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Market Wrap

Pause To Reload?

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The markets took time off from the two weeks of selling and the results were rewarding but not very exciting. Given the strength and speed of the decline the rebound was almost lackluster but we will take anything we can get. The rebound from the nearly -600 point Dow slide to 11030 took two days as it rambled lazily for +250 points from Wednesday's low. There was no hurry, no panic short covering and no excitement. However, the internals were very strong despite the lack of volume. The imbalance to the buy side without any excitement could prove more than anything that it was simply a pause for sellers to reload rather than rampant bullishness. Retail traders saw the storm clouds dissipate and went bottom fishing.

SPX chart - Daily

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

As the selling progressed to the Wednesday lows the volume increased to hit 6.536 billion shares on that final dip. Interestingly it was almost perfectly split between advancing and declining showing an equal number of bottom fishers absorbing all the sellers could dish out. After ten days of selling I believe it may have been simply a matter of seller exhaustion rather than a reversal of fortunes. On Thursday and Friday volume slowed significantly ahead of the long holiday weekend but more importantly the ratios of up volume to down volume saw a really strong reversal. On Thursday up volume was 5.6 times down volume and that continued with a 3:1 pace on Friday despite the holiday weekend risk. Also important was the lack of any late day selling on either day. The recent pattern of daily selling after 2:PM was broken.

Two Week Table of Market Internals

I have been showing the following graphic for the last two weeks as a track record of the selling and a snapshot of where we could see turning points. After updating to show the new lows for last week you can see how many critical components have already completed a normal -10% correction dip. The key metrics for me are the Nasdaq indexes, Russell-2000 and the NYSE Composite. The NYSE Composite did not quite reach the -10% level but it did drop a monster -677 points in only 11 days. It has since rebounded +3.3% or +267 points in only two days. This is a dramatic rebound and I view it as confirmation of broad based market strength. Most investors don't focus on the NYSE Composite and that makes it somewhat of a stealth indicator. Rebounding even more but in a less spectacular manner was the Russell-2000 with a +4.8% rebound (+33 points) from Wednesday's 696 low. The NYSE Composite represents 2231 stocks and the Russell has 2000 stocks with many duplicates across both. Both are missing the large cap tech stocks like MSFT, Dell, QCOM, ORCL, CSCO and Intel. This gives them a broader market bias and removes the impact of big tech. These indexes represent a sentiment indicator of market strength since they mostly represent the small and midcap sectors but still have a representation by the large and diverse NYSE stocks. Russell takes the top 3000 stocks by market cap and then splits off the top 1000 and bottom 2000 to create two indexes that represent the broader market. Basically it breaks down to the big guys and those that want to be big. I know I am boring you with this discussion but the point I want to make is that money came back in volume into the middle to lower portion of the market. This is a very strong indication that funds are putting money back to work. They would NOT be doing this if they felt there was more trouble ahead. With many of the global indexes taking hits of -15% to -18% the week before it suggests that some of that money is rotating back into the U.S. markets. Also a strong market positive was the rebound in the commodity stocks. Profit taking appears to be over and despite a hiccup in global growth expectations analysts still agree that commodity demand is still very strong and increasing.

Snapshot of market drop by index

The TV reporters blamed the Fed and inflation for much of drop but I think the analyst blame game was over rated. On Friday Bear Stearns said the blow to Bernanke's credibility was so severe that he would have to hike again in June AND they thought he might go for +50 points to produce some rate shock. With the market generally expecting the Fed to pause they felt Bernanke would have to produce a shock to put volatility back into rates. Bank America also said on Friday they were expecting at least a 25-point hike in June. There were other comments suggesting further hikes on Thursday but the market rose both days despite rising inflation pressures. This contradiction of events suggests the hike is already priced in and is no longer a factor.

The key economic report on Friday was Personal Income, which rose +0.5%. However the core PCE inflation gauge rose +2.1% and the highest monthly gain since March 2005. This brings year over year core inflation also to +2.1% and right on the upper edge of what the Fed can tolerate. Spending also rose +0.6% and the savings rate fell -1.6% and the 11th consecutive monthly decline. Wage income also posted the biggest gain in nine months. This report was very Fed negative and is just another reason the Fed's data dependency is going to get us in trouble. The economic cycle picks up again next week with a full slate of reports led by the NAPM, Chicago PMI and FOMC minutes on Wednesday. Thursday is overload day with three employment reports, Productivity, Construction Spending, ISM, Chain Store Sales and Vehicle Sales. Friday closes out the week with the May Non Farm Payrolls and Factory orders. Those reports weighing most heavily on the market will be the FOMC Minutes, ISM and Friday's payroll report.

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The commodity sector is experiencing a significant rebound from those very oversold levels we saw last week. After a week of extreme volatility at the bottom of the dip we may be seeing some of that emerging market cash being put back to work buying the commodity dip. Oil prices bottomed at $68.50 last Monday but were unable to break back through resistance at $72 despite this weekend being the start of the summer driving season. The Iran problem is cooling in the news despite saber rattling by Iran on Friday. Iran warned again it would retaliate in the event of a US strike. Iran's Foreign Minister said "In the event that America launches a strike from any place, Iran will retaliate by targeting that place." Essentially any country giving aid to America, say through supplying a staging area or allowing planes to fuel before heading into Iraq, could then find themselves under attack by Iran. I actually thought this was a shrewd move by Iran. Not only did they put themselves back into the news headlines but they probably caused any other nations likely to aid the US to feel a cold shiver up their spine. For Iran to get the maximum amount of concessions from its current nuclear gambit it has to keep itself in the headlines and be seen as way out on the edge in terms of rationality. The more psychotic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems the more fear he strikes in the leaders of civilized countries and the more willing they will be to buy a settlement.

Hugo Chavez got his hand slapped by OPEC in advance of their meeting in Venezuela next week. Multiple OPEC figures claimed there would not be any cut in production as a result of the meeting. Chavez had been begging for a production cut and he was snubbed in several high profile sound bites. Actually I was relieved oil prices did not implode on the excess production quotes. But, we need to always remember there is no excess production in the light sweet crude needed by most refiners only excess heavy sour crude. Next week will be a key week for oil. The gasoline demand numbers for the holiday weekend will be dissected for evidence of demand destruction caused by pain at the pump. If demand remains strong and inventories decline as expected then prices should rise over that $72 resistance.

Crude Oil Chart - Daily

Gasoline demand chart for last week

A Harris Interactive survey last week showed that 44% of drivers with incomes over $75,000 were cutting spending to offset higher gas prices. Given the income level of the respondents I was very surprised to hear that many people (44%) were suffering. The difference between $3.15 gasoline and $2.50 gas assuming a generous 40 gallons per week is only $24 and I doubt many of those respondents burn that much gas in their late model cars. Of those reducing expenses 29% were driving less by combining trips or shopping closer to home. Another 29% were dining out less and another 24% were cutting back on groceries. What that tells me is that families with more than $75K annual income are living on the ragged edge with more debt than they can carry. The extra $24 a week is a nominal amount of money for someone in the over $75K income bracket. Gasoline is not to blame for the restriction in spending but it will be blamed as a convenient scapegoat. The gasoline demand number for last week was lower than the same week in 2005 but due to calendar fluctuations we should not get too excited until a chain of weakness appears. The next two weeks should see a sharp rebound. The keyword there is "should."

Next week the markets are facing a critical test. The sharp drop in selling late last week was too sudden for many traders. That may account for the lack of any excitement in the rebound. Granted the Russell and NYSE Composite posted some strong numbers but there was no urgency in how they moved higher. This is prompting many traders to withhold buying in anticipation of a retest of the May lows again next week. On the surface I can understand that thought process and I do agree there is plenty of suspicion lurking in my brain this weekend.

Last Tuesday I said I expected the S&P to rebound to 1275 and the first potential point for a failed rally. We hit that level on Friday and there was no material selling. This surprised me but most institutional traders were probably either away for the holiday or were simply waiting for next week to begin selling again. Volume was nearly nonexistent after Friday's open and the few stray program trades swatted the indexes around like a fly at a picnic. I believe that is the key we are looking for. If institutional traders are still waiting to unload stock then Thursday and especially Friday were not the days to do it. The extremely thin volume would have magnified the impact and they would have gotten terrible fills and lost money on the trades. If they still need to sell then the right plan would be to let the markets breathe again and allow the thin volume to work for them ahead of the holidays. Without selling pressure the indexes rose and bullish sentiment began to return. Now they need to strategically place a couple small buy programs at Tuesday's or maybe Wednesday's open to stimulate the bulls one more time. Once all the retail traders start buying the bounce you then pull the rug out from under them.

With the SPX just over 1275 I could easily see that scenario coming to pass. However, there is at least one flaw in the scheme. The sectors and market caps seeing the most buying late in the week were the small/mid caps and exactly where funds would be placing money ahead of a halt in rate hikes. Oh, but the Fed is almost guaranteed to hike again in June. There is that short-term mindset again. After the May dip and the flurry of Fedspeak it appears the market has already priced in the June hike. There may not be any downside there unless something changes drastically. Assuming that quite a few traders held off taking any material positions before the weekend and are expecting to buy the retest dip next then a surprise rally could send everybody back into the market chasing prices. Some of the best rallies I can remember were denial rallies. Traders waiting for a pullback were in denial that stocks were going up instead of down. They kept shorting the pauses and were forced to cover over and over again. Everyone just knew a retest of the lows was due. Everyone except the market. Some of those rallies ran for weeks with traders on the sidelines still in denial it was real. I know the feeling well since I stood with them on several occasions.

Obviously nobody knows exactly what will happen next week. That leaves us with only one option. We have to trade what the market gives us but be fully conscious of the potential events. The SPX did close over the first level resistance at 1275 but only by +5 points. No harm, no foul but it is a critical point in the bulls favor. The Dow also closed over two levels of resistance at 11200 and 11250. That gives it some breathing room before major resistance returns around 11400. The Nasdaq, the weaker of the major indexes, came to a dead stop at resistance at 2210. It traded in a very narrow five-point range all day on Friday between 2205-2210 but could not make the break.

Here is the setup as I see it. If we do get a bounce on Tuesday it would trigger additional short covering and some additional bargain hunting but volume will still be light. If we do get a bullish bias then the Dow and SPX could move even farther away from those resistance levels mentioned above. That would setup a major resistance test on Wednesday at SPX 1295, Dow 11400 and Nasdaq 2240. This is where we find out if the selling is really over. The trigger for any Wednesday decline could be the 2:PM FOMC minutes. Once those are released traders will have much greater insight into future Fed actions. If we see that many of the voting committee were urging restraint then traders could breathe easier. If we see an increase in inflation fears and the potential for continued hikes that could be the signal to go defensive once again.

Fortunately we don't have to balance all those factors when making our trading decisions on Tuesday. The two numbers we need for direction are SPX 1275 and 1295. If we get a decline that moves below 1275 that will be the new short signal. The summer doldrums are just ahead and we need to keep that fact in focus. Summer rallies are rare but they do sometimes occur. If the current rally continues then 1295 becomes the target and time to snug up the stops. A move over 1295 could trigger a strong rally but the odds are much higher that it will become our failure point. Since Monday is a market holiday and I will get to update this outlook again on Tuesday night I am going to keep this commentary short. Just remember, don't get married to your positions and be ready for some volatility at 2:PM Wednesday when the FOMC minutes are released.
 

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