Friday, January 30, 2009

January Barometer Predicts Down Year

For all of the optimism associated with a 3-or-4-day winning streak (depending on the index) and a big upside day on Wednesday, it may come as somewhat of a surprise to some that the major US equity indices all ended the week with losses.

The widely-watched Dow Jones Industrial Average tacked on more losses to Thursday's massive beat-down in Friday's one-sided trade, sending the index into negative ground, down 77 points for the week. The NASDAQ fared better, down less than a point since last Friday. The S&P 500 gave back 6 points, while the NYSE Composite finished higher by a slim 0.28 points.

Were the markets stabilizing? Hardly. Investors not only had to navigate through a slew of 4th quarter and full year 2008 earnings reports, but the stew of demoralizing economic reports continued in deluge fashion. There were some hopeful signs - like the government's initial estimate of 4th quarter '08 GDP posting a decline of 3.8% (better than estimates) - but not enough to keep serious money on the sidelines or increasingly heading toward bonds and precious metals.

Dow 8,000.86, -148.15 (1.82%)
NASDAQ 1,476.42, -31.42 (2.08%)
S&P 500 825.88, -19.26 (2.28%)
NYSE Composite 5,195.83, -105.07 (1.98%)

Also, the averages are not showing any signs of making upside progress. Since the fallout of November 20, they have recovered slightly, but mostly went sideways.

This being the final trading day of January, it should come as no comfort that the January Barometer is clearly indicating a down year for stocks in 2009, with all major indices closing the month anywhere from 7 to 9% lower than they had begun. Based on the adage "as goes January, so goes the year," the January Barometer has as solid a track record as any simple indicator, with accuracy in the range of upwards of 80%, depending on which sources are cited.

The day's internals were as unappealing as the headline numbers. Declining issues outflanked advancers, 4558-1903. There were more new lows than new highs, 253-12. This is the most troubling of all indicators, due entirely to its persistence. There have been only a handful of days where this condition did not persist - i.e., more new lows than highs in the daily data - since I have been tracking it since October 31, 2007. This is a 15-month, one-sided trend that has always declared general direction.

Of course, this was the natural conclusion of a 54 or 58-week bull market from 2003-2007 - one of the longest in history - built mostly on bad investments, incompetent fiscal policy, absence of regulations and general thievery. That's why the correction has been so severe. The foundation of the previous bull was built on sand.

Volume was as strong on Friday as it was on Tuesday's 200-point Dow rally, which also is not encouraging for stocks. Not to worry, the same kind of serious correction is occurring around the globe.

NYSE Volume 1,500,684,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,108,279,000

Commodities were the place to be. Crude oil was up 24 cents, to $41.68, though natural gas futures fell to $4.39, an obviator of oversupply. Gold zipped ahead $21.90, to $928.40, a multi-week high. Silver advanced 42 cents, to $12.57, making silver no longer a bargain and possibly short-term oversold, though it may be risky to rest on that assumption.

Employment and housing continue to be the main trouble spots in the economy, and those areas are likely to continue to deteriorate until there's some real relief for the middle class in government policy, namely, immediate tax relief via relaxed withholding, though our pals in Washington don't seem to like that idea. Since asking for a government wage and spending freeze would likely be too much, I won't bother to ask for actual spending cuts. The so-called "leaders" of our age are proving to be among the most incompetent bunch in history (unless you buy the conspiracy side of the argument for "big government"), unable to manage affairs of state effectively.

The world will wait while Washington winces, whines and wails. That's unfortunate because people must move on towards an improved existence. It is the history of civilization and should not be short-circuited by failures of financial creations.

To replace the broken models of the past, new ideas must be developed .

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