Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Markets Offering Few Directional Clues Amidst Continuing Crises

Spain today, tomorrow jobs, next day China. Wholesale inventories are growing.

That's how the markets seem to be lurching from one crisis to the next, though overall performance in equity markets has - until the past five days - been outstanding.

Today's deep declines in Europe and the US notwithstanding, global economies have withstood more than three years of relentless pressure and are still standing.

This kind of vacillation leaves most analysts red-eyed and weary at the ends of most weeks and casual market observers in a state of dumbfounded blurriness.

Recapping the losses in US equity markets today need not lead one to conclude that the economy is falling over a cliff; indeed, stocks have been on a 30% tear since October, and the recent five-day decline has only clipped off a small percentage. And, it's just the start of earnings season for the first quarter, one which is predicted to be less-than-outstanding, withe the estimate for earnings growth to be less than one percent.

The Dow is on its worst five-day losing streak since August of 2011; meanwhile the S&P and NASDAQ have suffered their biggest drops since late November. The S&P broke through support at 1370 and continued down from there, slicing through its 50-day moving average, while the NASDAQ busted below 3000, a beachhead just recently breached.

Fear? Greed? Take your pick. Stocks finished close to their lows of the day, setting up just about anything for Wednesday, though the overhand from Spain's 10-year bond hovering around 6% is troubling to all.

On the bright side, Alcoa (AA) opened earnings season with a surprise, posting a nine-cent per share first quarter profit on expectations of a four-cent loss. On the other hand, last year's first quarter profit was 27 cents per share.

The 10-year US treasury closed below 2% (1.98%) for the first time in a month and WTI crude oil ended the day at roughly the same level it was at on December 30 of last year.

Most corporate economists are calling for 2-3% growth for 2012, though their track record is of misses so wide that one would be a fool to invite them onto the bar darts team.

A couple of clues to keep on the radar over the next few days, because they will be telling: the advance-decline line has been anemic for the past two weeks and the past two days have been decidedly bearish; the VIX has spiked 30% in the past eight sessions; Dow transports never confirmed the recent rally and have been taking a beating recently; new highs - new lows has rolled over in three of the past four sessions; and, crude oil has tanked.

All of these indicators are important, but it's still too early to call a trend, especially as we head into the heart of earnings season over the next two weeks. It will pay to keep a very close eye on developments. The recent downturn could easily be nothing more than profit-taking or the forerunner of a severe downturn.

So, take your pick. Up, down, left, right, forward, backwards. If you have a job, keep it. If you have some money, save it. If you need to eat, buy some food (it's still relatively cheap), if you don't have to drive, don't, and, if you think life is still pretty good, enjoy it, because, in this environment, one never knows how long the good times will last.

Keep an eye on sunrise and sunset times and any variance from published expectations.

Dow 12,715.93, -213.66 (1.65%)
NASDAQ 2,991.22, -55.86 (1.83%)
S&P 500 1,358.59, -23.61 (1.71%)
NYSE Composite 7,842.00, -150.32 (1.88%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,916,928,125
NYSE Volume 4,651,426,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 924-4713
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 45-157
WTI crude oil: 101.02, -1.44
Gold: 1,660.70, +16.80
Silver: 31.68, +0.16

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