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Saturday February 13, 2010 - 00:07:33 GMT
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U.S. Stocks Close Nearly Unchanged after Volatile Trading Day

Equity markets finished nearly unchanged on Friday after a volatile and tumultuous trading session. The indices weakened in premarket trading following a surprise move by China’s central bank to curb excessive credit demands. Recent data has shown that China’s economy may be heating up too fast which could lead to an asset bubble in the real estate and housing markets.

 

Commodity markets were hit hard following the increase in the China bank reserve rate. This put selling pressure on commodity-linked stocks. Risk aversion returned to the markets which led to the early session sell-off.

 

Better than expected U.S. Retail Sales helped to give equity markets a boost, but news that consumer sentiment fell according to the Michigan Survey helped to limit early session gains. Thin trading conditions may have led to the late session strength.

 

The stronger Dollar put pressure on April Gold, erasing almost all of Thursday’s gain.  The short-term chart indicates the possibility of a wide range next week with $1106.00 upside resistance and $1071.50 the next downside target. The direction of the Dollar will dictate the next move in gold.

 

March Crude Oil traded lower as demand fell for commodities. The current chart pattern suggests that a break to $72.60 is likely over the short-term. Look for more downside action as long as the Euro remains under pressure. The supply/demand situation is not being factored in at this time. Speculators are focusing on risk sentiment as their main directional indicator.

 

Weaker commodity markets led to Friday’s short-covering rally in March Treasury Bonds and Notes. The Treasuries reacted positively to the news that China was raising its bank reserve requirement by 50 basis points because it diminishes the chances for inflation to flare up. Gains were limited by the stronger than expected U.S. Retail Sales Report. Short-term, notes and bonds are oversold which could lead to more short-covering. Longer-term, yields should continue to rise as the Fed comes closer to hiking interest rates. Strong aversion to risk could be a market driver next week.

 

The U.S. Dollar soared early Friday following a surprise 50 basis point hike in China’s bank reserve rate. Additional strength was provided by a better than expected U.S. Retail Report.  The Dollar pared some of its gains after the University of Michigan Survey fell unexpectedly.  Foreign currency market trading has been erratic ahead of the week long Chinese holiday and the extended U.S. weekend.

 

The aggressive move by China is an attempt to cool credit without tightening interest rates. The intention of China’s central bank is not to derail the economy but to preserve its expansion. The easy flow of stimulus money has created a potentially overvalued real estate and housing bubble in China. Friday’s action by China to raise bank reserves by 50 basis points on February 25th is the central bank’s attempt to avoid an asset bubble.

 

Also contributing to the strong rally in the Dollar was another round of aggressive Euro selling. Poor German and Euro Zone economic data as well as the lack of solid steps by the European Union to help Greece were the bearish forces driving this market lower. 

 

Several days of tight trading ranges contributed to the severity of the overnight decline in the March Euro as volatility returned in a big way once fresh 2010 lows were reached. Worse than expected German and Euro Zone GDP reports ignited the initial break with the news from China providing additional fuel to the sell-off.  The reports that GDP did not continue its uptrend from the last two quarters sent a signal to the markets that the global recovery may be faltering or stalling.  The poor GDP reports should provide more incentive to EU members to get the Greece situation straightened out more quickly.

 

While the news from China and the poor Euro Zone economic data are making the headlines, investors are still expressing their dissatisfaction with the proposal by the European Union to rescue Greece from an economic disaster.  Although the EU is ready to assist Greece if needed, support for the plan remains uncertain. This suggests that additional measures may be necessary. This translates into outside money may be required. Talk is swirling that the International Monetary Fund stands ready to come in if necessary.

 

Bearish traders are sitting on a record amount of short positions against the Euro. These traders feel that the current plan will fall short in helping Greece tackle its fiscal deficit. EU nations are throwing their support behind the plan as a show of solidarity rather than posting real money. The European Central Bank threw its support behind the pact in an effort to boost solidarity by saying the ECB will work with the EU.  ECB President said the central bank will work with the struggling nation “in monitoring the implementation of the recommendations by Greece.”

 

Today’s U.S. economic reports came in mixed. Monthly Retail Sales were better than expected while Michigan Sentiment fell unexpectedly.

 

The March British Pound fell sharply reversing Thursday’s strong rally. The weaker Euro and the bearish news from China were the catalysts behind Friday morning’s weakness. Traders are also concerned about the weak U.K. economy and the possibility of extended stimulus from the Bank of England. Finally, investors are worried that problems similar to the deficit issues facing Greece will flare up in the U.K.

 

The weaker Euro triggered a historically aggressive move by the Swiss National Bank on Friday. Traders say that the SNB intervened twice to weaken its currency although the events were accomplished with smaller than normal size.  The action by the SNB is a sure sign that it will do anything to protect the recovery and the economy from deflation. The March Swiss Franc traded sharply lower after the intervention flooded the market with Swiss Francs.

 

The sharp drop in crude oil and gold helped to fuel the break in the March Canadian Dollar. Friday’s sell-off helped to erase most of Thursday’s gains. The intraday recovery in the U.S. equity indices helped to limit the gains.

 

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19:00 US- Fed Decision
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John M. Bland, MBA
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