Thursday, January 21, 2010

Government Greases Skids for Wall Street Sell-Off

Onerous new regulations (Actually, they're only onerous if you're a rich banker. Otherwise, they're actually sensible) limiting the kinds of risks banks may take with federally-insured deposits gave the rich and powerful the perfect opportunity to take profits and blame any market and economic fallout on the Obama administration and congress.

The 213-point slide on the Dow was probably less related to banking than it was tied to initial unemployment claims, which rocketed to 482,000 for the most recent reporting period, from a previous reading of 446,000. Continuing claims held steady at 4,599,000 slackers still collecting unemployment insurance and keeping the fragile economy from falling off a cliff. While Wall Street may deride these individuals, the companies represented by stocks traded on the various exchanges have yet to even whisper about new hiring.

It's a scenario that many have predicted and is about to come true. Without new jobs for those millions of unemployed, underemployed and discouraged workers, major companies have squeezed themselves into a box without a box cutter. As earnings for the 4th quarter of 2009 roll out, investors will be seeking top-line (revenue) growth, but are likely to get more of the same cost-cutting, belt-tightening by which companies have produced profits for the past 9 months. The economy is just churning, not growing, and the natives are getting restless.

Today's losses in the major indices erased the gains thus far in 2010. Only the S&P 500 closed above where it ended 2009, but only by a point and change.

To get an idea of the kind of mood that is just beginning to pervade Wall Street, consider the knockout numbers reported by Google (GOOG), just after the close. The search giant beat revenue and profit estimates handily. The initial reaction was a 22-point sell-off just after these dazzling results were announced. This kind of behavior was easily predictable. With stocks at nose-bleed levels, earnings will not matter to holders of stock. They've already determined to sell, either just prior to or just after a company announces, so unless the numbers are simply out-of-this-world, expect all stocks to get roughly the same treatment.

Now that Wall Street has gotten over the giddiness of a new year, the hard, cold reality of an economy unmoved by stimulus and bailouts is knocking stocks for a loop.

Overnight, China released 4th quarter GDP numbers, showing a stunning annualized growth rate of 10.7%. Investors in America are concerned that China may begin reining in its own growth in order to stave off inflation, which is a major concern. While America and Europe wallow in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, the Chinese are eating their lunch, and they're not using chop-sticks.

Dow 10,389.88, -213.27 (2.01%)
NASDAQ 2,265.70, -25.55 (1.12%)
S&P 500 1,116.48, -21.56 (1.89%)
NYSE Composite 7,174.46, -155.37 (2.12%)

Losers beat winners, 5027-1539, and new highs outnumbered new lows, 284-55. Volume was off-the-charts to the high side, an indication that the rout has just begun. Selling should continue nearly unabated through the next 3-5 weeks, unless economic data indicates the economy is growing well beyond tepid expectations. It's not, so don't get your hopes up. Bears are becoming more emboldened every day.

NYSE Volume 7,747,543,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,819,241,250

Losses were not limited to stocks. Commodities also took widespread hits as another wave of deflation distress wafts through the markets. Oil dropped $1.66, to $76.08. Gold lost $9.60, to $1,103.00. Silver followed it down, losing 29 cents, to $17.60.

Lately, I've taken to offer up alternatives to the usual Wall Street fare, the ups and downs of daily life in the dithering world of stocks, but today just seemed to legitimize my thinking, that stocks are not for everyone, especially those without the cushion necessary to take sustained losses and ride out long positions. The market was overbought and due for a turn-back, so I'm not taking any credit for soothsaying. It was pretty easy to see.

Cash in your pocket today was the big winner. Just like it was yesterday and probably will be in coming days, weeks and months because the economic drop dead party is just getting going. The system, built on bad loans and bailouts, is barely sustainable under current conditions.

Relax. Have a drink. Have a smoke. America is still a pretty good country.

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