December 2, 2022

Archives for February 2009

No Mortgage Payments For A Year Would Stimulate Spending

Experts Predict Depression

Are we in a depression?  Jon Markman of MSN Money eloquently explains the world’s financial dilemma.

Too Late To Avoid A Depression? – MSN Money

Policymakers are quickly running out of time and room for error. And even a brilliant plan — which we haven’t seen yet — could fail without some good luck.

The problem is that the models often fail to accurately forecast human behavior, and politicians regularly screw it all up by ignoring the data and diverting funds to pet projects.

Over the past week, the world’s intellectual, business, government and philanthropic elite emerged from World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, with grim faces and warnings of financial doom.

Credible economic analysts now say there is still a narrow window of time in which policymakers in the United States, Europe and Asia can avoid a meltdown over the next year by immediately coordinating the injection of real financial adrenaline to banks, companies, households and local governments — not just rhetoric and indiscriminate spending. Yet that window is closing fast, and if the right steps are not taken soon it may be shut for years.

The Stimulus Money Could Pay Every One’s Mortgage Payment For A Year

The experts are predicting a possible depression and the economy needs major monetary stimulus.

The government could provide a massive shot of adrenaline to consumer spending by eliminating the consumer’s biggest monthly payment – the mortgage.  The one  trillion dollars that Congress wants to spend can cover the interest due on every residential mortgage in the country for a year.  Here’s ten reasons why the plan would work.

1.  According to the Federal Reserve, total home mortgage debt as of the second quarter of 2008 was $10.6 trillion.   Assuming an average interest rate of 6.5% the interest payments would only be $689 billion for one year.  Equivalent payments could  be made to homeowners without mortgages and renters.  The total cost would roughly equal the one trillion in stimulus spending that has been proposed by Congress.

2.  Eliminating the mortgage payment would allow consumers to strengthen their balance sheets by paying off some debt.

3.  Many consumers would effectively have a substantial pay increase since the average mortgage payment can easily consume up to 40% of gross monthly income.  It is inevitable that a significant part of the extra cash would be spent.  The increased spending would increase demand for goods and services and reduce further job losses.

4. The mortgage payment is the biggest monthly expense for most people.  Not having to pay the mortgage for a year would greatly boost consumer confidence.  Restored confidence could stimulate future spending after the one year mortgage holiday ends.

5.  Homeowners who are in arrears on their mortgages would be given an opportunity to catch up.

6.  The default problem for the banks would be temporarily eliminated since the mortgage payment would be made by the government.   Not having a mortgage payment for a year would strengthen the consumer’s finances thereby lessening the number of defaults after the mortgage holiday is over.

7.  The American consumer knows how to spend – he just does not have the money right now.  Give it to him and let it be spent with no strings attached.

8. Millions of individual consumers will spend or invest the money more wisely than bureaucrats in Washington.

9. Those homeowners who have lost their jobs and are now struggling to pay their mortgages will be given immediate financial relief.

10. This plan would allow renters to save their stimulus payments for a down payment on a home, thereby providing support to the housing market.

If the Congress wants to borrow one trillion dollars that the American taxpayer will eventually have to pay back, then put that money directly into our pockets with a Mortgage Holiday.    We do not need Congress to spend our money for us.

Job Cuts And Pay Freezes – The Downward Spiral Continues

Companies by the thousands are announcing large layoffs to their labor forces and, in addition, cutting or freezing the pay of those who remain employed.

AT&T Freezes Salaries of 120,000 Management Workers

NEW YORK (Reuters) — AT&T Inc Chief Executive Randall Stephenson will forgo his 2008 bonus payment, and the company will freeze the salaries of 120,000 managerial employees this year, as the telecommunications company prepares for a grim year.

Stephenson’s decision, which he sent to employees in a memo on Friday, comes after the largest U.S. phone company said in December that it would cut 12,000 jobs, or 4% of its workforce.

As bad as the job cuts are, freezing and/or reducing pay for those still employed carries even more significance.   The last time large numbers of companies reduced workers’ pay  was during the depression of the 1930’s.

What type of demand destruction for their products or services are these companies forecasting that is forcing them to freeze or reduce pay?

US businesses are cutting costs drastically to survive as demand for their products evaporate.  The chilling irony is that lower incomes will further reduce demand, thereby creating a self perpetuating downward spiral. The United States and the global economy are in a vicious de leveraging that will take years to resolve.   Even a well conceived stimulus spending plan will do little to reverse the major trends working against economic growth.   Those forecasting a quick economic turnaround are likely to be disappointed.

Opposition To Stimulus Plan Grows

As Americans learned more about the stimulus package that proposes to put us $1 trillion deeper into debt, logical minds are beginning to question the wisdom of the plan.  Public approval for the stimulus plan is at 38% and dropping.

Reasons for opposition to the plan

-Workers receive only a small tax cut

-The decline in home values, the insolvent banking industry and foreclosures are not addressed

– The majority of the money is to be spent on special interest group programs

-Little of the spending has a direct connection to job creation

Home values, the banks and foreclosures are to be addressed separately by Congress at a later date.  My question is, how many trillion dollar plans can the country afford?  Excessive debt and leverage is in large part responsible for the financial crisis.  The cure cannot be the same as the disease.

As a nation, we need to do something – here’s what people are saying.

Thoughts From Around the Web

Obama Losing Stimulus Message War

At this crucial juncture in the push to pass an economic recovery package, President Barack Obama finds himself in the most unlikely of places: He is losing the message war.

Despite Obama’s sky-high personal approval ratings, polls show support has declined for his stimulus bill since Republicans and their conservative talk-radio allies began railing against what they labeled as pork barrel spending within it.

The New York Times

The most serious charge against the stimulus package is that it does not pack enough punch. Two different camps have been making this argument over the last few weeks. Publicly, the Obama administration hasn’t really answered either one.

And Obama aides say they are open to adding some tax cuts that specifically encourage spending. They looked into the possibility of sending debit cards to all 150 million American households, but decided it was not yet logistically feasible. Instead, the final package may include some smaller programs, like a home-buying subsidy the Senate began discussing on Tuesday.

But targeted tax cuts — in effect, a bribe for households to spend more money — bring their own problems, officials say. One of the economy’s big weak spots right now is consumer indebtedness. Additional spending will help the economy this year, but it could also lead to more credit card and mortgage defaults — which would undermine the Treasury Department’s efforts to revive the financial system.

Third, as Mr. Summers said, “Fiscal measures are only one prong — one component — of our overall approach.” The response also “includes financial rescue, support for housing and global economic cooperation,” he said.

Obama’s First Fumble

The Wall Street Journal edit page reckoned it out at about 12 percent stimulus.  What about the other 88 percent?  It was mostly the usual liberal special-interest spending, 40 years of pent-up pet projects.  Things looked so bad that the Journal’s other edit page, the liberal news side, decided to put out a calming analysis piece.  Obama aides “say this is a baseball game in its early innings, or a football game at halftime,” Gerald F. Seib assured us.

You’d think the Democrats would do a better job of camouflaging their real agenda, given the effort they have put, starting with the 2006 mid-term elections, into wooing the middle class.  According to pollster Alex Lundry, “middle class” is the number one positive thing that people associate with Democrats.  But the stimulus bill proves that it’s not about the middle class.  It’s about the Democratic patronage state.  Always was, always will be.

The Burden Of Proof

There are a lot of people in my comments saying, apparently in all earnesty, “I really think the burden of proof is on the wackos who don’t want the stimulus.”

I am frankly flabbergasted.  The proponents of the stimulus are proposing to spend nearly a trillion dollars.  That’s about $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  Do you have $3,000 lying around that could just be spent on any old thing without you really caring?  You may call me crazy, but in the McArdle household, we view $3,000 as quite a tidy sum, the kind of money we want to make sure is wisely spent.

At least with the tax cuts, there’s little risk that the money will, from the taxpayer’s standpoint, be wasted.  It may not create much in the way of stimulus, but it’s essentially a neutral act–give them money now, take it later.  Cash transfers, too, offer relatively few of those frictions; there’s some deadweight loss, but whatever those on unemployment or welfare buy, they presumably valued more highly than alternative uses for the money.  Government spending, on the other hand, comes with no guarantee that whatever it buys will be worth as much to the polity as the alternative uses for the money.  Hell, badly done government projects can actively destroy value–go up to Buffalo and look at the empty, useless subway that killed Main Street, for example.

Given that, it seems to me that the burden of proof ought naturally to be on the stimulus proponents to satisfy the public that their highly theoretical models are basically sound, especially for the parts of the bill that aren’t tax cuts or transfer payments.  Let’s recall that the evidence for this kind of stimulus working in this kind of situation basically rests on a single instance (World War II)–the other two times it was tried (Japan in the 1990s and America in the 1930s) the economy basically rolled along in the doldrums for the rest of the decade.

Stimulus Package Should Address The Housing Problem

As the economic stimulus package moves to the Senate, the drumbeat is growing louder for new provisions that directly address the housing crisis.

Key senators from both parties said they will push for measures intended to spur sales and help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

Advocacy in the Senate for more housing measures in the stimulus bill comes while President Obama is expected to release a comprehensive plan to fix the financial system within the next two weeks.

Obama has been promising for the past month that he would soon propose a foreclosure prevention program, and many believe that could be part of a plan he announces in the coming week. Indeed, he said Saturday that his plan will include a proposal to lower mortgage costs.

Each Taxpayer Could Get $9718 From The Stimulus Money

Question: “If we just gave all the bailout money to taxpayers, how much would we each get? I’ve seen $25,000, $300,000, $1 million – what’s the real answer?” — Miranda Marquit, Logan, Utah

Answer: $9,718.49

To arrive at that figure, took the total of the bank bailout, $700 billion, and added that to the proposed stimulus spending in the House of Representatives bill, $819 billion. That totals $1.519 trillion.

We then divide that number by 156.3 million, which was the total number of U.S. filers in 2008.

So: $1.519 trillion divided by 156.3 million equals $9,718.49 per U.S. taxpayer.

Economist’s View

There were really only two glimmers of hope that the US could avoid a Japan-like multi-year stagnation. One was the offsetting effect of a strong global economy. Of course, we all know how that story ended. Poorly. The other was my certainty that US policymakers like NEC head Lawrence Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had studied the Japanese crisis up and down and realized that you needed to meet a banking crisis head-on, not with halfway measures that left the system crippled.

But today, reading CNBC’s coverage of the plan, it becomes painfully clear that we are headed full speed on a policy bullet train designed to repeat Japan’s errors.

The financial crisis has been so mismanaged that the public will not support package with a high price tag, a price tag that could climb into the trillions. And there is no way to even bring the issue to the public unless taxpayers effectively buy troubled banks, which can only be justified after first wiping out shareholders and bondholders. Then the

The “New Math” of Stimulus

First you have our darling President Obama, who believes that his Porkulus will somehow create or save 3 million jobs. Did he pull that number out of his supreme ass? Nah. He’s using the most Bizarro math of all, the multiplier effect touted by our homie and economic slumlord John Maynard Keynes:

The multiplier theory, made famous by John Maynard Keynes in his 1936 book General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, basically says that each dollar of government spending “injected” into the economy will create a larger increase in national output.

Indeed, it seems like multiplier madness is sweeping the nation, with Keynesian economic theory dominating political and mainstream economic thought once again.

With so many experts placing so much at stake on the basis of this theory, the multiplier must be a sound foundation for public policy, right?

Not exactly.

As economic journalist Henry Hazlitt stated in his 1959 book, The Failure of the ‘New Economics’, “There are, in fact, so many things wrong with the multiplier concept that it is hard to know where to begin in dealing with them.”

Enough With The Stimulus

You better love me forever for reading through 161 pages of absolute bullshit just so you can read what is actually ON this stimulus bill without having to read through 161 pages of absolute bullshit.

The anatomy of OMGObama’s stimulus (that word never gets old): Pages 1 – 50:

Pro & Con

President Obama: “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Senator Graham (R) South Carolina: “Scaring people is not leadership”.

“Financial Catastrophe” – Part II

President Predicting Catastrophe

President Obama declared today that “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, echoed the President by proclaiming “It would be an act of extreme stupidity not to enact a big stimulus”.  Mr Blinder did not expound on the logic of his remark.  Presumably, if you were too stupid not to vote for spending one trillion dollars, then you would be too stupid to understand his rationale.

A short 6 months ago President Bush, Chairman Bernanke and Treasury’s Paulson were predicting a financial meltdown if the $700 billion TARP bill did not pass.   The $700 billion was approved and the money passed out to banks and other assorted supplicants.  How wisely was the $700 billion spent?   All we do know is that the bankers managed to pay themselves huge bonuses, the money is gone and we now face financial Armageddon (again) if we do no spend another massive amount of borrowed money.   All we really know about the new, almost $1 trillion dollar “stimulus package”, is that it must be passed immediately, no questions asked.   Maybe more questions should have been asked the first time, when $700 billion was supposed to have solved the financial crisis.

Bernanke Proclaims Financial Crisis Resolved: October 2008

In October 2008, after passage of the $700 billion TARP bill, Chairman Bernanke spoke at the Economic Club of New York.

“The problems now evident in the markets and in the economy are large and complex, but, in my judgment, our government now has the tools it needs to confront and solve them.

Generally, during past crises, broad-based government engagement came late, usually at a point at which most financial institutions were insolvent or nearly so. Waiting too long to respond has usually led to much greater direct costs of the intervention itself and, more importantly, magnified the painful effects of financial turmoil on households and businesses. That is not the situation we face today. Fortunately, the Congress and the Administration have acted at a time when the great majority of financial institutions, though stressed by highly volatile and difficult market conditions, remain strong and capable of fulfilling their critical function of providing new credit for our economy. This prompt and decisive action by our political leaders will allow us to restore more normal market functioning much more quickly and at lower ultimate cost than would otherwise have been the case.

Reading the Chairman’s comments today, we know that his assessment of the situation was wrong. TARP 2008 did not resolve anything nor will the stimulus package of 2009.

Did the original $700 billion “save” our country from a “catastrophe”?.  In hindsight, much of the money spent was wasted on zombie banks that should have been shut down.  The executives running Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, etc. still have their high paying jobs, while many others are unemployed.

What Does The Stimulus Spending Accomplish?

If we are facing a financial catastrophe, why is so little of the spending being directed  towards solving the root of the problem –  insolvent banks and the decline in home values?  Some of the spending goes towards minimalistic tax breaks – up to $500 per individual or $1,000 per couple.  Is an extra $10 or $20 a week going to make a real difference to most people?  The vast majority of the spending goes for expanded funding of various social programs and special interest groups.  The money will be disbursed through Government agencies that will need a much larger bureaucratic staff to administer spending and regulation.  This will accomplish nothing for the real economy and we are still left with insolvent banks and foreclosed homeowners.   Maybe after passing the bill, someone should say “mission accomplished”.

End Result

The one certainty is that this will not be the last trillion asked for.  The banking industry will need many more trillions of dollars to become solvent.  Fortune Magazine estimates the ultimate banking bailout cost at $4 trillion, maybe more.  Yet there is still no overall coherent plan for resolving this crisis.  Watching the elite ruling class operate in Washington reminds me of Groundhog Day.   Washington keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result – isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Why Did So Few People Save For Hard Times?

A Recession of Biblical Proportions

Consumers usually build savings in booms, then raid their troves during busts – but not this time.

In booms we put away some of the abundance because we know we’ll need it in busts to come. Then, when the bad times hit, we spend some of what we’ve saved. But no more: Our recent bizarre behavior helps explain how we got into this economic mess.

For the first time since Genesis, consumers are doing everything backward. During the expansion from 2002 through 2007, our savings rate fell rather than rose. In mid-2005 it even went negative, and it mostly stayed below 1% until late last year. Then, as the recession really took hold, we again did the opposite: We increased our saving. As the economy shrinks, our savings rate has climbed to almost 3%.

Not only do we lack savings to dig into and spend during this downturn, but we’re also spending a smaller proportion of our incomes (which are themselves stagnating, so maybe it’s a triple whammy). Put it all together, and it’s clear why this recession is dragging on.

The central mystery: Why did we go into hock in the fat years? One argument is that we were behaving rationally. As our homes increased in value, they were doing our saving for us, so we didn’t have to save out of current income.

Nor was our borrowing binge focused only on mortgages; we were going heavily into most other types of debt as well. In fact, we were spending record proportions of our incomes just to service our personal debt – even with interest rates near historical lows.

Maybe it was just a mania, focused not on tulip bulbs but on the simple joy of buying, reinforced by a belief that bad times were no longer inevitable.

Whatever happens, don’t expect miracles. Spending and saving behavior evolves slowly, and our current mess is in some ways the culmination of a long journey. We may not suddenly start behaving with biblical wisdom. But at least let’s try not to forget how bad things can be when we get spending and saving backward.

Normal vs. Abnormal

It’s normal human behavior to want more than we have.   Our free enterprise system rewards hard workers by allowing them to live well.   What was not normal over the past decade were the ridiculous lending policies of the banks, encouraged and supported by the easy monetary policies of the Federal Reserve.

In fact, not much of anything was normal over the past ten years.  It’s not normal to lend borrowers large amounts of money without regard to income or credit.  It’s not normal to expect housing prices to rise 100% every five years.  It’s not normal to expect that a nation could borrow its way to prosperity.  The list goes on.

The really bad news here is that while consumers know what they have to do (save more, spend less) every action being taken by the Government and Federal Reserve is to continue the failed policies of the past, this time on an even grander scale.  Let’s all hope that the common sense of the governed will ultimately elect leaders who stop promising free lunches with borrowed money.


A 7% Return? Absolutely!

A Guaranteed 7%: Can Putnam Pull It Off?

Who wouldn’t want a guaranteed return in this market? To know that you’re going to make money no matter what the market does is an understandably appealing notion. Problem is, the marketers at Putnam Investments agree.

Putnam has just released a series of “absolute return” funds that promise specific percentage returns — 1%, 3%, 5% or 7% above the Merrill Lynch U.S. Treasury Bill Index (a gauge of inflation) — if investors hold on for three years or more.

But like all things that seem too good to be true, so is the notion of a guaranteed return. Judging from the fund names — Absolute 100 (PARTX), Absolute 300 (PTRNX), Absolute 500 (PJMDX) and Absolute 700 (PDMAX) — shareholders could reasonably assume they would get the corresponding return. “It sounds like there are guarantees,” says mutual fund analyst Adam Bold. However, if you read the fine print in the funds’ prospectus you’ll see they don’t actually have to meet the returns indicated in their names. The documents state the funds “are designed to pursue consistent returns” but acknowledge a potential “risk of loss.” What’s more, that risk may actually be greater in these funds than that of relative-return funds. Those offerings typically invest in specific asset classes like large-cap stocks or bonds and try to beat benchmark indexes instead of aiming for specific levels of return. Putnam’s absolute-return funds invest in all manner of stocks, bonds and other securities, which can leave more room for error.

“The more choices you have, the easier it is to pick the wrong thing,” says Morningstar analyst Laura Lutton.

Putnam CEO Robert Reynolds says the broad mandate actually reduces risk and volatility by allowing the portfolio managers to focus on meeting the return.

Reynolds may be enthusiastic because he needs a hit after shaking up the company’s management ranks last year. Morningstar says assets in the company’s open-end funds were chopped in half last year to $40 billion due to outflows and the market downturn.

One thing to consider before buying in: fees. Annual expense ratios range from 1.82% to 2.82%, depending on the asset class. They promise to charge less if they miss their target returns — but not much less. The expense ratio for the Absolute 100 Fund only drops 0.04% if the fund does poorly. “That’s still more expensive than a good balanced fund,” says Bold.

It’s easy to predict the outcome for this fund

The only thing guaranteed here is that Putnam will be facing investor lawsuits down the road.  Salesmen, being what they are, will probably market this fund as having a guaranteed 7% return.  Although a 7% return is in no way guaranteed, an investor not doing his homework could justifiably misinterpret the words “absolute return” to mean “guaranteed return”.

In addition, this fund is classified by Putnam as class A shares which carry a huge front end load of 5.75%.

The following tables show how sales charges of class A shares vary across funds based on investment levels.

Growth, value, blend, asset allocation funds — class A
Amount invested Sales charge
Under $50,000 5.75%
$50,000 to $99,999 4.50
$100,000 to $249,999 3.50
$250,000 to $499,999 2.50
$500,000 to $999,999 2.00

An investor putting money into this fund would incur fees of around 7.55% in the first year for the front end load and the annual expense ratio.  To return 7% to the investor, Putnam would have to achieve over a 14% return on assets.  Over the past 10 years, the average mutual fund now has a negative return.  In addition, the vast majority of managed mutual funds (meaning actively traded) under perform a low expense S&P500 index fund.  The odds of an investor in the Absolute Return 700 Fund achieving a positive return or outperforming the S&P are remote.  The odds of Putnam earning handsome fees on this fund are outstanding.

Does the SEC ever look at these things?   If the SEC was doing its job properly, there would be more stringent rules that limit marketing hype of investment company mutual funds.   Investors have been punished enough over the past decade.

Pass on the “Guarantee”

There are many other places where an investor can put his money and be assured that the fund managers are working for the benefit of the investor.  Pass on this “guarantee”.

Fannie and Freddie – The New Subprime Lenders

Fannie and Freddie Impose Huge Fees On Borrowers

Freddie Mac last week announced additional fees for condo owners who refinance, effective April 1, 2009.  The fee mirrors a similar charge imposed by Fannie Mae last year.  Both Fannie and Freddie now assess a wide variety of fees to borrowers based on loan to value, credit and type of loan.  The fees are euphemistically referred to as “Postsettlement Delivery Fees for Mortgages with Special Attributes”. Translation – we need the money and are now charging huge fees to reflect lending risks that we never recognized prior to the housing crash.

Many borrowers are finding out that the Fannie and Freddie fees are resulting in mortgage rates far higher than the rates they see advertised.  See All Time Low Rates For A++ Borrowers Only.   The fees imposed are too large to be absorbed by the lending institutions that sell their loans to Fannie and Freddie.  Therefore the fees must be passed on to the customer in the form of closing costs and/or a much higher interest rate. The total fees imposed by the agency lenders are cumulative for each special attribute. The end result is that the fees and rates are so high that most borrowers are unable to refinance.

Here is an example of the fees that Fannie and Freddie would charge on a routine mortgage refinance with the following “special attributes”.   The borrower is attempting to refinance at 80% loan to value, has a 675 FICO score and needs to take cash out.    This is a routine type of refinance and the credit score of 675 is considered good.  The borrower is applying for the prevailing rate of 5.5%. Three years ago, this borrower would easily have qualified under a conforming Fannie or Freddie loan with a minimum of agency fees.  The same borrower today, if approved, would be facing very steep fees as follows in a $250,000 loan example.

Delivery Fees Effective April 1, 2009 Based on 80% Loan to Value

1. 675 FICO score fee 2.50%
2. Cash out fee 1.50%
3. If the property is a  Condo add additional fee .75%

The total fees imposed by Fannie or Freddie on this example loan would total 4.75% of the $250,000 loan or $11,875. In addition, there are various lender and legal fees involved in a refinance that could easily total another $2,000.   These Fannie and Freddie fees make the defunct sub prime lenders look like good guys.

Rates Are Low – Don’t Bother Applying

In real life, here’s what would happen. The borrower refuses to pay $11,875 in fees to get 5.5%.  The lender could not provide that rate in any event since the total of fees involved are so high that they would violate predatory lending rules. The rate cannot be raised enough to absorb all of these fees based on current pricing structures.  The best this customer could get would be a rate of around 7.25 and agency fees of $7,000, plus regular closing costs.  Several years ago, this customer could have gotten a lower fixed rate with much lower fees from a sub prime lender.

For a borrower to get the “low rates available” today, you usually need to show up with a credit score of 740 and a loan to value of 70% or less. Most borrowers who need to refinance today do not possess this loan profile.  While the Fed strives to lower mortgage rates, Fannie and Freddie are effectively telling all but the highest quality borrower to get lost by pricing them out of the market.  Compounding this ridiculous situation is that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)  does not charge many of these fees, even at higher loan to values and lower credit scores.

By the way, did I mention that the Government has effectively nationalized the mortgage industry?

The Flip Side of Bad News – Still A 90% Employment Rate

Disappearing Money

Charles Biderman of TrimTabs gave an interesting interview to Barron’s this weekend.  TrimTabs tracks flows of money in an effort to predict the stock market’s primary trend.

According to TrimTabs, “the first sign of a turnaround will be corporate insiders buying their own stock again and boards announcing new stock buybacks and cash takeovers of other public companies.  Right now, such buybacks are off about 90% year over year.

CEO confidence is at its lowest level since the Conference Board begain measuring in 1976.

Not a very positive assessment for those looking to put funds to work in the market.

In addition, the often cited “huge amounts of cash sitting on the sidelines” (in money markets funds), is also not apt to be a reason for launching the stock market higher either.   According to Mr Biderman,

“of the almost $4 trillion sitting in money market funds, almost two-thirds is institutional money, much of it probably earmarked as reserves against shareholder redemptions or committed to retirement and other long term purposes.  The money coming out of equity mutual funds is greater than that going into bank CD’s, money markets or other savings.  The money is disappearing because people are using it to live on.”

Of course, there are other possibilities as to where the disappearing cash is going.  Consider the  mistrust of the banking system and near zero interest yields on savings.  Perhaps some of these folks who sold their stocks are putting the money under their mattresses.  Or they just might be spending some of it.

Despite talk of consumers spending less and saving more, I have not really seen much evidence of that from one perspective.   I went to three casual dining establishments over the weekend (TGIF’s, Bertucci’s and Ruby Tuesdays) and each place was packed with customers.  There was a 10 to 20 minute wait time at each place for a table.   Maybe Connecticut’s economy is not yet getting hit as hard as other states.  Maybe people have decided to spend some of the money from liquidated equity funds.  Or, maybe things aren’t quite as bad as they say.   After all, even if the unemployment rate is at 10%, that means that 90% are still working and still spending.