Consumer Holds Key to Summer Rally

Morgan Stanley's ( MS) quarterly loss and Yahoo!'s ( YHOO) less than stellar report may dilute the news that big names like Wells Fargo ( WB) and Goldman Sachs ( GS) had strong quarters.

Some strong earnings numbers may have set the bar too high. Of course, companies like Apple ( AAPL) -- which is reporting earnings that beat expectations -- may help bring some measure of support.

Heading into what may be a sluggish summer-holiday trading month, things may stall rather quickly. Although retail earnings are at the tail end of the season, I feel this could be a turning point favoring the bear camp.

Retail earnings will provide a real-time metric as to how the consumer is holding up in this environment of rising unemployment and uncertainty. If these numbers are lousy, I think it could trigger at the very least an intermediate-term reversal, possibly even taking the S&P 500 futures back to the bottom end of the recent trading range.

S&P 500 Index (future) Chart
Source: Optionvue

Following recent disappointments with regards to whether or not a recovery is under way, it feels as though there is a lingering air of uncertainty that warrants caution. Confidence may be returning, but a strong catalyst in the form of a solid improvement in employment or housing data might be required to deliver any momentum.

Fed Chariman Ben Bernanke seems to be echoing that idea of a wary approach. He cautioned yesterday that recovery may be coming, but will likely hinge on the twin concerns of housing and labor markets. Any additional remarks from Capitol Hill will likely be watched closely, as will the remaining earnings reports.

Although the year-end target on the S&P 500 has recently been set higher by Goldman Sachs, and despite the fact that the bull camp insists this move has more gas in the tank, I like the idea of being "short deltas" up around these levels through the use of short call positions.

S&P 500 (combined) Sep-09
Source: Gecko Track & Trade

Caution must be exercised, however, as a flurry of volume along with buy-stop running could propel the S&P futures to the 1000 level. Any move of this nature I feel will set up a call-selling opportunity, as I do not feel a move to that level is sustainable at this point.

Matt Zeman is a principal with Lasalle Futures Group and chief market strategist for Time Means Money.Com.

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