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Five Things You Need to Know: Touchy-Feely Fed; Friday's Recommended Read: Does Fed Transparency Fuel Growth?; Housing Woes Only Affecting People With Jobs; Punk Is Dead; A List of Random Depressing Things

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What you need to know (and what it means)!

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Minyanville's daily Five Things You Need to Know to stay ahead of the pack on Wall Street:

1. Touchy-Feely Fed

Yesterday's April Philly Fed survey came in below expectations at 0.2.

  • Here's the takeaway from the report.
  • No growth reported; 44% of the firms indicated no change in activity from March, and the percentage of firms reporting increases was equal to the percentage reporting decreases (28%).
  • The prices paid index edged three points higher and has now increased for three consecutive months. 37% of firms reported higher input prices, up seven points from March; 13% reported lower input prices in April.
  • Fewer firms reported higher prices for their own goods this month: 17% reported higher prices, down nine points from March. The prices received index fell 11 points, to 5.2, its lowest reading since August 2005.
  • Tell me now. No growth, higher price inputs, no pricing power. What's my name?


2. Friday's Recommended Read: Does Fed Transparency Fuel Growth?

One of the (few) fundamental differences between the Bernanke-led Fed and the Greenspan Fed is the stated goal of making Fed policy decisions and policies "transparent."

  • Over at Mises.org, adjunct Mises Institute scholar and chief economist for Man Financial, Australia Frank Shostak asks if Fed transparency fuels growth.
  • The Fed is strongly pre-occupied with making central bank policies "transparent" because they believe if their decision-making process is known in advance it will reduce surprises and therefore make price levels stable.
  • Shostak, however, notes that this presupposes there is such a thing as "the price level" in the first place.
  • According to Murray Rothbard:

    "Since the general exchange-value, or PPM, of money cannot be quantitatively defined and isolated in any historical situation, and its changes cannot be defined or measured, it is obvious that it cannot be kept stable. If we do not know what something is, we cannot very well act to keep it constant."
  • Or, as Shostak says, "The policy of price stability is therefore a policy of stabilizing an arbitrary price index."
  • The piece is a must read if for no other reason than along the way Shostak uncovers some very basic facts about central bank policy-making that are vital to understand... especially against the backdrop of today's market action.
  • Among them, this nugget of wisdom:

    "Contrary to the accepted way of thinking, the Fed's tampering with markets by means of transparent policy (transparent tampering) actually stifles individual's ability to form valid expectations. As a result of this individuals lose their touch with reality. Therefore economic busts always occur as a surprise to individuals (economic busts arrive when least expected)."
  • We now return you to your regularly scheduled financial asset rally.


3. Housing Woes Only Affecting People With Jobs

In yet another sign that housing problems are contained to only those sectors of the economy that employ people, subprime lending units of General Electric and GMAC announced a total 1,400 job cuts yesterday afternoon.

  • GMAC LLC's Residential Capital (ResCap) home- lending unit announced it will fire as many as 700 workers because of mounting losses in subprime loans, according to Bloomberg.
  • In addition to the job cuts, at least 300 open positions will not be filled, a GMAC spokesperson said.
  • The job cuts at ResCap come on the heels of a $651 million fourth quarter loss and the departure of the company's treasurer, chief financial officer and CEO.
  • WMC Mortgage, part of the GE Money consumer-finance unit also said it will cut 771 jobs and close three centers.
  • That will leave WMC Mortgage with about 700 employees in two offices.
  • According to Bloomberg more than 50 subprime lenders have ceased operating or filed for bankruptcy protection since the beginning of last year.


4. Punk is Dead

Here's a quick, 10-second lesson about financial markets from singer/songwriter David Berman:

"Punk rock died when the first kid said, "Punk's not dead, punk's not dead."
- Tennessee, Silver Jews

  • The same could be said of small cap stocks, but that wouldn't be as poetic.
  • We were reminded of this lesson when we ran across a review of a new book called "Punk Marketing."
  • If punk really was dead when the first kid said, "Punk's not dead," then the authors of this book have dug up its rotting corpse, stuffed it into a pinstriped suit, tied it to the back of a BMW convertible and dragged up it and down Madison Avenue with Clay Aiken blasting from a Bose soundsystem.
  • The theme of the book is that power has shifted from the producer (corporation) to the consumer.
  • Consequently, branding is formed in the mind of the consumer and is therefore actually the property of the consumer, not the corporation.
  • Of course, another word for this "shift in power" is deflation.
  • Go back to the Feely Fed report from yesterday afternoon - slowing growth, rising input prices, inability to pass through costs - and we can see that "punk marketing" is simply a unique way of acknowledging that producers have lost pricing power, and therefore consumers now hold the upper hand.


5. A List of Random Depressing Things

Below is a list of random things we found depressing this week. It helps to talk about them.

  • Shell Oil Co. has announced that Playboy and Penthouse are no longer pornography but something called "adult sophisticates."
  • Meanwhile, in California an award-winning memoir about growing up poor and black in apartheid-era South Africa was banned from an intermediate school after a parent complained about a two-paragraph sex scene.
  • Crematoria are being forced to spend thousands of dollars to widen their furnaces because people are getting too fat.
  • There are an estimated 40,000 homeless people in Los Angeles.
  • And in the internet's virtual world known as "Second Life," Nissan, General Motors and Toyota are finding that virtual cars are an excellent marketing opportunity.
  • See, people are spending real money to buy not just cars but all kinds of things that don't exist in reality.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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