Monday, March 10, 2008

Bleakness, Misery and Despair

When will it end? When will investors find enough confidence and selected bargains to forge back into the market and begin buying stocks?

From the looks of things, it's going to be a while.

The Dow is off 17.12% from its high of 14164.53 close on October 9, 2007. According to widely-accepted guidelines, we're not even in a bear market. That, supposedly, occurs when an index is down 20%. Seems that the Dow is close enough and the charts ugly enough to call a bear a bear.

Dow 11,740.15 -153.54; NASDAQ 2,169.34 -43.15; S&P 500 1,273.37 -20.00; NYSE Composite 8,534.37 -141.90

Only four of thirty Dow stocks delivered gains on the day: Intel (INTC), IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT) and McDonald's (MCD). Financial stocks took the biggest hits. Citigroup (C) fell nearly 6%, losing another 1.22 to close at 19.69. On a split-adjusted basis, Citigroup has not closed below 20 since 1998.

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The impetus for today's decline was once again the financial sector. Fitch Ratings took negative ratings action on eight US-based banks on mortgage loan exposure. Washington Mutual, Citigroup, Wachovia and Bank of America were among those put under ratings watch or downgraded.

There were also various unfounded rumors concerning financial firms Lehman Brothers (impending layoffs) and Bear Stearns (liquidity problems).

What's becoming more and more apparent every day is that the economy is in severe crisis due largely to the collapse of the banking industry, which underpines the entire system. The largest and most influential banks in America are stressed to the breaking point due to mismanagement and a near-total lack of regulation. As a nation, we are about to be plunged into total economic darkness.

While some economists are worried about the country heading into a recession, more serious heads are wondering how we escape the complete destruction of our financial system.

Wall Street types are guessing whether the Fed will cut rates 50 or 75 basis points at the next FOMC meeting, March 18. It should be pointed out to those who still have faith in the Fed (a number, that, like the stock indices, has taken quite a recent fall), that the 2.25% reduction (from 5 1/4 to 3%) in the federal funds rate since September has done roughly nothing to ease the pressure on stocks, banks, the economy or improve the general condition.

The Fed can ease all the way down to zero if they like, but the inescapable conclusion is not about avoiding recession, it's about survival of the fittest in the face of mounting, inevitable bank failures. Once the banking system completely implodes, the misery will be widespread, bankruptcies will explode and today's 2% foreclosure rate will expand to something more like 10%, if not higher.

The future is very unpretty and I am loathe to be one of the few reporting the truth, but all evidence continues to indicate nothing but bleakness, misery and despair.

Declining issues overwhelmed advancers again, 5104-1228. New lows expanded to 839, while new highs contracted to a mere 52 stocks.

Oil rose $2.70 to an all-time closing high of $107.85 per barrel. Even precious metals investors were taking money off the table. Gold fell $2.40 to $971.80. Silver lost 47 points to $19.79.

NYSE Volume 4,196,839,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,137,205,750

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