Lackluster debt auctions in Europe put a cloud over global markets but U.S. equities erased early losses.

Market Statistics

The Dow erased a -134 point decline to close flat while the Nasdaq erased a -17 point decline and rebounded to end the day with a gain of +21 points. The stimulus for the rebound was a rally in the major banks. However, the banks rallied on a rumor the U.S. was about to announce a $1 trillion mortgage refinancing plan. This rumor has been floated multiple times over the last two years and this time it appeared to gain credibility now that the election hysteria is picking up steam. The president went out of his way to pick a fight with Congress on Wednesday so he could have something to use in his campaign.

An article in the WSJ over the weekend suggested the Democratic campaign would be directed at the unemployed and blue collar workers. There are enough of those to allow democrats to win the election. Today's rumor suggested the president was going to put forth a refinancing plan at a very low interest rate and no credit requirements to allow anyone with a home mortgage to lower their payments and avoid bankruptcy. That would be an ideal tool to win votes from those unemployed homeowners and those struggling to make payments from their ARM rollovers.

Bank of America (BAC) rallied +8.6% on thoughts that refinancing would remove thousands of problem loans from their books. The entire banking sector was up strongly on the rumor with the big mortgage banks up the most. Unfortunately, after the bell a government spokesman told CNBC there was NO plan in the works. Futures are down after the close.

Weighing on the markets at the open was news from Europe about some debt sales that did not go well. A French bond auction raised 7.96 billion euros but demand was weak. Yields on the 10-year bonds, that made up the majority of the auction, rose to 3.29% from 3.18% in the prior auction. That is not dramatic but still an indication of concern about the future. France has a lot of debt to refinance this year and they are currently in danger of losing their AAA credit rating. A downgrade will push cost higher. There were also concerns that countries paying more for their own debt would be less likely to contribute to bailing out the debt of others.

Hungary, not a member of the EU but geographically located, saw its bond yields spike higher in a bond sale also held today. The country's financial situation has already forced it to apply for a standby loan from the IMF.

Italy and Spain also saw their bond yields rise with Italy's 10-year rising over 7.14% and a level that is considered unsustainable. Italy's largest bank was forced to offer stock at a 69% discount to current prices in order to raise cash. That is a severe warning sign there is no confidence in Italian banks and especially Unicredit. I reported last week that Unicredit was mentioned almost daily as a bank that could fail at any time. Unicredit shares declined -17%.

Also today the Financial Times reported that Spain's government thinks its banks will have to raise 50 billion euros more than previously thought. Spanish banks plunged on the news.

By day's end most European banks were down hard. Societe Generale lost -5%, Deutsche Bank (DB) -6%, Credit Suisse (CS) -6% and Banco Santander (STD) -5%.

There is growing concern the solution agreed to by EU leaders in December will not resolve the problem of too much debt in Europe. They have not even agreed on the wording yet, much less signed it, and the deal is already losing support.

Europe is not behind us. For the rest of the year we are still going to be faced with these weekly debt sales and rising bond yields until the ECB or some bailout vehicle commits to buying enough sovereign debt to hold rates down long term. I am not holding my breath on that hope.

The U.S. markets recovered on hopes for the mortgage refinancing and some positive economics. The ADP Employment report showed a whopping gain of +325,000 private jobs in December. That is up from a +204,000 gain in November. The estimate for the December report was for a gain of +178,000 jobs. The lowest estimate was +125,000 and the highest +230,000. Analysts were quick to warn this report could have some seasonal imbalances and could be revised significantly lower in the February release.

The number stunned analysts who were expecting +150,000 new jobs when the Nonfarm Payrolls are released on Friday. After the ADP numbers the whisper numbers on the nonfarm have rocketed higher and we could be looking at a disappointment on Friday. The nonfarm headline number also includes government workers so that will be a drag on the results.

The Challenger Employment report was also released today and layoffs for December fell to 41,785 from 42,474 in November. Layoffs have been running just over 42,000 since September when there was a spike to 115,700. The December number is still +31% higher than Dec-2010. Total job cuts captured by the Challenger data were 602,082 for 2011 compared to 529,973 in 2010. That 2010 number was a 13 year low. In 2011 more than 183,064 layoffs were government employees. Retail cut 50,946, while aerospace and defense cut 34,759 jobs.

Initial jobless claims declined by -15,000 to 372,000 for the week. The prior week's claims were revised higher to 387,000. While that headline number was encouraging we need to remember the claims over the next couple of weeks could move significantly higher as the seasonal terminations are forced to start looking for work again.

Jobless Claims Chart

Chain store sales for December rose +3.5% compared to +2.8% in November. This was the third straight month under +4% and not encouraging given what seemed to be robust holiday and post holiday buying. The decline in sales was due to heavy discounting to drive sales. The calendar was favorable for retailers in December with the Sunday and Monday after Black Friday falling in December. Discount retailers and luxury retailers did the best with midline retailers finding it tough to attract customers.

Continued high unemployment and unseasonably warm weather worked against retailers. Winter apparel was slow due to the warmer weather. Gasoline prices worked in favor of sales with gas prices declining for most of the month. Same store sales varied greatly. Zumiez (ZUMZ) led with +10% increase followed by Ross Stores (ROSS) +9%, TJ Max (TJX) +8%, Ltd (LTD) and COST +7% each. Saks (SKS) saw sales rise +5.8%. Disappointing sales came from Target (TGT) at +1.6% and half what was expected. Kohls (KSS) sales declined -0.1% and The Gap (GPS) saw sales decline -4%.

Target also warned that sales were below expectations and they lowered the earnings outlook from $1.43-$1.55 to $1.35-$1.43. Shares of TGT declined -3%. Other companies warning included Kohls (KSS), JC Penny (JCP) and American Eagle (AEO).

The ISM Nonmanufacturing Index for December rose to 52.6 from 52.0. This is the first monthly gain since August but it was still a very small gain. New orders were flat at 53.2 but backorders declined to 45.5 from 48.0. Backorders have been in contraction territory for the last three months. Employment was 49.4 and the second month in contraction territory.

ISM Services Chart

This report was far less exciting than the ISM Manufacturing out on Tuesday. The headline number rose to 53.9 from 52.7 and that is the highest level since June. The employment component rose significantly from 51.8 to 55.1. New orders rose from 56.7 to 57.6 and backorders rose +3 points to 48 but remained in contraction territory.

Growth remains slow but it is still growth!

ISM Manufacturing Chart

The economic calendar for Friday has four reports but only one that counts. The Nonfarm Payrolls at 8:30 will set the tone for the open and could easily power it higher or crush it back to support. The consensus is for +150,000 new jobs including any government declines. This number is highly speculative and will be revised significantly in later releases. However, it is viewed as gospel even though it may be revised by as much as 100% in later releases. That is a big swing for an important number.

The whisper numbers as of Thursday evening are between 165,000 and 175,000. A blowout like the ADP number at +325,000 would be a major market mover because it would be extremely unlikely. This report is compiled from a survey done the week of Dec 12th so it was too early to capture any seasonal terminations. Those will be captured and reported in the January release the first week of February. That will be a key report. If the January numbers show a sharp decline it could poison the market for several weeks.

Economic Calendar

The news from Europe plus the rumors on mortgage refinancing pushed the dollar to a new 52-week high and the euro to a 52-week low. This weighed on commodities and equities. We can expect this trend to continue until the problems in Europe are resolved and that could be a very long time. There are some talking about the euro going to parity at 1:1 to the dollar. That would be a dramatic decline since the post recession low has only been 118.79. The high in 2011 was 148.81 so it has already declined more than 20 points. Declining another 27 points would be a serious move. With the dollar gaining in strength to that extent we could see a continued weight on commodities and equities unless the U.S. economy began to accelerate. Eventually the Fed will have to raise rates and that will force the dollar even higher and add even more pressure to prices.

Dollar Index Chart

Euro Chart

In stock news Barnes & Noble (BKS) declined -17% after warning of a larger than expected full year loss "primarily from a shortfall in expected sales of the Nook Simple Touch" and from additional investments to expand the Nook business and advertising. Evidently competing with Amazon is getting progressively harder despite having a decent e-reader. The company said it was exploring a plan to spin off the Nook business into a separate company to "unlock value." The announcement killed a significant amount of value in BKS shares with a monster drop. BKS now expects a loss of $1.10 to $1.40 on revenue of $7.1 billion. Same stores sales were only expected to rise +1%. Prior guidance was for a loss of 10 to 50-cents on revenue of $7.4 billion and same store sales of +2.5%.

BKS Chart

Groupon (GRPN) continues to lose ground after 52% of merchants surveyed by Susquehanna Financial said they would not be using Groupon again over the next six months. Another 24% said they only planned to use the service once in the same period. Merchants complained about the discount required by Groupon to accept their deal and the low rate of repeat business from consumers that purchased the offers. Still 80% of merchants rated the experience favorably and do expect to use the service at some point in the future. Is Groupon worth its $25 billion pre IPO valuation from a year ago? I seriously doubt it, that deal has expired.

Groupon Chart

Google (GOOG) lost $9 after Benchmark Co analysts downgraded Google to hold from buy citing a decline in advertising revenue from Europe and a questionable outlook for Q1. Analyst Clayton Moran said "our checks indicate the year is starting slowly with advertisers taking a wait-and-see approach." Google has a 90% share of advertising in Europe and that accounts for as much as 40% of its revenue. Moran is a three star rated analyst and ranks 16 out of 41 analysts covering the stock. They still have a $700 price target for Google despite the downgrade.

Google Chart

Financials rallied +2.2% on the mortgage financing rumor. Normally on a day with bad bond news from Europe the sector could have been down 2-3%. With the rumor proved wrong after the bell there is a good chance the financials could retrace some of these gains on Friday. Of course the nonfarm payrolls could also impact them. If new jobs are strong the banks could gain some additional traction. Otherwise Europe news will rule.

Bank Index Chart

The S&P has slowed as it approaches the next resistance band from 1285-1300. There is strong uptrend resistance beginning at 1285 followed by horizontal resistance at 1295-1300. This has been a strong rebound that started on December 20th and it getting a little tired at this point.

My outlook for January still includes a bout of profit taking over the next 7-10 days. The S&P rallied to 1285 at the open on Tuesday and then faded the rest of the day. So far it has failed to retest that level although it did briefly touch 1283 on Thursday. This would be the perfect spot for a January dip to begin. The market mover on Friday will be the payroll report and a blowout number could push the S&P over this resistance and trigger some serious short covering but it would have to be a very strong number. The ADP report was a scene stealer Thursday morning and that could blunt any good news from the nonfarm report. Initial support is prior resistance at 1265.

S&P Chart

The Dow is similar to the S&P in that it has not retested Tuesday's high of 12,479. However, the Dow has exceeded the October highs where the S&P has not. The Dow has no real resistance until 12,735 and that is a good 300 points from where we closed. The lack of a retest of Tuesday's high suggests there is some reluctance on the part og buyers to buy these levels.

However, the Dow has fought back from two consecutive opening drops. The one today was -134 points and it was completely erased. With the Nasdaq strongly positive I am surprised the Dow did not at least close in positive territory. Chevron, IBM, Boeing and UTX were the biggest Dow lowers with Chevron the only stock in the index moving more than $1.

Initial support is 12,300 and prior resistance. A break below that level after honoring it today and then rebounding +130 points would be a bearish signal.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq was the winner for the day with a strong rebound and solid close over the 200-day average at 2660. However, it remains below the next resistance level at 2775. That level was nearly touched intraday with a spike to 2773 but sellers were waiting.

The Nasdaq strength is bullish for the broader market. Techs have been depressed by the Thailand floods and repeated downgrades on expectations for the chip sector. A move over 2775 would be very positive and could drag the other indexes higher.

This rebound was even more impressive since Google lost -9 points for the day. Apple gained +4 to offset some of that negative impact.

Support for the last two days has been 2630 and a break there would target 2600.

Nasdaq Chart

Last weekend I pointed out the strong resistance at 750 on the Russell 2000 as a clear signal for buying if it broke on strong volume. For the last three days that resistance has been penetrated intraday but held at the close. Today there was a minor close of +2 points over that level. The Russell appears to be coiling for a breakout but it could also be viewed as a lack of conviction by fund managers. Continue to watch Russell 750 and the 200-day average at 761 as key market indicators.

Russell Chart

I still believe we could see a significant bout of profit taking in the next 7-10 days. However, the markets are acting like they want to move higher. I said "acting" because other than Monday's big gain they are struggling. Buyers appear on the dips but the sellers are waiting at the highs. Eventually this game of Red Rover will end with one team breaking through the resistance line and it could come on the Nonfarm Payrolls. That data could provide conviction for either side and give us a direction for next week. I remain cautious in the short term.

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