Every week it seems traders find one more reason to rally on hopes the Fed is going to stop hiking rates. Eventually the market will be right. Until that day comes every "Fed is done" rally is at risk for a retracement as new economic data appears. This week's rally was built on a Beige book foundation with a GDP cornerstone. Those would seem like two fairly stable building blocks but inflation is still at work attempting to erode that base.
On Friday the US GDP for the second quarter came in with a headline number showing +2.5% growth. This was less than the consensus estimates of +3.1% growth and far less than the +5.6% growth we saw in Q1. The weakness in the second quarter was very widespread showing a drop in capex spending, exports and personal consumption. Residential investment fell for the first time in three years. Core inflation as evidenced by the PCE deflator jumped +2.9% for the biggest gain in more than a decade. Despite the sharp jump in the PCE and the sharper than expected drop in GDP the markets roared off to yet another Fed is done rally. The expectations were almost unanimous among analysts that the Fed would pause in August. They are still split on whether there will be a hike in August but almost unanimous that August will be the last move. Goldman Sachs went way out on a limb predicting cuts of -150 basis points beginning in early 2007.
Bond yields plummeted with the 10-year note yield falling to close at 4.90% and a seven-week low. The Fed Funds Futures are only showing a 28% chance of an August hike and almost no chance for a hike at any future meetings. The term "soft landing" has been dusted off and has suddenly become the new buzzword of choice. A GDP of +2.5% is seen to be the Goldilocks number that signifies a soft landing and a number that will put the Fed on hold. Had the GDP come in at the consensus expectations of +3.1-3.3% the Fed may have needed to remain vigilant according to some analysts. Under 3% is a danger sign for the Fed that they may have already gone too far. According to analysts this is a screaming halt warning that the Fed must obey.
The markets rallied with another round of gains on top of strong moves earlier in the week. The Beige book had also shown a broad based slowdown and tame but rising inflation. This was seen as a prelude to the Q2 GDP number and confirmation we were nearing an end to hikes.
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Personally, I believe this wishful thinking is extremely overdone and will come back to haunt us soon. Since the Fed goes too far the vast majority of the time and the last nine months of hikes have not completely filtered through the system it seems to me that traders are looking at the numbers through heavily rose tinted glasses. If the GDP has fallen -55% in just the last three months with six to nine months of rate hikes still making their way through the system then tougher times could be ahead. The recent manufacturing reports have shown a slowdown in capex spending and a buildup in inventory levels from slowing sales. These reports are much more current than the Q2 GDP. Next Tuesday we will get the ISM Index for July and the most current read on manufacturing conditions in Q3. That report will be followed by the Nonfarm Payrolls on Friday. These reports could either confirm the soft landing scenario or raise new warnings that the economy has fallen off the cliff and the -3.1% drop in GDP was just the beginning of a longer drop. If that is the case we may not be talking about future stagflation but the return of the "R" word.
On Friday we also got the Employment Cost Index for Q2 and that showed employer costs rose sharply by +0.9% in Q2. This was +50% faster than the +0.6% rise in Q1. This was the fastest rise in wage costs since 2000. This is a clear sign of rising wage inflation and exactly what the Fed does not want to see. As we have seen the Fed can stomach some price inflation and even some inflation from rising oil prices but the appearance of wage inflation is a critical warning sign. The bulls completely overlooked this report and focused instead on the GDP soft landing scenario. Those rose-colored glasses also have a very narrow range of vision to keep from distracting the bulls from their goal. The ECI report should guarantee another rate hike in August despite whatever dreams the bulls might have. That does not mean the bullish case is wrong but just a greater potential for at least one more hike.
There can only be so many "one and done" rallies. We have seen rallies in advance of the Fed moves or on shifts in Fed expectations for months. They have all failed when reality returned to stare us in the face. Eventually the market will be right but after last weeks gains we are risking the potential for a sell the news event rather than a continuation spike to higher levels. The Fed meeting is only six trading days away and bullishness is already rampant.
The Dow gained +351 points or +3.23% for the week. The talking heads will tell you this was the best weekly gain since November 2004. They will also neglect to remind you that it fell -351 points for the week ended on July-14th. The statisticians were dragging out all the superlatives like best points since 2003, best percentage since 2004, best S&P gain in 3 years, etc, etc. It is all true. The Dow has rebounded from the low end of its range at 10700 to a dead stop at exactly the high end of its range at 11250 in only nine days. Three cheers for the bulls but we need to put this into context. This was the second rebound of this magnitude since the first touch of 10700 on June-14th. The first rebound took 12 days but evaporated in only 6 days. That was also a Fed done rally that ended badly.
Dow Chart - 180 min
I am not claiming that this rally will fail next week, only that we just made a round trip on expectations rather than reality. We had the Bernanke testimony, the Beige book and now the GDP to support the bullish case. The bulls are extended due to the very fast rebound and we are still over a week away from the FOMC meeting. Those critical economic reports, ISM and Nonfarm Payrolls, could either push the indexes over current resistance or send them right back to the low of the range very quickly.
The earnings tsunami has passed and while there will be further reporting waves they will be of decreasing strength as the cycle draws to a close in the coming weeks. The earnings have been stronger than expected and may possibly end up as the most profitable in history but forward guidance has also been weaker than expected. This is a function of the slowdown in the economy and rising energy and commodity costs. Neither of those costs are expected to decline. Analysts have not yet begun to ratchet down earnings estimates for the rest of 2006 but that should begin soon. Once it does the fears of a harder landing should begin to appear. The business investment component of the GDP showed that investment increased just +2.7% and that was the lowest gain since Q1-2004. Add in the current housing crash and that leads me to believe that economic slowdown discussions will be a lot more prevalent over the next few weeks. On the positive side a drop in the interest rate with the ten-year note yielding under 5% on Friday will eventually have a positive impact on housing. Those homeowners with ARMs about to reset will be breathing a sigh of relief and lining up to refinance soon. After 17 rate hikes a pause could bring the home buyers back into the market place and actually create a softer landing in that sector than had been previously feared. This point was not lost on investors with all the major builders adding to gains for the week. You see there is some good news in the slowdown cloud if you dig deep enough to find it.
Energy stocks were mixed for the week with oil prices falling below the $73.50 support level on Friday. Despite the record high at $78.40 two weeks ago performance in the energy sector has been mixed. High oil prices have not generally translated into high stock prices although some individual issues have been moving higher. Friday's -1.15 drop in crude to $73.30 was due mostly to a feeling that the Israel/Lebanon conflict was about over. Expectations for a peacekeeping force and an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon made it more likely that oil producers Syria and Iran would remain out of the conflict. The joint Bush/Blair press conference ratcheted up the likelihood that the US would tell Israel to start winding down their excursion and prepare to terminate fighting. Another factor hurting the price of oil was the lower than expected GDP. Analysts started talking about a reduction of demand due to slower economic growth. This was excessive speculation in my view since the US is not a developing nation. Our oil growth is relatively stable and would not be impacted materially by a couple quarters of weak GDP.
Gasoline demand by consumers continued to remain strong after the July 4th peak. The chart below shows 2006 demand (red) through last week compared to 2005 demand (blue). The week before July-4th was the peak in both years. Note that demand leveled off after the July-4th peak in 2005 but still remained in an overall down trend until the post Katrina crash. Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug-29th. Demand in 2006 was not as high on the July-4th spike as 2005 but has remained strong and well over the 2005 levels even with prices over $3.00. If gasoline demand and gasoline prices are supporting crude then crude is living on borrowed time. There are only four weeks left in the high demand gasoline season and we know that traders don't wait for the event to arrive before exiting with profits. Even if we don't get a hurricane gas demand will decline sharply after Labor Day. If traders begin to see an end in sight in the Middle East conflict it will only hasten the exit. The wild card here is still hurricane season and so far the Gulf oil patch has been very lucky with no developing storms. I would say traders long oil futures are pressing their luck.
Gasoline Demand Chart
September Crude Oil Chart - Daily
Last week was energy week in the earnings parade. The majority of energy companies reported including the majors. Exxon posted record profits of more than $10 billion (+36%) renewing calls from lawmakers for additional taxation of big oil. It has been tried before and never worked but that does not mean it won't be tried again. Exxon broke with the "enough oil for everybody" mantra and Exxon's VP of investor relations, Henry Hubble, told analysts, "We are selling everything we can produce." Hubble said Exxon was adding another $1 billion to its stated $19 billion capital spending budget for additional exploration and production. One third of that budget is going to pay for increases due to rising costs for labor and increasingly specialized equipment needed to extract oil from increasingly difficult locations. Royal Dutch Shell posted a +40% increase in profits to $7.3 billion and Chevron posted a +18% increase in profits to $4.35 billion. Chevron fell short of analyst estimates and lost -1.68 on Friday.
Next week earnings will slow slightly and all eyes will be on economics rather than the slowing earnings parade. The ISM on Tuesday is expected to come in flat with June but that may be wishful thinking. All indications are for a slight decline possibly to something in the 51-52 range. Anything over 50 means an expanding economy and under 50 is contracting economy. The Jobs report next Friday is expected to show a gain of +150,000 jobs in July compared to a gain of +121,000 in June. Jobs have been coming in under the estimates for several months with last months estimate of +175,000 being missed severely. The table below shows the misses for the last year. Some whisper numbers for next Friday are in the +50K to +75K range. Another significant miss just before the Aug-8th Fed meeting could give them more freedom to halt the hikes especially if the ISM is weak as well.
Semiconductor Index Chart - Weekly
I mentioned the Dow's performance earlier and the other major indexes resemble clones. The S&P-500 rebounded to resistance at 1280 from support at 1225 for a +3% gain for the week. The Nasdaq rallied +74 points for a +3.6% gain to stall just under resistance at 2100. While these were strong gains the Semiconductor Index beat them all. The SOX rallied +7.1% on the back of some strong chip earnings and that sparked a fire under the Nasdaq as I suggested it might on Tuesday. This powered the Nasdaq and without the Nasdaq acting as an anchor the Dow and S&P were free to move higher as well.
The index with the most headaches for the week was the Transports with a decline of -41 points while the others were putting in three-year performance gains. The Transports were hit by the UPS earnings, NSC earnings, continued oil prices in the $75 range and worries about an economic slowdown. Thank you UPS. Were it not for a +109 point, +2.5% gain on Friday the Transport index would have closed at a five month low. This is the opposite of a confirmation of the Dow gains that Dow theorists would like.
Dow Transport Chart - Daily
Nasdaq Chart - 120 min
Russell-2000 Chart - 120 min
I was concerned about the Russell-2000 most of the week as it exhibited high volatility between 685-700. It struggled to hold the gains from Monday but finally finished at that critical 700 resistance level on Friday. The Russell did end with a +4% gain for the week but it was all on Monday. The volatility suggested to me that fund managers were exiting small caps on any rally ahead of the normally weak Aug/Sept period. Buyers continued to show on the dips but it was a battle all week. I would continue to watch the Russell as an indicator of fund traffic. TrimTabs said on Friday many domestic funds were seeing net outflows despite the official headline number of +$200 million average in contributions over the last four weeks. If the Russell begins to weaken relative to the Dow and S&P-100 I would see that as a warning sign ahead of the historical late summer volatility. You can see in the internals snapshot below that Monday and Friday were the only really bullish days with the rest of the week (Tue-Thr) favoring the sellers as the week progressed.
Market Internals Snapshot
I wrote last week that I was expecting a rally ahead of the Fed meeting on August 8th. I was not expecting it to be this strong or this soon. With all the indexes now overbought and at strong resistance the obvious call would be for some profit taking. That may be the wrong call this time around. There was no profit taking going into Friday's close and most of the indexes closed at or near their highs for the week. This is unusual for a summer Friday after a better than +3% rebound for the week. This indicates to me that the bulls are feeling energized and are hoping for some greener pastures after the Fed meeting. The problems ahead for this bullish scenario are six trading days and two critical economic reports. If those reports are market friendly there is plenty of money on the sidelines to push the indexes higher. Will they do it or is there enough concern over a possible negative Fed outcome on the 8th?
Chart - 180 min
Based purely on a chart view I would be ready to buy a breakout on the S&P and
Russell assuming there were no economic potholes in our future. Unfortunately
that is rarely the case. That leaves me questioning the wisdom of doing anything
on Monday. The better plan would be waiting for a trend to appear after the ISM
Tuesday. A breakout on a market positive ISM could be a good trade since
there would be a considerable amount of short covering above 11250 and 1280. The
challenge to a breakout would come at S&P 1290-1295 and a likely failure point.
The 100-day average on the S&P is 1280 and exactly where we stopped on Friday.
My long-term view has not changed and I still expect another strong dip later
this year. My short-term view of a rally ahead of the Fed meeting has run its
I am willing to concede another leg higher to 1295 on market positive
data. All bets are off if the ISM comes in much stronger than expected. A
resumption in strong growth with our current rising inflation would not be Fed
positive and give us another failed "Fed done" rally. I am wearing out these
words but "trading in the summer is difficult" and next week is likely to be a
difficult week. Buy a 1280 breakout or short a 1280 failure and beware Tuesday's
Cytec - CYT - close: 54.94 change: +1.03 stop: 52.45
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL SEP 50.00 CYT-IJ open interest= 0 current ask $6.00
Picked on July xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Femsa Fomento - FMX - close: 87.90 chg: +1.47 stop: 85.85
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL SEP 85.00 FMX-IQ open interest= 0 current ask $7.70
Picked on July xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Ipsco - IPS - close: 92.97 change: +1.18 stop: 88.45
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL SEP 90.00 IPS-IR open interest=2679 current ask $7.60
Picked on July 30 at $ 92.97
Petroleo.Brasiliero - PBR - cls: 92.72 chg: +2.14 stop: 87.49
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL SEP 90.00 PBR-IR open interest=179 current ask $6.60
Picked on July 30 at $ 92.72
Dominion - D - close: 78.60 change: +0.37 stop: 75.75 *new*
Once again shares of D were ignored as investors seemed to focus on the rebound in tech stocks. Shares of Dominion spent Friday's session trading sideways. We remain bullish but the stock does look a little bit short-term overbought so it would not be surprising to see a pull back toward the simple 10-dma near $77.00-77.50. If you're looking for a new entry point consider waiting for a dip near the 10-dma. We are not suggesting new plays at this time. Please note that we are adjusting the stop loss to $75.75. Our target is the $81.00-82.00 range although more conservative types may want to exit near $80.00. Please note that we do not want to hold over D's early August earnings report.
Picked on July 17 at $ 76.05
EOG Resources - EOG - close: 72.06 chg: +1.44 stop: 69.59 *new*
Oil stocks turned in another mixed performance on Friday. Investors weren't sure whether to sell them on the pull back in crude oil to under $74 a barrel or buy them after a string of record earnings reports from the heavy-weights in the oil sector. In EOG's case traders decided to buy the dip near $70. This looks like a new bullish entry point to buy calls however we don't have any time left. We don't want to hold over EOG's earnings report and the company is due to announce on Tuesday morning. It is our plan to exit this play on Monday afternoon at the closing bell. We're raising the stop loss to $69.59, just under Friday's low.
Picked on July 26 at $ 71.01
Goldman Sachs - GS - close: 151.72 chg: +3.46 stop: 144.95 *new*
Financials rallied pretty strongly on Friday and leading the way was the XBD broker-dealer index with a 2.4% gain. Shares of GS followed with a 2.3% gain and a bullish breakout over round-number resistance at the $150.00 mark. We do note that the rally in GS stalled near its simple 100-dma on Friday afternoon but we remain bullish. We're adjusting the stop loss to $144.95. If you're looking for a new entry point consider waiting for a dip toward the $150 level. This action in the brokers looks pretty strong. The XBD broke out above its 50-dma and 200-dma on Friday. Currently we have a $154.00-155.00 target for GS. We're going to adjust our strategy a little bit here and make the $154.00 level our conservative target and set an aggressive target at $157.50. We'd suggest that readers exit a majority of their position at $154 and only keep a small play open for the $157.50 level.
Picked on July 25 at $148.05
The Houston Exp. - THX - cls: 63.52 chg: +0.25 stop: 59.99
The rally in THX continued on Friday although the stock's upward momentum seemed to slow a bit. The stock continues to look like an attractive bullish call candidate given the breakout from its trading range and resistance near $62.50. Yet we are not suggesting new plays at this time. THX is due to report earnings on the morning of August 3rd (Thursday). We do not want to hold over the report so we're planning to exit on Wednesday afternoon at the closing bell. Our target is the $67.50-70.00 range.
Picked on July 25 at $ 62.60
Apollo Group - APOL - close: 47.25 chg: +1.05 stop: 50.05
We were encouraged when APOL failed to respond to the positive earnings news and big, bullish breakout in shares of Strayer Education (STRA) on Thursday. Unfortunately, shares of APOL responded positively to the market's rally on Friday. The stock added 2.2% to rally back towards short-term technical resistance at its descending 10-dma. Thus far the stock has been unable to breakout past the 10-dma over the past few weeks but if the markets continue to rally higher next week we'd expect APOL to follow suit since shares look short-term oversold. We are not suggesting new put plays at this time. While we are going to leave our stop loss at $50.05 more conservative traders may want to adjust theirs toward the $48.50-48.25 region to reduce their risk. The 10-dma is near $47.55. Our target is the $45.50-45.00 range. The Point & Figure chart remains very bearish with a projected $36 target.
Picked on July 09 at $ 49.92
Chicago Merc. - CME - close: 453.50 change: + 8.16 stop: n/a
Friday's market rally produced a bounce in CME. The three-week pattern still looks bearish but some of the short-term technical oscillators are suggesting that CME wants to bounce higher. We are not suggesting new bearish put positions but aggressive traders might consider a failed rally under $460 as a new entry point. The bigger picture shows CME with a bearish double-top pattern formed over the last four months. The P&F chart points to a $408 target. We are targeting a drop into the $420-400 range although at the moment we're thinking about an exit at the rising 200-dma near 420.50. This was a high-risk, speculative play and the post-earnings reaction wasn't what we expected it to be. There are only three weeks left before August options expire.
Picked on July 23 at $452.00
Itron - ITRI - close: 51.58 chg: +1.37 stop: 52.55
ITRI is a new play from our Thursday night newsletter. We do not see any changes from our new play description so we're reposting it here:
We didn't see anything negative about ITRI's latest earnings report. If anything the news was pretty positive yet investors chose to sell the news. The reaction to its earnings pushed ITRI to resistance at $56.00 Thursday morning but then the stock reversed. This is the third failed rally/bearish reversal at $56 in the last several days and the ensuing sell-off pushed shares of ITRI under technical support at the 200-dma and toward round-number support at $50. Volume was naturally way above the norm. We find it noteworthy that ITRI's Point & Figure chart shows multiple failed rallies at its descending trendline of resistance and Thursday's sell-off produced a new sell signal. We are suggesting that readers use a trigger at $49.75 to open put positions. Aggressive traders may want to jump in early around $49.95. More conservative types may want to wait for a decline under $49.50 just to make sure. Our target is the $45.10-45.00 range.
BUY PUT AUG 55.00 IUP-TK open interest=271 current ask $4.80
BUY PUT SEP 55.00 IUP-UK open interest= 90 current ask $5.90
Picked on July xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Manpower Inc. - MAN - close: 60.39 chg: +1.27 stop: 62.25
Once again we're faced with the prospect that MAN looks poised to bounce higher. The two-month pattern is bearish with its failed rallies, lower highs and lower lows. Yet short-term the stock looks ready to rebound toward the $62.00-62.50 region and the MACD on the daily chart is hinting at a new buy signal soon. We are not suggesting new put positions at this time. More conservative traders may want to consider tightening their stops toward $61 (last week's high) or just exit early altogether. Currently our target is the $55.50-55.00 range. We suspect that the simple 200-dma near $55.00 will offer technical support. FYI: The P&F chart points to a $48 target.
Picked on July 20 at $ 59.42
Union Pacific - UNP - close: 85.22 chg: +1.45 stop: 86.26*new*
We strongly considered abandoning this play in UNP. The railroad index added 2.2% on Friday and the Dow Jones transportation index added 2.5%. While both moves look like oversold bounces in the current down trend the bounce may not be over yet. UNP is also still in its bearish trend of lower highs and lower lows. Yet short-term UNP may have put in a bottom. The stock has bounced twice from the $82 level and Friday's gain put UNP back above resistance at $85.00, its 10-dma and its 200-dma. The MACD on the daily chart is hinting at a new buy signal soon. More conservative traders should definitely consider an early exit here. We're going to lower our stop loss to $86.26. We would keep an eye on UNP's 50-dma overhead near $89. A failed rally near the 50-dma could be used as a new entry point to buy puts. Our target is the $80.10-77.65 range.
Picked on July 21 at $ 83.75
(What is a strangle? It's when a trader buys an out-of-the-money (OTM) call and an OTM put on the same stock. The strategy is neutral. You do not care what direction the stock moves as long as the move is big enough to make your investment profitable.)
Bausch Lomb - BOL - close: 47.83 change: +0.40 stop: n/a
BOL is still stuck in its trading range and we don't see any upcoming events that will influence a breakout at this time. We still can't find the company's next earnings announcement date. More conservative traders may want to just cut their losses right here. Our estimated cost on the strangle was $2.15. If you could sell today the options would go for about $1.55. We're keeping the play open but bear in mind that August options are due to expire in there weeks. BOL does have a bearish pattern of lower highs on its daily chart. In contrast the P&F chart is bullish and points higher so the stock really could go either way. Our goal will be to sell if either option rises to $3.25 or more. The options in our suggested strangle are the August $50 call (BOL-HJ) and the August $45 put (BOL-TI).
Picked on July 23 at $ 47.40
L-3 Comm. - LLL - close: 74.55 chg: +0.76 stop: n/a
The market rally on Friday helped LLL produce a bounce following Thursday's earnings-produced sell-off. Unfortunately for us the reaction to earnings was not as big as expected. There are a lot of signals suggesting that LLL's next move will be down but we suspect that the stock could go either direction. Our problem now is time. We only have three weeks left before August options expire and the time premium is going to begin decaying at a much faster rate. We are not suggesting new strangle positions at this time. Our estimated cost for the strangle was $1.35. We will plan to sell if either option rises to $2.25 or more. The options in our LLL strangle are the August $80 call (LLL-HP) and the August $70 put (LLL-TN).
Picked on July 23 at $ 75.26
3M Co. - MMM - close: 70.52 change: +0.77 stop: n/a
MMM is still trying to bounce but it's anyone's guess where the stock is headed next. The P&F chart has produced a really big sell signal and currently points to a $48 target. Yet the weekly chart for MMM has produced a "hammer" style candlestick pattern, which is normally seen as a bullish reversal when produced after any type of pull back. We don't care what direction MMM goes as long as it gets there quickly. There are only three weeks left before August options expire. Due to our time crunch we're not suggesting new plays at this time. Our estimated cost was $0.75. We are planning to exit if either options rises to $1.50 or more. The options in our strangle are the August 65 put (MMM-TM) and the August 75 call (MMM-HO).
Picked on July 23 at $ 70.72
Phelps Dodge - PD - close: 81.50 change: +3.42 stop: n/a
We're starting to see some movement in shares of PD. The stock added 4.3% on Friday and broke out past the $80 level and its simple 50-dma. The move appears to be fueled by developments in its merger with Inco. On Friday Inco announced that its bid to buy Falconbridge had failed and now the company (Inco) would focus on its merger with PD. Yet even the deal with PD is not problem free. There is also another bid to buy Inco from a Canadian mining company and some analysts believe that a bidding war could erupt over Inco and other companies may become involved. We are not suggesting new strangle plays in PD and traders should note that we only have three weeks left before August options expire. Our estimated cost for the strangle was at $2.15. We're planning to sell if either option rises to $3.15 or more. The options in our strangle are the August $85 call (DPB-HQ) and the August $70 put (PT-TN).
Picked on July 23 at $ 77.20
General Dynamics - GD - cls: 67.26 chg: -0.86 stop: 67.45
The rally in the defense stocks has stalled and shares of GD look poised to breakdown from its two-month bullish up trend. A drop under $66 or its 50-dma might be used as a bearish entry point. Another decline would suggest that the action over the last few months has produced a big, bearish double-top pattern. It was our plan to buy calls on a breakout over resistance at $70.00. Our trigger to open plays was at $70.05 but GD never hit our trigger so we're dropping it as a candidate.
Picked on July xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
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