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Daily Newsletter, Saturday, 07/29/2006

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Table of Contents

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

Market Wrap

Another Week, Another Fed Rally

Every week it seems traders find one more reason to rally on hopes the Fed is going to stop hiking rates. Eventually the market will be right. Until that day comes every "Fed is done" rally is at risk for a retracement as new economic data appears. This week's rally was built on a Beige book foundation with a GDP cornerstone. Those would seem like two fairly stable building blocks but inflation is still at work attempting to erode that base.

On Friday the US GDP for the second quarter came in with a headline number showing +2.5% growth. This was less than the consensus estimates of +3.1% growth and far less than the +5.6% growth we saw in Q1. The weakness in the second quarter was very widespread showing a drop in capex spending, exports and personal consumption. Residential investment fell for the first time in three years. Core inflation as evidenced by the PCE deflator jumped +2.9% for the biggest gain in more than a decade. Despite the sharp jump in the PCE and the sharper than expected drop in GDP the markets roared off to yet another Fed is done rally. The expectations were almost unanimous among analysts that the Fed would pause in August. They are still split on whether there will be a hike in August but almost unanimous that August will be the last move. Goldman Sachs went way out on a limb predicting cuts of -150 basis points beginning in early 2007.

Bond yields plummeted with the 10-year note yield falling to close at 4.90% and a seven-week low. The Fed Funds Futures are only showing a 28% chance of an August hike and almost no chance for a hike at any future meetings. The term "soft landing" has been dusted off and has suddenly become the new buzzword of choice. A GDP of +2.5% is seen to be the Goldilocks number that signifies a soft landing and a number that will put the Fed on hold. Had the GDP come in at the consensus expectations of +3.1-3.3% the Fed may have needed to remain vigilant according to some analysts. Under 3% is a danger sign for the Fed that they may have already gone too far. According to analysts this is a screaming halt warning that the Fed must obey.

The markets rallied with another round of gains on top of strong moves earlier in the week. The Beige book had also shown a broad based slowdown and tame but rising inflation. This was seen as a prelude to the Q2 GDP number and confirmation we were nearing an end to hikes.

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Personally, I believe this wishful thinking is extremely overdone and will come back to haunt us soon. Since the Fed goes too far the vast majority of the time and the last nine months of hikes have not completely filtered through the system it seems to me that traders are looking at the numbers through heavily rose tinted glasses. If the GDP has fallen -55% in just the last three months with six to nine months of rate hikes still making their way through the system then tougher times could be ahead. The recent manufacturing reports have shown a slowdown in capex spending and a buildup in inventory levels from slowing sales. These reports are much more current than the Q2 GDP. Next Tuesday we will get the ISM Index for July and the most current read on manufacturing conditions in Q3. That report will be followed by the Nonfarm Payrolls on Friday. These reports could either confirm the soft landing scenario or raise new warnings that the economy has fallen off the cliff and the -3.1% drop in GDP was just the beginning of a longer drop. If that is the case we may not be talking about future stagflation but the return of the "R" word.

On Friday we also got the Employment Cost Index for Q2 and that showed employer costs rose sharply by +0.9% in Q2. This was +50% faster than the +0.6% rise in Q1. This was the fastest rise in wage costs since 2000. This is a clear sign of rising wage inflation and exactly what the Fed does not want to see. As we have seen the Fed can stomach some price inflation and even some inflation from rising oil prices but the appearance of wage inflation is a critical warning sign. The bulls completely overlooked this report and focused instead on the GDP soft landing scenario. Those rose-colored glasses also have a very narrow range of vision to keep from distracting the bulls from their goal. The ECI report should guarantee another rate hike in August despite whatever dreams the bulls might have. That does not mean the bullish case is wrong but just a greater potential for at least one more hike.

There can only be so many "one and done" rallies. We have seen rallies in advance of the Fed moves or on shifts in Fed expectations for months. They have all failed when reality returned to stare us in the face. Eventually the market will be right but after last weeks gains we are risking the potential for a sell the news event rather than a continuation spike to higher levels. The Fed meeting is only six trading days away and bullishness is already rampant.

The Dow gained +351 points or +3.23% for the week. The talking heads will tell you this was the best weekly gain since November 2004. They will also neglect to remind you that it fell -351 points for the week ended on July-14th. The statisticians were dragging out all the superlatives like best points since 2003, best percentage since 2004, best S&P gain in 3 years, etc, etc. It is all true. The Dow has rebounded from the low end of its range at 10700 to a dead stop at exactly the high end of its range at 11250 in only nine days. Three cheers for the bulls but we need to put this into context. This was the second rebound of this magnitude since the first touch of 10700 on June-14th. The first rebound took 12 days but evaporated in only 6 days. That was also a Fed done rally that ended badly.

Dow Chart - 180 min

I am not claiming that this rally will fail next week, only that we just made a round trip on expectations rather than reality. We had the Bernanke testimony, the Beige book and now the GDP to support the bullish case. The bulls are extended due to the very fast rebound and we are still over a week away from the FOMC meeting. Those critical economic reports, ISM and Nonfarm Payrolls, could either push the indexes over current resistance or send them right back to the low of the range very quickly.

Economic Calendar

The earnings tsunami has passed and while there will be further reporting waves they will be of decreasing strength as the cycle draws to a close in the coming weeks. The earnings have been stronger than expected and may possibly end up as the most profitable in history but forward guidance has also been weaker than expected. This is a function of the slowdown in the economy and rising energy and commodity costs. Neither of those costs are expected to decline. Analysts have not yet begun to ratchet down earnings estimates for the rest of 2006 but that should begin soon. Once it does the fears of a harder landing should begin to appear. The business investment component of the GDP showed that investment increased just +2.7% and that was the lowest gain since Q1-2004. Add in the current housing crash and that leads me to believe that economic slowdown discussions will be a lot more prevalent over the next few weeks. On the positive side a drop in the interest rate with the ten-year note yielding under 5% on Friday will eventually have a positive impact on housing. Those homeowners with ARMs about to reset will be breathing a sigh of relief and lining up to refinance soon. After 17 rate hikes a pause could bring the home buyers back into the market place and actually create a softer landing in that sector than had been previously feared. This point was not lost on investors with all the major builders adding to gains for the week. You see there is some good news in the slowdown cloud if you dig deep enough to find it.

Energy stocks were mixed for the week with oil prices falling below the $73.50 support level on Friday. Despite the record high at $78.40 two weeks ago performance in the energy sector has been mixed. High oil prices have not generally translated into high stock prices although some individual issues have been moving higher. Friday's -1.15 drop in crude to $73.30 was due mostly to a feeling that the Israel/Lebanon conflict was about over. Expectations for a peacekeeping force and an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon made it more likely that oil producers Syria and Iran would remain out of the conflict. The joint Bush/Blair press conference ratcheted up the likelihood that the US would tell Israel to start winding down their excursion and prepare to terminate fighting. Another factor hurting the price of oil was the lower than expected GDP. Analysts started talking about a reduction of demand due to slower economic growth. This was excessive speculation in my view since the US is not a developing nation. Our oil growth is relatively stable and would not be impacted materially by a couple quarters of weak GDP.

Gasoline demand by consumers continued to remain strong after the July 4th peak. The chart below shows 2006 demand (red) through last week compared to 2005 demand (blue). The week before July-4th was the peak in both years. Note that demand leveled off after the July-4th peak in 2005 but still remained in an overall down trend until the post Katrina crash. Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug-29th. Demand in 2006 was not as high on the July-4th spike as 2005 but has remained strong and well over the 2005 levels even with prices over $3.00. If gasoline demand and gasoline prices are supporting crude then crude is living on borrowed time. There are only four weeks left in the high demand gasoline season and we know that traders don't wait for the event to arrive before exiting with profits. Even if we don't get a hurricane gas demand will decline sharply after Labor Day. If traders begin to see an end in sight in the Middle East conflict it will only hasten the exit. The wild card here is still hurricane season and so far the Gulf oil patch has been very lucky with no developing storms. I would say traders long oil futures are pressing their luck.

Gasoline Demand Chart

September Crude Oil Chart - Daily

Last week was energy week in the earnings parade. The majority of energy companies reported including the majors. Exxon posted record profits of more than $10 billion (+36%) renewing calls from lawmakers for additional taxation of big oil. It has been tried before and never worked but that does not mean it won't be tried again. Exxon broke with the "enough oil for everybody" mantra and Exxon's VP of investor relations, Henry Hubble, told analysts, "We are selling everything we can produce." Hubble said Exxon was adding another $1 billion to its stated $19 billion capital spending budget for additional exploration and production. One third of that budget is going to pay for increases due to rising costs for labor and increasingly specialized equipment needed to extract oil from increasingly difficult locations. Royal Dutch Shell posted a +40% increase in profits to $7.3 billion and Chevron posted a +18% increase in profits to $4.35 billion. Chevron fell short of analyst estimates and lost -1.68 on Friday.

Next week earnings will slow slightly and all eyes will be on economics rather than the slowing earnings parade. The ISM on Tuesday is expected to come in flat with June but that may be wishful thinking. All indications are for a slight decline possibly to something in the 51-52 range. Anything over 50 means an expanding economy and under 50 is contracting economy. The Jobs report next Friday is expected to show a gain of +150,000 jobs in July compared to a gain of +121,000 in June. Jobs have been coming in under the estimates for several months with last months estimate of +175,000 being missed severely. The table below shows the misses for the last year. Some whisper numbers for next Friday are in the +50K to +75K range. Another significant miss just before the Aug-8th Fed meeting could give them more freedom to halt the hikes especially if the ISM is weak as well.

Jobs Table

Semiconductor Index Chart - Weekly

I mentioned the Dow's performance earlier and the other major indexes resemble clones. The S&P-500 rebounded to resistance at 1280 from support at 1225 for a +3% gain for the week. The Nasdaq rallied +74 points for a +3.6% gain to stall just under resistance at 2100. While these were strong gains the Semiconductor Index beat them all. The SOX rallied +7.1% on the back of some strong chip earnings and that sparked a fire under the Nasdaq as I suggested it might on Tuesday. This powered the Nasdaq and without the Nasdaq acting as an anchor the Dow and S&P were free to move higher as well.

The index with the most headaches for the week was the Transports with a decline of -41 points while the others were putting in three-year performance gains. The Transports were hit by the UPS earnings, NSC earnings, continued oil prices in the $75 range and worries about an economic slowdown. Thank you UPS. Were it not for a +109 point, +2.5% gain on Friday the Transport index would have closed at a five month low. This is the opposite of a confirmation of the Dow gains that Dow theorists would like.

Dow Transport Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - 120 min

Russell-2000 Chart - 120 min

I was concerned about the Russell-2000 most of the week as it exhibited high volatility between 685-700. It struggled to hold the gains from Monday but finally finished at that critical 700 resistance level on Friday. The Russell did end with a +4% gain for the week but it was all on Monday. The volatility suggested to me that fund managers were exiting small caps on any rally ahead of the normally weak Aug/Sept period. Buyers continued to show on the dips but it was a battle all week. I would continue to watch the Russell as an indicator of fund traffic. TrimTabs said on Friday many domestic funds were seeing net outflows despite the official headline number of +$200 million average in contributions over the last four weeks. If the Russell begins to weaken relative to the Dow and S&P-100 I would see that as a warning sign ahead of the historical late summer volatility. You can see in the internals snapshot below that Monday and Friday were the only really bullish days with the rest of the week (Tue-Thr) favoring the sellers as the week progressed.

Market Internals Snapshot

I wrote last week that I was expecting a rally ahead of the Fed meeting on August 8th. I was not expecting it to be this strong or this soon. With all the indexes now overbought and at strong resistance the obvious call would be for some profit taking. That may be the wrong call this time around. There was no profit taking going into Friday's close and most of the indexes closed at or near their highs for the week. This is unusual for a summer Friday after a better than +3% rebound for the week. This indicates to me that the bulls are feeling energized and are hoping for some greener pastures after the Fed meeting. The problems ahead for this bullish scenario are six trading days and two critical economic reports. If those reports are market friendly there is plenty of money on the sidelines to push the indexes higher. Will they do it or is there enough concern over a possible negative Fed outcome on the 8th?

SPX Chart - 180 min

Based purely on a chart view I would be ready to buy a breakout on the S&P and Russell assuming there were no economic potholes in our future. Unfortunately that is rarely the case. That leaves me questioning the wisdom of doing anything on Monday. The better plan would be waiting for a trend to appear after the ISM on Tuesday. A breakout on a market positive ISM could be a good trade since there would be a considerable amount of short covering above 11250 and 1280. The challenge to a breakout would come at S&P 1290-1295 and a likely failure point. The 100-day average on the S&P is 1280 and exactly where we stopped on Friday. My long-term view has not changed and I still expect another strong dip later this year. My short-term view of a rally ahead of the Fed meeting has run its course but I am willing to concede another leg higher to 1295 on market positive data. All bets are off if the ISM comes in much stronger than expected. A resumption in strong growth with our current rising inflation would not be Fed positive and give us another failed "Fed done" rally. I am wearing out these words but "trading in the summer is difficult" and next week is likely to be a difficult week. Buy a 1280 breakout or short a 1280 failure and beware Tuesday's ISM.
 

New Plays

Most Recent Plays

New Plays
Long Plays
Short Plays
ET None
SNP  
USAK  

New Long Plays

E*Trade - ET - close: 23.25 change: +0.50 stop: 21.90

Company Description:
The E*TRADE FINANCIAL family of companies provides financial services including trading, investing, cash management and lending for Retail and Institutional customers. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
Financial stocks were a big part of Friday's rally and leading the way was a bullish breakout in the XBD broker-dealer index, which pushed through its 50-dma and 200-dma. Now that the brokers look ready for another leg higher we want some exposure to the group. Shares of ET broke out from its bearish trend of lower highs and its own 50-dma and 200-dma several days ago. Since then the stock has been consolidating sideways under resistance at the $23.50 level but with a somewhat bullish pattern of higher lows. We expect that an upward breakout in ET is imminent. Thus we're suggesting a trigger to go long at $23.55. More conservative traders may want to see more confirmation and wait for a move over $23.75. There is potential resistance at its 100-dma near $24 but our target is the $25.90-26.00 range. Technical traders will note that ET's P&F chart is still bearish and will remain bearish for a while.

Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 07/19/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 5.3 million

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China Petro & Chem. - SNP - cls: 56.95 chg: +1.34 stop: 54.75

Company Description:
Sinopec is an integrated energy and chemical company. The scope of its business mainly covers oil and gas exploration, development, production and marketing; oil refining; production and sales of petrochemicals, chemical fibers, chemical fertilizers and other chemical products; storage and pipeline transportation of crude oil and natural gas; import, export and import/export agency business of crude oil, natural gas, refined oil products, petrochemicals, chemicals, and other commodities and technologies; research, development and application of technology and information. It is a state-owned company invested by the State, functioning as a state-authorized investment institution in which the State holds the controlling share. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
The market wrap this weekend mentioned how oil stocks could be headed for trouble. The summer driving season is going to be over in about four weeks and so far the season has been hurricane free and we don't see any on the horizon that might threaten the Gulf of Mexico area. Yet oil stocks traded higher on Friday in spite of a drop in crude oil futures. Shares of SNP really out performed its peers with a 2.4% gain. The stock has broken out above its trendline of resistance and above its simple 50-dma. The technical picture is relatively bullish and if SNP can trade over $58.00 it will reverse its P&F chart into a new buy signal. We are suggesting that traders considering going long the stock with SNP above $55.50. More conservative traders may want to wait for a move over $58.00, which looks like short-term resistance, or the simple 100-dma still overhead near $58.90. Our target is the $62.00-63.00 range. We don't want to hold over the late August earnings report.

Picked on July 30 at $56.95
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 08/23/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 295 thousand

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USA Truck - USAK - close: 19.98 change: +0.83 stop: 18.99

Company Description:
USA Truck is a medium haul, dry van truckload carrier transporting general commodities throughout the continental United States and into and out of portions of Canada. We transport general commodities into Mexico by allowing through-trailer service on our trailers through our facility in the gateway city of Laredo, Texas. We also provide third-party logistics and freight brokerage services for a diverse customer base. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
It looks like the bearish trend in USAK is almost over. The stock has spent the last ten weeks building a base in the $17-20 range. Now shares look poised to breakout over round-number resistance at $20.00 and begin a new leg higher. The P&F chart has already turned positive with a triple-top breakout buy signal that points to $25 target. We are a little worried that the Dow Jones Transportation index is still stuck in a decline but the good news here is that USAK has been showing relative strength against its peers in the last several days. We're going to suggest a trigger to go long USAK at $20.35, which is above Friday's high. If triggered our target is the $22.50-23.00 range. Our time frame is about six weeks.

Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 07/20/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 124 thousand
 

New Short Plays

None today.
 

Play Updates

Updates On Latest Picks

Long Play Updates

St. Jude Medical - STJ - cls: 37.41 chg: +1.61 stop: 33.99*new*

The rally in STJ continues to storm higher. The stock added a strong 4.49% on Friday and shares broke out above technical resistance at its 100-dma. Volume on the session was above average, which is bullish. We are going to raise our stop loss to $33.99. We're not suggesting new positions at this time. Our target is the $39.00-40.00 range. Our time frame is about four to six weeks. FYI: The P&F chart points to a $48 target.

Picked on July 25 at $35.94
Change since picked: + 1.47
Earnings Date 07/19/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 3.8 million
 

Short Play Updates

Juniper Networks - JNPR - cls: 13.67 chg: +0.34 stop: 14.61

The NWX networking index is still in a steep bearish decline but the group may have produced a short-term bottom with the double-bottom pattern near 197.50 over the past several days. JNPR also remains in a bearish pattern of lower highs and lower lows but the stock was oversold and due for a bounce. The rally on Friday, especially in tech stocks, prompted some short covering. JNPR added 2.5%. At this time we would expect a rebound toward $14.00-14.15. More conservative traders may want to tighten their stops, especially now since the three-day candlestick pattern in JNPR looks like a short-term bullish reversal. We're not suggesting new positions. Our target for JNPR is the $12.00-10.00 range. Conservative traders can exit near $12 with us and more aggressive traders can aim lower. The P&F chart is still very bearish with an $8.50 target.

Picked on July 21 at $13.75
Change since picked: - 0.08
Earnings Date 07/19/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 13.1 million

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NCI Bldg - NCS - close: 47.87 chg: +0.22 stop: 50.15

NCS is a new play from our Thursday night newsletter. The good news is that the stock did not truly participate in the market's rally on Friday. We would hesitate to open new positions considering the market's strength unless NCS continues to decline although a failed rally near $50 could be used as a new entry point. We are reposting our play comments from Thursday night here:

Shares of NCS are breaking down again. The oversold bounce from its June low failed near $54.00 and it has been a relatively steady trend of lower highs since then. This past week has seen NCS produce another failed rally under $52.00 and its 200-dma. Thursday's decline broke down under the June low and support near the $48.00 level. The MACD on the daily chart has produced a new sell signal. Meanwhile the P&F chart has produced a descending triple-bottom breakdown sell signal. It might be worth nothing that the P&F chart's target is only $49, which has been exceeded. We suspect that NCS may be able to trade towards $40. There does appear to be some support near $45.00 but we're going to target a decline into the $42.50-40.00 range. Be ready for a bounce when shares near $45. We do not want to hold over the late August earnings report.

Picked on July 27 at $47.65
Change since picked: + 0.22
Earnings Date 08/31/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 383 thousand

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Meridian Biosci. - VIVO - cls: 20.95 chg: +0.59 stop: 22.05

We are urging traders to be cautious here. Thursday's bearish engulfing candlestick did not see any follow through on Friday. Instead the stock bounced for a 2.89% gain, albeit on low volume. Short-term technical indicators for VIVO are starting to tilt upward and the oversold bounce may not be done yet. If the market continues to rally next week we'd expect shares of VIVO to make a run for its descending 10-dma, currently near 21.70. Readers can wait and watch for a failed rally under the 10-dma as a new entry point but we would hesitate to open new positions with the major averages moving higher. Our target is the $18.15-18.00 range since the $18.00 level was support last year. FYI: the P&F chart shows a triple-bottom breakdown sell signal with a $16 target.

Picked on July 23 at $20.94
Change since picked: + 0.01
Earnings Date 07/20/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 175 thousand

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Watson Wyatt Wld - WW - close: 33.09 chg: +0.66 stop: 34.01

Traders definitely need to turn defensive here with WW. Friday's 2% gain reversed Thursday's sell-off and now the short-term technical indicators are suggesting more strength ahead. The stock is still in a bearish channel but WW could rally toward the top of the channel near $34 and still not break the bearish pattern (see chart). If you don't want to risk a rally to $34 and then a breakout consider exiting early right now. We are not suggesting new plays at this time. Our target is the $31.10-31.00 range. We do not want to hold over the early August earnings report. FYI: the most recent data put short interest at 6.9% of WW's 41 million-share float.

Picked on July 16 at $33.19
Change since picked: - 0.10
Earnings Date 08/10/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 216 thousand
 

Closed Long Plays

None
 

Closed Short Plays

Phazar Corp. - ANTP - close: 8.97 change: -0.14 stop: 9.27

We are choosing to drop ANTP as a bearish candidate. We added the stock to the play list as an aggressive short candidate but ANTP has not been able to breakdown under support near $8.50. It was our suggested strategy to use a trigger at $8.49 to open plays. So far we remain untriggered and we're choosing to drop ANTP because we feel that the risks are rising. The company is probably set to report earnings in the next two weeks but we can't confirm an earnings date and we don't want to hold over the announcement. Aggressive traders may want to keep ANTP as a potential play. The stock's pattern of lower highs (failed rallies) is definitely bearish.

Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 08/04/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 89 thousand

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Cascade - CAE - close: 38.18 change: +0.55 stop: 36.76

CAE is another bearish candidate that isn't cooperating with us. It was our plan to catch a breakdown under support near $35.00 with a trigger to short the stock at $34.90. CAE has not shown any further weakness and instead shares look poised to breakout higher above its simple 50-dma. Traders may even want to consider bullish positions on a move past $38.50 or $39.00 since the action over the last two months is starting to look like a bullish double-bottom pattern. We're dropping the stock as a bearish candidate.

Picked on July xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 09/07/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 87 thousand

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Maxim Integrated - MXIM - close: 29.31 chg: +0.54 stop: 30.01

We're choosing an early exit in MXIM. We definitely thought about keeping MXIM as a short candidate. The stock is still in a six-month down trend and shares should find overhead resistance at $30.00 and its 50-dma. However, we chose to exit because the SOX semiconductor index rose more than 3% on Friday and appeared to breakout from its bearish channel. If the SOX is breaking out then it will lend strength to shares of MXIM. Besides, we were running low on time with MXIM anyway. The company's earnings report is due on August 4th and we do not want to hold over the announcement.

Picked on July 09 at $29.75
Change since picked: - 0.44
Earnings Date 08/04/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 5.5 million
 

Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.

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