Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cyprus Banks Re-Open; S&P Makes New All-Time High

Not certain which of these two historic events will eventually bear more weight, but the banks in Cyprus opened at noon (Cyprus time) on Thursday after being shuttered for more than two weeks and the S&P made an all-time closing high.

For investors, the S&P event is a watershed moment, capping a long bull run of just over four years that began at 666 on the index and now closes nearly 100 points better.

For the citizens of Cyprus, the events of the past two weeks and the reopening of the banks today will have great weight, but in the opposite direction. Now that the banking situation in the Mediterranean island nation are more or less "normalized" - with uninsured depositors (over 100,000 euros) likely to lose 40% or more of their deposits - and the country headed directly into a depression, the contagion, for now, limited, though anybody with large deposits in any European bank has to be walking on eggshells presently.

The limits for Cypriots are stiff: withdrawals from banks are limited to 300 euros per day; checks cannot be cashed, only deposited; leaving the island with more than 3000 euros is outlawed. Welcome to the Cyprus debt prison and hotel. Payrolls are exempt from limits as the banking officials want to see money circulating to some degree, though people will be surely more frugal in their spending habits.

The Dow closed at another record high and ends the quarter (Markets are closed Friday) up 11%, marking the best quarterly returns since 1998. The S&P was right behind, clocking a 10% return for the quarter.

As the market has shown throughout the four-year bull run, news doesn't matter; it's all good on Wall Street. The Chicago Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 52.4 in March, down sharply from the 56.8 reported in February.

Initial jobless claims also cam in worse than expected, rising to 357K, up from 341K in the prior week.

Monday is the start of a new month and a new quarter, as well as being April Fool's Day, which begs the question: who will be the fools, those who exited on the record high today or those looking to squeeze more gains out of the long-running bull market?

The highs on the S&P are nominal ones, slightly above levels hit in 2000 and 2007, more commonly known as a triple top.

It's never a good idea to buy high, because you're likely to end up selling lower, but it's really tough to bet against Ben Bernanke and the Fed printing presses churning out $85 billion a month in free money. The sprinters are far ahead at the moment, but investing is more of a marathon. And, don't forget, this rally has been built not only on quickly depreciating greenbacks but on horrifyingly low volume. Additionally, the advance-Decline line has been exhibiting much less breadth than one would normally associate with a raging bull.

Pick your poison, but don't keep all your eggs in one basket.

Happy Easter!

Dow 14,578.54, +52.38 (0.36%)
NASDAQ 3,267.52, +11.00 (0.34%)
S&P 500 1,569.19, +6.34 (0.41%)
NYSE Composite 9,106.83, +36.38 (0.40%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,555,418,875.00
NYSE Volume 3,481,085,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3865-2537
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 557-32
WTI crude oil: 97.23, +0.65
Gold: 1,594.80, -11.40
Silver: 28.32, -0.289

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Income Inequality Killing America, or, Is It Already Dead?

Once again, just so we all get it straight: stock markets are not necessarily reflective of the underlying economy. That point was driven home with a lead hammer today, when European and US stocks fell out of bed and into an early dive only to rally the rest of the day and finish close to unchanged (US stocks, at least).

Most European bourses were down hard in the early going, but rallied into the close. Reasons for the swan song for stocks were the ongoing crisis in Cyprus and instability in Italy, which has been operating without a government for months and appears to be ready to do so for many months more.

As for why stocks regained some of the losses throughout the various trading sessions, the acronym, BTD, would suffice, as in "Buy the Dip," which has become shorthand for day-trading insiders making money while there's still some not being confiscated in a bank reorganization.

Meanwhile, Cyprus (where the local stock market has been tanking for four years, down 96%, so we should have seen this coming) prepares for a decade or longer of depression as planes flew euros in from the continent to shore up the banks and ATMs, which will open tomorrow. The rules, however, have changed. Cheques cannot be cashed, only deposited; the limit on daily withdrawals is 300 euros, and not more than 3000 euros can leave the island on one's person. Thus has the troika enslaved and imprisoned the million of so residents of the once-beautiful Mediterranean island.

But, unless one is still convinced that what is happening in Cyprus and, to a lesser extent, along the southern periphery of Europe can't happen in the United States, there are certainly enough examples of debt-slavery, capital destruction and other assorted miseries that come with a declining economy to convince most of the "recovery" die-hards that the US is more likely mired in a recession (and has been since 2008) than experiencing a recovery.

All one has to do to verify this condition is open one's eyes to what's going on in one's own town or city, as Jim Quinn eloquently lays out in his essay titled Available. Empty strip malls, for sale and lease signs everywhere, shuttered storefronts and vacant commercial developments are just the tip of the iceberg Quinn sees heading directly toward the USS Titanic, ending in the complete blow-up of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. It's a great read.

This article by David Cay Johnston, details the extent of wealth inequality in America over the past 50 years - how it has grown, improving the lives of those in the top 10% and the top 1%, while impoverishing just about everybody else.

According to Johnston's article - published in January - the average gain in annual income since 1966 for the bottom 90% in America was an astonishingly-small $59. Read that again. FIFTY-NINE DOLLARS. Now, consider how much taxes and inflation have eroded disposable income and spending power and one begins to see clearly how America's "wealth curve" is distorted - toward the rich.

Here's an example comment that sends the point home:

I wish my father were still alive to see this. I always used to tell him that it was easier to make a good living back in his peak earning years - 1955-1975 - than mine - 1985-2005 - but he never wanted to believe that the America he fought for in WWII was any different now than then.

He stubbornly stuck to his preferred line of reasoning, all the while watching single-earner households evolve into double-earner debt traps, inflation, stagflation, recession, government regulation and bungling, even as it got harder and harder for him to make decent money in his later years.

Now I know why my general acceptance of prices has been stuck somewhere around a 1974 level, when a new car cost $3500-6000, a two bedroom apartment was $400 and a steak dinner ran about $6-8. Because my income has been stuck there thanks to inflation. Back in 1975, I was making about $350 a week and had plenty of money left over after regular expenses. Guess what? I'm making a little more than that now - about $500 - but it's a struggle to get by. Taxes went way up since then, along with gas, food, rent and just about everything else.

Now, greed and loopholes may be great for the .001%, but inflation has truly wrecked our middle class and society.

And the wreckage continues.

Now it becomes clear as to why the stock markets continue to rise to record levels as the general economy crumbles into ruins. The top 10% of Americans own 50% of the stock market. They're living in a parallel universe, one in which their profits are earned by plundering the lower, middle and even the upper-middle classes.

So-called "conservative" commentators might say statements like that spark class warfare, but that's what the upper class has been engaged in for many years. They've waged an economic war on the rest of America, thanks to short-sighted tax policies that heavily favor the rich. How can anyone find anything "conservative" about promoting distortions in income that threaten the American way of life?

Here's a must-see video on the topic.

Wealth Inequality in America (this video has gone viral over the past month)

That should be enough for today. In case you want to keep believing mainstream television media instead of what you can see with your own two eyes, then remain in your deluded non-reality of willful ignorance. The rest of us must begin to move on, outside the debt-servitude structure imposed upon us by government at all levels and into something that's more sustainable and self-reliant.

Stocks, bonds, bank deposits? Keep 'em. What the truly enlightened are now stocking up on are gold (silver), guns and grub (seeds, gardens).

Dow 14,526.16, -33.49 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 3,256.52, +4.04 (0.12%)
S&P 500 1,562.85, -0.92 (0.06%)
NYSE Compos... 9,070.44, -13.27 (0.15%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,418,889,500.00 (light)
NYSE Volume 3,180,277,250 (lighter)
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3294-3059
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 330-48
WTI crude oil: 96.58, +0.24
Gold: 1,606.20, +10.50
Silver: 28.61, -0.067

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dow Sets Another New High; S&P Within Two Points as Europe Burns

OK, since things are getting pretty weird out there in financial-bizarro-land, today's post will not include the usual market post-mortems, but instead some witty vitriol from the comments of a few choice financial blogs.

Banks in Cyprus are scheduled to open on Thursday, so plan on the bank runs starting then. Meanwhile, US markets don't seem to care that Europe is becoming a more dangerous place for money, with Cyprus-like "bail-ins" rumored to be written into law. In other words, the bank can take your money if they made some bad investments or need to shore up their balance sheets. Nice!

Note: the editor or idiot-in-chief takes no responsibility for the accuracy or validity or truthiness of any of the following. Bunga-bunga.

Going long German bank vault builders.

With all the money that's going to be sloshing around Germany, could this foment another Weimar moment?

Ve have all de monies. Ve are rich! You vant milk? 500 euros. Danka.

Ok, OK, I'm getting this image here, that money leaves all periphery banks, sooooooo... what about all that Basel III (I think that's the one), that the banks are supposed to have X percentage of tier one capital? Uh, is that why the Eu said, well, move those requirements back a few years.

OK. Then these banks, without sufficient capital in them when the bank runs begin, go under... hard. Bank holidays across all of Southern Europe. Capital controls: only able to withdraw 30 Eu per day, something like that. (there's great potential for black markets, i.e., I'll write you a check, Guido, you cash it and give me the money. I'll give you XX euros.)

So, massive bank runs, governments shitting their pants, bond yields heading to zero, the US 10-year goes below 1%, the 30 down below 2%, and I can move out of the foreclosed home I inherited and buy some squishy new place at something like 2.25% on a 30-year loan. Sounds like a plan to me, unless my friends at Bank of America forget to proceed on that foreclosure, like they have for the past 3 years.

One nice feature of this nearly-100-year-old home, it's huge, with lots of places to hide cash and shiny things. No mortgage and - I love this part - the bank, being that they foreclosed, are responsible for the ridiculous NY state real property taxes. They've already ponied up over $15k, and that's on an $81K home. They were even so good as to pay the interest on the back taxes, and, twice a year, I get a letter from the govt. that the taxes have been paid, even though I never get a bill any more, that goes directly to the bank. Man, those guys at the bank sure are smart.

Life can't really get much better, or, maybe a real depression will end up making my extended pre-retirement even better!!!! (Four exclamation marks in honor of the Mogambo Guru.)

Party on. Bund-a, bund-a!

OT: Just for the laughs, Fannie Mae just listed this beauty for $3000 in Rochester, NY (my homie townie).

Just look at the pics and read the description. LMAO

Current Keiser Report after the stats.

Dow 14,559.65, +111.90 (0.77%)
NASDAQ 3,252.48, +17.18 (0.53%)
S&P 500 1,563.77, +12.08 (0.78%)
NYSE Composite 9,083.71, +60.75 (0.67%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,421,957,375
NYSE Volume 3,114,387,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4165-2247
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 392-34
WTI crude oil: 96.34, +1.53
Gold: 1,595.70, -8.80
Silver: 28.68, -0.136

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hurrah! Boo! Cyprus is Saved! Cyprus is Doomed!

There are so many angles to the story of what happened to Cyprus over the past week or so that it boggles the mind to consider just a few of the long-term ramifications, but, clearly, the deal struck late, late Sunday evening by the ECB, IMF and the European Commission, deferred to by the president of Cyprus - who really didn't have much say and actually threatened to resign (he should have) - was a game changer in more ways than one.

First, the deal.

Instead of making everybody pay, which was the original plan foisted upon the Cypriot parliament and summarily dismissed in a unanimous vote, the brain trust that is the ECB worked out a plan that would fold up one insolvent bank - Laiki - and reorganize another (Bank of Cyprus), impose capital control limiting withdrawals to 100 euros, and force depositors with over 100,000 euros - because there are so few bond holders - to pay down the bank's debt, with a levy of up to 40% on those deposits.

OK? Stay with me here. Because the plan is not a bailout, but a reorganization, the parliament of Cyprus will not have to vote on it. There. All fixed.

Except that mush of the money that's going to be "levied" in the "reorganization" is Russian money, laundered or otherwise, and the Russians are not very happy, even though Angela Merkel is. Hmmm... Russians unhappy, Germans happy. That doesn't sound familiar, does it?

Further, banks in Cyprus are supposed to open tomorrow, but probably won't, and even when they do, the flight of capital will be intense, even at the absurdly tiny levels of 100 euros a day. This story is still very, very fluid and has a multitude of effects on all of Europe and the rest of the world, so, stay tuned.

As far as the markets were concerned, news of a "solution" to the Cyprus problem was greeted with hallelujahs and buying, with the futures of US indices all heading skyward and the Euro ramping up against the dollar.

Stocks in the US (and Europe) opened higher, leveled off until, until, Dutch Finance Minister and recently-appointed head of the ECB, Jeroen Dijsselblom, went on the record to say that the Cyprus solution may well be a "template" for other troubled banks in the Eurozone.

Uh-oh. markets tanked. The Dow, which was up 51 points, went negative by 128. European bourses revered. The EUR/USD FX pair went negative in a big way. Impairment of depositor money (government-sanctioned theft) is not what rich people want to hear. Never mind the poor and not-so-poor with deposits of under 100,000 euros, which are guaranteed by the bankrupt ECB, it's the rich people's money that's going to bail out banks in the future Europe.

Ouchie! But, that's what should happen. Insolvent banks should be wound down first by smacking the junior and then senior bond holders and, if that's not enough to cover the debts, uninsured depositors pony up the balance.

So, that's Cyprus, the future of Europe and the global financial system all rolled up into 12 or 14 neat paragraphs. If you've got over 100,000 euros in any bank these days, you are either as nuts as our Federal Reserve chairman or a big business that needs that amount of capital to meet payroll, expenses, etc. For those, there is no alternative (well, there is, but what business really wants to keep that much cash lying around?).

For people with less than 100,000 euros or the equivalent in dollars (about $129,000 right now), how much do you want to risk in any bank, any bank which could be closed indefinitely in case of a financial crisis or emeeeeeeergency, with no access to your funds until the "officials" deem the situation resolved?

Let's just say that the answer for most people would be, "not much."

Well, that just raises another fearsome looking ugly head in the form of capital controls (you can only take out "so much" today) or, outright loss. The answer is bank runs of the kind not seen since the Great Depression, when, remember, banks were closed for weeks and longer and some never reopened. IT CAN HAPPEN HERE because it already did.

So, where do you put all that extra cash of yours, lucky you? Most Americans have sums of money in "investments" which are just promises and based upon given market levels which change from day to day. Trust. It's a fun term.

Others have money in banks. Best advice is, if you must keep your dough in a bank, spread it around. A better solution would be to invest (you have enough money, right?) in a very heavy safe, a good alarm system, a coule of good firearms and maybe a couple of alert, healthy guard dogs. Yeah. Old school, like medieval days, which is to where the world is headed. Maybe a moat filled with crocodiles, drawbridge and turrets should be the new home design for the 2020s?

You laugh. Don't. Money in banks, as proven by the bizarre and brazen moves of the psychopathic leaders of the ECB, IMF and EU. is not as safe as you'd like to think. Ask anyone who lived through the Great Depression. Most people kept more money stuffed into their mattresses than in their local banks, and, with good reason. The banks failed and their money was gone. Poof!

The choice is yours, dear readers, play the game of chicken with the elites, who have no taste nor mercy for the likes of you and yours, or take action. keep in banks only what you need, because, when you think of it, the FDIC insures deposits of up to $250,000 in the US. That went up from $50,000 prior to the crash in 2008. Why? Because people smart enough to understand what was going on were taking their money out and the government and the banks would really have gone bust in a huge way had there been real banks runs like in the 1930s.

Without looking it up, the FDIC budget is something along the lines of $50 billion. The amount of deposits in US banks is on the order of $14 TRILLION. Do the math.

That's it for today. We're all Cypriots now.

Dow 14,447.75, -64.28 (0.44%)
NASDAQ 3,235.30, -9.70 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,551.69, -5.20 (0.33%)
NYSE Composite 9,022.95, -42.85 (0.47%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,665,435,625
NYSE Volume 3,539,278,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2714-3624
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 489-49 (straining)
WTI crude oil: 94.81, +1.10
Gold: 1,604.50, -1.60
Silver: 28.82, +0.117

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cyprus Situation Still Uncertain; US Traders Content to Take the Risk

With the situation in Cyprus still murky, at best, US investors shrugged off the dilemma from overseas and bid stocks up to their best levels of the week during Friday's session, ending the week down marginally, but essentially flat.

Holding stocks over the weekend seems a risky bet, being that the troika has given the Cypriot government until Monday to sort things out and come up with a solution to salvage what's left of their failed banking system and creaking government.

The latest from Nicosea, the capitol of Cyprus, appeared to have the parliament eyeing a tax on depositors once again in an effort to keep the deal offered by the ECB and IMF on the table. The parliament had unanimously rejected the option to tax deposits in Cypriot banks earlier in the week, but it now appears that they have run out of viable options.

How the tax, or levy, is finally worked out remains a sticking point. Deposits of under 100,000 euros are supposedly protected by law, as they are by the FDIC in the US, but lawmakers and Eurozone leaders seem willing to overturn that protection in favor of bailing out the troubled banks and economy of Cyprus.

Taxing savers will no doubt raise the specter of fear in many european nations, that regular depositors will no longer be protected by laws designed to keep governments and financial authorities' hands off the people's money.

With Europe already on a weekend, there's little doubt what savers in countries like Greece, italy, spain and Portugal have been doing on Friday: withdrawing sufficient fund to weather the weekend and beyond, should the leaders in the EU and Cyprus continue on their mad path to destruction of confidence in the financial system.

Banks in Cyprus will remain closed until Tuesday, no matter what is decided or left up in the air. The weekend should prove to be an interesting one from the standpoint of global economic viability.

Dow 14,512.03, +90.54 (0.63%)
NASDAQ 3,245.00, +22.40 (0.70%)
S&P 500 1,556.89, +11.09 (0.72%)
NYSE Composite 9,065.65, +56.00 (0.62%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,631,320,375
NYSE Volume 3,145,706,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3898-2398
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 323-29 (flat)
WTI crude oil: 93.71, +1.26
Gold: 1,606.10, -7.70
Silver: 28.70, -0.514

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Situation in Cyprus Still Unresolved; European, US Stocks Hit

If Americans could pull themselves away from their TV sets and the NCAA tournament for a few moments, some of them might come to the realization that what's happening in Cyprus might just have huge global implications in the not-so-distant future.

While the story so far consists of a multitude of moving parts, what is known so far is that Cypriot banks - oversized in relation to the nation's GDP - are in deep, deep trouble and that the "troika" (EU, ECB and IMF) has given the tiny island nation until Monday to come up with a viable plan.

Cyprus has been told it must raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) if it is to receive 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) from its fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
In the meantime, the banks remain closed, ostensibly to reopen on Tuesday of next week.

Many ATM machines have already run out of cash and one bank (Laiki) has already imposed capital controls, limiting withdrawals to 260 euros ($340) per person to conserve its dwindling funds. Rumors have it that Laiki will be folded into one or two of the other major banks in the nation, even though reported by CNBC, those reports have not been verified by reliable sources. The situation remains fluid with European officials, Russia (whose residents are responsible for the bulk of deposits in Cyprus' banks) and the Cypriot parliament are busy concocting ideas to rescue the banking system and the government, though nothing seems to be working particularly well at the moment.

Possible outcomes for Cyprus are varied and somewhat indecipherable at present, but what is known is that depositors almost certainly will be forced to surrender some of their funds via a tax, or levy, because there aren't enough bondholders in the banks to make up for the shortfall. Normally, those holders of bank debt would be first on the hook, but this situation is different from what has already occurred in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Nonetheless, whatever happens in Cyprus will have ramifications across Europe and the world. If the troika's plan to tax deposits becomes reality, it will almost certainly cause some degree of bank runs in the aforementioned countries that are already in trouble. The damage done to confidence in the system will be more severe. Banking and finance, largely based upon trust, cannot withstand wholesale looting of depositor accounts, no matter how small or seemingly trivial the amounts. The expectation is that banks are a safe place to park funds and the potential of either not having access to funds or having money appropriated (read: stolen) in order to bail out the bank itself or the government, is not part of the agreement.

Europeans are now looking at events in Cyprus through jaundiced eyes. The crisis is nigh upon four years old and the peripheral countries are still in recession, as is the whole of Europe. To date, all the plans of the EU, ECB and the IMF have amounted to only playing for time, and time is running short, both on the patience of the populaces and the viability of various governments.

The fear is that once the genie of appropriating depositor funds comes out of the bottle, it will be hard, if not impossible, to put back and will likely spread. No matter the eventual deal struck in Cyprus, capital flight is a certainty, the question being from where and to where the money will flow.

There's a certain unfairness about all of it, and a general sense of fear that hit markets this week with a thud. In the US, the damage has been downplayed thus far, but today's losses were the worst of the week and sent the major average to their lowest closes in nearly two weeks.

With the situation still unresolved, the anxiety on Wall Street and in other money centers around the globe is palpable. Unrestrained money printing, QE, low interest rates and other assorted "emergency" measures will not be able to trump a wholesale loss of confidence in the financial system itself, a condition which is likely long overdue.

Naturally, one cannot expect ordinary citizens and businesspeople around to world to immediately and simultaneously catch onto what's really occurring, but word is spreading, and quickly.

A piece of advice to everyone would be to watch one's finances carefully and keep a stash of cash outside the banking system, just in case. After all, it was one of our founding fathers - Benjamin Franklin - who opined, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And the cure has yet to be found.

Also of note is that traditional "safe havens" - gold and silver - have been appreciating slightly, with today's moves the most significant.

Dow 14,421.49, -90.24 (0.62%)
NASDAQ 3,222.60, -31.59 (0.97%)
S&P 500 1,545.80, -12.91 (0.83%)
NYSE Composite 9,009.66, -71.43 (0.79%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,691,711,000
NYSE Volume 3,571,124,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2138-4254
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 303-28 (stretched)
WTI crude oil: 92.45, -1.05
Gold: 1,613.80, +6.30
Silver: 29.21, +0.395

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cyprus Still an Issue; Fed Statement a Snoozer

For some reason known only to those who choose to follow rather than lead, everything market-related hinged upon the release of the FOMC policy statement on federal funds rates, which, as almost everyone in the civilized world already knew, would remain unchanged.

Nonetheless, the bearded chairman and his scholarly cohorts ripped Cyprus from the front pages of economic news for the day and delivered their usual hokum statement about "moderate growth", "targeted inflation" and other assorted word-bites designed to make the markets kowtow to their planned economic dictums.

The committee also released forecasts on economic growth and unemployment for the remainder of 2013, 2104 and 2015 - forecasts which are generally nothing but flights of fancy and will almost certainly miss their marks widely.

And, there was a press conference and question and answer period, in which chairman Bernanke reread the aforementioned statement, added a few humorless remarks and fielded a number of softball questions from the drooling press pool.

It was enough to lull babies and pets to sleep.

Meanwhile, the ECB and IMF continue to wrestle with the issue of what to do about Cyprus, which is still unsettled and operating without banks being open for a fifth straight day. Today's announcement was that Cypriot banks will remain closed until Tuesday of next week, as the government expects massive bank runs once they are open for business.

Imagine the grand, self-important EU ministers losing any remaining credibility over what amounts to a three to six billion euro matter. Incredible as it sounds, that's what's happening.

Party on, America.

Party on, Europe.

Dow 14,511.73, +55.91 (0.39%)
NASDAQ 3,254.19, +25.09 (0.78%)
S&P 500 1,558.71, +10.37 (0.67%)
NYSE Composite 9,081.09, +63.42 (0.70%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,605,044,125
NYSE Volume 3,682,038,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4657-1782
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 506-37
WTI crude oil: 92.96, +0.80
Gold: 1,607.50, -3.80
Silver: 28.82, -0.026

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cypriot Parliament Rejects Savings Levy; EU, ECB, IMF Relent

Congrats to the Cyprus parliament for calling the bluff on the EU, ECB and the IMF.

Shortly after noon EDT, the Cypriot parliament voted unanimously - in a rare show of anti-Euro solidarity - to reject the bailout plan proposed by the "troika" (EU, ECB, IMF) that would have imposed a tax on savers, a stark violation of the rule of law.

The plan called for a 9.9% tax on savings accounts in banks with holdings of more than 100,000 Euros, and a 6.5% levy on those under the 100,000 Euro threshold.

The vote had been delayed for two days, but, in the end, the parliament stood up for the welfare of the people and the sanctity of personal property rights, or, could it have been a reaction to a very real threat from retaliation from Russian oligarchs and mobsters (recognized as one and the same, in some circles)?

Much of the billions of Euros on deposit in Cypriot banks belong to Russians, a fact not lost on those who had the fate of their country and countrymen in their hands.

Whatever the case, the troika's gambit to impose a tax on savings accounts went up in flames, fabulously, though one has to fear that this was more of a test run for a future raid on the money held by individuals and companies in banks across Europe. So deep was the opposition that the parliament rejected the plan in toto, sending the ECB and IMF back to the drawing board.

The EU quickly issued a statement to the effect that it would use existing means to bailout the banks in Cyprus, and with them, the bankrupt government. Though nothing material was offered right away, all in Europe know that whatever solution the troika devises will be austere toward the general populace and kind to banks.

In the end, it will be the people who suffer most, as it has been in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Italy.

At one point during the back-and-forth of memos and media bites, one of the EU finance ministers quipped that Europe was two-thirds of the way through the crisis. Skeptics of the overall viability of the European Union will note that using 2008 as a baseline, the year 2014 would serve as an end to the crisis, otherwise meaning the collapse of the EU and the end of the Euro as a multi-national currency.

It doesn't get any stranger than in Europe, the dystopian nightmare conceived as a method to compete on a global scale which has devolved rapidly into an Orwellian series of meetings, dictums, bailouts, trial runs and sovereign failures.

America took the drama in stride, the markets stumbling through the early part of the session only to rally in the afternoon, though the crisis in Cyprus is still far from over. This was only act one of what will certainly be a three-to-five piece performance.

While it may be back to normal (whatever that means) for US and global markets for the next few days, the FOMC meeting of the Fed wraps up tomorrow at 2:00 pm EDT and the budget battle in the US congress continues to gain pace, with the Senate and House bills far from resolution.

As usual, congress will be out of session beginning March 25, though it must pass a continuing resolution by the 27th in order to forestall a government shutdown due to lack of funding. As in Europe, the nefarious machinations of government are never without a dramatic deadline. Thus, the remainder of the week will shift focus from the tiny island nation of Cyprus to the secluded denizens within the halls of congress.

For now...

Dow 14,455.82, +3.76 (0.03%)
NASDAQ 3,229.10, -8.49 (0.26%)
S&P 500 1,548.34, -3.76 (0.24%)
NYSE Composite 9,018.73, -26.71 (0.30%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,648,331,375
NYSE Volume 3,809,744,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2643-3781
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 313-42 (shrinkage)
WTI crude oil: 92.16, -1.58
Gold: 1,611.30, +6.70
Silver: 28.84, -0.031

Monday, March 18, 2013

March Madness Redefined: Cyprus, the ECB and the IMF

March - in the United States, at least - is traditionally known for the great sporting event of the year, the annual NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, because of the wild nature of the proceedings, the drama, last-second, game-winning shots (Buzzer Beaters) and the twists and turns taken en route to crowing a national champion.

Over the weekend, unbeknownst to college basketball fans and most regular American citizens, a new manner of March madness was created by the European Central Bank, the IMF and the nation of Cyprus. The reason nobody in America knew about what has been occurring on and around the tiny Mediterranean island is the usual: the US press is terminally asleep at the media wheel.

Re-capping the key events in this twisted tableau, the entire mess began years ago, as banks (the usual culprits) in Cyprus found themselves woefully underfunded and the government virtually bankrupt. Leave it at that, as yet another European nation finds itself with an unbearable debt burden and no reasonable way out.

The EU and the ECB have been grappling with the Cyprus situation for at least the last two years, doing little to nothing about it, their energies directed more at larger peripheral nations like Greece (a complete disaster), Spain (gaining fast on Greece), Ireland (terminally indebted), Portugal and Italy. These PIIGS, as they are lovingly called, have social and financial issues that needed more immediate attention and have been given directives, bailouts, loans and assorted "fixes" from the EU and the IMF, facilitating debt repurchases, funding ongoing governmental operations and generally kicking the proverbial can further down the road to the eventual collapse of the Euro.

Finally getting around to Cyprus this weekend, the EU and IMF decided that they would bail out the nation's banks to the tune of 10 billion Euros, a pittance comparatively, though the number fell short of what is really needed, which is more in the range of 16 to 17 billion Euros. even with that amount, tiny Cyprus would still have a debt-to-GDP ratio of about 180%. Shameful.

The kicker was that the proposed six-to-seven billion euros was to be funded from bank deposits.

STOP. Read that again. Yes, the EU and IMF told the Cypriot parliament to vote on a measure that would impair (tax) bank deposits at anywhere from six to 9.99%, the lower figure reserved for bank deposits below 100,000 Euros, the higher one applied to holdings over that figure. These are deposits of PEOPLE, companies, married couples, retirees which the leaders and brian-trust of the ECB thought reasonable to raid, to tax, to steal.

Never mind that bank deposits in all of Europe are guaranteed by the ECB up to 100,000 Euros, the six percent "tax" would be taken directly from bank accounts should parliament approve the proposal.

This, in the parlance of sports and March Madness, is what's known as a game changer. According to this banker proposal, your money, which you saved and deposited in a bank you thought was safe - and insured - could just simply be taxed away by authorities of some supra-national organization upon approval of your own parliament. Forget the rule of law, Forget property rights. Forget everything you ever thought about civilization, money, government and society. If there's a chance that your bank or your nation may not be able to make payments on debt, YOU PAY.

Curiously, this whole affair began on Friday night, after all the banks were closed for the weekend, and preceding a bank holiday in Cyprus on Monday. Since that time, all manner of posing, posturing, name-calling, demonstrations and other assorted madness has taken place, by EU finance ministers, various heads of state, the Cypriot parliament, the people of Cyprus and others, including just about every talking head on the financial news networks.

Currently, the parliament - having delayed the vote twice already - has announced to the one million residents of Cyprus that banks would be closed until Thursday. The joke of the day on that note was "which Thursday?"

So, bottom line is that the situation is still fluid, there's plenty of time for EU idiots and IMF monsters to make more absurd statements and demands, but, until something gets resolved, banks are closed, ATMs are out of cash and Cyprus will gradually devolve into something... not sure exactly what.

For more information on what may be the story of the year, the best single source is, as usual,, which has been running numerous articles since the story broke. For more information, try this Bing News link, the Washington Post story, another by CBS News and one from the Christian Science Monitor.

No other story mattered at all today, and it's likely that no other story will matter for the remainder of the week, because, if governments or pseudo-authorities like the ECB and IMF can force their will upon a sovereign government to the extent that it violates its own laws by confiscating, stealing, expropriating the funds of its own citizens, we have truly entered a new world order, one that is owned by bankers and their appointed lackeys in high government positions.

For the record, nearly all markets were down, globally, Asian markets taking the news most seriously and the worst affected, followed by European markets and then, the US, which downplayed the event after utures had tanked prior to the opening bell and actually found a way to briefly trade in positive territory (Dow and S&P) during the afternoon.

On the Dow, support was breached early in the session and again at the close. If you're looking for a bottomless pit, the Dow is now it, though Europe and all of its exchanges will race it to the bottom unless something changes radically over the coming few days. If people cannot trust the banks to hold their money, it's the beginning of the end for the decrepit, lawless global banking cartel we've all come to know and loathe.

Dow 14,452.06, -62.05 (0.43%)
NASDAQ 3,237.59, -11.48 (0.35%)
S&P 500 1,552.10, -8.60 (0.55%)
NYSE Composite 9,045.44, -71.24 (0.78%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,547,766,750
NYSE Volume 3,522,718,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2352-4125
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 271-34
WTI crude oil:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ides of March Kills Dow Streak; S&P Still Short of Record

2057 years ago (44 BC, to be exact), Julius Caesar was murdered by a knife in the back from a supposed ally - Brutus - who was acting at the behest of other members of the Roman Senate.

While today's failure of the Dow Jones Industrial average to make it eleven days in a row of gains fails by comparison in an historical context, the Ides of March (March 15) struck again, this time - unlike in caesar's final days - without warning.

The final tally for stocks was not so - pardon the pun - brutish as a knife in the back; today's silly downfall more resembled a paper cut, but, the rally has paused on what was one of the busier days Wall Street has seen in some time.

Combining a quadruple options witching day with a rebalancing of indices, volume was significantly pumped up beyond the normal dullness that has persevered over the past, what, four years?.

In any case, the selling pressure was enough to take stocks down in the early part of the session, only to see all the major indices rally to cut the extent of the losses by roughly two-thirds.

The key numbers to watch going into next week are 1565 on the S&P, which is the all-time closing high, set in October, 2007, a number in and of itself which was largely the result of excessive risk-taking and a monstrous credit bubble which has reappeared over the past 18 months.

On the Dow, the number would be 14,470.50, today's intraday low, a significant enough digit to mark the first line of support should the rally fail to metastasize next week.

The other streaks which came to an end today, beyond the Dow's 10-straight positive closes, were the string of Fridays in which the Dow closed positively and the all-up closes for the month of March. Today was the first day of March in which the Dow finished without a gain and also was the first Friday of 2013 to see a negative finish.

Not that today's smallish decline was anything for anybody to get excited about - it wasn't - but the end of a ten-day string of gains was monumental, being only the eighth time the Dow had ever strung together psotive closes in ten or more consecutive sessions.

With options expiry out of the way for the month (regardless of the weekly options now in vogue), there exists some probability that the markets could turn down in the near term, though analysts are still split on that particular notion.

All that can be said for now is that March - which in market terms came in like a lion - got a little of the lamb treatment today, stabbed and readied for roasting.

Dow 14,514.11, -25.03 (0.17%)
NASDAQ 3,249.07, -9.86 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,560.70, -2.53 (0.16%)
NYSE Composite 9,116.50, -11.47 (0.13%)
NASDAQ Volume 2,156,822,000
NYSE Volume 5,242,731,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2970-3455
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 527-46
WTI crude oil: 93.45, +0.42
Gold: 1,592.60, +1.90
Silver: 28.85, +0.044

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Blue Chips Finish Ahead for 10th Straight Session

While the Dow is pitching a pure bull shutout in March - 10 sessions, 10 positive closes - the S&P 500 is within two points of its all-time closing high.

Commentators on the talking heads financial networks (Rick Santelli excluded) have obviously taken enormous gulps from the Fed's Kool-Aid pitcher, because they are all talking like this is absolutely normal and has nothing at all to do with the piles of free money passed around over the preceding four years and currently being handed out at a rate of $85 billion per month.

Best advice is to enjoy it while you can if you're an individual investor (an endangered species), and hope for the best if your funds are locked up in a 401K, annuity, pension or other financial instrument with withdrawal restrictions.

10-day runs are most uncommon. In the history of the Dow Industrials, only eight have occurred, the most recent of which was in 1996.

Dow 14,539.14, +83.86 (0.58%)
NASDAQ 3,258.93, +13.81 (0.43%)
S&P 500 1,563.23, +8.71 (0.56%)
NYSE Composite 9,127.96, +70.94(0.78%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,652,658,750
NYSE Volume 3,702,488,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4350-2072
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 614-33 (Fabulous!)
WTI crude oil: 93.03, +0.51
Gold: 1,590.70, +2.30
Silver: 28.81, -0.151

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dow Gains 9th Straight Day to Another Record High

For the first time since November, 1996, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen for nine sessions in a row, the last seven of which made new record closing highs.

Not that it matters at all to ordinary investors (whatever that term means today), but the referenced date was during one of the market's greatest bull runs of all time and just prior to the famous "irrational exuberance" speech then-chairman Alan Greenspan gave just a month later, warning that the markets were overheating.

The chances of current chairman Ben Bernanke saying something similar are essentially nil. There's a better chance that Mr. Bernanke would fan, rather than cool, the flames of capitalism in coming months. It's simply not in the cards for the Fed to change course any time soon.

Today's gains were slim, with a range and volume that were slimmer by comparison. The Dow traded in a 50-point span from top to bottom, and volume, which has been non-existent throughout the current rally, was decidedly dull.

For all the talk of recovery and new highs, this leg of the rally has been noticeably dull and unappreciated.

But, that's where we are, QE, ZIRP and all the jolly talk aside.

The main catalyst for today's gains was a surprising jump in consumer spending for February, up 1.1%, far ahead of projections and the best reading in five months.

But, judging by the tepid response, this rally seems to be nearly out of gas. Not to worry, however, as any setback in stocks will almost immediately be washed away by some new rally, likely due to massive injections of liquidity by the Federal Reserve.

While the current prices of stocks and levels of the major indices may be irrational, there's little exuberance to be found anywhere.

Dow 14,455.28, +5.22 (0.04%)
NASDAQ 3,245.12, +2.80 (0.09%)
S&P 500 1,554.52, +2.04 (0.13%)
NYSE Composite 9,057.00, +2.96 (0.03%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,552,400,375
NYSE Volume 3,327,864,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3538-2872
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 386-31
WTI crude oil: 92.52, -0.02
Gold: 1,588.40, -3.30
Silver: 28.96, -0.213

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Epic Fail: Marissa Mayer, Ron Johnson, Tim Cook and the Cult of Mediocrity

Since writing about the stock market is so damn boring these days - yeah, the Dow closed at another record high today, marginally so, though the S&P and NASDAQ couldn't quite keep up - let's take a look at some of the people who think they are shaping our collective futures.

I'm (yes, shifting to first person singular for a change) speaking here about the wannabe executives who have been boosted by people bigger than themselves - one, in particular, Steve Jobs, was actually bigger than life - and we have a triumvirate of massive failures, waiting to happen, astride some of the biggest corporate structures in America.

Marissa Mayer, the recently-installed CEO of Yahoo! (YHOO), has been catching the most attention of late, first, for her dictum that Yahoo! home-workers must begin to come into the office, and just today, on word that the redoubtable Ms. Mayer is now personally reviewing every potential new hire at the Silicon Valley firm she heads.

What a nice way to tell the HR department to F-- off! Seriously, Yahoo! employs something like 11,000 people, so, can one expect Marissa to personally interview every new employee? There's a solution to this little time-consumption mess she's created for herself, and it's called a hiring freeze. Expect one soon.

On the same matter, Ms. Mayer, is said to be leaning more towards employees who've earned degrees from prestigious universities, rather than on merit (an old-fashioned idea that people who've actually accomplished something are valuable), in order to create the correct "culture."

There's something a little disturbing about Ms. Mayer's approach to business and culture, in a way that's kind of creepy. While she told all the home-workers to make tracks back to the office or leave the employ of Yahoo!, she herself had a nursery installed near her office, so she could keep an eye on her newborn son, a benefit the former home-working-mothers do not enjoy.

Two words for Ms. Mayer: elitist. bitch.

Mayer's main claims to fame include graduating from Stanford and being the 20th employee hired by Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Nice placement. Yahoo! stock has risen about 40% since Mayer took over as CEO, but there's little evidence to suggest Mayer has had any positive impact on the company. The site has had some redesign lately, though nothing radically different, and it still suffers from poor infrastructure and an assortment of glitches.

If Yahoo! disappeared from the internet tomorrow, it would not be missed. There are plenty of other websites which do what Yahoo! does, yet better, though, admittedly, with less organization. The internet would surely survive without Yahoo! and there would be a great talent pool of unemployed brainy types seeking more challenging employment in the valley.

Let's talk next about Tim Cook, the immediate successor to the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple (AAPL), which, at the time of his death, was considered the greatest corporation operating in the world. Just before his death in October, 2011, Jobs, knowing he had only a few months left to live, handed over the reins to his corporate empire to Tim Cook.

Jobs, never to be mistaken as a person with great people skills, groomed Cook in his own ways, though he could certainly have not imparted his genius for inventiveness and style, nor his uncanny business acumen. For the first year under Cook, the stock soared, likely on the impetus that Jobs had left in his wake. A year out, however, Apple stock began to nosedive, and continues to falter. Apple hasn't had any new devices since the iPad Mini, and they're losing share in the smart phone wars to Samsung and other competitors.

Cook, like Mayer, happened to be in the right place at the right time, will surely be well compensated for failure, and will lead Apple back to the depths of despair the company suffered when Jobs was kicked out and replaced by John Skully. The innovation and no-nonsense management style of Jobs is long gone. Other consumer electronics firms are running circles around the once-innovative Apple.

While this is not entirely Cook's fault - one cannot be blamed just for being numb and uninspired - he'll be along for the ride... and the fall.

Third in our review of 21st century anti-heroes is another Apple wunderkind, Ron Johnson, who took over JC Penny (JCP) after being hailed as the grand designer of Apple's wonderfully-simple, yet practical stores.

Again, Johnson's story is more myth than meat. While he was head of the retail division, he also had Jobs inspecting and critically appraising every aspect of his work and also had Mickey Drexler as an advisor. Drexler, formerly of the Gap, Inc. and famously, the inventor of J. Crew, is widely and rightfully regarded as a retail genius.

In November, 2011, Johnson got the job as CEO of JCP off his glowing resume and plenty of hype. Wall Street types were peeing themselves over the thought of a person so gloriously-self-proclaimed-as-revolutionary taking over the reins at the failing mass merchandiser. Initially, the stock got a huge bump, trading as high as 43/share on the promise that Johnson would turn the company around.

The results have been nothing short of horrifying, mostly to holders of JCP stock. The hoped-for turnaround has produced nothing but a string of quarterly losses that have brought the share price down to $15, slicing it by nearly two-thirds from the heady, halcyon days of Johnson's visionary resurrection.

To his credit, Johnson has taken some responsibility, expressing in the most recent quarterly conference call that some of his strategy has not worked out very well. The company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and, if it goes under, will not be missed. Like Yahoo!, there are plenty of competitors in the retail space.

It's a symptom of our misdirected times that Wall Street failures are initially hailed as heroes. They've done little to achieve their notoriety, and, arguably, are learning on the job. They are not genii in their own rights and never will be, only people who are bright followers and poor leaders. It's not their fault that they're doomed to failure, though it is sometimes fun to watch them squirm under the bright glare of public scrutiny.

If only there were a mechanism like the stock market for politicians... but, I'm entering dream-land now.

The moral of this story is that genius cannot be replaced and those chosen to walk in the footpaths of such will be handsomely paid and praised, but that garden path soon becomes adorned mostly with thorns.

The failures these people will beset upon themselves and those around them figure to be of epic proportions, and, in the case of JC Penny and Apple, already have reached what some would consider crisis stage. Companies come and go, but the stupidity of seeking out role models from the rich and connected seems a character flaw that never gets old., to close out today's chapter of "as the world yearns," this cute little song off the Beatle's Rubber Soul album came to mind. It's relevant on many different levels; recalling so many of the people I used to know but now realize that they too were mere phantoms, apparitions and shadows. This video comes complete with the lyrics, so listen along, read and learn...

Dow 14,450.06, +2.77 (0.02%)
NASDAQ 3,242.32, -10.55 (0.32%)
S&P 500 1,552.48, -3.74 (0.24%)
NYSE Composite 9,059.96, -22.27 (0.25%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,672,772,125
NYSE Volume 3,482,609,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2661-3765
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 387-29
WTI crude oil: 92.54, +0.48
Gold: 1,591.70, +13.70
Silver: 29.17, +0.318

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dow, S&P 500 Gain for Seventh Straight Session; Gold, Silver Compared to Stocks OK

In this liquidity-driven environment, there's almost no risk of downside, and traders have recently taken advantage, boosting the Dow to all-time record highs and the S&P to within 10 points of its best close ever.

In 2013 alone, the Dow is up an astounding 11%, the S&P is higher by 9%. At hose rates of returns, anyone with more than $50,000 in stocks might as well just sit back and watch the money roll in because annual returns would be something on the order of 40-50%.

Nothing lasts forever, however, and there's a 100% certainty that this bull market, now entering its 49th month, will end and a major selloff - of 20-35% - will occur within the next 15 months. Market wisdom puts the long tooth of bull markets at around 63 months, so, by this time next year, the indices offer a very good chance of being lower than they are today. Such is the nature of risk assets, especially in an environment of artificial price supports, low volume, questionable valuations and the lack of a reliable price discovery process.

Granted, stocks - in terms of the Dow Jones and S&P indices - have more than doubled since the '08-09 collapse, but what about gold and silver, the two most widely-held precious metals?

Holders of physical metals have not done too badly, even considering the recent turn of fortune to the downside.

During the latter months of 2008 and the first three months of 2009, according to data from, gold could be had for anywhere between $712 and $989 per ounce. Silver traded in a range of $8.80 to $14.39 per ounce during the same time frame.

So, to those who deride stocks over precious metals and ridicule the so-called gold - and silver - bugs, they've gotten it all wrong, as both of the most-popular metals have done exceedingly well, especially silver, which has more than tripled in value form its low point in 2008. Gold, if scaled in on a dollar cost average basis (one of the best ways to buy either stocks or bonds) could easily have produced 100% or better returns during the "financial crisis," which, by the way, is still not finished.

Dow 14,447.29, +50.22 (0.35%)
NASDAQ 3,252.87, +8.50 (0.26%)
S&P 500 1,556.22, +5.04 (0.32%)
NYSE Composite 9,075.76, +21.31 (0.24%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,594,585,125
NYSE Volume 3,091,224,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3384-2006
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 518-27
WTI crude oil: 92.06, +0.11
Gold: 1,578.00, +1.10
Silver: 28.85, -0.095

Friday, March 8, 2013

Boom Times: Stocks Up Every Friday in 2013

Want to know what the easiest trade of 2013 has been?

Simple. Buy any index fund, future or call on Thursday just prior to the market close and sell it for a profit some time on Friday.

Stocks have been up on each and every Friday of 2013, ten in a row, including today's push higher thanks to a BLS non-farm payroll report that showed creation of 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate falling from 7.9 to 7.7%.

Never mind that most of the jobs were part time or that the jump in the unemployment rate was due to a furher deterioration in the labor participation rate, Wall Street took the headline number and ran with it.

As has been said ad nauseum on this and other like-minded blogs, there has probably never been a safer environment in which to invest in stocks. Due to the low level of returns on bonds, equities are the only game in town and one would have to have been one of the worst stock pickers or timers of the last century not to have made money in this unprecedented, elongated bull run.

Besides being in the midst of one of the best market advances of all time, today marks the four-year anniversary of the bottom. On March 9, 2009, stocks bottomed, began to rise and have never looked back.

Whether one agrees with the tactics or not, one has to hand it to the federal reserve and Chairman Bernanke. Through their efforts of quantitative easing, sero interest rate policy and coordination with central banks around the globe, the Fed - with an assist from the Treasury Department - averted what could have been one of the most devastating financial collapses of all time.

Bravo! Mr. Bernanke.

Dow 14,396.92, +67.43 (0.47%)
NASDAQ 3,244.37, +12.28 (0.38%)
S&P 500 1,551.15, +6.89 (0.45%)
NYSE Composite 9,059.53, +46.09 (0.51%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,574,870,375
NYSE Volume 3,734,663,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4298-2148
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 601-21 (WOW!)
WTI crude oil: 91.95, +0.39
Gold: 1,576.90, +1.80
Silver: 28.95, +0.14

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another Day, Another Dow Record

Until further notice, just figure on stocks gaining about one percent per week on the major indices. There seems to be no impediment to rising equity asset prices and there is a great deal of support for prices at these levels.

Don't count on tomorrow's non-farm payroll data to make any difference at all; the experts are predicting a gain of about 160,000 jobs in February, pretty much in line with Wednesday's ADP report.

The Russell 2000 set an all-time high today, and the S&P 500 is just about 20 points from cracking the champagne on a new record top. That event could be any time within the next two to four weeks and it is one which investors are eyeing with some skepticism as it is a much broader average than the Dow Industrials.

Party on, but not like it's 1999, because 2000 was not a pretty year.

Best guess has Dow 15,000 in sight by the end of the year, possibly much sooner, unless there is some wild geo-political event or sudden reversal of fortune coming out of the blue, but betting on black swans has not been fruitful the past four years.

There's probably never been a safer environment for short-term traders. Stocks are on an unmistakable flight path to new highs.

Dow 14,329.49, +33.25 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 3,232.09, +9.72 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,544.26, +2.80 (0.18%)
NYSE Composite 9,013.36, +16.39 (0.18%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,647,033,000
NYSE Volume 3,871,534,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3862-2586
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 420-18
WTI crude oil: 91.56, +1.13
Gold: 1,575.10, +0.20
Silver: 28.81, +0.005

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dow Reaches New High... Again; Hugo Chavez Death a Boon for Oil Companies

Another day, another new high for the Dow Jones Industrials.

Ho, hum, bumble-dee-dum.

It's going to be this way for a while. Don't expect a major correction any time soon, no matter what happens in the real world, because we haven't had one since the fall of 2011, when the government was about to go over the artificial debt ceiling.

Did somebody say artificial? How crass. But, it should be noted that most of what occurs on computer screens and TVs these days is nothing but bunk, a self-sustaining Wall Street fantasy designed to keep the economy from deflating.

And, you know, a little deflation - in things like gas prices, food prices and maybe, god forbid, event ticket prices - might not be such a bad thing.

But that is what the fed fears most... runaway deflation, where prices actually match up with the costs of living. For those of you under the age of 50, there was a time in this country - not so long ago - that a man could support a family with his own wages and still have money left over to save.

Those days are long gone, unless you're making over $85K a year, are an expert budgeter and have an understanding wife. (Please, hold your laughter.)

That would apply to maybe 10% of the population. The rest are waiting in line at Wal-Mart at midnight waiting for the food stamp deposit to clear the bank so as to proceed to checkout. The disparities between rich and poor in America have not compressed, but, look on the bright side, they're worse in Europe and France is forcing most of their million-and-billionaires to move because of confiscatory tax rates.

So, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, is dead, so ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron now have a free pass to plunder the resources of another South American nation. It's all good. Plundering in the Middle east or Africa is such a tiring trip, so far from the homeland.

This morning's ADP employment report showed a gain of 198,000 jobs in February, spurred mostly by - hold on now - small businesses. And you though the days of any job over 30 hours were over thanks to Obamacare. Well, wait until next year. We're in a recovery, dontcha know.

Today's market action was about as muted as a golf clap for a double bogey. The S&P struggled to close positive; the NASDAQ couldn't muster into the green.

When the music stops, make sure your chair has four legs.

Dow 14,296.24, +42.47 (0.30%)
NASDAQ 3,222.37, -1.76 (0.05%)
S&P 500 1,541.46, +1.67 (0.11%)
NYSE Composite 8,996.97, +18.88 (0.21%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,716,934,500
NYSE Volume 3,951,567,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3548-2878
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 520-54
WTI crude oil: 90.43, -0.39
Gold: 1,574.90, 0.00
Silver: 28.80, +0.199

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

INEVITABLE: Dow Sets New All-Time Closing High

Without a doubt, this headline news story is about the least anticipated - because it was such a sure thing - of this or any recent year.

With unemployment at 7.9%, 47 million Americans on food stamps and after millions of foreclosures, bank bailouts, company bailouts (GM, Chrysler, AIG, others), a downgrade of the US from AAA to AA+, Wall Street has its new record high.

Big whoop.

That's the good news.

Keeping a level head and household, as prices rise and wages stagnate, that's the tough part. Not everyone in America has participated in this miraculous four year rally off the March, 2009 lows. The main beneficiaries have been the big Wall Street brokerages, which, thanks to the magnanimity of the Federal Reserve - whose balance sheet has more than triple in that time period - were able to at least partially repair their broken balance sheets and claim victory over the evil financial crash.

At this level the Dow Jones Industrials are up a stunning 117% off the lows, as good a period for stocks as ever has been, though one might argue that it was bought on the backs of homeowners, many of whom are still trapped in their domiciles, with prices well below what they owe or what they paid back in the heady days of the early to mid-2000s.

It would be a different story were the US economy growing at a pace of better than two percent - where it's been stuck for these past four to five years, but, realistically, there aren't many Americans who can camly state that they've doubled their net investment value over the past four years. Most of the gains were made on Wall Street or close to it, by the traders, players and hedge funds who expressed their blind faith that the system would not - could not - fail, and dove headlong into stocks.

Bully for them, and may they enjoy their profits. There's absolutely nothing wrong with making money. But, the evidence that the majority of Americans are not participating is clear. Average daily volumes are less than half what they were in 2007, the last time the Dow posted a record close.

There's also the fear that keeps people out of markets. It's no coincidence that after making new highs, stocks have lately had the nasty habit of recoiling and falling back, as was the case in both 2000 and 2007.

So, this may be short-lived if recent history is a guide, or, are we on the path to a new and glorious epoc of American exceptionalism?

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone of that undiluted opinion... except maybe on CNBC or Bloomberg TV, where "guests" are paid handsomely to talk their book.

Buy, buy, buy at the new all-time high?

You're kidding, right?

And, not to rain on anybody's parade, here are the changes to the makeup of the Dow Industrials since 2007.

On February 19, 2008, Chevron (CV) and Bank of America (BAC) replaced Altria Group (MO) and Honeywell (HON).

On September 22, 2008, Kraft Foods (KRFT) replaced American International Group (AIG).

On June 8, 2009, General Motors (GM) and Citigroup (C) were replaced by The Travelers Companies (TRV) and Cisco Systems (CSCO).

On September 24, 2012, UnitedHealth Group (UNH) replaced Kraft Foods (KRFT).

It seems, especially in that September 22, 2008 swap, that some bad was replaced with good. GM was restructured and salvaged by the US government. Citigroup went through a 1:10 reverse split in 2010. Where would the Dow be today, without these changes? Travelers alone is up over 100% since joining the Dow.

And, lest we forget that little thing called inflation, which, experts tell us, has been running at about 2.5% for the past five years, today's record for the Dow is a nominal one, not a real one, and, just to throw some more fuel on the fire, measured in gold instead of dollars, it's not even close. In fact, measured against gold, the Dow has barely budged off the bottom.

It's all a matter of which metrics you want to use.

No matter what, though, let's see how high it goes from here. With the Fed backing it at the rate of $85 billion a month, it should rip right through 15,000 before even breaking a sweat.

Dow 14,253.77, +125.95 (0.89%)
NASDAQ 3,224.13, +42.10 (1.32%)
S&P 500 1,539.79, +14.59 (0.96%)
NYSE Composite 8,978.12, +77.07 (0.87%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,849,814,250
NYSE Volume 3,686,912,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4532-1728
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 688-50
WTI crude oil: 90.82, +0.70
Gold: 1,574.90, +2.50
Silver: 28.60, +0.108

Monday, March 4, 2013

Central Bank Bubbles Cause Dow to Hit 2nd-Best All-Time Closing High

There's been an ongoing debate over whether there is a bond bubble and whether - and when - it will finally burst.

With the Fed carrying the water for the US Treasury to the tune of 40-45% of all new debt issuance there's abmple evidence that Chairman Bernanke and his henchmen and women have had the bubble-blowing pipes surgically implanted into their collective mouths. They've managed to keep all interest rates at historically-low, bargain basement prices for the past four years, though the net results of their efforts have been widely different depending upon one's perspective.

For the nation's largest banks, Fed largesse has meant easy money with which to rebuild their badly-damaged balance sheets after the real estate debacle which ended in the 2008 crash. This easy money has also inspired rampant speculation by those very same banks and has trickled down to hedge funds, the marginal buyer in this runaway stock market.

Whether the bond bubble will eventually burst is a matter of conjecture and even more speculation, though one can be relatively assured that if such a bubble exists and does burst, rates will escalate higher in a disorderly fashion which will make any previous stock market crash look like a summer picnic. In sum, higher interest rates would wreck the global economy. Everyone from the marginal student lender to the great sovereign nations of the world would be unable to service debt at higher - and rising - interest rates. Cue the oompah band from the days of the Weimar Republic.

Where there exists a bona fide, can't miss, no-doubt-about-it bubble is in stocks. Friday will mark the four-year anniversary of the bottom of the 2008-09 slide into the abyss. In those four short years, the major indices have embarked upon one of the longest uninterrupted stock rallies in global history. The Fed's insistence to throw $85 billion per month at the market through the purchase of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities is like traders drinking from an endless champagne fountain, drunk in the knowledge that any slight pullback will be shortly erased by the ungodly amounts of capital flowing into the markets.

Because the Fed has crushed interest rates (and with them, savers), stocks are the only financial instruments by which one can expect a return in excess of inflation, which is, after all, the key to maintaining and developing a wealth portfolio.

One method by which one can identify a bubble is by watching the dips and subsequent rebounds. In the stock market, this phenomenon is readily apparent. Just looking at today's intraday loss of 61 points and the middday reversal and eventual positive close is evidence enough that - turning an old adage on its side - what goes down will go up.

Last week's 200-plus-point drop on Monday was snuffed out and overwhelmed in the next two days of trading. The pattern is unmistakable and repeatable throughout the four years of excessive Federal Reserve easing and zero interest rate policy. To say that such extraordinary measures are unsustainable would be the understatement of the millennium. Never before in recorded history have interest rates been held so artificially low for such an extended period of time.

The problem with the Fed's policies are that they are reckless and untried in practice. Based entirely upon a groupthink methodology of Keynsian economic theory, the Fed has taken a free-market demand economy and turned it into a manipulated, command-driven socialism experiment, and the results are not and will not be understood until there is an attempt to undo whatever good or damage has been done and return to a semblance of "normalcy," a term becoming more quaint and misunderstood each passing day.

Other than stocks and bonds, the Fed has created - with ample assistance from the inept federal government apparatus - a bubble in student loans, which last year exceeded the total amount of credit crad debt outstanding, approaching a trillion dollars.

One can argue that an education is a worthwhile investment, though, comparing to credit cards, at least most people would have something tangible to show for their monthly statement of debt-slavery. For the graduates and soon-to-be grads, they have a peice of paper attesting they have some rudimentary knowledge in some broad field of endeavor. In an economy long on promise and short on actual paying jobs, those sheepskins are, and maybe become even more, worthless.

The US Federal Reserve is not alone in blowing bubbles, though one can rest assured they were cheering the Chinese all the way toward creating what now must be considered the most massive real estate bubble in the history of the world, dwarfing the sub-prime fiasco by a matter of degrees.

As mentioned by many over the year and documented by CBS' 60 Minutes on the Sunday, March 3rd broadcast, the Chinese have created at least a dozen "ghost cities" complete with high-rises, shopping malls, streets and thoroughfares, infrastructure and amenities, just no people. The simple fact is that the Chinese people were sold a bill of goods by their own versions of snake oil salesmen, buying up properties in developments on the outskirts of most major cities, even though the apartments, housing and commercial rental units are far beyond the reach of the average Chinese working-class individual or family. The 12-minute clip is embedded below.

Whether the timing of the 60 Minutes report was coincidental or just dumb luck (being of the conspiracy mind, we think it's the former), the Chinese central government has imposed new rules designed to slow down the real estate frenzy or the piercing of the bubble, which will, without a doubt, eventually burst. The question is simply a matter of how long and how well Chinese officials can lie and obfuscate the reality that they have created a bubble that has - during the buildup - resonated worldwide, and will do the same as it deflates.

The new measures, which involve higher down payments and higher interest rates on second home buyers and a 20% capital gains tax on the sale of any housing unit that is not a primary dwelling. The Shanghai Composite lost 3.7% on the day, with a number of property development firms down the maximum allowable one-day drop of 10%.

With those results in tow, US stocks began the day lower, but, thanks to our own financial fantasy-land bubble machine, ended higher.

Once again, it seems the three most basic tenets of investment practice have been ignored: buy low, sell high, and do your own due diligence. People never seem to learn.

Oh, well. It's only money.

Dow 14,127.82, +38.16 (0.27%)
NASDAQ 3,182.03, +12.29 (0.39%)
S&P 500 1,525.20, +7.00 (0.46%)
NYSE Composite 8,901.07, +26.88 (0.30%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,716,599,625
NYSE Volume 3,701,113,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3483-2956
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 411-81
WTI crude oil: 90.12, -0.56
Gold: 1,572.40, +0.10
Silver: 28.50, +0.006

Friday, March 1, 2013

Stocks Reverse Early Losses, Close Near All-Time Highs

Does it really matter why?

The Dow was down 116 points in early trading (9:45 am ET) after the monthly report on personal income and spending showed a modest (.02%) increase in spending but a 3.6% decline in income, the worst such loss in 20 years.

Futures markets had been pointing to a lower open to the first day of March, and the data exacerbated the condition.

However, stocks began to grind higher, eventually staying positive after turning into the green at noon. The remainder of the session was fairly undramatic, with traders speculating on just when the new all-time highs would be breached.

It's inevitable, no matter how bad the news is.

Meanwhile, the top clowns in Washington - Obama, Boehner, McConnell, Reid and Pelosi (the Fumbling Five) agreed to disagree about the sequester and allowed the cuts to happen, the president taking to the podium to announce the foolishness just before the lunch hour.

The it was off to the golf course for a quick round and afterward, martinis with the "in" crowd.

Ugh. Really, it's that bad.

On the bright side, the number of new 52-week lows has been slowly but steadily rising. Nothing close to parity yet, but it is a trend worth watching. One could make a case that the Dow and S&P might make new all-time highs just in time for a market reversal. After all, the current bull market is entering its 49th week with only one correction of more than 10% (August 2001), and as bulls go, this one's getting a bit long on the hoof.

Additionally, oil finished at its lowest price of the year, hovering just above $90 per barrel. Now, if that trend continues and translates into lower fuel prices, this sequestration idea might just turn out to be OK after all.

At the end of the week, a colleague pointed out this well-researched article which points up the real US debt. And you thought it was just $16.6 trillion.

Dow 14,089.66, +35.17 (0.25%)
NASDAQ 3,169.74, +9.55 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,518.20, +3.52 (0.23%)
NYSE Composite 8,874.19, +5.48 (0.06%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,869,785,125
NYSE Volume 4,125,383,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3447-2852
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 250-78
WTI crude oil: 90.68, -1.37
Gold: 1,572.30, -5.80
Silver: 28.49, +0.058