Thursday, January 22, 2009

Geithner Passes Committee; Housing, Unemployment Reach Records

Tim Geithner was approved by the Senate Finance Committee (guess we all can cheat on our taxes without worry now!) earlier today, as the process of confirmation as Treasury Secretary now passes to the full Senate. The AP wire lit up with the story at 12:37 pm EST, just about the same time the Dow crossed back above 8000 and started a mini-rally (by 2:15 pm, the Dow snuck past 8200).

Coincidence? I think not. Wall Street's fate is now tied to Geithner and how he and Ben Bernanke, over at the Fed, interact and respond to the ongoing obliteration of the nation's largest financial firms.

The euphoria over having one of their own (Geithner's resume is full of Wall Street, World Bank and NY Fed connections) with his hands nearly on the US Treasury quickly faded as those in the know remembered that the US government is carrying a debt load of close to $11 Trillion, so maybe Geithner won't be able to help in the long run. Shortly after 3:00 pm, the Dow was down 150 points again, and matters didn't improve much heading into the closing bell.

Dow 8,122.80, -105.30 (1.28%)
NASDAQ 1,465.49, -41.58 (2.76%)
S&P 500 827.50, -12.74 (1.52%)
NYSE Composite 5,171.74, -102.25 (1.94%)

On top of this is a growing concern over how stable the Federal Reserve is. Bearing in mind that the Fed is a private bank, albeit with deep tethers to the government, the Fed has been buying up more than its fair share of rotten assets and throwing around money like Bernie Madoff on an investor hunt.

With more and more economists and commentators openly saying that the large banking institutions are insolvent (something I and others have known and written about since 2007), reality is taking a heavy toll on investor sentiment. (I'll have much more about the Fed, the banks, the bailouts and our future in a blockbuster report tomorrow)

While the marketeers were making the most of their man being appointed to Treasury, an earnings miss and announced layoffs by Microsoft and more dismal data from the housing and employment sectors overhung the entire session, acting as the metaphorical ton of bricks weighing down all sectors.

New unemployment claims hit a level not reached since 1982, with 589,000 new applications for the week ended January 16.

New home construction and permits fell to record low levels in December, the Commerce Dept. reported.

Taken together, the news could not have been much worse, though investors are getting used to the endless stream of bad news coming out of government and private analyses. The poor earnings reports for the 4th quarter are a relatively recent add to the mix, but earnings season is getting into full swing. Google reports after the bell today. (Update: Google beat analyst expectations ($4.98), posting Non-GAAP EPS for the fourth quarter of 2008 of $5.10.)

Declining issues outweighed advancers by a wide margin, 4867-1560. New lows: 230. New highs: 12. Volume was consistent with the past few days, generally on the high side.

NYSE Volume 1,554,123,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,347,116,000

Oil finished with a 12 cent gain, closing at $43.67, though US inventories were reported 14% above last year's levels. Oil traded lower for much of the session before recovering into the close. Natural gas fell 9 cents, to $4.65. Gold gained $8.70, to $858.80; silver finished the day 4 cents to the good, at $11.37 the ounce.

A catalyst to propel the bulls has yet to emerge, though at this juncture, small bits, like Google's good report, may be enough to keep what little is left of investor confidence. Today's close on the Dow, however, was the second this week below 8149, the interim low (Dec. 1) following the November 20 collapse and bottom (7552).

The markets have traded sideways for two months running, so a betting man might be inclined to look for a change in dynamics. I make the prospects of closing below the Nov. 20 lows within a month at 70%, and a gain to 8750 in the same time frame almost nil.

No comments: