SEC puts in new ‘circuit breaker’ rules

June 10, 2010

SEC puts into place new ‘circuit breaker’ rules to prevent repeat of May 6 stock market plunge

Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer, On Thursday June 10, 2010, 5:44 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Thursday put in place new rules aimed at preventing a repeat of last month’s harrowing “flash crash” in the stock market.

Members of the Securities and Exchange Commission approved the rules, which call for U.S. stock exchanges to briefly halt trading of some stocks that make big swings.

The major exchanges will start putting the trading breaks into effect as early as Friday for six months. The New York Stock Exchange will begin Friday’s trading session with five stocks: EOG Resources Inc., Genuine Parts Co., Harley Davidson Inc., Ryder System Inc. and Zimmer Holdings Inc. The exchange will gradually add other stocks early next week, expecting to reach by Wednesday the full number that will be covered.

The Nasdaq stock market plans to have the new program fully in place on Monday.

The plan for the “circuit breakers” was worked out by the SEC and the major exchanges following the May 6 market plunge, which saw the Dow Jones industrials lose nearly 1,000 points in less than a half-hour.

Under the new rules, trading of any Standard & Poor’s 500 stock that rises or falls 10 percent or more in a five-minute period will be halted for five minutes. The “circuit breakers” would be applied if the price swing occurs between 9:45 a.m. and 3:35 p.m. Eastern time. That’s almost the entire trading day. But it leaves out the final 25 minutes before the close — a period that often sees raging price swings, especially in recent weeks as the kind of volatility that marked the 2008 financial crisis returned.

The idea is for the trading pause to draw attention to an affected stock, establish a reasonable market price and resume trading “in a fair and orderly fashion,” the SEC said.

On May 6, about 30 stocks listed in the S&P 500 index fell at least 10 percent within five minutes. The drop briefly wiped out $1 trillion in market value as some stocks traded as low as a penny.

The disruption “illustrated a sudden, but temporary, breakdown in the market’s price-setting function when a number of stocks and (exchange-traded funds) were executed at clearly irrational prices,” SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said in a statement. “By establishing a set of circuit breakers that uniformly pauses trading in a given security across all venues, these new rules will ensure that all markets pause simultaneously and provide time for buyers and sellers to trade at rational prices.”

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Geithner, Paulson to address meltdown probe

May 6, 2010

Meltdown probe hears from bailout architects Paulson, Geithner on ‘shadow banking’

Daniel Wagner, AP Business Writer, On Thursday May 6, 2010, 12:57 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A special panel investigating the financial crisis is preparing to hear from two key architects of the government’s response: Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Geithner and Paulson will provide their perspectives on the so-called “shadow banking system” — a largely unregulated world of capital and credit markets outside of traditional banks. They will describe their roles in selling Bear Stearns (BSC) to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) after pressure from “shadow banking” companies made Bear the first major casualty of the crisis.

The pair will testify Thursday morning before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a bipartisan panel established by Congress to probe the roots of the financial crisis. It is the first time the panel has heard from either of the men who called the shots in late 2008 as the global financial system nearly collapsed.

The panel is looking at nonbank financial companies such as PIMCO and GE Capital that provide capital for loans to consumers and small businesses. When rumors spread in 2008 that Bear Stearns was teetering, these companies started what former Bear Stearns executives described Wednesday as a “run on the bank,” drawing so much of its capital that it could not survive.

Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson and Geithner, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, engineered Bear’s rescue. The New York Fed put up a $29 billion federal backstop to limit JPMorgan’s future losses on Bear Stearns’ bad investments.

Bear Stearns was the first Wall Street bank to blow up. Its demise foreshadowed the cascading financial meltdown in the fall of that year.

The panel is investigating the roots of the crisis that plunged the country into the most severe recession since the 1930s and brought losses of jobs and homes for millions of Americans.

In earlier testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Paulson defended his response to the economic crisis as an imperfect but necessary rescue that spared the U.S. financial market from total collapse.

“Many more Americans would be without their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their savings and their way of life,” he said in testimony prepared for that hearing.

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SEC makes emergency rule targeting ‘naked’ short-selling permanent

July 27, 2009

By Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer
Monday July 27, 2009, 8:03 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Monday made permanent an emergency rule put in at the height of last fall’s market turmoil that aims to reduce abusive short-selling.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it took the action on the rule targeting so-called “naked” short-selling, which was due to expire Friday.

Short-sellers bet against a stock. They generally borrow a company’s shares, sell them, and then buy them when the stock falls and return them to the lender — pocketing the difference in price.

“Naked” short-selling occurs when sellers don’t even borrow the shares before selling them, and then look to cover positions sometime after the sale.

The SEC rule includes a requirement that brokers must promptly buy or borrow securities to deliver on a short sale.

Brokers acting for short sellers must find a party believed to be able to deliver the shares within three days after the short-sale trade. If the shares aren’t delivered within that time, there is deemed to be a “failure to deliver.” Brokers can be subject to penalties if the failure to deliver isn’t resolved by the start of trading on the following day.

At the same time, the SEC has been considering several new approaches to reining in rushes of regular short-selling that also can cause dramatic plunges in stock prices.

Investors and lawmakers have been clamoring for the SEC to put new brakes on trading moves they say worsened the market’s downturn starting last fall. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has said she is making the issue a priority.

Some securities industry officials, however, have maintained that the SEC’s emergency order on “naked” short-selling brought unintended negative consequences, such as wilder price swings and turbulence in the market.

The five SEC commissioners voted in April to put forward for public comment five alternative short-selling plans. One option is restoring a Depression-era rule that prohibits short sellers from making their trades until a stock ticks at least one penny above its previous trading price. The goal of the so-called uptick rule is to prevent selling sprees that feed upon themselves — actions that battered the stocks of banks and other companies over the last year.

Another approach would ban short-selling for the rest of the trading session in a stock that declines by 10 percent or more.

Schapiro said last week the SEC could decide on a final course of action in “the next several weeks or several months.”

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Breakout or Fakeout?

June 16, 2009

The S&P 500 celebrated its great technical accomplishment highlighted in our last note by doing exactly nothing. Maintaining a tight 32 point range from top to bottom, the S&P 500 netted just over 3 points from our previous note to the closing price last Friday, June 12. This week has changed the tune, giving up more than 34 points in just two days. Surrendering initial support in the 925-930 area designated by the May highs, the SPX is once again bearing down on the 200 day moving average, this time from above.  Additional support of the 50 day moving average is also moving into the area, just 15.5 points below the 200 day as of today, and rising.  The lows from May, which are also the highs from April and February, mark another major support level in the 875-880 range.

spx06.16.09 intraday

Both the MACD and the daily 13/34 exponential moving average indicator have signaled a negative divergence by not confirming the new highs in the price of the average.  With the January highs holding as resistance, the head and shoulders bottom we discussed in Still overbought, but over first resistance also is still in play.  As we noted, “…finishing the inverse head and shoulders bottom 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.”  With the 50 and 200 day moving averages relatively close together this time, plus the support of the recent lows/previous highs around 875-880, this market has plenty of candidates for a right shoulder not far from current prices.  A convincing move back below 875 would signal a deeper correction with targets as low as 741 still completely valid.

spx06.16.09

Which brings us to the market leading NASDAQ Composite.  Since our last note highlighting the breakout by the COMP, a brief rally has fizzled out with the last two trading days completely erasing the gains and setting up a quick test of the breakout point as support.  The rally stopped short of filling the gap opened on the way down in early October 2008, but did manage to bring the 50 and 200 day moving averages into a bullish golden cross.  Plenty of support exists for this market, but it doesn’t come into play until 60-120 points below the breakout point at 1785 if the breakout fails to hold.  Targets as low as 1500 do not invalidate the uptrend if the SPX makes a run toward the 2002 lows or even 741.  The MACD is also showing a negative divergence here by not confirming the new high in price and the ROC shows a failure to build momentum on the breakout.

comp06.16.09

We are again returning to our short positions, including SH, after precautionary stop outs proved unnecessary and untimely.  Our position in SH specifically was re-entered exactly at the stop out price (see Security Growth for details).


Countrywide’s Mozilo charged with fraud

June 4, 2009

Thu Jun 4, 2009 7:41pm EDT

By Gina Keating and Rachelle Younglai

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Angelo Mozilo, who built the largest U.S. mortgage lender, was charged with securities fraud and insider trading on Thursday, making him the most prominent defendant so far in investigations into the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis and housing bust.

Mozilo, 70, co-founder of Countrywide Financial Corp (CFC), was accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with making more than $139 million in profits in 2006 and 2007 from exercising 5.1 million stock options and selling the underlying shares.

The sales were under four prearranged stock trading plans Mozilo prepared during the time period, the SEC said.

The accusations were made in a civil lawsuit filed by the SEC in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The SEC said that in one instance, the day before he set up a stock trading plan on September 25, 2006, Mozilo sent an email to two Countrywide executives that said: “We are flying blind on how these loans will perform in a stressed environment of higher unemployment, reduced values and slowing home sales.”

Those executives, then Countrywide President David Sambol, 49, and Chief Financial Officer Eric Sieracki, 52, were charged by the SEC with knowingly writing “riskier and riskier” subprime loans that they had a limited ability to sell on the secondary mortgage market.

The SEC said that all three executives failed to tell investors how dependent Countrywide had become on its ability to sell subprime mortgages on the secondary market. All three were accused of hiding from investors the risks they took to win market share.

At one stage, Countrywide was writing almost 1 in 6 of American mortgages. The lawsuit said that by September 2006, Countrywide estimated that it had a 15.7 percent share of the market, up from 11.4 percent at the end of 2003.

“While Countrywide boasted to investors that its market share was increasing, company executives did not disclose that its market share increase came at the expense of prudent underwriting guidelines,” the lawsuit said

Bank of America Corp (BAC) bought Countrywide last July 1 for $2.5 billion, less than a tenth of what it had been worth in early 2007.

“TWO COMPANIES”, EARLY WARNING SIGNS

“This is a tale of two companies,” the SEC’s director of enforcement, Robert Khuzami, told reporters. “One that investors from the outside saw. It was allegedly characterized by prudent business practices and tightly controlled risk.”

“But the real Countrywide, which could only be seen from the inside, was one buckling under the weight of deteriorating mortgages, lax underwriting, and an increasingly suspect business model,” Khuzami said.

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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.

spx050509

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.

comp050509

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.

spx20022003bottom


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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