You can't blame investors for feeling a bit cautious regarding the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJIA) recent push from 10,700 to 11,140 in the past month. The Dow has made four moves above psychological resistance at 11,000 before, only to fall back.
The range-trading is characteristic of institutional investor indecision, but the bears are hardly willing to concede a tie.
Accordingly, here's the bearish case -- five reasons why -- from least serious to most serious -- the Dow is head lower in the next six months.
5. China bubble / slowing growth in China. China's economy did expand at a 9.1 percent rate in the third quarter, but that's the slowest growth rate for the emerging market giant since the third quarter of 2009.
Significance? China's slowing growth rate implies lower GDP growth in the Asian hemisphere, due to the large amount of raw materials it draws in from surrounding countries, as their raw material exports will likely slow. That hemisphere slowdown will, in turn, affect the economies in Europe, in Latin America and in North America. That's bad news for U.S. GDP growth.
4. Oil prices. True, the price of crude oil is down about 30 percent in the last five months, to about $87 per barrel, but that's still way above oil's roughly $25 to $30 per barrel 150-year-average, real price. A $50 to $65 oil price would still be high, but would enable oil producers to pump oil from all but the highest-cost oil fields. A price above $70 is very high, and constrains both U.S. and global GDP growth, except the economies of oil producing nations.
Significance? The high cost of oil will cut disposable income and increase business costs in the United States, and that will hurt consumer spending and business investment -- each of which can lower U.S. corporate revenue.
3. Wage stagnation. The United States is experiencing wage stagnation in many job segments, and the reasons are cyclical, structural and technological. What's more, there's little sign that the trend will end anytime soon -- and until it does it will keep median incomes below where they should be, given the third year of an economic expansion.
Significance? The frugal consumer era continues in the United States, certainly at least for the next two quarters, and that will pinch corporate revenue.
2. Europe government / sovereign debt crisis. Eurozone countries still have not reached an agreement regarding the best way to stabilize Greece, and until a long-term plan is announced, the risk of contagion -- institutional investors selling Greek, Spanish, Italian, and Portugese debt on concern of default -- will persist.
Significance? A double-whammy impact: The debt issue -- including budget cuts in Greece -- will both slow GDP growth in Europe and also delay decision making regarding business projects by U.S.-based and Europe-based multi-national corporations (MNCs), pinching both business investment and corporate revenue.
1. Inadequate U.S. job growth. Simply, the U.S. economy is not creating enough new jobs per month. It needs to create about 100,000 to 125,000 jobs per month just to keep the 9.1 percent unemployment rate from rising, and about 175,000 to 200,000 to substantially lower the unemployment rate.
Significance: Until that latter job growth rate occurs, both household formation and real median incomes will be sub-adequate, and that will further constrain cooperate revenue and earnings growth.
Market Analysis: A GDP growth slow-down in China. A persistently high price of oil -- the lifeblood of the world economy. Wage stagnation in many U.S. job segments. The European debt crisis. Sub-par U.S. job growth. Add them up and there's more than enough evidence to suggest that corporate earnings growth will slow in the first and second quarters of 2012. And as they say on Wall Street, as corporate earnings go, so goes the U.S. stock market.
In other words, the bears can make a strong argument for a Dow decline to 10,700 and then to 10,000 over the next six months. An extended drop below major, psychological support at 10,000 would put 9,600 in view.