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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Bernanke’

Who am I to say that Ben Bernanke is wrong? After all, Bernanke went to Harvard and graduated with honors and his economics PHD from MIT. Then of course he has all of the political appointments and now is the Federal Reserve Chairman. There was someone else who had a list a mile long of credentials. In fact, he was the former Federal Reserve Chairman – Alan Greenspan. It is documented with a list a mile long of critical mistakes that were made in his part in blowing up one of the greatest debt bubbles of all time.

So, don’t let the credentials fool you. In short, Ben Bernanke wants to save the planet by purchasing billions of dollars of US Treasuries or said in another way, lend billions of dollars to the US to keep US debt a float. Buying a Us Treasury Bond is the equivalent of lending money to the United States. His logic? The Fed buys billions of dollars of US Treasuries, then mortgage rates will go down and interest rates on loans will do down further encouraging businesses and consumers to borrow and spend. This in turn might invigorate the economy and ease unemployment.

Let’s take a look at the main reason why this is a dangerous bet. I have many more. The problem is limited space.

Have you ever seen a kid blow a bubble as big as it will go? The child keeps blowing and blowing and the bubble gets bigger and bigger. The eyes of the child show the disbelief that the bubble hasn’t popped yet as more air is forced into the gum. Our bond market is one big juicy fruit bubble already. Let’s blow some more air into that bubble and see what happens.

By pouring billions of dollars into Tresuary bonds, prices of bonds (in theory) will continue to go up and interest rates fall. Common sense will tell you that prices of bonds are going up for no good reason. Thus they turn into the equivalent of worthless internet stocks that went up in price based on nothing material. This has the makings of a massive bubble. Riddle me this – what happens when that bubble bursts? Interest rates sky rocket. Isn’t that what he is trying to prevent in the first place?

There is also the notion that people are going to spend, spend, and spend because of low rates. If that were the case, people and companies would have already been doing it. Let’s face it, you need confidence to borrow money. I will just say two words why that isn’t going to happen – OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.

Further, how did that first round of 100’s of billions of dollars do for us? I don’t think that I need to answer that question.

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What is that sound that investors heard on Friday? It is kind of faint. Oh it is the Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke screaming as loud as he can between that rock and a hard place. I am starting to find that this is all one big joke…that is this thing called investing.

Let’s back track for a moment. Things were as bad a few weeks ago as they are today when Ben Bernanke had his chance to rescue the market by stating the Federal Reserve Board would intervene following the Federal Reserve Board meeting. He should have known that his silence would be deafening and the market would react negatively. Well, guess what, the market did react quite negatively.

The market or drug addict was upset at not receiving assurance that the dealer was going to come through with some more stimulus or drugs. Then Bernanke sees what a tough time the market is having and at his speech at Jackson Hole last Friday he states that he has a lot of actions that they can pull out of the bag to help the economy.

In other words, he didn’t say the right things then so now he is telling the market what it wants to hear. Wall Street, who really wants to drink the kool-aid, puts in an impressive rally on Friday because Big Ben says he is going to save the day. “Don’t worry (wink, wink) I got this one,” says the Fed Chief.

Let’s take a look at what is really going on here. Further actions taken by the Federal Reserve Board will result in one of two scenarios. They wll either add another band-aid to the festering wound they call the economy or they will fix the economy.

For all of those who are bullish on Bernanke, you might want to consider something. They have already pulled out all of the stops and it didn’t work. Further, since the normal routine chemo didn’t kill the cancer we call the debt crisis, then they are just left to try experimental drugs.

The probabilities of them fixing the problem are so very low. This is a sign of desperation. Bernanke is like everyone else in Washington. Just tell them what they want to hear and keep back pedalling and hope that no one realizes that there are no good options with the exception of one.

Let the economy fix itself. Let bad investments go bad. Take it off life support and let it fight through the pain and recover on its own. As we can continue to push that reality off into the future, we are just making the problem worse.

Market Outlook

On the one hand, the contrarian in me doesn’t like the fact that everyone is so negative at the same time. That is typically a contrarian indicator. When everyone thinks that everything is either good or bad, things are about to change and go the other way. That is typically how it goes. On the other hand, maybe things are just this bad and it has never been so obvious. Monitor risk because I believe the probability is high that we did indeed start part III of the bear market back in April.

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This has been an interesting debate to watch.  Until about a few months ago, inflation was the “in” thing.  The notion has been that since the Government has been printing money and flooding the economy with stimulus inflation would be created. 

My stance has been all along that we will not see inflation for a long time for a few important reasons.  First deflation is often the result of too much debt in the system.  Second, the government can print all the money it wants and not create inflation because the money that is printed is going to absorb losses in the system.  The key is that money is not circulating. 

If you introduce money into the economy and that money circulates through buying and selling of goods and services and is being lent out, you can definitely create inflation.  That is not happening.  That circulation of money is measured by the velocity of money.  If money is circulating at a high rate, we have expanding velocity.  Today we have been watching velocity contract instead of expand.  As the losses on debt continue to mount, it will be tough to expand the velocity of money.  We are on the toxic path of debt.

All of the sudden, it is as if economists are starting to recognize deflation.  Now the “in” word is deflation and not inflation.

Consider the definition of deflation.  Deflation is a decline in general price levels, often caused by a reduction in the supply of money or credit. Deflation can also be brought about by direct contractions in spending, either in the form of a reduction in government spending, personal spending or investment spending. Deflation has often had the side effect of increasing unemployment in an economy, since the process often leads to a lower level of demand in the economy. (Source: Wikipedia)

This is pretty much what we are seeing.   Ironically, during a period of deflation, the dollar is actually strong and gold weakens.  We are also seeing that trend. 

The Federal Reserve Board is now acknowledging we might have a deflationary problem.  Ben Bernanke is regarded as an expert on deflation.  Expert or not, it is happening on his watch. Inflation is something the Federal Reserve Board can tackle head on.  Think of deflation as aggressive cancer whose only cure is experimental medicine. 

This last Federal Reserve Board meeting illustrates how they are shooting in the dark.  In fact, some economists fear that these new steps they are taking could actually backfire and make the situation worse.

Even more amazing is that we could pump 100’s of billions of dollars into the system and almost 2 years later have the same problems on a much larger scale.  As I have said many times before, the politicians and the Federal Reserve Board are useless in this scenario. 

The only solution to our economic mess is letting the system detoxify on its own allowing consumers and businesses to work through it.  In that process you stop creating more debt and allow the losses to occur.  You support small business in an attempt to rebuild what has been destroyed. 

Unfortunately, we are getting the exact opposite out of Washington.

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All of the analysts are out this morning describing last week as nothing more than the normal correction that we have been expected.  “Don’t panic – this is no big deal.”  “It is great to be normal again.”  To be fair, everyone who is bearish is calling for this bear market rally to be over and done.  So, who is right?  Corrections are normal.  The fact that we haven’t seen a correction is not normal.  So, welcome back to normal stock market activity.  At the same time, the charts are potentially showing a change of character in the market that would also support the bearish case. 

Every time the market changes direction, you have to look at the catalyst.  Unfortunately for the bullish case, the catalyst is Washington intervention and finger pointing.  Washington wants to assert control (continued move towards socialism) and wants to point the finger.  There were two news items beyond not so hot earning reports that had a negative effect on the markets.

First issue – On Thursday, President Barack Obama proposed new rules designed to restrict the size and activities of the U.S.’s biggest banks, the latest in a series of administration moves to curb Wall Street.

If you think back to last year, they forced all of the investment companies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan to be banks so that the Government could give them aid and help protect them from failing.  Well there is a price that comes along with that protection and it is called control.  Basically President Obama wants to tell banks how big they can be and tell them whether or not they can participate in what is called proprietary trading. 

Healthcare was only one of the ingredients of socialism.  Nationalization of the banking system is the other.  So, we just continue to follow their game plan.   Last year they took some major steps in gaining control over the banking system.   They performed an unnecessary stress test on the banking system last year in order to tell us (which was not necessary) the banks that were healthy and unhealthy.  They also announced a list of problems that might force the government to step and take over.

Well one of those problems is unemployment.  The government said that banks might have difficulty in an environment where we had a 10% unemployment rate.  Guess what our unemployment rate is today?  Yes, technically we are starting to meet the criteria as stated by Washington that would require them to assert control.  It makes you wonder if President Obama’s announcement last week was a reenergized effort towards nationalization of the banking system.  

As you might imagine, Wall Street wasn’t too happy with the President’s plan to assert control.  You can look at the stock market and the moment he stated that he no banks should be allowed to run proprietary trading systems and that he wanted to limit the size of banks, the market fell apart. 

This also gives the politicians during an election year the ability to point the finger at those big old bad banks that gave mortgages to people that couldn’t afford them.  Those bad banks are the problem and the Obama administration and Congress are going to correct the problem. 

Second issue – Members of Congress came out and declared that they would not vote for reappointment of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for another term.  This is the ultimate in finger pointing.  It is real convenient to blame him for the financial crisis and take the spotlight off of their part (the largest part of the blame) in the financial crisis.   Not reappointing him would be a grand mistake. These politicians are too interested in their own survival to realize the problems they will create in the markets by not reappointing him. 

This is the risk that we run into with the markets. You create problems when Government wants to fix things, assign blame, and start over regulating industry.  They don’t regulate when they need to and when they regulate they do it too much.

Politicians should practice preventative medicine to prevent the crisis from happening and never should be allowed to fix anything after it is broken.  You just have to look back to the Great Depression to see they same type of effect when they passed the Smoot-Hawley Act which many historians state made the Great Depression much worse.  

Once again, we come to the same conclusion.  These politicians seem to continue to be the problem.

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What motivates the stock market to go up?  Well, lately it doesn’t take anything of real substance. A great consumer confidence number could be the reason (even though the consumer confidence report gets the consensus of only 5,000 households), a reduction in the loss of jobs for a month(even though the Government accounting method greatly distorts the actual loss of jobs),  positive earnings reports that surprise the analysts (even though most of those profits came as a result of extreme cost cutting)…Then there are the times that  Ben Bernanke speak.  Yes, his words can move a market.  He did so just last Friday.

Ben Bernanke said what investors wanted to hear – that the economy is indeed on the verge of recovery – and they responded with a rally that sent the major indexes to new highs for the year (yahoo.com). 

Did it sound something like the following?

“Our forecast is for moderate but positive growth going into next year. We think that by the spring, early next year, that as these credit problems resolve and, as we hope, the housing market begins to find a bottom, that the broader resiliency of the economy, which we are seeing in other areas outside of housing, will take control and will help the economy recover to a more reasonable growth pace.”

As John Hussman points out in his weekly writing, this was what Bernanke said in November 2007 right at the beginning of the bear market.  If you are stock market invested, these shallow reasons are why the market continues to go up. 

I know that my bearishness on the stock market is probably getting old by now.  In fact, I feel a lot like I did back in 2007 when it seemed like you couldn’t find anyone who is bearish.  The market welcomes any positive economic news as the worst is behind us and everything is great going forward.    The headlines are looking better.  However, the fundamentals behind the headlines are awful.  You might even get some positive economic growth numbers here in the near future.  Growth as a result from printing money and the Obama stimulus package is not real good health growth. 

The Bottom Line – As we continue to go up in the market, the risk continues to increase.  Caution is still warranted.

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The market is getting all types of signs of confidence.   Everyone with a vested interest in this turning around (with the exception of President Obama who still doesn’t understand that the market matters) is doing everything possible to build confidence. 

First, you have Citigroup’s CEO, Vikram Pandit, sending out an “internal” memo stating that they were going to make a profit during the first few months of the year.  This would be the first time since 2007.  Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration all of the losses from the toxic mortgages that they have on the books.  Conveniently, he didn’t really know that number. 

Newsflash, I have $1,000,000 dollars in the bank account and I owe $1,200,000 to other people.  Just because I have $1,000,000 doesn’t make me a millionaire.

However, this made the market giddy and confident. Then my favorite confident booster from the week – General Motors said that they didn’t need anymore taxpayer money. Well, that is good to know that we dodged that bullet.  Maybe, just maybe, those billions of dollars are still keeping them in business and they don’t need anything “this” week.  After all, we know that they are not selling cars.  So, it is not like they have tons of money coming in from someone other than their creditors (taxpayers).  GM is saying, “please stop making our stock go down.  We don’t need your money until next week.”

No, last week’s rally was (in my opinion) nothing more than a technical occurrence that just happens when the stock market goes through these big declines. 

Nothing really differs from what I wrote last week about this stock market rally. I think that this is a bear market rally.  I have been looking for a pretty impressive bear market rally that could go as high as 30 to 40%.  However, I don’t think that this is the beginning of that rally.  It would not surprise me if we see the selling start up again.  If the market continues to go up this week and reach some of the price levels I wrote about last week, we might be in for “the” bear market rally and I would clearly be wrong.

Then there was all of my favorite quotes:

The legend in investments, Warren Buffett, said the economy has “fallen off a cliff”  (much like the stock from his Berkshire Hathaway company).  I guess he needs to justify his losses (although I do agree with him).  Now that we see he can lose money like the rest of normal Wall Street people, do you think it is time that CNBC stops immortalizing the guy?

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he believes we can be out of the recession by the end of 2009 if we solve the problems.  OK, he came up with some very eloquent reason why he should be right.  Cutting through everything he said, the interpretation would be  – “we will be OK if we solve the problems.” 

If Tony Romo leads the NFL in quarterback ratings, we have the top defense in the NFL, and our running back tandem is the best, we will probably win the Superbowl.  These are the kinds of things that are intended to build confidence.

The problem is that there is very little to be confident about as the Government continues to address every other problem except the one that is bankrupting America.  The cancer is setting in and no one is administrating chemo.

For this week, the key will be for the S&P 500 to stay above 741 and to possibly close the week over 800.  If that were to happen, there is something to like about this stock market rally.

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