After five consecutive weeks of losses, U.S. stocks are not showing any signs of snapping that losing steak this week following a lackluster start to the week that saw three of the four major indexes loss more than 1%. The Dow was good by comparison, shedding ''just'' half a percent as losers outpaced gainers on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by just under four-to-one.
One stock that experienced a nasty tumble today was biotech firm Exelixis (EXEL, which saw its shares plunge 20%. The company reported Phase II trial data for its cancer drug, cabozantinib, over the weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conclave and the results showed six patient deaths. If you actively follow biotech stocks, you probably know that cancer treatment is one of the hottest sub-sectors of this universe and while unfortunate, one or two patient deaths are not uncommon during these types of trials.
Six deaths, or 1% of the trial group for cabozantinib, is too much for the market to deal with the and that much was evident in shares of Exelixis today. Making matters worse for the company is that mortality rate experienced with cabozantinib is too high for the drug to be used as part of combination therapy in late-stage cancer patients.
The company expects to have initial results around midyear from a pivotal trial of the drug as a treatment for thyroid cancer, according to Reuters, and while that may prove to be a catalyst for the stock, it might be best to let Exelixis sort itself out over the next few days before running into a new position here.
Keeping with theme of healthcare-related names that were taken to the woodshed today, shares of medical diagnostics maker Gen-Probe (GPRO) were slammed by almost 13% on volume that was roughly 10 times the daily average after the Wall Street Journal reported that basically no one besides Swiss pharma giant Novartis (NVS) is interested in acquiring Gen-Probe anymore and even that deal may not see the light of day.
Sources cited by the Journal say Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) and Life Technologies â€œare now on the sidelines.â€ The problem for Gen-Probe is that analysts and traders were speculating that much of Novartis's interest in Gen-Probe centered around keeping the company out of the hands of rivals. Now that those concerns do not exist, Novartis may also take a pass on the California-based company.
Departing from U.S. stocks for a moment, as many readers know, I have been known to opine on politics from time to time and that can get me in some hot water, but I am going to give it a go again. Do NOT worry, I am not going to discuss U.S. politics because I do not want the offend the senses of half our readers.
Nope, Peru is the political hot spot du jour following Sunday's presidential election that saw the country elect Ollanta Humala as its next president. As some who does a lot research, analysis and trading of ETFs and has been doing so for several years now, I can safely say that I cannot remember a short that was as easy or obvious as the iShares MSCI All Peru Capped Index Fund (EPU) going into Sunday's election.
While it can be argued that most presidential elections in the developed world do not have a candidate that is clearly the wrong choice, Peru had that situation and economically speaking, Humala was clearly the wrong choice. He claims to be a reformed leftist, but in reality, he probably still is a leftist and that is not surprising given he counts Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez among his friends.
Under the previous administration, Peru had been trying to go the way of Brazil, Colombia and Chile and adopt pro-growth policies to foster foreign investment, particularly in its energy and materials industries.
All of those efforts may go for naught now that Humala has won. He previously threatened to revoke oil and minerals licenses in Peru (Translation: Watch out for nationalization) and while Peru isn't Brazil when it comes to oil production, it is a major producer of copper, gold and silver. How enthusiastic are investors about Humala's victory? EPU's chart tells the story as the ETF traded more than triple its average daily volume. The chart is a far cry from 2010 when the ETF was one of the leaders of the emerging markets asset class.
Peru ETF Chart
Speaking of ugly charts, name a big money center bank stock or an ETF that holds a collection of these market red-headed stepchildren and chances are you will find a nasty looking chart. A fine example is the SPDR KBW Bank ETF (KBE). Illustrious names (sense the sarcasm) JPM, C, WFC and BAC combine for about 29% of KBE's weight, so its no wonder this fund has been blasted recently.
Options traders may be sending the rest of us a message regarding KBE and that message is stay away or join us in buying puts. The June 24 KBE puts have open interest of over 12,600 contracts and the June 25's have open interest of nearly 5900 contracts.
The after-hours session brought some good cheer, at least for shareholders of corrugated packaging maker Temple-Inland (TIN). The stock was down over 3% in the regular session, but something was afoot as volume was more than seven times the daily average. That ''something'' is an unsolicited $3.3 billion takeover offer from rival International Paper (IP) and the news has Temple-Inland shares up almost 43% in after-hours trading as of this writing.
IP is offering $30.60 for each Temple-Inland share, which is well above the $21 the stock closed at today, but even with that substantial premium, the former is not finding a willing seller in the latter. Temple-Inland's board unanimously rejected the overture with the typical ''grossly undervalues'' the company line.
''Your letter of May 27 insistently says 'timing and speed are important,' and you have threatened us with a hostile bid if we do not respond by your deadline. The speed that is 'important' to you underscores an opportunistic attempt to deprive our stockholders of the value in their company that we believe will become increasingly evident, Temple-Inland CEO Doyle Simons said in a letter to IP CEO John Faraci over the weekend, the New York Times reported.
Those are harsh words, but they appear to be good for Temple-Inland shares. Forgive me, but I cannot resist saying that I do not think anyone has been this excited about mergers and acquisitions in the paper sector since Gordon Gekko was making a run at Teldar Paper.
Looking at the charts, support at 1300, be it psychological or otherwise, for the S&P 500 did not hold today and with the index laboring below 1295, there is a solid chance the 1250-1260 area is the next destination. The combination of June typically being a challenging month for stocks and economic news that simply gives buyers no reason to get in the game could prove toxic for the S&P 500 in the coming weeks. Remember,the low for the S&P 500 this year is 1256, which was last seen in mid-March.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow may be in even worse health than the S&P 500. Support at 12,200 failed last week and now the blue chip index is clinging to 12,100. Further declines put 11,600 in play. On Monday, seven Dow stocks managed to close higher, but the same culprits continue to weigh on the index. Financials are a mess and CAT and CVX are both under $100. The last time both stocks were under $100 at the same was March. CAT's shareholders meeting is Wednesday and this is usually the time the company raises its dividend, but they may not be enough on its own to spark the rest of the Dow higher.
How weak is the Nasdaq? Well AAPL's developer's conference kicked off today and Steve Jobs made an appearance, but the stock still fell 1.6%. If there was support at 2725, it did not hold today and that means 2675 is next support. From there, the Nasdaq could slide all the way back to 2615.
The Russell 2000 was blasted last week for a 3.3% loss and dipped another 1.6% today and below 800, a move to 775 is not that far flung. things are not looking any better to start this week. The small-cap index If that level does not hold, look for 760-765 to come into play.
Russell 2000 Chart
I happened to take a look at a chart of the S&P 500 running from the March 2009 lows through today and I only spotted one correction, assuming a correction within a bull market is 10%-15%, and it occurred between April and July 2010. The Dow is off about 4.5% from its 2011 high and the S&P 500 is off about 5% from its 2011 peak.
With all this bad economic data we are seeing and the subsequent weakness in stocks, maybe it is time for another correction. A little more bloodletting to clear out the weak hands may be just what the market needs to rally into year-end, but only time will tell if that is what we see.
Fun fact of the day: If you want to donate a boatload of money to charity and have lunch with Warren Buffett, bidding for that privilege on eBay is now up to $2.34 million. As of 11 AM New York time, the last bid was $1.51 million. Bidding closes at 7:30 PM Pacific time on June 10.