Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sucker Rally, Part Two: Rally 'Round BP

Whatever yesterday's steep sell-off was about, today's gap-up rally was about making up lost ground, in a hurry.

The Dow Jones Industrials gapped up at the open - once again shutting out all but the insider firms - 150 points, and by 10:00 am, it was up nearly 250. This kind of quick-start rally doesn't occur in a vacuum, so most of the clueless analysts attributed the rise to explosive numbers coming out of China, saying that exports increased at a rate of 48.5% year-over-year.

Suffice it to say that nobody wanted to mention that a year ago, exports were at an absolute nadir, Chinese officials were doing their best to control riotous laid-off workers and that global trading conditions were abysmal. Some comparisons, especially those which favor the bullish case, are almost always kept out of view, as was the case today.

Concerns over the sudden revitalization of stock-buying fervor were put on the back burner for the day, allowing investors to bask in the glow of at least some temporary relief to what has been a relentless decline since the beginning of May, and that's why bear market rallies are never useful barometers of market health. This one, like all others, will be soon forgotten, for it is only speculative and quite possibly just a trading phenomenon, likely linked to options expiration only a week away.

Besides the obvious rallying around poor, misunderstood British Petroleum (BP), financial stocks also rallies, perhaps on suspicion that congressional debate on financial regulation seems to be going the way the bankers would like, toward a watered-down bill that is nothing more than cosmetic, allowing the political class to find some cover heading into the fall election cycle.

The pols have their hands in the banks' pockets and vice versa, so don't expect anything hard-hitting to come of "FinReg," despite the inclusion of Senator Blanche Lincoln's controversial derivatives proposal, which threatens to drive as much as 30% of large bank profits overseas. The bill is in the hands of the conference committee, chaired by Barney Frank, which will reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions.

So, was this the mother of all sucker rallies, or does this mark the end of the month-long decline in equities and the beginning of a new bull run?

The jury's still out, but consider, if you will, the key numbers that will tell the story in coming days. On Friday, June 4, after the non farms payroll report showed little progress in private sector employment, stocks sank to a closing low of 9931.97 on the Dow and 1064.88 on the S&P. The follow-on sell-off Monday, June 7, saw the Dow close below the previous interim low (February 8), finishing at 9816.49. The S&P likewise closed below its previous low, ending the day at 1050.47.

Bottom pierced, any chartist with rudimentary skills would have promoted the idea that further downside risk was being telegraphed. Then came Tuesday's sharp rally, Wednesday's failed rally and today's super rally, on low volume, and on suspect news from - of all places - China. To believe that strength in Chinese markets somehow translates to good news for US firms requires a requisite leap of faith, when the obvious truth was that this rally was really all about saving the prospects of BP, the incomes of one out of seven British pensioners, and keeping the world awash in crude oil (both figuratively and, in the Gulf, literally).

For the bulls, their new targets are 11,205.03 on the Dow and 1217.28 on the S&P, somewhat of a stretch from where stocks have currently settled. Even from today's lofty closing values, a rally of 11% would be needed to return to the previous highs, whereas a decline of just 3.5% would send the two main indices back below their recently-achieved bottoms.

Sideways trading leaves us in a state of suspended animation, though investors will be mulling the news from the BP oil gusher and Europe's deteriorating debt condition over the next four weeks prior to earnings season, which could be a bellwether or a Waterloo, depending on results. Chances still seem to favor the bearish case, with much of this week's trading being perceived as mere "noise."

Dow 10,172.53, +273.28 (2.76%)
NASDAQ 2,218.71, +59.86 (2.77%)
S&P 500 1,086.84, +31.15 (2.95%)
NYSE Composite 6,783.53, +223.82 (3.41%)

As expected on such a huge upside move, advancers dominated decliners, 5550-1011, though new lows maintained their edge over new highs, 120-104. That, and low volume, are very telling signals to where the market is intended.

NYSE Volume 5,718,455,000.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,023,046,625.00

Oil gained again today, picking up $1.07, to $75.45. Gold fell for the second straight day, down $7.70, to $1,220.80, with silver up 18 cents, to $18.34. Confusing variations in the commodity space lends credence to the directionless market theory and to a resumption of the bearish case in short order.

Goldman Sachs (GS) was under pressure again today as the SEC began examining another mortgage investment for potential fraud - Hudson Mezzanine - and was hit with a $1 billion lawsuit from Basis Capital, an Australian hedge fund that invested in Timberwolf, an MBS that Goldman sold in 2007. The troubles just keep mounting on the investment bank everyone loves to hate.

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