Monday, January 7, 2013 – I Went on Vacation and Not Much Changed

I Went on Vacation and Not Much Changed
by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 50 = 13,384
SPX – 4 = 1461
NAS – 2 = 3098
10 YR YLD -.01 = 1.90%
OIL + .21 = 93.30
GOLD – 9.90 = 1647.90
SILV – .02 = 30.26
Forty years ago, Yale Hirsch at the Stock Traders Almanac, created the January Barometer. The idea was simple: as the S&P 500 goes in January, so goes the year. This market prediction tool has been correct 89% of the time since 1950, suffering only seven major setbacks. Since 1950, stocks have finished lower for the year only three times after posting gains in January. When the Dow is positive in January, then the rest of the year is positive 83% of the time, averaging additional gains of 9.59%. Compare that to the Dow’s performance when January is negative. In those years, the February-December returns are positive just half of the time, with an average gain of 2.04%.
As with the full-year results, a positive January typically leads to a positive February. When the Dow closes higher in January, February goes on to average a return of 0.57%, and is positive 63% of the time. When January is negative, February is negative more than half the time, and averages a loss of more than 1%. However, an outsized return in January has not necessarily translated into a bigger return for February. If January is up more than 3.5%, the average February gain is not as big as if January is simply positive.
Price movement in January is also a pretty good predictor of price movement in February for individual stocks; not a perfect predictor but usually moving in the same direction about 80% of the time.
Many investors look to the first five days of January as a gauge of where the markets are going for the rest of the year. During the last 40 years when those five first days were gainers, the markets were up for the entire year 85 percent of the time. For example, last year the S&P 500 Index gained 1.2 percent in the first five days of January. As a result, the S&P 500 Index was over 13 percent. That was close to the historical average. Over the last 39 years, the markets gained an average of 13.6% when the first five days of January were gainers.

Conversely, when the first five days are negative the markets were down for the year, but only 47.8% of the time. The indicator therefore, does not work as well on down periods. You should be aware that, in general, during post-election years the markets have not done well. Only 6 out of the last 15 post-election years saw gains in the first five days of the year. It looks like 2013 will be an exception. Maybe, maybe not. That’s why they play the game.

The fiscal cliff is behind us, sort of; there are still the actual implications of the implementation of the changes. Then, we have the debt ceiling, which will be the next catastrophic, OMG, here comes another massive economic sky-is-falling event, they’ll shut down the government if they don’t get cookies for lunch, political tantrum. Before we move to the next news cycle, let’s review briefly the fiscal cliff calamity that was narrowly averted, specifically $205 billion in corporate tax breaks, subsidies and tax loopholes. One of the most egregious giveaways included in the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff deal is an extension of a loophole that allows corporations to book US profits in overseas, tax-free accounts. US companies have about $2 trillion in these offshore accounts.
Another corporate tax benefit included in the fiscal cliff deal is a provision known as bonus depreciation, which allows companies that invest in costly equipment to account for depreciation expenses much faster than they otherwise could. In other words, companies can deduct more in expenses now, lowering their taxable income.

Congress has extended the provision each year since 2008 in an effort to spur business investment during the economic downturn. Bonus depreciation is expected to cost $35 billion this year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and those costs are predicted to rise significantly if Congress keeps extending the benefit. The Congressional Research Service issued a report saying that accelerated depreciation is a “relatively ineffective tool for stimulating the economy.”
I guess that avoiding the fiscal cliff is a good thing; it shows the politicians can do something; even if it’s the same old, same old.
New Year, things change, but not much. Let’s see what the banksters have been up to. Once again the banks are body slamming the banking regulators. The banks have beaten down the tough parts of Basel III bank-capital standards. The global liquidity standards were designed to ensure banks had sufficient capital on hand to survive another Lehman-like crisis, as well as require that capital be high-quality and liquid. There was a lot of fanfare from regulators when the regulations were first announced in 2010, and then the banks started to chip away at the regulations which might require a little cushion against a downturn. The regulators succumbed to pressure. We’re all shocked, shocked I tell you. The new capital rules have been expanded to change the definition of what constitutes safe bank capital to include stocks and AAA rated mortgage backed securities.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Self, weren’t stocks and mortgage backed securities really dangerous and excessively risky investments that were a big part of the financial crises of the recent past?” And of course the answer is – yes. “Self, didn’t those risky gambles lead to a freeze on the credit markets and the near collapse of the global financial system?” And again, the answer is – yes. And then you ask: “Self, does this mean we’ll see Hank Paulson getting down on his knees to beg Nancy Pelosi to save him from his errors?” And the answer is no; that’s not going to happen again, but clearly we haven’t learned our history lessons.
In a world of Too Big to Fail banks that have only gotten bigger, the regulators decided that if the banks were to face a crisis, like the recent crisis, the banks would only have to prepare for a world in which they lose 3 percent of their retail deposits, down from 5 percent originally proposed. Complete amnesia when it comes to Northern Rock or IndyMac. And then the banks have four years to gradually phase in the new, scaled down 3-percent requirements, down from the 2-year requirement originally proposed. The banks argued that if they were forced to provide a 5-percent cushion and do so within two years, it would be too much of a burden and they wouldn’t be able to do any lending, which might actually help the global economy.
Meanwhile, federal bank regulators announced an $8.5 billion settlement with 10 large mortgage companies in a deal that will end a near worthless foreclosure review program in favor of a new program that authorities say will distribute aid to homeowners “significantly more quickly.”
Under the deal, announced by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, the mortgage companies will make $3.3 billion in direct payments to “eligible borrowers” whose foreclosures were handled improperly, and will make $5.2 billion available in other assistance to struggling borrowers, such as loan modifications.
This new deal is separate from the $25 billion mortgage settlement to which five large banks agreed earlier this year, though many of the allegations of misconduct are the same. Homeowners have complained for more than five years that the mortgage companies made widespread errors in the management of their home loans, and that in some cases those errors pushed them into foreclosure.
This new settlement replaces a deal struck in April 2011 that established the Independent Foreclosure Review; that program was supposed to give homeowners an unbiased third-party review before the banks could foreclose, and might even determine if homeowners qualified for a cash payout because of mortgage related bank abuses. So, that program never really happened, and today’s announcement is basically saying the Independent Foreclosure Review was a complete failure.
What went wrong? Part of the problem is that the third-party independent reviewers actually worked at the banks’ beck and call. So, ten different banks will pay out $8.5 billion to end the foreclosure reviews.
But wait, there’s more!
Bank of America announced today that it will spend $10 billion to settle mortgage claims resulting from the housing meltdown. BofA will pay $3.6 billion to Fannie Mae and buy back $6.75 billion in loans that the bank and its Countrywide banking unit sold to the government agency from Jan. 1, 2000 through Dec. 31, 2008. That includes about 30,000 loans.
Bank of America said that the loans involved in the settlement have an aggregate original principal balance of about $1.4 trillion. The outstanding principal balance is about $300 billion. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which packaged loans into securities and sold them to investors, were effectively nationalized in 2008 when they nearly collapsed under the weight of their mortgage losses. So, all in all, BofA gets off really cheap.
Fannie Mae issued a statement saying they had “diligently pursued repurchases on loans that did not meet our standards at the time of origination, and we are pleased to have reached an appropriate agreement to collect on these repurchase requests.”
And so, there is $8.5 billion for ten banks, and $10 billion in fines for BofA, and you might think that’s real money, and it almost is, but keep it in perspective. The six biggest US banks are expected to pay employee bonuses of $38 billion for the past year.
Bank stocks led all other major stock sectors in 2012. The KBW Bank Index rose more than 30% compared to just over 13% for the S&P 500, and Bank of America shares surged 109%–more than doubling in price. And according to a new report from ProPublica, many banks are still trading below book value, despite the gains in share prices, and much of the gain is due to hedge fund speculation.
And so, you’re probably asking yourself: “Self, wasn’t hedge fund speculation a big part of the near meltdown of the global financial system? Isn’t this just part of the multi-trillion dollar derivatives casino? Isn’t this the same sort of risky stuff that the London Whale was betting on and which led to $2 billion in trading losses, or $5 billion, or $6 billion in gambling losses?” And the answer is – yes.
A funny thing is happening in the copper markets. The SEC has paved the way for investors to take a direct stake in commodities, rather than through commodities futures. The agency gave the green light to JP Morgan to launch a fund whose shares would be backed by warehoused copper. In practical terms, the SEC handed traders at JP Morgan control over 20 to 30 percent of the copper available for immediate delivery from the London Metals Exchange — the commercial market where companies that use copper go to procure last-minute supplies.

The investors purchasing shares in J.P. Morgan’s fund won’t be buying copper to use, but to store. The intricacies of the fund are complex, but its underlying rationale is straightforward: the more shares investors buy, the more copper is taken off the market. And the more copper that is taken off the market, theoretically the more valuable the copper and the shares become.

Moreover, it’s a no-brainer that this JP Morgan “innovation” will lead to the creation of copycat fund in other markets, most troublingly those for agricultural products.

The SEC asserts that its own study showed that changes in inventory levels at the LME did not have a price impact. If you’ve ever heard a little theory known as supply and demand, you might reach a different conclusion than the SEC.
The question regarding the LME would be to define what a normal level of inventory would be (a certain level is necessary to handle routine transactions); amounts in excess of this buffer level would be seen by economists as proof that prices were above the true market clearing price unless you had a good explanation as to why not.

Companies that use copper strongly oppose the new fund, and argue that allowing investors to hoard the metal will lead to supply shortages, create substantial price volatility, and distort the market. A group of copper users wrote to the SEC in August, saying: “The implications of this practice would be grave for our companies, our industry, and, indeed, for the U.S. Economy.”

The SEC is undermining provisions in Dodd Frank calling for the CFTC to rein in undue speculation in critical commodities. You might remember that commodities prices moved up in a coordinated manner in 2008. Remember when oil prices jumped up near $150 a barrel? It looked like a speculative bubble, and was, since prices collapsed in the second half of the year. Well, there was similar behavior in other commodities.

Here, you’re allowing investors to intervene with physical supplies. BlackRock has petitioned the agency to launch its own copper fund, one that would be twice as large as JPM’s and will get an answer by February 22. Given that its proposal is identical to JPM’s, it is well nigh certain to be waved through. If the nay sayers are correct, that hoarding by investors will drive prices up, we should see the impact, although the mere announcement of the JPM approval, particularly in light of the pending BlackRock application, may have led speculators to bid up prices in anticipation of the funds’ launch. That too should be measurable, but if the next few months proves the SEC analysis to be wrong, you can bet the agency won’t admit its error and halt the creation of more funds.

Same old, same old. 

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