Insights & Advice

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Back to the Future

One week up, the next down, with nary a profit to be found over the last two months. Unfortunately, I see more of the same ahead of us. The bottom won’t be in until investors throw in the towel. It will require fear, panic and a bit of loathing among global investors. Obviously, we have not reached that stage as of yet.

It could happen in July, since over the last four or five years that particular month has not been kind to investors; or maybe August, when all but skeleton crews are on vacation and the markets are subject to a great deal of manipulation. I stand by my target of a decline to 950 on the S& P 500 before all is said and done.

Speaking of manipulation, the financial regulation reform bill is expected to pass on Tuesday after lawmakers hammered out a deal in the dead of night on Friday. You will hear all kinds of glowing statements from politicians, Wall Street pundits and the media about this bill. Don’t believe a word of it. Aside from some cosmetic changes, Wall Street is still firmly in control of our destinies.

Those measures that could have fundamentally changed the way the Street does business have been deleted, watered down or simply made irrelevant. One of the easiest ways of proving that statement is to see how the securities of these banks, brokers and other financial institutions have reacted to the news. Most, if not all of the stocks in this sector were 3% higher by the close of business Friday.

And why not; banks that were too big to fail still are. Simply creating an oversight panel of Federal regulators to watch out for problems is, in my opinion, simply reprocessing the same old bankrupt practices. Financial regulators were supposed to be “watching over” banks for the last ten years, and failed miserably. Why will it be any different now that they are in a panel?

As far as the practices that led us into this mess, like derivatives trading, financial institutions can still trade the lion’s share of derivative products for their own account. They can still buy hedge funds; in fact they can still do just about everything that drove us and the world to the brink of financial disaster.

Since the politicians believe the public wouldn’t be able to understand the details of this part of the package anyway, I suspect they will instead talk up the brand new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This new entity will write and enforce new rules for most banks, mortgage lenders, credit card and private student loan companies. In other words, Wall Street can still get us into the next financial meltdown but these new rules will alleviate some of the fallout that we the consumer will suffer as a result; another case of treating the symptoms but not the disease.

Oh, and by the way, I had predicted correctly back in March (“Rewriting the Rules of Wall Street”) that the proposed new rule that would require brokers, wealth managers, financial consultants and insurance salesmen to put their client’s interest first before their own or their company would be shunted off to a “study” committee where it would die from neglect. I said at the time:

“What they don’t say is that the SEC has been studying these same issues for over a decade now and know all there is to know about what needs to be changed in this area and why. They have already suggested these very same proposals to correct these inequities several times and their study results have been ignored.”

Another practice in desperate need of reform was the marketing of annuities, especially equity indexed annuities. Another of my recent columns revealed the unscrupulous and deceptive marketing of equity indexed annuities (“Don’t be fooled by Annuities”) where salesmen collect lucrative commissions and tie up large sums of your money for long periods of time while charging hefty surrender fees if you need to take out your money out early These salesmen prey on the elderly and retirees and have been the subject of countless lawsuits.

The reform bill actually takes a step backward when it comes to reforming the sale of these investment vehicles. The bill will prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating them. They would be re-classified as insurance products, which by law are regulated by the states and not the federal government. This gives insurance companies and their sales force carte blanche to peddle this stuff with impunity.

Sorry America, we lost again but sometime in the future when the world markets collapse again, we’ll get it right (if we’re still here).

Posted in A Few Dollars More, At the Market