12 March, 2009

Market Rally continues on Day 3 on Banking and Retail sectors

10 to 11% gains for the S&P, Nasdaq and Dow since the start of trading Tuesday as markets focused on positive news coming out of the banking and retail sectors. With the S&P up about 80 points (12%) since the 660s bottom, Traders must be wondering is it sustainable?

According to many in the banking community it just might be! Why? It's simple, profitability. After quarterly losses multiplying not contracting, increased write-downs and more government backed dollars, some of the biggest American banks by name have issued relatively strong operational statements. Citigroup (C) and Bank Of America (BAC), both of whom have seen share prices disintegrate before their very eyes over 15 months appear to have turned the tide of losses. Both companies have pre-announced profitability in the first two months of 2009 and both expect continued operations in the black.

What does that even mean? Well shares of both banks have rallied 70% and 90%, respectively, from most recent lows, and for taxpayers who now own a 36% stake in Citigroup, maybe there's a way out of that mess. But just a few days ago there was talk of Citigroup being replaced in the Dow Jones Index and its value as a "penny stock" weakening an already battered corporate reputation. Confidence in the banking sector, even the sliver that there is now, is crucial to returning people to the markets and jump-starting a cycle of economic expansion and price increases.

Can two months of operations at these banks be a real guiding light for the rest of year? It is of course premature to label the banks as stabilized and past their major losses, and in fact the market is full of Investors waiting for another shoe to drop, so market participants still need to exercise caution, for which quarterly results should provide additional clarity.

On the retail side, a sector that was labeled disastrous just weeks ago, has found itself well into newly renewed confidence after posting some surprising February numbers. Retail sales dropped 0.1% (up 0.7% excluding cars) over the month, which was better than the 0.4% expected by economists, assuring to some that some stabilization in this sector is occurring. This was on top of a revised January which saw an increase of 1.8% instead of the 1.0% estimate and following 5 months of Auto sales declines, January saw a slight uptick in that segment. Maybe its not as bad out there as every headline makes it out to be?

Who would think this market would be ripe for mergers and acquisitions? Roche (RHHBY) does, as it, after months of wheeling and dealing, finally found a friendly takeover number with Genentech (DNA) at $95 per share.

Markets, the economy and overall sentiment is still decidedly bearish which puts great scrutiny on any extended rally so expect some profit taking soon. At the very least, the S&P's ability to roar back past 700 is a psychological stabilizer for many traders, and given that there was talk very recently of the S&P earning multiples falling to the 5-8 range, in line with previous grave recessions, potentially pushing the index lower than 500, the 700 number is good to see. While there are no psychologists here, that is definitely reassuring.

Disclosure: Author owns C

No comments: