Updated from 8:03 for additional commentary on Wednesday's economic data
NEW YORK (
aside, there's some serious brake-tapping going on when it comes to stocks these days.
Take for instance, this commentary from Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at
S&P Capital IQ
, early Monday.
"Not everyone can enjoy a meal without putting the fork down every now and again," he wrote. "And the same goes for equity price advances. Occasional periods of digestion helps one avoid indigestion. S&P Capital IQ's Equity Strategy Group believes the S&P 500 is heading for just one of these periods, and will likely experience a near-term decline measuring in the single-digits, as a result of recent price action and reduced volatility."
He also noted
and February's less than impressive historical record as pointing towards a near-term pullback.
"A price decline should not come as too much of a surprise to investors, as the S&P 500 typically (but not always) has given up ground in February," he wrote. "Since 1970, the S&P 500 posted its second-worst monthly decline in February."
According to data from S&P Capital IQ, February has averaged a 0.1% decline in the past 40 or so years, behind only September and its 0.9% loss.
Stovall still thinks his year-end target of 1400 for the
looks good though, saying: "We believe that in the end, this decline will offer investors a reason to buy, not bail."
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Dennis Gartman, a well-known investor who publishes commentary daily, weighed in as well, saying "for the first time in some while we are voicing a bit of concern about equity prices, fearing that a correction is hard upon us and overdue."
Gartman has been bullish on stocks since mid-December, and he remains so on a long basis, but added that "for the next two or three weeks, it may be wiser to reduce our exposure."
Bank of America Merrill Lynch also got in the act, voicing some concerns about earnings growth, and pounding the table about ponying up for "high quality" stocks. The firm said it doesn't think the good times will last for the lower-tier companies.
"Europe appears to be in the early stages of a recession, and solvency concerns have yet to be resolved," Bank of America said. "Meanwhile, the US has its own policy issues to resolve, and market uncertainty about these issues is likely to be magnified as the presidential election campaigns heat up. And, political tensions appear to be building quickly in the Middle East. As a result, macro headwinds could begin to blow again, which we believe would favor higher quality over lower quality."
There's a lot of lack in 2012's rally. Lack of volume, lack of volatility, lack of some semblance of clarity on Greece. Jim Cramer added one more in commentary over on
"No conviction," he wrote. "That's what's driving this market. No one has any conviction and it tempts the bears as if honey from a tree."
One stock that didn't participate in the late bounce on Tuesday was
Bank of America
, which finished at $7.98, down 3.3%, just above its $7.95 session low. The bank was laid low by a downgrade from Citigroup, which went to neutral from buy because it believes the risk/reward profile for the stock is "relatively balanced in the near term."
This is worth mentioning because Bank of America has been a big driver of 2012's rally. The stock's jumped 48.4% year-to-date, making it the top percentage gainer in the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
by far, and putting it in the top three for the S&P 500 with
. A big question facing this market right now is what happens when the losers of 2011 can't carry the water anymore.
The financials have been showing some leadership in 2012 but only because they were so beaten down, not because of material improvement in the group's prospects. Citigroup said it expects investor focus to start to shift to earnings on Bank of America, and it believes the consensus expectations are too high. The firm is forecasting a profit of 50 cents a share from the bank in 2012 vs. the average analyst estimate of 70 cents a share. Citigroup added that it's struggling to find value in the financials right now.
"The recent move in the group has been driven by multiple expansion as the market has gotten more comfortable with US economic outlook and is less concerned about Europe, but we think at these levels one needs to see positive EPS revisions to get the stocks to work," the firm said. "Given a prolonged low rate environment, we see more downside than upside to forward EPS estimates. Our only remaining Buys are JPM (
) and GS (
Who knows, the way
is going (another day, another all-time high), maybe Tim Cook & Co. will be able to pick up the slack? On Tuesday, Cook made a
for an Apple CEO at an investor conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs and his comments stoked speculation that what often seems like the perfect stock could become even better by hinting a dividend could be in the works.
"We have more cash than we need to run the business on a daily basis," he explained, adding that the company's dividend discussions are proceeding apace. "It is being discussed more now, and in greater detail."
Apple shares closed the day at $509.46, up 1.4% on the day and 24% for the year. The stock is now up an incredible eight days in a row since closing at $455.12 on Feb. 2, and if the company comes through with plans for a regular payout at its annual shareholder meeting on Feb. 23, expect another spike higher.
Moving on to Wednesday's scheduled news,
is reporting its fiscal first-quarter results before the opening bell, and the average estimate of analysts polled by
is for a profit of $1.24 a share in the December-ended period on revenue of $6.5 billion.
Shares of the Moline, Ill.-based maker of farming equipment have rallied in 2012, gaining nearly 15% year-to-date, but the stock is still off more than 5% in the past year. It's been a nice run off the 52-week low of $59.92 on Oct. 4 though with Deere rising 48.6% since then to close Tuesday at $89.05.
The forward price-to-earnings multiple for Deere shares sits just below 11X at current levels vs. a
, and the stock has made convincing breaks above both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages of $84.87 and $76.60 respectively.
For comparison, Dow component
is trading at a forward P/E of around 10X, and its stock is up 10.4% in the past year, reflecting a run-up of more than 25% since the start of the year.
Deere has topped the consensus view in eight straight quarters, including a 13.1% upside surprise last time around, but Wall Street is fairly evenly split with 11 of the 21 analysts covering the stock at hold (10) or underperform (1), and the rest divided between strong buy (6) and buy (4). The 12-month median price target of $93 implies potential upside of 4.4% from Tuesday's finish.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch previewed the results earlier, saying it would be a buyer of the stock ahead of the numbers. The firm is looking for above-consensus earnings of $1.26 a share in the quarter.
"While DE guided 1Q12 EPS to be below its 1Q11 EPS of $1.20, we believe the outlook to be too conservative due to continuing strength in the international high horsepower ag markets (particularly W. Europe and Russia/CIS) and ongoing volume recovery in the North American construction equipment market, where Deere has a very strong #2 market share behind CAT," Bank of America said. "
But the firm doesn't expect a beat to translate into a higher outlook for the rest of the year.
"We do not expect the company to change its earnings guidance after only one quarter despite the forecast beat," Bank of America said. "The company will likely cite limited visibility in Europe to keep its forecast of $3.2bn of net income (~$7.80/share) intact. While the Street might question the intact outlook despite a beat, we think that the consensus EPS estimates will increase post the earnings as we expect DE to make positive comments on its global ag order book."
Check out TheStreet's quote page for Deere for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.
gets the spotlight treatment from among the late reporters. The company is due to report its fiscal fourth-quarter results after the close and Wall Street is expecting a profit of 19 cents a share on revenue of $950.5 million.
An in-line quarterly performance would be Nvidia's worst of fiscal 2011, and it follows a warning on Jan. 24 when the graphics chip maker brought down revenue expectations to around $950 million from $1.07 billion, citing the impact of flooding in Thailand on PC shipments and a more rapid than anticipated decline in its Tegra 2 mobile business.
Nvidia shares are up more than 16% year-to-date as of Tuesday's close at $16.24, but Wall Street's sentiment is pretty negative ahead of the report with 20 of the 32 analysts covering the stock at hold (18) or underperform (2). JMP Securities reiterated its underperform rating and $12.50 price target ahead of the numbers, saying it sees some downside risk in revenue expectations for the April-ending quarter.
FBR, however, upgraded Nvidia on Monday, going to outperform with a $20 price target and saying the upcoming Mobile World Congress on Feb. 27 could be a positive catalyst for the shares. The firm thinks guidance for the first quarter could be soft, but says that may present a good entry point for investors.
"Our upgrade is predicated on MWC being a near-term catalyst, not earnings results, with any earnings-driven sell-off a buying opportunity ahead of MWC," FBR said. "Indeed, our NVDA upgrade is a short-term tactical upgrade for a move toward $20, with integrated GPU attach rate risks and lower PC BOM cost risks still major challenges for NVIDIA in coming quarters."
Check out TheStreet's quote page for Nvidia for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.
Other companies opening their books before the bell include
Abercrombie & Fitch
Atlas Air Worldwide
Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
WellCare Health Plans
The late show features
Advance Auto Parts
MEMC Electronic Materials
The economic calendar is fairly busy, highlighted by the Empire State manufacturing index for February at 8:30 a.m. ET; industrial production and capacity utilization for January at 9:15 a.m. ET, and the minutes of the
last open market committee meeting being released at 2 p.m. ET.
Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at
High Frequency Economics
, will be looking for any clues about how the central bank is feeling about more quantitative easing these days.
"We think Mr. Bernanke could have probably pushed through a new program of asset purchases with only one or two dissents," he wrote. "Given his bearish assessment of the economy, it is something of a mystery why he chose instead to offer an enormous hostage to fortune by extending the pledge to keep rates 'exceptionally low' through at least 2014."
Shepherdson's theory is that Bernanke is consciously keeping a low profile in an election year.
"We think the Fed chairman is wary of antagonizing Congress -- especially in the House -- with a further expansion of its balance sheet," he said. "House Republicans don't need much more of an excuse to seek closer oversight of the Fed's affairs, and Mr. Bernanke would presumably rather not invite such treatment unless he felt he had no other option."
That's a story line worth keeping an eye on as the expectation of QE3 in 2012 has provided some of the underpinning for this year's rally. If the economic data keeps getting better, Bernanke will have a hard time justifying turning the spigot back on.
got a rather rough reception for its first ever quarterly report as a public company despite beating Wall Street's consensus earnings view. The stock was off more than 6% in the
with its recent run-up following the
IPO filing likely a factor.
Written by Michael Baron in New York.
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