The Wednesday FOMC announcement suggested further rate hikes in our distant future but bulls ignored the news and charged higher. It was a Goldilocks week for economics with a mixture of slow growth indications and weakening inflation numbers. What is a bear to do when all the signs point to an early spring rally? Evidently they cover their shorts and move to the sidelines to avoid being trampled. New highs are becoming commonplace once again and still no correction in sight.
Dow Chart - Daily
Nasdaq Chart - Daily
The biggest economic report on Friday was the non-farm payrolls with a headline number showing a gain of +111,000 jobs in January while the unemployment rate rose to 4.6%. This was well below the consensus estimates for a gain of +150,000 but just right for Goldilocks. Adding to the positive spin was an upward revision of December by +30,000 to 206,000 jobs and November by +42,000 to 196,000 jobs. Warmer than expected weather was credited with some of the employment gains in the construction sector. The January employment report also contained the annual revision for all of 2006 and that showed another gain of +752,000. This pushed the average monthly average for 2006 from 153,000 to 187,000 jobs. This was a very nice report and suggests that the economy is stronger than previously expected but is not growing at an inflationary pace. This was the perfect Goldilocks scenario except for the continued drop in manufacturing employment of -16,000 jobs in January stretching the loss to -129,000 manufacturing jobs since June. This is consistent with a six-month decline in the ISM manufacturing index. The weakness in manufacturing and the continued tame increase in monthly job creation support the Fed's decision to remain on the sidelines. Once jobs begin to spike that decision will be much tougher.
The final reading of January Consumer Sentiment came in at 96.9, down from the initial reading of 98.0 but still well above Decembers reading of 91.7. The slight downtick late in the month could have been due to the arrival of the holiday bills. Gasoline prices are holding at their lows and the markets remain at their highs. Job creation is strong and wages are rising. There was nothing in the headlines to depress sentiment leaving analysts to suspect the arrival of holiday bills as the culprit. Even at the slightly lower level this was still the biggest one-month jump since Dec-2004. The expectations component posted the biggest gain of +6.4 points.
The final economic report on Friday showed that Factory Orders rose +2.4% in December following an upwardly revised gain of +1.2% in November. The headline number was well above the consensus estimates for a rise if +1.9%. Durable goods orders rose +2.9%. Nondurable goods orders rose +1.8% and the largest increase since May-2006. This bounce in orders shows the economy picked up slightly late in Q4 and is consistent with the Goldilocks slow growth scenario. Even with this unexpected rise in December the orders for the entire fourth quarter were the lowest since Q3-2001 when we were well into the recession. Inventory levels have begun to moderate and manufacturers will continue to manage them as we move further into 2007. In the ISM we saw a sharp drop in the inventory component that was the largest drop since the early 1980s and the lowest level since 2001.
Last week was a very busy week economically and the outcome basically confirmed the Goldilocks scenario and the Fed's decision to remain on hold. To recap the week's events puts this into perspective.
New Home Sales 1,120,000 versus estimates of 1,055,000
The majority of the reports were slow growth positive with only the PMI and ISM showing slight declines into contraction territory. Those declines were driven by the decline in the manufacturing sector and that is actually positive for inflation watchers. More weakness in manufacturing reduces the chances of inflationary prices. For the bulls it was the perfect economic storm. The overall cloudy conditions remain but faint rays sunshine are peaking through in many places suggesting better weather ahead.
The Fed added to the expectations for sunshine with their surprising comments on the economy. The statement was almost bullish in tone considering it came from a bunch of career bankers and economists.
"Recent indicators have suggested somewhat firmer economic growth, and some tentative signs of stabilization have appeared in the housing market. Overall, the economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace over coming quarters. Readings on core inflation have improved modestly in recent months, and inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time."
What is not to like about that statement. There is no sign of a more hawkish Fed and one that wants to talk up interest rates. They did maintain their tightening bias but it remains bland and data dependent. All that Fed worry and it turns out they were on our side. The bears were definitely blindsided by that one.
Punxsutawney Phil came out of his burrow on Friday and did not see his shadow. That is supposed to mean spring is just ahead and we have been spared six more weeks of winter. Ben Bernanke and company came out of their burrows this week and saw a stronger economy and falling inflation. They quickly proclaimed the possibility of stable growth and retired to their burrows for six more weeks until March 20th when they will emerge again looking for sunlight to pierce the economic gloom.
For next week it will be a holiday if sorts from the heavy schedule we saw last week. There are very few reports and only one of any consequence. That would be the ISM non-Manufacturing on Monday. Analysts are expecting a small gain but the number is really not material unless there is a major move in either direction. The US economy has become a services economy but the markets tend to ignore the ISM services number. It would have to fall near or under 50 into contraction mode before traders would become concerned. There is a much better chance for an upside surprise rather than a material dip. As investors we just want it to remain relatively flat to avoid any major changes in economic visibility. The rest of the reports are filler and should be ignored unless there is a major change.
The earnings parade will begin to wind down next week with 62% of the S&P already reported. It will take six more weeks for the remaining 38% to confess as the smaller company reports trickle in. Of the 62% already reported 64% beat estimates, 20% missed and 16% reported inline. Earnings projections for Q4 have risen back into double digits at +10.4% with the help of several outstanding reports late last week. If this trend holds it would be the 14th consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings. It would require a major miracle for that streak to continue next quarter. As of Jan-1st the projection for Q1 was S&P earnings of +8.7%. According to Thomson Financial that number has dropped to earnings growth of only +5.1%. There was a very bad series of lowered guidance reports early in the week that spiked the ratio of negative to positive guidance to 1.8 to 1 and nearly double the historical average. The earnings late in the week reversed that trend with numerous positive results that knocked that ratio back down to only .8 to 1 and back into normal territory. Still, without some additional strong positive guidance the earnings for Q1 will fail to impress at +5.1% and end that streak at 14 months.
Earnings late in the week included Amazon, which reported profits that fell -50% on a +34% rise in sales. That sounds terrible but there were charges of $91 million in taxes for the quarter compared to a tax benefit of $38 million in the comparable 2005 period. Analysts were only expecting 21 cents and Amazon reported profits of 23 cents so even with the tax problem they beat the street. The stock was beaten to a -$1.31 loss on the news.
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In another headline shocker Wendy's earnings fell -90% due to losses from its recently sold Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chain. Net income was 3 cents compared to 25 cents in the comparable quarter of 2006. Excluding charges Wendy's earned 6 cents compared to Wall Street estimates of 21 cents. You would have thought WEN stock would have been grilled on the news but it only fell -73 cents or -2%. Investors read between the headlines to see that same store sales rose +3.1% and future profits were expected to rise now that Wendy's is free of the Baja Fresh and Tim Horton brands.
Homebuilders soared again after builder Standard Pacific (SPF) gave guidance for Q1 that exceeded analyst expectations. SPF gained +1.95 even after posting a net loss for Q4 of -1.53 and a $290.7 million write off for inventory impairments and land deposit write-offs during the quarter. It appears if you write everything off then you will eventually make a profit. Other builders riding the Pacific wave were KBH +1.09, TOL +1.22, CTX +1.34, LEN +1.09, DHI +0.96 and NVR +20.50.
Nabors (NBR) spiked nearly $3 intraday on talk of a leveraged buyout deal in the works. We get one of these rumors nearly every quarter. Nabors has more than 1500 drilling rigs including both land and offshore. With a market cap of only $9 billion they have been rumored as a target by GE, DO and several European companies. Nabors spokesman, Dennis Smith, said, "it is our policy not to comment on rumors." Over 60,000 calls and 11,125 puts traded on Friday on more than eight times normal volume. Nabors will report earnings Tuesday after the close. Nabors has already warned that earnings will fall short of estimates due to lower demand for gas drilling rigs in the U.S. Nabors lowered its earnings forecast to 95 cents to a dollar. Analysts are now expecting $1.01. Major analysts downplayed the buyout rumor saying the cyclical nature of drilling produced too large a swing in revenue to tempt LBO firms. They need strong guaranteed income to payoff their acquisition debt.
March Crude Oil Chart - 90 min
Energy traders were in a buying mood again on Friday with oil spiking +1.72 to close at $59.02. That equates to an 18% rebound since February crude hit a low of $49.90 back on Jan-18th. Even as bullish as I am about oil long term I was very surprised to see this strong of a bounce. All the normal factors were blamed again and this time there were no expiring futures contracts to create an artificial move. The Nigerian oil workers union is threatening to strike on Monday due to a lack of security and the increased number of attacks on oil facilities. If they strike this could further crimp output of light crude from Nigeria. OPEC is thought to have actually begun cutting production again on Thursday despite the rise in prices. We will not know that for sure for several more weeks. Russia and Iran are said to be considering formation of an OPEC like group for gas producers. How this would impact world markets remains to be seen. Russia has 26.6% of the global supply of gas followed by Iran at 14.9% and Qatar at 14.3%. Considering we are going to be importing significantly larger amounts of LNG from these three countries in the very near future it is not likely to be at favorable prices. Venezuela was also quoted as a problem for oil with Chavez rewriting laws by presidential decree. Chevron said it lost 90,000 bpd in production in Venezuela when Chavez cancelled their prior agreements and nationalized the facilities. Analysts believe this will slow production wherever nationalism is practiced. Russia is also quietly kicking international companies out of Russian oil fields and turning operations over to their national oil companies. The potential for a military conflict with Iran appears to be growing daily with the announcement they are installing 3,000 enrichment centrifuges at the underground complex at Natanz. The eventual goal is to have 54,000 active centrifuges in order to accelerate the program. The U.S. said the announcement proved Iran was not moving to comply with the UN mandate for a halt in the process. Whatever the real reason for the spike in oil prices those of us invested in energy are not complaining.
Dell and Intel were back in the news and the news was not good. A class action lawsuit on behalf of investors was filed against Dell saying Dell had hidden $1 billion a year in rebates from Intel. Dell evidently received huge amounts of money from Intel to keep it an Intel only computer maker. These payments have been known for sometime as they were mentioned in an AMD suit a year ago. AMD claimed they were secret illegal rebates used to protect market share. Intel insists the payments were legal and were part of a discount pricing arrangement. The current suit does not claim they were illegal rebates but were simply not disclosed properly by Dell and gave investors the wrong impression about Dell's profitability. Dell claims the payments of $250 million per quarter were marketing fees paid to Dell to feature the Intel logo on Dell computers and advertising. Payments for advertising are not broken out on Dell's financial statements and according to the suit they inflated profitability assumptions on PC sales. Another suit claims Dell insiders propped up the stock price from 2003-2005 with improper accounting and disclosures enabling insiders to sell $3.5 billion in stock. Since 2005 Dell stock has fallen -44%. Dell also announced that CEO Kevin Rollins had resigned, Michael Dell was returning as his replacement and that Dell profits would be less than expected for Q4. It was not a good week for Dell. There are also some benchmark tests making the rounds on the web showing that in tests of identical class PCs between Dell and HP the HP computers are sometimes up to 50% faster than the Dell model. This could be another reason why HP is taking back market share by leaps and bounds against the former PC leader.
Global chip sales are expected to rise about 10% in 2007 to $273.8 billion after a similar +8.9% rise in 2006. The Semiconductor Industry Association said sales of chips were benefiting from the inclusion of chips in almost every electrical product made including the explosion of music devices, cell phones and large screen TVs. The semiconductor index has not benefited from this explosion in chips and fell -13% over the past year. Recent performance has been volatile with many chip companies warning about future profits. For an industry with 10% growth you would think the chip stocks could find a bid. The SOX has been trending sideways for the last five months.
Dow Transport Chart - Daily
Dow Transport Chart - Weekly
The Dow Transports (+6%) had no problem finding a bid last week after dropping back to test initial support at 4700 on Friday Jan-26th. The rebound off that support was dramatic with a vertical sprint to close at a new historic high at 5006. Twice before in 2006 that 5000 level had been tested followed by sudden declines. Is the third time the charm? The rebound was prompted by monster moves in FedEx (FDX) from $108.50 to $115 in three days and UPS +4 in four days. The railroads like BNI, UNP and CSX were also strong gainers while the airlines were stuck on the taxiway. Transports up to a new historic high while oil rebounded +18% from its lows? What's up with that? It is the Goldilocks stealth growth economy starting to gain speed. It is a rebound to 3.5% GDP in Q4 and the potential for an even higher number in Q1 that has sparked the sector.
140-Year Temperature Chart
Coal also found a bid with colder weather upon us. Arch Coal reported earnings on Friday of $79.5 million compared to a loss of $1 million in the comparable quarter. For all 2006 Arch profits soared +1,058% to $260.6 million compared to $22.5 million in 2005. Arch and Peabody (BTU) have said they are going to reduce production targets for 2007 given the current surplus of coal. Winter consumption trends have been shattered by warm weather over the last decade. The top seven warmest years on record in the U.S. since 1850 from the top down are 2006, 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004. In the Netherlands January was the warmest January in the last 300 years. It was the 5th warmest in England in 350 years. According to a UN organized group of scientists the top 11 hottest years globally occurred in the last 12 years. Think about this. These are huge statistics! There is no doubt that global warming has accelerated but that is a topic for a different time. The Arch Coal CEO said there were plans to build 96 gigawatts of coal fired electric plants in the U.S. over the next decade, 156 GW by 2030. Each 15 GW requires 16 million tons of coal per year. Once all 96 GW are built that will require an additional 102 million tons of coal per year or nearly 900,000 rail cars or 9,000 trainloads, 25 per day, of coal. To put that into perspective Arch only sold 127 MT (million tons) in all of 2006. The new plants currently scheduled would nearly double the current output of Arch Coal. Obviously they are not the only coal company with Peabody (247 MT worldwide), Massey (39.1 MT) and Consol Energy (68.9 MT) the other majors. Using the 2006 numbers listed here those new plants will increase coal demand in the U.S. by more than 10% not taking into account the coal used for other than power generation. The EIA said that U.S. coal demand in 2007 would increase by 20 MT but production would decrease by 30 MT. With the huge increase in demand in our future you would expect coal stocks to be rising. However, they were hit by the warm weather and are trading significantly off their highs. I would consider coal a buy here with Peabody my favorite. They have increased exposure to Asian markets through their recent acquisition or Excel Energy in Australia. Prices are rising to Asia as is demand. The sector is ripe for further consolidation with Peabody the eventual survivor. However, with coal the energy of the future there has been speculation that a larger energy company like Exxon could start acquiring coal assets for the eventual coal to liquid (CTL) shift as oil prices eventually move over $100. CTL needs oil to be over $50 to be commercially practical in any real quantity.
Wilshire-5000 Chart - Weekly
Wilshire-5000 Chart - Daily
What do we do now? With the S&P-500, NYSE Composite, Russell-2000, Wilshire-5000 and Dow Transports all at new historic highs do we continue to go long? That is a tough question but nothing attracts money faster than new highs. Eventually this streak will end badly but there is nothing on the horizon to suggest it will be soon. We spent weeks wandering sideways in 2007 as we consolidated the gains from the last half of 2006. The markets had plenty of chances to roll over and crash back to earth in an expected correction. Despite six individual days of sharp declines in 2007 none have stuck and the bulls bought every dip. Until that pattern changes we should continue to buy the dips. Eventually we will be wrong and it will be painful. Historically when the correction eventually appears investors will buy the first dip and lose money. They will buy it again lower and again lose money. We are creatures of habit and it normally takes several consecutive days of losses before we get the message. I don't see a dip on the horizon but the real ones are rarely expected. According to Ned Davis Research the Dow has gone 138 trading days as of Friday without a -2% retracement. The Dow has also gone 981 trading days without a -10% correction. We came close in May 2006 but close does not count in statistics. This is the longest streak for the Dow without a correction since 1958. Kind of makes you question the wisdom of going long doesn't it? This is probably what is keeping everyone else out of the market and costing the shorts lots of money. Everyone is betting on what they think will happen rather than what is happening. The trend is your friend and right now the trend is up.
Russell-2000 Chart - Weekly
The Dow closed at 12656 and just shy of Thursday's new high. Based on the recent series of new highs and higher lows it appears 12700 is the next target and that could easily happen soon. 12500 is current support and the 30-day moving average. It would take a dip to 12400 to qualify as a -2% retracement and 11400 for a -10% correction. I could easily see 12400 but I can't imagine 12000 much less anything below that without a significant change in market sentiment.
The Nasdaq closed at 2475 on Friday and a very slight breakout over the 2400-2475 range it has been stuck in since Nov-13th. We had that three-day buy program spike back on Jan-11th that took the Nasdaq to 2508 before dropping nearly 90 points and back into the range in the three days that followed. Without that spike it would have been three months of pure boredom.
The S&P finally broke out of its 1430 resistance ceiling with a monster spike after the Fed announcement. That spike triggered significant short covering and added nearly 10 points for the day. On Thursday the bears tried to sell the opening bounce but were rewarded with another new high close. Friday the index closed within a point of 1450 but could not make the connection despite nearly a full day of trying. Friday's close was a 6.5-year high and I am sure there are plenty of shorts that still need to cover. Once over the psychological 1450 barrier the next material resistance is 1530. I know that sounds unreal at this point but we are in breakout mode with very few plot points above us.
The Wilshire 5000, the broadest of all U.S. indexes is also in breakout mode with a new historic high on Friday at 14642. This shows a broad participation of all sectors in the rally. Even more bullish is the breakout on the Russell-2000 past the very strong resistance at 800 to close at a new historic high of 809 on Friday. This shows that fund managers have committed to the rally and are buying small caps. This is a critical sentiment indicator and suggests the bullish sentiment is rising. The NYSE Composite closed right at Thursday's historic high and continues to be a broad based sentiment indicator covering everything from small caps to the largest blue chips listed on the NYSE.
There are simply no bearish indications to be found and that in itself is scary. When there are no bears to be found it usually means their trap is about to be sprung. It is worry about the potential downside that keeps most traders from participating in the upside. It is easy to buy a corrective dip like the $50 bottom in oil. The risk is minimal and there is plenty of proven upside potential. Buying a breakout is much tougher on the brain since there is nothing to measure it against. Every hiccup appears to be the start of the next correction and sends traders scurrying to the sidelines only to watch a sudden rebound occur without them. We have to realize that there are hundreds of thousands of investors with cash in hand waiting for a pullback to buy. Some may be waiting a long time for a significant dip while others may bite the bullet and jump in on any future pause. I admit I am very skeptical about buying breakouts after finding out I bought the peak more times than I care to admit. I was talking to the person in charge of the option plays about what to pick this weekend. Do we buy the breakout with option premiums on the edge of extreme or do we buy puts on the chance of a failure at this level. If we bought calls then what sector? Those that have a good story are already up strongly. Same with puts. Do we buy puts on the winners or on those few bouncing along the bottom? This is a tough weekend for stock pickers.
SPX Chart - Daily
Officially we need to remain long as long as the market continues higher. I know that is easy to say and tough to do. The S&P is far enough over 1430 that we need to choose a new pivot point for our market direction indicator. I use the term loosely this weekend since all indicators appear to be pointing higher. I am going to be buying the dips to 1440. Under 1440 I plan on reversing to a short bias with a target of 1420. Over 1450 I am just going to close my eyes and hang on. I know if I watch it closely I will see an impending sell off in every hiccup. We are in a precarious period on the calendar. Q4 earnings are winding down and Q1 guidance has been less than exciting. 5.1% earnings growth for the quarter could begin to sour investors on the whole rally concept. When is the question? We also have the refunding in the bond market next week with $28 billion up for auction. That could extract a few bucks out of the market with yields around 4.8% on the ten-year note. Those institutions with profits in equities may need to rebalance their portfolio to spread the risk. We also have the typical post Fed slump to deal with only based on the Fed's bullish statement there should not be any reason to slump. There are no material economics ahead and nothing on the news calendar. It is the perfect scenario for Goldilocks and the three markets. The rally appears to be just right, not too fast and not too slow with bears in sight. Just to be safe keep those stops keyed to SPX 1440 in case lightning does strike out of a blue sky.