Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fed Reinforces Boom-Bust Market Mentality

Following Tuesday's 25 basis point cut by the Fed, Ben Bernanke and his blundering buddies hooked up with the central banks of Canada, Switzerland and England and the European Central Bank (ECB) and overnight hatched a plan to provide more liquidity to shaky US markets.

The Fed said it plans to inject cash to banks through auctions and provide $24 billion in currency swap lines.

It's important to note that the move came one day after the markets tumbled upon hearing that the Fed was cutting the federal funds rate. The move amounts to just so much pandering, but also points up just how precarious the straits US banks are currently traversing.

Dow 13,473.90 +41.13 ; NASDAQ 2,671.14 +18.79; S&P 500 1,486.59 +8.94; NYSE Composite 9,921.64 +83.38

Investors took their cue at the open, pumping stocks to their highs of the day in the first ten minutes of trading. From that point onward, however, the full import of the Fed's actions took hold and stocks sold off until finally capitulating just after 3:00, when all indices turned negative.

It was only a last half-hour rally that pushed stocks back into positive territory at the close. The trade of the past two days was a massive repudiation of Fed policy. There's little, if anything, the Fed can do to keep stocks from selling off over the remaining 12 days of trading this year.

The Federal Reserve under Ben Bernanke has been buffeted about by the winds and whims of the market, reacting to stock and index prices rather than imposing sound monetary policy. The more they cajole, push, pimp and pump the market with liquidity and various rate cuts and market maneuvers, the more the market barks back, always wanting more.

This give-and-take has reintroduced extreme levels of anxiety and volatility to already nervous markets. The depths of the credit crisis, which has spread from the US to the rest of the world, have yet to be plumbed and the Federal Reserve, along with the rest of the central banks, stand gaping into the abyss of complete financial meltdown.

What has always been at the heart of the matter is easy credit, even though former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan denies his "emergency" 1% rate in 2003 led to the bubble in housing prices and the attendant low-interest loans made to buyers of questionable creditworthiness, and what the Fed is doing is simply doling out more dollars on easier terms to even more banks.

If the credit crunch was caused by easy credit, how is extending even more easy credit to the worst offenders - abusive and largely unregulated banks - going to solve the problem?

Maybe the Fed and all those white guys in dark suits at central banks around the world know better. Probably not. They're likely just hanging on by threads and ego, hoping the entire derivative-driven, fiat money house of cards doesn't collapse entirely.

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As for investments in US stocks, one had better get out the butter, because they're toast. Advancing issues beat back decliners narrowly on Tuesday, 3468-2903. New lows widened their spread over new highs, 307-127.

Silver was marginally lower, oil and gold were higher, with crude up over $4 per barrel to close at $94.39, following what looked like a healthy pullback over the past few weeks. Now, it appears the relatively inexpensive crude that was expected for the holidays will not arrive at the pre-arranged time, though savvy motorists may be able to fill up prior to the expected holiday gouging to save a bit. After that, it's back to prices of $3.25+ for everybody.

It's becoming increasingly clear that we are in the early throes of a bear market, that a recession is unlikely to be avoided in 2008, and that whatever the Fed does to affect monetary policy isn't working. Further, banks and other quasi-financial institutions are in serious trouble. Somebody other than a Federal Reserve governor needs to speak to the overall risk involved to the US population and spell out exactly what lies ahead. Since the chances of that happening are stuck right between slim and none, the US citizenry is left to ponder the wisdom and righteousness of commentators such as James Cramer, Neil Cavuto and their witless ilk.

As others have said so eloquently before, "we're doomed!"

NYSE Volume 4,394,799,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,311,843,000

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