Friday, January 31, 2020

Coronavirus, Now Global, Will Dominate News For Months

The idea that stocks would erase losses and finish strongly positive after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it was raising the level of threat to that of an international pandemic is just plain perverse.

It's what happens when 70% of the trading is performed by headline scanning algorithms that saw the WHO headline as essentially, "nothing to worry about, we got this."

Nothing could be further from the truth. The coronavirus has spread now to encompass the entire Northern Hemisphere, with Russia the latest to announce cases of the virus within its borders. Italy has issued a six month state of emergency. Two-thirds of China is under some form of travel restriction, quarantine, or other health-related orders. Person-to-person transmission has been reported in at least five countries, including Japan and the United States.

Within two weeks the most recent numbers (9692 confirmed cases, 213 deaths as of January 30) are going to be dwarfed by the magnitude of the spread of this pathogen, and there's still no reliable data on the ratio of confirmed cases to deaths, which range - according to medical experts - from two percent to as high as 12 percent, but nobody actually knows for sure.

The WHO, at its press conference Thursday announcing a global pandemic went out of its way to praise China's efforts to contain the virus. This statement was made only to avoid causing a panic. China was actually slow to report the initial outbreak, initially punishing people who were issuing warnings, eventually acting with little regard to human life, allowing the virus to spread unchecked for weeks.

Wikipedia has about as accurate and compelling a timeline as could be expected.

If the Chinese did such a bang-up job containing this virus, why is it now to be found in more than 25 other countries? Why are flights in and out of China only being banned now, nearly two months after the initial report of this new, deadly strain (December 1 or December 8)?

There's a very good chance, being that China has shut down most transportation facilities in and out of cities and provinces, that food shortages will occur and that more people may die from starvation or other causes than the actual disease.

This virus has been taken far too lightly and is going to continue to spread, virtually unchecked, for months.

Meanwhile, the Senate looks to wrap up the impeachment trial of President Trump on Friday after a vote to allow more witnesses is taken and will likely fail. The Republicans have 50 votes at least with which to defeat the motion, the only wild card being that the presiding judge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, could conceivably take the unprecedented step of deciding the motion should the vote come down as a 50-50 tie.

He is expected to NOT take that step, as a tie would defeat the measure.

In economic news, the first estimate of 2019 fourth quarter GDP came in at 2.1%, making all of 2019, at 2.3%, the worst year under President Trump. GDP grew by 2.9% in 2018, and 2.4% in 2017.

And, in Virginia, the state assembly is wasting no time making sure citizens cannot defend themselves.

At the Close, Thursday, January 30, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,859.44, +124.99 (+0.43%)
NASDAQ: 9,298.93, +23.77 (+0.26%)
S&P 500: 3,283.66, +10.26 (+0.31%)
NYSE: 13,861.92, +18.11 (+0.13%)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Coronavirus Spread Now Affecting Markets Globally Along With Individual Stocks, Bonds

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread internationally from its epicenter in Wuhan, the capitol of Hubei province, China, expect markets to respond as they did on Wednesday, where US gains at the opening bell were quickly wiped out. The Dow Industrials, in particular, soared more than 200 points at the open, only to be torn down to nearly unchanged within the first half hour of trading.

All of the major indices experienced similar patterns, and all were goosed higher by a phantom bid as they approached session lows. There was likely intervention behind the scenes which kept stocks from falling off the shelf into the abyss, as was the case on Monday.

With just three days of real data relatable to coronavirus, the infectious virus is undoubtably a market event. As has already been demonstrated, oil was the first casualty as crude prices have cratered since the Chinese government quarantined the entire Wuhan province last week and began issuing travel warnings.

Others are emerging. Starbucks (SBUX), which announced it was shutting down 2000 locations in China on Wednesday - about half of its stores in China - has seen its share price reduced from 93.75 on January 23 to 86.72 as of Wednesday's close. While the losses on Starbucks may be more attributable to the release of their fiscal first quarter (US fourth quarter) results on Tuesday, there are other chains which may be affected soon, Among those that have large presences in China are McDonald's (MCD), YUM Brands (YUM), owners of Pizza Hut and KFC, among other popular brands, and Dairy Queen, which is privately owned. Share of McDonald's and YUM Brands have been spared thus far, but the are definitely on many traders' short lists.

Also being affected are bond prices and yields, as the treasury curve has flattened out over the past week and the 10-year note has been knocked to to a yield of 1.58% as of this writing, the lowest since October 8 of last year. All yields on short term bills are currently inverted vis-a-vis the five-year note, with yields on 1, 2, 3, 6-month and one-year bills all higher than the five-year. The scramble to safety seems to be favoring shorter duration, a knock-on effect of a wait-and-see approach to the spread of the deadly virus.

As of Wednesday night (ET), Chinese authorities upped the death toll from the virus to 170, though experts in the field strongly suspect that China's officials are purposely skewing the numbers lower - reporting many deaths as caused by pneumonia or not reporting deaths at all in some cases - in order to not cause a widespread panic. Nevertheless, both the number of cases reported and deaths reported - in China and internationally - continue to rise, and person-to-person transmission of the disease has now been reported in South Korea, Germany, Thailand, and Japan. With an incubation period that can last up to 14 days before symptoms develop, it may take more time for numbers to rise dramatically.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is scheduled to make an announcement Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland at 7.30 pm local time (1830 GMT), which would coincide with the middle of the US market session. Expect fireworks to the downside if the organization deems the coronavirus a global pandemic situation, something it decided not to do when it met a week ago (January 23).

Elsewhere, the impeachment trial of president Trump is winding down quickly and it appears that the Republicans have enough votes to shut down any attempt by the Democrats to extend the process by calling more witnesses. With a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, the Republicans are expected to defeat any measure calling for anything that might extend the trial past Friday, when the vote on witnesses is set to occur.

Once the vote for witnesses is defeated, the Senate can move immediately to decide the trial either in favor of acquittal of the president or guilty, which would carry the penalty of removal from office and bar him from running for any other high office. With a two-thirds vote needed for a finding of guilt, it is widely expected that the president will be acquitted.

The prosecution managers and administration lawyers will field another day of questions from the Senators on Thursday, then proceed to voting on other trial matters Friday.

At the Close, Wednesday, January 29, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,734.45, +11.60 (+0.04%)
NASDAQ: 9,275.16, +5.48 (+0.06%)
S&P 500: 3,273.40, -2.84 (-0.09%)
NYSE: 13,843.81, -33.80 (-0.24%)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

One Down, One Up, and Now Comes the Fed

After two days of turmoil, the roller-coaster ride that has been this week's stock market is about to take another twist, or turn, or bump, or dive, or rise...

Nobody knows where it's going with the Federal Reserve's FOMC set to announce its first policy directive of the new year at 2:00 pm ET on Wednesday.

Monday's coronavirus-inspired deflation was followed by a miraculous revival on Tuesday, as if somebody had found a sudden cure for the deadly outbreak that has spread across China and been exported - at last count - to at least 15 other countries, including the United State, Canada, France, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Japan and many others. Being mostly unchecked and having an incubation period of up to 14 days, it's probable that the virus will circle the globe within the next month.

The Dow lost some 450 points on Monday and regained less than half of that on Tuesday. With the virus still highly infectious and the death toll rising to 132, the Fed standing pat on interest rates would seem to be about as consequential as a water hose in a rainstorm.

Beyond the spread of the coronavirus, the other big story in play this week is the impeachment trial of president Trump, being played out in the US Senate. Both sides have presented their cases, though the Republican's defense took less than half the time as that of the Democrats and was more focused on law and reason than the House managers' mangled miasma of mistaken misappropriations.

Where the Democrats sought to emotionalize the proceedings, the president's legal team toned it down, making the case, alternatively, that the articles of impeachment were vague and thus void, or that no crime had been committed, emphasized by professor Alan Dershowitz's impassioned, eloquent, well-researched argument on Monday night that the founders intended impeachment to be narrowly focused, rather than nebulous and amorphous as are the Democrat charges of Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress, neither of which are criminal.

Despite the apparent readiness of the Republican side, the media spin spent the week twirling around speculation over a piece of manuscript leaked from former advisor John Bolton's upcoming book, spuriously-timed to intercede in the Senate proceedings. Bolton's claim that he had a personal conversation with Mr. Trump, in which the president explicitly tied the delay of aid to Ukraine with the need for that country to dig into the affairs of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, concerning their dealings with the corrupt natural gas company Burisma, was all-too-conveniently timed to overshadow the defense team's presentation of facts and legalities.

Thus, instead of examining the case for or against the president based on the best arguments from both sides, the media has attempted to shift the attention of the American public from real arguments to a false paradigm over calling additional witnesses, none of whom would be likely to move the needle in either direction very mch at all.

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said once that he may not have the votes to stop additional witnesses and evidence, has also said that the votes are there to defeat any such motion on Friday, when the issue will come to a vote of some kind, after two days of questions from senators to either side - or both - on Wednesday and Thursday.

If he Democrats succeed in their desire for additional testimony, it would likely extend the trial for weeks if not months, given that some witnesses, including the testimony of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, would likely be subject to executive privilege, a matter that would end up in the hands of the Supreme Court. Arguments for and against the invocation of privilege would likely take weeks to draw up and more weeks to argue before the court could issue a ruling. It's a real can of worms that the Democrats threaten to open.

Cooler heads may prevail in the Senate. Having heard enough to make a reasoned decision, there may come a vote on Friday - if the vote for additional witnesses fails - up or down on the president's guilt or innocence, which would end the trial and allow Senators Klobuchar, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren enough headway to get back to campaigning in Iowa, where the first primary caucus is set to wrap up on Monday, February 3.

While the Senate plays paddy-cake with the future of the nation and its precedents, the coronavirus will no doubt spread fear, death and potentially-huge economic ramifications around the world. Whatever happens in the Fed decision or the impeachment matter is likely to take a back seat to the carnage a virulent, unchecked, highly-contagious virus can unleash.

At the Close, Tuesday, January 28, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,722.85, +187.05 (+0.66%)
NASDAQ: 9,269.68, +130.37 (+1.43%)
S&P 500: 3,276.24, +32.61 (+1.01%)
NYSE: 13,877.61, +108.00 (+0.78%)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

WEEKEND WRAP: Coronavirus Affecting Markets; Turbulent Week Ahead; Oil Already Whacked

Last week, as the the wealthy and infamous gathered for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, markets were focusing on more compelling domestic and international issues, primarily, the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump and the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus which has spread outward from its source in mainland China, now reaching around the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where nearly all the developed nations are anchored.

While the impeachment hearings were less impactful, being that the first few days of the trial consisted of one session for rule-making and three days of Democrat managers from the House of Representatives reiterating their tired claims from months of investigations stemming from a single phone call, the spread of a killer virus caught everybody's attention.

The number of deaths officially reported by the Chinese government grew from 16 on Wednesday to 23 to 41 to 56 by Sunday. As the week progressed, the number of reported cases grew considerably - by Sunday, nearly 2,000 in China alone - along with the number of countries discovering outbreaks. By Sunday morning, instances of reported cases had been registered in France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and the United States.

Similar to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, which killed more than 750 people in 2002-2003, the threat is that this particular virus is spreading at a much faster rate as transmissibility is increasing.

By Monday morning, the toll will likely exceed 90, but there's widespread speculation that China has been and continues to understate not only the number of cases reported, but also the death toll.

This is the kind of thing some students of the dark science of economics might consider a "black swan," an unusual event or occurrence with a low probability that nobody sees coming. Already, the coronavirus outbreak has affected markets, but none more profoundly than oil. With travel bans in effect already in some Chinese cities and many presumably taking precautions to avoid crowds and people who may be infected, the world's second-largest user of oil and distillates is bound to experience a sharp demand decline that will affect prices globally.

WTI crude fell, over the course of the week, from $58.58 per barrel to $54.19, a decline of 7.5%. Brent dropped from an opening at $65.65 on Monday to $59.85 by week's end, losing nearly nine percent.

Stocks were also hit, as increasingly dire stories continued to mount over the course of the week, limiting upside on all exchanges, and squelching rallies on Tuesday, and especially in the US on Friday, when the Chinese government announced the rising death toll and cancellation of many Lunar New Year festivities, the biggest holiday in the country.

China, already on the brink of an extended financial downturn, saw severe damage to equity markets.

If the coronavirus continues to spread to other countries and becomes a pandemic, declines on the major indices (the Dow was down for the fourth straight day as of Friday) could turn what appeared as a minor fluctuation into an avalanche. Limiting movement, be it out of fear or by government dictates, would seriously hamper economic activity anyway, and, if the contagion becomes global in nature, which it appears to be doing, the effect may be long-lasting.

So, that's how normal operating markets turn into dungeons of doom. There is no silver lining, other than, you guessed it, silver and gold, both of which turned in the opposite direction from stocks, both tumbling on Tuesday but gaining the remainder of the week. Gold finished at $1571.60 per ounce; silver closed out the week at $18.10 per ounce. There is likely to be a further, faster advance in precious metals should the virus continue to spread.

With an FOMC meeting up next week (January 28-29) bonds saw high demand, moving interest rates on treasuries to their lowest levels since October, 2019. The 10-year-note closed out the week at 1.70% yield, with the 30-year bond closing at 2.14%.

Also upcoming in the week ahead, a slew of earnings reports, many of them notable as most will be for the fourth quarter of 2019 and the full year.

On Monday, homebuilder D.R. Horton (DHI) and telecom Sprint (S) get the earnings parade started. A loaded Tuesday has Lockheed Martin (LMT), 3M (MMM), Phizer (PFE), United Technologies (UTX), Nucor (NUE), and PulteGroup (PHM). Apple (APPL) and eBay (EBAY) report after the close.

On Wednesday, Dow components Boeing (BA), AT&T (T), and McDonald's (MCD) present, along with Mastercard (MA), General Electric (GE), and Dow Chemical (DOW). Tesla (TSLA), Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook (F), and PayPal (PYPL) report after the close. Thursday's offerings include some titans. Coca-Cola (K), UPS (UPS), and Verizon (VZ) report prior to the opening bell. Amazon (AMZN) and Visa (V) are up after the close.

Prior to Friday's market open, ExxonMobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), and Caterpillar (CAT) close out the earnings deluge.

It's going to be a busy week with plenty of engaging, diverging stories. In case that's not enough, the impeachment trial could conceivably wrap up by Friday, possibly sooner, the Super Bowl is Sunday, February 2nd, and the first presidential primary, the Iowa caucus, convenes on Monday, February 3rd.

If the coronavirus continues to spread, it's not likely to slow down, so this coming week could be an opportunity to take profits and/or shed losers before markets get any ideas about tanking. Depending on how severe the virus becomes, how quickly and how far it spreads, appropriate defensive actions may be entertained.

With stocks close to all-time highs, there's hardly a case to be made for buying at this point, which, in itself may provide good enough reason for some spirited selling.

At the Close, Friday, January 24, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,989.73, -170.36 (-0.58%)
NASDAQ: 9,314.91, -87.57 (-0.93%)
S&P 500: 3,295.47, -30.07 (-0.90%)
NYSE: 13,978.47, -123.57 (-0.88%)

For the Week:
Dow: -358.37 (-1.12%)
NASDAQ: -74.03 (-0.79%)
S&P 500: -343.15 (-1.03%)
NYSE: -123.57 (-0.8*%)

National Networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX Should Be Under FCC Review After Impeachment Bias

Thanks to physics and my choice of living way out in the sticks, I gratefully cannot get cable TV and my antenna doesn't pick up the local ABC affiliate. Sure, I miss a college football game here or there, but I can live with that.

Since I don't know what ABC did on Saturday in their coverage of President Trump's defense team's arguments before the Senate, I can’t comment on it, but here's how NBC, FOX, and CBS handled it. NBC's local affiliate (Knoxville, TN) had NO COVERAGE at all. It was supposedly delegated over to their secondary network, but, despite looking for it, I never saw it. FOX's local affiliate offered NO COVERAGE AT ALL.

CBS covered the trial for the first hour on their primary broadcast channel, but then apparently had given their affiliate (again, Knoxville, TN) the choice to switch to local programming, which they did. I managed to only miss a minute of Jay Sekulow's arguments when they switched the impeachment coverage over to their secondary channel, frantically flipping through channels to find the proceedings.

Those unfamiliar with over-the-air digital broadcasting will note that the major networks offer a number of channels of over-the-air broadcasts. They are designated by numbers, as in 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, where 12.1 would be the primary channel, with the network's complete national lineup plus local affiliate time slots. The other channels are usually delegated to secondary or tertiary offerings, employing programming from programmers such as CW, MeTV, Grit, Bounce, Start, Ion, Court TV, etc.

Some of these programmers, such as CW, offer a variety of in-house productions, but the bulk of them are reruns of time-worn sit-coms, dramas, Westerns, or variety shows. MeTV, for instance, offers up a steady diet of everything from The Beverly Hillbillies to The Flintstones.

The national networks likely have authority to cut into the programming of their secondary offerings whenever they feel it's necessary, during emergencies or when there's a programming conflict. Saturday's airing of the Senate impeachment trial apparently was deemed to be one of those times.

Now, mind you, when the Democrats were presenting the PROSECUTION, they had hours of wall-to-wall coverage on their primary network channels. There was no switching over and cutting into the programming of the secondary channels. But, apparently, in the executive offices of NBC and the other national networks, decisions were made that the defense arguments by the president's legal team were of little to no importance. Thus they were brushed aside in favor of facial cream advertisements, local sports shows, cartoons, or other innocuous programming.

I don't know if anybody else noticed the obvious bias of the networks, but if there was ever an argument to be made for pulling their FCC licenses, this would be it. Along with the obvious bias of CNN and MSNBC, which are cable-only "news" outlets, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX are over-the-air networks which serve a large proportion of poor, middle-class, and especially, rural America. These networks are mis-serving the public and should have their licenses pulled, or, at least, reviewed.

The propaganda - including some smarmy legal analyst on CBS lying, after the proceedings, that Obstruction of Congress is a CRIME (it is not), and Major Garrett, prior to the hearing, promoting the notorious "heads on a pike" statement, saying it was his reporting and that he stands by it - is universally leftist, to a degree that broadcasters from the former Soviet Union are no doubt jealous.

-- Fearless Rick

Friday, January 24, 2020

Stocks Flat As Lagarde Offers Inflation Policy Change in Europe

For the second consecutive day, stocks posted mediocre results, most likely a pause in the overall giant run they've been on since late September of 2019, and hardly anything over which to be concerned.

The manners in which these last two trading sessions found the same end were radically different, a chartists' dilemma in which Wednesday started on the upside before relenting late in the day and Thursday found stocks mired deep in the red, finding salvation in the afternoon.

Essentially, the indices produced an elongated "V" pattern, stretching over two sessions.

Being that the market is run by algorithms and influenced heavily by macro momentum, this recent spate of weakness is probably going to be downplayed by the uber-bulls and supported by dovish tones from the Federal Reserve along with more sloshing capital from their burgeoning balance sheet.

The Fed's FOMC convenes on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, but the market seems uninterested in whatever they might announce, being that they will almost surely keep interest rates precisely at the present level, the federal funds rate in a sweet spot between 1.50 and 1.75 percent, good enough to attract investors to bonds and other fixed income products and not onerous enough to preclude lending to all but the least worthy.

In Europe, newly-installed ECB head, Christine Lagarde quipped about inflation, launching a review of the bank's policies and hinting that the long-standing target of two percent might be few tenths too high under the current environment of negative interest rates and slowing national economies.

Inflation in the Eurozone has been nearly non-existent since the turn of the century, last year checking in at a subdued 1.3 percent. The call for a policy review by Lagarde is a timorous one, since practically anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics realizes that the "Japanization" of Europe is well underway and that lowering the target for inflation to 1.6 or 1.5% is just more posturing by the central bank which has no control over the forces of mass immigration, low birth rates, and over-juiced financial markets.

Perhaps Ms. Largarde is on to something, however. Could she actually be headed for an Austrian awakening in which an epiphany guides her to understanding that any inflation is unnatural in a world of sound money?

Next thing you know, she'll be calling for a new currency to replace the flawed fiat euro, one backed by gold and silver.

Surely there would be many who scoff at the idea, but, when even negative interest rates fail to produce positive results, isn't it time to stop examining policy and start critiquing the currency itself.

Partially-backed gold and silver backed money - be it digital, paper, or coinage - may not seem such a bad idea, especially to people drowning in debt.

Central bankers have engaged in lunacy for the better part of 50 years (since Nixon's closing of the gold window in 1971). Maybe it's time for sound thinking and sound money.

At the Close, Thursday, January 23, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,160.09, -26.18 (-0.09%)
NASDAQ: 9,402.48, +18.71 (+0.20%)
S&P 500: 3,325.54, +3.79 (+0.11%)
NYSE: 14,102.04, -8.20 (-0.06%)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Stocks Slide As IMF Revises Global Growth Projections Lower... Again

In the Senate, the impeachment trial of President Trump is well underway, though some Senators are wondering how the House managers can keep up their opening statement for another 16 hours without being laughed out of the chamber.

Adam Schiff, Gerold Nadler and their associates dithered and danced around the same tired narrative that's been their staple for the past six months and nobody is really buying it. Perhaps that's why stocks slumped late in the day, due to overwhelming boredom.

Impeachment aside, stocks were off to a solid start on Wednesday, but failed to make much progress, with the Dow actually ending in the red after being up 124 points early in the session.

There are be a plethora of reasons to be selling stocks at this juncture, main among them valuation, but the continuing slowdown in global trade and potential for most of Europe to fall into a recession are probably the most "top of mind" as winter winds blow cold across the Northern Hemisphere.

Lowering its 2019 forecast (a little late) for the sixth straight time, the IMF dropped expectations for global growth to 2.9%, down 0.1 from it's previous 3.0% expectation. Most of the data is already in place. The IMF, like everyone else, is monitoring fourth quarter results from corporations around the world.

In what has to be regarded as somewhat on the cheeky side, the IMF also lowered its 2020 forecast, from 3.4% to 3.3%. It's ludicrous to believe that the amalgamated egoistic economists at the IMF can get any prediction right, especially one calling for improvement when the early evidence is clearly favoring decline. Within a few months, these brainiacs will be revising their crystal ball projections and tea leaf readings to something more aligned with reality.

Considering that the US, at least, is at the far end of an 11-year bull market, some slowdown would be expected and it's notable that the brain-dead at the IMF cannot fathom the declining birth rate effects of demographics in developed countries, most of which have fallen below replacement figures.

With cheerleaders like those at the IMF and the relentless money creation by the Fed, there's little wonder the rich get richer as fake predictions are afforded the most credence.

At some point, the Fed will stop printing or the dollar will hyper-inflate. At that point, the IMF can revise upward and still find itself woefully behind the curve.

At the Close, Wednesday, January 22, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,186.27, -9.77 (-0.03%)
NASDAQ: 9,383.77, +12.96 (+0.14%)
S&P 500: 3,321.75, +0.96 (+0.03%)
NYSE: 14,110.24, +0.26 (+0.00%)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Stocks Take Extra Day Off As Impeachment Trial Opens, Virginia Protest Ends Peacefully

Almost everybody got back to work on Tuesday, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, including those who traveled to Richmond, Virginia to rally in support of the second amendment and congress, which eagerly got started on the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

The scene in Richmond was inspiring, if not daunting to those who oppose gun rights in the United States and elsewhere. The display of firearms - from shotguns and .22s to ARs, semi-automatic weapons, handguns and even a .50-caliber tank-buster - was impressive to say the least. The massive demonstration of an armed populace acting in a very peaceable manner without incident (only one arrest was made) served as a reminder of what America is all about: a free people willing to defend their rights against tyranny.

In congress, it was another kind of spectacle, with the managers from the House of Representatives sparring over trial rules with the president's legal team. The arguments by the House members who stand as prosecutors fell largely on deaf Republican ears as every one of the eleven proposed amendments brought up by Democrat leader Chuck Schumer was defeated along party lines, 53-47, bar one. Maine Senator, Susan Collins voted with Democrats on the 10th amendment proposed by Schumer, which would have allowed more time for both sides to respond to trial motions, but it still went down in flames, 52-48.

The marathon session lasted well into the night, finally adjourning just before two o'clock am. The defeat of the Democrats was resounding and bodes well for the president as the parties will begin making their cases when the House managers begin three days of opening arguments on Wednesday at 1:00 pm ET.

While the rhetoric was fiery and impassioned by both sides, the issues raised by the president's lawyers seemed more authentic and serious. Most of the Senators seated in the chamber are well aware that the charges levied by the Democratically-controlled House - Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress - are neither crimes nor are their arguments particularly well-founded. The president and his team have roundly criticized the entire impeachment process as a "sham" and a political exercise, the charges not even close to rising as impeachable offenses.

Nevertheless, House managers will have three eight-hour sessions over the next three days in which to plead their case, taking the trial through Friday. The president's defense team will also have the same allotment of time - 24 hours - to offer their case, on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, also in three eight-hour sessions. It's looking like the president will be acquitted on both charges in a reasonably short manner.

While there is still the possibility of calling new witnesses and adding documents, the Republicans in the Senate are unlikely to move forward on those grounds, considering that the House should have done its job better to make its case against the president without having to conjure up new charges and ddrag the country through a drawn-out, ridiculous process that could stretch into months of useless debate.

Meanwhile, Wall Street wasn't very upbeat about anything, as stocks took a rare nosedive to open the week's trading. Led by the Dow Industrials, losses were not substantial and would likely not lead to any more selling activity. Besides the Fed's nearly-continuous pumping of fresh cash into the hands of hedge funds and primary dealers (big banks and brokerages), the global outlook is a few shades light of gloomy while the rich and not-so-famous convene at Davos, Switzerland this week for the 50th annual World Economic Forum.

Business and political leaders from around the world heard President Trump speak on the glories of his "America First" policies, followed by another round of adult-shaming by eco-warrior princess, Greta Thunberg. The two cancelled each other out to some degree, though Trump's speech was longer and much more compelling than Thunberg's seven-minute screed.

Even with stocks lower, gold and silver took substantial hits at the start of the day and failed to recover to any great degree. WTI Crude oil futures continued to test the upper resistance at $58/barrel and failing, while the 10-year note was bid, finishing below a 1.80% yield for just the second time this year.

All told, it was a good day for non-financial activity, though the trading hardly reflected that. Instead, markets are displaying the kind of activity seen when stocks are overbought, as they currently are. Short-term, there's potential for a more sizable pullback, though it would take a gargantuan effort to offset the machinations of the Fed, which now has wrested nearly complete control of almost all markets.

Until the Federal Reserve takes its foot off the liquidity gas pedal, stocks should continue to outpace all other investments.

At the Close, Tuesday, January 21, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,196.04, -152.06 (-0.52%)
NASDAQ: 9,370.81, -18.14 (-0.19%)
S&P 500: 3,320.79, -8.83 (-0.27%)
NYSE: 14,109.98, -73.22 (-0.52%)

Monday, January 20, 2020

WEEKEND WRAP: Virginia Lobby Day and Trump Impeachment Trial Take Center Stage

It being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, markets in the US are closed, but that didn't stop what looks to be more than 50,000 (actual number was about 22,000) patriots from heading down to Richmond, Virginia for the state's annual "Lobby Day," usually an opportunity for Virginia citizens to meet with their legislators and discuss various agendas facing the state.

This year, most people won't even get a chance to see a legislator, as Governor Ralph Shearer Northam (he of blackface shame) last week declared a state of emergency for the state capitol from January 17 to January 21, over fears of violence stemming from the gun rights crowds expected.

Northam was wrong to declare the emergency. After all, beyond the extra police presence, there are so many well-armed citizens in attendance, anybody thinking of causing trouble would probably think twice.

It's still early, and very chilly, in Richmond right now, but so far, the crowds have been peaceful. The day should end without incident unless something gets stirred up by anti-gun reactionaries like Antifa or a false flag event staged by one of the three-letter agencies overseeing the ongoings.

With many live streams being broadcast and thousands of people with cell phones, it's unlikely anything underhanded should happen, and if something does happen, it's likely to be recorded. This isn't going to be a rerun of the melee at Charlottesville back in 2017.

If Virginia's Lobby Day doesn't produce any grotesque footage for the fake media, then Tuesday, all eyes will turn to the impeachment trial which opens in the Senate. This is another made-for-TV type event, but Republicans led by Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are doing their level best to blunt the desired effect the Democrats are seeking, which is to drag out a long trial, complete with new witnesses, demands for documents, calls of a cover-up, issues of executive privilege ruled upon by the Supreme Court and other such nonsense.

The impeachment of President Trump was a sham from the start, when Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff launched a plot and counseled a "whistleblower" over a single phone call made by Trump to Ukraine president Zelensky.

Drawing from shades of the Bill Clinton impeachment, there never was, nor never will be any "there" there.

If cooler heads (Republicans) prevail, this sorry escape into stupidity should be all over in less than two weeks. Many Americans wish it could end in two days, if not sooner.

With all the tumultuous political theater taking place it's a wonder that stocks move at all, especially in an upward direction, though the recent buying spree - which began in September 2019 - has been aptly aided by continuous money printing and liquidity being shoved into the REPO market by the Federal Reserve. Until the Fed ceases its now-daily operations, stocks will never suffer losses. It's just a matter of fact. Like Warren Buffett supposedly quipped, "Give me a trillion dollars and I'll show you a good time, too."

Meanwhile, inflation will be ramping up sooner, as per the wishes of the Fed, whose various voices and charts keep telling the American public that the US economy hasn't yet met their target of two percent inflation, as if higher inflation were a good thing (it's not). All along, however, inflation has been raging in health care, education, and housing, but those factors are not apparently part of the Fed's purview. Therefore, they continue to print at a rate faster than previous bouts of QE while Chairman Jerome Powell insists this round of liquidity pumping is "not QE."

Sure, we'll buy that. And that horse over there is actually a rabbit.

Just how hard has the liquidity pump been working?

Since mid-October, on a weekly basis, the Dow has been up 10 weeks, down three; the NASDAQ, since late September, 14 weekly gains, two weeks with losses; S&P: 13 up, two down; NYSE: 13 up, two down.

That's a nice-looking rabbit ya got there. Mind if I ride him?

At the Close, Friday, January 17, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,348.10, +50.50 (+0.17%)
NASDAQ: 9,388.94, +31.81 (+0.34%)
S&P 500: 3,329.62, +12.81 (+0.39%)
NYSE: 14,183.20, +41.40 (+0.29%)

For the Week:
Dow: +524.33 (+1.82%)
NASDAQ: +210.08 (+2.29%)
S&P 500: +64.27 (+1.97%)
NYSE: +225.23 (+1.61%)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Confluence Of Impeachment, Virginia State Of Emergency, Peter Schweizer Book Could Damage Stocks

With stocks soaring to even higher new record highs again on Thursday, there's little doubt over the levles of irrationality and exuberance being displayed by the hoi poloi investing elite, their magic money spigot at the Fed and their marvelous algorithms which interpret all news as positive for stocks.

It is precisely in conditions such as these (the Dow Jones Industrial Average has vaulted over 29,000 with ease and is up a stunning 3,219 points since October 3rd, a 12.3% gain in just three-and-a-half months. The time period in question coincides neatly with the Federal Reserve's stoking engagement into the repo market, pumping, by some estimates, over $1.5 trillion into the hands of primary dealers and hedge funds, ramping the Fed's own balance sheet by more than $413.7 billion since the end of August.

The Fed's particular brand of irrational exuberance is at a pace reminiscent of prior bouts of QE in 2009, 2010-11, and 2012-14, even though the Fed cutely insists this is "not QE." Balderdash.

Normally, nobody gets alarmed over gigantic gains in stocks, giving their overall pleasant scent (go ahead, you know you want to sniff your currency) and beneficial purchasing power, but this severe repricing of stocks is beginning to look Weimar-like, when stocks in 1920s Weimar Germany rose by obscene percentages, but cashing in hundreds of shares could only purchase a day's worth of food due to the overarching hyperinflation of the currency.

Not to say that the same is or will be happening in the United States, though signs of runaway inflation are prevalent, but something may go wrong at some point that tears the social construct and eventually affects stocks and currency.

Consider that a confluence of events are about to take place between now and Tuesday, January 21. Equity and security markets will be closed over the weekend and on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday. In the meantime, there's already a state of emergency declared in Richmond, Virginia with concern over the gun rights rally set up for Lobby Day on Monday.

On Tuesday, the impeachment trial of President Trump begins in the Senate.

Also on Tuesday, Peter Schweizer's new book, Profiles in Corruption drops. On the book's cover are the faces of Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and others. Uh, Oh, it's already at #3 on Amazon's Best Sellers list.

Tuesday may be too late to get out of positions, so if there's some quiet pullback on Friday, it could be a tell.

At the Close, Thursday, January 16, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,297.64, +267.44 (+0.92%)
NASDAQ: 9,357.13, +98.43 (+1.06%)
S&P 500: 3,316.81, +27.52 (+0.84%)
NYSE Composite: 14,141.78, +88.58 (+0.63%)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

SNAFU Market Thrives On Chaos As China Deal Signed, Trump Impeached (again)

Since it's probably naive to believe that US equity markets are anything other than "fair and open," Wednesday's solid gains - record highs all around - have more to do with internal tinkering than any outside effects. Algorithms that apparently think sending articles of impeachment against President Donal J. Trump from the House of Representatives over to the Senate (after a month-long delay) is not as important an event as the signing of Phase 1 of the US-Chaina trade accord, both of which occurred almost simultaneously.

One can wonder exactly what traders are thinking these early days of 2020, but the algos may be on the right track given that the impeachment drama has been and ought to have been discounted as bad theatre, whereas the trade deal might turn out to be a big deal for global commerce.

No matter the details, stocks continue to soar, practically every day notching new record highs, without as much as a superfluous pullback every few weeks or so. The driver of this irrationals madness has recently been the Fed's easy money via daily repo injections, with the Federal Reserve providing ready cash in exchange for treasury bills, notes, and bonds they sold to primary dealers just days prior.

It's an open secret that the Fed's balance sheet is growing by monstrous proportions again, having begun in September and continued to burgeon through the holidays and into the new year. The Fed has plans to cease such onerous operations sometime in April, though there's ample consideration that such a move might prompt a dipsy-doo on the order of the ones that accompanied rate tightening in October and again in December of 2018.

For now, the bloom is on the rose and for all intents manages to stay blushing through impeachments, royal defections, plane crashes, Middle East noise, and all other hyperbolic geopolitical events. If nothing is done to stop the SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F--ked Up) 2020 could end up being a lot like 2019, replete with outsized gains for everybody, despite chaos all around.

At the Close, Wednesday. January 15, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 29,030.22, +90.55 (+0.31%)
NASDAQ: 9,258.70, +7.37 (+0.08%)
S&P 500: 3,289.29, +6.14 (+0.19%)
NYSE Composite: 14,053.23, +16.10 (+0.11)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Stocks Stumble After Mnuchin Trade Remarks; JPM, Citi Earnings Solid

After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remarked that tariffs on many Chinese goods would remain in place until later in the eyar and possibly beyond, only the Dow Jones Industrial Average managed to remain positive, as the major indices erased solid gains from earlier in the day, sending stocks sliding through the afternoon.

Mnuchin maintained that import tariffs would remain in place until the US and China agree on Phase 2 of their trade arrangement. His remarks came a day before the leaders of the world's two largest economies are set to sign a Phase 1 deal on Wednesday.

Washington and Beijing agreed to suspend tariffs on $160 billion in Chinese-made cellphones, laptop computers and other goods that were due to take effect on Dec. 15, and to cut in half existing tariffs on $120 billion of other goods to 7.5%. The Phase 1 deal keeps 25% tariffs on $250 billion of other Chinese goods in place. Mnuchin did not offer a timetable for when Phase 2 would be worked out, but the consensus believes such a deal would not be fully negotiated until after the November US elections.

A formal signing of Phase 1 documents is slated for 11:30 am ET, Wednesday at the White House.

Trade and tariffs continue to be the hot topic by which to move stocks and it seems likely that trend will continue through most of - if not all of - 2020, though with lesser impact. The Chinese representatives are sure to engage in some foot-dragging, hedging that President Trump may not be around for the completion of Phase 2. For its part, the administration will be busy with the politics of a presidential election, which will divert resources and attention away from trade dealings.

Those are positive developments in the larger scheme of things. The public is weary of Democrat attempts to weaken the president or impeach him. Business leaders largely view the entire political spectrum with jaded skepticism, believing that the poorly-managed impeachment proceedings initiated by the House of Representatives is a waste of time.

Right on cue, the House will debate and then vote on a resolution to advance articles of impeachment - which were passed nearly a month ago (December 18) - on Wednesday. Normally, no such vote is needed, though this impeachment process has been anything but normal. Another vote in the House gives Democrats another opportunity to bad-mouth the president while taking attention away from the signing of the trade accord. The measure is likely to sail through along party lines, with a Senate trial to begin on Tuesday of next week (January 21).

House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi's stalling of the process seems to have benefitted nobody except possibly President Trump. By not immediately handing over the articles of impeachment and naming managers, Pelosi comes off looking petty, conflicted, and frankly, ridiculous.

It is widely considered that President Trump will be acquitted by the Senate in short order, allowing democrat presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders to get back on the campaign trail before the Iowa caucuses the first week of February.

Until then, some market surprises could come in the form of earnings from various companies. Mega-banks JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup reported on Tuesday, with JPM showing EPS of $2.57, which smashed expectations for $1.98. Citi boosted revenues above consensus to over $18bn while EPS came at $1.90, beyond expectations for $1.83. Wells Fargo bucked the trend, reporting earnings below consensus. Share prices for JPM and Citi were up +1.17% and +1.56%, respectively, but Wells Fargo closed lower, down -5.39%.

Prior to the opening bell Wednesday morning, Bank of America said earnings for the fourth quarter were 74 cents per share, up 5.7% from the same period last year and better than the 68 cent consensus forecast.

Goldman Sachs (GS) reporting on Wednesday morning, showed quarterly earnings of $4.69 a share, trailing the $5.56 average of estimates from analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. Net income tumbled 24 percent to $1.92 billion. Those results sent stock futures tumbling further into the red.

The FOMC is scheduled to meet the last week of January. Their meeting is scheduled for the 28th and 29th.

At the Close, Tuesday, January 14, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,939.67, +32.57 (+0.11%)
NASDAQ: 9,251.33, -22.60 (-0.24%)
S&P 500: 3,283.15, -4.98 (-0.15%)
NYSE Composite: 14,037.13, -5.47 (-0.04%)

Monday, January 13, 2020

WEEKEND WRAP: Nearing Mid-Month, Stocks Higher

Just time for the figures this week.

At the Close, Friday, January 10, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,823.77, -133.13 (-0.46%)
NASDAQ: 9,178.86, -24.57 (-0.27%)
S&P 500: 3,265.35, -9.35 (-0.29%)
NYSE Composite: 13,957.97, -39.73 (-0.28%)

For the Week:
Dow: +188.89 (+0.66%)
NASDAQ: +158.09 (+1.75%)
S&P 500: +30.50 (+0.94%)
NYSE Composite: +40.92 (+0.29%)

Friday, January 10, 2020

January Effect In Force; US Adds 160,000 Jobs In December

Stocks rallied once again, with the Dow jones Industrials popping for a gain of over 200 points. The Dow closed higher for the fourth time in six 2020 sessions for a total rise of 418 points, or about 1.4%.

The Dow, S&P 500, and NASDAQ set new all-time highs on a closing basis, while the NYSE Composite index finished just shy of a record, ending the session at 13,997.65. The prior high of 14,001.13 was achieved on January 2. Any kind of positive return Friday should push the Composite into record territory.

Investors should get their "Dow 30,000" hats ready, because the world's most-watched stock index is about to surge beyond that number, quite possibly today right at the open after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an additional 145,000 jobs created in December according to the just-released non-fram payroll report for December, 2019.

Even though there's some seasonality to the figures due to holiday hires and a fall-off after November's gains were boosted by striking GM workers returning to their jobs, the number is another sign of strength in the underlying US economy, now, more than ever, the main driver of global growth. As Europe struggles with deflationary trends, negative interest rates, and high unemployment (especially among youths), and China increasingly seems to be bowing to pressure on tariffs and trade from the US, America's clout has become paramount.

Among developed nations, the United States continues to set the agenda, as President Trump's "America First" strategy has emboldened employers and workers alike to share in the positivism of the current environment. While wage growth is still sluggish, job creation in the private sector continues strong. Wednesday's ADP private payroll report found 202,000 new jobs created in December.

While the 145,000 jobs in the non-farm payroll report did come in below estimates of 160,000, the miss was not significant. October was revised 4,000 lower, to 152,000, and payrolls in November were revised down 10,000 to 256,000.

Unemployment remained steady at 3.5%, as expected. By sector, retail and leisure/hospitality led the gains, with bricks and mortar stores adding 41,000 jobs while restaurants, hotels and such added 40,000. Health care was another gainer, picking up 28,000 jobs in December. Construction trades added 20,000 new positions, but manufacturing and transportation declined, by 12,000 and 10,000, respectively. For all of 2019, manufacturing added 46,000, while transportation gained 57,000.

Those two sectors are offering indications that the expansion may have run its course, or at least is slowing significantly. In 2018, manufacturing added 264,000 jobs, transportation gained 216,000. While those figures may cause some anxiety, they also can be interpreted as a sign that these segments of the economy are still integrating the additional employees and that this period is merely a lull, following a robust hiring round.

Overall, despite the small miss and reductions from prior months, the report still comes in as positive for the US economy. Perhaps not the robust growth expected by the most bullish, but stable hiring is a sign that, in such a mature economy, nothing troubling lies directly ahead.

The jobs report was good enough to keep the rally humming along. The major indices should continue their path through record highs for time being.

At the Close, Thursday, January 9, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,956.90, +211.81 (+0.74%)
NASDAQ: 9,203.43, +74.18 (+0.81%)
S&P 500: 3,274.70, +21.65 (+0.67%)
NYSE Composite: 13,997.65, +63.21 (+0.45%)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Making Money Investing Should Not Be This Easy (or maybe it should be)

Since the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007-09, the performance of the major indices have been nothing short of miraculous.

At the nadir of the crisis, the bottom, on March 9, 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 6,547.05. It closed Wednesday at 28,745.09, an tidy increase of 439%. Nearly 11 years later, that's an average annual return of 39.9%, or, for the rounders amongst us, 40 percent per year, on average.

Imagine, a $100,000 investment right at the bottom of the market would be worth $439,000, and that's just on 30 stocks that comprise the Industrials, without adding in dividends, which could have been reinvested and made even more money. It's absolutely ludicrous that such an easy investment strategy - buying and holding an index fund, for instance - could generate such awe-inspiring returns. That gain of $339,000, or, $30,818, non-compounded, is more than most Americans make in a year. Incredible.

What this shows is that anyone who had a retirement fund and didn't touch it during the crash of 2008, is probably pretty smug and comfortable right about now. Such people would be mostly Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1965, who were, in 2008, as old as 62 or as young as 43 and are now between the ages of 54 and 73.

Many from this age group have already retired. Some are headed that way, and, if the market holds up, many will take early retirement at age 62, if not sooner (59 1/2 for those with IRAs or 401k plans). This is an enormous portion of the population, about 23% of all the people (legally) living in America.

Now, not every Baby Boomer had 100,000 in their investment account in 2008. Some had more, some had less, some had none, but, without a doubt, there are some very fat and sassy old folks out there, hoarding their gains, figuring out how long their money will last if they start withdrawing a little here, a little there, mostly more or less on a plan to live until they are 85 or 90, because that's the general life expectancy these days.

All of these people will also collect Social Security, adding anywhere from $400 (slackers) to $2,788 a month to their income. There's a lot of money out there, much of it still being invested.

While this all sounds like economic Nirvana, there is one no-so-small caveat. In a word, it's inflation. In more words, it's the cost of living. Everything is more expensive today than when the Baby Boomers began investing, so it's eroding their profits, though they're still pretty well off, because, as young people will learn and older folks already know, costs of living (outside of severe medical expenses) are lower when you're older. You eat less, go out less, need less of everyday items because you already own them. You drive less, and, probably, you save more.

Even discounting the effects of inflation (a new car in 1970 could be purchased for less than $2000; today's it's generally more then $20,000, often much more), these Baby Boomer retirees are going to be pretty well off, even if Social Security runs out of money and is forced to reduce benefits.

As much as people today bemoan the great inequality of incomes and wealth, this one group, Baby Boomers, were born into and continue to live in a pretty sweet spot, when the economy was good, if not great, and life in the United States of America was one of general peace and tranquility. America is still a very solid country in the grand scheme of things, and maybe the complainers and nay-sayers could do themselves and everybody else a favor by working just a little bit harder, saving just a little bit more, complaining just a little bit less.

Nobody can predict the future, but who knew, 11 years ago, that American stocks would provide so well?

Millennial food for thought.

At the Close, Wednesday, January 8, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,745.09, +161.41 (+0.56%)
NASDAQ: 9,129.24, +60.66 (+0.67%)
S&P 500: 3,253.05, +15.87 (+0.49%)
NYSE Composite: 13,934.44, +36.00 (+0.26%)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Here Comes A January Rally And New All-Time Highs

Stocks took a bit of a punch in the face on Tuesday, but nothing a good night's sleep wouldn't relieve.

Overnight, Iran fired missiles at a couple of American bases in Iraq, hit mostly sand and neither killed nor wounded any American soldiers, according to published reports. If that's the extent of Iranian retaliation for the killing of their top general, it would suggest that Iran's leaders are not stupid and don't want to go to war against the world's most well-equipped military force.

Nobody can blame Iran for not wanting a direct fight with the US military. It would more than likely be a losing battle from the start and end with devastation to much of Iran's infrastructure. Their leaders may have taken the high road by intentionally missing American barracks, showing a calm hand while demonstrating that they can, if need be, meet force with force.

Iran is better equipped to keep doing what they've been doing: supporting splinter groups and terrorist cells without direct involvement in any conflict. In that scenario, they at least afford themselves the opportunity to keep selling their oil to countries who won't respect the US trade sanctions and maybe find their way to a negotiating table to end years of struggle in the region.

Wall Street would likely be amenable to such an arrangement. Some sense of rationality would be a welcome relief to not just the oil market but to the global economies, which have more than their share of worries presently.

If it is indeed the case that hostilities in the Middle East may have reached a turning point, that's all well and good. Any continued sign that the US and Iran are at a safe distance from each other militarily can only be good for the stock market. Such an antecedent would prompt a sharp rally in stocks, which have been somewhat on hold since Christmas and are looking for reasons to break out to new highs.

It being a fresh year, there's plenty of money sloshing around, enough to propel stocks further into the stratosphere.

Unless something terrible happens in the Middle East or elsewhere, expect markets to glide higher and potentially explode though the remaining weeks of January. As everybody in the investment world knows, as January goes, so goes the rest of the year. That's been an accurate guide for about 85% of the time. Another banner year like 2019 may not be in the cards, but it's a near certainty that stocks are poised for another leg higher and continued strong performance.

At the Close, Tuesday, January 7, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,583.68, -119.70 (-0.42%)
NASDAQ: 9,068.58, -2.88 (-0.03%)
S&P 500: 3,237.18, -9.10 (-0.28%)
NYSE Composite: 13,898.45, -43.35 (-0.31%)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

War Is Good For the Market, So Is Peace, Or Baseball, Or Beer, Or...

Fearing that a possible escalation of hostilities in the Middle East could spill over to affect the US economy, stocks opened sharply lower on Monday. Gold, silver and crude oil futures were bid higher.

As the day wore on, stocks regained their footings, the precious metal and oil rallies evaporated and eventually all the US indices closed well into positive territory.

None of that was by accident.

Consider the stock market a proxy narrative for the American impulse emotions. Fear, greed, tranquility, volatility, are all rolled into one great tableau of the American experience, especially when there's trouble on the horizon. Monday's action consisted of mandatory panicked selling as the day began, the hand of calm mid-morning, and eventually the all-clear sign that nothing bad will happen, in a "we got this" kind of virtue-signal, sending stocks higher, where they're supposed to be going in our vast and glorious economy.

It all happens without public comment nor input because large shareholders control enormous amounts of stock and with that, the ability to move markets in whichever non-random ways they desire. A tweak to an algo here, a few well-timed block trades there, and entire averages can move in not-so-mysterious ways.

Especially since the disasters of the 2000 dot-com bust and the 2007-09 sub-prime implosion, there's been a vested interest in this country to keep the charts moving in a left to right, upward=headed, diagonal line.

That's not an accident, either.

Because there is so much wealth and so much of the future concentrated almost exclusively in stocks, the markets cannot be allowed to wither. We've witnessed this same happenstance over and over and over again, on a daily basis in times of crisis, and with a more elongated time expanse when it comes to policy issues like the direction of interest rates, presidential politics, tax cuts, or long-range unemployment trends.

If the US kills an Iranian general and some other people who happen to be in the wrong place at the right time, stocks may take a temporary hit. The Dow may drop 100 or 200 points, but it will be back on its game by the afternoon, or maybe within the next day or two.

If the US sends 200,000 troops to Iraq or Iran to squelch - once and for all - an evil regime, stocks may initially descend, but in the long term, they will outperform the underlying economy. See charts from 2003-2005 for example, of how the Gulf War boosted stocks out of a deep hole.

While it doesn't have to be this way, that's just the way it is, and the sooner one comes to the rationalization that the markets are handled, mangled, and managed, the sooner one can come to grips with the deficiencies in one's own portfolio.

Whether this is good or not is a debatable point, but what is not a subject ripe for speculation is the fact that holders of large amounts of underlying securities can make markets move in whatever direction they please. And for now, that direction - make no mistake about this - is up.

At the Close, Monday, January 6, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,703.38, +68.50 (+0.24%)
NASDAQ: 9,071.46, +50.70 (+0.56%)
S&P 500: 3,246.28, +11.43 (+0.35%)
NYSE Composite: 13,941.80, +24.75 (+0.18%)

Monday, January 6, 2020

WEEKEND WRAP: If You Like Your Bull Market, You Can Keep Your Bull Market

Taking a page from the Obama playbook, we open the first full trading week of the New Year with a promise, which may or may not be kept.

For the week that straddled the New Year holiday, all but the NASDAQ finished in the red, despite the best efforts from a furious rally on the first day of trading in 2020. In hindsight, Thursday's rally might have just been cover for what lay ahead on Friday and what could turn out to be a quite tumultuous month of trading in January. On that same note, the final two trading days of 2019 - Monday and Tuesday of last week - weren't so hot either.

Since it's far too early to tell where this all is going, especially considering the double-edged political sword that is impeachment and Iran, let's leave it at that and move forward, noting exactly where stocks, bonds, oil, and precious metals finished up 2019. Because nobody in their right mind buys and sells anything on a year-end basis, it will be instructive to keep benchmarks in mind, so they've been provided at the conclusion of this post.

At the Close, Friday, January 3, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,634.88, -233.92 (-0.81%)
NASDAQ: 9,020.77, -71.42 (-0.79%)
S&P 500: 3,234.85, -23.00 (-0.71%)
NYSE Composite: 13,917.05, -85.45 (-0.61%)

For the Week:
Dow: -10.38 (-0.04%)
NASDAQ: +14.15 (+0.16%)
S&P 500: -5.17 (-0.16%)
NYSE Composite: -27.10 (-0.19%)

Dow: ended 2018 at 23,327.46; ended 2019 at 28,538.44; 22.34% gain
NASDAQ: ended 2018 at 6,635.28; ended 2019 at 8,972.60; 35.25% gain
S&P 500: ended 2018 at 2,506.85; ended 2019 at 3,230.78; 28.88% gain
NYSE Composite: ended 2018 at 11,374.39; ended 2019 at 13,913.03; 22.32% gain

10-year US Treasury note: Dec. 31, 2018: 2.69%; Dec. 31, 2019: 1.92%

30-year US Treasury note: Dec. 31, 2018: 3.02%; Dec. 31, 2019: 2.39%

Gold posted a gain of 18.43%, rising from 1279.00 to 1514.75 over the course of 2019.
Silver went from 15.47 to 18.05 through the year for a profit of 16.68%.
WTI Crude Oil rose from 47.09 on January 3, 2019, to 61.68 on December 30, up 30.99%.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Federal Reserve's QE Today is The Big Short Revisited in a Bigger Manner

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in scene from "The Big Short"
On the first trading day of 2020, stocks advanced sharply, fueled by naked capitalism and the desire to not miss out on any profitable opportunity.

That's the truth of the matter, usually every day, so long as the Federal Reserve continues to pump fresh capital into the already bloated financial system. The trouble with the Fed's desire to keep Wall Street flush with cash is that enriching a small number of already-wealthy people hasn't had the desired effect of "trickling down" to the general population.

It didn't work when the Fed rescued the financial system in 2007-09, hasn't since, and won't in the future. Known generally as QE (Quantitative Easing) it's a failed policy that produces nothing other than overpriced financial assets, monstrous bubbles, and eventually, mass damage to the very system it's purported to be protecting. Since September of last year (2019) the Fed has already pumped nearly a trillion dollars into the Wall Street casino and it's balance sheet has exploded by another $500 billion.

To say that the Fed's promotion of QE is as bad as the systemic fraud that ran rampant within the sub-prime mortgage bundling that triggered the GFC in 2007-09 might be taking the comparison a step too far, but it surely is worth nominal consideration.
The players are mostly the same: Wall Street tycoons representing trading firms of the biggest banks bent on maximizing profits, relaxed, corrupted, and often incompetent regulators, an unsuspecting public that eventually gets fleeced.

In comparison to the sub-prime hustle, the rollers and managers of the mortgage bundling are now - as before - manned by the trading desks of the big Wall Street firms. The Fed is the enabler, a la the ratings agencies during sub-prime, and mouth-breathing borrowers with low credit scores seeking to purchase a home are replaced today by anybody participating in a pension fund, college fund, 401k or other managed investment vehicle. That's why sub-prime was called the housing bubble and the ongoing, current arrangement is called the "everything bubble." Everything is up for grabs and everything is at stake.

This all has been tied together neatly since the GFC, as, after $750 billion in TARP was exhausted, three bouts of QE commenced, secret loans from the Fed to foreign banks were proffered, and nobody of any importance went to jail over the excesses of the sub-prime boom and subsequent bust. Nobody. They're mostly all still there, having cashed mammoth bonus checks provided by the TARP bailout, plotting the next windfall.

The Big Short By Michael Lewis
Lewis' book is revealing and riveting,
available everywhere, for a song.
Michael Lewis' great book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, and the movie it spawned, The Big Short, offer a reveal of just what happened in the run-up to the sub-prime crisis and how a number of smart and/or lucky investors were able to capitalize on the general greed, stupidity, and fraud perpetrated by wall Street banks.

In the film, Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett, the fictional character based on the real-life Deutsche Bank trader, Greg Lippman. Christian Bale plays the real-life Michael Burry, the Scion Asset Management leader who risked his firm and cashed in when MBS and CDOs went bust, but the lion of the story comes n the character of Mark Baum (Steve Eisman in real life) played passionately by Steve Carell as the angry, perplexed head of Frontline Partners, the independent Morgan Stanley trading unit that bet against CDOs and made millions in the sub-prime collapse.

Carell, as Mark Baum, sets up the character and the film's premise in his first scene, railing against big banks charging outrageous fees for overdrafts. His defiant, conflicted, crusading manner defined, Carell storms through the film wide-eyed and aghast at what's about to happen to the global financial structure, outspoken and often outrageous. Nearing the end, he - and the character of Ben Rickert (based on real life, former JP Morgan trader, Ben Hockett, and portrayed in a sublimated, almost solemn manner by Brad Pitt) - realizes that he is betting on the collapse of the bedrock of global finance, the US housing industry, and trillions of dollars will be lost, millions of people will lose homes. The fate of the world weighs heavy upon him.

The Big Short film is well worth watching again, as is a thorough reading of the original Michael Lewis book by the same name. In case you haven't seen the movie or read the book, this qualifies as a MUST, if you have money at risk in any kind of investment because it all is happening again, in a different venue, on an even larger, more obscene scale. Sub-prime took years to grow, metastasize and engulf the financial system. The ongoing "everything bubble," with pension and other long-term passive investments as the target, will literally take decades, and it's already well underway.

It's all happening again in a bigger and more destructive way and it's happening right NOW.

The book and film are available at screaming low prices on Ebay, Amazon and various streaming services (for the film). A purchase is likely to be some of the best investment money ever spent and an understanding of the process will reveal the fraud and deceit being parlayed right beneath the public's noses. Both the book and the film are revealing, frightening, and true.

EDIT: Money Daily may not always be on top of the news, but today's major blast posting may turn out to be prescient. Just moments ago, Wall Street On Parade, the noteworthy blog published by Wall Street insiders, Russ and Pam Martens, released a related post: The Doomsday Machine Returns: Citibank Has Sold Protection On $858 Billion of Credit Default Swaps. In the article, the writers contend that the dark doom of 2008 may be hanging over the canyons of Wall Street once again, as not just Citibank, but JP Morgan Chase as well, have taken big positions in Credit Default Swaps "that are being used to reignite the synthetic Collateralized Loan Obligation (synthetic CDO) market - which vastly added to the leverage that blew up Wall Street in 2008."

Stay tuned.

A few choice clips from the film:

At the Close, Thursday, January 2, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,868.80, +330.36 (+1.16%)
NASDAQ: 9,092.19, +119.58 (+1.33%)
S&P 500: 3,257.85, +27.07 (+0.84%)
NYSE Composite: 14,002.49, +89.46 (+0.64%)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019 Is Done: Stocks Roared, Trump Still President in 2020

2019 is over, and aren't we all so happy.
Donald Trump with Brandi Brandt
on the cover of Playboy magazine, March 1990

By many measures, it was a somewhat unremarkable year, ending with odd and twisted political theater, courtesy of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and her merry band of miscreants, led by congresspeople Adam Schiff and Gerald Nadler, chairmen of, respectively, Intelligence and Judiciary committees. In the case of Schiff, the obvious misappropriation of his ilk being somehow related to intelligence was as humorless as it was frightening.

What made Pelosi's gambit significant was not that she impeached a president, but that she impeached one Donald J. Trump, a populist president who apparently did nothing wrong other than defeat the chosen candidate of the left, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the presidential race of 2016. Thus, three years a a few months hither, Trump is impeached on charges that are as vacuous and ephemeral as the open-and-closed-door hearings themselves: Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress, neither of which are codified as criminal acts, and almost assuredly do not rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" outlined in the US constitution. In the final analysis, Trump's real crime is being nearly universally hated by leading Democrat politicians, movie stars, and the establishment media.

But that was not all.

Pelosi and nearly all of her fellow Democrats in the House voted along strict party lines and then failed to name managers or send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate for a trial, also prescribed by the constitution, leaving the president, and the nation, in a state of suspended impeachment limbo. This final, futile, feckless act of desperation came after months of Pelosi claiming that Trump needed to be impeached as quickly as possible as he posed a grave, immediate threat to our nation's security.

That argument went right out a window high on the Capitol, along with the baby, the bathwater, the Green New Deal, and the electoral hopes of a plethora Democrat candidates for federal offices in November 2020, not the least of which were named Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete whatever-his-name-is, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The funny thing about Mayor Pete, incidentally, is not that he is openly gay (the priests running the University of Notre Dame are still trying to downplay his position), but that the mainstream media almost never mentions this salient fact. Maybe they think that since he looks straight, people will forget or simply overlook his sexual inclination.

That's a good one. The MSM continues to push their agenda, which recently has devolved into a convoluted collection of mistruths, untruths, hidden truths, innuendo, scare tactics, race-baiting, gender-bending, misinformation, disinformation, lies, statistics, more lies, omissions, Facebook posts, deleted Tweets, and Instagram memes, mostly consisting of accusations of President Trump strangling kittens, starting wars, ending wars, killing immigrant children, or otherwise undermining democracy.

It's so sad that it has become almost laughable, but not quite yet. The mainstream media is saving the laugh track stuff for the primaries and general election. Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press thinks that he, his network, the New York Times and Washington Post more believable than the president. That's how deluded and delusional most of the apparatchik reporters, readers, reciters and anchors are, but none more than the non-journalist, Todd. The mainstream media gave birth to the malady known as TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) and they continue to feed it. They're like doctors prescribing amphetamines to meth heads.

2019 finished on a nearly comical note if not for the snarly seriousness of the matter. Attempting to remove a sitting president isn't something that should be undertaken without careful consideration of the consequences. Democrats have not done their homework and have put the American public under considerable stress, needing relief.

For the financial world, New Year's Eve was especially celebratory, with champagne toasts to a grand and glorious annum of outsize gains for stocks. The major indices - following the sudden and sharp declines of 2018's fourth quarter - posted gains as follows:

  • Dow: ended 2018 at 23,327.46; ended 2019 at 28,538.44; 22.34% gain
  • NASDAQ: ended 2018 at 6,635.28; ended 2019 at 8,972.60; 35.25% gain
  • S&P 500: ended 2018 at 2,506.85; ended 2019 at 3,230.78; 28.88% gain
  • NYSE Composite: ended 2018 at 11,374.39; ended 2019 at 13,913.03; 22.32% gain

Those are pretty good numbers.

Will they be repeated in 2020? Advance indications are that the bull market will continue, but, as every prospectus in the history of financial instruments and advisors purports, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Keep that in mind as the Fed will continue to keep flooding the market with liquidity until it decides to stop, which can happen at any time, without much notice.

Concern about the Fed changing its dovish, dulcet tune is not something on the minds of most investors heading into the new year. The Fed has shown itself to be accommodative at all times, no matter the circumstance, and they're likely to continue to be so. What used to be known as "applying the brakes" of an overheating economy by raising interest rates is not a probability in the coming year, as the economy shows about as much potential to overheat as a potato has to become an orange. It's not going to happen, and neither is a recession, because the Fed won't have that.

Precious metals also found bids. Gold posted a marvelous gain of 18.43%, rising from 1279.00 to 1514.75 over the course of 2019.

Silver was similarly impressive, going from 15.47 to 18.05 through the year for a profit of 16.68%.

To the dismay of consumers everywhere, WTI Crude Oil also experienced a rise in price, from 47.09 on January 3, 2019, to 61.68 on December 30, up 30.99%. That sent North American gas prices higher at the pump and elsewhere.

Prices for just about everything anybody would want or need were higher in 2019, by varying amounts. For that, we have the Fed, trade wars, tariffs, and greed to thank.

OK. 2020 is a thing. It's out of beta. Have at it.

At the Close, Tuesday, December 31, 2019:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,538.44, +76.30 (+0.27%)
NASDAQ: 8,972.60, +26.61 (+0.30%)
S&P 500: 3,230.78, +9.49 (+0.29%)
NYSE Composite: 13,913.03, +36.88 (+0.27%)