Friday, April 23, 2010

Food costs jump most in 26 years...

Wholesale prices rose more than expected last month as food prices surged by the most in 26 years. But excluding food and energy, prices were nearly flat.

The Labor Department said the Producer Price Index rose by 0.7 percent in March, compared to analysts' forecasts of a 0.4 percent rise. A rise in gas prices also helped push up the index.

Still, there was little sign of budding inflation in the report. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, wholesale prices rose by 0.1 percent, matching analysts' expectations. (more)

Federal Reserve Made $47.4 Billion in 2009

The Federal Reserve transferred $47.4 billion, a record sum, to the Treasury Department last year, a result of the central bank’s actions to support the fragile housing market.

The transfer to the public coffers rose roughly 50 percent, or $15.7 billion, from $31.7 billion transferred in 2008, the Fed announced on Wednesday in releasing its annual financial statements, which were audited by Deloitte.

“Central banking is a great business,” joked Vincent R. Reinhart, a former director of monetary affairs at the Fed.

Unlike private banks, the Fed does not exist for the purpose of making a profit, though it inevitably does so. Historically, it paid no interest on the currency and bank reserves that represent its liabilities, while it made interest on the Treasury securities that make up its assets. (more)

A Look at REITs

“Haven't heard much chatter about the health of REITs lately,” a reader writes. “Do you folks have any prognostications on the pros and cons of investing in some now?”

The 5: Look for the REITs to start issuing a boatload of new shares, says Dan Amoss, who follows the sector even more closely than hard-core football fans will follow the NFL draft tonight.

“REITs will have to divide up their shrinking rental cash flow among lots of new shareholders,” says Dan, “most of whom invested capital just to delever balance sheets. This capital staved off bankruptcies. It’s defensive capital; it won’t be deployed as growth capital.

“The flood of new REIT shares will act as strong resistance against further rallies in the REIT sector and has permanently diluted the sector’s per share earnings power.

Too, “there’s still a huge wall of ‘un-refinanceable’ commercial mortgage maturities over the next several years. These maturities will occur at a time when property values and rents will remain weak.

“Yet REIT investors aren’t expecting this type of chronic weakness; most REITs have priced in a typical cyclical rebound in rents. REITs are now almost as expensive as they were near the 2007 peak, and will only become cheaper if rents quickly return to their peak levels.” Agora Financial.

Indicator with good long-term record has flashed a buy signal

If the trend is your friend, as the Wall Street cliché goes, then the stock market has been an incredibly friendly place of late.

I say this not just because the stock market, with seemingly little effort, was able to shrug off last Friday's news about Goldman Sachs' legal troubles, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (INDU 11,135, +9.68, +0.09%) gaining 73 points on Monday and another 25 on Tuesday.

What I have in mind is a rare buy signal that was generated a couple of weeks ago by a trend-following indicator with a good long-term record. Prior to the recent buy signal, there had been only 12 of them since 1967.

And two of those 12 prior buy signals occurred in the last 12 months alone. In other words, between 1967 and March 2009, this indicator gave just 10 buy signals -- an average of just one every 4.3 years. Since March 2009, in contrast, they have averaged once every four months or so. (more)

Is the Mortgage Burning Party a Thing of the Past?

When I was 25 years old I remember receiving a telephone call from my dad asking me to come home for the weekend. Well, that isn’t entirely right, he more or less demanded I come home. He called it a “command performance”.

When I asked him why, he told me he had finished paying the mortgage, was throwing a mortgage burning party and he wanted me to come. It was a great party with all of his friends in attendance. I still remember the applause from everyone as he put the match to the document which signified so many years of his life’s hard work. It was a great moment, very emotional.

Later, in a quiet moment, he confided to me that there was more to the ceremony of burning the mortgage than just noting the passing of an era. You see, as long as that original document was out there, as long as it wasn’t in his hands or “up in smoke”, there was always the risk it could come back and someone could demand payment all over again. By burning it, he made sure that could never happen. The house was his, no one could take it away. But because of the way the Mortgage Electronic Registration Service (MERS) system works, mortgage burning parties don’t happen anymore. The blue ink copy of the mortgage has vanished. (more)

Metals Manipulation, Machinations And Assassinations

Every now and again, something comes up that is so curious it just needs to be mentioned, regardless of how paranoid it makes us look. The emerging scandal over manipulation of the silver market is one of those things. Some have said it is the largest fraud in history. To make the story even more dubious and enthralling, we shall start ... at the beginning:

How many US presidents have been assassinated while in office? (That's right, the story begins here.)

The answer is four.

Of those four, how many were sound money advocates (favoured gold or silver backing of the currency) and had sound money as one of their key policies?

All four of them. (more)

Pulp and Forestry Stocks

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'The SEC is a farce' - expert

With the Securities and Exchange Commission filing charges against Goldman Sachs, arguably Wall Street's most lauded and respected firm, it's tempting to say the agency is targeting corporate titans to get its mojo back.

The civil charges leveled last Friday are in fact only the most recent in a string of investigations into some of the largest corporations in the U.S. and the world. Last week, Bloomberg News reported that the SEC was investigating General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) and CEO Jeffrey Immelt; and five days ago Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) acknowledged that SEC regulators were examining whether the company bribed Russian officials to win business in the country. (more)

Richard Koo Says If Banks Marked Commercial Real Estate To Market,It Would "Trigger A Chain Of Bankruptcies"

Richard Koo's latest observations on the US economy are as always, a must read. The critical observation from the Nomura economist explains why the realists and the naive idealists are at greater odds than ever before: the government continues to perpetuate, endorse and legalize accounting fraud in the hope that covering everything up under the rug will rekindle animal spirits. The truth, as Koo points out, is that were the FASB to show the real sad state of affairs, the two core industries in the US - finance and real estate, would be bankrupt. "If US authorities were to require banks to mark their commercial real estate loans to market today, lending to this sector would be extinguished, triggering a chain of bankruptcies as borrowers became unable to roll over their debt." In other news Citi, Bank of America, and Wells just reported fantastic earnings beats on the heels of reduced credit loss provisions. Nothing on the conference call mentioned the fact that all would be bankrupt if there was an ounce of integrity left in financial reporting, and that every firm is committing FASB-complicit 10(b)-5 fraud. One day, just like Goldman's mortgage follies, all this will be the subject of epic lawsuits. But not yet. There is some more money to be stolen from the middle class first, by these very firms. (more)

How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes (by Peter Schiff) - Lew Rockwell

Chart of the Day