Crude oil declined to just over $40 and the equity markets faded on Friday ahead of a potential OPEC disappointment from Doha on Sunday.
The OPEC production freeze meeting is Sunday and expectations are very low. Most believe this dog and pony show is exactly that, a show arranged to pump up oil prices, only the excitement is fading. You can only spin the headlines so many ways before gullible investors finally get the feeling they have been conned.
The Russian energy minister said Thursday that it will be only a "loose agreement" without any specific details on production levels. Rather than a hard set of rules, it will be a "gentlemen's agreement" and only a guideline. As I have said for more than a month, it will not be worth the paper it is written on. Now we learn it may not even be in writing. Since the OPEC countries are some of the least reliable countries in the world when it comes to oil production quotas, a deal has little or no chance of being reliable. OPEC cannot even depend on each country to supply accurate production numbers. OPEC contracts with tanker trackers and pipeline operators to determine production info.
There are multiple potential outcomes. The meeting can deteriorate into a verbal brawl with each country, primarily Saudi Arabia and Iran, firing headlines at each other and Saudi vows to continue pumping at maximum capacity to prevent Iran from regaining market share. However, we learned on Saturday that Iran has cancelled its attendance at the meeting so there will be no fireworks between the two countries. The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia has said multiple times, without Iran there will be no agreement and we will sell at every opportunity. Oil prices could fall back to $30.
Or, the meeting ends with no agreement and everyone tries to spin it positive because oil at $40 is a fair price. Instead, oil declines to $35.
Lastly, the meeting ends with a lot of high fives for the cameras and some key sound bites pledging cooperation with some countries "agreeing" to freeze production at current levels. This would all be for the cameras and nothing concrete would ever be accomplished. The agreement would be hailed as a large step in cooperation ahead of the real OPEC production meeting in June. Gullible traders run oil prices up a couple dollars on short covering and OPEC ministers laugh behind closed doors that they pulled one over on the market. They immediately begin scheming on how fast they can start "talking" about a production cut at the June meeting in order to spam the headlines once again and push prices higher. At the same time, they continue pumping at maximum capacity and global inventories continue to grow.
I would be extremely surprised if they were able to pull off option three. The group is so fractured that getting any three countries to agree on anything, even putting on a false front for the cameras, would be nearly impossible. However, they lifted oil from $30 to $40 with this production freeze charade so anything is always possible.
Here is the kicker. Futures expire on Wednesday. That means anybody long oil in the hope of a Doha miracle will still have to sell early next week. Anyone short oil in anticipation of a disaster will have to cover those shorts early next week. I suspect there are more shorts than longs given the history of OPEC agreements. Oil prices are going to be very volatile over the next couple of days and they could easily drive the market.
The market digested a lot of weak economics last week but there was a bright spot on Friday. The NY Empire Manufacturing Survey spiked from 0.6 in March to 9.6 for April and the highest reading in more than a year. Note on the chart below the negative readings for the last 14 months. The headline number has bounced more than 29 points since the -19.4 reading in January.
New orders rose from 9.6 to 11.2. Backorders almost turned positive with a rise from -4.0 to -1.0. Employment rose from -2.0 to +1.9. Some of the positive rebound was attributed to the drop in the dollar that relieved some of the pricing pressures for manufacturers.
The Dollar Index is down -6.8% from the December high at 100.50 to the April 12th low at 93.67. This has taken a significant amount of pressure off exporters but as you can see, it is still significantly higher than the 80.0 back in June 2015. The dollar has a long way to go to really equalize those currency pressures.
On the negative side of the economics, the Industrial Production for March declined -0.6% after a -0.5% drop in February. Consensus estimates were for 0.0%. Manufacturing output fell -0.3%, mining declined -2.9% and the seventh monthly drop. Auto production fell -1.6%. This is also a result of weak global growth and the strong dollar. Note the slow decline into negative territory on the right side of the chart.
Consumer Sentiment for April declined from 91.0 to 89.7 and the lowest reading since September. This was the fourth consecutive monthly decline. The present conditions component declined from 105.6 to 105.4 and the expectations component declined from 81.5 to 79.6. Weak retail sales suggest consumers are hoarding cash despite gasoline prices under $2 in most areas. Healthcare costs have risen 25% year over year and the Obamacare penalty for not having insurance is rising.
The week's economic reports lifted the Atlanta Fed's real time GDPNow forecast from +0.1% growth to +0.3%. The next update will be on Tuesday after the residential construction report. The April FOMC meeting is the next week and the Fed is not going to raise rates with GDP growth near zero.
There is a 97.7% probability the Fed will not hike rates at the April 27th meeting. That drops to 86.7% for June, 72.2% for July, 63.6% for September, 59.6% for November and 48.2% for December. The Fed is also not likely to hike rates late in the election cycle in order to remain out of the political fray.
The calendar for next week is mostly home sales and construction. That is not likely to move the market. The Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey on Thursday is a proxy for the national ISM report due out two-weeks later.
The biggest event is the Doha meeting on Sunday. That will likely determine market direction on Monday.
Intel (INTC) reports earnings on Tuesday but a report out on Friday said they were going to cut thousands of jobs over the next couple months. The report from the news website Oregonlive said Intel was going to reduce headcount in some divisions by "double digit percentages." Intel had 107,300 employees on December 31st. In 2014, they cut the workforce by 5,000 jobs. They cut another 1,100 in 2015. Reportedly, some of the 2016 cuts would include top executives. Intel shares declined slightly on the news. Since we have seen multiple earnings warnings over the last several weeks saying enterprise spending was slowing, I am not surprised Intel is being forced to cut costs again.
Earlier in the week research firm Gartner reported PC sales had declined to 64.8 million units in Q1, down -9.6% year over year. According to Gartner this was the first time since 2007 that PC sales fell under 65 million units. This is the sixth consecutive quarter of PC shipment declines. Gartner said Hewlett Packard PC sales fell -9% globally but -17.3% in the USA. HP said it was trying t highlight high-end sales as the reason for the quantity decline. Dell moved to the top position and the first time in 25 quarters that spot was not held by Hewlett Packard. PC sales in Asia Pacific declined -5.1% because of weakness in China. Europe, Africa and the Middle East saw sales decline -10% and Latin America saw a 32% decline. This decline in PC sales is another reason Intel is struggling.
A report from the Nikkei Asian Review on Friday said Apple had notified parts suppliers to cut production -30% on iPhone parts for Q2. Apple had previously lowered production in Q1 by 30% and they are now carrying that forward into Q2. Apple had previously forecasted a decline in iPhone sales in Q1. That would be its first ever year over year decline in sales. On Thursday, Canaccord Genuity predicted sales would decline in Q3 as well. The debut of the iPhone 7 in the fall would boost sales in Q4. However, there have been multiple reports that the form factor for the model 7 will be the same as the model 6 and most of the internal components will remain the same. There may not be enough changes to the model 7 to entice customers to upgrade and that would be a serious blow to Apple's stock price. Having iPhone sales decline for three consecutive quarters will be bad enough but a drop in Q4 would be a major shift. Shares fell -$2 on the Nikkei story. Apple reports earnings on April 25th.
Motor Trend spent the early part of the week with headlines teasing pictures of the Apple Car to be unveiled on Thursday. When the story and pictures finally broke it was a disappointment and MT was ridiculed significantly. The "exclusive" on an Apple Car was an "imagined" article. There was zero truth and simply their imagination of what Apple could do if they decide to produce a car. MT was laughed at for having a severe lack of imagination when it came to styling a hypothetical Apple car.
Get ready for the big announcement. Yahoo's deadline for acquisition bids is Monday. The New York Times and Fortune Magazine reported on Friday that Yahoo was hiding or holding back important financial information from prospective bidders. Executives for Yahoo did give gloomy predictions for 2016 but refused to discuss forecasts for 2017 or answer hundreds of questions about critical aspects of the business. The publications reported several of the three dozen or more potential buyers questioned whether Yahoo was even truly for sale. They felt the reluctance to share any critical information may mean the business is a lot worse off than previously thought.
Yahoo has been giving a 90-slide presentation to prospective bidders that was more confusing than enlightening according to people that have seen it. The presentation raises more questions than it answers and there are no answers. Bidders were told they had to listen to the long recorded presentation before Yahoo managers would answer any questions and then very few questions were answered.
Analysts have speculated that more than 30 companies were seriously interested but actual bidders will be less than 10 and there is the possibility that nobody will come close to Yahoo's asking price of $10 billion for the core business. Analysts believe the company is only worth $3 to $5 billion. Reportedly, only Verizon, Comcast and IAC Interactive actually got to meet with Yahoo management and even then they struggled to extract information from CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman.
Reporters for the publications speculated the entire process was a sham in order to pacify the activist shareholders and Mayer had no intentions of actually selling the company and giving up her $365 million, five year, compensation package. She has to remain at Yahoo for five years since her hire date and the stock price has to be over $40 at the end of those five years. She made $42 million in 2014. She started in July 2012 so she has to make it until July 2017 to fully vest in her compensation package.
However, if Mayer is fired by the board she will receive a $25.8 million severance package. If she loses her job because Yahoo is acquired she will get $110 million in severance. I doubt she would ever find another job after the Yahoo fiasco but with that kind of money, she no longer needs to work.
It is going to be very interesting to see who makes an offer, what price they offer and what Mayer does with the offers. Yahoo reports earnings on Tuesday after the close and that should be a very volatile earnings call.
Twitter (TWTR) has been banned in China since 2009. However, they just hired Kathy Chen to be managing director for China. Apparently, even though Twitter is not allowed in China there are plenty of Chinese advertisers that want to use Twitter. Last year, advertising sales to Chinese companies rose 340%. Chen previously worked at Cisco and Microsoft.
Morgan Stanley cut Twitter saying falling user engagement and shrinking user growth will impact execution. Morgan Stanley said Twitter will end this year with 307.1 million global users, down from the original projection of $310.6 million. The bank said users last quarter spent only 2.7 minutes a day on the service compared to 40.5 minutes for Pandora, 30.3 minutes for Facebook and 8 minutes on YouTube.
Twitter shares are struggling higher after bottoming in mid February. Earnings are April 26th.
Sturm Ruger (RGR) and Smith & Wesson (SWHC) got some bad news on Friday. A judge in Connecticut ruled that a 2005 law that shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits brought by victim's families does not prevent victim's families from arguing that the semi-automatic rifle used in the Sandy Hook school shooting should not have been sold to civilians.
The case has no chance in court. The gun was made by Bushmaster Firearms, a subsidiary of Remington Arms, and no relation to either Ruger or S&W. However, the bad ruling by this judge means the families will sue Remington and there will be plenty of bad press before it is settled.
The gun belonged to Adam Lanza's mother and was stolen from a locked closet by her son and used to kill her and the victims at the school. The AR-15 style rifle is the most popular sporting rifle in America with millions sold every year by dozens of different companies.
Remington should not incur any liability by the son's illegal use of the firearm any more than GM is liable for the thousands of people killed every year by drunk drivers using GM cars. If a person decides to purposefully drive his car into a crowd of people, nobody is going to sue GM.
Shares of RGR fell 4% on the news even though they are not directly involved in the case. SWHC shares fell -3%.
On Wednesday after the close, disk drive maker Seagate Technology (STX) warned on Q1 earnings saying revenue would be closer to $2.6 billion than the previously forecast $2.7 billion. Profit margins would be 23% instead of 25.6% in the prior guidance. The company said demand for "enterprise" products, those mission critical drives used in corporate servers and cloud operations, was slowing. The company also cited slowing demand for PC drives. Shares of Seagate and Western Digital fell sharply.
Just two days earlier Juniper Networks (JNPR) warned for the quarter because of weak enterprise demand at its largest customers. Shares fell sharply.
It does not take a rocket scientist to put 2+2 together and get 4. PC sales are slowing dramatically. Intel is preparing to announce massive layoffs. Seagate and Juniper reported declining corporate demand. Q1 GDP growth is expected to be nearly zero. Something is not right in corporate America.
Next week we have earnings from IBM on Monday, Intel on Tuesday and Microsoft on Thursday. What are the odds that those companies are going to report positive earnings? At this point, I would say those odds are not very high. Microsoft has the best chance since they are in the middle of an upgrade to their operating systems. That means they can still get revenue from existing PC users and not depend 100% on new PC sales. However, they get a lot of revenue from enterprise customers using server operating and database systems.
The bank earnings last week were positive. Everyone reported a decline in revenue but they beat the street estimates. This is that lowered bar we have talked about so much in recent weeks. I will be surprised if the tech giants I mentioned above have earnings that are significantly above their own lowered forecasts. Will that spoil market sentiment?
On Wednesday somebody made a $13 million bet that the Russell 2000 would be a lot lower by June expiration. They bought 90,000 of the June $108 puts and sold 90,000 of the June $98 puts on the Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) for a net debit of $1.50. That is $13.5 million with a breakeven point of $106.50 on the IWM. If the IWM closes at $98 at expiration, the trader stands to make about $75 million. The column on the far right of this option montage is the open interest.
IWM Put Montage
For that bet to reach the maximum profit the IWM/Russell would have to return almost to the January lows or roughly a 12.5% decline from Friday's close.
There is a good possibility this was a portfolio hedge rather than an outright bet on a market decline. However, you do not spend $13 million for the hedge unless you actually believe the market might decline. I would have to be a real believer to spend that kind of money but then I do not have a billion dollar portfolio at risk either. I am short the SPY and/or IWM in almost every newsletter I manage so I am hedging my bets as well, just not to this extreme. I suggest we watch this open interest and see when/if the trader removes this bet.
We talk about the strong dollar all the time and the impact on commodities. This is a chart comparing the dollar to oil over the last three years. The black line is the dollar and blue line is oil prices. Note that the dollar began shooting up at exactly the same time oil prices collapsed. Over the last two months, the dollar has fallen and the price of oil has rebounded even though the fundamentals for oil prices have not changed or have actually gotten worse.
The IEA updated their outlook for demand growth in 2016. They now expect global demand to grow by 1.16 million barrels per day. Excess production today is between 1.45 and 2.0 million barrels per day (Mbpd). Over the last month, that has been a little less because of disruptions in Iraq, Nigeria and Columbia. Nearly 900,000 bpd was offline for days to weeks because of a pipeline explosion in each country but for different reasons. The prior week the 590,000 bpd Keystone pipeline in the U.S. was shut down for 7 days because of a leak. Despite all these outages, inventories still grew. This is just another example why a production freeze will have no impact to the global glut.
Last week the U.S. active rig count declined -3 to 440. Oil rigs declined -3 to 351 and gas rigs were unchanged at 89. Active rigs are now down 1,491 from the peak at 1,931 in 2015. That is a 78% decline. If the OPEC representatives in Doha want to reverse the trend in U.S. shale oil drilling all they have to do is spike oil prices about $5 to $45 and that decline in rigs will turn into weekly gains. They need to be careful what price they wish for or U.S. production will begin to rise again.
As part of the bank earnings last week, we learned what exposure they had to energy loans. Every bank raised loan loss reserves for the quarter to cover potential defaults. This is their individual exposure and Citigroup has double the exposure as a percentage of total loans as the other three banks.
JPM $46.0 billion, 5.4% of total loans.
BAC $43.5 billion, 2.4% of total loans.
WFC $40.7 billion, 4.3% of total loans.
Citi $58.0 billion, 9.4% of total loans.
Energy XXI (EXXI) filed bankruptcy on Thursday. In the year before the oil crash they bought more than $5 billion in reserves from Exxon and EPL Oil and Gas to raise their market cap to nearly $7 billion. They bought the reserves with debt. Over the last year, they bought back $1.7 billion in debt at a significant discount but still had roughly $3.2 billion outstanding. When oil prices imploded, they could not generate the cash flow to service the debt. They bought the reserves with oil at $105 and went bankrupt on $35 oil. In their bankruptcy filing, they listed their assets at $500 million. Existing shareholders are going to be eliminated and debtors are going to exchange $2.8 billion in debt for 100% of the new equity in the company.
Now project this across the entire sector. There have been more than 25 bankruptcies over the last 18 months and sources claim there are 11 more in the planning stages today. Those are just the ones we know about. Since filing bankruptcy requires having some debtor in possession funding in place before you file, those 11 companies have been shopping for that funding. I am sure there are others that will appear in the coming months. The best thing OPEC could do this weekend is produce a miracle that sends oil prices higher and breathes life back into the U.S. oil sector. I would not hold my breath on that happening.
A Citibank analyst was cautioning investors last week about discounting the potential for new market highs in the coming weeks even though this will be the worst quarterly earnings since the financial crisis. She quoted an amazing statistic. She said there are more than 8.5 billion shares short. If the markets begin to break through the various resistance zones those shorts will have to cover and that would provide a significant short squeeze that could power the markets to new highs.
Analysts have been talking up a rally on "less bad earnings" and next week we will get to see if that can happen this quarter.
The major indexes rallied on Tuesday and Wednesday and the rest of the week they were lackluster. The S&P rebounded 48 points from the Tuesday low to the Thursday high at 2,088 and only gave back -8 points from that high despite strong resistance. This was somewhat bullish because normally there is some backing and filling after a big gain. That is especially true when that high is at strong resistance.
Clearly, investors are hoping for better than expected earnings and a possible surprise from Doha. Actual estimates declined again from -9.1% to -9.3% over the last week. At the end of March, the forecast was for a -8.7% decline. Seven percent of S&P companies have already reported and 71% beat on earnings and 60% beat on revenue. Ninety-four companies have warned and 27 have issued positive guidance.
The four major banks beat the lowered estimates but earnings and revenue declined from the year ago quarter. Industrial corporations may not be so fortunate. This week will be pivotal for the earnings outlook and market direction.
The S&P stalled right at downtrend resistance at 2,085 and that will be the key level to watch next week. If the index does reverse the 2,040 level should be initial support followed by 2,020.
The Dow could be a problem next week. There are 14 Dow components reporting earnings. Those reporting are IBM, GS, INTC, JNJ, AXP, KO, MSFT, TRV, VZ, V, CAT, MCD, UNH and GE. The challenge is likely to come from IBM, Intel and Microsoft. If enterprise spending is really slowing, those companies could post weak earnings and/or weak guidance, which could sour the market.
The Q2 production cut on Apple iPhones is likely to drag Apple lower as well.
The Dow touched the very top of its resistance band with a brief intraday spike to 17,962 before falling back to close below 17,925. That was just shy of the intraday spike on November 3rd at 17,977. If we were to get a couple really positive earnings reports and IBM fails to depress, we could see a breakout to the next resistance band from 18,120 to 18,165. That should be a lot rougher resistance than the current level.
The big thing about the Dow outlook is the new high syndrome. The prior high from last May was 18,312. That is just over 400 points above our Friday close. That old high has become a price magnet and it is calling traders with an almost irresistible siren song. Whenever an index gets this close to an old high it is almost a given that it will be retested. Obviously, crummy earnings could derail that new high process but it would take some really bad earnings to blunt market sentiment. What happens if we actually reach that high is another story for a future commentary.
The Nasdaq catapulted over resistance at 4,900 on Tuesday and then held its gains the rest of the week. The Nasdaq also has some earnings challenges coming up this week with NFLX, INTC, GOOGL, YHOO, QCOM, MSFT, ISRG, BIIB and SBUX reporting. IBM could be a problem on Monday even though it is not a Nasdaq stock. It still impacts the tech sector.
The Nasdaq has psychological resistance at 5,000 but then a easy path to its own resistance band from 5,100 to 5,160.
The biotech short squeeze faded earlier in the week but then buyers returned as the week progressed. The $BTK needs to move over 3,250 to trigger more short covering and help lift the Nasdaq.
The Russell 2000, S&P-600 Smallcap and the S&P-400 Midcap indexes were all positive on Friday when the big cap indexes were negative. That is a positive for market sentiment and suggests fund managers are starting to nibble at stocks again. This is unusual with the big caps at strong resistance and only a couple weeks before the sell in May cycle begins.
I am neutral on the market for next week. I could make a case for it to go in either direction. If earnings are "less bad", we could move higher and closer to the attraction of the historic high price magnet. If earnings are more negative than expected it could damage market sentiment and see the indexes move lower.
The Doha meeting on Sunday will have a big impact. If oil moves higher, the market should move higher and declining oil prices could drag the market lower. With Iran boycotting the meeting, the potential for a negative result has increased. The futures expiration on Wednesday is an added volatility bonus that should accelerate any directional move.
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There is a bill in Congress to allow the Saudi Arabian government to be held responsible in American courts for the 9/11 attacks. President Obama has been doing everything in his power to block the passage of the bill. The president will be in Riyadh on Wednesday to meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials.
The 9/11 commission found "no direct evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the 9/11 plot." However, critics have noted that the very narrow wording left open the possibility that lesser senior officials or parts of the Saudi government could have played a role. The 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks cited some evidence that Saudi officials living in the U.S. at the time had participated in the plot. Those conclusions, contained in 28 pages of the report, have been classified and have not been released publicly. People who have seen those pages indicate the information is incriminating for Saudi Arabia.
The Senate bill is intended to make clear that immunity given to foreign nations in a 1976 law should not apply to nations found to have participated in terrorist attacks that kill Americans on U.S. soil. If the bill passes and the president signed it, there would be a path for Saudi Arabia to be held liable. The bill is sponsored by both democrats and republicans and has wide support. Since the president has bent over backwards to be friendly and agreeable to Saudi Arabia, I doubt he would sign it.
However, we learned on Saturday that Saudi Arabia told the Obama administration that it would sell off hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. assets if Congress passes the bill. The Saudi foreign minister delivered the message personally warning the kingdom would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasuries and other assets in the U.S. before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.
The government discloses exactly how much U.S. debt is held by every country in the world except Saudi Arabia. That one number is classified. I wonder why?
China's economy expanded at a 6.7% rate for Q1 compared to 6.8% in Q4. For all of 2015 the economy grew at 6.9%. The government is targeting 6.5% to 7.0% for all of 2016 and the current stimulus programs appear to be working.
Fixed asset investments rose +10.7% and higher than the 10.3% Reuters had predicted. Retail sales rose +10.5% and slightly over estimates for 10.4%. Industrial production rose 6.8% and well over the 5.9% estimate.
The yuan appears to have stabilized since the government switched the peg from the dollar to a basket of currencies used by their trading partners. China is still facing a significant debt load of 160% of GDP. The IMF warned that about $1.3 trillion in corporate bank loans were owed by firms that could not even make the interest payments. The IMF said this could lead to bank losses equal to 7% of China's GDP. Earnings in some sectors have fallen so sharply that firms are unable to pay but China continues to "extend and pretend" that they will eventually be able to pay.
Are you ready for a really big move? The S&P has traded in a multi-year consolidation range since the end of 2013. This range has covered 324 points and technically a measured breakout would travel the distance of the range or 324 points. The bulls would like to see a breakout to the upside and that would target 2,458 on the S&P. However, the breakdown in the economy and four quarters of declining earnings suggest the eventual measured move will be a breakdown and target 1,486. The breakdown in the RSI is confirming the loss of market momentum and suggesting the next big move will likely be a decline.
Obviously, nobody can guarantee any technical outcome. Technical indicators are based on historical patterns that tend to repeat. The measured breakout from a long-term consolidation pattern is fairly reliable. When coupled with the 10/21 moving average crossover as additional confirmation the long-term outlook is not favorable. We will review this chart from time to time to see if the pattern repeats.
Despite the indexes trading near their historic highs the market sentiment is moving slightly in the bearish direction. Apparently, some investors can read charts.
Deutsche Bank (DB) has admitted it conspired with other banks to rig the price of gold and silver. Last week the bank settled a long-running price fixing lawsuit on silver by giving "valuable monetary consideration" and agreed to provide cooperation to prosecutors including instant messages and other electronic communications as part of the settlement. In other words, they are turning into a government witness against the rest of the cartel that conspired with Deutsche Bank.
Almost immediately two class action lawsuits for $1 billion in damages each were filed on behalf of Canadian gold and silver investors. The class includes anyone who traded a silver instrument of any kind from January 1st, 1999 through August 14th, 2014 and includes equities, ETFs, hedge funds, pension funds or any other investment vehicle that transacted in a silver market instrument. An identical suit was filed for investors in gold. These are the first of what could be many suits attempting to recover losses from Deutsche Bank and their co-conspirators. Since DB has already admitted their guilt there will be a huge settlement down the road.
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