Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Here is an excellent article on global central bank attempts to create liquidity, and why it is largely an illusion of liquidity. Delusions of reserve grandeur? Great article by Satyajit Das!
Click here for the entire article.
In recent years, there has been speculation about the amount of capital or liquidity available for investment globally. The substantial reserves of central banks and their acolytes, sovereign wealth funds, were frequently cited in support of the case for a large pool of "unleveraged" liquidity − that is, "real" money. In reality, the available pool of money may be more modest than assumed.
Here is a Bloomberg article: Holiday Sales Slump to Force Store Closings, Bankruptcies
U.S. retailers face a wave of store closings, bankruptcies and takeovers
starting next month as holiday sales are shaping up to be the worst in 40 years.
Friday, December 26, 2008
I am watching the following headlines that are likely to affect my trading today:
Retailers' Holiday Sales Drop 5.5 to 8%
Great Series of Articles on Finance in Russia on FT
Battered Commodities to Perk Up in Late 2009
Russian Trading Halted After 12% Drop
CA Courts Affected By Budget Crisis
Moscow Agrees to Oligarch Bailout
Japan's Factory Output Plunges 8.1% to 55 Year Low
Holiday Sales Tumble as Consumers Cut Spending
Russia's Central Bank Devalue Ruble Again
GMAC Now Bank Holding Company
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
U.S. Falls Deeper Into Recession
US Home Prices Fall Near Depression Pace
Russia's Central Bank Devalues Ruble for Third Time In Week, Seventh This Month
Japan's Manufacturer Confidence Slumps Most on Record
Jobless Claims Jump to 26-year High
Americans Curb Spending As Income Declines
U.S. Stocks Gain As Durable Goods Orders, Spending Top Forecasts (by the way - doesn't this headline appear to contradict the previous one?)
Russia to Raise Nuclear Missile Output Fourfold
Monday, December 22, 2008
Click here for the entire story.
General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the two largest U.S. automakers, had their debt cut further below investment status by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service.
GM’s unsecured debt was trimmed one level to C, or 11 grades below investment quality, by S&P. Moody’s lowered its rating on $26 billion in Ford debt by two grades to Caa3, or nine below investment quality.
The dollar fell for a second day against the euro before U.S. reports today that economists estimate will show sales of new and existing homes approached the lowest level in at least nine years in November... The ruble slid to the lowest level against the dollar in almost three years as Russia devalued the currency and tumbling oil prices battered its economy.
“Re-default rates increased each month and showed no signs of leveling off after six months,” Dugan said in a statement. “This trend of increasing delinquencies underscores the need to understand why these modifications have not been more sustainable.”
I am watching the grains closely, but I am also watching stocks and the Dollar. The price of grains over the past few months has been linked to both to some extent. If the Dollar drops, that will be supportive of grain prices. The same holds true to a lesser extent with stocks. If stocks rise appreciably, that is also supportive of grain prices. If, on the other hand, the Dollar rises and stocks drop, it will tend to suppress grain prices.
They print them! Yes, out of thin air! Or computer 1's and 0's!
How strange that the Fed would try to stimulate the economy by printing more and more money, and using that money to buy more and more treasuries to suppress interest rates. Mean while, Congress is trying to stimulate the economy by going deeper and deeper in debt, selling more and more treasuries. It seems like a very vicious circle.
This same method of stimulation, known as quantitative easing, was used by Japan over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, it didn't work. But unlike Japan, the United States doesn't have vast reservoirs of foreign reserves to spend. The United States is building up only one thing: debt!
This "damn-the-torpedoes" strategy of not worrying about the deficit during times of economic strain will one day sink the American economy. This year, the federal government will spend $450 billion on just the interest on the national debt. Again, that's interest on last year's total federal debt. That interest payment ranks fourth in total government outlays, behind Medicare-Medicaid, Social Security and defense. In 30 years, the government's current tax revenue will cover only half of what it owes. We're soon going to be looking for change, all right. Pocket change!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
"Standard & Poor's said late Thursday that it has changed the market capitalization guidelines for its U.S. indexes, cutting what a company needs to be worth before it can enter one of its categories. For large-cap stocks, reflected by the S&P 500, the value was cut to $3 billion from $4 billion."
Click here for the entire story.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
John Mauldin subtitled this week's newsletter, "Collapsing On Schedule". It appears aptly named. And guess what? Mauldin considers himself optimistic. He expects a recovery in late 2009. He is definitely no perma-bear!
"So a P/E of 15 at the stock bottom sounds reasonable, but would put the S&P 500 index at 600 then, down 32% from here and 61% below its record close on Oct. 9, 2007. Wow! .... Last month, the S&P 500 fell below 777. It has since bounced, but probably not for long as new lows lie ahead."
"Washington officials cringe at the suggestion that these measures amount to "quantitative easing," the Japanese policy initiated in 2001, because it failed to rapidly spur Japanese bank lending and the economy and arrest deflation. The Bank of Japan drove its target rate to zero with no effect and then tried to hype the quantity of money by buying government bonds, asset-backed securities and even stocks.
[My Note: just this week, the Japanese government announced that it will spend more than 220 billion dollars to once again buy stocks in an attempt to put an artificial floor under the Japanese stock market. It didn't work last time, but... At least the Japanese can do it with reserves instead of going into debt like the U.S.!]
"Current quantitative easing by the Fed may not be any more successful than it was in Japan since the global financial system is in a classic liquidity trap, as in the 1930s when bankers were defined as people who wanted to lend to those who didn't need to borrow and didn't want to lend to those who did. Today, banks don't want to lend to anyone but the U.S. Treasury.
"Conventional monetary policy ease through central bank target interest rate cuts at present is nearly useless, i.e., pushing on a string. Qualitative easing, now actively pursued by the Fed and the Treasury and by central banks and governments abroad, will probably at best only stabilize demoralized financial structures by substituting government securities for questionable assets with little near-term rejuvenation of lending and economic activity. "
More from John Mauldin:
"The FDIC recently announced that the institutions it insures had only $1.7 billion in earnings in the third quarter, down from $28.7 billion a year earlier. And financial troubles aren't confined to banks. Many hedge funds have suffered huge losses on their highly leveraged positions this year. And their sales of securities to limit further losses and to meet investo redemptions are adding downward pressure on many markets. In some, assets are down 50% while others are folding their tents and still others are limiting redemptions, only adding to investor restiveness. Redemptions are expected to jump early next year."
Note: If the banks that the FDIC insures slide further and begin to lose money as a group, instead of the meager $1.7 billion in profits they earned in Q3, then they will be undercapitalized once again, despite the injection of $350 billion of taxpayer funds into the system. They won't be able to resume lending because their reserve requirements will still force them to raise additional capital and hold onto their cash instead of risking it by lending it out.
Click here to read the entire newsletter.
"At present around 12 million homeowners, a quarter of those with mortgages, are underwater with their houses worth less than their mortgages. Among those who bought their homes in the past five years, 29% are underwater. If our forecast of a 37% house price fall is reached, about 25 million, or almost half the 51 million with mortgages, will be underwater."
Friday, December 19, 2008
Here is the full story.
"President Bush is announcing a $17.4 billion bailout for auto manufacturers, with the loans contingent on the firms proving that they can become "viable" ongoing firms. Of the total, $13.4 billion will be paid out in December and January. The last $4 billion is contingent on the second installment of the Wall Street bailout funds from Congress."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
From Bloomberg tonight:
"Over the next four years, 8.1 million U.S. mortgages will enter foreclosure as the recession worsens and home prices continue to fall, Credit Suisse said in a Dec. 4 report. Banks, insurers and mortgage companies have recorded about $1 trillion of losses worldwide since the start of the global credit crunch in 2007."
But it gets worse! From the same article:
"Almost 53 percent of borrowers whose loans were modified in the first quarter were more than 30 days overdue by the third quarter, John Dugan, head of the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said last week at the National Housing Conference in Washington."
Click here for the full story.
Thus, we see a classic bull/bear battle playing out in the stock market index futures. This typically results in a consolidation pattern. Add to that the fact that volume is weak during the Christmas Holiday season, and we could see some very interesting patterns over the several days, probably lasting until the new year, when volume levels, along with many traders, will return to the markets.
"Barack Obama may ask Congress next year to approve a stimulus plan of around $850 billion, an amount that has grown as the U.S. economy sinks deeper into recession, an adviser to the president-elect said."
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Click here for the full story.
Oil prices tumbled below $40 for the first time since the summer of 2004 Wednesday despite an announcement from OPEC of a record production cut of 2.2 million barrels a day...
"There's just so much oil in inventory out there right now," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. "Nobody wants to buy this stuff."
Crude prices have fallen so low, producers have leased supertankers to store the oil at sea, hoping that oil will rebound.
Wow! Amazing that on a day when OPEC cut production by 8%, the price of crude oil on the Jan 09 contract briefly dipped below $40/barrel.
“I would like to say that we are prepared for this [joining OPEC]. We must defend ourselves, since this is our revenue base, both from oil and gas. These kinds of defensive measures could be tied to lowering oil production, and participating in the existing suppliers organization, and participating in new organizations, if we can come to an agreement beforehand, so to speak.”
Today I posted a comment to help a fellow investor/trader on Marketwatch.com.
Here is an excerpt of my comment:
If you'd like to read my entire comment, including some other laws of trading, you can read it here:
"One of the cardinal rules I use in trading is called Rule #1 from a book by a very successful trader (who, by the way, gives it away FREE):
"Rule #1: Assume it is a bad trade until proven correct! Positions established must be reduced and removed until or unless the market proves the position correct. (from Phantom's Gift -- see my blog site for more info on the book -- absolutely at no cost whatsoever.)
"This rule has saved me a lot of pain, and has ironically also made me a lot of money! Not only is maintaining a losing position bad for my pocketbook. It is bad for my emotional state and it gives control of my money to the market instead of me keeping control of it in my hands."
Treasuries Rise Again
The essence of Rule #1 is that you only stay in a trade if it is a profitable trade within a reasonably short period of time. All other trades are exited quickly! You don't put on a trade and then sit around praying that it will make money, all the while waiting with white knuckles and baited breath. By doing this, I save not only my money, but my sanity! I also guarantee that I will have money to trade another day!
Has anyone stopped long enough to ask what is going to happen to interest rates when this bubble pops and/or the Fed starts to sell all those treasuries it is buying? One should consider also that when the Fed starts to sell, so will many other traders and investors. Just as many other investors are buying treasuries today (don't fight the Fed, right?), pushing them into bubble territory, when the Fed starts to sell, other investors will sell treasuries also. When that happens, I shudder to think what the consequences will be, both for the American People, and for interest rates!
From Vic Lespinasse at grainanalyst.com:
"Calpers, the largest pension fund in the US, has said they are going to broaden their approach to commodities investing. Up until now they have followed the index fund long only model, especially the SP GSCI (S+P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index), which is having a losing year. Calpers said they will hire additional commodity advisors and consider investing in commodities from both the long and short side, following trends in both directions rather than only the long side."
Click here for an excellent primer on how quantitative easing is supposed to work.
Here is another excellent article on the subject. (I also suggest reading the reader comments. Some are quite insightful.)
From Wikipedia, the description of quantitative easing is thus:
"With quantitative easing, [the Bank of Japan] flooded commercial banks with excess liquidity to promote private lending, leaving them with large stocks of excess reserves, and therefore little risk of a liquidity shortage. The BOJ accomplished this by buying more government bonds than would be required to set the interest rate to zero. It also bought asset-backed securities, equities, and extended the terms of its commercial paper purchasing operation."
Unfortunately, quantitative easing didn't work very well, if at all, in Japan. Following the initiation of quantitative easing by the Bank of Japan in 1998, the stock market didn't bottom for 5 more years! Worse yet, real estate prices in Japan continue to fall nearly two decades later!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
"[Merrill Lynch analyst Francisco] Blanch changed his 2009 price forecast at least four times this year as the worst global slowdown since 2001 spreads. His most recent estimate that crude may fall to $25 came on Nov. 26. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ 13 members meet in Oran, Algeria, tomorrow to try to stem crude’s decline."Here is the full story.
My translation of this is to expect a wild ride in the energy sector. The supply and demand parameters for energy appear to be a moving target.
Click here for the full story.
Russian industrial output plunged in November, exceeding even the most pessimistic expectations and affirming that the country's economic fundamentals are too fragile to fend off fears of a recession. Industrial production, hit by liquidity shortages and falling export demand, slumped an unadjusted 8.7% from November 2007, data released Tuesday by the Federal Statistics Service, or Rosstat, showed.
The U.S. consumer price index fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.7%, the Labor Department reported Tuesday, the biggest drop since the government began adjusting the CPI for seasonal factors in 1947. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI fell by 1.9%, the biggest decline since January 1932, at the nadir of the Great Depression.
This may now be old news, since commodity prices have shown signs that they have bottomed during the month of December.
Monday, December 15, 2008
“Heading into 2009, we believe many commodity prices are set to overshoot to the downside in response to the worst downturn in economic activity since the Great Depression,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Lewis.
“2008 will go down as one of the most volatile and difficult years, ever” for oil, said Peter Beutel, analyst at energy consultancy Cameron Hanover.
“It was a year that started with runaway prices and all the makings of the worst inflation in nearly three decades. It is ending with imploding deflation and the worst recession in seven decades,” he added.
Merrill Lynch expects oil prices to average 50 dollars a barrel in 2009, as energy demand shrinks in the face of slow economic growth.
Deutsche Bank predicts average prices of 47.50 dollars in 2009, cutting its earlier forecast of 60 dollars.
Merrill Lynch commodity strategist Francisco Blanch said a rebound in crude prices was not on the horizon.
“With demand vanishing across all key oil consuming regions, a strong rebound in prices in the first half of 2009 is unlikely,” Blanch said.
Deutsche Bank's Lewis agreed, adding: “We expect energy and the industrial metals prices will remain the major casualties in this environment.”
I am not sure where to attribute the above quotes. They provide perspective on the dire nature of the economic malaise, but these investment banks don't have a particularly strong record of forecasting the price of crude oil, so I always take them with a grain of salt. Still, they provide perspective on the fundamentals of crude oil supply and demand.
As I have told myself many times:
You can read all of John's latest newsletter by clicking this link. Better yet, why not subscribe!? John's weekly newsletter is free, and it is always good reading!
"...storage for oil is very tight. Oil producers are leasing very large ships to store excess oil, as they cannot find places to store it on land. Storing oil on ships is expensive, so that cost of storage gets figured into the price of oil a year out...
"The OPEC nations are not cutting back by any significant amount. Oil is backing up in the system. It is quite possible that oil could go a lot lower in the next few months as the world reels from a global recession, and that means the demand for energy will be down. Oil below $30? Without production cuts that is certainly in the realm of possibility."
Note: Oil is not something that can be turned on and off like a spigot. It is my understanding that once a well is drilled, the oil must be used or stored someplace. You can't just turn the wells on and off at will.
- Commerical Real Estate - as businesses begin to feel more and more of the effects of the recession, commercial real estate mortgages are showing starkly rising default rates. This growing risk could affect $4 trillion of commercial real estate loans during 2009.
- Corporate Loans - As earnings continue to be revised downward in what could be an endless spiral, corporate debt defaults will continue to rise, business bankruptcies will rise, and the result will be growing risks to the financial system.
- Municipalities - With the downward deflationary pressures on real estate values, property taxes will need to be revised downward to compensate. There is a delay of about 18-24 months before municipalities are hit with the lower tax revenues resulting from reduced property value assessments. This will result in significantly lower revenues to cities, counties, and state governments, and will lead to another round of lay-offs as government entities are forced to slash budgets and payrolls during 2009 and 2010.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The cost of financial bailouts is finally beginning to take a toll on the US Dollar, as the greenback has hit it lowest value in eight weeks. From Bloomberg:
The dollar fell to an eight-week low versus the euro on speculation a U.S. bailout for the country’s automakers will leave the government less money to protect the financial system. The greenback approached a 13-year low against the yen after U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration said it may use funds set aside for banks to prevent General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC from “collapsing.”Here is a Bloomberg story with details.
Not only is the timing of the Dollar's decline very poor for the U.S. economy, it is likely to halt the downward correction of commodity prices, and renew potential inflation worries.
"For General Motors Corp., the question is no longer whether it will get a government loan or if Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner will be replaced. It’s whether anything can prevent the largest U.S. automaker from sliding into bankruptcy... GMAC may now have to file for Chapter 11 protection, with or without a loan...'GM already is bankrupt and should file for bankruptcy,' said David Littman, senior economist for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy..."
Read the entire story here. (It is a rather lengthy article that explains GM's history in arriving at this sad crossroads.)
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The talk of a potential bubble in U.S. Government debt continues to grow, and the chorus grows louder every day. Other bubbles, including both real estate and commodities, have demonstrated similar phenomena, frequently not long before those bubbles have popped and the manias collapsed.
From Bloomberg today:
"The rally in Treasuries that pushed yields on bills below zero percent this week is adding to concerns that the $5.3 trillion market for government debt is a bubble waiting to burst."Click here for the full story.
Friday, December 12, 2008
This is market mayhem!
From Reuters today:
Click here for the entire Reuters story.
"Jim Rogers, one of the world's most prominent international investors, on Thursday called most of the largest U.S. banks "totally bankrupt," and said government efforts to fix the sector are wrongheaded."
Rogers has repeatedly said that by infusing capital into failing banks, the Fed reward the bad behavior of bad banks while penalizing the banks that have performed responsibly.
"Bernard Madoff, the founder of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities and a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, was on Thursday charged by federal prosecutors with a multibillion-dollar securities fraud.
"Mr. Madoff, 70, told employees that he estimated the losses from this fraud to be “at least approximately $50bn”, according to federal prosecutors."
Click here for the entire story.
The potential counter-party risk on this could have wide-spread implications, so it has import far wider than just to those clientele that will be affected.
"The lowest yields on Treasuries are providing no solace to U.S. companies paying the highest borrowing costs on record. While rates on everything from four-week Treasury bills to 30-year bonds fall to all-time lows, companies are paying an average 10.8 percent on their debt..."
Here is the full story.
Bloomberg sued under the Freedom of Information Act to uncover to whom the Fed has extended $2 trillion in loans. The Fed has refused to disclose both the recipients of the emergency loans and the nature of the collateral for those loans, despite requirements by Congressional legislation to do so.
“If they told us what they held, we would know the potential losses that the government may take and that’s what they don’t want us to know,” said Carlos Mendez, who oversees about $14 billion at New York-based ICP Capital LLC."Here is the Bloomberg story.
From Yahoo and Reuters:
"Bank of America Corp said on Thursday it plans to eliminate 30,000 to 35,000 jobs over three years, reflecting its pending purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co and weaker business activity stemming from the economic recession."Click here for the full story.