While the plutocrats in Washington dither away valuable time trying to figure out the most politically-expedient way out of their self-imposed debt ceiling crisis, the rest of the world goes on, mostly oblivious to the debacle in the capitol.
Stocks, however, as money substitutes, aren't taking the "no news" as good news. In fact, markets are absolutely terrified, not that the current congress and president will find a solution by the artificial August 2 deadline, but that their efforts will be so futile and pointless that the ratings agencies will lower the US debt/credit rating from its now pristine AAA sovereign status.
While the majority of people neither understand nor care about this delicious little surprise coming down the road like a 60-ton freighter, Wall Street and other governments are frightened out of their boots because a drop in the US rating would add something like $100 billion of cost - in interest - to the annual federal budget, which is already way out of whack.
Whether it be Obama's refusal to put a concise deal on the table, or the Tea Party wing of the Republican party insistence that there be no revenue enhancements in any kind of deal, the result will be the same as it has been for the past 12 years for congress and the presidency: abject failure, and a hike in interest rates.
Without poring over details of how the past three years have played out, we are approaching a seminal moment in the history of the United States of America and in the financial policies post-Bretton Woods. Nixon's closure of the gold window was the first inflection point, at which currencies were no longer backed by gold. The accumulation of nearly $15 trillion in debt and the failure of government to not only foresee the problem, but then to not be able to deal with it, is the second great event.
With just seven days until the government begins defaulting on some debt, markets are skittering about like schoolchildren at recess and there's nobody in his or her right mind who wishes to be exposed to inordinate risk at this point. With each passing day that there is not a deal and signed legislation increasing the debt ceiling, expect markets to recoil in terror. By Friday, we could be witnessing an all-out crash as many participants choose to sit on the side rather than engage in the dizzying dance of death.
The outflows from stocks were seen mostly at the end of the day, when the major indices peaked just after 2:00 pm EDT. From there until the close it was nearly free-fall, with all of the day's tiny gains wiped out in a flurry of near-panic selling.
One hates to beat a dead horse, but this debt ceiling debate is still alive and kicking, barely, and it will dominate financial news until something - anything - is done to rectify the situation. Absolutely nobody is holding their breath waiting for that, however.
Naturally, there were swing trades and day trades made during the session, but nobody is staking out new positions in the most uncertain market of the past two-and-a-half years.
Dow 12,501.30, -91.50 (0.73%)
NASDAQ 2,839.96, -2.84 (0.10%)
S&P 500 1,331.94, -5.49 (0.41%)
NYSE Composite 8,331.67, -25.90 (0.31%)
Declining issues overwhelmed advancers for the second straight day this week, 4096-2434. NASDAQ new highs 29; new lows: 36. NYSE new highs: 44; new lows: 46. Combined totals: 73 new highs, 82 new lows, a slight shift to the negative for that particular indicator. Volume was reliatively light, as expected.
NASDAQ Volume 1,716,556,125
NYSE Volume 3,988,655,750
Crude oil advanced modestly, up 39 cents, to $99.59. Gold racked up another record high, gaining $4.60, to $1,616.80. Silver notched a 38 cent increase, to $40.70.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price index showed marginal gains of one per cent in the month-to-month numbers, but most of the 20 cites surveyed showed declines on a year-over-year basis.
New home sales sunk to 312,000 on an annualized basis in June. Some analysts were calling the number "unexpected," while the home construction industry has been in outright depression for more than three years.
Any further declines will be "expected" and those acting surprised will be executed by a firing squad of Mexican construction workers, as soon as they can be rounded up from immigration detention centers. (That's a joke, folks.)