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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Lazarus Rally in 2010

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the market bottom for stocks following the 2008 collapse of the supply-side themed western financial system. A deceased stock market, the second week in March 2009; the major averages resurrected themselves, like Lazarus, on a holy-water flood of liquidity, more than any other cyclical bull market bounce in history.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced March 9, 2009 to March 9, 2010, from a gut-wrenching 6,547.05 to 10,564.38. Likewise, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index moved from 676.53 to 1140.45. The NASDAQ 100 climbed from 1043.87 to 1,901.38, over the same 365 days. These returns equal a decade’s worth of historical gains.

To those investors, who grew feathers, and ran to the sidelines, take heart; in investing, there are lies, damn lies, statistics, and market returns. At the beginning of 2009, the DJIA started at 8,801.72, the S&P 500 Index at 902.99, and NASDAQ at 1,212.24. Only the luckiest of people and your typical liar coolly strolled into the market that second week in March last year, aggressively bought stocks, and are still holding those positions.

Closer to the truth, an experienced bull investor last March probably started taking profits off the table in early summer. Or, they screwed up their courage in April or May and bailed in September, or year end. Anyone capturing these once in a lifetime returns should be running full page ads of their trade confirms announcing the opening of their new hedge fund. And why not, they could afford the advertising rates. Unfortunately, 2009’s trend will be swapped for market fluctuation in 2010.

So, where do we go from here? The answer for the stock market is quite different from the answer about the economy. Let’s first look at the stock market.

Stocks will not repeat the performance of the last 12 months. The last 12 months was fueled on liquidity and promised future growth. The future is here but the growth is not. Wall Street Cardinals assigned to Washington DC, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner, will be less helpful to stocks over the next 12 months.

U.S. Quantitative Easing has an expiration date on its existence. Some central banks have already begun raising rates because their economies are moving forward, unlike ours. The retail customer has yet to return to the market, either through their company’s retirement account (which is hard to do when you no longer work for a company), or taxable investment accounts; when your 1%-2% bearing CDs and T-Bills, and falling home values no longer contributes to your positive cash flow.

Also, investors are going through Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The bubble, the Enron era of scandals, the real estate depression, and 2008, has left baby boomers dazed and confused. They are reluctant to hop into the barrel one more time before retirement.

Despite paraphilic dispatches by CNBC anchors, reporters, and guests of an aroused recovery, to the contrary, the U.S. economy is impotent based on low tax receipts, high unemployment, and contracting housing prices and available credit. This is what occurs during a period of deleveraging.

Disposable income from the safest fixed income investments has all but disappeared. That retired couple that spent their 5%-6% interest from their fixed income portfolio to shop, to travel, and to dine has temporality lost over 70% of their purchasing power. Fewer transactions equals fewer sales taxes, in turn, equals less state and federal revenue. Becoming smaller becomes a vicious cycle.

In October and November of 2008, when extraordinary unilateral decisions were made to save the economy, two additional smaller adjustments would have made a huge difference; temporarily change the tax laws for five years, permitting individuals to write off all interest payments for credit cards, automobiles, etc. on their taxes, and to suspend for five years the provision in the Monetary Control Act of 1980 eliminating usury laws. Individuals would have extra cash inside their annual tax return and smaller monthly finance payments. How could banks complain since the Federal Funds target Rate was set December 16, 2008, at 0.00% -0.25%? Their return on borrowed capital is infinity.

Cities and states across the nation will become the biggest drag on the economy in 2010. Dramatic budget cuts to reduce a currently projected $180 billion shortfall are being debated for the 2010-2011 budgets, at this moment, thereby, violently truncating personnel and services.

Banks are still failing. The FEDS feel that they dare not raise interest rates without a very good reason. But, with banks not lending, or reducing credit lines to businesses, and credit cards rates were hiked before new banking credit cards laws were changed, I’m unsure who might be hurt by an increase. Top-down stimulus programs are inefficient and growing more unpopular. Both commercial and residential real estate are not improving And, the November elections will drive sagacity from public conversation.

Internationally, what we can see are sovereign debt problems and a suspect economy in Europe. Tensions growing in the Far East over; military bases, and now Toyota, with Japan; trade disputes and sanctions and political disagreements over Taiwan, Tibet, and Iran, with China. Plus, we have an amorphous exit strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Adding up tapped out consumers, the continuation of deleveraging, near insolvent municipalities, and a gradual reduction of liquidity, what you have is a somber national economy with too few pockets of strength.

Traders relying on volatility and stock pickers that can hunt for appreciation will have several opportunities to feast, however, investors hoping for an expanding economy will soon wish for 2010 to be over with nothing but apples (AAPL) and chips (PEP) and cokes (KO) to snack on in the interim.

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