All things considered, stocks were holding up relatively well until just after 3:30 PM Eastern time when another late-session sell-off knocked the Dow Jones Industrial Average to another triple-digit loss. The blue chip index shed almost 113 points to settle at 10024.02. The S&P 500 lost almost 19 points to close at 1070.71 while tech outside of Apple (AAPL) was weak, leading to a decline of almost 35 points for the Nasdaq, which settled at 2222.23.
Stocks were once again held hostage by headlines from other parts of the globe and failures to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. The latest geopolitical news to roil equity markets actually did not come from Europe, but from Israel. Press reports said that Lebanon fired on Israeli warplanes that flew into Lebanon's airspace.
Given that political tensions are always high in the Middle East, this was not the type of news that skittish investors needed to hear on the first trading of June, especially when considering that May 2010 was one of the worst Mays in several decades. Not surprisingly, Israeli stocks were hammered on the news with the iShares MSCI Israel Capped Investable Market Index Fund (EIS) plunging 4.32%. The ETF has been in a tailspin since mid-April.
Once again some positive economic data was overshadowed by negative catalysts originating outside of the U.S. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said manufacturing activity slowed a bit in May from April's blistering pace, but still remains robust. The ISM's manufacturing survey for May came in with a reading of 59.7%. Economists were forecasting a reading of 59%. Anything above 50% is considered bullish.
New orders for May held steady at 65.7% and the employment index jumped to 59.8% from 58.5% in April. Another bullish sign was a rise in export orders to 62% in May from 61% in April. The inventories index fell to 45.6%, its lowest level in five months.
Construction spending also sported some impressive gains with private construction spending rising 2.9% in April and public spending rising 2.4%, making March and April the first months of consecutive gains since 2007. The April 2010 gains were the strongest since August 2007.
Last Thursday, it looked things were finally starting to get better for BP (BP), the embattled oil major that has consistently floundered in its attempts to cleanup what has now become the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The shares saw some relief last Thursday on positive headlines regarding the company's ''top kill'' effort to plug the leaking Macondo well was actually working. By Friday, essentially of Thursday's stock price gains were gone and by the weekend, the U.S. government told BP to halt the top kill plan.
BP is trying yet another risky plan to plug the well, but at this point, nearly everyone that turns on the nightly news is doubting the company's ability to fix what has become an incredibly dire situation. BP's inability to plug the well and effectively cleanup the spill is, quite simply, killing the stock. The shares shed another $6.43, or 15%, to close at $36.52 today after media reports said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering criminal charges against BP.
The drop was the biggest for BP's U.S.-listed shares since 1980. In London, the stock saw its largest decline since 1992, according to Bloomberg News. BP has lost about 39% since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, erasing roughly $70 billion in market value in the process. Allow me to put $70 billion into context: That would essentially wipe out McDonald's (MCD) and destroy Kraft Foods (KFT) not once, but almost 1.5 times.
An interesting aside about how negatively the broader market has been reacting to BP's failures in the Gulf of Mexico is that BP is not even a member of the S&P 500 because the company is not based here in the States. I did not research the particulars, but BP now has a market cap of $114.33 billion, so add $70 billion and that is BP's market value before April 20. That would make BP a fairly important part of the cap-weighted S&P 500, so it might just be a good thing that BP is not a member of the index. If it was, we might be looking at 1050, not 1070 for the S&P 500.
Of course, the BP news combined with President Obama's six-month moratorium on Gulf of Mexico drilling projects is bad news for a slew of other stocks, namely the oil services group. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on OilSlick.com about an analyst report saying select oil services such as Cameron International (CAM) and National Oilwell Varco (NOV) would benefit as rig operators were forced to update equipment on their rigs to bolster safety protocols.
That thesis may still prove to be valid, but in the moment of BP's incompetence and the drilling moratorium, these stocks are getting bludgeoned. NOV was down 11% today and Cameron was down almost 12%. Transocean (RIG), the largest provider of offshore drilling services and a villain in the same vein as BP, shed almost 12% on Tuesday. On April 20, Transocean was a $92 stock. On Tuesday, the shares closed just above $50, a decline in dollar terms that is even more breathtaking than that endured by BP.
None of this is good for the Oil Services HOLDRs (OIH), which was a $130 ETF on April 20. OIH closed below $89.50 today and looks poised for a move to the high 60s or low 70s before it sees $100 again.
There were some bright spots on Tuesday, though they were few and far between. Radio Shack (RSH) caught a bid (no pun intended) after the New York Post reported that the auction for the electronics retailer is heating up with Blackstone Group (BX) the reported front runner. Radio Shack has hired Goldman Sachs (GS) to help it explore strategic alternatives, including a possible sale that could fetch as much as $3 billion, the Post reported.
Other private equity giants such as Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts are believed to be interested in Radio Shack and the Post mentioned an unidentified ''strategic'' bidder as well. That very could be Best Buy (BBY). Radio Shack gained almost 3% to close at $21.79 on the news.
Radio Shack Chart
Apple was a standout as well, gaining $3.95, or 1.54%, to close at $260.83 after reporting that 2 million iPads have been sold since the product's debut on April 3rd. The iPad made its debut in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. just days ago and the product will be available in nine more international markets in July.
Analysts said the 2 million mark would have broken sooner had Apple done a better job of anticipating brisk demand for the iPad. Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs said the company is working to meet demand and analysts are saying the iPad will immediately impact Apple's bottom line in a positive way.
UBS said Apple is on pace to sell 3 million iPads by the end of the current quarter and Broadpoint AmTech boosted its price target on Apple to $340 from $320, saying the iPad could account for more than 10% of Apple's total revenue for the current quarter. I have included a poll below from the Web site ipad.org to illustrate how robust some Apple fans think demand for the iPad will be going forward.
iPad Sales Poll
Looking at the charts, the Dow is still having problems conquering 10,200, though 10,000 held as support, for today at least. The problem is the Dow continues to languish below its 200-day moving average of 10,285 and the longer the index resides below that level, the gloomier the picture becomes. A move below 10,000 could mean a return to last Tuesday's low of 9774.48.
The S&P 500 is plagued by a similar problem, meaning an inability to reclaim its 200-day line at 1105. If the index moves below 1065 and support at 1050 does not hold, a move to 1000 or lower could easily be in the cards.
S&P 500 Chart
The Nasdaq was looking a tad better last week as it was the only one of the three major U.S. indexes to close above its 200-day moving average, but that scenario did not last for long as the index closed at 2222 on Tuesday. If round number support at 2200 does not hold, a return to the May low of 2140.53 could be in the offing. Sans Apple, there are a lot of reasons to be cautious with the Nasdaq.
The bulls have an array of problems to deal with in the form of Europe, now Israel, wilting commodities prices and BP's fiasco in the Gulf and all of those factors being issues simultaneously simply makes it easier and more prudent to either be short or sit on the sidelines. The longer the bears remain in control, the more I believe we could be in for a cruel summer and that is my pop culture reference for the day.