Day Traders Diary


The stock market endured a volatile session on Tuesday with investors keeping one eye on the oil market and one on the dollar/ruble exchange rate. The Russell 2000 (-0.1%) registered the slimmest decline while the S&P 500 settled lower by 0.9% after failing to hold its 100-day (1988) and 50-day moving averages (2001).

Yesterday evening, the Central Bank of Russia hiked its key interest rate by 650-basis points to 17.0% with the move aimed at halting the recent freefall in the ruble. The news gave a brief boost to the Russian currency, but the ruble was down more than 18.0% (77.93) against the dollar this morning, which invited concerns about potential economic and financial risks stemming from the continued plunge. This sent participants scrambling in search of safe havens, which boosted Treasuries and the yen.

Meanwhile in the commodity market, crude oil was down in excess of 2.5% this morning, but the energy component spiked off its low shortly after the start of the pit session. Oil was able to return to its flat line, but could not make a sustained move into the green, ending with a nine-cent loss at $55.87/bbl.

The rebound in crude occurred as equities climbed off their lows, while the ruble managed to reclaim its overnight loss. Also of note, the dollar/yen pair narrowed its decline to about 110 pips (116.70), allowing the Dollar Index (87.93, -0.53) to climb off its low. The index hovers just below its November high going into tomorrow's FOMC policy directive, which will be released at 14:00 ET.

While the FOMC statement is likely to acknowledge continued growth and strength in the U.S. labor market, it is unlikely that it will have a strong hawkish undertone considering the recent weakness in crude oil and the resulting impact on inflation.

Only two sectors ended the day in the green with energy (+0.7%) representing the lone advancer on the cyclical side. The energy sector was able to rally as participants deemed the growth-sensitive sector oversold on a short-term basis after losing 8.1% so far in December. Today's advance trimmed the sector's month-to-date loss to 7.0% with Dow component Chevron (CVX 101.70, +0.84) climbing 0.8%.

Also of note, the industrial ended on its flat line, owing its outperformance to defense contractors, and specifically, shares of Boeing (BA 124.25, +2.17). The stock jumped 1.8% after the company hiked its quarterly dividend 25.0% to $0.91 per share and increased its share repurchase plan to $12 billion.

The remaining cyclical sectors could not stay out of the red with consumer discretionary (-1.6%), financials (-1.0%), and technology (-1.5%) driving the market to fresh lows during afternoon action.

Notably, the tech sector trailed the broader market throughout the day, but its underperformance proved to be a significant drag in the afternoon. Google (GOOGL 498.16, -17.68) and Microsoft (MSFT 45.22, -1.45) posted respective losses of 3.4% and 3.1%, with the latter suffering from a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch downgrade to 'Underperform' from 'Neutral.'

The underperformance of technology kept the Nasdaq (-1.2%) behind the S&P 500 throughout the day while afternoon weakness in the biotech space pressured the tech-heavy index to a fresh low ahead of the close. The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB 293.67, -3.99) and the health care sector both lost 1.3%.

Treasuries ended near their highs with the 10-yr yield lower by seven basis points at 2.05%.

Participation was ahead of average with more than 996 million shares changing hands at the NYSE floor.

Economic data was limited to Housing Starts and Business Permits:

Housing starts declined 1.6% in November to 1.028 million from an upwardly revised 1.045 million (from 1.009 million) while the consensus expected a reading of 1.035 million
Recent gains in the NAHB Homebuilders survey suggested rapid construction growth is on the near-term horizon. Over the last 12 months, however, housing starts have averaged 994,000 per month and recent trends are slightly upward moving. Homebuilders may be saying that they expect strong demand growth, yet the lackluster housing starts data clearly show that they are not actively preparing for accelerated demand
Building Permits declined 5.2% to 1.035 million while the consensus expected a reading of 1.060 million
Tomorrow, the weekly MBA Mortgage Index will be released at 7:00 ET while November CPI ( consensus -0.1%), Core CPI (consensus 0.1%), and Q3 Current Account Balance (consensus -$95.00 billion) will all be reported at 8:30 ET. Also of note, the FOMC will release its latest policy directive at 14:00 ET.

Nasdaq Composite +8.9% YTD
S&P 500 +6.7% YTD
Dow Jones Industrial Average +3.0% YTD
Russell 2000 -2.0% YTD

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