Daily Investment Interpretations

June 16, 2009

2009-6-16:  The markets fell again today on relatively low volume, though not as much as yesterday. The indices each lost roughly 1 %. The S&P 500 and the Dow both closed below their 25-day moving averages, with the S&P ending at its 200-day average, and the Dow closing below its 200-day average. The Nasdaq remained above both those benchmarks.
NASDAQ Composite retreated 20.2 points (-1.11%) to 1,796.18, the Dow gave up 107.46 points (-1.25%) to 8,504.67, and the S&P 500 declined 11.75 points (-1.27%) to end the day at 923.72 As mentioned above, Oil ended at  $70.27 a barrel, while gold added $5 to 932. The VIX jumped 1.87 to  32.68.
    The market fell sharply in the last 15 minutes of trading, suggesting to me that investors waited to see whether the market would rise at the end. When it didn't they dumped stocks in anticipation of further losses to come. Of course, after losing 3 % in two days, the market will probably soon stage a "dead cat" bounce, but right now, its short-term trend is down. U.S. stocks forfeit rise; economy at issue
    This is the first two-day pullback since the end of March, and it's certainly overdue.
    As the market worsens, Paul Krugman's insights look better and better. In a set of three lectures that he gave last week in the UK, he explains that economists had thought until now that depressions couldn't happen here again. Economists had  learned their lessons, and by now, had everything under control. Monetary manipulation would always pull the economy out of a funk. Demand could be taken for granted; the limiting factor would always be monetary supply. It's intuitive that you can always get people to spend if you print enough money and make it easy enough to borrow.
    Until they don't.
    The key to this was what happened to Japan during its "lost decade". During the 90's, Japan printed money by the bushel basket, but it didn't pump up the economy, nor did it cause the inflation that everyone "knew" would have to happen. Instead, the money sat in bank vaults because (1) no one wanted to borrow money to expand their businesses because business wasn't that good, and (2) banks were afraid to loan money to most borrowers because they weren't sure that the borrowers could pay them back. The Japanese lowered their interest rates to zero, and nearly doubled their money supply and it did nothing. It generated no lending and no inflation. The Japanese economy continued to stagnate. And this flies in the face of all existing economic theory. All our economic texts will have to be rewritten. The models have failed.
    The bottom line: we're in unexplored territory, in a "liquidity trap". This is a situation in which the interest rates that banks have to pay to borrow money is zero. They can loan out this money at a 5% or 6% interest rate but (1) potential borrowers are too insecure about their own financial futures to want to borrow, (2) consumer demand has fallen off so companies are closing plants rather than building them, and (3) banks are afraid that borrowers won't be able to repay their loans,  understanding that it takes a lot of interest to make up for every defaulted loan. Consumer demand declines so companies lay off employees, resulting in further declines in demand.
    Breaking this vicious circle requires either waiting until durable goods wear out and must be replaced, forcing renewed production (as in the Panic of 1873), or the government steps in to become the employer of last resort. During the Great Depression, government intervention led to a dramatic rebound (the stock market quintupled) from January, 1933, through January, 1937, until President Roosevelt, in the wake of his 1936 re-election, gave in to the deficit hawks and cut back on the New Deal. It was too soon. The country plunged back into recession until World War II broke it up.
A Parenthetical Remark: It's a popular pastime to bemoan the money the government is borrowing as a debt that we'll pass on to future generations. In fact, about a third of the money that the government is borrowing for TARP and for the government's fiscal stimulus program will come back in the form of taxes as the money changes hands in the economy. Further, this money isn't being given away but is being loaned against tangible assets. Hopefully, part of the two-thirds of this money that doesn't return to the government through taxation should be recovered when the loans are repaid, as has happened in the past. Then, too, recessions and depressions reduce government tax receipts (currently about $3 trillion a year). Decreasing the lengths and depths of recessions may help offset the costs of stimulus programs. And finally, the infrastructure investments the U. S. government made at least during the Depression... roads, dams, power plants... were of lasting monetary value to the nation, and were purchased at rock-bottom prices.

6-16 (Afternoon):  The markets have continued to drop today, with the S&P 500 falling below its 25-day moving average. Its 25-day average is flattening out, but hasn't yet sloped downward. I have taken the precautionary step of selling my January, 2010, calls, and have sold some previously recommended, outperforming China stocks that are no longer followed by the Cabot China and Emerging Markets Report. Now, with the highest-risk stocks no longer in my portfolio, I'll wait to see what happens next. (This still leaves me 75% invested.)
    Note that the Chinese market index, FXI, is down 2 % at the moment..
Flip-flopping moving averages point to momentum

See Michael Ashbaugh's Technical Indicator