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“The Federal Reserve, in close consultation with the Treasury, is working to promote liquid, well-functioning financial markets, which are essential for economic growth.” – Ben Bernanke 3/16/2008

Morning stock market summary

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The quote above could have easily been made this week, but it was actually fifteen years ago today when Bear Stearns, the fifth largest US investment bank, avoided bankruptcy in what was an arranged sale to JP Morgan for $2.  While a number of other smaller players in the subprime housing business had already folded, Bear was the first of the major dominoes to go.  The emergency takeover of Bear staunched the wound for a time, but it was only a matter of weeks before the cockroaches on bank balance sheets came out from the walls.  We all know what happened from there. 15 years to the day later, the question every investor is trying to answer is whether SVB Bank is this generation’s Bear Stearns or just a headline that most will forget all about a year from now.

Futures are mixed this morning as the S&P 500 and Dow are indicated modestly lower while the Nasdaq is in positive territory. European stocks are bouncing ahead of the ECB decision at 9:15 Eastern and on the news that Credit Suisse has taken a $54 billion loan from the Swiss National Bank to improve its liquidity position.  US equities aren’t seeing the same lift since they rallied after Europe’s close yesterday on rumors of the SNB loan that European stocks are rallying on now.

The economic calendar is busy this morning as Jobless Claims, Import Prices, Housing Starts, Building Permits, and the Philly Fed all just hit the tape.  Jobless Claims on both an initial and continuing basis were lower than expected, Import Prices dropped less than expected, and Building Permits and Housing Starts both came in significantly better than expected.  The only report that missed forecasts was the Philly Fed manufacturing which came in at -23.2.  Surprisingly, there has been little reaction (so far) in equity futures or the treasury market as attention will now shift to the ECB decision.

What started as a bank run on a regional bank in California last week quickly spread to regional and money center banks around the country and then this week across the Atlantic to European banks.  But the weakness in equities hasn’t been confined to just the Financials sector.  In the US, the Financials sector is down just over 10% over the last five trading days, but other cyclical sectors have also been pounded as Energy is down 9%, Materials is down 7.5%, and the Industrials sector is down over 5%. Around the world too, equities are down over the last week.

The snapshot below from our Trend Analyzer shows the performance of international regional ETFs.  Over the last week, every single one of them is down with declines ranging from a loss of 1.42% for the Global 100 ETF (IOO) to a loss of 7.6% for the Latin America 40 ETF (ILF).  Over the last three years, we’ve become all too familiar with the process of disease and virus transmission, and what we’ve seen over the last week is the very definition of contagion.  Whether or not it’s just a cold or something worse like the flu will become more apparent in the coming weeks.

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