Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fitch Report on US Bank Exposure to Europe Crushes Stocks

Stocks were just trundling along on low volume Wednesday, until about 2:30 pm ET, when things took a turn for the worse. Nothing overly dramatic, but stocks began to slide from break-even into the red and accelerated at 3:30 - just 1/2 hour from the closing bell, when Fitch Ratings put out a report that focused attention on US bank exposure to Europe, saying that, though hedged, the top five US banks - Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Goldman Sach and Morgan Stanley (supposedly, those are the big five) - could suffer severely if the European debt crisis spirals out of control.

While there was nothing really new in the report, traders took it quite seriously, sending the Dow - already down about 75 points when the report surfaced - another 100 points lower into the close.

Gross exposures to large European countries was at the heart of the report, with US banks exposed to more than $400 billion of loans to France, the UK and banks in those countries. Despite steadfastly denying any outsized exposure to Europe, a half trillion dollars, as expressed by the Fitch report, isn't just chicken feed.

As to the sudden shift prior to the report going public, there was probably some degree of front-running by those with advance knowledge, generally the very same banks named in the report.

Earlier in the day, CPI was reported to be down 0.1% in October, industrial production improved by 0.7% and capacity utilization stood at 77.8%, up 0.5% from September.

By the end of the session, all sectors were lower, led by financials, especially Bank of America (BAC), which closed down 23 cents, to 5.90, its lowest close since October 7. Citigroup (C) was off 1.16, to 26.86, and Goldman Sachs (GS) fell 4.15, to 95.60.

Trade in crude oil was higher, though unusually focused on a plan to change the direction of crude oil flows on the Seaway pipeline, to enable it to transport oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The dense argument, which would, if oil were traded in a truly free and not-manipulated market, cause oil prices to fall, produced the opposite effect, with WTI crude rocketing above the $100 mark, as the gap between WTI and Brent crude continued to contract.

What seems to be in play is an overt effort to square the prices of the two grades worldwide. US oil has been creap for decades, but the price of crude in the US seems destined to rival that of Europe even though supplies in Canada, which has direct access to US markets, are high and could easily outstrip oil imports from the Middle East and elsewhere.

After President Obama shut down the proposed Keystone pipeline - which would have taken oil from the Alberta oil sands directly to Gulf Coast refineries - on regulatory and environmental grounds until at least after his supposed re-election, the only conclusion to be drawn is that it's not only the banks, the AMA and big pharma that have their tentacles around US politicians, but big oil as well, though that is hardly a revelation.

The news flow, from Europe and the US, continues to suggest that politicians and financial concerns know an economic downturn is just ahead, the only question being whether it's from natural economic forces or planned by the elitist elements in government, business and finance. Skeptics will call that "conspiracy theory" but since the politicians in the US (and probably in Europe) haven't done a thing to benefit the general population in two decades, why would they change their stripes now?

Dow 11,905.59 190.57 (1.58%)
NASDAQ 2,639.61 46.59 (1.73%)
S&P 500 1,236.91 20.90 (1.66%)
NYSE Compos 7,392.03 117.02 (1.56%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,940,961,000.00
NYSE Volume 4,034,991,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1427-4226
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 74-105
WTI crude oil: 102.59, 3.22
Gold: 1,774.30, -7.90
Silver: 33.82, -0.63

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