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Market Wrap

Miraculous Recovery

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Considering the extremely ugly earnings we saw on Monday after the close it was a miracle the major indexes rebounded to close strongly in the green. It was enough to turn many bears into bulls and market sentiment has definitely improved. The major indexes with the exception of the Nasdaq broke out to new relative highs suggesting Wednesday could be a bullish day.

Wilshire 5000 Broad Market Index - Daily

It was not economics driving the market on Tuesday but there were a couple minor reports. The OFHEO Purchase Only House Price Index fell another -0.3% but the report was for the May period so it was old news and ignored by the markets.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey headline number fell from -12 to -16 and the lowest level since April 2003. Shipments fell 12 points to -23 and new orders fell 4 points to -17. Capacity utilization fell 6 points to -15. Order backlogs fell to -22 and the lowest level since July 2005. The internals are suggesting conditions will worsen before they get better.

The reports on tap for tomorrow are the Mass Layoffs and the Fed Beige Book. The Beige Book is the biggest report for the week and will give us an updated look at conditions in all the Fed regions. This will give us a better read on what the Fed might do at the August 5th meeting.

The big news today was earnings and there were plenty of disasters that should have knocked the market back to its lows. Instead, despite the bad news from almost every sector the markets recovered into the close thanks to a major buy program at 2:20. Shorts who loaded up on the bad news were forced to cover and that sent the indexes to new highs.

Leading the bad news list was American Express (AXP) dropping -10% at the open after reporting earnings of 56 cents compared to estimates of 83 cents. Earnings fell -38% due to the weak economy. AXP CEO Kenneth Chenault said, "The scope of economic fallout was evident even among our longer term, superprime cardmembers." AXP added $374 million to credit reserves and $1.5 billion to loan loss reserves. The net loan write-off rate was 5.3% compared to 2.9% in the prior quarter. Chenault said the fallout from the economy was accelerating in June to the fastest rate in decades. JP Morgan confirmed the weakness among their highest credits. JPM said even its more credit worthy borrowers are now failing to make their mortgage payments with the charge off rate for prime mortgages nearly doubling from the first quarter to the second. AXP downgraded its estimates for future quarters and expects Q3/Q4 charge offs to be higher than June levels.


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Apple Inc (AAPL) beat the street with earnings of $1.18 vs estimates of $1.08 but cut their guidance and the stock was hammered to a low of $146.53 at the open. Buyers rushing in sent the stock back to $162 and a loss of only $4.10 for the day. It was truly an amazing recovery. Mac shipments rose +41% to 2.5 million for the quarter. IPod sales rose +12%. Apple shipped 717,000 iPhones in Q2 and reiterated its goal to sell 10 million in 2008. The new 3G iPhone went on sale after the second quarter ended and will be on the next earnings report. The problem came from a downbeat forecast for the next quarter to earnings of only $1.00 and well below analyst's estimates for $1.24. Apple continues to mention a mystery products for 2009 as "state of the art new products that our competitors just aren't going to be able to match." The CFO was peppered with questions on the mystery products but refused to give any specifics. He was also asked about the health of Steve Jobs who was mysteriously absent from the conference call. The CFO responded, "Steve's health is a private matter." I have to believe there is a problem there because Apple is not a stupid company. They know that failing to assure investors that Steve is in good health is almost the same thing as admitting there is a problem but it may be all they can do at the present time. Claiming a CEO's health to be a private matter is something that may come back to haunt them if they knew all along that Steve was ill. The recovery in AAPL stock was amazing and volume was very heavy at 24 million shares.

SanDisk (SNDK) shares fell -24% to close at $13.62 after posting a loss instead of a profit and warning for the coming quarters. SNDK said inventories rose and prices fell and there was a lot of excess supply in the market. They tried to blame it on the economy saying the demand for flash memory was slower due to slower consumer sales of devices using flash. Robert Baird analyst Tristan Gerra said they now expect the company to post a net loss for another four quarters. SNDK expects sales of $750-$850 million for the current quarter and analysts were expecting $1.09 billion.

Texas Instruments (TXN) reported earnings of 44 cents that were below the analyst estimate of 45 cents. TXN said demand slowed unexpectedly in June after distributors cut inventory and did not reorder. TXN also said the trend in wireless handsets had slowed. TXN's biggest customer, Nokia, broke with the past and began outsourcing to Broadcom and STMicroelectronics earlier this year. It appears to be impacting order flow to TXN although TXN said orders were up in the quarter and backlogs grew. Something does not compute in the explanation. If sales are slowing then how can they say orders are up? Investors did not buy the explanation and TXN stock fell -15%.

Merck (MRK) reported earnings that beat the street but withheld guidance pending a review of sales on several key drugs. MRK shares were hammered for the second day with a drop of -11% on Tuesday to close at $31.33. The problem was a new study on Merck's cholesterol drug Vytorin. A new study showed it reduced bad cholesterol but proved no better than a placebo at lowering the risk of heart attacks.

Wachovia (WB) reported a second quarter loss of $8.9 billion, a dividend cut of 87% and announced estimated layoffs of 6,350 employees. That sounds like really bad news but after an initial drop to $11.65 the stock rebounded hard to close up +27% at $16.79. The positive catalyst was a statement by the CEO that WB would work itself out of the current problem without selling any new stock and diluting shareholders. $6.1B of the $8.9 billion was write-downs on its mortgage portfolio. Write-downs are better than write-offs because they can always return as profits later should conditions improve.

After the close today Yahoo (YHOO) reported earnings of 9.4 cents compared to reduced analyst estimates of 11 cents. Net income for the quarter fell to $131 million or 9 cents per share. This came only a day after Yahoo agreed to put Carl Icahn and two of his nominees on the board. Yahoo did not change their outlook for 2008 despite an admittedly difficult economic environment. Given the clouds over Yahoo and the ugly earnings from Google this was not that bad of a report. Shares actually rose +40 cents in after hours.

Etrade Financial (ETFC) reported a wider than expected Q2 loss after the close and warned it could see more losses as the economy deteriorates and more loans sour. ETFC posted a loss of 19 cents compared to a profit of 37 cents in Q2-07. Analysts were expecting a loss of only 14 cents per share. Shares of ETFC fell -13% in after hours.

VMWare (VMW) fell -14% in after hours after warning that profits were going to fall short of expectations for future quarters. VMW said customers were delaying purchases or opting for smaller and shorter contracts due to the weak economy. They reported earnings that were inline for Q2 but said Q3 revenue would be around $465 million compared to analyst estimates of $497 million. VMW hit $32.50 in after hours and a long way from its $125 high last October. Citrix Systems (CTXS), Oracle (ORCL) and privately held Virtual Iron have introduced software that costs less than VMWare's leading ESX line of virtualization software.

Washington Mutual (WM) reported results after the close and posted a loss of $3.3 billion or -$6.58 per share. $3.24 of that loss came from a restatement due to a $7 billion capital infusion. Analysts were only expecting a loss of $1.05. WM increased Q2 loan loss provisions to $6 billion from $3.5 billion in Q1. The CEO said despite the loss the bank has sufficient capital to successfully manage our way through this challenging period. Despite a 20% range in after hours movement the stock remained near its closing price at the end of trading.

Last but not least the airline stocks were on fire today. For instance United Airlines (UAUA) soared 68% for a gain of $3.41 to close at $8.40. Granted these are cheap stocks today but the magnitude of the moves is enormous. UAUA traded 47 million shares. Delta (DAL) gained +17%, Continental (CAL) +43%, SkyWest (SKYW) +13%, US Airways (LCC) +69% and American (AMR) +37%. Drivers were the announcement from US Airways CEO Doug Parker that the sector could be profitable again in 2009. Expectations are for the industry to lose $10 billion in 2008 but drastic cuts in service and grounding of planes is expected to push ticket prices and profits higher in 2009. Also helping was an agreement by United and Chase to infuse $1 billion in cash into the airline. S&P upgraded UAUA shares to hold from sell on the deal. Short covering was rampant across the entire sector.

Oil prices fell to $125.64 today as the August futures contract expired. That also helped to fuel the short covering in the airlines. Besides the expiring futures contract it appears Dolly is going to move quietly inland and miss all the oil installations in the Gulf. Currently only 5% of the offshore platforms are shutdown and they will be back up and running very quickly after Dolly makes landfall in the morning. A rising dollar also helped to pressure prices. The dollar spiked after Philly Fed President Charles Plosser said the Fed will need to boost interest rates "sooner rather than later" in order to retain credibility. Other problems for oil traders include the movement of an anti-speculation bill in Washington. There is no telling what a final bill will look like or if it will ever pass completely but traders have already moved to the sidelines or more specifically into financials. The open interest in crude futures is at a 17 month low. Meanwhile back in the real world the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said in an interim report that fundamental supply and demand factors are most likely to blame for the sharp run-up in oil prices and NOT speculators. The CFTC said even its preliminary analysis "does not support the proposition that speculative activity has systematically driven changes in oil prices." Oil prices have fallen more than $20 (-13%) in the last week and that seems like an awful lot. However as you can see in the chart below it is right inline with other sell offs in the last few months. The move is magnified because of the broader range at the higher price point and the sharpness of the drop.

Crude Oil Chart - Daily

The 12th largest energy trading company in 2007 as ranked by Forbes filed for bankruptcy today after taking losses of $3.2 billion over the last week. SemGroup LP reported liabilities of $7.53 billion in its bankruptcy filing. SemGroup took a $2.4 billion loss on July 16th after it transferred control of its NYMEX futures position to Barclays. SemGroup took another loss of $850 million on the 17th when it was forced to recognize losses on an over the counter hedging program. The stock of SemGroup Energy Partners LP (SGLP) dropped from $23.75 on the 15th to $8 today. I am wondering how much of the crash in oil prices was related to the liquidation of their NYMEX positions by Barclays? $3.2 billion is a lot of futures positions and the drop in oil began on the 15th and the same day the transfer to Barclay's began. The stock began crashing two days later as the press releases hit the wires. The company was seized last week by two hedge funds that had loaned it money. There are several different companies under the SemGroup umbrella and it is unclear who is surviving and who has been taken over.

SemGroup Chart - 15 min

Up until that major buy program was triggered just after 2:PM today I was still in the cautiously bearish camp. The buy program and resulting short covering sent all the indexes to new highs and clear breakouts over resistance. I have seen the light and I am switching sides to cautiously bullish. The markets overcame some seriously bad news over the last 48 hours to breakout to new highs. That is very positive in my book and trumps the idea that last week's rebound was going to fail. Shorts loaded up on Monday but were knocked to the sidelines again by today's closing ramp. On the Advance/decline chart below you can see the rebound spike from the opening dip then a lackluster day until the buy program triggered at 2:20. The difference is night and day and you can easily see where the short covering began in earnest just after 3PM.

Advance/Decline Chart

The Dow sprinted past resistance at 11525 at 2:30 and is in breakout mode. That could continue tomorrow since there was nothing in after hours that dimmed the futures. It appears all the really bad news was Monday night and that is behind us now. Dow 11700 is the Fibonacci retracement level where we need to become more observant tomorrow.

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

The Nasdaq exploded out of its Apple induced slump to post a gain of +24 points entirely in the last hour of trading. The Nasdaq has resistance at 2325 but if traders can shake off poor results from GOOG, MSFT, AAPL, YHOO and the chip stocks then the worst may already be over. A break over 2325 would be strongly bullish. Strong support is 2270.

The S&P broke over resistance at 1265 but is far from out of the woods yet. There are several layers of resistance up to 1290 and then 1325. Getting over 1290 will be a major milestone. The S&P rallied on the strength in the financials and the transports but it was hampered by the beating in the energy sector. The oil and gas stocks were pummeled by selling when expectations for Dolly began to fade and crude dropped on expiration. Energy is the second largest sector in the S&P but the index still managed to post some decent gains.

SS&P-500 Chart - Daily

Russell 2000 Chart - Daily

The most positive index was the Russell 2000 with a strong gap higher and a huge gain for the day. The Russell gained +19 points or +2.75% while the S&P gained +17 for +1.3%. For me this is a strong indication that fund managers are putting money to work. The performance of the Russell alone would be enough to make me bullish. If the Russell continues higher tomorrow it could power buying across all the indexes and a real rally could break out. I am moving back to buy the dip mode until proven wrong.

Jim Brown

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