Many analysts are taking the stance that the FED is behind the curve and is not doing enough to fight the inflation that seems to be biting at our heels. This view was substantiated by the sell-off yesterday and the lower lows made today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average moved 14.49 points lower to close at 10456.02. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.88 to 1990.22. The S&P rose 0.76 points to 1172.51. The Russell 2000, made up of small-capitalization stocks, declined 1.1% to 612.06.
Tbonds (30-year) shot higher, while short-term notes lagged behind. That caused the difference between the two-year and 10-year Treasury yields to narrow, a trend that could play havoc with the financial sector that has benefited greatly from this wide spread in recent years through what is called the carry trade - borrowing at short-term rates and lending long.
The annual report of the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund showed a slight worsening of the 75-year actuarial deficit, which is now 1.92% of taxable payroll, up from 1.89% in last year's report. Social Security is now projected to be exhausted in 2041, one year earlier than in last year's projections. The trustees, all appointed by President Bush, said the program's annual revenue will fall behind annual expenses in 2017, also a year earlier than their last year's report estimated. These estimates were significantly divergent from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which earlier this month said that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2052 and that revenue would fall behind expenses in 2020, a year later than its prior estimate.
Social Security faces a long-run funding imbalance because of the of the impending retirement of the baby boomers but the program will continue a cash flow surplus for more than one decade, and can pay full benefits for almost 40 years.
At 8:30EST the Mortgage Bankers Association of America released its weekly MBA Mortgage Applications Survey, a leading indicator of home sales, which gives the financial markets an indication of where the housing market is heading.
For the week ending March 18, the MBA index fell 9.5% to 658.8 and the refi index plummeted 16.5%. Demand for mortgages has dropped off measurably over the last several weeks, mostly due to a drop in the number of households refinancing. But demand for new mortgages, after registering a sharp downturn at the beginning of the year, is holding firm. Actually, housing demand is still strong and the purchase index is back in very strong territory because of steady job growth and 30-year rates remaining below 6%. However, the move up in long-term interest rates will constrain new demand going forward but it is very likely that potential homebuyers will stay in the market and remain aggressive in their quest to lock in an affordable rate.
The proverbial fly in the ointment of this rosy housing market picture is housing affordability. House prices have been rising at a double-digit rate for the past few quarters and buyers are getting priced out of the market. In addition, although rates remain low, the 80+ basis point increase in the ARM rate has discouraged buyers with marginal credit quality from entering the market because these market participants more readily qualify for ARMs over conventional mortgages.
Also at 8:30EST we saw the release of the granddaddy of inflation indicators - the Consumer Price Index for February.
Yesterday the Fed revised his inflation policy fueling the fear of inflation and today the CPI did little to douse those inflation fears. February's consumer inflation was slightly higher than expectations and the core index broke out of its recent trend, rising 0.3% instead of the 0.2% that had become the norm lately. Core inflation is now back to the level it was three years ago and approaching early 2001's peak.
Although inflation was evident across most sectors, the one area that missed the inflation bullet was core commodities, where prices went unchanged for February.
Capacity utilization of capital resources is rapidly approaching a level that will start putting upward pressure on prices, presenting a risk for higher inflation in the near term. Capacity utilization for finished goods production is less than one percentage point lower than the long-term average. This reinforces the idea that inflation risks are skewed toward the high end, with core inflation likely to creep closer to 3% in the near term.
At 10:00EST the National Association of Realtors released their Existing Home Sales report, a report used as a signal of consumer spending on homes, furnishings and other home-related costs.
Existing home sales declined 0.4% in February to 6.79 million units, which was roughly in line with the consensus forecast.
Low conventional mortgages and economic factors such as job and income growth continue to keep demand for housing strong, although home sales have certainly slowed from last summer. Since condo sales have been included in the data, analysts have seen the increasing popularity of this type of co-op housing. They site the reasons are based on the eroding affordability for single-family homes which is pushing first-time buyers into condo or co-op units.
Higher mortgage rates are expected to overcome the economic factors that have contributed to the strong housing market and a real slowing should take place in the latter part of 2005. In addition most potential homebuyers have already entered the market so demand will be less than we have seen in the past.
The final report the market had to endure today was the weekly 10:30EST American Petroleum Institute and Energy Information Agency's release of Oil and Gas inventories; a report that has taken on a great deal of significance of late because of oil prices.
This report showed crude-oil inventories were higher than expected sending crude oil prices below $55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Unfortunately though the report also revealed falling inventories of petroleum products such as gasoline, so many believe the sell-off to be temporary.
I have been writing a series of articles on Point and Figure charts so I thought that I would deviate from the normal bar charts and show you some P&F charts tonight. Now don't worry if you have not been following my articles and you dont know anything about P&F charts. I am going to use these charts more as way to compare markets to one another and to see how bullish or bearish each is in relation to each other. P&F charts also add a little sanity to a normally insane market.
These charts take a long time to annotate so I started creating them on Tuesday March 22nd. I believed we would have a upward or sideways day today and the P&F charts would not change. Well that was not the case, each market made a new lower low today. So I have made note of the changes to the P&F charts reflecting today's lows.
Point and Figure Daily Chart of the DOW:
The blue line the DOW is currently trading above is called a bullish support line and the DOW remains a bullish candidate until this line is broken. There was a double bottom sell signal on March 17th but these happen so often you would never take a trade just based on this sell signal.
The red lines you see on the chart are bearish resistance lines and as you can see there is usually a red bearish resistance line right after the blue support line and it will usually start to form before the blue support line is pierced. But currently we have not even had a red resistance line start to form let alone a piercing of the support line. This market is still bullish and you would not even be thinking of bailing on long positions and definitely would not be thinking about opening new short positions.
The DOW hit a low of 10430 today so another O would be added to the last column of Os.
Point and Figure Daily Chart of the RUT:
With the Russell 2000 you see Red Resistance lines that have been consistently broken but the Blue Support line only broken once. And like the DOW, price has a ways to go before it will pierce the Blue support line and a Red resistance line has not started to form. This chart is bullish as well and you would still be bullish positions.
Russell 2000 lows today were 612.06 so another O would be added to the last column of Os. This is also a pierce of the double bottom.
Point and Figure Daily Chart of the COMPQ:
Now here is a chart that is indeed bearish. The Blue support line has been broken and the NASDAQ Composite is trading below it. You would not only be out of your bullish positions but into new bearish ones.
Lows today were 1985 so one more O would be added to the final column of Os.
Point and Figure Daily Chart of the SPX:
This is our most bullish chart. Look at how long the Blue bullish support line has been in place without been pierced. It has a long way to go before it turns the bear corner.
SPX made a low today of 1068 so another O will have to be added to the last column of Os.
Point and Figure Daily Chart of the NDX:
This is our most bearish chart. The Blue support line was broken in early 2005 and a new one has never even had a chance to form. The dominate line is the bearish Red resistance line that started at the same time the blue support line was pierced. We also have had a triple sell signal. No one should be in bullish positions in this market and should be well entrenched into bearish positions.
Don't the Point and Figure charts give you a little different perspective from the one you develop when looking at the bar charts?
Tomorrow's Economic Reports
Tomorrow we have the weekly Jobless claims report out at 8:30EST for the week ending March 19th. The Consensus is for 314,000 claims down from the previous week of 318,000.
Also at 8:30EST is the Bureau of Census Durable Goods release, one of the earliest indicators of both consumer and business demand for equipment. Durable goods include intermediate goods, such as steel, lumber and electronic components and all industrial products with an expected life of one year or more.
At 10:00EST is the Bureau of Census release of February's New Home Sales an indicator of consumer spending through spending on business services associated with home sales, construction and employment. Consensus is 1,150,000 up from January's 1,106,000.
PalmOne - PLMO - close: 25.71 chg: +1.36 stop: 22.99
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL MAY 22.50 UPY-EX OI=2403 current ask $4.50
Picked on March 23 at $ 25.71
Cleveland Cliffs - CLF - cls: 78.27 chg: -2.57 stop: 74.49
Shares of CLF hit some profit taking today but it looks like traders were buying the dip this afternoon as CLF neared the $76.25 level. Look for the bounce to continue back over the $80.00 level before considering new positions.
Picked on March 21 at $ 77.06
Parker-Hannifin - PH - close: 66.49 change: -0.93 stop: 63.99
Conservative traders may want to consider an exit now that PH has broken down under minor support at the $67 level and its 50-dma. We still see additional support at its two-month trendline of higher lows and the 200-dma's near the $65.00 level. It is true that the MACD has rolled over into a sell signal, which should put traders on their guard. We would not suggest new bullish positions until we saw a significant bounce from the $65.00 area.
Picked on March 03 at $ 68.11
Red Robin Burger - RRGB - cls: 49.28 chg: +0.41 stop: 44.99
No change from previous update. RRGB was started with an "out perform" rating by an analyst firm this morning.
Picked on March 10 at $ 48.00
Allergan - AGN - close: 70.95 chg: +0.06 stop: 76.05
No change from previous update.
Picked on March 13 at $ 73.09
Apollo Group - APOL - close: 73.13 chg: -1.13 stop: 76.75
Once again APOL is testing support at the $73.00 level. Conservative traders may want to consider exiting here.
Picked on January 23 at $ 77.61
Beazer Homes - BZH - close: 51.81 chg: +0.05 stop: 54.01
As previously discussed BZH began trading split adjusted for its 3-for-1 stock split today. Double check your options symbols with your broker.
Picked on March 17 at $ 51.43
Google Inc - GOOG - close: 178.98 chg: +0.38 stop: 185.01
No change from previous update.
Picked on March 10 at $179.49
Cheniere Energy - LNG - close: 66.70 chg: -1.39 stop: 72.01 *new*
LNG dipped to the $64.00 level early this morning before dip-buyers stepped in to push the stock higher. Volume was pretty heavy on the decline at over twice the average daily volume. Unfortunately shares began to bounce late in the session and the oil refinery explosion in Texas today is likely to push oil-related equities higher tomorrow. Look for LNG to bounce back toward the $70.00 level. A failed rally at $70.00 could be used as a new entry point. We are lowering our stop loss to $72.01.
Picked on March 11 at $ 69.49
Intl Bus. Mach. - IBM - close: 89.50 chg: -0.01 stop 92.15
IBM bounced back over the $90.00 level and its 200-dma on Wednesday but the rally failed near previous support now new resistance at the $91 level. Look for IBM to trade back under $90.00 as a new bearish entry point.
Picked on March 17 at $ 89.86
Mcgraw Hill Cos - MHP - close: 88.39 chg: +0.59 stop: 90.21
No change from previous update.
Picked on March 15 at $ 88.40
Millipore - MIL - close: 44.46 chg: +0.81 stop: 46.05
Hmm... we cannot see what caused the rally in shares of MIL today. The stock added 1.85 percent but the rally stalled under the $45.00 level and its 50-dma. Look for shares to trade back under the $44.00 level before considering new positions.
Picked on March 16 at $ 43.95
Pacificare Health - PHS - close: 58.10 chg: -0.66 stop: 62.01
No change from previous update.
Picked on March 20 at $ 59.04
Toll Brothers - TOL - close: 76.00 chg: -0.85 stop: 81.50
No change from previous update.
Picked on March 17 at $ 76.81
The best topics for articles often come from OIN Subscribers.
You may have noticed, you may NOT have noticed, that when you select a chart in most charting applications, there is usually a check mark for "Linear" scale, but there is also a box that could be checked for "Log" or "Semi-Log" scaling too.
One recent e-mail from an OIN Subscriber -
Often I use logarithmitic charts. I find similar wedge patterns in the indices. However, for example, for the SPX the logarithmic based wedge hits different rally peaks than you showed for the linear charts.
Question - What is better? linear or logarithmic?"
However, logarithmic ("log" for short) charts can be quite useful on long-term weekly Index charts. It usually is helpful to compare BOTH chart scales on multi-year charts, but I get pressed for time and sometimes don't make such chart scale comparisons all that often however, it's worthwhile to make these comparisons at least occasionally as will be demonstrated.
Since I mostly am writing on shorter-term price swings for the INDEXES, you've noticed of course that I use arithmetic (linear) scale of equal price moves versus equal percent moves of logarithmic scale.
For STOCKS, which can have much bigger PERCENT moves in the same time period, logarithmic charts are another story, which I will also go into in my chart selections.
Neither is "better" per se. Linear for daily charts almost exclusively. Semi-log scale as one choice for multiyear weekly charts or monthly charts for sure. But even with long-term charts I will compare both scales typically.
SCALING CHOICES FOR CHARTS -
For the price scale there are basically two methods in use to measure or scale prices for bar, line and candlestick charts. For P&F charts, scaling will ALWAYS be done using an arithmetic or linear scale the two words are sued interchangeably, but arithmetic is the more precise term.
Arithmetic refers to a price scale where each unit of price is exactly the same distance apart as every other point. "Linear" is usually what the default choice is linear relates to a graph that is a line or straight line. As mentioned already the term linear is not as accurate as arithmetic for what it describes, but I will go with what is common usage.
A linear scale is going to measure equal price moves EQUALLY and make the same price changes an equal distance up and down the right hand price scale; e.g., going from 5 to 15 is the same distance on the vertical price scale as going from 50 to 60.
However, if you think about it in terms of stocks there is a much greater return, based on the money invested, in owning 1000 shares of a stock at $5 that goes to $15 (a 200% gain) than it is to own a 1000 shares of a stock that goes from $50 to $60 (a 20% increase).
To account for this relative difference, a type of logarithmic scaling called semi-logarithmic (it's not "purely" logarithmic), or "log" for short, has come into widespread use.
A chart for each type of scaling for an Index that had a HUGE percent move in the last decade, is seen in the Nasdaq Composite (COMP). LINEAR SCALE first
However with the "Semi-Log" or log scale, we see a different chart picture -
However, if we looked at a stock chart of a company that has had a big gain (or loss), in this case for Apple Computer, for only the past year or so using a DAILY chart, there is also useful information provided by applying BOTH types of scaling and comparing the two
For Stock INDEXES, this is mostly, or more, useful on longer-term charts. However, for individual stocks, we see some cases where there is a 3/5-fold increase or more within a year period. In those instances, the log scale makes for a useful comparison.
Take the case of AAPL above now I love the looks of those colorful Apple PCs and those cool I-Pods, but in technical analysis terms it may be that the stock has discounted earnings growth into the stratosphere ALREADY - so I try to stay objective and just look at the price pattern of the stock.
I tend to use the typical "default" setting for all my charts including my long-term weekly ones, which is that of the arithmetic scale, but also keep some long-term weekly and monthly charts in log scale for the major indices. Especially so, when I want to see how long-term trendlines might vary.
In general, when there is a major price increase or decline that has occurred, I suggest also making use of log scaling to see if you notice something different on the semi-log chart, especially if a different support or resistance trendline can be drawn on one versus the other.
USE OF STOPS -
I got the following e-mail about the use of Stop-loss or trade exit points after my prior (3/16) Trader's Corner article and it was a very pertinent question for all of us.
What happens is that momentarily a bid hits my stop price and I am immediately sold out at a loss. Is using a limit order my only protection? Can stop orders "at the market" be targeted in a fashion I describe? I want the protection of sell stops but I feel as though someone picked my pocket. Thank you"
Use of stop (stop-loss) orders, whether entered with a broker or just mentally adhered to, is a tricky business as you point out. You are darned if you do and darned if you don't.
By the way, I almost always use straight stop orders and not stop-limit orders.
Of course if the stock closed at 43.00 and then opened the next morning at 41.00, this trade (at 41) would also activate your sell stop and that order becomes a Market order to sell at the best possible price after that, even if that price was 40.75.
Conversely, a buy stop order is a "suspended" order to buy at the market that gets "elected" when the stock or index trades at the stop price; e.g., a buy-stop at 45.50 in Apple Computer (AAPL) as an attempt to limit losses by being short the stock at 44.00. Only ONE trade at 45.50 will "elect" such a buy stop and turn it into a market order to buy. The order HAS to done at the best price, even if a seller can only be found at 45.75 and that is where you get bought, which offsets or liquidates your short position.
In this example, if my buy stop order was a buy "stop-limit" at 45.50, it would also be elected (activated) with ANY trade done at 45.50 in AAPL, but the buy could only be executed IF the buy could be done at the specified "limit" price of 45.50. If the stock traded "through" this price, without a willing seller, and the following trades were all done ABOVE 45.50 for the rest of trading session, I would end up still short at the end of the day.
STRATEGY in the use of STOPS -
You also have to accept that sometimes your stop is hit stops are "run" and THEN the market move you were hoping for happens.
Most traders are unwilling to wait only for those "few" opportunities I'm speaking of. It's tough and is the dividing line between the many and the very few great/outstanding traders and the pros. The best traders pretty much all focus on "how much could I lose" (focus on always cutting losses) and not on "how much can I make" if you read Jack Schwager's book, "Market Wizards", this comes across loud and clear, including that of my trading mentor Mark Weinstein, a classic example.
AN EXAMPLE of EFFECTIVE STOP-LOSS STRATEGY
I highlighted the fact that the S&P 100 (OEX) was hitting resistance at 585 and the Index was overbought. Today's updated chart OEX chart is below
The point to make with this recent example was that a put buy when the OEX traded up to the 585 area, calculated as significant technical resistance, could have been protected with a relatively "tight" or close by exiting stop; e.g., exit puts that is equal to the OEX trading at 587 or 588.
A exiting stop in this kind of situation can be set such that the risk is quite small relative to the reward potential. If I was right on the question of where key resistance (selling pressure) lay, OEX would not have been able to overcome selling in the 585 area sufficient to take it above, or much above, this level. Hence an exiting stop was able to be set equal to OEX 587 or 588.
THE CONCEPT OF "TRAILING STOPS" -
Assuming an exit on my (trailing) stop at 575, I didn't achieve the profit potential of the 10 point OEX decline to 570, but would have gotten out with some profit and NO loss.
The next time I bought puts when OEX came back up to the resistance trendline (e.g., the 585 strike), I would have gained the profit of the OEX falling to 560 at my profit objective. I tend to exit at my profit objectives and not look for more usually, figuring I probably got the best part of the move.
This may seem like too "ideal" of a scenario it could be considered that, but not if you are waiting ONLY for those FEW situations that fulfill the criteria where stops can be set that are low-risk relative to a high profit potential. Not many of these trades are needed to make for a very profitable year in trading index options. After all, we're not looking to reward our broker with a lot of trades, only OURSELVES with a few.
Good Trading Success!!
Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jane Fox, Trader's Corner by Leigh Stevens, and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.
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