Monday, October 31, 2011

MF Global Bankruptcy, Bank of Japan Send Stocks Reeling

Anyone who assumed that equity markets would behave after last week's Eurofix found out today what a sadly mistaken assumption that is. Stocks fell right from the opening bell, stabilizing about two percent lower, but capitulating in the final minutes of trading to end near session lows.

Part of the catalyst for selling stocks was the widespread appreciation that not all of Europe's problems are solved, but also the trading suspension and subsequent bankruptcy filing by MF Global (MF), a primary dealer run by former Goldman Sachs CEO, former New Jersey governor and regular Bilderberg atterndee, Jon Corzine. (Yes, it's true, the rich do sometimes eat their own.)

The firm was under pressure recently after having made sizable investments in risky European sovereign bonds, many of which have blown up and become worth much less than what MF Global had paid.

A swell fact box from Reuters shows that MF Global is the 7th largest bankruptcy since 1980, though it's probable that any bankruptcies prior to that date are smaller than #15, IndyMac, which went bust for $32.73 billion in 2008. Also worth noting is that 13 of the 15 occurred after 2000, and three of the top four happened in 2008-2009. So, the question of whether MF Global's little $41.05 billion will cause consternation and contagion, and, if so, how much?

The bankruptcy filing showed Corzine's firm listing as its largest unsecured creditors, JP Morgan Chase (JPM) $1.2 billion and Deutsche Bank about $1 billion.

With Europe still unsettled despite the outline of plans being trotted out last week (and the market rallying strongly), there's still plenty of counterparty risk whisking around the toilet bowl of global debt and MF Global, being a primary dealer, had all the advantages one could dream of and still went up in flames.

Adding to Monday's melodrama was the poor report from the Chicago PMI, which came in at 58.4 for October after a 60.4 reading in September, yet another sign that the US economy may not be doing as well as some might imagine.

The Bank of Japan intervened in its own currency, selling yen and buying US dollars. This sent the dollar soaring and the yen plummeting, in a move the Japanese central bank hopes would improve conditions for the nation's exporters. The follow-on was a crashing Euro, which confounded forex traders after the Euro had risen dramatically against the dollar over the past three weeks. Along with US stocks, commodity prices were mostly lower.

While the kick-off of the week was a rapid reversal of fortune after the extended bull rally of the past four to five weeks, there is certain to be more fireworks ahead. The Federal Reserve begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday, with a rate policy announcement due Wednesday. Hints that the Fed may embark on another round of QE have been circulating, though Fed members have not been forthcoming with details. There is also a bevy of economic data releases scheduled, with October Private Payroll data from ADP and crude inventories on Wednesday, unemployment claims, third quarter productivity, October factory orders and ISM Services on Thursday, prior to the Friday announcement from the Labor Department on non-farm payrolls for October.

With this kind of beginning, the markets will need some stroong economic data to stave off another batch of selling into perceived strength.

Dow 11,955.01 276.10 (2.26%)
NASDAQ 2,684.41 52.74 (1.93%)
S&P 500 1,253.30 31.79 (2.47%)
NYSE Compos 7,563.38 240.56 (3.08%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,788,364,125.00
NYSE Volume 4,310,269,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1125-4532
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 59-39
WTI crude oil: 93.19, -0.13
Gold: 1,725.20, -22.00
Silver: 34.35, -0.93

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