Stocks encounter a Roman Hruska Tuesday on Wall Street

Stocks meander and fizzle Tuesday as commodities miss a step, hedge funds continue to choke and nobody including the Fed knows what to do.

A blast from the past: Unattributed photo from the Sam Ervin Library: Presentation of Certificate of Senate Judiciary Committee, 1970. Senator Roman Hruska is pictured at the far left. L-R, Senators Hruska, Hart, Burdick, Ervin, Byrd, Eastland, Scott, Gurney and Tunney.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2015 – Wasting time trying to find something to buy or sell in this aimless and often fizzling 2015 market suddenly reminded the rapidly aging Market Maven of one of his all-time favorite political quotes.

Back in 1970, when Republican Richard Nixon was president, he attempted and failed to get not one but two of his Supreme Court nominees ratified by the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate. Then as now, Democrats hate elevating Republican judicial appointees to the bench, and so it was with the nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell, who was (rightly or wrongly) deemed a rather mediocre judge by the majority Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Stepping up in defense of Carswell and his president, Nebraska’s staunchly conservative Republican Sen. Roman Hruska uttered his immortal response to those mediocrity-hating Dems:

“Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

Well, that one didn’t work, and the nomination was eventually withdrawn.

Yet here we are in October 2015, facing utter financial mediocrity and neither the Democrats nor anyone else is bothering to defeat it. Now that the lousy world economy has finally silenced Federal Reserve interest rate hawks, at least for now, you’d think that the bulls would take charge of the stock market once again and get last week’s rally going again. But apparently, even today’s bulls, unlike the 1970 U.S. Senate, are content with the kind of mediocre trading action we saw today.

About the only traders stepping up to the plate today were dividend fans who once again stepped in to bolster utility stocks and REITs, both reliably high-yielding sectors that have been beaten to a pulp during much of 2015 due to the market’s interest rate increase fears. Like bonds, prices of these stocks get hammered if investors think interest rates are about to take off. That’s turned them into at least short-term, high-yielding bargains at least for today, so these stocks caught a bid. But much of the rest of the market did not.

The Dow Jones Industrials continue to be troubled by serious issues involving Walmart (symbol: WMT), which has projected really lousy earnings for at least the next couple of quarters; and IBM (IBM) which, Warren Buffett interest notwithstanding, reported quarterly earnings numbers that seemed to make even things like the mediocre U.S. coal stocks look like winners.

Even those notorious hedge funds have been taking it on the chin this year, as amidst all the negativity and volatility, the usual hedging strategies just don’t work as the market (and those puckish HFTs) constantly undermine any strategy they can think of, generating—you guessed it—mediocre to very negative returns. Rich hedge fund clients hate this and tend to withdraw big chunks of money from the hedgies when it happens, which has lately resulted in some high-profile fund closures.

Stuff like this poisons the investing well, as does the aimlessness, cluelessness and mendacity of the high-paid mediocrities who supposedly represent and/or work for the American people here in Washington.

The result of all this on Wall Street at least seems to be a continuation of 2015’s mediocre market action, characterized lately by China fears, continuing commodity deflation and a now-utterly confused Federal Reserve, aided and abetted by a Washington political class that continues to do nothing even as they collect big paychecks courtesy of the American taxpayer.

It’s too late in the day for trading tips, but we couldn’t mount much enthusiasm for anything today. That said, REITs and utilities, as we’ve already noted, continue to look tasty, at least in the short term. But anything goes, and we hate to chase them at this point unless they come back in a bit.

So let’s just wait and see what tomorrow may bring.

Hopefully, not more ongoing mediocrity.

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