Market reporters are running around in circles with more news than they can report and it is tough to cut down the numerous critical events into a dozen paragraphs. The Fed is in the news every day and we have a new company in the crisis spotlight every morning. Earnings warnings are beginning to fly with the tech sector a highlight. The last week has been a 100-year market event and something you can tell your kids about.
Dow Chart - Weekly
The Consumer Price Index for August was released this morning and was almost lost amid the high profile news events. The headline inflation actually decreased slightly to +5.4% while core inflation remained level at +2.5%. To say inflation had peaked would be premature but it clearly has stalled after oil prices collapsed. The CPI energy component fell by -3.1% but is still up +27.2% over the last twelve months. Gasoline prices fell by -4.2% but are still up +35.6% for the year. The CPI declined in all census regions with the largest decline in the west where the CPI fell -0.5% from July levels. Food prices also appear to have peaked thanks to lower energy prices.
Consumer Price Index Chart
The NAHB Housing Market Index jumped sharply in early September to 18 from 16 in August. The northeast region spiked from 16 to 22 for the biggest gain. Builder sentiment for the next six months rose sharply to 30 from 24. Potential buyer traffic rose for the second consecutive month. Analysts are cautiously saying it appears the demand slump for housing has bottomed. Rates are falling and foreclosures are easing. Buyers who were waiting for a bottom are starting to make offers.
The big economic event of the day was of course the Fed meeting. The FOMC left the interest rates flat at 2.0% with no change in rates. The statement cited the recent turmoil in financial markets and the ongoing slowing of economic growth. The Fed stunned watchers by again saying inflation was a significant concern and did not change the bias toward lower rates. However, the vote to hold rates steady was unanimous with Richard Fisher changing from his hawkish stance of past meetings. The Fed did give a nod to the critical events of late. Here is the entire statement.
Strains in financial markets have increased significantly and labor markets have weakened further. Economic growth appears to have slowed recently, partly reflecting a softening of household spending. Tight credit conditions, the ongoing housing contraction, and some slowing in export growth are likely to weigh on economic growth over the next few quarters. Over time, the substantial easing of monetary policy, combined with ongoing measures to foster market liquidity, should help to promote moderate economic growth.
Inflation has been high, spurred by the earlier increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities. The Committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year, but the inflation outlook remains highly uncertain.
The downside risks to growth and the upside risks to inflation are both of significant concern to the Committee. The Committee will monitor economic and financial developments carefully and will act as needed to promote sustainable economic growth and price stability.
The last paragraph is the action statement where they show a neutral bias rather than favoring one problem over another. Without a rate change traders wanted a bias change to highlight concerns over growth. That would be the first step towards a future rate cut.
Basically the entire statement was neutral. It did not contain any language that suggested the Fed was either more concerned or less concerned about current conditions. Talking about strains in the market is just a statement of obvious fact. They could have written a book on their efforts to mitigate the problems over the last couple weeks.
We know the Fed is working diligently behind the scenes to lessen the problems. The Fed injected liquidity in the market twice on Monday totaling $70 billion. That blunted the spike in real rates but it was not enough bring rates down. They made two more injections totaling $70 billion on Tuesday and the total of $140 billion was finally enough to push real rates down to the Fed target of 2%. Combined injections totaling $140 billion is a massive amount of money in such a short period of time.
By announcing no change in rates the Fed was trying to send a signal that the current financial stress is not an economic problem but a series of individual company problems. Unfortunately some of those companies are the biggest in the world.
Lehman continues to be the second most active news event. The latest chapter in the Lehman saga has Barclay's (BCS) buying the investment banking and trading operations for $2 billion. This would save 9,000 jobs and give Barclay's a stronger foothold in the U.S. markets. Barclay's is the third biggest bank in the U.K. and had balked at an outright acquisition of Lehman last weekend. This week I would expect to see several other vultures picking over Lehman's carcass.
Lehman got another shot of adrenalin when JP Morgan loaned it $138 billion to allow Lehman to continue trading and avoid a disruption of U.S. markets. JP Morgan gave Lehman $87 billion at the request of the Federal Reserve when the market opened on Monday. The Fed later repaid that loan. On Tuesday JPM had to give Lehman another $51 billion. It is surprising to me that that many trades are still going through Lehman after a couple weeks of highly negative press.
The fallout from the Lehman bankruptcy is starting to appear in the markets. Constellation Energy (CEG) dropped -35% or -$16 on fears that the consortium of banks, which included Lehman, would pull its credit line. This came despite assurances from CEG that the Lehman portion of the line was only $150 million and CEG had over $2 billion in excess liquidity. The problem came in the rise of its credit default swap premiums to 478 basis points on fears of the lost credit line. That means it would cost $478,000 per year to insure $10 million in debt for five years. Obviously for debt that is yielding 8% that would be an impossible fee. CEG traded as low as $13 before rebounding to close at $31 and "only" a 35% loss.
There were a steady stream of comments from other companies about their liabilities regarding Lehman. MetLife said they had $800 million in exposure to Lehman and another $10 million in common stock. MetLife had also made secured loans to affiliates of Lehman, which Met hopes are still fully collateralized.
I am not going to bother listing the dozens of companies who talked about Lehman liabilities this week because it is only going to explode in the weeks to come. We can expect quite a few earnings warnings as these liabilities start to be reflected in the third quarter balance sheets.
That trickle of Lehman casualties will turn into a flood the size of the Thailand tsunami if AIG goes under. The market rebounded this afternoon after Bloomberg reported that the Fed was going to reverse its decision to not give AIG a bridge loan. The Dow rebounded +279 points on the rumor as a monster short squeeze was triggered. AIG rebounded from $2.50 to briefly over $5 on the news. After the close shares of AIG collapsed back to $2 when Bloomberg reported the Treasury was considering a conservatorship as an option for AIG. We saw what happened to Fannie/Freddie shares when the government took them over. Shareholders would again be wiped out but the government can't let AIG fail because of all the counterparty risk. There would easily be more than $2 trillion of systemic risk to AIG. As the largest insurance company in the world AIG or an AIG company has monster amounts of counterparty dealings. For instance 1 of every 4 airplanes is insured by AIG. They are the largest private leasing company of aircraft in America. One of eight cars is insured by an AIG company. AIG controls over 240 separate entities. They control 71 independent insurance companies operating at the state level. This independence prevents the sins of the father from contaminating the state chartered insurance companies. They have insured hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds that would immediately be underwater if AIG's credit rating drops one more notch. That could happen before this week is over. If their credit rating is cut again it would begin the AIG death throes. Analysts claim it will take $100 billion to bail them out today. If their credit is cut again it would take over $350 billion in additional capital according to one analyst.
VVery late this evening CNBC broke story saying the Fed and Treasury were about to reveal a $85 billion secured bridge loan that would NOT be a conservatorship takeover. Reportedly the government would receive AIG warrants for 80% of its equity and severely dilute existing shareholders. However, if AIG was successful in liquidating its assets the loan could be repaid and shareholders would be restored. Reportedly Bernanke and Paulson are actively involved in the talks. AIG management would be fired as part of the deal. Futures rose sharply when the news broke. Several analysts were saying that an AIG failure could come as soon as Wednesday so the Fed action needs to be announced before tomorrow's open or this positive sentiment would evaporate quickly.
If AIG is bailed out this should be the end of the current crisis. We still have lingering problems like Wachovia and WaMu but a failure of those companies would not be any where near the severity of AIG or Lehman. Given the strong touch of multiyear support in the markets today an AIG fix would definitely trigger at least a short-term rally. AIG traded over 1.23 billion shares on Tuesday.
AIG Chart - Daily
Not all the news was negative. Morgan Stanley posted better than expected earnings of $1.32 per share or $1.4 billion. Analysts had only expected earnings of 79-cents. CEO John Mack said the company was in great shape to profit from the current environment. Morgan Stanley was 75 years old today.
Goldman Sachs (GS) also posted better than expected earnings of $1.81 per share compared to estimates of $1.71. It was the worst profit slump since the company went public in 1999 but it was still a profit. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are the only two major independent investment banks left in America. Goldman was slammed at the open to a low of $116 but rebounded to close with a +2.50 gain at $135.
Dell Computer (DELL) warned this morning that softness in global sales had softened significantly in just the last three weeks. The Dell CFO said the slowdown is broad based and not tied specifically to Dell or it's pricing. Dell hit a ten year low on the news. IBM, HPQ and CSCO were up suggesting the market still believes this is a Dell only problem.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) said it was cutting 26,400 jobs as a result of the acquisition with EDS. This is far in excess of the prior expectations and suggests HPQ is trimming staff overall because of softening conditions. However, the CFO said he was "very confident" HPQ would hit or exceed its current earnings and margin targets.
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Oil prices plunged again to $90.50 intraday and closed at $91.50. However, once the potential AIG bridge loan news hit the wires crude spiked +$2 to $93.50 in after hours. This simply emphasizes what I said in last night's email that the current drop was simply funds trying to raise cash to cover margin calls and redemptions. When major events are forcing everything to new panic lows you have to sell whatever has value and oil futures and commodities in general are extremely liquid. Nobody believes the fundamentals in the coal sector changed suddenly on Monday but coal stocks dropped sharply. For instance ANR dropped from $70 to open this morning at $50. There was no news to cause a -30% drop the major coal stocks. This is simply commodity dumping to raise cash.
The internals were obscene today. Volume was off the scale thanks to AIG, WM, WB, GS, etc. If I only looked at the internal picture it would be a screaming buy today. Monday appeared to be a capitulation day with 12:1 decliners to advancers on volume of 13 billion shares. Today's short squeeze produced a 2:1 upside volume day on 15.5 billion shares. That may be an all time share record. At the close I was not convinced this was a potential bottom. I thought it was just a news squeeze on the potential AIG bailout. If the Fed does announce a $85 billion loan to AIG by tomorrow morning I think the bottom was today. If AIG is not bailed out and is forced to file bankruptcy then we will see new lows.
Market Internals Snapshot
The volatility is huge with a spike today to 33.70. That is in the normal capitulation range and it was completely news related but fear was evident in the morning market. This is a level where people should be getting long in normal markets in expectations of a rebound. This is not a normal market but an AIG bailout would remove a monster amount of fear from the markets.
Volatility Index Chart - Daily
The Dow hit 10750 this morning and that is support from July 2006. This should be strong support and a level to be bought if AIG survives. The S&P-500 also hit multiyear support at 1170. If this level does not hold we are in serious trouble.
S&P-500 Chart - Monthly
Nasdaq Chart - Monthly
The Nasdaq rallied to a +27 point gain after temporarily breaking support on the Dell news. The Nasdaq chart is still ugly but the levels reached today have not been seen since mid-2006. While I want this 2150-2200 level to hold that may be wishful thinking if we get no help from an AIG bailout.
The biggest plus for me today was a sharp rebound in the Russell-2000 to 708 after hitting 680 intraday. The Russell was showing signs of fund buying before the rumors began to hit the wire. It is entirely possible the Russell is about to take back the leadership and that would be very positive for the markets. Resistance is still 740-750.
Russell-200 Chart - Weekly
In case I was not clear I believe that the failure of AIG is the only major cloud over the market. Economics are improving. The housing sector is improving. Mortgage rates are improving. Oil prices are down and car buying is up. Everything would be rosy were it not for the AIG cloud. I know we are going to have a flood of Lehman induced counterparty earnings charges but once traders have heard 20-30 it will be old news. This is a quadruple witching expiration week and the market activity over the last two days has surely flushed any expiration activity early. Keep your fingers crossed that AIG gets a big check and the market will reap the benefits.
At yesterdays close the CBOE Equity Volume Put/Call ratio closed at 1.179. Normally, closes above 1.0 signal a short term buy signal. However, the markets are not normal. The futures opened the day with a sharply down yet again. Last week I mentioned that the signal might become Neutral on a break above 0.80. As of the close, the Put/Call ratios 10 day moving average closed at 0.842 which is above Julys 0.838 high. Therefore, the signal remains on a Negative bias because it has broken above the previous high. That translates into there are still an increasing number of put buyers running for the exits. Because we dont want to step in too early, we need to wait for the amount of put buyers to subside to get a confirmation to change the signal to Positive. SIGNAL: NEGATIVE BIAS
The CBOE Volatility Index ($VIX)
Ever since the $VIXs 10 day moving average crossed above the 20 day moving average the indicator has been on a Negative signal. Sometimes there are short term long trading opportunities when the VIX runs up to the range highs and/or the upper Bollinger band. However, if the $VIX closes above the recent high the best thing to do is wait for a test of the next highest high, if one exists. Therefore, if you took the initial long trade on Mondays open and didnt cover any of it, you should have then covered at the close because the close was both higher than the July 15th high and the intraday high. The next stab at a long trade would have been earlier today when the VIX ran up and contracted. The stop is at a break and/or close above the intraday high (33.70).
The short term trade concept is more for ones discretionary (high risk) capital. Both moving average remain on an uptrend and are indicating that the signal is still Negative. The uptrend indicates that option investors continue to be willing to pay higher premiums for portfolio protection which translates into fear is high. When fear apparently peaks the signal becomes positive. The signal will become neutral if the 10 day moving average tests the July high at 26. The signal will become Positive once the 10 day moving average reverses downward. So watch the 10 day moving average closely. Going negatively biased here would be a mistake since the VIX may be near a peak and a short term bottom in the market may be occurring today. Assuming the bias will still be negative, wait for the VIX to come down to its 10 day before adjusting to a negative bias. SIGNAL: NEGATIVE BIAS
Robert J. Ogilvie
Amer. Intl.Group - AIG - cls: 3.75 chg: -1.01 stop: n/a
Why We Like It:
Our plan is a covered call on AIG. The stock closed at $3.75 following a 21% sell-off. After hours, with all the buzz that the company may not get funding, the stock is trading around $2.00. If you look at the January 2009 $5.00 calls on AIG they were trading at $2.25/2.55 but that was at the closing bell when AIG's stock was at $3.75.
We are suggesting that readers buy shares of AIG at the opening bell tomorrow, wherever that may be, and then sell the $5.00 January 2009 call. For argument's sake let's pretend that AIG opens at $2.00. If we buy the stock we can sell a call for every 100 shares we own. Now if AIG does open at $2.00 then the $5.00 call is going to be trading for less than $2.50. Let's say it's at $1.50. If you sell the call then your cost basis in AIG is only $0.50. We're making a $0.50 bet that AIG does not go under and somehow avoids bankruptcy.
If AIG doesn't file bankruptcy then what are the odds that the stock bounces back above $5.00 before January 2009 expiration? They're probably pretty good odds.
Here's our challenge. We don't know what AIG is going to open at tomorrow. Nor do we know what the $5.00 Jan. 2009 calls are going to be at. If AIG opens in the $3.00-4.00 range then you may want to sell the Jan. 2009 $6.00 calls. If AIG opens above $4.00 then you may want to sell the $7.50 calls. If AIG opens below $1.50 then consider selling the $2.50 or $4.00 calls. You get the idea. We're making a bullish bet that AIG will survive. If it doesn't survive then we're trying to significantly reduce our risk by selling calls. This puts a cap on our upside but it's probably worth the added peace of mind.
BUY CALL JAN 4.00 AIL-AE open interest= 0 current ask $2.80
Picked on September xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
SPDR S&P Oil - XOP - cls: 46.70 chg: +0.95 stop: 42.39
Why We Like It:
BUY CALL OCT 45.00 XOP-JS open interest= 4 current ask $4.10
Picked on September 16 at $ 46.70
Volatility Index - VIX - cls: 30.30 chg: -1.40 stop: n/a
Why We Like It:
BUY PUT OCT 25.00 VIX-VE open interest=51160 current ask $2.00
Picked on September 16 at = 30.30
Lamar Advertising - LAMR - cls: 35.89 chg: +0.19 stop: 38.01
LAMR is still inching lower. The bounce failed to make a new relative high and shares under performed the broader market. We remain bearish and would still consider new bearish positions. However, readers need to realize that the whole market could be set to rebound if the VIX is any clue. This may not be a good atmosphere to open new bearish positions. Our target is 31.50 mark. More aggressive traders could aim for a new relative low.
Picked on September 15 at $ 35.90 *triggered
Roper Industries - ROP - cls: 58.57 chg: +1.42 stop: 59.15
The action in ROP today has me thinking it might be time for an early exit. The recent double bounce from $55.00 is arguably a short-term bottom. Yet the overall trend remains bearish and ROP is still under resistance. The $60.00 level is stronger resistance and more aggressive traders may want to leave their stop above $60.00. Yesterday we lowered our stop to $59.15 to reduce our risk. Any sort of market bounce tomorrow could be enough to push ROP to our stop loss and close this play. We're not suggesting new positions. Our target is $54.25. Readers might want to exit early on another dip near $55.00. FYI: The Point & Figure chart is bearish with a $45 target but the P&F chart also shows some support near $53.00.
Picked on September 03 at $ 58.19
Black & Decker - BDK - close: 66.40 chg: +0.04 stop: 63.75
The market continues to be very volatile. The market weakness this morning was enough to pressure BDK to an intraday low of $63.65. Our stop loss was $63.75 so the play is closed. It looks like BDK wants to go higher if only the market would cooperate instead of the dramatic intraday swings.
Picked on September 14 at $ 67.65 /stopped out 63.75
UltraShort Russell2000 - TWM - cls: 69.75 chg: -4.74 stop: 67.75
The markets spiked lower this morning. This sent the Russell 2000 small cap index to a low of 679.24. The TWM spiked to $77.44. Then everything reversed. Stocks bounced and the TWM plunged. Today's session in the TWM looks like a big bearish reversal with its bearish engulfing candlestick pattern. Our first target on TWM was $77.50. We're suggesting readers exit early given today's reversal.
Picked on September 09 at $ 71.37 /early exit 69.75, high 77.44
Hartford Fincl. - HIG - cls: 57.72 chg: +0.63 stop: 62.25
Target achieved. HIG plunged to $53.38 before bouncing back into the green as stocks rebounded from yesterday's beating. Our first target was $54.00. The short-term fate of HIG is probably linked to the rescue efforts for AIG. My concern about keeping bearish positions alive here is the move in the VIX. The VIX hit 33.70 before paring its gains. Stocks in general are very oversold and due for a bounce. It's certainly possible that AIG will file bankruptcy and HIG could trade much lower as investors over react. At the moment I feel it's best to exit early right here.
Picked on September 15 at $ 57.20 *gap down entry/1st target hit
Intuitive Surgical - ISRG - cls: 277.77 chg: +8.10 stop: 280.55
Up $8.00 one day, down $8.00 the next... that's what we can expect from a volatile $270 stock. We are giving up on ISRG as a short-term bearish play. The stock is building on a short-term trend of higher lows as it appears to build up steam for a bullish breakout over resistance near $280.00. More nimble traders could switch to buying calls over $280 with a $295-300 target. We are hitting the eject button and suggest readers do the same.
Picked on September 09 at $268.11 /early exit 277.77
Unibanco - UBB - close: 99.11 chg: +0.57 stop: 108.82
Target Achieved. Aggravated worries over the financial markets sent UBB much lower this morning. The stock gapped open at $90.34 but eventually closed up about 0.5%. The opening print of $90.34 looks like a bad tick. We don't see UBB trading under $91.07 today. Fortunately, that is enough. Our second target was the $92.50 mark. UBB is very short-term oversold and due for another bounce.
Picked on September 04 at $108.82 /1st target hit 9/10/08
Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown, The Contrarian by Robert
Ogilvie, and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.
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