Thursday, April 16, 2009

NASDAQ Leads Broad Rally

Excuse me for being blunt, but this rally - now stretching through its sixth straight week without a break - is built on the same thing as the election of Barack Obama: hope.

And so far, the election has turned out to be nothing but a disgrace. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans made their way to 500-800 "tea parties" across the country to express their dislike for government policies which will almost surely destroy the country. Today, stocks took a little while to get started, but eventually put on a demonstration of purely idiodic exuberant behavior, not seen since the heady days of 1999, in the middle of the dotcom boom (which months later went bust).

Recent trading activity gives credence to the words of the great showman, P.T. Barnum, who correctly stated that there was a sucker born every minute. Mr. Barmun would no doubt revel in the hijinks of the current market, as investors buy in at stocks' highs, hoping to catch the wave. The reality is that these froth-finders will end up as abject bag-holders. And who can fault anyone who sees fit to remain on the sidelines in this overheated environment? Just a month ago, stocks hit 12-year lows. Today, the major averages have rebounded more than 30%. To consider the stock market unsafe in the near term is to miss the "rally", but getting in now would actually be the height of foolishness.

What we are witnessing is tantamount to making excuses for murder and allowing the criminals to not only walk away free men, but to have full use of their guns as well. Stocks are reporting horrible numbers, like Gannett, which reported a 60% decline in quarterly profit from a year ago, yet was traded higher on the day.

Ditto JP Morgan (JPM), Nokia (NOK) - profits off nearly 90%, yet the stock was up 10% today - and various smaller companies which recorded steep profit declines which miraculously beat lowered expectations and were glibly bought up by overzealous investors seeking to recoup losses from the second half of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. Good luck to them.

The close on the NASDAQ today was the highest since November 5, 2008. It is not a significant number. The NASDAQ could still go higher without signaling a true bull market. The bear persists. despite that, this rally not only has legs, it has, as of today, sprouted wings and taken flight.

Dow 8,125.43, +95.81 (1.19%)
NASDAQ 1,670.44, +43.64 (2.68%)
S&P 500 865.30, +13.24 (1.55%)
NYSE Composite 5,454.27, +69.30 (1.29%)

Advancers trounced decliners, 4907-1639, however, the key metric which has held true throughout the decline from October 2007, new highs-lows, retained its bias toward new lows, 90-42. While the gap has narrowed significantly and the number of daily new highs continues to improve, the bias is still negative. When and if this rolls over is the big question. We are reaching points at which many stocks had hit 52-week lows a year ago, so some of the new highs are more than likely nothing more than bounces off the bottoms. Still, this persistent indicator remains the strongest evidence that the markets are in a false recovery which will eventually roll over and die.

Volume was very high, owing to the expiration of options on Friday.

NYSE Volume 1,604,455,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,376,984,000

Commodities were mixed. Oil for May delivery - a new contract - gained 73 cents, closing at $49.98. Gold continued its slow deterioration, dropping another $13.70, to $879.80. Silver also was hammered lower, losing 55 cents, to $12.26. The metals are exhibiting tell-tale deflation, while oil also struggles to gain ground. Usually, as spring commences, oil shows more pricing power, though the signs of slack demand and oversupply are everywhere and the price of crude could easily see mid-40s or lower as the global recession continues.

Naturally, there is a good deal of euphoria about the rebound in stocks, seen as a leading indicator that the bottom has been found and the recession will soon be over. Not that I am routinely pessimistic, I just read the tea leaves differently and consider the entire public sector to be horribly corrupt, taking its cue from the unapologetic banking firms of Wall Street, with the mainstream media in tow. There's been an overabundance of hype about banks suddenly being solvent and prosperous, while just six months ago these same outfits were facing destruction and bankruptcy and the global economy on the verge of implosion.

Color me skeptical, but I just don't see how one can have it both ways. Either the banks were badly damaged, especially the largest ones, or the entire episode in which the government threw trillions of dollars of taxpayer money at the problem was a complete scam. More than likely, banks are now "solvent" due to the recent easing of accounting rules, which did away with mark-to-market and adopted mark-to-model, which is allowing the banks to mark toxic assets at 98 cents on the dollar rather the the 30 to 40 cents (mark to market) they are worth in the real world.

After the close, Google (GOOG) beat analyst estimates, and the stock took off in after hours trading, up more than 20 points (5.35%). With that as a backstop, expect stocks to soar again on Friday. They have exploded to near-term highs with little resistance ahead.

On the other hand, Foreclosure filings jumped 24%, new home construction fell 11%, jobless claims were down in the most recent week (though analysts failed to report that last week included Good Friday, a half day or holiday for many), and the nation's second-largest mall operator - General Growth Properties - filed for bankruptcy protection, as the firm was unable to roll over debt.

All's well... well, maybe.

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