Four Questions for the Markets in a Pivotal Week

Question #1: Is it possible that the continuing fall in the price of oil on the world and West Texas markets may not be due merely to the decision last week of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (or some of them) to abandon any attempt to set a production limit going forward, thereby committing its members to a price war race to the bottom in terms of price? (Should we now call them "NOPEC""--the "Non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries"?)

Could it be that the geopolitics has already influenced oil prices, but this time to the downside, because Saudi Arabia can inflict serious pocket-pain on its enemy in the all-important (i.e., more important than the threat of ISIS) proxy war in Yemen: namely, Iran, which is about to re-enter the world oil markets in a big way once nuclear-related sanctions are loosened in 2016? Or could there even have been a negative impact on oil prices this week due partly to the successful conclusion of the climate talks in Paris, resulting in the first truly global goal-setting for the reduction of greenhouse gases? (And isn't it interesting how the stocks of alternative energy producers went UP this time around, while oil prices were heading further downward!)

Question #2: Could it be that the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee will once again prove right in its economic readings and--despite all the intense criticism leveled at its interest rate decisions this year (including the telegraphing of a first rate increase since the cut to near zero eight years ago this week), as well as the perturbations in the stock, government bond, and junk bond markets in the past several days--NOT FLINCH on a modest .25 percent increase in its range for the overnight base rate for Fed Funds at this week's meeting? And could the markets, instead of swooning further, actually settle down to fundamentals in the wake of that increase and produce a rally in equities, modest declines in the Treasury markets, and a period of consolidation in the high yield markets (albeit at somewhat higher interest rates than a couple months ago)?

Could the Fed perhaps outmaneuver even CNBC's constant efforts to convince the markets to tank out of fear of a coming US meltdown throughout the market day--a somewhat Giuliani-esque drumbeat of a noun, a verb and "Recession" talk? CNBC seems to badly want a market crash to cover, a recession to tarnish Obama and bring on a GOP president (as in 2000). The cable network seems to be pursuing a heedless effort to become the "Fox News of Finance," when there already is one that has even fewer viewers than CNBC!

The Fed might even indicate to markets that it will proceed very gradually toward further normalization of rates over the next two years and bring its member-by-member interest rate projections more in line with market sentiment, which is that the US economy has not yet reached truly self-sustaining growth patterns despite the unprecedented gains in employment (after taking into account the retirement of 65-year old "baby-boom" workers at the rate of 10,000 every day). At least the Fed could prove itself to be more truly "data-dependent" than most of its cable TV coverage!

Question #3: Could the United States Congress this week finally wind up the budget process for the current fiscal year and, next, with an agreement the President will sign that also actually involves (horrors from the right-wing talk radio) a horse-trading compromise agreement lifting the 1973 oil-SHORTAGE crisis ban on exports of the current glut of US-oil production in exchange for extensions of tax breaks currently available for renewable energy sources? Could such a compromise actually be engineered by the newly hunter-bearded GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi without a government shutdown crisis (which, again, cable TV would love to cover)?

And here's a teaser for a later blog: Could Ryan himself actually emerge from wielding the gavel to winning the presidential nomination at this summer's Republican National Convention if, as some anticipated this week, the now thirteen-car collision that is the GOP debate/caucus/primary process ultimately turns up no candidate with a first-ballot majority and a "brokered" Convention.

Ryan is such an obviously qualified candidate, second in line to the presidency right now behind VP Joe Biden. He has run a national campaign in which nobody blamed him for the loss by Romney, more experience in Congress and in getting things done than either Cruz or Rubio, and he owns a key swing state. The fact he is not on the short list already is further evidence that the GOP has lost its mind for the moment.

Question #4: Could the GOP rank-and-file, the GOP Establishment, the Tea Party and the Trump Party come together after this week's Las Vegas debate on CNN on whether they want a four-tem or eight-team national candidate "winnowing" playoff for the coming year's Presidential nomination contest--even sooner than the college football playoffs are concluded after the new year. On current polling, a "final four" would include Trump, Cruz, Rubio and either Carson--who is on the way down, or perhaps Christie, who is on the way up, at least in New Hampshire. An eight-way would also bring in the other of those two plus Bush, Kasich, and either Fiorina or Rand Paul, while the other foursome of Huckabee, Santorum, Graham and Pataki would go from the undercard to the discard pile. Is that too much to hope for? Perhaps the debate will shed some light and add some heat to the necessary weeding out of what are essentially vanity candidacies surviving on the fumes of able TV appearances and/or the generosity of very small groups of wealthy backers.

Could we see a Republican campaign approaching March where Cruz has won in Iowa, Christie in New Hampshire, Trump in South Carolina and Rubio in Nevada--a complete foursome of front-running winners where one or another could begin the process of offering cabinet jobs to the early losers (say, Bush for secretary of state; Kasich, Health and Human Services; Fiorina, Defense; Christie, attorney general or even VP given that he won once), all in exchange for endorsements down the road.

Probably not all of the top eight will have the resources in the bank or in the field to truly contest in the "SEC primaries" on March 1 or the later ones in Florida and Ohio. Therefore, we could get to a real "final four" by, of course, NCAA's more famous form of "March Madness." Could it be that the winnowing and seeding process starts in earnest this very week? Maybe ESPN will cover it, or host a debate itself? The markets might even find something to like, and Disney needs the ratings!