Three Steps Forward, One Step Back
It was a valiant effort but the markets failed to stretch their winning string past three days. However, this was still a victory day for the bulls with most indexes holding the majority of their gains. The Nasdaq was the weakest link after news from AMZN and SBUX and dropped back to prior resistance but it was still a victory for the bulls.
It was a mixed day economically starting with the Jobless Claims, which fell to 316,000 from last weeks 325,000. We are starting to see a new trend to lower levels that suggests the hiring is really beginning to increase or at least the layoffs are slowing. Yesterday's Challenger report showed a drop in layoffs from 109,000 to 92,351 for January. That was a -15% drop in layoffs from the December level. The Jobless Claims have trended lower for the last three weeks and this suggests the worst is behind us. Remember we saw claims of 367K and 357K the first two weeks of the year.
Also jobs positive was the Monster Employment Index, which soared in January to 120 from 113 in December. This is a very strong report and showed strong job gains in retail trade, manufacturing and management. This was an all time high for this index but that only covers a little less than two years. The December 113 number was a drop from November's 117 and that drop has not only been reversed but eclipsed with the new high. This is a better indicator of hiring than the Help Wanted Index, which has been holding at its cycle lows for the last year.
The Jobless Claims, Layoffs and Monster Index all suggest we could have a decent Jobs report on Friday. The general consensus is for +200,000 new jobs and the whisper numbers are holding pretty close to the consensus. Surprisingly there has not been a rush to raise estimates given the positive reports. I believe too many analysts have been ridiculed about the high profile misses over the last year. They found there is no future in picking emotional numbers out of thin air.
The Nonfarm Productivity and Costs for Q4 was also announced today and the headline productivity number grew only +0.8%. This was far below the +1.8% growth in Q3 and the slowest increase in four years. Q3-2004 grew at +1.8% and the consensus for Q4 was for +1.6% growth. The +0.8% growth was somewhat of a shock and continues a downward trend since the blazing growth back in 2003 of well over +5% per quarter. Q3-2003 was the high at +9.0% growth. Today's number is even more troubling because the unit labor costs rose +2.3% and the fastest increase since Q2-2002. Costs are up and growing at multiyear highs and productivity is at multiyear lows. This is a recipe for shrinking profits but it is also has a dampening impact on inflation. If wages continue to be pressured and costs force companies to restrict hiring then there is no fuel for rampant inflation growth. This could be a very good reason the Fed kept its measured pace language because the risks are growing for a stagnant economy and profits.
Factory Orders for December also rose far less than expected. The headline growth was only +0.3% compared to consensus of +0.8% and the prior month at +1.4%. Factory Orders have been volatile of late so we should not rush to judgment. Aircraft orders fell -20.53% but communication equipment rose +18.08% to offset the majority of that drop. Computers orders grew +13.3% as the tax credit incentive spurred end of year buying. In December the internal components of new orders, shipments and back orders reached new highs despite the drop in the headline numbers. Next month the January numbers will give us a clearer picture without the end of year pressures. If the underlying back orders hold through January we could see another volatility rebound in the headline number.
Finally, to wrap up the economics for the day the ISM Services for January fell to 59.2 from December's 63.9. This should not be seen as a serious negative as the end of year period is normally services heavy and January is a regrouping period. New orders held their ground at 60.5 but inventories fell to 49.5 from 56 and prices received fell to 66.6 from 73.6. We can see there is some definite stress in the services sector but January is typically a weak month.
Whew! Now that the boring economics are behind us we can turn to the market movers. There were a few and mostly in the Nasdaq. Amazon was pummeled with a -$6 loss to $35 after missing earnings by a nickel. Amazon said higher costs for holiday sales hampered profits and investors were quick to run for the exits.
Starbucks said growth in same store sales was slowing with only a +7% growth in Q4. SBUX, the global growth star, was hammered for a -$4.50 drop. With literally a coffee shop on every corner it is going to be tough to fight this trend. About a mile from me in Colorado there are two Starbucks stores on opposite corners of the same intersection plus a third store from another chain on a third corner. It is a good chance the growth story for SBUX may be suffering from the KKD decline and the growth of Dunkin Donuts into a major coffee competitor. The SBUX news knocked -1.50 off of PNRA which has the same metrics of rapid store growth which will eventually taper off.
With AMZN knocking -2 points off the Nasdaq and SBUX -2.95 the index was under pressure from the start. A drop in CSCO took another -1.78 off, AAPL -1.23 and MSFT -1.26 Nasdaq points. Add in another -1 for Ebay's loss and the top six Nasdaq losers accounted for over -10 index points. The other 94 Nasdaq-100 stocks accounted for only fractional impacts and there were no other real losses. The Internet sector was the hardest hit after the Amazon news and there were no earnings after the bell today to provide any positive momentum for tomorrow.
The Nasdaq was the weakest link with a -17 point drop but the drop held right on uptrend support at 2050. This was the same level, which supplied resistance last week. Given the +70 point gain from the 2010 low on Jan-25th the minor loss today was very tolerable. Yesterday's spike to 2080 took it back to the first levels of major resistance at 2100. The resistance band runs from 2080-2110 and with earnings slowing it is going to be difficult to break through that range.
The Dow has now failed for two days almost exactly at the beginning of its 10600-10650 major resistance range. Like the Nasdaq at 2100 the Dow should have a major problem penetrating this resistance. It is obviously not impossible but going to be a challenge. If you remember my index conversation from Tuesday night I suggested the breakout order would need to be RUT, SOX, SPX, Nasdaq and finally the Dow.
The Russell is still holding its own in breakout territory at 630 but the SOX suffered a major failure over the last two days and has pulled back to support at 400 to regroup. It could not break the 410 resistance and needs a major infusion of buying interest to keep it from breaking down once again. This weakness in the SOX set the stage for the weakness in the Nasdaq and likely made the impacts of SBUX, AMZN and CSCO even worse. The failure in the SOX broke the index chain and could continue to make it more difficult for the other indexes to follow through.
Despite the failure in the SOX the SPX did manage to test the major resistance at 1195 on Wednesday and it traded over that level for an entire minute before the sellers literally crushed it back to 1190 as sell programs hit the tape. There is still very strong selling pressure waiting at that level and after today's drop from 1193 it appears there could be some cheaters trying to get in ahead of the crowd.
This leaves us with a strong overhead barrier for Friday with all the major indexes trading below their resistance for the week and an almost complete lack of any news event to provide motion other than the Jobs report. If we had a blowout Jobs number it could actually be market negative as it would put the Fed back on the front line of investor concern. If suddenly we saw a spike over 300K the Fed could retract its measured pace language at the next meeting. The good news is that meeting is not until March 22nd and a long way off. I believe the market would like to see a neutral number right in line with the 200K estimate. This would neither provide a positive or negative impact on the Fed. It would suggest to investors that it was safe to bet on an economy that was adding jobs. Should the number be under 100K we could see some flight to safety ahead of the normal summer doldrums.
Using my SPX indicator I am still only recommending small long positions until we move over 1195 and then take a more aggressive stance. Under 1175 remain flat or short. Should we retrace to 1175 again next week I would view it as a serious negative and would be wary of any long position from that point. I would not worry about it tonight and we will play what the market gives us until the trend changes. Right now we are in a short-term bullish uptrend and the fate of that trend should be decided over the next couple days.
Enter Very Passively, Exit Very Aggressively!