A week ago, everyone really gave up hope. The perceptions were that all of the major European banks were insolvent, the U.S. economy was hurting badly, the sovereign bonds were all suckers' plays and China was doing nothing to help and everything to hurt us.
That was one week ago.
One week ago!
Now look at things. The European banks may have been and may be insolvent, but their borrowing costs, in dollars, were lowered dramatically and, although no one is arguing this point, the funding is not going away any time soon. Ben Bernanke took charge this week and that's the only way you can look at it. You know he must have gotten some deal to offer those credit lines -- and I am calling these credit lines life lines, despite everyone's insistence that they are just swaps that may or not help the cause -- because he's a pretty decent poker player by now. The deal? It would be to relent and help these neerdowell countries WHILE not after they get their act together. That's the crucial difference.
Secondly, did anyone think that Black Friday was going to be huge? And it was huge, regardless of whether things were for sale or not it was gigantic, the biggest in years. Given the unemployment situation in this country, it should have been a bust. Given the gloom in this country, it should have been a bust. It was anything but a bust. It was a homerun. We know that it was followed by excellent car sales. And we know from people like Manny Chirico, the terrific PVH (PVH) CEO, that it has only gotten stronger, not weaker.
Car sales. Mall sales. That's the United States economy in a nutshell.
In my new job as co-host of "Squawk on the Street," I ask all sorts of people whether they would ever buy sovereign bonds. Uniformly in the last few weeks I didn't get "maybe at a certain price." I got looks like I had two heads and one was dumb and the other was dumber. "Are you out of your mind?" they would ask, at least in the subtext. Like, I could be so stupid to even pose the question.
Well, get this. Have you seen the Spanish bonds this week? They have had the largest move up of any sovereign bonds in the 12-year history of the Euro. They declined 100 basis points in yield. You read that right. One hundred basis points. You lever that up and you had a year-maker. Of course if you had ridden them all the way down, big deal. But this is a move that could have probably saved even the biggest doofus, Jon Corzine. (At least isn't that what everyone thinks of him?)
I knew something was up when Jim O'Neill, the very credible Goldman Sachs analyst who coined the term BRIC, said that he thought Italian bonds were getting real interesting when he was on the show a couple of days ago. All it has EVER taken was a belief that these bonds could be money good to get the trillions off the sidelines. Do I want to buy Italian bonds? No. But that doesn't mean I am going to be right. It means that I think that Spain is further along in its austerity program so maybe those bonds, if they get hit, are a better bet.
What matters, though, is that the trade is no longer one way. Now you weren't foolish you are a genius. Now people who openly scorned the idea of buying some of the assets that are being sold by the European banks at rock-bottom prices might be inclined to do so.
Remember, you don't need to have the situation reverse itself. You just need to think that private capital might be enticed into playing. Isn't that what happened?
Ben Bernanke isn't going to be outdone in this race to save Europe from itself, but when you consider that the Chinese coordinated with its pathetic much-maligned trading partners, whom it dumps product on routinely to save its country from revolution, with its interest rate cut, giving it a one-two punch, it's a pretty big deal.
If China had just acted alone, then it would still be major, but not enough. Instead, reversing two years of tightening, after waiting, correctly, for its economy to slow down, turned out to be a prudent and universally held necessary thing, especially because Euroland is a huge trading partner of China.
The timing, given the nine-week drawdown of copper, a terrific indicator, and you read that right, a vastly depleted copper inventory, was spectacular. It has produced a moment where you could drag up the transports here, heavily laden with China related business, allowing the transports to lead us. They are right at resistance.
Put it all together and what do you get? How about the first time in years that hope actually was a strategy. The people who did best here are the people who believed that the world would not end, that the west didn't want to commit economic suicide and that Ben Bernanke, whom I reiterate will go down as a terrific central banker after stumbling at the beginning, had our back all along.
Now, I temper my enthusiasm here knowing that Merkel's intransigence and Draghi's hardline talk about price stability stand in the way of a larger solution. But yesterday, in a moment of weakness, perhaps, Draghi was quoted as saying that price stability could also mean that he is concerned about deflation, not just inflation and the way to combat deflation as we all know, is to print something, anything. So that, plus a rate cut, can stimulate some growth.
So much still has to go right. We need real austerity plans out of Italy and Spain.—The latter seems well on its way. We need help from the grown-ups. We need money market funding from our country for the banks. We need nationalization plans at the ready. We need growth to avoid a severe recession over there.
Most importantly, when it comes to investing over here we need to see us break free from the European hostage taking. That can happen. We have to hope for many more pieces to fall in place. So far, though, as I wrote, hope's been a winning strategy. Maybe it is just better to be lucky than good.
Still, when I come back to a week ago, I see the world has changed and changed radically. Scorned ideas have become winning ideas. Good research has worked. Winning companies have turned into winning stocks. The grown-ups saw how out of control the situation has become and started doing something.
Started. Not finished. Nevertheless, they hadn't started at all before this. Remarkable. One week. But perhaps the most important week of the year, the first joyous week, the first light at the end of the tunnel that, at last, was not an oncoming train.