Shorts relived their worst nightmare once again as existing home sales and positive comments from Ben Bernanke spiked the markets higher at the open.
The markets celebrated the jump in new home sales for July. The headline number rose from 4.89 million units (annualized) to 5.24 million in July. This was well over the 5.0 million estimate by analysts. This was a +7.2% jump and the biggest month over month gain since the NAR started recording this number in 1999. Sales were also up on a year over year basis. This was the fourth consecutive monthly gain and the first time that has happened in five years.
The sharp spike in sales was due in part to the first time homebuyer stimulus program. That stimulus program terminates at the end of November. Over 30% of the sales came from those first time buyers. Sales of homes under $100,000 jumped +38.8% while $100K-$250K sales rose only +8.7%. Sales between $250K-$500K FELL -6.2% and those $1 million to $2 million fell -23.3%, over $2 million -32.4%. Foreclosures were also prominent with 31% of the sales being distressed properties. The number of homes available for sale increased but inventories are now 11% below last year's levels. That is really surprising when you consider the massive number of foreclosures hitting the markets. Over 2.5 million foreclosed homes are expected to hit the market in 2009 and another 2.0 million in 2010. Helping flush the supply of existing homes is the drop in housing starts over the last 18 months. However, despite the rebound we are still well below the sales levels during the bubble.
Home Sales Chart
Despite the good news in the existing home sales there are still problems in the sector as evidenced by the monster number of foreclosures in the pipeline. The Mortgage Bankers Association says delinquencies are still rising even in the prime credit category. Second quarter mortgage delinquencies hit another record high at 9.24%, while Q2 mortgages in foreclosure surged to 4.30% from 3.85% in Q1.
Mortgage Delinquencies Chart
The other economic report on Friday was the regional and state employment report for July. Twenty-nine states reported a loss of jobs while 21 states and the District of Columbia reported an increase in jobs. This was not a market mover since the July payroll report already gave us the total job losses. It was encouraging that 21 states are reporting rising employment or at lease less bad conditions.
For next week the calendar is short but there are three regional manufacturing surveys and the Durable Goods report for July. All of those reports are expected to show improvement. The big report for the week will be the next update for the Q2 GDP on Thursday. The GDP number is expected to be revised lower due to some negative economics that have come to light since the first release. I don't expect any of the individual reports to really move the market other than possibly the GDP. There is a record amount of new debt being auctioned next week and that will eventually be a problem.
Also helping the market on Friday was comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Bernanke spoke at the Federal Reserve's annual conference in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Bernanke said "After contracting sharply over the past year, economic activity appears to be leveling out, both in the United States and abroad, and the prospects for a return to growth in the near-term appear good." He also said banks still face significant losses and household credit is still difficult to access. He expects a slow recovery and only a gradual decline in unemployment.
Guess what part of his talk the press decided to promote? Yes, "Bernanke said we are on the verge of recovery." That helped to power the market higher and cause even more pain for the shorts. Technically nothing changed in the Bernanke comments but it was a summer Friday and news was hard to find. The press tried to put a positive spin on the "prospects appear good" and from the market response it appears to have worked.
The Bernanke speech Friday was really two things. It was a victory lap where he laid out the successful programs the Fed put in place to stop the crisis and it was a job application of sorts in hopes President Obama will keep him for another term. If you create a lot of good will in the markets over your successful actions then the president will have a tougher time putting in a replacement. Larry Summers has often been rumored as his replacement but the general consensus is that Summers would only be a puppet for the current administration and that could be dangerous. The Fed has to be independent or the potential for a disaster would be huge. The Fed's actions can never be political and many times the Fed went against what past administrations wanted. Bernanke continues to preach against lawmakers spending more money and that is a black mark on his resume. Lawmakers don't want to be lectured in public testimony four times a year on why their runaway spending is ruining the economy.
The jump in new home sales and the Bernanke comments crushed the dollar and treasuries while sending commodities surging higher. The dollar index declined to under 77.80 on the Bernanke comments and very close to the 52-week lows we saw on August 5th.
Dollar Index Chart
Crude oil finished the week with a monster 9.6% gain and coming within a quarter of touching $75. This was due in part to the falling dollar but also because of the huge -8.4 million-barrel drop in inventories on Wednesday. After three weeks of inventory gains totaling 9.4 million barrels that was almost entirely wiped out in only one week. Crude imports fell an average of -1.8 million barrels PER DAY for the last week and gasoline demand increased as families raced to get that summer vacation in before school started.
I can't tell you how many times I heard about the "increased demand" being the culprit for the Wednesday decline. One editorial stated, "This report on oil inventories is the most bullish in recent memory.
Sorry, get your facts straight before you make a fool of yourself in public. The storm charts below are from the prior week. Remember most of our imported oil on tankers comes from Venezuela or the Middle East. A week ago there were three storms headed for the Caribbean from the west coast of Africa. The one in yellow on the chart turned into Claudette and went into the Gulf. Ana (white track) blew right through the tanker lanes before evaporating near Florida and Bill (labeled Three on this chart) has been moving westward from Africa through the tanker lanes for over a week now.
If you were a tanker driver what would you have done? Full speed ahead and ignore the hurricanes? Not if you want to keep your job and possibly your life. Tankers either went well out of their way to avoid the storms, including putting the throttle in idle and letting the storms blow ahead of you or simply going into a holding pattern somewhere out of danger until the storms passed. I would venture to say that we are going to see a huge spike in oil inventories over the next couple weeks as that backed up tanker flow arrives all at once.
Storm chart from Aug 16th
Storm track for Ana last week
Crude Oil Inventory Chart
Crude Oil Chart
The weeklong rally in oil prices, also aided by expiration of the September futures contract on Thursday, helped push the oil services sector to the top of the leader board. The Oil Service Index ($OSX) rallied +12% from the lows on the spike in oil prices. The entire energy complex was up strongly for the week and that includes the natural gas stocks despite the new low in gas futures at $2.80 on Friday.
There is currently a move away from commodity ETFs like the UNG and USO. There are rising fears that the CTFC is going to enforce position limits on the ETFs and that will be suicide. The UNG has already said it will not issue new shares and it currently trading out of parity with natural gas. Basically it is more like a closed end fund today and part of the price is based on the scarcity of UNG shares and not the movement in the price of natural gas. Analysts are warning that until the CFTC either makes a new rule or says they are not going to impose limits the commodity ETFs are a dangerous place to be. News of proposed changes can move the price dramatically without a corresponding move in the underlying commodity. Basically they are trading on popularity today rather than specifics.
In the "you can't make this stuff up" category the Dow Jones Indexes are for sale. You may remember Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones last year and he is trying to find a way to make money on the trade. Traditional newspapers are going out of business daily and subscriptions are plunging and hurting News Corp. Evidently he has decided that maintaining a huge set of global indexes as an expensive status symbol is not an option. According to the WSJ, Goldman Sachs has been retained to find a buyer. This suggests there could be a name change soon. For instance, the CNBC Industrial Average, the Warren Buffett Industrial Average, the Russell 30 Industrial Average, the Bloomberg Industrial Average, the S&P Industrial Average. If corporations are willing to spend $25-$200 million to name a stadium or a convention center how much more will they pay to own a global portfolio of indexes where the names are repeated millions of times a day.
It is not just the naming that is worth money. Over 700 companies license the Dow indexes and pay fees to be able to use them for various purposes. The Dow Industrial Average was created in 1884 by Charles Dow, Edward Jones and Charles Bergstresser. I am sure glad they left the third guy's name off the index. The Dow indexes are also prominent in the ETF field. If somebody bought the indexes and decided to change the structures the ETF community would be buried under the burden of portfolio updates. For instance the DIA ETF, which mimics the Dow Jones Industrials, is the 17th largest ETF with $7.29 billion in assets. There is also the DJ US Select Dividend ETF with $3.26 billion in assets. There are ETFs held by other funds under license to DJ like the ProShares Ultra DJ Financials with $2.34 billion in assets.
In another YCMTSU item Egyptian fruit sellers have named their best dates of the year after President Obama. Dates are a traditional food for Ramadan where Muslims fast eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset for a month. Reportedly the Prophet Muhammad is said to have used dates to break the fast every evening. In Egypt the food shops that cater to Muslims have a tradition of naming their best and worst dates to attract attention and spur sales. President Obama captured the honor of having his name given to the highest quality dates after his landmark speech to Muslims in Cairo in June. The highest quality Obama dates sell for about $2.50 a pound. President Obama is not the first U.S. president to have his name on the dates. The lowest quality dates, worth about 17-cents a pound were previously named for President Bush. Ramadan begins this weekend. Link to Obama Dates
The administration said on Friday that the cash for clunkers program would end this weekend and all dealers must have their paperwork submitted by 8:PM Monday evening. According to the administration the program was ended in order to assure funding for all outstanding deals. However, I am sure you have been hearing all week where various state associations and automobile dealer groups quit taking applications a week ago. Dealers claim they can't get reimbursed for the deals they already did and could no longer front the money to the buyers if they were not going to get paid. Reportedly the paperwork requirements continue to change and more than 60% of deals submitted have not even been reviewed. The website is failing and even when all requirements have been met the payments have not been made. Is this how the new health care program is going to work?
Administration officials admitted on Friday that only $145 million had actually been paid to dealers out of the $1.9 billion in applications submitted. I suspect the abrupt termination of the program was self-defense given the rising tide of dealers backing out of the program. AutoNation was one of the major dealers who quit taking applications this week saying it was owed $45 million by the government. AutoNation owns 220 dealerships across the country. $45 million is a huge chunk of change and that came from selling 10,500 cars with clunker rebates. The program was supposed to last until Labor Day. Reportedly 457,000 clunkers have been traded in to be scrapped.
In my last YCMTSU item, California is going to vote on Monday to release between 27,000 and 40,000 prisoners in an effort to save money. They are also considering reducing many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors so the mandatory jail sentences in the future will be much shorter and many sentences can be limited to community service and house arrest. U.S. judges told California on Tuesday they had to release up to 40,000 prisoners in order to relieve overcrowding in state prisons. The order gave California 45 days to reduce overcrowding to "only" 137.5% of capacity. That amounts to a reduction of 40,591 inmates in 33 prisons. I wonder how Californians are going to react to an extra 40,000 criminals in their midst and felonies turned into misdemeanors? Will California become a criminal magnet since penalties will equate to a slap on the wrist?
Four more banks were closed on Friday bringing the total to 81 for the year. Guaranty Bank of Texas has been on the list for a long time and the FDIC finally sold it to BBVA this week. It will cost the FDIC $3 billion. Other closures were eBank of Atlanta GA, First Coweta, Newman GA and CapitalSouth Bank of Birmington AL. Those last three banks cost the FDIC about $250 million. Noted bank analyst Meredith Whitney said on Friday she expects more than 300 banks to be closed in 2009. She said investors had been "overzealous" in estimating bank profits for the next few years. Bloomberg said bankers might underestimate loan-loss reserves to make their banks look better and to extract year-end bonuses but the problems will still exist. Most bank loans are still carried at cost at origination despite the implosion in real estate prices. Facing that decline by slashing their value estimates would make most U.S. banks technically insolvent even though the majority of those loans are current.
You can tell Friday was a slow news day from the items making headlines above. However, it was option expiration and that helped produce a volume spike on a strongly positive day. You can imagine what a 19-point spike on the S&P at the open on expiration day can do to the best-laid plans of option traders. With the S&P hovering at just over the magic 1000 mark a +19 point spike can wreak havoc on open positions. If you had sold a bunch of calls at the 100 strike on the SPY (SPX 1000) the opening would have been traumatic with the gap to $103.
This was the same story across the board as the spike forced those who were short index ETFs to cover. Nearly every chart I looked at had one long green candle for the first 30 minutes. The opening spike pushed the volume to 9.9 billion for the day and the highest since August 7th. But, it was expiration Friday so higher volume was already expected and we can't claim it was bulls rushing into the market. It was shorts rushing in not bulls.
We are seeing a wonderful phenomenon where all the professional traders are getting killed trying to trade their market bias. I heard numerous analysts/traders this week saying something to the effect of "I sold all my banks, homebuilders and retailers last week and went short for the late August decline. I have been forced to cover those shorts and I am sitting here watching the market go higher without any longs." Another one said, "I really feel stupid after telling my people to go flat last week. Now I am sitting here with egg on my face." Last but not least, "I have been waiting for a material decline for weeks to get long and the market is setting new highs. Boy do I feel stupid. However it is not as stupid I am going to feel when I finally buy the highs and the market tanks?" I laughed out loud at that one.
This story is being repeated every day by thousands of traders and money managers. Everybody has expected a decline that has not appeared. We definitely had a great chance on Monday and support held. Tuesday's rebound was anemic and on low volume. We got another chance for a sell off on Wednesday when the market gapped down at the open to Monday's support and then rocketed off again. Everybody buying the dips is doing great and those shorting the rallies are losing money almost every day.
This is a "denial rally" where nobody believes it but funds can't afford not to chase it. With only three months left in the mutual fund year those managers can't afford to wait for a correction. They are being forced to chase stocks higher despite of the general consensus that a correction is imminent. You have heard me tell this story before so I won't beat the dead horse any longer.
The good news is the new highs. The Dow closed over 9500 and the S&P over 1025. In fact every major index with the exception of the transports closed at new highs. This can't happen on just one day of short covering. It has been building all week after Monday's collapse failed to bring on devastation in the markets. As long as market commentators continue projecting a decline there will be an endless supply of shorts to keep us moving higher.
The Dow closed at 9505 and well over prior resistance at 9422. The next material resistance is the November high close at 9625 and the 50% retracement level at 10335. Personally I am thinking that once over 9625 we need to get those Dow 10,000 hats out again because we could run for several hundred points before consolidating. Remember, in about three weeks we will start getting mid quarter earnings guidance for Q3. Expectations are lukewarm and a couple positive surprises could really build a fire under the market. Until then current Dow support should be the prior resistance at 9400-9422.
The S&P posted a respectable +2.2% gain for the week but in reality it rebounded +4.6% off the Monday lows. When you start off the week with a -2% decline it makes the weekly numbers less impressive. When you consider nearly a +5% rebound on top of a 50% gain since March it does not appear that anyone is worried about a potential decline. The best analysis I could give you on the market is the horizontal movement the first two weeks of August. In retrospect this was a two-week consolidation pattern with a textbook retest of support. The market was trying to creep higher but there was the growing feeling that a failure was imminent. When the S&P failed to break support at the end of those two weeks on what appeared to be devastating news the buyers quickly returned.
S&P-500 Chart - 60 min
However, buyers did not return in volume because after all it is the last three weeks of summer. Traders are still trying to squeeze in a last vacation before Labor Day. I am going to reprint Tuesday's internals table with the last three days added to show the increase in volume and the improvement in the internals. However, we should expect to see volume return to the lows over the next two weeks. The Labor Day holiday will start weighing on the markets starting next week. Once past Labor Day the volume should pickup dramatically. Friday was nearly a 9:1 day with advancing volume 8 times down volume. Note that the last four days have been decidedly positive for advancing volume.
I saved the Nasdaq for last because the index is not as bullish as traders would like. The July 2006 resistance was 2014 and the Nasdaq did close over that level but only slightly. The internals for the Nasdaq Composite on Friday were less bullish than the entire market. Advancers only beat decliners by a little less than 3:1 and advancing volume was only 4:1 over declining. Overall market volume was nearly 9:1. That suggests the tech stocks may have come to the party but remained in the corner sulking because banks, homebuilders and energy stocks were getting all the attention. Despite the bullish book to bill number on the semiconductors on Tuesday the SOX closed below last week's high and well below its high for the year. The chip stocks are seen as the leading sector for the Nasdaq and while it posted a +2% gain for the week it did not accelerate the Nasdaq higher. Don't get me wrong, I am glad to see the Nasdaq over 2014 but until it breaks through that October downtrend resistance I will continue to be concerned.
Next week will be a critical week for market direction despite the new highs on Friday. You would think buyers would be convinced but there is also the danger that the new highs were a climax spike. Short covering fueled the Friday gains not bulls rushing into the market. I wish I could say that it was onward and upward from here but every day has its new set of challenges. The economics should not be a problem next week and if some economic problem does surprise us then we will want to see the bad news bulls rush to buy the dip again.
Remember, volume after Monday's expiration cleanup will be a challenge as we head toward Labor Day still two weeks away. The late holiday this year could be a drag on the markets as August stretches into five weeks. Everybody knows September does not start until after Labor Day. I am ready for fall. I want to get past the summer, into the Q3 earnings guidance period even though I know that this is historically a rocky period. If the markets can keep looking forward and not get too caught up in the lack of material economic growth then we can move higher. I am still in buy the dip mode until proven wrong.