Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stocks Take Another Hit, But, Why?

Major US indices fell for a fourth consecutive session - with the exception of the Dow, which eked out a 1-point gain on Monday - and there are likely several reasons why this downtrend has continued and actually accelerated, with the biggest drop coming today.

After all, it is the beginning of earnings season, and first quarter results are expected to be pretty good. But is the market looking down the road, or could investors be wary of margin squeezes caused by runaway commodity prices, or consumer depression caused by over-the-top gas prices?

One thing's for sure: the winter was a long and cold one, and nobody got a break from high heating bills in a majority of the heating states of the Northeast and Midwest. That certainly couldn't have helped household budgets much and a Gallup poll released today suggests that Americans are as displeased with current and future conditions as they were this time in 2009 and through the middle of 2010.

The poll showed that only 33% of respondents in March think the economy is "getting better." That's a drop from 36% in February and 41% in January.

Another possibility is that the now-month-old tragedy in Japan is also worsening, as officials raised the level of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident to 7, on a par with the disaster at Chernobyl, 25 years ago.

Perhaps the stock market wasn't really sold on the late-night budget deal reached on Friday night (We had expected this was only a continuing resolution and were right) and the potential that the deal could fall apart. Details are just beginning to trickle out that the cuts amount to much less than the $38.5 billion reported and that members of both parties, in bouth houses of congress, are displeased.

At Business Insider, Joe Weisenthal reports that the government might still shut down, this Friday. The AP has details from just where the phantom cuts are coming.

So, here we go again? The 2011 fiscal year ends September 30 (about 5 1/2 months from now), and the budget is still being trimmed, debated and flayed? This is no way to run a country, especially one as on the financial ropes as the USA. Get ready for more drama from the queens on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

The Hill has more detail on the cuts, which will go to a House floor vote on Thursday. The legislation is known as H.R. 1473, for those wishing to keep score at home.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned possibilities and potentialities, the Fed's ending of thier policy of handing over free money to Primary Dealers in June, via QE2, might be on the minds of many in the investment world. When that nearly $100 billion a month stops, so might Wall Street's 2-year-long party. In a related note, the Fed released it's schedule of banker handouts (POMO) for the remainder of April through May 12.

All of this news added up to some big drops in the equity markets, centered around just about 1% overall. Commodities were hit even harder (see below).

Dow 12,263.58, -117.53 (0.95%)
NASDAQ 2,744.79, -26.72 (0.96%)
S&P 500 1,314.16, -10.30 (0.78%)
NYSE Composite 8,360.46, -85.31 (1.01%)

Declining issues clobbered advancers again, 4883-1663, a nearly 3:1 ratio, the largest of the past four sessions. On the NASDAQ, new lows overtook new highs, 56-39, but it was the other way around on the stubborn NYSE, with new highs holding a slim edge over new lows, 41-20. A similar pattern was witnessed in March, with the new lows overtaking new highs on both indices for 4-6 days, but the supposed correction was cut short by a surprise rally that now seems to have run up against resistance and is failing fast. Volume was not spectacular, and would most accurately be described as moribund. Another few days of this, and another row over continuing funding to the federal government could put the kibosh on 2011 gains, short and long term.

NASDAQ Volume 1,798,176,500
NYSE Volume 4,735,433,500

Oil took another massive hit in price on Tuesday, with WTI crude futures falling $3.67, to $106.25, and even lower after NYMEX trading closed. That's a two-day drop of $6.52 per barrel and motorists can only hope the trend continues. There are a lot of speculators in the market, and estimates range from them making up anywhere from 10-40% of the oil price.

Of course, in a real world, with real world consequences coming from an actually-functioning Justice Department, that would otherwise be known as price-fixing. Since the Attorney General hasn't been seen in six or eight months, and is generally regarded as the worst ever, don't expect anything like even an investigation to commence any time soon. We hear the name of the AG is Eric Holder, but nobody's been able to confirm that.

Along with oil, a good number of food and grain commodities are coming off their highs. Corn, soybeans and wheat were down the most, with lean hogs and live cattle following the trend. Gold slipped $14.50, to $1,453.60. Silver fell 55 cents, to settle in at $40.07 per ounce.

It has been said that one day does not make a trend, and there's truth in that, but maybe four straight declines in major indices are significant enough for somebody to take notice. It's no secret that the US system is largely bankrupt and operating on fumes and smoke, so it might be just a matter of time for the markets to correct. Naturally, the meddling Fed has kept the rally going with oodles of cash, and just to be sure, they gave some to the wives of some already-rich bankers, as Matt Taibbi reports for Rolling Stone.

Fair warning: reading Taibbi's latest story might lead to vomiting or breaking of inanimate objects. Strap in securely, as this story reveals just how corrupt and unbalanced the entire bailout process has been and continues to be.

Paging Ron Paul, paging Ron Paul. The country is calling on you to run for president.

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