Thursday, April 2, 2020

6.64 Million Unemployment Claims; Stocks Take a Hit; Gold, Silver Selling at Premium

(Simultaneously published at Downtown Magazine)

Wednesday was April Fool's Day, appropriate for the general public, which is being actively conned into giving up civil liberties at an alarming rate, and also for those who are stuck in passive investments like college or retirement funds, as stocks got hammered again on the day.

Meanwhile, mega banks and major corporations, which gorged themselves on stock buybacks and executive bonuses over the past decade, are being rewarded for their insouciant, self-serving behavior with loans and grants from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, which are rapidly coalescing into a single entity.

Since completing a near-perfect Fibonacci retrace of 38% to the 22,500 level on the Dow (22,552.17), the blue chip index has given up more than 1,500 points over the past two sessions and are threatening to retest the lows of March 23 (18,213.65). ADP private payroll data released Wednesday showed job losses of 27,000, which did not include the end of March when most of the recent layoffs and furloughs occurred. Despite exception of the brunt of a widespread voluntary quarantine imposed by most states the number was the first time ADP reported monthly job losses since 2017. Their next data release is expected to be much more sobering.

With the Federal Reserve firmly in control of the stock and bond markets, equity prices still have a long distance to travel on a downward slope to reach any reasonable level of valuation. While most heavily-traded stocks were wildly overvalued they are still trading at unsustainable levels, especially considering that business and commerce has very nearly ground to a halt globally.

There will be questions about the level of involvement in equity markets by the Fed, especially on days like Wednesday when losses cascaded down the wall of worry. While it's certainly the case that the Fed could buy up all the ETFs, stocks and mutual funds it pleases, their main approach is in the bond market, where they are actively purchasing commercial paper through its proxy, the Treasury. Guaranteeing that the corporations represented in the NASDAQ, Dow, S&P, and NYSE are still able to finance continuing operations is of primary concern. Price levels of individual stocks or even whole indices are of a secondary nature. Massive gains will be available to the Fed and their insider (congress) associates once stocks are reduced to a massive junk heap of debt, enriched management, and damaged operations.

Currently being touted by the financial insiders is the notion that the stock market and the nation will bounce back quickly once the coronavirus is conquered, though that concept is fatally flawed for a number of reasons. First, the goal is to have zero deaths from COVID-19, a near impossibility given that the infection number has not even cracked the one percent level, with the US currently at 217,000 confirmed cases with 5,137 deaths. Second, many small businesses will not reopen when the "all clear" is given, whether that be at the end of April, or some time in July. Third, with most working-age Americans at home or out of a job, the spending level upon the return to some semblance of normalcy will be vastly reduced. GDP growth is likely to be negative for the second and third quarters and the entire year of 2020 will go down as one in which the US economy was running in reverse.

At this point, anyone who has not taken steps to remove money from the stock and bond markets is facing a world of hurt which could have been avoided. The appropriate investment stance at this juncture would likely be 75% cash and 25% in hard assets (real estate, precious metals). Sadly, the gullible American passive investment class has been conditioned to believe stocks will always bounce back and that bonds represent safety. Neither claim can be proven within the present paradigm. Stocks may bounce back, but that bounce may not occur for many years. Bonds may be safe, but at interest rates that are comparable to stuffing matresses with Federal Reserve Notes. And, it's probably not beyond the realm of probability that the almighty dollar will not survive in its current form. At the very least, as severe devaluation is in the cards.

Treasury yields were smashed lower, the curve significantly flattened on the day, with the 30-year bond at 1.27%, the 10-year note at 0.62%, and the full breadth of the curve a mere 124 basis points, down from 130 a day ago and 145 a week prior. These are serious declines, significant moves in a market that is supposed to be stable. The portent is for more dislocation, desperation, and, eventually, negative rates which will obliterate the currency as is happening in Japan and Europe.

Gold and silver are still largely unavailable from regular dealers even though prices on the futures exchanges are dropping, defying the laws of supply and demand. The best place to purchase precious metals in any form is currently ebay, where the market is brisk and one ounce gold coins can be purchased and quickly delivered for prices between $1690 and $1861 while the futures price hovers around $1590.

Silver is in an even better position for sellers, tacking on premiums of up to 100% to the posted price of $14.25 on the futures exchanges. On eBay, the lowest price for a one ounce coin or bar is currently $21.50, with most ranging from $23.00 to $29.00 and uncirculated coins fetching more, up to absurd prices in the $40 and higher range. With mines shut down in many countries, the shortage of bullion is only just beginning. A metal mania is upon us.

Oil prices have caught bids early Thursday morning, with WTI crude priced at $22.37, Brent at $27.19 at the time of this writing. With a supply glut and the Saudis pumping at nearly-full capacity and offering discounts, it's likely that these prices do not reflect reality on the ground nor are they likely to maintain their gains for long.

As another trading day approaches, regular people may be wondering when they will receive their bailout $1200 check or direct deposit from the government and how they will pay their rent or mortgage without a job or some form of assistance. It has been two weeks since Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Trump suggested that individuals would receive money within two weeks and nobody has seen a nickel. The bill to provide such assistance was passed last week by the Senate, House, and signed into law by President Trump.

On Wednesday, Mnuchin announced that Social Security recipients who do not regularly file tax returns will receive their checks or direct deposits without having to file "simple returns" as the IRS advised, according to An actual date for dissemination of the monies was not disclosed, though it may be assumed that these recipients will receive their money along with their regular monthly payments. For the rest of the country, the waiting game continues, despite corporations already having trillions of dollars available to them via loans, loan guarantees or outright purchases of private debt issuance by the Federal Reserve, most of which is outside the Fed's normal chartered activities.

As for rent or mortgage payments, those are individual decisions. It is advisable to contact the landlord or mortgagee to work out payment options. Some landlords are deferring April rent payments while most lenders (represented in the main by servicers) have remained fairly tight-lipped on general guidelines relating to mortgage payments. Deferral is a likely solution, with the principal and interest being added to the end of the amortization schedule.

Just now, the Labor Department announced that unemployment insurance claims for the week ended March 28 doubled over the previous week to 6.64 million.

April and the second quarter is off to a very discouraging start.

At the Close, Wednesday, April 1, 2020:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 20,943.51, -973.69 (-4.44%)
NASDAQ: 7,360.58, -339.52 (-4.41%)
S&P 500: 2,470.50, -114.09 (-4.41%)
NYSE: 9,844.85, -457.05 (-4.44%)

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