May Day, but Europe Still Searches for Growth
Everything's closed! It's May Day, there are rallies across Europe, everything except the U.K. and Irish markets are closed.
China is closed as well, which is disappointing since China's "official" PMI came in at 53.3, its highest level in more than a year. OK, it's not amazing, but anything above 50 shows expansion. It supports the "soft landing" hypothesis on China and strengthens the case that China will print a gross domestic product over 8 percent in 2012.
One of the few markets open — Australia — saw stocks advance fractionally. The ASX All Ordinaries Index (the main Australian market index) closed at its highest level since August of last year. The Reserve Bank of Australia cut a key cash benchmark rate by 50 basis point to 3.75 percent.
1) Where's the growth in Europe? World Bank President Robert Zoellick, on CNBC's "Squawk Box" this morning, again brought up the preferred vehicle for those pushing growth: The European Investment Bank, the main long-term lending institution for the European Union. He wants more money for that institution, which would turn around and do co-investment deals with private companies for large infrastructure projects.
This may happen, since the Germans do not appear to be opposed to it. François Hollande, the French Socialist candidate for president, is also behind the idea.
The problem is nothing is "shovel-ready" — it will have very little immediate impact on the European economy. That's why deficit spending, by loosening the budget rules that many countries are operating under, is such an attractive option. Keep those government workers employed! Don't fire anyone!
2) Sell in May and go away? This is the end of the "best six months" of the year trade, an observation — first made by the Stock Trader's Almanac — that has now assumed mythical proportions on Wall Street.
3) Very choppy earnings, again: Misses from Avon Products, Arch Coal, Martin Marietta, and Emerson Electric.
a) Emerson (think electrical products, motors, power systems and management) missed, saying "improvement is occurring at a slower pace than previously expected. Additionally, Europe weakness has persisted, and while orders and sales have improved in China, its economy has been and will remain softer than anticipated."
b) A little bit of good news from building materials company Martin Marietta (think sand, gravel): Prices were a bit higher (up 2.8 percent), volumes were notably higher (up 9.6 percent), so gross margin improved. The company said it was "increasingly optimistic about our outlook for the remainder of 2012."
Why did it miss? Apparently there were additional expenses, because the company is trying to buying rival Vulcan Materials.
c) Coal is still a mess: Arch Coal is illustrative of the problems the coal industry is having: Posting a loss of $0.04 (estimate was for a gain of $0.16) and cuts the quarterly dividend to $0.03 from $0.11. They are expecting lower coal volumes in 2012: "We are resetting our 2012 expectations," said John W. Eaves, Arch's president and chief executive.
The big issue: power generators are switching to natural gas, resulting in an "unprecedented build in power generator coal stockpiles," Eaves said.
But wait a minute: What's up with nat gas? After dropping to $1.982 on April 20, nat gas is back to $2.34, up 15 percent in less than two weeks? Is this the long-awaited bottom in nat gas? Morgan Stanley, in a note this morning, said: "Recovery in nat gas prices could provide limited relief in the U.S. domestic thermal coal market."
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