Speculation that the Euro zone might be able to avert a widespread sovereign debt crisis sent U.S. stocks soaring today. News that French banks will accept slower repayment of Greek debt and that Greek lawmakers are expected to vote later this week on sweeping austerity measures sent the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Russell 2000 higher by at least 0.9% each while the Nasdaq Composite raced to a 1.3% gain on the day.
The Greek austerity vote later this week is critical for the Mediterranean country because it is bascially the only way at this point that the country can procure additional funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. As I mentioned above, French banks have been kind enough to accept slower repayment of Greek debt and they have proposed that other institutions holding Greek debt slash that exposure by half by rolling half the debt over.
For their part, the French banks have almost been forced into this position as they are most heavily exposed to Greek debt holding the bag on roughly $503 billion worth of Greek bonds. As the Guardian, the London daily, called it, today's news is a ''silver lining,'' but the folks in Athens still have to get around to approving the austerity plan and there is no guarantee of that happening.
Polls show a vast majority of Greeks oppose further budget cuts. Not an unreasonable point of view given that the country has instituted some pretty severe wage and pension cuts in the past year. As the Guardian reports, Greece would have to slash another 155,000 public sector jobs at a time when it is suffering through 16.2% unemployment.
Still, the euro traded higher during the U.S. session and that move came even as George Soros, who knows a thing or two about the currency market, said it is possible at least one country will depart from the common currency. Soros did not identify a candidate, but did he really need to?
Here in the States, the economic data points released today represented more of the same of what we have been seeing lately and that is not good news. The Commerce Department said consumer spending slipped by 0.1% on an inflation-adjusted basis in May, the second consecutive month the reading declined. One reason given for the disappointing May number was that consumers bought fewer cars following the March earthquake that struck Japan. So maybe the May number is a temporary blip. Maybe not.
On a sort of bright note, disposable personal income rose 0.2% last month, matching the gain seen in April. That is good for eight straight months of gains, but as the chart below indicates, there is still a decent-sized gap between spending and income. With oil prices continuing to look weak, at least in the near-term, gasoline prices are falling as a result. Maybe the cash that consumers were devoting to gas will be transferred over to more dinners out and more trips to the mall. If so, that would be a boon for the economy in the second half of the year. Personally, I am a tad skeptical of this scenario playing out.
Personal Income Chart
Speaking of oil, most of the big-name oil stocks were in the green today with Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), the two largest U.S. oil companies, playing their part to fuel the Dow's triple-digit gain, but one lesser-known name was absent from the rally and was one of the worst performers in any sector today.
That unfortunate distinction belongs to Exco Resources (XCO), which plunged 7.1% on volume that was more than seven times the daily average on news that CEO Douglas Miller is having difficulty obtaining financing to take the entire company private. In November, Miller offered $4 billion to take his company private, but now is considering taking only part of Exco private because he cannot lineup the funds necessary to get the entire deal done.
Exco did say in January it would be open to selling itself so perhaps Miller's struggles will mean another buyer steps in, but I did not see any news to that effect. For more news and commentary on the energy sector, register for the OilSlick free daily newsletter (HERE).
One day does not make a trend, but for those that are long the market, it must have been nice to see financials and tech names finally participate in some upside. Starting with financials, the group got a lift after the new capital requirements set forth by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision proved to be less burdensome than expected. Some of the banking sector's more controversial names will be required hold as much as 2.5 percentage points in additional capital as part of efforts to prevent another financial crisis, Bloomberg reported, citing the Basel Committee.
The view from some analysts and money managers is the less additional capital members of the too-big-to-fail club are required to hold, the more they can distribute in the form of dividends and share repurchase plans. Citigroup (C) jumped 1% on the news and Bank of America (BAC), the largest U.S. bank by assets, surged 3% after noted bank analyst called the bank ''massively undervalued.''
Bank stocks do need all the help they can get and the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF) got in on the act today, but the ETF's chart remains ugly to say the least. While XLF may have found a floor in the $14.60-$14.70 area, the 50-day moving average just crossed below the 200-day line, indicating it is going to take a lot more days like today for XLF to get back to its 2011 high at $17.09.
There were plenty of reasons to be bullish on tech today. Apple (AAPL) gained nearly 2% after reports surfaced that the company may debut not one, but two new iPhones at the end of September. Morgan Stanley said the fifth generation iPhone could be in production by August and out by the end of the third quarter, which is the end of September.
Deutsche Bank added that Apple is sensing some opportunity to enter the mid-range smartphone market and could bring another nail into the coffins of Nokia (NOK) and Research In Motion (RIMM) by introducing an iPhone 4S, which would be priced at $350. Hmmm, NOK and RIMM are already getting their lunches eaten by more expensive fare, such as the iPhone. I wonder what will happen if Apple can compete with those companies in terms of pricing.
Shares of Amazon (AMZN) jumped $8.70, or 4.52%, to close at $201.25, just below the 52-week high at $206.39 after Morgan Stanley added the stock to its ''Best Ideas List'' while reiterating an ''overweight'' rating and raising its price target on the stock to $245 from $225. Morgan Stanley said recent weakness in the broader market makes for a buying opportunity in Amazon.
The bank said Amazon has a ''long global runway'' and a large opportunity in international e-commerce. That makes sense as e-commerce sales still account for less than 6% of global retail sales. Remember that the second half of the year is usually when Amazon's stock kicks it up a notch, so between Amazon and Apple, perhaps the Nasdaq will start to look more appealing as we get into the back half of 2011.
Looking at the index charts, Monday's move to 1280 by the S&P 500 puts the index almost right in the middle of support at 1263-1264 and resistance at 1300. That support is the 200-day moving average and the more important number is 1250. If Greece gets it act together this week, stocks will likely rally, but I still think we are going to see a move to 1250, maybe even a tad lower. Should this occur on strong volume, but if the S&P 500 is able to avoid consecutive weekly closes below 1250, the index would be set up for a rally through the year-end.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow made its way back above the psychologically important 12,000 level and like the S&P 500, the blue-chip index finds itself caught almost right in the middle of support at 11,600 and resistance at 12,400. In the near-term, it is still doubtful that we will see a lot of days like today when the Dow's energy, financial and tech components were all chipping in.
As was the case with the Dow today, the Nasdaq got some help nearly all of its major constituents. Name a member of the Nasdaq triple-digit club and chances are it was higher today and that has the Nasdaq back within flirting distance of resistance at 2700. Get over that hump and that probably means a breakout. If the 2655 area, also the 200-day moving average, does not hold as support, 2615 is the next support level.
With regards to the Russell 2000, I do not want to be too much of a doubting Thomas, but I wonder if the move above 800 today was more a result of the index rebalancing than legitimate buying of small-caps by fund managers. A move above resistance at 820 is the real breakout area and support remains 785.
Russell 2000 Chart
Barring unforeseen events, this week is going to be all about Greece and the country's ability and willingness to accept a lot of near-term pain for the benefit of its economic future. Europe's sovereign debt woes have hung over the market for far too long and finally putting part of the problem to rest would be a positive catalyst. What that translates into in terms of percentage gains for U.S. stocks is a murky issue because the market is closed next Monday and that means volume will be light on Friday. I am happy to sit tight another week, but that is just my two cents.