The Week Ahead - Avoid The Panic Room

by: Markos Kaminis

Traders are calling the week a "touch and go." So, should we head to the "panic room" or is there still room to panic? There are two questions to answer before we make that choice.

The first question to ask - is the assumption that a credit crunch is possible correct, and we think so. Second, if correct, is it happening now, or is the market just anticipating it early. If the market is simply foreshadowing what is to come, stocks could hold here or even improve. However, if it recovers, it will rise having left you a message to heed.

We think a crunch is occurring, but if there are no stories this week of an LBO deal gone bad or large hedge fund going under, the market could get a pass. If one of those two things happens though, the confirmation it provides would bring the sellers back in force, we think.

As I write this week's copy, Asian markets have opened lower Monday morning, but not "panic room" lower. It's become clear to global traders that the U.S. market still pretty much dictates the world's trading direction. So, the mantra in Hong Kong and Tokyo these days is probably, "why panic until we see how America opens." And then there's the Chinese mainland market, which is as defiant as ever. The CSI 300 Index is trading some 2.0% higher Monday, through midday.

I'm sure a good amount of Chinese investors are not even aware of what is unfolding in America, what with the communist iron curtain in place and all. Besides, the rate of inflation still makes holding cash a losing deal in Shanghai, so what else are you going to do with your yuan when faced with five different brokers selling you the recent stellar Chinese market performance record.

Even as I know readers are intently focused on this week's copy for insight into the current situation, I have a difficult time not looking forward a few months. This week, Barron's covered the dangers of a credit crunch and the risk in emerging market shares, two critical topics of the day. But we wrote about them long ago in our issues, "The Greek's Week Ahead - Emerging Market Glam" and "The Greek's Week Ahead - When the Liquidity Dries." We didn't miss rising risk spreads either. So, now that all that we spoke of months ago is considered current, we have a tendency to want to move forward. The problem is, we know you want more about the here and now. You're really worried about the week ahead, and we're going to try to help walk you through it.

Everybody wants to know if this is it. Is it time to panic? To this we respond, never panic! We know from experience that there is value added by adrenaline in times of danger, but panic never does you any good. Preparedness and thoughtful decision-making will work in your favor while others panic. That said, there are three clear issues that could set the market into full-scale panic mode this week, and you should be aware of them. One of the three is not specific to the week, but may show its ugly head anyhow.

There are concerns on the street about the investment banks' exposure to the subprime space and to LBO loan commitments. According to Barron's article "Ouch!", Banks and Wall Street firms are committed to fund over $200 billion of LBOs this year. With risk spreads rising, value is destroyed, but the banks are committed. With buyers likely to remain scarce, I-banks may be big losers soon. Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) looks to do okay though, after just flashing its prescient trading hedge. The big American investment banks have learned plenty of lessons in their weathered past, and most experts expect that none of the players is holding heavily levered one-sided bets. Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC) didn't even have significant exposure to its well-publicized hedge fund failures of late. Well, some would say that still depends on its ability to retain the clients who lost capital in the deal.

HSBC Holdings Plc. (HBC), whose ADRs trade in New York, could be set to report more troubling debt related losses on Monday. Recall that a couple heads rolled last quarter at HSBC due to mortgage mistakes. Besides the ongoing I-bank related risk, the other two concerns this week are Tuesday's personal spending data and Friday's Employment Situation Report. We cover the two issues below.

Let's take a look at the week ahead...

Earnings rule the day on Monday, with no important key economic data scheduled. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) faces a civil suit in Nigeria worth approximately $2 billion. Key reports are anticipated from ABN Amro (ABN), Alberto-Culver (NYSE:ACV), Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), Apria Healthcare Group (AHG), Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), Brookfield Homes (BHS), Cameco (NYSE:CCJ), Cytyc Corp. (CYTC), Eagle Materials (NYSE:EXP), Florida Rock (FRK), HSBC Holdings, Humana (NYSE:HUM), Kyocera (NYSE:KYO), Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW), Monster Worldwide (NASDAQ:MNST), Morton's Restaurant (OTC:MRT), (NASDAQ:OSTK), Pitney Bowes (NYSE:PBI), RadioShack (NYSE:RSH), Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:SUNW), The Hanover Insurance Group (NYSE:THG), The Principal Financial (NYSE:PFG), Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), ValueClick (VCLK), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Vulcan Materials (NYSE:VMC), Wm. Wrigley (WWY) and many more.

Tuesday has the potential to provide a surprise punch to the nose of investors. June Consumer Spending will be reported at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Bloomberg's consensus is looking for growth of just 0.2% month-to-month. However, some are speculating that lower vehicle sales may lead spending growth to an even lower level. Spending increased 0.5% in May, and Wall Street Greek sees the possibility for a decrease in spending in June. We believe that in light of the current sensitive state of the market, such a result could make an important impact. This is all based on the consumer-softening scenario we have laid out so many times here. Briefly, an increasing cost of living globally should impact consumer spending, in our view. There's only so much an overlevered consumer can handle before he gives. We believe there are already signs of consumers moving down price categories in order to save more. For instance, we see traffic moving from the casual dining space into fast food.

We expect the ICSC-UBS Weekly Same-Store Sales Report, which precedes the spending report, will only provide more evidence for the case we have been making for months, that the consumer is softening. The consumer is the foundation of our economic growth, and if that pillar of strength is weakened, we expect a state of recession and perhaps stagflation would ensue.

Personal income is seen increasing 0.6%, versus 0.4% in May, as it rides on the shoulders of relatively strong job growth. Still, healthy employment growth implies wage inflation risk, which is a major concern of the Fed. The Employment Cost Index will add some color to that picture on Tuesday morning. The consensus expects second quarter growth of 0.9% over Q1. The first quarter saw growth of 0.8% over the fourth quarter of 2006, and 3.5% annual growth.

The Conference Board is scheduled to provide its Consumer Confidence Index at 10:00 a.m., with the consensus expecting confidence to post a rise in July to 105, from the year's low point of 103.9 in June. This figure may be meaningless, as confidence is sure to slip should current economic concerns and market weakness persist.

June construction spending is expected to have risen 0.4% from May. It surprisingly increased 0.9% in May. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index will also be reported Tuesday. Recent data showed new home price values declining, while existing homes prices had actually strengthened. Existing homes make up a much larger portion of the market, so we would expect prices to be flat to higher. Also the National Association of Purchasing Managers - Chicago will publish its index. Bloomberg's consensus is looking for a measure of 58, down from June's 60.2.

Two key financial system representatives will have microphones on Tuesday and could drive market activity. Treasury Secretary Paulson will meet with China's President Hu Jintao to discuss currency and product safety issues. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox will testify to the Senate Banking Committee.

Tuesday's earnings reports include Alcan (NYSE:AL), AlCATEL-LUCENT (ALU), Amkor (NASDAQ:AMKR), Arch Chemicals (NYSE:ARJ), BUCA (BUCA), Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD), Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN), Cephalon (NASDAQ:CEPH), Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), Coach (NYSE:COH), Coventry Health (CVH), Cowen Group (NASDAQ:COWN), Denny's (NASDAQ:DENN), DENTSPLY International (NASDAQ:XRAY), DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ:DWA), First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), Gartner (NYSE:IT), General Motors (NYSE:GM), Hanover Compressor (HC), Headwaters (NYSE:HW), Hologic (NASDAQ:HOLX), ImClone Systems (OTCPK:IMCL), LCA-Vision (NASDAQ:LCAV), Liz Claiborne (LIZ), Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), MetLife (NYSE:MET), Nicor (NYSE:GAS), Oil States International (NYSE:OIS), Pilgrim's Pride (NYSE:PPC), Sirius Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI), PMI Group (PMI), Under Armor (NYSE:UA), Valassis Communications (NYSE:VCI), Valero (NYSE:VLO), Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE:VNO), Waste Management (WMI), WebMD (NASDAQ:WBMD), Whole Foods (WFMI) and quite a few more.

On Wednesday at its usual time, the Mortgage Banker's Association will report its Purchase Index, providing information about the state of new mortgage originations and refinancings.

Some key employment data will reach market on Wednesday. ADP provides its private employment report. Last time around, ADP reported a month-to-month increase of roughly 97,000 for May. The Challenger Job Cut Report is due for release the same day, and last month showed announced layoffs of 55,726. We think it's about time the employment situation starts wavering. We expect the retail and construction sectors to lead the way lower on employment.

The ISM Manufacturing Index is expected to show a July reading of 55.0, compared to June's 56. We have continued to express our view that manufacturing will follow the lead of other sectors of the economy, as manufacturing is buoyed by a weak dollar and global demand. Even so, some of the large-cap multinational stars of Q1 have not been quite so impressive in Q2, allowing this correction to occur. Pending home sales for June are set for release as well. May's figure declined 3.5%. Finally, motor vehicle sales are expected to reach 12.2 million in July, versus 11.6 million in June. Indeed, Ford (NYSE:F) just posted a quarterly profit, and GM (GM) is expected to do the same this week. The weekly EIA Petroleum Status Report might help us understand how future auto sales might trend, as gasoline prices remain a key peg in this economic engine.

Wednesdays earnings reports include Allergan (NYSE:AGN), Arcelor Mittal (OTC:ARLOF), Atmel (NASDAQ:ATML), Avalonbay Communities (NYSE:AVB), Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX), BASF AG (BF), Beckman Coulter (NYSE:BEC), Boyd Gaming (NYSE:BYD), Cal Dive International (NYSE:DVR), CIGNA (NYSE:CI), Cognizant Technology (NASDAQ:CTSH), Deutsche Bank, Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN), Electronic Arts (ERTS), Equity Residential (NYSE:EQR), Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN), Given Imaging (GIVN), GlobalSantaFe (NYSE:GSF), Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI), Human Genome Sciences (HGSI), Invitrogen (IVGN), Jones Apparel (NYSE:JNY), Kinross Gold (NYSE:KGC), Kraft Foods (KFT), LeapFrog Enterprises (NYSE:LF), LoJack (NASDAQ:LOJN), Martha Stewart (NYSE:MSO), MasterCard (NYSE:MA), Mesa Air (MESA), Napster (NAPS), Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL), Novamed (NASDAQ:NOVA), OfficeMax (NYSE:OMX), ONEOK (NYSE:OKS), Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU), Qwest Communications (NYSE:Q), Rehabcare (NYSE:RHB), Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY), (NASDAQ:SOHU), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Sunoco (NYSE:SUN), Tasty Baking Co. (TSTY), Tetra Tech (NASDAQ:TTEK), THQ (THQI), Time Warner Cable (TWC), Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), Transocean (NYSE:RIG), United Rentals (NYSE:URI), Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), Weight Watchers (NYSE:WTW), Wyndham Worldwide (NYSE:WYN) and others.

Overseas on Thursday, the Bank of England and the ECB are both expected to leave rates at current levels. In light of recent events, this makes perfect sense. Tightening credit at this point only further stresses the market and liquidity.

The Monster Employment Index will help investors gain further insight into the employment picture, as will the weekly initial jobless claims report, also due out Thursday. Monster's June report measured 186, which matched May's figure. It may still be too early for this metric to show a softening employment outlook. Jobless claims are expected to rise to 310,000. It's new job growth that we have our eye on. That's where the first signs of weakness in the employment environment should show their ugly heads.

June Factory Orders are expected to rise 0.1%, better than May's decline of 0.5%. The EIA Natural Gas Report shook up the nat gas market last week, and this week should be no less dramatic.

Thursday's earnings reports include Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI), Advanced Medical Optics (EYE), Alkermes (NASDAQ:ALKS), Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Allied Waste (AW), Barclays (NYSE:BCS), CABELAS (NYSE:CAB), Charter (NASDAQ:CHTR), Checkpoint Systems (NYSE:CKP), Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), Clorox (NYSE:CLX), Coinstar (NASDAQ:CSTR), Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS), Green Mountain Coffee (NASDAQ:GMCR), Haemonetics (NYSE:HAE), Hertz (NYSE:HTZ), Imperial Oil (NYSEMKT:IMO), International Paper (NYSE:IP), Investment Technology (NYSE:ITG), Jones Soda (OTCQB:JSDA), Lear Corp. (NYSE:LEA), Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN), Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), PPL Corp. (NYSE:PPL), Pride International (NYSE:PDE), Safeguard Scientifics (NYSE:SFE), Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE), Steinway Musical Instruments (NYSE:LVB), Pantry (NASDAQ:PTRY), Total SA (NYSE:TOT), Viacom (NYSE:VIA), Williams Cos. (NYSE:WMB), World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE) and many more.

The big news on Friday comes from the Department of Labor. The Employment Status Report is expected to show an increase in nonfarm payrolls of 125,000 in July. Wall Street Greek believes we could start to see important changes in the retail and construction sectors in this month's report. In other words, the number could come in light, and we would look to this as an early tangible sign economic growth would likely weaken in the second half of the year. Unemployment is seen steady at 4.5%, while average hourly wages are expected to post a 0.3% month-to-month increase. In other news, ISM's Nonmanufacturing Survey is seen measuring 58.5 in July, versus 60.7 in June. We expect this metric to also begin to show a weakening trend after early signals.

Friday's earnings reports include Allianz SE (AZ), Arbor Realty Trust (NYSE:ABR), British Airways (OTC:BAIRY), Brookfield Asset Management (NYSE:BAM), EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG), FTI Consulting (NYSE:FCN), Hercules Offshore (NASDAQ:HERO), MannKind (NASDAQ:MNKD), Olympic Steel (NASDAQ:ZEUS), Proctor & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Silver Wheaton (NYSE:SLW), Sonus Pharmaceuticals (SNUS), TETRA Technologies (NYSE:TTI), Progressive (NYSE:PGR), Toyota Motor (NYSE:TM), Weyerhaeuser (NYSE:WY) and a few more. We hope we have added value to your trading week, strategy and long-term planning.