This Week in Barrons – 4-25-10:
Our Thoughts – What is really going on inside those Black Trading Boxes?
A lot has changed in the last 12 years – making this a market controlled not by mass collective wisdom, but by computers, mathematical equations, dark pools, and black ‘trading’ boxes.
In the fourth quarter: total US corporate profits rose 30.6% year-over-year, a huge swing from the -25.1% trend a year ago. But almost the entire story was in the financial sector, where profits have soared an unprecedented 240%. Financial sector profits have accounted for 85% of the overall increase in corporate earnings. Total non-financial earnings are up a grand total of 5.2% year-over-year. Now is 5.2% overall growth, enough to justify where this market is? NO. And how are the banks doing it: (a) they’re keeping two sets of books – one real and one “mark to model”, and (b) the Fed allows them to borrow from the Fed at 0.50% and then loan back to the Government at 4% - and you’ve heard me go on about the rest of this list countless times.
But let’s look at yesterday’s action in the market for an example. The market opened weak – and we had a fairly sharp pull down loosing 105 DOW points quickly. As we got closer and closer to DOW 11K, you could feel the ‘defense’ – and then suddenly program trades / ‘black boxes’ kicked in and we were off to the races. Now, considering that black box trading now accounts for over 70% of all trades made, this is significant. What is Black Box Trading? It is very large computer algorithms - designed to buy up baskets of stocks when any of 10 to 500 parameters are met. The parameters vary from price levels, to interest rates, to volume levels, etc. When the computers sense these parameters, they automatically go out and buy up what ever has been programmed into them – normally very large baskets of stocks. Because many of these algorithms are based upon ‘other activity’ – you can potentially see where a couple dominos falling – could influence the entire group fairly easily. This is why a relatively small amount of cash tossed into the futures, can move stocks so extremely. The black boxes see the futures buying, figure out that they are going to go up, and correspondingly go out and buy their own baskets of stocks, pushing the market even higher. It's literally the tail wagging the dog. Before the widespread use of these incredibly powerful black boxes you could NOT have intra-day pops of 100 points on NO news – but today it controls 70% of the trading volume and therefore is the force behind our every day movement. This is why it doesn’t really matter what the underlying economy is doing – but rather where the major players wish to push the market.
For me, I’ll need to see a couple closes over DOW 11,200 to get me to toss in the towel and say "okay, we’re going to go even higher", or I’ll have to see two closes under DOW 11K, to tell me "okay, reality may have set in".
Factually: Employers took 1,628 mass layoff actions in March that resulted in the separation of 150,864 workers as measured by new filings for unemployment insurance benefits during the month. Each mass layoff action involved at least 50 people from a single employer. The interesting part here is that this number is an INCREASE of 58 (mass layoff actions) over the previous month. So ‘factually’ things are NOT improving in the job market.
Factually: What about GM paying back the TARP? Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa joins a chorus questioning GM's loan repayment, saying it's an "elaborate TARP money shuffle" rather than the sign of health in the company. In a letter to Treasury Secretary - Tim Geithner, Senator Grassley said that the source of the funds for the $4.7 billion repayment is not GM earnings, but rather a Treasury escrow account – and they literally borrowed from “Peter to pay Paul”. Sen. Grassley wrote that GM's early repayment of the federal loan is aimed at diverting attention from another uncomfortable issue – the big break the car company would get on a proposed tax to recoup TARP losses. GM is expected to generate some of the biggest losses in the TARP program, but it won't have to pay any money under the so-called TARP tax the Obama administration wants to impose on large financial institutions. Treasury and GM officials don't dispute these facts. But where was CNBC in telling us the entire story?
Factually: Food Stamp use has risen 22.4% in ONE year.
Factually: Just Friday night, 7 more banks were closed (bringing the total to 57 for the year). These seven banks will cost the FDIC $973.9M.
Factually: Call me old fashioned but I still can’t figure out how borrowing more money gets you out of debt?
Now onto the market:
Always remember: “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent!” Either I'm about to be made to look silly, or we are in that last hurrah.
On Friday, the market stumbled after the open and went red. Then the black boxes fired off and in a matter of minutes we went from 11,105 to 11,184 – and closed at 11,204 – breaking over their 200 day moving average. One of two things will happen here – either we just continue higher and higher in the face of all the ills and remain "irrational" or we roll over. I am still in the camp that says we're topping. We have seen the market advance for 8 weeks, seeing stocks fully priced and over-valued, and the market (by just about any metric) is overbought.
I’m hearing more and more traders talk about one last hurrah – a ‘blow off top’ kind of day. If that’s the case – we should see them rush in on Monday, and take us up – and that may flow into Tuesday and Wednesday. And then potentially we see the unexpected pull down – a reversal and drop of 100+ points – and that could be the first stair step lower.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve lived this movie before in 1999 - where the market simply "melted up" on nothing but hot air. It could do it here, especially with the amount of fraud, manipulation and Fed money they are playing with. Everyone knows the scam, everyone knows it's not sustainable. The question is only "when does the music stop?" Then again I could be all wet and next week we could be talking about what stocks to buy when the DOW is at 12,500 and rising.
Let’s assess where we are:
- I am long ODP at $8.40 – and will sell it on Monday as they release earnings on Tuesday
- I’m also long NTRI at $18.47.
- I’m short the DIA’s at $110.94 and I'm going to sit with these underwater for a bit here. Yes that's suicide in a manipulated market, but I'm willing to take that gamble and risk a few bucks
- I’m into the VXX at $19.81 – which is a much longer term play.
If you’d like to view my actual stock trades - feel free to sign up as a twitter follower – “taylorpamm” is my nickname on Twitter – fyi.
Remember the Blog http://rfcfinancialnews.blogspot.com/
Until next week – be safe.