Swiss America Blog Archive

4.11.14 - Experts Calling For U.S. Stock Market Correction

Gold prices closed slightly lower, but gained for the week as investors worry about the sharp losses on Wall Street. U.S. stocks suffer big weekly loss, Nasdaq now below 4,000. Gold last traded at $1,319 an ounce. Silver at $19.95 an ounce.

Merill Lynch used to be bullish. Not anymore. Bank of America/Merill Lynch is now calling for a "10% to 15% correction" in the US stock market later this year.

They may be a little tardy in their call. All major stock markets around the world are sharply lower today. In fact the Nikkei index in Tokyo saw its largest weekly fall in three years this week. Shanghai and Hong Kong were also down. The news was the same in Europe. And today, all three major US stock indices are down, egged on by a disappointing earnings report from financial services giant JPMorgan.

One famous market expert believes conditions in the stock market will get far worse before they get better. Marc Faber told CNBC yesterday that he expects a crash in the stock market worse than the one experienced in 1987, when the down fell 20%+ in one day. Faber points out that underlying earnings have not supported stock market performance for some time and will eventually precipitate a major sell-off.

Of course exogenous events could touch off such a sell-off in stocks. One possible factor that has been largely forgotten but could re-emerge is the economic crisis in Europe, which has never been truly resolved. A panel of European university economists warned yesterday that the Eurozone debt crisis persists and could re-erupt on a larger scale.

National debt for several European nations remain precarious. Italy's debt is 130% of its annual GDP. Greece's is 170%. These conditions are a recipe for disaster if there is an economic downturn. Economists also worry that European politicians act as if the crisis is history and they say that is far from the case. A crisis over the Ukraine, a crisis involving Iran or the impact of a slowdown in the Chinese economy could all create the conditions in which Europe could be dealt an economic catastrophe.

Meanwhile, here in the US, the second sign of rising inflation in the past week appeared. The Producer Price Index was up 0.5% during March, the fastest rate in nine months, owed largely to higher costs experienced by clothing retailers, grocers and wholesalers of chemical goods--a broad base of inflationary pressures.

What’s more, some inflationary pressure could be building in the pipeline. The price of unprocessed goods such as animal feed or sheet metal has risen by 5.8% in the past 12 months, the biggest increase since last summer. If those costs keep rising, they could eventually push up the price of wholesale goods and filter into consumer products.

This could introduce a whole new economic factor into the investment calculus.

Expectations of higher inflation could further buoy gold prices; along with a softening dollar. Banking giant HSBC's take on the recently released Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting minutes was that policies over the near-term would weigh on the dollar and support higher gold prices.

Finally, Harvard University released a study this week indicating that each American worker's personal share of our government's national debt is a whopping $106,000. In other words, every employed American would have top pay $106,000 to pay off the national debt. If the debt was spread across every person living in the US, that figure would "only" be $52,000.

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4.10.14 - Gold Jumps On Dovish Fed Minutes

Gold prices up over 1% on dovish Fed minutes. U.S. stocks lower on downbeat trade data from China and better-than-expected jobless claims. Gold last traded at $1,320 an ounce. Silver at $20.09 an ounce.

The sell-off in stocks was renewed in earnest today in the wake of minutes from the last Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting.

All the major stock indices, particularly the tech-heavy NASDAQ, are sharply lower thus far and the price of gold is up more than $13.

The minutes suggested officials will be cautious on increasing interest rates going forward.

Ordinarily this would buoy stocks, but not right now. The stock market action is being dominated by continuing worries about high-tech stocks and a flurry of disappointing earnings reports.

The Federal Reserve's flip-flopping statements on monetary policy bode well for gold.

Today the markets were also greeted with the news that claims for unemployment had plunged to their lowest levels since 2007. But, the devil is in the details and the details suggest this number does not represent a trend.

The issue at hand has to deal with seasonality. The drop in jobless claims may be more the result of statistical quirkiness than a dramatic improvement in the job market. The problem is these numbers are notoriously volatile around March and April. Unemployment claims for this time of year are historically impacted by holidays, such as spring break, Easter and Passover. It remains to be seen whether this is the start of a trend.

Meanwhile, China's economy lost momentum in the first quarter and growth in 2014 could fall short of the government's official target . This could jeopardize global growth as many world economies are dependent on China for both the supply and demand side of the equation. It is no wonder millions of Chinese are turning to gold.

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4.9.14 - Stock Sell-Off May Not Be Over Yet

Gold prices ended slightly lower, but climbed higher after release of Fed minutes. U.S.stocks rally after Fed minutes revealed a more dovish stance than investors expected. Gold last traded at $1,305 an ounce. Silver at $19.77 an ounce.

The stock market has rebounded somewhat over the past two days but there are indications that the sell-off could resume.

Technical analyst Louise Yamada says the stock slide isn't over just yet.

"I don't think the pullback is already over," Yamada, of Louise Yamada Technical Research Advisors, said on Tuesday. "I think that it's an interim pullback, and we've certainly seen what we've expected, in the Internet and biotechs coming off. And I think that although they may bounce, there's probably still a little bit more to go on the downside."

The selling could spread to other sectors, such as aerospace and consumer discretionary stocks. Yamada says the weakness in stocks lines up well with broader bearish indicators, such as the fact that 2014 started with a weak January, and is a midterm election year.

Another sector that has been in the spotlight recently has been banking. US banking regulators on Tuesday ordered the eight largest "too big to fail" banks to raise capital levels in a bid to address weaknesses seen in the 2008 financial crisis.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the robust capital standards -- the banks will need to raise a reported $68 billion in additional capital -- were "essential to reduce systemic risk and mitigate the distortions imposed by institutions deemed too big to fail."

The banks affected are Bank of America, The Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo.

The move is designed to help ensure banks can remain on their feet when the funding market for banks suddenly dries up in a crisis, as happened in 2008, when governments were forced to step in and prop up financial institutions.

This is just the latest sign that there are serious concerns about the health of the banking sector and its ability to withstand an economic and financial crisis.

Let's face it: you don't keep ordering banks to prepare for crisis if you don't have a concern that a crisis is on the way.

The Federal Reserve may be imposing policies on the private sector but the private sector has its own opinion of Federal Reserve policies. Wall Street in particular has been the beneficiary of the Fed's loose money policies. Now that the Fed is tapering Quantitative Easing and making noises about eventually raising interest rates, Wall Street is protesting.

The latest Fixed Income Forum Survey from global rating agency Fitch Ratings showed that money managers desire the Federal Reserve to maintain their loose monetary policy. According to the data, 70% of the respondents said the Fed’s monetary support is either important or critical.

Rising interest rates are negative for the bond market as they depress the prices of existing bonds.

The money managers also see one major risk to the economy: the labor market. Most believe the employment situation is worse than reported in official statistics--something we've been pointing out for months.

There is another long-forgotten factor that may be creeping back into the economy: inflation, in the form of rising prices. Extreme weather has thinned the nation's cattle herds, roiling the beef supply chain from rancher to restaurant. As a result, beef prices have reached all-time highs in the U.S. and aren't expected to come down any time soon.

The retail value of "all-fresh" USDA choice-grade beef jumped to a record $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.91 the same time a year ago. The same grade of beef cost $3.97 as recently as 2008.

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

The nation's cattle population has fallen to 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951, when there were 82.1 million on hand, according to the USDA.

Finally, as we have reported repeatedly over the past several months, there is a long-term trend to supplant or even replace the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. One candidate to step up into the dollar's place is the Chinese yuan.

Numerous reports have shown nations declaring interest in or directly discussing diversifying away from the US dollar. Standard Chartered bank notes that at least 40 central banks have invested in the yuan and several more are preparing to do so. The trend is occurring across both emerging markets and developed nation central banks. Perhaps most ominously, for the dollar, is a former-IMF manager's warning that "The Yuan may become a de facto reserve currency before it is fully convertible."

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4.8.14- Growing Ukraine Tensions Put Pressure On Global Markets

Gold prices closed higher on a lower dollar and more turmoil in Ukraine. U.S. stocks end slightly higher as Ukraine tensions weigh on global markets. Gold last traded at $1,309 an ounce. Silver at $20.05 an ounce.

Violence has erupted in Ukraine once again and investors are assessing the fallout from a three-day sell-off in stocks.

A match appears to have been struck and thrown onto the smouldering tinder of the conflict in Ukraine, as pro-Russian supporters and the Ukrainian army battle.

Around 70 people were arrested in the eastern city of Kharkiv after protestors in favor of a Crimea-style annexation by Russia stormed government buildings. This followed the escalation of pro-Russian protests, which some in Ukraine allege are backed by the Russian government.

These actions add to fears that the Russian government may intervene directly in the struggle, which would lead to further economically-damaging sanctions from the Western governments.

Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators in the city of Donetsk declared Monday that they were forming an independent republic and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force.

Ukrainian authorities sent security forces to Kharkiv to clear the country’s second-biggest city of separatists as Russia warned that its neighbor’s crackdown risks sparking civil war.

It is clear the crisis is far from over and escalation could certainly have economic and financial implications.

Meanwhile, in the US, the stock market is reeling. In fact, the S&P 500 is now in the red for the year.

Investors are moving out of many areas of the market that performed well in 2013. In particular, the Internet, social media and biotechnology industries are experiencing notable weakness.

Part of the reason for the sell-off has been earnings-driven. In recent weeks a near-record number of S&P 500 firms have issued negative guidance and now earnings reports are starting to trickle in.

Citigroup in particular, the largest financial services conglomerate, is warning investors it is likely to miss a key profitability target. Samsung's results have also come in short of estimates. Samsung is a key maker of cell phones and other tech devices.

Federal Reserve policies also have investors spooked. Investors worry there is too little proof the economy can accelerate enough to counterbalance the Fed's reversal of its easy money policy. In other words, the party is coming to an end.

In a reversal of his more bullish take on U.S. equities in recent weeks, Dennis Gartman said Monday that he's getting out of equities and sticking with cash and gold to ride out the recent pullback.

In Monday's issue of The Gartman Letter, Gartman said he "couldn't recall a time in our history of trading when we've seen such unanimity of trend reversals" as was observed on Friday. "Indeed, the changes were material enough and important enough to mandate that action be taken to reduce our exposure to everything we have on, save for positions in gold," he said.

Other analysts are turning bearish on stocks also: “We believe current valuations make it more challenging for stocks to maintain the momentum displayed since 2013,” said Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

Finally, "Tax Freedom Day," will arrive 3 days later this year. That's the day when the nation collectively has made enough money to pay its total tax burden for the year. This year Tax Freedom Day falls 111 days into 2014, on April 21.

By April 21, Americans will have made enough to pay the $3 trillion in federal taxes and $1.5 trillion in state taxes — more than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined.

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4.7.14 - Global Stock Markets Lower Due To A Sell Off In High-Tech Shares

Gold prices settled lower after last week's U.S. jobs report. U.S. stocks fell sharply on heavy selling of high-growth stocks. Gold last traded at $1,298 an ounce. Silver at $19.91 an ounce.

World stock markets are reeling once again, but this time it isn't Russian troops in Crimea or a negative employment report shaking things up.

Stock markets across Asia, Europe and the US are down due to a sell off in high-tech shares.

The sell-off started Friday when the darlings of the Internet economy, such as Google and Netflix, were hammered as investors had a change of heart and decided prices were too high.

Part of the problem, no doubt, has been outright complacency by investors and overconfidence on Wall Street; something that always seems to coincide with the outset of bear markets. Now that we are heading into earnings report season, the market seems unlikely to turn back to the positive. The latest round of earnings comes as the market seems to be losing some momentum.

Earnings for the companies in the S&P 500 are expected to be down 1.2% in the first quarter, according to estimates from FactSet Research. Most of the 111 companies that publicly shared their earnings forecasts for the first quarter had a negative outlook.

This positions gold nicely to provide a safe haven for investors, since gold has historically moved independently of stocks.

Gold is particularly needed for the future because it stands virtually alone in insulating wealth from the monetary recklessness of the Federal Reserve and other world central banks, the fiscal foolishness of the free-spending US governments and other governments around the world, a possible new financial crisis or even a geopolitical shock.

Meanwhile, gold's internal supply/demand fundamentals have turned positive, with robust demand and supply straining to keep up.

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4.4.14 -Latest Employment Report Fails To Meet Expectations

Gold prices end above $1,300 on weaker-than-expected jobs data. U.S. financial stocks, dollar fall sharply after jobs data. Gold last traded at $1,303 an ounce. Silver at $19.95 an ounce.

The Labor Department released the latest employment report this morning and the numbers indicate the jobs market in the US economy continues to be lackluster at best.

The economy created 192,000 jobs in March, better than during the depths of winter but still short of the labor market rebound many experts had been hoping to see last month. The unemployment rate remained flat from last month, at 6.7 percent, while economists had been expecting a drop to 6.6%.

The latest numbers suggest the economy is still failing to achieve the kind of escape velocity that experts and policy makers have long sought.

The labor participation rate actually increased last month, but that means the unemployment rate is unlikely to keep falling going forward because people who are again looking for work are counted as unemployed, while those who have given up and dropped out of the labor force are not.

About 10.5 million Americans remain unemployed, and 36% have been without a job for at least six months. Meanwhile, another 7.4 million people are working part-time, even though they would prefer full-time hours.

A number of economists look past the "main" unemployment rate to a different figure the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "U-6," which it defines as "total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of all civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers."

In other words, the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged — a rate that still remains high.

The U-6 rate rose in March to 12.7 percent.

The US economy isn't the only economy showing weakness. Economists are also worried about China.

Emerging markets, increasingly dependent on China for their own growth, may suffer as the world’s second-largest economy decelerates, the International Monetary Fund reported its latest World Economic Outlook released today.

China's economic issues may be one factor contributing to the growing demand for gold in that country. In 2013, demand for gold in China reached record levels, propelling China past India as the world's largest consumer of gold.

That demand is sustaining itself.

Chinese gold demand is broad-based, coming from both the government and from individual and institutional investors. Some observers had expected Chinese gold demand to abate this year, but so far that doesn't appear to be happening.

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4.3.14 - More Disappointing Economic Reports For U.S.

Gold prices end slightly lower on a higher U.S. dollar after ECB decision. U.S. stocks lower after four days of gains as U.S. jobless claims rise. Gold last traded at $1,284 an ounce. Silver at $19.86 an ounce.

More disappointing economic reports have been released by the US government today as key Wall Street analysts warn of a reversal in the stock market and the financial world continues to wake up to gold's positive performance thus far in 2014.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said this morning. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 317,000. The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 22,000 to 2.84 million.

Statistics published by the New York Times also show an especially bleak job market for the medium- and long-term unemployed.

All of this data seemingly fly in the face of claims by Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other members of the Obama administration that the economy is recovering nicely.

Weakness in the US economy tends to drive investors away from dollar-denominated assets and the US stock market, making gold an excellent alternatives as gold has traditionally served as a hedge against weakness in the dollar and has historically moved independently of stocks.

More negative news for the dollar, America's trade deficit has widened.

The U.S. trade deficit climbed to the highest level in five months in February as demand for American exports fell while imports increased slightly.

The deficit increased to $42.3 billion, which was 7.7 percent above the January imbalance of $39.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported this morning.

A higher trade deficit acts as a drag on economic growth because it means U.S. companies are making less overseas than their foreign competitors are earning in U.S. sales. A higher trade deficit also puts downward pressure on the value of the US dollar, since sending more dollars overseas increases the supply of dollars relative to foreign currencies.

Given this overall economic uncertainty and the length of time since the stock market experienced a significant correction or bear market, it's no surprise more expert market observers are issuing warnings about the stock market.

The S&P 500 is a mere 10 points away from a 30% plunge, says Saxo Bank’s chief economist Steen Jakobsen.

He expects equities will peak at around 1,900-1,950 before that big plunge kicks in. Given the S&P 500 is hovering around 1,890, that selloff looks like it’s just around the corner. Instead, it could be a long, slow meltdown.

“We’re not looking at this correction for next month or for the next two quarters, this is for late 2014. If you’re looking at it right now, the market may have an upside of 5%, but then you’re looking at a 30% downside in the final month of 2014,” he says. And if investors only have the potential of around 5% upside from here, Jakobsen says it may be worth backing out of equities starting now.

He predicted the S&P would soon suffer from a decline in real corporate earnings, as well as a "very significant" global slowdown.

Jakobsen says equities, unlike other asset classes, haven’t had a proper correction since the first round of quantitative easing began back in 2008.

Statistically speaking, he says, markets have had a correction of 10% almost every year, and 25% to 30% every five years.

By those numbers, the US stock market is due for a fall.

Jim Paulsen of Wells Capital Management forecasts a similar fall, but perhaps more dramatic.

In 37 trading days, the ongoing bull market would be 1,311 trading days old, says Paulsen.

That is a scary date because it was on the 1,311 trading day after the start of the 1982 bull market that the Standard & Poor’s 500 suffered its biggest one-day crash in history on Oct. 19, 1987. That crash snuffed out what had been a powerful market rally starting in 1982.

Normally these kinds of things are just market oddities. But investors are taking this one seriously since there are such strong similarities with the 1982 bull market and the one the market is currently in. For instance, the current bull run has marked a 175% rally from the low, which is where the 1982 bull was at this point in its run, Paulsen says.

Investors won’t have to wait long to know if the 1987 market is a pattern. The current bull run hit its 1,274th trading day on March 31, 2014. The 1,274th trading day of the 1982 bull market was Aug. 25, 1987, which turned out to be a notable top, Paulsen says.

So, where should investors turn?

Gold would be a good place to turn and it has performed admirably thus far in 2014. Investors are starting to notice.

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4.2.14 - Gold Jumps On U.S. Economy Weakness

Gold prices higher on short-covering and bargain-hunting. U.S. stocks higher on better-than-expected economic reports. Gold last traded at $1,290 an ounce. Silver at $20.05 an ounce.

Gold is on the rebound today due to yet another disappointing report on the US job market.

The U.S. economy created nearly 191,000 new private-sector jobs last month, below economists expectations, according to the ADP National Employment report, a widely-watched private sector employment report.

Weakness in the US economy encourages investors to avoid dollar assets, which is positive for gold.

Of even greater long-term significance to the financial markets is a story that emerged yesterday, but which has escaped the attention of most of the mainstream media. A dozen large investors have filed a joint lawsuit against 12 banks for allegedly conspiring to rig global foreign-exchange prices.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York late Monday, was from a group of investors across the U.S. and Caribbean, including city and state pension plans. The suit alleges the banks conspired with one another - including in chat rooms, via instant messages, and by emails - to rig foreign-exchange rates as far back as January 2003.

The banks named in the suit are Bank of America, Barclays, BNP, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche, Goldman, HSBC, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, RBS and UBS. In other words, 12 of the biggest banks in the world.

The investors behind the consolidated lawsuit are: Aureus Currency Fund LP, a Santa Rosa, Calif., investment fund; the City of Philadelphia and its board of pensions and retirement; the Employees' Retirement System for the Government of the Virgin Islands; the Employees' Retirement System of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority; Fresno County Employees' Retirement Association; Haverhill Retirement System for the city of Haverhill, Mass.; Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System; State-Boston Retirement System; Tiberius OC Fund, a Cayman Islands fund; Value Recovery Fund LLC, a Delaware fund with offices in Connecticut; Syena Global Emerging Markets Fund LP, a hedge fund in Connecticut; and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

In the complaint, the investors accused the banks of controlling foreign-exchange rates via a "small and close-knit group of traders." They alleged it became possible for banks to rig the market because the traders "have strong ties formed by working with one another in prior trading positions" and by, in many cases, living "in the same neighborhoods in the Essex countryside just northeast of London's financial district."

"They belong to the same social clubs, golf together, dine together and sit on many of the same charity boards," the complaint adds.

This is the kind of high stakes lawsuit that can truly impact the marketplace and can drag on for years in the legal process.

One of President Obama's major speech topics so far in 2014 has been "income inequality," which is curious because income inequality has set records thanks largely to the policies of his administration.

The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s overall income in 2012, the highest proportion recorded in a century of government record keeping.

In addition to "income" inequality setting records, "wealth" inequality is now at its highest point since the early 20th century.

The danger from this phenomenon is that such gaps contribute to the bursting of asset bubbles historically, something certainly be possible in the near-term.

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4.1.14 - Demand For Gold Remains Strong

Gold prices ended slightly lower as traders look to U.S. economic data for demand clues. U.S. stocks higher, boosted by positive manufacturing data and better-than-expected car sales. Gold last traded at $1,280 an ounce. Silver at $19.69 an ounce.

It is clear that demand for gold coins is alive and well with the smashing success of the U.S. Mint's $5 gold baseball coins. The coins, which went on sale last Thursday, were part of the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin program. All 50,000 of the gold coins were sold by Monday afternoon. The last time the U.S. Mint sold out of a commemorative coin was in 2005.

Demand for gold is also surging in Japan for different reasons. Japanese consumers have scarfed up gold bars ahead of a controversial hike in the country’s sales tax due to hit today. Gold sales increased five-fold in March as talk of the tax emerged.

Aside from dodging the tax hike, Japanese investors may be looking to protect themselves against inflation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic strategy involves heavy money printing by the Bank of Japan to ward off Japan’s persistent deflation problems. Given the fact that Japanese gold demand tripled in 2013, there is clearly more to this Japanese "gold rush" than just the sales tax.

The surging demand for gold may be one factor that translates into higher gold prices in the future.

Asset manager Pecora Capital LLC has forecast that gold will set new records over the next five years as weaker stock markets spur demand for a haven and physical buying from Asia strengthens even more.

Overvalued U.S. stocks will probably retreat when the Federal Reserve ends stimulus. In that scenario, gold could initially slide as money flows toward cash investments before rebounding, a new forecast from Pecora said. " There’ll be a knee-jerk reaction where very temporarily gold prices will drop and then they’ll outperform.”

We could be seeing that happen right now, making current gold prices very attractive indeed.

The weakness in stocks hasn't been seen as of yet, but there is indeed reason to believe it will soon.

Ahead of first-quarter earnings season, Corporate America’s outlook is holding around its most pessimistic levels ever. According to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, 93 out of the 111 companies in the S&P 500 that have issued an earnings outlook for the first quarter have guided below Wall Street’s consensus estimate. That’s the second-highest number of companies issuing warnings since FactSet began tracking guidance data in 2006.

Yesterday, we reported about Michael Lewis' new book, Flash Boys, in which Lewis asserts that the stock market is rigged by high speed program trading. Today we find the FBI is in fact looking into the firms who utilize those programs.

U.S. federal agents are investigating whether high-speed trading companies violate U.S. laws by using fast-moving market information not available to other traders. Launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a year ago, the investigation called the High-Speed Trading Initiative, is still in its primary stages, a senior FBI official and an agency spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. High-speed trading based on information about orders that other investors do not have access to and hence putting them at a disadvantage could violate insider-trading laws.

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