The normally ignored ISM Services report for January became a market black hole sucking last week's bullish sentiment right out of the market. The ISM services report suffered a drop equivalent to a 10.0 earthquake when it fell from 54.4 to 41.9 for the lowest reading and the first time in contraction territory in 58 months.
What was under reported was a revision in the way the index was calculated with today the first report using the new methodology. I did not hear a single report in the main street press about the change in methodology. Instead the headline number was shouted from the rooftops and the market imploded on the dramatic drop. The internal components were still ugly with employment falling 8 points to 43.9. New orders fell 10 points to 43.5 and order backlogs falling to 46.0. The drop in these forward-looking indicators suggests there could be further weakness ahead.
There was also another reason for the dramatic drop after the release. The ISM is normally released at 10:AM ET. Today the report was released before the market opened because of a breach in security at ISM. Reportedly an individual receiving the data in error on Monday was asking some questions that ISM thought could lead to a possible breach of information on a larger scale. To avoid the data being leaked to the markets in error they released the ISM in full well before the open. This shocked the markets since traders did not have a chance to close any open positions or put on insurance as they would normally do before the 10:AM release. The futures market imploded leading to the gap down open and triggering the massive sell off.
ISM Services Chart
The ISM Services was really the only economic report of consequence for the day. The weekly chain store sales snapshot showed a rebound of +1.7% but this is just noise. The prior week was a loss of -1.2%. This report is ignored by most traders. The sharp increase in Monday's Challenger layoff report was still being felt. Layoffs nearly doubled to 74,986 workers. While that was nearly double the 44,000 in December it is right inline with the prior four months. This report should not have had any impact on the current market but the harbingers of doom were again shouting from the rooftops that layoffs had doubled.
Wednesday is also a light day for economics with Mortgage Applications, Productivity and Costs and Oil Inventories the only reports on the schedule.
There were a lot of earnings reports but few of any importance. Boston Scientific (BSX) posted a $458 million loss or 31 cents per share as it attempts to digest its acquisition of Guidant. Excluding charges BSX posted a profit of $355 million or 24 cents per share. BSX forecasted sales for Q1 lower than street estimates but profits of 15-20 cents compared to street estimates of 12 cents. BSX only lost -8 cents for the day.
The Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) saw net income fall -35% on lower traffic. Earnings were 22 cents and analysts were expecting 26 cents. Net income for the year fell -9%. The company forecast for Q1 revenue was also below analyst estimates. CAKE blamed the Q4 drop in traffic on bad weather so it appears they have turned into weather forecasters with their warning of lower sales in Q1.
The CME Group (CME) posted profits that nearly doubled thanks to its acquisition of the CBOT and higher volume of trades from the combined entity. Profits soared to $3.75 per share in Q4 and topped analyst estimates of $3.62. The strong profits did not help the stock price with CME losing -$30 for the day. CME also confirmed it is considering an offer of $11.3 billion for the Nymex.
Disney (DIS) beat the street on gains in attendance at its parks and strong sales of the High School Musical DVD. Disney said it saw no signs that the current economic downturn had impacted its sales or theme park bookings. The stock rose about 3% in after hours erasing a -2.3% intraday drop. Disney's comments about not seeing any impact from the downturn also helped boost futures after the close.
Tyco (TYC) posted earnings after the close of 74 cents, excluding items, compared to analyst estimates of 57 cents. It was a very strong quarter for Tyco after it divested its healthcare and electronics businesses. Tyco reaffirmed its guidance, which it just raised in January. Despite the strong results the stock fell -1.20 in after hours trading.
Las Vegas Sands (LVS) posted some lackluster numbers on Monday and dropped -12.85 intraday on Monday to $74.95. Despite Tuesday's horrible market the stock rebounded to hit $93.85 intraday on Friday, nearly a $20 bounce before settling at 88.50 and a +7.45 gain for the day. The bounce came on an upgrade from Morgan Stanley saying the decline in U.S. traffic would be made up by their operations in Macau. 65% of LVS earnings in 2008 will come from casinos outside the U.S. market.
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The big dog for earnings on Wednesday is Cisco. The stage was set on Tuesday with Citigroup cutting estimates and price targets on Cisco to earnings of $1.55 and a target of $28. Pacific Crest wrote that they expect orders will be soft but earnings will be inline. You may remember that CEO John Chambers said last quarter that sales to the financial sector were soft as the big banks cut corners to preserve capital. Orders were being pushed out rather than cancelled and everyone will be looking to see if those orders are still sliding or firmed up by year-end. Many large companies have been postponing capex spending and Chambers is expected to talk about this problem in his guidance. However, overseas sales have pulled Cisco earnings out of the fire several times over the last couple years and some analysts expect that to happen again for Q4. Earnings estimates are for 38 cents and revenue of $9.8 billion. Cisco closed at a new 52-week low ahead of their earnings.
The CEO of Centex (CTX) helped kill the two week homebuilder rally with comments about the continuing bear market in home sales, no end in sight and potential for it to get worse before it gets better. The CEO said this was his 6th cycle in the business and the worst since World War II. The Housing Index lost -3.5% on his comments and the market sell off.
In the continuing bond insurer saga the Wall Street Journal said there were actually several bailout attempts underway at the same time involving multiple players and multiple methods. Most include a new line of credit by the major banks and some equity participation by those banks. Hurdles include a continued reluctance by the current shareholders of the insurers to give up any equity. I view that as a very narrow mindset but I am not privy to the inside details. According to those inside the situation is very fluid. A bailout on Ambac is said to be the farthest along in the process. S&P said late in the day that a failure of the process could result in a downgrade of ratings on multiple banks because of CDO hedges they put in place using guarantees from the insurers. Rating agency Fitch warned today that they "may" cut the ratings on MBIA from the current AAA level. The constant stream of news from the rating agencies is meant to stimulate greater urgency in the bailout meetings. One inside person speaking anonymously said the chances for a successful conclusion were increasing daily. Any announcement of a deal could produce a major rally in the financial sector.
Moody's announced today a change in the way they will rate CDOs and the delay in making the change appears to be due to the amount of profit they were making. In 2006 Moody's derived nearly 50% of its profits from rating CDOs. The profit margin on rating a CDO was nearly three times higher than that of a regular municipal bond rating. They had a huge incentive to continue rating CDOs and no incentive to crack down on the CDO writers who were taking triple BBB subprime paper and magically get a AAA rating. Those CDO writers included JP Morgan, Lehman, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, etc. Ticking them off would have been detrimental to future business for the rating agencies unless they all took a stand at the same time. Unfortunately the profit motive is very strong and nobody wanted to risk making the writers mad or giving up those massive profits. Structured finance was a huge money maker and odds are good the implied conflict of interest of the rating agencies and their profits will eventually come back to haunt them. Regulators are bound to make the connection eventually and see deep pockets that need to be emptied.
The ISM Services number, even flawed as it was by the change in methodology, rekindled recession fears and brought the bears back out of hiding. Fed heads sought to calm the market with random comments. Richmond Fed President Jeffery Lacker said there was a possibility of a mild recession and further easing may be warranted. Lacker said home construction is unlikely to bottom in 2008 and there is further risk that the 10-year housing bubble still has further to unwind. He also warned that inflation both overall and excluding food and energy prices has increased.
Merrill Lynch told clients that there was a strong chance of another intermeeting rate cut. The Fed Funds Futures are now projecting a 168% chance of a 50% cut at the March 18th meeting. The Fed is already in record territory with the sudden rate cuts of 125 points and another intermeeting cut of 50 points would be nearly unthinkable outside of the current crisis.
It was announced today that Bernanke will testify before a Senate panel on Feb-14th regarding the economy and the markets. Bernanke will also give his semi-annual testimony on Feb-27/28th.
Crude Oil Chart - Daily
Crude sank with the market posting a -1.52 loss for the day. This came despite calls from several OPEC members for cuts in production at the March 5th meeting. Iran and Venezuela have already petitioned for a cut so the matter will be considered before the full OPEC body in March. We are also entering a weak demand cycle as winter fades and summer driving has yet to begin. I expect further declines without any news event to bolster prices. Oil closed at $88.50.
The Dow rebounded from 11,645 on Jan-23rd to a high of 12,766 on Feb-1st. This was over 1100 points in only 7-days. The Dow held at that 12700 level for two days before beginning Monday's decline. The Dow lost -370 points on Tuesday returning to nearly 12250 at the close. That was nearly -500 points off the Feb-1st high. The volatility in 2008 has been extremely high with nearly every day a triple digit day. It has been the most opening year volatility ever. Traders are calling this the hardest market to trade in the last 10-years. The VIX hit 36.48 back on Jan-22nd when the SocGen futures sell was tanking the markets. It has been holding just under 30 for the last two weeks and inflating option premiums. The Dow has decent support at 12150-12200 and odds are very good we will test that at the open on Wednesday. This could be seen as a successful retracement of the January gains. The bottom is about 550 points below 12200 but technicians are saying they do not expect a complete retest of all the gains.
DDow Chart - 60 Min
S&P-500 Chart - 60 Min
The S&P lost 58 points since Friday's close and that was the worst 2-day loss in 5-years. The S&P is down -8.9% for the year and according to S&P that is the worst year-to-date decline in the history of the index topping the 7.95% drop in 1939. The S&P closed at 1337 and has decent support at 1335 and the Jan-25th low. If the S&P holds this level it would also be seen as a successful retest. The 2-day lows from January were right at 1275. A retest there would involve significantly more pain. One technical factor that deserves a mention is the 50% close on the S&P. The close at 1337 is almost exactly a 50% tracement of the gains made from the January lows. A 50% retracement is sometimes a launch point for a continued rebound.
TTThe Nasdaq failed to rally as high as the Dow and S&P and has already declined back to initial support just over 2300. The Cisco earnings will have a large bearing on Nasdaq performance but they won't be announced until after the close on Wednesday. A quick review of the Nasdaq majors shows most of them at support or very near it and a break of 2300 would only occur if those major stocks suffered significant breaks of their own. The big cap Nasdaq 100 closed at a new 52-week low at 1775. It has traded below that level twice in January but never closed there. 1700 would be the intraday support low.
Nasdaq Chart - 60 Min
Russell-2000 Chart - 90 Min
On Sunday I suggested using the Russell-2000 as our benchmark index for the
week. The Russell had outstripped the big cap indexes with its gains over the
prior week. With the Russell closing at resistance of 730 I suggested entering
longs over 732. That did not happen and we declined from the open on Monday. I
suggested buying a dip to 715 and remaining flat or short under 715. Since the
Russell gapped down to 711 at the open today that short or flat under 715
apply. I discussed that 685 was the next serious support
level but I did not expect it to occur. After looking at the chart again today I
still do not expect that 685 level to be broken. The Russell ran ahead of the
other indexes and then lagged on today's decline. As long as that 685 level is
not broken my market bias is still positive. br>
At this point I believe we are setting up for a retest of some sort of the January lows. How extensive that retest will be is anybody's guess. I would still be a buyer of a bounce from Russell 685 but I believe we need to wait for the market to steady before making any move. The triple digit reversals in both directions are making it an impossible task to buy and hold anything. Eventually this will calm and the markets will begin to trend once again. You may remember the markets last summer when we were topping and changed directions almost daily. That same process can happen as we try to find a bottom. Once that bottom is behind us the resulting rally could be very long and strong. Rallies out of recessions, real or imagined, tend to run for double digits and for many months. We just need to be ready when it finally comes. Letting the market subtract money from our account every time we try and buy a dip reduces our available investment cash once a real rebound appears. Be patient and let's watch the gyrations from the safety of cash. We can still play the dips and spikes with a token amount of money but keep your Scrooge McDuck fortunes locked safely in reserve for the eventual charge higher. There will be plenty of time to hop on the train as it leaves the station. There is always the chance that this could turn into a full-blown recession and this market dance at these levels is just the prelude to a much larger drop. Until we know for sure we need to be cautious about loading up with longs until it is clear the bottom is behind us.
Every couple years we poll the subscriber base to see if we are doing our jobs correctly. It is that time again and I would really appreciate if everyone would spend a couple minutes to give us your opinions. No identifying information is collected so you can be frank and open with your answers. We really want to know what we could do to improve the newsletters value to you. It should take less than 5 min to complete and your answers will be valuable for us.
Thank you in advance for your participation. br>
Play Editor's Note: I'm not adding any new plays tonight but came close to adding NIHD as a new put. The trend of lower highs and lower lows is still in affect. I'm also watching FLR for a dip near $108 (January lows) or $104 (August 2007 lows) as a potential bullish entry point.
Allegheny Tech. - ATI - cls: 72.18 chg: -1.35 stop: 68.65
Unfortunately, we were caught on a spike higher Monday morning in ATI. The first thing Monday morning ATI spiked to $75.17 before shares quickly reversed trading back under resistance at $75.00. We had suggested an entry point to buy calls at $75.11. So the play is open. If you did not open positions on Monday morning then we would look for a dip into the $71.00-70.00 zone, which was our alternative entry point to buy calls. ATI should have short-term support near $70.00 and its 10-dma near $69.75. Our short-term target is the $79.75-80.00 range or the 50-dma, whichever is hit first. The P&F chart for ATI looks very bullish with an $87 target.
Picked on February 04 at $ 75.11 *triggered
General Cable - BGC - cls: 58.31 change: -2.03 stop: 54.95
Shares of BGC slipped 3.3% today but the stock stopped short of hitting our suggested entry point in the $57.75-57.00 zone. If the major indices see any follow through lower tomorrow morning then odds are good that BGC will hit our entry point to buy calls. We would try and be patient and wait for the dip near $57.00 or BGC's 10-dma near $56.60. If triggered our target is the $64.50-65.00 range or the 50-dma, whichever comes first. The Point & Figure chart is very bullish with a $73 target.
Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Centex - CTX - close: 25.59 change: -1.08 stop: 24.99
As we expected the homebuilders hit some profit taking this week. CTX slipped into our suggested entry point to buy calls on Monday, which was the $27.00-26.00 range. Unfortunately, the market's sharp sell-off today pushed CTX even lower. Not helping were bearish comments from CTX's CEO today. Management said that there is still no end in sight for the current housing slump and that this would be the biggest and deepest housing slow down since World War II. CTX "should" have support near $25.00 bolstered by a cloud of moving averages under the $25 level but our stop loss is very close at $24.99 and it wouldn't take much for CTX to dip under $25 and stop us out. More aggressive traders may want to adjust their stops lower toward $24.75 or $24.50. We're going to inch our stop loss down 10 cents to $24.89. Our short-term target is the $32.00-32.50 zone. We're also adding a second target in the $34.75-35.00 range but we do expect the 200-dma to act as resistance. The Point & Figure chart is very bullish with a $51 target. FYI: The numbers may not be up to date but the most recent data put short interest at 18% of CTX's 121 million-share float. That raises the odds of a short squeeze.
Picked on February 04 at $ 27.00 *triggered
Mosaic - MOS - close: 92.69 change: -5.76 stop: 88.99
Shares of MOS continue to be very volatile. The stock rallied about $5.00 on Monday and hit our trigger to buy calls at $95.51 opening the play. Shares then spiked to $100.90 this morning before reversing course and giving back almost 6%. MOS traded in an $8.79 range today. At this point we would wait and watch for a bounce near $90 as a new bullish entry point. Our target is the $108.00-110.00 range.
Picked on February 04 at $ 95.51 *triggered
Petroleo Brasileiro - PBR - cls: 106.47 chg: -7.42 stop: 105.85
Foreign stocks traded sharply lower in a knee-jerk reaction to the U.S. ISM services report today. PBR lost 6.5% and is testing technical support near its 50-dma and price support near $105. Aggressive traders might want to consider buying a bounce from $105. We are going to wait. Our suggested entry point to buy calls was $116.00, which has not been hit yet. We're going to wait and see if PBR can trade near $100 and then consider bullish positions there. We will be watching the $102-100 zone closely. Currently our trigger to buy calls at $116 remains in play. Our target is the $128.00-130.00 range. A move over $116 would produce a new Point & Figure chart buy signal. FYI: Another risk is PBR's earnings report. We can't find an earnings date and they normally report in mid February. That is a risk because we do not like to hold over an earnings report.
Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
United States Oil Fund - USO - cls: 70.15 chg: -1.22 stop: 68.59
Another round of recession fears sent crude oil futures lower. The USO dipped to $69.43 before bouncing back above $70 and its 100-dma. We would probably wait for a rebound back above $71 before considering new bullish positions. More conservative traders may want to tighten their stops toward today's low. We do want to point out that many of the short-term technical oscillators have turned bearish. You may want to reconsider a tighter stop! Our short-term target is the $74.50-75.00 range. More aggressive traders could easily aim for the $77.50-79.00 region.
Picked on January 24 at $ 70.93
Ambac Fincl. - ABK - cls: 11.39 change: -0.00 stop: n/a
Enthusiasm for a bond insurer bailout seems to have fizzled from last week. ABK is back to testing the $10 level. Today's news certainly didn't help the bulls with Fitch warning again that they're putting the bond insurers on a "negative" credit watch with a likely downgrade to come. CNBC actually had a decent piece this morning discussing how the rating agencies were slow to downgrade the bond insurers because the ratings companies made so much money by granting their triple AAA rating to the bond insurers. Definitely sounds like a conflict of interest there. We do not have a stop loss on this play. It was a lottery-ticket strategy. However, if you want to use a stop consider a stop loss above $15.50 or above the $16.50-17.00 region. Of course if ABK rallies that sharply these deep out of the money puts won't be worth much. ABK looks like it has resistance at $15.50, 16.50, and then $20.00. We are not suggesting new positions at this time. Our target was a decline towards $5.00 or less. FYI: Most of the credit rating agencies have hinted that they're willing to hold off a couple of weeks before downgrading these companies. It could be a very volatile couple of weeks.
Picked on January 27 at $ 11.54
MBIA Inc. - MBI - close: 14.90 change: -0.49 stop: n/a
The hope-fueled bailout rebound in MBI has stalled. Ratings agencies are once again warning that they will downgrade the bond insurers. MBI has pulled back to the $15 level. We don't see any changes from our previous comments (or comments in the ABK play). We do not have a stop loss since this was a lottery-ticket style of play but if you wanted to play one consider putting your stop above resistance near $17.50 or above $18.00. We are not suggesting new put positions. We were aiming for a decline to $5.00 or less. FYI: Most of the credit rating agencies have hinted that they're willing to hold off a couple of weeks before downgrading these companies. It could be a very volatile couple of weeks.
Picked on January 27 at $ 14.20
(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.)
DJIA 1/100 Index - $DJX - cls: 122.65 chg: -3.70 stop: n/a
Wow! In just two days the $DJX has moved from one extreme to the other. Now the index is resting near the put side of our strangle at $122. We have less than two weeks left before February options expire. We are not suggesting new strangle positions at this time. The options we suggested were the February $127 calls (DJW-BW) and the February $122 puts (DJW-NR). Our estimated cost was $3.36. We want to sell if either option hits $4.85 or more.
Picked on January 29 at $124.80
Google - GOOG - close: 506.80 chg: +11.37 stop: n/a
The time premium on these February GOOG options is evaporating very fast! The February $500 put (GOP-NO) should have hit our target today at $27.00. When shares of GOOG traded down to $488.52 this morning the GOP-NO put only hit $21.70. GOOG's bounce back this afternoon left the put trading near $11. If the market continues lower then GOOG might trade to its August 2007 low of $480 but we would not count on it. We need to be defensive here. At this point we would start taking money off the table every time the February $500 put starts trading near $20.00. We do have just under two weeks left and GOOG can still see some huge moves between now and February expiration but it's probably going to be a gut-churning two weeks. We are not suggesting new positions. The options we suggested were the February $600 calls (GOO-BT) and the February $500 puts (GOP-NO). Our estimated cost is $17.00. We want to sell if either option hits $27.00 or more.
Picked on January 30 at $548.27
DIAMONDS Trust - DIA - close: 122.96 chg: -3.07 stop: 123.99
The market's reaction to the ISM report today sent the DIA gapping lower. The ETF actually opened at $124.69 and never traded above $124.88 today. Our suggested entry point was the $125.50-125.00 zone so DIA jumped right past it. We are dropping DIA as a bullish candidate for now but more aggressive traders might want to consider buying a bounce from the $122 level or the $120 level.
Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx *never opened
Foster Wheeler - FWLT - cls: 66.19 change: -4.32 stop: 66.49
On Monday S&P raised their credit outlook on FWLT to "positive" but the news failed to lift the share price of FWLT. Today was a another rough day for the bulls. The volatile shares of FWLT lost almost 6.2% and broke through multiple levels of short-term support. The stock hit our stop loss at $66.49 closing the play. FWLT might bounce at $65.00 but if the market continues to sink we would look for potential entry points near $60 or its rising 200-dma.
Picked on February 03 at $ 71.80
Shaw Group - SGR - cls: 54.30 chg: -3.06 stop: 54.85
Investor reaction to the ISM report today was very bearish. SGR gapped open lower at $56.00 and dipped toward its 200-dma near $54.00. One of our suggested entry points to buy calls was at $56.00 so the play would have been opened at the first trade today. Unfortunately, SGR quickly pierced the $55.00 level and hit our stop loss at $54.85 closing the play just as quickly.
Picked on February 05 at $ 56.00 *triggered /stopped 54.85
Polo Ralph Lauren - RL - cls: 57.46 chg: -3.00 stop: 62.55
Time is up. It was our plan to exit today at the closing bell to avoid holding over RL's earnings report tomorrow morning. Wall Street expects RL to report a profit of 77 cents a share.
Picked on January 27 at $ 59.19
Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.
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