Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The National Association of Homebuilders Confidence Index came in at 16, in line with forecasts. Present and future indices, which have been relatively range-bound over the past 12 months, were not changed from the prior month. (More on housing tomorrow morning.)

Foreign net long-term buys of U.S. financial assets in November were well above the prior two months at $85 billion. An increase in Treasury bonds and notes were a notable reason for the rise in what appears to have been a flight to safety.

I'm hearing that several major prime brokerage firms are planning to implement an increase in margin requirements to their hedge fund clients.

Recommended Reading

Run, don't walk, to read President Obama's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today on striking "the right balance."

The Book of Jobs

Over this weekend, I thought about how the Bible has supplied symbols and images to some of the greatest songwriters -- ironically, even to those that seem to have little faith (Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, etc.).

For example, consider Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" (popularized by Jimi Hendrix) in which the image of the watchtower is an allusion to the Book of Isaiah: "There's too much confusion / I can't get no relief" refers to a "city of confusion" and a "watchtower" and his reference to the time growing late and to the duty to keep watch alludes to the The Gospel According to Matthew.

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is especially prominent -- for example, in Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In the Wind," in Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn..." and in Kansas's "Dust in The Wind." Sometimes called the white elephant of the Canon of Scripture or the sphinx of Christian literature, Ecclesiastes has been an enigma and mystery to students of the Bible as it fails to give easy answers to life's complexities.

All we are is dust in the wind.

The lack of predictability of life (and in investing) were underscored over the weekend with the news that Steve Jobs has taken an indefinite medical leave at Apple.

The Obvious

* There is no company in the S&P 500 that relies so importantly on its CEO as does Apple.

* The public currently lacks any meaningful information on Jobs' health. Uncertainty will reign as little new information will likely be forthcoming over the next few months.

* The company's creative team and new product launches will be under intense scrutiny, but the clear-cut impact of Jobs' indefinite leave is only conjecture at this time. It cannot be viewed as a positive and the continued uncertainty is likely value- and P/E-ratio-destructive.

* Heavily weighted in numerous hedge funds, Apple's shares are vulnerable to continued heavy selling, particularly after its massive run.

* The weight of the Nasdaq's advance has been firmly in Apple's lap. The shares account for over 20% of QQQQ.

* Arguably, in an already overbought market, the news could promote and expose the markets to a harder selloff.

The Not-So Obvious

* Product innovation will continue at Apple, with or without Steve Jobs, as the company's product cycle is likely formulated years in advance.

* Steve Jobs (and his family) could conceivably decide to sell some Apple's shares. This would likely place more pressure on the company's share price.

* Apple's Board of Directors could begin to unleash its hoard of cash in the form of dividends.

* Will the proceeds from the sale of Apple's shares today remain in cash, or will it be distributed in other tech shares or in other sectors of the market?

Similar to Ecclesiastes (or even a more recent Burt Bacharach's "What's It All About, Alfie"), unfortunately, I don't have the answers to Apple ... or to life.

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