Looking Backwards and Forwards During Mercury Retrograde (March 12 – April 4, 2012)

Published by WallStreetWeather.net

As part of being a bit “free form” (my daily market forecasts will return later this week), I thought I might provide greater insight into what Mercury retrograde is all about by writing a post mixing historic and current events with future potentials. What follows uses a potpourri of subjects as examples (China, Federal Reserve, bank stress tests, Jamie Dimon, Greg Smith and Goldman Sachs, federal deficit) to convey how Mercury retrograde particularly impacts economic issues and financial markets. This way you’ll be prepared for upcoming Mercury retrograde cycles that I preview at the end of the post.

Mercury the planetary energy of communication, movement, and commerce is retrograde March 12 until April 4, 2012, revisiting the area of the zodiac it traveled between February 26 and March 12. As Mercury appears from Earth’s vantage point to slow down its speed and move backward, the communication snafus, mechanical breakdowns, and schedule disruptions Mercury retrograde is famous for signals it’s time to slow down and reflect whether our thoughts and actions match our message.

Mercury retrograde is the time to work on existing issues. Put “re” in front of everything you do: rethink, review, reapply, renegotiate, repair, revise, redo, resolve, reform, etc. Postpone beginning completely new endeavors until the April 21 New Moon in Taurus.

Mercury is a dualistic energy. Just as Mercury rules two signs, Gemini (the sign of the twins) and Virgo, there are twin sides to the Mercury retrograde period. Information, attitudes, and circumstances concerning existing issues are more prone to revision and reversal during Mercury retrograde as details are discovered which had been previously overlooked. New communications, actions and events that occur during Mercury retrograde are prone to be revised or reversed after Mercury turns direct.

What is unique about this retrograde period is that Mercury is retrograde in Aries, a sign ruled by Mars which is retrograde in Mercury-ruled Virgo until April 13. Although both planets represent movement, action, and speed, adjustments are usually needed for Aries and Virgo energies to work effectively together. Aries acts on impulse, becoming impatient with Virgo’s need to analyze the most efficient way of doing something before taking action.

Mercury conjoins Uranus in Aries during most of the retrograde cycle. Mercury conjoining Uranus the awakener in pioneering Aries urges us to free our minds from outmoded ways of thinking. To quote an  Apple ad campaign from the past, it’s time to “think different.” (1) Uranus is eager to innovate and as the first sign of the zodiac, Aries is eager to start something new and boldly charge ahead of the competition.

Mental breakthroughs that solve the missing piece of the puzzle could occur around the midpoint of the retrograde cycle as Mercury repeats its March 5 conjunction to Uranus on March 18 with the Moon (the emotional barometer) in Uranus-ruled Aquarius. Self-expression is further enhanced when the Mercury/Uranus influence is further strengthened as the Sun enters Aries March 20 (the Vernal Equinox), conjoins Mercury on the 22nd and Uranus on the 24th, anchored by the Aries New Moon on the 22nd.

Since Aries represents the beginning, what is being “seeded” now impacts well beyond the time period of the Vernal Equinox Spring quarter (March 20 – June 20) and the Aries New Moon (March 22 – April 20). Beyond the Vernal Equinox being the true New Year, the Sun and Mercury are impacting the series of challenging alignments between revolutionary Uranus in Aries and transformative Pluto in Capricorn during 2012-15 that first becomes exact June 24.

(Next year’s Vernal Equinox will offer a very powerful opportunity to make a complete break from the past and make a fresh start providing action is taken to resolve existing issues between now and March 20, 2013.)

Adding an additional layer of complexity to this Mercury retrograde period is that Mercury will retrograde back into Pisces March 23 (until April 16). As the last sign of the zodiac, Pisces represents all that has gone before. It is the transition that occurs when what has outworn its purpose must be released to plant the seeds of Aries new beginning. Wishful thinking alone will not get the job done, but having faith in your ideas and intuitive hunches can be the impetus to innovation.

STOCK MARKET
Mars retrograde in Virgo (January 23 – April 13) has further slowed down trading activity which can be accentuated during Mercury retrograde. This can increase the potential for a larger market eruption in either direction.

Mercury retrograde tends to reverse or disrupt trading patterns. A reversal is most likely to occur around the time Mercury stations retrograde or around the midpoint of the cycle when the Sun (speculation) conjoins Mercury (March 21). Mercury retrograde can be quite changeable; trends might only last for a few days before changing once again. Trading can also be affected by data errors and incorrect news reports that are later revised.

Mercury conjoining Uranus tends to bring news that takes the market by surprise. This can sharply accelerate market direction. Uranus energies raise the potential for sharp and sudden reversals. Or the market becomes choppy, unsure whether what’s happening will have a positive or negative effect on the market. Uranus is an extreme energy that makes the market prone to break through support and resistance levels. The one reliable indicator about Uranus is to expect the unexpected.

Mercury entered Aries March 2 and made the first of three conjunctions to Uranus on March 5. The Dow suffered its first triple digit loss since November 23 which was the last time Mercury was about to turn retrograde.

CHINA
The market’s March 5 reversal was mostly attributed to news that China lowered its 2012 estimated GDP to 7.5% which prompted talk of a “hard landing.” Sentiment then reversed later that week that China will be able to engineer a “soft landing.” As Mercury stationed retrograde opposing China’s natal Sun in Libra the sign of balance, the release of China’s February trade balance reversed to a deficit for the first time in over two decades after running at a surplus in January.

More surprising news concerning China’s economy is likely around the time when Mercury and Uranus reconjoin March 18; once again the planetary pair squares China’s natal Uranus in Cancer as does the Aries New Moon on March 22. These influences affect the nation’s outlook and particularly relate to China’s workforce and working conditions. The lineup of the Sun, Mercury and Uranus in Aries in the sector ruling the Chinese government in the Vernal Equinox chart for China indicates China’s leadership is not as prepared as they think they are to manage unexpected economic and societal shocks in the coming months.

More importantly, Mercury conjoining Uranus in Aries activates the revolutionary and transformative square between Uranus and Pluto which becomes more influential as their alignment becomes exact in June. China is at the beginning of its own identity crisis as its leadership becomes less able to keep the public in the dark and contain growing public discontent. China’s economic and societal structures are likely to experience upheaval and transformation on a massive level as Libra’s scales went too far out of balance in one direction (exports) at the expense of everything else. And China’s importation of raw materials (particularly coal) is likely to decline more when Saturn enters Pluto-ruled Scorpio October 5 until 2015.

The Grand Earth Trine and the Stock Market
In my post on Mars retrograde (see link above) I wrote that if the market was declining leading up to Mercury’s retrograde station March 12, the market could reverse course as Mars reactivates a grand earth trine to Jupiter and Pluto the following day. I wrote that “matters related to global banking dominate” as Venus in Taurus conjoined Jupiter harmonizing with Mars and Pluto.

March 13 was the third and final harmonious alignment between Jupiter in Taurus and Pluto in Capricorn that began in July 2011. These energies represent optimism and expansion of asset values resulting from monetary policies to promote economic growth and encourage risk taking. Virtually zero interest rates have pushed investors into the market in search of yield.

The Dow Jones Transports hit a record high during the first alignment on July 7. The market was once again bullish on the news the EU had reached a bailout agreement the day before the second Jupiter/Pluto alignment on October 28. (Jupiter’s influence was particularly strong then as it was at its closest distance to Earth.)

Just as it was on October 28, the Moon (sentiment) was in Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius March 13, helping to further fuel these very optimistic energies. The earth element rules asset values and material resources, and this time Venus in its home sign Taurus (money; banking) conjoined Jupiter as the pair harmonized with Mars in Virgo and Pluto in Capricorn at the same time. Mars in Virgo harmonizing with Venus, Jupiter and Pluto connected all the planets to form a grand earth trine.

This grand earth trine further inflated equity prices and combined with Mercury and Uranus in Aries, marked the first time ever the Dow closed above 13,000 and the Nasdaq above 3,000 on the same day. The Dow’s 218 point move March 13 was its largest point and percentage gain this year. Venus conjunct Jupiter in Taurus represents financial abundance but can also describe overbought conditions. Ever the stubborn bull, Taurus resists taking profits when the Fed has blocked all other alternatives to grow assets.

Mercury's interactions with the other planets can signal temporary turning points in the market. The week of March 18 can be more choppy and changeable as the prior week’s grand earth trine enthusiasm begins to wane and Mercury conjoins Uranus (18th), and the Sun (21st), and the New Moon (22nd) at the time of the Vernal Equinox on the 20th before re-entering Pisces on the 23rd. Mercury in Pisces until April 16 is not quite as self-assured as Mercury in Aries even with Mars being retrograde. The market can be vacillating between euphoria and concerns of contagion. Are the rumors true or false? Things can get a bit murky now.

Stocks and currencies are more prone to reversals April 3-4. The Moon will be in Mercury-ruled Virgo then as Venus enters Gemini on the April 3 until August 7 (due to Venus being retrograde May 15-June 27). Financial events unfolding now will likely be revisited around the time of the May 20 Gemini Solar Eclipse. The market could be affected by a company, individual, or country whose balance sheet has been misrepresented.

THE FED: INTEREST RATES AND BANK STRESS TESTS
The FOMC met amidst the inflationary energies of the grand earth trine. The Fed which has gone to great lengths to talk down the economy in order to keep interest rates extremely low slightly revised their statement to acknowledge “moderate” growth. In a reversal of behavior, the market didn’t sulk that there were no hints of QE3 in the FOMC’s statement. The market moved higher even as the dollar strengthened which sparked a selloff in longer dated Treasuries and gold.

The Fed first began using talk therapy in its statement to further push investors into equities on August 9, 2011 - two prior Mercury retrograde cycles ago. Initiating a completely new policy action when Mercury was retrograde indicated it is unlikely the Fed will keep its pledge to keep rates between zero and 0.25 percent “at least through mid-2013.” Mercury and Neptune in opposition at the time was a further indication that the Fed’s message to the market was unrealistic and any implied “commitment” from the Fed is not always meant to be taken literally.

Of course the Fed already reneged on its “commitment” on January 25, 2012 when it extended the “extended period” of keeping rates at virtually zero from “at least through mid-2013” to the even more shocking “at least through late 2014.” Uranus in Aries conjoining the sector of the Fed’s chart ruling its reputation and exactly squaring the Fed’s natal Sun in Capricorn aptly reflected the Fed was out to shock as it boldly ventured further into unchartered waters. (The Moon was in Neptune-ruled Pisces that day.)

While the Fed’s change to its own timeframe certainly does reflect the changeable nature of instituting new policies during Mercury retrograde, this is not what I am referring to. Even the market is starting to have doubts that interest rates will remain so low for so long. Fed Funds Futures are currently pricing in a 0.25% rate rise at the January 2014 meeting. Ironically, with Pluto and then Uranus impacting the Fed’s progressed Sun in Aries in April and June 2013, the Fed might end up raising rates close to the timeframe of its original August 9, 2011 Mercury retrograde projection.(2)

Venus conjoining Jupiter in Taurus ensured the biggest banks were an outsized contributor to the market moving higher.

In the Mars retrograde post I described parallels between now, 1965 and 1933. Mercury stationed retrograde on March 13, 1933 - the same spot in the sky it did on March 12, 2012.  U.S. banks were a central focus then as they reopened after a one week “bank holiday.” FDR in his first fireside chat the evening before successfully reassured the public that only “sound” banks would reopen March 13 even though federal regulators could not have possibly examined the health of thousands of banks in one week to identify which ones were fit enough to survive.

As Mercury stationed retrograde, the Fed announced it would release the results of the stress tests on the nation’s l9 largest banks on March 15 at 4:30 PM. March 15th marked the 79 year anniversary of the Dow experiencing its largest percentage gain ever when the stock exchange reopened after being closed during the bank holiday.

The Dodd-Frank (D-F) legislation requires the Fed to conduct annual bank stress tests on financial institutions with over $50 billion in assets. The “too big to fail” banks were bailed out during the financial crisis; D-F ends bailouts by requiring those financial institutions deemed too big to fail be under stringent government control to insure they do not need to be bailed out again.

Repealing D-F as the Republicans are advocating, would once again raise the risk of future government bailouts as the Federal Reserve would once again have the freedom to use regulation and bank safety as monetary tools. For example, Paul Volcker remarked in a speech after D-F became law that when he was Fed Chairman the Fed eased up on bank credit quality when it was trying to expand the economy and subsequently reined in on credit quality when the Fed was trying to control inflation. The stress test required by D-F provides transparency to the Fed’s interpretation of credit quality. And for those who believe the Fed should be kept under tight rein and others such as GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul who want to end the Fed entirely, repealing D-F would have the OPPOSITE effect.

Mercury was stationary retrograde in its home sign Gemini when the first bank stress tests were released on May 7, 2009 as part of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s financial stability plan to increase confidence in the banking system. The current stress test is used more as a tool to control bank excesses (Venus conjunct Jupiter in Taurus) and system risk. Harkening back to 1933, the banks were tested in a simulation to survive an “adverse scenario” of another Great Depression. (As part of the test’s numerous criteria, banks had to demonstrate they have the capital to withstand 13% unemployment, a 21% decline in home values, an 8% decline in GDP, and a 50% decline in the stock market.)

Four of the 19 financial institutions (Ally Financial, Citigroup, MetLife, and SunTrust) failed to meet all of the Fed’s criteria. Citigroup would have passed the stress test had it not requested to increase its dividend. Now that the results are out during Mercury retrograde, Citi will revise and resubmit its capital plan.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Fed told the banks around midday March 13 it would release the results at 4:30 PM that day due to a “leak.” A rival bank executive told the Journal they were instructed by the Fed not to tell anyone the results until after the Fed’s release.

The market moved higher in the final hour of trading March 13 following JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) 3:04 PM press release announcing the Fed approved its capital plan under the stress test to increase its quarterly dividend 5 cents per share and authorized $15 billion in share repurchases.

A senior Fed official chalked the whole thing up as a “miscommunication.” Meanwhile Wall Street was speculating that JPM CEO Jamie Dimon “one upped” the Fed. (Dimon is on the Board of Directors of the New York Fed.)

Yet the whole situation could have been avoided if the Fed had held a press conference to explain the results of the stress test.  Mercury rules Wednesdays; the Fed in a March 14 press release announced the public can now follow the Fed on Twitter.

With dualistic Mercury aligned with Uranus and Venus conjoining Jupiter in Taurus in the grand earth trine, let’s look at two bankers who bucked authority in two different ways. Mercury retrograde combined with Uranus in Aries can be impulsive and temperamental, quick to communicate things that are more likely to be regretted later.

Jamie Dimon
Mercury retrograde exerts an even stronger influence when it impacts an individual or entity’s chart. Mercury stationed retrograde squaring Jamie Dimon’s natal Mars in Capricorn, an indication Dimon could be too impatient and impulsive to communicate what’s on his mind without considering the potential consequences to his reputation. This is indicative that he probably wanted JPM to be ahead of its rivals in releasing the stress test results. If so, Dimon obviously knew the information was market moving and should have been announced after hours (or JPM should have instructed the NYSE to halt trading pending news).

Born with Venus in Taurus harmonizing Mars in Saturn-ruled Capricorn, Dimon could have been feeling especially optimistic and overconfident March 13 as Venus and Mars repeated this pattern in the sky. Additionally, Venus and Jupiter conjoined his natal Venus as part of the grand earth trine as Dimon celebrated his 56th birthday that day.

Dimon could have been connected to the “leak” that reportedly caused the Fed to move up the stress test report as Neptune in Pisces is currently conjoining Dimon’s natal Mercury and squaring his natal Saturn in Sagittarius. Neptune increases the potential of making faulty business decisions. Mercury will station direct April 4 conjoining his natal Sun in Pisces; this could help Dimon to put a good spin on the “leak” if talk about it happens to resurface around this time. ("Mercury retrograde" being an alternative excuse to "the dog ate my homework.")

Things could become more challenging for Dimon in June when the Uranus/Pluto square impacts his natal Mars in Capricorn. Failure to keep his ego in check could alienate his allies and raise the ire of the regulators.

Greg Smith
At 6:40 AM GMT on Wednesday, March 14, Greg Smith, an Executive Director in the London office of Goldman Sachs (GS), submitted his letter of resignation. 15 minutes later, Smith’s resignation letter appeared in The New York Times. The 33 year old Johannesburg native began working at GS the last time Jupiter was in Taurus which was during the early years of Goldman’s life as a public company.

While I agree with what he wrote, Smith is not a whistleblower providing physical proof of law breaking at GS. His letter only reinforces what Wall St, GS clients, and the public already know about the “bank” that does not take retail deposits: GS makes a market for themselves. Those “shitty” deals started to publicly surface on April 16, 2010 when the SEC filed a lawsuit against GS for failing to disclose to clients that its CDOs were custom built to fail. Mercury was in Taurus (financial transactions) and virtually motionless in the sky then as it prepared to station retrograde less than 48 hours later.

I was unable to find Smith’s birth date, but my point has nothing to do with planetary positions. Although I hope I am proven wrong, Smith could end up regretting his decision to quit his job in such a public manner. Even if he does not desire to ever work in the financial industry again, it’s always wise to leave an employer on amicable terms as you never know where or when you might encounter people at your former employer in the future.

Smith’s actions could alienate a lot of perspective employers. At 33 and having only worked at GS, I hope he’s got enough savings stashed away if the going gets tough and self-employment becomes his only option.

Mercury retrograde reminds us of issues that have been forgotten or ignored. Jamie Dimon’s brash remarks about regulations and his one upsmanship of the Fed, coupled with Smith’s descriptions of GS mocking clients demonstrate that the financial industry has not learned the lessons of the financial crisis.

These financial institutions eagerly accepted the warmth provided by the government’s security blanket when confidence was rapidly eroding and their survival was at stake. Now newly emboldened, they are taking every opportunity to challenge the banking safety net established under the new regulatory environment.

POLITICAL RETROGRADE
With the Sun/Mercury/Uranus lineup in Aries during the Vernal Equinox and Aries New Moon, politicians aggressively defend their agenda. Hot button issues escalate, increasing political activism.

The deficit reduction deal was signed by President Obama as Mercury stationed retrograde August 2, 2011. Now as the House unveils its fiscal year 2013 budget blueprint on the Vernal Equinox, several House Republicans want to revisit the $1.047 trillion in discretionary spending Congress agreed to last summer. Republicans are now saying that amount was meant as a cap and are pushing for spending ranging from $931billion to $1.028 trillion. Republicans are also balking that half of the $97 billion in discretionary spending agreed to last year comes from reductions in defense spending when they would prefer the cuts came from nondefense discretionary spending.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is also expected to present a revised version of his Medicare plan. After last year’s backlash, Ryan’s revised plan is reported to give seniors a choice between using their voucher (or “premium support” as Ryan called it) for traditional Medicare or private insurance. (Seniors already choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance through Medicare Advantage.)

Of course what politically resonates most to Mercury being retrograde at the same time Mars is retrograde in Virgo is the Affordable Care Act signed into law at the time of the 2010 Vernal Equinox that is being reviewed by the Supreme Court March 26-28. (See the Mars post.)

UPCOMING MERCURY RETROGRADE PERIODS DURING 2012
July 14 to August 8:
The next Mercury retrograde period will be in Leo. The Moon will be in Mercury-ruled Gemini as Mercury in Leo favorably aspects Venus in Gemini. This cycle favors leisure and creative pursuits and visiting attractions close to home or vacationing at a familiar spot. (As is the case during all Mercury retrograde periods, reconfirm all travel plans and be prepared in the event of delays or cancellations.)

The energies of Uranus in Aries are enhanced as it appears stationary in the sky July 7-19 before turning retrograde the day before Mercury retrograde. (July 8 marks the 80th anniversary of the Great Depression market bottom.) The market has a tendency to make a sharp reversal at the time Uranus turns retrograde and this move could be exacerbated with Mercury turning retrograde as a well.

The July 7-19 period could be the most volatile and is likely to feature the largest market moves of the retrograde cycle as Mars in Aries’ opposite sign Libra activates the energies of the Uranus/Pluto square at the same time Uranus energies are prominent. The planet of aggression and war (Mars) in the sign of financial relationships and diplomacy (Libra) increases the likelihood of heated discourse over how to bridge the gap in economic inequality which is at its highest level since 1929. Geopolitical tensions are heightened as these energies could spark massive protests. 

November 6 to 26:
The final retrograde this year begins on Election Day, November 6 at 6:04 PM EST in Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius. Now Mercury retrograde makes its final transition from being in the enthusiastic and impulsive fire element (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) as it retrogrades back into Scorpio November 14 which is part of the intuitive and feeling energies of the water element (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) for the next two years. The energies of Neptune in Pisces enhance this watery energy as Neptune is stationary in the sky November 4-18 as it stations direct November 11.

The last time Mercury changed direction on Election Day was November 7, 2000 when Mercury stationed direct in the final degree of Libra. Mercury in Venus-ruled Libra and Venus in Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius reflected the disagreement over who won the presidential election had to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Now Mercury stations retrograde in Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius and with Jupiter once again in Mercury-ruled Gemini. Venus will be in its home sign Libra. (Notice that Mercury and Venus have reversed positions to what they were in 2000.) Mercury squaring stationary Neptune can create confusion and allegations of fraud.

Also accentuating the Neptune energies is that Mars is at the same degree in Sagittarius that Venus was in 2000, opposing the USA’s natal Mars and squares natal Neptune in Mercury-ruled Virgo. (See the Mars retrograde post for more on the USA Mars/Neptune.) Mars in Sagittarius describes the warriors in their final ideological battle; Mars in Sagittarius Election Day squares President Obama’s Mars and Gov. Romney’s natal Sun in Pisces (if he is the GOP’s nominee). The Last Quarter Moon in Leo the sign of leadership on Election Day conjoins the President’s natal Sun and Gov. Romney’s natal Pluto.

Mercury retrograde can represent the re-election of current or former politicians. Since this section was meant to be a “preview,” I will briefly conclude with a few non-planetary facts:

  • Neither presidential candidate in 2000 was running for re-election.
  • The 2000 election debacle changed the voting process. Absentee ballots and early voting mean that millions of voters now cast their ballots well before Election Day. New systems have been implemented since 2000 to help prevent a repeat.
  • Whatever your political persuasion, I hope everyone reading this focuses on all the elections throughout the nation proceeding smoothly on Election Day.
Nuclear issues and money matters - particularly related to taxes, insurance, debt, and interest rates are some of the themes likely to be in the forefront around the time of the November 13 Total Solar Eclipse in Scorpio. Mercury squares Neptune for the second time before re-entering Scorpio the following day. (The first Mercury/Neptune square occurs at the October 29 Taurus Full Moon, and the final one will be exact December 11 when the Moon will be in Scorpio. The FOMC meets that day followed by Chairman Bernanke’s press conference. These energies increase the potential that something in the statement or said by the Chairman related to interest rates or the Fed’s balance sheet lacks clarity in some way.)

Mercury retrograde around the Thanksgiving holiday could increase travel snafus as people return home to reminisce with relatives.

(1) Born with Mercury (the planetary ruler of his chart) retrograde in Uranus-ruled Aquarius in the sector the chart ruling self-expression, Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 7:15 PST San Francisco, CA) epitomized “think different”! Jobs’ natal Mercury did not make any major relationships to the other planets, allowing his mind to truly operate unbound. (In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Isaacson describes the account of Jobs once telling the audience at a product launch that “mercurial” was a word people sometimes used to describe him.)

As noted in my post on Uranus in Aries (see link above), Richard Tarnas in his must read book, “Prometheus the Awakener: an Essay on the Archetypal Meaning of the Planet Uranus,” makes the case that the energies of Uranus have more in common with the mythological Prometheus than Uranus. (In his book, Isaacson named the chapter about NeXT Computer “Prometheus Unbound” after Percy Bysshe Shelly’s drama of the Greek god whose traits Jobs resembled.)

Mercury in Aquarius is like Mercury conjoining Uranus. Both describe thinking outside the box, to invent things that are unique and on the cutting edge. In the example of Steve Jobs, Apple’s electronic devices (Aquarius/Uranus) have revolutionized the way the world communicates (Mercury), creates and is entertained.

(2) Progressions move the natal planets and chart positions forward in time, symbolizing the individual or entity’s progression through life.

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