Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

Photo Credit: Storm Crypt || Ah, to be in Zurich, and enjoy the additional purchasing power of the Franc

Photo Credit: Storm Crypt || Trusting the Swiss National Bank, Really?

Significant currency brokers relied on the Swiss National Bank to keep its currency peg in place. Now some of them are insolvent, and many of their clients also. Should they be surprised? Currency pegs put into place for political reasons rarely hold up, and this has happened in Switzerland in the past.

On thing I learned early in my career is that you never bet the firm. You never allow there to be a single point where a change brings failure.

You don’t rely on the kindness of strangers. In markets, always ask “What are the motives of the other players?” As an example, think of all of the people who lost money on auction rate preferred securities. There was no guarantee that auctions would always succeed, or that if one failed, the sponsor would take up the slack. No, when they failed, those that relied on the implicit idea that “auction rate preferreds are a safe reliable way to earn extra money in the short run” got hosed.

That’s why I say be wary, particularly where politically motivated entities like Central Banks are involved.  Are you certain that the Fed will tighten this year, and that interest rates will rise?  Do be so certain; people have been betting on that for some time, and the Fed is more than happy to let things slide until something forces their hand, or they think the risks of a move are minuscule.  Though we are at record lows for the 30-year Treasury, rates could go lower still.

Credit: Bloomberg

Credit: Bloomberg

Who knows?  Maybe rates go low enough that someone relying on them to remain above a certain level gets forced to buy into a high market already, and put in the top for prices, and bottom for yields.

On the other hand, there are some that argue that the Fed can’t raise rates because then the US Government would have problems financing its deficit if interest rates rose.  Maybe, but I wouldn’t rely on that, either.  I’ve been long long Treasuries for quite some time, but we are getting near the points where Hoisington and Schilling have suggested the trade might be over. Add onto that that banks may finally be starting to lend, and maybe indeed, we are near the bottom for interest rates. I just would not rely on it and make a one way bet.

In my next segment on “Learning from the Past,” I’ll go over my first really major loss where I traveled on the coattails of a famous value investor and lost royally. The point is: don’t rely on the kindness of strangers. Analyze where things can go wrong, and where other parties may have a different view than you do. Why are you smarter than they are? If they are in a position of power, what makes you think they will use it in your favor, rather than act in their own interests? As an example, just because the banks were bailed out last time does not mean that it will happen next time. The players and politics could be vastly different, with policymakers finally realizing that they only have to protect depositors, and nothing more.

So be wary.  More next time, and I should be returning to a more regular blogging schedule once again.  My extracurricular project nears completion.  More on that later also.