Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mark-to-Market Mark Up

Stocks made it three in a row for the Bulls, with impressive gains on all major indices, thanks to some benign economic data, a downgrade of GE's credit rating (already priced in) and a promise from the Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to review and revise mark-to-market rules within three weeks.

Largely ignored was the rampaging unemployment ravaging US businesses, which saw another 654,000 new unemployment claims and a record of 5.3 million now receiving benefits.

Retail sales for February were down just 0.1%, which was less than expected. January retail sales were revised higher, to a 1.8% gain, from the previous read of +1.0%. Business inventories continue to decline as companies shed excesses, down 1.1% in January, a figure likely to be revised lower next month.

General Electric's (GE) credit rating was dropped by Standard & Poors to AA from AAA, though that piece of news was widely expected and already priced into the stock price. GE was one of the best gainers of the day for Dow stocks, up 1.08, to 9.57, a gain of more than 112%. Overall, 28 of 30 Dow components priced higher on the day. The only losses were in Boeing (BA) and Microsoft (MSFT).

A panel of representatives in the House urged the FASB to issue new guidance on mark-to market accounting for financial institutions. The rule is largely regarded as undervaluing bank assets such as mortgage-backed-securities, which have contributed greatly to the economic malaise of the past six months.

Two major resistance points were exceeded by today's upswing: the Dow crossed over the 7000 mark and - perhaps more importantly - the S&P passed 730. As a bonus, the NASDAQ flew by 1400 for the first time in two weeks.

The day's gains - indeed, the gains from Tuesday and Wednesday also - were aided by furious short-covering as investors scramble out of positions predicated on stocks falling rather than rising. All of these elements contributed to an unstoppable rally that sent stocks of all stripes soaring.

Dow 7,170.06, +239.66 (3.46%)
NASDAQ 1,426.10, +54.46 (3.97%)
S&P 500 750.74, +29.38 (4.07%)
NYSE Composite 4,684.99, +179.61 (3.99%

Market internals affirmed the upside move. Gainers beat losers by a huge margin of moer than 5-1, 5550-1015. New highs vs. new lows remained muted, with the lows ahead 220-16. Volume was very strong again as investors made sure not to miss out on the opportunity for short-term gains.

NYSE Volume 1,804,937,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,456,664,000

Commodities participated in the rally as well, especially oil, which gained $4.70, to $47.03. Gold was up $13.10, to $923.80. Silver added 14 cents to $12.94. Most other commodities were higher, including food stocks which continued to gain.

Of the companies showing the best gains were Bank of America (BAC), the big winner on the day, up 0.92, to 5.85, an 18% rise. JP Morgan Chase (JPM) also was up sharply, gaining 2.80, to 23.20. Both Jamie Daimon and Ken Lewis, CEOs of JPM and BofA, respectively, issued memos that their businesses were profitable during January and February. This seemed to be an orchestrated round of PR by the banks, fast on the heels of Vikram Pandit's assertion that Citigroup (C) was making money in the first two months of 2009. Health care and pharmaceuticals were also higher. Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) both posted gains of more than 9.5%.

The market has responded to its formerly-oversold condition with considerable aplomb. The news flow, especially the interventionary advice offered by the congressional panel on accounting rules, has been decidedly favorable this week and there aren't any caution signs on the road ahead. As previously stated, this bounce could turn into an outright boom, though how long it will last is surely an unknown.

The best bet is to jump in and use tight stops on the downside in the event Wall Street wakes up from this daydream. No true bottom has been put in at this juncture and the market is near overbought conditions. In just three days, the Dow has risen an astonishing 623 points. These sharp moves are always features confined to bear markets and are not at all unusual. Knowing when to get out of the way of the bears is the key to keeping any profits. The swings can be gut-wrenching.

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