Equities soared on Monday on renewed optimism that European policy makers are moving closer to a solution for the region's debt woes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average enjoyed its best one-day performance since August while all the other major U.S. indexes notched solid gains as well. Gold was once again taken to the woodshed.
I am sure I have said ''Call me skeptical'' more than once in recent months when it comes to Europe, but I see no reason to change my tune and I am fearful that Monday's action is just a repeat of the same sad, old song. Markets take a beating for a few days because of Europe then along comes a rally like we saw today because the folks in Brussels are suddenly closer to a solution.
I admit I have not been keeping track about how many times this situation has occurred in the past 18 months, but I do know this: It has happened enough that there is good reason to be skeptical. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me eight, ten or more times, and well, I am just going to be annoyed.
Greece teetering on the brink of insolvency erased $1 trillion in market value from U.S. stocks last week, according to Bloomberg, and one day of good cheer is not going to restore all of that $1 trillion.
In my humble opinion, the price action in gold might be a more accurate tell regarding just how fearful investors are these days. Global finance ministers met over the weekend and there was not much to emerge from those talks that makes Greece and the rest of Europe suddenly look more attractive. As the Wall Street Journal noted today following gold's 2.8% slide, investors may be treating a potential Greece default like the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Translation: In the face of a default by Greece or any other Euro zone member, gold's safe have status will wilt as investors hoard cash. I will fess up to a bullish long-term view of gold and also say that I am long a gold ETF. That said, I think it is worth noting that one of the major catalysts behind gold's recent woes is hedge funds and other speculators selling gold futures contracts to cover other losing positions. That does not mean those guys (and gals) are bearish on gold. It means they need the cash to cover bad trades.
It should also be noted that Commerzbank said today there have been hardly any outflows seen from ETFs such as the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) and the iShares COMEX Gold Trust (IAU).
In stock-specific news, energy names were on the move today as West Texas Intermediate Crude futures continued to honor critical support at $80 per barrel. As I often say, we are not going to see a 270-point upside move in the Dow without the help of Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), the two largest U.S. oil companies.
The duo obliged with XOM gaining almost 3.5% and CVX tacking on 1.6%. ''We believe the cost structure of a company's current assets and the quality of a company's project line-up will differentiate it from other companies that have simply benefited from higher oil and gas prices. Exxon remains our preferred pick,'' Citigroup said in a research note.
Citi's bullish sentiment for integrated oil stocks did not stop there. The bank upgraded Occidental Petroleum (OXY) to ''buy'' helping the California-based company gain almost 7% in the process. The Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) popped 3.7% on volume that was well above the daily average. XOM, CVX and OXY account for about 38% of that ETF's weight.
In what may considered a real surprise, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) announced it will embark on a share buyback plan. Remember that while Buffett is a big fan of buying dividend stocks, he is not a fan of paying dividends to Berkshire shareholders, nor is he a fan of repurchase plans.
Buffett practically bragged to Berkshire investors in his annual letter to shareholders in February that Berkshire has not spent a dime on dividends or buybacks over the past decade. Buffett has a nice problem: Berkshire is making too much money, if there is such a thing as too much money. The company's various businesses generate $1 billion a month in profits, according to Bloomberg, and finding uses for that cash is not as easy as some might think.
Berkshire said in a statement it will repurchase its shares at 110% of book value and not allow cash holdings to fall below $20 billion due to the buyback plan. I included the chart of Berkshire's Class ''B'' shares since most of us probably are not involved with the six-figure Class ''A'' shares.
Berkshire ''B'' Chart
Speaking of noteworthy investors, Carl Icahn was in the news today, but his headlines were not nearly as inviting as Buffett's. Consumer products giant Clorox (CLX) slid 4.3% on volume that was nearly 50% above the daily average after the activist Icahn said he is withdrawing a slate of directors he wanted to be placed on the Clorox board. Icahn also acknowledged that other large Clorox shareholders would not support his plan for a sale of the company.
Ichan made a bid for the maker of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressings and its namesake bleach in July that was rebuffed. The reality is that bid was pretty much bluster and an attempt by Icahn to get Clorox rivals Procter & Gamble (PG) and Kimberly Clark (KMB) interested in the company.
Beyond that, Icahn seemed to be the only one that viewed Clorox as an acquisition target. Even though PG is almost 100 times larger than Clorox by market value, Icahn is the only one, at least recently, to tout the Dow component as a potential suitor for Clorox. Why sell in a depressed market? That is a fair question. When the dust settled on Monday, Clorox was trading at its lowest levels in a month. For those looking for a silver lining, Clorox now yields 3.6% and that is a lot better than what you will get on money markets or Treasuries.
Looking at the charts, support at 1120 for the S&P 500 did not come into play today as the lowest the broader market index traded was 11 points above that level. With Monday's close around 1162, the S&P 500 is still a fair bit removed from psychological resistance at 1200 and the 50-day moving average at 1210.
If we do see a bounce, it would be a positive sign for the 1150-1160 area to turn into new support. If support at 1120 does not hold, then a return to 1050 could be in the cards. From there, things turn really ugly as 860 could be the next stopping point.
S&P 500 Chart
All 30 of the Dow's constituents were higher today. Rare has been the day in recent months that we have seen that situation. Only Intel (INTC) and Home Depot (HD) gained less than 1%. I am trying to curb my enthusiasm, but it may prove encouraging that the Dow broke above resistance at 10,800 and closed above 11,000. Maybe 10,800 becomes new support, though for now, a firmer floor is 10,600. The Dow has almost 300 points of real estate before seeing next resistance.
It was a strong day for the Nasdaq and the move above 2500 on the Composite was made all the more impressive by the fact that Apple (AAPL) was one just 16 Nasdaq 100 members to close in the red. With a market bounce, the Nasdaq could reclaim its 50-day moving average at 2574 and then take a shot at the September high of 2643. Support is 2465.
In the case of the Russell 2000, any gains is welcomed, but after the bruising the index has absorbed, it is going to take more than 13-point gains to generate much excitement. I still believe psychological resistance at 700 must be dealt with then the 50-day line at 721 before buyers start feeling comfortable with small-caps again.
Russell 2000 Chart
Monday was one of those days where I was reminded of the expression ''don't fight the tape.'' Heading into the day, I would have bet against a gain of this magnitude. With that, some of the indexes did conquer important technical levels today and if the news out of Europe improves, or least stays less bad, I would expect stocks, led by the more risky fare to rally. I know I beat up on Europe quite a bit in this space, but I really would like to see things come together on the sovereign debt front. That would be good news indeed.