Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Behind the Market Drop and Why it Could Get Much Worse

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

After a sharp rise since last October, the market looks like it is set up for one of its usual spring downturns. Without continued liquidity injections from the major central banks, it won't be able to break through the wall of resistance it's currently facing, nor will there be much support to hold it up.

As has been the case for months, trouble in Greece is currently roiling international markets. The bond swap deal reached as part of the latest bailout settlement isn't going well. With a March 8th deadline looming, Bloomberg is reporting that private investors holding around 20% of Greek government debt have so far agreed to participate. The Greek government has set a threshold of 75% for the deal to go through. While the mainstream media has consistently cheer leaded the success of every bailout deal, the market has never been convinced. Yields on one-year Greek government bonds have been on a strong upward trajectory since last summer and were over 1000% today.

The eurozone debt crisis has resulted in a great deal of liquidity being poured into the market by the Europeans. The  ECB pumped approximately half a trillion euros via LTROs (long-term refinancing operations) last fall. The rise in global stock markets can be traced from this event. At the same time, the Bank of England was on its second round of quantitative easing and examination of the U.S. Federal Reserve balance sheet shows what looks like the beginning of QE3. The monetary base in the United States was also moving straight up the chart last fall and earlier this year. No matter where you looked, liquidity was flowing into the system. Since stock markets respond immediately to extra liquidity, a powerful global rise in markets took place.

The problem with liquidity-driven markets is that if the liquidity dries up, they can wither like a plant that has been denied water. The constant supply of liquidity always has to slow down because eventually the liquidity will flow into the mainstream economy and turn into ugly inflation. The big liquidity pump that started last fall seems to be falling to slow trickle lately and markets are quite vulnerable once this happens. A failure of the Greek bailout deal (and government bond yields indicate that the market expects this to happen), would cause a massive negative liquidity event that would be on the scale of the Lehman default in 2008. It might even be worse.

At the same time liquidity issues are impacting the market, stock prices are stuck at resistance and the technical indicators are deteriorating. The S&P 500 is at its high that it reached earlier in 2011. The Dow Industrials are also at last year's resistance. Only the Nasdaq has managed to break through because of a small number of stocks like Apple Computer (AAPL) -- which is clearly exhibiting bubble-like action.

Recent news indicates deteriorating economies outside the United States. The economy within the U.S. is only being held up by massive government spending with budget deficits of $1.3 trillion last years and projected to be $1.3 trillion again for 2012. This is all borrowed or newly printed money. How big would the U.S. GDP be without these continual massive injections of government pseudo-cash?  Inflation is also clearly showing up in the ISM Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing (Services) reports. The Prices component is the highest one for both. Prices for services (80% of the U.S. economy) have been rising for 31 months in a row and are listed as accelerating in February.

Stocks usually have a selloff in March or April. This year they are especially vulnerable. There will almost certainly be some type of drop. How big remains to be seen. The possibility for major selling should be kept in mind by investors.

Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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