A Watershed Moment for Stocks


This is the last week of trading of the year, and stocks are off to a good start this morning, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broader S&P 500 up 0.5% and 0.6%, respectively, at 10:15 a.m. EST.

Fiscal-cliff watch
On Friday, I wrote in this column that "with Mr. Obama waging an effective public-relations campaign on this front, polls indicating that a majority of Americans support tax hikes at the top, and some Republicans publicly breaking ranks on the issue, my sense is that it's only a matter of time before Boehner (or his successor) is forced to concede this point." It now appears that Boehner did exactly that over the weekend by offering to allow the tax rate to increase next year for those with an annual income exceeding $1 million. That threshold is well above the $250,000 proposed by Mr. Obama; furthermore, Boehner's offer is conditional on reductions on entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security).

While the two sides still need to cross quite a bit of ground to meet in the middle, this looks like a watershed moment in the negotiations that will pave the way to an eventual agreement. I don't think that agreement will come before Dec. 31 (although lawmakers are reportedly preparing to work through the coming weekend), but this latest news should certainly be enough to carry equity markets higher today. Click here for our latest fiscal-cliff coverage.

The micro view
The Financial Times is reporting that the top U.S. commercial banks are retaining more of the mortgage loans they originate, rather than selling them on to be securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That reflects a number of trends:

  • Banks may be increasingly confident that the housing market and the economy have turned the corner.

  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have increased the fees they charge banks twice this year -- by a total of roughly 0.2 percentage points.

  • In an ultra-low-interest-rate environment, the yield banks earn by owning competing assets isn't very attractive.

Little wonder, then, that "both Wells Fargo and Citigroup are retaining loans at the same pace that borrowers are paying down their old mortgages," while "US Bancorp has been slowly but steadily increasing its overall loan balances," according to the FT.

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The article A Watershed Moment for Stocks originally appeared on Fool.com.

Alex Dumortier, CFA has no positions in the stocks mentioned above; you can follow him @longrunreturns. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Company. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Wells Fargo & Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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