Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Market Love From Fed, Goldman, Lehman

Investors were treated to an unusually heavy dose of good news today, as two investment banks Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, reported better than expected earnings and the Fed cut the federal funds rate by 3/4s of a percent, to 2.25, the lowest rate since December, 2004.

Wall Street, desperate for short-term gains, rode stocks higher at the open and maintained a buying posture throughout the session. Markets dove shortly after the Fed announcement in apparent dissent that the Fed didn't cut rates a full point, but that was quickly overcome by more buying and some expected short covering, which likely contributed to much of the day's gains.

Dow 12,392.66 +420.41; NASDAQ 2,268.26 +91.25; S&P 500 1,330.74 +54.14; NYSE Composite 8,826.44 +337.06

What the market chose to ignore were a pair of pre-open economic reports which portrayed the economy in a much more sober and realistic vein.

Housing starts in the U.S. slumped in February and building permits fell to the lowest level in more than 16 years. The PPI (Producer Price Index) rose another 0.3% in February, and core PPI - which excludes food and energy - rose an unprecedented 0.5%, signaling that inflationary pressures from rising energy prices have infected the rest of the economic landscape.

Contributing to the rampant inflation is the Fed itself, by its de facto devaluation of the currency through a cumulative 3% cut in the federal funds rate in just the last six months.

What the Fed should have fully understood in gauging their various actions, was that inflation will eventually lead to lower demand, precipitating and aggravating a deflationary cycle that is largely manifested in the housing crash.

Unfortunately, the Fed is a very active political participant, dead set on keeping the economy and the stock markets afloat near term at all costs. Their actions, when viewed in retrospect, will surely be seen to be largely reckless and short-sighted. Long term, they are causing more distortions and damage in markets than acting as a stabilizing force, weakening their own influence.

Because of yesterday's dramatic salvation of Bear Stearns dominating the news, some other key economic reports were largely ignored.

On Monday, the NY Empire State Index fell to -22.2 in March, a record low. Industrial production fell 0.5%, while capacity utilization for February fell 0.6% to 80.9%.

Separate or together, those are not rosy figures.

Tuesday's outsize gains are likely to be short-lived. A significant resistance level exists at Dow 12,450, and the market nearly met that today. Obviously, the nature of the Fed's recent actions speaks to the severity of the credit crisis and it's unlikely that just one large investment bank failure is the end of it.

Lehman Brothers (LEH 44.88, +13.13), Bear Stearns (BSC 6.38, +1.57), Fannie Mae (FNM 28.18, +5.97) and Countrywide (CFC 5.07, +0.97) posted their record one day percentage gains. That's particularly interesting because two of the companies - Bear Stearns and Countrywide - have already lost more than 95% of their value and are both in the midst of takeovers.

As expected, advancing issues soared past decliners, 5289-1084. New lows, however, continued to dominate new highs, 345-62.

While the Fed may be helping out its banking buddies with lower interest rates, don't expect any relief at the gas pump. Oil soared another $3.74 to $109.42 on the NY Merc. Gold rose another $1.70 to $1004.30. Silver continued to pare back recent gains, falling 34 cents to $19.96.

Delta Airlines offered 30,000 buyouts to current employees.

NYSE Volume 5,458,751,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,351,646,250

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