After setting a new record high the day before, the Dow Jones Industrial Average settled back 33 points to digest a little more of the situation in Cyprus. The banks in the island nation opened today, and you can be assured there will be long lines to get at whatever money will be available. With withdrawals limited to 300 euros a day, the banks should survive, even if trust in them has been torn to shreds.
Russia's oligarchs were the true target of the oppressive measures, but they apparently were allowed to withdraw their monies despite account freezes being imposed. It will be the individual Cypriots who will be paying the price, though depositors around the world have been put on notice that a "wealth tax" may be imposed against them at will if bailouts are necessary again.
Of course, not every stock was struck with ennui like the market index was, and some did quite well yesterday, even rising by double-digit percentages. But you should resist the urge to high-five everyone in the cubicles next to you. Smart investors won't celebrate until they know why their stock surged; without a fundamental basis for the bounce, these stocks could just as quickly make the return trip down.
Banking on the unbanked
Yesterday, electronic transaction processor Net 1 Ueps Technologies (NASDAQ:UEPS) surged 27% after its contract with South Africa's Social Security Agency, making it the sole provider of social welfare payments in the country for five years, was upheld by a South African appeals court.
In January 2012, Net 1 was awarded a payment services contract by the SASSA that was disputed by two local companies that lost during the bidding process, AllPay and Empilweni. In August, the bidding process was determined to be "illegal and invalid," but the appeals court didn't cancel Net 1's contract, which caused the two losing companies -- along with SASSA -- to appeal the ruling to the South African Supreme Court of Appeal.
Net 1 said yesterday that the court ruled the bidding process was indeed valid and legal, and its contract to distribute social welfare grants remained intact. While certainly a victory, investors are reminded that Net 1 is still under investigation by the Justice Dept. and FBI for violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a catchall law for companies suspected of bribing foreign officials. The court's ruling, though, may mitigate a lot of those questions.
The shipping industry remained afloat yesterday, riding the high seas as it has done for the past few weeks, as confidence returned that day rates will improve in 2013. According to the industry analysts at Moore Stephens, shippers believe the worst of the downturn is now behind them, though investments in the industry will lag as financing will be hard to come by.
The optimism is being fueled by hopes that global trade may be picking up just as dry bulk ship deliveries come in below expectations, and vessel scrapping maintains its high pace. That reduced competition could lead to the higher rates industry executives are looking for.
Excel Maritime was the biggest mover among shippers, surging 31% on the day, but Diana Shipping (NYSE:DSX) and Frontline (NYSE:FRO) also rode the wave higher, each cresting at around 12% yesterday. On average, the Motley Fool CAPS Dry Bulk Shipping sector jumped almost 11% yesterday.
It's definitely a rising tide that's floating a lot of boats here, but the enthusiasm may be misplaced, or at least a little early. Frontline's rates on its VLCCs crumbled to practically nothing last quarter, and today, stand below even that level despite a six-fold jump in recent weeks. Diana Shipping also reported earnings recently, and said that time charter equivalent rates fell 31% in 2012, even as its daily vessel operating expenses rose 6%.
Rates for capesize vessels -- the ones typically used to transport iron ore -- remained depressed, as well, and, despite the Baltic Dry Index surging 31% in 2013, it remains 20% below the relative highs that it hit last summer. The index is a composite of the rates realized by capesize, supramax, handymax, and panamax dry bulk shippers.
With the financials of many shippers still in disarray and in danger of being swamped, I don't believe it's time to climb aboard just yet.