Monday, March 16, 2009

Fear Factor: AIG, Cuomo, Obama Kill Rally

After jawboning the economy higher last week with announcements from Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan CEOs that their respective banking enterprises were making money, Tim Geithner's appearance on the Charlie Rose show and Sunday's 60 Minutes interview with Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, the greed and avarice that is still alive and well on Wall Street finally put an end to the madness on Monday.

Amid reports that failed insurance black hole AIG had been using government bailout monies to make payments to foreign and American financial institutions - in the form of credit default swaps payouts and other payments - and also planned to pay out over $1.2 billion in bonuses, first the President, and later, NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued stern statements that AIG must come clean and stop paying bonuses with taxpayer money.

Cuomo demanded a list of names of AIG bonus recipients. The AG threatened to issue subpoenas for the names if he was not in receipt of the list by the close of trading (4:00 pm).

President Obama ordered Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to use "every single legal avenue" available to block the bonuses.

While all of this was swirling through the news wires and trading desks, stocks (except for the NASDAQ, which was up only briefly) were well on their way to a 5th straight day of gains. The plan, or so it seemed, was to make outsize profits in call options on a wide variety of stocks and indices. With options expiring on Friday, today and Tuesday, appeared to be prime times to cash in on the recent rally.

Case in point on the options front was the trade in JP Morgan, which was up as high as 25.27 today (up 1.52), but finished with a 0.66 loss, at 23.09. Trading in the March 24 and 25 options was a wild ride. Ditto General Electric, which popped up over 10.00, but closed up just 0.04 at 9.66.

All of that changed shortly before 2:00 pm, when the Dow reached its high of the day at 7392, nearly a 750 point rise in less than five days. From there, it was straight down as Wall Street and savvy investors figured that the jig was up on AIG and the major banking scam that makes Bernie Madoff look like a rank amateur.

As I've said countless times on this blog, AIG is a black hole, with no money to pay off TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS COVERING NEAR-WORTHLESS SECURITIZED DEBT.

Wall Street's unending greed has finally ignited a public backlash to which the politicians are responding. This monumental struggle - between the bandits (Wall St.) and the benefactors (Washington) - is more than likely to get much worse before it gets better, culminating not just in subpoenas, but in trials, convictions and hopefully, jail time for many of the CEOs still running the defaulted banks.

Make no doubt about it, this is the beginning of the end. The final phase of the market meltdown begins today. There has not yet been a final capitulation, but it is sure to come, probably before the end of summer, if not sooner.

By the end of the session, stocks had given up all of their gains, except on the NYSE Composite, which finished marginally higher. As happens so often during bear market rallies, complacent bulls were mauled today by the most ferocious bears the market has ever experienced. Anyone who did not get out today could greet tomorrow's opening with a huge gap down at the open, completely shut out of profits. By Monday of next week - if not sooner - the Dow should almost certainly be trading below 7000 again.

One week of manufactured "happy news" cannot replace months of honestly bad reports. Mostly ignored were today's economic reports: The New York State Empire Manufacturing Index for March fell to its lowest level ever, at -38.2. Capacity utilization continued to decline, from 71.9% in January to 70.9% in February. Industrial production took another hit last month, falling 1.4%.

Dow 7,216.97, -7.01 (0.10%)
Nasdaq 1,404.02, -27.48 (1.92%)
S&P 500 753.89, -2.66 (0.35%)
NYSE Composite 4,728.91, +7.91 (0.17%)

Market internals finished in line with the turmoil. Advancing issues outpaced declining ones, by the slightest of margins, 3476-3073. New lows were again subdued in number, but held their edge over new highs, 101-14.

Volume was roughly the same as last week's levels, indicating that the rally may have more gas in the tank, or that the buying of stocks was replaced by selling late in the day.

NYSE Volume 1,898,380,000
Nasdaq Volume 2,159,946,000

Oil finished up just a nickel, at $46.30. The precious metals were both losers, with gold off $8.10, to $922.00 and silver down 33 cents, to $12.89.

Tomorrow morning should be fascinating, with February PPI announced prior to the open - at 8:30 am - along with February figures for New Home Sales and Building Permits.

1 comment:

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