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Market Wrap

Trying to Make Sense of the Nonsensical and Organize the Disorganized

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If you've been trying to make sense of market movements lately, you've been trying to apply sense to the nonsensical, to organize the disorganized.


When one trend ends, markets sometimes go through a period of disorganization before the next trend arises. We're used to seeing this on intraday charts and can remain fairly patient when waiting out the ultimate development. Such waiting requires a few minutes or a few hours. Some traders find it harder to wait out the period of disorganization when that period occurs on daily charts, sometimes taking weeks or even months to settle into a tradable pattern.

If you've been reading my Wraps since late February and early March, you know that I've been anticipating that we might see a period of disorganization before clarity results. Trying to make sense of what's happening before something more rational and tradable results can result in a depleted trading account. I've been advising smaller positions and heightened caution if one must trade before tradable patterns appear. One day's startling move does not a new trend make! I didn't think so last Thursday after the previous day's strong gain and I don't think so today after Monday's and Tuesday's declines.

I'll cover the day's news later, but I'm not going to take up time in this introduction. Other commentators might attribute each jit and jot of the markets to particular news. However, the equity markets' oversized reactions in both directions can also be attributed to that disorganization that often occurs subsequent to the break of a long-established trend. We had such a break when equity markets broke through their support formed as they had rallied off last summer's lows.


Annotated Daily Chart of the SPX:

Notice that RSI is at 53.6, about as neutral as it's possible for it to be. While this week's pullback could be part of a successful retest of support, 72-ema support that's held for two days now, a retest of the deeper triangle support can't be ruled out at this point. The SPX spent the day between that triangle support and the rising blue trendline's potential resistance, and it's trapped between converging moving averages and historical support and resistance. From here, it could as easily spring up to test last week's high or even that rising blue trendline as it could fall to retest the converging triangle and red-line support. I see nothing here that predicts which way it will go over the intermediate term.

For the short-term, two days of support at the 72-ema suggest that further consolidation near that moving average or even another bounce attempt, with the emphasis on "attempt," might result tomorrow, but we'll look at a caveat to that conclusion in the "What about Tomorrow?" section. The SPX will soon face resistance to any further rise.

Other charts look similar.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Dow:

RSI is neutral here, too.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Nasdaq:

Today's spring off support suggests an attempt to rise tomorrow, whether or not that attempt will be successful. Before bulls get too excited, though, let's wait until the "What about Tomorrow?" section for a detailed look at the intraday support and resistance.

If any chart depicts the struggle between bulls and bears, the uncertainty about next direction, it's the Russell 2000's.

Annotated Daily Chart of the RUT:

The RUT is trapped between resistance and support, right at the converging 30- and 50-sma's, right at horizontal S/R. RSI is in a neutral zone.

Before you get too excited about that triangle and the possibility of playing the triangle breakout, notice that it's possible to draw the action much differently, with a small regression channel drawn rising off the early March low, but with that channel having a distinctly bear-flag look about it. If you're inclined to trade a triangle breakout here, you have distinct levels at which to set stops. Set them and use them.

The TRAN's demonstrates that lack of clarity I've been mentioning.

Annotated Daily Chart of the TRAN:

As is true with so many other charts, it's possible to redraw the formation here, showing the TRAN's action as a regression channel still rising off last summer's high. Whatever your prognosis for the market right now, you can find a formation that supports your belief. My belief is that the markets are going through a period of disoroganization, that clarity will arrive but hasn't yet, and so that's what I'm finding on the charts.


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Today's Developments

Today's most important report arrived early in the morning. The fourth-quarter's GDP had last been revised to 2.2 percent, and today's revision was also predicted to be 2.2 percent. Instead, the number ticked up to 2.5 percent, slightly stronger than expected. Market pundits credited higher truck prices for boosting the GDP, but consumer spending, government spending and net exports also helped produce the higher-than-expected revision. Imports fell to their lowest number in four years.

The subtraction from housing increased. Business investments also dropped 3.1 percent, the biggest decline in four years, and inventories dragged the GDP lower than it would have otherwise been.

Depending on whether stagnant growth or higher inflation figures highest in one's to-be-worried-about list, the news could have been seen as reassuring or worrisome. The immediate effect was to send both equity futures and bond yields higher. The number's suggestion that the economy wasn't as weak as anticipated seemed to reassure equity traders while the inflation measures worried bond traders.

Three quarters in a row have produced growth below three percent. Yet slow growth is still growth, some equity bulls must have reasoned. Growth for the full year was 3.3 percent.

Some market watchers presume that slower growth will remove some inflationary pressures, and some GDP components related to inflation did ease, if only nominally. The component measuring personal consumption expenditure prices declined to a 1 percent annual rate. The PCE price index, an index that excludes food and energy costs, rose 1.8 percent, easing slightly at least from the previous 1.9 percent.

The exuberant initial equity reaction to those slight decreases seemed a bit overdone, given that year over year, core PCE prices did not ease, remaining at 2.2 percent. According to FOMC Chairman Ben Bernanke, that level is not one the FOMC considers comfortable when on guard for inflationary pressures. The FOMC chairman reiterated just yesterday that keeping inflation tame remains the committee's primary goal.

Other snippets from the number included falling corporate profits when compared to the previous quarter. When broken into financial and non-financial components, the differences astounded. Financial corporations achieved profits of $20.5 billion while non-financials saw their profits decline $62.6 billion. Year over year, corporate profits rose.

The unemployment rate remained at a low 4.5 percent, hinting that wages could still increase inflationary pressures, but some economists have noted recently that employment tends to lag other components of an economy's health. In other words, unemployment could remain low as the economy has already begun to contract, rising only after that contraction has begun.

Other pre-market economic releases included the Labor Department's weekly initial claims number. Initial claims fell 10,000 to 308,000, their lowest level in more than two months. The four-week average fell by 7,250 to 316,750. Continuing claims rose, however, by 32,000 to 2.52 million, but its four-week average also fell, by 24,250 to 2.53 million. The insured unemployment rate stayed steady. Underneath the headline numbers, a trend has remained intact. Those who lose their jobs seem to be having trouble finding new ones, with long-term unemployment remaining unexpectedly high.

The next economic release, the Conference Board's February Help-Wanted Index, arrived at 10:00. The Conference Board surveys the volume of help-wanted advertisements in major daily newspapers to produce this number. The index slipped a point from January's number, falling to 31 in February. Seven out of the nine U.S. regions produced declines over the last three months, the Conference Board noted.

A Goldman Sachs economist commented on that Conference Board release, noting that economic growth could moderate through the spring and early summer. Another GS economist spoke in somewhat harsher terms about the economy when addressing a forum at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He noted the number of credible arguments suggesting that the U.S. economy could soon be recessionary. He mentioned the drag produced by the housing market, the already weak economy, and the Fed's inability to lower rates due to inflation concerns. A CNBC guest commentator this afternoon likened the FOMC's position to sitting on a horse so tall that the FOMC couldn't dismount. The Fed can't lower rates to help a flagging economy because of the remaining inflationary pressures, that commentator went on to say, only to be immediately contradicted by another who anticipates a surprise lowering of rates at the May meeting.

We don't know what's going to happen, and many believe that FOMC Chairman Ben Bernanke made it clear yesterday that he doesn't, either. The economy is at an inflection point, Rick Santelli commented this morning on CNBC, and it's impossible for any man (or woman, I might add) to know what's going to happen next. That impossibility has been reflected in the disorganization seen on our daily equity index charts.

The Department of Energy released natural-gas inventories about the same time that President Bush spoke about his intention to veto budget decisions that he felt would stymie generals on the ground in Iraq while increasing taxes here in the U.S. His speech was brief and his conclusions certain to be contradicted by others. I intend no political discussion but merely a report of what was said. Minutes later, the Senate approved 51-47 a $123.2 billion Iraq war spending bill that does contain a March 2008 deadline for a pullout by U.S. troops, with a hard deadline being one prompter for the president's veto, according to his already voiced stance.

The drawdown in natural-gas inventories was slightly higher than the expected 16-19 billion cubic feet drawdown, at 22 billion cubic feet. Recently, natural gas prices have been supported by the prediction of an active hurricane season, the possibility of other weather-related developments, the rise in crude, and geopolitical developments. Those geopolitical developments associated with the energy complex include those relating to the capture of British troops by Iran and also to the reported death of a presidential candidate in Nigeria. Boone Pickens warned that market watchers should not discount the importance of fundamentals in the rise of crude, with inventories tightening, and one industry analyst had already observed that natural gas prices were being pushed around by crude prices.

Crude prices were certainly climbing. Crude futures spent yesterday challenging their 200-ema, falling back below it by the close. Today the futures used that -ema as a support beam from which to launch into an acrobatic leap that ultimately landed it at $66.00, pressuring equities. Another source says crude closed at $66.03, so perhaps my feed source was wrong. The 200-sma is just ahead at $67.04, according to my feed service. Pickens was predicting $70 oil this morning, and crude prices ended up far closer to that amount than they had been when he made the prediction in the morning. I even saw a headline on Marketwatch.com later in the day where someone was predicting $100 oil if the situation in Iran worsened. Nevertheless, the 200-sma may provide enough resistance to produce consolidation as it is tested.

The last economic release was at 11:00. The Kansas FOMC district released its manufacturing survey for March. Most market watchers don't consider this district's survey as predictive of the ISM as those from some other regions, so this survey's results usually do not prove market moving. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City reported that manufacturing activity declined in March while expectations for future factory activity grew. Price pressures for finished goods fell, but those for raw materials climbed.

Although not a release of economic news, new five-year notes were released at auction today. Those notes did not attract as much interest as might have been desired, driving yields higher. Yields on the ten-year note rose to 4.644 percent.

Company-related news included U.S. Steel's (X) announcement that it would acquire Lone Star Technologies (LSS). X will pay $2.1 billion or $67.50 per share for LSS.

Another deal today involved Qwest, AT&T and Verizon. Those companies were part of a ten-year government telecommunications contract, the largest one ever contracted. Sprint Nextel Corp. was not included.

Attention remained on Intel (INTC) today after yesterday's analyst meeting and announcement of a settlement with the IRS. After rebounding yesterday, INTC broke lower today, to a level not seen since last August.

TJX Companies revealed today that the security breach and theft of credit and debit card information from T.J. Maxx customers had been more widespread and had begun sooner than the company had announced two months ago. About three-fourths of those cards were not usable at the time the information was stolen, however, either due to expiration or the masking of some of the information.

After-hours developments included earnings reports from several companies, but Dell (DELL) grabbed the attention by announcing that the company would delay filing its Form 10-K for annual results due to a continuing investigation of accounting and financial reporting matters. Errors, misconduct and deficiencies in the financial control environment were noted by the audit committee. The stock was halted in late trading, but opened about the time this report was completed. It was trading at $22.29 at that time, down from the $23.39 close, but still in the midst of the initial reaction to the news.

Also during the after-hours session, Beazer Homes (BZH) revealed that it had received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of North Carolina, asking for documents about its mortgage origination business. The Office of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, had apparently asked for the documents. BZH says that no allegations of wrongdoing have been made, that the company is cooperating, and that neither the FBI nor the IRS has requested information.

Tomorrow's Economic and Earnings Releases

Tomorrow's economic releases contain one of the most important of the week, the March Chicago PMI. This regional manufacturing report is one of those predicts the bigger ISM, the Institute of Supply Management's report on manufacturing, so market watchers will certainly be paying attention. The previous number was 47.9, below the 50 expansion-versus-contraction benchmark. Economists predict that tomorrow's number will be 49.0. A surprise decline would not be good news, but neither would too big of a gain. This report will be released at 9:45, so keep this potentially market-moving report in mind as you plan entries or profit exits tomorrow morning.

Other releases for the day include February's Personal Income at 8:30, expected to rise 0.3 percent after the previous 1.0 percent rise. February's Construction Spending will be released at 10:00, and that's expected to decline again.

March's Michigan Consumer Sentiment could be another market-moving report, especially after Tuesday's surprise dip in Consumer Confidence, but only if this revision is significantly different than the previous 88.8. That also falls into the 10:00 release slot. The only other release is the ECRI Weekly Leading Index, to be released at 10:30.

What about Tomorrow?

We have to remember that we might be seeing end-of-month and end-of-quarter squaring up of positions. That kind of activity exacerbates any other uncertainty occurring in the markets and renders technical analysis less useful than it sometimes is. That's particularly true of intraday charts. Some development tomorrow morning--or more likely, right after the open when the Chicago PMI is released--can totally wash over any support or resistance noted on these charts. However, let's take a look so you'll at least be able to make some early judgments.

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the SPX:

Remember that these Keltner lines are dynamic and will move with prices. However, as of today's close, 1425.16 looked like potential strong resistance on 15-minute closes, with 1422.53 also a resistance zone. Be really careful about bullish hopes if the SPX should break above that 1425 level in the first few minutes of trading, particularly if the SPX pulls back to that black line by the end of the first 15-minutes. A retreat back to the black line by the end of the 15-minute period would mean that the resistance held.

If the SPX retreats first thing tomorrow morning, it appears that it's going to take a strong flush to break it down below the firming support. Black-channel-line-to-black-channel-line movements, bouncing back and forth within that channel, are the most common ones, but lately we've been seeing a lot of breakouts. Barring such a breakout, however, the most likely event for tomorrow is for the SPX to rattle around within that black channel's parameters on 15-minute closes.

The Dow's chart is set up almost the same, except that resistance appears to be thickening a bit on the Dow's chart (shown by converging lines overhead).

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the Dow:

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the Nasdaq:

The RUT's daily candle was posed in the middle of a narrowing triangle on its daily chart. Let's see what an intraday chart shows.

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the Russell 2000:

The RUT ended the day facing significant resistance just overhead. That's no surprise, given the look of the daily chart with that triangle resistance just overhead. The intraday chart also shows significant support firming underneath, in the form of all those converging Keltner lines. That's no surprise, either, given the triangle support just beneath the RUT on the daily chart. The only helpful aspect of this intraday chart is that it gives us a potential short-term upside target if the RUT breaks higher tomorrow morning, but be careful about trusting an early upside breakout, if one occurs. Honor those stops.

Markets ended the day with candles that suggested the possibility of more resistance tests tomorrow, but with nothing that promises that those tests will result in upside breakouts or carry very far if they do.

There's just no clarity on these charts, no formation that tells me that support is strong enough to withhold any assault or resistance is strong enough to hold any, either. Given what I know about behavior near Keltner channel lines, the most likely event appears to be some chopping around early tomorrow morning, at least until the channel lines get rearranged a bit, but a Chicago-PMI-prompted break one direction or the other just can't be ruled out, and a window-dressing, clamping-down effect can't be, either.

Trade at your own discretion these days because my advice is not to put anything at risk that you can't afford to lose, and don't even do that unless you trust yourself to honor stops.

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