Thanksgiving has came and went, signalling the beginning of the pivotal holiday shopping season. But things are off to an inauspicious start as the American consumer just didn’t perform as well as expected on Black Friday. Seems that 4K televisions and cheap tablets aren’t motivating the kind of shop-till-you-drop attitude of years past. Even a lift in e-commerce couldn’t bolster the overall stats.
As a result, U.S. equities slipped on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.4%, the S&P 500 down 0.4%, the Nasdaq Composite down 0.4% and the Russell 2000 down 0.4%. Treasury bonds were little changed, gold gained 0.8% and crude oil lost 0.3% to close at $41.60 a barrel.
Energy stocks led the way with a 0.4% gain after a bullish analyst note by Guggenheim lifted services stocks. Gold miners were also strong with the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) up 2.3%.
HD and 4K vision system maker Ambarella Inc (NASDAQ:AMBA) gained 7.4% after analysts at Stifel said they are looking forward to the company’s Dec. 3 earnings report as a catalyst from separating the stock’s fortunes from its troubled OEM customer, action cam maker GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO).
They added they believe revenues can increase upwards of 25% as new video applications (such as autonomous vehicle systems) emerge.
Health care stocks were the laggards, losing 1.3%. Yoga pants maker Lululemon Athletica inc. (NASDAQ:LULU) lost 8.9% after being downgraded by analysts at FBR citing bloated inventories and higher clearance tempo. Fitness wearable maker Fitbit Inc (NYSE:FIT) gained 3% after being upgraded by Barclays after, in their minds, an unjustified 26%-plus stock price decline over the past month in light of positive catalysts including holiday demand, new product launches and profit margin improvement.
Turning back to Black Friday results: ShopperTrak surveys put in-store sales at about $12.1 billion on Thursday and Friday, down from about $12.3 billion in 2014. It seems the trend toward earlier promotions, such as store openings on Thanksgiving itself, could be diluting the draw of Black Friday.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank told clients their specialty retailer channel checks revealed a “difficult” start to the holiday season, as traffic stalls out and inventories pile up. Of the more than 250 stores checked, 77% indicated store traffic at or ahead of 2014 totals vs. 85% for last year. Roughly 95% indicated inventory levels were high.
As for where the best deals were, Deutsche Bank found the deepest discounts at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) — with a 27% year-over-year drop in price for a basket of 19 identical products and a 14% drop for a basket of 53 products on Black Friday vs. earlier in November.
On the economic front, U.S. October pending home sales widely missed expectations, but still managed to end two months of negative sequential readings. The National Association of Realtors tried to explain the weakness as caused by buyers struggling amid fast rising prices in some markets and low inventories. The November Chicago PMI and Dallas Fed manufacturing activity surveys were soft.
Looking ahead, focus is turning to the upcoming OPEC conference in Vienna on Friday, as speculation points to Saudi Arabia being pressured to cut output and support prices. Tuesday will feature updates on global manufacturing activity ahead of Friday’s critical November nonfarm payroll report — the last jobs report before the Federal Reserve’s “hike/no hike” interest rate decision in mid-December.
For now, I continue to recommend a defensive positioning focusing on short-side opportunities such as the December $17.50 puts against Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) recommended to Edge Pro subscribers.