Stress test results lift cloud of uncertainty

May 8, 2009

Results show 10 big banks need $75 billion in new capital; hope rises for economy’s recovery

Daniel Wagner and Jeannine Aversa, AP Business Writers
Friday May 8, 2009, 1:09 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government exams of the biggest U.S. banks have helped lift a cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the economy.

The so-called stress tests — a key Obama administration effort to boost confidence in the financial system — showed nine of the 19 biggest banks have enough capital to withstand a deeper recession. Ten must raise a total of $75 billion in new capital to withstand possible future losses.

“The publication of the stress tests simply cleared the air of uncertainty,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics. “The results were not scary at all.”

He said it will take a long time for the banks to resume normal lending. But the test results didn’t alter his prediction that economy is headed for a recovery in October or November.

A key indicator of economic health will be released Friday morning, when the government announces how many more jobs were lost in April and how high the unemployment rate rose.

The stress tests have been criticized as a confidence-building exercise whose relatively rosy outcome was inevitable. But the information, which leaked out all week, was enough to cheer investors. They pushed bank stocks higher Wednesday, and rallied again in after-hours trading late Thursday once the results had been released.

Among the 10 banks that need to raise more capital, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) needs by far the most — $33.9 billion. Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) needs $13.7 billion, GMAC LLC $11.5 billion, Citigroup Inc. (C) $5.5 billion and Morgan Stanley (MS) $1.8 billion.

The five other firms found to need more of a capital cushion are all regional banks — Regions Financial Corp. (RF) of Birmingham, Alabama; SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI) of Atlanta; KeyCorp (KEY) of Cleveland; Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) of Cincinnati; and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC) of Pittsburgh.

The banks will have until June 8 to develop a plan and have it approved by their regulators. If they can’t raise the money on their own, the government said it’s prepared to dip further into its bailout fund.

The stress tests are a big part of the Obama administration’s plan to fortify the financial system. As home prices fell and foreclosures increased, banks took huge hits on mortgages and mortgage-related securities they were holding.

The government hopes the stress tests will restore investors’ confidence that not all banks are weak, and that even those that are can be strengthened. They have said none of the banks will be allowed to fail.

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GM details plans to wipe out current shareholders

May 5, 2009

Tue May 5, 2009 8:01pm EDT

By Kevin Krolicki

DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Corp (GM) on Tuesday detailed plans to all but wipe out the holdings of remaining shareholders by issuing up to 60 billion new shares in a bid to pay off debt to the U.S. government, bondholders and the United Auto Workers union.

The unusual plan, which was detailed in a filing with U.S. securities regulators, would only need the approval of the U.S. Treasury to proceed since the U.S. government would be the majority shareholder of a new GM, the company said.

The flood of new stock issuance that could be unleashed has been widely expected by analysts who have long warned that GM’s shares could be worthless whether the company restructures out of court or in bankruptcy.

The debt-for-equity exchanges detailed in the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission would leave GM’s stock investors with just 1 percent of the equity in a restructured automaker, ending a long run when the Dow component was seen as a bellwether for the strength of the broader U.S. economy.

GM shares closed on Tuesday at $1.85 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock would be worth just over 1 cent if the first phase of GM’s restructuring moves forward as described.

Once GM has issued new shares to pay off its debt to the U.S. government, bondholders and its major union, it said it would then undertake a 1-for-100 reverse stock split.

Such a move would take the nominal value of the stock back to near where it had been before the flood of new shares. But in the process, GM’s existing shareholders would see their stake in the 100-year-old automaker all but wiped out.

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Still overbought, but over first resistance also

May 5, 2009

Another update finds the market shaking off initial profit taking to challenge the highs for the year. Monday’s big push finally left the late January, early February highs behind for the S&P 500 (SPX) after about two weeks of backing and filling to make room for the exit of early profit takers. Volume for this stage of the rally has not been impressive, declining since the large profit taking day in the third week of April. What is impressive, is new buyers have stepped up to continue to push prices higher. Fear of “missing the bottom” is setting in and chasing the rally at this point remains dangerous.

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The NASDAQ has been leading the charge, already surpassing the highs for the year to challenge the early November 2008 highs and the 200 day simple moving average. Up more than 39% in less than two months is a remarkable move and building on that through the seasonally weak summer session is going to be difficult. Up days are beating down days by more than 2 to 1 since the bottom, but the pace of gains is decelerating. Volume has remained relatively solid and this change in market leadership posture is notable. Investors have clearly decided to favor more aggressive stocks in this recovery, with the small and mid caps also showing relative strength.

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It’s time to break out a chart we were saving for later, as the comparison may be valid already. This is a chart of the bottom formed in the SPX during 2002-2003, after the tech bust. While the bottom itself formed an inverse head and shoulders pattern (which we expect this time also), the recovery from the right shoulder is what really interests us here. Since the drop was not as violent and much more time was worked off with the head and shoulders bottom, the moving averages were not as far above the low prices and were overtaken sooner as a result. But look at the trend that steadily moved up from March to June, before flattening out for the summer, then racing higher again into 2004. It was less than a 30% gain for the first leg up in 2003 from the March low; it’s already 36% for the SPX from the bottom in March this year. While the low was much lower this time, the highs and resistance levels from both years are almost identical. In 2003, the SPX overtook the early January highs around 930 in early May. After a quick, steep drop below 920 to test the breakout, it was off to the races for another straight month, rising over 10% before the June highs. Then it was one test of the inverse head and shoulders neckline in early August at 960 before moving over 1150 by early 2004. This year, the early January highs are in the area of 944 and the SPX is again challenging them in early May. A breakout here followed by a retest of the 920 level could again produce a similar result. The only problem is finishing the inverse head and shoulders bottom, which should happen somewhere around the end of June time wise to produce a symmetrical pattern. At this point, it looks like the January highs need to hold as resistance to keep the inverse head and shoulders pattern in play. This is also the approximate level of the 200 day moving average currently and the 200 day stopped the SPX multiple times from 2001-2002, plus twice early in 2003. The first test early in 2003 led to the formation of the right shoulder in the bottoming pattern and the second test required a test of the 50 day moving average as support before breaking out and leaving the 200 day well behind. Either of those would be a welcomed event for this market to burn off some overbought conditions and excess euphoria. With the VIX at the lowest levels in seven months, purchasing some protection via puts is probably a good idea. We continue to hold and look to add to our position in the ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH) which is about 5% under water now from our first entry. Select longs continue to beat the market averages by a wide margin.

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Bonds’ 30-Year Hot Streak Begins to Cool

May 4, 2009

by Brett Arends
Monday, May 4, 2009
WSJ.com

Bonds for the long run, anyone?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Indexes, investment manager Rob Arnott, chairman of Research Affiliates (read article here) says that long-term bonds have beaten stocks for decades.

“Starting any time we choose from 1979 through 2008,” Mr Arnott writes, “the investor in 20-year Treasuries (consistently rolling to the nearest 20-year bond and reinvesting income) beats the S&P 500 investor.” He argues the figures are even true going back to the late 1960s.

Mr. Arnott’s article has generated quite a stir in the investment world, where he has, in theory, turned a lot of received wisdom on its head.

But American mutual fund investors, responding to last year’s turmoil, are already voting this way with their wallets. So far this year they’ve withdrawn $45 billion from mutual funds that invest in the stock market, and put $68 billion into bond funds, reports the Investment Company Institute.

Should you follow suit? Not so fast.

Obviously bonds, especially Treasurys, held up well during last year’s crisis. And they can make an important part of a portfolio, especially at the right price. But anyone hoping for a repeat of the last thirty years is probably dreaming.

Treasurys don’t look appealing. Short term bonds yield a miserable 1.9%. And long-term bonds, far from offering “security,” are actually at serious risk from rising inflation.

The past is the past. Those who bought long-term Treasury bonds in the late 1970s and early 1980s simply pocketed an enormous one-off windfall when inflation collapsed. It neared 15% in 1980. Latest figure: -0.4%.

Consider what that means for investors.

In 1979, 20-year Treasurys yielded 9.3%. So over its life the bond paid out $180 in interest for each $100 invested. At one point in 1981, 30-year Treasurys yielded an incredible 15%, thanks to runaway inflation in the 1970s. Investors demanded high interest rates to offset the expected loss of purchasing power on their money.

But when inflation collapsed after 1982, those coupon payments turned golden because the purchasing power stayed high. Bond prices soared in response.

Today, bond investors get no such deal. Ten-year Treasurys pay just 3%. And the 30-year 3.96%.

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