Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tough to be a Bear

Days like today, when one feels like a lonely whisper in the wilderness, test the courage of one's convictions.

After carefully weighing all the evidence, poring over tracts and texts from sources far-flung across the internet and the spheres of influence in global economics, one cannot escape the thinking that the entire structure of capitalism, the integrity of institutions so revered as the Federal Reserve and market disciplines such as balanced budgets have been flung out the window by nefarious forces which seek only to obfuscate and delay the inevitability of mass defaults on everything from sovereign debt to credit cards in the coming months and years.

On Wall Street, ready for business after a three-day holiday, everything was bright and cheery and on the way up. Market participants acted as though stocks were difficult to find and hold at decent prices. Right off the opening bell, the Dow gapped up roughly 70 points and continued on a day-long trek to higher ground.

Unease over credit issues in Greece, Portugal and Ireland were treated as though they were old news, even though nothing but words have passed between the Euro nations. Unemployment, forecast by the Obama administration to be officially above 8% though 2012 (though unofficial, and probably closer-to-the-truth estimates say it's currently about 18%) only received passing glances. The ungodly mess that is the US housing market continues to crater into a morass of default, foreclosure, clouded titles and ruined families. None of this made one bit of difference to the titans of finance who lord over the markets. Stocks would rise; the economy be damned!

It's tough to keep a smile or a straight face through days like today. All anyone can effuse over are a couple of corporate earnings reports from some marginal players and one or two major ones, Kraft and Merck, both of which released 4th quarter earnings befor the bell. Merck did better, Kraft about the same. Meanwhile, the fates of millions of Americans are blowing in the wind, as corporations show not the least bit of interest in creating new jobs by expanding their businesses. No, the status quo will have to suffice for what we are forced into believing is a recovery.

Meanwhile, banks continue hoarding vast sums of money instead of lending it, congress bickers, stalls and does nothing, and middle America is supposed to sit back, watch the olympics and be content. Welcome to the fascist oligarchy.

Almost completely unnoticed was the announcement last week that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to buy back delinquent mortgages from investors, in effect, making the note-holders whole. This should come as no surprise - and even less surprise that it's not being widely reported - as the entire real estate boom and bust runs full circle. The banks got their TARP money, now the investors in all that worthless paper known as mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are getting theirs, and a whole lot sooner than anticipated. Though the investors will not reap the benefits of compound interest over many years has the mortgages been maintained, they will get their principal back, and probably some small gain, thanks to the friendly folks at Fannie and Freddie, two wholly-owned branches of the federal government, financed by taxpayer debt.

It will likely take a decade for the government to work out all the details of foreclosing on millions of homeowners, or they will claim the homes under eminent domain or through some other underhanded scheme that only the most corrupt government in the history of the world can devise. Clouding the picture further for homeowners in default is the risk of foreclosure by the wrong party, namely the mortgage servicer - the Bank of Americas, Chases and Citigroups of the world. Since the investors have been paid, the servicing banks are essentially out of the loop, having no standing in a foreclosure proceeding.

The important point is that, for the majority of mortgages in default, the only proper party to entertain a foreclosure proceeding would be Fannie or Freddie. The two have underwritten - or insured and subsequently paid for - about 9 out of 10 mortgages in the United States over the past thirty years. When Fannie or Freddie come calling, homeowners should expect to be out of their homes in record time. The government will probably have little patience with loiterers. They'll also likely not forgive the balances, either, especially in states which allow for deficiency judgments. It should prove to be a lovely decade for housing in America.

Dow 10,268.81, +169.67 (1.68%)
NASDAQ 2,214.19, +30.66 (1.40%)
S&P 500 1,094.87, +19.36 (1.80%)
NYSE Composite 7,013.35, +138.79 (2.02%)

Advancing issued trampled decliners, 4994-1564. There were 250 new highs to 54 new lows, a gap that's likely to widen in coming days as we approach the one-year anniversary of the market bottom on March 9. Expect the new lows to take away the edge by June at the latest as the market gyrates up and down. Volume was about as pathetic as ever. There's no impetus for this rally and it is probably going to be a one or two-day event. Economic reality will make an appearance before the week is out, though it should be mentioned that the same pattern has been playing out fairly steadily for weeks: On Monday, the dollar drops, free money is put into stocks and then gradually withdrawn - at a profit - as the week unfold and the dollar gains. That's the current game: week-to-week, day-to-day, hand-to-mouth.

NYSE Volume 4,737,764,500
NASDAQ Volume 1,954,910,875

Commodities rose without any compelling stimulus. Crude oil shot up to $77.01. Gold struck $1,120.00, a gain of $30. Silver rose 64 cents, to $16.09.

Sell the rally. It won't last.

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