Market Roundup
Dow +157.81 to 17,646.97
S&P +22.64 to 2,075.15
NASDAQ +111.81 to 5,031.86
10-YR Yield +0.06 to 2.08%
Gold -$1.50 to $1,164.30
Oil -$0.70 to $44.68
Central bankers are blitzing the markets with all they have!

It started yesterday when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and his pals didn’t cut rates, but DID strongly hint they would act later this year. Among the options he put on the table: An extension of Euro-QE beyond its current expiration date of September 2016 … an expansion of the type and quantity of bonds the ECB will buy … or even a cut in interest rates deeper into negative territory. The bank’s deposit rate is currently minus-0.2%.

That caused the euro to plunge by two full cents against the U.S. dollar. It also lit a fire under the Dow Industrials — even as junk bonds barely budged, oil was basically unchanged, the Russell 2000 badly lagged and many key financial and health-care stocks languished.

The Bank of China’s interest-rate cut helped ignite an early stock market rally.

Then this morning, the People’s Bank of China added fuel to the fire. Specifically, the PBOC cut its one-year lending and one-year deposit rates by 25 basis points. It also cut the bank reserve requirement ratio by 50 basis points, theoretically freeing up banks to do more lending. That ignited another rally in stock futures.

So does this mean happy days are here again, and that asset prices will climb into the clouds? Is my call for an overall weakening trend in stocks, interspersed with very sharp, short-term bear market rallies, off base?

First, you have to ask why the ECB is taking even more steps just six months or so after it launched Euro-QE. The answer is pretty obvious: Because the program was an abject failure! It didn’t boost European growth, nor did it boost European inflation, with prices falling 0.1% in September.

Second, you have to ask how a further dollar rise would be positive. The surging dollar has helped crush revenue and profit at a wide swath of U.S. multinationals, not to mention put downward pressure on commodities and resource stocks. So any additional gains driven by a new round of euro depreciation will only make a bad problem worse.

“So does this mean happy days are here again?”

Third, this is China’s sixth interest-rate cut since November. None of the previous ones worked, obviously, as the economy just grew at a rate of 6.9% in the third quarter. That was the slowest “official” growth rate since the Great Recession year of 2009, and the real GDP gains are undoubtedly much lower once you strip out the statistical fudging China is well-known for.

Fourth, markets have come a long way in a short period of time … but simultaneously haven’t accomplished much at all. Consider: While the Dow Industrials have jumped 1,600 points in just a couple of weeks, they’re only back to where they were in August. If that’s all we can get out of a huge round of global policy easing, what does that say about the underlying problems facing markets and the economy overall?

Finally, every previous round of easing in the early and middle stages of the bull market prompted huge rallies in everything. This time around, we’re seeing huge divergences by asset class, sector, currency, and economy. That only serves to underscore the paradigm shift I’ve highlighted — that the law of diminishing returns is a major, new challenge for investors.

So sure, we’ve rallied more than I expected in the short term. And there are a small handful of stocks out there I still like, as I mentioned the other day. But I seriously doubt that another round of the same medicine that repeatedly failed in the past will push an incredibly old, divergent, and fundamentally challenged market back into bull territory.

Now, let me hand you the floor. Do you think the latest moves by the ECB and PBOC are game changers? Or are they just more of the same kinds of actions that haven’t worked in the past? Do you think this is an oversold rally, or the start of a move to new all-time highs in the indices? Are the problems in China worse or better than generally assumed, and what does that mean for the stock market outlook?

Here’s the Money and Markets website link — put it to good use this weekend and I’ll do my best to address your comments on Monday.

Our Readers Speak

Are companies maximizing shareholder wealth in a wise fashion, or are executives just padding their pockets? Are stocks going to continue to rally, or are there warning signs out there that point toward renewed volatility ahead? Those were a few of the questions you tackled online in the past 24 hours.

Reader Regis said: “I think what Yum Brands (YUM) and Credit Suisse (CS) are doing are the beginnings of a long tragic condition that exists in the worldwide marketplace. I personally expect the condition to spread rather quickly over the next six months.”

Reader Steven added: “I get the impression that those who manage corporations do so for their own interests and take the shareholder and stakeholder along for the ride. The only way we ever know about the outcome of their decisions is the stock market’s response in the form of share prices. I know that it would be a bit much to ask for, but how about a greater focus upon fiduciary duty to the company, shareholders and stakeholders as stewards who are accountable rather than farmhands whose only job is to milk the (cash) cow?”

Reader Kirk also shared this perspective: “It’s been my experience after 30 years in corporate America that half of the publicly traded companies are run by executives that depend on fear rather than ideas and leadership, and the result is a ‘play it safe’ mentality that crushes innovation.

“My last 15 years were with a company that went through four mergers, countless reorganizations, and whose net effect was the destruction of $10 billion in value and Chapter 11. Nevertheless, the 3 CEOs that oversaw this train wreck (and their minions — they always have their ‘A Team’) walked away with millions. Shame on me for not getting out sooner.”

When it comes to the behavior of the market, Reader H.C.B. said: “Big European banks are in trouble and don’t know what to do. Who is next? Could it be that U.S. banks are eventually headed for the same troubles as Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, only with no ‘Plan B’? It sure is looking like we could be next.”

And Reader Jim added: “Another reader recently pointed out quite correctly that the market isn’t the economy. The stock market has certainly been juiced with free money, but I think you would have to admit that real economic growth is not all it should be.

“I do not think the U.S. economy is in very good shape at present. But I do think the macro situation has so deteriorated that none of the politicians can fix it, and both parties are responsible.”

Thanks for weighing in. Obviously, we’ve seen a bit more rally in the markets than even I anticipated. But additional easing measures are clearly doing next to nothing for the real economy, even as they’re juicing asset prices again. And even there, I would point out the “juicing” effect is less robust than what we’ve seen from past rounds of monetary steroids. That tells me my forecast of diminishing returns from QE is panning out.

Those are my views anyway. You may think differently, and that’s fine — let me hear about it at the website using this link.

Other Developments of the Day

● We got a trifecta of genuinely strong technology sector earnings reports overnight, from the likes of Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon.com (AMZN), and Alphabet (GOOGL). The stocks are all extended on the charts, but investors reacted positively to the figures nonetheless.

● You’d think that plunging commodity prices would enforce production discipline on producers around the world, and that their cutbacks would help fuel a future recovery. But as the Wall Street Journal noted today, many companies have gone on overproducing despite price declines.

Why? Because their costs are dropping sharply too, and because they still need to bring in cash to service debts. That could prolong the already-lengthy downturn.

● The strongest hurricane in the history of recorded weather is closing in on the Mexican coast. The National Hurricane Center clocked winds of a whopping 200 miles per hour for Hurricane Patricia, and forecast landfall later today somewhere south of Puerto Vallarta. The storm will rapidly fall apart when it hits the mountains of Mexico, but its remnants will likely cause heavy rains and flooding over Texas in a couple days.

● Republican representative Paul Ryan looks set to succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the House after securing a pair of endorsements. The Wisconsin legislator hasn’t sounded enthusiastic about the position, but appears to be taking the position for the greater good of the GOP.

Will commodity producers ever find religion and cut output? Is the latest batch of technology sector earnings enough to turn the market tide for good? Any thoughts on whether Ryan will make a better speaker and face of the Republican Party? Head over to the website and let me know.

Until next time,

Mike Larson