Twelve Unusual Items Affecting the Markets Now

1) The TED [Treasury-Eurodollar] spread, which is a measure of market confidence, is up dramatically over the past two months, from 18 basis points to 52 at present. That indicates decreased confidence in the banking system, though swap spreads have not widened to confirm that judgment.

2) The Indian Rupee has rallied almost 10% against the dollar over the past two months, because of the need to recycle the US current account deficit, and restrain inflation at home, tighter monetary policy is needed in India, and many other developing nations. That means upward pressure on their local currencies, which will hurt their exporters. India is letting that process happen at present, other developing countries are allowing dollar liquidity to further inflate their economies.

My view is that the next major blow-up will happen as a result of a neophyte developing large country central bank overshooting on their tightening of monetary policy. China is my lead candidate, but India could do it as well.

3) Ordinarily I like what Jack Ciesielski has to say. He is far beyond me in terms of understanding the nuances of accounting standards, and I recommend his work to all professionals. I think his recent Barron’s article misses a nuance of SFAS 159, though. If SFAS 159 were mandatory, Fannie and Freddie might have some difficulties. But SFAS 159 can be ignored by any company that wants to ignore it, and used to the degree that any company wants to use it, so long as they disclose where they are using it and where they aren’t using it. So, I’m not sure the SFAS 159 has much relevance to Fannie and Freddie over the short run. Over the long run, it might be different if SFAS 159 becomes mandatory, or if the US adopts International Financial Reporting Standards.

4) I have posted at RealMoney on numerous occasions regarding overvaluation of many risky asset classes versus safe asset classes. I appreciated the piece at regarding Jeremy Grantham, and the piece over at The Big Picture discussing it. I think he is right, but early. We haven’t run out of liquidity yet, and perhaps we get an exponential rise in risky assets that signifies the end. On the other hand, tightening global central banks in aggregate could be the end. For the cycle to change, we need a fall in profit margins, and a rise in discount rates. I think both are on the way, but they don’t come like clockwork.

As an aside, if managed timber is still cheap to Mr. Grantham, that could be a good place to hide. Decent return, and some inflation protection.

5) Dig this article from Businessweek. Know what it reminds me of? Manufactured housing back in 2000-2003. Lenders bent over backwards to keep loans current, at a price of future credit quality, and only gave up when their companies were facing death. Most died; a couple survived and much of the remaining corpus is part of Berky now.

The banks will keep marginal lending alive until it becomes a serious threat to their well-being; after that they will act to protect the banks. The severity of loan defaults thereafter will be very high.

6) How much international goodwill has the US lost through unilateralism? Part of that cost is measured by the fall in the dollar. The current account deficit presumes on the good graces of the rest of the world, but at the edges, if our policies aren’t well-liked, the deficit will get cleared at lower exchange rates for the dollar. Just another reason that I am long foreign currencies.

7) Central bank tightenings? Look at Japan and China. I have a little more belief that China will continue to tighten; they have been doing so for the last year. The acid test is how much they are willing to let their currency appreciate, and I think China will let that happen.

I am more skeptical about Japan. Their central bank is not very independent, and regardless of the article I cited, there isn’t a lot of reason for the Bank of Japan to act rapidly. Central Banks are political creatures that avoid pain; they are not entrepreneurs, particularly not in Japan.

8) What’s better in accounting, rules or principles? The current mood in accounting leads toward principles. The idea is that principles allow for a more accurate description of the corporate economics than the application of rules that though consistent, may not fit all companies well.

I split the difference on this issue. We need rules and principles. Rules for consistency and comparability, and principles for accuracy to individual situations. That is why I would have two income statements and two balance sheets. One off of amortized cost that would be consistent and comparable across all firms, and one off of fair market value, that would give management’s view of the economics of their firm.

9) I had been critical of the FOMC over at RealMoney because they had not been injecting enough reserves into the banking system in order to keep the Fed funds rate at 5.25%. Over the last week they have amended their ways. They have bought bonds and sold cash, and now Fed funds resides more comfortably near 5.25%. (I would post a link, but as I write the Fed website is not responding.

10) A harbinger of things to come: Fitch downgrades some 2006 subprime deals.

11) The Wall Street Journal was “dead on” this morning about talking about the degree of leverage being applied to the markets. I’ve been writing about this at RealMoney for some time, and I would advise everyone to look closely at their asset portfolios, and ask what assets would be at the most risk if financing were interrupted. For equity investors, I would encourage you to be long stocks with high ROAs, not high ROEs.

Do derivatives make a mockery of margin requirements? You bet they do, and we can start with furures and options, before moving on to private agreements.

12) Leave it to Caroline Baum to catch the mood of the government, and apologists for the current economy. Ex-housing, we are doing fine. Another way to say it is housing is doing lousy, and export-oriented sectors have not made up the difference.


That’s what I am seeing now. Are you seeing thing I am missing, or do you disagree with what I have said? Post here, and let’s discuss it.