Intel, IBM and Mr. Market's whims

The blasé reaction to reports from 2 tech leaders proves that sometimes the market likes what it doesn't see and ignores what it can't miss.

By Bill_Fleckenstein Oct 19, 2012 2:02PM

Wall Street signUnderstanding markets is a constant battle between what you think should happen and what you think will. Not only are they quite often not the same, they can switch places out from under you, and the more you lose sight of the distinction, the more likely you are to lose money.

 

As a result, in order to be "right" (whatever that means), it is not enough to analyze a company correctly. You must also be correct in your analysis of how the market may react to what you find.

 

For example, you may spot what you deem to be a sign of positive growth tucked away in a company's financial statements, and you may conclude that the stock is undervalued. The market may view the exact same information in a negative light and punish the stock price accordingly.

 

Thus, you can be right about the company's prospects, but if you are wrong about how (or when) the market will respond, it may do you no good.

 

I bring this up as third-quarter "earnings season" is upon us, as it provides ample opportunity to see this phenomenon in real time. This week, for example, brought results from two stalwarts of the Dow ($INDU), IBM (IBM) and Intel (INTC).

 

Make the market shrug

IBM actually lost at beat-the-number Tuesday night, and its stock was hit for about 5% on Wednesday. Big Blue has a fairly long track record of announcing corporate earnings that don't quite "smell" right, yet the stock price is rarely affected. So even if you got the financial analysis "right" and predicted the miss, you still could easily have gotten the market's reaction wrong.

 

Interestingly enough, this quarter was just as smelly as usual. But this time the market cared, seemingly because the company admitted that its businesses were worse at the end of the quarter (particularly in North America), which, of course, implies that they might be a little more worse in at least part of the fourth quarter. That is about the only explanation I could come up with, because all of the squishy comparables and light revenues, while beating the number and talking about fat gross margins, were literally business as usual.

 

Intel also released earnings on Tuesday, and did a little better this quarter (than it had preannounced it would). But it would appear that business is going to be under pressure next quarter, as the inventory build that took place in the third quarter comes home to roost. Thus, Intel, was about 2% weaker on Wednesday.

 

I had hoped to get a better read on the market's mood with how Intel was treated, but the situation is just a little too murky to draw any conclusions.

 

Obviously, the early trading Wednesday showed that, while IBM's and Intel's stock prices declined, the market overall could not have cared less that IBM and Intel were lower, although a few hardware makers of various stripes were under a little pressure. (These are other tricky things to predict: when "company specific" results will affect related or similar companies, and when they will boost or dampen the market's animal spirits generically.)

 

But the Dow was essentially flat on Wednesday while its two big tech leaders were in the red, so it didn't look to me like there was a whole lot of consternation.

 

Latest euro-panic is over

One area where I did see a tiny bit of light being shed was in Europe, where Spain's debt market was on a tear to the upside early this week, with yields falling at one point to about 5.40%. That actually dragged Portuguese and Italian debt along as well.

 

The bonds of the PIIGS nations -- Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain -- generically have rallied substantially lately, while the other, somewhat stronger credits have declined, with the bond markets in Europe giving a strong indication that panicked trading driven by fear of some "deflationary accident" is at an end.

 

The proximate cause for all of that celebratory action appeared to be expectations that a "precautionary" bond-buying program to aid Spain would come out of the European Union summit, as had been rumored. The summit ended Friday without such a deal, though hope seems to remain that the European Central Bank will still find a way to implement a similar operation.

 

Obviously, people can change their minds, and fear can take over again, which could occur before CB President Mario Draghi actually does become Ben Bernanke. But for now, it looks as though expectations are that Mario's money printing is going to win the battle.

 

Double trouble?

Lastly, this week saw an interesting wrinkle in the currency and bond markets. On Wednesday, the dollar was weaker and is now back to the anemic (i.e., before-"deflation accident" fear trade) levels of last spring, and the bond market was also weaker. In particular, the U.S. 10-year bond traded to a yield of about 1.78%.

 

What you now see in the Treasury market is a small pattern of higher highs and lower lows (looking at yields from an inverted standpoint), potentially indicating that the path of least resistance for yields is up (and therefore down for bond prices).

 

I don't want to make too much of this, because these are very early days, but the outcome I had recently feared, of the 10-year trading below 1.60% (and breaking the pattern I just described), did not occur, and we have seen a modestly higher high. If the 10-year managed to trade over 1.87%, the case will become even stronger. If we get into a period with both a lower dollar and Treasury market, that would potentially be a very early indication of a funding crisis.

 

Taking a step back, I discussed in August, Draghi's idea to concoct what is now called the outright monetary transactions plan could mean the deflationary fear trade might be ending for good. If that is the case, one of the things that ought to occur is less demand for dollars and Treasurys, and the ramifications are going to be quite large, not the least of which will be even more downward pressure on Treasurys, and the dollar as well.

 

If we get into a period of rising rates and a declining dollar, indicating that the Fed has lost control, that won't be bullish for equities either. But we must not get too far ahead of ourselves. Thus, I don't want to make too much out of squiggles that you basically need a magnifying glass to see, yet I do want to be alert to a trend change and the problems that could result.

 

King World News

In my latest interview with Eric King we discussed the situation in Europe, the paralysis of politicians, and some of the inner workings of the metals market. Interested readers can listen to it here.

 

At the time of publication, Bill Fleckenstein did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column.

 

22Comments
Oct 19, 2012 9:27PM
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Working:  I have to agree.  I think Bill nailed it.   Of all the financial pundits on msn, Bill is my favorite by far.

Oct 20, 2012 8:31AM
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Reply to jrlphx's statement,

 

When you buy gold, silver, etc., get "physical". Buying paper is only contributing to the pockets of crooks like JP Morgan (Blythe Murphy) who have the corner on the "paper commodities" market. They also inherited a huge silver short position from their shady take-over of Bear Stearns. Many accusations of illegal silver suppression are being thrown at them, including current investigations by the CFTC (run by a former Goldman Sachs exec, so don't get your hope up). Bottom line, you will lose in a paper battle, but in the long run will win with physical, because ultimately the emperor has no clothes.

Oct 19, 2012 10:36PM
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The buy gold situation has me confused. At about $1800.00 an ounce, if I buy 100 ounces at $180,000 in paper money and want to sell the gold at $1,800 an ounce for a total of $180,000 in three months after going up and down in value, what kind of currency (paper) do I get? Seems to me If I start with paper and end with paper, why bother? 
Oct 22, 2012 9:57AM
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I agree with koo: Vote obama and move furthur forward.

Further foward into more debt, more socialism, more gvernment dependence, more central planning, more dependent on foreign oil......

Oct 22, 2012 4:26AM
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Better find something to short-sell quick, Bill, because gold is dropping like a rock!!
Oct 20, 2012 3:14PM
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@Working,

 

You are asking one of the biggest gold bugs (Bill Fleck) why not buy gold?  I'm sure he would agree. He has been touting gold for as long as I've been reading him on MSN.  This doesn't imply it is a bad strategy, but asking Bill about gold is like asking Wile E Coyote "why not have Roadrunner for dinner?"

Oct 22, 2012 8:35AM
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We need a corrupt firm like Bain run by a Romney to save us.

Romney has proven corruption pays.

Oct 20, 2012 5:08PM
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Most Alpha is now based on insider information, and the power to manipulate markets.

 

The rest is mostly Beta; correction, highly leveraged Beta.

Oct 20, 2012 1:30PM
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Fat Cat, VL's right, GDP growth under Republican Presidents has averaged only 2.43% since 1949, while under Democrats we average 4.43% annual growth rates. Clearly any competent, reasonable , intelligent person, will vote for a Democrat in the White House if they want a strong  Bull Market.
Oct 22, 2012 11:40AM
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Republicans vote November 7th for the general elections this year.
Oct 19, 2012 7:26PM
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Bill, great article for insight to possibilities of coming attractions!  Also, Google numbers have everyone's attention going into this weekend.  The printing presses for for Euros and Dollars continue go full speed ahead --- why not buy gold?
Oct 22, 2012 11:34AM
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Fed x is hiring 20,000 people, further evidence of how the economy has turned.Our

business is only a year old and we`re growing leaps and bounds.Of course we have

a good business plan and next year we`re moving to a 50,000 sq.  foot facility.Business

is booming in this part of the country.

Oct 20, 2012 5:19PM
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Fat Cat is right about one thing: Remember how many times we heard Bush, Jr. say on television that he believed in a strong dollar when in reality it was weak and getting weaker? Well, if your checking account interest is zero to one percent, you really are better off paying bills then putting the remainder in dividend-paying stocks that have a global reach or investing in raw land or beaten-down boat slips so you can raise vegetables and fish for food. The Republicans have brought us down to biblical times with their war on muslims and it will take forever for the Democrats to get us out of it. Better to have access to food than to brave the chaos of food lines and riots. Gold will be meaningless when food becomes the most expensive commodity. Spanish debt is improving because the source of their problems, bad real estate, has been selling quite well because it is a beautiful place that people want to retire to. We have to move forward in the U.S., not go back to the failed trickle down policies and corrupt banking practices that nearly destroyed us. The Republicans sold our souls to Big Oil and then tried to reap them early with zero oversight of bank loans to liars and cheats.  
Oct 20, 2012 5:03PM
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How can you trust MSNBC or Bill or any network that repeats poll numbers when they are all constantly lying or just plain wrong? It is so very clear that Obama will win by a huge margin that this article should be focused on what happens next with the do-nothing Congress. Will Congress continue to put their trailer park religious values ahead of the interests of our country? Will Congress allow the fiscal cliff to happen and recess on December 14th without doing a thing to help? If so, gold will be a hedge only slightly longer as we work to free ourselves of 35 years of rule by Republican religious fanatics who believe the fantasy that the earth is only 9000 years old. We will move forward, with or without them, and this country will slowly evolve into a more technologically-enabled country that can compete overseas. Europe is irrelevant. European debt would fit on a pinhead compared to Federal, State and Local debt loads in the United States. The Republicans tried to buy votes by inviting 40 million illegal aliens to cross over and now we are nearly destitute and programs meant to help Americans like social security are hurting. The GOP has destroyed America and has the nerve to run a candidate for President with foreign bank accounts who outsourced jobs. There are many places in America where you can't walk the streets without fear of death because we don't have the money to hire more police or the resolve to execute more. Hard living means hard choices & the future may be more revealing than just the spot price of gold.Vote Obama & move forward not 35 years back.
Oct 20, 2012 11:59AM
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"My view is a Romney victor would be a great positive for the market. An Obama would mean trouble."

Your view is pretty blind. Markets are up through Obama's 4 years so far. They were dismal during Dubya's prior 8. No one but anally-retentive Republicans actually sees competence in Romney.
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ABOUT BILL FLECKENSTEIN

Image: Bill Fleckenstein, MSN money

This column is a synopsis of Bill Fleckenstein's daily column on his website, FleckensteinCapital.com, which he's been writing on the Internet since 1996. Click here to find Fleckenstein's most recent articles.

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