Todays Big Stock: Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)

Like a rude party guest, Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT ) timing always seems to be off. Less than a month after spending $8.5 billion on Skype, Microsoft saw the VoIP carrier’s software choke on an errant file, keeping some users from logging in and making calls yesterday.

“A small number of you may have had problems signing in to Skype. This predominantly affects people using Skype for Windows. We have identified the problem and will issue a fix in the next few hours,” the company wrote in a blog post. (Emphasis mine.)

All seems to be well now — for the record, I never had a problem — but the company’s steady parade of headlines like these must infuriate investors such as Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn. He’s calling for Steve Ballmer to resign, saying Mr. Softy’s longtime CEO has spent shareholders’ cash on “ill-conceived mergers and acquisitions,” as The New York Times DealBook blog reports it.

Einhorn also says Ballmer is out of touch with the major market trends that have lifted the fortunes of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) in recent years. I disagree. He’s not out of touch — he’s off-key. Ballmer has no sense of timing.

Look at the Skype deal. Two years ago, eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) sold what amounted to a two-thirds stake in the VoIP leader for $1.9 billion. Now Ballmer has agreed to pay well more than twice that. Timing is everything, in life and in acquisitions.

To be fair, there are technical reasons for Ballmer to make the deal. Bundling Skype into Microsoft’s Office suite makes sense, and adding video calling to the Dynamics CRM product could disrupt (NYSE: CRM ) . Yet there’s also sure to be a ton of integration work needed, all of which must be done in a way that satisfies 700 million Skype accounts and 170 million active users.

Is that tradeoff really worth the company’s $8.5 billion price tag? Where’s the upside? Microsoft can’t simply be after Skype’s 700 million accounts. Mr. Softy is the world’s leading supplier of computer software. Its customer base numbers in the billions.

The only logical reason to buy the VoIP leader, then, is for its features. Frankly, I have doubts that Skype’s network is that much better than the varying alternatives, especially when small-business VoIP specialist 8×8 (Nasdaq: EGHT ) is growing outrageously. Why spend $8.5 billion when 8×8 commands just $210 million in market value as of this writing?

We’ve been over this before, I know. I’m raising these questions again because Einhorn did, too, when he alluded to “ill-conceived mergers and acquisitions” in his remarks. He’s clearly concerned about Ballmer’s ability to squeeze value from the Skype deal.

Yesterday’s technical hiccup won’t mean much to the overall equation. But it’s still a blemish for a company that’s suffered far too many for far too long, at far too high a price for shareholders. In that sense, I can appreciate Einhorn’s frustration.

Todays Big Stock: iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV)

So, what should we make of the sell-off in silver? Some experts say that the recent sell-off in silver is a great buying opportunity, while others believe there is more to come. Everyone has an opinion, but I don’t trade based on opinions. After all, for every bull there’s a bear, each with the ability to make his or her respective case. As always, I prefer to let the chart do the talking.

One way to analyze a particular commodity, currency or index is to look at the ETF that tracks the underlying security. In the case of silver, please review the following chart of the silver ETF – SLV, with my added notations:

The first thing you will notice is the up-trending support line I have drawn in red. My belief is that any (2) points can start a trend line, but the 3rd test of the trend line confirms its importance to the market. Otherwise, it’s just a line on a chart the may or may not mean something. As you can see with SLV, the market believes that the trend line I have drawn is important. If SLV comes back down to this trend line, a silver bull could expect a bounce. However, if SLV breaks this support line, a bear might expect silver to move lower.

The Tale of the Tape: The silver ETF has formed a support trend line and may come back to retest this line. If you were bullish on silver, entering a long position at the trend line would make sense with a stop below that support. On the other hand, if you were bearish on silver and looking for a short entry instead, a break of SLV’s trend line support would signal the trade. Purchasing the inverse silver ETF –ZSL, could also make a short entry.

Waiting for the most opportune times that I have outlined above could provide you with higher probability entry points. No matter what your strategy or when you decide to enter, always remember to use protective stops and you’ll be around for the next trade.

Good luck!

Christian Tharp, CMT

Todays Big Stock: Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG)

Last week I wrote an article in regards to the potential trading opportunities for the oil stocks SLB (Schlumberger) and CXO (Concho Resources). Another oil stock that has caught my eye is RIG (Transocean). So, let’s take a look at the 1-year chart of RIG (Transocean) below with my added notations:

RIG has created a common reversal pattern known as a Head and Shoulders (H&S). This type of price action typically occurs after an up trend and signals a potential reversal. Confirmation of this pattern, and the sign that the trend reversal may have started, would be a break of support (neckline) at $75. As you can see, RIG has broken that support, thus should be moving lower.

Another piece of information that can be garnered from price patterns is their price projections. Simply take the height of the overall pattern, in this case $10, and subtract that amount from the breakdown point of $75. This gives you a minimum price target of $65. Obviously, this isn’t a guaranteed forecast, but it does commonly materialize.

The Tale of the Tape: RIG is a stock in the oil services industry that has recently broken support and confirmed its H&S formation. Because of this, RIG should fall to a minimum of $65. A higher risk short position could be entered now, or a lower risk short position entered on a rally back up to $75, if that occurs. No matter what your strategy or when you decide to enter, always remember to use protective stops and you’ll be around for the next trade. Capital preservation is always key!

Good luck!

Christian Tharp, CMT

Todays Big Stock: SunTrust Banks, Inc. (NYSE:STI)

From time to time I like to give readers a heads up on potential trading opportunities. Before considering any trades that I might outline in Chart School, always remember that you must decide for yourself if you like the trade.

One key factor in making that decision will be to decide which side of the trade you believe gives you the highest probability of success. In other words, do you like the short side of the market, or do you like the long side? You don’t necessarily have “know” what side to be on, but it certainly helps to take a stance. So, if you haven’t thought about it, review the overall indices themselves. Take a look at the S&P 500 for example.  Is it trending higher or lower? Has it recently broken through a key resistance or support level? Making these decisions ahead of time will help you decide which side of the trade you believe gives you the best opportunities.

The trading opportunity that I’d like to review today is that of STI (Suntrust Banks, Inc.).  Before discussing, please review the 1 yr. chart of STI that I have outlined below, with my added notations:


STI has formed a common price pattern known as a Head & Shoulders (blue) pattern. This pattern is primarily considered a reversal pattern, meaning that after STI’s multi-year uptrend, the stock may be ready to turn lower. The key to this pattern would be confirmation, which would be a break of the $27.50 neckline (red). You can see that not only is $27.50 a key area of support, but it was also a very important resistance level prior to the end of December 2010. A break below $27.50 would confirm the pattern and signal lower prices are likely ahead for STI.

The Tale of the Tape: STI (Suntrust Banks, Inc.) has formed a common H&S reversal pattern. A break below the $27.50 neckline (support) would be an ideal entry for a short position.

No matter what your strategy or when you decide to enter, always remember to use protective stops and you’ll be around for the next trade.  Capital preservation is always key!

Good luck!

Christian Tharp, CMT

Todays 2 Big Stocks: Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) & Concho Resources (NYSE: CXO)

Is the run in oil over, or still bubbling? In my opinion, which is dangerously close to a fact, no one knows. My preference would be to select a few stocks within the oil patch, identify important breakout points, and then make the appropriate trade.  So, that is what I decided to do. Two stocks in particular that peaked my interest:

First, take a look at the 1-year chart of CXO (Concho Resources) below with my added notations:

CXO has created a clearly defined breakout point, which would be through $110. A break above this level would be a signal that CXO should be moving higher. However, there is also a clear breakdown level at $98. If CXO were to turn down and break below $98, one would expect lower prices ahead.

Next, you will see similar levels with SLB (Schlumberger) on the chart below:

As with CXO, SLB has created a clearly defined breakout point through the $95 level. A break above this level should signal that SLB is moving higher. Once again, there is also a clear breakdown level in the $80-82.50 “zone”. If SLB were to instead break below $82.50 and/or $80, it would be reasonable to expect lower prices for SLB.

The Tale of the Tape: CXO and SLB are stocks in the oil services industries that are worth watching. They both show clear entry points for long positions on breakouts, while also giving clear entries for short positions on breakdowns. Having stocks in your portfolio such as CXO and SLB with these clear “signals” can set you up for more successful trading, rather than guessing based on opinions.

No matter what your strategy or when you decide to enter, always remember to use protective stops and you’ll be around for the next trade.  Capital preservation is always key!

Good luck!

Christian Tharp, CMT