After the drubbing doled by last week's dour unemployment data and the selling action in the earlier part of Monday's trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 finished the session higher while the Nasdaq was down 0.5%. Hey, two out of three is pretty good, all things considered. Coming out of the holiday weekend and with earnings season ready to kick off, trade was not exactly robust today, but stocks found a way to erase earlier losses to lead two of the three major indexes up on the day.
No, there was not much to write home about with the Dow up just 44.13 to 8324.87 and the S&P 500 up a meager 2.30 to 898.72, but small gains are better than losses of any kind, so perhaps the market is ready to sing a more optimistic tune. While the Dow continues to hold the critical 8320 level, noteworthy is another close below 900 for the S&P 500, but things could have been worse as the measure of the 500 largest US stocks did traipse as low as 886.36 on the day.
Concerns that Treasury's penchant for rabidly issuing new debt will not be met by sufficient demand were tempered, at least for today, as an auction of $8 billion in 10-year inflation-linked securities garnered a yield of 1.92%, below the 1.933 forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. That was one bright spot for the market today. Another came in the form of news that Moody's may upgrade its ratings on Brazil's debt.
While many investors in emerging markets seem enthralled with China, and with good reason, the ''B'' in the ubiquitous BRIC acronym has been on fire this year. The iShares MSCI Brazil Index Exchange Traded Fund (EWZ) is up 50% year-to-date, well ahead of the S&P 500. An upgrade by Moody's of Brazilian debt, which appears warranted, would be a boon for the US banks that hold billions in the South American nation's bonds.
The EWZ is heavily weighted in energy and industrial materials issues with those two sectors accounting for about 47% of the ETF's holdings, but this should not scare off potential investors. After all, Brazil is one of the only countries to have significant new discoveries of crude oil in recent years and the commodities-rich nation may be the safest place to invest of the four BRIC nations.
News of the possible upgrade lifted some financial shares, such as Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK). American Express (AXP) also rallied 5.3% on an upgrade to ''hold'' from ''sell'' by Stifel Nicolaus. That makes me wonder how much American Express shares would have jumped had they been upgraded to ''buy,'' but I guess we will have to wait and see on that.
Of course, not all of the financials participated in the Brazil-upgrade rally. Bank of America (BAC) fell 49 cents to $12.15 despite claiming the top spot among global asset managers in a report released by a UK-based research firm. Wells Fargo inched up 2 cents despite the heavy put buying I highlighted in today's Market Monitor. It seems that some options traders are taking a keen interest in the August 15 and August 17.50 Wells Fargo puts. A fall to either of those prices would be a pretty hefty percentage drop from today's close of $23.10 for the fourth-largest US bank. Maybe the Warren Buffett favorite is inviting the bearish trade by its announcement that it is intent on growing its presence in investment banking.
The Financial Select SPDR ETF (XLF) closed up just a penny to $11.48, keeping it below both its 50 and 200-day moving averages. For lack of a crystal ball, I do not want to hazard a guess as to where the XLF is headed next, but it is probably worth keeping an eye once bank earnings start to trickle in next week.
With earnings season ready to kickoff with Alcoa (AA) reporting after the close on Wednesday, it is a good time to take a look at what to expect in terms of earnings erosion. With the way the employers are shedding jobs, any upside surprises may lead to thuds on trading desks across the country as jaws drop to the floor. While that rosy scenario is possible, it is not probable. Forecasts are calling for a 34% drop in second-quarter earnings for the S&P 500. That comes on the heels of a 33% decline in the first quarter and a 60% thrashing in the fourth quarter of 2008.
If you want to call it improvement, the expectation for the third quarter is a year-over-year decline of ''only'' 21%. Some experts are calling for earnings to turn positive in the fourth quarter, but that may be more a result of comparing 2009's fourth quarter numbers to that aforementioned 60% beating suffered in Q4 2008 rather than actual increases in quality of profits.
In other words, all those lost jobs we have been hearing about for so many months mean consumers are spending less money. That is the first ingredient in a bad recipe for US companies. The second is the fact that folks that are fortunate enough to still be employed appear intent on bolstering their savings, so even in the rare cases of folks with some disposable income, the income is not being disposed of at their local Best Buy, car dealer, Starbucks or wherever. At least not in volume noteworthy enough to get the economy headed in the right direction.
Take a look at the chart below to get an illustration of the decline in S&P 500 earnings.
S&P 500 Earnings Chart
One sector that has suffered mightily at the hands of the weak economy and the newly frugal consumer is the airline group. Speculation is abound that some of the major US carriers may seek another round of bankruptcy protection, the second such move since 2001. The group is hemorrhaging cash and at least one analyst expects the biggest US carriers, including Delta Air Lines (DAL), AMR (AMR), parent of American Airlines, and UAL (UAUA), parent of United Airlines, to post a combined loss of $1 billion, up from a previous estimate of $600 million.
Crimped by rising fuel costs, slack business travel and anemic leisure demand, airlines might not be able to fill a plane charging only $10 a seat. That may be a bit of hyperbole on my part, but the outlook is grim for this particular sector.
Oddly enough, there was not an airline ETF available to investors until earlier this year when the Claymore Airline ETF (FAA) made its debut. Dispite the cute ticker, FAA is down more than 10% this year, embodying the decline of its holdings. FAA is thinly traded and has now slumped below its 50-day moving average. Finding positive catalysts to spur the ETF and its holdings higher is likely to be a tough task.
The tech sector and the Nasdaq have been holding up relatively well, due in no small part to the fortress-like balance sheets of many large tech companies. That said, the group has not been able to escape the fallout from the weak economy. Press reports are saying Google (GOOG) is likely to report its second slowest quarterly growth rate since going public when it reports earnings and Microsoft may report a second straight decline in quarterly sales.
Those anecdotes had no bearing on the battle being waged for data storage firm Data Domain (DDUP). EMC (EMC), the king of the data storage space, and rival NetApp (NTAP) have been duking it out for Data Domain and I mentioned several weeks ago in the Market Monitor that EMC was likely to increase its $30-a-share cash bid and that would push Data Domain above $32. EMC did just that today, offering $33.50 a share and Domain closed at $34.06. That values Data Domain at $2.1 billion, above EMC's previous $1.9 billion offer and well above NetApp's $1.5 billion bid.
The proverbial ball is now in NetApp's court and Data Domain shareholders appear poised to benefit the longer this battle is drawn out.
Barring any surprises, Tuesday appears to be light in the way of economic news and there is not much in the way of earnings offerings, so it would not be surprising to see another day of lackadaisical trade as investors batten down the hatches in anticipation of earnings reports, which start to flow on Wednesday.
As I mentioned earlier, Dow component and aluminum giant Alcoa will be watched intently after the close Wednesday. Analysts are expecting a loss of 34 cents a share for the second quarter. There are a couple of earnings plays that may be worth a gander before the open Wednesday. Family Dollar (FDO), the discount retailer that is up about 9% this year, is expected to report profits of 59 cents a share. Pepsi Bottling (PBG) is the other pre-market earnings report of note on Wednesday. Analysts are calling for 73 cents in profits there.
Taking a look at market internals, perhaps another docile, double-digit day would be a good thing tomorrow. With the Dow resting in the neighborhood of 8320, it appears attempts at breaking 8600 failed and downside support at 8250 could become an issue of the market continues to languish as it has a penchant for doing in the summer months.
A violation of 8250 would be just the invitation the bears need to come roaring back and send the Dow down to 7800, or perhaps lower. The near-term performance of the Dow is almost entirely dependent on the earnings its 30 members deliver over the coming. If the bulls like what they hear, another run at 8600 could be attempted. If not, a break of 8000 could be in the offing.
Things are even more precarious for the S&P 500, which made a valiant attempt to close above 900 last Thursday before sellers took advantage of buyers that had presumably left early to kickoff the long weekend, sending the index below the critical 900 level. While the S&P 500 was up on Monday, it was not up enough to get above 900 and the more closes below 900 the market sees, the more concern is likely to grow.
A lot has been lately of a head-and-shoulders pattern forming in the S&P 500 charts and the support the index finds in the 880 area. This level for the S&P is a lot like 8250 for the Dow. A bounce from those levels could rejuvenate the bulls. A break to the downside, well, I shall just call that scenario bleak and leave it at that.
S&P 500 Chart
The Nasdaq now rests a mere 15 points above the 50-day moving average of 1772.43, which could be a support level in the near-term, though 1760 has shown to be a support range as well. Factoring in Monday's decline, the Nasdaq is down 50 points in the past week, which normally would not be overly troublesome, but the calendar shows this is historically the weakest time of year for technology stocks.
If the bears really get a hold of the Nasdaq and force it below the 1750 area, unfortunately, 1675 has to be introduced to the conversation. While the tech-heavy index has not broken down per se, it certainly has not broken up either, and now several closes above 1800 will be need to get the bulls cheering again.
I have spent some time lamenting the importance of second-quarter earnings, but another factor to consider it trading volume. If trade continues to remain lethargic, even good earnings news may be like the tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it. That may be the unfortunate consequence of earnings expectations that have been pared and pruned the way they have been over the past year. When the bar gets set too low, no one cares if it is cleared.