Insights & Advice

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Nearing a Top?

When looking at recent developments in the world’s stock markets, I always ask myself this question: is today’s news reflected in the price of securities? If not I maintain my positions or even add to them, if so, then I look for the exit.

Consider this summer’s decline in oil and other commodities. That’s great news for the consumer, for the economy and for the markets. And I believe oil has further to go on the downside but so does everyone else. At this point, I believe the commodity decline is old news. Tell me something I don’t know.

Take the dollars recent climb to highs not seen since last year, isn’t that good news? Not really, given that the reason it is rising against other currencies is not from any fundamental strength in our economy but rather a sudden and alarming weakness in the economic fortunes of other countries. The most recent numbers indicate that output in Europe and Japan is declining and developing nations are seeing a drop off in demand for their exports as well. This is the first time since the early 1990s that the economies of Europe are contracting. China, the world’s powerhouse economy is still growing strongly although for how long is anyone’s guess.

For vacationing Americans, although the strength in the dollar might help pay your hotel bills in London or Prague, the weakness in the greenback this year had a beneficial impact on our economy. It boosted exports generated by U.S. companies such as Deere and Caterpillar and was the main reason our own economy has not fallen further this year. A rising dollar threatens those exports.
At the same time, the bad news in our own backyard keeps bubbling to the surface. Inflation hit a 17 year high this month. Companies in the retail sector continue to predict lower profits and sales as the impact of government stimulus checks wanes. The flow of disappointing numbers from the financial sector continues to surprise the markets. And it looks fairly certain that both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will need some of that bail out money that Treasury Secretary Paulson assured us and Congress would likely never be needed.

My week wouldn’t be complete however, without mentioning the geo-political developments between Russia and Georgia. I suspect that some of the rapid rise of the dollar was connected to the shooting war between those two nations. I fear that we may be witnessing the birth of a Second Cold War between the United States and Russia. Vladimir Putin’s agenda, in my opinion, is nothing less than putting the old USSR back together again with Comrade Vlad as a modern-day czar in the tradition of past Soviet dictators. Georgia’s ill-advised escapade in invading the secessionist region of Ossetia last week has unfortunately played into the hands of Putin’s ambitions and now, the U.S., almost on cue, has heightened the stakes by announcing a missile defense agreement with Poland today. I’m sure the Russians will counter with a move of their own.

By the close of the week the markets made little progress, adding or losing a point or two despite the further decline of oil and other commodities on light volume. I believe commodities will continue to decline although there will be spurts to the upside based on random events and oversold conditions. Oil, gas, gold, silver copper and agricultural commodities will bottom eventually and when they do expect a consolidation period of months that could last well into next year.

As for the stock markets, I still advise caution here and expect further declines ahead.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, At the Market