Monday, April 30, 2012 – The Euro is Actually Kind of Important – Corporate Campaign Bribery – OWS Comes out of Hibernation

DOW – 14 = 13,213SPX – 5 = 1397NAS – 22 = 304610 YR YLD – .02 = 1.91%OIL -.07 = 104.80GOLD + 1.50 = 1665.30SILV – .26 = 31.11PLAT – 4.00 = 1574.00 A sharp drop in an index of Midwestern manufacturing and a slowdown in U.S. consumer spending last month added to worries that the U.S. economy is slowing down. Weaker earnings reports from health insurer Humana and the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Euronext. The losses were broad. Nine of the ten industry groups in the S&P 500 fell, led by materials. Only telecoms rose. The Spanish government said that country’s economy shrank 0.3 percent in the first three months of the year, the second straight quarter of contraction. Spain is the fourth-largest economy among the 17 countries that use the euro. The worry is that Europe’s bailout funds won’t be big enough to rescue Spain if it needs help. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Spain’s government debt to just three notches above junk Friday. Earlier today, S&P lowered its rating for 11 Spanish banks, which are loaded with bad debt from a collapsed housing market. The good news is the euro hasn’t collapse, at least not yet. Somehow, the countries of the European Union continue to overcome their varied self-interest and they seem to do just enough to avoid catastrophe, at least for now. One reason the Euro still exists is because it is more than a monetary union, it is also …

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Friday, April 27, 2012 – Falling Down: US GDP, Spain, & Romania

DOW + 23 = 13,228SPX + 3 = 1403NAS + 18 = 306910 Yr yld -.03 = 1.93%OIL +.26 = 104.81GOLD  + 5.70 = 1663.80SILV + .18 = 31.37PLAT + 4.00 = 1579.00 This week was the best week in about one month for the major stock averages. Amazon climbed 15.7 percent to $226.85 and contributed half of Nasdaq’s gain for the day. The S&P retail index rose 3.5 percent and hit an all-time high. Shares of Expedia, the Web-based travel provider, surged 23.5 percent to close at $40.31, after hitting a new high at $43 on record volume. Growth in S&P 500 earnings rose to 7.2 percent this week from 3.2 percent at the start of the month. About 73 percent of the companies that have reported so far have beaten expectations. Earlier this week, a blowout quarter from Apple Inc gave the Nasdaq its best day of the year .  The S&P 500 is up 11.6 percent for the year.  Pay no attention to the Commerce Department report behind the curtain of the Wall Street indices.  The report says the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, far below expectations for growth of 2.5 percent. Growth of 2.2% is mediocre, but it’s worse than that once you peel away a few layers — about a fourth of the growth in gross domestic product was accounted for by a buildup in inventories, and half of it came from the building and selling of motor vehicles. …

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Thursday, April 26, 2012 -Home Sales Up, Expectations Up; Beard on Beard Violence; Spain Sinks; Draghi’s Pretzel Logic; Big Banks Payday Tactics

DOW + 113 = 13,204SPX + 9 = 1399NAS + 20 = 305010 YR YLD -.02 = 1.96%OIL – .50 = 104.05GOLD + 12.80 = 1658.10SILV + .38 = 31.19PLAT + 16.00 = 1574.00 The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits last week was 388,000; basically unchanged from a week earlier. The National Association of Realtors’ pending-home-sales index rose 4.1% to 101.4 in March. March pending home sales were up 12.8% from year-ago levels. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed. Sales of existing homes during the first quarter were the strongest in five years, and the NAR said the pending home sales data suggests the second quarter will be equally good. Pending sales are now at a 23 month high. We told you there would be a push to stimulate the economy by way of the housing market. It probably started with Operation Twist, and the Fed buying mortgage backed securities, and then continued with the push for HARP 2.0. We had a plethora of earnings reports today. Pulte Homes posted a smaller than expected loss. Citrix Software posted a better than expected profit. Amazon.com reported better than expected earnings even though profit dropped 35% from a year earlier. Of the 51% of the S&P 500 companies that have reported first-quarter results so far, 72.4% have reported earnings above expectations, 11.8% reported earnings in line with expectations and 15.7% reported earnings below estimates. It’s all about expectations. …

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012 – Bernanke Approximately Right, UK Approximately Wrong, Students Approximately Taxed

DOW + 89 = 13,090 SPX + 18 = 1390NAS + 68 = 302910 YR YLD +.02 = 1.98%OIL -.11 = 104.01GOLD + 2.80 = 1645.30SILV – .12 = 30.81PLAT + 8.00 = 1559.00 If you own shares in Apple, congratulations. It gained nearly $50 to finish at $610, up nearly 9%. If you don’t own Apple, don’t worry about it, don’t chase it. Realize that a big chunk of the move today for the broader market, was really just Apple, but it was a good day, with gainers outpacing losers by 3 to 1. The Federal Reserve wrapped up their FOMC meeting and announced no changes. Wow, what a surprise. The Fed didn’t raise rates – they can’t. They didn’t lower rates – they can’t. They didn’t announce QE3, but they didn’t take it off the table. Bernanke told reporters at a press conference, “We see monetary policy as being approximately in the right place at this point.” He said, “Our intention is to maintain highly accommodative stance of policy for the foreseeable future.” Kind of like QE in Perpetuity. Bernanke stressed that the Fed could purchase more assets if it looked like the economy needed help, but he said some ways to boost the economy, like tolerating higher inflation, would be “reckless.” At the same time, he said it was too early to raise rates, “I think it’s a little premature to declare victory. I think that keeping interest rates low is still appropriate for our economy.” The …

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012 – Bernanke Approximately Right, UK Approximately Wrong, Students Approximately Taxed

DOW + 89 = 13,090 SPX + 18 = 1390NAS + 68 = 302910 YR YLD +.02 = 1.98%OIL -.11 = 104.01GOLD + 2.80 = 1645.30SILV – .12 = 30.81PLAT + 8.00 = 1559.00 If you own shares in Apple, congratulations. It gained nearly $50 to finish at $610, up nearly 9%. If you don’t own Apple, don’t worry about it, don’t chase it. Realize that a big chunk of the move today for the broader market, was really just Apple, but it was a good day, with gainers outpacing losers by 3 to 1. The Federal Reserve wrapped up their FOMC meeting and announced no changes. Wow, what a surprise. The Fed didn’t raise rates – they can’t. They didn’t lower rates – they can’t. They didn’t announce QE3, but they didn’t take it off the table. Bernanke told reporters at a press conference, “We see monetary policy as being approximately in the right place at this point.” He said, “Our intention is to maintain highly accommodative stance of policy for the foreseeable future.” Kind of like QE in Perpetuity. Bernanke stressed that the Fed could purchase more assets if it looked like the economy needed help, but he said some ways to boost the economy, like tolerating higher inflation, would be “reckless.” At the same time, he said it was too early to raise rates, “I think it’s a little premature to declare victory. I think that keeping interest rates low is still appropriate for our economy.” The …

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 – As the Euro Turns, Counting Protesters at Shareholder Meetings

DOW + 74 = 13,001 SPX + 5 = 1371NAS – 8 = 296110 YR YLD +.03 = 1.96%OIL +.20 = 103.75GOLD + 3.20 = 1642.50SILV -.03 = 30.93PLAT – 14.00 = 1550.00 Yesterday’s edition of “As the Euro Turns” included the collapse of the government in the Netherlands when it could not agree with a key allied party on budget cuts to bring the deficit below the EU-mandated 3 percent. In France, Socialist Francois Hollande led the first round of presidential elections; he has vowed to renegotiate a European treaty tightening rules on debt. All that was absorbed today. After all, the Dutch still have a Triple-A credit rating; they will probably pay their bonds. It does appear, at least for today, that the Euro has turned; as if a sudden transformation has swept the continent. Austerity is dead. Keynes has been resurrected and placed on a pedestal in Brussels, right next to a chocolate covered waffle. There was a mass awakening that countries cannot cut their way to prosperity. Angela Merkel is fighting back against the austerity backlash; she argues the “credibility” of the Eurozone is at risk without more austerity and continuing cutbacks. But austerity isn’t working and its hard to maintain credibility in the face of failed policy. Here is the problem: If a government (say Greece) has a massive deficit and now they are trying to balance their budget, the government will be making the situation worse by imposing cuts, both because government expenditure is …

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Monday, April 23, 2012 European Debate Austerity v. Growth, Walmart in Mexico, Apple in Seattle

DOW – 102 = 12,927SPX – 11 = 1366NAS – 30 = 297010 YR YLD – .04 = 1.93%OIL +.03 = 103.14GOLD – 4.10 = 1639.30SILV – .84 = 30.86PLAT – 22.00 = 1565.00 There is some uncertainty in Europe. Sarkozy is losing the election in France; the Dutch government has collapsed, and the debt continues to mount and the austerity plans aren’t working and the natives are getting restless. In France, Sarkozy came in second behind Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate and a harsh critic of the spending cuts prescribed as a way to end the region’s debt crisis. This was the first round of voting and there will be a runoff election on May 6th. Hollande won 28.6 percent to Sarkozy’s 27.1 percent; Hollande has the momentum. Voter frustration with the status quo and with the E.U. fed a rise of support for extremes at both ends of the political scale, making potential kingmakers out of 11 million voters who supported candidates of the far right and left. Sarkozy and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel have been the main architects of Europe’s efforts to avoid a collapse of the region’s shared currency. If Sarkozy loses, it means Merkel might not last. If both Sarkozy and Merkel lose power, we’ve got a whole new situation. Figures reported by the European Union’s statistics office confirmed the effects of budget-cutting programs on countries that use the euro currency. Even with widespread spending cuts, overall debt rose to 87.2 percent, the highest level since …

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Friday, April 20, 2012 – Burning Down Spanish Debt, AMR and Unions

DOW + 65 = 13,029SPX + 1 = 1378NAS – 7 = 300010 YR YLD +.02 = 1.97%OIL + 1.05 = 103.32GOLD – .20 = 1643.40SILV – .10 = 31.80PLAT unch = 1586.00 Italian and Spanish bond yields rose after a draft statement released by G-20 finance chiefs who are meeting in Washington said that Europe’s debt crisis still poses a threat to global growth. Spanish bonds briefly pushed above 6%. That helped push the cost of credit-default swaps to insure Spanish government debt up to a record high 503 bp and increased the cost of insuring Italian debt up to 474 bp, a 3-month high. Credit default swaps pay the buyer face value if the borrower – in this instance Spain – fails to meet its obligations, less the value of the defaulted debt. They’re priced in basis points. A basis point equals $1,000 on each $10 million in debt. Credit default swaps, or CDS, are generally considered insurance against default, but it’s not really insurance because anybody can write CDS against anybody else; there is no requirement for “insurable interest”. For example, if insurance worked like CDS, I could write a fire insurance policy on your house and if your house burned down, I would collect the payment. You might think that would give me an incentive to burn down your house. Yep, that might be what you would think. Now the bankers in New York and London might also have a little incentive to burn down Spanish …

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Thursday, April 19, 2012 – Say on Pay Just Says No to Citigroup, BofA Loses by Winning, and the Risky World of Derivatives

DOW – 68 = 12,964SPX – 8 = 1376NAS – 23 = 300710 YR YLD -.03 = 1.95%OIL -.01 = 102.66GOLD +.60 = 1643.60SILV + .17 = 31.90PLAT + 3.00 = 1587.00 Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup was “this close” to a $15 million dollar payday. And then shareholders slammed on the brakes and demanded the amount be toned down. It might be a trend. Wells Fargo and Bank of America will ask shareholders to vote on executive pay in coming weeks, and the results at Citi might influence the voting at Wells and BofA. Yesterday, shareholders rejected the compensation plan of regional bank FirstMerit Corp., of Akron, Ohio. The bank gave its CEO a pay raise to $6.4 million last year from $5.5 million, while its stock fell 20 percent. “Say-on-Pay” votes by shareholders were a requirement of the Dodd-Frank financial reform Act, and it looks like 90% of the compensation packages are winning approval, but the margin is slim. The Occupy movement plans to protest at 36 shareholder meetings this spring and the investment community seems to be waking up from a long nap of disengagement. The California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, voted no on the Citigroup pay measure because Citi “has not anchored rewards to performance.” Unfortunately, the only reason CalPERS voted against the pay package was because Pandit’s performance was beyond incompetent. What is the appropriate role for CalPERS? Shouldn’t they stand up for their members? Chief executives at some of the nation’s …

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 – Euro Debt, Iceland, the IMF, and Forgiveness

DOW – 82 = 13,032SPX – 5 = 1385NAS – 11 = 303110 YR YLD -.03 = 1.98% OIL – 1.43 = 102.77GOLD – 8.00 = 1643.00SILV – .08 = 31.73PLAT – 5.00 = 1581.00 Spain’s non-performing loans as a proportion of total lending jumped to 8.16% in February, up from 7.91% in January and the highest level in 18 years. Data from the Bank of Spain show that Spanish banks are burdened with about 176 billion euros of “troubled” real estate assets and that 21% of the 298 billion euros of loans linked to property developers are non-performing. Despite the increase in the country’s bad loans, the yield on Spain’s 10-year bond fell to a 1-1/2 week low of 5.72% on optimism over tomorrows auctions of 2-year and 10-year Spanish securities. Will Europe and its increasingly ugly currency, the euro, get out of the crisis in one piece? This is probably the biggest question for the global economy right now. There is increasing concern that Spain and Italy will eventually default. Maybe the euro will survive but nobody seems confident of that right now. And it appears Europe is facing an economic depression which will diminish living standards and create social unrest and take years to work though. A best case scenario is years of stagnation. Actually there is another solution and we’ll get to that in a few moments. The fate of the euro has global consequences. Europe is the largest marketplace in the world. When Euro-countries and …

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