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A belated good Sunday morning. Markets ended the week down, despite Friday's rally. The one-two punch of robust global inflation and rising bond yields may have finally disabused those hoping to get a rate cut for Christmas this year.
Traders seemed to suddenly ask What? Inflation? That query led the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.8% on the week. The S&P 500 dropped 1.9%, abandoning, at least for now, its breakout over the March 2000 closing high of 1527. Whether that turns out to be have been a bulltrap will be determined in relatively short order.
The Nasdaq held up surprisingly well, falling only 1.5%. Small-caps in the Russell 2000, however, took a 2.1% hit. But the real damage was elsewhere: Global stocks and emerging markets took a 2.4% drop, while real estate investment trusts lost 3.7% and European stocks took a 3.8% drubbing. Oil fell half a percent, and gold dropped 3.8%.While some were quick to blame Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke for the selloff, I credit selective perception. It's been readily apparent for quite some time that the slowing economy could have used a rate cut, but inflation concerns prevented the Fed from doing so. Easy Al left Helicopter Ben grounded, with the Fed painted into a corner. The sudden
Investing and Trading
- Global Rate Forecast: Up: Suddenly, it's not such a low-rate world. Four months ago, BusinessWeek's cover proclaimed "It's a Low, Low, Low, Low-Rate World" and that it would stay that way. Since then, the benchmark Treasury 10-year note edged down to around 4.50% -- near the low end of its trading range over the past year -- in March before jumping to nearly 5.25% by Friday, which marked the high end. Moreover, almost all of that rise has come in the past month or so. (Barron's) If no access to Barron's, go here.
- Investech's Jim Stack called the Shanghai market correction on June 1, saying: "This is not going to end well!"
- The Wall Street Journal noted that Mortgage Jitters May Account for Bond Selloff: The 10-year Treasury had its biggest decline in two years, driving its yield to 5.1% from 4.97%. Commentators were quick to latch on to reasons for the move, such as rumors the Chinese government was selling in the morning. But the biggest factor behind the drop appears to be due to mortgage investors, who had been holding out in hopes yields would go lower.
- That didn't take long: Last week, we mentioned the significance of quantitative research supplanting traditional fundamental work. Well, here's some of the fallout: Prudential Shuts Down Stock Research, Trading Arm: Prudential Financial said on Wednesday that it will shut down its stock research and trading business, in the insurer's latest pullback from a rocky 26-year stay on Wall Street. The company said it is closing down Prudential Equity Group's offices and trading operations in nine U.S. cities as well as in London, Zurich, Paris and Tokyo. Prudential dropped research coverage immediately and said 400 employees will be terminated as operations are wound down during the quarter ending June 30. (Reuters)
- Wealth Hazard: Guessing Low on Profit Growth: Investors were surprised by the strength of corporate profits in the first quarter. They'd be wise to avoid getting surprised again this quarter. By Thomson Financial's count, per-share earnings by companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 8.2% in the first quarter from a year earlier, better than the 3.2% gain analysts expected in early April. Analysts and some executives appear to have extrapolated a weak U.S. economy into weak earnings growth. They didn't count on overseas economies thriving despite the U.S. slowdown, or the weak dollar bolstering earnings from abroad. (The Wall Street Journal)
- Mark Hulbert asks: Is It Just a Strong Market, or the Bubble, Part 2? "P/E ratios based on 10-year average earnings, adjusted for inflation, make much more sense for this purpose," he said. And though that 10-year average ratio for the S& P 500, now at 27.4, is lower than it was in March 2000, when it stood at 46.1, it is still at one of its highest levels ever. Other than the years associated with the Internet bubble, in fact, there has been no period since 1929 when the 10-year average was higher. (New York Times)
- Some of my long-term macro themes -- rising inflation, slowing economy, subpar job creation and ongoing drag from the housing slowdown -- have been causing some turmoil in the markets lately. Despite this -- or perhaps, because of it -- we've gotten a number of inquiries from our clients as to How to Play the Long Side Safely. (RealMoney)
- U.S. Equity Returns: What to Expect: An interesting multiyear comparison of the price-earnings (PE) ratios of the S&P 500 Index (as a measure of stock valuations) and the forward real returns was done by Plexus Asset Management. The study covered the period from 1871 to 2006 and used the S&P 500 Composite Index (and its predecessors). In essence, a total real return index and coinciding ten-year forward real returns were calculated, and used together with PEs based on rolling 10-year earnings.
- The triumphant return of the Magazine Cover Indicator.
- Is that a technical term? Long Up the Wazoo, They Are: "We've already seen it happen with the hedge funds, which, if you look at the ISI numbers, are about as long as they could get."
- How Liquidity May Take Its Toll on Value of Assets Worldwide: Economies depend on a stable monetary system to send appropriate price signals to producers and consumers. But with the M3 measure of money supply rising at close to 10% annually in the U.S. over the past dozen years and world central-bank liquidity growing by 13.8% annually, the system is anything but stable. Normally, such excessive money creation would have produced inflation. But this time, it coincided with a communications revolution that lowered global production costs. Previous revolutions of this nature, like the one brought on by railroads, steamships and refrigeration in the 1880s, produced price declines. This one has merely offset the inflationary pressures caused by the increase in money supply. (The Wall Street Journal)
- Wall Street's biggest Apple bull: A Look Inside Gene Munster's Crystal Ball (BusinessWeek)
- This is way cool -- The Profit Calculator: You can't live in New York--arguably, you can't spend an hour in New York -- and remain oblivious to the machinery of profit pumping away under every surface. This city makes money, loses money, houses money; lately, with luxe condos stacking up like casino chips along the waterfront, the city looks like money. What's amazing, then, is how little we truly know about the inner workings of this beast we feed, and milk, daily: How does New York make its money? (New York Magazine)
- This is an instant classic: Top Sell-Side Cliches
EconomyThe Wall of worry continues to build.
- I've got your second-half recovery right here: Duke University study finds CFO Optimism Falls; Capital Spending and Hiring to Slow. On a related note: CEOs Cautious About the Economy. (Reuters)
- After six years of falling, U.S. Labor Participation Rates have been improving -- until recently: More on NiLF & the Unemployment Rate. See also Will the Real Private Nonfarm Payrolls Please Stand Up?
- Gas Prices Are Budget Busters for Many: On average, U.S. households spent 3.6% of their after-tax income on gasoline in 2005, the period of most recent data. That trails expenses for food, housing, health care and entertainment. But spending on gasoline ate up more than 9% of after-tax income for households in the lowest income bracket in 2005, according to the government. For those people, swings in gasoline prices can have a profound impact. (USA Today)
- The Real Cost of Offshoring: U.S. data show that moving jobs overseas hasn't hurt the economy. Here's why those stats are wrong. (BusinessWeek)
- Go figure: Indian wage spiral forces TCS to outsource in Mexico: The increasing cost of labour in India is forcing the country's largest software services provider to hire 5,000 employees in Mexico. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which opened a software development centre in Guadalajara, Mexico, last week, will outsource the first 500 jobs from India in this financial year. A further 4,500 jobs will follow over the next five years. A talent supply crunch in the booming services sector in India, coupled with a sharply appreciating rupee against the dollar, is threatening to knock the country off its perch as the world's leading outsourcing centre. (The Times)
- The NAR Housing forecasts have been laughably wrong: NAR and Housing Forecasts.
- It takes a special type of stupid to so belatedly recognize the impact of housing on the broader economy: Economists See Housing Slump Enduring Longer: Economists are giving up on the idea that the U.S. housing slump will be quick and relatively painless. Instead, more are concluding, the downturn that began nearly two years ago will last at least through the end of 2007, remaining a major drag on the U.S. economy. The culprits: a glut of homes for sale and growing caution among lenders who now regret being so free with their mortgages during the boom. (Wall Street Journal) Dimwits. See also Shoppers for Mortgages Say 'Ouch!'
- Housing Inventory Build Worsens
- Did Greenspan Add to Subprime Woes?
Why am I not surprised?A former colleague says Mr. Greenspan blocked a proposal to increase scrutiny of subprime mortgage lenders under the Fed's broad authority. That added scrutiny might have helped curtail questionable lending practices now blamed for soaring defaults by mostly low-income borrowers. Democrats in Congress are now turning up the heat on regulators, especially the Fed, for failing to do more to stamp out those practices, and the Fed appears increasingly likely to overhaul its approach. See also More Mortgage-Industry Firms Subpoenaed as Probe Expands. (Wall Street Journal)
- Get Your Red-Hot Foreclosures Here: Foreclosures have surged in Southern California in the last year, particularly in outlying areas. In seven counties, lending institutions foreclosed on 6,007 properties in the first quarter of 2007, up from 721 properties in the first quarter of 2006, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a research company based in San Diego. In Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, lenders foreclosed on 255 homes in the first quarter of 2006. That number grew to 2,369 in the first quarter of 2007, according to DataQuick. (New York Times)
- Constructing Capitulation.
- Hey, Big Spender: China's investments in the rest of Asia are booming. China's outward investment drive has become the subject of growing media and political attention, as increasingly internationally minded Chinese companies have begun scouring the globe for takeover targets. Yet despite the hype, this shopping spree is not quite what it appears, being in some ways a more modest in ambition (for now, at least) than many suppose. (Economist)
- Why Iran Will Fight, Not Compromise: What can the West offer the Islamic Republic of Iran in return for giving up its nuclear ambitions and kenneling its puppies of war? The problem calls to mind the question regarding what to give a man who has everything: cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, diabetes, kidney failure, and so forth. Iran's economy is so damaged that it is impossible to tell how bad things are. Except perhaps for the oilfields of southern Iraq, and perhaps also northern Saudi Arabia, there is nothing the West can give Iran to forestall an internal breakdown. (Asia Times)
- Big Solar's Day in the Sun: This is not the same old pipe dream. The economics -- and the technology -- of turning light into electricity have changed. Business 2.0 has the inside look at the industrial-strength power plants coming soon to a grid near you.
- Bleep Deprivation: Indecency is different from obscenity. Obscenity can be regulated, since courts have held that it is unprotected by the First Amendment. But the mere recitation of dirty words does not meet the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity, which requires not only extremely raw depiction or description of sex acts but also a context that "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." In contrast, mere indecency is a notch less offensive than obscenity, and it can occur in works that have unquestionable social value. (Fortune)
- Trembling Over Tainted Food? Here's a Solution. (Bloomberg)
Technology and Science
- When any tech toy comes out and makes my technophobe wife go "Holy $#@&!", there's something big going on. (Yes, it's another Apple iPhone -- story).
- Rather amazing: 6 Ways to Find Cool Google Maps Street Views.
- Microsoft Finds Legal Defender in Justice Dept: Nearly a decade after the government began its landmark effort to break up Microsoft, the Bush administration has sharply changed course by repeatedly defending the company both in the U.S. and abroad against accusations of anticompetitive conduct, including the recent rejection of a complaint by Google. (New York Times)
- Terribly amusing: In Search of the Real Fake Steve Jobs.
- TiVo HD drops its price in half to $400.
- Keeping legit online music alive: Terrestrial radio only pays royalties to composers. Performers are not compensated, because radio stations argue that drawing listeners to their music is essentially free advertising. But Internet and satellite radio broadcasters have to pay both the composers and the performers. Satellite radio does this by paying a flat fee of 7.5% of revenue. Until now, small Internet radio broadcasters, too, have been able to pay royalties as a percentage of revenue. (Chicago Tribune)
- Can Blogs Become a Big Source of Jobs? -- The bottom line is this: while running a Web log is a skill that more and more employers seek in their employees, finding full-time work in that world is still unusual. (New York Times)
- Smallest galaxy hints at hidden population.
Music, Books, Movies, TV Fun!
- The most influential album in rock history: It was 40 years ago today -- well, last Sunday -- that 'Sgt. Pepper' told the band to play.
- Really? This is the last epoisode of "The Sopranos"? I hadn't heard. One Final Whack at That HBO Mob.
- Very funny interview with the cast of 'Ocean's 13'.
- I was surprised to learn that Bob Dylan wrote every pop hit of the past 35 years. (quite amusing!)
- Fascinating photo essay: What the World Eats.