Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bank Safety Ratings on the Web

Bankrate now offers bank safety ratings for free on the web. See the Safe and Sound page of the Bankrate website -

You can search using many different criteria to find the banks you are interested in. Bankrate provides the following summary to describe the service.

"'s Safe & Sound® service is a proprietary system designed to provide information on the relative financial strength and stability of U.S. commercial banks, savings institutions and credit unions. The system employs a series of twenty-two tests to measure the capital adequacy, asset quality, profitability, and liquidity (CAEL) of each rated financial institution. Individual performance levels are determined from publicly available regulatory filings and are compared to asset-size peer norms, industry standards and key absolute benchmarks. Combined results form the basis for our Composite CAEL and Star Ratings, which are described below. When possible, the system also produces a report that provides a detailed explanation of our findings, for each rated financial institution."

Earlier we had warned everyone to get their money over the FDIC limit out of Washington Mutual. It is interesting to note that WaMu recieved the lowest possible ratings, for both the Bankrate star rating and CAEL rating. -

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Socionomics of the Russia Georgia conflict

Socionomist and EWI Analyst who predicted Russia-Georgia conflict to appear on Bloomberg TV today at 5:30 p.m. ET.

In November 2007, the Socionomics Institute’s Alan Hall issued the 20-page research report, "Sizing Up A Superpower." It assessed the relationship between Russia's turbulent history and its then-current social mood.

More specifically, he spoke of "Georgia's desire to bring its pro-Russian separatist regions under control, but Russia has military plans to stop any move by Georgia to secure these regions."

Mr. Hall will discuss the developing situation in the region today, Tuesday, August 12 at 5:30 p.m. ET on Bloomberg television. Be sure to tune in! You can stream Bloomberg TV live online here.

See to download their player.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gas at the Pump

A HingeFire survey early this summer asked readers about the projected price of gas at the pump on August 1st. The results showed the following:

Over $4.50 23%
Between $4.00 and $4.50 43%
Between $3.50 and $4.00 17%
Between $3.00 and $3.50 13%
Below $3.00 2%

The actual nationwide average price was $3.84 at the beginning of August. Congrats to the 17% who selected the $3.50 to $4.00 price range (I actually believed it would be above $4.00).

The good news for consumers at the pump is that it appears that the short term speculative bubble associated with oil has burst over the past couple of weeks. This will help both the market and your wallet when filling up the tank. As a note, 68% of readers in the most recent HingeFire survey believed that oil was in a speculative bubble. At this point, many analysts would say this perspective is correct.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How to Screen for Strong Banks

Amidst all the carnage in the financial sector, how can you screen for the stronger banks and financial institutions that are likely go come out of the credit crunch as leaders.

The best starting point is creating a screen that searches for potential candidates. The key question is what criteria should be in this screen. Basically you need to hunt for financial institutions that display the following characteristics.

  • The earnings are still positive.
  • The yield is above 0.5%.
  • The bank stocks trades at reasonable volume above a price of $2
  • The bank stock price performance is exhibiting strength against both the S&P 500 and the bank stock index over the past 3 and 6 month periods.
  • Technical the bank is exhibiting positive moving average trends in the short term and the rate of change is positive.

A basic bank screen that meets the points above can be created within HingeScreen. A user can go to create mode and add the following criteria. In this case, we are searching for financial institutions priced above $2 with volumes over 10K that have outperformed the S&P 500 and KBW bank index. The trailing dividend yield must be above 0.5% (forward yield can also be considered). Technically the rate of change (ROC) must be positive, while the recent 20 day moving average must be above the 50 day. These technical points will show a recent positive trend in stock pricing.

The screen is saved as BankScanOne.

The next step is to jump to Execute Mode and run the screen. The results align with expectations; it is a mix of stronger regional banks, REITs (primarily with a healthcare focus), and some financial service organizations.

The stronger banks in the results such Valley National Bancorp NJ (VLY), and Wilshire Bancorp (WIBC) are examples of regional institutions that avoided obscene mortgage lending and maintained their balance sheets in good order over the past few years.

The majority of the REITS that show up in the results such as Health Care Property (HCP), Health Care REIT (HCN), and Healthcare Realty Trust (HR) are examples of REITS that are focused on stronger market segments and have easily avoided the worse aspects of the real estate downturn.

A few financial service organizations such as Northern Trust (NTRS) and PNC Financial Serv. (PNC) also show up in the results. A number of players providing financial services have used the downturn to strengthen their offerings and market position.

Using HingeScreen it is easy to save the results to a spreadsheet for further evaluation. Simply press the button on the right that looks like a floppy disk and the results are saved to a spreadsheet format file that can be opened using Excel. By default the saved result files are placed in the C:\Program Files\HingeFire\Results directory.

HingeScreen is a powerful tool to find stocks that meet the performance and diversification needs for your portfolio. It is useful for identifying candidates that are likely to come out of a downturn as leaders in a sector. HingeFire provides an excellent video library outlining how to use the tool at:

Fear grips banking customers in Venezuela

The march towards nationalization continues unabated. Over the past year the oil, telecommunications, electric, and steel-making sectors have been impacted in President Chávez’s ceaseless drive towards a socialist paradise.

Now the crisis has spilled over to the financial sector as the government seized control of a large Spanish-owned bank, Banco de Venezuela. Nervous depositors lined up seeking reassurance, and many fear a run on the bank in the coming week. Not helping matters, the central Venezuelan bank has been vague in attempting to reassure depositors that the banking system was solid.

Nearly all the companies seized by the government have been run into the ground over a short period of time; productivity has dropped and the feeble earnings have not been reinvested back into the companies.

Venezuelan bonds fell Friday for a second day reflecting “fears over the possible collapse of several banks because of rules forcing them to sell $5 billion of complex securities called structured notes. Banks bought the notes last year at values tied to high black-market rates of the dollar, exposing some of them to huge losses after the local currency, the bolívar, strengthened this year.”

Attempts of individual banks to negotiate their way out of the crisis has not paid returns as the IMF and World Bank have effectively shut off the spigot after being threatened with expulsion by Mr. Chávez.

Even the high price of oil can not cover the cost of large scale programs in Venezuela beyond the next couple of years. Any significant drop in the price of oil will cause an immediate fiscal crisis. At 32%, Venezuela also is experiencing the highest inflation in Latin America. Food-based inflation is above 52%, a crushing level for most of the population. The fiscal crisis and high inflation levels can be directly linked to government policies. This has left the poorest portion of the population, which Chavez claimed would be helped by the government’s policies, in even greater despair.