Bankers will be in the hot seat Wednesday.
But the markets could focus again on whether there's a credible plan in the works to rescue the banking system, after the disappointing lack of details in the plan unveiled by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Tuesday. Geithner takes to Capitol Hill once more Wednesday, for a 10 a.m. appearance before the Senate Budget Committee's hearing on the crises in financial and housing markets.
The CEOs of the biggest banks will be in the spotlight when they testify before the House Financial Services Committee, also at 10 a.m. The topic of the hearing is "TARP" accountability and use of federal assistance by the recipients of "Troubled Asset Relief Program" funds. CEOs from Bank of America, Citgroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan are among those testifying, and it is not hard to imagine that they will be grilled on Wall Street pay and perks, as well as lending policies.
The CEOs may get there by plane, train or automobile, but they are conspicuously leaving their private aircraft in the hangar during their visit to Washington.
From an early look at the speeches, Citigroup's Vikram Pandit plans to say that loan demand declined substantially in the fourth quarter and remains weak. Bank of America's Ken Lewis says if not for the government's program, banks would be lending less, and Morgan Stanley's CEO John Mack says his firm has not used TARP money to pay compensation, dividends or lobbying costs.
Other news to watch Wednesday includes international trade at 8:30 a.m. and the Treasury budget at 2 p.m. Fed Gov. Elizabeth Duke speaks on stabilizing the housing market at 9:50 a.m., and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans speaks on the economy at 1 p.m.
Earnings reports are expected from Credit Suisse, Allegheny Energy, Arcelor Mittal, Genzyme, Marsh McLennan and Sanofi-Avantis. Applied Materials and Nvidia fell in late trading Tuesday after disappointing earnings.
Stocks wilted Tuesday as Geithner spoke on his bank rescue plan, and the market continued to sell off during the afternoon as both he and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared before separate Congressional committees. The Dow fell 4.6 percent, or 382 points to 7888, its lowest close since Nov. 20. The S&P fell 42 points, or 4.9 percent.
Safety plays were back, after several days of investors dipping into less defensive investments. The dollar gained 1 percent against the euro Tuesday and fell 1.3 percent against the yen. As investors dumped stocks, they bought Treasurys. The yield on the 10-year, as a result, fell to 2.849 percent. Traders are watching a big auction of 10-years Wednesday, as part of the Treasury's $67 billion refunding this week.
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Stocks wiped out most of February's gains and reversed some of the sector trends that were in place in the past week. Financial shares fell nearly 11 percent,. Industrials, which were the best performers Monday, fell more than 5 percent, and technology stocks, winners last week, were down 4.4 percent.
"I think what the market wants is some kind of certainty. The market hates uncertainty. When Timothy Geithner said the plan would take money, it would take time and there would be risk, you saw what happened ... The market doesn't have a lot of confidence in the plan now. Maybe it will later," said Richard Sparks, senior equities analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research on "Closing Bell."
The markets were hoping to hear exactly how the government plans to handle the toxic assets on bank balance sheets. Geithner said the purchase of bad legacy assets would be done in partnership with the private sector but provided little detail, even when pressed in an interview with Brian Williams and Steve Liesman on "Power Lunch." Analysts though commented favorably on the plan to expand the Fed's Term Asset Loan Facility for securitized consumer loans.
Robert Albertson, chief strategist at Sandler O'Neill, also spoke about the plan on "Closing Bell" and said the lack of action on troubled assets is a problem. "It feels like I've been watching a five-month version of the TV series "Let' Make a Deal," except during this five months no one has opened up a case," said Albertson. "It's time to open up the cases. It's time we can look at it. We're prepared for it. We're going to see some bad things. We can deal with it."
"It's likely a lot of this stuff has been over-marked down. I have many banks who have called me and gone through AAA securities, that are true triple A securities - no default, no risk of default, no nothing wrong here - and they're being forced to mark them down to 30 to 40 cents on the dollar," he said. "...This is keeping things under a wrap so no one knows what the devil is. If the devil is in the detail, there's a lot of devils running around here. It's time to open this up and get it trading, I don't understand what's taking so long."
Albertson said the government could get the market moving by making open market bids for some of the assets and forcing price discovery slowly.
Stuck in the Mud
John O'Donoghue of Cowen said the stock market is showing that it is stuck in a range. "It's funny we got almost perfectly up to the 50-day moving average,. 870 on the S&P, and tested that level and failed. It failed miserably," he said.
"It's quite concerning. The downside is 800 in the S and P and maybe we go up and maybe we go down, but the world is stuck in the mud right now," he said, adding the market could trade sideways for longer period of time than some investors expect.
The Senate approved a roughly $800 billion stimulus packageat midday Tuesday, and now markets will look forward to a compromise between the House and Senate packages.