So far at least, the New Year has been anything but happy for stock market investors. In short, traders have ignored the traditional seasonal pattern and have instead focused on the negative. So, the worries are back. Greece is back. And after yesterday, some fear appears to be back at the corner of Broad and Wall.
Recall that the last few days of a year and the first few days of each new year are supposed to be strong. Very strong. But for the second year in a row, traders and their fancy computers have decided it is better to go the other way. Forget about QE in Europe. Forget about stimulus in China. Forget about that GDP print containing a “5 handle.” Forget about that big “tax cut” the American consumer is receiving due to lower oil. No, it appears that it is time to fret again. Insert long sigh here.
The problem is that for more than two years now, all dips have been bought, and bought aggressively. The idea of seeing a “bottoming process” after a scary decline has been tossed aside in favor of jumping back into stocks with both feet. As such, the “V bottom” has become the norm, leading investors to the conclusion that risk management is something to be scoffed at in the process.
S&P 500 – Daily
What Me Worry?
The key for the stock market since the end of 2012 has been a seemingly never ending flow of new cash being pumped into the global financial system. And since that money has to go somewhere, the battle cry has been something along the lines of, “What, me worry?”
But occasionally worries crop up as the bears attempt to convince investors that everything is not hunky dory around the globe. Granted, these pullbacks have been brief and painless when viewed with a healthy dose of hindsight. However, from time to time, there have been some “issues” to be dealt with. And unless we see another “Bullard/Draghi” bottom in the next day or two, this may turn out to be one of those times where the worries come home to roost for a while. Thus, it is a good idea to understand the issues at hand.
Of course, oil is THE BIG THING happening in the market. And the bottom line is oil continues to dive. But since, we’ve already spent a great deal of time on this subject, we will focus our attention on other areas this week.
Seriously? We Have to Worry About Greece, AGAIN?
Yep, that’s right; a fair amount of the consternation in the market lately has been related to Greece. If you find yourself shaking your head right about now, join the club as probably just about every U.S. investor has likely had their fill of Greek tragedies for a while.
Global X Greece 20 ETF (NASDAQ: GREK) – Daily
The problem is an oldie but a goodie – the worry over Greece (a) leaving the eurozone and (b) thumbing their nose at all that debt the country accumulated over the last decade.
As the saying goes, debt kills. And the Greeks have a ton of it. Therefore, the austerity measures pushed on the country by the EU and the IMF – in exchange for bailout loans, of course – have caused a great deal of financial pain in Greece.
So, what are the new, young, hungry politicians looking to get elected in Greece campaigning on? Something on the order of, “Just say no.” No to the austerity measures. No to the EU/IMF and their demands. No to the debt. And perhaps no to the Euro.
In short, the fear is that this “just say no” approach will cause bank failures, rate contagion, and… of course… more bank failures in places outside of Greece. Joy.
So over the weekend, the Germans decided to essentially call what is believed to be nothing but a bluff. Der Spiegel reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble suggest the eurozone has implemented enough reforms to make a Greek exit manageable.
In addition, the German government basically considers a Greek exit inevitable if the radical left wing Syriza wins the upcoming election (scheduled for January 25).
Here’s the Rub
The problem is this. If Greece decides to leave the eurozone and tells everyone what they can do with the debt owed, and Germany et al stands for it, what is to keep the rest of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) from doing the same?
By now, investors know how much Greece owes and to whom. And by now, analysts know that a “Grexit” in and of itself, wouldn’t be much of a financial event.
However, if Italy, Spain and the rest of the heavily indebted countries also consider “just say no” as a strategy, well, the world and its banking system might begin to look like a very different place.
iShares EMU ETF (NYSE: EZU) – Daily
Now toss in the miserable economic conditions on the continent and it is fairly easy to see why investors in Europe have been fretting in earnest for the past six or seven months.
So, while it may be painful to even consider worrying about Greece again, the country and the potential for another round of the European Debt Crisis is something to keep on your radar.
Next up is the issue of economic growth – in the good ‘ol USofA. Turning To This Morning
The song remains the same this morning as oil continues to decline, the worries about Greece are ongoing, and there is more talk about QE coming from Europe. In Greece, the drama surrounding the potential for the country to exit the EU has died down a bit with market there closed for holiday. However, it is worth noting that Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras sent a statement to several Greek-language media outlets, saying that the party has no intention of exiting the eurozone if it wins the general election. The candidate added that it would seek to ensure the eurozone’s stability. After losing more than 5% on Monday, oil continues to fall this morning with futures breaking below the $50 per barrel level. It was reported that the Saudis raised their official selling prices for Asia, while they cut prices for Europe to the lowest level since 2009 and to the US, which represented a fifth consecutive monthly cut in prices. On the QE front there is word that the ECB is trying to tailor a plan that would secure the backing of Germany. Reports indicate that there are three options being considered at this stage. Finally, yields continue to tumble lower with the U.S. 10-year trading below 2% this morning. Here at home, U.S. futures point to a modest bounce at the open.
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