The markets looks pretty ugly on Tuesday afternoon as stocks appeared headed for their late May lows. Thankfully trader sentiment seemed to change early this morning. Better than expected pending home sales, strong auto sales numbers, positive analyst comments on some oil service stocks, and expectations for this Friday's jobs report all played their part in Wednesday's very widespread market rebound. Not one major sector index closed in negative territory. The S&P 500 index surged 2.5% back toward short-term resistance near the 1100 level. The NASDAQ gained 2.6% with a bounce from its 200-dma. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 2.2% with a move up toward its 200-dma. The small cap Russell 2000 index outperformed with a 3.0% gain.
Chart of the S&P 500 index:
Chart of the NASDAQ index:
Chart of the Russell 2000 index:
The rally got started early this morning overseas in Asia. News that Japan's Prime Minister Hatoyama would resign after eight months on the job briefly sent the Japanese NIKKEI index shooting higher. The Japanese yen declined on this news with a big drop against the dollar. Hatoyama is the fourth Japanese PM to resign after being in the office for less than a year. The NIKKEI's rally didn't last and the index eventually lost 1.1%. The Hong Kong Hang Seng gained +0.17% and the Chinese Shanghai inched up +0.12%.
Traders in Europe remain cautious. All eyes are on the euro currency, which rebounded from yesterday's four-year low against the dollar at $1.211. Spain's consumer confidence numbers saw their biggest decline on record with a drop from 78.2 in April to 65.1 in May. Big budget cuts by the government combined with a 20% drop in the stock market over the last several weeks was too much for consumers that are already facing a real estate depression and 20% unemployment. Spain's Ibex index fell 0.3%. The English FTSE dropped 0.23%, The French CAC-40 slipped 0.05% and the German DAX index closed virtually unchanged.
The U.S. dollar index was virtually unchanged in spite of the movement in the euro and yen. Commodities managed to inch higher anyway. Crude oil futures rose 1.1% to $73.40 a barrel. Copper prices opened lower this morning but closed up 0.6% by day's end. Gold traded sideways and closed at $1,225.10 an ounce. The individual commodities may not have moved that much but the commodity-related stocks certainly did. Oil and oil service stocks were big movers with the OIX oil index up 3.3% and the OSX oil services index soaring 5.5%. Even shares of BP rebounded 3.1% while their emergency efforts to plug the leak hit another snag. The spinning diamond-tipped saw blade to cut through the main pipe was snagged this morning. Fueling the move in oil services were bullish analyst comments on shallow-water drillers since the administration has put a hold on new deep-water drilling.
OIX Oil Index chart:
OSX Oil Services Index chart:
Steel stocks were big performers with the SLX steel ETF up 7.1%. I'd like to blame the big May sales numbers released by automakers this morning but I doubt it. Short covering across the commodity names is a more realistic explanation. The SLX certainly looks like it has hit a short-term bottom. On the subject of auto sales, this morning's numbers were pretty impressive. Domestic auto manufacturers and most of the Asian producers saw double-digit sales gains in May. Government Motors, err excuse me, General Motors saw a 17% rise in sales. Chrysler reported a 33% jump in sales making May 2010 the first month in over two years the company sold more than 100,000 vehicles (source: Reuters). Ford announce a 22% increase in sales and said they would up production since inventory had fallen to a 48-day supply. A normal supply is 60-days. Ford also made big news today when the company announced it would retire the 71-year old Mercury brand at the end of this year. Honda said sales grew +19%, Hyundai +33%, Nissan +25%, Subaru +35%, Kia Motors +21%. The laggard was Toyota Motor Co. with a +7% gain.
SLX - Steel ETF chart:
If vehicle sales were this strong in May then expectations for retail sales may have just jumped. Several of the major chain store will report their May same-store sales figures tomorrow morning. It should be a really easy month to beat since same-store sales fell more than 4% back in May 2009 thus year-over-year comparisons should be a cinch. U.S. consumer confidence numbers are near two-year highs. Yet the month of May was the worst May in decades and volatile stock markets tend to put consumers on the defensive. Tomorrow will actually bring multiple economic reports. We'll see the weekly jobless claims data (likely ignored), monthly factory orders but this will be overshadowed by the ISM Services index and the ADP Employment report. The ADP numbers do not count government hiring but economists are still expecting a big improvement.
According to John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, planned firings inched up 1.3% in May to 38,810 from a multi-year low of 38,326 in April. Essentially planned firings for corporate America have fallen to "pre-recession" levels. A year ago the number of planned layoffs was 111,182. All of the clues appear to be pointing to a pretty strong jobs report this Friday. Expectations have been inching higher. Two weeks ago economists were looking for +480,000 new jobs in May. A week ago it was +503K. Now it's up to +513,000 and they expect the unemployment rate to fall from 9.9% to 9.8%.
The real question is going to be how many of these jobs are temporary census jobs and how many are private sector jobs. This morning the U.S. Census said they had 573,779 workers on their payroll but we don't know how many of these are going to be counted for May's jobs report. Analysts are focusing on private-sector jobs and the number to look for is +150,000 or better. There is a big possibility that the afternoon surge higher in the stock market on Wednesday was due to short covering ahead of the jobs report. We can thank Vice President Biden for that. It seems like the White House has already got a look at the May non-farm payrolls number since Biden let slip this afternoon that Friday's report would be "well beyond" the last report. If this is the case, and traders are covering shorts ahead of the jobs number because the number has been leaked, then the market could actually see a "sell-the-news" reaction on Friday morning unless it really surprises to the upside.
I'm a little surprised that traders didn't "sell-the-news" on the pending home sales report this morning. Economists were looking for +5% rise in sales. The National Association of Realtors said April's numbers came in at +6%. Everyone knows that buyers were rushing to get under contract on a house before the end of April to qualify for the expiring homebuyer tax credit. This is a temporary, artificial spike in sales. The trend in sales is going to reverse with April likely to be the peak.
Traders may want to take a look at the financial sector. Energy and financials are two of the biggest chunks of the market and both saw very strong gains today. The banks (+3% on Wednesday) got a boost thanks to positive comments out of BAC and word that JPM had been upgraded to a "buy". Bank of America's (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan was optimistic about the economy. He felt that charge-offs may have peaked and there was improvement for loan demand. Brian also reiterated that BAC does not have any significant exposure to Europe. Shares of BAC gained 2.98% and look ready to challenge resistance at its 200-dma. JPM gained 2.6% on the session. Both the BKX and BIX banking indices are trying to find a bottom near prior resistance and what should be support. I think this sector is worth a look for a short-term trade.
Chart of the BIX banking index:
The problems in Europe remain but the market sell-off that began in late April appears to be a little exhausted. There are several economic releases tomorrow but unless the numbers are truly horrible the focus will remain on Friday's non-farm payrolls (jobs) report. The S&P 500 looks like it has a good chance of breaking out past the 1100 level on Thursday and that should spark even more short covering ahead of the jobs report. Friday morning could be volatile but I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest the major indices are poised for a multi-day advance. The fact that stocks seem to be holding above their February 2010 lows is a positive sign. One trader suggested we're in the "eye of the storm" for the next two to three weeks. June is the end of the quarter. After a punishing May, mutual fund managers are going to want to dress up their portfolio for the quarter end. Thus we could see some significant window dressing over the next couple of weeks. If the S&P 500 can close 1100 and its 200-dma then the next level of significant resistance is probably the 1130 level and then the 1150 level.