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Like most Americans, particularly those of us who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Jackson, a tortured musical genius who, like many famous artists, had everything yet nothing at the same time.
Mourning a national musical icon is appropriate and has its place among the week's headlines. Obsessing over the movement of a corpse by helicopter and then by a plain white van, though, may have obscured the issues of the day that affect us in other ways.
But the 24/7 coverage continued, and trust me, I understand why it's of great interest. I have worked in the media business for 25 years now. And while I cannot and should not criticize the mainstream media for its constant coverage of all things Jackson, the headlines that affected investors most were relegated to television's back pages, if you will.
Here's a rundown of important headlines that received scant coverage, both before and after the news about Michael Jackson hit the tape. (My colleagues at
, of course, were the exception to the media rule, and I say this without bias.)
"threaded the needle" and issued a picture-perfect statement about the current state of the economy. It acknowledged improvements in the economy and its willingness to be vigilant about changing conditions, quieting the brain-dead inflation hawks who think the Fed should be raising rates now to combat the recent, though unimportant, rally in commodity prices.
While eliminating references to "deflation," the Fed reassured investors it would keep interest rates low for a protracted period of time as the economy attempts to launch a self-sustaining rebound.
Following its statement, on Thursday morning the Fed quietly allowed two emergency lending programs to expire, but extended its efforts to provide dollar liquidity to overseas central banks while continuing to buy mortgage and Treasury bonds, helping interest rates come back down.
. The Treasury sold $104 billion in debt to investors without a hitch. The record sale came, as I said, with help from the Fed, which bought bonds midweek. But despite noises from the "nattering nabobs of negativism," (thanks, Bill Safire), 10-year bond yields fell almost all the way back to 3.5% from 4% three weeks ago, much as I suggested they would.
I am neutral on interest rates right now but would be a buyer again if 10-year yields jumped back to 4%. I suspect they'll go down further before they rebound significantly.
. Mortgage rates will follow, which should help kick-start activity in the housing market, which has seen applications for new purchases and refinancings plunge on the recent rise in rates.
Positive signs from
about falling cancellation rates and improved revenues, however, were reflected in housing stocks, of which I own Lennar,
reported a narrower loss in the latest quarter.
. The European Central Bank (ECB) provided more than $600 billion in low-cost, one-year financing to major European banks, helping to provide long-term liquidity to a group of megabanks that make ours look like the envy of the world.
. As China called for a new world currency (good luck!), the savings rate in the U.S. rose to nearly 7%, the highest since 1993 and the greatest total dollar amount since records were first kept in 1959.
Personal savings totaled $768.8 billion, boosted in part by government stimulus checks. The U.S. now has enough savings to finance about 43% of this year's deficit. In a perfect world, the jump in savings would reduce our reliance on the "kindness of strangers" and support the dollar. However, we don't know what consumers will do with their savings. Hopefully they'll go buy the homes that they couldn't afford three years ago. Housing affordability is at the highest level it has been since 1960!
. The ongoing calls for a new world reserve currency, made by China, Russia, India and Brazil, among others, are newsworthy.
While nearly impossible to achieve in the short run, this jawboning against the dollar has had negative consequences for the greenback, and more battering could be on the way. The problem, though, is that few legitimate alternatives to the dollar exist. Not to mention that the very countries calling for a new reserve currency make most of their money dumping cheap imports into the U.S.
While I am not a protectionist, why doesn't the Obama administration publicly remind the dollar-bashers that our open markets provide them with excess foreign reserves and unfettered access to our financial markets. It is hardly a reciprocal relationship and could be less so if they continue to complain about making money off us while trying to siphon money away from us.
The dumping of dollars would be a process of "mutually assured destruction," as it was with the arms race and nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. I suspect this is all talk and political posturing: The countries, acting as if their economies are superior to ours, are entirely dependent on the U.S. consumer for their newfound wealth.
. The U.S. Navy is shadowing a North Korean ship that might be carrying nuclear weapons or technology, opening the door to a potential military crisis in Asia. South Korea, meanwhile has procured 40 U.S.-made surface-to-air missiles for what could be a pre-emptive strike against the North as that country prepares another missile test.
. In shades of the 1979 hostage crisis, Iran has detained eight or nine staff members of the British Embassy in Tehran for allegedly helping protestors in Iran voice their opposition to recent election results. This, along with rising tensions with North Korea, clearly bears close scrutiny.
. Oil prices continued lower while oil stocks continued to slip, a sign that China is finished, for now anyway, restocking commodities at discount prices. Since I sold my positions in
, which had been underperforming crude oil, those stocks have been flat while oil has been trending down.
. Despite security concerns and recent massive sandstorms, foreign oil firms are preparing to bid on the rights to develop eight oil and gas fields, for the first time in 30 years. A successful foray into Iraq could also weigh on oil prices, longer term, as Baghdad comes back on line.
I still believe oil is running out of gas, and while I would not be aggressively short, I would not be a buyer either.
. The House passed landmark climate change legislation, which still has to pass the Senate and then be reconciled by the two houses. The bill includes the hotly debated "cap-and-trade" provision to counter global warming. The bill, if passed into law, allows carbon credits to be granted, or sold, to polluters who in turn can trade the credits to firms with smaller carbon footprints.
All this is an effort to bring down overall carbon emissions in the U.S., the first mandated carbon emission caps ever in the U.S. (The U.S. limited sulfur dioxide emissions in the early 1990s to reduce acid rain and created a similar cap-and-trade program then.) However, China, India and Mexico are much bigger polluters than the U.S., so it is uncertain how the bill will affect "global warming."
My personal belief is that before the debate about global warming ends, we will be in a period of protracted global
, for which there is already evidence, and all that will have happened is that consumer taxes on energy will have gone up and the Chicago Climate Exchange, first funded by the Joyce Foundation -- on whose board President Obama sat in 2000 while in Chicago -- will be reaping a windfall in carbon trading fees.
Richard Sandor, a former executive of the Chicago Board of Trade is its chairman. Generation Investment Management, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, is an investor in the Chicago Climate Exchange as well.
My thoughts about global warming aside, I would stand ready to find new funds that trade carbon, in an effort to make money from the legislation ... assuming it passes.
That's all the news that's fit to print. Good night and good luck!
At the time of publication, Insana was long LEN, TOL and HOV.
Ron Insana has returned to
as a senior contributor to the nation's premier business news network. Prior to his return, Insana was a managing director at SAC Capital Advisers, a $12 billion hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen. Insana was the president and CEO of Insana Capital Partners, a $120 million fund of funds manager, from March 2006 through August 2008. For over two decades, Insana has been a familiar face on business television, spending 17 years as a veteran anchor at
. Before working at
, he worked as managing editor and senior anchor for the
Financial News Network
, where he began his career in 1984 as a production assistant. He graduated with honors from California State University at Northridge.