Sunday, 18 November 2012

Political give-and-take casts shadow on Wall Street

REUTERS

NEW YORK ALL these events, in the end, turned out to be buying opportunities for stocks. So will the “fiscal cliff,” some investors say as they watch favourite stocks tumble during the political give-and-take happening in Washington.

The first round of talks aimed at avoiding the “fiscal cliff” caused a temporary rise in equities on Friday, signaling Wall Street’s recent declines could be a buying opportunity. The gains were small and sentiment remains weak, but it suggests hope for market bulls.

Though shares ended moderately higher on Friday, it was not enough to offset losses for the week. The S&P was down 1.5 percent, while both the Dow and the Nasdaq fell 1.8 percent.

The S&P 500 is down more than 5 percent in the seven sessions that followed President Barack Obama’s reelection.

Uncertainty arose as attention turned to Washington’s task of dealing with mandated tax hikes and spending cuts that could take the US economy back into recession.

Some see the market’s move as an overreaction to hyperbolic headlines about policy gridlock in Washington, believing stocks may start to rebound in what should be a quiet few days ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday next Thursday.

“It just doesn’t seem to make any sense that you suddenly wake up the day after the election and realise we’ve got a fiscal cliff,” said Krishna Kumar, partner at New York hedge fund Goose Hollow Alpha Advisors.

Not long ago the S&P was on target for its second-best year in the last 10, riding a 17 percent advance in 2012.

That’s been halved to about 8 percent, which isn’t bad but disappointing compared with just a month ago.

Investors have been selling the year’s winners. Apple is down 25 percent from its peak above $700. General Electric is down 14 percent; Google has lost 16 percent.

Overall, the stocks that make up the top 10 percent of performers in the month prior to Election Day have been the worst performers since, according to Bespoke Investment Group of Harrison, New York.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to be long stocks at these levels,” said Kumar.

Hikes on capital gains and dividend taxes are on the line, and Obama has dug in his heels on what he sees as a mandate to make the tax code more progressive.

He seems to have the upper hand in dealings with Congress because Republican lawmakers don’t want to see tax rates increase, which is what will happen if no solution is found by the beginning of 2013. Republicans don’t want to take the blame for driving the economy over the cliff.

The current crisis is similar to last year’s fight to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, which led to the downgrade of the United States’ top credit rating in early August 2011.

During the dealings, the S&P 500 lost 18.8 percent between its peak in July 2011 and its bottom in August. As the market slid, the political standoff badly hurt investors’ confidence in Washington, setting off a spike in volatility.

In the end a deal was announced that raised the ceiling and put off longerterm fiscal decisions until January 1, 2013, setting the stage for today’s “fiscal cliff” crisis. After staying flat through September 2011, the S&P 500 jumped 31 percent between its October low and the end of March.

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