Economy/stock market forming more parallels with Great Depression

Discussion in 'Economics' started by ByLoSellHi, Aug 18, 2009.

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    Is The Worst Really Over?

    By, Simon Maierhofer
    Aug 17, 2009

    Are you a glass half full or half empty kind of a person? More importantly, are you able to discern an empty glass? Wall Street views the stock market through “half-full goggles”, even though economic news continues to disappoint. Currently, 150 banks are at the brink of bankruptcy, the S&P’s P/E ratio is at 143, yet investors are enthusiastic. Is the worst really over?

    According to recent surveys, the majority of investors looking for light at the end of the tunnel are seeing a very bright glow. Is it really light pointing the way out, or the beacon of another collision bound train?

    Wall Street in general certainly believes to have seen the light. Goldman Sachs chief strategies Abby Joseph Cohen is convinced that a new bull market has begun. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says that the world has avoided a second recession.

    On July 23rd, the Wall Street Journal reported that “The economy has hit bottom.” Furthermore, 90% of economists, according to a survey by Blue Chip Economic Indicators, believe that the recession had ended last quarter (more about the significance of this in a moment).

    After-the-fact prophets

    The astute investor will wonder where Mrs. Cohen, Mr. Krugman, 90% of the economists, and all the other Wall Street gurus were in March when the alleged new bull market actually began. Shouldn’t it be possible to identify a bull market a bit earlier than a 50% rally and five months after the fact?

    The sobering reality is that around the March lows, Wall Street and all its followers were indulging themselves in self pity and doomsday behavior. On March 5th, the American Association of Individual Investors survey reported the most pessimistic sentiment reading in over 20 years. 70.27% of all investors were bearish, with only 18.92% being bullish.

    Around the same time, on March 2nd, the ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter issued a Trend Change Alert. The alert prepared investors for “the most powerful rally since the October 2007 all-time highs” with gains expected to exceed 30-40%.

    ETFs recommended at the time ranged from plain vanilla broad market index ETFs like the S&P 500 SPDRs (NYSEArca: SPY) and Dow Jones (NYSEArca: DIA), to sector ETFs such as the Financial Select Sector SPDRs (NYSEArca: XLF) and their leveraged cousins, Ultra Financial ProShares (NYSEArca: UYG).

    Prior to the Trend Change Alert, in early January, the newsletter recommended loading up on short ETFs, such as the UltraShort S&P 500 ProShares (NYSEArca: SDS), UltraShort Financial ProShares (NYSEArca: SKF) and others, with a target of Dow 6,700.


    Is this rally out of sync with reality?

    While after-the-fact prophets have jumped on the rally bandwagon, the economy continues to lag.

    Retail sales numbers have dropped yet again, top line corporate revenue continues to fall which results in more jobs being eliminated. Home prices continue to fall and foreclosures are still on the rise. In fact, they are expected to triple by 2011.

    Bloomberg just reported that more than 150 publicly traded U. S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5% or more of their holdings. This is a level that regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten their survival.

    Furthermore, a separate Bloomberg article reveals that the loans of Regions Financial, as of June 30, were worth $22.8 billion less than what its balance sheet says. With Region’s shareholder equity at only $18.7 billion, the bank’s equity is less than zero. Yet, the bank is still classified as “well capitalized” by the government. Bank of America’s loans were worth $64.4 billion less than their balance sheet, and Wells Fargo’s loans were worth $34.3 billion less than stated in their balance sheet.

    According to recent stats, U. S. banks on average operate on a 45:1 leverage. 30 times leverage means that if a bank loses 3.3%, its equity will be wiped out. At 45 times leverage, a 2.2% loss would be enough to wipe out the entire bank. Combine this with the above Bloomberg reports (5% of nonperforming loans) and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Incidentally, regulators just shut down Colonial BancGroup (along with 76 other banks earlier in 2009), a big lender in real estate development. With about $25 billion in assets, it was the biggest bank to fail thus far in 2009.

    Excluding the 19 biggest banks that underwent the stress test, banks with nonperformers above 5% had combined deposits of $193 billion, according to Bloomberg data. That is almost 18 times the size of the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund at the end of the second quarter.

    The ETFs that will be affected first by this development are the SPDR KBW Bank (NYSEArca: KBE), iShares Dow Jones US Financial Sector ETF (NYSEArca: IYF), and eventually the broad market indexes ala S&P 500 (SNP: ^GSPC), Dow Jones (DJI: ^DJI), Nasdaq (Nasdaq: ^IXIC), Russell 2000 (NYSEArca: IWB), etc.

    Scary valuation metrics

    In general, P/E ratios are based on forward-looking or projected earnings, which often reflects wishful thinking. The P/E ratio, based on recently reported earnings, available on Standard and Poor’s website, is a whopping 143.95. This is not a typo!

    The earnings for S&P 500 constituent companies have declined over 95%, since peaking in Q3 2007. If current estimates hold, Q3 2009 will see the first ever 12-month period during which S&P 500 earnings are negative.

    P/E ratios are one of the simplest yet most accurate valuation metrics around. A historic analysis of major market bottoms show that there has not been a single prior bear market that bottomed without P/E ratios (and dividend yields) reaching rock bottom levels. In fact, those levels can even be used to calculate a target range for the ultimate market bottom.

    Just as the human body is not healthy unless it runs at 98.6 degrees, the stock market is not healthy unless P/E ratios and dividend yields reach those trigger levels. Needless to say, a P/E ratio of 143.95 (even P/E of 15) is far removed from levels indicative of a bottom.

    The Great Depression all over?

    The economy and stock market are forming more and more parallels with the Great Depression. In fact, no other bear market, aside from the Great Depression, compares with the bull market of the late 2000s. Even the current 50% rally parallels the bear market rally from 1929/1930. This rally was followed by another 70%+ drop.

    In 1929, a few months before the meltdown started, the Harvard Economic Society turned from bearish to bullish. In 1930, right at the top of the first major counter trend rally which lifted the Dow by nearly 50%, the Society confirmed its bullish outlook. A few days later, the Great Depression reasserted itself. Today’s optimistic economists will soon learn the same lesson as their Great Depression predecessors; don’t get caught up by unfounded hype.

    Based on investors extreme optimism, the banks’ troubles, the economy’s problems, reliable fundamental indicators, parallels with the Great Depression, and many other facts and indicators, the light at the end of the tunnel will turn out to be a train, ready to steamroll your portfolio.

    Naïve investors during the Great Depression kept buying into decoy rallies, only to see more and more of their wealth evaporate. While the stock market will sink to new lows, perhaps even dwarf the Great Depression, a continued losing streak doesn’t have to be the fate of your portfolio.

    The September issue of the ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter contains a detailed analysis of the parallels between the Great Depression and today, P/E ratios and dividend yields, along with corresponding ETF profit strategies. Also included are practical tips to survive and thrive in the coming years and target ranges for a market top and the ultimate market bottom.

    Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Insightful investors realize that the light is attached to the “Short Line” railway. Will your portfolio be on board to profit in a down market?
  2. Wessel Answers Questions on the Changing Fed

    A year after Wall Street went into a tailspin, the Fed continues to take unprecedented steps to revive the economy. David Wessel has penned a book about Ben Bernanke and the changing role of the Fed. He answered questions in an Online NewsHour forum...

    Is Anyone Else Skittish About Markets Lately?

    by: Craig Brown August 17, 2009 | about: DIA / SPY

    Is anyone out there just a bit skittish?? I ask as I am seeing a lot of press, yes even mainstream press, about how far the market has rebounded so fast and how the P/E on the S&P is at its highest level in half a decade. Main stream press is wondering out loud whether this rally can last, whether this is a V shaped recovery, a U shaped recovery or a double-dip recession. The Wall Street Journal also carried a piece this week discussing how the markets seem to traditionally have doldrums in the fall, roughly late August through the end of October, with September being quite the culprit. Reading all this, and seeing the markets reaction to a worse than expected Consumer Sentiment number today, I have to think people are a bit skittish, as in walking on egg shells, as in on the edge of their seat, as in worried. Sure, no one wants to miss a V shaped recovery, but no one wants to be there if the V is simply a Bear rally destined for a massive plunge in the fall. If you read my blog, you know where I stand.

    And if you are not skittish yet, I highly recommend reading this short post at Calculated Risk. Some very nice charts show just how far we have come and how we are in almost identical alignment with a bounce during the Great Depression. Graham Summers at Seeking Alpha noted the other day that the alignment to that bounce has a .8 correlation, which is very high. I am not saying we will retrace the Great Depression, but I am a bit skittish.

    And Another One Down . . .

    I was a big Queen fan in high school. I know this dates me, but, as my wife says, I am still a kid at heart. In any event, Queen apparently predicted our current banking crisis. And those that follow bank failures know that the FDIC pretty much always announces the bad news on a Friday after the markets close so they have the weekend to clean up the mess. Well, this week in particular, we have a pretty big failure - the largest since WaMu. Colonial Bank went under, with $25 billion in assets. This is the sixth largest bank failure ever.

    Now I highly recommend going to the linked post at Naked Capitalism as there are a couple of other points worthy of note discussed in more detail there. First, is the point that the FDIC, despite government backing for any buyer, had a difficult time finding any institution willing to take over Colonial's operations. They did find an institution, but apparently there were few bidders. Second, another Alabama bank, Regions Bank, has more than five times the assets of Colonial and, if you read their latest quarterly report, they basically admit that the loans on their books are being carried $22 billion over what they are worth, which is a good $4 billion over shareholders equity. I noted yesterday that the government has gone out of its way to allow financial institutions to say whatever they want about the assets on their books and this is a good example.

    Mind you, Regions Bank is not alone in this. As noted in this linked post, 150 institutions are in serious trouble yet most are reporting themselves as well capitalized. Go figure.

    And Colonial Bank was not alone in yesterday's pain. The norm is now to have several failures each Friday and this Friday was no exception. Here are some details on four other banks to fold.

    Commercial Jingle Mail

    I noted yesterday how the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP had issued a report noting that financial institutions could suffer big time if commercial real estate were to take a dive. I also noted that in fact it already is. As further proof for this proposition, here is a discussion on how hotel owners who are under water are simply walking away. The delinquency rate for CMBS tied to hotels in the second quarter was up to 4.75%, up from a mere .5% last year. And Fitch Ratings predicts this rate will climb to 10-15% by year end.

    Yep, green shoots everywhere.