Anniversary, Part II

I suppose it’s fitting that futures should be down on the morning of the one-year anniversary of the stock market bottom last year. Perhaps stocks will put in a similar reversal today, but even if they don’t, I think we can take a little selling in stride.   

 

Oil prices are down a bit today as the dollar strengthens. We should note that the dollar and oil have moved higher in tandem lately, proving that there is more to the strength in oil prices than its relationship to the U.S. dollar.   

 

Expectations for the global economic recovery and a subsequent rise in demand for oil are part of it. But I also think that investors are slowly realizing that there is very little upside for production levels in non-OPEC countries.   

 

A recent article about Mexico bears this out…

More Upside for March

In early February, stocks looked as though they were breaking down. We had just gotten through the Dubai debt problem. China was raising reserve requirements for banks to slow the rate of lending. And then the news about Greece’s debt problems broke.  The S&P 500 had dropped from January highs at 1,150 to as low as 1,044. That’s a 9% move, and if you recall it was enough to get investors a little nervous. In fact, some were even saying that the global economic rebound was done before it was even a year old.

It was about that time that I started including TradeMaster Daily Stock Alerts’ Jason Cimpl in our daily conversation here at Daily Profit.

GDP Revised…Higher?

The first revision to fourth quarter GDP is out this morning. And amazingly enough, it was revised higher, from 5.7% to 5.9%. This is the first time I can recall a significant piece of data being revised higher in the last year.

Of course, we know that much of the strength in the economy is a direct result of government stimulus policies. Real growth may be running around 2%. But the bottom line is that the government has, and will continue to, support the economy. That should keep us looking for upside for stocks, even though the economy is basically treading water.

Oil and the U.S. Dollar

Investors seem to think it’s now a law that oil and other commodity prices will trade in tandem with the U.S. dollar. In other words, because oil and other commodities are priced in dollars, as the relative value of the dollar falls the price of oil and other commodities will rise.

The relationship makes sense. And for much of last year, it was actually working. But times have changed…

To keep things simple, we’re going to have a look at just two charts today – the U.S. dollar index and the light, sweet crude oil futures chart, the WTIC. As we’ll see, the relationship between oil and the dollar changed in early December 2009.

WTIC chart

On December 7, the dollar started to rally. You may recall that at the time the bearish talk for the dollar was rampant, and in good contrarian fashion, I had been anticipating a rally for the dollar.

Somewhat more unexpected was that oil rallied right along with dollar, as we can clearly see on the WTIC chart…

USD chart

Even now, as the dollar sits at a 6-month high, oil also remain near its 6-month price high. It should be clear that the accepted inverse relationship between the U.S. dollar and oil prices has changed. The relative value of the U.S. dollar holds much less sway over prices now than it did even a few months ago.

We could make the argument that the global economy has improved and so oil demand should pick up. But at present, most estimates for oil demand have not increased. And likewise, OPEC has not made an attempt to cut production and ramp up prices. Something else is in play…

Soros Bullish on the Euro?

It was just last Thursday that we discussed "talking one’s book" and made special mention of George Soros. If you missed that issue of The Daily Profit, talking one’s book means advocating a belief in public that supports one’s trading position, regardless of whether you actually believe it’s true.

So it’s interesting that Soros has a piece in today’s Financial Times where he states that "The survival of Greece would still leave the future of the euro in question." He goes on to say that the aid package for Greece won’t work for Spain, Italy, Portugal or Ireland.

Now, if we check the chart we can see that the U.S. dollar has been rallying. Part of the reason for this has been weakness of the euro due to debt problems in European countries.

$USD chart

The recent spike higher by the dollar was a response to the Fed’s discount rate hike. And quite frankly, it looks unsustainable. I think we can assume that Soros is short the euro, and he may even be trying to cover that short right now, in anticipation of a rally for the euro.

Of course, a rally for the euro would send the U.S. dollar lower. That, in turn, will be good for U.S. stocks, gold, and oil.

Lennar’s Windfall

So far this year 15 banks have been closed by the FDIC. Last year, it was 134, if I’m counting the closing figures right as posted on the FDIC website. Some of you may remember the last time there were mass amounts of bank closings during the S&L crisis of the late ’80s and early ’90s. At the time, a special agency, the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) was set up to dispose of the assets of these banks.

The RTC was controversial because many times it sold assets at prices far below market value. Ultimately though, the RTC succeeded in getting assets seized from insolvent banks into stronger hands. And because some of these "stronger hands" had low cost structures due to low up front costs, a new phase of growth was born.

A similar thing is happening now. Lennar Corporation (NYSE: LEN), a homebuilder, recently picked up $3 billion worth of unfinished homes from the FDIC for about 40 cents on the dollar. Lennar only had to put up $243 million. The FDIC kicked in $365 million and provided 0% interest financing.

Because Lennar’s upfront costs are so low, it will be able to hire the workers needed to finish the homes and offer those homes for sale at a price that makes sense for buyers. This is how growth returns after a bubble.

But this time there’s a twist. The $365 million put up by the FDIC? It’s an equity stake. Yes, rather than simply disposing of the assets to the highest bidder the FDIC, and by extension the government, now has a stake in those unfinished homes.

The FDIC could turn a profit here. But by offering financing and providing an interest-free loan, the FDIC is also supporting home valuations by not letting these unfinished homes sell at absolute rock bottom prices.

The Case for Coal

It’s quite a conundrum. America spent around $475 billion for foreign oil in 2008 (2009 numbers are not complete yet, although the total is certainly projected to be lower). It’s clear that electric powered battery technology for cars would allow us to keep more U.S. dollars at home, improve the trade deficit and provide manufacturing and other jobs, too.

We have enough sunlight, wind, natural gas, and coal to generate the power it would take to transition to domestically supported power generation. The long-term benefits are obvious. Wind and solar installations have an upfront cost, but pay for themselves over time. Natural gas and even coal are domestic resources that can and should be leveraged to allow us to be more energy independent.

But getting to the point of energy independence is a difficult path.

It’s easy to look at that $475 billion figure and say if we invested that into the power generation economy, we’d have efficient battery technology for electric cars and plenty of new manufacturing jobs.

However,…