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Markets: We Ban Shorting, Will There be a Bounce?

by Sck
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Author: Australasian Investment Review

There’s nothing more to be said about the markets last week except that we all survived, battered, bruised, shell shocked and worse if you were shareholders in some American companies no longer with us like Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Macquarie, HBOS and a host of other financial stocks. This week events will be dominated by the shape of the rescue body announced Friday to bailout the dodgy securities. Here in Australia we have banned all short selling, not just the naughty naked kind, in a new development revealed last night by the financial regulator, ASIC. It starts from today and continues until further notice. It is a step up of the ban on naked shorting announced Friday. But the big issue is the $US700 billion bailout fund which is likely to provide an opportunity for ambitious and idiotic US congress representatives to try and add pet deals of their own to the bill. Markets around the world simply love the idea, but that affection will be hard to hold as the fund takes ages to have any lasting impact. The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped by more than 4.7% twice last week after Lehman Brothers’ collapse; Bank of America Corp’s takeover of Merrill Lynch and the US government’s seizure of American International Group. But the S&P 500 ended the week by jumping 8.5% on Thursday and Friday on the US government’s plan to purge banks of bad assets, crack down on short sellers and to stand behind money market funds through support from the Federal Reserve. Shanghai surged 9.5%, in the biggest daily gain for seven years, to 2,075.091. Hong Kong’s Hang Sang gained 9.6% to 19,327.73, London’s FTSE 100 had its biggest daily gain in its 24-year history, jumping 8.8% and in Australia the ASX 200 was up 198 points or more than 4.2% on Friday. It was the biggest two-day global stocks rally in 38 years. Friday’s rallies in London and the US were partially fuelled by bans on short-selling in financial stocks announced on Thursday night. Besides the S&P 500’s gains the Dow added 929 points from Thursday’s low and markets from the UK, China, and Australia and elsewhere surged as investors appreciated the fact that the great panic had been halted for the time being. But it is short term, even the new fund being set up to help buy the so-called toxic securities by the US Treasury. The longer term issues will be the newly increased size of the US deficit and debt, the impact of this huge expansion of money supply on inflation, and most of all the slumping US economy and the disaster that is the US housing sector. The S&P 500 ended up 48.57 points to 1,255.08 on Friday, the Dow surged 368.75, or 3.4%, to 11,388.44 and Nada rose 74.8, or 3.4%, to 2,273.9. The MSCI World Index of 23 developed nations’ markets jumped 5.7% to 1,286.44 on Friday and rose 8% over Thursday and Friday. Europe’s main regional index (the Sox 600) rose a record 8.3% Friday and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 5.5% Friday. The S&P 500 actually erased its fall to close up 0.3% for the week, but it is still down down 15% this year. Market reports said a record 3 billion shares were traded on the NYSE on Friday: that was more than double the three-month daily average. Under pressure investment banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley saw their shares leap more than 20% on Friday as shorts scrambled to cover themselves. Traders said that only consumer staples, the best performing group this year, fell led by Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer. Its shares fell almost 3% for the biggest decline in the Dow. That reaction has a touch of unreality because it won’t be too long before investors start worrying about the economy and banks again and go back into consumer staples. US and European government bonds tumbled; reversing gains made earlier in the week as investor sold equities and commodities and moved into bonds as quickly as possible. The proposal from Paulson and Bernanke (and strongly supported by president Bush over the weekend) is aimed at isolating devalued mortgage-linked assets at the root of the worst credit crisis since the Great Depression. US Congressional leaders said they aim to pass legislation soon, but some have started wondering about loans to US car companies like General Motors and a $US50 billion stimulatory package to follow the $US120 billion tax rebate which came and went from May to July of this year. That sort of grandstanding is going to be dangerous, and expensive. In Australia the major banks led the surge on Friday and today the market is forecast to be up by around 130 points, if Saturday morning’s overnight futures finish is any guide. The ASX200 index finished up 196.8 points, or 4.27%, to 4804.1, while the All Ordinaries index ended up 188.8 points, or 4.06%, to 4840.7. The National Australia Bank soared $3.40, or 17.35%, to $23.00; the Commonwealth jumped $2.62, or 6.54%, to $42.70; the ANZ rose $2.26, or 14.63%, to $17.71; and Westpac ended up $1.54, or 7%, at $23.54. But the focus was on Macquarie Group: after being belted up to the close Thursday, it rocketed $9.85, or 37.81%, to $35.90 after touching an intraday high of $38.55 just before noon. Suncor Metway leapt 75c to $9.10 as the company completed the underwriting on its dividend reinvestment plan two weeks early. In resources BHP Billiton ended up 40c at $35.40 and Rio Tinto jumped $3.10 to $101.50. Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group added 50c to $5.70 despite reporting an annual bottom-line net loss of $2.8 billion and saying it would not provide a forecast for the current year because it may prejudice “the interests of the company”. Oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum was up $2.66 at $54.06, and Santos 53c to $18.28. Newmont dropped 55c to $4.92 and gold fell; Newcrest eased 65c to $23.85 and Lehar dropped 3c to $2.45. The Australian dollar finished higher in New York at 83.40, US cents after the US dollar lost ground as nervy investors sold the currency. Earlier, the Aussie had finished around 81.15 on Friday, up about 1.3 US from Thursday’s close of 79.88. That’s up 3.5c in two days, or almost 5%. And naked short selling will be banned on the Australian Stock Exchange from today. But in a dramatic decision the regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has banned ALL short selling for a month from today, not just the naked variety. ASIC said the widened ban would act as a circuit breaker to restore investor confidence. Short selling, where traders seek to profit by selling borrowed shares of companies to then buy them back, in the anticipation their prices will drop, has been partly blamed for the sharp falls of stocks such as Macquarie Group in recent days. Naked short selling, involves selling without first borrowing the stock, or even ensuring the shares can be borrowed. The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) said on Friday it would remove all securities from its list of stocks approved for naked short selling from Monday. The ASX said the “The removal will remain in force until further notice.” “It will be reviewed when the government’s foreshadowed legislative amendments to the reporting of covered short selling activity take effect.” But last night the ASX ban was supplanted by the wider ban from ASIC. ASIC chairman, Tony D’Aloisio, said “To limit the prohibition to financial stocks, as has been done in the UK, could subject our other stocks to unwarranted attack given the unknown amount of global money which may be looking for short sell plays.” IMPORTANT: AIR reports about financial markets and investment products in the widest sense possible. The AIR website and all its contents is prepared for general information only, and as such, the specific needs, investment objectives or financial situation of any particular user have not been taken into consideration. Individuals should therefore talk with their financial planner or advisor before making any investment decisions.

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Australasian Investment Review (AIR) is a free daily news service covering global financial markets with a focus on Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Each day our team of experienced journalists presents you with a concise digest of expert opinions and analysis on trends and backgrounds that matter in these markets. Subscriptions are free at

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