In a desperate search for some silver lining, one could say that the end result for the major U.S. indexes was a lot better than the worst levels of the day and that would be true. The S&P 500 peaked below critical support at 1175, the Nasdaq flirted with 2500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded below 11,000. All three were able to muster some strength in the middle of the afternoon to close comfortably above those important levels, though all closed in the red.
Once again, it was Europe that roiled U.S. stocks. News of Ireland's $113 billion bailout failed to assuage investors and the reason is simple: The market loves to play the ''who is next'' game. While Greece was a thorn in the side of global markets, investors found a way to move past that situation, at least for a few months.
The problem with Ireland running to the front of the European handout line is that the continent's sovereign debt contagion has been confirmed and all a bailout for Ireland is send traders speculating on the fortunes, or lack thereof, of Portugal. Credit-default swaps used to insure Portuguese government debt against default soared 37 basis points to a record 539 basis points, according to Bloomberg News.
Assuming Portugal needs a bailout, that is when things get really dicey. Greece, Ireland and Portugal are far smaller economies than Spain, Europe's fourth-largest economy. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have a $993 billion fund in place for European bailouts, according to the German news outlet Speigel. That would be enough to cover the likes of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, but as Speigel puts it, there could be problems if Spain needs a bailout.
That sent swaps on Spanish government debt higher by almost 29 basis points to 351.5 basis points, Bloomberg reported. That was enough to send the iShares MSCI Spain Index Fund (EWP) lower by almost 3% on volume that was nearly 75% above the daily average. The Spanish word for ugly is ''feo'' and that is exactly what EWP's chart is.
Spain ETF Chart
For the truly adventurous, look beyond Spain and attention shifts to Italy, which is no peach either. A planned sale of about $9 billion in Italian government bonds was less than successful and that sent swaps on Italian debt higher by 28 basis points to 244 basis points, the highest level in six months, Bloomberg reported. I could not find a more current chart, but the one below illustrates where Italian, Portuguese and Spanish swaps traded at in August. All have put in viscous runs to the upside in less than four months.
European Swaps Chart
No surprise here: The euro is suffering mightily, closing below $1.31 against the dollar today for the first time since September. That sent the euro below its 200-day moving average on the daily chart. The weekly chart shows the currency has a tendency to respect its 200-day line. When it moved below that line on the weekly chart in January, it stayed below that level until October.
Translation: There could be more pain in store for the common currency. As I mentioned earlier, traders and investors love to play the ''who is next'' game. When it comes to the euro, it is ''who will be first'' as in what country will be the first to drop out of the euro. Intrade is offering trades on that event taking place before the end this year, next year and several years beyond. One CNBC commentator opined on his blog today that the first country to depart the euro would be Germany sometime next year. If that happens, the euro's fate, already vulnerable, would be all but sealed.
In more pleasant Monday news, the shopping statistics from Black Friday are in and the average shopper spent $365.34 over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. That's a 6.4% increase from a year earlier. About 212 million shoppers visited brick and mortar stores or Web sites over the weekend, an increase of 8.7% over 2009's number, NRF said.
Speaking of online shopping, today is Cyber Monday. What was probably first viewed as a gimmick day is now a legitimate metric for evaluating companies with e-commerce exposure, at least for a couple of days. Shoppers spent $407 million online on Thanksgiving Day compared with $318 million a year earlier. On Black Friday, that number jumped to $648 million from $595 million in 2009.
Online Retail Sales
Of course increased online shopping is a boon for companies like Amazon.com (AMZN), one of the kings of the online shopping universe. Amazon was one of the few major Nasdaq stocks to close higher on the day, gaining $2.29, or 1.29%, to close at $179.49 after trading as high as $181.84. That was good for a new all-time high on a split adjusted basis. Hey, perhaps Henry Blodget, the former Merrill Lynch analyst who rode tech stocks all the way to a healthy dose of infamy, has been redeemed.
Not to rain on anyone's Amazon parade, but there is almost no getting around the fact that this is an expensive stock that has booked an eye-popping run since late July. Up about $70 in that time, Amazon trades for almost 73 times current earnings, more than 50 times forward earnings and almost 13 times book value.
On top of that, Amazon faces intense competition in the e-reader market from Apple (AAPL). The iPad does all the things Amazon's Kindle does plus plenty of other things the Kindle cannot do. Not to mention the fact that analysts and investors are concerned that Amazon has slashed the price of the Kindle so low that the company is now losing money on the product.
Looking at the charts, the 1175 continues to hold as critical support for the S&P 500 and the index continues to honor the 1175-1200 trading range. It seems like every time the index gets within earshot of 1175, or in Monday's case, dips just beneath that level, buyers immediately step in. Oddly enough, it was financials that played a big part in the late-day salvation for the S&P 500. Energy and materials names also chipped in.
The economic calendar is active this week with two ISM surveys out tomorrow, another on Wednesday along with the Fed Beige Book survey. Various employment reports follow throughout the week leading up to Friday's November jobs report, so the catalysts are in place for the S&P 500 to either breakout or breakdown.
S&P 500 Chart
The situation is much the same on the Dow as traders continue to buy 11,000 and sell 11,200. On a historical basis, this is usually a chipper time of year for stocks, but it is probably safe to assume that in many of the years in which the Dow and S&P 500 moved higher during the holiday season, Europe was not such a pressing concern. If headline risk subsides for a few days, the Dow could make a run back above 11,200.
I am going to go out on a limb and say I was disappointed with the Nasdaq today given the strength tech stocks had shown coming into this week and the stellar online shopping news. That said, it was a volatile day for the Nasdaq as the index opened around 2535, traded below 2500 and then the buyers stepped in running the Nasdaq back to 2525.
Amazon cannot do all the work on the Nasdaq alone and my guess is it will not have to over the coming weeks, but I will say tech bulls probably wish NILE and OSTK were members of the Nasdaq 100. They are not, but those names were up 5.4% and 8.1% today, respectively.
The Russell 2000 actually held pretty well today, opening around 735 and falling to just above 720, which is above support at 715. Buyers made sure support was not an issue and sent the Russell 2000 back to 732 by the close. A move above resistance at 740 would be a bullish sign.
Russell 2000 Chart
I am of the mind that credit should be given where credit is due and that leads me to point to two important factors for the bulls. First, dips continue to be bought and support on the major indexes continues to be honored. Second, the U.S. consumer is making a comeback and the data is there to support that claim.
Obviously, Europe is the problem the bulls have to contend with. Even if Friday's job report impresses, if the market has to deal with news of a Portuguese, or worse, Spanish default, the jobs number will be glossed over.