February 23, 2010

Global Market Comments for February 23, 2009
Featured Trades: (C), (XOM), (GM), ($NIKK)

1) The Treasury moved to raise its stake in Citigroup (C) by up to 40% by converting preferred into common, yet another step down the road to creeping nationalism. With C trading as low as $1.20 on Friday, taking its market cap down to a mere $10 billion, does anyone care? The markets have already delivered their own judgment. Does this mean my ATM is going to start working with the same frustrating inefficiency of Amtrak, another poorly run government entity? The market cap for all 24 banks in the S&P 500 subsector has shrunk to $269 billion, less than the capitalization of Exxon (XOM) at $354 billion. The stock market hated all of this and fell 251 to a new 12 year low at 7,114.

Citigroup.png picture by sbronte

2) On Friday General Motors (GM) hit a low of $1.60/share, taking its market cap below $1 billion. CEO Rick Wagoner says he 'doesn't know' if the company will need additional bail out money at the end of March if its $18 billion February request gets funded. The lowest market cap the company saw during the Great Depression was $4 billion. This company is toast.

3) My old friend, Stephen Roche, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, says that the current US bubble is four times larger than Japan's, whose market is still down 80% from its 1989 high (no typos here). The American consumer, who at the peak accounted for 72% of GDP, has been left for dead. Japan's bubble was caused by a collapse in capital spending, which never accounted for more than 17% of GDP. If we make China our whipping boy, as the Democratic Congress is historically inclined to do, they could come back to bite us in the hand. Treasury Secretary Geithner's recent comment that China is a 'currency manipulator' hasn't helped. Our financial markets are now desperately dependent on the Middle Kingdom recycling their trade surplus into our bond market. A Chinese boycott would trigger a collapse in the dollar, and send US interest rates sky high.

Nikkei.png picture by sbronte

4) Which online businesses are currently booming?  According to the data firm ComScore, in a total online audience of 190 million in January, traffic to employment sites like CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, and Yahoo's Hot Job Searches, leapt by 46% to 26.7 million, driven by the collapse of the job market. Visits to tax sites like IRS.gov, CA.gov, and H & R Block were up 176% MOM to 24.7 million, as weary taxpayers seek assistance on this unpleasant annual chore. Consumers looking for travel bargains for the spring triggered a stampede to sites like VacationstoGo.com, Disney Travel, and Expedia.com, which were up 46% to 13 million clicks. Concerns about salmonella poisoning drove a lot of traffic to a range of government websites. Facebook finally broke into the top ten, with 57.2 million visits.

5) I finally got my hug from the terrorist and ex-bomber who used to pal around with Obama during his reckless youth. Yesterday I donned my only tie died T-shirt and went to Berkeley to meet University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers, who was raising money for a Middle Eastern children's charity. It was fascinating to listen to this echo from the sixties, and to see political radicalism in its modern incarnation. It's no longer about mass demonstrations and civil disobedience (and bombing). It's about online networking and organization, which the Democratic campaign proved so effective at in the last election. Closet socialists on the left and hardliners on the right, who thought Obama was pretending to be a moderate just to win the votes, will be sorely disappointed. He really is a moderate! Ayers was joined by his wife, former Weather Underground activist Bernardine Dohrn, a former resident of the FBI's ten most wanted list. After having been told by the government that this was one of the most dangerous people in America, who should be hunted down at any cost, I was pleasantly surprised by the demure, but eloquent grey haired little old lady who appeared on stage. It occurred to me that Obama could be one of the greatest 'black swans' ever. Who gave odds that this guy would win a year ago? Now he is President, and his impact on the markets, and on history will be momentous.


'You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it," said the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.