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Market Wrap

Sour Mood Develops

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The sour, disgruntled mood began last night when the Nikkei failed to follow through on gains made here in the U.S. Instead, the Nikkei barely managed a flat performance. In the wee hours of the morning, European bourses began backing off the six-year highs they had reached the previous day, moving lower ahead of rate-hike decisions by the Bank of England and the ECB. Both central banks kept rates steady, but the ECB's head hinted at a possible rate hike in the future. ECB head Trichet included a "strong vigilance" statement in his question-and-answer session, with wage developments reportedly the key factor in making the decision as to whether to hike or not. That statement didn't improve the mood of investors or the performances of their bourses. The FTSE 100, CAC 40 and DAX ended 0.36, 0.66 percent and 0.56 percent lower, respectively.

Introduction

All this overnight action had driven our futures lower. When same-store comps began to be reported in the U.S. in the pre-market session, Wal-Mart (WMT), J.C. Penney, Federated Department Stores (FD), Gap Inc. (GPS), Ann Taylor and a host of other comps appeared to be better than expected, but Costco Wholesale (COST), Sharper Image (SHRP), Pier 1 Imports (PIR) and several other retailers missed expectations. Although the conclusion was that retail sales reports were generally solid, market participants couldn't be coaxed out of their disappointment that sales hadn't boomed more than they had. Their sour mood persisted. Our futures stayed below fair value right into the cash open. Many of the world's investors had apparently gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.

Banking giant HSBC (HBC) may have been partly responsible for that sour mood in the U.S. and England. The company warned that its charges for bad debts would top analysts' forecasts by 20 percent, pressing the charges to $8.8 billion. The slowing of the U.S. housing market will mean that many of the company's customers having trouble meeting mortgage payments will not have many options, the company explained, with housing prices declining and the possibility of refinancing dimming. The immediate future looks bleak for some customers as their ARMs will soon reset at higher rates.

Delinquencies on the company's sub-prime mortgages are now rising. This speaks to the warnings Keene mentioned in last night's Wrap. Keene recounted speculation that one in five sub-prime mortgages from the last two years would result in a foreclosure.

Analysts were taken aback by a move that was termed unprecedented. Major banks rarely give profit warnings, some market watchers commented today, and this is especially true when those warnings proceed from deteriorating credit quality. The timing of the release comes close to HSBC's early March earnings release, and the company had already provided a bearish outlook in December.

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As a result, financials were called lower in the pre-market session. Many indices in that sector turned lower today, and that sector is an important one. Briefing.com points out that without the earnings growth that financials contribute, the fourth-quarter's SPX profit growth would be only three percent.

Those investors soured on other indices turned to the Russell 2000, however, pushing it to yet another record intraday high as well as a new closing high. Bond yields continued their pullback into support, releasing pressure on the small caps that make up the Russell 2000 and that are more interest-rate sensitive than some other sectors.

Now I've given readers all the so-called reasons for the decline seen in some indices, reasons that television and print commentators are required to dig up to explain what happened. However, many technical analysts believe that it was time for markets to take a breather, and they did. Most market observers would also note that the Thursday before opex week tends to be one in which more volatility occurs as big-money people roll out of positions and into new ones. Let's look at charts.

Charts

Anyone who read my Wrap last Thursday wouldn't be surprised to see what's happened since. I ended last Thursday's Wrap by telling those with bullish SPX positions to decide what they were going to do about holding over the weekend if the SPX ended up the week with a small-bodied candle right on midline resistance. Rising midline resistance had been approached that Thursday. Consolidation, even consolidation with a slightly upward slant as that rising midline was tested, can prove deleterious for options prices, particular when that's coupled with a weekend's evaporation of time premium.

Annotated Daily Chart of the SPX:

As should be obvious from a glance at this chart, the SPX has been consolidating along the midline of that rising channel, just as expected. It looks as if a pullback to the 10-sma may still be necessary. Nothing terrible has happened here, but I continue to be concerned because of the SPX's inability to push above the midline of this channel, into the upper and more bullish half. That's usually a sign that a rally is losing steam. In addition, my Keltner charts show that the SPX faces massive daily Keltner resistance.

So far, however, we can't draw too many conclusions. Long-term bulls should just keep raising their stops as prices rise within that channel. As long as the SPX maintains its 50-sma on intraday tests or maintains daily closes above a line now at 1422.40 according to Keltner charts, it's still just chugging along through that channel. I'd grow more concerned if either of those were violated on daily closes.

Intraday Keltner channels give little perspective on what happens next, as in tomorrow. The consolidation over this week has flattened channels with the SPX prices running along the middle of those channels. The 30-minute channel suggests that a 30-minute close below 1,441 would set up a downside target of 1,425.

These levels are relevant only for the first part of tomorrow, however, and would change with the day's trading. I wouldn't expect either the 1,425 or 1,421-1,422 levels to be tested tomorrow anyway, of course, although after the January 25 decline from the midline straight to the 30-sma, we can't rule a 30-sma test out as a possibility for a single-day move.

I would guess that a test of the SPX's 10-sma might be a higher probability move for tomorrow, however. The Dow tested its 10-sma today.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Dow:

This chart is a classic one, a beautiful one. Parameters are cleanly delineated and are echoed by a RSI formation. If you're an investor in the Dow options or those of the Diamonds, you have your parameters in front of you. One complicating note: a test of the 30-sma is not necessarily a bearish thing, although that would mean that prices are moving out of the rising wedge.

A daily close beneath the 30-sma would be more problematic, hinting that a 50-sma test might be necessary before short-term support is found. The real worry is whether the Dow will need a pullback to that long-term red trendline, a trendline that described the top of a rising channel in which the Dow traded from late 2004 to October 2006, when it broke above the channel but then immediately began forming this rising wedge. In the "old days," the days before the spring of 2003, such formations were deemed bearish formations. They absolutely have not reliably functioned as bearish formations over those intervening years, but they still make old-time technical analysts nervous.

After the Dow rose off today's low, it kept finding resistance at a Keltner channel level now at about 12,641 on 30-minute closes. Unless it can maintain levels above that Keltner support, it looks likely to retest 12,600-12,613 or maybe even 12,567.50.

If a break above that resistance comes instead of a pullback to support, the Dow will find next significant short-term resistance at about 12,680, although light resistance exists at about 12,651. These are on 30-minute closes, with prices sometimes punching above or below that resistance or support during the 30-minute period.

Unlike either the SPX or the Dow, the Nasdaq produced a close above its opening level, although it did not manage a positive close.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Nasdaq:

As is obvious, daily candles are clinging to the midline of this channel, sometimes just below that midline and sometimes just above it. This action provides little prediction of next direction--either up through the upper half of the channel or back down through the lower half. Unlike the SPX, the Nasdaq has been able to push above the midline and doesn't show a recent pattern of falling back from the midline, so recent history provides no guidelines, either. Fortunately, RSI might, so I would watch for an RSI break through the triangle it's forming as one guideline for next direction. An RSI upside breakout would lend more trust in a Nasdaq attempt to bounce up through the upper half of its channel while a downside break would give more trust to an attempt to roll over to test channel support.

The daily Keltner chart suggests that the outlook for the SPX and Nasdaq diverge somewhat. While the SPX was shoved up against resistance that might be strong, the Nasdaq's upside target and next strong resistance near 2,521 and slightly above has not been reached on this move. As long as the Nasdaq maintains daily closes above a Keltner line currently at 2,472, it maintains that upside target, but if it breaks through on a daily close, Keltner channels suggest an eventual downturn toward 2,443.

On an intraday basis, targets are closer, of course. As the day ended, prices were between nearest strong intraday resistance, now at about 2,493.50 on 30-minute closes, and support, now at 2,481-2,483 on 30-minute closes. Little prediction of the next move was suggested, but if the Nasdaq does attempt an early bounce, the setup now gives a slight weighting to a bounce and then rollover toward possibly weakening support. Look for first resistance or support for the Nasdaq on early moves at those levels mentioned in this paragraph.

The SOX was also suspended between intraday Keltner support and resistance on its 30-minute chart. Its daily chart shows why: it's also suspended on its 50-sma, at the midline of a channel, in the zone of a gap from last month.

Annotated Daily Chart of the SOX:

The SOX ended the day at what could be strong resistance, and the inside-day candle shows appropriate hesitancy in the face of this resistance. I've confessed for months that the SOX wasn't acting in an "appropriate" manner, having fallen out of the channel in which it rose off the summer's high, then retesting it, but failing then to fall back significantly after this pronounced kiss-goodbye action. On the surface, the failure to fall back far looked bullish, but then the churning action continued and still continues. When consolidation continues so long, it becomes obvious that bulls don't have the strength they need to send prices higher, just as bears didn't have the strength they needed after that kiss-goodbye action.

When a long-term chart is viewed, it's obvious that this churning is taking place along that descending red trendline shown above, a trendline that was formed as the SOX fell away from its early 2006 high. The possibility exists that this is merely consolidation of gains before the SOX gains strength to push away from this resistance, but few clues are given by the formations seen above. It could be a bull flag, and that possibility should be acknowledged. As the annotation notes, the channel provides a vantage point from which to watch the SOX, but the SOX's price patterns have been regularly morphing from one pattern to the next. However, a sustained upside breakout would mean that the SOX is following the RUT and the TRAN, two other indices that tend to be leaders, and so such a breakout shouldn't be ignored.

The RUT broke out last week and pushed up to next daily Keltner resistance, hitting it today. The daily candlestick chart shows that it was hitting other resistance, too.

Annotated Daily Chart of the RUT:

As mentioned earlier in the article, the RUT hit both a new intraday and a new closing high today. However, if the ability to break above this newest trendline is the measure of its strength, it hasn't gained strength, and today's candle was not a bullish one when seen at the top of a climb.

Based on Keltner evidence and that seen on the chart above, the RUT looks due for another consolidating sideways-to-sideways-up day along that short trendline or a pullback, perhaps toward 812 or even 807 support on daily closes.

The RUT's 30-minute Keltner chart provides sound guidance. The RUT keeps breaking out above upper-channel resistance on this chart, running higher in that breakout mode. Keltner channels were originally developed to identify breakout plays. The RUT ended the day right at the upper channel line, at about 817.70 on 30-minute closes. These lines are dynamic. They will move up a little as the RUT does or will drop a little as the RUT does. However, until and unless the RUT drops below that line on 30-minute closes, it remains in breakout mode. If it continues in breakout mode by producing a daily close tomorrow above today's high, a possible upside target of 829.60 exists on the daily chart, but that target on the daily chart hasn't actually been set yet.

A break below 817.70 level mentioned in the last paragraph on 30-minute closes sets up the 812 short-term downside target mentioned above, and a break of that on a 30-minute close currently sets up an 807-808 target.

The movement of the ten-year yields might be watched to help gain perspective on what might happen with the RUT.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Ten-Year-Yields:

It's possible, of course, that the yields won't mosey around at support for a week to two weeks, and any strong movement could prompt a RUT movement in the opposite direction.

In addition to the RUT, the TRAN also recently broke above long-term resistance. In doing so, however, it ran right up against last year's high and round-number resistance near 5,000.

Annotated Daily Chart of the TRAN:

So far, the TRAN's pullback from its test and slight exceeding of last year's high has been a choppy pullback. Such pullbacks often precede another push higher, but the TRAN can move fast when it gets started moving, particularly when it's dropping.

At some point, the TRAN will likely pull back far enough to retest the long-term red trendline, although an interim bounce may occur from its 10-sma. I would expect that 10-sma test to occur on this pullback before the TRAN could attempt to move higher again, but the daily Keltner chart argues against that assumption. The TRAN bounced today from Keltner support on that daily chart.

Intraday Keltner charts offer little perspective on next direction because the day's flattening of prices has flattened indicators, too.

The direction of crude prices may offer some perspective tomorrow, although the TRAN doesn't always move in immediate and direct opposition to crude prices.

Annotated Daily Chart of Crude:

A sustained break over the 72-ema might further pressure the TRAN and predict a TRAN test of its 10-sma as well as a crude test of the $64.00-64.63 zone.

Today's Developments

The first economic report on the day's light schedule was the weekly jobless claims report. Those claims rose 3,000 to 311,000, with the four-week average of these initial jobless claims now up 3,250 to 308,250. Continuing claims fell 54,000 to 2.49 million, with the four-week average rising to 2.50 million.

Later, the Commerce Department reported that U.S. December wholesale inventories dropped 0.5 percent, the biggest drop since May 2003. This surprised economists who had anticipated a 0.6-percent gain. Sales rose 1.8 percent, dropping the inventory-to-sales ratio to 1.17. The durable-good component of this number showed inventories dropping 0.4 percent while sales rose 1.1 percent. The non-durables component revealed that inventories dropped 0.7 percent while sales rose 2.5 percent. This number doesn't typically move the markets, and it didn't do much today, either.

The last economic report of the day produced a short-lived bounce in natural gas futures. Natural gas eventually closed higher today, but the gain was small and the Monday intraday high was never tested. Inventories dropped 224 billion cubic feet for the week that ended February 2. This was slightly more than the 215 billion cubic feet that Global Insight expected, putting the inventories 26 billion cubic feet below the year-ago level. It still remains well above the five-year average, however.

Companies reporting earnings in the pre-market session today included PepsiCo (PEP), Aetna (AET), Warner Music (WMB) and (TOL). Early this morning, PEP's and AET's earnings where characterized as being in line with expectations while WMB's was pegged as disappointing, with profit declining more than had been expected. Toll Brothers (TOL) reported that home-building revenue fell 19 percent to $1.09 billion. The company also reported that signed contracts dropped by 33 percent and the backlog fell 30 percent below the year-ago level. However, the company also noted that the pace of cancellations was beginning to ease.

Other company-related news included EMC's decision to offer 10 percent of one unit through an IPO. Goldman Sachs added Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) to its "conviction buy" list, choosing HPQ to replace Apple Inc. (AAPL) on that list. Also, Imperial Tobacco (ITY) will buy Commonwealth Brands, a U.S. cigarette producer, for $1.9 billion.

Of particular interest to those of us who watch the markets is News Corp.'s (NWS) announcement that will launch its business channel this fall. This channel will compete with GE's CNBC.

After-hours earnings reports came from Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) and McAfee (MFE), with first reports characterizing BRCM as beating expectations. BRCM's earnings were $0.08 a share or $0.31 a share if stock-based compensation was excluded. The company earned $0.32 a share a year ago. Sales climbed to $923.5 million from the previous $820.6 million. The company also announced a plan to buy back $1 billion of its shares. As this report was prepared, BRCM traded at $34.11, up from the close of $33.67.

MFE also beat expectations for its sales and revenue, although profit fell nine percent. However, the company said its results were preliminary because the company will restate financial results due to the way it had previously granted stock options. As this report was prepared, MFE traded at $29.50, down slightly from the $29.62 close.

Tomorrow's Economic and Earnings Releases

This week's schedule of economic releases has been less hectic than last week's, and that's true of tomorrow's releases, too. Friday's offerings include the fourth-quarter's Quarterly Household Credit and the ECRI Weekly Leading Index.

Earnings for tomorrow include HAS, MA, STL, WY and WLSC.

What about Tomorrow?

I want to address the RUT first because it's been an upside leader. There's not always an immediate negative correspondence in the RUT's action when interest rates move, but rising interest rates certainly do pressure the small caps that make up the RUT while easing rates certainly do remove some of that pressure. We've been in a declining interest-rate environment since January 26, but bond yields have now approached a first area of potential support.

The Nasdaq appears poised to attempt a climb through the upper half of its rising channel, the SPX appears poised to turn down through its rising channel, and the Dow appears ready to break out of the formation that's been forming since last November without giving many clues of the direction of that breakout.
 

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