Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price index fell one percent in December. Prices fell in every market except Washington D.C. where the local economy is just humming along wonderfully. Prices in eleven of the twenty markets included in the index sank to post-bust lows: Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Seattle and Tampa, Fla.
“There’s just way too many homes out there relative to demand and we’re not going to see that change anytime soon,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist for MFR Inc.
Robert Shiller thinks price declines have another 15% to 25% to go, due to all the empty houses with no buyers, proposals to reduce the mortgage interest tax deduction being floated, the uncertain futures of Fannie and Freddie and Middle East unrest.
Case-Shiller also released its quarterly index covering all homes in the country. It showed prices fell 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter and 4.1 percent for all of 2010.
All of that may be the good news. The bad news is the Wall Street Journal reports that the National Association of Realtors may have been overstating existing home sale figures as far back as 2007.
The group reported that there were 4.9 million sales of previously owned homes in 2010, down 5.7% from 5.2 million in 2009. But CoreLogic, a real-estate analytics firm based in Santa Ana, Calif., counted just 3.3 million homes sales last year, a drop of 10.8% from 3.7 million in 2009. CoreLogic says NAR could have overstated home sales by as much as 20%.
If the Realtors have overstated sales, the existing overhang of unsold homes is even greater than what’s been thought.
In determining annual sales numbers the Realtors have been using a model “that is benchmarked to the figures reported in the decennial U.S. Census. The model requires making certain assumptions for population growth and other measures in between the census surveys,” reports the WSJ.
The model may have overstated the number of sales “due to recent consolidation among multiple-listing services, which has resulted in those firms having wider coverage of housing markets. NAR’s tally could be distorted if the firms ‘are sending us more home sales because they have a larger coverage area, but without informing us that their reach has grown,’” said Lawrence Yun, who is the chief economist at NAR and the one keeping an eye on the model.
It seems economists working in residential real estate began questioning the NAR’s numbers after their organizations’ data diverged from the Realtors’ numbers in 2007. Jay Brinkman, from the Mortgage Bankers Association, and also a chief economist, thinks the the NAR’s sales numbers have been overstated by 10% to 15%.
Nick Timiraos concludes his WSJ piece, “Downward revisions in existing home sales could have an impact on real-estate related businesses, but economists said it isn’t clear that they would have a meaningful impact on the broader economy…”
I’m no chief economist, but I’ll take a stab and say downward revisions won’t be positive.
Hello. Crazy EURUSD chart today as it recovered from 1.3530 very fast, retesting 1.3700. Long tailed candle on the daily chart suggesting more upside action, so keep your eyes on 1.3750. Check my yesterday post for some observation on this level. As noticed nowadays -- the currency market is sensitive to the Libyan crisis and the EURUSD is no exception (see today’s sell-off). But ECB’s Yves Mersch came to the rescue, boosting the EUR with his hawkish comments. I think that the EURUSD remains slightly bullish for now, especially after today’s close if it will be within the 1.3640-1.37+ territory. A sustained break above 1.3750 is what really matters if we look for decent clues nowadays.
The 4-hrs chart is scary. There’s a 200 points drop in few hours followed by a 160 points recovery -- such moves are in many cases bad for both sellers and buyers.
The daily charts look normal, though. Buying on break higher still looks like a good plan if we see the pair recovering to resistance zone.
It’s quite interesting how some parallel lines look like in the chart below. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The dollar seems ready to overcome this resistance level, now that it recovered after last sell-off. But it remains under pressure due to oil and metals prices.
I just check NZDUSD but I don’t want to include the chart now. To all New Zealand readers: I hope you are ok.
The smallest corn inventories in 37 years are a sign farmers around the globe are failing to produce enough grain to meet rising consumption, even as planting expands and food prices surge.
Growers from Canada to Russia boosted annual output of wheat, rice and feed grain by 16 percent since 2000, not enough to keep up with the 20 percent gain in demand, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. While a Bloomberg survey of 25 analysts shows the agency on Feb. 24 may forecast a 3.5 percent increase in U.S. corn planting, the government says world stockpiles will equal 15 percent of use, the lowest since 1974.
Global inventories for all grain will drop 13 percent before the next harvest, the USDA estimates. That’s the first decline since 2007, when surging food prices sparked more than 60 riots from Haiti to Egypt. Increasing demand is causing isolated food shortages and accelerating inflation in developing countries even as it boosts farmers’ incomes and shifts planting strategies.
“We need to grow a huge crop this year to meet global food needs,” said Paul Jeschke, 58, who farms 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares) near Mazon, Illinois, and plans to boost corn planting by 50 percent because the crop is as much as $200 an acre more profitable than soybeans at current prices. “The increased demand for meat and dairy is driving demand for corn and soybeans.”
Rising incomes in developing countries are boosting food prices as people eat more meat and dairy products from crop-fed livestock. U.S. subsidies are fueling demand for ethanol made from grain, while droughts and floods in 2010 damaged global harvests. (more)
Ongoing weakness in the housing market also added pressure after a report showed that national home prices fell 4.1% during the fourth quarter of 2010.
The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) sank 178 points, or 1.4%. That was its worst decline since November. Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) was one of the biggest losers on the Dow, with shares down 3% after the retailer reported disappointing U.S. sales figures.
Market strategists seem to agree that the market is due for a short-term pullback given its steady rise since late August, and the spike in oil prices may be the catalyst to trigger that retreat.
Time magazine's intelligence columnist reported on Tuesday that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has ordered his security forces to sabotage the country's oil facilities, citing a source close to the government.
In a column posted on Time's website, Robert Baer said the sabotage would begin by blowing up pipelines to the Mediterranean. However he added that the same source had also told him two weeks ago that unrest in neighboring countries would never spread to Libya — an assertion that has turned out to be wrong.
"Among other things, Gadhafi has ordered security services to start sabotaging oil facilities," Baer wrote. "The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya's rebellious tribes: It's either me or chaos."
The growing violence in Libya has forced a number of oil companies to shut in production in Africa's third-largest oil producer and disrupted flows from the country's export terminals.
Security forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators across the country, with fighting spreading to Tripoli after erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week. As the fighting has intensified some supporters have abandoned Gadhafi.
Baer, a former Middle East CIA officer, said the source told him that as of Monday, Gadhafi had the loyalty of only about 5,000 of the country's 45,000-strong regular army.
Paraphrasing the source, he said that Gadhafi had also ordered the release from prison of the country's Islamist militant prisoners in hopes they would act on their own to sow chaos.
We want to believe they’re telling us the truth. Silly, huh? Both trapped in this eternal “dance of death” controlled by programs hidden deep in our brains, telling us what to do, telling us to ignore facts to the contrary — till it’s too late, till a new crisis crushes all of us.
Dow ends at 2 1/2-year high
Joe Bel Bruno explains why stocks climbed to 21/2-year highs and extended their winning streak to a third consecutive week.
Psychology offers us a powerful lesson: Our collective brain is destined to trigger a crash before Christmas 2011. Why? We’re gullible, keep searching for a truth-teller in a world of liars. And they’re so clever, we let them manipulate us into acting against our best interests.
In fact, behavioral science tells us that bankers and politicians are lying to us 93% of the time. It’s 13 times more likely Wall Street is telling you a lie than the truth. That’s why they win. Why we lose. Because our brains are preprogrammed to cooperate in their con game. Yes, we believe most of their lies.
One of America’s leading behavioral finance gurus, University of Chicago Prof. Richard Thaler, explains: “Think of the human brain as a personal computer with a very slow processor and a memory system that is small and unreliable.” Thaler even admits: “The PC I carry between my ears has more disk failures than I care to think about.” Easy to manipulate.
Eternal love story: Your brain’s in love with Wall Street’s brain
Thaler’s a quant, speaks mostly in cryptic algorithmics. So if you really want to know how Wall Street’s con game works on you, Barry Ritholtz, the financial genius behind “Bailout Nation,” recently summarized it in the Washington Post: “Humans make all the same mistakes, over and over again. It’s how we are wired, the net result of evolution. That flight-or-fight response might have helped your ancestors deal with hungry saber-toothed tigers and territorial Cro Magnons, but it drives investors to make costly emotional decisions.”
Humans have something “akin to brain damage,” says Ritholtz. “To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. … Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict.”
Worse, there’s no cure.
Your brain needs to believe lies; Wall Street loves telling lies
Examples: USA Today headline: “Average Bull is 3.8 years: We’re not at 2 yet.” More upside. Wall Street loves it. The Wall Street Journal: “Stock recovery in high gear … S&P500 now speeding toward its next landmark,” double its March 2009 bottom.
Other lies: Inflation and rate rises won’t push China and America over the edge into a new bear recession. That one’s real popular in Wall Street’s echo chamber. Wall Street also cheers every time cable pundits and journalists repeat their favorite statistic: That stocks rally in the third year of a presidency, often more than 20%. Yes, Wall Street loves those 93% lies.
Biggest lie? Wharton’s perennial bull, Jeremy Siegel, of “Stocks for the Long Run” fame, recently told a TD Ameritrade Institutional Conference, “There’s nothing but upside to come …the next several years are going to be good for stocks.”
Yes, one of Wall Street’s favorite co-conspirators is hypnotizing thousands of our best money managers and advisers into believing the lie that this bull market will roar indefinitely. Worse, they’ll use that message to sell naive investors on buying whatever junk Wall Street is selling.
Get the picture? A little conspiracy begins in your head, a conspiracy between your gullible brain and Wall Street’s con men selling hype, hoopla and happy-talk. Listen and you’ll lose.
Warning: This little conspiracy is a retirement killer. Remember: It’s odds-on you’re being lied to. So for a few moments, listen to some highly respected contrarians. They’re short-selling this conspiracy, betting that 2011 will hit headwinds before Christmas, turn a cyclical bull rally into a cyclical bear market.
Our brains never learned 2008’s lessons, will fail again in 2011
Remember, we can’t help it. Our brains are defective, biased, manipulated by unseen forces 93% of the time. So blame all the lies, lying and liars on our brain wiring. A perfect excuse. Sure, political dogma and insatiable greed factor into our bizarre mental equations. But your brain is as susceptible to the “great con” as Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, Bernie Madoff.
Go back a few years: The subprime credit meltdown was widely predicted years in advance. For example, back in 2007, the IMF’s Chief Economist, Raghuram Rajan, “delivered a stark warning to the world’s top bankers: Financial markets were headed for doom. They laughed it off,” said the Toronto Star. Both Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers were there.
In April 2007, Jeremy Grantham, whose firm manages $107 billion, also warned investors: “The First Truly Global Bubble: From Indian antiquities to modern Chinese art; from land in Panama to Mayfair; from forestry, infrastructure, and the junkiest bonds to mundane blue chips; it’s bubble time. … Everyone, everywhere is reinforcing one another. … Bursting of the bubble will be across all countries and all assets … no similar global event has occurred before.”
We knew a crash was coming, Wall Street laughed.
Call it denial, or lying, or just a brain defect, late that summer as the meltdown spread like wildfire, shutting down the economy, our manipulative Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs CEO, told Fortune “this is far and away the strongest global economy I’ve seen in my business lifetime.” And Fed boss Bernanke was telling us the subprime crisis was “contained.” Alan Greenspan agreed. He was on tour, making millions hustling his new book of excuses, delusions and lies, “The Age of Turbulence.”
Today, just three years later, the market’s just a shade above its 2000 peak. Adjusted for inflation, Wall Street stocks have lost roughly 20% of your retirement money the past decade. Get it? Wall Street’s a big loser the past decade. And they’ll lose another 20% by 2020. Why? Because 93% of what comes from Wall Street is suspect, can’t be trusted.
Warning: Cyclical bull ends in 2011, new cyclical bear roars back
At the beginning of 2011 USA Today reported a contrarian forecast. Ned Davis Research says the S&P 500 will make a run at the 2007 high of 1,565, but hit a “midyear peak.” Then it will crash as interest rates rise. Davis concludes: “The midyear peak could mark the end of the cyclical bull market that began in March 2009 and the start of a new cyclical bear market.”
Warning, even though your brain doesn’t want to hear it, there is a high probability a new cyclical bear market will begin this summer … and overshadow the 2012 elections.
The Journal’s also warning: “Inflation jitters spread through emerging markets, prompting China’s central bank to raise interest rate for the third time in four months amid worries that a drought threatening the country’s wheat crop will put further pressure on global food prices.”
Wake up America: With commodity prices rising rapidly, all the bizarre rationalizations Wall Street uses to keep Bernanke’s interest rates low are rapidly vaporizing. Yes, Ned Davis’ prediction of a bear will soon be a painful reality.
S&P 500 inflated, worth just 910, get out before it tops 1,500
Grantham also sees inflation and rising interest rates killing the lies, popping the bubble and ending the rally: “As a simple rule, the market will tend to rise as long as short rates are kept low. This seems likely to be the case for eight more months and, therefore, we have to be prepared for the market to rise and to have a risky bias.”
With $107 billion at stake Grantham better be concerned. He predicted the 2008 meltdown, now sees a repeat dead ahead: “Be prepared for a strong market and continued outperformance of everything risky, but be aware that you are living on borrowed time as a bull.”
Yes, the bubble will pop this year says Grantham: “If the S&P rises to 1,500, it would officially be the latest in the series of true bubbles. All of the famous bubbles broke, but only after short rates had started to rise.”
So keep a close watch on those two tipping points in your planning, interest rates breaking to the upside and the S&P closing near 1,500. When inflation pushes interest rates up they’ll choke off this bull market. If you’re active, better stop chasing higher returns, especially emerging markets.
Bottom line: In what sounds like a direct shot at super-bull Jeremy Siegel, Grantham says that GMO’s research warns that “the market is worth about 910 on the S&P 500, substantially less than current levels” just above 1,300.
Then Grantham throws his fast ball right down the middle: “The speed with which you should pull back from the market as it advances into dangerously overpriced territory this year is more of an art than a science, but by October 1 you should probably be thinking much more conservatively.”
Translation: Get the heck out of Wall Street’s stock market casino soon, maybe as early as July 4th, and definitely get out by Christmas, because soon all the lies, lying and liars will stop working.
By Bill BonnerCereal Wars…and Zombie Wars…
Hey, how ’bout that Ben Bernanke… He’s a freedom fighter! Look what he’s done to North Africa!
Seems like every time we pick up the paper another dictator is toppling over. Where does it lead, we wonder? What would a world be like without dictators? Without them, who will the CIA and the State Department give our money to?
On the run this morning (but not quite given up) is Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Wait… Is this guy a friend or an enemy? We can’t remember. Wasn’t he a bad guy a few years ago? But recently we’ve heard that he is a good guy. He’s helped with the War on Terror. And he sells oil.
Friend or foe, we don’t know…but whatever he is, he’s beginning to look past tense. As of this morning, reports say he’s lost control of Libya’s second largest city. His troops are firing on protesters in the capital, where he and his loyal guards are holed up in a few government buildings.
His son vows to fight back. He says there will be “rivers of blood” before he gives up.
That “rivers of blood” image was used by Enoch Powell in Britain fifty years ago. It came from Virgil’s Aeneid, in which a character foresees “wars, terrible wars, and the Tiber foaming with much blood.”
Powell was referring to the effects of immigration into Britain from Africa and elsewhere. He thought he saw race wars and power struggles coming as a result.
But the younger Gaddafi uses the language as a threat, not a prophecy.
Still, it didn’t do Powell much good. Maybe Gaddafi will have better luck with it. Most likely, he’ll high tail it out of the country before the blood is his own. That will bring to three the number of regime changes in the last few weeks. Which leads us to ask: what’s up?
The answer comes from our old friend, Jim Davidson. He pins the revolutions on Ben Bernanke. Behind the popular discontent is neither the desire for liberty nor the appeal of elections. It’s food. And behind soaring food prices is Ben Bernanke.
The Arab world is a model Malthusian disaster, says Davidson. Populations have ballooned. Food production has not. Which makes Arab countries the biggest importers of cereals in the world. And when the price of food goes up, the masses rise up too.
From Jim’s latest newsletter, Strategic Investment:
Food prices hit an all-time high in January. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) “the FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) rose for the seventh consecutive month, averaging 231 points in January 2011, up 3.4 percent from December 2010 and the highest in both real and nominal terms” since records began. Note that prices have now exceeded the previously record levels of 2008 that sparked food riots in more than 30 countries. “Famine-style” prices for food and energy that prevailed early in 2008 may also have helped precipitate the credit crisis that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described in closed-door testimony “as the worst in financial history, even exceeding the Great Depression.”
This time around, the turmoil surrounding commodity inflation has taken center stage with more serious riots and even revolutions across the globe. Popular discontent is not just confined to “basket case” countries like Haiti and Bangladesh as in 2008. High food prices have roiled Arab kleptocracies with young populations and US backed dictators such as Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen. Even dynamic economies have been affected. Indeed, all of the BRIC countries, except Brazil, have witnessed food rioting.
Well, how do you like that, Dear Reader? All those billions of dollars spent propping up dictators – $70 billion was the cost of supporting Hosni Mubarak in Egypt alone – and then the Fed comes along and knocks them down.
The Fed lowers the cost of money so speculators can borrow below the rate of inflation. And then it prints up trillions more – just to top up the worlds’ money supply. (more)