Traders must have really overdosed on turkey on Thursday and the tryptophan was still influencing their mood on Friday. The tryptophan found in turkey is a biochemical precursor to serotonin, which affects your mood before being converted by the body into melatonin, which acts as a sleeping aid. It appeared that mood-enhancing chemical was still being felt when the market opened and traders bought the +100 point gap. In reality that was not the case. As I reported Wednesday night there was no short covering into the close and we closed at multi-month lows with all shorts heading into the holiday blissfully happy. Strong gains overseas on Thursday night had those same shorts racing to cover at the open and the +100 point gap triggered one more short squeeze that lasted until Friday's close. Essentially many of those traders short at Wednesday's close had to cover on Friday.
Nasdaq-100 Index Chart - Daily
There were no economic reports on Friday but the calendar has plenty of events for next week. There are four Fed reports, three regionals and the Fed Beige Book. The three regional reports from Chicago, Richmond and Kansas will tell us how manufacturing conditions in the individual regions are holding up. The Fed Beige Book on Wednesday will give a broader overview of economic conditions nationwide. Of the four reports the Beige book is the one with the most market moving potential. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) on Friday will give us an update on whether conditions have improved since the sharp -5 point drop seen in October. The index fell under 50 to 49.7 for the first time since February and the decline from the May highs at 61.7 has been dramatic. The production component fell -11.4 points in October to 46.9 indicating a sharp slowdown in actual production levels. Order Backlogs fell -10.6 to 39.9 and a cycle low. If these conditions have continued their decline it is not going to be a positive indication for the U.S. economy.
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There is one report this week that is running contrary to all the rest. That is the Q3 GDP, which is expected to come in at +5.0% growth for the second reading on Q3. This is a trailing number and a reading of 5.0% would be a +1.1% jump from the 3.9% growth in the first reading a month ago. Obviously this is a strong disconnect from what is currently being seen in the economy. We know conditions have deteriorated significantly in just the last 60 days but we won't get the first Q4 number until Jan-30th but it is currently forecasted at only 1.5%. This is a monster drop and that is what the various interim economic reports are suggesting. We saw a sharp decline to +0.6% growth in Q1-2007 and many were expecting a recession back then. We rebounded out of the soft patch only to lose traction in the subprime slime and slide back in Q4. The Q3-GDP update next week is a lagging number showing how hot the economy got before the current implosion.
Bill Zollars, CEO of YRC Worldwide (YRCW), was on CNBC again on Friday repeating his recession views. With over one million customers he feels the trucking industry is a leading indicator for the economy. He believes the goods producing sector is already in a recession but the service sector is still hanging on to slim growth but also declining. YRC's fuel surcharge is now over 25% and is billed separately on the invoice and Zollars said it was hitting shippers very hard. The Dow transports are down about -18% from the July highs.
Greenspan made news again with comments that the country's risk of recession would be higher than 50% if it were not for the flexibility of the U.S. economic model. He also warned, "The markets are becoming aware that the decline in U.S. housing prices is not stopping. It is at an unprecedented pace compared to the last 50 years." He also said the housing market had further to fall was "was still a good deal away from a selling climax" where sellers finally give up and cut prices to the point where buyers would bid. He said sellers still did not believe prices had fallen below their personal asking price.
Speculation for another Fed cut in December is growing on reports of even tighter conditions in the corporate bond market than when the Fed initially cut the discount rate back in early September. Analysts are saying the Fed must continue cutting to rescue the economy from the housing crisis and credit crunch even though the U.S. dollar is at multi-decade lows. The U.S. dollar index hit a low of 74.48 intraday on Friday but rebounded to close back over 75. The next Fed meeting is Dec-11th.
E*Trade (ETFC) soared +25% on Friday after David Faber reported E*Trade had hired some investment banks to help it find a buyer. TD Ameritrade (AMTD) and Charles Schwab (SCHW) were rumored to be potential buyers. E*Trade was hit hard by the subprime slime and lost more than half its market value after they disclosed write-downs early this month. Reportedly several hedge funds with major positions in those various brokers are pressing E*Trade to merge in order to solve their financial problems.
If you have been near a TV for the last three days you have seen the frantic activity at the malls. Black Friday was again a blowout nationwide and door buster deals were drawing people out to wait in the cold as much as 12 hours before the store's early morning opening. $300 Laptops, 50% off LCD TVs, monster discounts on video game consoles for the first 300 shoppers, etc, were all calculated to get you into the store on Friday. Studies have shown that there is a 70% chance you will return to the store 2-4 times during the holidays if you shopped there for bargains on black Friday. Those same studies show there is a 75% chance you will not visit the store at all if you did not shop there on black Friday. This competition to get you into the store is going to even greater lengths every year. Giving a 50% discount on 300 PlayStations when you are going to sell 2000 at regular prices between now and Christmas is not a bad plan. Getting you to wait in line for hours to buy some advertised door buster product is another way to sell you hundreds of other high profit items that were not discounted like game cartridges and accessories. Holiday shopping in 2006 hit $456 billion and even with the crunch of gas prices weighing on buyers that number is expected to be higher in 2007. That is up from $368 billion back in 2002. My wife reluctantly joined some friends on an early morning shopping spree and found that getting in was the easy part. Hour long waits in the check out lines were common with the worst at Kohls of 1.5 hours. That does not sound like fun to me but as a male we always go when the crowds are the thinnest the day before Christmas. Reportedly 78% of workers take off on black Friday. This has prompted numerous calls for it to be made an official national holiday. So far nobody has taken up the crusade.
There was no bargain sale on crude on Friday with the contract closing up +89 cents at $98.30. Every dip is bought and this could be the week we tag the $100 mark. Factors continuing to keep prices high include problems at some North Sea platforms, a fire at a 155,000 bpd oil sands facility in Canada and the unplanned 10-day outage at an 180,000 bpd Valero refinery. Heating oil closed at another new record of $2.70 per gallon. RBOB gasoline closed at a contract high at $2.465 per gallon. With prices rising on refined products it makes it easier for refiners to pay even higher prices for crude but that is not what is pushing up the prices. It is speculation there will not be enough production to meet demand and reluctance by refiners to pay $98 for crude knowing they can't sell it as a refined product for 30 days or more. If prices on the products did tumble then the refiners are caught holding the bag with higher cost products they have to sell at a loss. Refiners also have to pay taxes on the crude and refined products they own on Dec-31st. This causes refiners to voluntary reduce inventories before year-end to avoid paying those taxes. Every million barrels of crude at today's price is $98 million in taxable assets at year-end. Cutting your inventory back to minimum levels makes perfect sense especially when the next month's futures are selling for less than the current month spot prices. Those crude inventories become a hot potato in late December with nobody among the refiners, pipeline companies, storage fields or even the producers wanting to be caught holding it on Dec-31st. That could cause some additional price volatility as everybody struggles to be flat on Dec-31st and load back up on Jan-2nd. Last Dec-31st crude closed at $67 and then hit its low point for the year at $55 only 10 trading days later on Jan-17th. The prior year crude dropped sharply on Dec-15th and exploded from $61 on Dec-28th to $71 by Jan-28th. The prior year had the same trend only at a lower level leaving me to believe that Jan-07 was different because too many traders were trying to game the trend.
On Friday the Dow rebounded +181 points and came very close to erasing the -211 point drop we saw on Wednesday. Was it a return of the bulls or a simple short squeeze? I believe the answer is simple short squeeze. There was ZERO short covering into Wednesday's close. Everyone was leaning to the short side with reckless abandon in anticipation of that low close triggering the Dow theory sell signal. The Friday rebound simply returned the Dow to its intraday resistance from Wednesday. I believe it is just another spike that will be sold just like the one we saw late Tuesday.
Dow Chart - 5 min
The pattern is the same across all the indexes with the exception of the Nasdaq-100 (NDX). The NDX rebounded less than any other index at +1.12%. The other indexes neared rebounds of 2% and in the case of the Russell it was +2%. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Russell-2000 ETF (IWM) is the most heavily shorted symbol since August with 255 million shares currently short. Only 15 million traded in total on Friday so we have not scratched the surface on volume. Advancers were 8:1 over decliners on the Russell index but new 52-week lows were 15:1 over new 52-week highs.
The key here is volume. Friday's volume was less than half the volume of any preceding day in the last seven. Over those seven days the down volume of 29.9 billion shares was nearly twice the volume of 16.1 billion shares of advancing volume. Volume is a weapon of the bulls and in this battle they are extremely out gunned. 78% of American workers take black Friday off. While we can't draw a logical conclusion that 78% of traders were away from the markets we know without a doubt that there were far less active traders playing the post turkey day lottery. More importantly, the majority of institutional traders and traders at mutual funds were definitely away on holiday. Even if they were not at the malls they were not putting in trades because of the dangers of low volume. You can't drop a program trade on a low volume market without impacting prices significantly. Those large institutional traders do not want to be facing a SEC inquiry on why Mary Jane's IRA lost 10% of its value because some aggressive trader dropped a nuclear program on a thin market and triggered stop losses on millions of accounts. Somebody did drop a sell program on the Russell in the last 15 min of trading and it knocked -5 points off the index almost immediately. The damage would have been worse but it was a very small program at the high of the day. It was the only sell program all day and the impact was dramatic. Had it been a large program it could have knocked the indexes back by a significant amount.
Market Internals All Exchanges
Russell Index Chart - 1 min
On Monday we may not be so lucky. There will be no moratorium on program trades. Most of the traders will be back at work and unless I missed it nothing has changed significantly in either the credit crunch, the housing recession or the economy in general. It was just a holiday and shorts got squeezed on a bounce in the Asian markets.
Now here is the tricky part. Wednesday's close was under the 12,845 Dow theory sell trigger but Friday's rebound may have eased those plans to hit the sell button on Monday. The short squeeze rebounded right to what is now resistance at 13,000 and now we have a stalemate. Those institutions ready to act on the sell signal may decide Friday's bounce is a perfect opportunity to sell into strength. OR, they may be holding their breath for any signs of further weakness to pull the trigger. The bulls in the bunch may be thinking we had a perfect retest of the August closing lows with a -10% correction and are ready to party once again. If you were looking for a perfect technical retest this was it.
Dow Chart - Daily
The open on Monday is going to be critical. If we open down and volume starts to build it could be a race for the exits. Those shorts that were squeezed out will be piling on once again. Institutions will be pulling the Dow theory trigger and we could be seeing lower lows before the day is over. I would love to think Friday's rebound was for real and a year-end rally was about to begin but I need to see some confirmation first. Every analyst newsletter I got this week was talking about our entry into a primary bear market. Granted excessive bearishness is a prime ingredient for a rebound but there does not seem to be any urgency in the comments. They are just matter of fact discussions of the internals, fundamentals and economics.
The bottom line is nobody knows for sure where we are going. One point that worried me was the lackluster rebound on the NDX of +1.1%. This is the index that should be rebounding the strongest since it has been the strongest over the last eight days. Big cap techs should be the first stocks to see gains if buyers were really returning to the market. RIMM, AAPL, YHOO, GOOG, MSFT, INTC, CSCO, etc, are highly liquid and institutions can get out as quickly as they get in and that gives them relative safety. We saw very little buying in big caps on Friday. Why? Because big caps don't offer the same risk reward for those traders who are shorting stocks. It is much harder to profit from shorting a $200 billion company than a $2 billion company. There are a 100 times more shares in the float and shorts can't readily move them. Therefore in a short squeeze they are the least responsive. The biggest responders on Friday were financials and retailers. It should be no surprise since those were also the stocks the most heavily shorted.
I normally close with some levels to watch and which way to trade around those levels. This week will be no different except for a warning. If we break these levels to the downside it could be a serious drop. Simply hanging on to long positions rather than taking action could be detrimental to your account. I would buy dips or remain long above Dow 12800 since it is support and it has already been tested. Under 12800 and we will be entering another phase in this correction that could easily subtract hundreds of additional points very quickly. The numbers to watch on all the other indexes are Nasdaq Comp 2550, Nasdaq-100 2000, SPX 1420, Russell 740, NYSE Comp 9400.
The S&P is also a key here. It tested 1420 three times last week but a failure there is not catastrophic. It has additional support at 1406 and 1375. A breakdown in the market may not be as sharp on the S&P given the close support. Still those levels should be watched. The S&P is still in a long-term uptrend above 1420 as evidenced by the blue line in the chart below. Breaking that line still has those support levels to 1375. Under 1375 all bets are off.
The 90-week average on the S&P should be considered crucial support and a weekly close below that level, currently 1400, would be a strong sell signal even though some of that selling would probably be put on hold until 1375 failed. This clear support makes the S&P our index to watch for the week. Continue to remain long or buy dips to 1420 but under 1420 key on 1400 an 1375 for speculative buys. Under 1375 and you can turn out the lights because the party will be over for the bulls. The Fed Beige Book on Wednesday would be my key report for the week. I am going to end this commentary here and head to the refrigerator for another dose of turkey tryptophan. After looking at the possible scenarios for next week I need a large dose to raise my serotonin levels and elevate my mood. You have my permission to self medicate yourself as well.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of Option Investor. I published the first newsletter the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1997. Many of those first subscribers in 1997 are still with us and I gratefully appreciate your continued support. I have met a lot of subscribers at various events and made a lot of friends over the years and I hope I can count everyone reading this letter as a friend 10-years from now. Over the next 10-days we are going to launch the end of year renewal package for 2007 and I guarantee you are going to like it.
Hoping you had a happy Thanksgiving!