Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stocks Sell Off on Good News

For the most part, there was good news in the markets today, so the strength of the sell-off caught many investors by surprise.

Today's housing numbers from the Commerce Department bode well for the home building industry. Even though housing starts in December fell 4% from November on a seasonally adjusted and annualized basis, they were flat compared to a year ago. Furthermore, building permits, an indicator of future activity, jumped 10.9% from November to December. They were up 15.8% from a year ago. However, don't get too excited about housing. It is still a very sick industry. Almost one in four homeowners with a mortgage are believed to be underwater, and foreclosure rates are still sky high. This will keep housing prices from heating up any time soon.

Wholesale purchasing prices were up just 0.2%, and there was no change in core figure. Although I have argued that the Fed needs to begin its exit strategy, today's PPI data means it is more likely to stick to its policy of keeping rates low.

Finally, Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts means Congress will have to take a more moderate approach to health care reform. In fact, Amedisys (AMED), a home health care stock we recommended back in September in the Forbes Special Situation Survey added to its gains today.

The sell-off in the overall market is being blamed on China's decision to reduce lending. This stoked fears that global growth might fall short of prior expectations. This kind of thinking could drive stock prices even lower.