Most of last Friday's losses evaporated today as the news out of Europe was significantly better today. In an effort to secure more bailout funds, Greece approved austerity plans. European policymakers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to approve or reject another aid package to Greece, but chances are, that package will be approved and it is exactly why all the major indexes were higher today, led by an almost 1% gain for the S&P 500.
Monday's gains have the S&P 500 trading above the all-important 1350 level again. As CNBC reported today, the S&P 500 has traversed 1350 at least half a dozen times in the past 13 years, but only once has the index managed to keep on trucking higher. The one time the S&P 500 managed to break 1350 and keep on going was late 2006. That was before the all-time high almost 200 points away a year later. And we all know what happened after that.
I suppose it can be argued that history has a way of repeating itself and it certainly does in the financial markets, so the question becomes what version gets replayed here? The one where the S&P 500 makes its way beyond 1350 or the one where sellers step in and force the index lower?
It is worth noting that, as CNBC reported, short interest is currently at its lowest levels since March 2009 and company insiders are doing a lot more selling than buying of their own shares. In terms of insider selling, too much can be made of this issue because, as I am fond of saying, there is only one reason an executive buys his or her companyâ€™s shares, but there are several reasons why they sell and not all are bad. However, the reality is some of these executives are selling because they might think their companyâ€™s stock is overbought or due for a decline.
The lack of short interest may be perceived as a positive, but it is also constructive to have a large short interest when the market is moving higher for the simple reason that it forces shorts to cover and fans the flames of the rally. And before anyone gets mad and thinks I do not approve of short-selling, I love short-selling and when I traded professionally I did it a more than going long.
Speaking of stocks one probably does not want to be on the wrong side of because it keeps on climbing to new stratospheric heights, there is Apple (AAPL). The iPad and iPhone maker and all-around tech juggernaut closed above $500 today.
Bernstein was out with a note addressing a familiar topic: Apple possibly paying a dividend. Long story short, the research firm said Apple could afford an ''ongoing dividend'' with a payout ratio of 30% of free cash flow. ''On balance, we believe that prevailing circumstances should enable Apple to pay a meaningful ongoing dividend (i.e., 2.5%-3%) if it so chose, with no impact to its earnings or cash flow,'' Bernstein said in the note.
Apple really does not need to pay a dividend, not when its chart looks like this. The gap between Apple and Exxon Mobil (XOM) for the largest U.S. market cap crown has widened to almost $70 billion.
In other stock-specific news, it was not a ''Merger Monday,'' but there was one deal that caught my. General Mills (GIS), the second-largest U.S. food company, is reportedly in talks to buy Brazilian food company Yoki for $1.16 billion. I bring this deal up for a couple of reasons. First, I know some folks like more conservative stocks with decent dividends and General Mills certainly fits the bill there. Second, if there has been a knock on Big G in recent years it has been that the company does not have enough emerging markets exposure. One deal in Brazil does not cure that dilemma outright, but it is a step in right direction.
Shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) surged over 12% on volume that was nearly triple the daily average after the after the company forecast higher sales of its eye drug Eylea. The company now expects U.S. sales of $250-$300 million of the drug compared with a previous forecast of $140-$160 million.
The company said its fourth-quarter loss widened to $53.4 million, or 58 cents per share, from $14.6 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier as revenue fell 8% to $123 million. Analysts expected a loss 60 cents per share and $132 million in revenue.
Staying in the biotech arena, shares of Chelsea Therapeutics (CHTP) plunged almost 38% on volume that was approximately 15 times the daily average after the company said it received inquiries from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding concerns about the companyâ€™s hypertension drug Northera. The FDA raised questions related to previously discussed issues such as the short duration of clinical studies and the limited size of the study population given the orphan status that the drug has, according to Reuters.
Chelsea Therapeutics Chart
Shares of Chesapeake Energy (CHK), the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer, climbed 2.4% on double the average daily turnover on news of planned asset sales that could reach up to $12 billion. This is an effort by Oklahoma-based Chesapeake to convince the investment community it is committed to increasing oil production and bolstering its balance sheet.
Still, Moody's Investors Service lowered its outlook on Chesapeake to Stable from Positive. Moody's already rates Chesapeake debt in junk territory and the ratings agency said ''the companyâ€™s capital expenditure plans far exceed its cash flows, necessitating the execution of continued asset sales and capital raising transactions in 2012.''
I am not saying its going to happen, but it is my OPINION and I have written to this effect elsewhere, that Chesapeake is a takeover target and BHP Billiton (BHP) makes for a logical suitor.
Looking at the charts, first support for the S&P 500, should the market pullback, is 1340 and then 1310. I do not want to jinx it, but if the index keeps stringing together closes above 1350, that is clearly a bullish sign and could mean we are off to 1375.
S&P 500 Chart
With today's close at 12,874, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is not too far from resistance at 12,900. The 12,750 area would be first support followed by 12,650 and 12,600. Twenty-five of 30 Dow stocks closed higher today and the pop was led by high-beta names such as BAC, CAT, JPM and CVX.
The Nasdaq is flirting with 3000 for the first time since the third quarter of 2000 and everyone seems to be making a big deal about that, talking about 11-year highs for the composite. I do not want to ruin anyone's party, but I think it bears noting even 3,000 for the Nasdaq is more than 50% below the January 2000 highs. Resistance will be 3000 and support is found at 2900, 2885 and 2800.
Clearly, the big event for the week is getting that Greek bailout package approved on Wednesday and then the Philly Fed survey on Thursday. For those that are long, hope the market keeps grinding higher through Thursday because the day before and the day after the President's Day weekend are usually down days for stocks.