Today started off with a plummet thanks partly to the weak service sector report. Even so, some kind of breather was to be expected after the heartening rally that sent the Dow and the S&P 500 up some 14% in 16 days, especially with all the tension ahead of Friday's jobs report. The Dow got as low as 9206, the S&P500 slid to 994 and the Nasdaq got as far down as 1980. The market closed lower almost across the board, but made a valiant effort to recover and did regain a lot of ground:



S&P 500:


S&P500, intraday:

It was a very big morning for economic reports, and they did have an effect on the markets. Before the open came two reminders that employment usually lags a recovery. Challenger's July count of layoff announcements jumped to 97,373, up from 74,393 in June. (Note that factory shutdowns and re-openings in the auto sector have been skewing job-cut reports and jobless claims all over the place for the last month.) The Challenger Job-Cut Report categorizes announcements of corporate layoffs based on mass layoff data from state departments of labor and is considered a decent leading indicator of new jobless claims.

Caution, though: Job-cut reports don't distinguish between layoffs scheduled for the short-term or the long term, or whether job cuts are being handled through attrition or actual layoffs, it doesn't include jobs eliminated little by little over time and it's not adjusted for seasonal variation. Announcements of layoffs don't correlate immediately to actual layoffs, since not every layoff announcement results quickly in a near-term job loss.

The numbers are different, but this Department of Labor Graph confirms the recent spike up in the job-cut report:


Automatic Data Processing's national employment report focuses on monthly changes in payrolls and it wasn't too bad: minus-371,000 for July, down from a loss of 463,000 jobs in June. In other words, people are still losing jobs but at the slowest rate since October of last year. The labor market could be stabilizing and at this rates bodes hopeful for Friday's jobs report. Some consider the ADP figure a stand-in for the government's non-farm payroll reading. The ADP report represents about 400,000 U.S. businesses and 24 million U.S. private sector employees and also looks like a confirmation of, if not a bright employment picture, at least an unemployment picture that's getting definitely less bleak.

This Department of Labor graph shows the slowing of unemployment beginning in March:


The Mortgage Bankers' Association index of mortgage purchase applications was reported as rising 0.9% in the July 31 week "to an undisclosed level," with the MBA saying only that "It's been little changed over the last three weeks between 260 and 265. (When you add 0.9% to last week's 262, you get 262.9.) Likewise, the MBA did not post a level for the refinance index, saying it increased 7.2% in the week and is about 35% higher than the low in June. Mortgage rates were mostly lower in the week with 30-year loans down 19 basis points to an average 5.17 percent. Here's a look at 30-year mortgage rates through July and their virtual twin, 10-year Treasury yields:


Helping to throw cold water on the rally was the Institute of Supply Management's Non-Manufacturing Index report, which said business at service companies was weaker than expected last month. The group's services index, which measures the health of retail, financial services, transportation and health care companies, fell to 46.4 from 47 in June, falling short of expectations and marking the 10th straight month of declines; a reading below 50 indicates the sector is shrinking.

Prices also fell, down more than 12 points. That reflected a drop in energy prices but more important than that, it signified poor pricing power. That's nice for consumers who can afford anything, but it's not good for future earnings and consequently could drag on stocks and commodities.

Look at it in context, though. The last four NMI reports are all well off the March low, and the latest month is still well above the 12-month average. Should we really jump off a bridge because of a six-tenths-of-one-percent drop?


Even some cheerful news from the Commerce Department didn't help much: Factory orders, the dollar level of new orders for both durable and non-durable goods, improved in June for the fourth time in five months. The 0.4% gain fell short of May's 1.1% but was much better than the expected 1% decline. Inventories continued to fall and one day soon those rapidly-emptying shelves will transform into big new orders. Some analysts think that could happen as early as next month, since the Institute for Supply Management reported an increase in shipments in June, up 1.4% after a 0.8% fall in May.

Despite these recent signs of improvement in manufacturing and housing, the market is evidently still worried that rising unemployment will stop consumers from spending and put the kibosh on the recovery.

I'm not so sure. Look at this unassuming government graph, below; it shows domestic purchases and demand rising markedly in the second quarter. They're still in negative territory, but at their best level in almost a year. On this very topic, I was in Las Vegas for a couple of days last month and all I could mumble to my friends, as we attempted vainly to navigate the 24-hour-a-day crowds without getting stepped on, was, "What recession?" Big cigar-chomping guys were lined up three deep at the craps tables as they always have been and nobody blinked an eye at paying $150 to see a show or $19 for the calamari appetizer. If Vegas is any indication at all, we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel soon.


Today there were several announcements of upcoming Treasury auctions. On the 11th the Treasury will auction $37 billion in three-year notes; on the 12th, $23 billion in 10-year notes and on the 13th, $15 billion in 30-year bonds. I mention this as a prelude to telling you that you -- you personally, the regular individual investor -- can bid on these instruments. As of last year, all Treasury marketable securities -- bills, notes, bonds and TIPS -- are sold and transferred in increments of $100, replacing the $1,000 minimum purchase and transfer amount that had been in effect since 1998. Go to to read about it.

Maybe not surprisingly, the Energy Information Administration said crude supplies continued to grow. Crude oil stocks rose 1.7 million barrels in the July 31 week to 349.5 million. To try to offset the buildup, product stocks fell, down 0.2 million barrels for gasoline to 212.9 million, and down 1.1 million barrels for distillates to 161.5 million. Demand continued weak, at just +0.5% year-over-year for gasoline; for the month of July, demand was down 3.1%. Refineries are limiting output, continuing to operate at less than 85% percent of capacity.

As some have pointed out, of course demand is down: Millions of people don't have jobs to drive to. One also suspects that driving patterns may be slowly changing, even without $4-a-gallon gasoline, as more people think twice before using the car for a single errand.

Crude prices bounced around in initial reaction to the EIA report but despite weak demand and rising supplies, closed higher, at $71.97 a barrel. This chart tells us what spot crude's been doing since 2005 through Tuesday:


Gold futures, in response to the job-cut and service-sector reports, fell from their highest levels in two months. It gave the dollar a lift. August gold futures fell $4.10 or 0.4% to $963.40 an ounce; precious metals indexes followed suit:


In stock news, financials outperformed the broader market with ease for the second straight session, remaining in the green for almost the entire session before closing up over 3%. Regional banks advanced 2.9%, diversified banks climbed 5.4% and diversified financial services stocks were up 5.4%, including Bank of America (BAC), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM). Financials are now up more than 8% this week.


News Corp (NWS) lost $203 million in the fourth quarter on a MySpace writedown and operating profit worse than expected due to, what else, the economy. The net loss of 8 cents per share compared was way down from a net profit of $1.1 billion or 43 cents per share a year ago. News Corp. bought MySpace, you'll recall, in 2005 for $580 million. Hamlet was right: Timing is everything. The stock gained one cent today.

Cisco earnings fell 46% but beat expectations anyway. The company says it sees the recession loosening and is confident this is the bottom. Sales fell 18% to $8.5 billion and earnings were an adjusted-for-stock-compensation 31 cents share; analysts were expecting 29 cents. Cisco sees another drop in revenue this quarter, but says its cost-cutting program -- which was fierce -- is over, and it's going to focus on growth. The stock lost about $1 to $21.42 but it's probably no big deal since it's clearly trading well into new territory,


Some stocks were up wildly with the kind of charts we haven't seen in a long time. Some big gainers included mortgage insurer Radian Group (RDN), who surged more than 83% after announcing a second-quarter profit and revenue that more than doubled. The stock closed at $6.72, up $3.05. Radian earned almost $232 million or $2.82 a share on revenue up 58% to $577 million.


Also on a tear was embattled insurer American International Group Inc. (AIG), up $8.48 at $22. The company gained more than 60% and it doesn't even announce earnings until Friday. Obviously a lot of that jump was short-covering after better-than-expected earnings from Marsh & McLennan (MMC) gave insurers a boost.


Shares of auto supplier American Axle (AXL) leapt $1.14 or 44%. Investors were responding to the announcement that the company had cut its second-quarter losses by more than half, despite the fact that its revenue plummeted due to extended shutdowns at General Motors and Chrysler Group plants. The Detroit company reported a loss of $288.6 million or $5.20 per share, compared with a loss of $644.3 million or $11.98 per share last year. Revenue fell 50% to $245.6 million. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if they'd turned a profit?


So . . . What do we take away from today's session? That a big concern on Wall Street is layoffs and the concomitant drop in personal income. Job cuts have to slow for the economy to have a solid recovery. In the meantime, the market is perceptibly creeping up. There are signs of strength and one is the fact that Wednesday's mild loss was the biggest point drop in the Dow since July 7. Investors were expecting the market to pause: as we know, trees don't grow to the sky. Stock dips will probably stay muted because investors who missed the early part of the rally will look to buy on weakness. Me, I'm looking for shipping prices to firm and will discuss the Baltic Dry Index next week.

Tomorrow's economic reports bring the inflation-fighting Bank of England's announcement and that of the European Central Bank, the Natural Gas Report, Jobless Claims and others.

A fraction of the companies scheduled to release earnings tomorrow are Unilever, Sun Life, Abiomed, Theragenics, Comcast, Abraxis BioScience, Blue Nile, Brinker International, Beazer Homes, Gerdau SA, Linn Energy, Maxwell Technologies, Crocs, Dollar Tree, Diana Shipping, Hansen Natural, Immunogen, IMAX, Manulife Financial, NovoNordisk, Nvidia, Portugal Telecom, ResMed, Sapient, Silicon Graphics, VeriSign, Westar Energy, WestJet and Williams Partners.