Friday, August 26, 2011

Bernanke Speaks, But Who's Buying the Rally?

As expected, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his highly-anticipated speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming this morning and did not outline any further Federal Reserve policies - specifically another round of quantitative easing (QE) - that would have signaled not only a weak, struggling economy, but more easy money for bankers, stock traders and the like.

Not that money isn't easy already. The Fed, in its last policy statement earlier this month, specifically stated that they would keep federal funds rates at close to zero until the middle of 2013. In the simplest of terms, the cost of money can't get any lower than zero, so any other stimulative motions would have - as have the last two rounds of QE - essentially been throwing good money after bad.

Wall Street's reaction to the Chairman's relaxed posture on monetary policy was not unexpected, but still a bit obtuse. After falling off precipitously in early trading (the Dow registered a 200+ point loss), stocks gathered momentum, went positive and ended the day - and the week - with broad gains. The only factor missing from the upside move was volume. Today's rally, like many which preceded it during the days of QE2, was rather muffled.

Two events, an ocean apart, will likely have major impacts moving forward into Monday. The Greece rescue plan has run into some turbulence, as Greece has set terms for the level of private participation and Euro nations spar and debate collateral obligations from the Greeks, now that Finland and Austria have secured such from the Greek government.

Along the Eastern coast of the United States, shorelines were being evacuated as Hurricane Irene meanders toward the Mid-Atlantic states of South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The sizable storm is expected to make landfall on Saturday at North Carolina's Outer Banks and proceed with a bee-line path toward the major metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, Northern New Jersey, New York and Boston.

Expected to raise water levels with a storm surge of as much as 20 feet, Irene has the potential to bring devastation to some of the most populated areas of the country.

Traders didn't seem to make much of such turbulent conditions in both the weather and the global economy. They also shrugged off the decline in the second estimate of GDP, from 1.3% to 1.0%, which was announced prior to the opening bell. The University of Michigan's consumer confidence index also rose slightly, from 54.9 to 55.7, but, like Bernanke's speech, the news seemed unimportant.

As it turned out, the major indices put in their first winning week in the last five, a hopeful sign that the averages have encountered only a correction and have not fallen back into bear market territory, even though there's quite a bit of chatter about a resumption of the recession, muted growth prospects and a subtle notion that the FOMC will announce some policy directions at their September meeting, possibly to include some form of monetary easing.

Dow 11,284.54, +134.72 (1.21%)
NASDAQ 2,479.85, +60.22 (2.49%)
S&P 500 1,176.80, +17.53 (1.51%)
NYSE Composite 7,245.82, +96.15 (1.34%)

Despite the exceedingly low volume, advancers slaughtered decliners, 5258-1302. NASDAQ new highs numbered just nine (9), with 106 making new lows. On the NYSE, there were 13 new highs, but 101 new lows. The combined totals of 22 new highs and 207 new lows continue to suggest further downside developments.

NASDAQ Volume 1,860,127,125
NYSE Volume 4,936,341,500

Oil was relatively unchanged for the second straight day, with WTI crude futures posting a gain of just seven cents, closing out the week at $85.37.

Gold roared back against the margin hikes and central bank shorting, posting a wicked gain of $56.20, boosting the price per ounce back to $1827.50. Silver continued its bounce, up 22 cents, to $41.34.

With stocks and precious metals both rising on the day, one questions which group of speculators has the market sentiment measured correctly as the two asset groups are usually polar opposites.

As long as there's more debt being created to pay back already soured debt, you can bet the gold bugs and silver eagles have it right.

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