Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fed, ZIRP, QE2 Pumps Dow to Highest Close in 27 Months

Since the economy is still looking like something out of a B-grade horror flick, the Fed can take credit for one thing, at least, pumping stocks to levels not since they were going down, two years ago. The Dow Jones Industrials closed at its highest point since September 8 of 2008, when it closed at 11,510.74, on it's way to its eventual bottom on March 8, 2009, of 6547.05.

Today's close of 11,476.54 represents an overall 21-month gain from the bottom, of 75%, one of the most tremendous performances by the stock market in history. However, as we learned in 2008, these gains are largely transitory, on paper, unreal, and can be wiped out in a matter or weeks or months. Further, they have been fostered by trillions of dollars in bailouts, stimulus, fraud and deception on top of an economy that can't seem to move off square one, never mind creating any jobs for real, working Americans.

If it all seems somehow out of whack, it's largely because it is. Between TARP, QE, QE2 and two stimulus plans, the government - and the Fed - has gone deeply into debt and the burden pushed onto the taxpayer in the form of an overgrown public debt and federal budget deficits of over a trillion dollars a year for as far as the eye can see.

Meanwhile, the housing and manufacturing sectors of the economy have been shattered. Home prices are down 25-30% since 2006 on a national basis, with some areas - particularly Nevada, California, Florida and Michigan - experiencing deeper declines. Manufacturing has shed nearly 500,000 businesses since the early 2000s, along with more than 10 million jobs.

Unemployment, even narrowly defined by the BLS, is approaching 10%, though true measures of employment in America put the number closer to 20%, with some estimates ranging as high as 27%. In effect, about one in four able-bodied American under the age of 65 is not gainfully employed full time. This is a condition which cannot continue. High unemployment renders us a welfare state, complete with all the nasty side-effects: high crime rates, rising death rates, lower educational standards and a permanent underclass which now is beginning to occupy the outskirts of major cities across the country and especially in the South and Southwest. Homeless people tend to gather where it's warm enough to sleep out-of-doors, and the numbers are beginning to become staggering statistics.

The FOMC voted today to keep interest rates at ZERO to .25% for the 27th month in a row, neatly matching up with the collapse of the stock market, so, while the Fed has failed on multiple fronts, they get a big round of applause from Wall Street, as the only group seemingly doing just fine are bailed-out bankers and the corporate crack in which they traffic.

The only other measurable group doing well would be coin and bullion dealers and collectors, as gold and silver coins and bullion have appreciated at rates dwarfing stock market gains since 2000. Essentially, both precious metals have quadrupled in price over the past decade and silver, in particular, seems to be just getting started on a lengthy bull run. So long as the Fed keeps monetizing the debt and the banks fail to record and write down their losses, the metals will outperform all other asset classes.

Today's gains were once again truncated by late-day selling, after the FOMC announcement. There's little faith left in equities, as they nervously approach levels which are unsustainable in the current environment. Traders are counting the hours down to the year's end, after which they can make adjustments in January, but we're not quite there yet.

Dow 11,476.54, +47.98 (0.42%)
NASDAQ 2,627.72, +2.81 (0.11%)
S&P 500 1,241.59, +1.13 (0.09%)
NYSE Composite 7,855.22, +5.20 (0.07%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,767,595,125
NYSE Volume 4,579,517,500

Advancing issues trailer decliners, 3067-3346. New highs/lows on the NASDAQ were 158-23 and 176-113 on the NYSE. The high-lows are converging in a hurry, signaling that a major dell-off could occur within days. Volume remained weak. No news there.

Oil pulled back a little on the day, shedding 33 cents, to $88.28, though still close to 2-year highs. Gold was up most of the day, but barely hung onto a $1.40 gain, at $1395.90. Silver was also higher, but is now printing down 4 cents, at $29.51. This, after JP Morgan, in a terse statement, said they had trimmed their exposure to the silver market, the one they are accused of rigging for years and now the subject of a criminal class action suit.

Anecdotal evidence that the holiday shopping season is not at all robust got a kick of reality as Best Buy missed estimates by a wide margin, causing other electronics retailers and related industries to tumble.

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