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Economic Blizzard

April 17, 2009 – 6:41 pm

This week we had a blizzard of economic news and earnings reports for the first quarter. Overall the economic news was poor, but on balance probably better than expected. This trend of poor but slightly improving economic news will likely continue. Earnings as reported so far are not that good, but on balance they are better than anticipated. Three reports in particular from J.P Morgan/Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup had surprising earnings considering they are in the banking industry and everyone expects the worst from that sector. Certainly there were companies with worse than expected numbers and some with better, but the banking industry is supposed to be flat on its back.

On the economic front, retail sales reported this week fell 11% from February to March, Industrial production fell to 69.3% down 1% from February, and new construction fell 10%. All bad news, so why didn’t the market fall this week? Obviously, this kind of news was expected. Fear is subsiding. We saw good news this week in the earnings reports for the banks, in inflation which is dead, in mortgage applications for homes which are up 45% for the week compared to a year ago and in mortgage interest rates which are down to 4.8% for a 30 year fixed.

The numbers are still very ugly but the stock market has been so beaten up that it is reacting to news that shows some hints that the worst is over. The stock market is still down for the year even with the strong up move in the last month. There was a stronger move downward for the first two months of the year and so far all the market has done is return to early February levels. Except for the NASDAQ.

The NASDAQ index, which is full of large tech companies, is flat for the year. Past bull markets have been led by tech and this one is no different. Banking stocks are coming off severe bottoms and no bull market in history has occurred without a rally in banking stocks. It appears that though the economy is still in a severe slump that the stock market, which is itself a leading economic indicator, is telling us that the fix is in. That ‘fix’ may be some months away as we deal with backward looking statistics but it certainly seems that the mood has changed.

As we at KPP Financial have been heavy in cash. We did not pick the bottom of this stock market, nor did anyone else. Because we were heavy in cash we did not go down with the market in January, February and the first part of March. What that means is that we are late in catching the rally as well. As our clients have seen we have been moving into the market for the last six weeks. We are now heavily invested but with some cash on the sidelines that we plan to put to work on any weakness in the market. This is a bear market rally so far, albeit a sharp one, forming a ‘V’ bottom which was unexpected. Any pullback will be an opportunity to buy.

Finally, history tells us that this is the first leg of a rally. If the ultimate bottom is in, which we have stated in previous newsletters that we think it is, then the rally should continue. It should rise at least 50% from the bottom. After the 1973-74 recession, which so far looks very similar to the current recession, the S&P 500 rallied 73% and the DOW 75.7% over 19 months. This kind of rally from a recession low is normal. Don’t think that this is uncommon. Therefore, missing part of the first leg because you were protecting your nest egg, as we were doing, is not a bad thing.

However, it is now time to invest. Do it carefully and in fact hope for some weakness so that you can take advantage of lower prices. Do not fear any correction. Fear is hovering over everything. To the degree it is keeping people out of the market it is a good thing. Stock market rallies climb a wall of worry. Be cautious but be buying.

We will continue to buy slowly. The plan is to take advantage of any weakness to buy more. That doesn’t mean we won’t sell if something is not working but overall we are on the buy side of the market not the sell side. That time is over.

Good Trading,

Steve Peasley

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