Monday, March 12, 2007

Three in a Row for the Dow, but Trouble is Brewing

Could the markets be on to something? The Dow Jones Industrials rose for the third consecutive session on Monday, adding 42 points and with that, completing a 2% gain off the lows of last week.

Dow 12,318.62 +42.30; NASDAQ 2,402.29 +14.74; S&P 500 1,406.60 +3.75; NYSE Composite 9,120.93 +25.94

As we see from the numbers above, the other indices tagged along for the ride. And what a nice ride it was, though most investors thought better of it. To say that the volume was thin would be overstating the case. Especially on the NASDAQ, it was nothing short of anemic.

But the markets made the best of it, putting on the bravest of brave faces and likely cheering the drop in the price of oil, which fell 1.14 to $58.91, a welcome number for anyone who owns (or is paying off a 6-year loan on) a car.

In the absence of any noteworthy news, little things could make a huge difference in this directionless market. Some of the smallest things are little movements in interest rates, which are heading higher thanks no doubt to the seeming end of easy money, particularly in the mortgage arena. There, a company called New Century Financial Corp. is about to go completely belly up, taking down $8 billion in bad money with it.

What worries Wall Street is that New Century's collapse could cause a tsunami in financial markets. The company specialized in sub-prime loans, or more succinctly, mortgage loans to people who probably shouldn't have them. CNNMoney has a good article on the subject.

New Century originated many of these sub-prime loans, packaged them up and resold them to other willing buyers on Wall Street. Among the companies with financial agreements with New Century are some which should know better, like Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and others. These giants will be able to absorb whatever shock might occur in a default or bankruptcy by New Century, which seems all but certain, but the damage will spread.

Lenders will tighten up requirements for home buyers, interest rates may hitch up a bit, people get worried and everyone goes home losers. At a time when the economy is cooling off to a significant degree, the last thing the suits on Wall Street need is a soft real estate market, rising interest rates and sour-pussed bankers.

There's a bit of unraveling about to happen and it will only fuel selling into an already unsteady market. Get ready for another 3-4% decline on the major indices over the next few weeks. I've said it was coming and here it is, on a silver sub-prime platter.

No comments: