Make It A Double. On Roosevelt's Tab.

February 21, 2011

Major market indices were higher last week. The DJIA rose 1.50%, the S&P 500 increased 1.39%, and the Nasdaq gained 1.45%. Growth stocks outperformed value stocks. And the small cap index gained 2.75%. The 10-Treasury yield closed 1 basis point lower, closing at 3.63%.
Good and bad news.
The bad comes from CNNMoney. The federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be the most expensive government rescue of the recent crisis. Already at $153 Billion, it continues to increase each time these tax-payer funded ATM machines report quarterly earnings.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two Jolly Green (covered in your money) Giants, estimates that the losses through 2013 will require the Treasury to pour another $68 Billion to $210 Billion into these black holes. Just $210 Billion more.
But, think of all the lower income households that we able to go from renting to buying. Think of all of the Americans that were able to realize the American dream of home ownership. At least for a while. Before they left their keys in the mailbox and drove away in a loaded U-Haul at 3 am.
Think about what could have been accomplished with $363 Billion. Hospitals. Universities. The colonization of Pluto.
Fannie and Freddie were great concept cars. Cool ideas. Theoretically? Good for consumers. But, like the DeLorean, once production begins, theoretical does not pay bills. And theoretical can be disastrous in reality.
Fannie Mae was created in 1938 under FDR's New Deal. As was Social Security. In fact, the only New Deal program for which my kids won't have to foot the bill is the termination of Prohibition. Which makes sense. Because each time I hear of the tax-payer treasure needed to fund Fannie, Freddie and Social Security, I need a stiff drink. And so long as the government is running a tab...
Now, some good news.
Thus far, 62% of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings. Of those 72% have surpassed expectations. And good tidings extend beyond Wall Street.
The employment rate had an unexpected yet significant upward revision. Last week, the dismal scientists told us that employers added only 36,000 new jobs. Baloney.
We're now being told that the actual number was an additional 589,000 jobs in January.
Relax. I'll do the math...
That's an additional 553,000 jobs. No wonder retail sales are humming.
Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James and Bloomberg's most accurate forecaster of the jobless rate, predicts that the U.S. economy will create 2 million jobs in 2011. That's double last year.
Brown thinks that unemployment will end the year at 8.6%. It currently sits at 9%, down recently from 9.4%.
The S&P 500 continues its plodding, upward march. For those of you who were wondering, this is what a low-volatility bull market feels like. Enjoy it. They can be fleeting.
Reminds me of 1995. That year featured a jobless recovery, as well as a democratic president who had his legislative majority yanked out from under him. Humbled, that president, like Obama, moved to the political center.
The resulting political equilibrium and lack of catalysts saw that market tick up day after day with little to no fanfare. For six years. Blissful times.
In Egypt, Mubarak folded his hand, heading to a Mediterranean resort to pass his remaining days. The Obama administration and its allies are nervously eying the Egyptian landscape. They know that the Muslim Brotherhood waits in the wings. These guys have thus far played nice, knowing that they gain nothing by drawing attention.
At some point, however, we will run a cocktail napkin analysis and attempt to assess what The Brotherhood really seeks. History suggests that they lean towards establishing a Sharia-based society. Like the Taliban. Only, much bigger.
And in 2007, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a re-evaluation of the peace treaty with Israel.
Any way you look at it, fuel costs will increase. There will also be additional volatility in the middle east as the tectonic plates shift in a nation that, under a shifty but reliable dictator, could be counted on to play ball.
The optimists in the west hope that Egypt will enter the Democracy Oven, bake evenly, and come out like Turkey. We may, however, end up with something tasting more like Iran. So, pass the salt. Hide the cutlery. And stay tuned...

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