Monday, March 4, 2013

Central Bank Bubbles Cause Dow to Hit 2nd-Best All-Time Closing High

There's been an ongoing debate over whether there is a bond bubble and whether - and when - it will finally burst.

With the Fed carrying the water for the US Treasury to the tune of 40-45% of all new debt issuance there's abmple evidence that Chairman Bernanke and his henchmen and women have had the bubble-blowing pipes surgically implanted into their collective mouths. They've managed to keep all interest rates at historically-low, bargain basement prices for the past four years, though the net results of their efforts have been widely different depending upon one's perspective.

For the nation's largest banks, Fed largesse has meant easy money with which to rebuild their badly-damaged balance sheets after the real estate debacle which ended in the 2008 crash. This easy money has also inspired rampant speculation by those very same banks and has trickled down to hedge funds, the marginal buyer in this runaway stock market.

Whether the bond bubble will eventually burst is a matter of conjecture and even more speculation, though one can be relatively assured that if such a bubble exists and does burst, rates will escalate higher in a disorderly fashion which will make any previous stock market crash look like a summer picnic. In sum, higher interest rates would wreck the global economy. Everyone from the marginal student lender to the great sovereign nations of the world would be unable to service debt at higher - and rising - interest rates. Cue the oompah band from the days of the Weimar Republic.

Where there exists a bona fide, can't miss, no-doubt-about-it bubble is in stocks. Friday will mark the four-year anniversary of the bottom of the 2008-09 slide into the abyss. In those four short years, the major indices have embarked upon one of the longest uninterrupted stock rallies in global history. The Fed's insistence to throw $85 billion per month at the market through the purchase of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities is like traders drinking from an endless champagne fountain, drunk in the knowledge that any slight pullback will be shortly erased by the ungodly amounts of capital flowing into the markets.

Because the Fed has crushed interest rates (and with them, savers), stocks are the only financial instruments by which one can expect a return in excess of inflation, which is, after all, the key to maintaining and developing a wealth portfolio.

One method by which one can identify a bubble is by watching the dips and subsequent rebounds. In the stock market, this phenomenon is readily apparent. Just looking at today's intraday loss of 61 points and the middday reversal and eventual positive close is evidence enough that - turning an old adage on its side - what goes down will go up.

Last week's 200-plus-point drop on Monday was snuffed out and overwhelmed in the next two days of trading. The pattern is unmistakable and repeatable throughout the four years of excessive Federal Reserve easing and zero interest rate policy. To say that such extraordinary measures are unsustainable would be the understatement of the millennium. Never before in recorded history have interest rates been held so artificially low for such an extended period of time.

The problem with the Fed's policies are that they are reckless and untried in practice. Based entirely upon a groupthink methodology of Keynsian economic theory, the Fed has taken a free-market demand economy and turned it into a manipulated, command-driven socialism experiment, and the results are not and will not be understood until there is an attempt to undo whatever good or damage has been done and return to a semblance of "normalcy," a term becoming more quaint and misunderstood each passing day.

Other than stocks and bonds, the Fed has created - with ample assistance from the inept federal government apparatus - a bubble in student loans, which last year exceeded the total amount of credit crad debt outstanding, approaching a trillion dollars.

One can argue that an education is a worthwhile investment, though, comparing to credit cards, at least most people would have something tangible to show for their monthly statement of debt-slavery. For the graduates and soon-to-be grads, they have a peice of paper attesting they have some rudimentary knowledge in some broad field of endeavor. In an economy long on promise and short on actual paying jobs, those sheepskins are, and maybe become even more, worthless.

The US Federal Reserve is not alone in blowing bubbles, though one can rest assured they were cheering the Chinese all the way toward creating what now must be considered the most massive real estate bubble in the history of the world, dwarfing the sub-prime fiasco by a matter of degrees.

As mentioned by many over the year and documented by CBS' 60 Minutes on the Sunday, March 3rd broadcast, the Chinese have created at least a dozen "ghost cities" complete with high-rises, shopping malls, streets and thoroughfares, infrastructure and amenities, just no people. The simple fact is that the Chinese people were sold a bill of goods by their own versions of snake oil salesmen, buying up properties in developments on the outskirts of most major cities, even though the apartments, housing and commercial rental units are far beyond the reach of the average Chinese working-class individual or family. The 12-minute clip is embedded below.

Whether the timing of the 60 Minutes report was coincidental or just dumb luck (being of the conspiracy mind, we think it's the former), the Chinese central government has imposed new rules designed to slow down the real estate frenzy or the piercing of the bubble, which will, without a doubt, eventually burst. The question is simply a matter of how long and how well Chinese officials can lie and obfuscate the reality that they have created a bubble that has - during the buildup - resonated worldwide, and will do the same as it deflates.

The new measures, which involve higher down payments and higher interest rates on second home buyers and a 20% capital gains tax on the sale of any housing unit that is not a primary dwelling. The Shanghai Composite lost 3.7% on the day, with a number of property development firms down the maximum allowable one-day drop of 10%.

With those results in tow, US stocks began the day lower, but, thanks to our own financial fantasy-land bubble machine, ended higher.

Once again, it seems the three most basic tenets of investment practice have been ignored: buy low, sell high, and do your own due diligence. People never seem to learn.

Oh, well. It's only money.

Dow 14,127.82, +38.16 (0.27%)
NASDAQ 3,182.03, +12.29 (0.39%)
S&P 500 1,525.20, +7.00 (0.46%)
NYSE Composite 8,901.07, +26.88 (0.30%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,716,599,625
NYSE Volume 3,701,113,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3483-2956
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 411-81
WTI crude oil: 90.12, -0.56
Gold: 1,572.40, +0.10
Silver: 28.50, +0.006

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