Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Rush to the Exits at Quarter's End

On the final day of trading for the second quarter - the midpoint of the year - traders and investors took a look back on what has gone before and peered into an uncertain future.

By the end of the day, their assessment was clear: this is no time to be heavily invested in equities. Thus, in the final hour of trading, all of the major US indices took a severe turn to the downside finishing the day - and the quarter - with what turned from a trickle into a complete rout.

Stocks had held their own through most of the session, trading slightly above the unchanged mark for the most part, but, when it came down to concrete buying or selling decisions, everybody hit the sell button nearly simultaneously. A delay of a few moments could cost thousands, or even millions, of dollars, so once the trend was in place after 3:15 pm, the volume increased and near panic ensued. Only a serious effort in the final fifteen minutes - most likely by the PPT and some delighted short-sellers covering positions for the day - kept the markets from melting down completely.

Even as rescuers came to aid at the close, the Dow finished with a new closing low for the year, finally coming to rest on a number it hasn't seen since November 3, 2009, nearly 8 months ago.

The consensus opinion for the first half of 2010: Not so good. Prospects for the second half: Disturbingly downbeat. It's as though both the soprano and tenor each caught a cold nearing intermission of an opera.

Dow 9,774.02, -96.28 (0.98%)
NASDAQ 2,109.24, -25.94 (1.21%)
S&P 500 1,030.71, -10.53 (1.01%)
NYSE Composite 6,469.66, -50.43 (0.77%)

By day's end decliners buried advancers under the avalanche of late selling, 4127-2385. New lows smashed new highs by a margin nearly equal to yesterday's, 295-103. Volume, which had been on the light side most of the day, was so concentrated in the final hour that it ended up being just about normal, evan a bit on the heavy side.

NASDAQ Volume 2,212,934,750
NYSE Volume 5,968,454,500

For the second straight session, oil was down while gold was up, this time joined by silver prices, which increased eight cents, to $18.67. Gold managed a gain of $3.50, to close at $1,245.50, while oil slipped back another 61 cents, to $75.63, the lowest level in two weeks.

Weighing on the market - in addition to the world of woes already known - was the ADP Private Employment report for June, which showed a gain of just 13,000 jobs in the month, a number so tiny and so vile as to engender groans of pain from the trading floors.

The report comes two days prior to the highly-anticipated "official" government non-farm payroll report, which had already been expected to be less-than-cheery, but now, with the ADP report in hand, is likely to come in as a complete stinker, just what the markets and the American public don't need.

As for the first half of the year, stocks saw and end to the bear market rally that began in March of '09 and the beginnings of a second leg down, the bottom of which is anybody's guess. Some are calling for markets to sink even further than they did through Fall of 2008 and Winter of 2009, while the more optimistic believe this is only a correction.

The numbers bear neither side any witness, as they are stuck between correction (10%) and primary trend (20%). That stocks would be lower here and for the year as a whole would fall in line with the January barometer, which accurately presages direction about 80% of the time.

Since the end of 2009, the Dow is down 652 points. From it's high of 11,205 (April 26), the drop is a spectacular 1431 points, or -12.75%. The NASDAQ is down 160 points for the year and, from its high of 2530 (April 23) , the decline is 421 points (-16.64%). Everybody's favorite index, the S&P 500, is down a seemingly tame 85 points since the start of the year, but has given up 187 points from the April 23 high of 1217 (-15.37%).

The broadest measure of all, the NYSE Composite, is on the record for being down 414 points on the year, with a drop of 1260 from its high of 7729 on April 14, or a near-bear-market downturn of 16.30%.

With the two broadest gauges - the NASDAQ and NYSE Comp. - taking the biggest percentage hits over a span of a little more than two months, it's no stretch to say that the decline has been both broad and swift. The past two weeks have been particularly brutal. Since June 17, the indices have registered just one gain and eight losing sessions.

The worst of it is that the week isn't yet over, and the economic which carries the most weight, the June non-farm payroll report, won't make an appearance until Friday, though the expectation of a poor showing may already be factored into many trades.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Markets Plunge on Data, Fear; False Bottom in Place

There are so many negative issues plaguing equity investments at this juncture one can only hope to keep abreast of daily developments. Investors and traders should simply assume that all prior data was poor and that future data will continue in the same poor fashion for the foreseeable future - and maybe beyond.

As the global deflationary death (and debt) spiral persists, there's little any single entity can do to prevent major dislocations and value deterioration. The stock market is only a proxy for the general US economy, though it serves as a very solid guide to global conditions. What seems to be a major stumbling block for the overall health or decay of a global economic system is that it is made up of many smaller, moving parts - equity markets, bond markets, governments, nations, derivatives, commodities, etc. - and without coordination (virtually impossible) from these moving parts, stemming the deflationary tide is next to impossible.

Tuesday's decline was not confined to, nor was it a result of, US interests. It was global, begun with a revision to China's April Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) by the Conference Board, from a gain of 1.7% to a much smaller - and much more significant - 0.3% gain. The pain felt in bourses around the globe was exacerbated by the same Conference Board's US Consumer Confidence reading for June, which tumbled to 52.9 from May's 62.7 mark.

Other than the China revision and one sentiment gauge, overall data and news flow has been nothing but sad. There hasn't been a positive economic data release since the June non-farms payroll data, itself a complete flop. Plaguing markets are a myriad of touchy, intertwined forces, including unemployment, residential housing, commercial real estate, slumping bond yields, government debt, household debt, shrinking money supply, tight credit conditions and currency fluctuations.

It's almost too much to expect from any market individually, so all markets are collectively sharing the pain. Oversimplifying the matter to the extreme, an oversupply of assets on a base of faulty investments funded with massive amounts of unsecured debt (in the Trillions of dollars) is collapsing at a rapid rate. That's why gold and silver have risen, or, at least lately held up much better than most assets - there's a finite, limited supply of them.

The selling began early and accelerated through the afternoon, with indices closing very near their lows of the day. The final, closing price of the S&P 500 was the lowest since October 30, 2009, an 8-month low, breaking through previous double-bottom support.

Dow 9,870.30, -268.22 (2.65%)
NASDAQ 2,135.18, -85.47 (3.85%)
S&P 500 1,041.24, -33.33 (3.10%)
NYSE Composite 6,520.09, -216.51 (3.21%)

Decliners decimated advancers, 5837-752 (nearly 8:1); new lows bounded past new highs, 324-93, finally confirming the roll-over of that indicator and sending the strongest sell signal possible. The daily high-low ratio has been mixed for the past four weeks and has now finally founded direction. Additionally, volume, which was non-existent on Monday, absolutely exploded to near-panic levels today.

NYSE Volume 7,193,685,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,783,303,750

Crude oil tumbled on demand concerns, losing $2.31, to $75.94. Gold saw a little bit of a bid, up $3.80, to $1,242.00, though silver fell 8 cents, to $18.59.

It was one of Wall Street's worst days of this or any year and the general consensus is that it's far from over. With three days remaining to the week and more sensitive data due out, there's no hope for the bullish case.

There is a small amount of support around Dow 9800, though it is very tentative, and likely to be broken without much fuss. The next leg down in the still-unfolding global de-leveraging process is likely to be the steepest from peak to trough and we are only at the beginning of it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Shaky Start to Big Data Week

This week will witness the final three days of the second quarter and the first two of the third as a precursor to what purports to be a very interesting 2Q earnings season.

The week kicked off with a very stubborn market, one which refused to push either to the upside or down, trading in a tight range throughout the session. Prior to the open, the first two data points for the week were released, showing personal income rising by 0.4% and personal spending up by 0.2%, both for the month of May.

Generally, the takeaway was unenthusiastic, as the numbers taken together imply tightening by households and individuals, unsurprising to most.

As the week progresses, however, economic data releases will become more and more essential to traders, culminating in the June non-farm payroll report on Friday. Tuesday's releases include the Case-Shiller 20-city Index and Consumer Confidence reading. On Wednesday, the ADP Employment Change, a precursor to the non-farm payrolls, and Chicago PMI will be well-anticipated. Thursday is chock-full of data on the economy, with Continuing and Initial Unemployment Claims kicking things off at 8:30 am. At 10:00 am, Construction Spending for May, the ISM Index for June and Pending Home Sales for May will be closely monitored along with Auto at Trusk sales for June at 1:00 pm.

That's a load of data for the market to digest, and recent indications are that by Friday, most of the nation will be at or near a state of melancholy, just in time for a long weekend, with markets closed in observance of Independence Day on Monday, July 5.

Dow 10,138.52, -5.29 (0.05%)
NASDAQ 2,220.65, -2.83 (0.13%)
S&P 500 1,074.57, -2.19 (0.20%)
NYSE Composite 6,736.60, -27.33 (0.40%)

Unlike the headline numbers, declining issues beat out advancers by a relatively strong margin, 3617-2858, indicating some position lightening. New highs managed to better new lows, 144-124. Volume was astonishingly light, it being a Monday, usually reserved for fund manager forays. While the light volume could be attributed to seasonality, it's more likely a function of fear. Nobody wants to get in front of data which may demonstrate weakness across the board.

NYSE Volume 4,504,852,000
NASDAQ Volume 1,767,528,125

Even commodities were selling off. Crude oil for August delivery dropped 61 cents, to $78.25, on the NYMEX. Gold plunged $17.60, to $1,238.20; silver fell in kind, off 34 cents, to $18.67.

There's absolutely no good reason to take a position in any stock at this juncture, long or short, though the shorts may beg to differ. With earnings due to kick off in a week's time, and, with the mountain of economic data this week, traders will have a difficult time making an argument for any type of equity.

Market sentiment remains clouded and slightly bearish, however, especially since there's still no resolution to the issues in the Gulf of Mexico, BP and their massive oil spill. Other conditions notwithstanding, the images of soiled beached and dead sea fowl continue to haunt the minds of just about anybody with a pulse and a conscience. It's a huge overhang on a market which already has much too much to be worried about.

Notably absent from the discussion were the weekend's G20 summit in Toronto, which produced little, if any, tangible prospects for the future. European nations banded together to promote austerity, with the larger nations - France and Germany - vowing to begin cutting deficits, while the US stuck to its easy-credit, spendthrift ways for the near term.

The death of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd late Sunday evening threw a wrench into the passage of the recently-hammered-out financial regulation bill. It was unclear whether Democrats could muster enough votes to survive a possible Republican filibuster, even though the bill was so watered-down by completion that few saw it as meaningful reform in any way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Stocks Flat to End Rough Week; BP Crushed

US stocks could not rebound well from a week of fairly persistent selling pressure, finishing with a mixed session on Friday. Only the Dow closed lower on the day, but the other major indices were barely changed.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrials lost 301 points, or about 3%. The NASDAQ shed 86 points and the S&P 500 was the worst hit, giving back 40 points, close to a 4% decline.

Persistent worries about the heath of the general economy, credit conditions and the overall global economy pushed all three indices, plus the NYSE Composite, back under their respective 200-day moving averages.

Dow 10,143.81, -8.99 (0.09%)
NASDAQ 2,223.48, +6.06 (0.27%)
S&P 500 1,076.76, +3.07 (0.29%)
NYSE Composite 6,763.93, +33.69 (0.50%)

Like stocks, internals were also mixed. Winners beat losers by a tally of 4593-1870, but new lows maintained their edge over new highs, 170-119. Volume was extraordinarily high, due to annual rebalancing of the Russell 2000.

NYSE Volume 7,031,487,500
NASDAQ Volume 3,283,513,000

Continuing to feel pressure, British Petroleum (BP) lost more value, closing at 27.02, a price not seen in the stock since 1993. Claims continue to mount, and there are concerns that the company will be forced to pay dearly for financing going forward, with credit default swaps inverted - costs to insure BPs financing for one year now costs more than insuring five years' debt on an annualized basis.

Commodities were worthwhile investments once more, with oil leading the way, thanks to fears of a tropical storm reaching the Gulf of Mexico within the next three to five days. Crude for August delivery rose $2.35, to $78.86.

Gold continued its ascent, gaining $10.30, to $1,255.80. Silver added 37 cents, to close the week at $19.10.

Stocks remained under pressure as the government third and final estimate of GDP growth came in lower than expected, at 2.7% (down from 3.0%), fueling renewed fears of either weak economic conditions going forward or the threat of a double dip, back into recession in 2011.

With the July 4th holiday beginning at the end of next week, traders will be focused on Friday's June non-farm payroll report, which is expected to show gains of 100,000 jobs, though just where those jobs might have been created remains a mystery. It's more likely that job growth will remain anemic through the summer and that stock market losses will accelerate.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One More Ugly Day for Stocks Following Fed Statement

On the heels of the FOMC rate policy announcement - one which possibly reached new levels of double-talk and misleading innuendo - stocks sold off rapidly at the open and again into the close.

The simple fact of the matter is that heavy trading is normally done in two specific time periods - in the first half hour and in the final hour of trading. On Thursday, the Dow lost roughly 100 points by 10:00 am, and another 45 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm. That pretty much summed up how investors were feeling a day after the Fed threw itself on it own sword of interest rate policy and effectively left US markets to fend for themselves.

While the losses today were substantial, it is worth noting that volume wasn't particularly strong; however, that should be put into the perspective of an overall weak market - the case since the financial implosion of 2008. Trading volume may never recover to the glory days of the great bull run from 2003-2007 as many individuals and a spate of investment firms have permanently soured on US stocks.

Wild gyrations, uncertain times and volatile conditions do not a stable market make, and these times could hardly be described as stable. Government intervention into all areas of public and private finances also have made many shy away from investing in equities. Nonetheless, there are still those who will try to quantify risk - such as the friend who told me that he made a considerable investment in BP on Tuesday (I do not know what he deems "considerable," but in any case I felt impelled to tell him I thought it was a mistake, and he is already on the wrong side of the trade.) - in search of ever-elusive gains.

There are also pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds and any manner of investment vehicles which are chartered to invest in stocks, like it or not, so there will likely always be ample supply of buyers and sellers no matter the level of greed, fear and risk tolerance.

Considering the current climate, stocks are not favorable investments for anybody except those with excess cash on hand (wealthy), and even then, investing today may be more akin to gambling or just plain flushing money down the nearest toilet.

Let's take a look:

Dow 10,152.80, -145.64 (1.41%)
NASDAQ 2,217.42, -36.81 (1.63%)
S&P 500 1,073.69, -18.35 (1.68%)
NYSE Composite 6,730.24, -119.81 (1.75%)

Not a very pretty picture, there. Declining issues beat down advancers once more, today by a wide margin, 4914-1535 (3:1). New lows screamed past new highs, 159-92. Volume was light, but not exceedingly so. There was some serious dumping of losers going on and the number of bulls in attendance were not nearly sufficient to scare off the short-siders.

NYSE Volume 5,595,221,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,049,015,500

About the only place to make money was in the precious metals, though it wasn't much. Gold finished at $1,245.50, a gain of $11.40. Silver pushed ahead 28 cents, to $18.73. Crude oil fared less well, with futures for August delivery up a scrawny 16 cents, to $76.51.

The only economic news of any importance was prior to the open. Durable goods orders for May declined 1.1%. The weekly initial jobless claims stayed at about the same level they've been at for months, with 457,000 new unemployment applications.

With poor data setting the tone, stocks slumped. On Friday, the government releases its third and final estimate of 1st quarter GDP, expected to remain stable at 3%. With the release at 8:30 am, that should have little impact on the week's last day of trading.