As we kickoff the trading for the final two days of 2019, Art Cashin discusses the end of an era.

On this day…
December 30 (King World News) – Art Cashin:  On this day in 1916, one of history’s most celebrated but most inept assassinations began. In the retelling of most assassinations we hear how the victims might have been spared if….! You know the drill – if the guy guarding Lincoln’s box had not gone for a drink or if the Archduke Ferdinand had not had his car forced up a side street, etc. etc. 

But this assassination was more like Larry, Moe and Curly plan the Normandy Invasion. 

The proposed victim was a semi-literate preacher who passed himself off as a Russian monk. Pre-dating some TV preachers, in an age with no TV, he preached that you needed God’s forgiveness. And, to give God a wide enough target, it is necessary that you sin a lot. So, many of his convocations turned into what we might secularly call today – drunkfests or orgies. (But, he said God does need a large target.) Critics of the preacher called him “The Mad Monk”. He called himself “Rasputin”. 

Anyway, Rasputin hit pay-dirt when he appeared to cure the hemophiliac son of Czar Nicholas II. Viewing the cure as a miracle, the Czarina demanded that all decisions be cleared with the miracle-maker, Rasputin. That made him the most powerful man in Russia, which did not sit well with the nobles. Thus, the assassination attempt. 

On this night Prince Yussupov, the Czar’s nephew-in-law, invited Rasputin over for some late-night cakes and wine. Yussupov and his pals loaded the cakes and wine with enough cyanide to kill a regiment of Cossacks. And just for insurance they put extra cyanide on the knives, forks, plates and glasses. Then Yussupov sat down and made small talk with Rasputin. Over several hours, Rasputin ate most of the cakes and drank all of the wine. Then he asked the prince if he had any more wine. 

In a panic, Yussupov ran upstairs where the co-conspirators gave him a gun and told him to shoot Rasputin. He shot him in the back at close range. Rasputin tried to turn but fell backward. A doctor was called in and pronounced the monk dead, saying the bullet had pierced his heart. An hour later the conspirators returned to move the body. 

In a scene straight out of a Stephen King movie, as Yussupov bent over the body, the monk opened one eye and grabbed the Prince by the throat and started to beat the hell out of him. The others freed the Prince and the conspirators fled, locking the door behind them. Rasputin kicked down the door and chased them onto the palace grounds. They turned and shot him twice knocking him to the ground. Then using iron bars they beat his head to a bloody pulp. They then tied his hands and feet, cut a hole in the ice and dumped him in the River Neva. When the body was found, it was noted that he had freed his feet and one hand and if he hadn’t drowned he might have come back one more time. 

Peasants believe Rasputin put a curse on Russia, which caused the revolution in 1918 and may last to this day (more wine, Mr. Putin?). 

The market was anything but cursed this year. While Friday saw a bit of a pause in this prodigious Santa Claus rally, stocks are still in gear to close with gains of 25% to 30%. That’s a rare performance indeed but the good news is that such gains are often followed by another year of gains, albeit usually on the scale of 8% to 10%. 

On Friday morning, U.S. stocks popped smartly on the opening in what looked like it might be the beginning of a parabolic rally. 

That seemed to change suddenly around 9:50 when buyers quickly backed off with no readily discernible news trigger. 

The sudden disappearance of the buyers resulted in a very brief and rather shallow pullback. By 10:00, the selling was all over and the Dow and S&P inched slowly but steadily higher. 

By late morning, the Dow was returned to its post-opening highs but the S&P and Nasdaq came up short and that seemed to hang like a cloud over the balance of the trading day. 

By the closing bell, the Dow and the S&P did manage to eke out record closing highs but the Nasdaq snapped its 11 day winning streak. 

Traders showed little concern as they felt the averages deserved a bit of a rest after their recent solid performance. 

The End Of An Era – Tomorrow will see the final edition of The Gartman Letter in the format that it has been published for decades. The letter has been a daily necessity on trading desks across the country and the globe. 

Written and published by my dear friend, Dennis Gartman, also a multi-decade trading veteran, it enlightened and entertained subscribes forever. It was usually the first thing in their inbox since Dennis usually got it out between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. 

That’s a rigorous schedule for anyone but can take a toll on a hardworking veteran. 

I’m sure Dennis will remain active in a somewhat less rigorous format, but The Gartman Letter will be sorely missed by me and thousands of others. 

Ave Atque Vale! 

Overnight And Overseas – Asian equity markets put in a rather mixed performance. Japan saw a moderate selloff in light trading. Hong Kong closed modestly higher but Shanghai roared ahead on heavy volume on shifts in floating rate loans. India was fractionally lower. Australia and Korea closed down slightly. 

In European trading, Frankfurt is down modestly in very light trading as they will close early. Paris and London are also lower in very light trading. 

Among other assets, the dollar continues to be weak. Yields are higher on notable bond selling in Germany. Gold is under slight pressure despite the weak dollar. Crude is a bit firmer. 

Consensus – A half day in Frankfurt and very light trading elsewhere suggest a probable sleepy session in New York. Veteran traders know to be extra wary on that kind of setup. 

Stick with the drill – stay wary, alert and very, very nimble.

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