Daily Market Update – May 8, 2014 (8:45 AM)

Markets go up and markets go down all of the time, so it wasn’t or at least shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that yesterday would have a bounce back following Tuesday’s terrible market that saw a broad retreat.

But despite yesterday’s nice performance it was relatively superficial as the NASDAQ continued its high profile decline, taking with it not only the ones you would call the “usual suspects,” but also the more staid.

Last night was more of the same as further earnings were released and companies like Tesla are showing the strain and will just get added to the growing heap of casualties that are, thus far, taking longer than the usual time to at least start their recovery.

That’s discouraging and may not be something that will stay in isolation. As with most systems under attack, it’s the weakest that are usually the first to fall. Tremendously high beta and outrageous price/earnings are those characteristics that on the one hand send some stocks on a parabolic move higher and on an identical path lower.

But after they’ve fallen, what’s next?

To some degree that depends on the rate of the descent and the rate of the spread. It’s like contagion, except the  opposite.

In a real contagion the more quickly spreading and the more lethal, eventually the more self limiting, as the killer kills off its hosts and loses its ability to spread. But with stocks the quicker the descent the more it is likely to drag others along and feed upon itself. Even the healthy low beta, moderate price/earnings kind of names are then susceptible.

That’s why seeing bounce backs are so important, as is seeing evidence of companies that thrive under the same environment. But if the companies thriving under those kind of environments are restricted to utilities and the P&G’s of the world, that itself is a reflection of walls weakening. While the foundation is critical, most people don’t predicate their decisions on the foundations. It’s what else there is beyond the foundation that attracts or frightens people

What has been generally missing so far during this earnings season is much evidence of thriving companies. The signs of strength that would actually promote either investor enthusiasm or at least reflect real economic growth just aren’t there or aren’t widely noticed.

The last few quarters, at least the past two, have seen earnings that were generally referred to as average or better than average and have been some basis for the market moving even further ahead, although for much of the past two years prior to 2014 there wasn’t much reason required.

On a retail level and on a manufacturing level, not to mention iron and coal, the basic fuels of growth, the basis for believing economic growth was proceeding has been lacking. That didn’t matter in 2012 and 2013 and so far, isn’t terribly important now, either.

What had been conveniently overlooked in those previous quarters has been the increasing and ever wider im
pact of stock buy backs as the earnings, even if falling, were rising on a per shares basis.

While reporting earnings per share is supposed to make it an apples to apples kind of comparison, that’s just not always the case. Reduce the number of shares in your denominator and by comparison it’s as if you moved on to a new group of uglier friends that now makes yu look better than before.

It’s often said that the shortcoming of technical analysis is that it focuses solely on charts and doesn’t really consider fundamental factors. Likewise, fundamental analysis is faulted for not considering share movement, history and patterns, but they can be further faulted for willingly accepting numbers on their surface and sometimes comparing apples to oranges. To some degree that can’t be helped because the reporting of buy backs isn’t always made on a timely basis and may not coincide very neatly with the reporting periods.  Apple, for example, just released information regarding its buy backs as of February 2014, while its earnings were for the period ending in March.

Maybe the markets are coming to this kind of realization. You can’t blame tax selling, end of the year profit taking, seasonality,  or the weather anymore.

 

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