31 October 2008

Booking Losses in the Shadow of Victory

Velocity Girl - Nothing

While basking in the glow of the Phillies World Series win, I thought today would be a fine day to book some losses.

Of course, I needed more than just a rare Phils October victory to justify a stock sale. How about some annotated charts. (Click on them to make 'em legibly large.)

First up, the S&P 500:

I sold out my position in the ultra-long S&P 500 ETF (SSO) at $31.415 from a cost basis of $49.64 for loss of 36.7%

Just wait, it gets worse.

I unloaded my position in the ultra-long financials ETF (UYG) at $9.15 from a cost basis of $18.76 for a loss of 51.2%

The recent collapse caught me off guard. I thought we'd see a bear market rally, but instead, we just saw a walloping bear market. These sales have freed up some cash that I will use shortly to do two things: 1. Make money on the volatility; and 2. Balance my remaining long equity positions with some short ETF exposure.

30 October 2008

Phillies Win!

Marah - Rain Delay

The original recording off of "Let's Cut The Crap And Hook-Up Later On Tonight" is introduced by the legendary Harry Kalas.

The Phils are cool enough to play this track at the ballpark when there is a rain delay--at least I heard it the last time I sat through the rain in South Philly.

Fortunately, the rain delay couldn't stop the Phils and Philadelphia from a long-deserved championship.

The Phillies last won the World Series on October 21, 1980. Let's put that victory in perspective by looking at the Dow Jones Industrial Average chart from that long ago date through the end of 1980:

First off, I noticed that the market reacted negatively to the Phillies first World Series victory, dropping about 5% through the month of October. Where have I seen that kind of doubt and negativity recently? Hmm.

Second, it's clear how long the Phillies have waited for a second World Series title by looking at the right-hand column, where we see the Dow trading between 900 and 1000 in the last months of 1980. Geez, that's a long time ago.

The market could crap out 1000 points tomorrow, and I'm not sure I'd notice.

Here's one (much) more rockin' Marah tune:

28 October 2008

Flying High Again

Flying High Again - Sloan

I was going to post Sloan's "If It Feels Good Do It" video, but the live versions on YouTube aren't all that great, and the choice didn't quite fit, as I didn't do anything today while the market surged. Actually, I've been felled by a cold and been feeling quite crappy, so I napped through the market's surge during the last 90 minutes of trading.

Before snoozing, I pulled two blog posts that I was going to examine this evening. No really, I was going to spotlight these posts before they looked too good to be believed.

First, Phil from Phil's Stock World was prescient in this morning's e-mail/post:

We’ve seen how fast this market can whipsaw up and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see even the anticipated Fed cut Weds boost us 1,000 points by Thurs. Whether or not we hold it is another story, but this is starting to look more and more like rotation out of commodities and into some very beaten down stocks. Can they get more beaten down? Sure - but then we buy more and sell more premium. Don’t forget there is the old saying that "you can’t fight the Fed" but this isn’t just the Fed, this is the entire G7 acting in unison to move the markets. Perhaps the global crisis is so severe that not even that will help but, if so - then nothing really matters anyway does it?"

It looks like Tuesday's market already took care of that 1K point surge.

Second, Bespoke noticed that the S&P is long due for a 20% rally:

Now Number Four: Ten Largest S&P 500 Declines Without a Rally

Following yesterday's sharp sell off in the final minutes of trading, the S&P 500 is now down 45.76% from its October 2007 closing high. On a closing basis, this makes the current period the fourth largest decline in the S&P 500 without a 20% rally. The only three other periods where we had deeper declines were in 1931, 1938, and 1974.

Today's rally pushed the S&P 500 to 940.51, 12% off its recent intra-day low of 839.80. A 20% rally would bring the S&P up to 1007.76, so we're not there quite yet.

And even with the robust upward move, very few S&P 500 components are trading above their 50-day moving averages:

23 October 2008

Triangle Chart Patterns

Particle Man by They Might Be Giants, of course. But to hell with Particle Man; this video is posted here for Triangle Man's appearance in the second verse.

An anonymous reader dug up my skeptical post on triangle continuation chart patterns and asked me if I had noticed that another triangle pattern had appeared on the chart of the Dow.

Indeed, I had noticed the patterns. And how just today, both the Dow and the S&P 500 charts showed the triangle patterns violated to the downside (click the image for large and legible annotated charts):

So what do triangle chart patterns tell us?

Investopedia offers up a clear explanation, with the key info in bold:

Continuation patterns, triangles in particular, are not very reliable. Here's what Stuart Evens has to say:

Look at most any book on the subject of technical analysis, and you'll come across triangles. These formations are usually one of the first chart patterns that novice technicians study, and it deserves some examination. Triangles are classified as reversal patterns in some reference works, while they are described as continuation patterns in others. Robert Edwards and John Magee, in their "Technical Analysis Of Stock Trends", have a chapter titled "Important Reversal Patterns - The Triangles".

John Murphy, on the other hand, in his "Technical Analysis Of The Futures Markets", has triangles as a subheading under the chapter titled "Continuation Patterns".

Both works, however, instruct the reader about triangles behaving as both reversal and continuation patterns. What is common to both discussions, and in fact most discussions on triangles, is that once triangles are properly identified, subsequent price action tends to react in predictable ways. What technicians have found over the years is that after prices break out of the triangle pattern, it is highly probable that prices will continue moving in that direction. Knowing this gives us the opportunity to trade in that direction, and to profit if we are correct.

Trader Mike and Bespoke Investment Group noted the triangle patterns on their respective blogs.

Trader Mike is seeing bullish signs from the technical analysis tea leaves, contrary to my rudimentary analysis, and contrary to Investopedia:

As I see it the ball's now in the bulls' court. They need to break through resistance and start making some higher highs. Breaking the top of all the triangles on strong volume would be a good start.

He thought the S&P 500's violation of the lower side of the triangle was a head fake, and ignored the Dow's violation of the lower side of its triangle by focusing on support levels at 8500.

Afraid to Trade is also all over the S&P 500 triangle chart formation. You should read his entire post with multiple charts, but the gist of his reading of the situation is:

we probably have one more mini-wave up before the triangle breaks to the downside, testing the prior 850 level at a minimum and exceeding it possibly.

As much as I and my positions would benefit from the realization of Trader Mike's bullish perspective, my read on today's triangle pattern breakdown is negative.

And that's only if you believe that these chart patterns are predictive.

20 October 2008

Monday/Outta Site (Outta Mind)

Wilco closing out its set at '08 Lollapalooza. A couple of rockin' Wilco tunes for a rockin' Monday.

The Gray Lady shone a spotlight on the VIX today. Here's my spotlight on the Times' spotlight:

Put simply, the VIX measures the degree to which investors think stocks will swing violently in the next 30 days. It is calculated in real time throughout the trading day, fluctuating minute to minute.

The higher the VIX, the bigger the expected swings — and the index has a good track record. It spiked in 1998 when a big hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management, collapsed, and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Sachs, with some incredulity, said that the swings in the stock market have reflected the volatility implied by the VIX.

"We had a 17 percent peak-to-trough trading range this week," he said. "It should take two years under normal circumstances for the S.& P. 500 to have that type of trading range."

The VIX had its origin in 1993, when the Chicago Board Options Exchange approached Robert E. Whaley, then a professor at Duke, with a dual proposal.

"The first purpose was the one that is being served right now — find a barometer of market anxiety or investor fear," Professor Whaley, who now teaches at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, recalled in an interview. But, he said, the board also wanted to create an index that investors could bet on using futures and options, providing a new revenue stream for the exchange.

Dow rose 4.7%; the S&P rose 4.8%. Looks like the market shed some of its fear, right?

The VIX dropped 24.7% to close at 52.97. That looks like a pretty big affirmative.

Except last Tuesday, the VIX dropped below 50 before cracking 80 two days hence.

I spent the day watching my positions rise from 2% to 10%. The RSI(2) of the S&P 500 closed at 79. If it approaches 90 tomorrow, I may unload some shares. Otherwise, I'm content to remain a market spectator.

19 October 2008

Back from Ireland and Full of Bull

The Brother Kite, who happen to be playing the Lit Lounge on Second Avenue this Thursday.

I fled the market carnage for a week, driving around Ireland, from Dublin to Cork, and around the Southeast. There, the news dominating the headlines there is how the Taoiseach and his governing party are screwing health care access for the over-70s. The Irish government found a very effective way to push the financial crisis below-the-fold. Well done.

Apparently, I missed out on the Phils quickly dispatching the Dodgers (that's what the Trolley Dodgers get for vacating Brooklyn), and I was blissfully unaware of the new volatility records made while I adapted to the local culture and drove upwards of 100kph on narrow country lanes that would justify 25mph limits in the States. The only lament I have is that we were stuck with a behemoth Nissan-badged Renault sedan. The Nissan Primera was an absolutely crap car--French interior ergonomics and Japanese blandness conspired to make me wish I were driving either a nimble, full-blooded French Peugeot 206 or a Honda Jazz.

As I look at the markets this week, I see that Warren Buffett and Barry Ritholtz are snorting like bulls.

First off, Buffett shares with Times readers some learning from history:

Let me be clear on one point: I can't predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven't the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor's best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America's future at a marked-down price.

Buffett then dethrones the "cash is king" argument:

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn't. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky's advice: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

Ritholtz gives three factors that have made him go bullish, against the deep negative sentiment in the market. His second factor is the most compelling:

The October University of Michigan Confidence number is just shy of the lowest level since 1980. University of Michigan Consumer Confidence level is at levels not seen since the end of the 1970's bear market. (Hence, my "Blue" double entendre). The telephone survey is compiled last week and as late as yesterday. It certainly reflects much of the market action over the past 2 weeks.

That's right, we are as negative as anytime we have been over the entire course of the 1982-2000 Bull, or the start of the 2000-03 bear. Worse than the 1990 recesson, worse than LTCM or the Thai Baht crisis, worse than the tech and dot com crash, worse than 9/11.

That is some seriously bearish sentiment

Fear and negativity are still rampant in the market, according to some of my favorite indicators, the VIX:

and the trio of S&P 500, NASDAQ 100, and Dow components trading above their 50-day moving averages:

I hope Buffett and Ritholtz are right in the short-term--I am looking to book some losses this week and get back into trading this volatile market, with a view that the bear market is a bit overdone.

10 October 2008

Seven Ate Nine

With the Dow blowing through the 9K and 8K barriers over the last two days, BNL's "789" comes to mind.

As I write this, the VIX just cracked 72.

Yesterday, two S&P 500 components were trading above their 50-day moving averages. Seven S&P 500 components were trading above their 200-day moving averages. Zero Dow components were trading above their 50-DMA or 200-DMA. Zero NASDAQ-100 components were trading above their 50DMA, and only two were trading above their 200DMA.

I can't think of a better time to take a break, head over to Ireland, and regroup.

09 October 2008

Big Bottom

Recent market action has forced me to resort to the Tap, for a double-shot of Big Bottom.

I am just helping the market find a bottom, in my own small way. Posting these videos seems to be as effective as Congressional bailout packages and coordinated global rate cuts.

Bespoke Investment Group shared the following data and analysis, suggesting that the market is rarely this far off its moving average:

Earlier today, the S&P 500 was trading 26% below its 200-day moving average. As shown in the historical 200-day moving average spread chart below, this has been an extremely rare occurrence in the S&P 500's history. The index got below 25% in July 2002, September 1974, May 1940, and multiple times in the late 1920s and the 1930s (not even the '87 crash saw the spread this low). As the chart highlights, spreads don't stay down at these levels for long, which means that while we might not go straight up from here, the sharp declines that we have been seeing are due to take a breather for at least a little bit.

Adam Warner kindly covered all the bottom-calling bases today:

The VIX has hit repeated new "all-time" highs since last week, 59 is now something like 20% above the "old" ones. And the market continues to struggle.

There is a growing realization everywhere else however that there is no magic number here.

I pick on useless VIX analysis on my teevee because I am an options site, but let's face it, there are mountains of indicators demonstrating we are beyond beyond beyond extreme oversold. There are fewer NYSE stocks above their 50 Day MA than any time since 1987. Not sure the symbol of that on sharpcharts, but the chart here shows that same measure for the S&P. We're also 25% below the 200 MA in the SPX, something that also goes back to 1987.

So serial bottom callers. If you still have money left, time to load the boat!

Here's my rundown of today's oversold, overdone data that points to a big bottom, one we should soon leave behind:

The S&P500 closed at 984.86. Its intra-day low was 970.97.
The 50-day moving average is 1228.62; the 200-day moving average is 1320.66.
The close is 19.8% below the 50DMA and 21.0% below the 200DMA.
The intra-day low is 25.4% below the 50DMA and 26.5% below the 200DMA.

The VIX hit 59.06, closing at 57.53.

The number of S&P 500 stocks trading above their 50-day moving average ($SPXA50) is six.
Yes, that's a mere 1.2% of S&P 500 stocks.

The number of NASDAQ-100 stocks trading above their 50-day moving average ($NDXA50) is one, the loneliest number.

The number of Dow components trading above their 50-day moving average ($DOWA50) is zero. Again. If it could go below zero, or imaginary, it looks as if it would.

08 October 2008

Iceland - The Next Credit Crisis Casualty?

"Motorcrash" by The Sugarcubes

Felix Salmon at Portfolio has been keeping up on how the credit crisis is affecting Iceland's banks, currency, and sovereignty:

We know that credit ratings agencies made enormous errors over the past few years when it came to rating structured products. And of course it's never easy to rate leveraged institutions, like banks, which are susceptible to runs. But what about the more conventional credits, like sovereigns?

Last year, Moody's briefly gave all of Iceland's major banks, including Glitnir, a triple-A rating, on the grounds that if they ever got into trouble, the Icelandic government would bail them out. After much ridicule, Moody's changed its mind. Clearly, it was silly to treat Iceland's banks as though they were just as creditworthy as the sovereign.

Fast-forward to today, and Iceland has indeed bailed out Glitnir. But here's the thing: Iceland's credit default swaps are now suggesting that the sovereign itself is a distressed credit.

Iceland's situation deteriorated further yesterday. The Times of London's headline says it all:

Terror as Iceland faces economic collapse

Iceland's troubles even made the New York Times:

Farther away, Iceland, one of the world's hardest-hit countries from the credit turmoil, fell deeper into crisis as the government halted trading in all financial stocks after the banking sector neared collapse.

The country suffered a fresh downgrade of its credit rating Monday after the government sought to assert sweeping new powers to intervene with troubled banks. Facing a cash squeeze as foreign investors withdraw their money, the government also urged its pension funds to repatriate money in an effort to reel in more cash.

Iceland is so desperate, they are looking to Russia for assistance:

Iceland said Tuesday that it was seeking a $5.4 billion emergency loan from Russia, had pegged its currency to an index and had taken control of one of its largest banks as the North Atlantic island struggled to keep its economy afloat.

Iceland's prime minister said the talks about a loan began "some months ago." But the situation of the country's banks and economy deteriorated so rapidly over the last two days that a loan agreement became urgently needed.

would prefer Iceland turn to the IMF for its bailout, instead of Russia:

A E4bn loan from Russia might make financial sense – although Russians might think otherwise given Moscow's shaky finances. But it would create strategic ructions. Iceland is a NATO member, but Russia would want something in return for a loan equal to almost a third of the tiny state's GDP. The US would fret this could eventually mean a Russian military presence in the North Atlantic.

Much better would be a loan from the IMF. This too would come with strings attached, but they would be sensible and financial rather than strategic and dangerous. Stiff inflation targets and budgetary constraints are needed anyway to resuscitate Iceland's battered economy. An alarmed US may well pressure the IMF to offer a good deal. Unless it wants to become a pawn in a geopolitical power play, Iceland should welcome the fund with open arms.

Felix Salmon makes Iceland's troubles relevant to you and me, by suggesting the Dow's 500-point sputter could be traceable back to the North Atlantic:

Could the imminent collapse of tiny Iceland help explain the whopping 60-point fall in the S&P 500 today, to below 1,000? Maybe -- we've had many big failures in this credit crisis so far, but we haven't had the implosion of an entire European economy -- one which is home to systemically-important international banks, too. That kind of thing could cause stock-market jitters at the best of times; right now, I can easily see how it's good for 500 Dow points.

The release of the Fed minutes and Bernanke's interest-rate cut speech should have otherwise given the markets some upward momentum. Perhaps there's something to Salmon's assertion. Or perhaps Iceland's crisis is just one of many contributing factors to the market's malaise.

Nevertheless, this is another hole in the decoupling argument. And it's worthwhile keeping tabs on how Iceland's crisis plays out.

07 October 2008

Like Eating Glass

Today's market was like drinking poison, like eating glass.

Like Eating Glass is a powerful opening track to Bloc Party's first record. I particularly like the tight drumming in this song, and throughout the album.

The VIX hit a record 58.24 intra-day. Mark Hulbert questions the usefulness of the VIX as a bottom indicator:
Even in those situations in which the VIX does appear to have statistically significant ability to forecast market movements, it turns out that those abilities largely derive from no special insights on the part of the VIX itself, but instead because of the stock market's tendency to rebound after steep corrections.

Namely, Hulbert's own sentiment indicator is not at an extreme, so take his potentially self-interested opinion on the VIX for what it's worth:

And other contrarian indicators are not yet showing the capitulation that a casual observer of the VIX's new all-time high might conclude is happening Monday. Indeed, the Hulbert Stock Newsletter Sentiment Index (HSNSI) not only remains stubbornly above its all-time lowest level, but also remains well above the levels to which it fell at the July market lows.


How many VIX is that?

A lot.

What's the history of the VIX
? What was the VIX reading after 9/11? And what would the VIX have been in the 1987 crash, if it had existed? Here's a chart with data since 1990:

The VIX on Black Monday would have been over 150, just to put today's record in perspective.

Speaking of bottoms, Cramer's morning meltdown on the Today show, commanding viewers to sell their stocks, led many, many, indeed many bloggers to call a Cramer bottom.

Is there a Buffett bottom? He recently made significant investments in Goldman Sachs and GE. And he recently appeared on Charlie Rose to offer sage wisdom:

Mr. Buffett still speaks to the press only occasionally, and he declined to be interviewed for this article. But after the House of Representatives rejected the rescue plan last Monday, Mr. Buffett got a call from Charlie Rose, the television interviewer, who has known Mr. Buffett for years. He urged Mr. Buffett to appear on his PBS interview show as soon as possible.

"I told him, 'You have to do this,' " Mr. Rose recalled in an interview on Saturday. " 'No one has your credibility, and people want to hear what you have to say.' "

Mr. Buffett agreed to do it, and Mr. Rose flew to San Diego, where Mr. Buffett would be on Wednesday. The hourlong interview on Wednesday night was vintage Warren Buffett: calm, plain-spoken and wry.

He called the current crisis an economic Pearl Harbor, requiring immediate action. Its biggest single cause, he explained, was the real estate bubble. "Three hundred million Americans, their lending institutions, their government, their media, all believed that house prices were going to go up consistently," he said. "Lending was done based on it, and everybody did a lot of foolish things."

As far back as 2003, Mr. Buffett had warned that the complex securities at the center of today's troubles — once so profitable, but now toxic — were "financial weapons of mass destruction." These securities were engineered by the math quants on Wall Street, and in the interview Mr. Buffett expressed his disdain: "Beware of geeks bearing formulas."

The financial crisis is so severe and compelling, that it's permeating blogs and columns that usually focus on other matters.

Marc Ambinder
at The Atlantic covers the sausage-making side of politics, except when he doesn't:

Checked in with some financial gurus who can help explain to a lay audience why the Dow is dropping.

Basically: The credit markets remain locked. No one is lending. People with credit scores approaching perfect can't get loan. Business wanted to see some rate cuts, but the Fed didn't cut, and Europe's central bank seems to be off on their own reservations. No money has come out of TARP -- that's the bailout -- yet. The Hill is hosting a partisan hearing on financial services. The presidential candidates are talking about past negative associations, not market stabilization.

Andrew Sullivan, also at The Atlantic, chimes in with a short acknowledgment of Cramer's panic. I would bet only Instapundit could craft a pithier, and more useless post.

And apparently, he did, by passing the buck over to Megan McArdle.

Fellow Phils fan, best friend, and Blog Hog Jonathan Last covers whatever he wants in his Inky column. Guess what caught his fancy last week?

The most obvious target is President Bush. It's important to note that Bush didn't do anything to cause the crisis. His were sins of omission.

He appointed two middling managers to lead the Treasury Department. And he refused to deal seriously with oil prices after 9/11, when it became clear that U.S. military action (albeit necessary) would create long-term uncertainty in the market.

The gas crunch put the economy on edge, but the fundamental problem was the subprime-lending spree of the last decade and the trade in mortgage debt, which amplified the effects of defaulted loans.

Again, none of this was Bush's doing. But the president sat idly by while the entire housing industry plotted its own destruction. Banks made ridiculous loans to people who had no way of repaying them. Worse, the banks then sold and resold the loans as "investments," spreading the contagion. The consequences of this foolishness were not impossible to predict.

And not only did President Bush do nothing; he actually lauded the irresponsible spree. He praised programs designed to give mortgages to families with bad credit.

One of the boasts of his 2004 campaign was the record level of home ownership, particularly among lower-income people - who couldn't afford the homes they had bought. He mistook a symptom of economic sickness for a sign of economic health.

JVL proceeds to blame the Democrats, McCain, and Obama, too. He only left the American people off without a heaping serving of blame. Perhaps that's next week's column.

And through today's plunge and semi-recovery, Dealbreaker stayed classy through it all.

Finally, Trader Mike made a Cramer-free bottom call:

You know things are bad when 3 to 4% losses feel like a victory for the bulls. Today was the type of day that many traders, myself included, like to see when the market's trying to bottom. The market sold off extremely hard for most of the day and then we got a "snapper" rally in the last hour. The Dow jumped almost 400 points from 3:00 to 3:30. That type of rally can really get the bears on the defensive (buying), especially those who over-reached.

The Pig's portfolio is taking its licks lately. One positive is the relative strength displayed by AIG, closing the day up a penny. I haven't sold a damn thing, so no booked losses, yet.

02 October 2008

New York Times on the Credit Crisis

Joe Nocera (and Andrew Ross Sorkin, Diana B. Henriques, and Edmund L. Andrews) come through today with a day-to-day account of the credit crisis, and how it's played out thus far.

The cliffhanger ending is below, but you really should read the entire piece:

Two hours later, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke trooped up to Capitol Hill for a somber session with Congressional leaders. “That meeting was one of the most astounding experiences I’ve had in my 34 years in politics,” Senator Schumer recalled.

As the members of Congress and their aides listened, the two laid out their plan. They would begin offering federal insurance to money market funds immediately, in order to stop the run on money funds.

In addition, the S.E.C. would institute a ban on short-selling of financial stocks. Although Treasury officials concede that the move was mostly symbolic — investors can still buy put options that have the same effect as shorting stocks — they did it mainly “to scare the hell out of everybody,” as one official put it.

After Mr. Bernanke made his remark about the possibility that there might not be an economy on Monday without this plan, you could hear a pin drop.

“I gulped,” Mr. Schumer said.

Congressional leaders were nearly unanimous in saying that it needed to be done for the good of the country. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio — the Republican House leader who a week later would lead the revolt against the plan — said it was time to put politics aside and move quickly, according to several participants. (An aide to Mr. Boehner denied that he voiced support for the plan, only that he made a plea for cooperation.)

Hearing that Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson wanted legislation passed in a matter of days, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, expressed astonishment. “This is the United States Senate,” he said. “We can’t do it in that time frame.” His Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, replied, “This time we can.”

He was wrong. After a week of wrangling, political infighting and compromise, the House on Monday voted down the legislation. The Dow plunged nearly 778 points, and credit markets had worsened, with interest rates rising and loans becoming harder to obtain.

Two weeks after Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke made their appeal, the House is likely to try again.

Some Fantastic

90's music has been dominating my listening choices as of late, and that takes into account my recent alt-country review. With last week's attendance at the My Bloody Valentine show, and today's purchase of Toad the Wet Sprocket tickets, I would say that I've been musically reflective.

With the 90's on the brain, today's clip is Some Fantastic by Barenaked Ladies, from their Bathroom Sessions--YouTube clips of Ed and Steve playing in the loo.

Don't knock performing in bathrooms. The acoustics are often echo-y and forgiving there.

The song's a bit silly, and witty. The chorus part (Bye, bye, self-respect...) elevates the song for me from a bit of a joke into something tinged with regret. Silly and sad intertwined.

Fantastic news from the grown-ups in the Senate. 74 votes in favor of the bailout. 80 would have been more forceful, but 74 is filibuster-proof, and the leadership of both parties supported the legislation, so hopefully the House will fall in line.

Now onto a couple of things I read today that mattered:

Hank Greenberg wants to bid on AIG assets:

Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the former chief executive of American International Group Inc. is seeking the opportunity to bid on any assets that the embattled insurer is planning to sell, according to a report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal. Greenberg sent a letter dated Monday to current CEO Edward Liddy, who is expected to update investors on Friday, according to the report. An AIG spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter and said the company is "open to all reasonable expressions of interest," the report said.

The credit crisis is seizing up the municipal bond market:

The sudden loss of credit, one of the ripple effects of the current financial turmoil, is affecting local governments in all parts of the country, rich and poor alike. In New York, a real estate boom has suddenly gone bust. Washington has shelved a planned bond offering to pay for terminal expansion and parking garages already under construction at Dulles and Reagan National Airports.

Billings, Mont., is struggling to come up with $70 million more for a new emergency room. And Maine has been unable to raise $50 million for highway repairs.

"We really are in terra incognita here," said Robert O. Lenna, executive director of the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, which helps that state's towns and school districts raise money. He said he had worked in public finance for 34 years and had never seen credit evaporate so completely.

Maine had already begun some of its road work when the bond markets stopped functioning, so now it is scrambling for bank loans to keep the dump trucks rolling. If money does not start flowing soon, Mr. Lenna said, Maine will have to cancel some of its road and bridge projects.

The only alternative would be what New York City did on Monday: Go into the locked-up markets and whip up demand by offering to pay investors a very high return.

Analysts said the dysfunction in the municipal bond markets appeared to signal the end of an era of relatively cheap money for governments and, probably, the start of an era of tough choices for communities. When the market starts moving again, they said, it will look a lot like the municipal bond market of 10 years ago, before the arrival of financial wizardry in the form of structured-finance products, which lowered borrowing costs but added big new risks. Instead, governments will probably be issuing plain-vanilla bonds with fixed rates of interest, higher than they are accustomed to.
Yesterday, I pointed out a few metrics that are useful for spotting market extremes, perhaps even tops and bottoms: the VIX, and the number of S&P 500 stocks or Dow components trading above their 50-day moving averages.

How did each of those metrics look today?

The VIX inched its way toward 40.
82 out of 500 or 16.4% of the S&P 500 are trading above their 50DMA.
Ten Dow components (that would be one-third) are trading above their 50DMA.

The VIX is still very high, reflecting significant uncertainty in the market. The relative high number of Dow components trading above their 50DMA mostly reflects how terribly Dow stocks have performed. Alcoa, GM, Boeing, etc. have ugly charts, while Bank of America and JPMorganChase have purtied themselves up over the last two months.

I will be watching the markets tomorrow morning, and will lighten up some long positions only if provoked.

The market takes second stage tomorrow afternoon as I head down to Philly, hoping a sequel to the Phils first playoff victory since 1993 follows the same plot lines, with Brett Myers in Cole Hamels role.

01 October 2008

Bouncing Around the Room

Phish - Bouncing Around the Room

Yesterday's bounce back, the third-highest Dow point gain on record, continued to put market uncertainty front and center.

The VIX tells the story. First, a chart looking back at 20 years of VIX data, care of Maoxian, via Trader Mike:

The number of S&P 500 stocks trading above their 50-day moving average jumped from 48 to 83. While that is still a very low figure, it's off its extreme lows:

The number of Dow components trading above their 50-day moving average likewise jumped from one to eight:

Congressional action (or inaction) is still the main concern. If Congress fails to make progress quickly, the extreme readings will return, and the indices will continue bouncing like Phish on trampolines.