The running of the bulls

From the 400 point rally today in the stock market, you’d think that the bulls are running rampant in Pamplona.  And you may be right, however….

Stocks are still down over 10% for the year.  The highly leveraged banks and Wall Street firms are still highly leveraged.  Massive amounts of mortgage backed securities – and their higher default rates coming this year and next – are looming.  When a CDO takes a 10% loss because the home owners can’t make the payments, that translates to a 300% loss on a 30 to 1 leveraged portfolio such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.  (Citigroup is also highly leveraged.)  The $2/share Fed “take it or leave it” financed JPM buyout of Bear Stearns still needs to be approved by shareholders.  Hmmm…. How would you vote if you owned BSC?

As I’ve written before, this unwinding of the leverage in the financial markets will take quite awhile.  The longer the Fed props up failing companies, the longer it will take to hit bottom.   JP Morgan is getting a deal only because the Fed is guaranteeing $30 billion of BSC’s “assets.”  They’re not really worth $30 billion, but the Fed took that much risk away from JP Morgan.   That’s $30 billion that US taxpayers will end up spending to finance this bailout – because the underlying securities are “riskier assets.”

 A couple of weeks ago, I thought we were headed for a repeat of the Carter years and stagflation, but it’s beginning to look more and more like we’re repeating Japan’s mistakes of the 1990’s.  Low interest rates, keeping bad debt on the books (instead of recognizing the loss and getting it over with) propping up banks with fake assets on their books, etc. 

Japan still hasn’t fully recovered from the 1990’s.  I sincerely hope that we don’t continue making the same mistakes, but today’s 3/4% drop in both the discount and Fed funds rates isn’t helping.  That only serves to drive up long term inflation, and that (rather than deflation that I’m reading about) is my long term worry.

As regular readers know, I don’t try to predict short term market swings, I simply try to stay on the right side of the market during long term trends.  I don’t know if today’s action signals a turnaround or not; my gut says no – because of the reasons listed above – but my gut doesn’t make the market move.

Regardless, I don’t see any fundamental change in the long term trends of the dollar going down, commodities (especially gold, silver, corn, and oil) going up, and the broad market (especially financials) going lower.

My feeling is that the majority on the street think that the worst news is behind us; that most people are looking for a reason to buy.  They’ve discounted all the bad news and they’re ready for another bull market.  I don’t think they’ll get it just yet.

Too many firms have too much debt.  Too many firms are leveraged enough so that a small change in the base assets (mortgages in most cases) results in a huge change to their balance sheets.  One little piece of unexpected bad news will be enough to cause a dramatic sell off.  I’m talking about a sell off big enough to trigger a halt to trading. 

I think the coming upswing in the foreclosure rate (because of all the ARM’s taken out in 2005 through 2007) hasn’t been fully factored in to the stock prices of the companies that are using these mortgages as collateral on their loans. 

When people realize how little capital is propping up these companies, share prices will drop.  The dollar will drop, and commodities will rise.  Again, I have no clue what the market will be at in a week or a month.  I don’t know if commodities will be higher a month from now or not.  But I’m betting that 10 years from now, you’ll be glad you bought gold at $1000/oz, silver at $20/oz, oil at $105/barrel, etc. 

If we really are following the deflationary path Japan took in the 90’s, the Dow may well be at 7000 10 years from now.  As it stands, buy and hold investors are down from where they were 8 years ago….  How much longer do we need to prolong the agony? Take the losses now, write off the sub prime and alt-a loans, get it over with!

Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.  🙂 


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