U.S. equities halted their two-day losing streak, perhaps highlighting that no matter how minor that dip was, it was worth buying. Higher oil prices helped lift energy stocks and a decline in initial jobless claims provided the bullish catalysts today as the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded in a range of nearly 100 points, but could only manage a gain of about 10 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were both far more solid in their end-of-the-day results.
Initial jobless claims declined by 24,000 last week to 435,000 last week, erasing the previous week's pop and stoking hopes that there might be some legitimate improvement on the job front sooner rather than later. It is worth noting that initial claims have been dwindling for the most part since touching what is viewed as the secondary peak of 504,000 in mid-August. Adding to the good news is the fact that the four-week moving average has fallen to 465,000.
The continuing claims data also provided a glimmer of hope as that number fell by 86,000 to about 4.3 million. That number has fallen by 24% in the past year. In less-than-chipper news, half of the unemployed have found themselves in that situation for more than 21 weeks, a level that is quite high by historical standards. Most economists seem to agree that the four-week moving average for continuing claims needs to find its way below 400,000 to signal a real reason for celebration.
Obviously, more folks going back to work would lead to an uptick in energy consumption, which would boost energy prices, but despite jobs data that is basically mediocre, oil prices have found a way to jump about 8% this month alone. The good times for oil bulls continued today as prices hit a two-year high after the Energy Department said crude stockpiles declined by 3.27 million barrels to 364.9 million last week.
One analyst quoted in Bloomberg's coverage of the inventory data called the number ''wildly bullish.'' A Goldman Sachs report published on Tuesday certainly adds to the bullish tone for oil. Wall Street's most profitable bank said it sees oil prices ''substantially higher'' by 2012 as the global economic recovery picks up steam and excess supplies dwindled. The report even said OPEC, responsible for 40% of the world's production, will be forced to bring more supply to market.
No shocker here: Chevron (CVX), the second-largest U.S. oil company, was the top-performer in the Dow today, adding almost 2%. Rival Exxon Mobil (XOM) was modestly higher as well as the largest U.S. oil company is doing what it can to keep at Apple (AAPL) at bay for the title of largest company by market value.
That was really just a segue to talk about another Dow component, Boeing (BA). The aerospace giant had the dubious distinction of being the Dow's biggest loser today, tumbling more than 3% on more bad news related to the Dreamliner. Forgive me, but I cannot resist saying the Dreamliner has become a nightmare for Boeing.
Also known as the 787, the massive passenger jet has seen countless production delays, but Boeing said earlier this year it was on schedule to deliver the first Dreamliner to Japan's All Nippon Airways early next year. I would not be on that even taking place after Boeing was forced to ground a Dreamliner test flight due to a cabin fire. In fact, the company has grounded the entire Dreamliner test fleet. One analyst said this incident is ''serious even under a best-case scenario.''
Boeing has six planes in the Dreamliner test fleet and it was plane number two that caught fire and was forced to land in Laredo, Texas after a six-hour test run. The company said it will continue ground-based testing, but the FAA is now involved in the investigation. As I always say, it is rarely good news for a company to have one of Washington's alphabet soup agencies involved in its affairs and I do not expect Boeing shares to benefit from this news either.
Onto some good news, courtesy of Polo Ralph Lauren (RL), the purveyor of high-end fashion. Say what you want about the U.S. consumer, but Polo Ralph Lauren shares surged more than 7% today, briefly touching a new 52-week high, after the company posted a stellar set of fiscal second-quarter results and boosted its revenue outlook.
For the quarter ending October 2, the company earned $205.2 million, or $2.09 a share, compared with $177.5 million, or $1.75, a year earlier as sales jumped 11% to $1.53 billion. The New York-based company went on to say that it expects sales to increase at a low double-digit rate after previously forecasting sales growth in the mid to high single digits.
The one detail that makes Polo Ralph Lauren's results and outlook particularly impressive is the fact that the company depends on North America for 70% of its sales. For the third quarter, the company expects sales to rise by a high teens rate.
Alright, back to the bad news. Cisco Systems (CSCO), the largest maker of networking gear and a bellwether technology stock, reported fiscal first-quarter results after the market closed today and while the quarterly numbers were fine, they will probably do little to impress investors and comments made by the company will likely have Cisco trading lower at Thursday's open.
California-based Cisco said it earned $1.9 billion, or 34 cents a share, compared with $1.8 billion, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier on revenue of $10.75 billion. Excluding charges, the company earned 42 cents a share. Analysts were expecting a profit of 40 cents a share on revenue of $10.74 billion. Analysts said investors will be disappointed that Cisco was not able to deliver an upside surprise on the top-line.
The company said it is expecting sales of $10.1 billion to $10.3 billion for the current quarter while analysts were forecasting sales growth of $11.1 billion. Making matters worse, Gartner Inc. said Cisco is likely to encounter ''lackluster'' corporate spending over the next five years. That is not good news for a company that is often viewed as a temperature check on the health of the U.S. economy.
Cisco shares have basically sat out the recent rally and that makes the company's dividend, planned for next year, perhaps the biggest impetus to own the shares. Speaking of the stock, it is getting slammed in the after-hours session, down 13.2% as of this writing.
Looking at the charts, not much has changed has since I was here on Monday. The big number for the S&P 500 to deal with is significant resistance at 1228. After a couple of days of profit-taking, the index rests about 10 points away from 1228. From there, the S&P 500 has a lot of room in front of it to make a run to 1300. Support should be found in the 1190-1200 area.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow is honoring the 10,300-10,400 range, give or take a few points. Support looks firm at 10,100 and the index has a healthy amount of real estate in front of it before bumping into resistance at 10,775. Cisco's earnings news will not help tomorrow and the longer Boeing is under pressure, the more the burden falls to financials and energy stocks to stoke the Dow's rally.
The Nasdaq put in a pretty solid day today and the good news regarding Cisco is that it does not account for an overwhelming percentage of the Nasdaq 100, so while I expect the Nasdaq to open in the red tomorrow just as a knee-jerk reaction to Cisco's results, the index could find its way to another higher close. Suppport at 2570 could be an issue early in the day and resistance at 2720 remains so far off that we do not need to dwell on that level this week.
The Russell 2000 was able to recoup of some of Tuesday's losses and is trading just two points below where it closed on Monday, so not much has changed and 760 remains the key resistance area to watch. I'm not sure the index can muster a run above 760 before the end of this week, but a close above 750 on Friday would set the Russell 2000 up for that run next week.
Russell 2000 Chart
As I mentioned on Monday, this week is light on economic data so stock-specific news is what we have to watch. If Wednesday is any indication, the market appears willing to put more emphasis on good news than bad. Consider the stocks I highlighted today. Boeing's Dreamliner problems are nothing new and Cisco has been absent from the rally, but when a consumer discretionary name like Polo Ralph Lauren chimes in with good news, the broader market found a way to a higher close.