Archive for October, 2009

Did you ever wonder why mortgage rates have been so low this year?  Well, let me take you on a journey.  Mortgage rates are influenced by government bond interest rates.  Government bond interest rates are influenced by the price of Government bonds.  If bond prices go up, then interest rates go down.  In order to raise the money to pay for all of the irresponsible spending of the Government, the Treasury sells Government Bonds.  Institutions, other countries, investment firms, etc. buy the bonds from the Government.  That money then goes to work to pay for all of the spending created by the Government.

The Government has a lot riding on those government bond sales or auctions.  If they go well, the Government sells the bonds and gets the money, bond prices go up, and interest rates stay low.  Since most people don’t want to lend the US money because we are in so much debt as it is, someone had to step in and help buy those bonds.  Yes, the Federal Reserve Board has been buying bonds all year creating more debt and keeping bond prices higher and interest rates lower.  I will not even go into how incredibly irresponsible it is for the US to buy its own bonds.  That goes without saying – the problem is that program is coming to a grinding halt at the end of this week following the largest bond auction on record this week – 123 billion dollars worth of government bonds to be issued.  The Fed will get out of the way and the bond markets will be allowed to function freely again.  That might not be so good.

Interest rates started going up today and are at a 2 month high.  What happens when you suppress something that should be going up and then stop?  It is like compressing a spring.  If you let go of the spring, it takes off.  I think that the same thing could happen with interest rates.  If this happens it could disrupt the credit markets, consumer interest rates will go up, businesses will have even more trouble borrowing money, and homeowners will now have trouble getting low cost mortgages. 

The stock market would have a tough time with raising rates.  However, the rising interest rates should help the dollar. If the dollar is going up, the price of gold should take a hit.  Welcome to Deflation!  The economy might start the debt detox process that should have started when this crisis started. 

If you are looking for a catalyst, this could be it.  Interest rate risk is not something that the stock market is ready to face.  However, China and others would certainly like to see the value of our dollar go back up.

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Being in the business of money management, you are almost held hostage to financial television. You have to watch a certain amount of it to catch breaking news. Besides the CNBC cheerleaders celebrating Dow 10,000, that level is nothing more than a round number with 4 zeros. Sorry, President Obama, it is neither a milestone nor evidence that your economic stimulus package is working. However, that was a nice sound bite this past week.

So the question arises why can’t I just acknowledge the bullish case and join in with the madness of the crowds? Well, it comes down to those pesky fundamentals. They represent reality and not the fantasy world where the politicians reside and everyone else that has skin in the game live. The reality is that the economic backdrop does not support what is occurring in the stock market. As I have written before, it is going to be quite the rude awakening when those lights come back on and the clean-up of the after party begins.

Every week we get more reality. Soon enough it is going to be tough for this market to block it out. Last week we received the latest on the foreclosure crisis. During the last 3 months, 937,840 people received a foreclosure letter. That means 1 in 136 homes were in foreclosure. That is also the worst 3 months on record. All of this is going on at the same time that the government has rolled out all types of programs to prevent this from happening. This of course is just one example of reality. The real estate markets cannot even begin to bottom and recover while this is occurring.

Potentially further the problem is the fact that we are starting the second wave of adjustable rate mortgage adjustments. The re-setting of adjustable rate mortgages are a main contributor to the foreclosure crisis. You can read about it here.

There is some good news. Yes, I did utter the words “good news”. Businesses are figuring out how to work in the new normal. Beyond some improvement in the economic numbers the only thing that has been positive has been the stock market. Banks are still not lending and consumers are still in lock down mode and unemployment is still at dangerous levels.

Even within that backdrop, businesses are figuring out how to start getting deals done and activity is picking up. So, I don’t think that we are going to find ourselves again in the economic meltdown where everything comes to a grinding halt. Businesses are figuring out how to navigate in our new normal. The strong businesses will become stronger. The bad business models will go away. Well, the ones that are not on government life support.

So, how do you handle this environment? It is standing advice. You watch the amount of risk that you are taking with your investments. Know the risk, be comfortable with the risk, and have a plan B in the event that we run into trouble again.

As for this week, watch corporate profits. Minus the earnings report for Alcoa, the market didn’t particularly care for many of these reports. The Dow should be heavily impacted (one way or another) as many of the Dow components report this week.

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A client of mine forwards me an e-mail from time to time that he receives from another financial advisor.  These e-mails are typically very positive on the state of the market.  I also find that they are filled with what I would refer to as market myths.  I thought I would share some of these with you.

(1)  Companies are showing strong profit reports – thus we are definitely in a strong recovery

Companies have slashed their expenses (and people) to the core.  It doesn’t take much to report strong earnings when you drastically cut your expenses.  Much of what is reported has nothing to do with actual profit growth and has more to do with the ability to cut expenses. 

(2)      Weekly jobless claims have been falling – that is a good sign

Every Thursday the government reports how many new people filed for unemployment benefits.  Over the course of the last few months those weekly numbers have marginally improved.   Does that mean that things are getting better in the job market?  I don’t think that the weekly number means much of anything at this point.  First, they should be decreasing just because companies have cut employment back just about as aggressively as they can afford to and still run a business.   Second, I would argue that the unemployment claims numbers still running this high is a negative.  As I pointed out, they should be on the decline.   Recovery in the jobs market comes as soon as companies start aggressively hiring.  This is something that we are not seeing.

(3)    The Price of Gold is signaling that we are heading for inflation

This is not necessarily true when there is nothing there to produce inflation.  Yes, we are printing money by the truckloads in this country.  However, that money is not being used to boost consumer purchases or being put together as new consumer loans.  All of that printed money is being used to absorb massive losses that would ordinarily not be there.  Remember that gold is a psychologically driven investment.  It does not have any value nor does it produce anything.  It is not a currency.  It goes up or down because people think that it should.  There is nothing to back up the price of gold.  The price of gold didn’t start going up until the dollar started having problems.  Ultimately, the government will do whatever it has to do to shore up the dollar.  However, longer-term, the dollar is in real trouble.

Economists declare that the recession is over – When the majority of economists thing one way, typically the minority is right.  Economists as a collective body rarely make the right forecast. 

This Week

It is all about earning, earnings, and more earnings.  It is very hard to predict how the market will react to earnings reports.  My guess is that companies will need flawless reports and near perfect outlooks for the near-term. Anything other than a show of strength might be tough for the market.  The stock market has very large expectations right now.   One thing for sure – this should make for an interesting week.

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Unemployment numbers came out last Friday and they paint a very concerning situation.   The unemployment rate is 9.8% and the economy lost another 263,000 jobs.  That is 22 months in a row of job losses.  I looked back at historical data that I have that goes back to 1939 and cannot find a string of job losses this bad.  You would have to go back to the Great Depression. Fortunately, unemployment is not as bad thus far.  Here is what it looked like in the 30’s.


Now take a look at the latest from Shadowstats.  It shows a comparison between what the Government reports, the Department of Labor (which is higher and more accurate), and then their data which includes everyone effected by unemployment.  As you can see, Shadowstats is close to 22% unemployed.  That is a far cry from what the Government is reporting. 

Now we also always like to see how many jobs the Government “estimated.”  Every month, the Government estimates jobs created or lost that they feel that the Department of Labor misses.  Yes, this is purely a bogus number.  This last month it was actually on the low side. They added 34,000 jobs into the total.   In 9 months, they have created 1,063,000 jobs out of thin air.  Now do you know why you can’t trust Government reporting?

In 2008, they created 904,000 jobs out of thin air.

In 2007, they created 883,000 jobs out of thin air.

Dating back to early 2000, I cannot find a year where they have been so aggressive.  The problem is that we continue to lose 250,000 jobs a month with no job creation in sight.  We aren’t even stopping the bleeding much less creating jobs.  They have let this problem get way out of control and now the problem is going to be tough to eliminate.  Let’s all hope that the graphs don’t end up looking like the one in the 1930’s.

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