The good news in the stock market today is the continued drop in oil prices, with a barrel of sweet, light crude dipping below $125 for the first time since June. Already, commuters are seeing that decline priced in at the pump, with a gallon of gasoline falling below $4.00 per gallon – in some areas to $3.70 per gallon – as demand slows and prices drop.
At the same time, the earnings season has been better than a lot of people expected. IBM, Apple, AT&T have led a tech charge in better-than-expected revenues in the last quarter, even though the bean counters have done a great job of lowering analyst expectations by tamping down future earnings (Wall Street calls that “guidance”).
So, it’s oil and earnings that are carrying the markets right now, and the timing could not have been better. "Having had a significant drop in the oil price at the same time as various earnings have been disclosed has made a huge difference," Diane de Vries Ashley, managing partner at Zenith Capital Partners in Coral Gables, Fla., tells Reuters. "Other circumstances would not be providing this subliminal euphoria we're seeing. Without that kind of move (in oil) you really can't get people to focus on anything but, frankly, their gas tanks."
Not all the news is so promising for technology companies. A lot of that muted guidance we’ve seen in the past week from some of the top tech companies is hardly surprising, given that more and more consumers are hunkering down and not buying as many computers, printers, big screen TV’s, and cell phones as they have in previous years. Higher gas prices, higher food prices, and lousy credit have forced the vaunted American consumer to the sideline and that’s keeping tech stocks in the doldrums – hence the call from tech bookkeepers for lower revenues in 2008 and 2009.
When the consumer battens down the hatches, the weather on Wall Street turns nasty. "When we had the double-bottom in March and April, all the tech companies reported and the earnings were pretty good. Now I think we're seeing the total opposite," Dave Rovelli, head of US equity trading at Boston-based Canaccord Adams told Reuters. "The consumer's getting squeezed now."
The key economic number I'm looking for to see where the economy and stock market are head is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) number coming out next week. The rumors I'm hearing have GDP clocking in at anywhere from 2.2% to 3.0% quarterly growth, which would be a major boost for the economy. Certainly, GDP numbers in that range would cut a lot of the recession talk out of the markets, if not the media, and could signal that the U.S. economy is a lot hardier than most people gave it credit for.
For now, lower oil prices and good corporate earnings are keeping investors off the ledges and bridges. A decent GDP number would get their money back in the markets, and the U.S. economy out of the woods.