For one day at least, it looked like the bad news bulls were back in control of the market as investors shook off a couple of disappointing economic reports here in the States to focus more on speculation that European Union leaders will decide on a new bailout package for Greece by the end of June. That news sent all of the major U.S. indexes higher by more than 1% and had advancers outpacing losers on the NYSE by a margin of better than 3-to-1.
Call me skeptical, but this is the second bailout package for Greece and the concern here should be, as it has been all along, that if the EU is moving to bailout the likes of Greece, its hand would certainly be forced to do the same for Italy if need be and definitely for France if the sovereign debt contagion worsened appreciably.
As I just mentioned, the two key economic reports delivered today were unimpressive to say the least. On the housing front, the latest batch of data has plenty of folks speculating that a double-dip in the housing market is underway as the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index fell 5.1% from year earlier levels, reaching the lowest point since 2002. The index tracking 20 major metropolitan areas also declined in March for the eighth consecutive month. Washington, D.C. was the only metro area to see prices jump in March.
In its report, Standard & Poor's comes right and says what most of us already knew: The ''recovery'' in housing prices that was seen in 2009 and 2010 was due to the first-time home buyer tax credit. In other words, Uncle Sam created the false impression of a housing recovery.
From S&P: ''Excluding the results of that policy, there has been no recovery or even stabilization in home prices during or after the recent recession. Further, while last year saw signs of an economic recovery, the most recent data do not point to renewed gains.''
Consumer news was also pretty bleak today. The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence index fell to 60.8 in May from a revised reading of 66 last month. Economists were expecting a May reading of 67. The May number represents a six-month low. The sentiment indexes were all lower in May, indicating any number of factors, be it job and income worries, inflation worries or the gloomy housing market, are weighing on the minds (and wallets) of consumers.
Consumer Confidence Chart
So when the dust settled, Tuesday was a nice way to end an otherwise dour month for equities. In fact, May was the worst month for stocks since August 2010, but at least the last day of the month was positive. One of the benefit of days like today when nearly everything is in the green and advancers outnumber decliners by such a wide margin is that it is easy to find the weak stocks. You know, the ones that almost require an act of a higher power to move higher.
Enter Nokia (NOK). On a day when the tech sector was on a tear, the world's largest cellphone maker plunged 14% on volume that was about seven times the daily average after saying its second-quarter revenue will be well below the $8.7 billion to $9.4 billion previously forecast. The Finnish company also warned its operating margins will also be significantly below the 6%-9% previously forecast.
Again, call me skeptical, but I think the juicy yield Nokia sports, 5.7% as of the close today, is more value trap than value. Yes, Nokia is the largest handset maker in the world, but that is by total units. The company lost the top revenue spot to Apple (AAPL) last year and the iPhone has eaten Nokia's lunch so many different ways, it is not even worth counting.
There is almost no time horizon on which Nokia shares are positive, be it one month or five years. Over the past two years, the stock is down nearly 50% while Apple is up 150%. If not for a $26 billion market cap, Nokia's $7 price tag would make it almost a penny stock.
Speaking of Apple, the stock's 3.1% jump today does a lot to help explain the Nasdaq's rally. After spending much of May in the tank, Apple's $10-plus move today helped the stock reclaim its 50-day moving average.
The catalyst appears to be another major product announcement from the tech juggernaut. No, I am not talking about a new iPhone or iPad, but Apple's cloud-based music service. Once again, Steve Jobs & Co. have bested rivals Google (GOOG) and Amazon (AMZN). Apple has already reached agreements with three of the four major record labels for its cloud music service and a deal with Vivendi's Universal Music Group is likely to be signed this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Earlier this month, when Google launched its Music Beta service, the company did so without the benefit of agreements with the major record labels. If cloud music services really take off, it seems pretty clear that Amazon and Google are already at a deficit to Apple. Adding to the good cheer, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is expected to appear at the company's developer's conference next week, the Journal reports. At the conference, Apple is expected to debut new versions of the iOS and Mac operating systems.
In mergers and acquisitions news, there must be something about the specialty chemicals sector as shares of Ashland (ASH), the maker of Valvoline motor oil, jumped almost 12% on volume that was better than five times the daily average after the Kentucky-based company announced that it will acquire privately held International Specialty Products for $3.2 billion in cash.
The transaction is the second big deal announced in the specialty chemicals space this year. Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) said earlier this year it will acquire Lubrizol (LZ) for $9 billion. After the ISP purchase, which is scheduled to close in September, Ashland said specialty chemicals will account for almost three-quarters of its sales. ISP generated sales of $1.6 billion in the past four quarters, with 59% of revenue outside North America, Bloomberg reported. Ashland said the deal will immediately add to its earnings.
Looking at the charts, today's action on the S&P 500 was quite bullish indeed as the big gain helped the index move back above its 50-day moving average. That took the index above downtrend resistance at 1335, so now the key is for that old resistance to turn to new support so the S&P 500 can make run into the 1560-1570 area. If support at 1335 does not hold, next support is 1315.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow's pattern is similar to that of the S&P 500 and today's bullish performance also took the blue-chip index back above its 50-day line. The Dow cleared some downtrend resistance around 12,440 today and now has plenty of room to run back to its May peak at 12,876. On the downside, support should be 12,440 and then 12,200. Today, 29 of the Dow's 30 constituents closed higher with MCD the lone loser. The dead-money pair of PFE and CSCO were the leaders along with AA.
The Nasdaq moved through resistance at 2800 with some authority today as AAPL and CSCO were big helpers, along with INTC and SNDK among others in the Nasdaq 100. If the Nassdaq can takeout 2850, it should have pretty clear sailing back to the May peak at 2888. Support is 2800 and then 2750. There is one earnings report to watch this week and it comes from JOYG on Thursday. While the mining equipment maker is not a typical Nasdaq stock, it is a member of the Nasdaq 100 and it is a marquee materials name.
Not much is different on the Russell 2000, but the index did push above the important 838 level, perhaps suggesting either more short-covering or that fund managers are starting to take a shine to small caps again. I cannot say I am dying to get back involved with small-caps right this minute, but a move above 855 could change my mind. Below 840, support is 810.
Russell 2000 Chart
It would be nice to see today's rally mark the start of a new leg higher, but ''sell in May and go away'' does not end just because June is here. Nor does Europe's sovereign debt crisis vanish into thin air just because Greece is getting another bailout. Of course this week is littered with headline risk with the May jobs report looming on Friday. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see if somehow the jobs report runs counter to what we got today from the consumer and housing reports. I am not betting on it.