Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stocks Continue Their Decine

Pessimism about a protracted economic downturn washed over the financial markets Thursday, sending stocks plunging and further tightening the credit markets. Reports on declining factory orders and a seven-year high in jobless claims stoked fears that the government's financial rescue plan won't ward off a recession, and the Dow Jones industrials skidded nearly 350 points.

Investors appeared to be settling in for a prolonged economic winter. The main concern is that the $700 billion bailout plan won't be enough to stimulate growth, and economic reports delivered Thursday show that the U.S. continues to struggle.

The government said the number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week and that demand at the nation's factories has fallen by the largest amount in nearly two years. The market is interpreting the Commerce Department report on factories as a sign that tight credit conditions are hitting manufacturers.

"The economy is what's driving this weakness," said Subodh Kumar, global investment strategist at Toronto-based Subodh Kumar & Associates. "I think now what's going on is a focus on the economic weakness in a whole bunch of areas."

He also said, "the next couple of days are going to be pretty intense politically" as Wall Street girds for another vote on the financial bailout plan. The bill that passed the Senate late Wednesday will be sent to the House as soon as Friday. The latest version of the bill adds $100 billion in tax breaks for businesses and the middle class and raises the limit on federal deposit insurance to $250,000 from $100,000.

Supporters are hoping the sweetened bill will be more palatable to some of the 133 House Republicans who rejected the measure in a vote Monday that took Wall Street, and many on Capitol Hill, by surprise.

Those in favor of the plan to let the government buy billions of dollars in bad mortgage debt and other now-soured assets say it will help unclog the world's credit markets. Banks are fearful of making loans, even to each other, because of worries they won't be repaid. That, in turn, is weighing on the economy, making borrowing more difficult and expensive for businesses and consumers alike.

The credit markets showed some increased strain Thursday. The yield on the 3-month T-bill, the safest type of investment, fell to 0.70 percent from 0.79 percent late Wednesday. The historically low yields indicate investors are willing to accept the smallest of returns to safeguard their money.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.64 percent from 3.74 percent late Wednesday.

The stock market is a leading economic indicator of sorts, because investors tend to buy and sell based on where they believe the economy will be six months or more in the future. Thursday's big drop points to a market increasingly resigned to further economic instability whether or not the bailout plan becomes law.

"There are a lot of people who think regardless of a bailout, there's still this economic data and the horror stories out there," said Todd Salamone, director of trading at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "Certainly, there's a negative psychology."

Investors might get another grim reading about the economy on Friday when the Labor Department releases its September jobs report, one of the most closely watched indicators. The report is expected to show a loss of 100,000 jobs, according to a median estimate from economists. That would be the ninth straight month that the economy has lost jobs.

The Dow fell 348.22, or 3.22 percent, to 10,482.85. The blue chips plunged nearly 778 points Monday, logged a partial rebound Tuesday and finished modestly lower Wednesday; still the Dow has had triple-digit swings every day this week, having fallen more than 200 during Wednesday's trading.

Broader stock indicators also fell sharply Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 46.78, or 4.03 percent, to 1,114.28, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 92.68, or 4.48 percent, to 1,976.72.

Light, sweet crude fell $4.56 to settle at $93.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold and other commodities also declined during the session.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the U.S. has been hit with an "economic Pearl Harbor," and the government must respond quickly. "That sounds melodramatic, but I've never used that phrase before. And this really is one," Buffett said in an appearance on the "The Charlie Rose Show" on PBS stations.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 1,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 497,000, above expectations for a 475,000 increase. That's the highest seen since the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and unnerved investors worried about not only about strains in the financial market but also the effect on the broader economy.

Beyond employment, the government reported that orders for manufactured goods fell by 4 percent in August from July. Economists had expected a 2.5 percent decline. It is the biggest drop since a 4.8 percent decline in October 2006.

The dollar was higher against other major currencies, particularly the euro, even after the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged. Higher interest rates in Europe generally make the euro more attractive to investors than the dollar.

The ECB left its key interest rate unchanged amid concerns over inflation but explored the option of lowering the rate as the financial crisis increasingly affects the continent. The central bank is also weighing a bailout of the region's financial system, similar to what U.S. lawmakers are considering.

That raised the question of whether policymakers globally might be less focused on fighting inflation, and instead trying to come up with short-term solutions to stimulate the economy.

"At some point, you have to face the realities that we have some serious problems and there aren't going to be any quick fixes," said Ryan Larson, head of equity trading at Voyageur Asset Management. "Even if bailouts pass, the fact remains that it might get credit flowing again but won't solve the broader issues out there."

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 33.92, or 5.05 percent, to 637.67.

Declining issues led advancers by a 3 to 1 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 6.16 billion shares, up from 5.59 billion on Wednesday.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 1.88 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.80 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 2.51 percent, and France's CAC-40 lost 2.25 percent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Did The Bailout Fail?

Today's defeat of the Wall St. Bailout happened for many reasons but the main one is that this bill is very unpopular and its an election year. House Republicans need something to bring back home to their districts to avoid a complete rout in November. They think they have found their talking point.

I was also against the bill for many reasons but I also know that without some sort of plan the economy could spiral out of control. Bad debt has infected nearly every sector of the financial markets. Remember they were told these mortgage backed securities were safe investments with many having an A rating. Today's record point drop in the stock market showed that we are dangerously close to the tipping point. Banks have stopped lending to each other and each day another large institution fails. We are in the most serious financial meltdown since the depression. Wall St. executives are the robber barons of our time and another great depression could be looming. What can lawmakers do now? First and foremost any rescue plan should include taxpayer ownership of the companies that require a bailout. There needs to be some upside for the taxpayers after the investment firms have cleared their books of these bad assets. There must be a limit to executive compensation in all forms. There must be a tax on all investment transactions to pay for this huge bailout. We must also lower our corporate tax but cut out all loopholes. Corporate tax receipts as a percentage of our GDP are at a historic low. What good is a 35% tax rate when only small business is paying that? We must outlaw lobbying, it is legalized bribery and we should amend the Constitution to stop this incredibly destructive practice.

Today over 1 trillion of value was lost. The Dow is now lower than when President George W. Bush took office. We have all effectively lost 8 years of retirement savings and in twenty years the number of elderly who will live in poverty will grow unless a drastic market rebound occurs. The elimination of pensions for defined contribution plans made most people stock holders. This was a deliberate move by Wall St. for expanded profits. Now most Americans invest in stocks and its this fact that has made some institutions too big to fail. This problem is now worldwide and it threatens to wreak financial havoc throughout the world.

Our country is in danger of becoming a third world nation. We no longer are a manufacturing giant, in fact we hardly manufacture anything here. We are the world's largest debtor nation and our levels of poverty are getting close to third world status. Our population is less educated and the quality of our jobs is on a steady decline.

This is the result of deregulation and the idea that industry can police itself. John McCain recently said that deregulation has helped grow the economy. My 401(k) statements show that to be untrue.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wall St. Bailout Imminent

Congressional leaders and the White House agreed Sunday to a $700 billion rescue of the ailing financial industry after lawmakers insisted on sharing spending controls with the Bush administration. The biggest U.S. bailout in history won the tentative support of both presidential candidates and goes to the House for a vote Monday.

The plan, bollixed up for days by election-year politics, would give the administration broad power to use taxpayers' money to purchase billions upon billions of home mortgage-related assets held by cash-starved financial firms.

President Bush called the vote a difficult one for lawmakers but said he is confident Congress will pass it. "Without this rescue plan, the costs to the American economy could be disastrous," Bush said in a written statement released by the White House.

Flexing its political muscle, Congress insisted on a stronger hand in controlling the money than the White House had wanted. Lawmakers had to navigate between angry voters with little regard for Wall Street and administration officials who warned that inaction would cause the economy to seize up and spiral into recession.

A deal in hand, Capitol Hill leaders scrambled to sell it to colleagues in both parties and acknowledged they were not certain it would pass. "Now we have to get the votes," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader.

The final legislation was released Sunday evening. House Republicans and Democrats met privately to review it and decide how they would vote. "This isn't about a bailout of Wall Street, it's a buy-in, so that we can turn our economy around," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The largest government intervention in financial markets since the Great Depression casts Washington's long shadow over Wall Street. The government would take over huge amounts of devalued assets from beleaguered financial companies in hopes of unlocking frozen credit.

"I don't know of anyone here who wants the center of the economic universe to be Washington," said a top negotiator, Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. But, he added, "The center of gravity is here temporarily. ... God forbid it's here any longer than it takes to get credit moving again."

The plan would let Congress block half the money and force the president to jump through some hoops before using it all. The government could get at $250 billion immediately, $100 billion more if the president certified it was necessary, and the last $350 billion with a separate certification _ and subject to a congressional resolution of disapproval.

Still, the resolution could be vetoed by the president, meaning it would take extra-large congressional majorities to stop it.

Lawmakers who struck a post-midnight deal on the plan with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson predicted final congressional action might not come until Wednesday.

The proposal is designed to end a vicious downward spiral that has battered all levels of the economy. Hundreds of billions of dollars in investments based on mortgages have soured and cramped banks' willingness to lend.

"This is the bottom line: If we do not do this, the trauma, the chaos and the disruption to everyday Americans' lives will be overwhelming, and that's a price we can't afford to risk paying," Sen. Judd Gregg, the chief Senate Republican in the talks, told The Associated Press. "I do think we'll be able to pass it, and it will be a bipartisan vote."

A breakthrough came when Democrats agreed to incorporate a GOP demand _ letting the government insure some bad home loans rather than buy them. That would limit the amount of federal money used in the rescue.

Another important bargain, vital to attracting support from centrist Democrats, would require that the government, after five years, submit a plan to Congress on how to recoup any losses from the companies that got help.

"This is something that all of us will swallow hard and go forward with," said Republican presidential nominee John McCain. "The option of doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option."

His Democratic rival Barack Obama sought credit for taxpayer safeguards added to the initial proposal from the Bush administration. "I was pushing very hard and involved in shaping those provisions," he said.

Later, at a rally in Detroit, Obama said, "it looks like we will pass that plan very soon."

House Republicans said they were reviewing the plan.

As late as Sunday afternoon, Republicans regarded the deal as "a proposal that is promising in principle, but that is still not final," said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the top House GOP negotiator.

Executives whose companies benefit from the rescue could not get "golden parachutes" and would see their pay packages limited. Firms that got the most help through the program _ $300 million or more _ would face steep taxes on any compensation for their top people over $500,000.

The government would receive stock warrants in return for the bailout relief, giving taxpayers a chance to share in financial companies' future profits.

To help struggling homeowners, the plan would require the government to try renegotiating the bad mortgages it acquires with the aim of lowering borrowers' monthly payments so they can keep their homes.

But Democrats surrendered other cherished goals: letting judges rewrite bankrupt homeowners' mortgages and steering any profits gained toward an affordable housing fund.

It was Obama who first signaled Democrats were willing to give up some of their favorite proposals. He told reporters Wednesday that the bankruptcy measure was a priority, but that it "probably something that we shouldn't try to do in this piece of legislation."

"It's not a bill that any one of us would have written. It's a much better bill than we got. It's not as good as it should be," said Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the House Financial Services Committee chairman. He predicted it would pass, though not by a large majority.

Frank negotiated much of the compromise in a marathon series of up-and-down meetings and phone calls with Paulson, Dodd, D-Conn., and key Republicans including Gregg and Blunt.

Pelosi shepherded the discussions at key points, and cut a central deal Saturday night _ on companies paying back taxpayers for any losses _ that gave momentum to the final accord.

An extraordinary week of talks unfolded after Paulson and Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, went to Congress 10 days ago with ominous warnings about a full-blown economic meltdown if lawmakers did not act quickly to infuse huge amounts of government money into a financial sector buckling under the weight of toxic debt.

The negotiations were shaped by the political pressures of an intense campaign season in which voters' economic concerns figure prominently. They brought McCain and Obama to Washington for a White House meeting that yielded more discord and behind-the-scenes theatrics than progress, but increased the pressure on both sides to strike a bargain.

Lawmakers in both parties who are facing re-election are loath to embrace a costly plan proposed by a deeply unpopular president that would benefit perhaps the most publicly detested of all: companies that got rich off bad bets that have caused economic pain for ordinary people.

But many of them say the plan is vital to ensure their constituents don't pay for Wall Street's mistakes, in the form of unaffordable credit and major hits to investments they count on, like their pensions.

Some proponents even said taxpayers could come out as financial winners.

Gregg, R-N.H., said: "I don't think we're going to lose money, myself. We may _ it's possible _ but I doubt it in the long run."