There were two articles on reinsurers this morning suggesting that there should be a lot of consolidation via M&A. I’m not so sure. First, most players there want to acquire, not be acquired. Second, most of them don’t trust the underwriting and reserving of their competitors to the degree that they trust their own. To the extent that current players want to diversify, it is cheaper to do it organically than by acquisition. With the high degree of ease of entry into the market, the franchise value of a reinsurer is low. Now, maybe the property-centric reinsurers want to diversify (a smart idea, but they are stubborn), or the new reinsurers want to buy in a reverse merger one of the class of 2001 to eliminate the capital haircut from the ratings agencies (but they don’t have the cash for it). Those ideas make sense, but scale isn’t that much of a virtue here, and with P&C reinsurers the reserving is opaque as mud. I can see a deal or two getting done, but not a lot of them.
With all the hand-wringing in the Wall Street Journal this morning on free trade, just watch, we impose some series of tariffs or restrictions that reduce the current account deficit, only to see the capital account surplus shrink also, leading to higher interest rates and a lower dollar, breaking the current cycle giving the US cheap imported goods in exchange for dollar denominated bonds.
Throw a rock, hit a commentator who says that the Bank of China (or other major central bank with large dollar holdings) would never sell their positions because it would work against their interests, driving the value of the dollar down. That’s a half truth at best. Here’s why: the central bank will eventually focus on the future, realizing that sunk costs are sunk. Just because you have a big dollar position, does that mean you have to add to it to preserve its current value. Ignore the past, and let the dollar denominated securities mature. Use fresh cash and maturity proceeds to buy assets in the currencies that you like. It won’t cause a panic, but the dollar will still adjust down. Recognize from the start that the dollar assets are worth less than current exchange rates, and maximize value from there. (Large holders of any asset under pressure have to think this way to maximize value.)
Buyer Beware. Or maybe, it should be borrower beware. People are generally less competent at making rational choices when they are borrowing rather than paying cash. So it is no surprise that when Beazer finances homes that they sold, buyers might have gotten less than an optimal deal. This is true with many financial transactions. In general, the more moving parts in a transaction, the worse off the average person is in evaluating a deal. Better to line up your financing separate from the decision to purchase an asset, or you could end up up with a bop on your beezer, figuratively speaking.
So FASB might have a tighter leash on its neck from the SEC? Not sure whether that is good or bad. Neither organization gets high marks in my book. FASB desperately needs a more coherent overarching approach to accounting, rather than the piecemeal addjustments that they are doing. The SEC, if anything, is more beholden to political pressure, and the idiocy that that brings into accounting.
Then there’s Texas, basically invalidating the GASB on reporting the liability for long term government employee benefits. You might remember my piece at RealMoney, Pensions: Things Can Always Be Worse. Well, this is an example of that, and it is not limited to Texas. Though the Texas argument may have merits, governments all over the country are finding that they have to finally recognize the present value of the pension promises that they have made, and disclose it to the citizenry. It will be a mess, because a large amount of these promises are totally unfunded, much like Social Security, Medicare, and most other programs of our Federal Government.
It takes a week, but finally the market comes around to my view of the FOMC, though it takes Bernanke before Congress to correct the view of the markets. Inflation is not on hold, but the FOMC is, for now.
About David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA, is a leading commentator at the excellent investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited David to write for the site, and write he does — on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, and more. His specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better.
David is also presently a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. He also manages the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm.
Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, Merkel managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, he joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life.
His background as a life actuary has given David a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that David will deal with in this blog.
Merkel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In his spare time, he takes care of his eight children with his wonderful wife Ruth. View all posts by David Merkel →