The â€œIâ€ PIGS, that being Italy, took its turn in the European sovereign debt crisis spotlight today, roiling global equity markets after Standard & Poor's pared its credit rating outlook on the country to â€œnegative from â€œstable.â€
To its credit and despite anemic growth (first-quarter GDP increased just 0.1%), Italy has been able to, at the very least, appear a bit stronger than its PIGS brethren. That said, there are obviously dour consequences to seeing a credit rating downgrade come Italy's way. I have not been shy about my wonderment and dismay that the likes of Portugal and Greece could have such a negative impact on global equity markets.
With regards to Italy, it is not a surprise markets would react poorly to the S&P news. After all, this was the tenth-largest economy in the world last year, according to IMF data. That puts Italy well-ahead of Greece and Portugal and three spots above Spain. While S&P did affirm Italy's A+ rating, the fifth-highest investment-grade rating, over the weekend, the move to â€œnegativeâ€ from â€œstableâ€ on the credit rating outlook means there is a one-in-three chance the country's credit rating is lowered at some point over the next two years.
Oddly enough, open interest in both puts and calls on the iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI) remains almost non-existent. No strike on either side has open interest of more than 72 contracts, but a look at the chart shows EWI is not the prettiest of ETFs out there right now. With oil plunging and Eni SpA (E) accounting for nearly 19% of EWI's weight, messing with this ETF could be quiet dangerous in the near-term.
Italy ETF Chart
Speaking of oil, as if the news out of Europe was not bad enough (it was), China's purchasing manager's index slid to 51.1 in May from 51.8 last month, compounding concerns that the world's fastest-growing major economy is not expanding fast enough to satisfy investors. Weak Chinese growth and the European debt crisis serve as a double-whammy for risky assets. Stuff like oil and stocks get whacked on days like today and that is just what happened with crude. Still, $95 appears to be holding as support, though a fall beneath that level could encourage fresh selling pressure. For more news and commentary on the energy sector, register for a free trial of the OilSlick daily newsletter (HERE).
In stock-specific news, LinkedIn (LNKD) spent its last day as a stock that cannot be shorted trading in a range of almost $6 before finishing lower by 5.15% at $88.30. Short-selling restrictions on the stock are lifted tomorrow, but I do not expect LinkedIn to fall because of this. The float is only 9 million shares, so assuming the shares can even be found to borrow, they will most likely be home to some nasty hard-to-borrow fees.
This stock does not need anyone shorting it for it to fall. In just a few days, Linked has gone from a flirtation with $123 to around $88. Reasons are abound as to why this stock could fall even more and none of them involve short sellers. It is a terrible market environment for a company with such a lofty valuation to come public in. A market cap of $8 billion coming into today for a company with a 2010 profit of $15 million conjures up images of Silicon Valley circa 1999-2000. Traders may be using LinkedIn to keep themselves occupied until Facebook and Groupon grace us with their presences as public companies.
LinkedIn deserves credit for being a profitable company, something dozens of other tech/Internet companies that are no longer with us could not say when they went public in the 1990s. This just is not the time to be running into stocks that trade for 25 times this year's revenue as LinkedIn was the start of trading today.
You know it is crazy day for the market when... A plethora of a humorous quips can be inserted there, but I am not joking when I tell you that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD), once a high-flier in its own right, was the third-best performing stock on U.S. exchanges today. Shares of Krispy Kreme surged almost 26% after the company said its first-quarter profit more than doubled to $9.2 million, or 13 cents a share, from $4.5 million, or 6 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 13.6% to $104.6 million. Analysts were expecting a profit of 9 cents on revenue of $96.5 million. Krispy Kreme reaffirmed fiscal 2012 operating income guidance of $22-$24 million.
Forget LinkedIn setting the stage for Facebook and Groupon. Maybe Krispy Kreme is setting the stage for Dunkin Donuts, another widely anticipated IPO expected to roll out this year.
Krispy Kreme Chart
In the ''Everything Comes Full Circle'' category, International Business (IBM) has surpassed fellow Dow component and old rival Microsoft (MSFT) in market value for the first time since 1996. IBM is now the fourth-largest U.S. company by market value behind XOM, AAPL and GE.
As the chart below illustrates, MSFT's slide in market value since the bursting of the tech bubble has been nothing short of epic. As an interesting personal aside, I gave a presentation in a college class during my last semester in 2000, just a couple of months before the tech party really stopped, about why Microsoft would become the first company with a trillion market cap. I got a ''B'' on that project, but apparently that was an act of generosity on the part of my professor. Fortunately, that was for a journalism class, not a business class.
Kidding aside, an investor putting $100,000 into both stocks 10 years ago would now have about $143,000 in IBM stock and about $69,000 in Microsoft stock, Reuters reported, and that is all we really need to know.
Microsoft Market Cap
Last week's market decline was the third in as many weeks and with the ominous start to this week, looking at the charts will not be too pleasant today, but here we go. The S&P 500 had been obeying a tight range between 1330 and 1340 for a week or so, but that party ended with a thud today with a fall to 1317. Multiple attempts to crack the 1340 resistance failed and now the index is resting around another support area. Further declines could very well take the S&P 500 to 1290-1295.
S&P 500 Chart
The situation on the Dow is not much better as the chart is marked by the same ominous series of lower highs and lower lows that can be seen on the S&P 500 chart. Support at 12,400 looked firm, but a close nearly 20 points below that level today could portend more declines. Yes, the Dow is the blue-chip index, but it is also possible to parse through each of its 30 constituents and find some kind of headwind for nearly all of them.
Oil's decline and the move away from high-beta fare are killers for XOM, CVX and CAT. Financials are a mess. CSCO and MSFT wreak of dead money. I could go on. Only one Dow stock was higher today. Congrats to McDonald's (MCD).
The Nasdaq was easily the worst performer of the Big Three Indexes today. Forget that psychological support at 2800. The Nasdaq had previously bounced off 2760, but closed below that area today. Below 2750, there is plenty of room for the Nasdaq to retreat all the way back to 2700. I suppose it can be argued that Apple held up relatively well today, losing just 0.24%. On the other hand, the stock is down more than 5% in the past month, while the Nasdaq itself is down less than 3% over the same time.
If the Russell 2000 was not officially a mess prior to today, it is now. Its 1.8% slide today made it the worst performer among the the major indexes and support at 820 did not hold with the index closing at 814. That also took the index below the 100-day line at 817 and from here, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Russell 2000 sheds another 30-40 points.
Russell 2000 Chart
I am not opposed to a ''buy the dips'' approach because it has worked countless times over the past couple of years. That said, caution is needed here and with more dips likely on the way, eager buyers might do well to sit on their hands and wait for another 20-30 S&P 500 points to evaporate before rushing into new long positions.