Monday, September 17, 2007

Stocks Slide Awaiting Fed

In what could only be described as sluggish trade, US indices moved narrowly to the downside on Monday as investors took an extended weekend in advance of the FOMC meeting on Tuesday.

At 2:15 pm Eastern tomorrow, the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve will make the most important announcement of the week, maybe the month. At that time, Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed governors will announce one of three rate moves: 1. No change in Fed Funds rate; 2. a 25 basis point decrease; or 3. a 50 basis point increase. Essentially, no other moves are possible and the odds are on the middle move, dragging rates down from the current 5.25% to an even 5%.

The Fed hasn't moved rates in well over a year, and the Wall Street gang would love to get a 50 basis point reduction, though Chairman Bernanke has shown lately a resolve to take a rather circumspect and conservative approach.
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What will probably come out of the meeting is the 25 basis point move with some language in the release indicating that more cuts may be necessary.

The functional word is may, in that Bernanke is likely not convinced that looser credit is necessarily a good thing for the economy, Wall Street be damned. What the Fed understands more than Wall Street is that Fed rate moves have less to do with the smooth functioning of the economy than do government policy, which has been dreadful for at least the past 6 years. The federal government has done nothing to reduce deficits, ease gas prices, balance the trade deficit, create American jobs or generally do anything of substance to improve the general welfare.

It's for that reason that the Fed may opt to do nothing, allowing market forces to work itself out. The Bernanke Fed doesn't want to be portrayed as a fixer or bail out artist, though behind the scenes they've made liquidity readily available in response to the sub-prime-induced credit crisis.

Dow 13,403.42 -39.10; NASDAQ 2,581.66 -20.52; S&P 500 1,476.65 -7.60; NYSE Composite 9,607.75 -65.90

Despite the thin trade, market breadth was pretty stunning. Declining issues swamped advancers by a 5-2 margin and new lows raced ahead of new highs, 224-117. These indicators reflect a continuing bearish bias that even a 50 basis point rate cut will not vanquish.

Wall Street bulls know they are in trouble and they're likely going to try to make Bernanke a scapegoat, instead of understanding and revealing that fundamentals in the market and fiscal policy still matter.

Meanwhile, oil hit a new high of $80.57, gaining a whopping $1.47 on the day. The absurdity in the oil markets will eventually cause a bust of major proportions. Nobody is paying that rate in futures markets except manipulators and blind speculators.

Gold shot up another $6.00 to close at an 18-month high of $723.80. Silver added 20 cents to $12.90. The rise in the metals augurs nothing but trouble for equities, as though anyone needed a reminder.

Tomorrow ought to be a doozy.

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