Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stocks Slip for Second Straight Session

US stock indices finished in the red for the second straight day as another spate of so-so economic news crossed the new wires. It wasn't so much the initial jobless claims figures that shook things up - they were improved over the previous week at 550,000, but the continuing claims were higher, at 6.31 million, due to extensions in unemployment benefits keeping more workers on the government dime for longer than the usual 39 weeks.

With money coming in and no prospects for gainful employment on the horizon, many of those already furloughed are living check to check, those being furnished by government agencies. As long as no new jobs are being created, America will continue to devolve from a nation of entrepreneurs into a de facto welfare state, with government picking up the tab for everything from rent to food to health care to spending money. The hard side of that reality is for the businessman or woman who will face ever higher taxes and costs related to doing business with a sub-prime clientele.

The path of the nation doesn't have to be as stark, though the current crop of clowns in congress certainly seem to be pushing in that direction. Gone is the resolve to work hard, the commitment to family values and self-reliance. They are being rapidly replaced with the mantra of "good-for-the-whole" socialism, with all of its incentives for sloth, laziness, avarice and assorted vices. The malaise which began with a real estate bubble promoted by George W. Bush's "ownership society" - truly the most false and baseless political creed of recent memory - has proceeded along a perceptible, predictable and inescapable path to homelessness and destitution across a wide swath of the country.

Some areas are doing better than others, obviously, but the hardest hit are those which have suffered the double-whammy of rampant unemployment on top of foreclosures, such as Detroit, most of southern Florida, Las Vegas and many parts of exurbia Southern California. The deep South, never a bellwether for enterprise, is still largely backwards, the Northeast and West Coast are still culturally significant and maintaining a facade of social manners, though the biggest states - New York and California - are overburdened by huge government apparatus and absurdly high rates of taxation. The Midwest continues to hold pockets of civility, though many of the larger cities are reeling from the economic downturn.

While most to these realities are overlooked by the financial media and Wall Street's "everybody's an investor" mentality, the general welfare of the bulk of the lower and middle class populations is not of great concern so long as government largely continues to foot the bills. All of this works for smart companies who ignore the larger picture, have cut labor and other costs and continue to profit and take market share. The largess of the government these past five months has been like manna from heaven for many keen companies. They'll keep making money without regard to its source.

That's why the past two days haven't been very dramatic. Investor types know that their recent gains could eventually sour, but current government policies, like cash for clunkers, are greasing the wheels with billions of borrowed dollars. And those polices are going to stay in place and have other, similar, social-programming policies piled atop them. Business could care less, as long as the money continues to roll in.

Dow 9,256.26, -24.71 (0.27%)
NASDAQ 1,973.16, -19.89 (1.00%)
S&P 500 997.08, -5.64 (0.56%)
NYSE Composite 6,517.67, -40.52 (0.62%)

Declining issues grabbed the edge over advancers once again, today by a wider margin, 4185-2223, but new highs were better than new lows, 169-63. Volume continued to run at a less-leisurely pace than in previous weeks for the second straight day.

NYSE Volume 1,389,338,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,447,769,000

Commodity prices stagnated, with oil off 3 cents, to $71.94, gold down $3.40, to $962.90 and silver off 12 cents, at $14.65.

The real troubling news came from the retail sector, which has been taken out to pasture and summarily slaughtered over the past 12 months, as company after company reported dismal same-store sales in comparison to a year ago. Those retail figures are likely to remain bad until they can be matched up against already bad numbers, and that won't begin until November or December at the earliest. While retail wonks are concerned about back-to-school sales (somewhat of a non sequitur - how much beyond a few new items of clothing, notebooks, pens and gadgets do students really need?), the more serious concern is the holiday season, now less than five months out. After a dismal Christmas season for many retailers, the concern is that consumers will still be buying at less-than-robust levels. That may already be a given and currently being priced into many retail stocks, though the consumer tech area could really be hit hardest of all through the fall and winter.

Looking ahead to Friday, market sentiment will largely be in response to the government's non-farm employment report for July, which is expected to show job losses in the neighborhood of 325-375, 000. The number, unless it is completely out of line with the usual government massage, should fall into that range, which should cheer investors. The actual anticipatory knee-knocking trepidation leading up the the big Friday number has been overdone. While nobody expects miracles, any improvement will be billed as a good sign of a slowly recovering economy, whether or not that is actually the case. Espeically on the heels of ADP's private sector jobs number of -371,000 for July, released just yesterday, the government figure is quickly becoming an anachronistic afterthought, month after tiresome month.

No comments: