Sunday, August 14, 2016

Trading Outlook for the Week of August 15-19

Markets are still showing strength as we head into mid-August.  The Nasdaq shows amazing strength, riding its 7-day moving average as a very strong support line.  The Nasdaq composite has not closed below it's 7-day since June 28th, and has only dipped below it intraday four times in that period.

Surprisingly, given the strength of the Nasdaq, the Technology sector has rotated into neutral territory.  The leaders last week were Energy, Consumer Staples, and Consumer Discretionary.  Utilities rotated up to neutral, and that coincides with a slight drop in the 10-year Treasury yield. 

The probability of an interest rate hike on September 21 has declined to just 9%.  A December 14 rate hike, however, is still at 40.6%.  With the CPI being announced Tuesday, however, those probabilities could change dramatically.  The current consensus is for CPI to be unchanged for July.  That would be the weakest result in 3-years, and it's the primary reason expectations for a September hike are near zero.  Excluding food and energy, the index is expected to rise 0.2%, which is a healthy rate, however it's likely not enough to move the Fed.

All market capitalizations are still indicating long positions, so that's the way we'll play it this week.  Earnings season is winding down, and we only have Home Depot and Deere on our watch list for this week.  We'll also be paying attention to Wednesday's release of the FOMC minutes.  That release does have a tendency to move the market, however please keep in mind that it's month old data.  Market reactions to the minutes tend to be short lived.  Still, for those of us that swing trade, it's important to be aware of the potential for movement Wednesday afternoon.

Finally, this is Options Expiration week, so watch for some volatility on high volume this Friday.

Here's a summary of the week ahead.

Trading Bias 

Large Caps - Long
Mid Caps - Long
Small Caps - Long
Nasdaq - Long

Sectors

Showing strength
XLE - Energy
XLP - Consumer Staples
XLY - Consumer Discretionary

Showing weakness
XLB - Materials
XLF - Financials
XLV - Health Care

Neutral
XLK - Technology
XLU - Utilities
XLI -  Industrials

Economic Reports of Significance (all times are EDT - GMT-4)

Monday, 8/15/16

  • 08:30 - Empire State Manufacturing Survey
  • 10:00 - Housing Market Index
  • 16:00 - Treasury International Capital
Tuesday, 8/16/16
  • 08:30 - Consumer Price Index
  • 08:30 - Housing Starts
  • 09:15 - Industrial Production
Wednesday, 8/17/16
  • 10:30 - EIA Petroleum Status Report
  • 14:00 - FOMC Minutes
Thursday, 8/18/16
  • 08:30 - Jobless Claims
  • 08:30 - Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook
Friday, 8/19/16
  • 16:00  - August Monthly Options Expiration
Earnings Reports Watched for Sector or Market Significance

Tuesday, 8/16/16
  • Before Market Open - Home Depot (NYSE:HD)
Friday, 8/19/16
  •  Before Market Open - Deer (NYSE:DE)
Summary

Our bias remains long, and we will pay closer attention to Nasdaq stocks.  I'm still wary of Energy, however if there's a promising setup with a short-term (1-3 day) projected move, I'll take it.  Given the volatility of that sector over the last 18-months, though, I'm reluctant to play anything with a longer forecast.  Watch for continued signs of consolidation in the Tech sector, and watch sector rotation carefully for some hidden gems that may be on the upswing.  Sectors across the board are staying firmly above their 7-day moving averages, and the Slow Stochastic indicator remains above 50 in all capitalizations, so we are only considering long positions at this time.

As always, trade the market you see, not the market you want.  Remain nimble, stick to your trading plan, and always know your exit strategy before entering the trade.

Happy Trading.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Trading Outlook for the Week of August 8-12

A jobs report that far exceeded expectations saved what had promised to be a down week in all indexes.  Instead, all sectors except Utilities finished higher, with technology leading an extremely robust surge.  The flight from utilities matched a similar flight from the 10-Year Treasury which saw a 5.3% increase in yield on Friday.  Both of these moves signal a renewed confidence in the health of the US economy, although it's prudent to remember that nothing is more whimsical than the confidence level of the average equities trader.

The Technologies sector - and with it, the Nasdaq - continues to shine.  A note of caution is in order there, since it is now trading well above its 20-day moving average.  Be aware that a consolidation will likely follow such a strong upward charge that is now over 6-weeks running.

We're seeing some healthy sector rotation playing out with Financials joining Technology at the head of the class while Health Care and Industrials have slid into neutral territory.  We'll keep an eye on Consumer Staples late in the week since the all-important Retail Sales number will be released on Friday.  Energy, of course, continues to show weakness in the face of continued depressed oil prices.

Thursday and Friday are the big days when it comes to economic news.  We'll be especially interested in the Import/Export numbers in light of the growing strength of the dollar against the British Pound and the Euro.  The Retail Sales and Consumer Confidence numbers will shape our strategy heading into the weekend.

Here's a summary of the week ahead.

Trading Bias 

Large Caps - Long
Mid Caps - Long
Small Caps - Long
Nasdaq - Long

Sectors

Showing strength
XLK - Technology
XLF - Financials

Showing weakness
XLE - Energy
XLP - Consumer Staples
XLU - Utilities

Neutral

XLV - Health Care
XLI -  Industrials

Economic Reports of Significance (all times are EDT - GMT-4)

Monday, 8/8/16

  • No reports of market significance
Tuesday, 8/9/16
  • 08:30 - Productivity and Costs
Wednesday, 8/10/16
  • 10:00 - JOLTS
  • 10:30 - EIA Petroleum Status Report
  • 14:00 - Treasury Budget
Thursday, 8/11/16
  • 08:30 - Jobless Claims
  • 08:30 - Import and Export Prices
Friday, 8/12/16
  • 08:30 - Retail Sales
  • 08:30 - PPI-FD
  • 10:00 - Business Inventories 
  • 10:00 - Consumer Sentiment
Earnings Reports Watched for Sector or Market Significance

Tuesday, 8/9/16
  • After Market Close - Disney (NYSE:DIS)
Summary

Our bias remains long, and we will pay closer attention to Nasdaq stocks and Financial stocks.  With the sector strengthening, there may be some good dividend plays that also show short-term growth.  Watch for signs of consolidation in the Tech sector, and watch sector rotation carefully for some hidden gems that may be on the upswing.  Sectors across the board are staying firmly above their 7-day moving averages, and the Slow Stochastic indicator remains above 50 in all capitalizations, so we are only considering long positions at this time.

As always, trade the market you see, not the market you want.  Remain nimble, stick to your trading plan, and always know your exit strategy before entering the trade.

Happy Trading.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

BoE Cuts Rates, Adds to QE

The UK's Monetary Policy Committee today announced their first interest rate cut in seven years, lowering the benchmark rate to a record low of 0.25%.  The rate cut came as no surprise to markets worldwide, and the MPC vote was 9-0 in favor of the cuts.  What did surprise some, however, was a £170 Billion stimulus that will be introduced via the purchase of Gilts (UK government backed bonds similar to US Treasury Bonds), the purchase of corporate bonds, and a new bank lending program.  That portion of the stimulus package was not expected to coincide with the interest rate cuts.

The FTSE responded positively to the news, finishing the day up 1.56% although the Pound dropped 1.5% versus the US Dollar and 1.3% versus the Euro.  US markets responded with a yawn, finishing the day flat.  The US 10-Year Treasury Yield, however, dropped 2.58% to 1.51.

BoE Governor Mark Carney sounded a pessimistic note in his presentation, stating, “We took these steps because the economic outlook has changed markedly.  Indicators have all fallen sharply, in most cases to levels last seen in the financial crisis, and in some cases to all-time lows."  That's a bit troubling, given the lengthy duration anticipated for the actual Brexit events to unfold.  With the benchmark rate now down to an extreme low, there is very little additional room for the BoE to maneuver should the British economy slow further.

Surprisingly, the MPC signaled the potential for a further rate cut, although Carney assured reporters that the central bank had no intention of bringing rates into negative territory.  That they would consider - and even signal - that rates could drop to near zero, however, indicates the level of concern the committee has over the economic prospects during the Brexit transition.

The fallout from the Brexit vote has manifested more slowly than critics had forecast, but - at least in the UK - it is starting to be felt.  Consumer Confidence is dropping dramatically, and the industrial outlook is starting to decline as well.  The forecast for the UK GDP is now down to 0.8% for 2017, and the Central Bank foresees a strong decline in corporate investment and in the housing markets.  The Pound's weakness is certainly hurting UK imports, and that is having a marked effect on growth potential over the next 18 months.  That import price pressure is expected to have an impact on inflation in 2017, with the central bank forecasting inflation to hit their 2% target in the fourth quarter of 2017 and exceed it throughout 2018.

What all this signals is a period of weakness, uncertainty, and potential market instability in the UK that will likely last through 2018.  With the ECB taking a bit of a "wait and see" attitude mingled with a healthy dose of skepticism a couple of weeks ago, the likelihood of continental fallout is extremely high.  US 10-Year Treasury yields have declined steadily since December, 2015, and are now sitting at the lows last seen in August, 2012.  That represents a significant flight to safety, and with US equities sitting near all-time highs, it's reasonable to conclude that the heavy demand on US treasury bonds is coming from overseas.

There is a limit to how long the US can remain immune to economic weakness in the UK and the EU.  The strong US dollar is having a severe impact on US exports, and that, in turn has a serious impact on US companies that are heavily exposed to Europe.  This is evident in the behavior of the S&P 500 where demand has fallen off over the past few weeks, and the market has gone essentially flat since it reached a record high in mid-July.  With GDP growth down dramatically in Europe, the UK, and the US, prospects for a global recession are mounting as we transition from a tumultuous US presidential election to the uncertainty of a prolonged Brexit negotiation and execution.

Earnings season in the US is almost over, and there is not another FOMC announcement before September 21.  So now we turn our attention to tomorrow's jobs report.  The pattern in the market right now is not encouraging, so the key economic reports over the next few business days may well set the tone for the remainder of August. 

Happy Trading

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trading Outlook for the Week of August 1-5

The last week of trading in July saw continued strength in the Technology sector, and that carried through to the Nasdaq as a whole.  There's some signs of life coming back into the mid-cap stocks, however across the board the S&P large cap, mid cap, and small cap indexes continue to be flat.  A bit of demand came into the markets on Thursday and Friday, following the dovish Fed announcement that suggests interest rates will remain at their current level well into 2017.

We are still maintaining a long bias into the week ahead, however with the extremely tight range being experienced in all market capitalizations for the last two weeks, be aware that a breakout in either direction is possible.  Only the higher volume on the last two up-days suggests that the breakout could be to the upside.  In the meantime, we'll be keeping our stops close.

Here's a summary of the week ahead.

Trading Bias 

Large Caps - Long
Mid Caps - Long
Small Caps - Long
Nasdaq - Long

Sectors

Showing strength
XLK - Technology
XLV - Health Care

Showing weakness
XLE - Energy
XLI -  Industrials
XLP - Consumer Staples
XLU - Utilities

Neutral
XLF - Financials
XLY - Consumer Discretionary
XLB - Materials

Economic Reports of Significance (all times are EDT - GMT-4)

Monday, 8/1/16

  • 09:45 - PMI Manufacturing Index
  • 10:00 - ISM Manufacturing Index
  • 10:00 - Construction Spending
Tuesday, 8/2/16
  • 08:30 - Personal Income & Outlays
Wednesday, 8/3/16
  • 08:15 - ADP Employment Report
  • 10:00 - ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
  • 10:30 - EIA Petroleum Status Report
Thursday, 8/4/16
  • 08:30 - Jobless Claims
  • 10:00 - Factory Orders
Friday, 8/5/16
  • 08:30 - Employment Situation
  • 08:30 - International Trade
Earnings Reports Watched for Sector or Market Significance

Tuesday, 8/2/16
  • Before Market Open - Proctor & Gambel (NYSE:PG)
Wednesday, 8/3/16
  •  Before Market Open - Avnet (NYSE:AVT)
Summary

Our bias remains long, and we will pay closer attention to Nasdaq stocks and Health Care stocks.  We'll keep our stops very close for several reasons:
  • All three market capitalizations continue to show an extremely tight trading range.  Until we see the direction of the breakout, we'll need to remain cautious for a move to the downside.
  • The 10-year yield is still trending down, indicating a continued flight to safety.  Weakness in the Utilities sector suggests this flight may be ending however we'd like to see confirmation in the treasury yield before reaching that conclusion.
  • This is Employment Situation week, and that adds a measure of uncertainty to Friday's behavior. 
  • The Bank of England has their announcement on August 4th, and there will be uncertainty leading into Thursday based on the view they will take regarding Brexit risks.
As always, trade the market you see, not the market you want.  Remain nimble, stick to your trading plan, and always know your exit strategy before entering the trade.

Happy Trading.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Showing Only 1.2% Growth, GDP Is Still Anemic

Is there truly an economic recovery in progress?  You'd never know it from the GDP which increased by a mere 1.2% in the quarter ending June 30th.  It continues a very sluggish trend that started in 2014 following what had looked to be a promising post-Great Recession recovery.

Quarterly GDP Growth 2012 to Present
Economists generally consider a range of 2.5% to 3.5% GDP growth to be healthy for the economy.  Lower than 2.5% and corporate profits suffer and with them, job growth also suffers.  Higher than 3.5% and the economy starts to experience inflationary pressures.  Now, that last point is significant in this case since we've been in an extended period of under-inflation.  The Fed mandate to maintain inflation at 2% needs a boost in GDP well above what we're currently experiencing before that target grows within reach.

Low inflation, in this case, translates to lower interest rates.  Following Friday's GDP report, the Fed Funds Futures market reacted sharply, reducing the probability of a September Fed interest rate hike to only 12%, and a December probability dropped to 30%.  As we discussed two days ago, interest rates will be depressed likely right through 2017.

Yesterday's announcement made mention of a slight increase in trade, saying it added about 0.2 percentage points to overall growth.  I've read some analysts point to that figure as evidence that the impact of the strong US dollar has stabilized, however I don't believe that to be the case.  Rather, what's driving the trade growth is a drop in US imports, not an increase in exports.  (Imports are subtracted from the figure, so if imports decline, it has a net positive effect on the trade number.)  Given the strength of the dollar, a reduction in imports is a very bearish signal, indicating a decrease in demand for materials and finished products.

Along those same lines, a major factor in yesterday's anemic announcement was continued reduction in inventory restocking by businesses in the US.  This is the fifth consecutive quarter in which inventory levels have dropped, and it's a further indication that there are strong downward pressures on consumer demand and on corporate sales.  Unlike analysts that are predicting a rapid end to that trend, I see just the opposite.  Until there is a healthy increase in the hourly wage statistics and a healthy increase in the Labor Force Participation Rate, I don't see any major driver for a change in inventory stocking behavior that would add anything of significance to the GDP.

When I consider the economic warnings hidden in the Schlumberger and Union Pacific earnings calls earlier this month, I begin to see a general underlying pattern of slowing growth, slowing demand for commodities and raw materials, and a potential crack in the expected rate of consumer spending over the second half of the year.  For that pattern to reverse, we need to see a weakening of the US Dollar, a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans that are out of work, and a return to a price of oil that provides healthy growth across a wide range of industries.  None of those appear to be on the short-term horizon, which leaves me pessimistic about future growth prospects in 2016 and into the first half of 2017.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

FOMC Holds Rates Steady; Details Economic Progress

As expected yesterday, the US Federal Opens Market Committee (FOMC) held interest rates steady with the target range between 0.25% and 0.50%.  One sign of the weakening of the Fed's resolve at maintaining the status quo, however, came with Esther L. George's dissenting vote.  As noted in the formal announcement, the traditionally hawkish George preferred to increase the federal funds rate to 0.50% to 0.75%.  She was outvoted 9-1.

The language and tone of the announcement demonstrated a subtle shift towards a tightening policy, however. Respective to the Fed mandate of maintaining full employment, they said, "Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that the labor market strengthened and that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate rate. Job gains were strong in June following weak growth in May."  

Given the very robust jobs report in June, that position is not surprising.  Indeed, the standard unemployment level has been sustained below 5% for several months, although it's equally important to note that over 94 million Americans are now unemployed - the highest number since the Labor Force Participation Rate has been maintained. 

If the job market were the only factor under consideration, there's little doubt that the Fed would be moving to raise interest rates.  The stumbling block continues to be inflation.  The all-items CPI for urban consumers is 1%.  The FOMC target, however, is 2%, and there's little indication that inflation will reach that target in the short term.  They acknowledged that yesterday, saying, "Inflation is expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of earlier declines in energy prices, but to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further." 

They did not define "medium term" in this context, however Janet Yellen defined it in 2009, saying, "From macroanalysis, I consider short term as referring to less than, say, a year or two, medium term as ranging from around two to six years, and long term as anything beyond around six."  Read into that what you will, since the ultimate question will be whether or not the Fed will raise interest rates before inflation reaches the 2% target.  If that target is not anticipated for at least another two years, then we've a long ways to go before we see any monetary tightening.

The June announcements were rife with caution, citing potentially permanent "headwinds" and some rather dire forecasts regarding the global economy. This month's announcement shows a complete reversal of those ominous undertones.  "Near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments."

What they classified as "near-term risks" was not expounded upon, however it's reasonable to assume that they are referencing the unknown impacts of Brexit, a strong US dollar, and the prospect of recession in Europe.  While the Brexit impact is certainly moved out into the distant future - at least 2019 or beyond, even if the UK invokes Article 50 next year - and Europe appears to have inched ever so slightly away from recession, I find it hard to dismiss the impact the strong US dollar is having and will continue to have for the foreseeable future.  It's doubtful, however, that the dollar alone will be enough to stay the Fed's hand.

Interestingly, the markets appeared to treat the FOMC release with a yawn.  The Nasdaq Composite was up both yesterday and today, and the S&P 500, while down a hair yesterday, recovered it today to continue it's horizontal correction without giving or gaining any ground. 

Equally interesting, the Fed Fund Futures still show only an 18% chance of a rate hike in September, and the chance of a December hike dropped to 36.8%.  In fact, you have to go all the way out to June 2017 before the chance of an increase even reaches 40%.  Clearly, the market is factoring in very low interest rates for at least the next year.  The 10-year Treasury Yield is still declining, dropping to 1.52% today, which would be another possible indication that rates will continue low for some time.  (It's also a further indication of a flight to safety, which is a warning of potentially troubled times ahead in the equities markets.)

The Fed summed up a very dovish posture once again, stating, "The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run."  That view, however, is not consistent with the "dot plot," an estimation of where FOMC members view interest rates over the next several years.  A solid base of participants forecast one additional rate hike in 2016, however the strongest dot concentration shows two rate hikes, presumably in September and December with the average rate falling between 0.75% and 1% by year end.

The next FOMC meeting is September 21st, so we have almost 8-weeks before the next rate decision is expected.  A lot can happen in 8-weeks, and there will be two more major economic data points available to the Fed before that decision is warranted.  What we as traders need to watch, however, is the potential for good economic news to become bad for the market.  A very strong jobs report, or a healthy uptick in inflation could signal that there is a greater potential for a September rate hike.  That would send stocks tumbling once again, hence the good news is bad phenomenon.  Exercise caution around major data releases since the reaction will be somewhat unpredictable for the time being.

With regards to monetary policy, we now turn our attention to the Bank of England and next Thursday's Monetary Policy Committee announcement.  Stay tuned.

Happy Trading.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Apple Beats on Earnings and Revenue, But Is It Enough?

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) posted their 3rd quarter earnings after the bell this afternoon, and on the surface, at least, the news sounded good.  They beat earnings by $0.04, and they also beat on revenue by $310 million.  In after-hours trading, shares of AAPL surged as high as 8% before settling back to $103.60.  They also held their quarterly dividend steady at $0.57 per share.

The underlying picture, though, is not quite so rosy.  Their sales were down 14.5% year over year, and their gross margin dropped to 38%.  In fact, their forward guidance for the next quarter includes a gross margin range of only 37.5% to 38%, and their forecast for revenue is up slightly from this quarter, but still well below last year.

International sales contributed to 63% of their revenue this quarter, but sales in China were down 33% from last year.  The Apple troubles in China continue, in fact, not only due to the slowing economy in Asia but also resulting from difficulties with Chinese regulators.  The iBooks and iTunes services were shut down by regulators last April, and in June the Chinese government ordered a halt to iPhone 6 sales due to a patent dispute.  (We'll skip the editorial about the hypocrisy of China arguing about a patent infringement.)  The point is, China was once seen as the major growth market for Apple, but at least for now that market has run dry.

The Services business, including iTunes and Apple Pay, were up 19% year over year, however on a quarter-to-quarter basis, it was essentially flat.  Despite Credit Suisse's forecast of the services business providing over 30% of Apple's revenue by 2020, the reality is that the current growth trends are not supporting that prediction.  With Google and Samsung both entering the payment market with comparable products, the competition faced by Apple Pay is becoming formidable. 

Demand for iPhones, iPads, and Macs appears to have peaked.  The iPhone market is already saturated, and the tablet and personal computer markets are crumbling, at least as far as the average consumer is concerned.  The iPad is still doing fairly well in certain business applications, but when it comes to the average consumer, the phablet is rapidly replacing them.  To that end, with the extremely popular Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge out for 6 months, now, the iPhone 7 (with an expected larger screen offering) is a bit late to the dance.

The question that Apple must seriously entertain is whether or not a change at the top is in order.  CEO Tim Cook has yet to prove that he's capable of driving the innovation needed to keep Apple at the top of the industry.  I've seen an increasing number of analysts state that, in their view, Apple's best days are behind them, and thus far I've seen nothing to contradict that opinion.  There has certainly been no innovation coming from the company since the passing of Steve Jobs.  It may well be that the "next new thing" to come out of Apple will be a new CEO.