Facing 10 Calamities

 | Dec 14, 2011 | 8:08 AM EST  | Comments
  • Comment
  • Print Print
  • Print
Stock quotes in this article:

gis

Memo to the world: Something better go right soon.

Just for a moment, for one gloomy horrid moment, let me tick off everything that is going wrong:

1. The euro crashed through long-term support like a knife through cream cheese because butter was too resistant. That's a sure sign that no one wants anything euro-denominated. Who can blame them?

2. The European stock markets only seem to rally in fits and starts against a now presumed backdrop of falling prices. Any lift is perceived to be a total short squeeze, a judgment I agree with.

3. European economies are slowing down fairly dramatically, with an expectation that the unemployment numbers are going to soar. Yet there is no stimulus from government because the governments are either broke or worried about losing their AAA status.

4. Interest rates in Europe are rising when the economies are weakening and would be much higher if the European Central bank weren't hanging around underneath now and then.

5. There are 146 billion euros worth of auctions from Italy and Spain alone in the first quarter and 750 billion euros altogether set to be auctioned in the first quarter in the EU. With the euro falling and the budgets not being tightened fast enough to deal with the declining receipts and the burgeoning interest bill, where are those buyers going to come from? I have no idea.

6. Despite all of this slowing, the most important commodity, oil, the one that the whole world's economies are based on, is going up, not down, courtesy hoarding, Iranian worries and demand from Indian and China.

7. China's economy is slowing but not slowing enough to allow the government to cut rates multiple times.

8. Ben Bernanke pretty much told you yesterday he's given her all she's got and it clearly isn't enough.

9. Our Leadership in the crisis is non-existent.

10. We are on the verge of gigantic bank nationalizations in Europe and a concomitant recession that will be brutal and spill over to here but everyone's just too tired and fatigued to focus on it.

It is with this background, these ten calamities, that we have to filter everything through.

I start with the calamities because they are the reasons why, when you talk with executives from so many great companies, that so few potential investors are willing to step up to the plate and do some buying for what are some admittedly very cheap prices.

Why bother?

If every positive mention starts with "Despite the European headwinds, XYZ Corp. delivered." And if the company isn't located in Europe? "Despite the headwinds caused by the decline in the S&P 500 because of European woes."

If things were going right away from Europe then we could isolate Europe. And it is possible to see how it can go right, with China cutting and the United States making a comeback, but they have to be hastened because Europe is breaking down faster than China can cut or the U.S. repair itself.

That's why we are giving away stocks at such low prices. The prism goes darker almost by the day. Hence, my new Defcon 2 posture.

The only thing that has beaten this whole morass is yield. While some regard that as a fad, or an overcrowded trade, those naysayers remind me of the people who thought Treasuries were a short at 5% then 4% then 3% and then 2%. And, unlike Treasuries, there is not an unlimited supply of higher yielding stocks with safe dividends. They can only grow if companies start returning that excess cash to shareholders via dividends to rival CDs rather than returning the excess cash to hedge fund sellers looking for a bid.

I have tried hard to isolate the stories that give you good yield that are domestic in nature and that have less risk. I have tried to find stocks like General Mills (GIS), which boosted its dividend by 9% yesterday giving you a more than 3% yield with the biggest worry there being the ability to keep raising prices for cereal, something that's been about as consistent as raising prices for tobacco.

I have tried to get you out of the stocks that are in the European blast zone, which now include lower yielding industrials as well as almost all of tech. Now we are talking close to 50% of the market.

But it is not enough given the ten wayward elements that bracket all attempts to shoot straight in this tape.

I continue to think that raising cash is right. The market gives you ample opportunity to do so with the myriad rumors of something big from the IMF as it was two days ago or from Big Ben as it was yesterday.

If you don't take these opportunities, you will not be ready for what I now regard as an imminent chain of woe: An Italian bank can't get funding, which then forces the Italians to nationalize the bank which then causes runs on the other banks, which then causes shotgun weddings and more nationalizations, which then spikes Italian interest rates to unsustainable levels which then forces Germany and France to bring out the bazookas they should have brought out not to save Italy, which will become a ward of the world, but to save their own banks through similar nationalizations and RBS/Citigroup injections.

Of course, none of this had to happen had the Europeans offered a credible plan for both the sovereign debtor nations as well as the banks that own the junk instead of just focusing on the banks, which they did as a sop to us because our banks are so on the hook to their banks through insurance on their bonds and our money funds still on their junk.

Yes, you can keep the banks in another form afloat, wiping out their stocks, their secured creditors and saving their depositors. That's going to be the plan. It's just that it's awfully hard not to see a severe recession that's big enough to rollback all of the gains we have made in the worlds' economies since 2008 and certainly a lot of the gains. But not all, since the bottom in the stock market here. Why not all? Because of those dividends. They are too hefty and too easily paid by companies that raised them only because of a level of confidence that seems very justified.

To sum it up, we will get through this. Our markets will be hurt. Banks, tech, industrials with low yields will trade with Europe into this short-term abyss. Any company that needs financing will be shunned once again like 2008 even though the money will be there. That's force of habit, but it will hurt any company that has huge projects in the pipe and still needs funding.

And our higher yielders, like utilities, MLPs, drugs, foods and big, dividend-giving oils will do just fine. (The oils that need to raise capital and their drilling cousins will trade alternately with higher oil and then with funding worries but overall hold in if they can be taken over.)

Is it a pretty picture? Yes, if it weren't for Europe! As if anything else really mattered.

Columnist Conversations

Lang:
Over the last couple of weeks we have witnessed an historic rise then fall of short term volatility. Much of ...
Kass:
Both life insurers record beats to expectations. My view, already discounted in share prices. More to come.
Kass:
https://twitter.com/Tradeweb/status/527762378814140416/photo/1
Kass:
Italian/Spanish sovereign debt yields are +10 basis points higher today This is where the systemic risk lies i...

BEST IDEAS

REAL MONEY'S BEST IDEAS

Columnist Tweets

BROKERAGE PARTNERS

Except as otherwise indicated, quotes are delayed. Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes for all exchanges. Market Data provided by Interactive Data. Company fundamental data provided by Morningstar. Earnings and ratings provided by Zacks. Mutual fund data provided by Valueline. ETF data provided by Lipper. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions.


TheStreet Ratings updates stock ratings daily. However, if no rating change occurs, the data on this page does not update. The data does update after 90 days if no rating change occurs within that time period.

IDC calculates the Market Cap for the basic symbol to include common shares only. Year-to-date mutual fund returns are calculated on a monthly basis by Value Line and posted mid-month.