Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Greece to Philadelphia, It Is All Bad

Whether it's indecision by the IMF, the EU, the Greek government or any other body that has an interest in the continued operation of the nation formerly known as Greece, markets have been roiled by the chain of events, delays, misconceptions and outright fabrications that have come to light over the past two weeks in the continuing collapse of Greece, and, by proxy, the European Union.

The situation has been in flux and flummoxed for a fortnight, with no apparent end in sight. Various people whose names all sound like Pompondreaus and will soon be forgotten pledge to make austerity nation of the Greeks, resign their office or do some other dastardly deed, hoping to end the crisis, though, in reality, everybody knows that Greece must be set free to return to the Drachma as their official currency and be done with the eleven-year-old experiment that is the Euro.

Ditto that for Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and sooner or later, Italy and Spain. Within a few years time, if not much sooner, the European Union will cease to exist.

Between now and whenever the bankers and politicians can decide on how best to divide the spoils of their failed experiment in a unified currency, we are likely to see more riots, food lines, general strikes, paramilitary actions, riots, shortages, lies, changes of governments, riots and as much discontent as a continent can have without actually being at war. Of course, war is always an option, one which may be used as an interim resort, by which to save the fannies and faces of the corrupt and wholly bankrupt European banking system.

The effect on the US is felt in myriad ways. For one, our sovereign dollar becomes better looking as a "safe" currency, our bonds become more expensive and yield less and US global stocks go for a merry-go ride, such as today's.

Also affecting the price of stocks - discounting the usual front-running, insider scams and outright HFT manipulation - was the report from the Philadelphia Fed on business activity within that district, which sank from an already-abysmal reading of 3.9 in May to -7.7 in June, the worst number since July of 2009. This followed Wednesday's stunner from the NY region, which had the Empire Index at -7.8 in June after a 11.9 number in May. Both indices measure general manufacturing and business conditions for their respective regions and show a general malaise reappearing when we're supposed to be in the midst of a recovery.

It's simply not happening, as continuing unemployment claims showed, dropping a bit to 414,000 in the most recent week, though still far too high a number to indicate anything other than continued pain and a lack of available jobs for the shrinking American workforce.

Stocks responded with a zig-zag effect, up in the morning, down in the afternoon, with a half-hearted rally at the end. Apparently there is some stomach for the larger, established, global industrial stocks contained in the Dow 30.

Dow 11,961.52, +64.25 (0.54%)
NASDAQ 2,623.70, -7.76 (0.29%)
S&P 500 1,267.64, +2.22 (0.18%)
NYSE Composite 7,963.60, -4.21 (0.05%)

Internals were not bifurcated in the least, offsetting any calming effect the headline numbers might suggest. Declining issues led advancers once more, 3562-3022. The NASDAQ saw a mere 13 stocks make new highs, while 112 recorded new lows. New lows led new highs on the NYSE as well, 82-16, giving the edge to new lows for the 10th straight session, 194-29. Eventually, most likely on a free-fall day in which the Dow is down 300 or more points, this measure will read off the charts, with over 1000 stocks hitting new lows. It is a moment to watch for, because it will signal the second phase of the bear market, the one which usually lasts the longest and is the most painful, in which stocks trade sideways to down for an extended period of time. Watch for it in a few weeks or months, though it could come at any time, depending on the particular catalyst.

Volume was along the same range as yesterday's, not much help to anyone doing technical analysis, though probably favoring the bearish case more than anything else.

NASDAQ Volume 1,985,734,500.00
NYSE Volume 4,642,697,500

Unfortunately, WTI crude oil futures were up 14 cents, to $94.95, instead of continuing the precipitous decline. It's an odd paradox for the American consumer. While most would like to see oil around $60 a barrel, which would drive gasoline prices down to around $3.00 per gallon, the correlated rise in the dollar would also serve to drive stocks lower, such is the pair-trade these days. However, the resulting stronger dollar would do more than just keep fuel prices down. It would keep more money in the hands of consumers while lowering the cost of just about everything, because everything needs to be shipped from one place to another. Additional discretionary money in the consumer's hands would lead, most likely, to paying down more debt, which is needed, and giving a general boost to the economy, also sorely needed.

Why it will not happen is because it is inherently deflationary, something by which the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury cannot abide, simply because lower prices for consumer end-products, outright deflation and improving conditions would also push interest rates higher, making the debt more expensive to repay. Thanks to the wizardry of the Federal Reserve, Americans are barred from lower prices, saving, and actually living in a world in which every last penny is not spent on either food, energy or taxes.

It is completely untenable and eventually one side will have to give in. A few million starving Americans might just force the Fed's hand and allow natural market forces to take hold. (I am dreaming of course, but do not wake me.)

Precious metals were essentially flat, with gold up 10 cents, to $1529.30 and silver down six cents, at $35.53.

Friday will be interesting if only to see whether the current losing streak for stocks continues for a nearly unprecedented seventh straight week. With it being a quadruple-witching day, we should certainly have our doubts. The markets are temporarily oversold, so any impetus at all should result in at least a small rally, which will save the day, though the war is far from being over.

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