Friday, January 25, 2013

Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs


(Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.

Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.

The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.

"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."

The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.

The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.

That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.

MUTUAL FUND INVESTORS COME BACK

All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.

Energy shares .5SP10 lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials .5SP20, up 6.3 percent. Telecom .5SP50, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.

More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The DowJones Transportation Average .DJT recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/25/us-usa-stocks-weekahead-idUSBRE90O15V20130125

Choice of Mary Jo White to Head SEC Puts Fox In Charge of Hen House
 

By Matt Taibbi


I was shocked when I heard that Mary Jo White, a former U.S. Attorney and a partner for the white-shoe Wall Street defense firm Debevoise and Plimpton, had been named the new head of the SEC.
I thought to myself: Couldn't they have found someone who wasn't a key figure in one of the most notorious scandals to hit the SEC in the past two decades? And couldn't they have found someone who isn't a perfect symbol of the revolving-door culture under which regulators go soft on suspected Wall Street criminals, knowing they have million-dollar jobs waiting for them at hotshot defense firms as long as they play nice with the banks while still in office?
I'll leave it to others to chronicle the other highlights and lowlights of Mary Jo White's career, and focus only on the one incident I know very well: her role in the squelching of then-SEC investigator Gary Aguirre's investigation into an insider trading incident involving future Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. While representing Morgan Stanley at Debevoise and Plimpton, White played a key role in this inexcusable episode.
As I explained a few years ago in my story, "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?": The attorney Aguirre joined the SEC in 2004, and two days into his job was asked to look into reports of suspicious trading activity involving a hedge fund called Pequot Capital, and specifically its megastar trader, Art Samberg. Samberg had made suspiciously prescient trades ahead of the acquisition of a firm called Heller Financial by General Electric, pocketing about $18 million in a period of weeks by buying up Heller shares before the merger, among other things.
"It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller," Aguirre recalled. "And he wasn't just buying shares – there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day."
Aguirre did some digging and found that Samberg had been in contact with his old friend John Mack before making those trades. Mack had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley and had just flown to Switzerland, where he'd interviewed for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston, the company that happened to be the investment banker for . . . Heller Financial.
Now, Mack had been on Samberg's case to cut him in on a deal involving a spinoff of Lucent. "Mack is busting my chops" to let him in on the Lucent deal, Samberg told a co-worker.
So when Mack returned from Switzerland, he called Samberg. Samberg, having done no other research on Heller Financial, suddenly decided to buy every Heller share in sight. Then he cut Mack into the Lucent deal, a favor that was worth $10 million to Mack.
Aguirre thought there was clear reason to investigate the matter further and pressed the SEC for permission to interview Mack. Not arrest the man, mind you, or hand him over to the CIA for rendition to Egypt, but merely to interview the guy. He was denied, his boss telling him that Mack had "powerful political connections" (Mack was a fundraising Ranger for President Bush).
But that wasn't all. Morgan Stanley, which by then was thinking of bringing Mack back as CEO, started trying to backdoor Aguirre and scuttle his investigation by going over his head. Who was doing that exactly? Mary Jo White. This is from the piece I mentioned, "Why Isn't Wall Street In Jail?":
It didn't take long for Morgan Stanley to work its way up the SEC chain of command. Within three days, another of the firm's lawyers, Mary Jo White, was on the phone with the SEC's director of enforcement. In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators, the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as "smoke" rather than "fire." White, incidentally, was herself the former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York — one of the top cops on Wall Street . . .
I'm not sure if he is as shocked as I am shocked that he is shocked. Did he actually believe that Obama would appoint someone to oversee the banks? As they say on ESPN "Come on man" Queenbee

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/choice-of-mary-jo-white-to-head-sec-puts-fox-in-charge-of-hen-house-20130125#ixzz2J2VIdYnr