Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stocks (and Oil) Can't Catch a Break

It was another ugly day on Wall Street, not because stocks finished higher, but because of how they got there.

Right out of the gate, the major averages were soaring, but all of the early gains were wiped away shortly after 11:00 am. Stocks zig-zagged through the midday, going positive, then negative, and, finally, just after 2:00 pm, decided that upwards would be the most-favored path, so the bid was in.

However, prior to that late-afternoon spike, there were more than a fair share of winners and losers, most of them being of the losing variety. Of the top ten most actives, nine of them were in the red, even with the indices moving decidedly positive. Only Apple (AAPL) was a winner, for reasons of which nobody could rightfully discern.

Of those nine losers, eight of them were energy or materials-related. The oddball in the group was Bank of America (BAC), which continues to shed market cap and is now in the early running for dog stock of the year (but, it's early, though since it's a bank, our money is on them).

Energy and material stocks were actively trending lower because of the all-too-obvious drop in the price of crude oil and just about anything else that falls into the commodity sphere. Oil continued to decline, price-wise, today reaching below $30/barrel for WTI crude as inventories rose and demand fell, giving the slick stuff a double whammy of bad news.

On the NYSE, losers and winners were nearly even, and there the disparity between the new highs (9) and new lows (564) was cause for alarm. On the NASDAQ, a similar story was unfolding, though breadth was slightly better. New highs numbered only 12, with 352 hitting new lows. That's where the real story is taking place. There are far too few stocks leading the market (large caps) and far too many small and mid-caps weighing it down.

These imbalances have much to do with the ongoing debate over wealth inequality. The policies of the Fed not only have benefitted the richest individuals in the society, they've also been particularly advantageous to the larger, better-established listed companies. The big firms have better access to big money for stock buybacks, primarily, while the smaller firms languish in the all-too-real mundane world where profits matter and cost-cutting continues.

Smaller firms have a harder time making their numbers in a slumping economy and are first hit when business begins to slide, or, at least that's how the current crop of traders has been conditioned. Slumping oil prices has morphed into an all-around slap-down of commodities in general, which, in normal times would be good for business, but today the low prices for everything from aluminum to copper to zinc has spread over to consumer goods, most of which are manufactured overseas in sweatshops at minimal cost.

The other side of the equation, that being consumer demand, has been hollowed out by years of fleecing by giant corporations and the Fed's insistence that nobody earn a dime in interest. While Wall Street could afford to speculate and spend because the spigot was wide open, Main Street tightened its belt until consumers are able to only afford the bare necessities after paying more in taxes, fees, credit card interest, student loans and, especially, health care. If there's one culprit upon which most of the blame can be laid for the rottenness of the general economy, it has to be the misappropriately-named Affordable Care Act, which acted as a wealth transfer mechanism from the pockets of ordinary citizens into the health care morass of hospitals, providers, big pharma and insurance companies. It has drained the economy of whatever excess had been created by reduced gas and fuel prices.

Today's closing quotes:
S&P 500: 1,938.68, +15.01 (0.78%)
Dow: 16,516.22, +117.65 (0.72%)
NASDAQ: 4,685.92, +47.93 (1.03%)

Crude Oil 30.57 -2.67% Gold 1,086.00 -0.93% EUR/USD 1.0849 +0.01% 10-Yr Bond 2.1020 -2.59% Corn 358.00 +0.35% Copper 1.96 -0.63% Silver 13.77 -0.69% Natural Gas 2.26 -5.68% Russell 2000 1,044.70 +0.27% VIX 22.47 -7.53% BATS 1000 20,630.49 +0.55% GBP/USD 1.4440 +0.04% USD/JPY 117.7805 +0.04%

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