Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Day Without Disaster

Thankfully, Tuesday is almost over with and there haven't been any grave disasters, though the ones that have been hovering over the globe for the past few weeks are still far from resolved.

It seems to make some sense that markets would just wallow around until the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan are finally shut down, whenever that may happen, Colonel Qadaffi is defeated or found dead in Libya and the level of unrest settles down in various countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

That's exactly what went on today. There seemed to be no reason to either buy or sell equities and the major indices traded in narrow ranges all session long.

Naturally, conditions in the hot spots around the world could get better or worse, and nobody is really sure of anything at this juncture, especially when officials in Japan continue to stage a weird kind of kabuki theater in the way they report the situation at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, where four reactors have experienced some kind of explosion, accident, fire or other condition as an indirect result of the 9.0 earthquake that rattled the island nation on March 11.

That the reactors are spewing radioactive gasses and material is not disputed, but how much of which particular isotopes are going where and when has not been even remotely reported. All we know is that the radiation levels are higher than they were a week ago in various areas around the site and that the spread has become nearly global in nature, though slight in terms of actual threats to human health.

That's not really very reassuring since the problems persist and any increased exposure to any kind of radiation is potentially a health hazard.

Meanwhile, the US response, in conjunction with a bevy of nations, to the blood-letting in Libya has been met with considerable criticism and even our own representatives are speaking in tongues, with the president, congress and the military all putting out their own spin, none of it making a whole lot of sense.

More than likely, these issues will remain in some kind of focus for the coming weeks, if not months, and there will be other unexpected events in the interim. The best advice would be to expect the unexpected at this juncture, because nothing is for certain and situations are still, as they say, fluid.

Dow 12,018.63, -17.90 (0.15%)
NASDAQ 2,683.87, -8.22 (0.31%)
S&P 500 1,293.77, -4.61 (0.36%)
NYSE Composite 8,228.41, -27.95 (0.34%)

Declining issues dominated winners, 3743-2718. There were 72 new highs and 33 new lows on the NASDAQ; on the NYSE 109 new highs and just 8 new lows. Volume was miserably low. This was, if not the slowest trading day of the year, among the three or four worst. There's simply too much event risk associated to equities in the current cycle.

NASDAQ Volume 1,671,905,000
NYSE Volume 3,995,960,500

Oil finished at an even $104.00, up another $1.67 due to unresolved Middle East issues. Gold managed a squeeze out a gain of $2.30, closing at $1,427.60 in New York, within 1% of its all-time high. Silver gained nicely, adding 27 cents per ounce, to $36.27, the third-highest point in the last 31 years and just pennies away from the nominal high of $36.60, reached just two weeks ago, on March 7.

The longer it takes for Japan's nuclear reactor problems to be resolved, the longer stocks will remain bogged down, stuck in a range between the highs of February 18 and recent lows. Radiation leaks and potential melt-downs are nothing to joke about, and the condition of those plants is such that it could easily become a much more severe problem before it is eventually resolved.

There's already a panic quietly building world-wide, even though the reported radiation levels have been in an "acceptable" range. However, the longer the reactors leak radiation, the lower the tolerance of acceptance becomes. That situation remains highly volatile and potentially upsetting on a global basis, not only to investors but to the health of people.

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