They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so before I get into what was happening in the market today, here is a picture to explain why we saw futures get battered overnight and U.S. stocks sink even further on Thursday.
That picture was not taken or Wednesday or Thursday, but it certainly could have been dated May 19 or May 20 as protesters in Athens took to the streets to bemoan proposed austerity measures to get Greece's financial act together. In other words, Europe continues to be unsettling for equity investors and that sent all three major U.S. indexes down by at least 3.6% today. The Dow was the ''winner'' in percentage terms, losing ''just'' 3.6%, or 376 points, to close at 10,068. The S&P 500 tumbled by 43 points, or 3.9%, to settle at 1071.59 and the Nasdaq was smashed to the tune of 94 points, or 4.1%, to close at 2204. As I suspected earlier this week, small-caps were ready for a fall and that they did with the Russell 2000 losing 5% for to finish the day at 640.
I was not alive in the 1960s, but my mom loved to play the music from her youth around the house when I was growing group and one song that I remember hearing quite a bit was the Motown hit ''Nowhere to Run.'' The catchy chorus of that song goes something like ''nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide'' and that is an appropriate way of describing the current market environment because it appears the gold trade, has at least temporarily expired as a safe haven.
Gold had been enjoying a solid performance over the past month, fueled in large part by investors scurrying to find some asset class that would provide returns better than bonds or cash with some degree of relative safety. Late last week and early this week, enough pundits started to opine that gold was looking topped out and the chart below shows gold provided no shelter over the past couple of days from this European-infused storm.
Speaking of plunging commodities, it was a wild day in the oil trading pits as crude opened about 2% higher from Wednesday's close only to drop by as much as by the early afternoon. NYMEX-traded crude for June delivery traded as low as $64.24 and yes, some of that volatility was due to the expiration of the June contract's expiration today.
All that means is the selling is going to be transferred to the July contract, which lost $1.68 to close at $70.80. Oil has traded lower in 12 of May's 14 trading days and is down by 22% since early April.
How bad was the trade on U.S. exchanges today? Up volume on the NYSE was roughly 28 million shares compared to down volume of about 2 BILLION shares. All 30 Dow stocks were down on the day and all 10 industry groups tracked by the S&P 500 were down as well. A whopping 497 of that index's 500 constituents were down today.
An anecdotal example of ugly things were today can be seen in shares of Dow component Boeing (BA). The aerospace giant said it is ''insulated'' from Europe's economic woes and reiterated that it is looking at substantial order backlogs for 767s, 777s and the 787 Dreamliner through 2012. While Boeing shares are up more than 40% in the past year, the stock tumbled by almost 5% today on volume that was two-thirds higher than the daily average. The bottom line is a 5% single-day move for Boeing is not a regular event.
Another anecdote worth noting, and this one will serve to illustrate how bad things on the Nasdaq, is the decline of Apple (AAPL). In dollar terms, it was quite bloody, with Apple finishing the day down $10.58, or 4.26%, to close at $237.76. All this on a day when Standard & Poor's upgraded the stock to ''strong buy'' from ''buy'' while reiterating a $300 price target.
Moves of $10 have certainly been seen in Apple before, but they usually come on the upside. Have the fundamentals here changed? No. Will Apple thrash profit and revenue estimates the next time it reports? Probably. Still, the stock's decline of almost 10% in the past month highlights how dour market sentiment has become.
A surprise jump in weekly jobless claims did not help the market today. The Labor Department said claims for the week ending May 15 increased to 471,000 from 446,000 during the previous week. That is good for the highest level in a month and when most economists were expecting claims of 440,000, an increase in this closely followed economic indicator was ill-timed to say the least. The Labor Department noted that there were no unusual factors to explain to increase in claims.
For the brave, or those interested in a short-term trade, Dell (DELL) may be worth watching tomorrow. The computer maker delivered its first-quarter results after the market closed and said that it earned $441 million, or 22 cents a share, compared with $290 million, or 15 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 21% to $14.9 billion. Excluding items, Dell earned 30 cents a share. Analysts were expecting a profit of 27 cents a share on sales of $14.3 billion.
Dell said it is seeing an uptick in demand from corporate customers that are replacing old servers and mainframes. The company expects a pickup in PC demand later this year. Dell said revenue from large business increased 25% to $4.2 billion and sale from small and medium businesses rose 19% to $3.5 billion. Sales to consumers increased by 16% to $3.2 billion.
Dell also noted it is seeing some benefits from its acquisition of Perot Systems. That deal is helping Dell gain more customers in the public sector. After losing 4.41% during regular trading, Dell shares were down another 41 cents, or 2.93% in after-hours trading.
Looking at the charts, and before we do that, you might want to pinch your nose, support for the Dow at 10,350 was ignored in a beak way as the index made its way to its lowest close since February 10. The 200-day moving average did not help stymie the decline either and 10,000 may be more of a case of round number or mental support than a legitimate place for the Dow to bounce from. The 9850-9875 area should be the next meaningful support area.
Like the Dow, the S&P 500 made its way to its lowest close since February 10 and is also trading below its 200-day moving average. And as was the case with the Dow, a critical support level did not hold for the S&P 500 and by that I mean 1100. Obviously 1085 did not work either and with index closing right near its low of the day, 1065 could be taken out tomorrow.
S&P 500 Chart
Same story on the Nasdaq as 2300 did not hold and that has the index residing below its 200-day line as well. The 2185 area would appear to be the next support range, but the Nasdaq closed less than 20 points above that level today meaning that if tech stocks do not see some relief by tomorrow morning, 2150 could be an issue in the very near-term.
No need for me to toot my own horn, but small-caps rolled over in a big way today and 650 did not prevent further declines for the Russell 2000. The index closed right at its low of the day, an ominous sign. If the 200-day moving average at 628 does not prop the Russell 2000 up, another 30-50 points of downside could be in the cards.
According to Bloomberg, the S&P 500 is now 24% below where it traded a decade ago, 17% below where it traded on May 18, 2001 and just 3% where it traded on the first day markets were open following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Historical footnotes to be sure, but also illustrations of why I do not see much reason to be bullish here. Tomorrow is options expiration day and traders may not want to be holding positions over the weekend for fear of more news out of Europe. That said, if a $1 trillion bailout package has not put markets at ease, the EU is probably out of tricks.