Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa (Ben Bernanke) Arrives Early in Europe; Gold, Silver Surge

Stocks worldwide were up sharply Wednesday on the news that the Federal Reserve, in conjunction with the Central Banks of Canada, England, Japan, Switzerland and the European Central Bank (ECB) agreed to lower the pricing on the existing temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 50 basis points.

It was an early Christmas gift that sparked a speculative rally and kept Europe from unraveling, again.

What we've repeatedly heard is that the current calamities of the Euro-zone are nothing like those encountered on American soil in 2008.

The plain fact that banks in Europe are under dire stress and in need of liquidity not only reprises 2008, but adds a crescendo affect that's akin to adding the NY Philharmonic, the Ohio State marching band and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the efforts of the Boston Pops.

Stresses on European banks, especially those in France, Belgium and Italy, have been exacerbating on a near-daily basis, with the potential for global contagion even greater than when Lehman Bros. was allowed to flail and fail.

Thus, as some unknown Europe-based bank was about to go under - rumors say $265 million in overnight borrowings from the ECB was the tip-off - the global elitist Central Bankers conspired to lift liquidity by lowering the borrowing rates on US Dollar swap arrangements by 50 basis points (1/2 percent).

Magically, not only was the global Ponzi financial system saved for the day, week or month, but the added benefit of having global equity markets spike 3-4% higher came along as an intended consequence. Yes, the globalists know what they're doing. Too bad for them that it doesn't work long term, as we know so well from recent history, circa September, 2008.

Here's a post, by none other than some character calling himself John Galt, that has both the 2008 and current Federal Reserve press releases. The similarities are striking, but also magnificent was the 2008 aftermath, the worst financial crisis of the last 70 or so years, and the resultant crash of the equity markets.

So, Santa came to town (Europe) dressed as Ben Bernanke, with his trusty elf, Tim Geithner, in tow, passing off presents to the good (and bad) bankers across the continent. While this constitutes Christmas and a Santa Claus Rally about a month prematurely, what can Europe and the global economy expect when the holiday actually arrives on December 25, lumps of coal, or perhaps soaring gold and silver prices?

The actual timing of the eventual collapse is still unknown, though this desperation move seems to indicate that the global financial structure is crumbling faster than the "unseen hands" of the central banks can prop it up. A dive in equities may not coincide with Christmas - that would be a shame - but rather sometime in early 2012, likely in the first quarter and quite possibly in January as profits are taken early in the year on stocks pumped to unwieldy heights in December. The net results being a relatively weaker dollar and higher prices for just about anything one consumes or needs. When the crash comes, of course, the Euro will descend and the dollar will rise, though the effect is probably short-term, until the Easter Bunny fills up those empty bank liquidity baskets again.

As the adage implies, this massive liquidity gift may indeed have a silver lining, encrusted with much-higher-priced gold.

Prior to the Fed's announcement, the People's Bank of China cut bank reserve requirements for the first time in three years, by 0.5%, amid signs that the Chinese economy is slowing due to slack demand for China's exports, particularly from Europe.

After the announcement, with futures up dramatically, ADP released its November Employment Change results, showing the creation of 206,000 private sector jobs during the month. The private survey is a regular precursor to Friday's BLS non-farm payroll data.

Third quarter productivity was measured as up 2.3%, while unit labor costs fell 2.5% as companies hunker down, doing more with fewer employees.

Fifteen minutes into the trading session, Chicago PMI reported a big jump, from 58.4 in October to 62.6 in November. It was an unnecessary boost to a market which had already spiked higher at the open.

There was no fade in this one-day rally, coming conveniently on the last day of the month, traditionally the day reserved for "window dressing" by fund managers. Stocks were up monstrously on the open and continued along a high, flat line for the rest of the session, until a final short-covering episode in the final fifteen minutes pushed indices even higher.

Just speculating, but it had to be one of the best market moves of the year, if not the best. Volume was sufficient, though not overwhelming. The late-day surge may be indicating that even more easy money will flow from the Fed to the hampered Eurozone.

As to whether the moves in stocks are sustainable and the even more important question of whether or not Europe is "fixed," the answers will only be known at some future date. The most cogent commentaries on Europe suggest that today's coordinated central bank motivation only covers over a dire condition in the European banking sector and is nothing more than a liquidity band-aid on a solvency open gash. Europe's funding problems remain unresolved, though any mention of default or collapse has probably been delayed by a few weeks or a month.

And just in case you're worried about food shortages or another recession, the Obama administration and congress actually did accomplish something, recently having lifted the five-year-old ban on slaughtering horses in America. Not to worry, though. Americans won't be eating Little Red Pony or Trigger any time soon (we hope). The meat will likely be shipped to Japan or Europe. However, if this is a trend-setter, cans of Lassie, Rin Tin Tin or Boo Boo Kitty may be in supermarkets soon. Dog food and cat food may take on newer, twisted meanings.

Dow 12,045.68, +490.05 (4.24%)
NASDAQ 2,620.34, +104.83 (4.17%)
S&P 500 1,246.96, +51.77 (4.33%)
NYSE Composite 7,484.49, +334.78 (4.68%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,386,048,000
NYSE Volume 5,808,163,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4913-861
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 161-68 (this has rolled over)
WTI crude oil: 100.36. +0.56
Gold: 1,745.50, +32.10
Silver: 32.73, +0.88

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Airlines Goes Belly Up; Housing Slides, but Confidence is Up?

AMR, parent company of American Airlines, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday morning in federal bankruptcy court in the Southern district of New York.

While it seems an inappropriate time for an airline to file for bankruptcy, the timing could prove beneficial to the airline, the last of the major carriers to undergo reorganization. The company, while it has over $4 bllion in unrestricted cash, has $9 to $12 billion in debts.

The company announced that flights would not be disrupted and no immediate layoffs were announced. AMR lost $162 million in the third quarter and has posted losses in 14 of the last 16 quarters.

A pre-packaged bankruptcy such as this sure sounds all bright and cheery on the surface, but these things have ripple effects, as some vendors and creditors are surely to get stiffed or be forced to take pennies or dimes on their dollars. American Airlines will survive, but unseen companies will be hurt down the line and many employees will likely lose their jobs. The American recovery lives on, but why didn't the government bail out AMR like they did General Motors? Maybe they've lost interest in business.

The current S&P/Case-Shiller 10-and-20-city indices both fell month-to-month and year-over-year, as housing continues to deteriorate Despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades, potential homeowners are largely shut out of the market by stringent underwriting standards and, more importantly, the lack of jobs needed to finance and support the payments on a home purchase.

Declining by 3.9% in the third quarter, the index showed a bit of relief from the second quarter's 5.8% decline, though there wasn't much hope in the report, which tracked sales through September. Only Detroit and Washington, DC reported gains during the period, of 3.7 and 1 percent, respectively. Home prices have fallen back to 2003 levels nationally.

Wall Street shrugged off the bad housing data and focused instead on the Conference Board's index of consumer confidence which rocketed up to 56 in October, from a revised 40.9 in September. It was the largest monthly gain in confidence since April 2003, though the current reading comes off a two-year low for the gauge.

Meanwhile, over in Euro-land, finance ministers kicked off a two-day summit designed to define a framework for the various entities - countries, the ECB and the ESFS - to deal with the ongoing debt crisis. Some of the ideas being floated around this time involve countries trading a bit of sovereignty for more bailout funding, and leveraging the ESFS roughly 2.5 times, to provide funding for stressed economies, mostly in the Southern part of the continent.

As usual, nothing concrete has - or will - come from these meetings, as European leaders inch closer to a complete currency collapse, which now, along with the breakup of the Euro currency partners, is rated by top economists as a 50/50 chance.

Here in America, the few traders still not completely scared away pushed stocks higher for a second straight day on the Dow and S&P, though the NASDAQ finished in the red. Trading volume was extremely thin. If there is to be a so-called Santa Claus Rally, it's not likely to awaken any sleeping children and will probably be sold off in a session or two, as the choppiness and extreme volatility is not likely to abate before the European crisis either is resolved or blows up completely.

Dow 11,555.63, +32.62 (0.28%)
NASDAQ 2,515.51, -11.83 (0.47%)
S&P 500 1,195.19, -2.64 (0.22%)
NYSE Composite 7,149.71, +29.16 (+0.41%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,621,070,500
NYSE Volume 3,951,292,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2486-3131
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 65-166
WTI crude oil: 99.79, +1.58
Gold: 1,713.40, +2.60
Silver: 31.85, -0.31

Monday, November 28, 2011


Contribution by Saul Martin

This morning I checked my e-mail using my CLEAR Denver Federal Center connection. I have been getting e-mails all week about Cyber Monday deals and Black FridayDeals. Some of the deals seem too good to be true, but not that good that I am going to get out in the thirty degree weather and sit outside of Best Buy, only to try and push other people down to get the one hundred and ninety-nine dollar forty-two inch flat screen television. I have gotten e-mails about deals that are good enough on Cyber Monday that I will wake up at five o’clock in the morning, sit on the couch, drink my coffee, and do my Christmas shopping. has a great deal, that if you spend fifty dollars that you get a choice a free gift. The best gift that they have to offer is a pair of pearl earrings! They are a gift in itself! Also, I am going to go to Toys-R-Us’ website. I was planning on buying my niece an Apple iTouch for Christmas. With the iTouch, they give you a fifty dollar gift card. I just can’t forget to set my alarm!

Following Friday's Flop, a Monday Pop; The Crisis Hasn't Ended

After Black Friday's classic pop and flop (the Dow was up 123 points, only to close down 26, and that was all in a half-session which lasted just 3 1/2 hours), stocks stormed back on rumors of a European fix-up engineered by the IMF and maybe the influence of the German economy, or maybe the Fed, or maybe... well, you get the point, it's all rumors and shadows, now that the extent of Europe's problems have been put to the light of day.

Estimates range to as high as $30 trillion dollars to fix what ails Europe, which is, after all, the same problems facing the United States, though in a longer timeline: un-payable debt brought on by years of overspending by governments, underfunded pension plans (think Social Security), flatlining government revenue and economies that cannot grow without artificial stimulus.

On Wall Street, the focus was on all the crazed morons shopping on Black Friday, which has been touted as one of the most successful single retail days ever. While that may be so, underlying the massive volumes of shoppers and sales the day after Thanksgiving are slim margins and now a three-week lull until the final week before Christmas, in which, traditionally, 40% of all holiday shopping takes place.

But Wall Street - and indeed, markets worldwide - celebrated Black Friday's success as if Gerald Ford had single-handedly beat inflation with his WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons. The truth - something seldom seen in the mainstream media these days - about Black Friday and how it translates into higher profits for the more than 5000 companies listed on the US stock markets is simply that it doesn't matter.

Warm weather across most of the country may have sent shoppers out in droves, but bottom lines are what's supposed to matter on Wall Street, and the results of the Christmas shopping season won't fully be known for another month-and-a-half.

As the markets have demonstrated quite convincingly over the past four months running, today's gains are tomorrow's profits taken or, for the long term holders (overnight, as opposed to outright day-trading), losses sustained. So, hold off on making any bold projections about Santa Claus rallies or long-term growth prospects until the remainder of the week and the month play out.

Not to pooh-pooh a solid ramp job on abysmally-low volume, but the charts are telling us that the circus of a crisis in Europe is simply the back end of what happened in America from 2007-2009. A good portion of the toxic debt bundled into MBS was sold into Europe, exacerbating an already bad situation. Unless the IMF, the Fed and the leaders of Europe really can fart flying unicorns on demand, the fix to the global economy is not going to happen this year, and probably not next.

The "recovery" which was supposed to have begun in 2009 is now more than 2 1/2 years old and unemployment is still "officially" over nine percent, though real economists put actual joblessness somewhere between 16 and 23%. The income gaps between rich and poor, elderly and young and across the spectrum of races and colors continue to expand. Congress continues to diddle over politics while only eight percent of the country believes they are doing a good job, proving that yes, you can fool some of the people some of the time.

National governments are imploding at an accelerating rate as financial instability threatens to topple the ruling elite. The crisis, begun in 2007 with the pop of the sub-prime bubble, is still in mid-flight (or descent, as the case may be). Europe's problems, while they may not be ours in America, sure have a familiar look to them and it may take some time, but they'll land here in America in due time, hopefully right about the time we're convinced Newt Gingrich (sounds a lot like Grinch, and that's not without irony) has the chops to save the nation.

Just for perspective, the Dow Jones Industrials peaked at 14,154 in November of 2007. Today they stand at 11,523, and, if a 20% decline defines a bear market, the current 18.6% drop from the peak had us right there in bear country over the past four months with a market - manipulated as it may be - that struggles with every gain, only to give it right back in a day or a week or so.

Confidence may be a fleeting emotion, but one necessary to keep a dynamic economy growing and strengthening. We don't have any, and there's little reason to believe there will be much coming around soon.

Dow 11,523.01, +291.23 (2.59%)
NASDAQ 2,527.34, +85.83 (3.52%)
S&P 500 1,192.55, +33.88 (2.92%)
NYSE Composite 7,120.55 +222.37 (3.22%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,623,548,125
NYSE Volume 3,839,968,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4783-968
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 97-156
WTI crude oil: 98.21, +1.44
Gold: 1,710.80, +25.10
Silver: 32.16, 1.15

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Failed German Bond Auction Sends Stocks Scurrying Lower

Germany, a tower of strength throughout the ongoing European debt crisis, got a taste of the bad medicine which has been doled out mostly across Southern European nations, as an auction for $8.1 billion in German Bunds was not well received, as bids covered only $5.9 billion of the offering.

Additionally, investors demanded a higher yield on the 10-year note, pushing the yield to a six-week high at 2.02%, higher than the corresponding 10-year note in US treasuries, which plummeted to as low as 1.88% during the course of the day.

Foremost on the minds of traders of all stripes, the question was simple, "If Europe's strongest nation cannot fund itself, what's next for the continent and for the rest of the planet?"

The news struck just prior to the opening of US markets. Along with unusual readings on US durable goods orders, personal income and personal spending, markets opened sharply lower and languished in the red all day.

Personal income for October showed a gain of 0.4%, while personal spending increased a mere 0.1%. Along with those figures, both below forecasts, the national savings rate fell to 4.1% in the third quarter compared to 5.1% in the second quarter, suggesting that Americans are dipping into savings or saving less in order to make ends meet, a scenario of which most lower and middle-income citizens are already well aware.

Durable goods orders, a key driver of broad economic growth, fell sharply, off 0.7% and yielded another odd number. Without transportation orders (autos, planes, etc.), durables were up 0.7%.

Spooking the market even more were poor results in the flash reading of China's PMI, which showed contraction, at 48.0, down from 51.0 in October. The flash reading generally captures about 85-90% of the businesses surveyed. The final reading will be released on December 1.

As US markets pause to give thanks (for what, nobody's exactly sure) on Thursday, economies and markets are gripped by turmoil, fear and trepidation over an imminent recession and possible currency collapse in Europe and elsewhere. With half of Europe likely already in recession, global growth seems to be stalling out in much the same fashion as it did in 2008. The Euro fell to its lowest level against the US dollar in six weeks, though still holding valiantly to the 1.33 level, though without relentless priming and pumping from the US Fed, the Euro seems doomed to fall to levels not seen since the Euro's earliest days.

That Europe can actually fund itself and fix the problems caused by decades of overspending appears more and more a fiction that only financial broadcasters and government officials mouth. Whether they actually believe what they're saying is a matter for speculators.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for the fifth time in the last sixth sessions. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 fell for the sixth consecutive day. All of the major averages are now back below where they started the year and each has fallen below its 50-day moving average. The number of advances was at a three-month low and new 52-week lows outpaced 52-week highs by its highest margin since August.

All sectors were lower, led by energy, basic materials, technology and financials. Bank of America, possibly the most-hated financial institution in the world (though Goldman Sachs may garner even more angst) fell to 5.14 at the close, the lowest level since March of 2009, the bottom of the 2008-09 downturn. All 30 Dow stocks finished lower on the day.

Gobble, gobble, Happy Thanksgiving. See you on Black Friday.

Dow 11,257.55, -236.17 (2.05%)
NASDAQ 2,460.08, -61.20 (2.43%)
S&P 500 1,161.79, -26.25 (2.21%)
NYSE Composite 6,951.56, -143.33 (2.02%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,715,325,750
NYSE Volume 3,798,937,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 767-4911
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 39-371
WTI crude oil: 96.17, -1.84
Gold: 1,695.90, -6.50
Silver: 31.88, -1.07

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zombie Earth: IMF Steps Into Euro Fray; US 3Q Growth Lowered

The day was full of economic news that kept market participants awake and jumping at every byte of information that crossed the trading desks.

Morning began with the Commerce Department's second revision to third quarter GDP, originally quoted at 2.5%, but today lowered to 2.0%. The news sent some jitters across the futures trading complex, but, by the opening bell the effect on the major indices was minimal.

Still, stocks took a bit of a header in early trading, extending almost to the noon hour, when the IMF announced a couple of liquidity lending facilities which boosted stocks for a few hours, until everyone realized that 17% of the money would be coming from the US, in the form of money printed out of thin air and exported to Europe to keep the inflationary ball rolling.

The IMF foray is only a small step forward, another can-kicking exercise to get Europe through the holidays with a minimum of stress. It is in nobody's best interests to mess up the Christmas shopping season, so Christine Legarde and her IMF goon squad set the wheels in motion officially with about $80 billion available immediately, though, as we are all well aware, these numbers usually don't stop growing until the money outstanding has reached the trillions. Give it six months and the IMF will own most of what they don't already in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The Global Zombie Ponzi has reached epic and no-turning-back proportions.

Greece? Nobody really wants it. They'll be printing drachmas in six to eight months time and trading goats for Ouzo and other necessities.

After the market closed the session in the red, again, the Federal Reserve announced that 31 financial institutions, all with assets (that's a joke right?) of more than $50 billion, will undergo stress tests, with the six largest banks - JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi, Wells-Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley - having to undertake a more severe test, that of a “hypothetical global market shock,” based upon conditions from the Fall of 2008. Results of the stress tests (which every bank will surely pass with flying colors, as they always do) will be announced on January 9th, 2012. Happy New Year.

With all the macro-news making the rounds, it was no surprise that traders and speculators (the stock markets are now devoid of "investors" except for the suckers stuck with 401k plans or mutual funds) have trimmed their exposure significantly over the past few days. There are just too many headwinds and too much money being thrown at sovereign states for anyone to rationalize in an investment scenario.

The new world order of global kleptocratic Ponzi economics has the IMF (backed significantly by US suckers, i.e., taxpayers) at the top of the chain, filtering down to the oligarch families of Europe with all the people of the world underneath. And we thought Feudalism was dead?

Briefly, Bank of America made a new closing low at 5.37 (they're solvent, right?) and the 5-year note was sold at a record low of 0.937% as the Treasury sold $35 billion at auction today. Demand was 3.15 times the amount offered.

Here's how the chips fell:

Dow 11,493.72, -53.59 (0.46%)
NASDAQ 2,521.28, -1.86 (0.07%)
S&P 500 1,188.04, -4.94 (0.41%)
NYSE Composite 7,094.89, -39.58 (0.55%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,798,916,500
NYSE Volume 3,926,789,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2043-3490
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 60-220
WTI crude oil: 98.01, +1.09
Gold: 1,702.40, +23.80
Silver: 32.95, +1.84

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Committee Epic Fail; Ron Paul Weighs In; New Government in Spain; Last Days of Euro?

Despite rumors of some kind of "a new idea" from senator Max Baucus that the congressional super committee would reach some kind of deal - a rumor that boosted stocks from their midday lows - there appears to be no deal in the works before the Wednesday, November 23, deadline.

Americans should have expected no less from a congress that hasn't met the public's perception of actually doing their jobs in well over a decade, some say longer. After all, they only had three full months to reach agreement on a plan that would cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, a paltry $120 billion per year.

The stranglehold by Republicans' refusing to authorize any kind of tax increase at all has boondoggled the entire effort, so that automatic cuts, mandated by the debt limit debate of the past summer, will take effect, though not until 2013, making cutting the budget deficit - by tax increases or program cuts - an election year issue of grandiose magnitude.

Congress' inability to get anything done caused stocks to sell off sharply, with the deadline just two days off and prospects severely limited.

Presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested that congress and the president take a few steps back and adopt the same budget that passed in 2004, on the premise that 2012 expected federal revenue ($2.3 trillion) roughly matches the budget from eight years ago. Paul's idea is brilliant in its simplicity, though probably a non-starter for most of the brain-dead congressional members who would have to vote on the idea.

Meanwhile, across the pond, European "leaders" saw the sixth change in government since the debt crisis began as Spain elected into office the conservative Popular Party. Spain follows Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Greece and Italy in ousting parties that could not navigate Europe's ongoing crisis.

A report by Credit Suisse called “The ‘Last Days’ of the Euro,” warns that the 12-year-old currency may be under enough excess strain that the entire currency experiment could collapse soon, as the ECB struggles to create a funding mechanism that would take some of the pressure off Germany and, to a lesser extent, France.

All of these events and ideas led to a serious drubbing in US stocks, though the main catalyst for decline was surely the inaction by congress. As it has failed so many times in the past, expect this latest fiasco of central planning to escalate into finger-pointing, name-calling and another lurch toward anarchy in the USA.

Congress, state and local governments (mostly though the fascist attacks on "Occupy" protesters) have repeatedly shown that they have a general disdain for the people of America, preferring to focus their efforts on gaining re-election. Thus, they are, slowly, but surely, losing the ability to govern. If economic conditions don't improve in a dramatic way soon, or deteriorate further, expect the wheels of government to begin the process of grind to a halt before finally falling off completely.

It's a testament to the failed politics of crony capitalism and support for only the wealthiest Americans that are causing serious dislocations and mistrust of government at all levels. Elected leaders can stop it if they so choose, but they seem all too caught up in ideology to do anything constructive.

For this market, the old fascist line, "the beatings will continue until morale improves," seems oh so appropriate.

Dow 11,547.31, -248.85 (2.11%)
NASDAQ 2,523.14, -49.36 (1.92%)
S&P 500 1,192.98, -22.67 (1.86%)
NYSE Composite 7,134.73, -147.74 (2.03%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,063,252,500
NYSE Volume 4,050,063,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 908-4780
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 45-275 (oopsie!)
WTI crude oil: 97.41, +0.11
Gold: 1,678.60, -46.50
Silver: 31.12, -1.30

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rough Week for Stocks Ends Mixed; Markets Gripped by fear and Uncertainty

Despite some favorable economic news during the course of the week, market participants mostly shunned equities as Europe's ongoing crisis and the lack of a deal by the congressional super-committee kept money mostly on the sidelines or taking profits (and losses).

Since the US stock market has become more akin to a day-trading casino than an investment culture, traders now routinely react swiftly to breaking news and events, preferring to stay out of the way or grab quick profits as the tableau of international economic falderal unfolds. The week was marked by more speculation than actual news, as Italian and Spanish 10-year notes criss-crossed the 7% yield threshold and Germany continues to balk at being the savior of the Southern nations, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country was ready to cede some degree of sovereignty in order to salvage what's left of the European monetary union.

Germany holds the key to whether the decade-old European Union will survive, being the largest and strongest economy in the region. While Merkel has made pronouncements pleasing to her neighbors to the West and South, she is losing a degree of favor at home, as many Germans don't exactly share her views and dislike the role of Germany as the bailout nation for weaker economies.

Funding for Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain has become an issue so delicate and abstract that one solution offered was for the ECB to loan money to the IMF, which would then fund the ailing nations, though that kind of Ponzi scheme would only work to relieve the ECB of their presumptive role of being the "lender of last resort" such as the US Federal Reserve was during the 2008 crisis.

It's a touchy situation in Europe, with new governments in Italy and Greece, both tottering on the brink of default, though Greece's predicament - with no new funding coming soon - is degrees more perilous.

Here in the USA, congressional members have not exactly been forthright in their effort to reach a compromise on the roughly $1.2 trillion in budget cuts which was the mandated approach after the August debt ceiling debacle.

With the US public debt officially exceeding $15 trillion on Thursday and the prospects for another $1 trillion-plus deficit in the coming fiscal year, one would think that congress and their "super-committee" would have found some resolution before their November 23rd deadline, but, as usual, congressional members are deadlocked, mostly along party lines, with Republicans steadfastly refusing to approve anything which even smells like a tax hike and Democrats seemingly all too happy to allow the blame to accrue to their across-the-aisle counterparts.

With the deadline looming just five days ahead, members of the committee are pondering letting the deadline pass, which would trigger automatic spending-cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, though that approach is also riddled with question marks as some members have openly suggested that even those automatic cuts could be ripped asunder, primarily because of opposition to cuts to the Department of Defense.

The comedy of errors which began last Spring with the threatened shutdown of the federal government over budget issues threatens the US credit rating, already taken down a notch in August by Standard and Poor's. Failure to reach agreement might not engender another rating cut, though scuttling the previously agreed-to automatic cuts just might cause S&P to downgrade the US again.

Against this backdrop of a do-nothing congress without political will or wherewithal, and a fractured Europe an landscape, one can hardly blame traders for seeking the safety of cash or Treasuries. Volume on the stock exchanges this week has been dismal, exacerbated by a missing $600 million in investor funds courtesy of the recently-bankrupt MF Global. The fund, run by former Goldman Sachs CEO and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, made heavy bets on European debt and found themselves in too deep. The current thinking is that MF Global used client funds to shore up losing positions before going belly-up, a practice that is wholly criminal.

However, since nobody ever goes to trial or jail for financial follies in the US, regulators are being very tight-lipped about the matter, even though reputations have already been badly tarnished and over half a billion dollars is either unavailable or lost.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrials took it on the chin to the tune of a 357-point decline. The S&P 500 fell 50 points during the week, the NASDAQ down 106 points and the NYSE Composite off by 294 points, hardly a ringing endorsement during a week that ended with options expiration, normally the forebear of a rally.

Maybe, with all the hurt, pain, fear and uncertainty, the big money went short.

Dow 11,796.16, +25.43 (0.22%)
NASDAQ 2,572.50, -15.49 (0.60%)
S&P 500 1,215.65, -0.48 (0.04%)
NYSE Composite 7,282.47, +8.32 (0.11%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,754,685,000
NYSE Volume 3,679,453,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3011-2563
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 40-128
WTI crude oil: 97.41, -1.41
Gold: 1,725.10, +4.90
Silver: 32.42, +0.92

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Market Turns Down Again on Euro Worries, Super-Committee Stalemate

Leadership is an elusive quality, and the leadership of most of Europe's nations and the lack thereof in the US congress were the primary causes for the stock market's retreat today, yesterday and for many days before this.

Europe will never solve the debt problems of decades of funding pensions with nothing to back it, so too with the congressional super-committee that now has just six days to come up with an agreement on a combination of budget cuts and new taxes. The won't make it because they long have been a group with various leaders without following.

Most of the plans and ideas that have come out of congress the past fifteen to twenty years have been detrimental to the general population, so it should not be a surprise that they are at loggerheads and unable to craft a deal that would satisfy the people, not their individual parties and ideologies.

Because of the leadership void, the US - and to a large extent, the global - economy is in standstill mode and wil remain there until some change is made. If it takes a new election, so be it. (Note: Ron Paul is in a four-way dead heat in Iowa with three clowns who don't hold a candle to him, yet the mainstream media will not focus on him because he will make fundamental, needed changes, to the detriment of the status quo.)

Thus, stocks remain largely rangebound, despite record earnings and generally positive economic data. Our leaders have failed. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street protesters have a point, and it is time to take back the nation, by whatever means necessary.

At least the crude oil traders saw the light today for a brief moment. Oil should return to the $75-85 range shortly.

Dow 11,770.73, -134.86 (1.13%)
NASDAQ 2,587.99, -51.62 (1.96%)
S&P 500 1,216.13, -20.78 (1.68%)
NYSE Composite 7,274.15, -117.87 (1.59%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,225,355,750
NYSE Volume 4,596,486,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1292-4276
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 36-162 (we've turned again)
WTI crude oil: 98.82, -3.77
Gold: 1,720.20, -54.10
Silver: 31.50, -2.33

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fitch Report on US Bank Exposure to Europe Crushes Stocks

Stocks were just trundling along on low volume Wednesday, until about 2:30 pm ET, when things took a turn for the worse. Nothing overly dramatic, but stocks began to slide from break-even into the red and accelerated at 3:30 - just 1/2 hour from the closing bell, when Fitch Ratings put out a report that focused attention on US bank exposure to Europe, saying that, though hedged, the top five US banks - Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Goldman Sach and Morgan Stanley (supposedly, those are the big five) - could suffer severely if the European debt crisis spirals out of control.

While there was nothing really new in the report, traders took it quite seriously, sending the Dow - already down about 75 points when the report surfaced - another 100 points lower into the close.

Gross exposures to large European countries was at the heart of the report, with US banks exposed to more than $400 billion of loans to France, the UK and banks in those countries. Despite steadfastly denying any outsized exposure to Europe, a half trillion dollars, as expressed by the Fitch report, isn't just chicken feed.

As to the sudden shift prior to the report going public, there was probably some degree of front-running by those with advance knowledge, generally the very same banks named in the report.

Earlier in the day, CPI was reported to be down 0.1% in October, industrial production improved by 0.7% and capacity utilization stood at 77.8%, up 0.5% from September.

By the end of the session, all sectors were lower, led by financials, especially Bank of America (BAC), which closed down 23 cents, to 5.90, its lowest close since October 7. Citigroup (C) was off 1.16, to 26.86, and Goldman Sachs (GS) fell 4.15, to 95.60.

Trade in crude oil was higher, though unusually focused on a plan to change the direction of crude oil flows on the Seaway pipeline, to enable it to transport oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The dense argument, which would, if oil were traded in a truly free and not-manipulated market, cause oil prices to fall, produced the opposite effect, with WTI crude rocketing above the $100 mark, as the gap between WTI and Brent crude continued to contract.

What seems to be in play is an overt effort to square the prices of the two grades worldwide. US oil has been creap for decades, but the price of crude in the US seems destined to rival that of Europe even though supplies in Canada, which has direct access to US markets, are high and could easily outstrip oil imports from the Middle East and elsewhere.

After President Obama shut down the proposed Keystone pipeline - which would have taken oil from the Alberta oil sands directly to Gulf Coast refineries - on regulatory and environmental grounds until at least after his supposed re-election, the only conclusion to be drawn is that it's not only the banks, the AMA and big pharma that have their tentacles around US politicians, but big oil as well, though that is hardly a revelation.

The news flow, from Europe and the US, continues to suggest that politicians and financial concerns know an economic downturn is just ahead, the only question being whether it's from natural economic forces or planned by the elitist elements in government, business and finance. Skeptics will call that "conspiracy theory" but since the politicians in the US (and probably in Europe) haven't done a thing to benefit the general population in two decades, why would they change their stripes now?

Dow 11,905.59 190.57 (1.58%)
NASDAQ 2,639.61 46.59 (1.73%)
S&P 500 1,236.91 20.90 (1.66%)
NYSE Compos 7,392.03 117.02 (1.56%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,940,961,000.00
NYSE Volume 4,034,991,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1427-4226
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 74-105
WTI crude oil: 102.59, 3.22
Gold: 1,774.30, -7.90
Silver: 33.82, -0.63

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Low Volume Melt-up Ends Flattish; OWS Protesters in Limbo; Oil Nears $100

Another sluggish, low-volume day on Wall Street started on the downside, melted up during the midday hours and ended nearly flat - with the exception of the NASDAQ momentum stocks - as traders ignored a Euro sell-off that normally pounds stocks in the same direction and Italian 10-year bond yields tearing back above seven percent that ignited a 400-point decline just a week ago.

So, unless one has a crystal ball with special powers, predicting the direction of trading based on correlations has become a true guessing game once again.

The morning's economic data was strong, offsetting the effects of Italy's bond yield rise. PPI declined by 0.3% in October, a signal that inflation might be still controllable, though one month's data does not make a trend. Retail sales posted a solid 0.5% in October, a third straight increase.

Maybe more consoling than anything was the New York manufacturing index, which popped slightly into the positive, at 0.61, after a string of months in the red.

Also making morning headlines was word that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters were removed from Zuccotti Park by New York City police in riot gear in the pre-dawn hours.

As the day progressed protesters awaited word on a ruling from state Supreme Court that would bar the city from enforcing evictions and the dismantling of tents. According to unconfirmed reports, after trading closed, the court decision said the protesters could return to the park, but could not bring in sleeping bags or erect tents.

The continuing climb of crude oil has some people concerned and speculators ebullient as the price of WTI crude oil approached the $100 mark. Gas prices have recently declined as oil sold below $80 a barrel in September, before bouncing back to current levels. With the holiday shopping season approaching, retailers are concerned that high gasoline prices will crimp travel and spending on gifts.

Being loosely tied to supply-demand mechanisms, oil prices seem more inclined to rise to unsustainable levels than reach equilibrium, despite lower demand.

Within all of this, trading volume has slumped to summertime levels for the second straight session. What's holding back traders could be a variety of issues, ranging from the continuing, unresolved issues in Europe to the nearly stalled negotiations by the congressional super-committee that is supposed to recommend policy changes in the form of spending reductions and/or tax increases by November 23. The six Democrats and six Republicans on the committee are deadlocked, with no resolution in sight.

Tomorrow will bring a fresh set of economic data, most importantly Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization, two readings that often indicate the strength or weakness in the manufacturing sector.

Dow 12,096.16, +17.18 (0.14%)
NASDAQ 2,686.20, +28.98 (1.09%)
S&P 500 1,257.81, +6.03 (0.48%)
NYSE Composite 7,509.05, +15.75 (0.21%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,667,635,375
NYSE Volume 3,500,557,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3667-1946
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 96-100
WTI crude oil: 99.37, +1.23
Gold: 1,782.20, +3.80
Silver: 34.46, +0.43

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wall Street Starts Week on Down Note, Sluggish Volume

There was no follow-up to last week's furious upside rallies on Monday, as traders sought catalysts for profit but found few. Oddly, given that the news over the weekend indicated something of a simmering in the ongoing European debt crisis, volume was at mid-summer levels or lower, marking one of the lowest trading volume days of the year.

Just as everything was up on Friday, just about all asset classes showed losses on Monday, including stocks of all flavors, led lower by shares of financial companies, including the world's favorites, Goldman Sachs (GS -2.37, 99.29), Citigroup (C -0.95, 28.38) and Bank of America (BAC -0.16, 6.05), which just can't seem to get out of the six-dollar range, to the chagrin of Warren Buffett and countless speculators who believe that bank stocks are a bargain (like uber-bank-bull, Dick Bove).

All sectors finished in the red, with consumer cyclicals showing the smallest loss (-0.31%).

Still, the most pronounced factor of the session was the sheer lack of velocity, as though some of the big brokerages had turned off the HFT computers and handed the trading back to humans. The trading marked the third-lowest volume of the year.

It would be nice if that actually happened, but one can hope and dream. Meanwhile, there just doesn't seem to be much interest in buying or selling much of anything, at least for today.

Dow 12,079.44, -74.24 (0.61%)
NASDAQ 2,657.22, -21.53 (0.80%)
S&P 500 1,251.88, -11.97 (0.95%)
NYSE Composite 7,496.71, -79.47 (1.05%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,401,417,000
NYSE Volume 3,075,054,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1384-4266
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 81-82
WTI crude oil: 98.14, -0.85
Gold: 1,778.40, -9.70
Silver: 34.02, -0.66

Online Bookkeeping and Accounting for Small Businesses

Anyone who's ever been in business for him/herself knows that half the battle is keeping up with the endless paperwork, from government agencies, invoices from suppliers, and the steady flow of bills, receipts and information overload with which just about every business - brick or mortar or online - has to contend.

Here were are in the second decade of the 21st century and computers still haven't solved the paperwork dilemma.

There are solutions, some better than others, to at least handle the business end of the business, with online accounting leading the way to a more streamlined, better-organized future.

One such service is, a handy website that involves online accounting and bookkeeping software, with special focus on users of online marketplaces like eBay or Etsy.

Budding entrepreneurs and veteran businesspeople will appreciate the fact that a simple account is free, and singup takes less than a minute. The system allows you to link and import from your eBay account and also to PayPal, to track sales, sales tax, shipping fees and income.

Other accounts can be added later and upgrades are available for only $9.95 per month. If you're struggling under a deluge of paperwork and spreadsheets, this handy tool is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Identity Theft, Employment and the Reporting Agencies

Identity theft is a major life difficulty that can affect your family, credit score or even your job prospects. Many employers are and have been looking into the credit histories of prospective employees as a way to differentiate the deluge of job applications during these difficult times.

Some say that checking credit scores of job applicants is hitting below the belt against individuals who, for better or worse, could not meet their obligations due to job loss, divorce, illness or the sluggish economy. Employers, on the other hand, are already skeptical of the current economy and are doing everything within their power to employ people while keeping their business intact and operating smoothly. They feel that identifying poor credit risk individuals is within their rights to hire the employees the consider the most fit for the job and the culture of the company.

Like it or not, that's why it's important to keep track of one's credit score. There are many sites at which one can access a free credit score to check for discrepancies, mistakes or fraud, the signature of identity theft.

Sites offering FreeScore provideof credit scores, reports and consumer credit information, along with identity theft protection services. An effective deterrent against identity theft and all sorts of other social maladies, getting the information from the three major credit reporting companies - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

Discrepancies on any, from those of the other reporting services, or transactions or information of which you are unaware, should alert you to the possibility of foul play.

It is important that as soon as you become aware of mistakes or errors in any of your credit history, that you contact the reporting agency, preferably in writing, for an explanation. Also advisable is contacting the financial institution upon which the error is recorded, be it a credit card company, bank of other financial institution.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bond Market Closed, Stocks Go "ALL IN"; Jack Abramoff Says Congress Engages in Insider Trading

Guess what?

While some of you may have had the day off for observation of Veterans Day, the stock market was open, the Euro spiked higher and traders had a field day.

The correlation trade recently mentioned here between the Euro/Dollar and US equities went into high gear, with the Dow posting its 11th day this year with a gain of more than 200 points and the other major indices registering similar percentage gains. Not to be left behind, the commodity complex also saw dramatic gains, with oil, gold, silver and platinum leading the way.

For the week, all major indices closed with small gains due to Wednesday's wicked meltdown, which only served to fuel speculator appetite for risk assets in the final two trading days of the week.

There was no catalyst other than the Euro, which was boosted higher on hopes that the Italian parliament would continue to press for austerity measures. Italy's troubles seem to have subsided almost overnight, it's 10-year note falling well below the key seven percent level.

The disturbing story of the day came from CNBC, of all places, as disgraced and discredited lobbyist Jack Abramoff, on the heels of his explosive 60 Minutes interview last Sunday (see video below) spoke to reporter Eamon Javers about insider trading in congress.

Though Abramoff, who spent three years in prison for his crimes, refused to name names, he said he knew of at least twelve member of congress who traded stocks on inside information.

Naturally, these congress-critters and their staffers, belonging to the privileged one percent, will never be investigated, charged or tried. It's accepted practice in Washington to take advantage of information before it becomes general knowledge and therein lies the double-edged sword for anybody with a 401k, retirement account or an active brokerage account. While today's gains, and all gains, look great on one's balance sheet, the insiders of Wall Street and Washington are making ordinary people's profits look like chicken feed.

It's a sign of our times. Profits booked legally by 99% of the public are offset by the one percent's relentless, secretive, underhanded dealings.

That's all. Enjoy the weekend.

Dow 12,153.68, +259.89 (2.19%)
NASDAQ 2,678.75, +53.60 (2.04%)
S&P 500 1,263.85, +24.16 (1.95%)
NYSE Composite 7,576.18, +152.50 (2.05%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,575,004,500
NYSE Volume 3,326,831,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4629-984
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 81-59
WTI crude oil: 98.99, +1.21
Gold: 1,788.10, +28.50
Silver: 34.68, +0.58

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Euro/Equities Correlation In Play; Largest US Municipal Bankruptcy in Alabama; Foreclosures Rise

As has been noted here recently, the correlation between the Euro and US stocks is operating in perfect harmony. Today, with the Italian 10-year note dipping below the magic 7% yield line, the euro gained in strength against other currencies, most notably the US dollar, which sent - as it always does - US stocks upward.

There's really no further analysis to the US stock market needed, so long as Europe remains in crisis and the unannounced policy of the Fed and Treasury is to keep the US dollar weak. Whenever the Euro is rising, so too US stocks, and when the Euro is down, so are equities across the pond. It's a losing strategy in the big picture view, but that doesn't prevent Wall Street's masters of the universe from making bank on both sides of the trade.

One could suggest that the entire global economy is now tied to the fates of Greece and Italy, though in reality, it's the Fed and the major US banks that are pulling most of the strings. Just as fundamentals no longer matter for stock-picking, so too the daily drumbeat of Euro-craziness that manifests itself in speeches, statements and the occasional turnover of a sovereign government.

Keeping the dollar week and the Euro strong is all that matters, even though the Euro should, realistically, be trading at par with the dollar or lower. Eventually, this is a failing policy that will flatten everything: stocks, currencies, politicians and their weakened governments.

The correlation is not perfect, however, as our New highs - New lows indicator below demonstrates in perfect fashion. Today was a "risk on" event, though more of a momentum play than a true rally.

On the domestic front, Jefferson County, Alabama, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday after defaulting on a sewer project that plagued the county for nearly two decades. The county, which is home to Alabama's largest city, Birmingham, filed for $4 billion, making it the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in US history.

The story behind the bankruptcy is a pantheon of the the ills plaguing the once-great United States, involving the EPA - which ordered the county to upgrade its sewer system - corrupt local officials, who were offered and took sweetheart deals from - you guessed it - Wall Street speculators. There's blame and shame aplenty to go around, as 22 local officials were indicted and convicted for their roles in the corruption.

The federal government has bailed out banks, insurance companies and automakers, but when it comes to cites where Americans actually live and work, no dice. The county goes belly-up, leaving creditors holding worthless paper. It's an American tragedy brought to you by the crony capitalists spanning the nation.

Also making domestic headlines, RealtyTrac reported that foreclosure filings rose seven percent in October from the previous month, as lenders got back to work after the robo-signing scandal had derailed their efforts for a year. While Nevada remained atop the foreclosure rate for the 58th straight month, California took over as the top dog for October with a 17% spike in default notices. The top ten states for foreclosure activity (these are the places worth considering moving to in the next 3-5 years because housing prices will be ridiculously low) are Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, Idaho, Oregon and Colorado.

God bless America. We've been in a depression for three years but nobody will admit it. It's a shame, because this is a good country with some very wonderful people, but our political leaders and Wall Street bankers have bastardized the entire financial system.

Tomorrow being Veteran's Day, be sure to honor our living and fallen military men and women, and, maybe, save a little bit of wrath for those who made them fight, and die, for causes that benefitted a few at the expense of the many.

Dow 11,893.86, +112.92 (0.96%)
NASDAQ 2,625.15, +3.50 (0.13%)
S&P 500 1,239.70, +10.60 (0.86%)
NYSE Composite 7,423.64, +70.19 (0.95%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,908,959,750
NYSE Volume 4,015,058,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3629-1866
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 36-104
WTI crude oil: 97.78, +2.04 (WTI is becoming WTF. Oil up more than $20 in the past six weeks.)
Gold: 1,759.60, -32.00
Silver: 34.11, -0.26

Financing Your Personal Injury Claim

We've all seen the ads for personal injury lawyers on TV, promising to fight for your rights and help you obtain a settlement from an insurance company.

It's big business and personal injury settlements or awards by courts can run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, in severe or exceptional cases, even more. The lawyers at most high-quality personal injury firms are battle-tested and necessary for claimants fighting insurance companies, all of which have their own legal teams of highly qualified attorneys.

While getting a lawyer to handle your case is usually as easy as making a phone call - because most will work on a percentage fee basis with minimal up-front costs - waiting to get paid on your claim can be stressful, since many times, the personal injury sufferer will be out of work while the slow court process proceeds.

Because of the long time between an accident and an award, there are companies which provide lawsuit cash advances to bridge the income gap and offer personal injury claimants money to make ends meet while their lawsuit commences.

Terms are fairly straightforward and the money can be repaid upon receipt of the personal injury award. Leave it to the legal profession to come up with a solution to what can be a serious situation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stocks Whacked as Italian Bonds Blow Out, Euro Dives

Today was all about Italy, in the aftermath of Tuesday's tumultuous parliamentary session, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that he would resign after parliament passes economic reforms demanded by the European Union. He also promised not to run in Italy's next election.

While the initial market response to Berlusconi's departure was mildly positive, in the belief that a new government might make a difference, the bond markets broadly disagreed, sending yields on Italy's 10-year note to over 7%, a level broadly believed to be one at which Italy would not be able to finance itself. The country has built up a mammoth debt load of €1.9 trillion, and financial experts agree that at 7% on the 10-year and an even higher rate on the five-year, Italy will be unable to avoid either default or a bailout by EU authorities.

With the bond markets were facing up to Italy's demise, the Euro traded lower against other currencies, including the US dollar, which, in turn caused a collapse in US equity prices, culminating in a mammoth decline on the Dow of nearly 400 points or 3.2%, with the other major indices dropping by even larger percentages.

The conditions in Europe continue to deteriorate by the day, and the Italian problems could bring on an even more calamitous situation than has prevailed prior to this most recent debt catastrophe because Italy is simply too large for a bailout. There simply is not enough money available to the ECB or the recently-enlarged EFSF.

All other economic data and financial news paled by comparison to the realization that Italy would follow Ireland, Greece and Portugal down the debt-hole.

Every market sector was lower, led by financial stocks, conglomerates and basic materials, each of which registered a decline of more than 4.5 percent.

It was a dismal day for stocks, but one the market had been anticipating, though hoping it would never come. A default by a country the size of Italy may cause the Euro to become vastly devalued (and maybe even doom it as a viable currency), pushing up the US dollar, exactly the opposite of what the Wall Street insiders prefer. It's another seminal moment in the financial crisis that will not end.

Dow 11,780.94, -389.24 (3.20%)
NASDAQ 2,621.65, -105.84 (3.88%)
S&P 500 1,229.11, -46.81 (3.67%)
NYSE Composite 7,357.91, -314.00 (4.09%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,107,168,250
NYSE Volume 4,639,047,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 634-5048
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 39-97
WTI crude oil: 95.74, -1.06
Gold: 1,791.60, -7.60
Silver: 34.36, -0.79

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stronger Euro, Oil, US Stocks Make Wall Street a Winner

Whatever it is these Wall Street geniuses are smoking, they should be encouraged to pass some along to the rest of America, because, as Main Street struggles with high unemployment, stagnant wages, underwater housing and simply making ends meet, stocks just continue to run higher, as they did today.

Besides Italian President Silvio Berlusconi preparing to step down amid his country's burgeoning debt crisis, there wasn't much news on the European front, and even less news here in the USA, but traders saw fit to add to positions, or at least goose stocks a touch higher though still in the same range that's persisted since the end of July.

Almost all asset classes were marked up as the Euro gathered strength, pushing down the value of the dollar. That's all you need to know. Wall Street has this game figured out, like it or not, and they're not deviating from the game plan. Stocks are king no matter what happens in the rest of the world, until they're not, and we all know what happens then.

Meanwhile, the next crisis looming comes from - you guessed it - Washington, where lawmakers (yeah, that's a good term, like they make any that matter) were busy fighting with each other, as they normally do, just two weeks from the November 23 deadline for the "Super-committee" to come up with something along the lines of $2-4 trillion in budget cuts. Time is running out on the paid monkeys in congress and progress has been slow to nil.

If a deal is not reached by the deadline, some supposedly automatic cuts will take place, though it's almost a certainty that the wily legislators will find their ways around that boondoggle as well, leaving America in just about the same shape it was in before all the nonsense began over the debt limit. The free-spenders (all of them except Ron Paul and few others) got what they wanted in August: more money, and they will allow the rest of the country to burn rather than reach consensus and compromise.

They should all be kicked out of office, or, barring that, mostly ignored. As John Bogle said last evening on CBS news, "America is losing the ability to govern itself." Maybe that will be a better outcome.

Dow 12,170.18, +101.79 (0.84%)
NASDAQ 2,727.49, +32.24 (1.20%)
S&P 500 1,275.92, +14.80 (1.17%)
NYSE Composite 7,671.91, +81.48 (1.07%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,862,988,625
NYSE Volume 3,908,488,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4134-1511
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 124-66
WTI crude oil: 96.80, +1.28
Gold: 1,799.20, +8.20
Silver: 35.15, +0.33

Monday, November 7, 2011

Euro Leads Stocks Lower, Then Higher; Income Disparity Hits Young Hardest

There are plenty of correlation trades that make plenty of sense, but perhaps the only one worth watching - from a macro perspective - is the Euro-Dollar trade because of its unique correlation to the US stock market.

Today was a prime example of how that trade controls markets, from weak hands to strong, from dead to money to risk-be-damned, full speed ahead.

As trading opened for the week, the Euro was under a great deal of stress, not only from the continuing crisis, but by way of the dual southern European national plight being waged in Greece and Italy, where both leaders - George Papandreou of Greece and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy - were rumored to be ready to step down at the drop of a falafel or calzone, so precarious their countries' dilemmas.

While Papandreou finally agreed today to step down from his post as Prime Minister in an effort for the country to form a unity government (whatever that may mean in a nation on the brink of dissolution), Berlusconi seems locked into a similar fate, given the debt issues facing his country. Bond yields have risen dramatically on Italy's benchmark 10-year bonds over recent weeks and the spread between the Italian 10-year and the 10-year German Bund hit 490 basis points today.

Also weighing on the Euro was the nearly failed auction of Euro 3 billion in bonds by the EFSF, the entity created to save European banks from catastrophe. The auction was lightly subscribed and only 2.5 billion of the bonds were sold - at a price 171 basis points over the Bund - the rest going back to the issuers at a hefty premium. The EFSF does not have enough heft to buy Italy's bonds, putting Berlusconi and his government in a very precarious position.

As the Euro sagged in the morning so did stocks in the US, as every hedge fund manager worth his or her salt is short the US dollar, a trade that provides cheap dollar liquidity to US markets but is also inherently ruinous to the long-term survivability of the world's reserve currency. As the day wore on in Europe and issues began to straighten themselves out, especially in the case of Greece, the Euro began to rise, taking the dollar down and US stocks up. Simple, Easy. A piece of cake.

The real problem with this trade - as it has been all along - is that the US is probably in better shape than Europe, which has been on the brink of a currency collapse for months, making the premise for being short the US dollar somewhat specious, or perhaps totally false, a straw man trade designed only to make the impression that all's well in the USA and keeping stocks trending higher.

Therein lies the fatal deceit of the short dollar trade. If somehow the Euro must be kept propped up - when it's true value is somewhere closer to parity with the dollar than the current 1.38:1 ratio of dollars to Euros - then the inevitability of the failure of the Euro as a currency, the EU as a common trading bloc and a massive decline in US stocks must occur. This is, without a doubt, how tightly intertwined markets now are, dangerously so, and the heads of most US banking, trading and political entities are well aware of this situation.

When the Euro blows, which it almost certainly will, US stocks will follow, and isn't that a nice, pleasant note upon which to start off your week? Of course, it gets worse. Because when stocks drop, what the middle class is going to do will make the continuing "Occupy" protests look like a kindergarten cookies and milk party. Nothing riles up a people than having their wealth pulled out from under them, and, while the bankers and politicians have thus far succeeded in keeping complete collapse a fringe argument, Europe's failings could quickly become an American nightmare.

It was revealed today just how badly broken the American system has become. Pew Research Center reported that the wealth disparity between young and old has reached its highest level ever, with "Households headed by a person 65 or older have a median net worth 47 times greater than households headed by a person under 35."

Unarguable as that fact may be, it exposes the soft underbelly of American life, wherein the elderly, otherwise known as collectors of entitlements, such as Social Security are prospering at the expense of the young, who must work hard and pay bills, debt and support their elder countrymen. It's as unfair a situation as the top 1% holding 40% of the nation's wealth, and perhaps worth fixing, with means testing, rather than turning our nation into an armed camp of elderly versus youth.

In between are the Baby Boomer generation, the first post-WWII generation to begin reaching retirement age. Some have saved, others not so much, but, as a whole, the largest segment - those born between 1950 and 1960 - are still years away from collecting a Social Security check. If one were to take a bet on just how much a person 55 to 60 years old today should expect as a monthly stipend at age 65 or 67, it would probably be wise to cut that number down by 25-45% from current expectations.

If one is inclined to believe the situation is tough right now, imagine another 50 million expecting to receive Social Security checks in coming years. The math simply does not add up unless those paying into the system are going to be taxed at 80% of their wages. It's just the truth, we're headed for even harder times ahead.

Dow 12,068.39, +85.15 (0.71%)
NASDAQ 2,695.25, +9.10 (0.34%)
S&P 500 1,261.12, +7.89 (0.63%)
NYSE Composite 7,590.43, +38.20 (0.51%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,735,945,625.00
NYSE Volume 3,629,465,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2773-2795
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 88-64
WTI crude oil: 95.52, +1.26
Gold: 1,791.10, +35.00
Silver: 34.83, +0.74

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stocks Drop Initially on Poor Employment Data, Recover Late; G20 Soothes Nerves

Friday was a fitting end of the week for stocks, a the BLS released some very sketchy employment data that sent investors initially to the sell windows, shedding stocks that have run up nicely over the past two sessions.

The week included two rather large down days followed by a pair of higher sessions and Friday's slight sell-off. The Labor Department reported that the US gained 80,000 jobs in its monthly non-farm payroll release, 104,000 of which came from the private sector, offset by 24,000 government job losses.

There were a number of revisions - all upward - to September and August data. September non-farm private payrolls, originally pegged at 137,000 job gains, was revised to 191,000. August, originally reported at a flat zero, was revised for a second time, adding in another 57,000 job gain, following last month's 47,000 upward revision, making August a much better month for employment - if one is inclined to believe government data, of which everyone is not - at a net jobs gain of 107,000.

Disappointing results at the outset sent stocks to their lows of the day in early trading, but as traders digested the data, found some reason for optimism, mostly in the revisions, and, though October's gains were not enough to keep pace with natural labor force growth (roughly 125,000 a month is needed), another positive month, on top of other positive economic data, was enough to erase those losses as the session wore on.

Catching up on other data releases, third quarter productivity increased by an estimated 3.1% after two consecutive quarterly declines.

Factory orders increased by 0.3% in October, on expectations of -0.5%, and the ISM services index inched lower, to 52.9, from 53.0 in September.

The official unemployment rate was pegged at 9.0, down from 9.1 in September, though most of the decline was due to job seekers falling off unemployment roles rather than finding new employment.

Another factor in the calculation of the overall strength or weakness of the US labor market comes in the form of the BLS' notorious birth/death adjustment, which measures the number of businesses closing and shedding jobs (death) and new business start-ups adding jobs (birth). According to this arcane, rather sloppy assessment, the BLS concludes that 103,000 more jobs were created in October by new businesses than were destroyed by business closures. In other words, almost all of the private sector job gains in October were statistically generated, which is why there is some doubt to the veracity and reliability of government statistics.

In Cannes, France, leaders of the G20 nations concluded a meeting without offering any new IMF funds to help Europe deal with its lengthy debt crisis. The fact that the member nations effectively told Europe to "fix it yourself" was less of a surprise than the IMF putting Italy under monitoring of its pension, privatization and labor reforms, long overdue.

That the leading economic powers of the world would defer to next year a decision on whether Europe needed additional help could be viewed as a positive development, especially after the referendum in Greece on that country's bailout money was effectively shut down on Thursday.

For the week, the Dow lost 248 points, the NASDAQ shed 51 points and the S&P dropped 32 points.

Dow 11,983.24, -61.23 (0.51%)
NASDAQ 2,686.15, -11.82 (0.44%)
S&P 500 1,253.23, -7.92 (0.63%)
NYSE Composite 7,552.23, -52.91 (0.70%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,959,105,000.00
NYSE Volume 3,947,110,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2093-2430
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 73-59
WTI crude oil: 94.43, +0.17
Gold: 1,756.10, -9.00
Silver: 34.08, -0.41

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stocks Rally in Spite of Global Issues

My apologies for the extreme brevity of this post, but seriously, no time today. - FR

Stocks, after a brief decline at the open, went straight up all day, almost without pause. Even the threat of Greece defaulting didn't allay the bulls. It was remarkable, in the face of so many financial headwinds.

Dow 12,044.47, +208.43 (1.76%)
NASDAQ 2,697.97, +57.99 (2.20%)
S&P 500 1,261.15, +23.25 (1.88%)
NYSE Composite 7,604.97, +143.81 (1.93%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,081,688,750.00
NYSE Volume 4,664,793,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4290-1341
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 87-64
WTI crude oil: 94.07 +1.56
Gold: 1,765.10, +35.50
Silver: 34.50. +0.56

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Markets Rebound as Fed Stands Pat; Greece in a Bind over Bailout

Dow 11,836.04, +178.08 (1.53%)
NASDAQ 2,639.98, +33.02 (1.27%)
S&P 500 1,237.90, +19.62 (1.61%)
NYSE Compos 7,461.10, +123.96 (1.69%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,942,050,875
NYSE Volume 4,062,845,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4528-1072
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 47-45
WTI crude oil: 92.51, +0.32
Gold: 1,729.60, +17.80
Silver: 33.94, +1.21

Recapping the days events in no-frills fashion:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the IMF and Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou to discuss the Greek leader's abrupt call for a national referendum on whether or not to accept the Euro bailout and associated austerity measures. According to early, unconfirmed reports, Papandreou would not budge on a plebesite early next year, pushing the EU leaders to issue a freeze on Greece's $8 billion in bailout funds, a move which could send the whole European debt crisis into a new, more dangerous phase as the Greek government will surely run out of cash prior to the proposed referendum.

The Federal Reserve chose to take no policy action on the federal funds rate, keeping the effective rate between 0.25% and zero. The Fed added some language to its statement, highlighting more positive tones as the US economy gathered steam in the 3rd quarter.

The ADP private payroll survey estimated that US employers added 110,000 private sector jobs in the month of October, after a revised 116,000 job gains in September.

Stocks ended a two-day losing streak, though the Fed's announcement and subsequent news conference didn't move markets much in either direction.

Volatility remains quite high, with the S&P Volatility Index (^VIX) ending the day at 32.74.

All interest will turn to employment over the next two days, as unemployment claims are announced Thursday morning and the BLS' non-farm payroll data come out on Friday, both releases timed for prior to the markets' opening bell. Continuing news from Europe is also likely to be at the top of investor interest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Greece, Italy Send Stocks Overboard Again

Doings on the Continent have been keeping traders on their toes for months, but today's antics bordered on the bizarre.

First Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a public referendum on the latest bailout plan, just approved days ago in late-night negotiations by European leaders. Making matters even more confused, Papandreaou scheduled the referendum for some time early next year, which would hold global markets hostage for months while the Greeks decide their own fate.

A "NO" vote on the austerity plans tied to Greece receiving more funds from the EU and IMF, would scuttle months of planning and negotiations and would likely result in Greece being tossed from the European Union. Such an outcome would surely roil markets terribly, though the mere thought of waiting two to three months for what almost certainly would be a negative result sent shock waves through European bourses and US exchanges today.

Reacting to the news, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy planned emergency talks with leaders of the EU and the IMF, though it was not clear whether Mr. Papandreou would be invited.

And, if Greece's gambit wasn't enough to turn investors away, there's a confidence vote set for Friday, in which Papandreou's Socialist Party could lose control of the government, which it holds by only two seats in the parliament. The situation in the Mediterranean nation have moved from bad to worse to bizarre over the past few months.

In Italy, despite the agreements worked out last week, bond yields continued to spike higher, with the 10-year Italian bond reaching upwards of 6.22%, a more than 400-basis point difference over the stable German Bund. The bond spread blowout added to fears that Italy might be in more danger than previously thought - which, in itself was already severe - as the Italian government has to roll over nearly $2 trillion in bonds over the next year, a hefty sum.

Under the leadership - if one can call it such - of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has failed to act on measures set down by the EU in August and leaders of two main banking and business associations have called on the prime minister to act swiftly or step aside. For his part, Berlusconi has made promises to act quickly, though many doubt he has the emotional or political will to implement the harsh austerity measures called for by other European leaders. As can-kicking goes, Berlusconi is world class, a foot-dragger with a penchant for putting off the obvious, though most of the other leaders in the EU have displayed similar inability to act courageously or quickly.

Also nagging US markets was the early-in-the-day report on ISM Manufacturing Index, which showed a marked decline, from 51.6 in September to 50.8 in October, another sign that the US economy was in danger of falling into another recession.

Stocks were pounded right from the opening bell, though a late day rally was attempted and then scuttled as news from Greece suggested more of a guessing game than any kind of deliberate policy action.

Speaking of policy, the Federal Reserve is locked in meetings on rate policy, which will be announced at 12:30 pm Wednesday, a deviation from the usual 2:15 pm time. The policy decision will be followed by a press conference with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. While it is virtually assured that the Fed will not change the federal funds rate from levels approaching zero, some are betting that another round of QE will be announced in some form, though the effectiveness of such an undertaking - already tried twice since the 2008 financial crisis, without effect - is very much in doubt.

Prior to that, ADP will release its private payroll data for October, which serves as a proxy for the "official" non-farm payroll data release by the Labor Dept. on Friday.

Not surprisingly, some of the biggest losers on the day were the large banks, such as Wells-Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS), the usual culprits now caught between a sagging economy, exposure to Europe and the unwinding of MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday.

The silver lining for consumers came from a two-day rally in the dollar - mainly against the Yen and Euro - sending commodity prices lower across the entire complex.

Dow 11,657.96, -297.05 (2.48%)
NASDAQ 2,606.96, -77.45 (2.89%)
S&P 500 1,218.28, -35.02 (2.79%)
NYSE Composite 7,338.48, -226.55 (2.99%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,314,571,500
NYSE Volume 5,656,978,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 859-4813
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 24-89 (flipped)
WTI crude oil: 92.19, -1.00
Gold: 1,711.80, -13.40
Silver: 32.73, -1.62