Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Light Volume, Low Volatility: Signs of Stagnation?

Since the dramatic rise to fresh multi-year highs this past Friday, the first tow days of this week have been nothing more than a major snooze-fest. Whatever the issue, stocks seemed stalled at these lofty levels, perhaps in anticipation of some new developments in the ongoing struggle to keep Greece functioning or possibly due to angst over the conditions in Iran, Syria, Egypt or some other place that seems ripe to explode.

The pattern for the last two days has been oddly similar, with stocks lower at the open, then a spike higher around 10:00 am ET, and a flattening out for the remainder of the session. The difference between yesterday and today is that yesterday's action kept the major indices in the red, while today's trade was mostly on the positive side of the ledger.

Tuesday was a little bit like Groundhog Day in that regard, and also due to Fed chairman Ben Bernanke delivering pretty much the same canned remarks to the Senate as he gave to the House last week.

A 24-hour general strike cripple Greece's already-impaired infrastructure so that negotiations on three fronts - dealing with private bondholders, dealing with funds from the troika, and acceptance of harsh austerity measures - were held mostly without much fanfare or publicity.

Greece's unity government (an oxymoron if ever there was one) needs to work out arrangements with each of their two parties of creditors, and with its own people, to secure another round of financing of 130 billion euro ($172 billion) before a scheduled March 20 payment on 14.5 billion euro of maturing debt.

Since it's obvious to everyone that Greece can't manage its own money, much less the bailout funds pumped into it just last Summer, the threat of default and expulsion from the Eurozone continues to weigh on Europe and the rest of the world.

It's a cruel game of chicken and Europe, in particular, is the worst for it.

One proposal that was floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to force the Greek government to allocate interest payments into an escrow account, so their profligate ways won't threaten future debt payments, much like a teenager with a co-signer on an installment loan. If it wasn't so sadly true, such an attempt to reign in Greece's spendthrift ways might qualify as humor. Unfortunately, the tragedy that is 21st century Greece does not look like it's going to have a happy ending.

Dow 12,878.20, +33.07 (0.26%)
NASDAQ 2,904.08, +2.09 (0.07%)
S&P 500 1,347.05, +2.72 (0.20%)
NYSE Composite 8,069.70, +21.67 (0.27%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,784,894,750
NYSE Volume 3,727,102,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2959-2649
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 249-7 (wow)
WTI crude oil: 98.41, +1.50
Gold: 1,748.40, +23.50
Silver: 34.19, +0.44

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