Saturday, March 21, 2015

DOW Breaks 18,000

Actually, this happened before Christmas. And then it dropped below for a while and then it showed up again in February, and then it dropped for another while and now it is back again. And it will probably drop again and rise again, but I suppose I should mention it before it gets to 19k.

The market in recent years has taken huge swings. Once, long ago, a hundred point swing was considered a major news item - now it is Tuesday. Part of this is because the nature of how stocks are traded. The human factor seems to be almost completely eliminated, such that even the once ubiquitous independent day traders from when I started this blog have settled into a small clique, while the bulk of decisions are made by computer agents programmed to response to particular trends.

For the mildly paranoid, releasing untested rules into the wild tends to create unintended consequences, where independent programs tend to cause spikes and crashes. For the really paranoid, it is but a small step between programs which analyze and play the market and those which analyze and manipulate the market without need of human direction. These pop up as a minor concept in William Gibson's recent book, The Peripheral, where Aunties - autonomous financial programs from the future, are unleashed further up the timestream to affect a divergent universe.

But that sort of things does not capture our attention so much as something closer to home - gas prices. They went into a steep dive of late, getting to below $2.50 here in the Puget Sound region and below two bucks in the more accessible parts of the country. And there were a flurry of articles about how this is a bad thing, most of them in the line of "Yeah, its good for most drivers, BUT..." And then they would talk about how low gas prices add to instability by undermining fracking or oil shale or solar power (yeah, I don't get this one either) or makes Russia or Iran or Alberta more desperate by reducing their income.

In the short run, things seem to have stabilized, which most of us means that prices have been slowly climbing upwards. But that comes with a price - apparently a lot of gas is being kept off the market, warehoused for the eventual day when it will bring more money. And we're running out of space to hide it. So sometime this summer we should see another price drop and another round of pearl-clutching as the producers are faced with either reducing production (which has happened to some degree, ending booms in South Dakota) or actually selling the product they have. And prepare for another round of worries about how this will affect the status quo, as if that status is considered to be the ultimate desirable quo.

Unless, of course, the Aunties from the future do something else to jimmy with our markets.

More later,