A trader interviewed on CNBC on Friday described the current rally as the Perfect Calm as opposed to the Perfect Storm analogy sometimes used to describe market sell offs. He characterized the perfect calm as a slow growing economy, increasingly tame inflation, earnings on track, energy prices easing and geopolitical concerns fading. In the face of this calm period stocks are moving steadily higher although with a distinct lack of exuberance. This reminds me of a famous Art Cashin quote regarding a lackluster market, "Ships can still sink in calm seas." Whatever your choice of analogies the facts are still the same. Several indexes continue to set new highs led by the Dow and S&P with the laggard Nasdaq now only -18 points from joining them with a new multiyear high at 2376. The laggard indexes, those that had been showing weakness while the Dow was sprinting higher, are finally catching up. If you look at the graphic above you will notice that the SOX rallied +4.42% for the week to lead the major indexes with the Russell jumping +3.09% and the Nasdaq +2.49%. This compares to the Dow and S&P stalling with less than a +1% gain. This sudden surge by chips, small caps and techs shows a broadening of the rally and an expansion of the support base. If this rally holds up through the very heavy earnings week ahead we could see some excitement build but let's not count our profits just yet. Becoming
Dow Chart - Weekly
SPX Chart - Weekly
Nasdaq Chart - Weekly
Dow Transport Chart - Weekly
The economic reports on Friday continued in slow growth mode despite some surprising headline numbers. The Retail Sales for September surprised everyone with a headline drop of -0.4% with everyone expecting a much stronger number. The entire drop was due to a huge -9.3% drop in sales at gasoline stations. With gas about -70 cents per gallon below the same period in August the total dollars spent for gasoline dropped significantly. Removing autos and gasoline from the number pushed sales up by +0.8% overall with apparel leading the rebound with a +3.0% jump. Food, and department stores surged more than +1% as consumers took their gasoline savings out to eat and shop.
Confirming the relief consumers were feeling in cheaper gasoline prices the Consumer Sentiment for October surged to 92.3 from 85.4 in September. Amazing what a -70 cent drop in gasoline prices can do. The present conditions component spiked nearly +10 points to 106.1 from 96.6 and the expectations component rose to 83.4 from 78.2. The present conditions component is now at levels not seen since April but the expectations component is at levels not seen since July of last year. Inflation expectations fell to 2.9% from 3.1% in September. It appears the Fed's outlook is finally trickling down to consumers.
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The housing market slump appears to be fading from consumer views but not from homebuilder outlooks. Centex cut its profit outlook by nearly half for the quarter due to record cancellations of home sales contracts. On July 24th they had predicted earnings of $1.40 per share but those estimates were slashed to 65-75 cents today. They said they experienced record cancellations due primarily to the inability of homebuyers to resell their current homes. The existing home market in many areas had fallen to nearly a standstill over the summer. Also, much of the drop in Centex profits was related to $85-$95 million of walk-away costs for land deposits. Builders typically option land for future expansion and can walk away from these option deposits if the market turns cold before they make the actual purchase sometimes years later.
The economic calendar for next week has several crucial reports including the PPI, CPI and the Philly Fed Survey. You may remember the Philly Fed imploded last month from a headline number of 18.5 to a negative -0.4 suggesting a sudden and sharp contraction in the Philadelphia region for the first time since April 2003. At the time the markets reacted sharply with a 3-day dip, the last real dip in the current rally. In the days following the Philly drop numerous analysts suggested the numbers could have been in error and expected them to be revised with this months report. If that is the case and the Philly Survey does rebound to its prior levels it would relieve considerable concern about a hard landing. It should not impact the Fed's outlook but let's not forget that they meet again six trading days from now.
The earnings week got off to a rocky start with a mix of results. Alcoa, Legg Mason, Lazy Boy and Monsanto led a list of companies with disappointing results but the markets managed to hold on to their gains. GE, the largest Dow/S&P company, posted inline results on Friday and had decent comments about the strength of the economy. GE is normally seen as a proxy for the economy since its operations touch so many different business sectors. Unfortunately there were some cracks in the GE report. The headline number of +49 cents was "officially" inline with estimates but there was a penny gain due to a favorable tax rate. That means they actually missed by a penny but nobody seemed to care. They also "raised" their estimates for the current quarter but only raised them to the lower end of current analyst expectations. GE said they expect earnings of 62-64 cents for Q4 and analysts were already expecting 64 cents. GE dropped back to $35.50 on the news but recovered to lose only -24 cents for the day at $35.98. GE had been on a strong run, at least for GE, from $32 in July to $36.48 last week. It is hard for me to get excited about a +4.50 move over four months especially since it has been a very lopsided market for big caps over that period.
For next week the earnings will flow faster than a proverbial Texas gusher. The big techs will lead the list but there are plenty of others stepping up to the plate. This is still not the heaviest week of the season with that honor falling to the week of Oct-22nd. However we do have some critical reports ahead. Intel and IBM will be the key to the week on Tuesday with YHOO, EBAY and GOOG spread out through the week. By the end of this week we should have a much better outlook for Q4 guidance and that is of course the key for the market for Q4. So far the earnings guidance has been pretty mixed for this cycle and traders may be going out on a limb here until that guidance picture becomes clearer next week. The table below is just a representative sample of those earnings just ahead. To date 42 S&P companies have reported, 30 beat, 7 inline and 5 missed.
The strong sprint by the Dow on Thursday brought the remaining bulls out of hiding and predictions were flying fast. However, some of them were significantly less bullish than others. Morgan Stanley raised its target for the S&P for year-end 2006 to 1375. Yes, 1375, only 9+ points above its Friday's close. Could it be that they feel the rally needs to rest? They also raised their target for 2007 to 1475. That would be a +7% gain for the year from the current level.
Peter Canelo was much more bullish predicting Dow 12500 by year-end and 14500 in 2007. That is the kind of forecast that warms bullish hearts. He felt slowing inflation, continued economic growth bolstered by falling energy prices and a Fed on the sidelines was the perfect recipe for continued market success. It is very hard to find anyone today that has a bearish view and that alone should worry us. The S&P is up +15.7% over the last 52-weeks and that is twice what Morgan Stanley is predicting for 2007. Dow 12000 has taken on an almost cult like following with CNBC posting the distance from 12000 every 30 seconds on their random quote ticker. It has been a long time since a new milestone followed by three zeros has fallen. It has been more than six years since a triple-zero benchmark has been reached. It seems like a sure thing that traders will at least tag the 12000 level next week but it may take some strong earnings news to produce a close above that level. Most global markets have not recovered from the May commodity implosion that took some down more than -25%. There are a few analysts worried that a Dow over 12000 could restart bubble fears on the global stage. That remains to be seen but there are also those that believe a close over 12000 could spark a global rebound as the bullish sentiment becomes infectious.
Dow Benchmark Levels
We have some critical economics next week and some critical earnings but eyes will also be warily watching the Fedspeak ahead of the Oct-24th FOMC meeting. On Friday Chicago Fed President Michael Moskow kept restating his hawkish views with these comments. "Some additional firming of policy may yet be necessary to bring inflation back to a range consistent with price stability in a reasonable period of time. My current assessment is that the risk of inflation remaining too high is greater than the risk of growth being too low." And, "Looking ahead, it's likely that core inflation will come down somewhat over time. Still, there is a risk that core inflation could run above 2 percent for some time, and in turn, lead to high inflation expectations." Inflation has been above Moskow's acceptable range for 29 months. Several Fed officials have expressed this fear that inflation has just paused and not necessarily abated, five if I counted correctly and suggests there is still a chance the Fed could jump back into the picture if economics suddenly turn higher. They will want to make sure inflation continues to decline and not sprint higher after catching a breath. Without high energy prices to help fuel the gains it is likely inflation will continue to cool. It is doubtful the Fed will make any move only a few days before the elections.
There is another support plank in the market according to some. That is the coming election cycle. Right or wrong there are plenty of traders who feel the markets are being supported by those hoping to use the market and economy as platform planks against their opponents. Granted with scandals over pages and the Iraq quagmire those currently in office need something to point to in order to distract voters. An exploding stock market, a +800,000 upward revision to jobs numbers and the prospect of $2 gasoline make excellent sound bites for sagging campaigns. AAA claims the current national average for gasoline today is $2.26. While I do not believe the theory that any party in power actually influences the markets with dollars or by leaning on fund managers there is a remarkable history of rising markets ahead of elections. There are various reasons for this phenomenon and we don't have to believe in it to profit from it. We have not had a down pre-presidential election year (2007) since 1939.
Next week is also option expiration week and the gains we saw this week could have been option related. In recent years the volatility related to option expiration has been seen mostly in the week before OpEx rather than during OpEx week. Next week could be volatile but without any material gains or losses as those remaining option positions head for oblivion. Those holding quickly expiring October calls in hopes of some blowout tech earnings next week could find themselves holding some worthless positions if IBM or Intel stumble on Tuesday. This could cause a rush to the option exit and some additional volatility. Given the length of the rally and the recent strength there are quite a few calls outstanding and the liquidation of those calls could have a negative impact on any gains for the week.
On the positive side we heard today that 75% of funds are not performing alongside the market averages. Apparently quite a few were late exiting energy positions and overly cautious about jumping back into positions ahead of the normal Sept/Oct decline. When that decline never appeared they were forced to chase stocks and that is a major factor for our current rally. Funds specializing in small caps and techs were specific laggards but there were also laggards in the big cap arena. That may be hard to believe given the Dow's performance but as we know it is all in what stocks you pick not what the Dow does. Some of the blue chips faired worse than others while those with strong gains continued to sprint higher. Ironically Charles Biderman of TrimTabs.com said this week that cash held by funds had risen to 4.2% and the highest level in more than two years. The only higher level was Nov-2004 when cash topped 4.5%. While this may seem contrary to common sense Biderman pointed out that while the S&P rose +3% in August individual investors took $4 billion out of stock mutual funds. Funds seeing the cash flight went on a selling spree and ended the month with $13 billion less in stock investments than they had when the month started. This despite a +3% gain in the S&P. Biderman said this current high level of cash was a very bullish contrarian indicator suggesting the markets could add another +10% by year-end as funds chase performance. You have the January effect and the heavy wave of retirement contributions over the next 90 days as additional fuel for equities. According to Biderman the average S&P gain for Q4 over the last 18 years has been +6.448%. Funds must put that cash to work or be faced with reporting sub par results in their critical year-end statements. The head of the Graham and Dodd Fund, David Rosen, shares Biderman's view saying he expects another +4%-5% before year-end. His favorite sector is the beaten down energy sector with TSO, COP and OXY his favorite stocks.
Crude Oil Chart - Weekly
Energy prices have yet to rebound but we are seeing quite a bit of volatility above current support around $58. OPEC is still floating their trial balloons but it appears they will actually cut 1-mbpd of actual production rather than quota and that should keep prices above $55 until the actual cuts start decreasing supplies on Nov-1st. News after the bell from Venezuela was quoting a Dec-1st start date not Nov-1st as had been previously mentioned. Qatar offered to host a meeting on Oct-20th to firm up the cuts. We are seeing some other supply problems with 280,000 bpd going offline for the next two weeks in Norway, 200,000 bpd offline due to a pipeline problem in Canada and 350,000 bpd or more offline in Alaska due to storms and flooding. Nigeria is seeing more violence but additional production drops have been small. Boone Pickens was making the news circuit again on Thursday with predictions of $70 before $50 and $100 by next July or possibly earlier if the problem with Iran develops into a confrontation. He also expects $10 natural gas this winter with the qualification of only "if we have a winter." Forecasters are predicting a much warmer winter than normal but those same forecasters also predicted a much stronger hurricane season that never appeared. Tell those people in Buffalo New York that winter will be warmer as they dig out from the two feet of snow from Thursday. Natural gas in storage rose to another record high at 3,389 bcf this week despite the smaller than expected injection of +62 bcf. The colder weather across the country slowed the injection rate but storage locations reaching capacity also were a factor. The injection numbers were for the week ended Oct-6th leaving us three more weeks before the official start of the winter heating season. It is a very good chance we will hit maximum capacity for the first time ever for natural gas storage at 3,608 bcf according to EIA projections. The western producing region actually went +9 bcf over maximum EIA capacity projections this week illustrating the current storage problem. We saw more companies shut in production rather than fight the storage battle and sell for lower prices.
Nasdaq Chart - 180 min
SOX Chart - Weekly
SOX chart - 90 min
For next week the indexes face some substantial resistance highlighted by the Nasdaq top in May at 2375. The Nasdaq has rebounded +350 points from the 2012 low seen in July or a +17% gain in three months. The current resistance for the Nasdaq is 2375 and that should be tough to break before the Intel and IBM earnings on Tuesday. There are about a dozen chip stocks announcing this week and quite a few chips have already warned. Without a continued SOX rally the Nasdaq will have a tough time moving higher. The SOX continued its choppy two-week rebound to 471 and is approaching strong resistance at 475. The Russell 2000 is also helping support the Nasdaq with a +26 point rebound off the week's lows as fund managers chase performance.
Intel Chart - Daily
The Dow closed at a new all time high at 11960, +110 for the week but still less than a +1% gain. Were it not for the +95 point gain on Thursday it would have been a pitiful week. That market sprint on Thursday was described by some as an asset allocation program by a major fund assisted by short covering as bearish stops were hit. The Dow had been perfectly flat for five consecutive days while investors waited for earnings to begin and the FOMC minutes and Beige Book to signal all clear for the Fed. Now those events are behind us and we are faced with inflation data in the PPI/CPI reports and earnings from tech giants. It should be an interesting week. The Dow is in blue-sky territory and very over extended. The current bull market has run for 940 days without a correction. This is the second longest run since 1950 and the 4th longest since 1900. I am not saying there is a correction in our immediate future but it is out there lurking somewhere in our not too distant future. It would be nice for it to wait until January where funds dump their Q4 positions but we can't always have what we want.
Dow Chart - 180 min
SPX Chart - Weekly
The S&P at 1365 is right at the top of its three year channel and also due for a major pause. Instead of a retracement we have been getting a nice series of pauses for consolidation, each followed by another couple days of gains. No complaints here but this is not normal. There has not been more than a -10 point dip since Sept-22nd. Like the Dow the S&P is due for a rest. I remember several years ago in the fall of 2003 the markets kept climbing despite being severely overbought. Bulls were getting their face time on TV but the bears were the most vocal. They continued to short and the funds continued to buy. It was a perfect setup from the triple bottom in 2002-2003. After that 12-month rally (March-2003, March-2004) the markets went sideways for nearly a year. This is exactly what I fear for 2007 if these gains continue into late December. Of course we will wait to worry about that until we actually reach 2007 but funds and institutional money managers do look that far ahead and plan accordingly. On the flipside we have not had a down pre-presidential election year (2007) since 1939.
Until conditions change we are going to stick with our plan and remain long but I am changing the reversal point to 1345 from 1340. The spike over the last two days took us to 1365 from support just under 1350 and it may hold or maybe not. Either way we want to remain long and/or buy any dips back to 1350. Under 1350 I want to be neutral and below 1345 switch to flat or short. For those who subscribe to the Market Monitor I am running a contest next week to predict the close on the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P for next Friday. There is an individual prize for each index but should you pull a trifecta out of your hat and guess them all it is worth $1000. Be sure to check in on the Monitor on Monday and take our Reader Challenge. Frances Pittman won the Reader Challenge this week with a guess of 11913.50 on for the Friday close on the Dow. She was +100 points higher than the next closest guess and still missed it by 45 points. You don't have to be dead on to win, just closer than anyone else.
I would not be surprised to see the Dow surge to 12000 and ring the bell but then decline to something over 11800 if Intel or IBM stink up the place. I would buy the dip as long as the S&P stays above 1345. I would continue to favor energy stocks rather than those sectors at new highs. OPEC will eventually get their act together and it was reported on Friday that oil imports into China were up +24% in September. Think about that number. With their GDP rising at better than a +10% rate despite attempts to slow it down their requirement for oil is off the charts. This is going to continue to grow until it is more than OPEC can produce. The Discovery channel ran a program last week about China growth and said they are using 75% of the worlds cement and 50% of the global output of steel. The program said at the current rate of growth it would take the oil output from two additional Saudi Arabia size countries (9-mbpd each) to satisfy demand by 2020. At the same rate of growth it would take another planet to supply all the raw materials China will need by 2030. Obviously China's growth will slow due to rising commodity prices well before then but you get the picture. The rising cost of oil and cement due to demand from China is causing havoc in the US. Consider Tampa International Airport with bids to rebuild two taxiways. Oil based asphalt budgeted at $103.50 a ton came in at $315.35. The Econocrete base budgeted at $18 a yard came in at $46.50. Portland cement jumped from $85.47 to $107.37. Stick with energy as we head towards the end of October and I think you will be pleased when January rolls around. Long-term demand will continue to grow but reserves are falling. It is simple math for those willing to do the research.
Play Editor's note: We are adding more than one new call play in the oil sector. We would suggest against playing them all and only choose the one or two you like the best.
BP Prudhoe Bay - BPT - close: 73.75 chg: +0.95 stop: 72.45
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 70.00 BPT-KN open interest= 67 current ask $4.30
Picked on October xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Devon Energy - DVN - close: 64.72 chg: +1.08 stop: 60.95
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 60.00 DVN-KL open interest=2142 current ask $6.40
Picked on October 15 at $ 64.72
EOG Resources - EOG - close: 64.94 chg: +1.29 stop: 63.95
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 60.00 EOG-KL open interest=1549 current ask $6.80
Picked on October xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Frontier Oil - FTO - close: 28.90 change: +1.10 stop: 25.99
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 25.00 FTO-KE open interest=1357 current ask $4.70
Picked on October 15 at $ 28.90
NCI Building Sys. - NCS - cls: 60.36 chg: +0.61 stop: 57.99
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 60.00 NCS-KL open interest=38 current ask $2.75
Picked on October xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Medco Health Sol. - MHS - cls: 56.10 chg: -1.24 stop: 58.05
Why We Like It:
BUY PUT NOV 60.00 MHS-WL open interest=2280 current ask $4.60
Picked on October 15 at $ 56.10
ConocoPhillips - COP - close: 60.03 chg: +1.22 stop: n/a
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL NOV 65.00 COP-KM open interest=19327 current ask $0.60
Picked on October 15 at $ 60.03
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