Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Market Takes a Breather (Another One)
1.1 Markets at a Glance--One Confused Market
2.1 S&P 500 Index (SPX)
3.0 Featured Industry Groups
3.1 Banking Index (BIX)
4.1 U.S. Dollar (DXY)
5.1 Oil Fund and Index (USO and OIX)
1.1 Markets at a Glance--One Confused Market
Before I started writing tonight's newsletter I was thinking I really don't want to. I'm tired of this market, I'm tired of saying "it's a choppy market full of whipsaws and there are much better days to trade." I've backed off on my trading because frankly I'm having a hard time making sense of it. I like to see some impulsive moves to indicate at least a short term trend is in place. We are getting none of that.
This market has done more reversals of reversals of reversals and it gets my head spinning. There's nothing more I'd love to be able to do than tell you to get long for a great buying opportunity that should last at least a couple of weeks. There are now many who play the short side and I'd love to be able to say get short since we should see a big move down into April.
The trouble is we're getting what used to be big moves on a daily basis now (remember the days when the DOW moved 100 points it was a big day?). And it's happening multiple times on an intraday basis. Catch those moves right and you're putting some serious change in your pocket. Hang around too long in a trade and you're giving it back. Have your stop too close (this market requires wide stops right now) and you're bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts.
I like to keep ideas on my charts for where I think the market could be headed (all the arrows and wave counts that I place on my charts). The difficulty lately has been keeping track of the multiple possibilities and not cluttering the charts. I know many of you already find the charts too cluttered. But this market requires all of us to stay on our toes and be ready for anything.
So it's a frustrating market to trade and I don't see anything yet that tells me it's about to become less frustrating. Unless you're selling credit spreads each month (in which case you love the fact that it's trapped in a trading range) you are likely finding this to be one of the more challenging markets you've traded in quite a while. This too shall pass of course and the trick is to not get yourself to point where you're forcing trades just to trade. That's often what leads to larger losses so stay patient.
1.2 Bank Credit Spread Update
As hard as central banks try to increase the liquidity in this market, in an attempt to free up the frozen credit market, the more it seems to be going the other way. The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive in that they've aggressively lowered rates and injected massive amounts of money into the monetary system. Other central banks have kept rates steady but they've also injected enormous sums of money into the banking system. But rates like the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) are not ticking lower. They're lower than they were last summer but they're stubbornly remaining higher than the Fed rate and Treasury rates and even ticking back up. It's the spread between these banks' lending rates and the Fed funds rate and Treasury rates that's frustrating the central bankers.
In last weekend's newsletter I showed the credit spread between the Moody's BAA-rated bonds and the 10-year yield and how it continues to widen. This is very telling and as the credit spread continues to widen it indicates a further reluctance to accept anything but higher and higher rates on loans (and only highly-rated loans). Banks don't trust each other and consequently they are not nearly as willing to lend money. This is reflected in the higher interbank rates and higher bond rates for even low-risk loans. This is of course making it much more expensive to borrow money even if you're able to get it.
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The difference between the rate banks charge for three-month dollar loans relative to the overnight indexed swap rate is showing a decline in the availability of cash. The so-called LIBOR-OIS spread widened 7 basis points to 64 basis points. It averaged 8 basis points in the first half of 2007.
This lack of trust is the key issue. It's not a liquidity problem--there's plenty of money in the system (after all it's nothing for the printing machine to simply print more money, except for that annoying inflationary problem). The problem is trust. Without trust the whole system breaks down because everyone becomes afraid of the risk of not getting their money back. No one trusts the current rating system. And without trust the Fed and other central banks are powerless. The unintended consequences (inflation) could become a bigger problem (although it could be argued that deflation is a far bigger and more difficult to solve problem that's coming our way).
When credit spreads continue to widen, as they are, while the stock market rallies, it's bearish non-confirmation and it's a warning that the bounce is very likely just a correction to the decline. Don't trust it. Use it to lighten up your holdings or put some collars in place (gave a good example over the weekend). Don't be a deer in the headlights and do nothing. As readers of this newsletter you have already shown you are far more knowledgeable about the stock than the majority of investors. Use that knowledge and protect yourselves. There's absolutely nothing wrong with cash in an uncertain market. Just make sure you're confident about the banking institution you're with.
1.3 Economic reports
Durable Goods Orders
You can see by the chart of durable goods orders that the trend has been down for about two years now:
New Home Sales
Today's report showed sales of new homes fell to a 13-year low in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 590K, down -1.3% from January. Sales are down four months straight now and -30% over the past year. The good news is that new home inventory dropped -2.1% to 471K which is the lowest since July 2005 (when the housing market peaked). But as sales slow and foreclosures add to the supply of homes the unsold inventory held at a 9.8-month supply in February. As in January, this is the highest level since 1981. The median sales price fell -7% from March 2007 to $244K. The sales volume and price are not pictures of health in the following chart:
2.1 S&P 500 Index (SPX)
SPX chart, Daily
The way price is behaving (lots of chop and whipsaws with very little follow through in either direction) I'm getting a stronger feeling about the potential for a large sideways consolidation pattern to play out into April, maybe even May. That pattern is depicted with the dark red price path. If SPX can rally above the top of the pattern near 1380 and especially above the February 1st high near 1396, the more bullish price pattern could play out (first resistance in that case would likely be the downtrend line from October, up near 1430.
It's possible the current bounce off the March 17th low will simply lead to a strong decline as the next move but that's looking less likely at this point. The large sideways consolidation calls for a lot more of what we've seen since January--lots of chop and whipsaw price action that beats both sides severely about the head and shoulders. Selling credit spreads above and below would be the winning trades in this environment. For now I'd sell resistance and buy support (including your spread trades) but when either support or resistance gives way it could be a big move.
Key Levels for SPX:
SPX chart, 60-min
You can see today's candles on the 60-min chart were very small candles. It was one choppy boring market today and it told us nothing about what will likely happen tomorrow. SPX is dancing on top of the broken downtrend line from December so that's potentially bullish and is the way I'm leaning. But a break of today's low (1336) that stays there would have me quickly switching to the bear camp. Just don't overstay your welcome whichever camp you decide to drop into.
2.2 Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW)
DOW chart, Daily
I've got the same sideways pattern potential for the DOW. A rally above 12800 should see a quick trip up to at least 13K. But a break below today's low should see another test of the long term uptrend lines from 2002/2003 (12300 area)
Key Levels for DOW:
DOW chart, 60-min
Like the SPX, the DOW found support at its broken downtrend line from December so there's some bullish potential here. Today's price pattern just didn't give me warm and fuzzies about what the bulls will be able to do here. A break lower could pick up some speed but from a pattern standpoint, the March 19th low near 12097 (SPX 1295) is the important low for the bulls to defend.
2.3 Nasdaq-100 Index (NDX)
Nasdaq-100 (NDX) chart, Daily
The price pattern for NDX, similar in some ways to the semiconductors (next chart), suggests the current bounce will be followed by another leg down to complete a 5-wave decline from October (dark red). For that scenario to play out we should see an end to the current bounce any day now (possibly yesterday's) and drop down towards 1600. That move could set up a much larger corrective rally into May/June. If NDX instead pushes higher to the downtrend line from October (pink) then it opens up the possibility for actually being more bearish since the next leg down after that could be very strong and deep.
Rather than either a continuation higher or lower from here the other possibility of course is just like the one I showed for SPX and the DOW--a continuation in a sideways trading range into May.
Key Levels for NDX:
2.4 Semiconductor Holder (SMH)
Semiconductor Holder (SMH) chart, Daily
Nothing has changed in the SMH pattern from what I showed last weekend--the sideways triangle is still the most likely pattern. The semis did not follow the techs in this week's rally. SHM poked its head above the top of the pattern on Monday and Tuesday and quickly ducked back down for cover. If those little shadows sticking up are left that way it's going to look like a throw-over finish to the triangle pattern (a common occurrence). The next move should be down (dark red) if this pattern plays out like it should.
2.5 Russell 2000 Index (RUT)
Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, Daily
The RUT's pattern looks to be in between the NDX and SPX. I could easily argue for a continuation higher, at least up to its October downtrend line near 737, as well as a decline from here to a new low, potentially targeting the 550 area by the end of April. Of course it could go sideways as shown on the DOW and SPX charts. The price pattern just isn't providing enough clues as to which scenario gets top billing. If forced to choose I believe we'll see either the big sideways consolidation or lower from here. It's possible we'll see one more quick stab higher before the bounce finishes, shown on the 60-min chart.
Key Levels for RUT:
Russell-2000 (RUT) chart, 60-min
If the bounce off the March 17th low is forming a rising wedge it needs one more leg higher (pink) which should be accompanied by bearish divergences. If it sets up that way it will make for a very good short play since the rising wedge pattern is typically retraced very quickly (so back to 646 in less time than it took for the rally). Like the other indices, the bulls are not in trouble until the March 19th low, 665 for the RUT), is taken out.
3.0 Featured Industry Groups
3.1 Banking Index (BIX), Daily chart
I thought Monday's rally was going to do it--the sharp rally broke above the previous high on February 27th and it looked like the bulls were going to show us something. By the end of the day the candle was a shooting star (tall shadow above the small body made by the open and close near the lows of the day). That reversal candlestick was completed with Tuesday's and today's red candles so now it looks like the banks are headed lower again.
As is true for just about every index and sector I follow, the price pattern is choppy with lots of 3-wave moves. This leaves no sense of direction to the market which is why I like to stick with trend lines and channels. After the 1-day breakout the banks are back inside the down-channel from last year's high. I suspect we'll see the banks chop their way lower now but a rally back above 274 would be bullish.
3.2 U.S. Home Construction Index (DJUSHB), Daily chart
Like the banks, the quick stab above the February 27th high was followed by a steep pullback so far. The 200-dma is the line of resistance for the bulls to overcome. It could be just a pullback that will lead to another rally in which case watch for the possibility for a rally up to the top of the up-channel drawn on the chart. I show a Fib projection near 448 as a potential target. A drop below 350 would be a warning to bulls and back below 300 would put the bears back in the driver's seat.
3.3 Transportation Index (TRAN), Daily chart
The good news for the Transports is that they've broken above the top of the down-channel from last year's high. Today's pullback found support at its recovered 200-dma. Obviously the bulls don't want to give that up now. If they can manage to push this back up keep an eye on the 5145 Fib target. A drop below 4388 would be an indication there are new lows on the way.
4.1 U.S. Dollar (DXY), Daily chart
Earlier this month the US dollar broke below the bottom of its longer-term down-channel from 2005 and then found support at the bottom of its shorter-term down channel from January 2007. The bounce then took it up just above the bottom of the longer term channel but found it to be resistance (very common). If it consolidates sideways for a few weeks (depicted in dark red) then I expect to see another leg down into May/June. This may coincide with the same kind of sideways consolidation I'm showing on the DOW and SPX daily charts. If dollar bulls can push it back above Monday's high then we should see it head up to at least its 50-dma or 100-dma near 75.
5.1 Oil Fund and Index (USO and OIX)
Oil Fund (USO), Daily chart
The question in my mind for oil is whether or not we're going to get another new high out of the current bounce. If we do I suspect it will be accompanied by a big bearish divergence against the oscillators and would fit as the completion of its longer term rally. A push back up to retest its broken uptrend line from early February (red trend line) where it crosses the top of its up-channel (about 91) in early April would be an ideal short play setup.
Oil Index (OIX), Daily chart
The pullback from February 27th looks very corrective and suggests another push higher is coming for the oil stocks. I would think the broader market will have to participate to make that happen. It takes a rally above 865 to point to at least a retest of the early January high and a break below 760 to suggest we'll see new lows.
5.2 Gold Fund (GLD), Daily chart
The apex of the consolidation pattern in January/February is a common support level (resistance level for a bounce in a downtrend) and that's right where GLD bounced. I'm showing an idea for a retest of the broken uptrend line from December (dark red price path), near 97, to set up a short play in gold. But like oil, we could see a final high made in April in which case we should see GLD hitting about 102 (gold around $1050). I believe the new high would make for a very good short play setup. If GLD breaks below 88.63, the mid-February low, we will probably see a larger decline down towards the next support zone around 80.
10-year Yield (TNX), Daily chart
The 10-year yield appears to have made a successful test of the January low (resistance for bond prices) with bullish divergence. I expect to see a higher bounce for TNX now, at least back up to the February high and likely higher. Have you locked in your refinancing?
My frustration with this market is something that I know many of you share. The number of emails I receive voicing it tells me we are not alone. The market continues to act very jittery. The bears have very little conviction to hold short for fear of another surprise from the Fed, Treasury, or another rating upgrade on a bank. Shorts buy first and ask questions later. Just the opposite is happening with the bulls--they are so spooked now by what we're all hearing about what's happening to the financial sector and they're holding the exit door open as they keep their eyes on the stock market while listening for news of another bank implosion.
Speaking of implosions, there are several rumors about some big hedge funds that are in real trouble. Margin calls may force more than a few to liquidate holdings by the end of the month in order to meet the calls from the banks. Banks are not in the mood to lend money to risky ventures and they sure don't want to see any more of their existing loans to hedge funds go up in smoke. They've got enough to write off as it is.
This afternoon we saw a quick buy-program spike that was just as quickly sold into. It appeared as though someone tried to goose the market to create some buying pressure (short covering or wannabe bulls) so that they could sell into it (the buying creates liquidity for them to sell into so that they don't pull the market down with their selling). The problem was there was no follow through buying and when they (whoever "they" is) sold into it there was nothing to hold the market up. This is a telltale sign of distribution (liquidation) and there may be a lot more of that coming our way if some of the rumors are true.
Countering the liquidation worries we of course have potential window dressing into end of quarter/month. Fund managers will clearly want to have as good a showing as they can for the end of the month. Of course if consumers are as depressed as the numbers indicate, they probably won't even open up their statements next month. It amazes me when I hear how many people simply stick their heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away before they notice. Everyone on TV says this is a great time to buy (wrong!) and yet I think most people are seriously wondering if that's true. But most will do nothing to protect themselves and they keep telling themselves the stock market is the best place to be long term.
SPX is below where it was in April 1999. In that 9-year period, according to Morningstar Inc., your index fund has lost 0.37% per year (and down -1.4% per year over the past eight years). Treasuries are up +4.7% per year over the same 9-year period and +5.8% per year since March 2000. And yet people still think most of their IRA belongs in a stock fund. I strongly suspect most will dearly wished they had reversed their allocation between stocks and bonds by this time in another nine years.
Commodities are clearly where we wanted to be invested since 2000. But investors in commodities should be watching closely to take profits. I've heard more ballyhooing from commodities newsletters, especially the grains, oil and gold, than I can ever remember. It tells me we're peaking. I shared with you a couple of weeks ago the strong bullish sentiment in commodities. Talk about a boat ready to tip over! Gold bulls at 97% is not what bulls want to see. The more I hear it's different this time the more I want to scream GET OUT NOW!! Just keep those stops up close now. Let the market take you out by having your stop just below this week's lows.
As for what we can expect in the stock market in the coming week, I hate to say it but I think more of the same. While the market has rallied the past week, the market internals are not supporting the price rise. New 52-week lows have outpaced new highs, even on big up days. Volume during the rallies has been somewhat anemic. Continue to trade very carefully and don't trust moves in either direction until this log jam is broken. Good luck and I'll be back next Wednesday.
Key Levels for SPX:
Key Levels for DOW:
Key Levels for NDX:
Key Levels for RUT:
New Long Plays
New Short Plays
Long Play Updates
Corning Inc. - GLW - close: 24.24 chg: -0.90 stop: 23.45
An earnings warning from Jabil (JBL) slammed the LCD glass makers and companies associated with the industry. Shares of JBL plunged 18%. Shares of AUO lost 7.5%. GLW closed down 3.5% but was recovering from its intraday lows near $23.80. We see today's weakness in GLW as a buying opportunity. If you're feeling conservative then ratchet up your stop loss toward today's low. We're suggesting two targets. Our first target is the $27.00 level. Our second target is the $29.00 level. We do not want to hold over the late April earnings report.
Picked on March 25 at $25.14
Honeywell - HON - close: 55.63 chg: -0.37 stop: 53.45
Today's dip in HON is just a better entry point to consider new positions. We don't see any changes from yesterday's comments. We are suggesting long positions now near $56.00 or on a dip near $55.00. We're suggesting a stop loss under the recent low. Our target is the $59.90-60.00 zone. More aggressive traders could aim for the top of the larger range near $62.00. Keep in mind that we do not want to hold over the earnings report in about three weeks.
Picked on March 25 at $56.00
IYZ experienced some more profit taking today but bulls are still buying the dips. We remain bullish with the IYZ above $23.00 and its 10-dma. We have two targets. Our 1st target is the $25.85-26.00 range. Our second target is the $27.85-28.00 zone.
Picked on March 25 at $23.50 *triggered
JA Solar - JASO - close: 17.67 change: +0.54 stop: 14.85
JASO out performed many of its peers today with a 3% gain thanks to some positive analyst comments. Today's move is a bullish breakout above its 50-dma. We would continue to buy the stock here or on a dip in the $16.50-16.00 zone. This should be considered an aggressive, higher-risk play because the stocks in this industry have been so volatile in the past and can see wide, intraday swings. We are playing with a wide stop loss at $14.85. We are setting two targets. Our first target is $19.95. Our second, more aggressive target is the $22.25-22.50 zone.
Picked on March 25 at $17.13
Coca-Cola - KO - close: 61.15 chg: -0.26 stop: 57.99
We are still waiting for a pull back in shares of KO. We're suggesting readers buy KO in the $60.05-59.50 range. We'll suggest a stop loss at $57.99. Our target is the $64.50-65.00 range. The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $90 target.
Picked on March xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Microsoft - MSFT - close: 28.56 chg: -0.58 stop: 27.19
The relative weakness in MSFT is a little concerning. Shares lost about 2% and broke down under its 10-dma. However, we're not willing to give up on MSFT yet. This dip may prove to be a better entry point. If you're feeling conservative then just ratchet up your stop loss toward the $28.00 level. We don't see any changes from our prior comments regarding the potential YHOO merger. There is potential resistance with some significant moving averages overhead. However, we are aiming for the $32.00-33.00 zone.
Picked on March 23 at $29.18
Meritage Homes - MTH - close: 18.82 chg: -2.05 stop: 15.90
MTH just erased yesterday's gains. The entire homebuilding sector was crushed after this morning's data on new homes sales. The data was actually better than expected but it failed to inspire any new buying. MTH remains a huge short squeeze candidate but today the bears won. Look for prior resistance near $18.00 to be new support. We remain bullish on MTH but you might want to look for signs of a bounce before opening new bullish positions. This remains an aggressive play. Our target is the $25.00-27.00 zone. The P&F chart is bullish with a $28 target.
Picked on March 24 at $18.60 *triggered
99 Cents Only Stores - NDN - cls: 10.65 chg: -0.31 stop: 9.49
We are still patiently waiting for NDN to dip into our suggested entry zone of $10.30-10.00. We'll set the stop at $9.49 (more conservative traders could try one closer to $10.00 but that might be too tight). Our target is the $11.95-12.00 range.
Picked on March xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Short Play Updates
Starbucks - SBUX - close: 17.66 chg: -0.33 stop: 18.55
SBUX lost 1.8% but volume was pretty low on the session so it's hard to put any confidence in the move. Overall we don't see any changes from our previous comments. Our target on SBUX is the $15.05-15.00 zone. FYI: The most recent data puts short interest at 3.4% of the 703 million-share float, which is about 2 days worth of short interest.
Picked on March 07 at $17.49 *triggered
Safeway Inc. - SWY - close: 28.71 change: +0.01 stop: 30.26
Nothing new here with SWY. The stock continues to oscillate sideways. The overall trend is still bearish. There appears to be some support near $26.00 so we are suggesting a target in the $26.50-26.00 zone. The P&F chart is bearish with a $22.00 target. FYI: The latest data puts short interest at 3.9% of the 437 million-share float, which is about 4 days worth of short interest.
Picked on February 29 at $28.74
Closed Long Plays
Closed Short Plays
Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Keene H. Little and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.
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