Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stocks in Full Retreat Mode

Stocks continued their 23-session-long see-sawing as indeterminate investors pushed the major indices back down throughout the day on Tuesday.

Using the Dow as a guide, the markets have traded in roughly the same range since April 18. During that span, the blue-chip index has seen a maximum closing low and high of 12,745 and 13,058, a stretch of just over 300 points, or, just a bit more than 3%.

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The sideways trade is frustrating for both longs and shorts. Direction must be determined at some point, and one likely scenario (bearish) is for a full-blown shakeout back to retest the March lows. Bulls will say the market is consolidating at a new level for a burst higher. Either condition could prevail. In the absence of corporate earnings until mid-July, news, economic reports and consensus opinion will determine direction over the near term.

Dow 12,828.68 -199.48; NASDAQ 2,492.26 -23.83; S&P 500 1,413.40 -13.23; NYSE Composite 9,536.01 -66.77

Not unexpectedly, advancing issues took a back seat to a deluge of decliners, 3795-2264. New lows regained the edge over new highs as well, 182-143.

The major catalysts on the day were more bleak news from the financial center, as Oppenheimer analyst Meredith Whitney predicted the credit crisis would continue into 2009. First quarter results from Home Depot (HD, 27.37, -1.50) beat lowered estimates, but still were disappointing. The PPI shot up 0.2%, with core PPI up more than expected, 0.4%. Naturally, the price of oil continued to another record close. The superfecta of bad news just was too much to overcome.

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Oil shot up another $2.26, to close at $128.98. Gold gained $14.40 to $920.20. Silver improved 70 cents to $17.73 per ounce.

Essentially, it was a bad day to hold anything you couldn't touch or feel.

The balance of the week doesn't hold much promise with few economic reports due. Only April existing home sales on Friday at 10:00 am offers a blockbuster number, and that could be very bad, as has been the case since August of last year.

I remain somewhat bearish, though mindful that the market could take off without any kind of impetus. However, we've witnessed a triple top in the 13,020-13,058 range and the market just can't seem to break through that level.

NYSE Volume 1,236,900,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,018,207,000

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