Sunday, January 20, 2008

Monetary and Fiscal Stimulus

There was plenty of talk about fiscal stimulus packages last week. The White House wants tax cuts to help a wide range of individuals and businesses. Privately, it has floated a plan that focuses on rebates of up to $800 for individuals and $1,600 for married couples.

In addition to tax cuts, congressional Democrats say they also want spending targeted at specific groups such as the unemployed. They have also discussed denying rebates to taxpayers who earn more than $85,000 and offering them to those who don't pay income taxes at all.

Despite the market's disappointment, the plan President Bush announced Friday, which is equivalent to about 1% of gross domestic product, came in at the high end of expectations in Washington.

In addition, Fed Funds futures and options show a 40% probability of 50 and 75 bps cuts, and almost a 20% probability of a 1% cut. The jump in the odds of a 75 bps cut was near Bernanke's speech on 1/11 and the wholesale trade and retail sales reports. The probability of a 1% cut increased near the consumer sentiment report and Bernanke's Congressional Testimony.

None of this will ward off a recession in the United States. The slowdown in growth isn't purely a liquidity problem. It's a confidence problem causing a lack of liquidity. Banks won't start lending to one another again until they have a better idea of who owes what. Until then they're going to continue to horde cash to shore up their balance sheets to prepare for the worst.

Further, this isn't just a subprime or even a mortgage problem (we have yet to even reach the pinnacle of the option ARM wave). Issues are beginning to surface in the commercial real estate, auto loan, and credit card secondary markets. Who knows what other credit products will follow?

The actions of the Fed and Washington won't stop the stock market's decline, or the oncoming/current recession, since this current slowdown is a confidence problem, not a liquidity/stimulus problem. And, unfortunately, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

I expect the market to slowly work its way up - with a few relief/short-squeeze rallies - over the next week or two, sending major indices near their August lows (about a 5-6% gain from Friday's close). I will enter a short position in the NASDAQ 100 and/or Russell 2000 near the August lows if they are attained before the Fed meeting next week, since I expect the catalyst to the next major move down to be the outcome of the meeting.

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