The markets continued moving sideways as fund managers kept the indexes pinned at four-month highs with quarter end window dressing.

Market Statistics

The lack of forward progress by the indexes should have surprised no one. Friday's close at strong resistance made it tough to start a new week at higher highs and fund managers appear to be content to let the quarter expire at current resistance levels. There were multiple halfhearted attempts to move over S&P 1150 but a lack of volume and conviction doomed them to failure.

Pressuring the markets at the open today was a seven-month low on Consumer Confidence. The headline number fell to 48.5 from 53.5 and more than erased last month's 2.2-point gain. The Conference Board spokesman said confidence remained "quite grim."

The majority of the decline came from a sharp drop in the expectations component from 72.0 to 65.4. The current conditions component, already at very low levels, fell from 24.9 to 23.1. Those consumers who think there are plenty of jobs available fell to the low for the year at only 3.8%. The only bright spot was an increase in consumers expecting to buy a household appliance rose from 24.6% to 27.5%. I suspect they are anticipating buying a flat screen TV for the holidays.

Despite the September rally in the stock market, consumers continued to expect further declines. The rally had no impact on consumer views and that is unusual.

I believe, as I have stated several times in recent weeks, that sentiment is being depressed by the election process. Candidates use ugly headlines and blame it on incumbents and incumbents warn that things will get worse if the other side wins the election. The process of election mudslinging depresses consumers and this is an especially contentious election.

Consumer Confidence Chart

Also depressing the market this morning was an ugly Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey. The headline number fell back into contraction territory at -2 from a +11 in August. The cycle high back in April was +30. This was the fifth consecutive monthly decline for a total of 32 points.

New orders fell to zero from +10, a -41 point drop from April's high. Backorders declined to -11 and employment fell to -3 from +12. The Richmond Survey has a strong correlation to the National ISM coming on Friday. The decline in the Richmond survey suggests the ISM could drop from 56.3 to 51.4 and very close to contraction territory once again. This is not a good sign and there are several more regional reports due out this week.

The combination of the low consumer confidence and the weak manufacturing surveys could bring back the worries about a double dip recession.

Richmond Fed Chart

The Case Shiller Home Price Indexes lost ground for the second month but this is a lagging report for July and was essentially ignored. The survey showed home prices increased +3.2% in July from July 2009. This compares to a +4.2% rate in June.

The next major series of reports will be on Thursday with GDP, Kansas Fed and a couple regional ISM reports.

Economic Calendar

Apple shares fell -5.5% (-$16) this morning on a rumor that the heir apparent to Steve Jobs throne, CFO Tim Cook, was leaving to become the CEO at Hewlett Packard. This was later refuted and the shares rebounded to recover $11 of the drop. Apple shares have been on a massive rally for over a month and many traders probably had some tight stop losses to protect their profits going into quarter end. When the news hit we saw a cascading breakdown to a low of $275.

Some news reports were blaming the announcement of the Research in Motion tablet PC but I refuse to believe this was a factor. The RIMM tablet is just not that big a competitor to Apple and it has been in the works for a year. It was not a surprise.

Apple's weighting in the Nasdaq 100 has risen to 20% of the total index value. There is no way for the NDX to escape any move in Apple shares. The decline in Apple shares knocked -32 points off the NDX in the opening minutes of trading. The NDX eventually recovered to close slightly positive while Apple ended with a -4.30 loss.

Apple Chart

Research in Motion shares declined sharply and ended with a -3% loss because of a weak reception for the Playbook tablet. The tablet will have a 7-inch screen and require a companion BlackBerry for 3G Internet access. It will not be released into the market until sometime in the first quarter. The drop in RIMM shares on the lackluster announcement is just proof to me that the Playbook had no impact on Apple's drop. I believe Apple's drop was more of an impact to RIMM and other tech shares than anything else.

RIMM did not even have a product demonstration with the announcement and traders are used to the Apple theatrical releases with Jobs himself demonstrating the product. It is a tough act to follow, especially without a working prototype.

The Android tablets and phones are more likely to weigh on RIMM than Apple because of the flood of models and vendors.

RIMM Chart

Goldman Sachs put a sell rating on KB Homes and pushed the stock down -4% intraday. Goldman cut the price target to $10 and warned the company would probably post a loss in 2011. Goldman said KBH would have to grow its top line by 20% to 25% just to break even in 2011. That was a goal they believed was unachievable.

Goldman upgraded Pulte Homes (PHM) to neutral from sell saying the builder could turn a profit in 2011 thanks to deep cost cutting.

The airline sector was showing signs of life after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) raised its 2010 profit outlook to $8.9 billion compared with an earlier outlook for only $2.5 billion. The IATA said cargo markets remain positive although undergoing a slower rate of expansion. Cargo in some regions is expected to close the year at pre recession levels.

The IATA expects profits to decline in 2011 to $5.3 billion because excess capacity will outpace demand. Delivery of higher capacity planes will offset the decline in routes and mothballing of higher cost equipment over the last three years. With a consolidation of carriers in the U.S. the survivors will have a stronger route structure and the ability to trim expenses by reducing duplicate routes. This will lead to higher prices.

Oil prices were mentioned as the spoiler for profits in 2011-2012 with prices expected to be in the mid $80 in 2011 and return to triple digits in 2012.

The American Trucking Association's Truck Tonnage Index declined -2.7% in August. That was the largest drop since March 2009. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said August's data highlights that the economy, while still growing, is slowing. The ATA expects lower tonnage numbers for the remainder of 2010 and the current index is reflecting that view. However, he expects the carriers to do better because of a drastic decline in capacity during the recession. Trucks carry 68% of all freight in the USA.

Toys R Us said they were going to hire 45,000 seasonal workers to help with the holiday traffic. This is an increase from past years because they were opening 600 "pop-up" stores for the holiday season. These pop-up stores are geared to take advantage of vacant retail space in malls. They sign a four-month lease, produce temporary signage and use temporary workers. The stores are called Toys R Us Express because of their smaller floor space and reduced inventory. In the past the company hired 35,000 workers but the abundance of vacant retail space allowed them to expand their holiday offering. Toys R Us is currently private but is planning an $800 million IPO.

In similar news Macy's said it was hiring 65,000 seasonal workers and Best Buy 29,000. This raises the expected hiring for seasonal workers to just under 600,000 according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. At 600,000 that would be a +20% increase over 2009. However, that is still about 200,000 below what is considered "normal" seasonal hiring.

Monsanto took a major hit after reporting that yields of their genetically modified SmartStax corn hybrid were below expectations. This hybrid corn has eight added genes to protect against weeds and bugs and the yields are coming in 3% to 5% lower than expected. Monsanto said they would give seed credits to farmers who were unsatisfied with the performance. Jefferies & Co said this would be a significant headwind for profits in 2011. Monsanto was counting on SmartStax to boost profits as much as +17% after earnings on herbicide Roundup collapsed due to competition from generic versions. Monsanto shares fell -8% on the news. Genetically modified crops are banned in Europe as well as dozens of other countries.

Monsanto Chart

Hewlett Packard said its earnings for the coming year should exceed analyst expectations. During an analyst meeting on Tuesday the company said 2011 earnings should be in the range of $5.05 to $5.15 per share. That is a +14% increase from 2010 estimates. Analysts were expecting $4.99 per share. Revenue should be in the $133 billion range and an increase of 5% to 7%. No word on how the CEO search is progressing. HPQ closed up +36 cents.

WalGreen's profits rose more than 8% last quarter according to their release today. This produced an 11% spike in the stock and the largest single day gain in a year. Profits were 49-cents compared to estimates of 44-cents. Most investors were expecting an earnings miss. The company said it was planning on administering 15 million flu shots this year compared to the seven million in 2009.

Walgreen Chart

Gold closed at $1309 with an intraday high at $1311.40. The spike in gold came on a continued decline in the dollar on expectations for further stimulus from the Fed. Fed officials spoke in various events and there seems to be no agreement inside the Fed to do another easing program but analysts are united in their expectations for a minimum of another $500 billion in bond purchases. Gold analysts are starting to predict $1500 for gold and some are saying $2000 within five years because of the impact of inflation from the Fed's moves.

Gold Chart

Dollar Index Chart

In House testimony today a lawyer for the collapsed Bank of Credit and Commerce told lawmakers the U.S. banking system is open to large-scale fraud. He provided evidence of money laundering by a Saudi businessman of more than $1 trillion using nothing more exotic as some shell companies and PC Anywhere remote desktops. The lawyer criticized the banks nearly total ignorance of the details behind large-scale money transfers. The scammer, Maan al-Sanea, opened fictitious offshore banks as fronts to "loan" money to corporations. The banks then setup correspondent accounts in the U.S. with reputable companies like Bank of America. He then moved over $1 trillion of laundered money through the international banking system without attracting attention. One account in New York had been setup with an application claiming $15 million a year in expected transfers. He moved $160 billion through the account in one year without any questions. This ability for an individual to move money on a large scale without any checks and balances suggests countries like Iran and North Korea could easily avoid the sanctions and transact business worldwide.

Volume picked up today to total 7.6 billion shares. This was in no small part due to the sharp dip at the open to levels where investors were waiting. The next SEC response to the flash crash is expected to be released soon and one troubling change being mentioned in the news would be the elimination of stop losses at market. This has yet to be mentioned by the SEC but it is still getting plenty of press. In theory a stop loss at market is supposed to get you out of a trade at the current price no matter what it is.

If I own RIMM at $48 at the open with a market stop at $47 then a dip to $47 takes me out at whatever the bid is when the $47 level is touched. On a fast drop this could be $46.75 or even $46.50 but I am out instantly. If they remove the market option and force a limit order then I could get trapped in the stock in a fast market. If I had a stop loss at $47 with a generous limit price at $46 I would normally get filled close to $47. In a fast market where RIMM gaps down below my $46 limit I would not be filled and the stock could go to zero and leave me hanging out to dry.

I understand this from the SEC perspective. They want to put a floor under the stock price by forcing a limit price. With everyone at market that market bottom can fall out instantly and produce swings of $10 to $20 in seconds. That happened in Progress Energy (PGN) on Monday. A mini crash hit the shares at 12:30 and the price went from $44.61 to $4.57 in only five milliseconds. If you had a stop loss at market you could have been filed at any point between $44 and $4 depending on your brokers computer system. If you had a limit order at say $42 you would not have been filled and had the drop been real and the price stayed low you would have been in deep trouble. Fortunately for PGN shareholders the price returned to $44 over the next 30 minutes and trades were busted.

I am strongly against the elimination of market orders for stop losses. I have been in far too many trades where I would have lost large amounts of money waiting for a limit order that would not have been filled. I seriously hope this change is a figment of somebody's imagination and not something the SEC is actually considering.

The SEC said investors have pulled money out of mutual funds every week since the May 6th flash crash. SEC Chairman Mary Shapiro said the trend was very "troubling" because of the underlying decline in investor confidence. said investors have withdrawn $55.4 billion from funds in 2010 despite the average fund gaining +36.4% since year-end. said investors are still so deep in the red from the recession drop that they were selling from frustration at the lagging recovery and to harvest losses for tax purposes.

The markets are doing about what I expected for the week. I thought we would see a little stronger effort on Monday to punch through resistance but there was no material news event to push stocks higher and force more short covering.

The S&P failed at 1149.92 on Monday and exactly 1150 today. This resistance is very strong and without a major catalyst to spike the market higher on short covering I believe we will close out the quarter very close to this level. The end of quarter window dressing is in full bloom and October is still looking ominous.

If the S&P can't punch through 1150 on decent volume and cause the shorts to panic then next week is going to be dicey.

S&P-500 Chart

The story is the same on the Dow. Today's gains just offset Monday's losses and we are right back at resistance, currently 10,870 and again at 10,900. The big caps have been getting all the bids but are still unable to move higher.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq composite is still negative for the week despite today's 10-point gain. Resistance at 2380 is solid and every minor move over that level is sold immediately.

The sharp decline in Apple this morning triggered fears of a new flash crash even though the drop was news related. Most traders don't know what is powering the moves until hours after it happens. The stock zigs, traders zag and then a couple hours later we hear several contradictory opinions on why it happened. That is not confidence building. If Apple recovers its momentum that will be the best chance for the Nasdaq to move higher. Otherwise I expect it to move sideways into Thursday's close.

The Nasdaq 100 managed only a +1 point gain and that is the index that has powered the rally. Big cap, highly liquid tech stocks have been favored by funds in September. Apple's drop knocked the legs out from under the NDX.

Nasdaq Chart

Nasdaq 100 Chart

In summary I expect the markets to hold at these levels with possibly a minor gain until Thursday. I still believe October will bring some selling as fund managers shuffle their portfolios. This is the equivalent of the two-minute drill with one team well ahead of the other and in possession of the ball. They just want to retain possession and run out the clock. Fund managers want to pin the indexes to these levels until the month of September expires.

Jim Brown

Register for my newsletter and receive free daily updates and commentary on the energy sector. Register here