Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Tuesday, 05/22/2007

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Table of Contents

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

Market Wrap

Strike Two

For two days the S&P tried to post a close over the historic closing high of 1427.46. For two days sellers came in at the close and stole the intraday gains. With volume likely to slow as we approach the holiday weekend it is going to be even tougher for the bulls to push higher. Volume is a weapon of the bulls and without that weapon in their arsenal the tide of battle could turn.

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

The morning economics started out negative with the weekly chain store sales falling -1.5% for the week. This was the largest weekly decline since December. The ICSC survey showed 60% of consumers cut back on discretionary spending due to the high price of gasoline. This was the largest cutback since Oct-2005 when the post Katrina price spike produced sticker shock for consumers. The share of people cutting spending considerably rose to 32%. Not surprisingly the survey found that low-income respondents were making the most cuts. I doubt that was a surprise to anyone. Retail sales fell by a record amount in April and the ICSC was predicting a modest rebound in May of 2.0% to 2.5%. That target may be tough to hit after two of three in weeks in May have posted declines.

Manufacturing in the Richmond Fed region continued to languish with the headline number at -10 right inline with the prior four months. This was the sixth straight month in negative territory. The shipments component improved from -15 to -7 but that was little consolation. New Orders worsened from -11 to -13 and Order Backlog fell to -18 from -14. This was not a positive report even though the headline number remained flat. The biggest contributor preventing a further decline was the expectations component, which rose from 19 to 30. Evidently conditions are so bad manufacturers feel anything will be an improvement.


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The Consumer Comfort Index fell to a -9 last week and the lowest level since Oct-2006. The share of consumers who felt the national economy was negative rose to 60% while those who felt their own finances were negative rose to 38%. Rising gasoline prices and falling housing prices were the main drags on sentiment. The EIA reported the average gasoline price rose to $3.26 per gallon and the highest price in history even when adjusting prior highs for inflation. SUV sales rose +25% in April compared to April 2006 so quite a few new SUV owners are probably wishing they had chosen a different car.

The semiconductor Book-to-Bill report for April was finally released and it showed an increase in orders of only $176 million. That roughly equaled the dollar value of orders shipped at $162 million leaving the book-to-bill ratio flat at 1.00. Bookings were slightly lower than the same period in 2006. There are a lot of new chip plants coming online and they will require a significant jump in new business to keep them all busy. There are quite a few of new products ahead as well and nearly every manufactured product today has a chip in it.

Mergers and acquisitions continued power the market and the biggest move on Tuesday was in MGM. Kirk Kerkorian at age 90 and 56% stockholder in MGM filed notice he wanted to acquire two of MGM's premium properties. Captain Kirks firm, Tracinda Corp, wants to buy the Bellagio and the $7 billion City Center development now under construction. Since he is a majority owner it would be nearly impossible to do an arms length transaction. Tracinda said they wanted to explore strategic alternatives, which may include financial restructuring transactions involving all or a substantial portion of the company. In order to strip out roughly $12 billion of MGM assets Kirk may have to take MGM private first to avoid any minority stockholder suits. He could then split out the properties and then IPO the remainder of the assets he did not want. The MGM has just completed acquiring a large portfolio of high dollar properties when they acquired Steve Wynn's Mirage Corp, where they added several high dollar properties including the Bellagio, and another acquisition of the Mandalay Bay properties, all of which happened in just the last several years. To take MGM private again would be a huge chunk of change but with those premium assets it would not be hard to convince private equity players to line up on Kirk's side. The possibility of a privatization sent MGM shares soaring +17.03 (+27%) to $80. Kirk could quit his takeover attempt tomorrow and be well rewarded. His existing 54% stake represents 158,480,000 shares, which increased in value by $2.7 billion today alone. Not a bad payday! Of course an announcement he had changed his mind could subtract that amount in even less time. I wonder if any of the roughly 40,000 MGM calls outstanding belong to Kirk? Buying a boatload of calls ahead of his announcement may not follow the rules but stranger things have happened. I want to buy a put on him personally or maybe an even better play would be to sell calls. Can I sell LEAP calls on the 100-year age strike please? Odds are very good they would expire worthless. At age 90 he is still pushing money around like property on a Monopoly board as if he was going to live another 20 years. Maybe the thrill of victory is keeping him young. Kerkorian was running hotels in Vegas back in the early 60s and booked Elvis and Barbara Streisand as stage acts to try and pump up business. It worked then and that model has worked for several decades since.

Halliburton lost 40 cents after saying they would like to find a deep pocket investor to help them launch $80 billion in new projects over the next five years. HAL is tracking 60 projects worth $80 billion out of $100 billion in potential oil service deals. Most of those projects would be in the Middle East simply because they control better than 65% of the remaining global oil reserves. HAL announced a move to Dubai in March to be closer to the center of activity. HAL is going to launch a secondary listing in the area but has not decided which exchange will provide the most liquidity. HAL claims it will remain a registered U.S. company. HAL is going to hire 14,000 employees in 2007. Baker Hughes (BHI) said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia's state oil company Saudi Aramco, will become its largest customer in 2007. They will replace BP and XOM as past holders of the number one position.

OSI Restaurant Partners (OSI), the holding company that operates OutBack Steakouse and several other chains said Kangaroo had sweetened its offer to $3.18 billion or $41.15 per share. Kangaroo is a group of private investment companies including Bain Capital Partners. This offer is a 27% premium to the OSI price when the offer was first announced.

Monster Worldwide (MNST) fell -2.53% after an ex CEO sold one million shares last week. Goldman Sachs said the sale suggested there is no pending buyout in the company's future. There have been quite a few rumors suggesting Microsoft, Google, Yahoo or even Amazon could have been interested in acquiring the company.

Dynegy (DYN) fell slightly on news that Chevron was selling 96.9 million shares it currently owns. Chevron (CVX) would receive approximately $940 million from the sale. Chevron previously owned 20% of DYN but after a recent merger between DYN and LS Power, Chevron's stake fell to 12%. Goldman Sachs will sell the shares for Chevron.

Research In Motion (RIMM) and PALM both jumped about +4% on rumors that a major provider, specifically Nokia, might be interested in buying RIMM. RIMM jumped $7.06 to $159 and would be a large bite for Nokia but definitely doable. Late in the day a report surfaced suggesting Nokia had thrown cold water on the rumor.

Thomson Financial said this is the longest and strongest M&A streak on record. For the last five weeks transactions have been reported for more than $100 billion per week. Nearly $70 billion have already been announced this week and it is just Tuesday. Year to date more than $2.1 trillion in deals have been announced. Over $470 billion has been announced in just the last five weeks. One deal that just self-destructed today was the Alcan offer by Alcoa. Late today the Alcan (AL) board rejected the $27 billion Alcoa offer as inadequate.

The homebuilders spiked higher again after Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in an interview the current housing slowdown is "largely" over and "contained" meaning it should not spread any further to other segments of the sector. The chief of the Mortgage Bankers Association claimed the problem with subprime defaults only represented one-quarter of 1% of all loans. He reported in 2006 35% of all originations were subprime and that was well over the 13% rate seen in 2003. With more than 50 million loans outstanding he feels the subprime meltdown has been vastly overstated. Only three million of those have been subprime and while recent ARM defaults have reached 14.44% only 5.1% of borrowers have ARMs. The fixed rate subprime loans are still experiencing normal default rates and are not a problem. Builder Standard Pacific (SPF) added to the rally on heavier than average call volume suggesting a buyout deal may be in the works. I bet the option market makers love all these rumors and the spike in option volume. This is pure profit for most and on the outside chance a rumor comes true they are normally hedged anyway.

June crude futures expired today and they closed on a bout of profit taking that knocked the price back to $65 after yesterday's $66.38 high. The new contract, July, hit $67.10 on Monday and fell to meet the expiring June contract to $65.56 today. The drop was powered by news that the Colonial gasoline pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico to New York was full and could not accept any more fuel. This suggested refining production had ramped up sharply and demand might have slowed. With inventory reports due out tomorrow traders took profits from last week's spike. Gasoline futures fell nearly 4% on the news to $2.30. Platts is expecting crude inventories to rise by +1.2 million barrels, gasoline to rise +1.4 mb and distillates to add +1.2 mb. Refinery runs are only expected to rise by +0.4% to 89.9% and that is still well below the normal 93% to 94% for this period. Global gasoline demand has increased by +2% but production has only increased by +1% in the same period. Late in the day BP reported that 100,000 bpd of production from Prudhoe Bay for a "few days" to repair a leak in a separation facility. That is 25% of their daily output.

The updated hurricane forecast released today predicts 13-17 named storms, 7-10 of which would turn into hurricanes producing 3-5 storms of category 3 and above. According to the forecast there is a 75% chance of a stronger than normal hurricane season. Futures saw a slight bounce on the news but it was not much different than the earlier predictions.

Richmond Fed President Jeffery Lacker has not given up on his inflation warnings even though he is not a voting member of the FOMC for 2007. Lacker voted for a rate hike in each of his last four meetings before the board changed members earlier this year. Core inflation has declined to 2.1% from 2.4% in 2006 but Lacker feels inflation needs to be driven to something in the 1.5% range before the Fed can rest. He said the current drop in inflation is statistically insignificant and feels the next Fed move will be a rate hike. He feels higher gasoline prices will eventually filter through the system and produce stronger overall inflation. He also said the Q1 GDP at +1.3% would be the low point in the cycle with moderate gains ahead. The market took his bearish inflation comments in stride.

CChinese leaders meeting in the US had a strong warning for US leaders. The Vice Premier warned "any effort to politicize the economic relationship between the two nations would be "absolutely unacceptable" and "We should not easily blame the other side for our own domestic problems." Chinese leaders speak with a forked tongue when they warn about not politicizing trade issues. When our leaders go to China to talk trade it is 100% political. Chinese leaders are expected to meet with Speaker Pelosi and other lawmakers to avoid a flurry of trade sanctions aimed at lowering the trade deficit. China was expected to throw the U.S. a couple trade bones when the meeting started but the tough talk has dampened expectations. When the Chinese government hardly lets a month go by without somebody repeating the phrase that "war with the U.S. is inevitable" it is tough to see why they would want to bow to our whims. China constantly disregards trade rules around the world and only obeys them when it suits China. I heard two analysts/traders this week suggesting a short of the FXI due to the expected decline when the talks end without any material concessions.

Despite the minor dip in the Dow the rally continues. The Nasdaq had been a lackluster performer for two weeks but the last three days have been spectacular. The Nasdaq Composite gained +70 points from Wednesday's lows to close at a new 6.5 year high. Today's Nasdaq high was exactly to resistance but that has not stopped any indexes for the last few weeks.

The Dow traded in a 60-point range but ended up almost exactly where it started. Two consecutive days without a new historic high but the rally is still intact. Initial support is 13525 and resistance 13585. Nothing has changed other than no green numbers at the end of the day.

S&P-500 Chart - 60 min

The S&P-500 has rallied past its historic high close at 1527.46 twice this week but failed to hold those gains. No harm no foul but this number has now taken on cult like meaning. It is just another line on the chart but that resistance high dates back to March of 2000. Breaking it to the upside supposedly confers added confidence to the current rally and projects gains of hundreds of more points according to one TV personality. Initial support has risen to 1522 making that 1527 target closer every day.

Russell-2000 Chart - Daily

The biggest change for me is the breakout on the Russell. After more than a month of fighting resistance at 835 including both days this week the Russell finally broke out and closed at a new historic high at 840. That +30 point gain from last Wednesday's low is a +4% rebound and it came on the back of several large buy programs. Retail traders like you and I cannot impact the Russell even if we pooled all our trades together but fund managers can move it with their program trades. It appears several funds decided support at 815 was going to hold and there was no reason to watch from the sidelines going into the holiday. This was a very brave move on their part. Another reason the Russell exploded is the extreme level of short interest. The Russell iShares (IWM) are the most heavily shorted symbol on the NYSE.

The NYSE reported on Monday that short interest spiked 7% last week to a historic high of 11 billion shares or 3.1% of all shares listed on the exchange. The rate of increase was the 10th largest over the last 16 years. The last spike that hit the top 10 list was in March. The three largest shorts are the Russell-2000 ETF (IWM) at 237 million shares (4 days of volume), Ford (F) at 208 million shares (6 days) and Motorola (MOT) at 125 million shares or 4 days to cover.

NYSE Short Interest Chart

If we have a breakout on the Russell, Nasdaq Comp and Nasdaq 100, the S&P and the Dow what is to keep us from just charging higher on the back of all that short interest? Only one thing I can think of and that is volume. Volume the rest of the week should drop sharply as traders head off for an early holiday. Expiration is over, earnings are over and M&A is actually becoming routine. Traders should want to just leave everything as it is for the rest of the week but you never know when lightning will strike. Now that the Russell is over 835 I would remain long above that level but I would be seriously concerned if volume increases later this week and the advance falters.

New Plays

Most Recent Plays

New Plays
Long Plays
Short Plays
None None

Play Editor's Note: We continue to urge caution with bullish positions. The markets remain very overbought. One of these days there's going to be a big market sell-off and we will easily see half of our long positions get stopped out. Unfortunately, if we are going to trade, we have to ride the trend until it changes. Bears have been getting killed in this market. Watch your stops carefully and don't be afraid to take a profit if you have one. In some of our plays we're starting to see a chunk of our potential gains vanish.

New Long Plays

None today.

New Short Plays

None today.

Play Updates

Updates On Latest Picks

Long Play Updates

Arch Coal - ACI - close: 40.19 change: -0.75 stop: 37.45

Caution! The decline in ACI (-1.8%) looks like normal profit taking. However, the candlestick pattern was a bearish engulfing pattern, which is typically viewed as a bearish reversal. A bounce from $40.00 would be encouraging but we would expect a dip towards the 10-dma. Our target is the $42.50-45.00 range.

Picked on May 09 at $38.44
Change since picked: + 1.75
Earnings Date 07/23/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 3.6 million


Business Objects - BOBJ - cls: 39.91 chg: +0.11 stop: 38.45

We don't see any changes from our Monday comments. Traders can choose to watch for a dip near $39.00 or a new relative high as a bullish entry point for BOBJ. Our target is the $44.00-45.00 range.

Picked on May 21 at $40.15
Change since picked: - 0.24
Earnings Date 07/25/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 1.5 million


British Amer. Tob. - BTI - cls: 64.85 chg: +0.42 stop: 61.85

BTI's 0.6% rally on Tuesday was fueled by stronger than average volume, which is usually bullish. However, BTI was slipping lower right into the closing bell. We would expect a dip tomorrow. Broken resistance near $64.00 should now act as short-term support. A dip or bounce near $64 can be used as a new entry point. Our target is the $67.50-70.00 range. BTI doesn't move very fast so this could take several weeks.

Picked on May 07 at $64.05
Change since picked: + 0.80
Earnings Date 04/27/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 105 thousand


Anheuser Busch - BUD - cls: 51.07 chg: +1.42 stop: 48.95

Tuesday proved to be a big day for BUD. The stock soared 2.8% on strong volume and broke through its recent congestion area and technical resistance at the 50-dma. Driving the move today were positive earnings comments from BUD's management. If you're looking for a new entry point consider waiting for a dip near $50.50. Investors should note that it could take several weeks before shares hit our target in the $53.85-54.00 range.

Picked on May 06 at $50.50
Change since picked: + 0.57
Earnings Date 07/25/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 3.1 million


Columbia Sportswear - COLM - cls: 67.08 chg: +0.69 stop: 63.39

COLM displayed another round of relative strength. The stock broke out and closed at new all-time highs. We remain bullish here but note COLM is now up five days in a row. It might be time for a dip. We are suggesting new bullish positions on a dip near $66.00. Our target is the $69.85-70.00 range. More aggressive traders may want to aim higher given the trend.

Picked on May 21 at $66.25
Change since picked: + 0.83
Earnings Date 07/26/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 235 thousand


ENSCO - ESV - close: 58.97 change: -1.23 stop: 55.85

The June crude oil futures contract expired today and oil suffered some profit taking. Weakness in oil took the wind out of energy stocks. ESV lost 2% and looks poised to dip toward $58.00 soon. We're not suggesting new positions at this time. The Point & Figure chart points to an $82 target. Our target is the $61.50-62.00 range.

Picked on April 29 at $56.84
Change since picked: + 2.13
Earnings Date 04/24/07 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 2.9 million


Georgia Gulf - GGC - close: 18.24 chg: -0.00 stop: 17.95

Danger! We are reissuing our cautious comments from yesterday. GGC closed unchanged on the session but the trading today was bearish with a failed rally pattern. The stock looks poised to breakdown under support at $18.00 soon. More conservative traders may want to exit now. Our target is the $19.90-20.00 range.

Picked on May 07 at $17.35
Change since picked: + 0.89
Earnings Date 05/10/07 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 1.2 million


GulfMark - GMRK - cls: 52.22 chg: -0.40 stop: 49.49

Bearish reversal alert! GMRK traded to $54.65 before turning tail and closing in the red. This failed rally under resistance at $55.00 is definitely bearish. We would expect a dip back toward $50.00 soon. Wait and watch for a bounce before considering new positions. The P&F chart already points to a $73 target. We'll use a relatively tight stop loss to limit our risk. We have two targets. Our conservative target is the $54.75-55.00 range. Our aggressive target is the $57.00-60.00 range.

Picked on May 20 at $51.75
Change since picked: + 0.47
Earnings Date 07/30/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 241 thousand


Gerdau Ameristeel - GNA - cls: 15.44 chg: +0.41 stop: 14.35

GNA continues to show relative strength even though most of the steel stocks were under performing today. Shares of GNA hit new relative highs and closed up 2.7% on strong volume. Our stop is at $14.35. More aggressive traders may want to use a wider stop loss to give GNA more room to move. Our target is the $17.50-18.00 range. The P&F chart points to a $29 target.

Picked on May 20 at $15.23
Change since picked: + 0.21
Earnings Date 07/30/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 552 thousand


Kansas City Southern - KSU - cls: 40.38 chg: +0.38 stop: 37.75

KSU managed to out perform the major markets and its peers with a 0.9% gain on Tuesday. Volume came in above average, which is bullish. The trend is still positive but traders may want to think twice about new bullish positions given the market's weakness today. Our target is the $43.50-44.00 range. Currently the P&F chart points to a $45 target.

Picked on May 17 at $39.61
Change since picked: + 0.77
Earnings Date 07/26/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 716 thousand


China Life Ins. - LFC - cls: 48.82 chg: -0.82 stop: 47.74

LFC suffered some profit taking on Tuesday. Shares slipped 1.6% and they're nearing potential support near $48.00. We are adjusting our stop loss to $47.95. We're not suggesting new positions at this time but we will be watching for a bounce near $48.00. Our target is the January 2007 highs in the $57.00-57.50 range. FYI: The P&F chart has produced a new triple-top breakout buy signal. The chart pattern points to a $70 target.

Picked on May 13 at $50.27
Change since picked: - 1.45
Earnings Date 08/25/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 1.2 thousand


McGrath RentCorp - MGRC - cls: 31.41 chg: +0.57 stop: 29.89

There is no change from our previous comments on MGRC. We are still waiting for a breakout over resistance near $32.00. Our suggested trigger to buy the stock is at $32.35. More conservative traders may want to use a trigger above $32.50. If we are triggered our target is the $35.75-36.00 range. The P&F chart is bullish with a $50 target.

Picked on May xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 05/03/07 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 94 thousand


Superior Energy - SPN - cls: 40.40 chg: -0.89 stop: 37.99 *new*

Warning. SPN has produced a bearish reversal today. The June crude oil futures contracts expired today and the commodity saw some profit taking. Weakness in oil undermined the energy stocks and SPN slipped 2.1%. More importantly, SPN produced a bearish engulfing candlestick pattern. More conservative traders may want to exit right here. We are raising our stop loss to $37.99. We're not suggesting new positions at this time. Our target is the $42.50 level. The P&F chart is very bullish with a $65 target. More conservative traders may want to do a little profit taking here.

Picked on May 13 at $38.42
Change since picked: + 1.98
Earnings Date 08/01/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 1.5 million

Short Play Updates

MarineMax - HZO - cls: 21.10 chg: +0.18 stop: 21.51

There is no change from our Monday comments on HZO. HZO has decided to not cooperate with our bearish designs - at least for now. We are suggesting a trigger to short HZO at $19.95, which is under round-number support at $20.00. Our target is the $17.75-17.50 range. It is VERY important that traders realize HZO has a high amount of short interest. The latest data put short interest at $28% of the 16.8 million-share float. That's a lot of short interest and a small float. Unfortunately, that can be a recipe for a big short squeeze and our stops may not help in what your broker will call a "fast market". More conservative traders may want to pass on this one.

Picked on May xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 07/26/07 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 354 thousand


Omega Healthcare - OHI - cls: 16.73 chg: +0.34 stop: 17.05

Many of the REIT stocks are all bouncing in unison. The group was somewhat oversold as of Friday and this week the sector is seeing an oversold bounce. Today's rally in OHI is worrisome with the close over technical resistance at the 200-dma. More conservative traders may want to exit early. Our target is the $14.50-14.00 range.

Picked on May 16 at $16.24
Change since picked: + 0.49
Earnings Date 04/26/07 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 343 thousand

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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