Comments from Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, the leader of the group of Eurozone finance ministers, that a solution to Greece's sovereign debt woes will in fact be found lit a fire under U.S. stocks today, sending the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average higher for a third consecutive day, the best winning streak for the two indexes since last month. The Nasdaq even got in on the party, gaining half a percent and the Russell 2000 was higher by nearly 1%.
The Greece news, while welcome, does not put the issue to be entirely. Not by a long shot. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) still is not negotiating a second rescue package for Greece while it weighs whether to approve the next payment of the countryâ€™s initial program, Bloomberg News reported. Still, Juncker added that he does not believe Italy is in danger of a Greece-esque crisis.
Good news again, but not enough to save the iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI) from a down day. Given that EWI was only down fractionally today, it would appear that the bulls and bears targeting this ETF wrestled with Juncker's remarks and headlines that broke late in Friday's trading session that Moody's Investors Service is mulling a downgrade of Italy's credit rating. Remember, unfortunately for short sellers and put buyers, there is no Greece-specific ETF, but EWI might be the next best thing.
One stock that was on the move today was a controversial and familiar name: Molycorp (MCP), the largest U.S.-based rare earths miner. As the chart below indicates, recent weeks have not been kind to the Colorado-based company and that is due to a variety factors. Combining the market slamming the door shut on the high-beta trade and a pair of announcements regarding some substantial insider selling by early Molycorp investors and company executives was a toxic brew for the shares.
In reality, not much has changed regarding the rare earths story. Multiple press outlets noted late last week rare earths again doubled in recent weeks, that is a fact. I will interject my opinion that rare earths projects that are expected to come online over the next five years will be enough to curb the current supply/demand imbalance will not be enough to do so. Or at the very least, this is a risky proposition to bank on.
Enough my thoughts, because what JPMorgan had to say about Molycorp means more to your brokerage account anyway. The bank raised its price target on the stock today to $105 from $87, more than double where the shares closed today and have a look at the bank's new EPS estimates for Molycorp: 2012 to $5.93 from $5.25, 2013 to $14.48 from $12.51, and 2014 to $27.01 from $22.45.
Piper Jaffray chimed in as well, upgrading Molycorp to ''overweight'' from ''neutral,'' saying that the stock's recent pullback overly discounts an imminent plunge in rare earths prices. For more news and commentary on the energy and commodities sector, register for the Oil Slick daily newsletter (HERE).
Speaking of high-beta materials stocks, there was more good news. In what has seemed like a constant barrage of earnings warnings, companies that actually raise guidance stand-out these days. One shining example is Canadian fertilizer producer Agrium (AGU). Citing rising global crop prices, particularly corn, Agrium, the largest North American farm products retailer, raised its second-quarter profit forecast to $4.10-$4.40 a share from previous guidance of $3.38-$3.88 and boosted its first half earnings estimate to $5.12-$5.42 a share up from prior guidance of $4.40-$4.90.
Dow component Wal-Mart (WMT), the world's largest retailer, was in the news today as well, winning a big legal battle after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court, halting a major sexual discrimination suit against Wall-Mart. While the court did not rule on the merits of the case itself, it did rule that Wal-Mart is entitled to individual determinations of its employees' eligibility for back-pay, Forbes reported.
Obviously, Wal-Mart is pleased with the ruling and the company said as much, but as far as the plaintiffs go, their lawyers said the case is not over. The case would have been the largest employment class-action suit in U.S. history, involving 1.5 million female employees of Wal-Mart, according to Forbes. Shares of Wal-Mart rose less than half a percent.
I do not want to be the first to go out on a limb and say banking sector mergers and acquisitions are back, but it is starting to feel that way. On the heels of last week's news that Capital One (COF) will pay $9 billion to acquire ING Groep's (ING) U.S. online banking business, the biggest retail bank deal in several years, PNC Financial Services (PNC) announced today it will pay $3.62 billion in cash and stock for Royal Bank of Canada's (RY) U.S. retail banking and credit card operations.
The retail banking business had been a money a loser for RY, not surprising given that the business is focused on the Southeastern part of the country, but with an already dominant presence in the Mid-Atlantic region and a Florida footprint, the deal makes sense for Pennsylvania-based PNC, which is looking to expand in the Southeast.
PNC is paying $3.45 billion for the bank and $165 million for the credit card operation, which represents a $112 million discount to the tangible book value of the unit, Reuters reported. PNC expects the acquisition to add to earnings by the end of 2013, or perhaps sooner depending on how much stock it uses to fund the deal. As of March 31, PNC had 2,446 branches and $259.38 billion of assets, according to Reuters.
Looking at the charts, even with three days of gains, the S&P 500 has barely made a dent in six-plus consecutive weeks of losses. As was the case on Friday, the index bumped into resistance at 1280 and was not able to muster a close above the level. Maybe the best thing that can be said at this juncture is that the 200-day moving average at 1259 appears to be providing firm support.
I still think we need to see a test of 1250 and see that area hold before fresh capital is deployed. If 1250 does not hold as support, 1175 could be the first downside target.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow was able to hold 12,000 on Friday and built on that today, but with today's close around 12,080, the blue-chip index still needs to notch a couple of solid days so it can takeout resistance at 12,200. The Dow's chart turned ugly early this month and I am afraid three days of gains is lot like putting lipstick on a pig in that a retreat to 11,750 is still a very real possibility.
As I mentioned earlier, the Nasdaq got in on the positive action again today, but that does not mean it is time to feel positive about the index. The Nasdaq really has its work cut out for itself as it needs to deal with some resistance at 2640 and then again just below 2700. A break below the critical 2600 level would probably induce fresh selling and fortify the theory that there is no reason to be involved tech at the moment.
The Russell 2000 made only a faint effort to challenge resistance at 790 closing below that area once again and while a gain of nearly 1% is good for single day, the Russell's outlook is similar to the other indexes: One decent day is simply not enough to inspire tons of confidence. If the Russell moves below support at 775, 730 becomes a legitimate possibility.
Russell 2000 Chart
A couple of weeks ago, I predicted we might see a ''law of averages'' bounce and after six weeks of intense selling, we have probably seen that bounce over the past three sessions. Even if the Greece situation is miraculously solved in the next couple of days, that will only amount to a temporary catalyst because it will not do anything to change U.S. economic data or keep companies from issuing negative earnings guidance.
This might be a good time to start making a list of prospective long trades, but I would hold off on the shopping, at least until the end of the month.