Trader Talk with Bob Pisani


  Thursday, 22 May 2008 | 3:39 PM ET

End of Energy Subsidies: Pro & Con

Posted By: Bob Pisani

There are signs that emerging-market governments who provide gasoline and other energy subsidies to their citizens are under intense pressure to lower those subsidies, and this is causing some trepidation among stock market bulls.


--Indonesia has announced they are reducing subsidies on gasoline, in an effort to reduce their budget gap. This may increase fuel prices by 28 percent. Protests have already broken out;

--Taiwan has said electricity prices will be going up for the first time since 2006, and will allow local oil refiners to raise prices;

--Malaysia has said it would review its existing fuel subsidy program "soon;"

So far, we have not seen price hikes in China and India, both of whom are obviously worried about social unrest.


--In China, rumors that China might consider lowering its considerable fuel subsidy program have generated several Chinese newspaper reports, where officials have denied that the government is considering lowering subsidies.

--In India, a major oil refiner, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) has announced that they are rationing gasoline to all of its stations, because the government has refused to allow them to raise prices.

Government energy subsidies are a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin, lowering or even ending government subsidies will help level the playing field and will lead to a reduction in demand. There is much truth to this: some countries have absurdly low gas prices ($0.89 a gallon in Egypt, $0.12 in Venezuela), which have clearly fueled demand.

On the other side, be careful what you wish for: these kinds of chain reactions are difficult to control, will almost certainly lead to more social unrest, and could have a much bigger impact on growth prospects for emerging market countries.

This is the scenario that worries bulls the most: the recent rally off the March lows has been predicated on the theory that the global economy--and global growth stocks--will not see the worst-case scenario bears are predicting. Oil at $135--and governments throwing in the subsidy towel--throws those assumptions into doubt, and makes it easier for fence sitters to continuing counting their cash.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Thursday, 22 May 2008 | 2:26 PM ET

Lennar's "Once In A Lifetime" Home Deals

Posted By: Bob Pisani

Hundreds of Home Nationwide! Once in a Lifetime Deals! That’s what Lennar is promising if you act RIGHT NOW, this weekend…and buy a home. Check it out.

Curiously, the much-maligned Adjustable Rate Mortgage appears to be making a comeback. Lennar is putting their special ARM financing right on the front page of their website, offering ARMs at 2.88 percent for the first year, 3.88 percent for the second year, and 4.88 percent for the remainder of the life of the mortgage (5.38 percent APR—the true rate of interest) for what they are calling a Memorial Day Weekend Sell A Tho. And no mortgage payments for the first 9 months!

Some of these home builder web sites are starting to look like garage sales—all semblance of dignity has gone out the window in an effort to sell homes. Check out Ryland’s site.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Thursday, 22 May 2008 | 1:12 PM ET

Oil, Energy Stocks Baffle Shorts

Posted By: Bob Pisani

Are energy stocks topping? With oil (the commodity) and energy stocks going parabolic in the past couple of months, it's little wonder that there has been a concerted attempt to short the energy complex this week.

Mostly, it has been unsuccessful.

You can see this in the record volume that the UltraShort Oil & Gas ProShares attracted. It provides twice the inverse performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index, a basket of stocks in the oil and gas industry. So if the index goes down 1 percent, you make 2 percent.

The United States Oil Fund, which roughly tracks the price of oil, has also attracted near-record volume this week, as traders are also able to short this fund as well.

Yesterday, there was a concerted attempt to sell off oil, as well as oil and natural gas stocks, as traders were betting that the weekly inventory levels would show a build in reserves and this would be the right moment to take profits. It didn't happen -- there was actually a drawdown in supplies, so sellers were forced to cover short positions by selling the DUG or buying the USO.

Despite the pain inflicted on shorts, this is a good sign, an indication that a fairly sizeable group is trying to pick a top in energy.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Thursday, 22 May 2008 | 9:10 AM ET

Higher Oil Prices Grounding Airline Merger?

Posted By: Bob Pisani

Want to know what the influence $130 a barrel oil has on airline M&A? The original bid for Alitalia by Air France-KLM was based on an oil price of $86 a barrel , according to the Deputy CEO of Air France,in an interview on CNBC Europe.

Those talks were shelved a month ago, but at $120 to $130, the Deputy CEO said that Air France-KLM would have to come up with a more "difficult and demanding" business plan. That's an understatement. Air France-KLM reported a 16 percent decline in profit this morning.


1) Given the current retail environment, retailers this morning are announcing earnings that, while clearly down from last year, are at least not missing lowered estimates, and more importantly they are not dramatically lowering earnings expectations for the year.

Ann Taylorreported earnings slightly above expectations. Sales decreased 11 percent, comp store sales were down 11.5 percent, but that is not unusual in this environment. The guidance for the current quarter is $0.42 to $0.47, consensus is $0.47.

Limited reported earnings slightly above expectations, and actually raised full year guidance, from a prior $1.35-$1.55 to $1.38-$1.58, vs. consensus estimates of $1.42.

Barnes and Noble reported earnings in line with expectations. They did lower their comparable store guidance for the current quarter, but they are maintaining their full year guidance.

Aeropostale and Gap report after the bell.

2) As expected, UBS raised additional capital, in the form of a rights offering that will raise roughly $15.1 b. The offering will entitle investors to 7 new shares for each 20 held. The shares are being sold at 31 percent discount to Wednesday's close. The CEO has said he does not not think more capital raising will be necessary, that there may be further sales of subprime products and that there are a large number of parties interested in purchasing them.

3) Indonesia indicated higher fuel prices were coming. The government subsidies fuel prices, but they indicated today that fuel prices could go up by about 28 percent to prevent a budget deficit from getting out of control.

4) Alcoa downgraded to neutral from by at Merrill, saying shares have risen due to take out speculation and this is a good opportunity to take money off the table. Actually, all material stocks have risen recently.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Wednesday, 21 May 2008 | 4:32 PM ET

Market Drops On Fed Minutes

Posted By: Bob Pisani

The Dow has dropped 450 points in the last two days. Most of this is due to the record high price of oil, but at 2 PM ET today the markets dropped further as the Fed came out with its minutes, wherein they:

--Ratcheted down the growth outlook

--Ratcheted up their outlook for inflation and unemployment

--Said further rate cuts were unlikely

The overall market dropped on that news. The immediate effect was that buying spiked up--the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) had its biggest one day move since March.

Home builders dropped to their lowest levels since March, with stocks like Ryland down 9 percent, Centex and Lennardown 7 percent.

Not quite as bad for the brokers, but most of them are also at the lowest levels in a month; Lehman down 5 percent, Morgan Stanley down 4 percent.

Perhaps of greater concern is banks, where the Bank Index (BKX) is again approaching multi-year lows. Bank of America hit a 5-year closing low. Citi down 4.7 percent, Wachovia down 3.7 percent, JP Morgan down 3 percent.

Finally, airlines were a complete disaster, with AMR dropping 24 percent as it announced it was cutting is flight schedule, cutting jobs, and will begin charging $15 to check in a bag ($25 for subsequent bags).

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Wednesday, 21 May 2008 | 3:02 PM ET

Speculation Fueling Commodity Price Increases Says Trader

Posted By: Bob Pisani

How much are speculators adding to food and fuel inflation? A lot, says one trader. One of the most interesting pieces of testimony I have read in a long time came today from Michael Masters, Managing Member of Masters Capital Management.

He was in front of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs of the U.S. Senate. Mr. Masters has been a long-short equity hedge fund manager for over 12 years. Here's what he had to say:

1) Commodity prices have increased more in the aggregate over the past five years than at any other time in U.S. history; specifically assets allocated to commodity index trading strategies have risen from $13 billion at the end of 2003 to $260 billion as of March 2008;

2) The primary increase in demand for commodities has come from Institutional Investors, specifically pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, university endowments, and others, whom Master collectively calls Index Speculators. This group now accounts for a larger share of outstanding commodities futures contracts than any other market participant.

3) These Speculators allocate a portion of their portfolios directly to the commodities futures market, and behave differently than traditional speculators; specifically, they buy with little regard for price and tend to be mostly buyers, not sellers.

4) While much of the rise in the price of oil has been attributed to increased demand from China, speculators are responsible for at least an equal increase in demand; specifically, annual Chinese demand for oil has increased by 920 million barrels over the last five years but Index Speculators demand for petroleum futures has increased by 848 million barrels

5) While the rise in corn if often blamed on ethanol production, Speculators have stockpiled over 2 billion bushels of corn futures in the last five years, enough to fuel the entire U.S. ethanol industry for a full year.

Masters concludes with this analogy: "Think about it this way: If Wall Street concocted a scheme whereby investors bought large amounts of pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices in order to profit from the resulting increase in prices, making these essential items unaffordable to sick and dying people, society would be justly outraged."

Masters urges Congress to 1) prevent pension funds from investing in commodities, and 2) close loopholes that allow banks to get around limits on speculative positions.

Mr. Masters assumes, as many do, that supply is adequate--which is debatable, particularly from oil (the world produces 85 million barrels a day and seems to be having a tough time increasing supply). And we certainly know that demand has been increasing from consumers, not just from institutional investors. So his argument is certainly far from flawless.

But Masters is one of the first to put real numbers behind the idea that speculation is a major force in commodity price increases.

Here is the full testimony.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Wednesday, 21 May 2008 | 12:29 PM ET

Energy Report Plays Havoc With Short Traders

Posted By: Bob Pisani

This was a very disappointing morning for stock bulls.

1) There was an active attempt to short energy stocks going into the weekly oil inventory numbers at 10:30 ET ; volume on the XLE (the S&P Energy Sector ETF) was particularly strong; however, rather than seeing an increase in inventory levels, there was a drawdown, and the shorts in energy stocks were forced to cover quickly, driving energy stocks back to new highs.

This has played right into the hands of energy stock bulls, who have argued for days that energy stock prices are unlikely to show appreciable declines in the near term. Their arguments:

--Forget charts
--Prices are up, but energy stocks are not overvalued
--There is earnings visibility WAY OUT.

Apropos of today's trading, Brazilian oil company Petrobras has now passed our parent General Electric as the fifth largest company in the world by market capitalization ($325 b vs. $316 b, according to MSN Money).

2) The last few days have seen a deterioration in several closely watched groups, including home builders, banks and brokers.

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Wednesday, 21 May 2008 | 9:14 AM ET

Oil Slaps Down Stocks, Retail Apparel A Bright Spot

Posted By: Bob Pisani

How much is oil slapping around stocks? Futures were up about 5 points until about 6 AM, when oil hit $130 . Market sold off immediately.

Europe started stronger (Germany's IFO business confidence number rose unexpectedly), but rolled over about three hours ago, just as oil hit $130. Dollar falls to a four-week low vs. the Euro.


1) Talbots handily beat expectations and maintained 2008 earnings guidance; up 14 percent pre-open.

2) Once again, we are seeing off-price apparel stores doing well. This morning Ross Stores reported good earnings, and more importantly gave guidance for the current quarter and the full year above analyst expectations. They are forecasting same store sales gains of 1 to 3 percent, a rarity in retail these days.

3) Airlines down a bit again this morning, as Soleil--which describes itself as "perhaps the last bullish holdout on the airline sector," gave up the ghost as oil hit $130. They drop AMR and United to a sell. British Airways CEO was on our air this morning, saying there will be airline failures in this cycle.

4) Hewlett Packard down fractionally as they beat estimates. Not surprisingly, strong growth overseas offset a weak U.S. market. PLEASE NOTE: 69 percent of Hewlett's revenues are now generated outside the U.S.

Guidance for the (current) third quarter unchanged. Fiscal 2008 guidance of $3.54-$3.58 about in line with estimates of $3.54.

5) Much chatter about market rotation today, after S&P announced that the technology sector had overtaken financials in market value. This is the first time that has happened since 2002. The energy sector is up about 10 percent this month, and closed yesterday at an historic high.

Percentage of S&P 500:

Technology 16.26 percent
Financials 16.19 percent
Energy 14.89 percent

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  Tuesday, 20 May 2008 | 4:36 PM ET

Pisani: Why Market Bears Ruled Tuesday

Posted By: Bob Pisani

Bears had the upper hand today.


--oilprices at highs, not backing down
--dollar rally evaporating
--inflationtrends clearer (core PPI stronger thanexpected validating pass-through from commodity inflation)
--retail & financials turnaroundless certain
--visibility poor
--volume trends poor

But bulls were not silent.


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  Tuesday, 20 May 2008 | 1:23 PM ET

Market's Problems: Oil, Retail, Financials, Dollar

Posted By: Bob Pisani

The market is grappling with a series of macro and individual stock problems today.

--Oil at new highs is the main problem , but the slow drop in the dollar (at the lows for the month, and reversing much of the gains from its bottom in April) is a particular aggravating factor;

--Core PPI higher than expected has the inflation hawks out;

--Cautious retail commentary two days in a row.

The retail issues are not surprising; we heard Lowe's talking cautiously yesterday, now Home Depot is guiding toward the low end of its previous guidance . The Saks CEO got a chuckle on trading desks this morning by saying that the consumer is acting as if there's a recession, whether there is one or not.

Bottom line: the retail turnaround is less certain, and further out.

Financials are also weak today:

--Fannie Mae officials, speaking at their annual meeting, saying home prices could fall as much as 25% from their highs, and even though they are short-term winners int he housing bill they are clearly taking on more risks;

--AIG hitting 10 year lows as executives there say they are looking to shed non-core assets;

--Oppenheimer's Meredith Whitney again trash-talking financials, saying the credit crisis will extend into 2009,

Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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About Trader Talk with Bob Pisani

  • Direct from the floor of the NYSE, Trader Talk with Bob Pisani provides a dynamic look at the reasons for the day’s actions on Wall Street. If you want to go beyond the latest numbers— Bob will tell you why the market does what it does and what it means for the next day’s trading.


  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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