Reducing the Noise: A look at the stories that really matter
A quick perusal of the stories below should result in the immediate understanding of why equity markets are lower this week. The fairly heady equity gains of Feb. have been mostly neutralized in two days. This should not be a surprise to anyone actually paying attention the the signs. From the geopolitical to the home grown to the simply technical, all signs in the last couple of weeks point to heightened risk and reduced potential for reward. I explained to a reader via private email recently, “When I consider an investment for my own personal assets and our funds(Fortune’s Favor I & Fortune’s Favor Precious Metals) which are one and the same, I always weigh the risk /reward scenario. If I don’t like the results of the test I don’t make the trade.” That quote just about sums up my thoughts for today.
As of December, so almost three months ago, the housing double dip was getting increasingly worse. This was confirmed by the latest Case Shiller data, according to which the 10- and 20-City Composites posted annual rates of decline of 1.2% and 2.4%, respectively. The 20 City Composite printed at 142.16, the lowest since June 2009 when it was 141.75. Luckily, NAR’s now completely disgraced Larry Yun is nowhere to be found in this release, from which we quote: “Data through December 2010, released today by Standard & Poor’s for its S&P/Case-Shiller1 Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, show that the U.S. National Home Price Index declined by 3.9% during the fourth quarter of 2010. The National Index is down 4.1% versus the fourth quarter of 2009, which is the lowest annual growth rate since the third quarter of 2009, when prices were falling at an 8.6% annual rate. As of December 2010, 18 of the 20 MSAs covered by S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices and both monthly composites were down compared to December 2009.” Bottom line: the chart says it all.
Trading on the Italian exchange remained halted because of “technical issues” after the benchmark FTSE MIB Index fell the most in eight months yesterday on concern Libya’s unrest may affect Italian companies.
Borsa Italiana SpA, owned by London Stock Exchange Group Plc, said in a statement on its website that “restoring operations” are under way after stocks failed to open and the futures market was halted at 12:10 p.m. All markets are suspended, the Milan bourse said in a separate statement.
The quietest bank run that has so far completely evaded mainstream attention, that of Korea, is spreading, and an eighth bank has now shuttered after “Domin Bank, a savings bank with a capital adequacy ratio below 5 percent, voluntarily decided yesterday to suspend its operations temporarily because of massive withdrawals.” As JoongAng reports: “The decision took both depositors and financial regulators by surprise since it was the first time that a local bank shut its doors on its own.” Apparently the courageous decision by the Financial Services Chairman Kim Seok-dong to deposit $17,864 in a troubled bank has not done much if anything to prevent the locals from realizing that their banking system is built on a house of cards.
As was reported on Saturday, the culprits for the surge in borrowing on the Marginal Lending Facility have been supposedly identified, with Ireland once again to blame. The flawed explanation provided was that insolvent Irish banks are paying an extra 75 bps in interest just so they have access to capital on a day’s notice (as opposed to a week) as they unwind their collateral. Needless to say, we are skeptical of that “explanation.” And judging by the fact that today total borrowing on the MLP, while still near record highs, dropped by €2 billion, without any news of collateral unwind to free up asset sales by either Anglo Irish Bank and the Irish Nationwide Building Society, puts the credibility of the FT source at question. What is without doubt, is that borrowings on the MLP will persist for a long time, as was insinuated in the original piece. After all the whole point was to make this latest outlier event “priced in.”
One of the cute side-effects of the Fed’s third mandate has been the successful elimination of all market shorts. A quick update of the NYSE short interest indicates not only the deplorable presence of shorts in the market (those entities who provide a natural bid when the market is plunging), but that the bulk of the market meltup over the past several months has been due exclusively to shorts covering existing positions. Well, with short interest now at a multi-year low of 12.4 billion shares (lowest since 2007), compared to 14.5 billion just after the Flash Crash, a 13.6 billion average over the period, and the lowest amount since the Lehman failure, our only question is when the market plunges, like it is doing today, who will be the natural short covering bid when stocks are in freefall?