Memo to EU

“It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be spread over Europe.”   

 

I wish I could take credit for that gem.   

 

Flights are grounded once again in Europe as more ash from Iceland’s unpronounceable volcano drifts over the continent.  

 

Europe is providing a major downer for the stock market these days. It’s not the grounded flights, however. It’s debt problems with Greece (again), and potentially Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland

Big News from Apple

Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Boeing NYSE:BA), United Technologies (NYSE:UTX), Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) – all beat earnings expectations in the latest round of quarterly reports.   

 

Yes, earnings estimates appear to have been too low. But at the same time, the economy is surprisingly strong. I’m not sure there’s much reason to think analysts should have seen these numbers coming.   

 

Apple was the star of the bunch. It reported $3.33 a share in earnings, when analysts were looking for a measly $2.45. That’s a humongous beat by Apple. And the stock is moving 6% higher this morning. 

Never Short Goldman Sachs

Yesterday, investors have spoke loud and clear. And they said “If it comes down to Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) vs, SEC, I’m betting on Goldman.”   

 

And why not? Goldman is all-powerful. It’s #2 on my “never short” list, after Apple and before Google.   

 

Goldman has proved its ability to stay ahead of the curve. It survived numerous lawsuits and a $110 million settlement with the New York Attorney General for IPO fraud during the Internet bubble.  

 

Most recently, the accusations that inflated price projections and a huge oil trading desk at Goldman were behind crude oil’s run to all-time highs didn’t have any effect on the company. 

Why should this little matter with the SEC over taking advantage of the housing bubble be any different? 

Simon vs. General Growth

Today, I start by offering my condolences. It’s tax day, never a pleasant time of the year.  

 

Yesterday, I noted that the recent rally lacked enthusiasm. Low volume and small daily gains were the hallmarks. Did all that change yesterday after Intel (Nasdaq:INTC) posted blowout numbers?  

 

Maybe. Volume posted its best totals since February. And the S&P 500 made its biggest gain since March 5. 

No Doubt About Intel

Yesterday I gave a somewhat tongue in cheek treatment to the question of whether Alcoa (NYSE:AA) had beaten analysts’ earnings expectations or not.   

 

Intel (Nasdaq:INTC) left no room for doubt. The chip-maker crushed estimates by $0.05 a share, beat on revenues and profit margins and guided higher for the second quarter.   

 

What’s next for Intel? Fixing the housing problem? 

Biotech Buyouts

I can imagine that a few people were waiting for President Obama to follow up his declaration that he was opening up the East Coast shelf for oil drilling with a hearty “April Fools!” but he didn’t.  

 

It’s for real.   

 

The decision to open up the East Coast shelf is sure to anger some people. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was adamantly opposed to drilling off of Florida’s coast, even when his brother George pondered the idea. He felt that oil drilling might spoil Florida’s beaches and impact tourism.   

 

I don’t know how current governor Charlie Crist feels about offshore drilling, but there will be plenty of vocal opposition. Imagine the irony as both environmentalists and conservative politicians lambaste Obama for this decision to open up oil drilling! 

Google and China

The financial media is jumping to the conclusion that recent weakness for stock prices is related to the ongoing Greek bailout saga. But considering that Greece would prefer to have the IMF involved in its bailout plans because emergency loans would be cheaper, I’d suggest we need to look elsewhere for the real cause of the recent mini-sell-off.  

 

The Indian rate hike is certainly a more likely candidate. Not because India’s economy is driving the global economy, but because this move is another sign that central banks around the world are ending their stimulus policies.   

 

India’s move comes a full month ahead of the next scheduled central bank meeting. The timing suggests that perhaps inflation is becoming problematic. And it also raises the possibility that India will hike rates again when it meets next month.   

 

Don’t underestimate the significance of Google’s (Nasdaq:GOOG) possible exit from the Chinese market. 

Sovereign Wealth Fund and Commercial Real Estate

The AP is reporting that China has trimmed its holdings of U.S. Treasury’s by $5.8 billion in January. I’m sure members of the doom and gloom economic faction will point to this as solid evidence that the U.S. is losing its ability to fund spending and is inching ever closer to default.   

 

In my opinion, this line of thinking is completely unrealistic.   

 

China still holds $889 billion in T-bills. It’s clearly not “dumping” American debt. And as I discussed last week, there is evidence that China is moving to more direct investments in the U.S.  

 

China’s state-run investment company, the China Investment Corporation (CIC), is already involved in a buyout offer for shopping mall owner General Growth Properties (NYSE:GGP) through Brookfield Asset Management (NYSE:BAM)

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…

“Burn the Hands”

Yesterday, stocks recovered a little from last week’s sharp sell-off. A little time over the weekend to reflect on the true potential of the "Volcker Rule"

(the name given to the new banking regulations proposed by the President on Thursday) to become law probably helped. 

Stocks gained slightly even though December home sales dropped a worse than expected 16%. That’s a pretty bad surprise, but stocks shook it off. That suggests to me that last week’s sell off may have been a bit exaggerated.

As an aside, I’m not sure why there was concern that Fed Chief Bernanke wouldn’t be re-confirmed to his post. Sure, Geithner might be on the way out, but that’s no big deal. I see zero percent chance that Congress would let Bernanke go at this point. 

*****Fourth Quarter earnings have been good so far. I read that 70% of companies reporting have beaten expectations. But many of the surprises have been met with selling, like IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Google (Nasdaq:GOOG).