Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Green Shoots' Shot Down

For weeks we've been hearing about how the economy is improving, though the data released hardly supported the theory.

Many economic numbers were slightly better than anticipated, and earnings for many companies beat watered-down expectations, but overall, evidence that the economy was actually on the mend was scant.

Today's release of retail sales figures for April sent investors scurrying to take profits and close down option positions en masse. Retail sales were off 0.4%, when expectations were a decline of just 0.2%. March figures were also revised lower. As those numbers hit the street prior to the market's opening, selling commenced right from the opening bell and didn't ease up much all day.

Separately, a report from Realty-Trac showed foreclosures hitting yet another record in April.

Dow 8,284.89, -184.22 (2.18%)
NASDAQ 1,664.19, -51.73 (3.01%)
S&P 500 883.92. -24.43 (2.69%)
NYSE Composite 5,666.47, -192.67 (3.29%)

The broad-based decline was confirmed by market internals. Decliners were handily ahead of advancing issues, 5602-936. The 6-1 ratio was the worst since the markets were bottoming out in early March. The steadfast new lows - new highs ratio remained stubbornly tilted downward, with 76 new lows to a mere 16 new highs, also a low number of new highs not evidenced since March. Volume was not fantastic, but solid and mostly on the sell side.

NYSE Volume 1,766,071,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,404,441,000

Crude oil fell 23 cents, to close at $57.79. Gold fluctuated, eventually finishing $2.00 higher, at $925.90. Silver took a breather after a more than $1.00 week-long run up, losing 20 cents, to $14.02.

The S&P fell for the third straight session, the longest such streak since a five-day losing skein February 24 - March 3. The consecutive declines are a strong signal of general weakness, as investors and working people struggle for clarity.

Just a week after the much-ballyhooed bank "stress tests" the markets seem to have soured, as rosy predictions of a quick turnaround have given way to more disciplined and rigorous outlooks that see the USA struggling for years to come. Government efforts to conceal bank losses have not be lost on average Americans, who feel short-changed, cheated and lied to by bankers and the political elite.

Investing over the past two months time has been an effort in near-total delusion. The US economy cannot be seen as improving when the Federal Reserve is monetizing Treasury debt as the federal government piles up mountains of unpayable notes overwhelming the public. Foreign investors have seriously curtailed Treasury purchases, especially China.

To make matters worse, the Obama administration seems hell-bent on socializing industry and demolishing what little is left of American entrepreneurism with odious taxes, regulations and heavy-handed wealth redistribution measures. Without a clear reversal of policy - from tax and spend to fiscal austerity - from government at all levels, the American public will continue to lose faith in government's promise to repair the private sector. Further Keynesian tinkering by the Fed and Treasury will only result in a deeper and longer lasting depression.

Make no doubt about it. We entered dangerous waters in 2007 and conditions have only worsened since. Government efforts to revive the economy with the magic bullet of increasing money supply and handouts have thus far only made the situation worse. Beware the summer months, but be even more attuned to the period between August and October. If real progress has not been made by then, expect living conditions in many US cities to deteriorate to near-third world status.

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