Looks Like A Classical Pump&Dump Setup

The global stocks markets are reaching for new highs, sending the benchmarks to the highest level since August 2008. Once again it’s the financials that’s leading the race after Wells Fargo raised its rating for large banks on prospects for higher dividends, JPMorgan Chase says it will use some of its reserves to boost earnings and Morgan Stanley says banks and insurance companies will be winners in the stock market this year. Well, it sounds like the same old song and dance routine to me, just like we’ve seen it over and over again for the last two years – a classical pump & dump scheme.

“Companies are sitting on tons of cash. Corporate earnings are coming in very strong. I see a gain of 10 percent to 15 percent for stocks in 2011.”

Philip Dow


Personally, I don’t think there’s many investors who actually believe a word of what the bankers and their stock pushers are saying. But that’s not the point. The point is, however, that the big financials are setting up another stock market rally so they can cash in a couple of billion dollar more before the new regulations takes effect and prohibit them from trading with their own money, shutting down their most lucrative area of business.

This may very well be the biggest opportunity investors will get in 2011. The financial shares have, more or less, controlled the stock market over the last two years – pushing the average prices up, then pulling them down again.

But this is no game for amateurs. You never know when the big players turn around, stop buying and dump the load right in your face. The so-called “swing trade,” where the goal is to figure out exactly when the market turns, is one of the most difficult investment strategies there is. It can also be the most rewarding.

But remember; there is nothing – I emphasize; nothing – that indicates that the problems are over for financial firms. On the contrary; several signs points to more trouble ahead.

The greatest factor of uncertain right now is the European debt crisis. Even if it’s the national governments that is about to go bankrupt, it is the financial industry who’ll get the punch when countries starts to default.

Something the credit market investors have figured out a long time ago.

(Read also: Smart Money Is Not Stupid (Or Is It?))

The second bomb about to detonate is the dodgy foreclosure case.

At the moment, the banks are allowed to accrue interest on non-performing mortgages  until the actual foreclosure takes place, which on average takes about 16 months.

This “phantom interest” is not actually collected, but still it’s booked as income until the actual act of foreclosure.

As a resullt, many bank financial statements actually look much better than they actually are.

This means that Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, and hundreds of other smaller institutions, can report interest due to them, but not paid, on an estimated $1.4 trillion of face value mortgages on the 7 million homes that are in the process of being foreclosed, according to Forbes.

“Ultimately, these banks face a potential loss of $1 trillion on nonperforming loans,” says Madeleine Schnapp, director of macro-economic research at Trim-Tabs, an economic consulting firm 24.5% owned by Goldman Sachs.

However, the central banks, and the governments will be pumping money into the financial markets as long as they can in order to keep the financial system running. And they might be able to do that for a year or two more (maybe even longer).

“The markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

(John Maynard Keynes)

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Anyway – who gives a shit?

The KBW Bank Index, which tracks 24 US financial companies, was up 13% in the four weeks through Jan. 5, three times the gains of the Standard & Poor’s 500.

And there’s also a third landmine in store for US banks.

According to Forbes, investors are now betting that the GOP-controlled Congress will water down the financial-services overhaul, and the great Wall Street reform will be just a joke, as many have feared.

On paper, the Dodd-Frank financial-services overhaul bill looks like a bank-stock killer.

It restricts how banks can trade for their own accounts, it raises capital requirements and it tightens supervision. By some estimates it will cut big bank profits by $22 billion annually—what the industry makes in a decent quarter.

Yet, bank stocks is rallying like it’s 2009.

Investors are banking that House Republicans will modify the new law, says Terry Haines, a senior analyst Potomac Research Group: “Back in July 2010, when Dodd-Frank became law, investors expected the quick imposition of rules with an immediate impact on the financial sector. But a lot of the key components of Dodd-Frank have not yet been implemented. And now there is a more favorable and moderate political environment as well.”

Note that any statement of just how much of the Dodd-Frank law will be changed by House Republicans is only speculation.

Investors may be overestimating the GOP‘s nimbleness.  The regulatory agencies could, in fact, begin to implement rules before the House Financial Services Committee holds any hearings on the matter, and the republicans may be distracted by efforts to reform the congressionally chartered mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

And some of the new regulations will simply not go away by themselves.

Banks will have to adhere to higher capital of some kind – the same goes for liquidity requirements – and the banks’ cost of deposit insurance and regulatory compliance are sure to increase significantly, regardless of what the GOP may accomplish.

“Every page of the law has something that impacts the bottom line,” banking lawyer Thomas Vartanian points out.

(The law is 848 pages long!)

Terry Haines points out that  the  regulators charged with writing regulations under the act will be scrutinized by the House Appropriations Committee as well as the Financial Services Committee.

“The Appropriations committee could limit the funding of controversial regulatory initiatives under Dodd-Frank, or even defund them entirely,” Haines says .

Perhaps. But the republicans could also easily be “Stewartized” into submission (mocked by the Daily Show’s John Stewart). And the general public is still quite upset over the fact that the hot-shots responsible for wrecking the economy still have their jobs and their bonuses, while about 8.5 million American workers lost theirs.

Something is going to hit the banking industry – whatever it will be…

“The people who took a political gamble on the sector in December most likely are traders who will take their money and run at the first sign of wavering by the House GOP,” Forbes writes.

If that’s the truth – the sector is set up for a classic pump and dump scheme.

Bank and life insurer stocks should see the biggest gains in 2011, according to a team of Morgan Stanley analysts. The team says its call is based on low valuations in the sectors, as well as increasing clarity about regulation that has weighed on the shares. An improving economy and the company’s increased capital deployment should drive return on equity.

Property and casualty insurers should also get a boost late in the underwriting cycle.

Morgan Stanley says its favorite names are Bank of America, Comerica and TD, for large cap, mid cap, and Canadian  banks, respectively.

In insurance, Prudential is the team’s pick for life insurers, with Axis Capital as a standout in P&C.

“Bank dividends and M&A activity signal the economy is transitioning from recovery to expansion,” says Philip Dow, director of equity strategy at RBC Wealth Management in a market comment at Bloomberg.com.

“Companies are sitting on tons of cash. Corporate earnings are coming in very strong. I see a gain of 10 percent to 15 percent for stocks in 2011.”

That’s right! Pump, baby. Pump!

 

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