Seven Observations From Barron’s

  1. Kinda weird, and it makes you wonder, but on the WSJ main page, I could not find a link to Barron’s. I know I’ve seen a link to Barron’s in the past there; I have used it, which is why I noticed its absence today.
  2. I found it amusing that the mutual fund that Barron’s would mention on their Blackrock interview, underperformed the Lehman Aggregate over 1, 3 and 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, Blackrock is a great shop, and I would work there if they offered me employment that didn’t change my location. Why did Barron’s pick that fund?
  3. I’m not worried about the effect of a financial guarantor downgrade on the creditworthiness of the muni market. Munis rarely fail. Most of those that do fail lacked a real economic purpose. What would be lost in a guarantor downgrade is liquidity. Muni bond insurance is a substitute for analysis. “AAA insured, I’ll buy that.” Truth, an index fund of uninsured munis would beat an index of insured munis, because default rates are so low. But the presence of insurance makes the bonds a lot more liquid, which makes portfolio management easier.
  4. I’ve been a US dollar bear for the last five years, and most of the last fifteen years. Though we have had a little bounce recently, the dollar has of late been at record lows against currencies that trade freely against the dollar. I expect the current bounce to persist in the short term and fail in the intermediate term. The path of the dollar is lower, unless the Fed decides to not loosen more. Balance needs to be restored in the global economy, such that the rest of the world purchases more goods and services, and fewer assets from the US.
  5. I don’t talk about it often, but when it comes up, I have to mention that municipal pensions in the US are generally in horrid shape. The Barron’s article focuses on teachers, but other municipal worker groups are equally bad off. The article comments on perverse incentives in teacher retirement, which leads older teachers to retire when it is feasible to do so. For older teachers, I would not begrudge them; they weren’t paid that well at the start, and the pension is their reward. Younger teachers have been paid pretty well. I would not expect them to get the same pension promises.
  6. I like Japan. I own shares in the Japan Smaller Capitalization Fund [JOF]; it’s my second-largest position.

    Japan is cheap, and small cap Japan is even cheaper. I would expect a modest bounce on Monday.

  7. We still need a 15-20% decline in housing prices to bring the system back to normal. There might be an undershoot in price from the sales that forced sellers must do. Hopefully it doesn’t turn into a self-reinforcing decline, but who can be sure about that? At that level of housing prices, man recent conforming loans will be in trouble, much less non-conforming loans.

Full disclosure: long JOF