Friday, May 15, 2009

Slow Death Torture for Investors

Another down day for stocks on Friday ends just the the first negative week in the last 10, but it's the beginning of a trend which investors would be prescient to note. Stocks, in the past 10 weeks, went from falling off a cliff to overvalued. They are reverting to something resembling fair value in an orderly fashion, though nobody really has a grip on what "fair value" really means today.

In more sensible times, fair value may have been something along the lines of a stock which returns a 4-5% dividend, a price-earnings ratio of anywhere from 6-12 and a reasonably good chance at appreciating in value over time. These, however, are anything but sensible times. The US economy is on its deathbed, being kept on life support by fresh injections of capital, government entitlements (welfare, social security, disability benefits, government and military pensions, unemployment insurance, etc.) and a steady infusion of fresh capital from the Federal Reserve.

There is very little left of the private sector, and even less opportunity for new business ventures. Taxes and regulations have crowded out innovation, and that condition will only worsen as the current crop of legislators in Washington work to codify everything from health care to working conditions in every business with more than five employees. More than half of the country's GDP is a product of government spending, much of it on borrowed money. And the money being borrowed is probably not going to be paid back.

As for the social programs - Social Security and Medicare - if you are under 50 years of age, you might as well kiss that money you contribute every week goodbye, because there is absolutely no way on earth that the government will be able to fulfill those obligations. As the economy shrinks, less tax revenue will be collected and these programs will be cut back severely. America is being purposely devolved into a third-world nation, complete with unpayable debts, widespread poverty and a gap between rich and poor wider than the Grand Canyon.

For those of you still investing in corporate America via stocks or mutual funds, we wish you only the best of luck. You would be better served playing the horses or betting on sporting events. At least there you have a fighting chance. Once the summer is over and it becomes clear that the economy is mired in a semi-permanent state of stagnation, the stock market will fall like dandruff from a bum's locks. After the slow decline back to the 6500 level on the Dow, the plunge to below 5000 will be swift and fatal.

Some companies will survive, but a wave of bankruptcies will make the current hilarity of GM and Chrysler look like a summertime picnic.

Dow 8,268.64, -62.68 (0.75%)
NASDAQ 1,680.14, -9.07 (0.54%)
S&P 500 882.88, -10.19 (1.14%)
NYSE Composite 5,662.89, -70.56 (1.23%)

On Friday, declining issues outnumbered advancing ones, 5017-2392. New lows: 65; New highs: 16. Volume was poor. Everybody wants to hold here, though some are taking profits. Faith in the markets is a very dangerous virtue.

NYSE Volume 1,480,708,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,214,244,000

Finally, the market is beginning to reawaken to the new reality of slack demand. Oil fell $2.28, to $56.34, which is still probably $10-20 higher than what the real price should be. Gold advanced again, gaining $2.90, to $931.30. Silver slipped a bit, down 3 cents, to $14.01. Most other energy and food commodities were lower on the day.

The feds offered more bailout money to a variety of insurance companies, though a few say they don't want the money. Still, how many more companies involved in the dirty money dealing is the government going to give taxpayer funds? The bill is already too high, but the feds seem to know no limit to America's largess. The absurdity continues to amaze fundamentalist economists.

To get a grip on where we're heading, one need look no further than April's CPI numbers, which fell by 0.7% year-over-year, the largest decline since the mid-50s. The deflationary spiral which began at least 18 months ago (don't believe the government numbers) is now gathering momentum. Pricing power for companies is kaput. Deflation, hated by the Fed, may be the only true salvation for the nation.

A sign of the times comes from the Buffalo News, in a story about billionaire Tom Golisano, who made his fortune by founding and running Rochester-based Paychex, Inc. (PAYX). Golisano, long a critic of NY politics and unions, announced that he was leaving the state and moving to Florida, saying he will save $13,000 a day in taxes. That amounts to a revenue loss of $4,745,000 over a year's time.

Golisano is not alone. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has already stated that he too would leave the state. Truth of the matter for Mr. Limbaugh is that he spends little time in the state, but has various businesses registered there. With the exodus of rich folks from the state, one might as well throw budget estimates out the window.

Enjoy the Preakness tomorrow. That filly is a good one.

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