Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stocks Ripped Lower Again; More Questions than Answers

Since US stock markets are so delightfully linked t the fates of Europe, the same old story keeps repeating itself over and over, such as today, as the Euro fell sharply (1.00 EUR = 1.30348 USD) against major currencies and the Dollar Index closed at an eleven-month high (DXY:IND 80.273 0.708 0.89%).

While those dual developments are intertwined, the parties involved - from European, US and Chinese exporters to American and European consumers - will feel the effects in dramatically different manners.

Naturally, for most of Europe, a collapsing Euro is bad for consumers, making everything imported more expensive, but great for exporters, whose goods are cheaper by comparison in importing nations.

The opposite is true for the US, which is why stocks are usually down when the Euro dips and the dollar strengthens. Americans should welcome a stronger dollar, especially at this time of year, because all those trinkets and holiday goodies - mostly from China - will be cheaper, though probably not right away.

As has been a repeatedly-held view in this space, the Euro is headed for catastrophe, and it's going to occur sooner than anyone thinks, probably before the middle of 2012. German people are sick and tired of bailing out the Southern countries, Greece has already defaulted on some debt, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Belgium are holding on for dear life and the ECB is going to be quickly as tapped out of funds as its leaders are of ideas.

The idea of printing more money, as has been the case in the US, with dubious effect, will only make matters worse when inflation rages and dissatisfied citizens stop paying taxes in deference to feeding their families. The trouble is that sovereign debt, ridiculously rated at AAA or beyond, is about to be downgraded across the Euro-zone and beyond.

For those unfamiliar, sovereign debt is the money governments borrow to fund everything from pensions to schools to war machines (like here in the US). Most of Europe should be rated no better than A or A+, a move that is coming soon from either S&P, Moody's or Fitch, because nations have shown over time that while they may always repay on time, they are profligate spenders and tax revenues are dropping, not expanding. Balance sheets (those things nobody likes to look at) of most governments are ridiculous when compared to that of an average American or European family, who don't get the benefit of positive credit ratings, pay higher interest rates than silly governments, yet most manage to pay bills on time and keep their households in relative sanity.

With all of the monstrous debt of Europe and the US overshadowing just about all other economic realities, there are more questions than answers these days, a few of them being:

  • Where's the money (over $1 billion) that MF Global took from investors?
  • How soon will the ratings agencies lower the credit ratings of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and the rest of the Euro-zone nations, and, how far down will they go?
  • If US banks are borrowing at 0-0.25% from the Fed, why are credit card rates 8, 10, 15 and even 28% for US consumers who have solid track records of on-time payments?
  • Can government statistics be trusted at all?
  • Why would anyone under the age of 40 contribute to Social Security if not that it's automatically deducted from their paychecks?
  • If the world is headed for global depression, won't all asset classes, including gold and silver, devalue?
  • Why are government employees in the US paid 30-40% more than their private-industry counterparts and receive gold-plated health care and pensions, when the US population - who pays them - work for less, have fewer benefits and many have no guaranteed retirement plans?
  • Why is the world's greatest criminal, Hank Paulson, still a free man?
  • Where is Eric Holder, the Attorney General, and why hasn't he even investigated any of the banks or the prior administration?
  • Why must Americans choose between Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as the Republican presidential nominee when Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann have better positions and more consistent voting records?
  • Why is President Obama opposed to the Keystone pipeline that would bring oil from Canada (our largest trading partner and a friendly one) and thousands of high-paying jobs?
  • Why is 20% supposed to be a "fair" percentage one should pay in federal taxes when most people outside the middle class pay little to nothing?

Those are just teaser questions, without good answers from politicians, regulators, academics or economists. The tough ones await in the new year.

And, to those kids waiting for Santa Claus, you've got 11 days left to try being good. For the scoundrels on Wall Street, awaiting the famous, year-end Santa Claus Rally, you've been bad, so just coal (clean coal, for sure) for you, and, even if there is a rally, it will only get the indices back to where they were a week or a day or two ago, and 2011 will go down in the books as a year of near-zero (or less) returns. So much for owning stocks.

A couple of quick points on economic data. November retail sales figures were up 0.2%. There's one word to describe all the hoopla over Black Friday and the whole retail consumerism mantra. BULL---T.

The FOMC of the Fed had its last policy meeting of 2011 and did nothing. Thanks, for nothing.

Dow 11,954.94, -66.45 (0.55%)
NASDAQ 2,579.27, -32.99 (1.26%)
S&P 500 1,225.73, -10.74 (0.87%)
NYSE Composite 7,276.65, -86.84 (1.18%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,732,941,625
NYSE Volume 4,080,177,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1462-4165
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 107-146 (more red)
WTI crude oil: 100.14, +2.37 (higher due to fears over Iran)
Gold: 1,663.10, -5.10
Silver: 31.26, +0.26

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