The bears aren’t dead and buried yet

March 30, 2009

The SPX only stayed above the 50 day simple moving average this time for 5 days.  At the turn of the year, it at least managed 7.  The 2002 lows are crucial support to test the will of new buyers.  If they fail to hold, the 741 level will serve as the canary to warn of a possible complete retest of the March lows.

So far, we have only another headfake to the upside created by jawboning from the Feds.  We still believe this is part of a bottoming process, but we need more honest buying (not short covering) to confirm the lows are already in.

spxtesting800033009


The Fight Over Who Will Guard Your Nest Egg

March 28, 2009

By JASON ZWEIG
wsj.com

A power struggle in Washington will shape how investors get the advice they need.

On one side are stockbrokers and other securities salespeople who work for Wall Street firms, banks and insurance companies. On the other are financial planners or investment advisers who often work for themselves or smaller firms.

Brokers are largely regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is funded by the brokerage business itself and inspects firms every one or two years. Under Finra’s rules, brokers must recommend only investments that are “suitable” for clients.

Advisers are regulated by the states or the Securities and Exchange Commission, which examines firms every six to 10 years on average. Advisers act out of “fiduciary duty,” or the obligation to put their clients’ interests first.

Most investors don’t understand this key distinction. A report by Rand Corp. last year found that 63% of investors think brokers are legally required to act in the best interest of the client; 70% believe that brokers must disclose any conflicts of interest. Advisers always have those duties, but brokers often don’t. The confusion is understandable, because a lot of stock brokers these days call themselves financial planners.

Brokers can sell you any investment they have “reasonable grounds for believing” is suitable for you. Only since 1990 have they been required to base that suitability judgment on your risk tolerance, investing objectives, tax status and financial position.

A key factor still is missing from Finra’s suitability requirements: cost. Let’s say you tell your broker that you want to simplify your stock portfolio into an index fund. He then tells you that his firm manages an S&P-500 Index fund that is “suitable’ for you. He is under no obligation to tell you that the annual expenses that his firm charges on the fund are 10 times higher than an essentially identical fund from Vanguard. An adviser acting under fiduciary duty would have to disclose the conflict of interest and tell you that cheaper alternatives are available.

If brokers had to take cost and conflicts of interest into account in order to honor a fiduciary duty to their clients, their firms might hesitate before producing the kind of garbage that has blighted the portfolios of investors over the years.

Richard G. Ketchum, chairman of Finra, has begun openly using the F-word: fiduciary. “It’s time to get to one standard, a fiduciary standard that works for both broker-dealers and advisers,” he told me. “Both should have a fundamental first responsibility to their customers.”

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The Sky already fell?

March 25, 2009

The Commerce Department said sales of newly built U.S. homes rose 4.7 percent to a 337,000 annual pace, the fastest increase since last April, from 322,000 in January.

Despite the increase, February sales were the second lowest ever after the drop in January to the slowest pace in records going back to 1963, the department said. Economists, who had forecast another decline in sales, were still encouraged.

“This completes a trifecta of positive housing reports for February. A sustained increase in housing demand would be the best tonic for the credit crisis and a major sign that the worst of the recession is behind us,” said Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

Sales of previously owned homes rose 5.1 percent in February, while housing starts soared 22.2 percent that month.

Stabilizing the housing market, the main trigger of the current economic slump, is crucial for the economy’s recovery.

The median sales price in February fell a record 18.1 percent to $200,900 from a year earlier, the department said.

The inventory of homes available for sale in February was at 330,000, the smallest since June 2002. The February sales pace left the supply of homes available for sale at 12.2 month’s worth.

“New and existing home sales have hit their lows for this cycle. We expect housing inventory-to-sales ratios to fall from still-high levels as 2009 unfolds,” said Michael Darda, chief Economist, MKM Partners in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“Home prices should begin to flatten out after inventories fall to 7-8 months, which we expect before the year is up.”

In other good news for the housing market and the economy, applications for home loans jumped last week as interest rates hit record lows after the Federal Reserve announced it would buy longer-term U.S. government debt.


The Feds use a backhoe for a gravedigger

March 25, 2009

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
– Yogi Berra

In mid-December, after the Fed lowered rates to 0 to .25%, we noted:

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.

That rally was short lived, eventually failing after a more sustained move above the 50 day near the beginning of the year.  What is interesting is that we may be seeing a similar sequence of events again.

After a brief dip below the 2002 lows, the SPX has rallied back significantly on the back of announcements from the Treasury and Federal Reserve.  The combination of these announcements (along with better economic reports) has again pushed most major market averages over their simple 50 day moving averages.  Unfortunately, volume has not expanded with this push, even though volume levels are higher than earlier in the year.

The market managed about 7 days above the 50 day in early January.  So far, we have 3 days on this trip.  To avoid a repeat of action earlier in the year, it is critical that the SPX remain above the 50 day and the 2002 lows.  The Feds can do all of the grandstanding and wagon circling they want, but the market will not be forced higher.  We need to see organic buying build on this foundation for the bears to truly remain buried below the 2002 lows.  Ideally, a high volume rally will spring from support at the 50 day to challenge the Feb highs in the area of 875.  If this occurs, the 50 day and 800 will serve as very solid support going forward as we move toward the Jan highs around 940.

If the market again fails after a quick Fed induced burst over the 50 day, we look at 741 as the first support level below the 2002 lows.  A significant break at 741 would argue for at least a retest of the lows at 667.  With other indicators showing improvement, including some leaders exhibiting notable relative strength, it is our assumption at this point that the lows at 667 will not be broken.

spxtesting800032509


How will U.S. asset cleanup plan work?

March 23, 2009

Mon Mar 23, 2009 4:04pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday unveiled his long-awaited plan to cleanse toxic assets from bank balance sheets.

Here are some questions and answers about the plan.

Q: What is the problem the Treasury is trying to solve?

A: The bursting of the U.S. housing bubble caused mortgage failures to skyrocket and triggered massive losses for banks on complex mortgage-related securities. The excessive discounts now embedded on these hard-to-trade assets is weighing down bank balance sheets, choking off lending and worsening an already deep recession.

Q: What is the objective of the Treasury’s plan?

A: The plan aims to bring in private investors to help jump-start the markets for these assets. By providing attractive government financing, the Treasury hopes private investment firms can afford to pay prices for the assets at levels at which banks are willing to sell. With these assets off their books, banks would have capacity to resume lending again, and will be better able to attract private capital. Fears over their potential losses would be greatly reduced.

Q. How much will this cost the government?

A: The Treasury will initially contribute $75 billion to $100 billion from the $700 billion financial bailout fund approved by Congress last fall. It will be able to stretch these funds by combining them with private capital and leveraging them with loans from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Losses for taxpayers could be much larger than the amount the Treasury is using to seed the program, since the FDIC and Fed are extending loans. The Treasury estimates that $500 billion of assets can be bought through the plan, and this could grow to up to $1 trillion. Geithner said he is not ready to decide whether to ask Congress for more bailout money.

Q. How is the plan structured?

A. There are three basic programs. The largest one will enable investors, partnered with the government, to buy whole loans from banks with FDIC financing in an auction process run by the banking regulator. The second would expand a securities loan program run by the Fed to enable firms holding certain mortgage- and asset-backed securities to pledge them as collateral for new loans to invest in these markets. In the third part, the Treasury would hire at least five asset managers to raise capital to buy distressed mortgage- and asset-backed securities. The Treasury would then match the private capital dollar-for-dollar and provide additional debt financing to boost buying power. The funds would compete in the open market to buy legacy securities.

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Contrarian Quotes

March 19, 2009

“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.”
– Thomas Watson

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain

“The ‘crowd’ is most enthusiastic and optimistic when it should be cautious and prudent; and is most fearful when it should be bold.”
– Humphrey Neill


How many bears could a bear trap bury, if a bear trap began to bury bears?

March 18, 2009

A shovel is not enough longs, we may have hit rock.  The question is, did we hit rock bottom?

The 50 day moving average is in play once again.  Can we remove this huge stone in time for Easter?  The resurrection of the market depends on it.

spxtesting800031809


Phases of fear and elation in the VIX

March 18, 2009

Here we show a nice relationship between the VIX and the SPX.  While this is a commonly referenced pairing, many still challenge the value of using the VIX as a market indicator.  There are numerous ways too use the VIX and almost everyone has their own tweaks.  This chart shows a very clear inverse relationship with several distinct “phases” discernible in the value of the VIX.  These “phases” correlate well with the action in the SPX.  We have labled these phases “euphoria”, “fear” and “panic”.  We also included the 400 day moving average (equivalent to the 80 week) which we discussed previously in The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average.  This bull/bear market reference point matches up very well with the action in the VIX, as the VIX moves into the “fear phase” just as the 400 day is coming under assault, before eventually breaking.  A final test of the 400 day from below, which we highlighted in late April 2008, was accompanied by one last dip into the “euphoria” zone for the VIX.  That was the “last chance” to get out before the drop gathered steam as the SPX then dropped over 50% in less than 12 months.

We added the notes on Bear Stearns and Citigroup for a consensus of the “expert” opinion at the time.

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Fed to purchase long term Treasuries

March 18, 2009

Release Date: March 18, 2009

For immediate release

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the economy continues to contract.  Job losses, declining equity and housing wealth, and tight credit conditions have weighed on consumer sentiment and spending.  Weaker sales prospects and difficulties in obtaining credit have led businesses to cut back on inventories and fixed investment.  U.S. exports have slumped as a number of major trading partners have also fallen into recession.  Although the near-term economic outlook is weak, the Committee anticipates that policy actions to stabilize financial markets and institutions, together with fiscal and monetary stimulus, will contribute to a gradual resumption of sustainable economic growth.

In light of increasing economic slack here and abroad, the Committee expects that inflation will remain subdued.  Moreover, the Committee sees some risk that inflation could persist for a time below rates that best foster economic growth and price stability in the longer term.

In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability.  The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.  To provide greater support to mortgage lending and housing markets, the Committee decided today to increase the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet further by purchasing up to an additional $750 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities, bringing its total purchases of these securities to up to $1.25 trillion this year, and to increase its purchases of agency debt this year by up to $100 billion to a total of up to $200 billion.  Moreover, to help improve conditions in private credit markets, the Committee decided to purchase up to $300 billion of longer-term Treasury securities over the next six months.  The Federal Reserve has launched the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses and anticipates that the range of eligible collateral for this facility is likely to be expanded to include other financial assets.  The Committee will continue to carefully monitor the size and composition of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in light of evolving financial and economic developments.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Elizabeth A. Duke; Charles L. Evans; Donald L. Kohn; Jeffrey M. Lacker; Dennis P. Lockhart; Daniel K. Tarullo; Kevin M. Warsh; and Janet L. Yellen.


A Generational Opportunity

March 17, 2009

by Jim O’Shaughnessy
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” -John F. Kennedy

I recently had dinner with a client who told me that stocks had not performed well over the last 40 years. At first I suspected that she was generalizing from the recent pummeling equity markets have experienced — after all, this is a time frame that included two of the biggest bull markets in history! Yet, when I went to the data, I found out that she was absolutely right. The 40 years ending February 2009 were the second worst 40-year period for equities since 1900, with only the 40 years ending December 1941 doing worse!

Let’s put this into perspective. The 40 years ending in 1941 included the stock market panic of 1907, which drove down the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearly 38 percent; the World War I Era, where the period between 1910 and 1919 was one of the worst ever for stocks; AND, oh yes, the Great Depression. Finally, icing on the 40-year cake, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. How could these last 40 years even begin to match that? Alas, they did.

40-year-real-returns1The chart on the left is a histogram of the average annual real returns for U.S. equities (large stocks) for all 40-year holding periods, with annual data starting in 1900 and monthly data beginning in 1926. There were only three 40-year periods where U.S. stocks returned less than four percent annually — the 40 years ending December 1941, where they earned a real rate of return of 3.80 percent annually for the previous 40 years; the 40 years ending February 2009 where they earned 3.86 percent annually; and the 40 years ending December 1942, where stocks returned 3.92 percent a year. Keep in mind that’s just 0.55 percent of the 545 periods analyzed. We are talking about an event so rare, that most of us alive today will never see such an opportunity again.

The histogram also shows the norm — stocks returned between 6 and 8 percent a year for 353 periods, or nearly 65 percent of all of the 40-year periods analyzed. Looked at closely, you see that 99.45 percent of all  observed 40-year periods, U.S. stocks enjoyed a real rate of return between 4 and 12 percent a year, and that we are now presented with a huge generational opportunity.

Reversion to the Mean: Short, Medium and Long Term

Let’s look at what happened with U.S. stocks the first time they earned less than 4 percent a year for a 40-year period. For the five-, ten-, and twenty-year periods following the nadir reached in 1941, here are the real average annual compound returns for a variety of U.S. stock categories:

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Everybody hurts…sometimes

March 11, 2009

The World’s Billionaires

03.11.09, 06:00 PM EDT
Luisa Kroll, Matthew Miller and Tatiana Serafin
Forbes.com

It’s been a tough year for the richest people in the world. Last year there were 1,125 billionaires. This year there are just 793 people rich enough to make our list.

The world has become a wealth wasteland. Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year. Today there are 793 people on our list of the World’s Billionaires, a 30% decline from a year ago.

Of the 1,125 billionaires who made last year’s ranking, 373 fell off the list–355 from declining fortunes and 18 who died. There are 38 newcomers, plus three moguls who returned to the list after regaining their 10-figure fortunes. It is the first time since 2003 that the world has had a net loss in the number of billionaires.

The world’s richest are also a lot poorer. Their collective net worth is $2.4 trillion, down $2 trillion from a year ago. Their average net worth fell 23% to $3 billion. The last time the average was that low was in 2003.

Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world’s richest man. Warren Buffett, last year’s No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) fell nearly 50% in 12 months, but he still managed to slip just one spot to No. 2. Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú also lost $25 billion and dropped one spot to No. 3.

It was hard to avoid the carnage, whether you were in stocks, commodities, real estate or technology. Even people running profitable businesses were hammered by frozen credit markets, weak consumer spending or declining currencies.

The biggest loser in the world this year, by dollars, was last year’s biggest gainer. India’s Anil Ambani lost $32 billion–76% of his fortune–as shares of his Reliance Communications, Reliance Power and Reliance Capital all collapsed.

Ambani is one of 24 Indian billionaires, all but one of whom are poorer than a year ago. Another 29 Indians lost their billionaire status entirely as India’s stock market tumbled 44% in the past year and the Indian rupee depreciated 18% against the dollar. It is no longer the top spot in Asia for billionaires, ceding that title to China, which has 28.

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Obama lifts Bush restrictions on stem cell research

March 9, 2009

Mon Mar 9, 2009 6:24pm EDT

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

“We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research,” Obama said to vigorous applause at a White House gathering.

“We will also vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.”

Shares of companies specializing in stem cell research burst upward on the news, with Geron Corp (GERN) up by as much as much as 35 percent and StemCells Inc (STEM) up 73 percent at one point. Other related company shares rose, too.

The decision was a clear repudiation of the approach taken by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. U.S. law limits the use of federal money to make human stem cells, but Bush tightened the restrictions even further to include work using such cells.
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Congratulations to members of Security Growth Alert for catching amazing gains on both of these stocks for a second time in six months!


Mortgage woes no longer just a “subprime thing”

March 5, 2009

Thursday March 5, 6:37 pm ET
By J.W. Elphinstone, AP Real Estate Writer

Delinquencies, foreclosures climb to almost 12 percent of US home loans in 4th quarter

NEW YORK (AP) — Foreclosures are spreading by epidemic proportions, expanding beyond a handful of problem states and now affecting almost 1 in every 8 American homeowners.

It’s an economic role-reversal: The economy, driven down by the collapse of the housing bubble, is causing the housing crisis to spread.

Figures released Thursday show that nearly 12 percent of all Americans with a mortgage — a record 5.4 million homeowners — were at least one month late or in foreclosure at the end of last year.

That’s up from 10 percent at the end of the third quarter, and up from 8 percent at the end of 2007. In addition, the numbers now include many once-qualified borrowers who took out fixed-rate loans.

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association also showed that a stunning 48 percent of homeowners who have subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are behind on their payments or in foreclosure.

The reckless lending and borrowing practices in states like Florida, California and Nevada that were the epicenter of the problem are no longer driving up the nation’s delinquency rate.

Instead, foreclosures are being fueled by a spike in defaults in places such as Louisiana, New York, Georgia and Texas, where the economy is rapidly deteriorating and unemployment is climbing.

“It’s jobs. People are losing their jobs left and right,” said Houston real estate agent Michael Weaster.

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Maybe the meltdown wasn’t what you think

March 5, 2009

By Peter Brimelow, MarketWatch
Last update: 1:03 a.m. EST Feb. 23, 2009

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Everyone knows the crash of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation except Thomas E. Woods, who blames financial regulation, in the shape of the Federal Reserve.

Wood’s new book, “Meltdown: A Free Market Look At Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse” (Regnery), has just made it to the New York Times best-seller list without the benefit of any major reviews.

That’s par for the course for Woods, a fellow of the Auburn, Ala.-based Ludwig von Mises Institute, advocates of “Austrian economics,” a particularly embattled faction of free market economists — all of whom are pretty embattled, or out of fashion, right now.

The Austrian school argues that business cycles are driven by central banks keeping interest rates too low, expanding credit and encouraging uneconomic investments, creating an unsustainable boom, inevitably followed by a bust.

That’s what happened here, says Woods, most recently with the Fed’s multiple interest rate cuts to stave off the 2000-2002 slowdown.

Certainly debt levels had reached historic highs before the crash.

Woods argues the crash of 2008 was a perfect storm. Other elements included immense government pressure on mortgage lenders to loosen standards and make loans to questionably credit-worthy but politically favored demographic groups; and securitization, which spread the effects of bad mortgage lending around the world.

Recovery from even serious business cycle downturns can be swift, says Woods, citing the almost-forgotten 1920-1921 slump. But that’s because the federal government did not step in. It allowed excesses to correct themselves. In contrast, the federal government did step in after 1929, as Japan’s government did in a similar downturn after 1990. Result, according to Woods: the Great Depression in the U.S.; 18 years of stagnation in Japan.

If Woods is right, public policy is on exactly the wrong course right now in trying to sustain demand and asset prices, just as it was in the early years of the Depression. Ironically, this wrong course is bipartisan. Both Hebert Hoover and George W. Bush, Woods notes, were highly interventionist presidents just like their successors, contrary to myth.

Woods’ cheerful prediction: prolonged stagnation, eventual inflation and an even bigger collapse.

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March is the crazy month

March 2, 2009

According to some of our proprietary research, March is an outlier month.

Without going into too much detail, we have found that the month of March historically behaves in an unexpected, atypical manner. This has compromised otherwise solid systems to the point that we simply do not trade some systems only during the month of March. March has produced significant turns in long term trends historically, including the top in March of 2000 and the ensuing final bottom in March of 2003. A significant bottom was made in late March of 1994, which launched the market into the massive bull that ended in 2000.  Many other minor trend changes also occur frequently in the month of March.

Various explanations have been offered for this phenomenon, including the Ides of March.  One cannot discount the cultural and religious significance of the March equinox either.  While we are certain the cause is a number of factors, one that seems to stick out to us is the timing for the end of the first quarter. Many things are happening around this time of year from a fundamental standpoint including closing the books on the first quarter, which not only sets the tone for the new year, but in many cases finalizes budgets also.  Fourth quarter and end of year earnings are being reported around this time to the public as well.  More importantly, it is the first triple-witch expiration of the year.  Recently, this has become quadruple-witching with the addition of Single Stock Futures (SSFs), but historically it has been a triple-witch event.  This event alone is known to cause weird things to happen, so much so it is called “freaky Friday” as it occurs on the third Friday of March, June, September & December.

Whatever the reason, if you feel something strange or think that people are just being crazy, it could be true.  Whether the cause is internal, external, fundamental or fabricated is not nearly as important as how you prepare yourself.  Be aware and alert.  Take advantage of the situation or just sit it out.

Please share any March experiences or planning that you have in the comments section below.  I know I am missing many things and will come back to this note as I come across or remember them.


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