Monday, May 2, 2011

Death of Osama bin Laden Springs Bernanke Trap

Whether or not one accepts the story of the demise of Osama bin Laden as gospel or Golem, there is no doubting that the mainstream news media is treating it as the truth, and celebrating it with requisite aplomb.

It served as the leading commentary to an otherwise dull Monday, especially in the financial markets. At one time, the capture or death of the man who was widely recognized as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was thought to able to create a market rally of dizzying proportions, but today's response was muted, if not downright dismissive of the manhunt that took nearly ten years, untold thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars.

The euphoria felt at the White House on Sunday night was not reflected in the trading on Wall Street, though the death of the world's most infamous terrorist did manage to provide a suitable cover story for crashing silver, and, to some degree, calming the Midas effect in the gold pits.

Other than those obvious manipulations, the death of OBL did less to inspire confidence than it did to induce relief that the most evil person in the world had finally met his maker. The rest of the moves in the market could widely be attributed to nothing as earth-shattering as the ordinary movement of the US Dollar against other fiat currencies, particularly well=reflected by the dollar index (DXY).

Initially higher on the news, the DXY lost ground throughout the day, finally bottoming out at 72.72 in early afternoon before rallying back to 73.04 at the 4:00 pm NY close. The decline and subsequent rise in the dollar index was the primary mover of stocks throughout the session, in an inverse relationship that has been in effect since the first round of QE in 2009.

In essence - apply tin-foil hat here in appropriate degree - the timing of OBL's death came at the perfect time for the world's money men. The dollar had been in a vicious slide over the past three months, which fueled the commodity and stocks boom, but was also threatening to undermine the reserve status of the US dollar. The decision to "pull the trigger" - whether real or imagined - quieted dollar devaluation fears, for now, but also took down stocks, creating a Bernanke Trap, in which monetization of US debt and the associated demise of the dollar gives rise to inflation and commodity speculation but the inverse could foment a stock market correction or crash and more severe economic fallout.

Thus, with the death of Osama bin Laden, we have a new enemy, the evil genius chairman of the Federal Reserve, the man behind the curtain pulling the levers, Ben Bernanke, and he is hopelessly trapped into a scenario in which neither outcome is preferable or palatable. One might assume that the esteemed chairman will side momentarily with the monetarists who believe dollar hegemony is preferable to runaway inflation and rioting at gas stations, though making assumptions in the age of political markets is a dangerous game.

For today, the dollar and Bernanke have survived, barely, but tomorrow may be another story altogether. In the very least, we can be assured that the killing of Osama bin Laden represents a shared view at the very pinnacle of power that the the overarching narrative needed to be changed, and abruptly.

Mission Accomplished.

Dow 12,807.36, -3.18 (0.02%)
NASDAQ 2,861.84, -11.70 (0.41%)
S&P 500 1,361.22, -2.39 (0.18%)
NYSE Composite 8,641.56, -29.85 (0.34%)

Market internals belied the slight declines. Stocks which lost ground far outnumbered those gaining, 4135-2454. On the NASDAQ there were 177 new highs and 28 new lows. The NYSE had 337 stocks make new highs and just 13 reach new lows. Obviously, the new highs were made early in the session, before the dollar began to rise and kill the carry trade (now known as risk on). Volume could best be described as either laughable, embarrassing or just plain disinterested.

NASDAQ Volume 1,768,677,875
NYSE Volume 3,669,946,000

WTI crude futures actually fell 41 cents, to $113.52, though that hardly can be construed as relief for motorists already feeling the pinch from $4.00 gasoline. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gas is now $3.95, so, $5.00 by summer becomes a distinct possibility in at least 10 states. Already 14 states are experiencing average prices above $4.00, with Hawaii the highest, at $4.57. The lowest average price is in Wyoming, at $3.60, hardly a bargain.

Precious metals were hammered down by the movers and shakers at JP Morgan and the Fed, with gold getting hit with a $19.80 decline, down to $1545.90 as of this writing. Silver took the brunt of the action, with five margin hikes in the past two weeks putting the kibosh on larger speculation in the paper markets. Silver fell $4.39, to $43.55, a point which may actually trigger more paper selling and eventually result in ramped up physical buying.

There's little doubt that the masters of fiat money at the Federal Reserve will do anything to keep gold and silver from appreciating, though they've been an abject failure up to this point. The Fed simply cannot stomach competing currencies and gold and silver amply qualify. If it means the end of screenings at airports and reduction of global tensions, maybe it's a worthwhile tradeoff, but the other side of the Fed's coin is already painted red. Any squelching of precious metals by pumping up the US dollar is likely to have similar deleterious effects on the risk trade in stocks.

At the end of the trading day, Tim Giethner made his appearance and the purpose of all the frenetic activities of the past 18 hours suddenly became crystal clear. The Treasury outlined plans to extend the deadline for raising the debt ceiling to the first week of August, thus delaying or deferring a crisis in the congress.

America teetering on a debt default with the currency debased for the whole world to see must have appeared as the opportune moment to divert attention by killing public enemy #1.

Mission accomplished, indeed, but beware the ultimate costs.

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