If you don't like the direction of the market on any particular day, just wait until the next day since it will probably change. This morning was a mini version of the same thing and it was a very choppy session until this afternoon when someone pulled the plug and the market made a counter clockwise swirling motion and you could hear the gurgling sounds as it headed down the drain. We landed at some pretty solid support levels, such as the SPX 200-dma, so the question now is whether we'll simply switch direction and have another reversal day, one of many lately.
The overnight action in the futures gave us a heads up that we could see a choppy day morning since futures got a little wild between 4:00 am and the 9:30 cash market open. Those gyrations just got more pronounced as we headed into lunch and then price action started contracting as we headed into the 2:00 turn window. That's when the plug was pulled and down we went. The 8:30 economic numbers were somewhat bullish for equities in that U.S. retail sales rose a better-than-expected 1.4% in April and jobless claims increased (which reduces fear of too much growth and consequent Fed tightening action). The retails sales increase was the largest increase in 7 months and was spread across many sectors including automobiles. The retail index still ended in the red today as worries about the future continue to dominate. The negative guidance from Walmart (WMT, 47.65, -0.95) did not help at all. They see Q2 sales coming in below plan and the outlook for 2005 remains challenging. They blamed it on the high cost of gasoline. This is a very reasonable excuse, er reason, considering the fact that many of Walmart's customers are not your well-healed people who feel the impact of higher gasoline prices much more. However, I suspect we'll see many companies lowering guidance and I'm sure high gasoline (energy) prices will be blamed. We do know that the consumer is the engine that drives our economy and we've talked a long time about the hidden tax from high energy costs. Take money away from the consumer and our economy will feel the pinch. Walmart's guidance is merely a warning shot across the bow (or flares dropped in front of a Cessna). Helping the retail sector hold up a little better than the broader market today was a report from Target (TGT) who reported better than expected earnings.
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Looking a little deeper look into the +1.4% retail sales numbers shows that sales ex-autos were up +1.1% versus +0.6% expected (this after revising March sales up by +0.3%). Take away gas sales and that number was +1.0%. General merchandise sales were up a very healthy +1.5%. Year-over-year retail sales were up 8.6%. So even taking out gasoline sales, retail sales were up very respectably. I think Walmart's warning lends credence to the idea that the lower/middle income classes are feeling more of a pinch from higher energy costs. But those higher energy costs are rippling through the economy so everyone and all companies will feel a squeeze on profits. The higher fuel costs certainly aren't helping the airlines. The large drop in oil prices this week has helped the airlines and their losses today were less than the overall market but United Airlines reported a mere $1.1 billion first quarter loss. I heard a good analysis of the trouble the big carriers are in--they are trying to cut costs and continue to operate under an old business model that is no longer working--they're not meeting the needs of their customers. The smaller "discount" carriers are instead looking for ways to improve value for the customer while controlling costs. It's been obvious for a long time now which model works best.
The weekly jobless claims number was also reported at 8:30 am and they were at the highest level since April 2nd--up 4,000 to 340,000 in the week ended May 7th. The Labor Dept could not identify any specific reason for the increase and was unexpected. Expectations were for a drop of 9,000. Claims for the previous week were also raised to 15,000 to 336,000 compared with the initial estimate of a gain of 11,000 to 333,000. The continuing jobless claims were up 15,000 to 2.60M. After all these numbers were reported, futures made a relatively small jump pre-market which was quickly retraced at the open and then the gyrations began but kept price stuck in a relatively narrow trading range for much of the day before the early afternoon break down.
We'll look over the same charts I've shown for the past few weeks. Hopefully by following the same charts we can get a "picture" of the changing market and how the major indices and sectors are doing over time.
DOW chart, Daily
Since the April low where the DOW bounced off the bottom of its parallel up-channel, which has contained price since 2004, it got back up to its 200-dma near 10,400. This also marks the resistance level where price highs and lows have been registered since September 2004. With the hard turn down from this obvious resistance level, and the daily stochastics and MACD getting ready to roll back over, this is not the picture of health for the market. The corrective look to the bounce (overlapping highs and lows and only a 3-wave rally) makes it look like this will quickly break below 10,000 and 9700-9800 would be the next target.
SPX chart, Daily
The SPX chart currently looks like the bulls at least have a fighting chance here, as opposed to what the DOW chart looks like. Price broke above the downtrend line from March and above its 200-dma. It is now coming back down for a retest of that broken downtrend line and its 200-dma. The 200-dma is located at 1158.60 (it did a slight undercut of that today) and the downtrend line is near 1156. If SPX gives up its 200-dma, DOW's 10,000 level is toast and SPX could be headed to the bottom of its up-channel near 1115. But if the 200-dma/downtrend line holds, we could get a good launch higher. It can't lollygag around this level though--it must bounce hard and get a rally leg started immediately.
Nasdaq chart, Daily
The NAZ has been in a down-channel and is not threatening to break out yet. In fact it remains trapped beneath it price resistance level identified by the October 2004 high and March low. It hasn't even been able to get up to test its 200-dma which also is where the downtrend line from January's high. As with the other charts, the daily oscillators are threatening to roll back over and this looks like it's ready to head lower.
SOX index, daily chart
The SOX was one of the few sectors that were green today. But unfortunately it doesn't help its daily chart. Last week I mentioned to watch the 400 level for resistance to short this index (SMH put options). This is the level where the broken uptrend line is located (actually 401 today) and this is where the SOX failed. The bounce pattern looks complete here and looks like a good shorting candidate. Watch early action tomorrow morning to see how the techs react to Dell's earnings news but I don't feel bullish about this index at all. If it were able to get back above the trend line, it will still have to deal with its 200-dma right above it, just below 408.
The general impression from the above charts is bearish. They're all in synch and they're all pointing down. The market has been very twitchy for a few weeks now and if the bearish-looking charts get too many bears leaning on the market we could easily see flare-ups due to short covering. This will continue to be a problem for those trying to short the market. Unlike in 2000-2001 we have MANY more participants willing and able to short the market, and many of them panic easily and cover their shorts quickly. Many more options players now know how to use put options. We have e-mini futures traders the likes of which we did not have in 2000. We have 8000+ hedge funds who are using program trading to spike the market around. It is a very difficult market to trade with conviction and it's hard to prevent getting stopped out from whipsaws. So, we could easily see a 100-point rally in the DOW on any given day and it may not mean anything. The larger picture of this market is bearish and that's the way I'd be leaning for now unless and until that picture changes (we start taking out the resistance levels shown in the above charts).
Even today's early price action was an indication of confusion. Do we trust the increase in retail sales as a positive indicator that the consumer is strong and still spending? That would then mean the economy will continue to grow and that's good for stocks. But what of Walmart's warning? Their report may have been a heads up that we have a consumer that is being dragged down by rising energy (gasoline) costs which would make Walmart's warning something that the rest of the economy is going to soon feel. The increase in jobless claims is never good for the economy unless you're Greenspan and then you think it's good because it means productivity is improving so we need fewer jobs. But don't get me started on Greenspan. The leading sectors to the downside today were energy related stocks, the gold and silver index (I'll discuss the US dollar and precious metals later), the transports (see chart below) and the financials. The green sectors were the SOX, high tech and disk drive. Stronger but still in the red were the pharmaceuticals, health care and airlines (helped by dropping oil prices). Speaking of oil prices, oil got pummeled today and this following a relatively steep drop this week. From Tuesday's high of $53.15, oil got down to $48.25 today before getting a small bounce after hours.
Oil chart, June contract, Daily
Oil is trading well technically. By that I mean it's trading well off trend lines as seen on the above chart. Oil's rally stopped dead at the intersection of the downtrend line from the April high and the uptrend line from the December 2004 low. The longer term uptrend line from the end of 2003 currently sits near $47.25 and its 200-dma is now at $47.45. I would expect at least a bounce from these levels if not the start of a longer term climb back up to new highs. If oil instead drops below this support level, it may be forecasting a global slowdown. It would say the oil inventory is getting higher due to overpumping and lack of demand. That would be a case where equities will not be happy with a reduction in oil prices since a slowing economy is not good for stocks' growth prospects.
Oil Index chart, Daily
Oil stocks got pummeled along with oil's decline. With oil dropping below $50 again there are probably many who are worried that oil stocks are over-priced. Oil stocks could be headed to the bottom of their longer term up-channel, the bottom of which is located near its rising 200-dma. This one could find support around 425-428. If oil holds above its 200-dma and starts to rally back up, that could be a signal to try these stocks to the long side. Keep your eye on oil.
Transportation Index chart, TRAN, Daily
As mentioned last week, I like to watch the Trannies because they often give a heads up about the health of the economy. When products are produced and purchased there's a need to transport those products. The lack of transportation requirements usually means only one thing and it's not bullish. This chart is bearish--price came up and failed at its downtrend line and also broke back below its 200-dma. The daily oscillators are getting ready to roll over after hitting resistance. If this were a stock I'd be shorting it.
U.S. Home Construction Index chart, DJUSHB, Daily
For the same reason as the Transports, watching the housing sector can give us a heads up about the all-powerful consumer. If the consumer stops buying homes, that's a signal they're pulling in their spending horns. On top of that, all the businesses around homes (appliances, furniture, services, etc.) begin to suffer. Bulls still have some hope here but it's waning. Watch the uptrend line from October 2004--a drop below 800 is a confirmed break of the uptrend. The correctiveness of the bounce from the April low leads me to believe that trend line will break and probably sooner rather than later. A climb back above 850 would be bullish.
U.S. Dollar chart, Daily
The US dollar had a big day today--dollar bulls were breaking out the bubbly (and the Buffets and Gates could be getting nervous). The dollar broke above its 200-dma today, and specifically above its exponential 200-dma, something it hasn't done since May 2004. It also broke above the top of its ascending triangle pattern, a bullish signal. This could end up being a 1-day wonder (or 1-week wonder as it did in May 2004) so it's too early to celebrate the dollar's strength but it's a good start.
Gold chart, June contract, Daily
As we often see, the metals reacted opposite to the dollar's move. The significance of the drop in gold today (down $5.50 to $422.40 and at one point down over $7 today) is that it broke below its uptrend line that has supported price for the past 2 years. This could be a significant break and bears watching. If it quickly recovers and gets back above both its trend line and its broken 200-dma ($429), no foul. But the fact that it's broken below its 200-dma again (after briefly doing so in February) AND below that uptrend line, this one could be for real.
Tomorrow's economic reports include Business Inventories, Export Prices ex-ag, Import Prices ex-oil (these at 8:30 am) and then the preliminary Michigan Sentiment at 9:45 am. These reports and the reaction to Dell's earnings could give an early jolt to early morning action. Dell reported a quarterly profit increase of 28% to $934M, or 37 cents a share, compared to $731M, or 28 cents a share, a year ago. Their revenue rose 16% to $13.4B, up from $11.5B. These numbers were in line with estimates so while Dell's stock rose after hours, it remains to be seen whether or not the market feels they're good enough to help wipe out the negative tone left at today's close. This remains a very difficult market to trade intra-day. The market feels twitchy and emotionally driven (fear and greed) and those emotions seem to be getting out of hand at times. This creates whipsaws as the market over-reacts both ways. We continue to see DOW triple-digit days that negate each other. It's a market that requires greater degrees of courage to let the market whip about (with wider stops) or you must take profits quickly otherwise you'll be coughing them back up as the market comes flying back in your face. Don't get married to any positions and don't be afraid to scalp this market. At the moment it appears the downtrend will resume but we're still in the chop zone. A break below DOW 10K will likely mean a quick drop to at least 9800 and that's a trade I'd hang onto. Until then be very careful out there.