Monday, August 1, 2011

Down to the Wire on Debt Ceiling Compromise

Over the weekend, House majority leader John Boehner genuflected to the Tea Party coalition of Republicans, put forth a bill that was sure to pass the House and die and the Senate, and that's exactly what happened.

By Monday morning, however, Senate majority leader Harry Reid had put together a compromise plan that has more chance of passing both bodies before the clock strikes midnight on the debt ceiling issue. Reid's plan calls for an initial $1 trillion in deficit reductions, all in the form of spending cuts, has a trigger for more cuts by Thanksgiving and puts the onus of delivering on mandatory cuts - should debate in congress not find suitable agreement - on a welve-member committee made up of six Republicans and six Democrats which would then make mandatory cuts to both Medicare and Defense spending among other programs.

While all this wrangling was going on the markets were closed over the weekend, but opened Monday morning in a very positive mood, with all major indices hitting their highs of the day within minutes after the opening bell.

The euphoric spirit was short-lived. At 10:00 am EDT, the ISM Index for July came in at 50.9, on expectations of a reading of 54.0. The sharp contraction - from 55.3 in June, reminded traders that whether or not the debt ceiling is raised, the US economy continues to stall out, sending all of the indices into free-fall. The Dow, which was up 139 points at the open, was lower by 100 points just 35 minutes later. Stocks continued to slide until the noon hour, bouncing off the bottom and finally rallying into the close, though all finished in negative territory.

For the Dow Jones Industrials, it was the seventh consecutive losing session, an event which has not occurred since 2002. And, as the market players took off their trading aprons and headed home, there still was no vote on the Reid plan, though indications were that both houses of congress would approve the measure and the president would sign it into law.

The debt ceiling, if the bill passes, will be raised to over $16.4 trillion, which should be enough to keep the Washington spendthrifts happy until after the 2012 elections. A vote is supposed to happen this afternoon or tonight, though no timetable has been announced.

What is annoying, or amusing, depending on your state of mind, is how the congress can waste so much time arguing, to only come up with a bill that satisfies nobody. The Tea Party faction held the public debt hostage, and likely will come out looking like winners in the end, though, typical of Washington, all will claim victory when actually nobody won a thing.

Meanwhile, we still await the vote, which is still somewhat in doubt.

Dow 12,132.49, -10.75 (0.09%)
NASDAQ 2,744.61, -11.77 (0.43%)
S&P 500 1,286.94, -5.34 (0.41%)
NYSE Composite 8,040.94, -38.50 (0.48%)

On the day, decliners beat advancers, 3416-3189. On the NASDAQ, 36 new highs were overshadowed by 99 new lows, while the NYSE registered 35 new highs and 93 new lows, making the combined total in favor of new lows, 192-71, continuing the sell signal. Volume was somewhat robust, as the kleptomaniacs behind the HFT (high frequency trading) computers shaved fractions from everyone on the way up, down and back up again.

NASDAQ Volume 2,176,811,750
NYSE Volume 4,948,650,500

Fortunately, crude oil, which was up sharply in the opening minutes of live trading, also reversed course and ended lower by 81 cents, at $94.89. Gold was also whipsawed, but ended down $9.50, at $1,621.70. Silver met a similar fate, losing 59 cents, to $39.31.

Whether or not the debt ceiling increase and debt reduction bill becomes law before the markets open tomorrow is in the hands of congress and president Obama, but the real test for markets will come later in the week, on Friday, when July non-farm payroll data is released. The market is expecting an increase of only 84,000 jobs, which would be bad enough to send stocks tumbling again. Many believe that number will not be met or even come close to, and that it's entirely possible that a number in the 20-30,000 range may be in store.

We'll get a preview on Wednesday, when ADP releases its private payroll report for the same period.

Money Daily will publish a special post, with more details, if and when the House and Senate approve the proposed legislation.

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