Friday, August 8, 2008

And Away We Go...

So used to say the "Great One", Jackie Gleason, at the start of his weekly variety show in the heyday of television. It's almost as though the ghost of Gleason has brought back the June Taylor dancers and the kaleidoscope dance routines to Wall Street, such is the gaiety at the brokerages these days.

With the wild gyrations - up one day, down the next, and so on - the brokers are booking commissions like mad. Even though volume has been a little off, there are still plenty of players, so the guys who get paid by the trade - even the electronic ones - have got to be rolling in some pretty deep grass right now.

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Volatility being one of the things serious old school investors seek to avoid, a lot of stodgy fund money is sitting around doing nothing while the whiz kids in the startups and hedge funds are wheeling and dealing like mad. The velocity of trading is fueling much of the high and low swings these days, as much as the decline in oil, the mortgage mess and general economic uncertainty.

So, the major indices went ballistic on Friday, even though Fannie Mae came through with a monstrous loss ($2.3 billion), productivity of US workers was not what was expected in the second quarter, coming in at an anemic 2.2%.

The outsize gains were tied largely to improvement of the US dollar against major currencies and an associated drop in the price of oil.

Dow 11,734.32 +302.89; NASDAQ 2,414.10 +58.37; S&P 500 1,296.31 +30.25; NYSE Composite 8,460.32 +121.92

Advancing issues far outweighed decliners, 4574-1711. New lows, however, continued their year-long domination of new highs, 226-131.

In commodity trading, crude oil took another major tumble, losing $4.82, to close at $115.20, a price almost everyone can appreciate. The metals continued to freefall, with gold losing another $13.10, to $864.80. Silver lost a massive 93 cents, dropping to $15.33 the ounce.

While all eyes are fixated on the price of oil, the real story may still be in the metals. Gold's close today is just about $12 ahead of the early May lows, and could be putting in a double bottom, but my hunch is that speculators and institutions in need of cash are tossing in their chips and taking whatever profits are available - and they're probably sizable, with gold nearly quadrupling since 2002.

Silver, meanwhile, has been harder hit, dropping to a point just pennies above where it began the year. The metals are presaging a coming economic slump and general price malaise which will probably decimate retailers in December.

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On the other hand, with politics so prominent in everything these days, could we not have predicted that oil and gas prices would fall into a more palatable range prior to the election? Probably. Big oil is tied to Republican candidates, and they're in trouble because of the high prices, so oil is gratuitously rolling back a bit, at least until November 4.

As for gas, the general rule of thumb is that gas prices drop about 2 1/2 cents for every $1 fall in the price of crude. Well, when oil hit $147, gas jumped to $4.14. Today, oil is at $115, but gas is still $3.85 according to the Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Our mathematical formula tells us, however, that the price of a gallon of petrol should be down 80 cents, not a mere 29. The national average should be right down around $3.24. It's about 60 cents too high. What's up with that?

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