Around the Web, and then Some

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

5 Comments

  • James Dailey says:

    Hello David,

    One of the people at Minyanville sited a source they trust immensely that stated that they believe that China’s non-dollar reserves are now large enough to offset a dollar crisis. Essentually, they own enough things like gold that would likely go up enough to offset dollar losses. This is the great variable that I see very few people discuss. At some point a dollar crisis could be a NET POSITIVE from a pure reserves perspective.

  • James, eventually the rest of the world will realize that there is no advantage in providing goods to the US in exchange for US dollar paper promises. When that will happen is an open question.

    Monetary creation is so high globally, that despite the demographic effect that tends to create asset inflation rather than goods inflation, we are getting more inflation in goods and services now.

  • amccabe says:

    David, do you think an end to dollar denominated trade is an inevitability at this point, and if so, what would take the place of the dollar? I don’t doubt that the world is losing their appetite for dollars, but should they trust the stewardship of the euro, renminbi, or yen more?

  • James Dailey says:

    I agree David. The main point I am attempting to make is that the consensus assumes that a declining dollar would cripple the Chinese due to reserve losses. It is possible that this is simply not the case anymore!

  • If the government wants to bring the stock and bond markets down, the first thing they should do is raise tariffs on Chinese goods, to begin to cut the capital flow into the US. More on this and related issues later today; our government really underperforms at times.