Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Battling the Kleptocracy - Part 1

Editor's Note: In an effort to provide some clarity for regular people (working types or entrepreneurs, with incomes under $100,000, often well under) on the rigors of the modern economy, this blog will devote itself in part to coverage of markets (stocks, bonds, commodities), but more to an understanding of how the US economy, since the 1980s, has become unfair to the middle class, biased against wage earners and how it promotes a gross inequality of class, income and privilege, favoring the ultra-wealthy.

It is the intent of the author to offer constructive advice to millions of Americans who unknowingly and unwittingly submit to this poorly-conceived construct of economy and methods and practices to thwart and escape the clutched of a debt-driven fiat money environment.

The "Battling the Kleptocracy" series shall be composed of posts containing two parts: first, an overview of the day's events on the markets; second, an informational section of practical ideas to help foster a counter-cultural movement away from the status quo.

The Markets

Despite the usual non-eventful numbers from the ADP private employment report (+91,000 for August, on expectations of 100K) and another downward drift in the Chicago Purchasing Managers' Report (PMI) reading of 56.5, from 58.8, stocks blew out in the morning and drifted lower throughout the day. Only a desperate, late rally saved the major indices from posting negative returns on the session.

Dow 11,613.53, +53.58 (0.46%)
NASDAQ 2,579.46, +3.35 (0.13%)
S&P 500 1,218.89, +5.97 (0.49%)
NYSE Composite 7,528.39, +64.39 (0.86%)
Combined NYSE/NASDAQ advance-decline: 3936-2651
Combined NYSE/NASDAQ new highs - new lows: 66-19
NASDAQ Volume 1,986,423,750
NYSE Volume 5,188,927,500
WTI crude oil futures: 88.85 -0.05
Gold: 1824.50 -10.60
Silver: 41.58 +0.23

Comment: Blah. The usual churn in the face of overwhelming debt pressure and stagnation in developed nations.

Idea: Get your money out of Bank of America

There once was a time when banks were trusted pillars of society, mostly local and involved in the communities they served. With the advent of computerization, globalization and the rise of a mendacious class of ultra-wealthy supra-nationalists, circa 1980, the repeal of Glass-Steagall (1999) and the overwhelming force of mass media and central bank control (Federal Reserve Act of 1913), the common notion that banks served communities was no longer valid.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but banks have probably always been rooted in deception and money-grubbing, but banking and legislative activity of the past 30 years provides an excellent background to the root evil of the Kleptocracy, which, loosely defined, is a societal/economic system which routinely skims wealth from those who least can afford it, to the benefit of those who need it the least.

In 2008, Bank of America, under the guidance of the since-discredited Ken Lewis, purchased Countrywide Financial Corporation, at the time the largest originator of residential mortgages in the United States.

Guided mainly by greed and without proper due diligence, Bank of America blundered into (or possibly under influence and threats from the Federal Reserve) what will go down in history as one of the worst corporate deals of all time. The purchase price for Countrywide was reported at $4.0 billion, though some analysts, notably those employed by Bloomberg, put the figure at $2.5 billion, as BofA was already carrying some of Countrywide's portfolio. The bank also purchased once-heralded brokerage firm, Merrill-Lynch, in another bad deal, at the height of the financial collapse of 2008, though that purchase is a topic for another time.

Countywide's portfolio of mortgages turned out to be so rotten, loaded with no-doc loans, NINJA (No Income No Job Application) loans and other variable-rate and exotic mortgage flavors that BofA soon had a mess on their hands, though the executives of the bank were loathe to mention that fact to shareholders. Thus, we experienced the sub-prime meltdown, the financial crisis and more, that continues to this day.

Bank of America was insolvent and only was salvaged via underhanded loans, guarantees and bond repurchases from the Federal Reserve. Their losses on soured mortgages are so deep and so broad, that even these infusions cannot and will not prevent Bank of America from falling into deep default at some point (probably already happened a few times already) and eventually being broken up or forced into bankruptcy.

The bank is the largest in the United States as measured by deposits, but the costs of litigation from the Countrywide deal will eventually sink it. The following are stories from just the past three days, with more to come.

It is advisable to pull all funds from Bank of America as quickly and as quietly as possible. They do not abide by any laws, much as a cornered wild animal might act in rash and irrational manners. They are doomed, and with them, other financial institutions will be ruined or significantly impaired. You do not have to face ruin along with them. Put your money in a local credit union or sound local or regional bank. Avoid other mega-banks like JP Morgan Chase, Wells-Fargo and Citi. They are part of the counterparty risk which will be destroyed when Bank of America falls off the shelf.

Bank of America hid the potential of an AIG lawsuit from regulators and investors, knowing about the possibility of an extensive and expensive legal undertaking, as far back as January of 2011.

CEO Brian Moynihan is selling off parts of the bank piecemeal in order to raise cash.

On Tuesday, Bank of America announced plans to shed another piece of its mortgage business.

The $8.5 billion settlement which the bank secured in federal court is being challenged on a number of fronts, including the FDIC, FHFA, a homeowner's group, the NY state Attorney General and even Goldman Sachs. The settlement was supposed to put to rest claims on over $170 billion in bad loans, but has since fallen apart due to these and other objections. Litigation, which BofA hoped to have settled in one fell swoop, will likely take years and add billions to the bank's continuing mortgage miasma.

Additionally, a 2008 ruling is being challenged by the state of Nevada which would void an agreement on loan modifications which Nevada officials say the bank did not honor.

And, just today, US Bancorp sued Bank of America for $1.75 billion over loans it purchased in 2005, citing faulty underwriting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Wall Street Snoozer

Wall Street pretty much mailed this one in today, as there was no significant follow-up to yesterday's machine-driven rally. No surprise there, as all positions are squared up by the computers, with no place to go forward without positive economic news.

Stocks started lower and ended higher, with marginal gains, completely ignoring the three economic reports, which, in a less-controlled, more robust environment would have sent the Dow reeling to a 200-point decline, though in today's completely schizophrenic environment, data doesn't matter, especially if it's not good.

The Case-Shiller Home Index fell another 4.52% on a year-on-year basis, but marked the third straight month of increasing prices, with a 1.1% increase from May to June. The Index, which is cited by most economists but is greatly flawed and dated, does not factor into account many foreclosure and short sales.

Pending home sales fell by 1.3% in June, another lagging indicator, and the expectation is for further declines in July and August, which will be reported near the end of September and October, just in time to inform everybody of what they;ll already know by then, that the US economy is in serious decline. In the meantime, wall Street uses the flawed, late data to bolster its own "recovery" theme and keep stock prices high.

Something from which nobody can hide, however, was the government's own reading on consumer confidence which dove to 44.5, from 59.2 in July, its lowest level since April, 2009, which was pretty much at the end of the financial collapse of 2008.

Consumers aren't happy, but Wall Street continues to plug along, pushing the same corporations that laid off millions and haven't hired many back.

Dow 11,559.95, +20.70 (0.18%)
NASDAQ 2,576.11, +14.00 (0.55%)
S&P 500 1,212.92, +2.84 (0.23%)
NYSE Composite 7,464.00, +13.70 (0.18%)

Advancing issues beat losing ones, 3896-2581. There were 26 new highs on the NASDAQ, with 22 new lows. On the NYSE, new highs topped new lows, 41-4, putting the combined total at a moderately positive, 67-26, in favor of new highs. Volume was light.

NASDAQ Volume 1,846,172,625
NYSE Volume 4,543,808,500

Without any reason other than there's a big driving weekend coming up with Labor Day, oil galloped ahead $1.63, to $88.90 at the close. Gas prices have been reported as rising by about a nickel nationally, this, of course, prior to them coming down much at all when oil futures were hovering just above $80/barrel.

Countering the excesses of the oil cartel, gold gained $46.50, to $1835.00, erasing much of the losses from the previous six sessions and more or less thumbing its nose at the backers of debt-backed money. Silver managed to gain 43 cents, to $41.31 the ounce.

Advice for today: Buy a good, used bike. Many available, good exercise and the cost of fuel is zero.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Machines At Work, or, Why Humans Are No Longer Needed (nor Safe) on Wall St.

I am going to take a wholly different approach to today's post.

You'll notice right away that I'm using first person singular rather then the usual third person tense usually employed on this blog, and the reason for that has to do with the absurd trading pattern exhibited on the major indices today, the Monday after the great storm Irene that wasn't so great, and the first trading day after the also-not-so-great Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Jackson Hole speech.

I'm speaking for myself, as a human being, because what trading on Wall Street has become - with the advent of co-located servers and HFTs - is definitely not anything that can be analyzed using old methodologies. Throw out the old P/E models; earnings per share are also meaningless now that computers and their PhD-designed algorithms perform 70 to 90% of the trading on any given day.

Technical analysis is another dead end. The computers do all the modeling, sampling and trading, as speeds no human can possibly compete. And, for the most part, the computers aren't all that smart. They chase momentum, and today's action, on a diagonal line from left to right, with about a 12-15% incline, is the perfect textbook example of just how broken our equity markets have become.

Buying and selling stocks for profit, gain, retirement, "investment" is old-school and strictly for geezers with nothing but time (and money) on their hands or the completely clueless who can't see the forest for the trees, failing to grasp the obvious point that the HFTs have such an enormous advantage, individuals have no hope of making gains. They will be ground down by untimely, surprise market convulsions and endless fees. The last lost decade on the S&P and NASDAQ should be proof enough.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that one can do all the analysis and homework and use all the tools offered by the online brokerages, watch CNBC all day long, read Barron's, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and read all the right blogs (including this one) and still be completely clueless as to what's really going on down in lower Manhattan.

It's a losing game (BTW: I never did execute the put buys that I mentioned last week, being that the premiums were ridiculous and the chances of the market doing the rational thing and selling off are probably less than 50/50) and anyone who's invested in stocks should have sold them already and moved into gold, silver or hard assets. Personally, I gave up in 2007, when the market turned south and haven't returned, except to have a couple Gs taken from me during the 09-10 rally on options trades.

One realistically could do better betting on horses or football rather than playing in the rigged casino that is Wall Street. Unfortunately for anyone with a pension or 401k plan, you don't have that choice. Somebody does the trading for you - a concept I never could quite wrap my mind around - and your money is stuck wherever your fund manager decides it should go, and they haven't done much better lately, either.

So, I've decided today to try and change the tone here, to offer real world solutions that don't involve stocks, because, personally, and deep in my heart, I don't believe stocks are currently good investment vehicles - not in this environment and not until a lot of Wall Street crooks go to jail or the way markets function and are regulated is radically altered.

There are ways to get around owning stocks that can provide savings and maybe a little bit of sleep at night and I'll strive to unearth these gems while still providing some commentary on the hijinks of the privileged few who make their money on Wall Street while the vast majority of Americans work, save and struggle to make everyday expenses, which, by the way, just keep going up.

I'll still do the market recap and rerun the data on a daily basis, but the thrust of this blog will be - in addition to informing on the various scams and practices that make Wall Street a dead end for most people - will be on ways to make, accumulate and save money and assets, because I believe Wall Street is history and today's fantastic rise on extremely low volume proves my point.

I'll also probably go back to writing in the third person singular, once my pique of angst has subsided.

A couple of interesting articles appeared over the weekend, specifically, Grecthen Morgenson's NY Tmes piece, titled, The Rescue That Missed Main Street and Karl Denninger's screeching commentary from Friday on the illiquid equity markets.

Dow 11,539.25, +254.71 (2.26%)
NASDAQ 2,562.11, +82.26 (3.32%)
S&P 500 1,210.08, +33.28 (2.83%)
NYSE Composite 7,450.30, +204.48 (2.82%)

As expected, advancing issues smothered decliners, 5825-854, a 7:1 ratio. The NASDAQ showed 26 new highs and 30 new lows, while the NYSE reported 30 new highs and 9 new lows, flipping the indicator to positive for the first time in about three weeks (another sign of the fraud) at 56 new highs and 39 new lows. Volume, as mentioned above, was dismal.

NASDAQ Volume 1,598,409,000
NYSE Volume 4,101,816,000

Front-end crude oil futures gained $1.70, to $87.27, to the delight of only those who don't drive or buy consumer goods. Precious metals were slapped down again, with gold losing $41.50, to $1787.60 and silver getting hosed to the tune of a 68-cent loss, to $40.82.

Folks should start looking for credit card offers in the mail from the big banks. I received two from Citi offering 0% interest for 21 months, oddly almost the same time frame offered by the Federal Reserve with their ZIRP on federal funds. They will be coming your way and a good idea is to wait until you've received three or four before applying.

Once you do, make sure to transfer any large balances on high-interest cards over to Zero interest and start paying it down as fast as possible. The best way to keep yourself in the game and prospering is to pay down any and all debt as quickly as possible and live within one's means.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paradigm Shift in Advertising

The hipster intellectual of the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan, had a wealth of opinions about media and advertising, so much so that his famous phrase, "the medium is the message," became the buzzwords for a generation of great advertising companies through the latter half of the 20th century.

McLuhan also once opined, "Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance."

If he's right, and he probably is, 21st century advertising is already proving to be a show Cirque du Soleil would be hard-pressed to replicate. With the merging of the technologies of radio, print, TV, the internet, mobile devices and social media, it's of paramount importance today to not only get the message right, but the media as well.

To do so, most companies look for an established Advertising Agency with a track record of successful campaigns, an edgy dynamic and useful understanding of all media technologies.

A print ad in a local newspaper or a radio drive time spot just doesn't cut it anymore, now that people's attention is being diverted not only by television, but by catchy internet sites and messaging through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

That's why it's important for businesses to seek out not only the best and the brightest, but an agency that "gets it," or, as That! Advertising Agency puts it, one which "gets THAT!"

A continuing shift from the traditional to digital advertising creates an environment perfectly suited to this company, experts not only in creative and placement, but also in the fields of marketing, public relations, design and all of the new media, from the social networks to targeted, trackable internet campaigns.

Today's ad agency has to have focus and vision, plus a background in traditional print, TV and radio with a bent toward the wireless, digitized future.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bernanke Speaks, But Who's Buying the Rally?

As expected, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his highly-anticipated speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming this morning and did not outline any further Federal Reserve policies - specifically another round of quantitative easing (QE) - that would have signaled not only a weak, struggling economy, but more easy money for bankers, stock traders and the like.

Not that money isn't easy already. The Fed, in its last policy statement earlier this month, specifically stated that they would keep federal funds rates at close to zero until the middle of 2013. In the simplest of terms, the cost of money can't get any lower than zero, so any other stimulative motions would have - as have the last two rounds of QE - essentially been throwing good money after bad.

Wall Street's reaction to the Chairman's relaxed posture on monetary policy was not unexpected, but still a bit obtuse. After falling off precipitously in early trading (the Dow registered a 200+ point loss), stocks gathered momentum, went positive and ended the day - and the week - with broad gains. The only factor missing from the upside move was volume. Today's rally, like many which preceded it during the days of QE2, was rather muffled.

Two events, an ocean apart, will likely have major impacts moving forward into Monday. The Greece rescue plan has run into some turbulence, as Greece has set terms for the level of private participation and Euro nations spar and debate collateral obligations from the Greeks, now that Finland and Austria have secured such from the Greek government.

Along the Eastern coast of the United States, shorelines were being evacuated as Hurricane Irene meanders toward the Mid-Atlantic states of South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The sizable storm is expected to make landfall on Saturday at North Carolina's Outer Banks and proceed with a bee-line path toward the major metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, Northern New Jersey, New York and Boston.

Expected to raise water levels with a storm surge of as much as 20 feet, Irene has the potential to bring devastation to some of the most populated areas of the country.

Traders didn't seem to make much of such turbulent conditions in both the weather and the global economy. They also shrugged off the decline in the second estimate of GDP, from 1.3% to 1.0%, which was announced prior to the opening bell. The University of Michigan's consumer confidence index also rose slightly, from 54.9 to 55.7, but, like Bernanke's speech, the news seemed unimportant.

As it turned out, the major indices put in their first winning week in the last five, a hopeful sign that the averages have encountered only a correction and have not fallen back into bear market territory, even though there's quite a bit of chatter about a resumption of the recession, muted growth prospects and a subtle notion that the FOMC will announce some policy directions at their September meeting, possibly to include some form of monetary easing.

Dow 11,284.54, +134.72 (1.21%)
NASDAQ 2,479.85, +60.22 (2.49%)
S&P 500 1,176.80, +17.53 (1.51%)
NYSE Composite 7,245.82, +96.15 (1.34%)

Despite the exceedingly low volume, advancers slaughtered decliners, 5258-1302. NASDAQ new highs numbered just nine (9), with 106 making new lows. On the NYSE, there were 13 new highs, but 101 new lows. The combined totals of 22 new highs and 207 new lows continue to suggest further downside developments.

NASDAQ Volume 1,860,127,125
NYSE Volume 4,936,341,500

Oil was relatively unchanged for the second straight day, with WTI crude futures posting a gain of just seven cents, closing out the week at $85.37.

Gold roared back against the margin hikes and central bank shorting, posting a wicked gain of $56.20, boosting the price per ounce back to $1827.50. Silver continued its bounce, up 22 cents, to $41.34.

With stocks and precious metals both rising on the day, one questions which group of speculators has the market sentiment measured correctly as the two asset groups are usually polar opposites.

As long as there's more debt being created to pay back already soured debt, you can bet the gold bugs and silver eagles have it right.

Is Working Hard an Optimal Concept?

Ever since the Middle Ages, the world's productivity and moral value have been guided by the invisible hand of the Protestant or Puritan Work Ethic.

Imbued with the values of hard labor and fair pay, the work ethic fomented the great industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries and the rise of monolithic corporations and big government.

With the advance of technology, however, mostly in the past 40 years, the traditional role of labor as capital has been slowly evolving, as machines and computers do much of the heavy lifting and human toil has been reduced significantly. These changes, slow as they may be, have reduced the general value of human labor to a point at which lower and middle classes struggle to keep pace with inflating costs of living.

Thus, human labor, once the hallmark of strong economies, has been reduced as an integral part of the capital/money creating machine of capitalism to a point at which it may be becoming a mere antecedent to the cycle of many productive enterprises.

That is why authors such as Timothy Ferriss have garnered such a huge and expanding following. Ferriss, the founder of the principle known as the "4-Hour Workweek" and author of the 2007 book by the same name and numerous other life-enhancing, labor-shortening ideas (Ferris maintains a blog which promotes many novel tips, concepts and ideas) seeks to maximize human potential while minimizing actual work hours.

The best part of his conceptualization of working smarter, not longer or harder, sets a new paradigm for the structure of society into the 21st century, emphasizing preparation and design to work beyond the utility of brute force.

Ferriss' writings belong on the must-read list of every worker, leader and entrepreneur, alongside such well-intentioned tomes as Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull's "The Peter Principle" and Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations."

Anyone seeking to thrive in today's fast-changing economic landscape would be well advised to look into the principles and guidelines which Ferriss continues to promote.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Uncle Warren to the Rescue of Bank of America; Jobs Steps Down at Apple

Two luminaries of the corporate world made moves that affected the overall markets, but a couple of stocks in particular.

Late Wednesday, Apple (AAPL) founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, announced that he was, effective immediately stepping down as CEO of the company due to health reasons and will now take up duties as Chairman of the Board.

Jobs' contributions to computing and high tech in general are the stuff of legend. Not since the heyday of Thomas Edison has the world been so influenced by one man's innovations. Jobs was a pioneer in personal computing and communications, first, with the Apple I and II, then the Macintosh, and more recently, the creation of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

While Jobs will still have a hand in the operation of the company he founded in Cupertino, California (where it is still headquartered today) in 1976, most of the day-to-day operations will be left to newly-named CEO, Tim Cook and his staff.

Today, amid a firestorm of controversy concerning the fiscal health of Bank of America, billionaire Warren Buffett stepped up and injected $5 billion into the bank via a private offering which will net one of the world's richest men a 6% dividend over five years.

Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, also received warrants to buy 700 million shares of common stock at just over $7.14 per share, with an unusually long 10-year exercise period.

The deal answers the question of whether Bank of America (BAC) was indeed in need of additional liquidity with a resounding "yes." Otherwise, Buffett's offer would have been turned down, as it is somewhat expensive for the bank.

The deal really solves none of BofA's liquidity and solvency issues. They are highly-levered, beset on all sides by the mortgage mess that has evolved since their purchase of Countrywide Financial in 2008, and in need of funds to meet new capital requirements. A paltry $5 billion from a rich uncle isn't going to cut it, and Buffett's bold maneuver may turn out to be another bad bet. Buffett made similar deals at the height of the financial crisis, taking out stakes in Goldman Sachs (GS) and General Electric (GE).

Inital reactions to both events were highly-charged. Apple stock fell nearly 7% in after hours trading on Wednesday, but, by the market close on Thursday, the stock was only down 2.46, or less than 1%.

On the news of Buffett's investment, Bank of America stock spiked as high as 8.80, after closing Wednesday at 6.99. At the end of the Thursday session, most of the froth had been sold off, with the nation's largest bank by deposits closing at 7.65, nearly a 10% gain.

The broader market fared less well, putting an end to the three-day winning streak which began on Monday. Uncertainty over just what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will say in his Friday morning speech at Jackson Hole had traders on the edge of their seats, with many deciding to take a wait-and-see position.

Bernanke is scheduled to give his keynote address at 10:00 am EDT.

On Friday morning, prior to the Chairman's speech, the government will announce its second estimate of second quarter GDP, which is expected to be revised down to 1.0% after the initial reading of 1.3%.

Most analysts are not expecting Bernanke to make any great policy pronouncements, though some are still clinging to hopes that he will announce another round of quantitative easing.

For the most part, traders were selling off positions in advance of the speech.

Dow 11,149.82, -170.89 (1.51%)
NASDAQ 2,419.63, -48.06 (1.95%)
S&P 500 1,159.27, -18.33 (1.56%)
NYSE Composite 7,149.67, -123.46 (1.70%)

In a broad retreat, declining issues outpaced advancers, 5044-1552. The NASDAQ had just eight (8) stocks making new highs, with 65 hitting new lows. Over at the NYSE, there were 14 new highs and 53 new lows. The combined total of 22 new highs and 118 new lows continues to signal risk to the downside. Volume was light.

NASDAQ Volume 1,812,493,625
NYSE Volume 5,741,944,000

Oil gained 14 cents, to $85.30. Gold, in a dramatic reversal, picked up $22.20, to $1773.50, but silver was the big winner, adding $1.39, to $41.08.

Despite Buffett's "calming effect" markets are still very shaky, as none of the issues which ignited the volatility of the past two weeks have been resolved. Bernanke's speech will likely only add some fuel to the fire, especially if, as many believe, he will not open the door to QE3. On top of all that, Wall Street is bracing for a water-logged Monday, as Hurricane Irene races along the US Eastern seaboard.

The outlook for days and weeks ahead is still quite uncertain.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Chairman and His Golden Stick

Stocks took the path of least resistance on a lazy Wednesday afternoon, rising gently most of the day as investors, traders and analysts await the all-important speech from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at the Jackson Hole confab on Friday.

Last year, Jackson Hole was the scene for the chairman's announcement of QE2, and many in the financial community are expecting a repeat performance, though considering how the markets have behaved this week - gaining in a somewhat orderly fashion - those who believe Bernanke will embark on further money printing may, in fact, be disappointed.

Since QE2 didn't work very well and created a rash of inflation in many commodities, and while most banks have pretty much stabilized their balance sheets over the past two-and-a-half years, there may not be a need for further stimulus. Besides, QE1, 2, and all the rest of the Fed-inspired fixes didn't put Americans back to work, nor solve the housing decline.

So, this little ramp up on the prospects of more easy money (isn't money easy enough already, with the 10-year note below 2.5%?) may be a serious head fake.

Dow 11,320.71, +143.95 (1.29%)
NASDAQ 2,467.69, +21.63 (0.88%)
S&P 500 1,177.60, +15.25 (1.31%)
NYSE Composite 7,273.13, +63.54 (0.88%)

Advancing issues smothered decliners, 4272-2269. There were 7 new highs and 54 new lows on the NASDAQ, and 16 new highs with 31 new lows on the NYSE, making the combined total 23 new highs and 85 new lows, still a slightly negative bias. Volume was lame, back to mid-summer levels.

NASDAQ Volume 1,859,268,750.00
NYSE Volume 5,275,260,000

WTI crude oil dropped 28 cents, to $85.16.

The only major development of the day was the wipe-out in the price of precious metals, another signal that Bernanke may not be plotting the further destruction of the dollar with more quantitative easing.

Gold was pounded down with incredible speed, losing $67.90, to $1761.30. Silver got whacked as well, dropping $2.10, to $39.70. Margin hikes and the departure of hot money (profit-taking) caused the steep sell-off.

One commentator put it into perspective, saying, "gold should go back to being a store of value, instead of a risk asset played for quick profit."

Following yesterday's late afternoon exchange over the future prospects of the Bank of America, I actually laid out a strategy on a message thread over at another financial blog. Here, in all it's simple glory, is my strategy for the next six to eight weeks:

While not exactly ludicrous, a JPM takeover of BAC is a long shot. I would be more inclined to see a Latin American or Far East involvement in a forced sale, liquidation or major buyout. Gotta figure that there's real money out there in less-developed nations who might see a move into BAC as a nice grab, maybe even China, as a hedge against their ugly UST position.

Since the rumor mill is so strong and the denials even more pronounced than ever, it looks like a matter of less than a month we'll see BAC taken out. It's been in the plans for a long time. Everybody from Bernanke on down knew CW was crap, Merrill was another boatload of shit and they'd throw money into it until it no longer made economic sense.

That said, look for major volatility (the VIX is still around 40 last I checked) beginning with Bernanke's non-eventful Jackson Hole speech and continuing through October.

The timeline goes something like:

Friday, Aug. 26 - Bernanke offers no QE, markets sell off, Dow down 300.

Monday, Aug. 29 - More fear, but some stability into end of day.

Friday. Sept. 2 - With a three-day weekend ahead and another poor jobs report behind (range: -25K - +35K NFP) nobody wants to hold, sell off, Dow -200-400 points.

After that it just gets worse as BAC is destroyed, Europe goes through another round of crisis, sending markets lower.

My personal positions haven't changed in four years. I'm out of everything except cash, silver and tools of trades. However, I am strongly considering a short market position, my favorite trade being the DIA, which tracks the Dow.

I see Dow 10,200 by October 5 at the latest, confirming a bear market. So, I'm seriously considering putting on some OCT DIA 102 and/or 98 puts before Friday. May even consider SPY puts on more volatility.

I seldom make calls, but this one is lining up nicely for late summer - early fall carnage.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Huge Gains on Oversold Conditions for Stocks; BofA Near-Death Experience?

Like overeager rookies who ignore the third base coach's stop sign and instead bowl headlong towrd home plate only to be thrown out, traders today simply looked past negative economic data and piled into stocks on the grounds that the market was oversold.

Sure, stocks have hit the skids of late, but for good reasons, like the debt contagion in Europe, the weak and stinking banking system in the US, continuing unemployment woes and the threat of a double-dip recession, but the old "oversold" mindset was front and center on this day, despite new home sales checking in for July at 298,000 units on a consensus of 310,000 and last month's figures revised lower, from 312K to 300K.

According to the logic of traders, housing doesn't really matter, and neither did that rare Northeast earthquake just after 2:00 pm, or the Richmond Fed's Factory Index, which fell from a reading of -1 in July to -10 in August.

Nope. Market's oversold, despite all recent data and expert opinion pointing at a weak second half at best and a full-blown deflationary depression at worst. Maybe somebody tipped then all off that the chairman, Ben Bernanke, will simply announce, in his Jackson Hole speech on Friday, that he will print more greenbacks if the economy continues to slide towards insolvency and desperation.

Then again, the primary players in this little financial drama are mostly momentum-chasers and day-traders, so maybe it all makes perfect sense. After all, the Wall Street of 2011 is not for investing, it is for immediate profit and self-gratification. Kum-bye-yah! It's a new age phenomenon.

While stocks were quickly eviscerating last week's losses, not all of them were going skyward, especially Bank of America, which touched down at a new 2 1/2 year low of 6.01 before mid-day. The mighty BofA is beset on all sides by questions over the veracity of its own numbers, the grinding legal costs associated with faulty mortgage dealings and a surprising shortage of capital - after being bailed out and getting preferential, secret treatment from the Fed during the financial crisis of 2008-09 - which may force the lender to sell off whatever good assets it has remaining and/or still need to make a secondary offering in the market in order to satisfy new, more stringent capital requirements a few months down the road. Bank of America (BAC) closed down 12 cents at 6.30, a new, 2 1/2-year, closing low.

Let's face it. Bank of America looks more like a shabby slumlord than a quality mortgage lender and it's only a matter of time before they go belly up or are taken over by the government and broken up in pieces to rivals like JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

Not that those banks are any more secure or trustworthy. In fact, Goldman Sachs (GS) has troubles of its own, despite following the market and posting a measly 0.35 gain today, closing at 106.86. The stock peaked in January at 175. Simple math says that's a nasty loss since then.

Whatever. The market is oversold, people. Buy more.

Dow 11,176.76, +322.11 (2.97%)
NASDAQ 2,446.06, +100.68 (4.29%)
S&P 500 1,162.35, +38.53 (3.43%)
NYSE Composite 7,209.59, +228.97 (3.28%)

Advancers smacked down declining issues, 5440-1239. The NASDAQ finished the day with seven (7) new highs and 146 new lows, while the NYSE posted 13 new highs and 169 new bottoms. The combined, 317-20 edge for new highs over new lows reiterates the strong sell signal the market has been blaring for three weeks. Yes, it may be oversold, but a today's gains were more the knee-jerk, dead cat bounce variety rather than a solid gain on fundamentals, which would be sustainable, should such fundamentals ever appear.

The trouble with investors and this market in particular is that nobody wants to face the undeniable fact that although most companies are lean, mean and posting solid profits, new quarter and next year's numbers will be up against some strong results, those provided by artificial stimulus and excessive monetary easing. Additionally, the bear market rally that began in March of 2009 is getting a bit long in the tooth. At 30 months, it may be time for a long term change of direction and sentiment.

Volume, on such a big run as today's, would have been much more robust if there was deep, underlying commitment by traders and investors. Maybe the traders have commitment or should be committed. Real investors are in cash, gold, silver and hard assets these days. What substitutes for a real equity market is all hype and subterfuge, devoid of substance.

NASDAQ Volume 2,129,302,500
NYSE Volume 5,913,402,500

Today was also a banner day for "gold is in a bubble, but we're running out of oil" preachers. WTI crude was up $1.02, to $85.44, and if you don't think gas has come down with the price of oil, you're right, though CBS news offered some blatant propaganda (likely prepared right from a press release by the American Petroleum Institute) as to why that is the case. It was pure bunk, delivered with the straight-faced lie that gas could drop another 40 cents by Christmas. Geez, Louise, thanks, we'll keep that in mind as we all go broke well before December.

As for gold, no "silver-slap-down" margin hikes were required (correction: the Shanghai Gold Exchange lifted gold margins for forward contracts the second time this month to 12% beginning on Friday - tip of hat to Tyler Durden at to send the yellow stuff down $68.70, to $1829.40, after it had breached the $1900 level (hitting a peak of $1917.90) in Asian trading. Silver was also trampled by the fiat-leverage folks, losing $1.83, to $41.89. So much for the safety of hard assets, eh?

Don't be dissuaded by one-off moves prompted by the evil fornicators of the global banking cartel. Hard assets will outshine, out-gain and outperform all paper assets in the long run, and already have for the past 11 years running. Paper money, backed by nothing but ungodly, unpayable levels of indebtedness are going to die an awful death and the grim reaper is already sharpening his scythe. Either that, or all the paper money in the world buys less than it did yesterday, for eternity.

Finally, for those with a morbid fascination or those who know the meaning of the apocryphal acronym TEOTWAWKI (look it up), here's our old pal Henry Blodget expounding on why Bank of America's real capital needs may be more in the $100-200 billion range than the controlled-media's claims of $20-30 billion and Bank of America's response that he is making "exaggerated and unwarranted claims."

Monday, August 22, 2011

US Banking Sector Flattened as Secret Fed Loans Are Revealed

If you're fond of following foreign markets (and who isn't in today's meltdown environment?), the oddest of patterns emerged as planet Earth spun East to West.

Most Asian markets opened with gains, though ended up sporting losses by the end of their trading sessions. As the focus turned to Europe, gains were seen across the board early, though those faded late in the day, with the German DAX finishing slightly in the red.

When it was America's turn, the futures pointed to a bright open following a dismal end to the prior week and the Dow burst to an early 200-point gain. After that initial boost of enthusiasm, with the major indices hitting their highs of the day in the opening minutes, it was mostly downhill as investors sold the rally and the markets ended essentially flat for the week's opening session.

To the surprise of almost nobody, financial stocks were hard hit again, led downward by old, reliable Bank of America (BAC), which is facing a serious liquidity/solvency/honesty/continuity crisis after announcing on Friday that it intended to cut 3,500 jobs in the third quarter, with perhaps as many as 10,000 job cuts by the second quarter of 2012. Bank of America closed down 55 cents, at 6.42. The funeral dirges should begin any moment for the nation's largest bank by deposits.

While that news was certainly a disheartening blow to the non-productive paper-shufflers in the financial cesspool sector, a story that has gone largely unreported by the mainstream media was quite possibly the underlying cause for much of the weakness in the banking business.

Bloomberg reports that the Federal Reserve secretly doled out as much as $1.2 trillion to US banks, foreign banks and other financial and non-financial firms - including McDonald's and Caterpillar - from 2007 to 2010. Not of word of the story was spoken on CNBC, though the news spread rapidly through the blogosphere and the web's alternative media.

Reactions ranged from disgust to contempt, with a healthy dose of outrage from most astute followers of the Fed's financial foibles. It is unprecedented that the Fed would stoop to such lows as to attempt to conceal transactions from the prying eyes of the press and the American public, though it is hardly unexpected.

What may be worse than the contemptible actions by the Fed is the depth of the subterfuge within the halls of congress and the White House. The bulk of these secret loans were being made while the public was languishing over the absurdity of TARP and the Obama stimulus in early 2009. How many congressional members and presidents - Bush and Obama - knew of the skullduggery while it was being undertaken are questions to which the American people deserve answers, though judging by how many firms received loans over such a long period of time and with a Justice department that is loathe to issue subpoenas to anyone connected in any way with the financial services industry, the wait for such answers may be a long time in coming, if ever.

The information was obtained by Bloomberg through a Freedom of Information Act request that was continually blocked, challenged and evaded by the Fed. Now that it is out, it's evident that most of the popular media wants no part of the story, focusing instead on the fall of Tripoli and the end of the reign of Colonel Gaddafi in Lybia. The implications of tis story are breathtaking in scope and what it means for democracy and freedom, not only in America, but in the rest of the world, against an increasingly desperate global banking oligarchy.

Of course, with the media hitting the ignore button on the story and most Americans less-than-concerned with the fate of their own country, it's likely that the thievery and secrecy will continue unabated without even a hint of impropriety at the highest levels of the government.

One more story caught the attention of traders late in the day, that being reported first by Reuters with about 20 minutes remaining in the session. Apparently, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein - yes, the very one who equated the business of Goldman Sach's with "doing God's work" - has hired, along with other executives at the firm, attorney Reid H. Weingarten, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson in Washington D.C. amid accusations that his firm acted fraudulently leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis.

Goldman Sachs (GS) ended the day off 5.25 points (nearly 5%) on the day, with all of the losses occurring in the final fifteen minutes of the session.

Speculation will almost certainly run rampant with this news, but it could be yet more evidence that the global banking system has run completely afoul of the totally-corrupt political system and the long knives are about to be unsheathed. Should Blankfein and others from his firm be criminally charged, the end of fiat money could be at hand in short order with many undetected and unknowable circumstances to follow.

Corruption at the highest levels of government has been a feature in America for many years. The only remaining question is when Americans will finally have had enough of it.

Dow 10,854.65, +37.00 (0.34%)
NASDAQ 2,345.38, +3.54 (0.15%)
S&P 500 1,123.82, +0.29 (0.03%)
NYSE Composite 6,980.62, +10.52 (0.15%)

On a day in which volume was repulsively weak, declining issues led advancers, 3562-3027. New highs on the NASDAQ numbered just nine (9), with 244 stocks reaching new 52-week lows. On the NYSE, a similar story, with just 13 new highs and 247 new lows. The combined tally of 22 new highs and 491 new lows is a screaming sell signal.

NASDAQ Volume 1,983,095,500
NYSE Volume 5,436,260,000

While it was expected that oil prices would decline upon the fall of Lybia, since that nation's supply would soon go back online again, Brent crude fell, though the other oligarchy - that of the oil barons - managed to tighten its grip on the American consumer a bit, raising WTI crude futures $1.86, to $84.12 per barrel.

The largely unguided public is fighting back against the perception of fraud and debauchery and the failure of the global economy by buying precious metals with gusto. Gold set yet another record, rising $39.70 on the COMEX, to $1,891.90, though being reported at at $1907.20. Silver gained 89 cents, to $43.32, but, as of this writing, was quoted at $43.85.

Events are moving a breakneck speed, despite Wall Street attempting to cool off prior to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Jackson Hole speech on Friday. While many pundits await the all-clear signal from the chairman for another round of quantitative easing (money printing), the evidence is clear that the first two rounds - QE1 and QE2 - did more harm than good in the overall scheme of things, plus, in light of the breaking news by Bloomberg, the chairman and his cronies in the banking business and politics will do as they please, the public be damned.

This is the environment in which we must now tread. It is one of complete disregard for laws, principles of economics or even the most simple forms of common decency, honesty and principle.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stocks Continue Dive with 4th Straight Week of Losses

Not much changed overnight, and that was reflected in the performance of stock prices globally. The same themes continue popping up, causing confusion and derision among investors. The shaky situation in Europe, complete with protests and riots in England and Germany, the continued weak outlook for jobs in America and growth slowing to a standstill almost worldwide has fomented a rolling, four-week-long slide that has brought many of the national and sub-national indices close to bear territory.

In fact, adding in today's losses, the NASDAQ is on the precipice of becoming more than a correction, down 531 points since its April 29 highs, has lost 18.48%, only 1.52% from becoming a technical bear market.

The other averages are not quite so close. The Dow needs to lose roughly another 450 points before its losses from recent highs reach the dreaded 20% level, though the S&P 500 is closing ground, down 17.60%. Another drop of 35 points would not only send the highly-watched index into bear territory but underneath the psychologically important 1100 level.

After Asian markets tumbled and Europe continued the assault on investments, things looked dicey for US stocks prior to the opening, with futures sporting large downsides. After an initial thrust into the abyss, however, all the major US indices rebounded to post healthy gains by mid-morning.

But they were not to last. By 11:00 am EDT, most of the gains were wiped out and by 1:00 pm, the slide lower had resumed in earnest. Stocks eventually hit their low points of the day just minutes before the closing bell, a terrifying omen for Monday's trading.

Thus, trading ended badly, with major indices slumping for their fourth consecutive week.

Dow 10,817.65, -172.93 (1.57%)
NASDAQ 2,341.84, -38.59 (1.62%)
S&P 500 1,123.53, -17.12 (1.50%)
NYSE Composite 6,970.10, -109.31 (1.54%)

Declining issues beat back advancers, 4799-1807. New highs on the NASDAQ totaled just five (5), with 316 new lows. On the NYSE, there were only seven (7) new highs, but 279 new lows, putting the combined total at 12 new highs to 595 new lows. Citing those figures, anyone who believes this correction to have bottomed needs to seek professional help, preferably from any astute market watcher.

Volume was brisk, though not quite at yesterday's levels, another signal that the losses are only gathering momentum. The likelihood of all the indices falling into bear territory by Labor Day - ten trading sessions from now - is very high, almost a certainty, unless some major economic data changes the future outlook, which has turned from scarcely positive to undeniably negative over the past four weeks.

NASDAQ Volume 2,357,600,000
NYSE Volume 6,004,142,000

A slew of forecasters have cut their outlooks for GDP, including Moody's, which cut its forecast to 2%, and JP Morgan, who sees 4th quarter GDP at 1%, down from their previous 2.5% call and 1st quarter 2012 at 0.5%, down from 1.5% in their earlier outlook.

Citigroup cut its total 2011 growth forecast to 1.6% from 1.7% and lowered its projection for next year to 2.1 percent from 2.7 percent, according to a note to clients dated yesterday.

Of course, these analysts are known to be overly and overtly optimistic, so their tea leaves and crystal balls may not be the best estimates out there. Chances of a recession are being priced into stacks at about 60%.

Amid the carnage, oil prices, which had briefly dipped below $80/barrel early in the morning, went quickly positive when US markets opened, but closed the day with a 12 cent loss, at $82.26.

Once again, the big winners were precious metals, with gold cruising to another record high, up $26.60, at $1851.50 per ounce. Overnight, the intraday high topped out at $1878.90. The best gainer of the day, and also so far this year, was silver, which saw heavy buying, up $2.16 (a move of more than 5%), to $42.80, its highest price since May 3rd, when CME was putting on a series of six margin hikes to cool the shiny metal down.

Now, with the lid off and resistance broken, silver should continue to climb forward. Some strategists see it hitting the $44-46 range before labor day, which, considering today's drive, looks very possible.

One last note before the weekend. The Got Gold Report's Gene Arensberg updates his charts and concludes that silver is "very close to a short-murdering rocket launch again."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Here We Go Again: Europe, US Equity Markets Smashed

Like a pop band performing an encore number, the wild, swing days of last week are here with us again, doing a sophisticated limbo beneath the various 200-day moving averages. The continent formerly known as Europe slowly is sinking into a combination of economic atrophy and social anarchy while the country previously preferred to as the greatest democracy ever invented, the USA, shifts and contorts like a belly dancer with stomach cramps and gas.

One could take their pick today from a generous selection of tawdry economic news and data, beginning with the story reported by Zero Hedge that an unnamed European bank (speculation is that its either Societe General or an Italian or Austrian bank) borrowed $500 million from the ECB's emergency lending window at a 1.1% rate.

That got the entertainment kicked off in Europe with a notable bang, as the major bourses in the land of socialism held blood-letting sessions with the national indices down between 4 and 6%, Germany's DAX leading the way lower with a 5.82% decline.

By the time markets opened in New York, futures were careening headlong into the abyss after initial unemployment claims were reported at 408,000 in the most recent reporting period and July CPI came in with a whopping 0.5% rise - a 6% annualized inflation rate - which took almost everybody - except possibly President Obama, who was preparing for a two-week stay at Martha's Vineyard - by surprise, especially after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told us all that inflationary pressures were "transitory" (he also confided to Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul that gold was not money... such a witty fellow).

Were that not enough for the market to digest, a couple more tasty morsels were delivered just a half hour into the trading session. Existing home sales for July were reported at an annualized rate of 4.67 million, after a 4.84 million read last month, but the real hot pepper came from the Philadelphia Fed's Manufacturing Index, which, after posting a tepid 3.2 reading in July, came in - on expectations of a 1.0 reading - at... wait for it... minus 30.7 (yes, -30.7), the lowest number in 2 1/2 years and now on scale with New York's Empire Index which last week posted an equally disturbing negative read of -7.7 on Monday.

Naturally, nobody gave a whit about the New York number, but the Philly fiasco was just too magnificent to ignore. Stocks, already down significantly, swiftly dove further, with the Dow Jones Industrials losing 170 points in the ten minutes following the double dose of decrepitude.

The sudden collapse of index prices was stunning to view, though the gaping maws of CNBC's on-air personalities provided dark comic relief. Stocks drifted for the rest of the day, but managed to stage a last-ditch rally with just ten minutes left in the session, boosting the Dow about 100 points into the close, just in time for options expiry on Friday.

Dow 10,990.58, -419.63 (3.68%)
NASDAQ 2,380.43, -131.05 (5.22%)
S&P 500 1,140.65, -53.24 (4.46%)
NYSE Composite 7,079.41, -339.53 (4.58%)

Declining issues decimated advancers, 6094-634, a nearly 10:1 ratio. New lows overpowered new highs on the NASDAQ, 253-2 (yes, two, as in 2 new 52-week highs), while on the NYSE there were also just two (2) new highs, against 208 new lows. The combined figure of 4 new highs and 461 new lows verifies our repeated suggestion that the highs-lows indicator is as reliable a simple instrument as is available and is currently suggesting that the now-confirmed market correction will shortly morph into a a full blown bear market as Europe and the United State plunge into the fearsome double-dip recession, if not already there.

Volume, despite the ridiculous assumptions made throughout the day by CNBC's dapper Bob Pisani (I really do watch too much TV) that today's volume was not significant, was, in fact, quite strong, and with good reason, as banks in Europe and the US took the brunt of the selloff. European banks were hardest hit, with losses between 6 and 11% on the day.

NASDAQ Volume 2,785,477,500
NYSE Volume 7,141,215,000

Meanwhile, the oil crazies were unloading their gooey stuff as quickly as possible, sending WTI futures down nearly six percent, dropping $5.20, to $82.38.

There were bright spots, and those were in precious metals. Gold rocketed $28.20 to another record price of $1,822.00, while silver tried desperately to keep pace, gaining 38 cents, to $40.69.

As for Friday, one should expect a little more of the same, though it is worth noting that these wickedly manipulated markets have a penchant for turning on a dime, as they did last week. Eventually, however, this all ends in tears, as the Euro will be soon dispatched to currency hell, where it belongs, taking the world economy into a place nobody wants to be.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em and live it up while you can. By Christmas, this could be really, really, really, really, really, and I do mean really, ugly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Market is Sick, Worn-out and Overvalued

One look at the general direction of trading today gives the impression that this is a market running completely on fumes, exhausted from last week's frenzied action and unsure about the immediate future.

Despite three of the four major averages finishing in the green, today's high open and low close are classic technical signals of a market in despair. The volume has subsided, but the VIX is still very high, over 30, and the complacency of trading today was something of a surprise, considering the still-shaky economic conditions in both the US and Europe, though it does seem that outside of the usual gang of day-traders and algo followers most of the retail investors have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

To that point, it was reported today by the ICI (Investment Company Institute) that mutual fund outflows totaled $40 billion in the past week. From the report, "Investors pulled a net $40.3 billion out of those funds in the week ended Aug. 10, the largest weekly withdrawal since early October 2008, soon after the collapse of Lehman Brothers."

Equity funds were the biggest losers, as investors shed $30 billion worth of exposure to common stocks.

Adding to the negatives was the July PPI number, at a modest 0.2% increase, though core PPI, which excludes energy and food, was up 0.4%, for an annual run rate of nearly 5 percent on a wholesale level. While oil and gas prices haven't exactly come down to reasonable levels, food prices have stabilized, though the core reading shows inflation showing up in other areas.

Bonds edged higher, with the 10-year dropping six basis points to a yield of 2.16% and the 30-year shedding 9 bips, to yield 3.56%. Investors are still looking to safety over risk, and that was evident today in Treasuries and precious metals.

This little pause in the action will last until the next crisis scenario erupts - about a week or two, maybe - and then equity markets will retest the lows set in place last week. From a technical standpoint, a retest of recent lows is almost always warranted before a move higher, so, down we must go in short order.

Dow 11,410.21, +4.28 (0.04%)
NASDAQ 2,511.48, -11.97 (0.47%)
S&P 500 1,193.88, +1.12 (0.09%)
NYSE Composite 7,418.94, +24.45 (0.33%)

Advancers led decliners on the day, though the NASDAQ saw more losers than winners. Overall, the gainers were 3624, to 2909 on the downside. New highs numbered only eight (8), with 58 new lows. The NYSE was nearly evenly split, with 13 new highs and 14 new lows. The combined total of 21 new highs and 72 new lows reinforces the indication for stocks to eventually recede.

Volume was back to moribund levels, as investors have headed for the hills.

NASDAQ Volume 1,919,593,000
NYSE Volume 4,351,417,000

WTI crude oil priced 93 cents higher, at $87.58, despite a government report that showed a significant surplus of the slimy stuff in the most recent week. Gold stopped at another new record of $1,793.80 per ounce, up $8.80 on the day and silver went happily along, picking up 53 cents, to $40.35 the ounce.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Euro Fears Still Making Markets Shaky

As today's post title suggests, trading continues to focus on events - or the relative lack thereof - in Europe, where today French President Nicolas Zarkozy met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, announcing some coordination of efforts, but fell short of endorsing the concept of Eurobonds to shore up shaky finances on the Continent.

"We want to express our absolute will to defend the euro and assume Germany and France's particular responsibilities in Europe," said Sarkozy.

In what has to be the most humorous statement to date concerning sovereign fiscal policies, the two leaders said they would push for balanced budget amendments for all 17 nations which use the Euro as their primary currency. The irony is that, excepting possibly Germany, none of the member nations have had a balanced budget in at least five years, most of them running continuous deficits since the Euro became the continental currency in 2000.

The specific proposals coming from the leaders of the two most powerful members of the Europen Union were slim. They said their finance ministers would meet four times a year and proposed that the member nations coordinate income tax policy and begin taxing financial transactions by 2013, kicking the proverbial can a bit further down the road to perdition.

By the time the two leaders met with the press, European markets had already closed, so the brunt of the effect from their statements was felt primarily in the US.

Stocks took a nose dive after the press conference, and fell to their lowest levels of the day just after 1:00 pm EDT. The Dow was off by 190 points at its bottom.

But, as usual, the mechanics of controlled markets took over, as all the major indices rallied for the final three hours, still closing down for the day, but with reasonable losses.

Stocks had gotten off to a shaky start, after economic data was mixed prior to the opening bell. July housing starts fell off to 604,000 on an annualized rate, after posting a figure of 613,000 in June. Building permits dropped by 20,000 from the annualized rate of 617,000 in June.

However, industrial production came in with a better-than-expected gain of 0.9% and capacity utilization also showed a bit of strength, with a reading of 77.5%, following a 76.9 figure in June. Of course, these are estimates prepared by an inept and failing government and should not be trusted as any true guide to financial conditions in the United States, even though they remain mired in the minds of traders and fund managers as the most reliable gauges.

Without any determinant structure of reform or policy coming from Europe, expect this see-saw battle of bulls and bears to rage on for weeks until something concrete cracks across the pond. There seems to be about the same level of political will over there as there is in the US to entertain policies that actually address structural issues in the economy - none - as the leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are easily more enthusiastic about getting re-elected than they are at doing their jobs well.

With the majority of the politicians on vacation this month (the NY Times reports that 80 members of the house of representatives have or will be visiting Israel this month) our political class appears quite cavalier when called on to solve pressing problems.

Until there is real political leadership (in other words, we better hope we make it to November, 2012 and then elect Ron Paul as our next president) markets will continue to stumble along and economies will continue to run up debt and deteriorate.

That's how it goes. Prepare.

Dow 11,405.93, -76.97 (0.67%)
NASDAQ 2,523.45, -31.75 (1.24%)
S&P 500 1,192.76, -11.73 (0.97%)
NYSE Composite 7,394.49, -88.22 (1.18%)

Declining issues got the better of advancers on the day, 4939-1664. On the NASDAQ, there were six (6) new highs, but 51 new lows. The NYSE showed 10 new highs and 15 new lows, keeping the bias to the downside, with the combined figure of 16 new highs and 66 new lows. Expect the gap between the few new highs and increasing new lows to expand as the crisis nobody wants to handle grows even deeper.

Volume was moderate, which, after the events of last week, shows a general lack of interest overall in staking out any new, long term positions.

NASDAQ Volume 2,085,979,250
NYSE Volume 5,009,345,000

Oil closed down $1.23, to $86.65, though gas prices at filling stations across the country have seen hardly any price decline at all.

The continued unease over macro-economic issues produced a renewed push into gold, which traded higher by $27.00, to $1,785.00, a new closing record, while silver also gained, finishing up 51 cents, at $39.82, though it traded above $40/ounce both earlier in the day and after equity markets had closed.

Tomorrow brings PPI numbers for July, the Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Index and a reading on crude oil inventories. Other than that, bonds look very good, as they continue to hold near low levels, but remain one of the primary safety plays.

New Wave in Medical Wear

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One of the finest purveyors of all clothing related to the medical field can be found at Blue Sky Scrubs, at the URL:

Created by a former anesthesiologist, Shelby Marquardt, Blue Sky Scrubs caters to the specific needs of the medical profession, separating itself from the drab, ill-fitting hospital wear that was the standard for years with more fashionable and sensibly-designed hats, caps, tops and bottoms for medical workers of all ages.

The company keeps up-to-date with a stylish website and there's free shipping on orders of $155 or more and a pledge of satisfaction, offering free returns and exchanges on all orders.

Blue Sky Scrubs represents the new wave in medical wear.

Monday, August 15, 2011

40 Years After Nixon Killed the Gold Standard, The Great Sucker Rally of 2011

Those savvy traders who toil at their computer screens, doping out the finest of five-minute investments, went at the markets today like the economy was in the midst of a major boom, sending the Dow up by more than 200 points and all major indices back to levels prior to the careening downshift from August 4th.

Like it never even happened...

Like there's no debt crisis in Europe. Like the US debt to GDP ratio isn't close enough to 100%. Like the unemployment rate isn't 9.2% (really, upwards of 17%).

Supposedly, according to experts at these kinds of things, this is what the Fed was saying when it pegged federal funds rates at zero percent last Tuesday - that treasuries and savings were for fools and that the only way to make money was to invest in risky assets, like stocks.

It just so happens that today is the 40th anniversary of then-President Nixon closing the gold window, and setting global economies off on a fiat money adventure, wherein currencies are backed by nothing but "good faith and credit" of sovereigns, and nothing more. Whatever hell in which Richard M. Nixon is currently residing, one hopes that the flames are hot enough to toast his dead bones to a crisp, because, more than anything else, taking the US - and thus, the world's reserve currency, and thus, all other currencies - off the gold standard in 1971 has created the gross inequalities in income levels and the bankster/crook/casino mentality that pervades capital markets today.

Nixon destroyed the concept of sound money and replaced it with a world of volatile, floating currencies, mountains of debt and middle class wage slavery. If anyone asks who caused the great collapse of currencies and the three-year financial mess that the world is currently embroiled in, tell them, "Nixon did it," because he started it all (and maybe, when people wake up to reality, they'll elect Ron Paul president to undo it).

Traders (not investors) took to the market like hungry wolves right out of the gate, ignoring the August Empire State Manufacturing Index, which delivered the third straight month of negative readings, coming in at -7.7, an hour prior to the opening bell. It was the third straight month the index came in below zero, which indicates that the economy of NY state has been contracting since May.

Well, it's just one state, like Greece, and Italy, and Portugal and France, are each just one country. But, if New York is contracting, you can bet other states are doing similar, or just barely expanding. Besides, New York is one of the biggest states, by population, 4th in the US.

No problem. Just move along, the government will fix all the bad economic data that's coming out this week, including industrial production, capacity utilization, new and existing home sales, PPI and CPI. Besides, Ben Bernanke has made it very clear that the only place to put your money to work is in equities (oh, and oil), not bonds, or gold or silver.

As CNBC's chief cheerleader, Jim Cramer, would say, BUY, BUY, BUY.

Dow 11,482.90, +213.88 (1.90%)
NASDAQ 2,555.20, +47.22 (1.88%)
S&P 500 1,204.49, +25.68 (2.18%)
NYSE Composite 7,482.71, +178.83 (2.45%)

Stock winners beat losers by a count of 5737-970, in a broad-based beat-down. On the NASDAQ, new lows continued to outnumber new highs, 49-14. The opposite was true on the NYSE, with 11 new highs and just six (6) new lows. The combined total of 25 new highs and 55 new lows, still retains a modest downside bias.

Volume returned to more pedestrian levels after the ridiculous wind and unwind of the previous seven sessions.

NASDAQ Volume 1,915,922,250
NYSE Volume 4,952,016,500

Oil caught a bid, gaining $2.50, to $87.88. With any luck, the speculators and oil barons controlling the futures markets will have it back to $100/barrel by Labor Day. In case nobody's noticed, even though oil is well off it's highs around $100 just three weeks ago, prices at the pump have barely budged. The oil companies say that's because the gasoline already delivered was bought at a higher price and has to be sold at a higher price. When that runs out, and gas can be bought lower, then prices will come down.

Yeah, sure. AAA reports the national average for a gallon of unleaded regular at $3.594 per gallon, down about a nickel from July 22nd, when oil began to slide.

Gold and silver suppression schemes seem to be running out of fuel, however. Gold gained $15.40, to $1,758.00, while silver was up 19 cents, at $39.31.

On Tuesday, a slew of data hits the street, though it will mostly be ignored since there is no other way to make money than by buying stocks.

Finally, below is a video (ain't technology great?) of Richard Nixon forty years ago today, dissembling, in his own beautiful, self-destructive way, in front of the entire world. Enjoy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stocks Close Green, but Well Off Highs of Day, Down for Week

One of the wildest weeks in US stock market history came to a rather anti-climactic close on Friday, with modest gains on all of the major indices, though the close was well off the highs of the session.

The Dow was the biggest winner of the day in percentage terms, suggesting that money is being plowed into the global behemoths for their international reach and dividend yields, but the week-ending rally was well short of spectacular and the Dow ended the day close to the middle of the range after it had been up 203 points at the high.

The S&P 500 had been as high as 1189 before losing more than half its gains through the afternoon. So too, the NASDAQ, which was up as much as 32 points before surrendering much of those gains as the day wore on.

For the week, all the major averages were lower. The Dow gave up 175 points over the roller coaster week; the NASDAQ lost 25 points, or about one percent, and the S&P shed 20 points, closer to 2%.

It was the third straight week of losses for the major averages, though hardly as bad as it could have been, measured by the lows set in place on Wednesday. The troubling characteristics of the week's trading were extreme volatility, high volume and the uncanny ability - in the near future - for indices to retest lows before making decisive moves.

With Europe still unresolved and US problems probably put away for a while with the start of preseason football, Friday turned out to be a day of celebration, not for the gains of the session, but for the fact that markets did not continue to slide as the week wore on and out.

Another troubling aspect was the 10:00 am reading from the University of Michigan's survey of consumer sentiment, which plunged to an 31-year low of 54.9, after a reading of 63.7 in July.

On the other hand, retail sales posted positive gains for July according to the Department of Commerce, though their readings and estimates have proven in the past to be more hot air than fact.

Not to hose down anyone's equity parade, but the global economy is still rather shaky, and unless long-term, structural problems with debt and the global currencies themselves are addressed, we are sure to repeat this kind of market behavior and sluggish economic growth. As it is, it's been nearly three years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the world is hardly a better place. Investments have become short term holdings, while real money has gravitated to bonds, gold or hard assets.

Dow 11,269.02, +125.71 (1.13%)
NASDAQ 2,507.98, +15.30 (0.61%)
S&P 500 1,178.81, +6.17 (0.53%)
NYSE Composite 7,303.88, +46.30 (0.64%)

Advancing issues topped decliners, though the margin was slight, 3965-2678. New highs on the NASDAQ numbered just four (4), with 60 new lows. On the NYSE, there were only seven (7) new highs and 24 new lows. The combined total of 11 new highs and 84 new lows - low numbers on both sides - suggests exactly what the market shows, that we are in a mid-range between a rally and collapse, with a bias to the negative.

Volume dropped off substantially, as traders were worn out and some caution and reason was applied to today's trading.

NASDAQ Volume 2,222,537,500
NYSE Volume 5,581,791,000

Commodities were sluggish. Oil fell 34 cents, to $85.38. Gold dipped $8.90, ending the week at $1,742.60, while silver speculators snapped back at onerous margin requirements, gaining 45 cents, to $39.11.

At the end, it was a smooth finish, but hardly inspiring to the bulls. After all, this is a three-week skid and the major markets are still bound between correction (-10%) and a bear market (-20%). It will likely take more than a few good days of trading to come to some understanding of future direction.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Markets in Stupid Mode

Sorry, but nobody can accurately analyze four consecutive days of 400+ point moves on the Dow.

It's just not normal, but this is what we get when there are no regulators, lax controls and machines doing 90% of the trading.

The only thing one can possibly take away from this is that markets, and most traders, have no idea what to expect from day-to-day and the entire equity complex is more than likely rigged to benefit high frequency traders and the TBTF banks.

Fundamental analysis more or less died in 2008, and now we are seeing the effects of a completely broken price discovery mechanism.

It's tough to get excited about a 400-point move higher when the day before was a 500-point move to the downside. Any attempt to justify this kind of activity should be met with blank stares and an excessive amount of skepticism because, over the past four days, nothing has fundamentally changed except the price people - or machines - are willing to pay for stocks, options, ETFs and mutual funds.

Seriously, it's not even worth attempting to analyze today's movements because tomorrow's are likely to be something completely different, rendering any judgments incorrect.

Dow 11,143.31, +423.37 (3.95%)
NASDAQ 2,492.68, +111.63 (4.69%)
S&P 500 1,172.64, +51.88 (4.63%)
NYSE Composite 7,257.57, +319.34 (4.60%)

Advancers beat decliners, 5816-965. On the NASDAQ, there were five (5) new highs and 131 new lows; the NYSE saw seven (7) stocks reach new highs, but 127 make new lows. It should be of some benefit to keep a close eye on the new highs-new lows indicator. Even on a massive upside day like today, very few stocks made new highs, though an inordinate number made new lows. That's a definitely bearish trend which has remained in place throughout the market turmoil.

Volume was on the high side again, though not nearly as robust as on the days when the markets turned lower. One gets the feeling that most of the trades are very short-term, and once the money's been made, the traders will exit and go looking for fresh meat. This isn't a stock market any more. It's close to being a casino, though that would give casinos a bad name.

NASDAQ Volume 3,091,521,750
NYSE Volume 7,798,956,500

Oil priced higher again, gaining $2.83, to close the NYMEX session at $85.72. Would it surprise anyone to see oil back above $90 shortly, with no change at all in prices for gasoline at the pump? It's all part of the elitists' plan to destroy the middle class.

Gold was slapped down after the CME announced it would raise margin requirements by 22%, losing $32.80, to $1,751.50. Silver nose-dived 66 cents, to $38.67.

A couple of things are for certain. The powers that be don't like gold and silver rising in price and the general direction of the market is down. We're still in correction territory, down more than 10% on the major indices, and these powerful rallies are fueled, in part, by short covering, the machine-driven trading and the allocations required by ETFs, one of the worst financial innovations of the last fifty years.

If ETFs are going to continue to be part of the market, they need to be excluded from making up part of the averages. In other words, spill them out into their own exchange, which would eliminate a lot of the volatility in markets today.

Of course, that will never happen.

Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fear Factor: Wall Street, Europe in Full Retreat; Dow Down Another 520 Points

Wall Street suffered one of its worst losses of all time and the third major loss in the last week.

Stocks were battered right from the opening bell, though selling accelerated in the final two hours of trading, just after stocks had reached their highs of the session.

The culprits - just in case anyone needs a good villain for the orderly destruction of capital - today were European banks such as France's Societe Generale, Germany's Duetsche Bank and Italy's Unicredit. European liquidity is being pinched again, just as it was during the global financial meltdown in 2008-09, though most of the players involved do not yet see the risk as severe.

The markets are telling different story, with stocks suffering deep declines for the third time in five days. Tuesday's enormous snap-back rally was completely overwhelmed by today's selling, and the end of the crisis seems well into the future.

To put matters into perspective as to how deep these recent losses are, consider:
  • On July 27, the Dow closed at 12,724.41; today's close was 10,719.94, a drop of more than 2000 points in just 14 sessions.
  • The NASDAQ topped out at 2858.83 on the 22nd of July; today's close of 2381.05 is a 17.7% drop.
  • The Russell 2000, comprised primarily of small and mid-cap names, is already in bear territory, down more than 20% from recent highs
  • The Dow Jones Transportation Index, which topped out at 5514.87, closed today at 4377.14, technically signaling a bear market as it is down 21%
  • The S&P 500 lost 32 points last Tuesday, another 60 points last Thursday, 80 points on Monday and another 51 points today.
  • The Dow Jones Industrials is just 500 points from making a 20% decline and resumption of the Bear market which was interrupted for 53 months by a stimulus and quantitative easing-induced rally that is now evaporating.

A pretty picture this is not. Additionally, there's nowhere to park money with any kind of real return. The 10-year note fell to an historic low of 2.09%, the 30-year bond dropped to 3.50% at the close, while a 2-year bill fetches a ridiculous 17/100ths of a percent in interest. Might as well stuff dollar bills into a mattress for the next few years as it's likely a safer place than the bond markets.

Even after yesterday's stunning announcement by the Federal Reserve that it would keep the federal funds rate at near zero for the next two years, markets were still unrelieved. What the Fed did, in effect, was broadcast deflation with about as big a bullhorn as they could, saying that unemployment was getting worse, the housing crisis has not been resolved and prospects for further deterioration in the economy outweighed the chances for meaningful recovery.

Meanwhile, most of congress is off on its annual month-long vacation, supposedly back in their various states and legislative districts, watching the mess from as far away as they can get. It would be interesting to see how many are out of the country, and, if this stock market malaise continues, how many of those come back to face the music.

Here's the sad story of the day in numbers:

Dow 10,719.94, -519.83 (4.62%)
NASDAQ 2,381.05, -101.47 (4.09%)
S&P 500 1,120.76, -51.77 (4.42%)
NYSE Composite 6,938.23, -319.81 (4.41%)

Losing issues belted advancers again, 5050-1691, though, by those figures, there was at least a smattering of selectivity in the sell-off. On the NASDAQ, six (6) new highs were offset by 232 new lows. Over on the NYSE, a mere three (3) stocks posted new highs, while 221 made new lows. The combined total of 9 new highs and 453 new lows is indicative of yesterday's smash-up, which set many stocks above their recent lows, though the feeling is that it's only a matter of a few more days before the new lows reach well beyond the 1000 mark.

Volume was robust again, in keeping with the current trend of being "all in."

NASDAQ Volume 3,437,055,500
NYSE Volume 9,282,671,000

Oil stopped skidding for a day, gaining $3.59, to $82.89. Gold briefly priced at over $1800, but fell back, to $1,784.30, a $41.30 gain on the day. Silver picked up finally, gaining $1.44, to $39.33. Both gold and silver are up as trading heads to Asian markets.

Tomorrow will begin with an 8:30 read of initial unemployment claims, which is still expected to be hovering around the 400,000 mark. It will likely be a non-market-moving number, as the macro condition is truly driving the declines.

Some are already saying that stocks are cheap, but many were saying that a few weeks ago, before the bottom began falling out.

Cheap is such a relative term. A particular asset may be "cheap" to some and pricey to others. Right now, stocks look like they're being sold as fast as they can, before they lose even more value.

Maybe the worst thing about this sudden crashing is that it's only Wednesday. There are still two more trading days to get through.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fed Honesty and Insane Markets

This was the mother of all snap-back, double-back rallies.

Let's see, first, after the sixth-worse day in US market history - taking the Dow as our guide - stocks opened sharply higher, then fell back to the flat line in the first fifteen minutes of trading, then rallied 200 points in the next 20 minutes.

After that, stocks just drifted along, as though yesterday's massive decline was some kind of mirage or a bad joke.

At 2:15 pm EDT, the FOMC issued what might be the most useful statement in the 98 year history of the Federal Reserve. It's not very long, so here's the whole thing (worth a look):

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that economic growth so far this year has been considerably slower than the Committee had expected. Also, recent labor market indicators have been weaker than anticipated. Indicators suggest a deterioration overall in labor market conditions in recent months, and the unemployment rate has moved up. Household spending has flattened out, investment in nonresidential structures is still weak, and the housing sector remains depressed. However, business investment in equipment and software continues to expand. Temporary factors, including the damping effect of higher food and energy prices on consumer purchasing power and spending as well as supply chain disruptions associated with the tragic events of Japan, appear to account for only some of the recent weakness in economic activity. Inflation picked up earlier in the year, mainly reflecting higher prices for some commodities of imported goods, as well as the supply chain disruptions. More recently, inflation has moderated as prices of energy and some commodities have declined from their earlier peaks. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee now expects a somewhat slower pace of recovery over coming quarters than it did at the time of the previous meeting and anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only gradually toward levels that the Committee judges to be consistent with its dual mandate. Moreover, downside risks to the economic outlook have increased. The Committee also anticipates that Inflation will settle, over coming quarters, at levels at or below both consistent with the Committee's dual mandate as the effects of past energy and other commodity price increases dissipate further. However, the Committee will continue to pay close attention to the evolution of inflation and inflation expectations.

To promote the ongoing economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate, the Committee decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that economic conditions--including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run--are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013. The Committee also will maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings. The Committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings and is prepared to adjust those holdings as appropriate.

The salient points are many, but the stunner of them all was the statement that the federal funds rate would remain at ZERO to 1/4 percent and that this accommodative measure would remain in effect until the middle of 2013, or, put another way, for about the next two years.

At first, market reaction was positive, then turned completely negative just minutes after the release. What the Fed is saying, in effect, is that the US economy has just about sputtered out, but there's nothing the Fed can do at this point. They surrender to market forces and will keep rates at the absurdly low levels for the next two years.

What they didn't say might have been even more important. There was not even a hint of more quantitative easing (QE), as the last two rounds produced nothing other than price inflation and the build-up of the too-big-to-fail (TBTF) banks' balance sheets. The Fed also did not mention how or when it would begin unwinding its own over-stuffed balance sheet, currently at historic highs.

Once the market got the gist of the Fed's generosity and after falling more than 350 points from before the statement's release, it was off to the races and a nearly 600-point rally in the final hour and fifteen minutes of trading.

Us markets are, and will continue to be, completely insane, out of control except under that of the TBTF banks who control it. Some people lost money today and some made quite a bit. Anyone with any knowledge of the corrupt, inner workings of the stock market knows who won and who lost, and most of the losers were surely people without super fast computers and gee-whiz algorithms.

Dow 11,239.77, +429.92 (3.98%)
NASDAQ 2,482.52, +124.83 (5.29%)
S&P 500 1,172.53, +53.07 (4.74%)
NYSE Composite 7,258.04, +362.07 (5.25%)

Advancers clobbered decliners on the day, 5880-966, but new lows remained at elevated levels over new highs. There were just 16 new highs, but 484 new lows on the NASDAQ, while on the NYSE there were only 3 new highs and 702 new lows. That puts the combined numbers at 19 new highs and 1186 new lows, an extremely negative bias.

Volume was extreme once again, nearly as pronounced as yesterday's.

NASDAQ Volume 3,819,984,500
NYSE Volume 10,180,450,000

Commodities were literally all over the place. Oil zig-zagged over the unchanged line to a $2.01 loss, at $79.30 by the end of the day. Gold was higher all day, finally settling at $1,743.00, up $29.80, another record close. Silver, however, has become the whipping boy of the lovers of fiat, losing $1.50, to $37.88. Apparently, either the decade-long love affair with gold's first cousin is over or the shorting machinery of HSBC and JP Morgan has the markets covered. The latter is more than likely the case, though eventually silver will score enormous gains, once the masters of the universe are satisfied they've done their best to squelch any thought of making silver a negotiable currency again.

The gold-silver ratio is historically around 16-1, which, were that the case today, silver would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $109 an ounce. The current gold-silver ratio is 46-1, though that is lower than what it's been in previous years. It still needs to find equilibrium. No doubt that silver is too cheap, but is gold too high? Probably not.

Thus ends another adventure through the canyons of Wall Street. Tune in tomorrow to find out that 90% of all trading is done by computers over which humans have no control. We are slaves to technology.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Debt Downgrade Fallout: Stocks Shattered, Gold Soars, Europe a Wasteland

At 9:00 pm Eastern time on Friday night, August 5, S&P officially released their downgrade of US debt from AAA to AA+, prompting widespread panic and sharp rebukes from the White House, who claimed, in effect, that S&P had made what amounted to "math errors."

Over the weekend, much was made of the downgrade, as the Obama hit the airwaves with gusto, rebuking the call from the ratings agency. Fitch and Moody's had previously reaffirmed the US debt as AAA, the highest possible sovereign bond rating, but S&P would not back down, and the downgrade remained in effect.

What S&P reasoned was that the US government did not take the necessary steps - in its theatrical production of waiting until the last possible moment to pass a debt ceiling increase - to address the structural problems facing it. S&P rightly concluded that US debt levels were and continue to rise and discretionary spending levels have not been controlled. Therefore, they downgraded the nation's debt and threaten to do it a second time, sometime around November, if the 12-member congressional committee charged with dealing with long term debt does not come up with actionable, concrete, debt reduction proposals.

As markets opened on Monday, the effects of a global panic were evident, especially on the heels of a 10% decline in US indices over the past two weeks and Thursday's dramatic sell-off of over four per cent on major markets.

First, it was the Asian markets which tanked at their various openings and continued through the day to sell off anywhere from 1.5 to 4.0%. Next up was Europe, where the crisis over bailing out Italy and Spain have reached a point of no return. EU officials stressed that they would be in the market with the ECB, buying up italian and Spanish debt, but that did little to change the outlook of investors, which had turned sour over the past fortnight.

Appetite for risk was at a low, as European markets suffered steep losses. England's FTSE was the best of the lot, down only 2.62%. France's CAC-40 took a 4.68% loss and Germany's DAX shed 5.02%. Other Euro-zone markets fell between 3.76 and 6.11%.

By the time US markets were to open, index futures had been hammered down to presage an inauspicious opening. Within minutes of the bell, the Dow was down more than 200 points, the S&P had taken a 25-point hit and the NASDAQ fell more than 70 points, though those declines were nothing compared to the carnage that lay ahead.

By the end of the day, after a minor rally in the first 15 minutes of the final hour, stocks were trading at or near their lows, with the Dow Jones Industrials surrendering the 6th-worst performance in its history. While the Dow suffered a 5.5% decline on the day, the other indices were actually much worse, with the NYSE Composite topping them all, coming home with a 7.05% loss.

It wasn't just the debt downgrade that spurred the sell-off. Conditions in Europe have worsened significantly over the past few months, to the point that European Union officials are without reasonable solutions to the debt contagion spreading across the region. While the ECB has managed to prop up smaller countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland, Italy especially poses a much larger concern.

All the European leaders could muster on Monday was a terse statement which offered no concrete proposals but plenty of assurances, which was be roundly written off by markets. To wit:
We are committed to taking coordinated action where needed, to ensuring liquidity, and to supporting financial market functioning, financial stability and economic growth
That was the extent of the communique from the magnificent seven of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The irony is that one of them, Italy, has been the source of the most recent anguish.

Essentially, the funds available to the ECB fall short of meeting the debt purchases needed to save Italy and Spain. Europe will have to engage in quantitative easing, as was the case in the United States over the past two years, to stave off defaults and the threat of a cascading crisis which would envelop all of Europe and likely doom the 11-year-old Euro currency.

If the EU decides upon cheapening the currency - which it almost certainly will do - theknock-on effect will be to sink the Euro, probably close to parity with the US Dollar. As the dollar would grow in strength, commodities, particularly oil and gas for auto use, would plummet, a boon to US drivers and to the general economy. Costs of imports would also decline, on a relative basis, giving American consumers more purchasing power.

Within the same scenario, however, are pitfalls for the global manufacturers and companies that populate the S&P 500, NASDAQ and the Dow. A stronger US Dollar would make them less competitive in foreign markets, shrinking margins and thus, profits. Thus, the great selling rush today was more of a statement on the global condition rather than that of the debt downgrade, which, when all is said and done, won't amount to a hill of beans. In fact, treasuries were up sharply today, as yields fell to their lowest levels in over a year.

The benchmark 10-year note fell 25 basis points in just one day, from 2.56% on Friday to 2.31% on Monday. The 30-year bond fell 19 basis points, to 3.65% as the yield curve continues to flatten. Money is going out of stocks and into bonds, and whether they're AAA or AA+ doesn't matter to those seeking a safe haven. The ridiculously low yields offered are a moot point. As one trader put it, "Investors aren't looking at making money; they're more concerned with getting their money back."

And, therein, the next crisis, in bonds, especially if the US government doesn't get its house in order soon. Higher rates and another downgrade could trigger a default of impossible proportions as the US would be unable to roll over its debt and fund itself without incurring higher borrowing costs. Ditto for Europe. Rising interest rates signals the end game for fiat currencies globally and back to some form of honest money, most likely on a gold standard.

The market events of the past few days, in which the major indices lost more than 10% are not the end of the crisis, but rather the beginning of the end of a great generational bear market that began in 2007 and will eviscerate all risk assets until nobody wants to hold anything any more.

Markets have entered the final stages of the third leg down. QE 1 and 2 staved off the collapse, but there will be no bailouts this time around. It's every man, woman, child and company for itself. There will be some winners, but mostly there will be losers, anguish, agony and the disappearance of great hordes of wealth.

Dow 10,809.85, -634.76 (5.55%)
NASDAQ 2,357.69, -174.72 (6.90%)
S&P 500 1,119.46, -79.92 (6.66%)
NYSE Composite 6,895.97, -523.10 (7.05%)

The internals were equally as stunning as the headline numbers. Declining issues decimated advancers, 6553-375, a ratio of 17.5:1. It was truly one of the deepest, broadest declines in stock market history. On the NASDAQ, there were four (4) new highs next to 725 new lows. The NYSE had just three (3) new highs, but 1292 stocks making new 52-week lows. The combined total of seven (7) new highs and 2017 new lows rivals or exceeds the figures presented during the fallout of 2008-2009.

Volume was at the highest levels of the year, exceeding that of last Thursday, which was then the high volume day of the year. Investors aren't just scared, they are trampling each other running through the exits at breakneck speed.

NASDAQ Volume 4,002,857,250
NYSE Volume 11,046,384,000

Crude oil futures were pounded again, as the front-month contract on WTI crude fell $5.57, to $81.31. Gas prices will soon fall below $3.50 - and possibly below $3.00 - a gallon as current supplies are depleted and replaced by less expensive distillates. According to AAA, the average price of gas in the US is now $3.66 per gallon, but the deep declines have not yet been factored into the equation. That will happen over the next two to three weeks.

Gold was the big winner of the day, soaring $61.30, to $1,713.20, another all-time record price as investors, companies, nations, central banks and housewives scrambled to find reliable assets. Silver, still constrained by high margin requirements, gained $1.17, to $39.38. Silver is almost certainly the most under-appreciated asset in the world, though that will soon change. As the crisis escalates and governments make more and more bad moves, the precious metals will skyrocket to unforeseen heights.

The banking sector took it on the chin, but none more than Bank of America (BAC) which is on the verge of a well-deserved bankruptcy. shares of the nation's largest banks fell 20% on the day, losing 1.66, to close at 6.51. Just a few weeks ago, BofA was trading at a price nearly double that. The unfolding mortgage crisis, brought about by Bank of America's 2008 purchase of Countrywide, has become a fatal blow to the once proud institution.

David Tepper's Appaloosa Management Fund has reportedly sold its stake in Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC), while significantly trimming Citigroup (C) from the portfolio.

Adding to the irony, AIG has sued Bank of America for $10 billion, citing "massive fraud" in its representations of mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

However, Citigroup analyst Keith Horowitz takes the booby prize for reiterating a "buy" rating on Bank of America shares this morning. Timing is not one of Mr. Horowitz's strong points, it would appear.

On top of all this, the FOMC of the Federal Reserve will issue a policy statement Tuesday at 2:00 pm EDT, followed by a news conference from Chairman Ben Bernanke. That alone should equate to another 300-point decline in the Dow.

For those with a morbid curiosity, check out the slideshow of the 10 worst days on the Dow, already outdated, as August 8, 2011, will go down in the history books as the 6th worst day for the blue chip index of all time.

Henry Blodgett and Aaron Task have a nice summation of the situation in the video below: