Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Finishes Badly; PMI Weakest in Over Three Years

Considering the crush of bad data that the markets encountered this morning, today's marginal negative close was something of a marvel. In fact, had stocks not taken an abrupt U-turn in the final 20 minutes of trading, one could have said that markets were ignoring the headlines.

As a whole, the month of May was about as dismal as has been seen since the aftermath of the '08 collapse. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow were down roughly 6%, wiping out most of the gains of the year. Energy, financials and materials were the three hardest hit sectors. Crude oil took more than a 17% haircut during the month, putting it technically in a bear market.

The five positive days on the Dow for the month was the worst for May since 1969 and the 17 down days bettered a May mark dating back to 1956.

Among the data releases from the morning that set the overall tone for the US markets were the announced job cuts in May, that jumped 67% from a year ago according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the 133K private sector jobs created in the month - 24,000 lower than the estimate - according to ADT, 383K initial unemployment claims, and a drop in the second estimate of first quarter GDP to 1.9% from the 2.2% previously supplied.

All of those releases were prior to the opening bell, but at 10:00 am EDT the hammer hit the market hard, as the Chicago PMI dropped from 56.2 in April to a current reading of 52.7, the worst showing since September 2009.

With that announcement, stocks did a face-plant, with all of the major indices falling quickly to the lows of the day. There was no sign of capitulation, that likely being saved for Friday's non-farm payroll report, which has all investors walking on eggs this week.

Taking the bad economic news in usual shrugging-off fashion, stocks climbed back to positive territory - except for the NASDAQ which was down all day - nearing the close, but fell apart at the end, finishing May with one of the worst performances on record, the major indices clinging to smallish gains for the year and the major averages resting just above their 200-day moving averages.

With prospects for a robust reading on jobs from the BLS not encouraging, Friday appears to be shaping up as a make or break session, notwithstanding issues ranging from Europe to bank downgrades on the horizon.

The 10-year bond fell to another historic low, closing with a yield of 1.57%, indicative of a flight to safety as investors worry about recession in Europe and how a slowdown there will affect US firms, many of which derive a significant portion of their revenues from the crumbling continent. Also under consideration are how the continued crisis in Europe will affect US banks, some of which have significant exposure to various countries in the Eurozone.

Crude oil continued its relentless slide, hitting its lowest price level in seven months and down 17% in May alone. Oil futures have entered a bear market, more than 20% off their highs, a condition drivers can only celebrate, as the national average price of retail gas at the pump is down to $3.62 per gallon according to AAA's fuel gauge report.

With May out of the way, tomorrow's 8:30 am EDT announcement on payrolls could be a make-or-break event for markets teetering on the brink.

Dow 12,393.45, -26.41 (0.21%)
NASDAQ 2,827.34, -10.02 (0.35%)
S&P 500 1,310.33, -2.99 (0.23%)
NYSE Composite 7,464.45, -6.95 (0.09%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,090,245,500
NYSE Volume 4,434,600,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2760-2984
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 73-213
WTI crude oil: 86.53, -1.29
Gold: 1,562.60, -0.80
Silver: 27.76, -0.23

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