Thursday, March 11, 2010

No Change Must Be Good

Nothing much of importance happened today, giving market participants yet another opportunity to do what they've been doing for nine of the last twelve sessions: bid stocks higher.

There must be something quite enticing about owning stocks nowadays because there seems to be no shortage of buyers. Whatever the reasons, stocks continue to add to gains, day after day after day. It's becoming something of a bore.

Suppose the congress went home for a month, two months, six months, or just simply hung around and enacted no new legislation. Suppose the Fed kept short term interest rates permanently at zero. Suppose government debt was paid for with more government debt and that banks could continue to keep poisoned, rotten assets off their balance sheets.

Add in real unemployment at about 16%, 15% of all homeowners either behind on mortgage payments or already in foreclosure.

We'd have exactly the conditions we have today, though how all of that relates to being positive for stocks or the more general economy is a quizzer.

As for that final piece of the puzzle, the 15% of the "better off" homeowners in America falling behind, that info comes via the Mortgage Bankers Association, a group which should know the reality of homeownership, in this Washington Post article from February 20, 2010. Maybe you missed it.

The key passages are these:

"About 9.47 percent of all borrowers were delinquent on mortgages during the fourth quarter, according to a survey. The number is down slightly from the previous quarter, the highest on record, but was the second-highest level ever seen. An additional 4.58 percent of homeowners were somewhere in the foreclosure process.

This means that about 15 percent, or 7.9 million mortgages, were in trouble during the quarter, according to the industry group. It is the highest level recorded by the survey, which has been conducted since 1972, and up from 11 percent, or 6.4 million loans, during the corresponding period in 2008."

That is simply not encouraging.

As for unemployment, the weekly initial claims data was released early today, showing another 462,000 people filed new claims in the most recent reporting period. There were also more than 4,500,000 people still collecting unemployment benefits and congress just approved another extension. There are people out there who have been receiving benefits since March, 2008. Maybe you know some of them.

The 9.7% unemployment rate the government likes to tout is a neat fabrication which doesn't include "discouraged" workers or those who have taken lower-paying part-time jobs. As claimed earlier, real unemployment is about 16% of the available labor pool. It's much higher for specific groups, such as teens and minorities.

Somehow, all of this makes stocks good investments. Sorry, but some of us disagree. Anybody buying stocks with real money these days is simply gambling, and much of what's out there appear to be bad bets.

Dow 10,611.84, +44.51 (0.42%)
NASDAQ 2,368.46, +9.51 (0.40%)
S&P 500 1,150.24, +4.63 (0.40%)
NYSE Composite 7,353.21, +25.54 (0.35%)

Advancers beat down decliners, 3690-2702. New highs beat new lows, 563-51. That gap will begin to slowly decline. By August or September, possibly sooner, new lows should retake the advantage. Volume continued at a trickle. Goldman Sachs alone is probably responsible for 30% off all the trading volume on the exchanges, possibly as much as 45%.

NYSE Volume 5,093,085,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,093,398,875

Commodity prices moderated. Oil only gained 16 cents, but is priced now at $82.25 per barrel. Gold was absolutely flat, at $1108.10. Silver gained 15 cents, to $17.17.

There will be a reckoning for the current rallying folly. And it really is foolishness of a high degree. Stocks are close to recent highs, so when were we supposed to buy stocks? When they were high? We all know the answer to that question.

Friday will bring some economic data. Retail sales for February, along with the Michigan Sentiment survey for March and January business inventories will cumulatively tell us that nothing is going on in one way or another.

Stocks will rise again.

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