Mixed earnings left investors scratching their heads and pondering future direction. Conflicting earnings surprises like the very strong TXN news and the very bad Lexmark news are keeping investors reeling as we approach the dog days of summer. Guidance appears to be weakening but despite some high profile misses the positive earnings surprises are still beating negative surprises 6:1.
Dow Chart - Daily
Nasdaq Chart - Daily
Economic news is about as mixed as earnings with Consumer Confidence showing an unexpected drop to 103.2 fro 106.2 for July. The drop in confidence put the index back at the May levels but still very near its cycle highs. Drops in both the expectations component and the present situation component led the headline number lower. Consumer views regarding the employment market fell and suggests there is a growing worry that a new round of layoffs are coming. I mentioned last week that announced layoffs for the week were the largest in four years. This may have colored consumer perceptions of the job market.
Ironically the actual Monthly Mass Layoff report for June was released today and fell slightly to 1175 from 1196 for layoffs involving more than 50 workers. The number of workers impacted rose from 101,358 to 120,463. This is a trailing indicator and given the number of cuts in July the next report could be significantly different.
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The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey posted its second month in negative territory at -3. The Order Backlog component fell to -23 from -14 and offset minor improvements in new orders which was still negative at -3. Shipments also fell to only 2 and very close to negative territory. The six-month outlook fell from 22 to 17. Manufacturing activity in the Richmond area continues to contract from its recent high in September 2004 at 22. This is not an encouraging sign and suggests further employment problems lay ahead as manufacturers adjust the workforce to the reality of a weakening environment in that region.
On Wednesday we will get Durable Goods, New Home Sales, Kansas Fed Survey, Beige Book and Oil and Gas Inventories. The oil inventories were stronger than expected last week with drawdowns as a result of Hurricane Dennis only minimal. Another week, another hurricane, Emily this time and a drop in production shipped from Mexico. It will be interesting to see what Wednesday's numbers will bring. Oil climbed to trade very close to $60 intraday on Tuesday but dipped at the close to end at $59.20. Earnings from various oil companies are beginning to appear with BP posting a +29% jump in profits. VLO also posted record profits beating the street by +12 cents.
In the case of BP their earnings were nothing short of phenomenal. BP earned +$4.98 billion for the quarter on revenues of $88 billion. BP has said repeatedly that they were going to return to shareholders everything they receive over $20 per bbl. They admit that finding new oil is becoming increasingly difficult and instead of pouring all their profits back into expensive exploration for a decreasing return they have decided to pay the shareholders instead. They bought back $4.1B in stock for the first six months of 2005 and will continue buying back stock with their profits. They said strong margins and high demand helped Q2 but Q3 had started weak as refining margins shrank on higher oil.
Valero beat the street by +12 cents and despite the record highs on the stock the CEO said it was a great value for investors given their current outlook. Valero said as good as 2005 has been 2006 will be even better. They are acquiring Premcor and once complete Valero expects to increase margins and market share. The CEO was on CNBC today and he said oil prices will continue to rise because demand is continuing to increase. As a refiner they are in the sweet spot as the largest refiner able to process sour crude. Sour crude is selling for record discounts to light sweet crude and this enables Valero to increase their margins. The current discount for sour crude is $13 but VLO expects this to rise to $16-$17 in 2006 as competition for sweet crude intensifies. VLO retreated a little more than a buck as earnings players moved on to other trades.
December Crude Oil Chart - Daily
All earnings announcements were not as positive as those in the oil sector. Lexmark posted earnings that fell to $79 million or 64 cents, from $136 million or $1.02 for the same period in 2004. There was a charge of 42 cents for repatriating foreign profits under the American Jobs Creation Act. This is an economic stimulus program that allows companies to bring profits back into the country at a lower tax rate if the money is used to create jobs. It obviously did not work for DD as they announced they were laying off 275 in Q3. They gave cautious guidance for Q3 due to uncertain market conditions and the potential for aggressive price competition. DD was a disappointment to the Dow with a nearly -$3 drop to $41.
Black and Decker beat analyst's estimates but guided to the low end of its range and said it would cut 675 jobs and close its Fayetteville plant. Lockheed Martin posted a +56% jump in profits beating estimates by +25%, as defense sales surged. LMT raised its guidance for Q3. NFLX turned in a blockbuster quarter and posted profits of nine cents that doubled last year's performance and beat analyst's estimates of only a penny.
After the close today Amazon posted earnings of 12 cents that beat the street by two cents. They beat revenue estimates only marginally despite a +26% jump in sales. They raised guidance for Q3 and shares spiked nearly +3.50 in after hours trading. Sun Micro posted earnings of six cents that beat estimates of only a penny. It appears SUNW has finally started gaining traction in its comeback attempt. Corning posted earning of 20 cents that beat estimates of 18 cents. They also guided higher for next quarter to 20-22 cents with analyst estimates of 19 cents. Biogen Idec beat estimates of 36 cents with earnings of 43 cents after items. IMCL fell a buck after reporting revenue that fell short of expectations. ERTS posted a loss of -18 cents that was better than the -24 cent analyst estimate.
TXN was a big impact on the SOX with a +1.70 jump after very strong earnings. Strong sales of analog chips and a strong product replacement cycle for cell phones is pushing them higher. Motorola helped provide support for the SOX by not giving back any of their strong gains from Monday. Motorola earnings were helped by the Blackberry killer they announced. The Moto Q is their competition for the Blackberry devices currently sold by RIMM. They also announced a new series of ultra slim cell phones along the lines of their high demand Razor model.
SOX Chart - Daily
The SOX rallied to a new 52-week closing high at 477 and continues to creep up on that very strong resistance at 485-490. The chip stocks refuse to give up ground despite chip earnings being one of the weaker sectors for this cycle. The high profile winners like TXN overshadow weak results like those from Taiwan Semi. TSM posted profits that fell -21.5% for the quarter on a -9% drop in revenue. The CEO said they were pleased it was not worse as most had predicted. He said business in late Q2 improved better than expected to everybody's relief. TSM said if business continued to improve they would do better than breakeven for the year as previously predicted. TSM is the largest maker of made to order chips in the world.
Earnings continue to be the news headline moving the market but the market can't decide which way to move. Volume was slightly higher but it was far from exciting. The Dow and Nasdaq have failed to return to the highs set last week but the SPX, Russell and Wilshire 5000 set new highs on Monday. All were weaker today despite the Nasdaq posting a +9 point gain. The markets have all the appearances of struggling at a top. The Dow closed only 10 points above the bottom of its two-week range and was very listless due to the Dupont drop. While the broader averages, SPX, RUT, DWC, are all showing a positive trend the Dow was definitely the anchor. A break below 10575 could setoff some sell stops with 10485 the initial support.
SPX Chart - Daily
I have been writing about the resistance at 1225-1230 for several weeks and nothing has changed during that period. Despite strong earnings by some and weak earnings by others the SPX remains fixed around the 1225-1235 range. It is trying to move higher but intraday spikes are met with afternoon selling for only fractional gains at the close. Mixed earnings results coupled with mixed economics still suggest there are no problems ahead but the earnings deceleration is becoming a challenge. Currently earnings for the quarter through Monday are showing +9.8% growth. If that level is maintained it will be the first time in 13 quarters that earnings failed to grow by double digits. However, with the rest of the week loaded up with energy stocks at an average of +40% profit growth we should easily break into double digits by the weekend. Beginning next week we start hearing from the smaller stocks and earnings are typically less than the big blue chips that have already reported. This could dampen any warm feelings left by the hot oils.
This earnings cycle seems to have brought more confusion to the markets rather than clarification. I don't see that changing over the next two weeks. If anything the big news is already out and we know how this movie ends. Unless a breakout occurs very soon to trigger some short covering and technical buying the odds still favor the historical August dip. Anecdotal evidence suggests long-term traders are not jumping into new long positions at these levels. Buying the top is never a strong incentive for most traders. However, the dip buyers are alive and well with every short dip quickly bought. What we are seeing in the guise of a boring range bound market is a day trader war in progress. The choppy sessions are chewing up anybody trying to make a living in the markets. Until a direction appears the big boys are going to wait patiently on the sidelines and avoid the chop. This type of range bound pattern typically ends with a major move and the intraday volatility is from traders trying to anticipate that move. My recommendation is still to watch 1225 for a signal. We want to remain cautiously long over that level and short should 1225 break. With the SPX creeping only minutely higher each day I would hesitate to get to excited about being long. I remain concerned that longs could be trapped as we near the historical August dip. If you are playing in this market traffic I would step off the curb carefully and only after looking both ways several times. Enter very passively, exit aggressively and try very hard not to let your emotions get the best of you.
New Long Plays
New Short Plays
NS Group - NSS - close: 37.95 change: -3.05 stop: 40.01
Why We Like It:
Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Long Play Updates
Kerzner Intl - KZL - close: 60.15 chg: -0.10 stop: 57.99
News that KZL had raised $700 million in financing for a resort and theme park in Dubai had no affect on the stock price today. We see no change from our weekend update. KZL continues to trade above the $60.00 level, which should act as round-number support. However, a dip back toward $59.00 would not be out of the question.
Picked on July 22 at $61.01
Steel Dynamics - STLD - cls: 32.10 chg: +0.42 stop: 27.99
Hmm... We're starting to think that STLD may not cooperate with our strategy to buy a dip. The stock managed to rebound off its exponential 200-dma today. It didn't hurt that U.S.Steel (NYSE:X) turned in a very strong session despite missing estimates by 29 cents. Currently we're suggesting readers buy a dip in shares of STLD in the $30.50-30.00 range.
Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Vital Images - VTAL - close: 19.74 change: +0.36 stop: 17.99*new*
An analyst firm started coverage on VTAL with a "buy" rating this morning and that gave the stock some strength at the opening bell. Unfortunately, VTAL is still struggling under round-number resistance at the $20.00 mark. We would not suggest new plays at this time as we are running low on time. VTAL is due to report earnings on August 2nd and we do not plan to hold over the report. Plus, the NASDAQ, in spite of today's gains, looks poised for more profit taking and that will surely affect VTAL's rally. Currently our plan is to exit VTAL on Friday afternoon at the closing bell. We are raising the stop loss to $17.99.
Picked on July 19 at $18.93
Short Play Updates
ATI Tech. - ATYT - close: 13.02 change: +0.12 stop: 13.41
Yet again the SOX continues to defy gravity and this is stalling ATYT's decline lower. Fortunately, news that rival NVDA was downgraded today probably sapped the bulls strength in ATYT as well. We would not open new shorts with ATYT above the $13.00 mark and would instead wait for a decline under $12.80. Our target for ATYT is the $11.50-11.20 range.
Picked on July 17 at $12.83
Amer. Axl & Mfg - AXL - close: 25.71 chg: +0.17 stop: 26.26*new*
Time is almost up! AXL is still bouncing under the $26 level but we're running out of time. We have to exit on Wednesday afternoon to avoid AXL's earnings report on Thursday. We are lowering the stop loss to $26.26 to minimize our risk.
Picked on July 21 at $25.60
FirstFed Financial - FED - cls: 63.45 chg: -0.54 stop: 65.05
Technical oscillators and the MACD indicator are still negative on shares of FED but the stock cannot seem to build any downward momentum yet. We are encouraged that the bounce from Friday's low has waned but there appears to be buyers supporting the stock near $62.50. We suspect that once the major averages turn lower we'll quickly see investors try to lock in profits in FED. Unfortunately we are very quickly running out of time. We have to exit on Wednesday to avoid the company's Thursday earnings report.
Picked on July 21 at $62.60
Intl Game Tech. - IGT - cls: 27.29 chg: +0.09 stop: 29.01
No change from our previous update. IGT continues to look poised for further losses but we wouldn't be surprised by another oversold bounce back toward $27.75-28.00 before turning lower. Our target is the $24.50-24.00 range.
Picked on July 21 at $27.21
Juniper Networks - JNPR - cls: 23.10 chg: +0.07 stop: 25.61
No change from our previous update. JNPR continues to look weak. Our target is the $21.50-21.00 range.
Picked on July 21 at $23.90
Par Pharma. - PRX - close: 28.22 chg: -0.40 stop: 29.01 *new*
Shares of PRX hit yet another low today despite a positive press release. Here's an excerpt: "Par Pharmaceutical Companies, Inc. today announced results of a Phase II proof-of-concept clinical trial with concentrated megestrol acetate oral suspension which utilizes NanoCrystal Technology(*). In the trial, patients taking concentrated megestrol acetate 575 mg/5 mL gained more weight, on average, than those taking the older megestrol acetate oral suspension 800 mg/20 mL." The goal was to help HIV patients who experienced excessive weight loss. There was no reaction in the stock price and PRX looks poised to move even lower tomorrow. Don't forget that we plan to exit on Wednesday afternoon at the close to avoid Thursday's earnings report. Our target is the $27.00 mark and we are lowering the stop loss to $29.01.
Picked on July 14 at $29.96
Sina.com - SINA - close: 27.31 change: +0.03 stop: 28.51
Unfortunately we have nothing new to report on for SINA. The stock traded in a narrow 30-cent range today. Our target is the $25.75-25.50 range (April lows).
Picked on June 30 at $27.90
Triad Hosp. - TRI - close: 49.50 chg: +0.30 stop: 52.31
No change from our previous update on 7/25/05. An oversold bounce after yesterday's decline is not a surprise. As long as TRI trades under $50.00 we would be short the stock. Our target is the $45.50-45.00 range.
Picked on July 25 at $49.20
Closed Long Plays
Closed Short Plays
Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.
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