Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unwinding the Fantasy Trade

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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Stocks plunged after the open today on the Chicago Purchasing Managers report which indicated contraction in the largest manufacturing region of the U.S. Also this morning, commercial lender CIT, one of the largest sources of loans in the U.S. for small and midsized business, is on the verge of collapse. The company has received $5.3 billion in federal bailout money so far... and even after that, it is still having trouble staying afloat (it will be the fifth biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history if it goes under). Yesterday's September Consumer Confidence number fell instead of going up as economists predicted. Added to all this, the FDIC board voted to ask solvent banks to pre-pay the next three years of their insurance premiums so its deposit insurance fund won't run out of money. Just more evidence of how well the banking system has been 'stabilized' and how well the economic 'recovery' is doing.

The 4th quarter begins tomorrow and the first four trading days should give us a good indication about whether or not the big money will be selling stocks. A net drop in stock prices during this period will be negative going forward. The rally that has taken place since March has a typical bear market pattern to it. In the case of the Dow and S&P 500 it just shot straight up without any basing pattern forming. The rally that followed the 2000 to 2002 sell off, had a ten-month base and this is what allowed it to continue for several years. Stocks have also reached historically overbought levels based on the percentage of stocks trading above their 200-day moving average (the definition of a rally). This reached 95% on the NYSE. Previously a number in the low 70's would have been enough to create a top. While stocks have skyrocketed, Nasdaq up 68%, S&P 500 up 57% and the Dow up nearly 50%, volume has not. Volume on the Dow has continually declined during the entire rally - a very bearish pattern. Even worse a handful of junk financials, traded mostly by computer, have accounted for a large percentage of overall NYSE volume.

Stocks, and bonds as well, have had spectacular rallies because the monetary authorities have pumped an unprecedented amount of money (a lot of it newly printed) into the financial system. The U.S. government additionally changed its accounting rules and this magically made the close to worthless subprime debt held by financial companies worth a lot more overnight. The rising prices of stocks and bonds that followed have been used as evidence that the economy is recovering and along with the accounting rule changes allowed banks and brokers to report significant, but illusory, profits last quarter. The IMF has helped perpetuate this financial fantasy in a just released report that estimates that bank's losses from the Credit Crisis will only be $3.4 trillion now instead of a previously estimated $4 trillion. The logic behind their reasoning? Stock and bond prices have gone up! The IMF is still willing to admit however that U.S. banks have yet to recognize 40% of their losses and UK and euro zone banks 60% of their losses from the Credit Crisis. It warned that monetary policy makers had better consider this before deciding to withdraw the massive stimulus programs that are currently in place.

Government stimulus can only work so long in keeping stock prices up. The Japanese found this out in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Nikkei had more than one spectacular rally, but each time the rally failed because stimulus programs ended or were eventually cut back. New stimulus programs were then created and the cycle began all over again. The one thing the Japanese didn't do was fix the underlying problems with their banking system. The U.S. has not done so either and until this happens, the government can produce all the economic 'recoveries' it wants to, but they won't last. What will last is the inflation caused by all the money printing needed to produce the recoveries.

NEXT: If You Ignore the Facts, Things Are Good

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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