Stocks: A Range-Bound Recovery in 2009

December 24, 2008

S&P’s chief investment strategist says a bear-market bottom may already be in place—and tells why 2009 could be a better year for stocks

By Sam Stovall From Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Investing
Excerpted from a report published by Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Services on Dec. 22

Investors will remember 2008 as a year of change. Not just change in the White House, but also the pocket change that they used to call their portfolios.

Let’s face it. This bear market started as the perfect storm of popping bubbles—commodities, emerging markets, hedge funds, and real estate. From Oct. 9, 2007 through Nov. 20, 2008, the S&P 500 (SPX) declined 52%, making it the third-worst bear market since the 1929-32 crash. One of the more amazing characteristics of this decline was its speed. The average “mega-meltdown,” or bear market decline of more than 40%, traditionally took 21 months to play out. This one took 13 months.

Not surprisingly, all 10 sectors within the “500” fell, from a 22% slump for Consumer Staples to a 74% thrashing for the Financials. Finally, 125 of the 128 subindustries in the S&P 500 declined.

Factors Backing a Bottom

Where do we go from here? Probably not lower, in our opinion. A few months ago, I wrote that 700 on the “500” might be a worst-case scenario for a decline, citing the trendline drawn off of the 1932 low, the average bear-market retracement of prior bull market advances, and the applying of a bear market P/E ratio on a conservative “top-down” EPS estimate. We got close to that level, as the S&P 500 closed at 752 on Nov. 20. Since then, it rose 21%—technically signaling the start of a new bull market. So I say why quibble? What’s 50 points among friends? Besides, we believe there are several reasons that a bear-market bottom may already be in place.

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Markets move above the 50 day moving averages

December 16, 2008

Aggressive action by the Federal Reserve today pushed most markets above their respective simple 50 day moving averages for the first time since September.  We have highlighted the 50 day as resistance level number one in prior notes and have shown it to be critical resistance along with the 200 day and 80 week.  This is a primary step to recovery and opens the door to a potential challenge of the 200 day near the beginning of 2009.

A rally to the 200 day would be quite significant as the recent violent plunge has opened up a large gap over the 50 day.  A similar test of the 200 day as resistance came in early 2002, though the gap was not as dramatic, because the market did not fall to such lows as quickly as this year.

See the charts for the major averages below, with the 50 day moving average in blue and the 200 day in red:

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FOMC statement and Board approval of discount rate requests

December 16, 2008

Release Date: December 16, 2008

For immediate release

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to establish a target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent.

Since the Committee’s last meeting, labor market conditions have deteriorated, and the available data indicate that consumer spending, business investment, and industrial production have declined.  Financial markets remain quite strained and credit conditions tight.  Overall, the outlook for economic activity has weakened further.

Meanwhile, inflationary pressures have diminished appreciably.  In light of the declines in the prices of energy and other commodities and the weaker prospects for economic activity, the Committee expects inflation to moderate further in coming quarters.

The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability.  In particular, the Committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.

The focus of the Committee’s policy going forward will be to support the functioning of financial markets and stimulate the economy through open market operations and other measures that sustain the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet at a high level.  As previously announced, over the next few quarters the Federal Reserve will purchase large quantities of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities to provide support to the mortgage and housing markets, and it stands ready to expand its purchases of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities as conditions warrant.  The Committee is also evaluating the potential benefits of purchasing longer-term Treasury securities.  Early next year, the Federal Reserve will also implement the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses.  The Federal Reserve will continue to consider ways of using its balance sheet to further support credit markets and economic activity.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; Christine M. Cumming; Elizabeth A. Duke; Richard W. Fisher; Donald L. Kohn; Randall S. Kroszner; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Gary H. Stern; and Kevin M. Warsh.

In a related action, the Board of Governors unanimously approved a 75-basis-point decrease in the discount rate to 1/2 percent. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.  The Board also established interest rates on required and excess reserve balances of 1/4 percent.


Treasuries seen at risk of “bubble” trouble

December 8, 2008

Fri Dec 5, 2008 3:29pm EST

By John Parry and Jennifer Ablan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. government debt, long considered the safest investment in the world, looks like it too has been hit by “bubble” fever.

Prices of U.S. Treasury bonds appear dangerously overstretched after a soaring rally, another sign of how financial markets have been turned on their head.

“Treasuries are the riskiest securities on the planet,” said Tom Sowanick, chief investment officer for $22 billion in assets at Clearbrook Financial LLC in Princeton, New Jersey.

While few fear that the U.S. government will fail to honor its debts, many see a risk that bond prices may plunge just as spectacularly as house, commodity and stock prices have in recent months.

“It looks like the Treasury market is in bubble territory,” said William Larkin, fixed-income portfolio manager with Cabot Money Management, in Salem, Massachusetts.

The rally in the nearly $5 trillion U.S. government bond market picked up speed this week when the Federal Reserve hinted it may buy longer maturity government bonds.

Fears of a bubble in Treasuries underscore how far investors have fled from risk since ballooning house price valuations popped in 2007, causing huge losses in markets across the board and sparking a global economic crisis.

Yields on long-maturing bonds are below 3 percent and only 1-2 basis points on three-month T-bills, the lowest in decades.

After buying billions of dollars worth of government debt, U.S. institutional investors and foreigners including Asian central banks could incur enormous capital losses.

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Seabreeze’s Kass favors U.S. stocks over Treasuries

December 4, 2008

Thursday December 4, 2008, 10:57 am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hedge-fund manager Doug Kass, who successfully shorted U.S. equities this year including shares of Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), is now buying U.S. stocks on the belief that they have hit bottom.

“What are deemed to be risky, that is equities, are becoming safer and I am gingerly buying,” Kass told Reuters on Thursday. Kass is the founder and president of Seabreeze Partners Management.

Also, Kass said U.S. Treasuries are expensive at current levels, particularly the longer end of the government curve, and is shorting the market. “There is huge price exposure in Treasuries and the longer you go out into the Treasury curve, the riskier you are getting,” he said.

A rally in U.S. Treasuries has pushed yields on the 10-year note to the lowest in more than 50 years this week.

Shorting is a bet that a security will fall in price.

Kass said he is specifically shorting the iShares Lehman 20+Year Treasury Index (TLT), whose buyers have been from non-traditional bond investors such as hedge funds and individuals. The exchange-traded fund is up more than 5 percent in December alone and nearly 13 percent the previous month.

U.S. stocks, which have fallen about 40 percent this year, are trading at attractive prices, but a rebound will take time, Kass said. He has been buying selectively, including real estate investment trusts such as Hatteras Financial and housing-related stocks including Ocwen Financial (OCN).

“The harder question is the slope of recovery in stocks which should be frustratingly modest at first,” he said. “I am not yet in a rush to buy aggressively, but I am increasingly confident that investments made in the next three to six months will look terrific two or three years from now.”

Seabreeze has been incubating a small long/short product for the last two years, which the company is now marketing and launching on January 1.


Dow plunges on news recession began in Dec. 2007

December 1, 2008

Monday December 1, 7:04 pm ET
By Jeannine Aversa and Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writers

Dow sinks nearly 680 after group says US has been in a recession since December 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans sorely knew it already, but now it’s official: The country is in a recession, and it’s getting worse. Wall Street convulsed at the news — and a fresh batch of bad economic reports — tanking nearly 680 points. With the economic pain likely to stretch well into 2009, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Monday he stands ready to lower interest rates yet again and to explore other rescue or revival measures.

Rushing in reinforcements, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who along with Bernanke has been leading the government’s efforts to stem the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, pledged to take all the steps he can in the waning days of the Bush administration to provide relief. Specifically, Paulson is eyeing more ways to tap into a $700 billion financial bailout pool.

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed to have a massive economic stimulus package ready on Inauguration Day for President-elect Barack Obama’s signature.

That measure — which could total a whopping $500 billion — would bankroll big public works projects to generate jobs, provide aid to states to help with Medicaid costs and provide money toward renewable energy development. Crafting such a colossal recovery package would mark a Herculean feat: Congress convenes Jan. 6, giving lawmakers just two weeks to complete their work if it is to be signed on Jan. 20.

President George W. Bush, in an interview with ABC’s “World News,” expressed remorse about lost jobs, cracked nest eggs and other damage wrought by the financial crisis. “I’m sorry it’s happening, of course,” said Bush. The president said he’d back more government intervention.

None of the pledges for more action could comfort Wall Street investors. The Dow Jones industrials plunged 679.95 points, or 7.70 percent, to close at 8,149.09.

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