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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2013 - Crumbs and Curds

Financial Review with Sinclair Noe

DOW – 101 = 16,613
SPX – 8 = 1888
NAS – 29 = 4100
10 YR YLD - .07 = 2.54%
OIL + .37 = 102.07
GOLD + 11.00 = 1306.70
SILV + .22 = 19.85

The days of milk and cookies can be fleeting; one day the world seems sweet and creamy, and the next day you’re left with nothing but crumbs and curds. The Russell 2000 index of small and mid-caps, dropped 1.6% falling below the 200 day moving average; since hitting a high in March the Russell is down 8.7%. The Dow Jones Internet Index has plunged 17% from a 13-year high in March.

There is a strong tendency among the Wall Street hype-sters to “buy the dip”, with the pitch being that if stocks plunge, it’s really just a buying opportunity if you are patient. What they don’t say is that it is almost impossible to be patient if you run out of capital, but putting that aside, the stocks will all come roaring back someday. Yea, I’m not going to tell you that. Some stocks will recover. Some stocks don’t come back.

Here’s a quote from a Citigroup analyst’s note to clients: “We believe the recent pullback represents a particular opportunity among large cap Internet stocks, with multiples having retraced to levels not seen for more than two years, with no/little change in fundamentals, and with investment profiles that sync well with what portfolio managers are seeking in today’s market.”

Among the favorite downtrodden internet stocks: Facebook, down 18% from its high; LinkedIn, down 43%; and AOL, down 31%, seriously I was surprised to learn that AOL still trades. I would have thought that anybody who lived through 1999 would have shunned AOL permanently. Did we learn nothing from the days? Certainly the Wall Street analysts learned nothing; they rode the market all the way down back in the day, all the time screaming “buy, buy, buy.” I’ll say the same thing I said back then, you can’t go broke taking a profit.

Treasury bonds rallied. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note touched 2.523% at one point, its lowest level since Oct. 31. While today’s move had all the markings of a short squeeze, the storyline is that the European Central Bank will pump more liquidity into the economy next month. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney signaled there is no rush to raise interest rates after the bank left its growth and inflation forecasts broadly steady in its latest inflation report. And Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said last week that the Fed would continue to keep interest rates near zero for a considerable period to support the economy and inflation remains low. Yellen is scheduled to speak tomorrow.

Today we had a report on inflation at the wholesale level. The Labor Department’s Producer Price Index, or PPI, increased 0.5% in March. The PPI was overhauled in January for the first time since 1978, largely to include services such as retail, health care and financial advice. Previously the index only looked at the price of goods: food, energy, housing and the like. That makes sense, but it has also lead to some wicked wild spikes and dips in the PPI. More likely the CPI, prices at the retail level, are more accurate, running in the range of 1.5% annualized rate.

There’s just something about the bond market that doesn’t feel right. Rates should not be dropping if the economic recovery is really underway. If the first quarter was a weather related aberration, and the second quarter is bouncing back, rates should not be dropping.

After ending 2013 at 3.03%, 10-year Treasury yields have declined 50 basis points year to date. Sovereign yields have collapsed throughout Europe and have generally fallen around the globe. What's behind the decline? Are there potential ramifications for stocks and the global economy? These are critical questions, especially considering the bullish consensus view of accelerating US and global growth.

The Ukraine crisis likely marks an unfortunate end to an era of global cooperation (of a sort) and a return to Cold War tensions and risks. Geopolitical risks exacerbate the vulnerabilities of financial market excesses. And the global central bankers’ response to the collapse of 2008 has resulted in trillions upon trillions of dollars of mispriced financial assets and ever greater leveraged speculation. When the Fed was pumping $85 billion a month into the markets - that was not de-leveraging. With QE winding down, there is impetus for the leveraged speculators to take more risk averse positions; toss in a geopolitical flare-up and greed transforms to fear.

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was speaking at a financial summit in Washington today and he said that current calculations of the federal government's budget deficit and fiscal outlook understate the risk of long-term trouble, because they do not take into account such "contingent liabilities" as the risk of a major Wall Street bank collapsing. Typically, deficit hawks invoke the phrase "contingent liabilities" to call for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, arguing that official government accounting understates the long-term taxpayer costs of such programs. But Greenspan didn't make a hard pitch on entitlement cuts, focusing instead on the risk of bank bailouts.  

Bond prices are going up nonetheless because the big money is seeking a safe haven in a gathering storm.

Europe’s highest court Tuesday gave people the means to scrub their reputations online, issuing a ruling that could force Google and other search engines to delete references to old debts, long-ago arrests and other unflattering episodes. Embracing what has come to be called “the right to be forgotten,” the Court of Justice of the European Union said people should have some say over what information comes up when someone Googles them.

The decision was celebrated by some as a victory for privacy rights in an age when just about everything, good or bad, leaves a permanent electronic trace. Others warned it could interfere with the celebrated free flow of information online and lead to censorship. The ruling stemmed from a case out of Spain involving Google, but it applies to the entire 28-nation bloc of over 500 million people and all search engines in Europe, including Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing.

Google is already getting requests to remove objectionable personal information from its search engine. Europeans can submit take-down requests directly to Internet companies rather than to local authorities or publishers under the ruling. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a person can seek redress from the courts.

The criteria for determining which take-down requests are legitimate is not completely clear from the decision. The ruling seems to give search engines more leeway to dismiss take-down requests for links to webpages about public figures, in which the information is deemed to be of public interest. But search engines may err on the side of caution and remove more links than necessary to avoid liability. Google has said it is disappointed with the ruling, which it noted differed dramatically from a non-binding opinion by the ECJ's court adviser last year. That opinion said deleting information from search results would interfere with freedom of expression.

Some limited forms of a “right to be forgotten” exist in the US and elsewhere, for example, in regard to crimes committed by minors or bankruptcy regulations, both of which usually require that records be expunged in some way.  And some things probably are better off forgotten.

In 1897 silver and gold dealers-slash-bankers in London began gathering each day to post their metals prices. They would meet in a basement and compare prices and then average prices and come up with something called the “fix”. There was a morning fix and an afternoon fix for both gold and silver. This became the price for precious metals. There has long been speculation that the bankers who set the fix might occasionally alter the prices to suit their own trades, in other words the fix was rigged and manipulated.

The basic price setting formula worked well for the bankers and it was adopted by the Libor and the Forex and the ISDA and others who liked the idea of controlling prices for a major market. Turns out the Libor and the Forex and other markets were indeed manipulated, and investigations are ongoing. And then the regulators got the bright idea that if all those markets were rigged, maybe the original, the gold and silver fix, maybe they were rigged. Investigations are underway. 

And so Deutsche Bank has decided they don’t want to be part of the London silver fix. They have announced they are resigning their post effective as of August 14, 2014. That leaves just two primary dealers to set prices for silver, HSBC and Bank of Nova Scotia; not enough to matter; and so the London Silver Fix will close down. The London Gold Fix will continue for now, but by the middle of August there will be no more London Silver Fix. And all of the banks that continue to trade in silver will have to find new ways to rig the market.

People used to think price manipulation in major markets never occurred. More evidence today, Bloomberg reports on a research paper that uncovered evidence that some traders got early news of Federal Reserve rate announcements and then traded on it during the Fed’s media lockup. The paper, covering September 1997 through June 2013, detected abnormally large price movements and imbalances in buy and sell orders that were “statistically significant and in the direction of the subsequent policy surprise.” The moves occurred during the window between when Fed announcements were supplied to the news media and when they were permitted to be released to the public.

The researchers calculate that the traders made off with somewhere between $14 million and $250 million in aggregate profits. A spokesperson says the Fed “enhanced its media release security procedures” last October “to better protect the information against premature release.”

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