Monday, May 7, 2012

US and European Subdued Reaction to French, Greek Voting

The tide has turned in Europe... against austerity, whatever that means, and towards more socialistic societies in both France and Greece, as Francois Hollande defeated right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday, and the Greek Parliamentary elections produced a government with no clear majority for any party and difficult coalitions to be formed ahead.

While the French election results represent a complete shift in sentiment, the issues for Greece will almost surely come to the forefront of Europe's continuing debt crisis as minority parties will almost surely attempt to block the wholesale gutting of the country by the ECB and IMF. Recent agreements over debt restructuring and repayment are already suffering serious difficulty; the opportunity for a disorderly default by the Hellenic nation certainly back on the table.

Reaction in Asia was negative, with all markets suffering losses, probably the eventual result for markets globally, once the "all is well" phony, manipulated response in Europe and America is worked through. european markets were mixed, as were those in the US, the result of more central planning and full-spectrum control, which will eventually fail.

There was no other economic news worth noting, though, as is usually the case in controlled, bogus markets, the day's results were muted and in plain opposition to facts.

There will almost certainly be a period of adjustment in the Western markets before the full brunt of a sea change in politics is accepted. Until then, expect markets in the US and Europe to behave as they have been, adrift on piles of freshly-printed worthless money, in denial of the truth and more than likely sideways before heading into the awaiting maw of the abyss into which they must fall.

Almost imperceptibly, the decline in equity prices has already begun. New lows bettered new highs for the second straight session, an indicator that should not be ignored during a period of rapid change.

Dow 13,008.53, -29.74 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 2,957.76, +1.42 (0.05%)
S&P 500 1,369.58, +0.48 (0.04%)
NYSE Composite 7,948.77, +15.47 (0.19%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,738,947,625
NYSE Volume 3,535,832,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3054-2523
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 112-134
WTI crude oil: 97.94, -0.55
Gold: 1,639.10, -6.10
Silver: 30.12, -0.31

Friday, May 4, 2012

Payroll Number Slams Stocks to the Deck

Yesterday in this space, it was suggested that the immediate future for stocks was all tied to today's non-farm payroll number from the BLS, and, as the ADP figure from Wednesday foretold, the results were lower than expectations and on the whole, put a serious dent in the "road to recovery" theory.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said 115,000 net new jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1%, though the reason for the decline in unemployment were that more people ran to the end of their unemployment benefits and others left the workforce entirely. The US workforce participation rate shrank to 63.6% of the adult population, the lowest since 1981.

While the 115,000 new jobs are barely enough to keep pace with a growing workforce in normal times, in the abnormality of today, people are not entering the labor force, but leaving it, putting a very large question mark at the end of any discussion regarding jobs in the United State. It is obvious from this report and others before it that the country's businesses are simply not creating enough jobs to get back to anything even close to full employment. The reasons behind the non-hiring conditions are manifold, but are centered on lack of demand in a sluggish economy wracked by over-regulation and conflicting visions of the near future by legislators who have sat upon their hands and watched the economy deteriorate.

Stocks took a beating right at the start and continued their downward trajectory throughout the morning, finally bottoming out around the lunch hour. The remainder of the session was spent wringing hands, with no noticeable movement in either direction, as the major averages settled into a support range.

A variety of analysts took differing views on the NFP number, most making he point that this April number was a kind of "payback" for the strong numbers in January and February. However, those gains were - in a large part - due to accounting tinkering at the BLS with seasonal adjustments heading the suspect list of fudge-makers.

Governments shed 15,000 jobs, so the private sector growth was 130,000, which, after all, is still a gain, but the underlying trends of many marginally-employed people and those dropping out of the workforce remain problematic over the long haul. The 115,000 was well below consensus estimates for 162,000. whatever ways one wishes to spin it or slice it, a miss is still a miss and investors took note along with short term profits.

The results speak for themselves and put the country's economic future more or less on hold until the May numbers are released. That's a long time for uncertainty to fester and other events to take the situation to even worse levels. While a good portion of the labor condition is being led by political considerations, most of it is the pure stuff of economics textbooks. Slack demand and stagnancy, even in an era of absurdly low interest rates, makes hiring decisions problematic and possibly shelved for a future date. The decay of confidence at all levels of the business community continues to feed upon itself in a very non-virtuous loop, the most egregious effects being felt in the small and start-up areas, where most new jobs are created.

Analysts and pundits can make up all the excuses and white lies they like, but the numbers speak for themselves and they are not pretty.

Notably, new lows exceeded new highs for the first time in over a month, losing stocks were widespread, outnumbering winners by a 7:2 ratio. Oil took a severe downturn for the second straight day, closing below $99 per barrel for the first time since February. The $4.05 decline was the largest of 2012. Gas at the retail pump remains stubbornly high, despite recent pull-backs.

Gold and silver rebounded from recent declines, more in sympathy with unstable global economic conditions than any other factor.

Dow 13,038.27, -168.32 (1.27%)
NASDAQ 2,956.34, -67.96 (2.25%)
S&P 500 1,369.10, -22.47 (1.61%)
NYSE Composite 7,933.29, -116.59 (1.45%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,937,374,375
NYSE Volume 3,924,361,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1268-4345
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 88-140
WTI crude oil: 98.49, -4.05
Gold: 1,645.20, 10.40
Silver: 30.43, +0.42

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Stocks Retreat on Employment Fears

Is it possible? Could the programmed trading bots actually be learning? What happens when the computers become self-aware?

Stocks stumbled out of the gate (deft Kentucky Derby reference) at the opening bell and today there was no turning back, as the major indices suffered telling losses, hitting resistance near 3 1/2 - 4-year highs.

More sluggish data and trepidation over Friday's non-farm payroll number had investors (and machines) taking profits and looking for places to hide.

First quarter productivity was lower by 0.5%, though expectations were for a larger decline of -0.8%. The missing and/or exceeding of poor expectations has become something of a sport on Wall Street, with the bullish head-cases believing that anything better than even lousy expectations is a good thing. It's not. Even the burliest New Jersey fixed income book trader should be aware of that.

Unit labor costs rose 2% in the quarter, a stick in the eye of the 1-percenters.

ISM Services was where the big miss occurred, however, breaking down to 53.5 for April on expectations of 55.5 after booking 56.0 in March. After the Poor PMI data earlier in the week and the anomalous ISM manufacturing number that showed modest positive spin, a breakdown in the services sector would be a death knell for the "recovery at all costs" addicts, since service has become mainstream to the US economy.

Meanwhile, it's been eerily quiet on the continent, as Europe slinks into recession. Some economist with a sense of sick humor actually penned an article pointing out how conditions were improving in Greece, of all places, where 80% of businesses in the Athens business district have closed their doors in the past two years and tax receipts are easily outweighed by bribes. The article was so obtuse and fundamentally flawed, it may have been scrubbed from the internet.

The best news of the day was crude oil dropping by $2.68 a barrel, it's biggest one-day decline in over a month, and long overdue, though all commodities were lower, especially gold and silver, a sign of redemption amidst what may be the beginning of a scramble for cash.

Everything hinges on Friday's job number: Obama's re-election bid, general confidence in the economy, and more. Many sleazy banker types around Wall Street are silently praying for a poor number, so that the Fed will continue it Zero Interest Rate policy and maybe drop another round of QE on their best buddies.

My, oh, my, these bankers are a sly lot. Not.

Dow 13,206.59, -61.98 (0.47%)
NASDAQ 3,024.30, -35.55 (1.16%)
S&P 500 1,391.57, -10.74 (0.77%)
NYSE Composite 8,049.74, -74.59 (0.92%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,824,468,000
NYSE Volume 3,966,676,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1566-4050
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 202-104
WTI crude oil: 102.54, -2.68
Gold: 1,634.80, -19.20
Silver: 30.01, -0.64

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bad Data Continues to Be Ignored by Equity Investors

In the continuing saga of the "recovery which refuses to jibe with reality," some data points delivered this morning shook things up for a while, though the declines were hardly notable.

Well before the opening bell, the monthly ADP Employment Report, which measure the change in private payrolls, came in well below expectations of 170,000, printing at a mediocre 119,000 for April. The survey, which serves as a precursor to the monthly BLS non-farm payroll report (due Friday) is forecasting a poor showing from the government's "official" report. As it is, the forecast for 162,000 net new jobs is just barely enough to keep pace with new entrants to the labor force (roughly 125,000), so any number below that on Friday will be a major blow to the proponents of sustained recovery.

Whether investors (or the machines actually doing 84% of the trades these days) will pay any heed is doubtful, though after April's sub-par showing, stocks put in their worst month in the past seven, so maybe somebody is paying attention to facts instead of relying on instinct and animal spirits.

At 10:00 am, March factory orders were announced at -1.5%, though expectations were for worse data, -1.8%, so this actually could have been seen as a win for equity participants (or their muppet clients).

Adding to the absurdity of economic data, another official figure showed oil stockpiles increasing by 2.840 million barrels, after last week's rise of 3.978 million. That data took oil prices lower by a mere 94 cents, though the price of a barrel of light, sweet crude continues to hover near 12-month highs, despite continuing slack demand. Chalk it up to corporate greed, excessive speculation and a Washington crowd that simply cannot afford to upset one of its main donor groups by actually clamping down on absurdly high prices at the pump.

In effect, the lower and middle classes of Americans now pay an additional tax in the form of these higher fuel prices, all the while oil drilling and recovery continues to be robust in North America. Perhaps the biggest insult to the American people is that oil currently being drilled in North Dakota and elsewhere in the states will more than likely be shipped abroad, where the oil cartel can fetch even higher prices.

So much for all the talk of energy independence and security. The empty suits in the nation's capitol don't deserve even a single vote in this November's elections, though a large number of Americans, stuck in their narrow world of cognitive dissonance with a healthy dose of normalcy bias, still believe in the two-party lie and will cast their votes for the lesser evil this fall, as if their individual votes actually counted (Hint: since 2000 they haven't.).

Days like today are tough on financial reporters, especially those who toe the official media line that all is well and things are getting better, when the evidence - and most public opinion polls - clearly displays the opposite. For those of us who like our facts served cold without garnishments, the temptation to break things or convulse in a spasm of disbelief is hardly bearable.

Come Friday, when the April non-farm reveals a bit more of the truth (though one can count on the BLS and their various fudging mechanisms to completely distort any data they can), perhaps the markets will begin to reflect what's really going in America: the complete and utter annihilation of the middle class and the remaining civil rights that haven't already been denied or abused by an oligarch government that's been off the rails for more than a decade.

Maybe, some day, when fewer than half the registered voters show up in the fall, the ruling class will get a hint that their reigns of power are not derived from the electorate, though it's doubtful they will even care.

Dow 13,268.57, -10.75 (0.08%)
NASDAQ 3,059.85, +9.41 (0.31%)
S&P 500 1,402.31, -3.51 (0.25%)
NYSE Composite 8,124.32, -39.71 (0.49%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,832,346,375
NYSE Volume 3,784,334,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2707-2890
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 187-66
WTI crude oil: 105.22, -0.94
Gold: 1,654.00, -8.40
Silver: 30.64, -0.29

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day Mayday: Stocks Retreat into Close

All is not well on Wall Street.

Even though stocks continue climbing - the Dow made a four-year intra-day high in today's session - there's an underlying theme that profits and revenue aren't as good as they should be.

But, hey, the vast majority of those companies trading publicly on the exchanges - Groupon excluded - are making money, after all, so why the worry?

In a word, revenue. While second quarter profits were solid on an EPS basis, revenue beats were less frequent and minor, meaning companies have little room for error and even less inclination to hire new employees. Most public companies are running on fumes; in the private sector of small to medium businesses, those fumes have died out. Small business, the lifeblood of the economy, and, to some extent, to the larger public companies, are struggling just to hang on. Excessive regulation and taxation have small businesses on their knees, so to speak, begging for relief.

There's simply too much uncertainty for entrepreneurs to feel confident about starting new ventures or expanding existing ones. If growth is a bottom-up strategy, the federal government, with help from pencil-necked bureaucrats at the state and local levels, hasn't done a thing to assist small business or business creation. It could be assumed that they are impeding progress instead of promoting it.

This being a presidential election year, congress is not expected to make any dramatic legislative decisions, which will only exacerbate the current condition of loathsomeness, uncertainty and apathy, and that's the good news. What's troubling are the massive deficits being piled up second by second at the federal level and the coming debt ceiling debate (yes, you read that right; we're going to exceed our borrowing limit just a year after the debacle which cost the US its AAA credit rating last August.

At the current run-rate, the debt ceiling will be breached just in time for excessive and long-winded campaign speeches touting frugality, responsibility and discretion, all qualities the current occupants of our highest public offices have failed to achieve or even comprehend.

Thus it is that Wall Street is becoming a little nervous about the inability of government to do just about anything positive in a negatively-charged, partisan environment. Big business has gotten all the perks it needs, but still comes asking, with suitcases of campaign contributions, for more, and they're afraid they won't get enough to tide them over until a new regime takes hold in the nation's capitol. That's why stocks continue to make moves of trepidation, advancing slightly before taking back. Small business and individuals, meanwhile, have taken matters a step further: into black markets and a flourishing underground economy based entirely in cash, with disdain for taxes, laws and regulations.

A recent Bloomberg/BusinessWeek article pegged the US underground economy at a laughable nine percent, while quoting the black markets of other countries at levels as high as 47%. All of this erodes the government's ability to collect revenue, but not to spend, making their position all the more untenable and indefensible. The mega-corporations may survive under such conditions, but even the most honest of small businesspersons cannot long resist stiffing Uncle Sam to feed daughter Sally.

Wall Street, as much as it has become a mirage of the economic condition, is actually more resplendent as an amusement park, twisted mirror image reflection of the society underpinning its shattered facade.

Dow 13,279.32, +65.69 (0.50%)
NASDAQ 3,050.44, +4.08 (0.13%)
S&P 500 1,405.82, +7.91 (0.57%)
NYSE Composite 8,164.04, +44.97 (0.55%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,855,537,125
NYSE Volume 3,789,438,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3183-2336
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 340-31
WTI crude oil: 106.16, +1.29
Gold: 1,662.40, -1.80
Silver: 30.93, -0.09