Monday, April 13, 2009

Investors Play Waiting Game in Advance of Earnings

On the heels of a long holiday weekend, investors were met with a troubling scenario on Monday, as there was hardly a headline upon which to base trading. As such, stocks took an immediate dive to the negative at the opening bell and stayed down until momentum traders brought the major indices back to positive bearings after the noon hour. The Dow lagged the S&P and NYSE Composite, with the NASDAQ making a sharp turn at midday and closing close to unchanged.

Overall, there was little movement in anticipation of major earnings announcements which begin this week and will be the focus of trading through the end of the month. Of course, following the key Wells Fargo pre-announcement from Thursday, there's a good deal of excitement and anxiety building over first quarter earnings from major banks. The schedule for bank earnings goes as follows: Goldman Sachs (GS) on April 14, JP Morgan Chase (JPM) on April 16, Citigroup (C) on April 17, Bank of America (BAC) on April 20 and Wells Fargo (WFC) on April 22.

It is notable that Wells Fargo is the last to report, as their actual announcement will more than likely result in a sell-off, the company already having jumped the shark by leaking out their earnings news. The balance of this week, however, will be dominated by the three big banks reporting and it should be quite a show.

Dow 8,057.81, -25.57 (0.32%)
NASDAQ 1,653.31, +0.77 (0.05%)
S&P 500 858.73, +2.17 (0.25%)
NYSE Composite 5,410.28, +33.84 (0.63%)

As for today, it was just a low-volume grind in a fairly tight range. For the time being, volatility has been wrung out of the markets if only because stocks have once again topped out. The next move, whether to the upside or down, will be decisive though earnings reports from various companies over time could contribute to wide swings.

Advancing issues were 4644, to 2855 declining. New lows beat down new highs, 93-31, with the margin increasing again. Volume was on the low side.

NYSE Volume 1,481,100,000
NASDAQ Volume 1,832,720,000

What the market was waiting all day for - Talbot's earnings for the 4th quarter and full year of 2008 - finally appeared online after the close. If the market is seeking direction, take note: The company, trading under the symbol TLB, reported a 4th quarter adjusted net loss (period ended January 31, 2009) of $128.4 million or $2.40 per share compared to last year’s adjusted net loss of $7.1 million or $0.13 per share.

Talbot's operates more than 1000 retail apparel stores in the US, UK and Canada, so all this does is re-confirm that the retail sector is in deep trouble. Shares were down nearly 20% in after-hours trading.

Well, that's what we thought the market was awaiting. Instead, Goldman Sachs decided to report a day earlier, posting earnings of $3.39 per share, beating forecasts of $1.64 per share. Expect stocks to gap up at the open tomorrow on that surprise.

What is troubling about Goldman Sachs' earnings is that since changing their designation from an investment bank to a commercial bank, they also changed their reporting periods, which can be seen plainly in this report. [PDF]

The problem is that the company seems to have completely eviscerated the month of December, 2008, in which - according to unpublished reports - the company lost $1 billion, or $2.15 per share, which would have dramatically changed their results. Goldman's actual results - including the December loss - should have been $1.24 per share, well below the expectations. This is all just spin, and possibly accounting fraud, which, of course, will not be investigated. Shares of Goldman Sachs were lower in after-hours trading.

Oil closed down $2.19, at $50.05. Gold gained $12.50, to $895.80, while silver edged higher by 44 cents, to close at $12.77.

With companies - notably banks - jumping the gun on earnings announcements, the trading environment has gone from nearly impossible to "forget it" status. Nothing makes sense any more. Banks which needed billions of dollars just months ago are now reporting healthy profits. Is it all a sham, a grand design to raid the US treasury? We may never know, but all indications sure seem to be pointing that way.

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