Thursday, November 20, 2008

America 40-60% Off; Detroit's Real Problem

Congressional leaders said today that there would be no bailout money for Detroit's Big Three automakers - Ford, GM and Chrysler - until the companies offer some kind of business plan outlining how they would use the money to make their businesses more competitive. Auto executives have been in Washington the past two days begging for $25 billion in immediate funding.

At long last, congress has come up with an idea that makes sense: require companies to submit detailed spending plans before granting or loaning them massive amounts of money. The move, largely the idea of congressional Democrats, may be more of a stall than anything else, keeping the bailout ball in the air until President-Elect Obama and a fresh congress are put officially in charge come January. As it now stands, both houses of congress plan to go into recess for the Thanksgiving holiday this Friday and return on December 2. (Yes, congress gets a week off for Thanksgiving.)

Even if that is the case, it's certainly better than just handing over $25 billion to another bunch of whining corporate executives who are now begging the government to help them out of a tight spot. Truth is a troublesome thing, but the auto industry has been in deep trouble for years. US manufacturers kept insisting on building cars that guzzled gas, or that most Americans could not afford. Producing a low-priced economical car was never in the plans of any Detroit-based automaker as they misjudged the market completely.

The reason Ford, GM and Chrysler need cash from taxpayers is simple: American automobiles are too expensive. Everything in America is now 40-60% off or will soon be. Stocks, real estate, food, clothing, almost everything is dropping in price or soon will be forced lower for the simple reason that people will not buy because they don't have the money. Simple supply and demand economics will change life in America and deflate prices back to 1970s levels in pretty short order, maybe two to three years.

So, the dynamic for the next five years for smart entrepreneurs and business operatives should include lower production costs, fixed costs and labor costs resulting in products which will produce profit margins at lower price points. Detroit, pay attention.

In response to congress telling the auto CEOs to basically take a hike, investors panicked once again, supposedly on the belief that what the CEOs have been saying may be true, that if they didn't get their $25 billion pound of flesh from the US taxpayer immediately, that the economy would sink into a grave depression. Too bad. More people lost more money today on false assumptions. America, and Detroit, and the hundreds of thousands of auto workers will muddle through until January. Don't worry, be happy. You may be able to buy that Cadillac for about $20,000 less next year, or maybe next month.

Stocks went a long way toward finding a bottom on Thursday. In addition to the auto executives getting the stiff job by congress, unemployment figures released prior to the market open were shocking. For the week ended 11/15, there were 542,000 new unemployment claims. Nobody should be shocked, however. The truly large layoffs haven't even begun. By January, we're likely to see 650,000 new claims in a given week.

In any case, by the end of the day, the Dow took another major one-day loss. On a percentage basis, it was the smallest of the major indices.

Dow 7,553.56 -443.72 (5.27%); NASDAQ 1,316.12 -70.30 (5.07%) S&P 500 752.45 -54.13 (6.71%); NYSE Composite 4,651.26 -360.73 (7.20%)

Market internals were roughly as bad or worse than yesterday's horrific numbers. Declining issues outnumbered advancers, 5940-760. New lows reached a truly historic number of 2956 on the session. Interestingly, new highs were up again, to 47 today, from 22 yesterday. This is a phenomenon to which one should pay attention. The new highs are likely being made by companies that were battered in 2007 and are now in the process of recovery. This could provide somewhat of a clue to where stocks will find a real bottom. We're certainly getting closer to it, no matter what.

NYSE Volume 2,222,210,000
NASDAQ Volume 3,175,616,000

Volume was extremely high, indicating the level of panic in the markets. It's a shame, really. All of these people selling now could have done so months ago. Now they've lost all hope, usually a sign of a bottoming out or the bottom falling out. If it's the latter, forget 6500-7200 which I mentioned as the bottom yesterday. We'd more likely be looking at 3000.

Commodities were mixed again. Oil fell by more than 8% as slack demand continues to drive prices down. Crude for January delivery fell $4.45, to $49.65. Gold bugs see opportunity in the yellow metal, driving the price up $12.70, to $748.70 an ounce. Silver fell again, losing 29 cents to $9.05. The metals, in comparison to other commodities, are probably 20-25% overvalued still.

I leave you today with a string of two-worded advisories: Remain calm; don't panic; spend frugally; save daily; promote discounts.

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