Market Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

by: Marvin Clark

To paraphrase Blanche DuBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”, the Tennessee Williams 1948 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama for a play, which later became a 1951 movie nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning four Oscars, the stock market this past week, as well as for the month of July, was beholding the kindness of strangers. And the primary stranger for the stock market was the gyrating price of oil. Other commodity prices continued to recede from their late June/early July highs, too. The secondary stranger was a dastardly set of economic data that perturb the market in an unkindly manner.

Break out the Dramamine and the Bourbon because after a roller coaster ride like this, six flags has been scratched off my things to do list for the remainder of the summer of 2008. Much of it had to do with short covering, end-of-the-quarter window dressing, and good old fashion profit taking.

The last week in July displayed an intense market; a triple digit decline for the DJIA Monday of 239.61, followed by Tuesday and Wednesday gains of 266.48 and 186.13, respectively, and a triple digit decline Thursday of 205.67. Finally, dry heaves Friday ended the day down 51.70. For the full week, the Dow lost just 44 points stopping at 11,226.32. The S & P 500 closed at 1,260.31 and NASDAQ finished the week at 2.310.96. Both were down for the week as well.

The auto industry had to come clean last week. General Motors (NYSE:GM) led the way by reporting a $15.5 billion loss or $27.33 per share for the second quarter on revenues of $28.2 billion. GM also mismanaged to lose $39 billion in the third quarter of 2007.

The entire auto industry recorded dismal sales in July; Toyota (NYSE:TM) was down 18.7 percent, Ford (NYSE:F) was down 21.5 percent, General Motors was down 32.4 percent, Chrysler was down 34.2 percent, and Honda (NYSE:HMC), winning the brass ring, was down 9.2 percent. Total car sales in July were tracking at 12.55 million annual units, a million units below June. Truly ugly numbers for an economy not headed into recession.

Not to beat a dead horse, the S & P/Case Shiller Index for May reported a 15.8 percent YOY drop in housing prices. This was more than the 15.2 percent drop reported for April. Bank regulators shut down First Priority Bank of Florida on Friday. SunTrust Banks Inc. (NYSE:STI) agreed to take over the insured deposits and to reopen the six branches on Monday. The deleveraging of America continues unabated.

Speaking of non-surprises, Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) only managed to save a lousy $11.6 billion on gross sales of $138 billion. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE:RDS.A) pocketed $11.56 billion in profits from $131.42 billion, when they reported their second quarter earnings. This works out to almost $1 Billion in net profit each week or every 7 days. Wow. If only the U.S. government owned oil.

Second quarter Gross Domestic Product [GDP] advance report came out at 1.9% which proved that the economy is still expanding although the fourth quarter 2007 was revised down to a negative .2 percent from a positive .6 percent. It was a magnificent work of fiction. That second quarter GDP figure includes the $160 billion stimulus package rebate that was spread throughout the country beginning April 17th. The price of oil closed on June 30th at $140 a barrel which means the pain felt in the economy from the zenith in crude prices was fractionally captured in the 1.6 percent data. Do we need an asterisk next to this GDP figure like Barry Bonds homerun record? Juicing is juicing. The unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent while an additional 51,000 jobs were lost; the seventh consecutive month for fewer jobs in the economy.

There was improvement in Treasury prices last week, the Two Year Note yield moved down 20 basis points to 2.51 percent and the benchmark Ten Year Note ended the week at 3.94 percent, down 16 basis points. The Ten Year Note auction will be held Wednesday August 6th and the Thirty Year Bond auction is scheduled for Thursday August 7th. The Federal Open Market Committee meets Tuesday, August 5th to review monetary policy. Rates are expected to remain at 2 percent.

August 4th, June Personal Income, June Personal Spending, and June Factory Orders will be announced. August 5th, the July Institute for Supply Management [ISM] Non-Manufacturing Composite Index comes out. August 6th, MBA Mortgage Application Survey Refinancing Index is due. August 7th, Initial Jobless Claims, June Pending home Sales and June Consumer Credit is revealed. August 8th, 2Q preliminary Nonfarm Productivity and Unit Labor Costs are reported.

Batman has now earned $400 million in domestic ticket sales in just 17 days. The caped crusader has still sold fewer tickets than the all time box office champ, the 1996 released “Titanic” that grossed $600 million, domestically. Batman ticket prices are also 50 percent higher than they were for the champ. That’s called inflation.

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