Last Tuesday, January 14, 2014, the Federal Reserve had finally had enough.
After supposedly looking into big banks ownership of commodity-related infrastructure operations (like warehouses, oil barges, and utilities) for the last two years, which came on the heels of their 2003 review of the same issues, the rock ’em sock ’em Fed came out swinging.
Now, they said, they needed to look at “all aspects” of what they’ve been looking at for two years. That’s not because they were looking the other way before.
It’s because now they’re thinking big and asking themselves, “What would be the systemic risk to the system if a big bank owned something like the Deepwater Horizon (the BP well that blew out and cost almost $50 billion to date), or Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (which was destroyed by an earthquake-related tsunami and is costing god only knows how much) and the bank got sued, and their share price collapsed, and depositors fled, and that caused a run on other banks, and put the entire financial system at risk?”
Yep, it’s time for a study, they said. And because they are maybe thinking about some related rule changes, in maybe a year or two or three (these things take time, you know), they put out a request for comment. You and I have 60 days to submit ours, and so do the big banks.
But that’s not the “timing” part of this story…
The timing of the Fed’s announcement on Tuesday was just amazingly coincidental, a stroke of almost incalculable luck.
There’s so much news and data, so many opinions about events and data points, so many financial publications, so many shows, so many stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, futures, options, derivatives, so many opposing points of views about everything, it’s enough to make your head explode and your investing comfort level implode.
Most people tend towards like-minded analysts and economic analysis that confirms what they’re seeing and thinking. There’s a kind of comfort zone there, where “We’re in this together and if we’re wrong, well, I wasn’t alone; but if we’re right, boy am I smart.”
Then there are the “skittish” investors who think they know what they’re doing – that is, until they hear a different opinion from someone, anyone, they think has a leg up on them. And what do they do then? They usually ask, “Really?” Meaning, “Do you know something I don’t know?” Chances are, at that point, they are going to panic.
And, of course, there are those investors who know they are right, and stick by their convictions and positions all the way to, well, you know where.
Maybe you’ve been there.
I was there myself when I started trading professionally on the floor of the Chicago Board of Options Exchange in 1982.
But I quickly distanced myself from all the noise that distracted me from being a successful trader.
There is no magic bullet to being a successful investor; that’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s a lot simpler that everyone makes it out to be.
Out of far left field, I see something coming that I never expected.
It’s more like the coming together of pieces of a puzzle that have eluded us for too long.
By the way, Occupy Wall Street, if you’re listening, and I hope you are, and you’re still floundering (which I know you are) without a cause that anybody can really wrap their heads around, drop your drums, chants, and wanderings, and make the coming together of this puzzle what you’re protesting.
And make what could result what you are demanding.
Far from having my holiday spirits uplifted, I’m increasingly glum (about the markets, but not about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) on account of the lack of any good cheer coming out of…well, anywhere.
Take Europe, for example. You know, Europe, as in the European Union. As in that region of the world that has always gotten along, happily sharing each other’s cultures, cuisines, and shrapnel wounds from their exploding sovereign debts, courtesy of a common currency that affords cheap financing for budget bludgeoning.
There’s no good cheer over there.
Didn’t anybody hear Christine Lagarde (formerly one Europe’s own when she was running finances for France, but now runs around with whips and chains as the high-heeled dominatrix of the IMF)? Last week she said that if we don’t all work together our situation will be similar to the 1930s.
She wasn’t just talking to the Europeans. She was warning world leaders and central bankers.
Good thing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke got the message. He told lawmakers last week that they have “no further plans to aid European banks.”
So much for holiday spirit.
But, I think the Beard is just too modest; he wants to be a secret Santa.
In fact, there’s really a lot of gift-giving going on over in Europe. If you look closely you’ll see that stockings and sacks are being filled, and the Fed was the first to contribute.
But (frighteningly, if not ominously), if you look closer you’ll see those stockings and sacks aren’t being filled with presents, they’re being filled with sand. They’re sandbags.
Sandbags? Yes, sandbags, as in the last ditch effort to save towns from catastrophic flooding when the big dam breaks.
There’s a ton of “insight” to be meted out about what’s going on in the market. You’ve heard most of it from me, and everybody else. But today and tomorrow will be all about being an insider at the meetings going on over in Europe.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at those meetings…
What we couldn’t do with a little “inside information!”
But we can’t be there, and besides, that would be insider trading, wouldn’t it?
So, we’ll all just have to stay glued to CNBC and Bloomberg to see what the future holds for us all.
Speaking of trading on inside information…
Have you heard about the hearings up on Capitol Hill?
Oh yeah, there’s been serious discussions in Congress – by Congressmen and women -about reports of insider trading being conducted by privilege insiders, namely, some of their own.
It seems our always honest, always on-top-of-it, always looking-out-for-themselves Congressional leaders and their rank (and I do mean rank) and file are at it again, proving that although their net worth to the public may be zero, their access to non-public information is priceless.
“Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight…”
Thank goodness there’s a light out there somewhere, so we can see what’s coming.
And judging by last week’s market action, guess what?
Santa Claus is coming to town!
Ho, ho, ho, what a rally. The Dow Jones Industrials rose 787.64 points, a 7.01% jump, making it the venerable benchmark’s second-best weekly up-move ever! The S&P 500 rocketed up 7.39%. The Nasdaq Composite shot up 7.59%.
But the real winner was the broader market, encompassing the less muscular household names ensconced in the Russell 2000; it rose a whopping 10.34%.
Speaking of the 10% gainers club, guess who else got their tickets punched on this sleigh ride? Not surprisingly (considering a little thing called “short-covering”), Italy was up 10.4%, Spain was up 10.24%. France was up 10.78%, and Germany was up 10.7%.
The week before last, not one single stock market in the world advanced by even a hair. Last week, every single key stock market in the world rose – and very impressively.
Oh, wait a minute. There was one little country that actually fell almost 1%. Good thing they’re not on anybody’s radar and don’t matter much. Who was it, you ask?
But, even more incongruously, the CFTC isn’t the first overseer of MF Global . It ceded that responsibility to the CME Group Inc. (Nasdaq: CME), which owns and operates the largest futures exchanges in the United States. The designated self-regulatory organization for more than 50 futures brokers, CME was supposed to be the cop on the beat.
However, the not-so-funny thing about the relationship between MF Global and the CME Group is that MF Global recently boasted on its Website that it “was the top broker by volume at CME’s metals and energy exchanges in New York and in the top three at its Chicago exchanges.”
So, is it any wonder that the CME just last week audited MF Global’s segregated customer funds and found them to be in compliance?
These are the same supposedly segregated funds which the CME is now saying may have been tampered with. According to the CME:
“It now appears that [MF Global] made subsequent transfers of customer segregated funds in a manner that may have been designed to avoid detection insofar as MF Global did not disclose or report such transfers to the CFTC or CME until early morning on Monday October 31, 2011.”
How much money are we talking about? About $633 million – or 11.6% out of a segregated fund requirement of about $5.4 billion.
Do you see what I’m driving at?
So the real story is, t he Federal Reserve, which doesn’t regulate MF Global but regulates all banks in the United States, lets a futures commission merchant with investment bank wannabe desires become an insider in its dealings. Meanwhile, a private for-profit enterprise that runs the self-regulatory apparatus that oversees its own customers steps in for a federal agency that’s supposed to be in charge of commodities, futures and derivatives markets.
For the past five weeks, it’s been treat after treat for bullish investors.
The “trick” will be seeing if it can last…
How sweet has it been?
The Dow rose 1,459.63 points in five weeks to end Friday at 12,231.11. The Industrials rose 3.6% last week alone. They’re up 14% in that short run, and we’re now up 5.7% on the year. The S&P 500 is also up 14% over the same timeframe, and the Nasdaq has been following dutifully.
The candy being held out has been the hoped-for resolution to all of Europe’s problems. Every little sign of forward movement burned the short tails of greedy bears hoping for a sovereign default and raging contagion.
On top of progress across the pond, earnings here at home have been another treat. Of the more than 300 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter numbers, 71% beat analyst expectations.