Monday, March 30, 2009

GM, Chrysler Kaput. Is This News to Anybody?

Remarkably, the monstrous sell-off to begin what surely will be a testy week for investors, had as its catalyst an announcement by the federal government that the plans submitted by GM and Chrysler were inadequate in terms of qualifying for further federal assistance.

Remarkable in that the two companies have shown limited ability to comprehend the depth of their own problems, let alone the issues facing the entire global economy or the dictates which have been nothing if not clear from the Obama administration. Both companies have already received government assistance in the billions of dollars, have had ample time to devise realistic plans for their futures, and, even then, are asking for billions more.

Anyone with half a brain still functioning who had seen snippets of their plans - especially that of GM - could have seen with one eye closed that their projections were completely out of line with reality. GM, for instance, based many of its assumptions on selling 14 million vehicles in 2010, when they didn't even crack the 9 million mark in 2008. As far as Chrysler is concerned, their problems should not be an issue of national importance. They certainly are not too big to failnor are they worthy of any kind of public assistance, since they are a private company 80% owned by equity investors, Cerberus Capital, which has at its head, former Treasury Secretary John Snow and long ago decided to put Bob Nardelli in charge of Chrysler, the same Bob Nardelli who oversaw, as CEO, the near-destruction of Home Depot (HD) . Cerberus has already shed itself of Daimler, the profitable German subsidiary, and plans to partner with Italian automaker Fiat, a company in the throes of its own meltdown.

If the managers at Fiat have any sense, they'll steer themselves away from this private group of corporate bunglers, as should the government and taxpayers. And if anyone thinks that CEO Rick Waggoner, who submitted his resignation Monday at the behest of the White House, should be the beneficiary of any sympathy, bear in mind that under Waggoner's leadership, GM lost nearly $100 billion dollars and continued to build cars, trucks, vans and SUVs that guzzle gas and have limited appeal as its market share shrank and its stock price cratered.

These two bankrupt automakers, like the corrupt, insolvent, worthless national banks, should be allowed to do what all companies which have ceased to be competitive do: fail, file bankruptcy and either liquidate or reorganize. There's no good cause to keep them functioning any longer even though the damage to the economy would be paramount. The UAW would see 180,000 workers furloughed, pensioners could lose most of their future benefits and bondholders would be forced to take 10% or less on their dollars.

Life gets very tough when you don't have a backstop to bail you out, but this fiasco is just a furtherance of the insane, contradictory polices emanating from the Capitol and White House. The government has become such a major intermediary into business and Wall Street that their refusal to dole out more corporate welfare to companies that don't get it, causes a stock market rout and a resumption of the fear factor which has gripped the country for months, but took a few weeks in abeyance during the recent bear market rally.

Today's losses sent every index and sector into a tailspin which actually started on Friday of last week and probably won't end until the market is back below 7000 and looking to retest the March 9 multi-year lows.

Looking at the markets realistically, the bounce off the lows was so rapid and mostly unwarranted that an equally-severe snapback should have been expected. Despite the closing numbers, stocks were down even more in late afternoon trading before a mini-rally and short-covering brought all of the indices off their lows of the day.

Bulls can take some heart in the idea that the markets didn't completely fall off a cliff, and that volume was not nearly as high as last week's, though it points up the conclusion of more savvy investors that there are still a good number of players out there waiting to be skinned by the bears in coming days and weeks.

According to Investors Intelligence's Weekly Sentiment Poll bearish sentiment at the market lows earlier in the month were not even 50%, checking in at 47.2% at the bottom, hardly an indication of a market bottom. Sentiment would have to be closer to 80%, signaling capitulation, a condition to which today may have put us closer. It now seems almost certain that before the end of summer the market will finally roll over and die, though a few more trillion of investor dollars will have to be vaporized before the message finally becomes clear to the massive numbers of ill-informed investors which populate all income levels, from novice to wizened veteran.

The US economy is wrecked beyond simple recession-like repair, our banking system at the top is dysfunctional (though many smaller local and regional banks are healthy and poised to grow), unemployment will continue to rise well past 10%, states and municipalities are broke, consumers tapped out, homeowners hunkered down against high taxes and utility bills and the federal government running out of excuses as fast as they concoct rescues.

We are in a world of hurt and if you don't recognize all of the patterns, you deserve to lose everything. It's that stark and simple.

Dow 7,522.02, -254.16 (3.27%)
NASDAQ 1,501.80, -43.40 (2.81%)
S&P 500 787.53, -28.41 (3.48%)
NYSE Composite 4,899.05, -197.59 (3.88%)

On the day, market internals were miserable and pointing towards even worse conditions. Declining issues overwhelmed advancers, 5373-1163, and while that's nearly a 5-1 ratio, it was closer to 8-1 midday, and will almost certainly approach those levels at least a couple of times in coming days and weeks. Stocks reaching new 52-week lows - moderated by the huge number of companies which had already collapsed by this time last year - numbered 109, as compared to the feeble 14 new highs. As stated above, volume was off a bit from last week's strong levels.

NYSE Volume 1,511,506,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,028,632,000

Commodities witnessed a resumption of the deflation trade, with crude oil taking a big hit, down $3.97, to $48.41. Gold lost $7.60, closing at $917.70. Silver shed 23 cents, to $13.03. Almost every other major commodity was traded lower, except natural gas, which finished unchanged at the depressed price of $3.80/mmbtu.

Other financial news was similarly dire. Washington Mutual (WaMu) and its key executives are the subject of a massive class action lawsuit, home foreclosures were sharply higher in February and JP Morgan Chase will refund over $4 million to credit card holders who began paying $10/per month in additional fees in January. The deal was struck under pressure from NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

As the week progresses, more economic reports will be revealed, including home prices, consumer confidence, auto and truck sales, private sector employment, all leading up to Friday's non-farm payroll report for March and new unemployment statistics.

Hold onto your hats, but sell your stocks if you played and have any gains over the past few weeks.

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