US Stocks closed today marginally on the downside, though appearances can be deceiving, as there was outright catastrophe in Japan which spilled over into worried European markets.
With Chinese markets (including the SSE and Hang Seng) the Nikkei took a magnificent beating on Tuesday, losing 918 points, a 5.40% loss on the day, sending the main index of Japan further into bear market territory. Perhaps even more significant, the JCB 10-year note yield fell to a negative number, under ZERO, for the first time in history. This marks Japan and Switzerland as the only countries in the world with negative yields out to ten years, though other countries are rapidly approaching that benchmark, in particular, Germany.
European bourses all finished their session with losses of one percent or more, and, at the open in the US, the situation appeared dire, with Dow futures down more than 150 points. Stocks quickly gained traction, turned positive near midday, flirted with the unchanged line throughout the session until finally giving it up late in the day.
But, the story is not the minor loss the major indices took, but the skew of all manner of metrics toward the negative. Bond yields continued to collapse, with the ten-year down to 1.71%. The spread between the ten and two-year note compressed down to 1.04, something of a danger zone, as the two-year actually rose two bits, to yield 0.67%.
Bank stocks were unhappy spots, with Bank of America (BAC) closing at 12.20, a new 52-week and multi-year low.
Advancers were also far behind declining stocks by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Also of note, the number of new lows (NASDAQ and NYSE combined) dwarfed new highs, 812-70, with only six of those new highs on the Naz. The central planners at the central banks can pin their hats on the day as they successfully halted the manic rallies in silver and gold, for a day, anyway.
Additionally, oil was sent back well below the $30 mark, finishing in New York at $28.38 a barrel.
The VIX is also signaling more turbulence, hanging steadily in the mid-20s range.
The rout in stocks, however, like the gains for the metals, is far from over. Consensus view on Wall Street is still concerned, but not yet panicked. Stocks are still about 5-7% away from official bear market territory, though a few bad days could send the indices reeling in the wrong direction.
In a story by Bernard Condon (AP) about how much money companies have lost doing stock buybacks, we find that the stock buybacks which goosed the market and individual stocks higher over the past six to seven years has been nothing short of a colossal flop and threatens to become an even heavier weight stopped to the stock market.
What stock buybacks did accomplish was to allow executives to boost their companies' earnings without devoting capital to expansion, while at the same time justifying their extraordinary salaries and cashing out their outrageous stock options and/or bonuses.
Investors should be outraged, and righteously so, because these companies should have been either expanding their capital base or market share or distributing dividends to their shareholders. What these stock buyback kings have done is nothing short of a fiduciary failure, which in other industries would be cause for criminal indictments.
Of course, since this all occurred within the cozy regulatory environment that is Wall Street, nothing even close to that will happen. The executives who personally profited from corporate paper profits will walk away with their cash after hollowing out scores of once-healthy companies. It may turn out to be good overall, if a few of the giant multi-nationals like Wal-Mart, Yum Brands and ExxonMobil get cut down to more reasonable sizes and markets open up for more nimble - and honest - competitors.
Tuesday's Cracker-jack pot:
S&P 500: 1,852.21, -1.23 (0.07%)
Dow: 16,014.38, -12.67 (0.08%)
NASDAQ: 4,268.76, -14.99 (0.35%)
Crude Oil 28.38 -4.41% Gold 1,189.20 -0.73% EUR/USD 1.1294 +0.86% 10-Yr Bond 1.7290 -0.35% Corn 360.50 -0.48% Copper 2.04 -2.61% Silver 15.23 -1.30% Natural Gas 2.10 -2.01% Russell 2000 964.17 -0.53% VIX 26.71 +2.73% BATS 1000 20,030.11 -0.07% GBP/USD 1.4468 +0.29% USD/JPY 115.0020 -0.51%