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Market Wrap

Superseding Inflation Concerns

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Often on a Wednesday, crude inventories data supersedes anything said about the housing market, either in the regular Wednesday-morning report by the Mortgage Banker's Association or by a realtor's group. That's particularly true in times when market participants are especially worried about the impact of high energy costs on inflation.

A subtle shift has occurred lately, however. Despite a Fed governor saying yesterday that inflation worries outweigh those about the economy's health, today's housing-related releases impacted markets. An early rally attempt was soon squashed when markets turned lower after the release of the existing home sales data.

Other pressures included Iran's response to yesterday's original deadline and the failure of the energy-related sectors to provide support. This morning, Iran's state-run news agency claimed that the nation would soon take steps to confirm its status as a "nuclear country." This afternoon, the State Department termed Iran's response to the U.N.'s incentives package "far short" of the required one.


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However, some of you familiar with my own take on the markets know that I believe that markets may not be allowed to break too far out of this summer's choppy consolidation zones ahead of the return of the gurus to the big investment firms after Labor Day. That's especially true so far ahead of a definitive take on whether the FOMC will extend its pause or will resume hiking rates. I'm more prone to look for technical signs that the market was ready to pull back within this summer's choppy zone, believing that the data just gave markets a reason for doing what technical analysis said it was likely to do anyway.

Many indices, with the RUT a particular example, had early in the morning approached the top of regression channels they had been forming since the middle of last week. Unless they were going to break to the upside, it time for them to pull back to the bottom of those regression channels. Markets tend to make that test faster and harder than they do the climb through such channels. In fact, the SPX made its drop so fast and hard that it broke through its channel's support. The RUT was to do the same, although it followed rather than led the SPX in that regard.

As happens so often during summertime trading, one formation soon resolved into another, with traders often having reason to regret putting too much trust into any one formation or support or resistance level. By late afternoon, the fall from the day's high had begun to look like falling wedges on many indices. These are bullish rather than bearish formations. If that's what they are, and if those formations have any validity, several indices were breaking out of them to the upside by the close. The SPX was one.

Annotated Daily Chart of the SPX:

When the SPX broke to the upside out of that falling wedge produced today, it rose toward next Keltner resistance on the 15-minute chart, at 1293.10 as of the close. Resistance above that is firmer, at 1294.51 as of the close. Support isn't yet as firm as I would like to see it before I believed that the SPX could get away without retesting that support. It may need to be retested. It was at 1289.62-1290.49 as of the close, with lighter support at 1291.36. All these levels are on 15-minute closes. Keltner lines are also dynamic, so they will shift a bit as the SPX moves. I do like to give you a short-term look at what might happen near the open, however.

As of the close, a rise toward 1294.50 or a dip toward 1289.62-1290.49 looked about equally likely, so there's not a strong prediction. Without a strong decline, however, it looks now as if any dip to that area might serve to firm up support for another attempt to move higher. The 240-minute chart, a usually fairly reliable one for the SPX, suggests that a dip toward 1286 might be possible before a bounce attempt, and we all know about the support near 1280.

Beyond that, it's difficult to make predictions. That's not because I'm loathe to do so, but because summertime chop has chopped up charts, too. Look below the blue 10-sma on that SPX daily chart posted above, and then scan to the left, and you'll see multiple periods of consolidation. You could draw a horizontal line almost anywhere and say that's support and you'd have a point. The firmest support should be found near 1280 and the bottom of the newest rising regression channel, but I'm just not sure it will be tested the next couple of days. If it is, until and unless that support is broken, I would assume for now that it's going to hold.

The Dow also broke through the upper trendline of a falling wedge as it popped higher near the close. This was on an intraday chart. The daily chart shows that it was popping higher after testing one version of trendline support as well as approaching the 10-sma.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Dow:

Which of the mishmash of trendlines and moving averages do you trust here?

The Diamonds (DIA) showed a fairly significant increase in volume when they popped off their low of the day after testing the gap they'd left behind on August 16, but then the push higher was stopped at their former support at about 113.13. That suggested that former support is now resistance, at least for today. Both the Dow and the Diamonds showed bullish price/RSI divergence at today's low, but the pattern of lower lows and lower highs has not been broken. When I see that, I conclude that bulls want to push prices higher, but they haven't yet proven that they can.

Fifteen-minute Keltners show the Dow approaching next resistance at 11,299.74 with stronger resistance above at 11,309.14-11,312.99 as of the close. Support is at 11,282.85. Next support is at 11,265.95-11,269.81 as of the close. These are on 15-minute closes.

Support is not yet firm enough that I can predict that it's been tested enough. Like that on the SPX, it may need to be retested. If so, short-term bulls want that first support to hold. The resistance at 11,309.14-11,312.99 looks firmer, so it's going to require either a strong push or else some continued chopping around to break that up enough for the Dow to maintain pushes above it.

The Nasdaq's 15-minute Keltner chart also showed that overhead resistance, at 2140.10-2140.46 on its Keltner chart, to look slightly stronger than the strongest support, at 2127.72-2130.17, too. Like the Dow and the SPX, the Nasdaq may need to chop around a bit and tighten that support before it can sustain a climb.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Nasdaq:

The Nasdaq's 15-minute Keltner chart is set up like all the others. Support isn't as firm as it might be, so that it's not possible to conclude yet that it's been tested enough. The Nasdaq may, like other indices, need to chop around a bit to tamp those lines down and firm up support. The support may even need to be retested. First resistance approaches at 2135.91 as of the close, with stronger and firmer resistance at 2140.10-2140.46 as of the close. First support is at 2131.81, next at 2130.17, as of the close.

The SOX fell today, retesting its 200-week sma. One negative influence on sentiment came from National Semiconductor. The company slashed its profit target for the first quarter of its fiscal year. Lower shipments contributed to the company's decision to cut that target by 87 percent, with the company pegging shipments for the chips used in mobile phones as being particularly troublesome. CNBC commented that the company kept its estimates of margins the same, helping to support the stock and helping the SOX to tread water once it tested its 200-week moving average. NSM closed higher by 3.50 percent, although it dipped off its closing level in light after-hours trading.

I'm still refining the color setups on the charts I'm using from QuoteTracker, such as this SOX chart, but note that the SOX turned back after a test of the 38.2 percent retracement of its decline off the year's high as well as after it tested that long-term trendline visible here.

Annotated Weekly Chart of the SOX:

The setup on the SOX's 15-minute Keltner chart looks similar to the others I've noted. First resistance is at 433.01 with next resistance at 434.42-435.32. First support is near 432 with next support from 430.28-430.92. The SOX's resistance may be a little less firm than that seen on other charts, and there was certainly pronounced price/RSI bullish divergence as the SOX fell today. However, support is not strong enough to say it's been tested all it's going to be tested, either. The picture just isn't clear.

The RUT looked weaker on the 15-minute Keltner charts than other indices, as it couldn't move past a resistance level at 698.63 on a 15-minute closing basis. The other indices had bounced past that particular channel line, turning it into potential support. Like the other indices, though, the RUT had shown bullish price/RSI divergence, at least on the last two intraday swing lows if not all day long. Resistance looks far weaker on the RUT than on the other indices, with the various resistance lines scattered widely, but the RUT has to get past that first resistance before it can take advantage of those scattered resistance lines, and it hasn't managed to do so.

On the daily chart seen below, the RUT's long drop to horizontal support is visible. That horizontal support is the 19.1 percent retracement of the RUT's climb from its 2002 low into this year's high. That horizontal line also nearly bisects the triangle seen here.

Annotated Daily Chart of the RUT:

The RUT fell hard, but almost all sectors declined after the morning's data. The housing-related data that was the catalyst for the declines from the day's high was the MBAA's weekly mortgage application volume survey. Mortgage application rates declined again, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported at 7:00 this morning. Weekly mortgage application volume survey for the week ending August 18 showed mortgage loan application volume inching up 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, but falling 1.2 percent on an unadjusted basis. That volume is 25.1 percent below the year-ago level for the same week. Components were mixed, with the refinance, conventional and government indices climbing but with the purchase index dropping one percent. Four-week moving averages were also mixed, with the market index climbing 1.3 percent and the refinance index increasing by 3.8 percent, but the purchase index dropping 0.4 percent. The average contract interest rate for a fixed-rate thirty-year mortgage dropped to 6.38 percent from its previous 6.54 percent, with points remaining the same.

The National Association of Realtors was also due to report its July sales data this morning, at 10:00, with expectations all over the map. Some expected a gain in sales while others predicted a 0.9-percent drop. Some believed that July's year-over-year median sales price would drop, although others cautioned that this figure doesn't include the value of homes not for sale or on the market but not yet sold, so doesn't mean that house prices are necessarily falling. The DJUSHB, the Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index, gapped lower at the open and dropped below Friday's low in anticipation of that report. A 15-minute chart reveals that it gapped lower again when the report was released, then began a slow and painful choppy rise into that last intraday gap. That index was to close lower by 2.89 percent, only a couple of points off its day's low of 590.46.

That drop in existing home sales was deeper than expected, with existing home sales falling 4.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted figure of 6.33 million. That's the lowest number of sales since January 2004, and I don't have to tell you that comparing a summer's sales, when families try to move between school years, to January sales, makes July's drop even more damaging.

Inventories of unsold homes climbed 3.2 percent, with experts calculating that, at the July sales rate, it will take 7.3 months to sell those houses. That's the longest in thirteen years. The realtors' group's chief economist claimed that's the strongest increase in inventories on record. Prices rose 0.9 percent year over year, a weak price growth.

Several articles discussed the regional differences, with boom markets hardest hit. Prices fell year over year in the West and Northeast. Some commentators mention that even previously flat markets are declining.

Others note that low-priced housing markets such as those here in Texas are seeing a pickup. Anecdotally, I know that's true, as a family member who is a realtor in Houston reports getting calls from developers from New York and California every time she posts in Craig's List. One realtor in her office has sold six homes on the same upscale street to a single investor from California. One young relative leases a home bought by a California couple, sight unseen. That's not atypical. A local television station noted yesterday that here in Dallas, there's rising competition from out-of-town investors. Those investors are paying cash for Texas homes, which they can do since homes in Texas are so cheap compared to others across the nation, where housing prices rose quickly enough to give flippers plenty of cash on hand. So, all that real-estate money is rolling out of previous boom markets into the last frontiers left. That may not necessarily be a good thing for the housing market, and particularly not for Texas homebuyers. It reminds me of the period early in 2000 when everyone was playing in the stock market, looking for the next momentum play . . . until momentum switched to the downside.

Crude inventories were released thirty minutes later. Refineries operated at 92.8 percent capacity last week, data confirmed. As the child of a refinery worker growing up in a refinery town, I wonder when plants are going to have time to shut down a unit and do maintenance. Apparently, those refineries were producing gasoline and distillates as fast as possible. Gasoline inventories rose 400,000 barrels, the first time they've risen in five weeks, one article noted. Crude inventories had been expected to dip, and they did, but by a smaller-than-expected 600,000 barrels. Ahead of the winter heating season, distillate supplies climbed 2.3 million barrels.

API figures were different, as they always are, with the API saying that gasoline supplies climbed a heftier 1.3 million barrels and crude supplies dropped a heftier 1.9 million barrels. The API figure for distillates was in line with the Energy Department's figures, at a rise of 2.1 million barrels.

Crude had been dropping ahead of the inventories number (looking at October delivery) and fell more afterwards, dipping to test the August 18 low before initiating a tepid bounce. Crude futures (October contract) closed at $71.76. The XOI and OIX both dropped, too, exacerbating the drop supposedly caused by the housing numbers. The XOI lost 1.45 percent and the OIX, 1.21. Their components provided no support for the SPX, of course.

Most sectors dropped, but not all stocks did, of course. Gateway benefited from a hedge fund's decision to acquire more than ten percent of the company and an offer from its retail operations. It closed higher by 13.37 percent. Rambus Inc. (RMBS) also climbed after a U.S. District Court stayed the final portion of its trial with Hynix, but it gave back a few cents of its 17.7-percent gain after hours.

Today's after-hours reports included those from a number of retailers. Coldwater Creek (CWTR), Chico's (CHS) and Michaels Stores (MIK) were among those reporting. CWTR had gained ahead of its report, and it beat in both EPS and sales.

Also during the after-hours session, Apple Computer (AAPL) reported that it and Creative Technology (CREAF) had reached a broad settlement to their legal disputes. CREAF had recently been awarded a patent and AAPL will pay $100 million for a paid-up license to use that patent. CREAF will repay some of that payment if it can license the patent to other companies. AAPL CEO Steve Jobs said that the settlement would resolve all disputes between the two companies, including several lawsuits. As this report was prepared, AAPL was up four cents in after-hours trading.
Last Thursday, I warned that the volatility indices had reached levels that could portend a rise in those indices and a pullback in the equity indices. Although I warned that these volatility indices are not good market-timing tools, they do sometimes provide us with warnings that help us to make decisions about profit-protecting measures. If you heeded that advice and were in a short-term bullish play, you had profit-protecting plans in place in case there was a pullback, which did occur.

That pullback was accompanied by a jump in the volatility indices, with volatility expanding as it often does on pullbacks. Today ended with the VIX testing the neckline of an inverse head-and-shoulders formation that is visible on the 60-minute chart. The VIX hadn't been able to conclusively break above that neckline and will face Keltner resistance at 13.26-13.53 when it does. This is resistance that's been turning the VIX back since the middle of July, so watch carefully if such a test should occur. Remember that the VIX is not a good market-timing tool, but a stall or rollover in the VIX from that level could signal that it's now time to put plans into place to protect your short-term bearish plays.

That suggests that traders need to be watching for a short-term bounce from resistance or an all-out rollover. Unfortunately, not even the intraday 15-minute charts provided much guidance as to which is likely to occur, although a hint of a bullish setup could just barely be discerned. Whether that tentative bullishness can prevail is yet to be seen, however.

Many of the 15-minute Keltner charts have set up in a similar way. They suggest two possibilities, neither of which may come true, but here they are: a setting up of inverse H&S's that will require a further rise to the incipient neckline, toward 1294-1295 on the SPX, for example, and then a pulling back to test support either at the right shoulder level or all the way to an equal-low test. The rise doesn't have to come first thing but may occur after a slight dip. So, if you feel like hanging your trading hat on a possible bullish formation, not even fully set up much less confirmed, they're there to be found.

Markets are choppy. Unless you're skilled at intraday scalping, it's not a fun environment for those of you options traders whose repertoire mainly consists of call or put buying. It's been a great environment for those types of plays that capitalize on range-bound trading, such as credit spreads. While markets chop around, they're hacking away at the premium on those calls or puts, so the credit-spread people are benefiting while those doing straight call- or put-buying are sometimes seeing their trading accounts being chopped up. When markets become directional again, those of us trading credit spreads are going to be the ones with perspiration on our upper lips, but for now, we've got the better lot out of the various types of options players.

Thursday's economic reports include initial claims for the week ending August 19 and July's advance durable goods, both due at 8:30. Jim reported this weekend that the consensus for the durable goods number is an increase of 0.3 percent, down considerably from the previous 3.1 percent. Midmorning, at 10:00, July's new home sales will be reported, with this week's housing numbers proving important after TOL's earnings report earlier in the week and today's data in the form of existing home sales. Industry analysts predict that new home sales will number 1,110,000, down from the prior 1,131,000. Natural gas inventories will be released at 10:30.

Earnings tomorrow will include those from HRL, JCG, MCDTA, PDCO, SHLO, TTIL and WSM, among others.

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