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Daily Newsletter, Saturday, 7/21/2012

Table of Contents

  1. Market Wrap
  2. Index Wrap
  3. New Option Plays
  4. In Play Updates and Reviews

Market Wrap

Not Over Until It Is Over

by Jim Brown

Click here to email Jim Brown

Europe came back to haunt the market after a week of earnings inspired gains.

Market Statistics

The euro gapped down to a new two-year low at 120.89 after Spain said the regional Valencia government was going to ask the national government for a bailout. This is the second Spanish region to warn of economic problems and it increased the worry that Spain will have to ask the EU for a national bailout. Spain is the fourth largest eurozone economy and is seen as too big to bail. Spain also cut growth forecasts for 2012 and 2013 and warned it would remain in recession well into 2013. EU finance ministers formally approved the bailout for Spanish banks but it failed to lift sentiment.

The ECB contributed to the gloom by announcing that Spanish bonds are no longer eligible as collateral on loans to eurozone banks. Previously EU banks could borrow money from the ECB and use the sovereign debt they held in countries like Spain, Italy, etc, as collateral. By removing Spain from the list of eligible collateral it suggests the ECB believes Spain will fail and hampers Spain from being able to sell debt in the public markets. This is a major blow for Spain and for the confidence in the eurozone for the 4th largest economy to receive this vote of no confidence.

Spanish yields soared and the stock market collapsed. Yields on the 5-year rose to 6.88% and the 10-year to 7.32% and the IBEX Equity Index fell -5.82%. With Spanish debt no longer available as collateral those yields will quickly rise to catastrophe levels as buyers evaporate and those holding Spanish debt attempt to dump it in the market.

Massive demonstrations against austerity in 80 cities in Spain showed what a challenge the government is going to have to turn the economy around. We have seen this movie before and we know how it is going to end. Hopes for a painless conclusion have disappeared and Italy is not far behind Spain.

Euro Chart

While the European debt crisis surged back into the headlines the U.S. market was focused more on earnings. There have been 120 S&P companies report earnings for Q2. Of those 120 approximately 67% have beaten earnings expectations with an average beat of +2.5%. At the same point in Q1 we saw 82% of companies beating estimates with an average beat of +4.6%. However, the report calendar for Q2 has seen more financial companies report than in Q1 and that has skewed the results to the upside. The S&P financials have posted earnings growth of 57.8% so far this quarter thanks mostly to Bank of America. Earnings growth not counting the financial sector has been +4% compared to 6.4% in Q1 at this point.

Top line numbers have been a lot harder to hit. According to Thomson Reuters only 43% of those 120 companies have beaten revenue estimates and the average beat is a minimal +0.1%. The biggest companies have now reported and that means the remainder of the cycle will show declining results. Of the 380 companies left to report the expectations are for an earnings decline of -4.3% and revenue decline of -1.1%.

The tech sector is expected to see earnings growth of +10.4% but if you subtract Apple from the equation those earnings fall to -0.7% for Q2. The majority of S&P profits are coming from cost cutting and not sales growth.

Overall the earnings for Q2 have been slightly better than expected but the recession in Europe is definitely dragging on revenue for multinational companies. The currency translation issue has also been a factor with some companies reporting as much as a 4% hit from converting euro sales back to dollars.

Guidance has been so bad that GE was held up as a winner on Friday when it reaffirmed prior guidance. The fact that earnings fell -16% was apparently ignored. That is a common occurrence with GE. As a global force in manufacturing their earnings report is normally looked at for the guidance aspect rather than earnings per share. GE profits declined from $3.69 billion to $3.11 billion. Revenue was $36.5 billion and slightly below estimates of $36.77 billion due to weak sales in Europe. Also overlooked was the contribution by GE Capital, which increased profits by 31% by selling off dozens of properties and assets. It is not something GE Capital can repeat in future quarters. Overall GE earned 38 cents and a penny above analyst estimates. GE shares gained 7 cents.

There have been some spectacular misses. Chipolte Mexican Grill (CMG) saw shares decline -$87 on Friday after reporting earnings that were not quite what analysts were expecting. Revenue was only slightly lower at $697 million compared to estimates of $700 million. However same store sales fell to +8% growth and below the +10% quarterly growth or higher that CMG has been seeing for the last three years. Chipolte has 1,300 stores. The CFO said everything was proceeding nicely until the middle of April and sales growth hit a wall. CMG can't blame Europe because 100% of its stores are in the USA. The company said it appeared to be a slowdown in consumer spending.

CMG Chart

CMG shares were hit with multiple downgrades on valuation. CMG had a PE of 43 heading into the earnings report because it never failed to post strong sales gains. Oops! I think we can expect some further PE compression now that the burritos have lost their attraction. Shares of other restaurant companies were crushed in a guilty by association selloff. PNRA, DNKN, DRI, SBUX and YUM all saw heavy losses. Whole Foods Markets (WFM) was hit with a -7% drop because they have the same relative valuation at a PE of 40 and they depend on high dollar consumers to support their products high prices. A consumer slowdown could be a real challenge for WFM although they did very well coming out of the recession. WFM is scheduled to report earnings on Wednesday of 61 cents, a +22% increase. That is already below the +30.8% increase in Q1.

Whole Foods Chart

Had it not been for the gains in Google, +17.76, the Nasdaq decline on Friday would have been much worse. Google posted earnings of $10.12 per share, a +16% increase over the comparison quarter. The earnings were slightly higher than expected. However, they were also impacted by the acquisition of Motorola Mobility. The newly acquired company lost $38 million for the quarter. Without Motorola, Google would have earned $10.21 for the quarter. Revenue rose +21% to $8.36 billion but was below analyst estimates without Motorola. Currency conversion reduced revenues by $350 million. Google remains an "outperform" across the analyst base but estimates for the rest of 2012 are weakening. Motorola will continue to be a drag with its 75,000 workers and highly competitive marketplace. Thank Google for holding up the Nasdaq on Friday but I would not expect shares to move over $620 in the near future.

Google Chart

Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) fell -8% after posting a +32% increase in earnings. The company said weakness in Europe and slowing domestic surgery rates for prostate cancer were dragging on sales. Profits rose to $3.75 per share from $2.91. Analysts were expecting $3.56 per share. Shares of ISRG fell -$46 on the news.

ISRG Chart

Oil field service company Baker Hughes (BHI) reported earnings of $1.00, +29%, compared to estimates for 78-cents. Revenues rose +12.3% to $5.33 billion. That makes five consecutive quarters of double digit revenue growth and this was a tough quarter. Over that period BHI has averaged revenue growth of +24%. Management was positive about the future saying the switch of exploration from gas fields to oil fields was nearly complete and drilling was increasing again. With gas prices rising and oil prices safely in a range above $85 the exploration activity should continue to expand. BHI shares rallied +9% on the news.

Baker Hughes Chart

Schlumberger (SLB), the largest oil field service company, posted earnings of $1.05, +4.8%, compared to estimates of $1.00. Revenue rose +16% to $10.49 billion, also slightly ahead of estimates. SLB said earnings growth came from outside North America and from increasing activity in deepwater drilling. The company said two-thirds of its earnings growth came from overseas while earnings from fracturing in the U.S. were weak. Evidently Baker Hughes has emerged as the low cost leader in that field for last quarter. SLB shares were flat.

Schlumberger Chart

With 120 S&P companies already reported and most of those the largest companies in the S&P we already have a very good idea how the rest of the quarter will play out. Another 138 S&P companies report next week and that will put us over 50% with the remaining reporters spread out over the next four weeks as the pace of earnings slows.

The headliner for next week is of course Apple on Tuesday. The company alone represents about 5% of the S&P earnings. Many analysts believe Apple will disappoint because of slow growth in some global markets. They also believe Apple could guide even more conservatively because the next iPhone delivery could be delayed until October leaving a hesitancy gap in Q3. Buyers will want to wait for the new version rather than buy the current version. This is all speculation and it makes the Apple results the highlight for the week.

Other highlights include BIDU, AMZN, BRCM, NFLX, SBUX and Dow components MCD, BA, CAT, XOM, CVX, T, DD, MMM, UTX and MRK.

Probably the second most watched earnings next week will be Facebook (FB) on Thursday. They are expected to earn 12 cents and a miss here would be extremely ugly. Shares of Facebook have declined from their $32 range early in the month to close near $29 on Friday. An earnings miss could knock it back to $20 in a heartbeat since the IPO was priced to perfection in terms of earnings value.

Secondly, regardless of what happens to FB earnings on Thursday I would be a seller of FB on Friday. Three weeks from now the lockup period will expire for another 271 million shares. The initial IPO offered 421 million shares and Facebook unlocked another 222 million only a month into trading. The lockup release on August 18th is sure to see another decline in the share price.

After the close on Friday the Nasdaq released plans to pay $62 million in compensation for the bungled Facebook IPO. That is $22 million more than initially planned but a couple hundred million below what banks and brokers are demanding to cover their losses. Nasdaq Boosts Facebook Payout

Earnings Calendar

On the economic front there was little to attract the attention of traders. The Regional Employment report for June showed that unemployment rose in 27 states and declined in 11 states. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate at 11.6% followed by Rhode Island at 10.9% and California 10.7%. North Dakota continued to lead with the lowest rate at 2.9% followed by Nebraska at 3.8%. Eight states recorded significant increases in employment and three states had significant declines. Oil producing states had the strongest employment led by North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Mass layoffs for June declined to 1,317 events, down from 1,380. However, workers impacted rose from 130,191 to 131,406.

Both reports were lagging data from June and both were ignored.

Next week's calendar is light but has three critical reports. The Richmond and Kansas Manufacturing surveys will update us on how the activity is progressing in those regions. The biggest report is the Q2 GDP on Friday. Current expectations are for minor growth of +1.4%. This is below the 1.87% growth in Q1.

The GDP could be the tripwire that sends the markets significantly lower. We have heard from numerous companies and in economic reports that economic conditions began to decline sharply in late April and early May. Economic reports in June were hitting lows for the year. If the GDP comes in below that 1.4% estimate, which is already factoring in a lot of the weakness, then investors will immediately start thinking Q3 recession and run for the hills.

Economic Calendar

So far this earnings cycle the guidance has been relatively soft. Big names like Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, Xerox, Ingersoll Rand and staffing agency Manpower as well as almost anyone that does business in Europe has lowered guidance for Q3. Even Google warned of slowing sales in Europe and especially Spain. These guidance warnings are to be expected and since the early reporters are doing it everyone else will also do it. Even those who only do business in the U.S. like Chipolte are lowering guidance. The wave of early guidance warnings gives everyone else to follow a free pass to warn on their own. The Europe ate my earnings excuse will be expected whether it is valid or not. Guitar maker Fender pulled its IPO saying it was concerned about economic conditions in Europe. Really?

The guidance warnings will cause analysts to lower estimates again for Q3 and possibly Q4. Earnings estimates for Q4 are still for 12.1% growth so either they get lowered dramatically or Europe is going to find a magic bullet to end their debt crisis and reverse their recession. There is no conceivable way (in my opinion) that earnings in Q4 suddenly spike to 12.1% growth.

The immediate worry is Q3 estimates and the dialing down of expectations and the PE compression those lowered estimates will cause. If a stock is trading at a PE of 15 and earnings are $2.00 per share then the stock is $30. An estimate cut to $1.50 will mean either a drop in the stock price to $22.50 or a spike in the PE to 20. Since something has to change the normal direction is a compression in the stock price to a lower number to keep the PE in the same range. Nothing ever moves in exactly in lock step with earnings estimates but you get the idea.

Also pressuring the markets is the unrelenting drought. I know, drought? Yes, the dog days of summer are upon us and the nation is locked into a drought that is now expected to last into October. The Weather Service warned on Thursday that the drought will last until Halloween and spread farther north and east. Every state will have hotter than normal temperatures for the rest of the summer with the Midwest expecting an average of 12 degrees above normal.

The NOAA forecast is a high probability of little or no rain for the 15 states in the center of the drought area. 42 states are now in a drought. NOAA said the epicenter of the drought is now in a feedback loop. The ground is so dry there is no moisture to evaporate and turn into rain. The heated ground holds the heat overnight and causes the next day to be even hotter.

The weather patterns are so disrupted there have been no tropical storms or even the potential for storms since Debby three weeks ago. Normally this time of year there is always a storm in formation east of the Caribbean. Forecasters claim El Nino is expected to cause havoc this year and prevent moisture from reaching the heartland until spring. They are predicting very light snows. Obviously a weatherman predicting light snows in Nov/Dec when it is the middle of July is definitely subject to ridicule. They rarely get it right a week in advance much less months in advance.

It is not just a drought, it is a heat wave. Excessive summer temperatures causes less consumer activity because they are staying indoors to avoid the heat. Utility bills rise significantly and that limits discretionary spending. Gasoline consumption will decline. Revenue at theme parks like Six Flags and Disneyworld will decline.

Companies with exposure to commodity prices will see margins collapse. That is everyone from Darden Restaurants, to Chipolte Mexican Grill to Kellogg's, General Mills, YUM Brands, etc. Even Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson Foods will suffer. Chickens are nothing more than corn with feathers because of the high ratio of corn in their diet. Cattle farmers are already dumping their herds on the market because they can't afford to feed them. The drought has turned pastures brown and made the cost of feed impossible to pay. A record 54% of pasture land is in "poor" or "very poor" condition. The National Agricultural Service reported on Friday the number of cattle in the U.S. was at 40-year lows. Feed can account for more than 50% of an animal's cost. Beef will be cheap short term but the resulting shortage months from now will force prices higher by as much as 30% according to analysts. That includes milk and dairy products as well.

The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that 88% of corn and 87% of soybeans were in drought stricken regions. More than half the corn crop across seven states was in "poor" or "very poor" condition. In Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana that number was over 70%. One third of the nation's counties have already been declared federal disaster areas.

I know some readers are glazing over with my comments on corn but think about it. More than 70% of products in the supermarket contain corn. Stumped? Does "high fructose corn syrup" ring a bell? Those product prices are going up.

Corn Chart

All of these factors strongly suggest there is a recession in our future. Europe is not going to heal itself in the next few months. They don't have the political will or the capability and the politics of each country is too diverse to actually form a true fiscal union. They are doomed to several more quarters of kicking the can down the road until they are forced to confront the problem. Spain and Italy are going to be serious problems.

In the U.S. retail sales are going to continue falling and the U.S. economy is supported by the consumer. Retail sales have fallen for three consecutive months. That has only happened five times since 1967 and four of those were in 2008. Consumer confidence and consumer sentiment, two different methodologies, are at seven month lows and dropping. The pace of auto sales, recently a driver of economic growth, has fallen one million units since the February high at 15.1 million. May and June were the slowest sales for the year.

The broadest measure of U.S. manufacturing, the ISM, fell into contraction territory in June and the first negative reading since the recession. The ISM Services fell to its lowest level since November at 52.1 and just barely in expansion territory. This should continue to decline as a result of slowing retail sales and the decline in manufacturing.

I reported last week that the NFIB small business confidence fell to 91.4 and the lowest level since October.

The housing sector has been in recovery mode and supportive of the general economy. That was until June. The existing home sales for June fell -5.4% from May. Why? It was certainly not because of rising mortgage rates. I believe it was due to three months of slowing employment at an average of only 75,000 new jobs per month and fear of the fiscal cliff. I talk to a lot of people every week and the topic of discussion has routinely moved into talk about the election and the fiscal cliff. Nobody expects the cliff to be resolved before the election. Congress is blamed and many people I talk to are moving to cash and preparing for a repeat of last August.

Morgan Stanley said last week the fiscal cliff was moving ahead of the European debt crisis as the main worry and displacing Europe as the primary threat to the economy. Morgan Stanley said concerns about the fiscal cliff are reaching new heights across a wide range of industries. It is already seeing reductions in business orders and hiring, among other areas. "While our analysts are less worried about the impact of Europe, the negative impact of fiscal cliff uncertainty is becoming more widespread."

If you search using Google for the term "fiscal cliff" you will get more than 34 million results. Searches for that term have increased more than 500% since February 1st.

Lastly, we could hit the debt ceiling again as early as September and you know this is not going to play out well in the press. There is no plan to fix it because of the political process. It will become a political hot potato and the markets are going to suffer from it.

So far the stock market is ignoring the fundamentals. Last week the market rallied on the flimsy excuse that Bernanke might do something at the July 31st FOMC meeting or at least by the September meeting. I am beginning to think Bernanke will not do anything else in order to put the monkey back on Congress. He routinely blames the fiscal crisis on inaction by Congress. Unfortunately a lack of action by the Fed, even if it is the wrong action, will result in a market decline.

State and local governments are in serious trouble. Compton California will run out of money by September 1st and is expected to be the 4th California city to file bankruptcy. They have $3 million in the bank and $5 million in bills. Their debt has already been cut to junk, their financials cannot be audited because the independent auditors quit after claiming the city would not supply the requested data. Victorville and Montebello should be right behind Compton with more to follow. Every bankruptcy and failure to pay creditors creates ripples in the economy. S&P cut its outlook on the State of Pennsylvania to negative from stable because of rising spending pressures and listless economy. These problems are only going to get worse.

In earlier paragraphs I briefly touched on the impending disaster in Europe. Rather than discuss it again here I am going to link to an excellent article in the London Telegraph pointing out that the latest report by the IMF shows the IMF has given up on the European Union. This is just a beginning paragraph from the IMF report.

The euro area crisis has reached a new and critical stage. Despite major policy actions, financial markets in parts of the region remain under acute stress, raising questions about the viability of the monetary union itself. The adverse links between sovereigns, banks, and the real economy are stronger than ever. Financial markets are increasingly fragmenting along national borders.

The euro area is at an uncomfortable and unsustainable halfway point. While it is sufficiently integrated to allow escalating problems in one country to spill over to others, it lacks the economic flexibility or policy tools to deal with these spillovers.

That does not exactly inspire confidence the problem will be resolved and the rest of the article suggests the IMF has given up on the process and is preparing to write the eurozone obituary. IMF Loses Faith in the Euro

Despite all these worries and the potential for a market decline in the weeks ahead the Volatility Index is showing no fear. The VIX closed at 16.27 on Friday despite the -120 point drop in the Dow. The Bernanke put is in full bloom. Investors seem to be ignoring not only the fundamentals but a weak earnings cycle, problems in Europe and the fiscal cliff in hopes Bernanke will pull another QE rabbit out of his hat at the July 31st FOMC meeting. There is no other rational explanation.

VIX Chart

However, if you look at options on the VIX the inequality between the bid/ask on the at the money strike is unbelievable. If you wanted to buy an out of the money $18 call on the VIX for November it would cost you $6.70. The same put, now $2 in the money would only be $1.00. Clearly nobody is expecting the VIX to go lower and everyone is expecting it to go higher. For us as option traders we can't really profit from this imbalance on the VIX even though we know almost without a shadow of a doubt that the VIX is going higher. Buying calls at those prices would only work on a major spike to something in the $30 range because the reverse is always true when the VIX spikes. The puts become over inflated and the calls can be well undervalued relative to their intrinsic value. It is a vehicle best used only for measuring sentiment and not as an investment.

November VIX Options

The AAII Sentiment Survey for the week ended 7/18 showed only 22.2% of investors were bullish and 41.8% bearish. That is an 8 point decline in bullishness from the prior week and a +7.1 point increase in bearishness. Those numbers seem extreme but that is only the sixth highest reading for bearishness so far this year. The highest was 45.97% on May 17th. That was one day before the May low on the S&P at 1291. The second highest reading was 45.75 the week ended on June 7th. That corresponds with the June 4th low on the S&P at 1266. The long term averages are 39% bullish and 30% bearish.

In theory the bearish reading in the 40s should be seen after a major market dip. Guess what? The S&P hit a new two month high at 1380 on Thursday. If bearishness is near the high of the year at a market top then what does that tell us? I suggest it is telling us that trouble is coming and the market rally is on very precarious footing.

Volume all week was very light. We were setting new relative highs on only 6.2 billion shares per day on average. It should have been closer to 9 billion to equal historic highs in the past.

Historically, even in years that don't have multiple "end of the world as we know it" headlines in the news, the equity markets decline in the week after July option expiration. Sometimes the decline is significant. Twice in the last five years the S&P lost more than 4% in the week after July expiration.

Obviously we can't predict market direction by looking at performance in years past. The levels are different, headlines are different, sentiment is different, etc. Charts are to tell us what happened in the market in response to conditions in a specific timeframe. Without the macro data we can't compare timeframes.

However, we can compare 2011 to 2012. The S&P crashed -25.6% beginning on July 22nd 2011 in response to the debt ceiling debate that came to a head in August. That decline began in the week after the July option expiration and the drop was dramatic.

S&P Chart - 2011 July/August

To recap, next week is the week after OpEx in July. We could hit the debt ceiling again in September suggesting partisan bickering could begin any day now. The IMF is throwing in the towel on Europe. Spanish debt has been removed from the list of eligible collateral for the ECB. Earnings are "less bad" than expected but only 47% of reporters have hit revenue targets. Earnings are coming from cost cutting and there are only so many costs you can cut. Guidance for the second half has been negative. The fiscal cliff is looming and the democratic plan as described on Friday is to let the country fall off the cliff and then force the republicans to capitulate on specific parts in order to allow resurrection of other parts like extending the tax cuts. I could go on but you get the picture.

In theory there is no reason for the markets to move higher other than some hope by some seriously misguided investors for the Fed to unleash some monster QE program when they meet on July 31st.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, theory seldom works in practice.

We don't "know" what the markets are going to do. The market may be capable of absorbing dozens of additional negative headlines without any material impact until that one unforeseen event changes the equation dramatically. We will not know what that event will be until it appears.

The S&P punched through resistance at 1375 to tag 1380 on Thursday before collapsing back to support at 1360 on Friday. That support was the lows from April and the 100-day average. This level has been crossed so much it looks like the doormat at Safeway. The real support level to watch is 1335 and the lows from two weeks ago. If those lows are retested it will be a critical retest and a breakdown would suggest a lower low in August.

August and September are historically weak months for the market with September the biggest loser over the last 40 years. February is second worst and August third worst. Obviously with August and September coming back to back the odds of a rocky period definitely increase. Add in the headlines mentioned above and it would seem almost unavoidable.

There are still a lot of key earnings next week and those earnings could help keep investors busy chasing individual stocks and ignoring headlines but eventually those earnings reports will run out. Will we make new highs before that happens, nobody knows.

I did not expect the rally last week but the "less bad" earnings were definitely a factor that I discussed in my forecast. With the quality of earnings declining in the weeks ahead we could get some just plain bad results that could sour the sentiment that is currently keeping us afloat. Watch 1335 as a critical inflection point.

S&P Chart - Daily

The Dow returned to the early July highs at 12,950 but failure was almost immediate. There was a brief 25 min punch through to 12,977 but sellers appeared immediately to force the index back under the 12,950 hurdle. Friday's sell off closed near the lows of the day.

One third of the Dow components report earnings next week so there is a significant opportunity for serious volatility in both directions. Once past those earnings and probable cautious guidance it will become increasingly hard for the Dow to hold any upward momentum.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq rallied almost exactly to the Fib retracement level at 2978 before retreating on Friday. I mentioned earlier that the $18 gain in Google prevented the decline from being a lot worse. Apple gave back -10 to offset the gains in Google. ISRG lost -46 so a 40 point drop in the Nasdaq was actually a decent day.

The Nasdaq has decent support at 2875 and then again at 2810. Apple will control the Nasdaq's fate next week and a 30-40 point post earnings move will provide market direction for at least one day.

Nasdaq Winners and Sinners

Nasdaq Chart

The Dow TSMI chart shows a solid rejection of the July high at 14,375 when it was tested again on Thursday. The doji candle at the end of a strong bullish run is a topping pattern when followed by a down day. The doji represents indecision. The buyers and sellers were evenly matched and no progress was made. The sellers came back in force on the following day. In theory this is a market top signal but that could change with the next headline. We would need to see a lower low than the 13,825 on July12th to confirm a true reversal.

Dow TSMI Chart

The Dow Transports are not confirming the rally in the Dow Industrials. The Transports failed twice at the 5200 level and produced another lower high. A move down to 5,000 would be a lower low for July and that is bearish for the Dow. UPS reports earnings next week.

Dow Transports Chart

I believe the selling on Friday was due to the problems in Spain and Europe but also because traders were taking profits off the table ahead of the weekend. I mentioned on Tuesday that anyone long on Friday would probably not want to risk holding their profits over the weekend.

The less bad earnings have produced some short covering on individual stocks and sectors. The same should be true for next week. Eventually the earnings buzz will fail to distract from the European headlines and U.S. economics. I still believe the path of least resistance is down.

If you think you can maybe you can't. Twenty-one people were treated for second and third degree burns after trying to walk over hot coals at a Tony Robbins motivational event on Friday. Walking across hot coals heated to between 1,200 and 2,000 degrees is supposed to prove that there is nothing you can't overcome if you are a believer. The event shutdown after medical personnel were overwhelmed with severely burned attendees. The people walking on the coals were warned they might get burns and blisters if they were not fully committed and focused on the "power within yourself." I think anyone stupid enough to attempt that stunt should be committed.

Enter passively, exit aggressively!

Jim Brown

Send Jim an email

"Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight."
Yogi Berra


Index Wrap

Upside Progress Arrested

by Leigh Stevens

Click here to email Leigh Stevens
THE BOTTOM LINE:

Not much after getting back to my Rocky Mountain family haunts then the Aurora tragedy happened. It could have been my kids a few years ago when they were more inclined toward a midnight screening, although not so much in Aurora. Sad, sad, sad.

I noted last week that in a trading range market like this one, an indicator pattern that's been reliable for much of this year involves hourly charts and the RSI indicator. It looks like this indicator again proved its worth. I wrote in this space last week that: "A reliable way to assess shorting/bearish opportunities (tops) is by trading contrary to (overbought) 'extremes' suggested by the 21-hour Relative Strength Index (RSI)." The same has been true on the downside when the 21-hour RSI has reached oversold extremes at 30 and below.

I picked up on this same theme in a Trader's Corner column penned on Thursday (7/19/12), which can be seen HERE. I wrote on Thursday, that in relation to the example of the big cap S&P 100 (OEX) Index, the extreme seen with the 21-hour RSI suggests taking profits on index calls. Moreover, based on the way the trading swings have gone after high and low RSI extremes, a bearish play looks to have a favorable risk to reward.

You can see in my first chart (of the hourly OEX) the downside pullbacks that have happened after the 21-hour RSI hit an 'overbought' 70 level. Readings at 70 on the Thursday Close also occurred on the hourly RSI for the S&P 500 (SPX) and the Nasdaq 100 (NDX) Index.

There were other technical/chart patterns that strongly suggested at least an interim top in the Market:

1.) Minor double tops formed in the Dow 30 (INDU) and the Nasdaq 100 (NDX) as highlighted on those daily charts further on.

2.) The Nasdaq Composite (COMP) reversed lower after COMP hit resistance implied by a well-defined down trendline and which is highlighted on the daily COMP chart below.

The chart and indicator picture suggests sideways to lower prices ahead. The support levels I've noted on the major index charts, especially at current up trendlines, will be important. A break below trendline support suggests more than just a shallow correction ahead.

MAJOR STOCK INDEX TECHNICAL COMMENTARIES

S&P 500 (SPX); DAILY CHART:

The S&P 500 (SPX) remains in an upward trend and the recent high managed to climb above the prior upswing high; not by a lot but SPX did reach a new closing high at least briefly. 'Confirmation' of an intermediate up trend occurs if/when the Index pierces SPX's late-April highs, especially if there's a couple of consecutive Closes above SPX 1405-1406.

The 13-day RSI ran up to a similar 'overbought' reading as at the last peak. The S&P looks poised to have a further dip beyond Friday's weakness. Key support is at the up trendline, currently intersecting at 1350, which is also the level of the important 21-day moving average. A close below 1350 implies lower levels ahead and a possible test of next lower support in the 1320-1325 area.

Pivotal technical resistance is at 1380, extending to the 1400-1406 area.

Trader sentiment readings seen above have been running at a relatively low level, although without hitting a bearish extreme low. Meanwhile, prices have been trending gradually higher. This pattern of rising prices, with low bullishness is a mild bullish plus on a contrary opinion basis.

S&P 100 (OEX) INDEX; DAILY CHART

The failure of the S&P 100 (OEX) index to continue higher after making a nominal new high above 630 suggests the OEX will see some further weakness ahead. It's generally not a bullish omen to see a sharp 1-day reversal after a new closing high(s). I also think that the index is 'too' overbought to make an immediate challenge to the highs of late-April.

Key support is seen at the up trendline currently intersecting in the 620 area; support then extends to around 610. Major support begins at 600.

Near resistance is assumed to lie at the recent 634 intraday high, with next resistance in the 640 area.

Per my initial 'bottom line' commentary showing an hourly OEX chart along with a 21-hour Relative Strength Index, downside price swings of 15 or more points have been seen after such RSI extremes occurred (see my first chart above). Those prior declines have occurred over a subsequent 1-2 week period.

THE DOW 30 (INDU) AVERAGE; DAILY CHART:

The Dow 30 (INDU) Average reversal in the 12935-12975 area forms a minor double top and a bearish pattern. Whether this is only a short-term top or perhaps more remains to be seen but I always pay attention to potential double tops and bottoms. I say 'potential' as it takes time to see if such a double top just reflects TEMPORARY resistance(s). Generally, the WIDER apart that such repeated highs occur, the more potent as a bearish 'signal' as in the March-April-May top, occurring over 3 months.

I've noted near Dow resistance at 12935, extending to the pivotal 13000 level. Near support is seen at INDU's up trendline, currently intersecting at 12675, with next support in the 12500 area.

I noted last week 12-13 Dow stocks that have been in strong weekly uptrends and that could keep a rally going into August. Of those INDU stocks I wrote about last week, AXP, DIS, HD, KO, T and VZ are faltering some. If the Dow stocks in prolonged and strong uptrends get down to only 6-7, this number isn't enough to keep INDU moving higher in the next couple of weeks.

NASDAQ COMPOSITE (COMP) INDEX; DAILY CHART:

I mentioned in my initial (bottom line) comments the Nasdaq Composite's (COMP) recent reversal from its March-May-July down trendline, taking the daily chart picture from 'mixed' to near-term bearish. I've noted key near resistance at the down trendline at 2960 with next significant resistance at the pivotal 3000 level.

There's an up trendline in play here also and my internal up trendline suggests key near support at 2900; next support comes in at 2850-2837.

Outlook # 1: COMP works sideways to lower in the 1-2 weeks. Not necessarily a lot lower however, assuming support develops again around 2850.

Outlook # 2: There's the possibility we're seeing formation of a Head & Shoulder's Top as the highs on either side of 2988 peak could be the left and right peaks that form the so-called left and right 'shoulders'. Such a top pattern would suggest a more substantial, than just minor, decline.

Trader sentiment readings seen above have been running at a relatively low level, although without hitting a bearish extreme low. Meanwhile, prices have been trending gradually higher. This pattern of rising prices, with low bullishness is a mild bullish plus on a contrary opinion basis.

NASDAQ 100 (NDX); DAILY CHART:

The Nasdaq 100 (NDX) Index, along with the Dow, had formed a minor double top. The sharp reversal that followed the rally back up to the prior high around 2660 is suggesting that NDX is going to see at least a minor pullback. A 'minor' pullback would be to 2600, although NDX remains above its up trendline if it holds above 2560, which is a next key support.

Key resistance is at 2660-2663. Major resistance begins at 2683 and extends to 2700.

Bellwether Apple Corp (AAPL) stock may be forming a significant top in the 613-615 area. If so, NDX is not likely to pierce its prior tops anytime soon, especially not in the dog-days of August. Well, at least in the next 1-2 weeks.

NASDAQ 100 TRACKING STOCK (QQQ); DAILY CHART:

The Nasdaq 100 tracking stock (QQQ) stock has naturally the same double top formation as NDX. At 65.2 in the case of QQQ, which is initial resistance, with next resistance in the 66 area.

I've noted a first support at 63 although I would keep an eye out for potential support at the 21-day moving average also which is at 63.5 currently. It's important for a bullish chart here to see my internal up trendline hold up as support in the 63 area. Next lower support below the trendline comes in around 62.0-61.5.

Just as with the underlying NDX, the most bearish chart interpretation is that the Q's have formed a 'Head & Shoulder's top'. Alternatively, QQQ could be locked in a 62 to 65 trading range. I see little potential for a new up leg above 65 in the next 1-2 weeks.

RUSSELL 2000 (RUT); DAILY CHART:

The Russell 2000 (RUT), which had in my mind become something of a Market bellwether as it formed a well-defined up trendline on it march higher. RUT was looking like it could break out above its 820-830 resistance zone. NOT! Now with the Index Closing below its 21-day moving average and within a hair's breath of penetrating up trendline support at 790, the chart picture is mixed to potentially bearish.

Key near support is at 790, with next lower support at 780. Resistance begins at 808 and extends to 820. Major resistance is at 825-830.

RUT looks vulnerable for a pullback to 775, to perhaps 765-760, if the index falls below 790, then 780.



GOOD TRADING SUCCESS!


New Option Plays

Defense & China

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

Editor's Note:

In addition to tonight's new candidate, consider these stocks as possible trading ideas and watch list candidates. Many of these need to see a break past key support or resistance:

(bullish ideas) MDVN, DVN

(bearish ideas) WYNN, SPW, NKE, CMI


NEW DIRECTIONAL PUT PLAYS

Alliant Techsystems - ATK - close: 45.71 change: -0.29

Stop Loss: 46.25
Target(s): 40.50
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: 4 to 5 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see below

Company Description

Why We Like It:
Worries over the "fiscal cliff" and mandatory defense spending cuts could be pressuring shares of this defense contractor. The stock is in a long-term down trend of lower highs and lower lows. Currently ATK is sitting just above support near $45.00.

I am suggesting a trigger to buy puts at $44.75. If triggered our target is $40.50. FYI: The Point & Figure chart for ATK is bearish with a $35 target.

Trigger @ 44.75

- Suggested Positions -

Buy the Aug $45 PUT (ATK1218T45) current ask $1.40

Annotated Chart:

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 08/02/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 261 thousand
Listed on July 21, 2012


SINA Corp. - SINA - close: 45.13 change: -1.45

Stop Loss: 47.60
Target(s): 40.50
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: 4 to 5 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see below

Company Description

Why We Like It:
This Chinese stock continues to show weakness. The oversold bounce is already fading under short-term resistance at the simple 10-dma. We want to go ahead and buy puts at the open on Monday morning. We'll use a stop loss at $47.60. Our target is $40.50. FYI: The Point & Figure chart for SINA is bearish with a $36 target.

- Suggested Positions -

buy the Aug $42.50 PUT (SINA1218T42.5) current ask $2.13

Annotated Chart:

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 08/16/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.7 million
Listed on July 21, 2012



In Play Updates and Reviews

Stocks Crumble Into the Weekend

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

Editor's Note:

Traders were taking profits after a week's worth of gains on Friday. Small caps underperformed again.

We closed our WLK trade at the open on Friday.

Current Portfolio:


CALL Play Updates

Costco Wholesale - COST - close: 95.61 change: -0.34

Stop Loss: 93.95
Target(s): 99.75
Current Option Gain/Loss: -25.0%
Time Frame: 3 to 6 weeks
New Positions: see below

Comments:
07/21/12 update: Hmm... has the rally in COST run out of steam? The stock has spent the last three days churning sideways in the $95.00-96.50 zone. Broken resistance near $95.00 is holding up as support for now. The larger trend remains bullish. Readers may want to wait for a new rally past $96.50 before initiating positions or buy this dip near $95 with a tighter stop loss.

FYI: The Point & Figure chart for COST is bullish with a $116 target.

- Suggested *SMALL* Positions -

Long AUG $97.50 call (COST1218H97.5) Entry $0.96

chart:

Entry on July 18 at $95.68
Earnings Date 10/11/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.0 million
Listed on July 17, 2012


Mohawk Industries - MHK - close: 72.55 change: +0.00

Stop Loss: 69.75
Target(s): 78.50
Current Option Gain/Loss: + 5.8%
Time Frame: exit prior to the Aug. 2nd earnings
New Positions: see below

Comments:
07/21/12 update: MHK spent Friday's session churning sideways above the $72.00 level. The stock closed unchanged on the day. MHK still looks bullish given the breakout this last week past resistance near $70.50. Readers can buy calls now or wait for a dip into the $71.00-70.50 zone as a new entry point.

There is potential resistance at the May highs (near $75.00) but we're aiming for $78.50. FYI: The Point & Figure chart for MHK is bullish with an $85 target.

- Suggested Positions -

Long Aug $75 call (MHK1218H75) Entry $1.70

chart:

Entry on July 20 at $72.07
Earnings Date 08/02/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 408 thousand
Listed on July 19, 2012


PetSmart, Inc. - PETM - close: 68.87 change: -0.68

Stop Loss: 67.75
Target(s): 74.75
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: exit prior to the mid August earnings report
New Positions: Yes, see below

Comments:
07/21/12 update: PETM followed the market lower on Friday. Shares gapped down and dipped toward $68 before paring its losses. The larger trend still looks bullish and we're waiting for a breakout past resistance near $70.00.

I am suggesting a trigger to buy calls at $70.25. Our target is $74.75.

Trigger @ 70.25

- Suggested Positions -

Buy the Aug $70 call (PETM1218H70)

chart:

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 08/15/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.0 million
Listed on July 18, 2012


PUT Play Updates

Pharmacyclics Inc. - PCYC - close: 49.99 change: +0.29

Stop Loss: 51.05
Target(s): 45.05
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: 3 to 4 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see below

Comments:
07/21/12 update: PCYC spent Friday drifting sideways under the $50.00 level and its 30-dma. We are still waiting for some follow through on its current short-term bearish trend.

I am suggesting puts if PCYC confirms this breakdown. Thursday's low was $48.53. We'll use a trigger at $48.40. Our target is $45.05 but readers could aim for the simple 50-dma instead (currently near $42). FYI: The most recent data listed short interest at 11% of the 45 million-share float.

Trigger @ 48.40

- Suggested Positions -

buy the Aug $45 PUT (PCYC1218T45)

chart:

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 09/12/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.8 million
Listed on July 19, 2012


CLOSED BULLISH PLAYS

Westlake Chemical Corp. - WLK - close: 58.08 change: -0.71

Stop Loss: 52.35
Target(s): 62.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: +16.0%
Time Frame: exit prior to earnings on August 2nd
New Positions: see below

Comments:
07/21/12 update: On Thursday night we decided it would be best to exit our WLK position early and close positions on Friday morning to try and lock in a gain. The stock gapped open lower at $57.89 and settled on its 100-dma with a -1.2% drop for the day.

Unfortunately the option plunged from a bid/ask spread of $2.00/2.20 on Thursday night to open at $1.30/1.50.

- Suggested Positions -

Aug $60 call (WLK1218H60) Entry $1.12 exit $1.30 (+16.0%)

07/20/12 closed at the open
07/19/12 prepare to exit at the open tomorrow
07/13/12 trade triggered @ 54.55
07/12/12 adjusted the trigger to buy calls to $54.55, stop to 52.35
07/11/12 removed the July option

chart:

Entry on July 13 at $54.55
Earnings Date 07/31/12 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 543 thousand
Listed on July 09, 2012