Updated from 7:10 p.m. ET to include added commentary on the jobs report, and Tyson Foods quarterly report. NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- So that's another nothing day for stocks in the books. Volatility is on holiday so far in 2012. The VIX, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, has been sitting below 20 since Jan. 19. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, despite gaining 4% year-to-date, is down in seven of the last nine sessions and has still only finished a single session with a triple-digit swing in 2012, and that was Jan. 3, the very first one of the year. At least one market watcher is finding the lull a bit unsettling. Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at UBS, pointed out the incongruity of the yield on the 10-Treasury bond sitting right around 50-year lows, indicating many investors are decidedly risk-off, and the VIX resting just below its all-clear level. "While Treasury yields indicate caution, the same cannot be said of the VIX, which remains at a sub-20 level," Golub wrote. "This disconnect -- between bond and stock indicators -- is one we are uncomfortable with." Bespoke Investment Group looked at the action in theS&P 500 on Thursday, noting the index has had only 2 sessions with 1%-plus moves (both positive). The firm says the average change in the S&P 500 has been 0.79% plus/minus over the past 50 days, a stark contrast to the average 1.92% swing seen a few months ago and even more striking when considering what occurred when the credit bubble burst three years ago. "Last year's volatility, while rough, was nothing compared to what we saw during the financial crisis," Bespoke writes. "At one point in early December 2008, the S&P 500 had averaged a daily change of +/-4.02% over the prior 50 days, which is the highest level ever seen in the index's history. With the entire US stock market swinging an average of 4% on a daily basis for more than two months, it's no wonder that individual investors are still having a tough time dipping their toes back in the water, even three years later." Individual investors are slowly coming back though with the latest data from the Investment Company Institute showing mutual funds investing in equities took in $1.17 billion last week, making it two weeks out of the past four where stocks saw inflows.
Unfortunately, just as the Mom-and-Pop crowd starts to come back a bit, corporate insiders could look to take advantage of the 20%-plus gains the broad market has seen in the past four months when blackout periods around quarterly results begin to expire. Research firm TrimTabs says a recent spike in insider sales could be just the beginning. "In the second half of January through Tuesday, January 24, insiders sold $717 million, 7.6 times the $94 million they bought," the firm said earlier this week. "This insider sell/buy ratio is in line with the ratios of 7.4 in November and 8.8 in December. If stock prices keep levitating, we expect insider selling to soar to at least $500 million daily in February." TrimTabs sees similarities in the current market environment and how things played out a year ago. "Last February, insiders unloaded $14.0 billion ($700 million daily) of their employers' shares," the firm wrote. "Then as now, bullishness was rampant as investors were convinced the U.S. economy was picking up steam." Meantime, nothing much has changed in Europe and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke kept his cards close to the vest with regard to QE3 during an appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday. Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, still expects news of QE3 to arrive in the first half of 2012 but thinks it may have to wait for spring. "
H e (Bernanke) suggested that 'fortunately, over the past few months, indicators of spending, production, and job market activity have shown some signs of improvement,'" Ashworth wrote. "We do still think that the FOMC will announce a new round of mortgage-backed securities purchases in the first half of this year, but it may not happen until April." As for Friday, it's a light earnings day. The biggest names are Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.B) and Clorox ( CLX). Shares of Clorox are up more than 8% in the past year, and most of the digital ink spilled on the company since last summer was about its proxy fight with Carl Icahn, not about the health of its business.
The consumer products giant, whose brands range from its namesake bleach to Hidden Valley salad dressings and Burt's Bees skin lotions and creams, is slated to report its fiscal second-quarter report before the opening bell, and Wall Street is looking for a profit of 68 cents a share on revenue of $1.2 billion in the December-ended period, down from earnings of 98 cents a share on revenue of $1.3 billion in the first quarter. The buy side is on the sidelines right now when it comes to Clorox with 17 of the 18 analysts covering the stock at hold, and the other analyst at underperform. Valuation is a concern with the median 12-month price target of $68 sitting below Thursday's closing price of $68.73. Clorox shares are trading pretty much in line with the other big consumer product names. The stock has a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 15.6X and forward annual dividend yield of 3.5% vs. Procter & Gamble ( PG) at 14.4X with a yield of 3.3%, and Colgate-Palmolive ( CL) at 15.4X with a yield of 2.6%. Check out TheStreet's quote page for Clorox for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. Other Friday reporters include Abiomed ( ABMD), American Axle & Manufacturing ( AXL), Domtar ( UFS), Dr. Reddy's Laboratories ( RDY), Estee Lauder Cos. ( EL), Johnson Outdoors ( JOUT), Moneygram International ( MGI), Weyerhaeuser ( WY), and YRC Worldwide ( YRCW). Tyson Foods ( TSN) is also slated to report its fiscal first-quarter results on Friday and Wall Street is looking for earnings of 33 cents a share in the December-ended period on revenue of $8.3 billion. The shares are basically flat over the past year but they've dropped more than 10% year-to-date, coming down off a 52-week high of $21.06 on Dec. 29 to close Thursday at $18.62. D.A. Davidson previewed the quarter earlier this week, saying it's expecting earnings of 34 cents a share from the chicken, pork and beef producer, a penny above consensus. "The Q411 should be the margin bottom for the chicken segment, and operating profits should return to growth in Q112 and 'strengthen throughout the year,'" the firm said, adding later in the note: "TSN continues to have an improving operating environment with higher exports reducing domestic availability supporting higher prices. We remain BUY rated with a $24 price target based on only 10.9x our FY12 EPS estimate." Analysts are evenly split on Tyson ahead of the report with 8 holds set against 4 strong buys and 4 buys, and the 12-month median price target sitting at $23. Earnings season is just across the halfway mark now, and while there's been improvement over the past month, it's still not shaping up to be all that inspiring. According to Thomson Reuters, the blended earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 stood at 8.2% on Wednesday. That number, which reflects both actual results and current analyst estimates, comes with 49% of the S&P 500 having reported. The good news is that the growth rate is up from 7.9% on Jan. 3. The bad news is that it's still way down from 15% on October 3, roughly when the current rally in the broad market began. Golub of UBS offered up a little more bad news, estimating that year-over-year earnings growth for the fourth quarter is just 1.6% if Apple's ( AAPL) results are excluded. That's down from 16.5% in the third quarter on the same basis (excluding Apple), 17.1% in the second quarter, and 15% in the first quarter.
The economic calendar, of course, will be a major focus on Friday, dominated by the January jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET. The consensus is looking nonfarm payrolls to swell by 155,000, according to Briefing.com, which itself is anticipating a big surprise to the upside at 225K. Paul Dales, an analyst at Capital Economics, is a bit below consensus however. "After allowing for the reversal of the temporary factors that boosted the increase in non-farm payrolls to 200,000 in December, we anticipate a smaller rise of 150,000 in January," he wrote Thursday. "In particular, as the BLS
Bureau of Labor Statistics has failed to smooth out the surge in courier and messenger jobs ahead of the holiday shopping season, it is almost certain that the 42,000 leap here in December will be reversed in full in January, just as it has been in the same month in previous years." Using historical data related to the ADP report on Wednesday as a guide, Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, is also expecting 150,000 jobs for January, 125,000, excluding government jobs. He sees sees "modest downside risk" to the consensus because of the seasonal swings. "Growth was faster in the year to the fourth quarter of 2011 than in 2010, so this suggests the seasonal factor should be a bit more generous," Shepherdson said. "Alas, we think this is unlikely, because the seasonal for January 2011 was much lower than implied by the pact of growth, and a correction looks due." The consensus is expecting the unemployment rate to remain steady at 8.5% but Shepherdson thinks it could tick up to 8.6% for January. He's expecting the rate to dip down to 7.5% or so by the end of 2012. The other data on Friday are factory orders for December at 10 a.m. ET, which are projected to rise 1.5%; and the Institute of Supply Management's services index for January at 10 a.m. ET, which is expected to tick higher to 53.1. And finally, Digital River ( DRIV) and Acme Packet ( APKT) were among the biggest movers in after-hours action. Shares of Digital River surged after the company topped Wall Street's profit view by 35% in its latest quarter, while Acme Packet's stock sold off because the company's revenue came in below the revised guidance it offered up less than a month ago. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.