Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Despite Freddie's Failure, Some Follow-Through for Stocks

Wednesday paled by comparison to the Fed-induced euphoria yesterday. Stocks were battered early on by news that Freddie Mac, the beleaguered mega mortgage aggregator, had fallen on some very lean times in the second quarter of 2008.

Freddie (FRE) posted its fourth consecutive loss and set aside more money for bad loans while announcing that its dividend may be cut by up to 80%. Shares fell sharply, as did those of Fannie Mae (FNM) and most financial sector stocks.

Financials, along with transportation and services were the only three of twelve sectors to register a loss on the day.

The news from Freddie sent another shock wave across the trading spectrum, however. With the GSEs - Fannie and Freddie - in deep trouble and near default, investors are peeling away from the market in droves. Volume has been limited of late, moreso than usual during the normally slow summer months.

Dow 11,656.07 +40.30; NASDAQ 2,378.37 +28.54; S&P 500 1,289.18 +4.30; NYSE Composite 8,501.44 +29.59

Nevertheless, all major indices showed gains on the day, and, at this point, the Wall Street bankers, brokers, moguls and magicians will take what they can get.

Advancing issues outperformed decliners, 3548-2716. Those pesky new lows ranged ahead of new highs, for roughly the 200th time out of the last 210 trading days (the better part of the last full year), 186-109.

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Crude oil slipped another 59 cents, closing at 118.58. The metals continued their precipitous decline, with gold off $3.10, to $883.00, and silver down 7 cents to $16.51.

The non-stop drops in the precious metals continue to flash signs of a long, coming recession, along the lines of the Japanese lost decade of the 1990s. There has been significant pricing pressure on commodities and products of all kinds of late - a sideshow of globalization - from clothes, to rents, to silver and gold coins. This is a very troubling trend, and yesterday's Fed decision to leave rates unchanged, plays right into the scenario.

More than inflation, the Fed fears deflation even more, because there is no generally-accepted remedy except liquidation, stagnation and financial pain. Falling prices are rarely mentioned in the financial lexicon because they are anathema to Keynesian economic principles.

Well, maybe the Austrian school would argue along with me that deflation is a mechanism for cleaning the system. But our financial system is so overweighted with safeguards and interjected with government interference that Austrian school conjecture would barely register on the minds of even the brightest Harvard or Chicago school of financial dunces.

Life is getting cheaper by the day and that's not a good sign for macro-economics.

NYSE Volume 1,200,198,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,262,848,000

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