Friday, April 30, 2010

Markets Go Boom... and Bust

What happened of significance that stocks would sell of so drastically on Friday?

Was it the DOJ announcing that a criminal probe of Goldman Sach's was underway (And that the G-Men were looking at issues other than the ABACUS deal noted in the SEC charges.)? Shares of Goldman Sachs (GS) fell 15.04, to 145.20, a decline of 9.4%, during Friday's session.

That might be a good start for a general market decline.

Or maybe that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is causing more than average general ill-will to be directed at multi-national corporations who pollute, don't pay taxes and cause monstrous disasters such as is unfolding in the marshes along the Louisiana coastline?

What about Greece... and Portugal... and Spain... and Italy? Is the debt bomb exploding over Europe destined to visit mainland America? Finance ministers are meeting over the weekend in hopes of hammering out a bailout for the destitute Greeks (they won't).

Could it be that the Senate finally getting around to debating - after weeks of Republican stonewalling at the behest of the nation's largest financial firms - senator Dodd's financial regulation legislation that has, as one of its many tentacles, authority to liquidate firms that it deems insolvent (Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup come to mind) and a slew of other amendments which would make the kind of cowboy financial engineering that typified the sub-prime era difficult to repeat.

All of those are good starting points for argument, but there are two likely causes which intersect with all other issues. First quarter GDP was reported to be measured at 3.2%, annualized. That is after 4th quarter '09 coming in at 5.6%. Investors with even fifth grade educations can do the math: the economy is slowing again and that brings to the forefront the words everybody dreads: "double dip."

The second cause is likely more mechanical than analytical. Stocks have been hovering around multi-year highs. People with large stakes and large profits probably figured that today was a good day to sell, just like Wednesday was. The reason Wall Street more resembles a casino than an investment market is because the big money, the people calling the shots and pulling the levers are all gamblers at heart. And, as gambling operations generally produce few winners but lots of losers, the winners are likely getting out of town.

From an emotional chart perspective, one look at a two year Dow chart reveals that the index is bumping into the bottom of the pre-Lehman resistance of September '08. Since little has been done to correct the abuses of the time or restore credibility and liquidity to credit markets, it only stands to reason that there will be no move through that Dow resistance level from 11,200 to 11,750.

Flagging Friday finishes are always troubling, but today's should be marked with multiple red flags. The global economic model, based largely upon central banking, fractional reserve requirements, fiat currencies already heavily in debt (read: insolvent) and currently devolving into nation-gobbling monstrosities, is severely broken and thus, sliced, diced, ad whipsawed according to the prevailing tone.

Economies, from you next-door neighbor to the county seat, to states and nations, are tettering on a balance beam built on public good will and creditworthiness and there isn't much of either of those in quantity at the present time. One could purport that economic circumstances today are worse than they were in 2008. Massive borrowing and easy money policies have not stemmed the tide of deflation that continues to waffle through every aspect of civilization.

One area which experienced strong gains on Friday was commodities, especially gold. With uncertain times comes a need to hold something material and money flowed into tangible assets today in a scared trade. More evidence of widespread deflation came from the bond pits, where the 10-year treasury dipped to 3.65% yield today. Interest rates simply have nowhere to go but down in a slumping, or even stagnating, economy.

Dow 11,008.61, -158.71 (1.42%)
NASDAQ 2,461.19, -50.73 (2.02%)
S&P 500 1,186.68, -20.10 (1.67%)
NYSE Composite 7,474.40, -114.89 (1.51%

There were 4904 losing stocks to 1669 winners. 547 new highs dwarfed a mere 41 new lows. Volume was significant as it has been most of the past 8 trading days. Money is moving, from stocks to commodities, fixed income and cash, a perfect brew for a further deflationary spiral, which never really stopped moving, but was only slowed by monetary moves by the Fed and other central banks.

NYSE Volume 6,859,333,000.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,689,440,250.00

Crude oil rallied 98 cents, to $86.15. Gold built another $11.70 on top of recent gains, finishing the week at $1,180.10, a 2010 high. Silver also rose 6 cents, to $18.61.

There's a world of hurt gaining momentum out there, and you can bet your last Kentucky Derby (tomorrow), mint julep dollar that the famous schemers and weasels of Wall Street are going to be left holding the most recent bag of pain. No, that taks has been assigned, as usual, to the middle class, the little guy, the working class.

Isn't it time to stop believing in the fairy tales of high finance and posturing politicians?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Speaks for itself

Dow 11,167.32, +122.05 (1.10%)
NASDAQ 2,511.92, +40.19 (1.63%)
S&P 500 1,206.78, +15.42 (1.29%)
NYSE Composite 7,589.29, +89.57 (1.19%)

Advancers: 4907; Decliners: 1651
New Highs: 561; New Lows: 34

NYSE Volume 6,715,091,500.00
NASDAQ Volume 3,001,973,750.00

Oil: +$1.95, $85.17
Gold: -$2.90, $1,168.40
Silver: +$0.44, $18.55

Initial Unemployment Claims: 448K

Financial Regulation stalled in Senate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why the FOMC Didn't Hike Rates; Tweet this. Or Don't.

I'm not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this, but the reason the Fed did nothing again today is pretty simple.

1. The economy is being kept afloat by money being shoveled to banks, via nearly no interest loans, and people, via what the government likes to call "transfer payments," which are the usual, unemployment checks, social security checks, military and other federal retirement checks, disability checks, welfare checks.

2. The middle class pays most of their bills. They pay mortgages, taxes, utilities and they pay for necessities such as food, fuel, etc. Can anybody begrudge them the occasional splurge for a new shirt, car or iPad?

3. Private sector employment is becoming a myth and the more the government tries to tax every aspect of employment, the worse it's going to get. Private businesses must cut every imaginable corner just to stay in business.

Conclusion: the economy is still on the ropes. "Recovery" is an absolute joke. We are, as a nation, still scraping along the bottom. Public confidence in government is low and waning. Politicians grandstand for votes. Wall Street is still nothing more than a big casino. The Fed knows all of this and much more. They're scared to death. Eventually, the banks must give back all the money they stole from the middle class or the nation will never recover, probably splintering into a kind of new age Europe, which may, in fact, be the best thing that can happen.

Here's a plan: Expect the worst; enjoy what you have; don't pay retail for anything (including taxes; if you can get a deal on utilities, let me know how).

Dow 11,045.27, +53.28 (0.48%)
NASDAQ 2,471.73, +0.26 (0.01%)
S&P 500 1,191.36, +7.65 (0.65%)
NYSE Composite 7,499.72, +36.63 (0.49%)

Advancing issues, as expected, beat decliners, 3659-2857; there were 244 new highs (the lowest number in a month, at least) and just 48 new lows. Volume was solid.

NYSE Volume 7,046,415,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,728,942,500

Oil gained 78 cents, to $83.22. CNN Money ran a headline touting, Oil rises on Fed rate decision as if the two are somehow co-aligned. Maybe they are, but one has to really stretch imagination to figure out how that is.

Gold added $9.60, to $1,171.30, while silver fell a penny, to $18.11.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Goldman Execs Grilled; Market Stumbles as Greek Tragedy Unfolds

Aeschylus or Sophocles could not have written such a story as is unfolding in the finances of the nation of Greece and the Senate hearings on Goldman Sachs. It is as though the Gods themselves have delivered their wrath upon the wealthy, the greedy and the high-and-mighty of society.

On Capitol Hill, Senator Levin opened the current round of hearings in the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations by outlining the purported abuses by Goldman Sachs which helped lead the US real estate market and the general economy into what some are calling the "Great Recession" of 2008.

As the day and the questioning wore on, Goldman Sachs executives squirmed and cajoled and grimaced through arguments designed to clear them of even the appearance of impropriety in their mortgage securitization dealings and subsequent profiteering off the collapse of such investment vehicles. The polished and evidently well-trained Goldman executives kept a sombre tone as they alternately denied wrongdoing and admitted "mistakes" in the handling of their own and clients' money as the real estate market ballooned, popped and dropped from 2006 through 2008.

The questioning focused on a key point: whether Goldman Sachs was purposely betting it's own money against the very investments it had sold to clients. The firm admits losing money as the market cascaded lower, but then making more by buying credit default swaps which eventually paid off as the CDO market crashed. Goldman executives have steadfastly denied making trades at odds with those of their clients, though the argument is paper-thin and the Senate investigation has unearthed scores of examples exactly the opposite. Goldman calls their investments in credit default swaps pure hedging, but the tide certainly seems to be working against them, both in the hearing room and in the court of public opinion.

A continent away, Greek bond yields soared to over 18% on 2-year notes, as S&P cut its rating to junk status. Greece continues to struggle through one of its worst fiscal and monetary crises of the modern age, with government pay, pensions and entitlements pushing the government close to default. Today's development come in the wake of weeks of negotiations by the IMF and EU on a bailout package for the southern European nation.

There seems to be little doubt that Greece will default in part or in total, with Portugal, Italy and Spain next in line for the pain of financial armageddon. What worries officials in other European nations is the fate of the European Union itself and the ten-year experiment with the unified currency, the Euro.

Reaction was mostly aligned to the Greek story, though the Goldman Sachs hearings were riveting attention as well. Stocks in Europe suffered huge losses in all of its equity markets, with values of the major nation indices falling anywhere from 2% to nearly 4%. France's CAC 40 fell the most, down 3.82% on the day.

In the Americas, a similar story, with major indices piling on losses. The Canadian markets fared best of all, losing just more than 1 percent.

US stock losses come fast on the heels of an 8-week buying splurge despite signs everywhere that the global economy and sovereign debt issues were coming to a head. Even though it's the height of earnings season in the US, nothing could stem the stampede of sellers which descended on Wall Street. Stocks fell by their largest one-day amounts in months, on heavy volume, signaling that the worst may be yet to come.

Dow 10,991.99, -213.04 (1.90%)
NASDAQ 2,471.47, -51.48 (2.04%)
S&P 500 1,183.71, -28.34 (2.34%)
NYSE Composite 7,463.09, -214.56 (2.79%)

Declining issues overwhelmed advancers, 5396-1220, a better-than 4:1 ratio. The number of new highs was shaved down to 407, with 51 stocks recording new lows.

NYSE Volume 8,348,664,500.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,766,927,750.00

Commodity prices were mixed, due to differences in their utility. Crude oil, which is consumed worldwide, fell $1.76, to $82.44, mostly on fears of reduced demand. Gold, primarily a store of wealth or a hedge against currencies, was higher by $8.10, finishing at $1,161.70. Silver, however, which carries investment qualities and industrial functions, dropped 22 cents, to $18.12.

Elsewhere, consumer confidence in April galloped ahead to 57.9, from a March reading of 52.3, though the encouraging number was largely ignored. The Case-Shiller 20-City Real Estate index rose a disappointing 0.64% year-over-year for the month of February, stirring speculation that the US residential real estate market may be months - if not years - from recovery, with the potential for another 15% downturn still on the horizon.

All is not well in our financial world. Titans are being brought under the whip, nations may fail, social unrest may reach a fever pitch by the time our next federal elections roll around in November. With the usually-slow months of summer approaching, stocks seem unstable investments, at best.

Cash, equivalents, Treasuries and other highly-liquid assets are being preferred for the moment.

Making matters even more convoluted, on Monday, Republicans in the Senate blocked debate on Senator Dodds' Financial Reform legislation by a 57-40 vote. 60 votes are needed to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Another test vote failed on Monday, with Republicans grandstanding, saying dishonestly that the bill would reach deep “into every nook and cranny of American business.”

Bring on the sirens and the wailing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No Doubt About It: The Banks Stole Your Money

So much for my triple-top theory.

With the Dow putting on gains to close out the week - finishing at new highs for the 8th consecutive week - the world's most watched index is now at 18-month highs, leaving the memories of Lehman Bros., TARP and the painful housing crisis far behind in the memory hole.

But while stocks and traders are rejoicing over their riches, they fail to see, or even understand, the devastation caused by kicking 2 million families out of their homes or 8 million (probably more) out of jobs. Wall Street pros have stars on their foreheads and in their eyes. They obviously do not share the same values as most middle-class Americans.

The rally which began on March 10, 2009 has now reached extraordinary status. It is a full 12 1/2 months old, and the percentage gains off the bottom are simply spectacular.

Let's Recap:

The following are the March 9, 2009 lows, then today's closing prices, followed by the percentage gains.

Dow... 6,547.05 ... 11,204.28 ... +71,13%
S&P 500... 676.53 ... 1,217.28 ... +79.93
NASDAQ... 1,268.64 ... 2,530.15 ... +99.44
NYSE Comp. ... 4,226.31 ... 7,701.61 ... +82.23

There you have it. All anyone had to really do to turn $10,000 into roughly $18,000 over the course of the past 13 months was to buy all the stocks in any index and let it ride. For the rich and powerful, such as the lead traders at Goldman Sachs, the trick was to turn $1 billion or $10 billion into $1.8 billion or $18 billion. Being even more sophisticated, they probably had returns which far outstripped those of the entire indices.

Is there any wonder how the biggest frauds and thieves eve to walk the face of the earth (the leaders of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, et. al.) were all able to pay back the government's (read: taxpayers) TARP money within a year's time?

Not only did the financial calamity which took the stock market down in the Fall of 2008 through the Winter of 2009 appear to be contrived and driven by the same people who created it, so too the "miraculous" recovery of stocks overall, and their very own firms, to boot.

On March 9, 2009, Bank of America (BAC) closed at 3.74. Citigroup (C) finished the session at 1.05; Goldman Sachs (GS), 73.28; Morgan Stanley (MS), 16.34; JP Morgan Chase (JPM), 15.79; Wells Fargo (WFC), 9.89 (actually closed at 8.06 on March 5).

Today, Bank of America finished the session at 18.43; Citigroup, 4.86; Goldman Sachs, 157.40; Morgan Stanley, 31.94; JP Morgan Chase, 44.94; and Wells Fargo, 33.48.

These are the five largest private sector financial institutions in the country. They've all done exceedingly well over the past 13 months, mostly at the expense of foreclosed-upon homeowners, people strung out on credit cards carrying rates that used to be called usury and millions of unemployed workers who lost their jobs because these bankers and traders convinced most of corporate America that the sky was falling. That the crisis occurred at the very end of the Bush administration's reign of terror was no coincidence. It was easily the greatest crime of all time.

All of these firms ruthlessly cut their dividend payouts to shreds at the height of the crisis and are still paying out less than 1% each. Citigroup pays no dividend. Goldman Sachs is the most generous, at 0.90%, at a time in which they paid their employees 43% of profits. These guys never learned to share.

Wall Street has changed dramatically from the days in which prices were quoted in eighths and sixteenths. Today's "titans" need billions of dollars to fill up their coffers in the highly rigged game of liar's poker. As a market observer - and sometimes participant - of over 35 years, I can safely say I have never seen a crash nor a rally quite as spectacular as the ones witnessed over the past 19 months. And, as the saying goes, "if it looks to good to be true, it probably isn't."

I don't know where this rally will end, or how, but it will, I imagine. Maybe it won't. Maybe the "masters of the universe" will keep stocks on a permanent upward slope in order to capture even more of the world's money supply. After all, government's just keep printing the stuff, so the bankers and frauds have to use up more of it, don't they?

I've been out of this market since December of 2009 and won't venture back in until I see some of these companies' CEOs in leg irons, which means I've probably already made my last investment in equities. I consider the current regime of manipulators and skimmers to be nothing better than common crooks. Having already stolen much of America's private wealth, they're no doubt scheming to steal the rest. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I'll keep the reporting in this same vein.

Wall Street is the biggest fraud most of us will ever see. enjoy it while it lasts.

Dow 11,204.28 69.99 (0.63%)
NASDAQ 2,530.15 11.08 (0.44%)
S&P 500 1,217.28 8.61 (0.71%)
NYSE Compos 7,701.61 58.78 (0.77%)

Advancers led decliners by a wide margin, 4406-2097. So too, new highs, all 1130 of them, crushed the 68 new lows. Volume was slimmed down from the levels earlier in the week.

NYSE Volume 5,888,237,000.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,434,851,250.00

Oil gained $1.42, to $85.12. Gold gained $10.80, to $1,153.10. Silver was higher by 18 cents, finishing at $18.19.

Everything went up today except your paycheck. Seriously, working has become the toil of suckers. If the "retirement investments" aren't wiped out by the frauds of finance, the taxman will take whatever else there is.

Good grief. Good luck.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When Will the Music Stop, the Fraud End?

Following yesterday's post about Goldman Sachs, Greece and the intra-day triple top on the Dow, my midday work routine was broken by a screaming message from the ether: "Dow down 100 points in early trading!"

Being ever skeptical of my prognosticating prowess, I triple-clicked over to Yahoo! Finance (seriously, who puts an exclamation point after their corporate name? Wal-Mart!, Cisco!, Paris Hilton!) to confirm that stocks had already begun their ascent from the morning's depths. Surely, the short-covering and naked buying by all the Goldman traders was underway. By the time the market had closed, my best suspicions were confirmed, with the Dow finishing on the green side of the ledger, along with the S&P and a nifty gain on the NAZ.

Today's rally, as part of the endless rally that has become Wall Street in the post-crisis, pre-Goldman-settlement era, is about as plausible as 2007 California real estate prices. It's all part of the game, which, to my mind, only Robert Prechter (Elliott Wave) has figured out. Well, and me. Goldman moves the market, no doubt about it. They've been doing it since 1988 with ample assistance from the Plunge Protection Team and tacit approval from the upper crusters in DC.

Stocks can only go down when the powers that be wish them to do so. So it is written in the Book of Sachs. Fundamentals don't matter, p/e doesn't matter, all that matters is where the herd will head for feeding, following the hidden hand signals from the leader of the pack, clandestinely dictating market direction via sham trades, public bogus recommendations (remember Goldman's call for $200/barrel oil?) and equally dubious upgrades and downgrades.

Dow 11,134.29, +9.37 (0.08%)
NASDAQ 2,519.07, +14.46 (0.58%)
S&P 500 1,208.67, +2.74 (0.23%)
NYSE Composite 7,642.83, -1.84 (0.02%)

Advancing issues beat back decliners, 4085-2402, while new highs registered 867, to just 59 new lows. My occasional warning to ignore the new highs-lows divergence until at least June, as last year's fall and rise will produce a considerable amount of skew in those figures. Volume was again trending toward the upper end, which is reasonable considering the amount of trading that had to be undertaken to move the whole market higher.

NYSE Volume 6,682,984,000.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,727,952,500.00

What probably scared investors even more than bad news on the Greece front, and rightfully so, was the weekly initial unemployment claims figures issued at 8:30 am. Those came in at 456,000, below last week's unsightly 480,000, but still too high most most realists to stomach. Those figures must come down to around 300,000 weekly before anyone will speak "recovery" again.

But the chances of the unemployment figures falling soon seem slim, especially since congress passed an $18 billion extension last week that proffers "99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out."

Yikes! That's two years worth of unemployment checks, or an average of just under $33,500 over the 99-week span, which is more than some people make actually working for a living. The government seems to be suggesting a longer-term unemployment lag than even most economists. Remember, employment is a lagging indicator, currently 9 months behind the official "end" of the recession.

Of course, Wall Street would rather most Americans believe the economy is continuing to improve, even while you're collecting unemployment checks and waiting for the bank to foreclose on your home. According to the elitists in our nation's capitol, it's all good.

Next they'll be selling us bridges... to nowhere, no doubt.

The underground economy is thriving on welfare, food stamps, unemployment and SS checks on a certain road to ruin.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Triple Top or More Room to Roam?

Stocks just keep bounding up and down, but mostly up, though the activity since Thursday of last week (April 15) is suggesting that the top may be already set, or set up.

The Dow hit an intra-day high of 11,190.22 on Tuesday, after making stops at 11,189.61 on Thursday (4/15) and 11,186.82 on Friday (4/16). That appears to be the formation of some fairly significant resistance, especially considering today's close of 11,124.92, well below those lofty levels.

It's far too early to tell if that the 11,190 area will actually be the top, though the Transportation Index is signaling somewhat the same signs of waning interest, settling today some 124 points below its own intra-day high from April 15. Of course, more bad news for either Greece or Goldman Sachs will send the stock-pumping moles in the PPT scurrying into action with their billions of dollars of untraceable trades to keep stocks soaring and the public none the wiser.

If one is inclined to listen to financial news via the mainstream media (re: CNBC), the constant howling over "improving conditions", "V-shaped recovery" and similar bombast can be deafening, but make no doubt, dirty little secrets are being kept far from public view.

In that regard, the SC charges against Goldman Sachs are probably more of a decoy than anything else. If something critical were to occur - and break the collusion between the federal government and Wall Street - the Department of Justice would have filed criminal charges. The chances of anything like that actually happening are remote, though those of us who believe that the housing bubble and subsequent crash, bailouts and breakdowns were indeed high crimes remain hopeful.

Beating back the onrushing forces of government and big money at the same time is an uphill fight, one the American people seem ill-inclined to undertake. Tea parties have been largely a ploy of the right wing, do-nothing Republican party, which sees obstruction as a perfectly good alternative to actually legislating on the behalf of the American people.

Those days are long gone, and the folks occupying the high offices in Washington and Wall Street hope they will be soon forgotten as well. Politicians listen only for the sound of crisp bils being peeled off of large wads from well-heeled supporters, like oil companies, pharmas and banking interests. Nobody will go to jail after the banks literally stole billions of dollars in real estate assets through phony documentation, phony appraisals, phony credit reports and phony income statements.

The wizards of Wall Street are truthfully not wizards of high finance at all, but rather, masters of finagling every last dollar out of the pockets of the middle class. To them, working men and women are rabble, peons to be fleeced by their powerful financial acumen and lengthy over-worded documents. The government complies by not regulating and the courts further the fraud by failing to prosecute even when they have good actions with solid arguments in front of them.

Witness Federal Court Judge Virginia Phillips dismissing 8 separate class actions on the same pretext: that the banks and builders weren't responsible for the calamity which has put millions out of their homes, but that the "economy" or the "recession" was to blame. With judges like Phillips front-running litigation for the bank fraudsters, is there really any reason to believe in democratic principles like justice, fairness, or even due process any more?

The obvious answer is no, and that bodes ill for all of us, present and future. Baby boomers should face facts: our parents were probably the most prosperous generation ever in America, but we are less fortunate, with every excess dollar seemingly earmarked for either utility rate hikes, tax increases or supplements to the wildly out-of-control and under-funded entitlement programs. The baby-boomer generation will be lucky to retire with any kind of benefits, as the Social Security fund is already running current-account deficits. The government will have to either borrow or tax to pay the millions who will be retiring in the next decade, and borrow in enormous sums.

In the meantime, Americans mostly continue to work and try to save, though for many, that has become an increasingly difficult task. Unemployment is expected to remain stubbornly high for at least another three years, with 8% now being hailed as a benchmark, though in reality, the current 9.7% rate is actually closer to 18% when all the conditional arguments are removed from the government's calculations.

Wall Street could care less, though their rapacious greed could turn out to be their own worst enemy. Without a spending public, many of the major enterprises will crumble for lack of new suckers (funding). It cannot happen too soon, for only then will there be a reckoning and justice for all.

Dow 11,124.92, +7.86 (0.07%)
NASDAQ 2,504.61, +4.30 (0.17%)
S&P 500 1,205.93, -1.24 (0.10%)
NYSE Composite 7,644.67, -24.44 (0.32%)

Once again, the indices rendered a split decision, with two up and two down, indicating that a turn is approaching. Advancing issues led decliners, 3534-2957. 767 new highs overshadowed the mere 47 new lows. Volume was back up again, though it's likely due more to position trades than anything else, i.e., keeping the markets on an even keel by manipulating a range of stocks.

NYSE Volume 6,301,928,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,644,937,250

Oil was down, gold and silver, up, all three stuck in trading ranges they have occupies for months. Those prices are deliberately being manipulated to keep order in the global economy. Central banks fear gold because their currencies are backed by nothing but empty promises, and the oil sheiks and oligopolies can maintain production without social unrest at abysmally high prices.

Its a sad world condition, in which the rich now control a larger concentration of wealth than at any other time in history, except for maybe the Middle Ages or the Roman Empire.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interested Parties: You, Me and AIG Want Goldman Sachs Money

Recent fraud charges brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs have brought into focus much of what went wrong in the financial meltdown of 2008.

A shorthand view of the cataclysmic months of September and October, 2008, involve the collapse of Lehman Bros., and extenuating circumstances stemming from unpaid bets against CDOs sold by many of the major US banking interests - Goldman, Bank of America (Countrywide), Citigroup, Wells Fargo (Wachovia). Those bets (call it betting against the line or insurance) were in the form of Credit Default Swaps mostly in the hands of AIG, which went bust to the tune of about $180 billion.

The government stepped in and paid off many of the counterparties, including Goldman Sachs, BofA, and many others, most of them getting 100 cents on the dollar.

With fraud being alleged, plaintiff's attorneys literally around the world are looking into suing Goldman on behalf of clients ranging from small towns to large pension funds to AIG itself. An AIG action would cause considerable consternation for Goldman and its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, to say nothing of potential monetary damages.

Further down the food chain are millions of US homeowners who may have been swindled by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and the banks themselves. Everybody was writing mortgages, and anyone with a pulse was the qualifying criteria. While the big banks may square off for millions and billions of dollars, a deluge of class action and individual suits could overwhelm already burdened court systems across the country.

Homeowners were taken for various rides with interest only loans, balloon loans, Alt-A's and other variable-rate vehicles, the primary fraudulent factors being almost always the same: inflated incomes on top of inflated appraisals. The volume of loans meeting the fraud standards could run as high as 70% of all loans written between 2003 and 2007, when the sub-prime market reached its climax and then began to quickly deflate.

Naturally, these court cases could run on for years, but the potential litigation fees for adept attorneys could be astronomical. Suing anything and anybody related to the the mortgage or securities industry appears to be a growth sector for the economy, with high hopes to recoup either money or real estate as the eventual goal.

With all that as background, Wall Street will likely remain in a relatively cautious mode, especially once earnings season passes in two weeks. Without a catalyst to move stocks higher, the potential for financial disaster rears its ugly head again and could spook many traders who already aren't overwhelmed with love for the workings of Wall Street.

Stocks pushed ahead again on Tuesday, though there wasn't much lift to the effort, especially concerning Dow stocks. Once again, Goldman Sachs' trading desks were likely underpinning the whole market, keeping the coast clear for Blankfein, et. al.. Volume was decidedly lower than the previous two sessions, an indication that some degree of normalcy has returned, though what normal is in these turbulent times is anybody's guess.

Dow 11,117.06, +25.01 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 2,500.31, +20.20 (0.81%)
S&P 500 1,207.17, +9.65 (0.81%)
NYSE Composite 7,669.11, +72.55 (0.96%)

Gainers beat back losers by a healthy margin, 5102-1418. There were 539 new highs to just 29 new lows.

NYSE Volume 5,797,391,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,006,695,375

Commodities rebounded smartly, with oil gaining $2.00, to $83.45. Gold was up $3.40, to $1,138.60, and silver added 9 cents to $17.82.

The SEC-Goldman Sachs saga is still in the prelude. It's almost a certainty that fireworks will develop out of this singular action, leading to more lawsuits using the SEC's action as a basis for argument. Already, an Italian bank is suing Citigroup, alleging misrepresentation on a complex swap arrangement.

Stay tuned. There's more to come.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Goldman Sachs' Power on Display; Blankfien Should Be Jailed

Make no doubt about it. The only reason stocks gained today was because the traders at Goldman Sachs were boosting prices, especially for their own stock and others in the banking sector.

One must really have to stretch credulity to its most outer limits to believe that actual investors - real people playing with their own money - would have so much as touched financial shares with as many ten-foot poles as one could offer them.

Today's argument was that the SEC decision to bring fraud charges against Goldman Sachs came down to a 3-2 vote, thus, the charges cannot be well-founded. While that may be so, and well and good, the argument is as superfluous as what little hair remains on Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein's (left) head. There's something there, surely, but it has no meaning.

Looking at the larger scheme, suppose Goldman Sachs is completely innocent, all the way down the line. They did nothing wrong throughout the period from 2003-2007, in which trillions of dollars were packaged, sold and then vaporized. Suppose that is true.

If that's the case, then why would anyone do business with the most incompetent firm on the planet? They must not have known that housing values should not rise by 15% a year, that loans for mortgages should be closely scrutinized and offered only to potential borrowers with the highest credit standards and ability to pay.

Truly, if the chiefs at the Goldman Sachs roundtable didn't see anything wrong with the deals they were facilitating, packaging and selling, then they must be the greatest buffoons on the planet.

The argument simply doesn't work, unless, of course, you are dealing with what actually may be the greatest gathering of idiots in the history of the world, the American public, who still might buy their story, though even that is doubtful.

Politics comes into play in the SEC, just as in any organization. The two dissenters on the decision to charge the firm with fraud might have been concerned over their futures. Goldman Sachs is an incredibly powerful organization, with tentacles throughout the government and society. Taking them on in the courts is a task not for the meek. The regulators who finally, after nearly two years of dawdling, mustered enough courage to do what is right, will likely become pariahs on Wall Street, as unwelcome as a sell rating by any analyst.

Thus, Goldman's political muscle must be weighed in this light, as well as in any trading while the matter is being litigated. Just as the control freaks at Goldman Sachs made sure today would be a shining moment for capitalism, they will be equally resolute in promoting a massive sell-off should the tide turn against them.

It's a simple argument once one boils out all of the politics and media spin: Goldman Sachs either committed fraud on a grand scale or they are completely incompetent and unfit to handle even the simplest financial transactions.

So it is that as of today, all trading in equities and commodities - Goldman's playgrounds - should be eyed with the highest degree of skepticism possible. The firm controls so much of the markets, to such an extraordinary degree, that they may not only be too big to fail, but too big to even be a fair, honest and practical participant.

Dow 11,092.05, +73.39 (0.67%)
NASDAQ 2,480.11, -1.15 (0.05%)
S&P 500 1,197.52, +5.39 (0.45%)
NYSE Composite 7,596.56, +11.94 (0.16%)

Offering credence to the "control" argument are the indices, today hopelessly out of kilter. While the Dow was up sharply, the NASDAQ was down, and the NYSE Composite barely registering a gain. Further, DECLINING ISSUES LED ADVANCERS, 3774-2621. New highs ebbed lower, to 259, while there were only 48 new lows. Volume was magnificent, especially on the NYSE, because it took a lot of trading to boost specific stocks (ones that were, in reality, being sold off by spooked investors).

NYSE Volume 7,341,836,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,163,046,500

This New York Times article about the loyal Goldman Sachs' employees rallying around their beleaguered company and their head honcho, Mr. Blankfein, speaks not only of the company's incredibly adroit reach into the media, but also of the levels of deceit they will employ to save themselves.

The game is up at Goldman, whether they like to admit it or not. Blankfein, if he pushes back hard enough, may find himself looking out at the world from behind bars, which is probably where he belongs, as do many of his cadre of overstuffed, self-important, greed merchants.

Oil prices fell for a third straight day, probably because the Goldman traders were too busy propping up the stock market. Oil slipped another $1.79, to $81.45. Gold fell $1.10, to $1,135.20. Silver gained 6 cents, to $17.72.

Goldman Sachs is still in control, for now, but if there is any justice remaining in what little is left of our democracy, they won't be for long. We can only hope that they don't blow up the economy for good as their final tribute to greed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

SEC Sues Goldman Sachs; Is the Tide Turning?

There was only one piece of news today that mattered and it was the enormous disclosure that the SEC has initiated a civil lawsuit against the leading investment bank in America: Goldman Sachs.

The case alleges fraud by Goldman Sachs in the marketing and selling of certain mortgage-backed securities selected by hedge fund Paulson & Co. Investors lost $1 billion, though Paulson, allegedly aided by Goldman Sachs, made bets (credit defaults swaps or CDS) against the securities and made $1 billion by being on the opposite side of the transaction.

Obviously, the SEC has targeted only one instance of alleged fraud in the marketing of mortgage-backed securities which consisted primarily of sub-prime mortgages, though the case may serve as a test for many more lawsuits to follow. What's apparent from the government's position is that Goldman Sachs will be brought under severe scrutiny in the arcane area of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), at last seeking to pull back the veil of secrecy surrounding the financial instruments which eventually resulted in a massive collapse of the financial industry and the larger economy.

Should the government prevail against Goldman, the implications could be severe. It's not as though Goldman's marketers were the only Wall Street big wheels who were involved in the sale of such securities. Other banks and financial institutions may find themselves on the receiving end of the government's wrath, notably Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, while JP Morgan Chase may receive something of a pass. Bank of America may be culpable after its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2008, while Citigroup and Morgan Stanley merged their brokerage units in January, 2009 under the Smith Barney moniker.

With all of this potential litigation weighing in the background, investors scurried out of Goldman Sachs and other financial stocks en masse on Friday. Goldman Sachs (GS) closed at 160.70, down 23.57 points (12.79%). Other financial stocks suffered declines ranging between 5 and 10%, but the broader market was noticeably spooked, sending all the major indices tumbling into the red. As such, investors were granted the perfect opportunity to bail out and head to the sidelines for the time being, though these lawsuits could take years in which to unravel.

It is worth noting that today's tumble nearly wiped out all of the gains for the week. The news could not have come at a worse time, right in the midst of earnings season. The potential for billions of dollars being vaporized is once again front and center as scandalous lawsuits will almost surely put a lid on further advances and may actually serve to focus investors on other less-than-satisfactory economic news.

Dow 11,018.66, -125.91 (1.13%)
NASDAQ 2,481.26, -34.43 (1.37%)
S&P 500 1,192.13, -19.54 (1.61%)
NYSE Composite 7,584.62, -135.04 (1.75%

The extraordinary nature of todays trade was evident in the internals. Declining issues trumped advancers, 4991-1524. New highs slipped back to 464, though there were only 39 new lows. Volume was at the highest level in months, nearly double the normal volume on the NYSE alone.

NYSE Volume 9,108,087,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,878,199,000

The Goldman news spared no markets. Crude oil dropped $2.27, to $83.24. Gold was hammered, losing $23.40, to $1,136.30. Silver was battered down 76 cents, closing at $17.67 per ounce.

One can only wonder about the timing of the SEC suit and its effect on the markets. Was it mere coincidence that stocks had become ridiculously overbought in recent days or was this yet another well-timed assault on the senses by the money moguls?

Only time will tell, but this is certainly not a time to be very confident in buying stocks. Again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Music Never Stops

Consider Wall Street's dizzying performance of late as a prelude to a classic collapse which could happen at any time, though, if you listen to experts, will be delayed until at least September or October. Wall Street's attitude, since the March '09 bottom, is reminiscent of the Broadway show "Cabaret," wherein the overriding theme is one of a libertine hedonism against a backdrop of impending cataclysm. People are making money in stocks, hand over fist. The problem is that the same people who brought us "Death Wish 2008" are reaping most of the profits, awaiting a timely exit.

Individual investors have barely participated, still licking the wounds of the last collapse, fearful that a reprise is just around the corner. While they may be right, they have missed out on some very favorable trades. Their solace, like mine, will be in missing the next collapse by being completely in cash, which, by the way, remains King of the Hill.

On a day in which initial unemployment claims came in not just a touch higher than the estimates, but in fact were devastatingly negative and RealtyTrac announced that residential bank repossessions in America reached yet another record high in the first quarter of 2010, investors kept their eyes on the prize, that being the abundance of nearly-risk-free gains in stocks.

According to ReltyTrac, "Foreclosure filings - default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions - were reported on 932,234 properties in the first quarter - a 7% increase from the previous quarter and a 16% increase from the first quarter of 2009." Apparently, government efforts to stave off the increasing flood of defaults on home mortgages has not been effective. Home owners are under severe duress in one of the most devastating real estate meltdowns ever witnessed.

Truth be told, most of the banks now repossessing properties are the source of the blame, due to overly aggressive appraisals and non-existent underwriting standards. Most of the foreclosures that have been occurring could have been successfully defended by homeowners, though most have neither the knowledge nor the money to fight the bank attorneys and their prolific money-grinding machine.

As for the unemployment condition, initial claims came in at 484,000, fully 44,000 than "expert" predictions and 24,000 more than the previous week, which were also higher than predicted.

Pundits in the financial and mainstream news realm attributed the higher unemployment claims to seasonal conditions, citing Easter as the culprit. Oddly, Easter was also credited with inducing higher retail sales. Something simply doesn't add up.

The RealtyTrac new release was widely disregarded, as the new was so bleak apparently nobody could fathom a method in which to spin it positively.

Other economic data that was largely ignored by the markets were capacity utilization, which barely budged in March, at a dismal 73.2%. Industrial production was up 0.1%, essentially a rounding error. The Philadelphia Fed's Index of economic conditions weighed in at a laughable 20.2, and was hailed as a "good sign."

Taking all of this in stride, stocks continued upon their ridiculous path to ever-higher ground.

Dow 11,144.57, +21.46 (0.19%)
NASDAQ 2,515.69, +10.83 (0.43%)
S&P 500 1,211.67, +1.02 (0.08%)
NYSE Composite 7,719.66, -9.30 (0.12%)

On the day, advancing issues beat decliners, though by a slim margin, 3443-3025. There were 1109 new highs to just 82 new lows. Volume, for a change, was substantially higher than normal, though most of that could be attributed to options expiration on Friday.

NYSE Volume 6,485,359,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,756,471,750

Commodity markets displayed a modicum of caution, with oil futures, losing 33 cents, to $85.51. Gold gained a slight 70 cents, to $1,159.70. Silver was up 2 cents, to $18.42. All of the commodity prices seem to have hit a wall of resistance. Coupled with the overbought condition in the equity markets, an early warning sign of a near-term tumble can easily be extrapolated from the data.

Stocks, like all other asset classes, will eventually succumb to the gravity of deflation, which can be seen almost everywhere, as prices for many goods remain out of reach for large segments of the economy. Currently, supply is matching demand quite well, though there are issues of class distinctions which have not yet become apparent. Further out, the lack of new job creation is a recovery killer, just as is the decline in home values.

Intel Earnings Spark Big Move

Stocks closed sharply higher on Wednesday after Intel (INTC) released 1t quarter results that handily beat street estimates.

The Dow Jones Industrial average sprinted to its best close in 19 months. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 each cleared psychological hurdles at 2500 and 1200, respectively. Investors were cheered by strong earnings results, a benign reading on inflation and optimistic sentiment ion the trading floor.

The government announced that Consumer prices (CPI) grew at an annualized rate of just 0.1%, with core CPI (excluding food and energy components) flat for March. This spurred speculation that the Fed would keep rates at their absurdly low levels into the third quarter, though deflationists warned that the numbers reflect not a recovery, but a flat-lining in economic growth.

Investors were not dissuaded, however, boosting shares of technology stocks ahead of the broader market.

Dow 11,123.11, +103.69 (0.94%)
NASDAQ 2,504.86, +38.87 (1.58%)
S&P 500 1,210.65, +13.35 (1.12%)
NYSE Composite 7,728.96, +90.61 (1.24%)

Advancing issues blew past decliners, 5014-1459, a margin of better-than 3:1. New highs erupted to 1222, with only 95 stocks making new 52-week lows. Volume was impressive on the NASDAQ, but subdued on the NYSE, an ongoing trend.

NYSE Volume 4,512,912,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,799,845,500

Commodities joined in the rally, with crude oil futures gaining $2.84, to $85.84. Gold was higher by $6.20, to, $1,159.00, while silver added 16 cents, to $18.40.

The Dow is up 12% since the February 8 bottom at 9908. Investors will be keeping a close eye on initial unemployment claims on Thursday, as employment and housing continue to lag the stock market. Any good news from either sector will help keep the rally going.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Greece Gets Great Loans; Talbot's a Loser; Stocks Tack on More Gains

If anybody out there can offer advice on how to write the same story 33 different ways, I'll be your first subscriber, because that has been my primary task since February 8, the date of the last interim bottom on the Dow.

While the index hasn't been going straight up, it often seems that way, as, over the span of the past 44 trading days, the Dow has advanced 33 of them. That's a 3-1 ratio of up days over down, and a winning investing formula in anyone's book. I admit, due to my disbelief in the overall economic recovery that everyone keeps talking about but nobody sees, to have completely missed this 1100+ point rally.

That's my fault, but I'm also not about to jump in at these seemingly inflated levels, either. I remain steadfastly, stubbornly, in cash, and it's not a matter of wanting to catch the next low, because I probably won't be investing in stocks for the next few years, at least not US stocks.

Today was more of the broken record variety of days on the Street. Stocks were up, though not by much. Earnings are beginning to trickle into investor equations, with Alcoa (AA) announcing earnings in line with forecasts on Monday at 10 cents per share in the 1st quarter on revenue of $4.9 billion, lower than consensus estimates of $5.24 billion.

After the closing bell today, Intel (INTC) announced 1st quarter results of 43 cents per share, beating the street consensus of 38 cents. Revenue for the chip giant was $10.3 billion, on expectations of $9.84 billion.

Earnings season is off to a good start. Even a company like Talbot's showed a profit of 7 cents per share, even better if you exclude one-time items (Why not? It's a party!). The women's retailer then shows 13 cents per share.

The company had been on the brink of failure, but has redefined itself over the past two years. Still, it's profit was a mere $4.1 million for the quarter, but shares rose significantly due to the amount of short interest. Selling at nearly $15 per share, investors are taking a pretty heavy risk with Talbot's. The company shows negative return on equity, virtually no growth, a p/e of 27 and nearly a half billion dollars in debt. That debt burden alone is enough to keep heavy volume investors away and the shorts making their downside bets.

Talbot's looks a lot like the nation of Greece, which should be the subject of some focus due to the favorable loans it secured from the EU and IMF. Greece will be able to finance its debts at around 5%, or about 100-120 basis points below market rates. The unusually-generous terms have been applied because all of the European finance ministers understand that a Greek default would likely have a severe domino effect on countries like Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain. The stronger nations, especially Germany, would likewise be affected, either having to underwrite immense losses or suffer a collapse of its own economy or the Euro.

While a decoupling from the Euro might be the very best thing for the Germans and the continent as a whole, scrapping the entire Euro project has not been something widely anticipated, though it could very well happen within the next 2-3 years. The Southern countries aren't nearly as industrious as their Northern neighbors, and the German populace isn't taking kindly to the concept of bailing out countries which cannot manage their internal budgets. Giving Greece better terms than the very best borrowers, when they are, in fact, sub-prime, at best, reeks of the kind of unfair "picking winners" that was a hallmark of the infamous bank bailouts in the US.

With Greece, failure is being rewarded. With Talbot's, failure has only been delayed. The losers will be the investors who could not judge the risk, as it should be.

Dow 11,019.42, +13.45 (0.12%)
NASDAQ 2,465.99, +8.12 (0.33%)
S&P 500 1,197.30, +0.82 (0.07%)
NYSE Composite 7,638.35, -3.40 (0.04%)

Volume was a little bit perkier than normal, possibly owing to options expiration on Friday or the flood of earnings announcements due out over the next two weeks. Advancing issues outnumbered losers, though marginally, 3362-3108. New highs bettered new lows, 646-50.

NYSE Volume 5,806,878,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,557,582,750

As oil dropped for the fifth straight day, CNN Money ran this headline, Oil declines on oversupply worries. All we can say, after watching naked speculation take the price above $87 last week is, "no kidding?" Crude dropped another 29 cents, to $84.05 on the day, which is still $20-35 above where it should be. The oil speculators are so concerned about keeping the price this high due to imminent, continuing threats of production cuts by the oil-rich nations of the mid-East. Their economies are teetering on insolvency and a price of at least $80 per barrel is needed to keep them current on payments. Eventually, somebody's going to see the light and force the price lower, despite the economic realities facing the royal Suadis and other potentates in the region. Maybe Russia.

Gold dropped $8.80, to $1,152.80, while silver slid 16 cents to $18.24. Once again, the metals are unable to break out to new highs, for reasons that should, by now, be pretty obvious to everyone.

Where are the jobs, and how about that housing market?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Numbers Racket

We are entering a glorious new age of prosperity and health, where no person will want for any thing, be it large or small. The government and the brilliant men and women running our largest corporate enterprises shall ensure that the necessities of our lives will be provided to all.

OK, now that kind of statement is right out of the Orwell handbook, but it is apparently the kind of Kool-Aid that Wall Street and the financial media seem to want to project. At least that's the impression left by 13 months of non-stop gains in the markets and another small, but still significant, rise today which pushed the Dow past 11,000 for the first time since September, 2008, some 20 months ago. It's a meaningless number, just like 2500 on the NASDAQ and 2000 on the S&P, both figures within hailing distance. They're just round and big, and that's why they get noticed. Look, even I'm mentioning them.

If you're paid to watch these things and/or report on them, then you might want to make the case that certain benchmarks are actually meaningful whether they are or not.

Dow 11,005.97, +8.62 (0.08%)
NASDAQ 2,457.87, +3.82 (0.16%)
S&P 500 1,196.48, +2.11 (0.18%)
NYSE Composite 7,641.75, +12.70 (0.17%)

Gainers knocked losers for the umpteenth time in the past two months, 3704-2780. On the 8th of February, the Dow closed at 9908.39. Since then - two months time - the index has gained 1100 points (11%). It is running at an annual rate of 66%. Those kinds of gains are not normal, and anyone who tells you they are is a liar. Simply put, the market is running on fumes and cheap dollars. The rally is as unrealistic as it is unsustainable.

New highs were prolific at 900. There were but 90 new lows. Volume was still limp and lacking.

NYSE Volume 5,071,607,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,066,159,250

Some interesting merger news today involved Haliburton (HAL) which will purchase Boots & Coots (WEL), Cerberus will take private Dyncorp International (DCP), and Reliant Energy (RRI 4.53) and Mirant (MIR 12.68) will engage in an all stock merger. Though all separate deals, they are actually part of the same umbrella, all engaged in Mid-eastern politics, war, oil and security. The Cerberus deal is likely the most nefarious, since Dyncorp is heavily involved in procurement, security and god--knows-what-else in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, Cerberus is the company that brilliantly took Chrysler private in 2007 and had to be bailed out by the government in 2008. According to published reports, Cerberus was supposed to have "eliminated" its 80% equity stake in Chrysler, but maintain a controlling stake in Chrysler Financial. About a year ago, Cerberus was supposed to have utilized the first $2 billion in proceeds from its Chrysler Financial holding to backstop a loan allocated to Chrysler automotive in December by the Treasury Department.

Whether or not that exact deal took place or not is unknown, though the murkiness of all of the bailout flotsam has become de rigeur. A private company like Cerberus, with seemingly unlimited amounts of capital to invest, can do pretty much what it wants, especially when it gets stamped "approved" by the friendly federales.

As for commodities, oil fell 58 cents, to $84.34. This should come as no surprise to anyone, as $86 oil is about as welcome as $3/gallon gasoline, and we're already approaching that threshold. Gold gained 50 cents, to $1,161.60. Silver gained 6 cents, to $18.40. That's not surprising. What will be interesting is to see which cartel breaks apart first: the oil price riggers, the metals and gold bugs, or the stock jocks.

It's a racket. A numbers racket.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rally in Stocks Continues Despite Global Headwinds

If you understand anything about Socionomics, the widely-misunderstood study of people and markets which has Elliott Wave principles at its roots, you'd understand that the current, prolonged rally is nothing more than part of a corrective phase.

For Dow Theorists, the rally represents a bull move inside of of a secular bear market, or primary trend.

Either of those theories would be sufficient to explain away the outstanding gains of the past 13 months, but, it appears to be getting long in the tooth (though I've been saying that since January, so I'll take my forty lashes now, thank you), especially as 1st quarter earnings season approaches forthwith.

Much of the earnings expectations for stocks has already been "baked into the cake," so to speak, and, if that's the case, both the Dow Theorists and Elliott Wavers will be proven right over the next three weeks. However, nobody knows the future and nobody has yet invented a fool-proof predictive tool for markets, so we look upon this week's and todays gains as something of a marvel of modern media. Either that or there's a serious short squeeze going on out there.

For the second straight session, stocks have started slowly and gained momentum, finishing at or near their highs, usually a solid sign for the bulls, but today's reversion to low volume puts a less-optimistic spin on the day's trading.

Dow 10,997.35, +70.28 (0.64%)
NASDAQ 2,454.05, +17.24 (0.71%)
S&P 500 1,194.37, +7.94 (0.67%)
NYSE Composite 7,628.99, +63.66 (0.84%)

Advancing issues out-muscled decliners, 4028-2392; new highs jumped again, to 686; new lows were up as well, but only to 61. Volume fell back into its dull habits. Once again, stocks are being driven higher by speculation, not fundamentals, and, even though social mood may be improving, the overall dynamics of the global economy remain challenging. Greece comes to mind, as does California and New York states.

NYSE Volume 4,972,624,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,056,057,875

Commodities were mixed once more, with oil down for the third straight day, off 49 cents, to $84.92, though gold was higher by $8.90, to $1,161.10 and silver picked up 22 cents, to finish the week at $18.34. Gold is at a 3-month high, while silver has made its thrid foray above the $18 mark since November. It has not been able to continue rallies past the $18.25-18.55 range.

What this all means for stocks, money and your personal economy depends entirely on your allocation and how long you intend to remain invested. Cash appears to be less of a choice right now, which is as good a reason as any to build cash reserves. when nobody else is doing it, it's usually the perfect time.

In the coming weeks, we'll determine how prescient that idea is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Unemployment, Retail Offer Mixed Picture

Stocks opened the day to the downside, nervous about the persistently high level of unemployment claims. Initial claim came in this morning at 460,000, about 25,000 more than had been expected. They've been in that mid-400,000 range for months and don't seem to be changing much. Continuing claims were down by 131,000, which somewhat tempered the pessimism.

Once stocks began trading, however, everybody became a buyer in what turned into a day-long rally, ending on the upside for all of the major indices. Retail sales figures for March were generally superior, though they did happen to include the week prior to Easter, which fell in April last year, skewing comparisons for same-store sales throughout the industry.

Again, they proved good enough to entice investors to buy, or at least not run screaming from them. Most of the economic data of late has been mixed, except for housing and unemployment, which remain seminally ugly.

Dow 10,927.07, +29.55 (0.27%)
NASDAQ 2,436.81, +5.65 (0.23%)
S&P 500 1,186.43, +3.99 (0.34%)
NYSE Composite 7,565.33, +19.15 (0.25%)

Advancers took back the edge from decliners, 3396-3016. New highs are beginning to come back to earth, only 398 of them today, as opposed to 27 new lows. Volume was better than normal, though still below 2003-07 levels.

NYSE Volume 5,246,828,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,342,815,500

Oil trended lower for the second straight day, losing 49 cents, to $85.39. Gold dipped 10 cents, to $1,152.20 and silver fell 7 cents, to $18.12. The day in commodities lacked clear direction.

More attention was being paid to Tiger Woods' return to golf at the Masters than the prices of stocks today. Between that distraction and generally nice weather, it's surprising anybody even shows up to trade on the Street these days.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Savvy Consumers Shun Credit; Markets React Poorly

There truly is a disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. The pinstriped crowd looks at the world through some-colored glasses, and while we're not sure whether they're rose or some other shade, their view of the world is certainly clouded by dollar signs, at the least. Their vision is that of an amorphous blob, a mass of numbers and data points and signals, charts and vector graphs all pointing in one orderly direction: toward their commission check. It is difficult for the average Wall Streeter to comprehend how people could miss a payment, budget and save, or go without something they desire.

Main Street's view is much more realistic. People are paid - and taxed - according to their worth, for the most part. You produce or you go home. You work or you become part of the underclass. Most Main Street Americans - businesspeople and consumers alike - comparison shop, love a good bargain and are generally (as compared to their Wall Street counterparts) frugal. They try to make ends meet, keep their places of employment and their homes clean and operable and they do most of these manual chores themselves. They understand just how much a dollar can buy and how many dollars they need to get through the week and the month. They have real needs and many of them are just a paycheck or three away from despair, if not already there.

These differences were never more noticeable than this afternoon, when the Federal Reserve announced that consumer credit outstanding declined at an annual rate of 5.6%, seasonally adjusted, down $11.5 billion, to $2.448 trillion in Febraury.

Wall Street's reaction to Main Street's frugality? You guessed it: fear and near-panic. Consumers not spending like drunken sailors is anathema to Wall Street. And not using credit is regarded as almost other-worldly. Wall Street just cannot get it through their heads that the rest of the world doesn't drive a Bentley, wear $2000 suits and fly to Curacao for weekends. Thus, when evidence like today's consumer credit condition - in decline 16 of the past 17 months - the investor class runs scared.

Sooner or later, they're also going to find out that many people can't afford the homes they're living in, and when that reality strikes home, it will make today's little scurry to the downside look like a walk in the park.

To illustrate just how much a drag on the US economy housing really is, this post and these graphs point out how far above historical levels housing prices galloped in the 2000s and just how poor the government's attempts to "stimulate" the market have been.

Since that's a story for another day, suffice it to say that Wall Street took a hit from the old reality pie straight in the kisser this afternoon. Following an exceptionally-well-received 10-year Treasury auction (another condition the "experts" had completely wrong), stocks were basically treading water until just before 3:00 pm, when the consumer credit news hit.

The Dow was off 124 points at the worst level, having earlier recovered lost ground after the $21 billion, 10-year Treasury auction which witnessed a 3.72 bid-to-cover ratio (far above the recent average of 2.87) and a solid 3.90% yield rate, which pushed 10-year yields further down, to 3.86%, by day's end. Yesterday, I wrote about fears of the 10-year heading North of 4% and why it isn't going to happen. Today we saw what was true. Indirect bidders (foreign central banks) accounted for 42% of the total, suggesting that maybe some people like US Treasuries at under 4% more than Greek's at around 7%.

Sure the Greek bonds offer more bang for the buck, but, then again, their economy might just blow up, too. Risk-avoidance is "in" once again.

Dow 10,897.52, -72.47 (0.66%)
NASDAQ 2,431.16, -5.65 (0.23%)
S&P 500 1,182.44, -6.99 (0.59%)
NYSE Composite 7,546.18, -58.26 (0.77%)

For a change, declining issues outpaced gainers, 3928-2577; new highs remained high at 600, compared to just 48 new lows. The most significant numbers were the volume readings, however, which evidenced a noticeable spike in trading activity. From a technical perspective, after days of low volume gains, a high-volume decline is a harbinger of doom and a sign that a corrective phase could soon be upon the markets. Almost everybody knew that stocks were overbought heading into earnings season and these upcoming 2-3 weeks could be damaging to sentiment long term.

NYSE Volume 5,700,141,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,872,620,250

The commodity market seemed uniformly confused by the day's data. Crude oil took a bit of a breather, losing 96 cents, to $85.88, but gold galloped ahead $17.20, to $1,152.30 and silver pushed higher by 27 cents, to $18.18, close to 52-wee highs. The metals moves make no sense at all in what can only be described as a deflationary environment, unless there was a rampant short squeeze, which many suspect this was. The metal may be giving an extended head-fake or be reacting to the credit numbers in a flight to safety.

Either way, the US is far from being clear of the crisis. Wall Street may be just beginning to find out what Main Street already knows.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fear and the 10-Year Treasury Yield

Talk is rampant in financial circles over the trending 10-year bond yield, the benchmark Treasury that touched the 4.00% mark on Monday. In general terms, rising bond yields mean rising interest rates overall, from everything from credit cards to home mortgages and also serves as a early warning sign for inflation.

The run-up of the 10-year bond yield has sparked new widespread fears that inflation may return to US markets, crimping the year-long rally in stocks and pounding down any hope for recovery in the housing sector. These fears are largely unfounded, however, because the alignment of Treasury yields to the real economy is simply not sensible at this time.

First, the Fed isn't going to move on interest rates any time soon, even though they merely follow the direction of the markets as a normal course of operations. Second, higher interest for loans is something of a mystical chimera, since only mortgage loans have been held lower by the unprecedented slump in residential housing. Credit card rates for most Americans are already sky-high, with no relief in sight from the immoral banks and credit lending companies.

Third, as an inducement to inflation, bond yields should work as a dead weight on equities, as investors can make worry-free money on Treasuries as opposed to stocks. If stocks, and their underlying companies are forced to pay more for money that is going to slow down everything, from sea to shining sea. Additionally, high unemployment is underpinning the entire economy, producing slack demand, though the incredible sums of stimulus money has worked as an inducement to spend, baby, spend.

Treasury yields on the 10-year have been abnormally low for some time and will probably remain so, until there are real, powerful signs of a sustained recovery. The 160,000 jobs created in March are a one-off, hardly indicative of a trend, though one would have to believe that businesses simply cannot cut many more workers.

There are more factors at work, including flat wage growth and tight lending standards which are keeping robust economic growth in check. The 10-year hit 4%, and backed off immediately, as is the cyclical nature of the beast. The chances that it will surpass that mark and remain there are about as good as they are for yields to fall back into the 4.4 to 4.6% range, which is where they're likely to head in coming weeks and months.

What may be the real concern not finding any voice anywhere, is that foreign investors have soured on the longer-term Treasury offerings, the 10 and 30-year bonds, and are demanding a better payout. That would make more sense than any other argument recently being offered.

Investors on Wall Street still don't seem very afraid of anything, as stocks fell early in the day but rebounded on US dollar weakness. The weak dollar - strong stocks trade continues to be the height of Spring fashion, even as wrong-headed as that condition appears to be.

Dow 10,969.99, -3.56 (0.03%)
NASDAQ 2,436.81, +7.28 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,189.43, +1.99 (0.17%)
NYSE Composite 7,604.44, +3.51 (0.05%)

Volume remained subdued as advancing issues soared past decliners late in the day, 3706-2731. New highs beat new lows by better-than a 10-1 margin, 917-90.

NYSE Volume 4,615,025,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,122,137,250

Oil rose for the sixth straight day, as though the warmer weather would serve as an inducement for everyone in America to go out for a leisurely drive. Crude for May delivery rose 22 cents, to $86.84, based entirely on nothing. There's are better arguments for oil selling for lower prices than there exists for supporting higher ones: higher prices for energy serve as a tax on consumers and takes away from other discretionary spending. But, being summer in America and the media foisting the parlance of "recovery" upon us, $3.00 a gallon is already standard in larger metropolitan areas.

Gold finsihed ahead by $2.20, to $1,135.10, though silver fell 19 cents to $17.92. We may be close to a temporary top in metals and most other commodities as well. The global economy cannot withstand a bout of inflation at this juncture, especially with entire nations suffering from the debt bomb. Consumers seem to be still pretty well entrenched, so where the spending is coming from is anybody's guess.

The bond yield bulls have it all wrong. Longer-dated instruments aren't going to exacerbate an already steep yield curve.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Self-fulfilling Market

Does it take a genius to see where the market is headed and why the rally which began a year ago is probably the most overblown equity bubble of all time?

Probably. And you're probably not a genius, so you have to trust the talking (nodding) heads on CNBC and Fox Finance for direction. Or maybe your broker, or cabbie, or the shoeshine guy.

Stocks just keep going higher, and we all know that they shouldn't be where they are, especially when unemployment is still at 9.7% and the housing market is in the midst of a 10 year slump. Why complain? We're all getting richer.

Well, OK. Former VP Dick Cheney said "deficits don't matter." He also said the Iraqi resistance was in "their last throes." That was 2005. So, take your advice from him if you like, but many of us with just a little dose of common sense understand that deficits do matter and that Dick Cheney was - and is - a liar galore.

Dow 10,973.55, +46.48 (0.43%)
NASDAQ 2,429.53, +26.95 (1.12%)
S&P 500 1,187.44, +9.34 (0.79%)
NYSE Composite 7,600.93, +61.91 (0.82%)

Advancing issues socked it to decliners again, 4872-1690, almost a 3-1 margin; new highs beat new lows, 926-106. Volume, however, was so low that it now has become an embarrassment to any serious student of markets. The persistence of low volume in the market is indicative of one that is self-funded, and when the wheels come off, when the game is over, these very same self-funders will be rending each other's flesh, just like in 2008.

NYSE Volume 4,269,053,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,050,514,750

Crude oil broke through some key resistance and gained $1.75 on the day, closing at $86.62, the highest price in nearly 18 months. And it's done this in an environment full of surplus. We should expect Dick Cheney to come out of his crypt and declare that supply and demand doesn't matter, either.

Gold is closing in on its all-time high, gaining $7.80, to $1,132.90. Silver scored another 23 cents to finish at $18.10.

It's all just so perfect for a world full of suckers who don't want to feel any hardship.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gathering Momentum Prior to Payroll Data... April Fools?

First, an apology for yesterday's misinformation, in which I stated that the non-farm payroll data would appear within 24 hours of yesterday's post. I was mistaken, having jumbled Thursday and Friday. The government jobs data for March is due out Friday morning - tomorrow - at 8:30 am. Markets are closed, so the number can slip into the mainstream without much reaction, until Monday, that is.

Traders were tripping over each other today to buy stocks. Not that there was any particular rationale; stocks are overpriced right where they are. However, since it was the first trading day of a new quarter, there were probably a good number of funds with cash on hand, so, instead of just letting that money take up space, they put it to work. One can't really blame the traders, brokers and fund managers. They just don't know how to do anything else.

Dow 10,927.07, +70.44 (0.65%)
NASDAQ 2,402.58, +4.62 (0.19%)
S&P 500 1,178.10, +8.67 (0.74%)
NYSE Composite 7,539.02, +91.22 (1.22%)

Gainers beat back losers, 4348-2107. There were 593 new highs, and 73 new lows. Volume was better than average on the NASDAQ, but down in the dumps on the NYSE.

NYSE Volume 4,502,472,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,281,689,000

Oil gained $1.11, to a 17-month high, at $84.87 per barrel. Gold shot up $11.80, to $1,125.10, and silver was up 38 cents, at $17.88.

Most of the enthusiasm could be tied to this morning's initial unemployment claims figure, which came in at 439,000, which was a little better than the 450,000 expected, and slightly lower than last week's revised 445,000.

Call me skeptical, but the initial claims numbers sure seem more alarming than reassuring. If the investor class can get jazzed over beating expectations by 11,000, which works out to a 3% beat, then I suppose that the Dow could gain 1000 points if it were ever revealed that the US was actually creating jobs instead of losing them.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high at 9.7%, and these weekly unemployment claims should be falling into the neighborhood of 200-340,000 in a stable economy. From the looks of things, we're nowhere close to that.

Wall Street loves the numbers, though, as they seem to love every number, finding a silver lining in just about any data, no matter how horrific. It is rumored that many of those working on Wall Street also believe in the Easter Bunny. He looks a lot like Ben Bernanke.