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Archive for November, 2009

Cracks in the foundation are starting to rear their ugly heads and investors need to wake up smell the risk.  In my latest client newsletter, I wrote about the great disconnect that exists between Wall Street and Main Street.  On the one hand, you have Wall Street who just assumes that this is a normal cycle and the worst is behind us.  Then you have Main Street that is really suffering.  We all know several people who are facing tough financial times or at least have heard the stories. 

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that 1 out of 4 homes are underwater.  That means these homeowners owe more than the worth of the home.  If you look into the stats even more closely, you get a real disturbing picture.  The numbers show that 65% of the homes in Nevada, 48% of the homes in Arizona, and 45% of the homes in Florida all have values of the home less than what is owed on the home. 

This translates into a large number of potential foreclosures.  The real estate markets cannot even get close to starting the recovery process until the foreclosure crisis starts a recovery.  I think that we are a long way away from that starting.  Overall, I don’t think that we can get a healthy recovery until you fix the real estate and foreclosure problem.  All of these problems tie together spelling risk for the economy and risk for the markets. 

There is no question that these risks are known by the market.  However, the market expects that this recovery will take place much sooner.  Therein lies the problem.  I don’t think that Wall Street’s time table is even close to reality. 

Wall Street also thinks that most of the debt crisis is behind us…well maybe until last week when Dubai revealed they are going to stop making the interest payments on 60 billion dollars worth of debt.  Dubai is on the verge of defaulting on 60 billion dollars worth of debt.  That would have some serious implications for a global economy that is already walking a tightrope. 

Todd Harrison, president of Minyanville.com, described how the crisis would unfold. 

  • Dubai defaults.
    European banks (such as HSBC (HBC) and Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS)) are counter-party on much of that risk.
  • The virus spreads through the fragile region (debt insurance has now spiked in Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, Russian, Ireland and in particular, Greece).
  • The strain migrates to stateside financial institutions, as you would expect with $500 trillion in derivatives tying the world together.  We see a “flight to quality” with a sustained rally in the US dollar.
  • Santa has a grumpy Christmas
  • It was announced on Sunday that their central bank would bail them out.  Oh good, another bail-out.  It might be a little early to see how this plays out. 

    How many more Dubai’s are out there that the market doesn’t know about?  We are talking a debt crisis of epic proportion.  I still don’t think that we have seen the end of the debt crisis. 

    We are also seeing the reality of the condition of the consumer.  Consumer sales were not that great this Black Friday  and don’t look to translate into a strong Christmas buying season.  Be careful if you are drinking the kool-aid.  These markets can go down as fast as they went up.

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    Happy Thanksgiving

    We will be taking the week off this week and a new stock market update will be posted next week.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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    We have had all types of bubbles in the history of the investment markets.  According to Jeremy Grantham, there have been 28 different types of bubbles from gold to art to real estate to stocks and even tulips.  Yes, there was an enormous tulip mania.  Bubbles are created out of a mania.  Manias are created from the notion that a great money making opportunity exists.  For example, we saw the stock market bubble that was created in the 90s due to the notion that these internet stocks were the next great thing.  These companies didn’t have any substance.  People were investing into the belief that an idea was going to be successful. 

    Investors are doing the same thing today. We have an economy that has had economic growth based for the most part on one time stimulus.  We have a stock market that acts as if all of the bad news is behind us when, in reality, we have had a government that has been propping up the system. 

    The underlying fundamentals are just not there for this economy.  There are serious imbalances.  However, the government wants you to believe that they are solving the problem.  The unemployment problem is on top of the list of the greatest problems we face.  This government has done nothing to fix this glaring problem minus the creation of some government stimulus jobs.  What is President Obama’s solution to the latest bad news in unemployment?  He announced Friday that he was going to create a job “summit” in December to figure out what to do.

    First of all, he needs to be addressing the problems yesterday and not waiting until December to form a “study” group.  The reality is that while this bubble of hope is being created and the market is acting as if the government has everything in control, Americans are losing jobs, the foreclosure crisis is getting worse, and the landscape of our country continues to change drastically. You have states and municipalities facing bankruptcy.  The commercial real estate market is in trouble and could represent the next shoe to drop. 

    In a bubble environment, reality becomes a real show stopper.  Remember just 4 years or so when people were flipping homes and acting as if home prices would never go down?  Well reality hit and you know the rest of the story.  I think that we are on the verge of seeing the same thing today with this artificially stimulated economy.  Wall Street is acting as if this is a normal cycle and the worst is behind us.  The government is arrogant enough to think that they can be this irresponsible, get away with it, and fix the economy when, in reality, that is the farthest from the truth. 

    Then there is all of the mania surrounding gold.  This is all based on the assumption that we are going to get wide spread inflation when we are really facing a deflationary recession.  Don’t be fooled in thinking the price of gold cannot be cut in half.

    Confidence is a fragile element that is the glue that holds everything together.  We went through a serious crisis of confidence last year.  We got some of that confidence back.  The problem is that this confidence is like the house built on sand.  Reality has a funny way of showing up.  

    If the stock market were facing reality and not investing in “hope,” this market would not be anywhere near the levels that we are experiencing now.  Of course, you can make the argument that the stock market can go up with all of these imbalances present.  I would argue that we are facing serious and large imbalances.  This is not your ordinary situation.

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    It was announced Friday morning that 190,000 jobs were lost, which is higher than economists predicted.   That is significant for one reason.  At this stage in the game, we should NOT be seeing this amount of jobs being lost.  Companies get to the point where they stop laying people off because they have already cut to the bone.  Unfortunately, they are continuing to lay off people.  Of course, we always need to look at how many jobs the government “estimates” that were “created” and “missed” by the Department of Labor.  The government added 86,000 jobs back into the equation.   

    The bigger story is the unemployment rate.  The new unemployment rate is 10.2%.  Now, that rate is extremely suspicious given government accounting and a loss of 190,000 jobs.  Also consider that the government went back and “revised” last month’s job losses stating that the original estimate of 263,000 jobs that were lost last month was now really only 219,000.  It is highly unusual that we would get such a jump in the unemployment rate considering how manipulated the number is in the first place.  Once again, it is tough to trust government accounting.  A “stated” unemployment report that shows the rate over the psychological level of 10% sure could be a good excuse for government run healthcare.  After all, all of those people out of a job can end up creating an enormous amount of people scrambling for healthcare coverage.  

    The highest rate dating back to 1948 occurred November and December 1982 with a rate of 10.8%.  Many on Wall Street are looking at the unemployment situation in the 80’s, noting that it wasn’t long until the unemployment rate started to improve once it eclipsed 10%, and that a massive new bull market started about the same time. Thus, they are making the comparison between the 80’s and today and feeling very bullish. Well, before we break out those Dow 10,000 party hats again, let’s look at a few major differences.

    First, the federal funds rate which is the benchmark set for interest rates was at 9.2%. The Fed had the ability to greatly reduce interest rates to spur demand which in turn positively effects unemployment.  Today, the federal funds rates sits at 0.12% with nowhere to go but up.  Second, the unemployment rate bottomed out in September 1973 and didn’t top out at 10.8% until December 1982.  It took a little over 9 years to gradually increase.

    Our low for the unemployment rate was 4.4%, which occurred December 2006.  Fast forward almost 3 years and it has gone from 4.4% to 10.2%.  Further it was at 5% back in April 2008.  The speed at which things have deteriorated presents a much tougher challenge what was faced in the 70’s and 80’s.   

    Then there is the 3.5% growth rate of the economy that was released a few weeks ago.  John Williams, founder of shawdowstats.com, states that 92% of the 3.5% growth came from one-time stimulants.  He also notes that “every recession in the last four decades has had at least one positive quarter to quarter growth reading, only to be followed by a renewed downturn.” (from Barrons)

    On the front page an argument could be made for a recovery that has started. However, it is what the numbers are not telling that brings up continued concern.

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    Every Friday, all across the country, bankers hold their breath.  This is the day that the FDIC chooses to show up and take over banks that are on the verge of failure.  This past Friday, FDIC employees were especially busy when they showed up at 9 different banks.   The banks had combined assets of 19.4 billion dollars. 

    On Sunday one of the largest bankruptcies in corporate history occurred.  CIT who lends money to hundreds of thousands small to medium business filed for bankruptcy protection.  This could have some pretty large ripple effects.

    The problem is the lack of capital to those lenders and banks who focus on the small business owner.  The Obama and Bush Administrations failed miserably in taking care of  the heartbeat of America, the small business owner.   Take that capital they are dealing out like candy and give it to those banks that service the small business owner.  Further, if you want to solve the unemployment problem in this country, help the small and medium sized businesses.  Of course, that would be the promotion of capitalism which is something none of the politicians seem to understand.

    The Obama Administration stated that they might infuse money to small banks if they will agree to lend to small businesses.  The Obama Administration needs to get a backbone.  If they are going to give money to the big banks,  put stipulations on the money and stop requesting what they want the banks to do in return of receiving the bail-out money.  They are dealing all of this money out to the big banks and at the same time wanting these big banks to stop abusing credit card customers and start lending it.   Here is an idea – STOP GIVING MONEY WITHOUT STIPULATIONS!!  Go ahead and give money to the small banks without stipulations and they still will not lend it out.  It is all about survival.

    You got to love bank nationalization and the march to socialism.

    Levels to Watch

    Let’s take a look at the price levels on the S&P 500 because some damage was done last week.   We have broken through some pretty significant price levels.  However, the BIG ones are in front of us.  The range to watch on the S&P 500 is 989 to 918.  It will be interesting to see what happens around those levels.  Yes, this is a wide range.  However, it does give you a good range in which to monitor risk if you are heavily invested in stocks.   Remember, the question is always,  “Is the rise in the stock market from March a new bull market or just a bear market rally?”  The answer to that question is crucial to the future of your invested money.

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