Yesterday was a pretty lousy day as the market sold off in knee-jerk reaction to what everybody really knew was coming: another rate hike by the Federal Reserve. With respect to forward guidance, we got the status quo. There was nothing new to chew on. Many people assume that the Fed knows what it is doing. This has never made sense to me. This group of highly regarded economists wields a tremendous amount of power over a supposedly free financial system. Why can't they be competent enough to simply get the job done and then fade into the background rather than always being front-page news? I guess I'm asking too much, because that has never been the case and probably never will be. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said repeatedly that if people understood what he was saying, he probably made a mistake. That's not just silly, it's offensive. That guy got paid a lot of money to navigate a ship through choppy waters that the Fed churned up with its high-beta management style. Despite this, Greenspan would deliberately try to confuse the people who were paying him. (I have a sneaking suspicion that his underlying reason for speaking in tongues was to avoid the risk of being wrong. After all, if nobody understands you, nobody can prove you wrong.) Everywhere in the private sector (except France), an employee who was unsuccessful at fixing self-created problems while deliberately insulting his employer's intellect would be summarily dismissed. That doesn't happen in the public sector. Instead, we keep the slow-learning employee for as long as he wants to stay, let him retire to platitudes and applause, and then replace him with somebody who we believe will handle things the same way. I'm struggling with this. I don't think the new chairman, Ben Bernanke, will be much different from Greenspan, because the Fed has only one blunt instrument in its toolbox: short-term rates. I'm wondering if the Fed will ever figure out that its rate hammer doesn't work on the price of oil. I'll be impressed when the Fed starts attending OPEC meetings. Until then, I'll just focus on stocks that continue to do well in a hostile economic environment -- oil service companies.
The Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index (OSX) broke out above formidable resistance Tuesday. This probably signals an end to the correction that began last month. I've highlighted the last two lows. Notice that the recent low was much higher within the Bollinger bands than the early March low. That's an indication of decreasing downside volatility. I'd look for stocks in this index to gain over the next few weeks. Let's check some out. Halliburton ( HAL) is making higher lows and is on track to challenge the $80 level. If you're long, consider holding the stock in anticipation of a continuing uptrend. The most logical stop placement is just below the most recent low. As long as that low holds, the uptrend will be intact. The chart of Baker Hughes ( BHI) is almost a carbon copy of Halliburton's, a higher low within an intact uptrend. Squint your eyes and look. You'll see that the time to buy has been on the dips to the middle Bollinger band. That's where Baker Hughes is now. Weatherford International ( WFT) is close to breaking out to a new high, but the problem with buying breakouts is that any pullback is difficult to handle. Let's say you buy when the stock breaks out. You don't catch it perfectly, buying near the top of the breakout range (here, $45). Then, the price pulls back to challenge the breakout level. You're under water, though not too badly. The breakout level fails to act as support. The stock continues to fall and closes in on prior support (around $41). Now what do you do? You are at a point where money management dictates closing the position and taking a loss. But if you close the position, you run the risk of the stock once again bouncing off prior support and resuming the uptrend. The answer? Use a scaled entry. Take a bit on the breakout, and then buy more if the stock pulls back. You participate in the upside while controlling your downside. I last wrote about GlobalSantaFe ( GSF) in January when the stock was around $60. I noted that the better entry would be a pullback to around $50. In all of these uptrending stocks, buying pullbacks near the middle Bollinger band has been profitable. Buying breakouts has been an inferior methodology, because virtually every breakout has been followed by a pullback to a more favorable entry level. If you bought on the last pullback, you are profitable. I'd hold the stock for a while and look for higher prices. You'll probably see 'em, irrespective of what the Fed does. Be careful out there!