Friday, December 4, 2009

Grand Jobs Number Rally Spoiled by Risk Trade

When the November Non-farm Payrolls were announced at 8:30 am, coming in far better than even the most wide-eyed optimist could have anticipated (a loss of only 11,000 jobs, when the expectations were for a loss of 125-150,000), the various futures markets exploded to the upside signaling a higher open and the beginning of what should have been an outstanding rally in stocks.

While stocks initially responded, with the Dow up more than 150 points at its zenith, the US Dollar was also busy rallying against foreign currencies on the positive news. Just before 11:00 am, stocks had begun to slip, and before noon, they were in negative territory. In all, the Dow swung a full 200 points, registering the lows of the day at a 50-point loss.

Not only were the November jobs numbers staggeringly positive, but October's figures were revised as well, reflecting an improving unemployment picture in the United States. The official unemployment rate also dropped, from 10.2 to 10%, not an enormous movement, but one which offered a glimmer of hope as the year and the decade draws to a close.

However, the risk trade was being unwound by the good news, which is just one of the evil elements to dealing in free cash. Once the money begins to cost more, the game must end quickly, and, as is the usual case, with a good deal of messiness along the way. Thus, we are now encountering a condition in which the more good news is announced concerning the US economy, the worst it will affect stocks, if the dollar is a beneficiary of the news. In more mundane times, stocks improved in price as the dollar gained value. In the risk trade, the opposite is true. Stocks purchased with free, or declining money, go higher. The net result is a zero sum, though the feeling along the way is euphoric. Obviously, such a condition cannot maintain indefinitely, and today was just another part of the great unwinding.

While stocks managed gains, they were paltry compared to what the would have been under normal circumstances.

Dow 10,388.90, +22.75 (0.22%)
NASDAQ 2,194.35, +21.21 (0.98%)
S&P 500 1,105.98, +6.06 (0.55%)
NYSE Composite 7,182.71, +25.66 (0.36%)

Simple indicators reinforced the overall trade. Stocks were, at the high, more than 5-1 in favor of advancers, but managed to finish the day with just better than a 2-1 edge. Advancers were better than decliners by a score of 4508-1991.

NYSE Volume 6,935,438,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,237,404,500

Taking the most significant hit was gold, losing $49.30, to $1,169.00, and even another $12 lower after the official 1:30 pm close. Such was the case with silver as well, which dropped 61 cents, to $18.52. Oil fell 99 cents, to close at $75.47 per barrel.

The perversity of the risk trade is such that it will do damage to assets of all kinds as it is unwound, despite the true value of those underlying assets. It's a simple proposition. As the dollar rises, speculators must cover their positions, and do so by selling assets, causing them to fall. Just as they rose artificially as the dollar weakened, they will fall without any regard to fundamental value as the dollar rises. Eventually, an equilibrium will be reached when the trade is fully unwound, which could be a matter of months, depending on hedges and various other financial games, and there will more than likely be a few hedge funds which blow up in the process, though they will likely be small (we hope).

In the end, there will be more bargains for the patient, who wait out the end of liquidity and invest in appropriately undervalued assets. It's not going to be very pretty. Good news will turn stocks South, sometimes, and bad news may send them soaring. It's a very difficult trading regimen for the average investor to fathom. Surely, more than a few home traders will be scratching their head on today's abrupt turn-around, but that's what we have currently and we must live with it.

Maybe the best advice of all is to take profits and wait it out. There should be more rational investing periods in the future.

This one is not.

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