Showing posts with label bank run. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bank run. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oil Tops $100, Drifts Back; Stocks Hammered Again; Bank Runs in S. Korea

At some point, everyone knew this was going to happen. Stocks were so ridiculously overvalued - and have been for many months - that a pullback was inevitable.

The culprits, it appears, are Middle East sovereign despots, losing their grip on their populations which are largely demanding freedom and a democratic voice. But it goes much deeper. Many blame the Federal Reserve, which has fostered a dual policy of federal funds rates approaching zero while simultaneously printing dollars by the billions.

Those cheap dollars flood the markets, causing speculation and inflation, and that's been particularly acute in the poorest nations, where the percentage of income spent on basic survival - food, housing, clothing - is much higher, approaching 100% and often more. Hungry people being angry people, they've taken to the streets in countries where unemployment and government corruption have outpaced the economy, resulting in popular uprisings.

Add to that the declining value of the dollar, as expressed in the rising price of crude oil, and you have today's recipe for disaster. And all of this comes before the morons in congress and the White House and various state capitols attempt to come to some sort of meeting of the minds on their budgets.

The states have to find ways to balance theirs, while the federals fight over how much spending is enough to keep the government just barely functioning, if at all.

If it feels like the United States is running rudderless on fumes, you get the idea and the nervousness has been manifested in trading the past two days. Despite the usual pumping by the Fed, sellers are out in force and it doesn't take much to move stocks hard to the downside. Missing earnings estimates - normally a sin punishable by a few points off the top - has become a mortal wound, such as what happened to Hewlett Packard (HWP), following their quarterly report, released after the close on Tuesday.

Investors scurried out of the stock on Wednesday, propelling a nearly 10% decline. Vloume was five times normal.

Most of the rest of the market didn't fare much better. Holders of gold and silver are grinning ear-to-ear.

Dow 12,105.78, -107.01 (0.88%)
NASDAQ 2,722.99, -33.43 (1.21%)
S&P 500 1,307.40, -8.04 (0.61%)
NYSE Composite 8,292.92, -32.94 (0.40%)

Decliners led advancing issues again, 4470-2093. On the NASDAQ, the flip: there were 54 new lows and only 44 new highs. At the NYSE, 60 new highs and 27 new lows, though it seems the tide has turned, at least for the present. The question now becomes how long will this downturn last before the hoards of money from the Fed overwhelm all fears and make stocks and risk appear palatable again.

Volume, which hit its best levels of the year on Tuesday, topped that on Wednesday, giving a clue that the selling is only gaining momentum.

NASDAQ Volume 2,498,464,250
NYSE Volume 6,623,988,500

Crude oil - specifically WTI (West Texas Intermediate) on the NYMEX hit $100 in midday trading, but backed off to close up a mere $2.68, at $98.10, marking the highest price seen since 2008. Since the US gets most of its oil from Canada and other Western Hemisphere sources, WTI has fallen well behind the pace in Brent Crude, tied mostly to Europe and Asia. Brent prices topped $110. Spot is quoted at $111.83 per barrel.

Gold had another banner day, rising $12.90, to reach $1,414.00, closing in on all-time highs. Silver continues to be the stellar commodity performer, up another 44 cents, to $33.30. Specialists in gold's cousin say this is nothing and $50 per troy ounce is not only possible before the calendar turns over to 2012, but likely. There simply is not enough physical supply to meet growing investor demands, much of which is causing tightness in industrial applications.

If silver demand continues, look for rising prices in many electronic devices, especially cell phones, though the price rise should not be severe since only small amounts of silver go into the overall manufacturing price.

Turmoil and popular revolt in the Middle East and across many states in America over budget issues and union busting don't exactly set up well for smooth sailing on Wall Street. Until the noise quiets, expect fear to have its way with investor confidence. Nobody wants to catch the proverbial falling knife, and with short interest at record lows, a small tumble could easily turn into an overwhelming cascade.

Meanwhile, silver and gold investors are sitting pretty as the strain on fiat currency is being felt worldwide. What nobody wants to talk about in our civil society are the bank runs in South Korea.

Nothing funny about that story.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Acting like pirates

Ahoy, maties! It's time investors shed the wool that's been pulled over their collective eyes and now covers most of their bodies, put on an eye-patch and begin swinging swords at stocks.

Today's rescue of Countrywide Financial by Bank of America failed to ignite the rally hounds on Wall Street. While the stock of Countrywide - which faced a serious bank run last week (see story) - gained in after-hours and pre-market trading, the $2 billion injected by BofA is actually nothing more than a thinly-veiled takeover move.

The "loan", which is, in reality, convertible preferred securities priced at 7.5% which can be converted into common stock at $18 a share. If exercised, that would give BofA a 17% stake in the company, but the nation's largest bank would be unable to sell those shares for a period of 18 months.

So, is BofA really thinking "takeover" as opposed to "bailout"? And why was Countrywide so eager to accept money at 7.5% when the Fed just lowered the discount rate to 5.25% and extended the loan period for member banks to from 24 hours to 30 days.

Countrywide obviously cannot access that Fed money, but the 2.25% spread between what BofA is loaning them and the discount rate is the cost of doing business these days.

With a borrowing cost of 7.5%, Countrywide will have to either charge customers somewhere upwards of 9% to customers in order to remain even marginally profitable or sell off a chunk of the company to a "rival" at a discount. It's not a pretty world Countrywide is looking at these days.

In a few words, they're doomed. The larger banks will take the better loans, offering lower rates than Countrywide, who will be forced into a position of sick sister, having to deal with jumbos, home equities, and lenders of less-than-impeccable quality.

This comes at a time when the screws have been tightened considerably already and Moody's is still considering whether or not to lower Countrywide's bond rating to junk status.

By mid-day the markets had turned to mush. Countrywide, up as much as 2.50 early on, was ahead less than 1 point. By 2:00, the earlier gains had all but disappeared, with Countrywide trading as low as 21.98, only 16 cents better than its previous close. The stock closed up a mere 20 cents, at 22.02.

Dow 13,235.88 -0.25; NASDAQ 2,541.70 -11.10; S&P 500 1,462.50 -1.57; NYSE Composite 9,478.62 +1.49

Surely, savvy investors weren't buying the we're out of the woods story being circulated by the banks, the Fed and various shills in the financial press.

All of which brings me to the pirate analogy. Investors, or at least people with an eye on not getting killed in this market, should be looking at short-selling or buying puts on vulnerable companies. Obviously, those in the financial sector are ripe for plunder, though some have already been slashed to pieces.

Like good pirates, traders should look for shifts in opportunities as conditions on the financial seas change. Companies with high debt levels and shaky balance sheets will be prone to suffer some of the more dire circumstances.

As events warrant, I'll be posting some of the better-looking short stories and puts plays right here. For the time being, I'm keeping a close eye on Wells Fargo (WFC), which suffered a two-day computer "glitch" over the weekend which pretty much shut down online operations.

In the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash, various states and eventually the United States government ordered banks closed due to a liquidity crisis. At the time, they used the innocuous terminology of bank "holidays" to lessen the impact on the American psyche. Might Wells Fargo's "glitch" auger more such technology-related failures as a cover for systemic financial failure? Time will tell, but it's almost certain that soon, cash will again be king.

On the day, declining issues held a 5-4 edge over advancers with the bulk of the losers on the NASDAQ. There were 128 new lows and 79 new highs on lower-than-average volume. So much for volatility. People are afraid to trade in this environment and the risk that hordes of investors might cash out far outweigh the potential for a meaningful recovery in stock values.

Oil crept up 57 cents to $69.83, while gold lost 30 cents and silver added 7 cents. If a credit and cash crunch is upon us, an implosion in commodity prices may be just a warning shot of what lies ahead.