Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Tuesday, 08/26/2008

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Table of Contents

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

Market Wrap

Holiday Churn

Market Wrap

As we count down to the Labor Day weekend volume is going to continue to slow and our trading range is likely to tighten. Support has weakened but that is probably due more to a lack of traders than an abundance of sellers. The next three days are likely to be a lot of flash but no substance. Low volume is going to make any moves meaningless because they can be reversed in a heartbeat when traders return next week.

NYSE Composite Index Chart - Daily

There were eight economic reports today but none were earth shaking. Weekly chain store sales came in a +0.2% after a +0.1% gain the prior week. Both numbers illustrate how lackluster the back to school shopping season has been.

The S&P/Case Shiller Monthly Home Price Index for June showed home prices fell -17.0% over the past year. This was actually a positive report because prices were down -16.9% in the May report. A minor -0.1% decline over the last month is not a problem in my book. Unfortunately this is a lagging report and June is still part of the spring selling season and therefore prices would have been higher. As we get the reports from later in the summer the odds are good we are going to see larger declines. Most government economists expect declines in the 20% range. Another flaw in this report is the trailing 12-month calculation. Home prices could be down 40% over the last two years and the report would only show the last 12-month decline.

TThe OFHEO Purchase-only House Price Index also held steady in June after a few of the regional markets rallied. The OFHEO index showed prices were down only 4.8% overall over the same period in 2007. The flaw in this report is it only covers FHA conforming loans. It does not include jumbo loans or Alt-A and subprime loans. As such it shows the middle range of the housing sector is still relatively ok with only a small annual decline. Of course we know the subprime sector has imploded and jumbo loans are at a standstill with million dollar and higher homes down 50% in some areas.


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New Home Sales for July improved slightly over June to 515,000 compared to 503,000 homes. The rate of sales has been in this range for four months and suggests that sector is stabilizing. The months of supply of completed homes fell to 10.1 months and the lowest level in five months. This is also a positive sign of improvement. However, the annualized decline in sales for Q2 was still -26% below Q2-2007. Sales are still slow but with builders slowing the pace of construction over the last year the industry is on the road to a recovery. Inventory has fallen -23% from July 2007 levels.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey held at -16 for August and the same level as July. This was the fourth consecutive month in contraction territory. Raw material prices increased +3.65% but that was less than the +4.41% increase in July. Shipments improved 10 points to -13 but new orders fell -5 points to -22. The six-month outlook rose +10 points to positive territory at +6. Overall the outlook for the Richmond region declined in August despite no change in the headline number.

Consumer Confidence improved to 56.9 from the earlier 51.9 reading for August. The expectations component was responsible for the gain. This was the second monthly gain suggesting the worst is over. Assessments of current labor market conditions worsened. Those planning to buy a home increased to 3.3% from 2.8% and those planning on buying an appliance rose to 31.6% from 28.6%. Falling gasoline prices are a big part of the improvement in confidence.

CConsumer Confidence

The FOMC minutes from the August 5th meeting were released today and as expected the members were concerned about the continuing risks to growth. Most expected inflation to moderate but there was still a battle between the hawks and doves on the committee. The committee did not feel the current policy of 2% Fed rates was over accommodative. Payrolls continued to fall with widespread job losses. Consumer spending picked up but members felt it was only stimulus checks being spent. They were encouraged by the slowing decline in the housing market. Business investment remained soft with a decline in spending on equipment and software. Headline inflation was expected to slow now that energy prices have moderated. There were several acknowledgements that the committee was split. In terms of prices "most meeting participants thought inflation would moderate in coming quarters." Also, "nearly all meeting participants saw continuing downside risks to growth." This was clearly a sign the tension between the inflation hawks and those who want to keep rates low. Richard Fisher has dissented at every FOMC meeting this year in favor of raising rates. The minutes expect growth to be depressed for several more quarters with it not returning to its potential until the second half of 2009. The committee also felt the credit crisis was not over and expressed concern about the continued weakness. The committee felt the next rate move would be a rate hike but agreed the timing and size of such an increase would depend on the economic circumstances. The FOMC comments suggest there will not be a change in rates for several months. Once growth finally finds some traction we can expect the Fed to raise rates aggressively.

Economic reports for Wednesday include the Mortgage Application Survey, Durable Goods and the Oil and Gas Inventories.

The quarterly FDIC problem bank report was also released and it was not pretty. The number of problem banks rose to 117 from the 90 in the first quarter. Assets of problem banks rose to $78.3 billion from $26.3 billion in Q1. $32 billion of this increase was due to the IndyMac failure. That will stay on the FDIC books until they are successful in selling those assets. The FDIC also said the insurance fund had declined to a fund to asset ratio of 1.01% and below legal requirements. The FDIC said it would have to raise additional capital to get back into compliance. The fund ratio stood at 1.32% just a couple years ago. Today at 1.01% there is $45 billion in FDIC funds insuring about $4.5 trillion in deposits at member banks. To increase this ratio the FDIC will raise fees to all FDIC banks at a time when profits are near record lows. Bank profits for all the FDIC insured banks in the U.S. fell to only $5 billion in Q2. That is a drop of -86% over the $38.6B in Q2-07. The FDIC said the credit crisis had not bottomed and loan loss reserves at member banks needed to be increased again. Corporate credit spreads widened over the past week by 17 basis points and are very close to the high set back in March. Credit is continuing to tighten and credit losses are rising. When the FDIC and the FOMC both express concern over the continuing credit crisis on the same day we should pay attention.

Oil prices continued their extreme volatility ahead of tomorrow's inventory report. Crude fell overnight to $112.36 and then rallied to $117.89 on news that tropical storm Gustav had been upgraded to a category one hurricane and is expected to enter the gulf on Sunday as a possible category four storm. The volatility has been huge in the crude contract with more than a $10 range over the last week. Fay finally evaporated after nearly two weeks of wandering around the eastern gulf and away from the oil patch. Unfortunately Gustav appears to be aiming for a direct hit on the oil patch and New Orleans. Winds are already at 90 mph and it should hit the oil patch about 5PM on Sunday. Of course the leading winds will start battering those oil platforms early Sunday morning. This suggests traders will be getting long before the weekend or at least covering their shorts. I believe traders are going to wait until after the weekly inventory report Wednesday morning before changing positions. There are three more storm systems heading for the Caribbean about a week behind Gustav. Odds are good at least one will turn into a storm named Hannah.

CCrude Oil Chart

Storm Plot Chart for Gustav

This is a holiday week with many traders already away from the market and enjoying the last week of the summer at their favorite vacation spot. Volume has been falling for the last week and that favors the bears rather than the bulls. However, the markets tend to ramp into a holiday. The Stock Traders Almanac suggests there are several conflicting trends heading into the weekend. The last four days of August have been up the last four years but the next to the last day (Thursday) has been down 10 of the last 11 years. This is seen as the last real trading day before the holiday even though the market is open on Friday. Analysts view this decline as short covering before the holiday and preparation for the normal September decline. September is historically the worst month of the year for the markets. Fund managers tend to come back from the Labor Day holiday and begin cleaning house as they approach year-end. They unload losers and then cash out on some winners to offset the losses. The cash they generate they reinvest into the next set of hopefuls for 2009. The day after Labor Day has been up 11 of the last 13 years but then the markets begin to fade with the September triple witching week the worst week of the month. br>
MMarket Internals Table Showing Decreasing Volume

With volume slowing and market support eroding I would be very skeptical of any rallies the rest of the week. The Dow has not declined to initial support at 11300 but came close at 11350 on Tuesday. The Friday short squeeze has been erased and were it not for a buy program late Tuesday we could have easily closed on that 11300 level. A break under 11300 should retest 11000. With the worst month of the year ahead I think we have a very good chance of seeing that 11000 level. Remember, the Dow and the S&P has a very high beta to the financial sector. With the OMC minutes and the FDIC report both claiming the credit crisis is worsening again the banks are probably not going to be moving higher. The FDIC assets at risk doubled without counting the IndyMac failure. The worries over Fannie and Freddie are continuing and nationalism continues to be discussed. Without any strength in banks the Dow and S&P will continue to be weak. The XLF closed just over support at $20 and a break there could easily test the July lows. The S&P bounced off support at 1265 for a minor +6 point rebound. A break there could test 1250 and then 1210.

DDow Chart - Daily

Financial Sector SPDR XLF Chart - Daily

S&P-500 Chart - Daily

The Nasdaq hit support at 2350 today and saw some immediate buying interest with AAPL, RIMM, CSCO and INTC returning to positive territory before the close. Unfortunately it was not enough buying to return the Nasdaq to positive territory. The tech sector and small caps were the only things moving the markets higher over the last month. Without this supporting cast the path of least resistance is down. The next support level for the Nasdaq is around 2275 followed by 2200.

Nasdaq Composite Chart - Daily

Russell-2000 Chart - Daily

The Russell tested support at 720 on Monday and then broke that level at 2:PM this afternoon to trade as low as 716. The end of day buy program took it back to 722.77 and technically over support but it appears very week. The asdaq and Russell both hit new two-week lows today. The tide has turned and until the internals and volume improve significantly I would not buy these dips for anything but a short-term trade. The next support level on the Russell is 700 followed by 660.

I hope I have painted a picture of a change in market sentiment to negative as we head into September. Just remember there could be some trading bounces heading into the holiday and early next week. I would not view them as a positive change in sentiment but as potential short squeezes. There is a market axiom that says, "Don't short a dull market." I have given back tens of thousands of dollars over the years ignoring that axiom. Dull markets on low volume can be pushed around like Gustav would push a sailboat. The smallest of buy programs can cause very sharp spikes triggering trailing stops only to see prices return to the lows shortly thereafter. This is not a week where professional traders are in the markets. They know to avoid the quicksand and the traps hidden under it. I would strongly suggest everyone trade the next three days with only the risk capital you can afford to lose and definitely take profits early. The herd is starting to lean to the downside and that is a risky position in a dull market.

I would like to invite everyone to attend the 2008 Peak Oil Conference with me on Sept 21-23 in Sacramento. About 20 Option Investor subscribers and myself will be attending and it will definitely be fun and entertaining. There are dozens of speakers and all the presentations will have reams of data on Peak Oil and its impact. It is not specifically on investing for Peak Oil although there are presentations on that in the schedule.

The conference will convince anyone that peak oil is real and give you a countdown calendar for its arrival. I have dozens of people email me every week asking questions about peak oil. This is where to get your answers. The first day is the story and all aspects of the coming problem will be presented. The second day covers the impact. What role will coal play? What is the future for aviation? How will governments react to the changes? What hardships will ordinary people be forced to endure? What is the future of transportation?

AAll the Option Investor attendees will sit together so we can talk about the presentations during the breaks. I will be holding an evening session just for OI attendees and it will be Q&A and a general discussion about what we heard that day and how to profit from it. I strongly suggest anyone concerned about their future not miss this opportunity.

Go here to register: http://www.aspo-usa.org/aspousa4/

On the third page of the registration put my name in the "How did you hear" box. That way I can track the registrations and send you emails about meeting times and places. I guarantee you will not be disappointed with what you learn.

See you in Sacramento!

Jim Brown

New Plays

Most Recent Plays

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New Plays
Long Plays
Short Plays
BAS None

Play Editor's Note: Oil and energy stocks are on the move again and almost all the stocks I reviewed in this sector look poised to move higher. The threat of hurricane Gustav hitting the Gulf of Mexico could push crude oil higher. Plus, we have the ongoing conflict with Russia and Georgia and the rising tensions between the U.S./Nato and Russia over this conflict. Oil tends to move up into the middle of September and then reverses lower once the worst of hurricane season has passed and the summer driving season ends.

FYI: Keep an eye on NBR. A dip back toward $36.00 or $35.50 could be a new bullish entry point.

New Long Plays

Basic Energy Services - BAS - cls: 28.34 chg: +1.13 stop: 26.45

Company Description:
Basic Energy Services provides well site services essential to maintaining production from the oil and gas wells within its operating area. The company employs more than 4,700 employees in more than 100 service points throughout the major oil and gas producing regions in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas and the Rocky Mountain States. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
Oil stocks are turning positive again. BAS displayed some relative strength with a 4% gain and a bullish breakout over $28.00 and its 50-dma. We are suggesting readers go ahead and jump in here on the breakout. If you have patience then wait for a dip into the $27.50-27.00 zone. Oil might dip on the inventory report tomorrow but we expect any dip to be temporary with Gustav barreling down toward the Gulf of Mexico. Our target on BAS is $31.50. FYI: More conservative traders may want to use a stop loss closer to $27.00. The most recent data listed short interest at 7% of the small 21.7 million-share float.

Picked on August 26 at $28.34
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 11/06/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 437 thousand


Hornbeck Offshore - HOS - cls: 43.10 change: +1.40 stop: 40.95

Company Description:
Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc. is a leading provider of technologically advanced, new generation offshore supply vessels primarily in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and other select U.S. and international markets, and is a leading transporter of petroleum products through its fleet of ocean-going tugs and tank barges primarily in the northeastern U.S., the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and in Puerto Rico. Hornbeck Offshore currently owns a fleet of over 80 vessels primarily serving the energy industry. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
The onset of hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico should be big business for the likes of HOS. The stock appears to have found a bottom and we want to buy today's bounce. If shares do dip we would jump in on a dip near $42.00 as well. We'll try and play with a stop loss under Monday's low. More aggressive traders might want a stop under $40.00. There is plenty of overhead resistance so this could be a tough ride higher. Our target is the $48.00 mark.

Picked on August 26 at $43.10
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 10/30/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 815 thousand

New Short Plays

None today.

Play Updates

Updates On Latest Picks

Click here to email James

Long Play Updates

Alon USA Energy - ALJ - cls: 11.25 chg: -0.02 stop: 10.45 *new*

ALJ was showing a lot of strength this morning. Shares rallied to $12.07 before giving up all its gains to close in the red. This may be a short-term top in ALJ. More conservative types might want to take some money off the table. We're turning defensive and raising our stop loss to $10.45. Our target is the 100-dma (currently $12.45). FYI: The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $17 target.

Picked on August 22 at $10.75
Change since picked: + 0.52
Earnings Date 11/06/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 604 thousand


AMR Corp. - AMR - close: 9.61 change: -0.45 stop: *see details*

Right on cue shares of AMR have started sinking again. We don't see any changes from our previous comments. Right now our play is to buy a dip in AMR in the $8.15-8.00 zone. The $8.00 region is both price support and technical support with its converging 50 and 100-dma. If triggered at $8.15 we'll use a stop loss at $7.55. We're setting several targets. Our first target will be $9.90. Our second target will be $11.90. Our third target will be $14.90. We have also listed an alternative strategy for risk-averse traders. You can lower your risk with a collar on AMR. When you buy the stock sell an out of the money call option (per 100 shares of AMR that you own) and use this money from the call option to help pay for a put option to protect you should AMR suddenly plunge lower. It's not a perfect strategy. You limit your upside and will not see all the targets we listed but you also limit your downside, which may help some readers sleep better at night.

Picked on August xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 10/15/2008 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 24.6 million


CNX Gas - CXG - cls: 30.80 chg: +0.48 stop: 29.35

Strength in natural gas futures lifted the energy sector and CXG added 1.5%. We remain bullish on the stock. More conservative traders may want to tighten their stops. Our target is the $34.00-35.00 zone.

Picked on August 21 at $31.05 *triggered
Change since picked: - 0.25
Earnings Date 10/23/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 373 thousand


Exterran Holdings - EXH - close: 48.34 change: +1.37 stop: 48.75

EXH is trying to bounce and rose 2.9% today. We were prepared to drop it if it didn't show some strength. The play is still unopened as we wait for a breakout over resistance at $50.00. Our suggested entry point is $50.25. If triggered our target is the $54.00-55.00 zone. More aggressive traders may want to aim higher. There isn't any clear resistance until the $60 region. FYI: The latest data listed short interest at 8% of the 33 million-share float.

Picked on August xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 10/27/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 1.2 million


Petrohawk Energy - HK - close: 35.47 chg: +1.63 stop: 31.89 *new*

Target exceeded. The rally in natural gas helped fuel a 4.8% gain in shares of HK. The stock hit $36.00 intraday. Our first target was $34.85. We strongly suggest readers take some profits here if you have not done so already. We are raising our stop loss to $31.89. Our second target is $38.50. However, if HK fails at its 50-dma around $37.20 we'll probably exit early!

Picked on August 20 at $30.55 */1st target exceeded (36.00 hi)
Change since picked: + 4.92
Earnings Date 11/06/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 10.3 million


Monster Worldwide - MNST - cls: 19.21 chg: +0.17 stop: 18.94 *new*

MNST is not making much progress. Shares have been trading sideways for the last few days. We're starting to see a pattern of lower highs, which is bearish and suggests a breakdown lower soon. We're going to play defensively and raise our stop loss to $18.94. We are not suggesting new positions at this time. Our short-term target is the $21.75 mark.

Picked on August 20 at $19.11
Change since picked: + 0.10
Earnings Date 10/23/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 3.1 million


UltraShort Midcap - MZZ - close: 57.40 chg: -0.54 stop: 55.65

The MZZ tried to rally past the $58.50 level but failed for the second time in two days. We do not see any changes from our previous comments. Readers should remember that the MZZ will move twice the inverse of the S&P MidCap 400 index. Our suggested entry point to buy the MZZ is $58.75. If triggered we're suggesting a stop loss under the 8/22/08 low of $55.71. Our target is the $64.50 mark.

Picked on August xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 00/00/00
Average Daily Volume: 704 thousand


Titanium Metals - TIE - cls: 13.46 change: +0.54 stop: 11.49

TIE turned in another strong session and on strong volume for the second day in a row. This big volume on the rally is very bullish. However, we are going to play cautious here and adjust our target to the 100-dma in the $14.35-14.50 range. More aggressive traders could aim higher (like $15.00) we'll exit at $14.35. We'd like to raise our stop loss but yesterday's low was only $11.60. More conservative traders may want to tighten their stops anyway.

Picked on August 21 at $12.47
Change since picked: + 0.99
Earnings Date 10/30/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 3.4 million

Short Play Updates

Bank of America - BAC - cls: 29.02 change: +0.06 stop: 31.05

Financial stocks are still a vulnerable spot in the market. We remain bearish on BAC but readers will want to see a clear failed rally near $30.00 or a new decline under the 50-dma to open new short positions. More conservative traders might want to adjust their stop loss toward $30.50. We have two targets. Our first target is $25.25. Our second, more aggressive target is $22.50. We strongly suggest readers take some money off the table at our first target.

Picked on August 18 at $29.30
Change since picked: - 0.28
Earnings Date 10/16/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 90.8 million


Cinci. Fincl. Corp. - CINF - cls: 28.22 change: +0.58 stop: 28.05

Hmmm.... CINF displayed some relative strength today with a 2% gain. We are currently waiting for a breakdown under $27.00 with a trigger for shorts at $26.85. Nimble traders might want to consider shorts on a failed rally near the top of the trading range around $29.00. If triggered we have two targets. Our first target is $25.05. Our second target is $23.00.

Picked on August xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 10/29/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 2.2 million


Capital Trust - CT - close: 11.75 change: -0.28 stop: 14.01

CT continues to under perform. The stock sank to another new relative low today. We are not suggesting new positions at this time. If you have not taken any money off the table yet we would strongly suggest you do so now. The stock has already exceeded our $12.55 target. Our secondary target is $10.75. This remains an aggressive play because the stock is so volatile. The most recent data listed short interest at almost 28% of the small 19 million-share float. That definitely raises our risk for a short squeeze.

Picked on August 04 at $14.38 /1st target hit $12.55
Change since picked: - 2.63
Earnings Date 07/29/08 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 278 thousand


Merrill Lynch - MER - close: 24.10 change: -0.10 stop: 26.10*new*

MER drifted lower for most of the session before a late day bounce pared its losses. We are adjusting our stop loss to $26.10 (breakeven). Our first target is $22.50. Our second target is $20.25. The Point & Figure chart is bearish with a $7.00 target.

Picked on August 07 at $26.10
Change since picked: - 2.00
Earnings Date 10/23/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 42.2 million


NYSE Euronext - NYX - cls: 38.26 chg: -1.15 stop: 41.51

Right on cue, shares of NYX traded lower. The stock lost almost 3% by the closing bell. We don't see any changes from our prior comments. The Point & Figure chart is bearish with a $32 target. We are setting two targets. Our first target is $35.50. The $35.00 level might be round-number support. Our second target is $31.00. FYI: The most recent data listed short interest at 6% of the 257 million-share float. That's about three days worth of short interest.

Picked on August 25 at $39.41
Change since picked: - 1.15
Earnings Date 11/03/08 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume: 5.0 million


Financial Sector SPDR - XLF - cls: 20.17 chg: +0.16 stop: 20.75

Financials are still struggling and today the bearish trend took a rest. We are suggesting readers use a trigger at $19.49 to short the XLF (or buy put options). More aggressive traders may want to jump in now. If we are triggered at $19.49 we are suggesting a stop loss at $20.75. Our target is the $17.00 mark. The July 2008 low was $16.77.

Picked on August xx at $xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 00/00/00
Average Daily Volume: 201 million

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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