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Market Wrap

Talk Shifts From Hurricane to Inflation

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As the sun shines on the Gulf coast and recovery efforts continue the majority of market conversation shifted towards the inflationary impact of the disasters and the rise in energy prices. Greenspan made the most of multiple speeches to emphasize that potential problems lay ahead. Fed head Janet Yellen also gave a hawkish speech, which could only be construed to mean the Fed is nowhere near finished with its hike cycle. It is not bad enough that the worst two weeks of the year are just ahead but we get an overdose of Fedspeak to insure a rocky transition into October.

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

SPX Chart - Daily

Starting the day off was a monster drop in Consumer Confidence to 86.6 for September and well below the 105.5 we saw in August. This was the lowest level seen since October 2003. Coincidentally August was the highest level since July-2004. The about face in confidence mirrors the drop in Consumer Sentiment for the same period and was due to the sharp jump in energy prices and the negative images and predictions from the dual hurricanes. The expectations component fell to 71.7 from 93.3 and present conditions dropped to 108.9 from 123.8. As you can see the majority of negativity came from the six-month expectations outlook which was the lowest level since March of 2003 when the last cycle low of 61.4 was posted.

Another version of consumer confidence, August New Home Sales, also dropped sharply to 1.237M units from 1.373M in July. This -9.9% drop was broad-based across all regions with the West Coast leading the drop. The rise in interest rates was blamed but I believe we are seeing the results of higher energy costs and the constant whining about the housing bubble. Greenspan and other Fed members make a point about the highly inflated housing market at least once a week and that has to eventually take its toll on buyers. Nobody wants to make a major purchase at the top of the market. Buying an expensive new house today has been compared to buying CSCO at $80 in March of 2000. Given the recent memory of that blood bath few buyers want to repeat that mistake by purchasing at the top of a housing bubble. Getting out of a bad house purchase is a lot more difficult than selling CSCO in a down market. The July number was a record high and home sales do slow into the fall as most moves are completed over the summer school vacation period. Most new homes are built farther away from major cities simply because that is where the most open land exists. This means a longer commute for buyers and that commute is becoming more costly as each day passes. Some analysts claim new homes are normally larger than existing homes and therefore incur a higher heating bill, which is also scaring buyers. I disagree with this concept since most new homes I have visited recently are built very energy efficient and bills would be much less than existing older homes. Either way the drop in home sales is not troubling to me at this point. I view it as a reaction to the bubble talk and a seasonal issue rather than a drop in long-term demand.


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In a break from recent trends the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey ROSE to +8 in September from +3 in August. This was the second monthly rise after bottoming at -3 in both June and July. This surprising bounce in the Richmond region is in stark conflict with the manufacturing reports from other regions, which fell sharply in recent weeks. New orders jumped from -1 to +8 and shipments rose to +15 from +8. There was still negativity present with order backlogs improving only slightly to -10 from -11 and the six-month outlook falling from +23 to +10. We are still a long wait before the impact of Katrina and Rita are known in other areas of the country and the regional surveys are likely to suffer significant volatility as time passes. The real report to watch is the national ISM due out next Monday. The consensus estimate is for a drop to 52 from 53.6 but I am expecting a drop under 50. Still to come this week is the Kansas Fed Survey on Wednesday and the NY-NAPM on Friday. The end of month revision to Consumer Sentiment is also due out Friday. Inflation hawks will also have the PMI hurdle on Friday.

San Francisco Fed President Yellen spoke on Tuesday about economic risks ahead and her focus was energy prices and the housing bubble. The Fed's worry is that manufacturers will begin passing on the energy increases and prices will escalate rapidly. I don't see any possible way for manufacturers to eat the price hike without passing it on. The magnitude of the hike is simply too large. With natural gas prices double last years rate and expected to hit $20 by year end this is a guarantee of rising product prices. According to one analyst 33% of national gas consumption is by industry. That 33% breaks down to 30% usage by chemical companies, 17% metals, 12% refining, 10% food and 8% paper. Secondly, the Fed is concerned about the potential for a sharp correction in the housing market. They want it to cool but cool slowly. Her speech was seen as a warning that the Fed was far from ending its rate hike cycle as the potential for inflation grows.

In Greenspan's speech today he reiterated the potential for disaster when housing lenders become complacent in their lending practices and let credit worthiness decline. Greenspan said risk premiums couldn't decline indefinitely without an eventual correction. In what was seen as a bullish economic speech Greenspan also echoed the risks ahead as the economy strengthens and Federal spending on hurricane relief increases. Greenspan has been a regular on the speaking circuit recently as his term comes to a close. He appears to be trying to mold policy for his successor by painting a picture of potential risks ahead well in advance of their appearance. He did speak positively about the economy and the potential for strong growth once the hurricane season is over and the recovery effort morphs into a rebuilding effort.

In stock news TASR announced that the current SEC inquiry had changed to a formal investigation. The SEC launches an informal inquiry to see if there are sufficient reasons to justify a harder look. If they find any real evidence of potential wrong doing they up the severity to a formal investigation so they can invoke subpoena power. This typically happens if they feel the company is not being forthcoming to their questions. The breadth of the investigation expanded to the potential "unauthorized acquisition of non-public information" by individuals outside the company in an effort to manipulate the stock price. TASR has been on the Regulation SHO Threshold list since inception in Jan-2005. The company contends there is a large and improper naked short position in TASR stock. Do you think they took this page in their playbook from Overstock.com? OSTK also claims the decline in their stock is due to illegal naked shorts likely instituted by a Sith Lord. (No kidding, this is what the CEO said.) Both stocks had rallied to levels well over any realistic valuation and both blame the decline on illegal activities rather than poor business results.

Wellpoint (WLP) and WellChoice (WC) announced a $6.5B merger where WC would operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of WellPoint. WC rose +$5 on the news with the $77.23 acquisition price being paid half in stock, half in cash. PALM slipped to a new two month low at $28 only days after joining forces with Microsoft to produce the new Treo. RIMM traded up slightly intraday after announcing they were going to use Intel chips in their Blackberry device to provide additional horsepower without any additional battery drain. The news did not help Intel as it slipped to a new five-month low at $23.84. In fact the top five Nasdaq stocks are all hovering near new lows as we head into month end. Recent hurricane recovery plays are also seeing significant profit taking with FUEL, HOM, HD and LOW losing ground. Meanwhile food stocks like HRL, GIS, KFT, PEP and MO are rising. This is not a good sign for the markets. It represents weakness in tech, profit taking in recent winners and buying in defensive issues. Sure signs of nervous money.

LCC ended its first day of trading well off its highs. Not familiar with LCC? That is the new symbol for Low Cost Carriers, the entity resulting from the merger of U.S. Air and America West Airlines. UAIRQ and AWA were the prior symbols. LCC employs 40,000 people and the merger completes the bankruptcy for US Air. LCC opened at $21.05 and closed at $19.29.

MSO closed at a new four month low under $25 after reviews of the Martha Stewart Apprentice show failed to excite investors. Martha may have been a domestic goddess in the past but lacks the harshness attributed to Trump in his apprentice version. Personally I wish I could buy both of them for what they are worth and sell them for what they think they are worth. I could easily rebuild all of Louisiana with the profits and have enough left to buy OPEC. These ego bubbles should be on the Fed hit list. If MSO breaks support at today's low of $24.50 I will be a short below that level.

The energy sector rebounded from Monday's early sell off as news continued to surface about damage to various oil facilities. On Tuesday oil prices moved sideways at $65.50 until late in the afternoon before dipping to $65.10 at the close. The damage to oil facilities continues to surface but the real mover of oil right now is the damage to the refiners. Currently there are six major refiners offline in the Beaumont, Port Arthur and Lake Charles area. It is not because of damage to the individual refineries but lack of electrical power. I mentioned in my weekend wrap that this was going to be the biggest challenge and that claim came true. Entergy, the same electric company that took such a big hit in New Orleans was nearly wiped off the map in Rita's path. Not only did it lose a major generating plant but Entergy said it has 18,000 power poles down and it could take months to restore power. They are going to put the refineries at the top of the list but it could be a month before they have power. Personally the loss of 18,000 power poles seems like a nearly insurmountable task when you think about all the cabling required and the required sequence of all those tasks.

We still have 5% of our refining capacity, 900,000bpd, offline from Katrina and we are still weeks away from those plants restarting. Now there is another 1.5 mbpd offline from Rita. Clearly having 2.4 mbpd of refining capacity offline will impact not only prices on gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel, but it will impact availability for months to come. We are in the seasonal demand lull for those fuels but that lull is almost over and demand will again begin to rise. Price increases are already being felt nationwide with Amtrak raising prices today by $4 to $7 a ticket due to higher fuel prices.

Oil damage from Rita and Katrina is enormous. We are now four days after Rita and the Mineral Management Service says nearly 100% of Gulf oil production is still shut in. 78.5% of natural gas is shut in and that number has risen from just yesterday as new problems are discovered. Damage to pipelines was minimal but many were damaged and repairs must be made. Michael Economides, a professor in Houston and an expert in the oil sector said more than 10 billion cubic feet has either been shut in or lost. He claims we are setting up for the perfect storm in natural gas for this winter. Gas rebounded to $13 by today's close and Dr Economides predicts it will hit $20 before year-end. There is no strategic gas reserve like we have for oil and we were already facing shortages before the hurricanes. With the loss of substantial gas production every day since Katrina and much of that loss expected to continue for 30-45 more days there are serious problems ahead. Gas producers not impacted by the storms are poised to reap windfall profits as the scarce commodity become even scarcer. UPL, CHK, ECA and SWN should see huge profits and new all time highs on their stocks.

Crude Oil Chart - Daily

December Natural Gas Chart - Daily

Oil prices are not soaring simply because more than 12% of our refining capacity is offline. 2.4 mbpd of oil is NOT being refined and therefore not being consumed. It is backing up in the pipelines to the extent that it is being produced at all. With all of the Gulf oil production currently offline the price of oil is at a standstill. No production and no refining so the price is stuck waiting for a change in status. Rest assured if the refiners come back online before the Gulf production we would see the cost of oil rocket higher once again. Once those refiners start competing for the available oil the price could easily surpass $70 if Gulf production is still offline.

There was significant damage to Gulf rigs and installations when Rita roared through as a category 4 when it hit the oil fields. Rigs and platforms damaged by Katrina faced another evacuation and more delays once the storm passed. I am going to provide a comprehensive list of the major damages as an addendum to this commentary. Bottom line the oil sector is enjoying a temporary reprieve from high prices while the damage is sorted out but there is a serious price spike coming. The worst news is that the hurricane season is only half over.

The markets wandered aimlessly for the last two days as they tried to rally once Rita passed. The rallies failed as expected with the Dow failing at 10500 resistance on both days. I mentioned this level as strong resistance in my weekend commentary and so far it has held. The Dow has gained only +34 points since Friday and fought hard to hold on to each one. Earnings warnings have been rather nonexistent this week and surprisingly tame. Despite flat oil prices and a lack of warnings the markets could not hold their intraday gains.

The Nasdaq is negative for the week having given back all its post Rita gains and is currently resting on its 100-day average at 2111. Like the Dow the major components are looking very week and the bulls appear to be cowering in fear rather than buying the dips. Were it not for three buy programs this week the Nasdaq could easily be resting on 2100 instead.

The SPX is flat for the week at 1215 and exactly where it closed on Friday. It is only +3 points above its close at 1212 on Dec-31st. Despite dips and rallies we are trading flat for the year. The SPX made a lower high on Tuesday at 1220 and a lower close and the S&P futures are trading down overnight. The small gain in oil stocks over the last two days has failed to provide meaningful lift due to the stagnant price of oil.

As we head into month/quarter end I would remind you one more time that the last week of September typically sees the lows for the month. I am still targeting Dow 10250, Nasdaq 2050 and SPX 1190 before any meaningful October rebound. Currently I believe the Dow and SPX could reach those targets well before the Nasdaq and that suggests the Nasdaq 2050 target may not be reached despite weakness in the Nasdaq big caps. If we do get another strong dip I would be a buyer of that dip. I would be a cautious buyer since October tends to be highly volatile as well but I would begin entering long positions other than oil and gas. The stage is set for a decent year-end rally despite strong energy prices. I believe the Federal stimulus will have a positive impact on sentiment and the economy in the fourth quarter and setup a meaningful addition to GDP in 2006. The markets normally look forward six months and we are nearing that window now. Unless earnings warnings pickup substantially in quantity and severity over the next two weeks, and I mean really substantially, I believe the hurricane excuse will prevail and a limited amount of generic warnings will be ignored.

Investors should realize that we are approaching the historical October buying period and prepare for it in advance. There is never a guarantee that it will occur or any rebound will last but if you are not prepared I can guarantee you will miss it. I am still short the broader market in anticipation of that final dip. I am planning on reversing that position once either my targets are reached or a rally breaks out ahead of schedule. I am using SPX 1225 as my decision point and will continue to short any bounce until it is broken. We have spent a lot of time in the 1200-1240 range since early July and I believe we need a washout event to clear the many buy/sell stops located just below 1200. This produces an all-clear buy signal for funds. As always, enter any position passively, long or short, and only when the price comes to you. Be ready to exit aggressively if the trend you expected changes suddenly. The last week of September can be very volatile and triple digit swings are always possible.

Oil Sector Damage From Rita

Refinery damage was minimal but the electrical grid was destroyed in the Beaumont/Port Arthur/Lake Charles area. Refineries not expected back online for 4-6 weeks include Exxon in Beaumont, Volero, Total and Motiva in Port Arthur and Conoco and Citgo in Lake Charles. This accounts for around 1.5 million bbls of daily refining capacity. This is in addition to the 900,000 bbls per day of capacity still offline in New Orleans from Katrina.

Damage to the offshore oil rigs and platforms was extensive in some areas while those in other areas were spared serious damage. I am going to list some of the major events and comments from various companies. Use this list to decide if you want to remain invested in those most affected or shift to those with little or no damage. Remember in almost all cases the companies are fully insured for loss of their platforms but are not insured for loss of daily production or drilling fees.

The state of the art ultra deep water rig "Deepwater Nautilus" owned by Transocean (RIG) broke free while it was being towed away from the projected hurricane path. It adrift as Rita plowed into the area and RIG kept track of it by transponders. The rig sustained damage to its mooring system when Katrina hit after being blown 70 miles from its drill site and was being repaired when Rita appeared. After it broke free of its towline a partial crew was boarded and they use the onboard thrusters to navigate it in heavy seas to a location 40 miles from Grand Isle where it ran aground 140 miles from its pre-storm location. There is no current damage assessment on the Nautilus pending a complete assessment. This is the third hurricane to damage the rig. Ivan also caused damage to the rig last year when it was torn out of its anchors and blown 70 miles from its pre-storm location. The rig was under contract to Shell for $195,000 per day and that revenue will be lost until repairs are made, the rig refloated and secured back at the drill site.

Picture of the Deepwater Nautilis

Another Transocean rig, the Transocean Marianas was torn from its drilling location by Rita and was grounded just off Eugene Island in shallow water 140 miles from its pre-storm location. There is damage to its mooring system and repairs could take sometime.

Rowan Drilling was hammered by the Rita with numerous rigs damaged or sunk. The hull of the Rowan Louisiana was found aground on the Louisiana coast minus numerous pieces of equipment. The Halifax and Odessa were blown off their drill sites and damages have not been assessed. The Rowan Fort Worth was also blown away and had not been found as of Monday. The rigs were under contract at $210,000 per day.

Global Sante Fe (GSF) reported two missing rigs, GSF Adriatic VII and GSF High island III. Diamond Offshore (DO) reported two rigs were uprooted and blown aground over 100 miles from their original location. The DO rigs, Ocear Saratoga and Ocean Star were blown 100 miles from their drill sites and ran aground in 35 ft of water.

High Island


Deepwater rigs in the deeper section of the field faced 155 mph winds and 60 foot seas as Rita hit. Noble's (NE) Max Smith broke loose and sustained structural damage after being blown 80 miles away. The Noble semi-submersible Therald Martin was also blown away but was located with only minor damage.

Chevron's "Typhoon" rig was found floating upside down near Eugene Island also 80 miles from its drill site.

Picture of Typhoon BEFORE

Picture of Typhoon After

Helmerich & Payne (HP) saw significant damage to one of their big rigs when Katrina hit but they said on Tuesday that there was no significant damage to the rest of the Gulf fleet (7 rigs) from Rita.

BP (BP) and Cheniere (LNG) said they suffered only minimal damage from Rita. Kerr McGee (KMG) said all facilities appeared intact from an aerial survey but final damage estimates would have to come from an onsite survey f each later this week. Marathon (MRO) said its production remained shut in until a complete damage assessment could be performed. Ensco (ESF) has also completed aerial surveys and all locations appeared intact with no material structural damage. Tidewater (TDW) reported no damage from Rita.

Todco (THE) reported that all 60 rigs were accounted for after an aerial survey. The stock soared after the announcement given their huge exposure and number of rigs. Nabors (NBR) saw damage to two rigs and one drilling barge sunk but still on location.

Stone Energy (SGY) lost three platforms due to Rita including the South Marsh 108 and Vermillion Block 255 A and B. Stone operates 115 platforms in the Gulf. The three platforms accounted for 18mmcf of gas production per day.

Pride International (PDE) said there was no material damage to its 14 rigs in Rita's path based on an aerial survey. Until onsite inspections are made they hesitate to say all is well.

This is all I have time for tonight but as you can see there was significant damage to Gulf production that will last for months. Oil and gas will remain in short supply as we head into the winter demand cycle.

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