The day before the biggest economic data release of the month and there is an eerie calm, maybe even budding excitement. Emotions got the week off to a dreadful start, but a glimmer of hope via the ISM manufacturing data got people a bit more excited and off the fence. The pros have tried to downplay it all, but yesterday's session wasn't silly even if it proves inconsequential. The economy is in the dumps, there is no other way to describe it without offending some readers. The goal at this point is to stave off the double-dip, a misnomer since I'm sure we didn't bounce enough to pop the cork anyway. But, there was a rebound in enthusiasm and hope, as many thought, and others hoped, the Administration could pull a rabbit out of their collective hats.
As it turns out, they pulled out a sledgehammer, and continue to pound away on the sensibilities of the nation and its capitalistic foundation. There are still an assortment of schemes, including letting states and local governments bid on foreclosed homes before private investors. Apparently, these governments have been sitting on funds that for 143 local communities have to be used or frozen by HUD within the next month. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan says the new deal would give the public sector a "leg up" to beat back evil speculators, whose purchases would stop things like housing developments or the ability to give people homes for free. Or, how about the plans to make taxpayers pay for union pension shortfalls. To be sure, there are any numbers of schemes snaking through the system.
So, yes, there is the threat of a major double-dip in hope (a wide swath of the American public is already there) that can only be changed in November. In the meantime, any sign that maybe a bottom is being put in for the economy could make stocks look much more attractive. The economic news was mixed today. On balance, I think the data was more good than bad. Although the market seems to be struggling, the breadth is very positive:
> Advancers: 1798
> Decliners: 1136
Pending Home Sales
Pending home sales came in 5.2% higher month over month, with all four regions experiencing gains. The Street was looking for a flat month so this is a nice surprise, although the bounce comes off the lowest level in history. Moreover, our housing analyst David Urani points out on a non-seasonally adjusted basis the numbers actually decreased 7.2% m/m. Considering how screwed up housing has become with the new homebuyers tax credit, the non-seasonally adjusted number might be more reliable.
The productivity miracle of the last two decades has created opportunities, but underscored what some say is the worst thing about progress. Machines, robots, and computers have taken many a job and made more obsolete. By the same token, they have created jobs and enhanced the quality of life. Right now, it's probably a good thing productivity seems to have peaked for now while unit labor costs have edged higher. The 1.8% decline in productivity beat consensus of -1.9%.
Hourly compensation is a flat line, but hours has come on strong, up five consecutive quarters.
Anxiety should rule the remainder of the session, which will also see many people bolt for a four day weekend. Tomorrow there could be even fewer traders around because Hurricane Earl will be creeping up the East Coast.