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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stocks Today Reminiscent of a Recurring Bad Dream

historical chart of S&P 500 Index
Historical Chart of S&P 500 at Yahoo

Authored at Start of July

Shortly after the 4th of July holiday in 2007, the 5-year bull market that began in 2002 started to show real signs of weakness. In the face of vehement denials from the likes of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and even Jim Cramer, a few market analysts started to raise concerns over sub-prime loans and housing in general. Bond prices began falling rapidly in overnight trading, putting much pressure on what were historically low yield spreads. On a personal note, I remember Ken Fisher, et al mocking me when I suggested that the rash of mergers and acquisitions were about to come to an end as bond yields started rising and stocks started to crash.

Of course, the market weakened for a few months only to rise to an eventual all-time high in October 2007 before again heading cataclysmically downward to 2009 lows. Hard to believe that we’ve rebounded to even higher prices these past 5 years despite a faux economy propped up by mountains of debt. And yet bond prices of all maturities and grades remain near historic lows as the Fed continues to print money to prop up everything from bonds to stocks to commodities to real estate.

For some time, market commentators have suggested that the DOW (NYSE: DIA) would hit 17,000 before the market would reach an eventual top. Likewise, the S&P 500 (NYSE: SPY) is remarkably poised just under 2000, which could also present a round milestone for the very near future. But with the Shiller Cyclically-Adjusted P/E ratio at 26, current valuations are higher than at almost any point in history, most notably except 1929, 2000 and 2007. So it would seem the end to the bull-market may be fast approaching.

The question is: how long can this apparent Ponzi scheme possibly last?

Seems there is no end in sight, as the perpetually-fresh new money must go somewhere. And since it generally chases the highest returns, stocks could continue to rise. Maybe this time will somehow be different. More likely, it will not.

What will be the final grain of sand that topples the unstable mountain built upon nothing? What will provide the catalyst? Is there a geo-political crisis looming; a natural or manmade disaster? Is there any catastrophe that cannot be covered up by piles of money from Central Bankers across the world?

The recent, downward revision in Q1 GDP portends trouble. Look for misses and poor forward guidance as earnings reports begin to unfold. Energy stocks, which constitute a large sector of the S&P, may well lead the way down. July of 2014 looks as if it could provide a replay of 2007 with the market turning bearish by year end. Let us just hope it doesn’t begin with significant trouble in the bond market!

Article should interest investors in Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), Citigroup (NYSE: C), Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), TD Bank (NYSE: TD), PNC Bank (NYSE: PNC), State Street (NYSE: STT), Janus (NYSE: JNS), T. Rowe Price (Nasdaq: TROW), General Electric (NYSE: GE), Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), Alcoa (NYSE: AA), American Express (NYSE: AXP), Boeing (NYSE: BA), Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), Chevron (NYSE: CVX), DuPont (NYSE: DD), Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), Home Depot (NYSE: HD), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), IBM (NYSE: IBM), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Kraft (NYSE: KFT), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), 3M (NYSE: MMM), Merck (NYSE: MRK), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), AT&T (NYSE: T), Travelers (NYSE: TRV), United Technologies (NYSE: UTX), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM), Paychex (Nasdaq: PAYX), Manpower (NYSE: MAN), Robert Half International (NYSE: RHI), 51Job Inc. (Nasdaq: JOBS), Monster World Wide (NYSE: MWW), Korn/Ferry International (NYSE: KFY), Administaff (NYSE: ASF), Kforce (Nasdaq: KFRC), TrueBlue (NYSE: TBI), Dice Holdings (NYSE: DHX), Kelly Services (Nasdaq: KELYA), SFN Group (NYSE: SFN), CDI Corp. (NYSE: CDI), Cross Country Healthcare (Nasdaq: CCRN), On Assignment (Nasdaq: ASGN), AMN Healthcare Services (NYSE: AHS), Barrett Business Services (Nasdaq: BBSI), Hudson Highland Group (Nasdaq: HHGP), StarTek (NYSE: SRT), RCM Technologies (Nasdaq: RCMT), VirtualScopics (Nasdaq: VSCP), General Employment Enterprises (NYSE: JOB) and TeamStaff (Nasdaq: TSTF).

Please see our disclosures at the Wall Street Greek website and author bio pages found there. This article and website in no way offers or represents financial or investment advice. Information is provided for entertainment purposes only.

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Strategic Real Estate Still Recommended

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There can be no disputing the fact that Real Estate was in a huge bubble that burst in the 2006 to 2007 time frame. This was most evident in the Sand States of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida. The carnage from the bursting bubble drove home prices to below replacement costs enabling rental returns to soar from a minimum of 8% to 15 or 20%+ for a very profitable Return On Investment ( ROI ). Just as discounted distressed properties became readily available, 70-80% of Mainstream America became ineligible to purchase due to foreclosure or short sale lender issues, thus missing an enormous buying opportunity. A huge vacuum temporarily existed in the marketplace until organized investment groups entered and purchased the discounted distressed inventory; clearing the bottleneck and eventually allowing housing to normalize. Home prices rose to reflect a stabilizing environment and distressed properties slowed to a much more manageable pace. A stabilized marketplace allowed prices to rise from the discounted extremes as prices returned to the mean.

The pent-up selling pressure from homeowners that chose to honor their contractual agreement and not allow their property to be foreclosed or short sold has been unleashed as their homes are no longer underwater. However, a new vacuum is present in the market as all of the low hanging fruit has been picked, leaving investors absent. Penalized buyers are just becoming eligible for new loans creating a supply-demand imbalance. This is or will shortly cause a correction in home prices that has the potential to accelerate should economic or geopolitical events cause disruption.

Walter Zimmerman of United-ICAP, a renowned technical analyst, believes there is a transition underway from paper assets into real assets. Further, Walter Zimmerman's work is forecasting trouble ahead for the stock market and junk bond market; both, he believes, are in a very large unsustainable bubble. The bursting of these bubbles will eventually be bullish for housing as money flows out of stocks and high yield bonds into hard physical assets. Additionally, he sees a bottoming and a strengthening of the US Dollar further depressing the commodity market which has been sliding. Should these markets implode as Walter Zimmerman fears, deflation will affect all asset classes. Real estate will be affected, but not to the extent it had in the previous downturn. Rentals should remain in demand, although the rate may be slightly affected. The catalyst for a global meltdown may be China.

China has financed its' prosperity, and problems abound: Issues range from local banks unable to meet small investors’ bond payments to missing hypothecated copper and aluminum ingots supposedly stored in harbor warehouses, but missing and feared to have been used as collateral with multiple lenders. With over 52 million vacant residential housing units, the Chinese housing bubble is of epic proportions. As the world economy slows the risk of red flags and black swans increases dramatically. A global slowdown will have widespread effects: Japan's debt laden economy may collapse the currency; Russia could finally descend into recession; and the US stock and bond bubble are at risk. Real estate will eventually benefit as the economy again begins to recover, but that event's time frame will probably not bottom until 2016-2017 when the inflation cycle may begin. What is a possible strategy?

Over the last year, I have been recommending selling marginal properties, trimming stock and bond holdings, preparing an exit strategy, and raising cash. Spring of 2013 seems to have marked the high point in many formerly distressed markets (including Phoenix) that had the greatest investor activity. Prices have slightly declined as inventories have risen; curiously, rentals are very strong. As previously mentioned, a correction in housing is possible, but with much of the thousands of homes purchased by investors with cash and very little encumbered leverage, the asset itself should be secure. The junk bonds used to raise the cash may be at risk with consequential problems. Both Charles Nenner and Walter Zimmerman see inflation beginning in 2017 and a normalization to an actual boom market by 2020.

Strategic real estate delivers dependable cash flow, is located in markets that will retain value, and will experience growth in a normal environment. Cash flow in a difficult marketplace will be of paramount importance and mitigate the effects of any economic turmoil. Although there must be careful selection, opportunities to add good quality properties to a cash flow/income oriented portfolio should be considered. They may boom in the outlying years while providing scarce income in the near term. Further, an opportunity to place long term financing at these current near historically low rates, may not be available in the near future. As Walter Zimmerman has stated, expectations that property values may slide during a downturn should be tempered by the belief that the crash that followed the Real Estate Bubble will not be repeated; rather any downturn is a correction in a long term real estate bull market. Investors negatively impacted during the bursting of the bubble experienced problems due to over-leveraging the debt, not the property itself.

This article should interest investors in residential REITs like American Campus Communities (NYSE: ACC), American Capital Agency (Nasdaq: AGNC), Annaly Capital (NYSE: NLY), Apartment Investment and Management (NYSE: AIV), Apollo Residential Mortgage (Nasdaq: AMTG), ARMOUR Residential REIT (NYSE: ARR), Associated Estates Realty (NYSE: AEC), AvalonBay Communities (NYSE: AVB), BRE Properties (NYSE: BRE), Camden Property Trust (NYSE: CPT), Campus Crest Communities (NYSE: CCG), Colonial Properties Trust (NYSE: CLP), CYS Investments (NYSE: CYS), Education Realty Trust (NYSE: EDR), Equity LifeStyle Properties (NYSE: ELS), Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR), Essex Property Trust (NYSE: ESS), Hatteras Financial (NYSE: HTS), Home Properties (NYSE: HME), Maxus Realty Trust (OTC: MRTI.PK), Mid-America Apartment Communities (NYSE: MAA), New York Mortgage Trust (Nasdaq: NYMT), PennyMac Mortgage Investment Trust (NYSE: PMT), Post Properties (NYSE: PPS), Senior Housing Properties Trust (NYSE: SNH), Sun Communities (NYSE: SUI), Two Harbors Investment (NYSE: TWO) and UDR (NYSE: UDR).

Please see our disclosures at the Wall Street Greek website and author bio pages found there. This article and website in no way offers or represents financial or investment advice. Information is provided for entertainment purposes only.

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EU Sanctions of Russia Matter for Gold

The pot is coming to a boil at the border of Eastern Ukraine and Russia. Do not make the mistake made by many detached western investors who might ignore the sensitivity of gold to this matter. The importance of Russian-Western relations should not be underestimated with regard to their impact upon fiat currencies or gold. Gold and the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (NYSE: GLD) gains meaningful support as a result of Tuesday’s news that the EU is levying sanctions upon Russia. The action marks a key change in policy and the start of meaningful deterioration in Western relations with Russia. Fiat currency globally is threatened, though the dollar is less so to this point, and so gold gains. I again offer you the GLD security as an option for metals relative investment in this environment. For more on this subject, please see our report here.

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