A month ago, just before the market tumbled only to be rescued by a completely idiotic goal-seeked narrative on November 16 that Congress and the President were close to a compromise on the Fiscal Cliff, since repeatedly refuted, we presented an update of NYSE margin debt and net investor net worth. The data was disturbing as it showed that just as the market had hit its 2012 peak so far, investors were truly "all in" stocks, and that "Margin Debt as of 9/30 hit $315 billion: a jump of $30 billion from the prior month, and the highest since March 2011, just before the market tanked. And confirming that there is simply no cash on hand to pay for margin calls when they start pouring in after today's massive sell off, is the total Net Worth, which in September was the lowest since April. Because with record complacency, and the Fed guaranteeing no further shocks are possible, who needs to hold cash?" Today we get the October data, and find that things have gone from bad to worse, because Margin Debt rose once more, this time to $318 billion, the highest in a year and a half, but more troubling is that Net Free Credit (i.e. real disposable cash to meet margin calls) sank even deeper into the red, at a whopping ($44) billion, the lowest since the summer of 2011.
This simply means that like last month, if and when the margin calls start coming in, speculators will have no choice but to commence liquidating levered positions as there is simply not enough cash to fund capital losses. Which probably explains the resilience of the S&P: one or two 1% down days and Congress will get a far greater impetus to get a Fiscal Cliff deal done. Which, paradoxically, is precisely what needs to happen.