Monday, December 21, 2009

"Corporate Democrats"

On Friday, Bill Moyers had an incredible interview on PBS with Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Something's not right here. One year after the great collapse of our financial system, Wall Street is back on top while our politicians dither. As for health care reform, you're about to be forced to buy insurance from companies whose stock is soaring, and that's just dandy with the White House.

Truth is, our capitol's being looted, Republicans are acting like the town rowdies, the sheriff is firing blanks, and powerful Democrats in Congress are in cahoots with the gang that's pulling the heist. This is not capitalism at work. It's capital. Raw money, mounds of it, buying politicians and policy as if they were futures on the hog market.

Democrats are very frustrated with Obama

MATT TAIBBI: … (A) lot of what the Democrats are doing, they don't make sense if you look at it from an objective point of view, but if you look at it as a business strategy- if you look at the Democratic Party as a business, and their job is basically to raise campaign funds and to stay in power, what they do makes a lot of sense.

: I think the other problem, frankly, is that those of us who consider ourselves progressives invested so much in this remarkable figure, Barack Obama. And we read our own hopes into him. We saw him as a potentially great president. We saw this as a potentially transformative moment, I certainly did, where he could've chosen to be the kind of President Roosevelt was. And it turns out that's not who is characteralogically and that's not how he chose to play the moment.

Corporate Democrats vs “The Little Guy”
ROBERT KUTTNER: Now, you have a group of Democrats, and this is the real pity of it. The Democrats are supposed to be the party of the average person. You have the so-called New Democrats who are really the party of Wall Street. And then you have the Blue Dogs who are fiscal conservatives. And if you look at what happened in Barney Frank's committee to the financial reform bill, he's a pretty good liberal, he ended up looking like a complete stooge for industry because in order to get a bill out of his own committee, he had to appease the 15 New Democrats, so-called, who were put on that committee mostly by Rahm Emanuel when he was the-

MATT TAIBBI: Sort of as a means to raise money.

ROBERT KUTTNER: As a means to raise money. So Melissa Bean, who's a two-term Democratic Congressman ends up being the power broker because she controls 15 votes on Barney Frank's committee of what she's going to allow out of committee and what she isn't.

BILL MOYERS: Why does she control 15 votes?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Because there are 15 New Dems, and this is the centrist caucus that particularly specializes in taking money from the financial industry.

BILL MOYERS: You call them centrist, don't you mean corporate Democrats? I mean-

: Corporate, yes, sorry. That's too kind. They're corporate Democrats who were put on that committee because Rahm Emanuel felt that there's no better place than the House Financial Services Committee if you want to shake down Wall Street, to put it bluntly.

: If you were Barack Obama in a city that's overrun by money, how would you try to fix it?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I would go over the heads of the special interests to the people. I think there's a lot of sullen apprehension, frustration out in the country. And I think the people are hungry for leadership. He's not doing that sufficiently.

Obama, Corporate Democrats and Wall Street
MATT TAIBBI: It's absolutely a political winner for the president to hit Wall Street very hard and do all the things that he's supposed to be doing right now. You know, that all the things that FDR did. If he did those things, if he remade Wall Street in the way that it needs to be remade, he would do nothing but gain popularity. And I think that's the strategy he should have pursued.

BILL MOYERS: But what if by nature, that's not what he wants to do? What if, by nature, he prefers to head the establishment, than to change it?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Then he runs the risk of being a failed president. And I do have the audacity to hope that he's a smart enough, principled enough guy, that some time in his second year in office, he's going to realize that he's at a crossroads.

: This is the fundamental question. Is there a way that we can have a politician get elected without the sponsorship of special interests? Can we get somebody in the White House who's independent of the special interests that are in the way of real reform? And that's the problem. We haven't been able to have that happen. And we need to find a way to have that happen.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. And I think it's not accidental that the last three Democratic presidents have been at best, corporate Democrats. And one hoped because of the depth of the crisis and the disgrace of deregulation and ideology, and the practical failure of the Bush presidency, this was a moment for a clean break. The fact that even at such a moment, even with an outsider president campaigning on change we can believe in, that Barack Obama turned out to be who he has been so far, is just so revealing in terms of the structural undertow that big money represents in this country. The question is: Is he capable of making a change -- he's only been in office less than a year -- in time to redeem the moment, redeem his own promise?

Obama on 60 MINUTES
Obama was on 60 MINUTES and he said...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.

BILL MOYERS: Then on Monday afternoon, he had this photo opportunity in which he scolded the bankers and then they took it politely and graciously, which they could've done because the Hill at that very moment was swarming with banking lobbyists making sure that what the President wants doesn't happen. I mean, what did you think as you watched him on 60 MINUTES or watched that press conference?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I was appalled. I was just appalled because think of the timing. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the same week when the president finally gives this tough talk on "60 Minutes," a very feeble bill is working its way through the House of Representatives and crucial decisions are being made. And where is the President? I mean, there was an amendment to put some teeth back in the provision on credit default swaps and other kinds of derivatives. And that went down by a handful of votes. And to the extent that the Treasury and the White House was working that bill, at all, they were working the wrong side. There was a there was a provision to exempt foreign exchange derivatives from the teeth in the bill.

A Social Movement on the order of The New Deal or The Abolition Movement
ROBERT KUTTNER: The other thing that's missing, if you compare him with Roosevelt or LBJ or Lincoln, the other thing that's missing is a social movement. In all of these great periods of transformation, you had social movements doing a complicated dance with the president, where sometimes they were working with him, sometimes they were beating up on him. That certainly describes the civil rights movement and Lyndon Johnson. It describes the abolitionists and Lincoln. It describes the labor movement and Roosevelt. Where's the movement?

ROBERT KUTTNER: … I was invited to speak to the House Democrat caucus a couple a weeks ago. And they are furious. They can't publicly embarrass their president, but they go home on weekends and they talk to their folks and they hear the individual stories of suffering. And they feel that certainly the Treasury, to some extent the White House, just doesn't get it and the Republicans are going to end up with a narrative and the Tea Party folks, it's the far right that is on the march when ordinary people need a champion.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Democracy is the only possible counterweight to concentrated financial power. And ideally, that takes a great president rendezvousing with a social movement. One way or another, there is going to be a social movement. Because so many people are hurting, and so many people are feeling correctly that Wall Street is getting too much and Main Street is getting too little.

Taibbi and Kuttner are progressive Democrats, but they are extremely frustrated and disenchanted by Obama.

Obama’s Big Sellout
Taibbi wrote the following article for Rolling Stone a few weeks ago. It is worth the read –

Taibbi is interviewed here –

“Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.

Then he got elected.

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.”

“Fair Share Tax”
I am not the only one frustrated that Wall Street has taken over Washington and the SOBs we elected allowed them to loot the country for several Trillion Dollars. People aren’t stupid – they are getting fed up. A major societal change is coming, where the social contract between the Government and the Governed is rewritten. It will change Medicare, Social Security and Health Insurance.

Look at what the geniuses in Pittsburgh are doing –

“On Wednesday, the City Council is expected to give preliminary approval to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposal for a 1 percent tuition tax on students attending college in Pittsburgh, which he says will raise $16.2 million in annual revenue that is needed to pay pensions for retired city employees. Final Council action will be on Monday.”

Our country is choosing to harm the welfare of our youth to pay for the welfare of our politically-well connected aging. That is about as backwards as you can get, but the Baby Boom has always been the “Me Generation”, so their actions are not new. We are also electing corrupt politicians who borrow in the name of our kids to make bond holders whole and then bonus the bankers who sold the toxic waste in the first place.

Credit Suisse on Home Foreclosures
Credit Suisse estimates that 4.3 million homes are set to be foreclosed on in 2010. That is 3.3 million more than the Market can bear. So the government will need to step in and prevent these 3.3 million new foreclosures, or else the housing market will collapse again. How much is that going to cost us...

China Says it's getting harder to buy US Treasuries

The trade has always been the US consumes and Asia saves, so they buy our Treasuries to keep Interest Rates down to make Consumer Credit cheap so that we can keep borrowing and consuming.

Now that we are buying less (losing our jobs and houses and saving for a rainy day), the Chinese have fewer Dollars with which to buy US Treasuries. This decrease in demand for Treasuries is coming at the same time that the Supply of Treasuries is going through the roof.

This leaves the Fed with two options - let Interest Rates rise or print money to buy your own Treasuries - Quantitative Easing). They will have to print money and that will be good for Gold.

2010 is going to be a political war and whoever is smart enough to take on the Wall Street, and explain in simple terms what is really going on, will walk away with all landslide victory.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh yes, that Dubai thing…

What the heck has been going on in Emerging Markets?

Oh yes, that Dubai thing…

China ($SSEC) looks like a retest of the July highs is setting up to fail. Other proxies for participating in China are not looking so hot – Hong Kong (EWH), Australia (EWA)and the ETF for China (FXI).

Austria (EWO) is below the 50-day and looks like it has just confirmed a fairly significant top. Austria’s Banking Industry is ridiculously highly leveraged in toxic Real Estate lending. It is considered the gateway to Eastern Europe and the chart looks terrible.

Also keep a close eye on Emerging Market Junk Bond Funds. Internals continue to deteriorate and many Leaders are starting to look toppy or are outright confirming that tops have been formed. I know that the markets in 2009 have been notorious for breaking down and then immediately going vertical, as if no damage had ever occurred, but at some point that game will end and the selling of the big boys will overwhelm the computers of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and The President’s Working Group on Capital Markets. You will not want to be in anything illiquid or risky when that occurs.

I am continuing to roll high-Beta into low-Beta and am buying fewer and fewer individual stocks. I want to participate if there is another leg up, but also want to be in the best position to play defense if the much-anticipated correction arrives.

Secular Bulls and Bears and Potential Trades

I seem to always be working. Whenever I am out in a social setting (many parties this time of year), people always ask me the same question – “If things are so bad and everybody knows it, then how does the Stock Market keep going up?” This is normally followed by – “How high does the Stock Market go before it cracks again?”

These are questions that people never would have dreamed of asking in 2000. Back then they were programmed to “buy every dip”, because the Markets never seemed to go down. But things have changed, and people who haven’t played defense are frustrated about having been through two brutal Bear Markets in the last decade and they are terrified about it happening to them yet again.

I want to review the reality that is the Markets today. You can either look at reality and deal with it or pretend it doesn’t exist and suffer the consequences.

Here are two charts. One is a Secular Bull Market and one is a Secular Bear Market. I removed the symbols, because who the stocks are is unimportant. What is important is to recognize that Assets Classes move in long term patterns. These patterns normally play out over 18 to 20 year periods.

It is pretty clear where your money needed to be over that 20-year period. I think you can guess what these two charts are. The Secular Bull sequentially made higher highs, meaning that even if the timing of your purchases was wrong, you got bailed out and still made money over time. The Secular Bear Market was in a brutal trading range, where if you bought wrong you got crushed and even you bought right, if you did not sell, then you probably ended up breaking even after 20 years.

Since 1998, you can see that the roles have reversed and you now have one in a new Secular Bull Market and the other in a new Secular Bear Market. Interestingly enough, they are both now at approximately 1,100. I am pretty confident that the top chart will be a lot higher over the next 8 – 10 years than the bottom chart.

The top chart is Gold. The bottom chart is The S&P 500 Index (Stocks). Look at the 20-year charts above and ask yourself if the long-term fundamentals justify an extension of the Secular Bull market in Gold and the Secular Bear Market in Stocks. I believe that they do and will manage money accordingly.

People have convinced themselves that all stocks will ever do is go up in a Secular Bull and never correct or underperform for an extended period – remember the misinformation that Real Estate never goes down…

Stocks can have horrible performance over extended periods. Especially the Markets of economies where the Governments decide that nothing will fail. This is what has happened in Japan since 1990. Take a look at how the Nikki has performed since 1990 –

If you don’t think the same thing can happen here, then take a look at the NASDAQ ($COMPQ), with a very similar Post-Bubble chart. You can easily see Real Estate Prices and Financial Stocks tracking out similar charts over the next twenty years.

Someday, the chart of Gold will look like the Nikki and the NASDAQ, but I don’t think we have arrived at the point where the Gold Market has hit a multi-Generational high. The fact is that THE enemy right now is falling Real Estate Prices. The best way to pump them up is to keep Interest Rates near zero, so that the cost to borrow is cheap, thus propping up Real Estate Prices.

The Fed has chosen to do this by buying Mortgage Backed Securities and US Treasuries. Other countries have chosen to do the same in their countries. Each time there is a crisis, you will see more money printed to buy whatever asset class is being delevered. That is bullish for Gold.

What This Means to You
Stocks are in an extended trading range. They are by definition TRADES, unless you want to hold them for 20 years and potentially have no real appreciation in your holdings. So there will be a time when you must sell. We probably are not there yet, but you should be preparing your holdings for the future need to play defense.

Fewer Stocks Are Working
You can see that the price of the S&P 500 Index ($SPX) is at new highs, but the Bullish Percent ($BPNYA) and the Summation Index (NYSI) are well off of their highs. Bullish Percent measures the percent of stocks in uptrends and Summation is a cumulative total of the number of advancing stocks versus the number of declining stocks.

As trends mature, fewer and fewer names participate in the rally and ultimately the final leaders top and the market rolls over. We aren’t at that stage yet, but leadership is narrowing.

Here is a comparison of Large Cap ($SPX) versus Small Cap ($SML). You can see that $SPX is at new highs, while $SML is several percent below its highs.

Here is a comparison of US Large Cap ($SPX) versus Developed International Large Cap (EFA). SPX is outperforming EFA.

Here is a comparison of SPX versus Large Cap Technology (QQQQ). You can see that they are basically the same chart. So, Large US is performing in line with Large Technology.

THE US Dollar
Near Term, the US Dollar has a very big decision to make. If resistance holds here, then we could see a retest of recent lows and that would be good for Carry Trade items like Gold and potentially Stocks. I am open to anything happening and will have in stops to participate if the Dollar rolls over for a few days or weeks.

This is important because shorting the Dollar has been the engine for the massive US Dollar Carry Trade, which has propped up all kinds of risky asset classes.

I am watching Gold closely for a trade and the ability to sell more of my holdings into any bounce (I wish I had sold it all on Dec 3). If there is no bounce from here, then things could get real nasty very quickly.

Let’s see how well Gold (GLD) manages to bounce if the US Dollar weakens next week. It didn’t take long for Gold to tag the 50-day, did it?

Gold Stocks (GDX) are now at the bottom of their trading channel.

Here is the hourly chart of the Dow Jones ETF (DIA). You can see how it has held support on 3 other occassions at about $102.10 After each successful hold, it has gapped up about 100 points an ventured back to the top of the trading range. I would not be surprised to walk in tomorrow with the Dow up or down 100 points before the open of trading. You can also see where your stop should be if you own DIA.

The NASDAQ 100 (QQQQ) has been leading the markets. See how it is challenging the top of its trading range, while DIA is near the lows of its range? I don’t own much QQQQ, but have stops in to buy a breakout.