Friday, August 10, 2007

The Fix Is In

As investors - and guys who wear pinstripe suits but really haven't a clue - nervously watched the Dow Jones Industrials plummet by another 200 points this morning, the intrepid manipulators from the Federal Reserve Bank (working, no doubt, in concert with the Plunge Protection Team) pumped two injections of "liquidity" into the markets in the morning and added a smaller boost in the afternoon.

In other words, the Fed bought stocks from brokers who, as part of the so-called "repo" deal, agreed to deposit the funds in Federally-insured member banks.
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Thus, a mammoth crash and thud was averted.

When the fed buys stocks, they aren't just fishing nor fiddling. Today's double dose was a total of $34 billion, designed to keep order in the face of an imminent sell-off. Late in the session, with the markets still down smartly, the Fed added another $3 billion.

Apparently, it worked, because the markets failed to melt down as many feared they would. However, these measures are little more than band-aids in a market that is hemorrhaging on multiple fronts.

Due to the blow-up of sub-prime mortgage loans, note holders find themselves stuck with much worthless paper. The spill-over into derivative, insurance, M&A and other credit markets has been stoking fears of financial calamity.

Without a doubt, this is a big mess that's not going to end soon or resolve in a pretty way. Billions of dollars are going to be lost, credit markets will become frighteningly tight and even the Fed's money won't be enough to secure liquidity and order in the equity markets. What's especially frightening about the situation is that the Fed was forced to take such extraordinary measures to shore up markets.

The "repo" swaps are not new. They've been used during other stressful periods, such as in the winter after 9/11, but their effect is marginal. The announcement that the Fed is taking the action is actually much more of a salve on the nerves of traders than the actual money making trades.

Dow 13,239.54 -31.14; NASDAQ 2,544.89 -11.60; S&P 500 1,453.64 +0.55; NYSE Composite 9,435.04 -14.27

The downside of such action, however, is that the Fed eventually has to balance its own books, and buying up stocks in a sliding market - catching the proverbial falling knife - is poor investment strategy, to say the least. When the Fed unloads these stocks, often at a loss, it creates a glut on the market and costs the Fed money. Of course, the Fed can just print up more, and they do, making all those dollars in your pockets worth a little less.

Again, it's nothing more than a stop-gap measure and far from a solution. The real solution would be to allow the market to take its own course, and let the losers lose and the winners win. For all the talk of "free markets" by Fed governors and other high government officials, they certainly act like they have little to no faith in what they preach.

The crash is upon us. With the Fed's help, it will be worse than it has to be. Tighten your belts, we're headed for recession-land.

Market internals allow for a much better understanding of what really happened on Wall Street this Friday. Declining issues rolled over advancers by a 9-5 margin. New lows swamped new highs, 736-82. Even with the Fed's helping hand, there were plenty of casualties on the day.

Oil continued to slip, down 12 cents to $71.47, but still far from it's bottom, which is just a matter of time. Gold perked up $8.80 to $681.60; silver rose 17 cents to $12.87. These are still screaming buys and now would be a good time to stock up.

The coming weeks and months hold still more intrigue and downside. The bulk of the sub-prime loans which are subject to repricing and therefore, default, have yet to do so. October through next March will bear witness to an avalanche of mortgage defaults and a share of bank and financial concern failings.

Cash is king for now, especially if it's in Euros or gold.

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