DJIA: Does the Past Offer Hope?

After the horrid US data released this morning, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the equity markets including the Dow Jones Industrial Average are headed lower. We have argued that the next string of GDP reports will finally reflect the recessionary conditions that Americans are already feeling. However in every battle there are signs of hope. Here is a very interesting chart published by Barclays Capital this morning. They compare the current equity market movements to that of the “Panic of 1907.”

The similarities are striking. In 1907, the last leg lower in the Dow was the 37% decline that lasted from the second quarter to the fourth quarter. So far this year we have only seen a 34% decline from the August high of 11867 to the October low of 7882. Another 3 percent decline would bring the Dow down to 7475.

Click to Enlarge

Barclays Capital

Barclays Capital

The price action in the Dow in 1907 suggests that there could be one final push lower in equities before a long term bottom and when a rally does happen, it could be as much as 20 percent. Afterward, expect a long phase of consolidation. Back in 1907, there was a 15 year consolidation before the stock market picked up once again and we entered the Roaring 20s.

Here’s a chart of the Dow from 1900-2004 (click to enlarge)

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Oil Continues to Drive the Dollar

The eyes of everyone from investment managers to stock and currency traders were glued to testimony of the 3 biggest players in the latest financial crisis. US Treasury Secretary Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and SEC Chairman Cox urged the Senate Banking Committee to approve their request for $700B of taxpayer money. Instead of calming the markets, Paulson and Bernanke spent their time warning of the doomsday scenario should the Senators fail to approve their plan. As a result, stocks came under severe selling pressure. Volatility has been vicious in the financial markets today but the one thing that has remained relatively consistent is dollar strength. The greenback traded higher against every major currency. On Monday, the dollar’s weakness was triggered by the sharp rally in oil prices and today, the retracement is leading to a recovery in the US dollar. Since the beginning of the year, the EUR/USD has had a close 70 percent correlation with oil prices. Over the past 3 months, that correlation has become greater than 90 percent.

From Main Street to Washington, No One is Happy with Paulson’s Plan

Based upon the criticism by the Senators, the backlash from economists, commentators and average Americans, no one is happy with Paulson’s plan. The big question on Main Street is whether Paulson is putting the private interest ahead of the public. This is certainty a heavy debate and one that we will not take up in this column. Instead, we acknowledge the fact that no other viable solutions have been offered and instead Paulson has simply relented to more oversight. This lack of confidence or clarity in Paulson’s plan is a big reason why the US dollar could fall by another 5 percent. Like banks, investors from around the world are pulling their money out of high risk investments and hoarding their cash. According to The Independent, hedge funds are suffering mass redemptions. Foreign investors continue to lose confidence in dollar denominated investments, which is reflected in the sell-off in the stock market and rally in US Treasuries. For currency traders, this means that the US dollar is headed lower.

The Problem is Counterparty Risk

Paulson’s argument is that by freeing up capital for the banks, they can resume making loans for individuals and businesses. However the problem that lenders face is not necessarily a lack of cash, but the fear of couit’sitnterparty risk. The only encouraging thing that came out of the statement was a peculiar comment from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Rather than stick to his prepared testimony, Bernanke spent his time talking about buying assets at their value if held to maturity over buying them at fire sale prices. If this is what they actually do, we could see banks revise up their write-downs. Unfortunately this is another band-aid that masks some of the troubles in the financial crisis and not a new solution aimed at boosting lending, reducing risk aversion or stimulating growth. Unless these problems are tackled head on, the US economy could be in for more trouble.

More Signs that Mr. Scrooge is Coming this Holiday Season

The Richmond Fed manufacturing Index and the report on house prices were both weaker than expected, but the big disappointment came from the National Retail Federation’s warning that spending this holiday season could be the slowest in 6 years. More consumers may be forced to think like Mr. Scrooge which will lead to weaker growth and slower hiring. Existing home sales are due for release on Wednesday. We expect sales to continue to slow because even if homeowners have money to buy, lenders are making it very difficult for them to take out a loan in excess of their down payment.

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US: Forget About a V-Shaped Recovery, Maybe a W or L

The volatility that we have seen in the currency, stock and bond markets this past week has not been for the faint of heart. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 500 points on Monday, but instead of continuing lower over the course of the week, it staged the biggest 2 day rally in 5 years. Three to four hundred point swings in the stock market have become the norm this week as surprises and disappointments from the US government keeps traders on their toes.

The current Administration has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the markets and based upon the recovery that we have seen over the past 2 trading sessions, something has worked. The most powerful of which is probably the Securities and Exchange Commission’s temporary ban on short selling and the hope that Paulson and Bernanke will deliver a new groundbreaking rescue plan that will include a bail-out fund that sops up all of the troubled paper. This has forced a massive short squeeze that drove stocks up more than 750 points in 2 days. Although there could have also been some genuine buying, the rise in gold prices suggests that some investors are still nervous. With no details disclosed at his press conference on Friday, it will certainly be another long weekend for US Treasury Secretary Paulson.

Don’t Expect a V-Shaped Economic Recovery, Maybe a W or L

The main take away from the recent developments is that we will not see a V shaped economic recovery. According to the data released this past week, the housing market and the manufacturing sector are still in trouble. Durable goods, the final numbers for second quarter GDP, new and existing home sales are due for release in this coming week and we expect the data to confirm the weakness of the US economy. Layoffs will rise, consumer spending will slow and corporate profitability will decline for at least the next 3 to 6 months. A recovery usually comes in one of four forms – U, V, W or L. We believe that in the current case of the US economy, we will probably see a recovery that looks more like a W or an L.

Investment Banks: 3 Down, 2 to Go

Of the top 5 investments banks on Wall Street, 3 have disappeared this year – Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. The last ones standing are Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (Citigroup and JPMorgan are considered universal banks since they have commercial banking divisions). With Morgan in merger talks, there could end up only being one independent player left in the market. For banks to consolidate is not a surprise but their consolidation now is more of an act of desperation than anything else.

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Dow 10k Could Mean USD/JPY at 100

On Friday, the Dow hitting 10,000 still seemed to be a remote possibility, but today, that is starting to become a reality. We have warned on near daily basis about the danger of carry trades. Although the EUR/USD’s reaction to the systemic risk in the financial markets was not as clear, there was a clearly negative implication for USD/JPY. Not only did we talk about the 70 percent correlation between the S&P 500 and USD/JPY, but there is also a similarly tight correlation between USD/JPY and the VIX index, which measures the volatility of the stock market. This means that the weakness in stocks and the rise in volatility drove USD/JPY below 105. To put today’s move into perspective, the drop in US stocks today was the most since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Unless stability returns to the financial markets, all of the Japanese Yen crosses including USD/JPY will continue to suffer.

WILL A FED RATE CUT BE ENOUGH OF A LIFELINE TO SAVE THE MARKET?

Since the beginning of the year, we have lost 3 of the largest investment banks on Wall Street and such unprecedented developments have called for unprecedented actions by US government and Wall Street officials. Since the announcement of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy and Bank of America taking over Merrill Lynch, AIG has been given special permission by US authorities to tap into $20bln of its own capital to prevent a liquidity crisis and credit downgrades. The Federal Reserve is also holding a special meeting to discuss possible remedies to AIG’s problems. The ECB and the Bank of England have pumped more liquidity into the financial system while the Federal Reserve made an unusual intervention to drive Fed funds lower.

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Why Did Fed Funds Soar to 6 Percent when Futures are Pricing in a Rate Cut?

Fed fund futures are pricing in an 80 percent chance of a 25bp rate cut tomorrow by the Federal Reserve. This is a big change from last week, when the only thing that the market was thinking about was a rate hike. However despite this sharp shift in expectations, Fed funds surged to a high of 6 percent, 400bp above the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent intraday. This jump in the overnight lending rate between banks indicates that no one wants to take on risk. Trust is a commodity these days as the move in Fed fund futures suggests that no one knows if their counterparty will be here to survive another day. Fund funds gave back all of its gains by the end of the US trading session, but that does not mean that risk appetite has returned – quite the contrary. AIG is in big trouble, Washington Mutual is still on our watch list with their bonds now cut to junk status by Moody’s and the worries now turn to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley who will be releasing earnings this week. Large write downs could drive a nail in the coffin for the US stock market and USD/JPY. Of all the pairs in the currency major, USD/JPY and other carry trades will be hit the worst. Over the past 3 years, there has been a 68 percent correlation between the VIX and USD/JPY, so higher volatility means trouble for the currency pair. Although consolidation in the banking sector was something many people expected, no one thought that the consolidation would occur because of Chapter 11 filings.

Will a Fed Rate Cut be Enough to Shore Up Confidence and Trigger a Reversal in the US Dollar?
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