Thursday, March 3, 2011

Big Rebound for Stocks on Low Volume

Today's jump in equities, led by Industrials, Financials and Health Care, was mostly based upon the usually shaded numbers from the BLS on initial unemployment claims, which came in at a three-year low of 368,000.

A good number, without a doubt, but market bettors were staking into stocks on the probability that those figures would translate into a much-improved non-farm payroll number on Friday. The current estimates are calling for the US economy to have created between 175,000 and 200,000 net new jobs in the month of February.

Taking into account the massive sums of money pumped into the economy through various stimuli, tax credits, bailouts, low tax regime and the Fed's QE, QE2 and ZIRP policies, it's about time for companies to begin hiring, and with gusto. Should the number tomorrow fall short of expectations, it would provide more fodder for those who believe the great Keynesian experiments of Ben Bernanke and the oligarchical banker subsidies have been for naught.

Those on the "recovery" side of that argument better hope that the BLS has massaged the numbers sufficiently to manage the message.

While today's gains were awesome to behold - the best for the S&P since December 1 and the biggest percentage gain for the NASDAQ since February 1 - the major indices are still 1-1 1/2% below the recent (Feb. 18) highs. events are still very much in flux, oil is still abnormally high-priced and we're still guessing that unemployment is beginning to come down, and worse yet, that guess is based upon a very faulty - and often revised - series of numbers supplied by a dodgy government agency, the BLS.

Not to poke holes in the recovery argument, for that's becoming a cause for being labeled un-American, but the stock market is such a wild, wide-open casino these days, that a big upside move is nothing upon which to hang one's investment hat. Additionally, it should be pointed out that the huge two-year rally off the March 9, 2009 lows has been upwards of 95% on the major indices and it is nothing more than a cyclical bull rally inside a secular bear market, one which the Western world entered in August of 2007.

Then there's still the question of what will happen when the Fed pulls the plug on QE, come June, or whether they will have the nerve and economic data to allow them to do so. That's when things get really dicey, as the underpinnings of the market are pulled out and interest rates make a natural rise, causing all that glorious government debt to be ever-more expensive to pay back.

And, if the Fed decides to pull the veritable plug of buying all US Treasury issuance, how soon will be see failed auctions? A scenario like that would make 2008 look like a stroll through the amusement park.

Enjoy it while you have it, perma-bulls. It may not last very long, especially in the face of what's gone on in gold and silver, the two behemoths scaring the living daylights out of central bankers everywhere.

Dow 12,258.20, +191.40 (1.59%)
NASDAQ 2,798.74, +50.67 (1.84%)
S&P 500 1,330.97, +22.53 (1.72%)
NYSE Composite 8,465.45, +126.69 (1.52%)

Matching the headline numbers, advancing issues galloped ahead of decliners, 5126-1431. NASDAQ new highs: 160; new lows: 22. NYSE new highs: 228; new lows: 4. Volume was down in the doldrums again, though not as badly as other, weaker days. With all the profits generated over the past two years, one would expect to see much higher volume on big trading days like this, but the bulk of the gain was done by noon, after which markets just marked time ahead of the key job announcement tomorrow morning.

There's also the small technical matter of the key, double-engulfing day on Tuesday, a symptom and a signal for a course correction, that is still in play. Today's high on the Dow was still 20 points shy of the opening high on Tuesday.

NASDAQ Volume 2,005,997,000
NYSE Volume 4,926,878,500

Oil took a bit of a breather, as events in Lybia and the Middle East were downplayed. NYMEX crude dipped 32 cents, but stabilizing over $100 - today's close was $101.91 - per barrel isn't anything anybody should be bullish about, unless one owns a well or three. Higher oil prices precede recessions, every time, and unless the situation in the Middle East isn't quieted soon, that high price is going to remain in place and possibly go higher. Moods change on the turn f a dime these days, and today's price - as well as today's stock gains - could be ancient history in a matter of hours or days.

Precious metals took a well-deserved day of profit-taking, and are consolidating at elevated levels. The next move higher should commence whenever conditions warrant, that being any time there's a flare-up in the Middle East, or, like Jean Claude Trichet mumbled today, interest rates should rise in Europe in order to stave off inflation.

Gold dropped $21.30, to $1,416.40; silver was down 51 cents, to $34.33. Both of those levels are close to historic, recent (yesterday) highs.

The future of the markets hinge upon tomorrow morning's key employment number, though one should not get too tied to this particular measure. There are more forces at work besides employment figures, though traders seem to want to hang their collective hats on this one.

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