opinion for the first half of 2010: Not so good. Prospects for the second half: Disturbingly downbeat. It's as though both the soprano and tenor each caught a cold nearing intermission of an opera.

Dow 9,774.02, -96.28 (0.98%)
NASDAQ 2,109.24, -25.94 (1.21%)
S&P 500 1,030.71, -10.53 (1.01%)
NYSE Composite 6,469.66, -50.43 (0.77%)

By day's end decliners buried advancers under the avalanche of late selling, 4127-2385. New lows smashed new highs by a margin nearly equal to yesterday's, 295-103. Volume, which had been on the light side most of the day, was so concentrated in the final hour that it ended up being just about normal, evan a bit on the heavy side.

NASDAQ Volume 2,212,934,750
NYSE Volume 5,968,454,500

For the second straight session, oil was down while gold was up, this time joined by silver prices, which increased eight cents, to $18.67. Gold managed a gain of $3.50, to close at $1,245.50, while oil slipped back another 61 cents, to $75.63, the lowest level in two weeks.

Weighing on the market - in addition to the world of woes already known - was the ADP Private Employment report for June, which showed a gain of just 13,000 jobs in the month, a number so tiny and so vile as to engender groans of pain from the trading floors.

The report comes two days prior to the highly-anticipated "official" government non-farm payroll report, which had already been expected to be less-than-cheery, but now, with the ADP report in hand, is likely to come in as a complete stinker, just what the markets and the American public don't need.

As for the first half of the year, stocks saw and end to the bear market rally that began in March of '09 and the beginnings of a second leg down, the bottom of which is anybody's guess. Some are calling for markets to sink even further than they did through Fall of 2008 and Winter of 2009, while the more optimistic believe this is only a correction.

The numbers bear neither side any witness, as they are stuck between correction (10%) and primary trend (20%). That stocks would be lower here and for the year as a whole would fall in line with the January barometer, which accurately presages direction about 80% of the time.

Since the end of 2009, the Dow is down 652 points. From it's high of 11,205 (April 26), the drop is a spectacular 1431 points, or -12.75%. The NASDAQ is down 160 points for the year and, from its high of 2530 (April 23) , the decline is 421 points (-16.64%). Everybody's favorite index, the S&P 500, is down a seemingly tame 85 points since the start of the year, but has given up 187 points from the April 23 high of 1217 (-15.37%).

The broadest measure of all, the NYSE Composite, is on the record for being down 414 points on the year, with a drop of 1260 from its high of 7729 on April 14, or a near-bear-market downturn of 16.30%.

With the two broadest gauges - the NASDAQ and NYSE Comp. - taking the biggest percentage hits over a span of a little more than two months, it's no stretch to say that the decline has been both broad and swift. The past two weeks have been particularly brutal. Since June 17, the indices have registered just one gain and eight losing sessions.

The worst of it is that the week isn't yet over, and the economic which carries the most weight, the June non-farm payroll report, won't make an appearance until Friday, though the expectation of a poor showing may already be factored into many trades.

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