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Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

US Policy & Politics 

  • Nearly Half of Dodd-Frank Rules Still Unwritten http://t.co/TwzSawT298 Experiment of regulation by study committees continues albeit slow $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Banks Given Two Extra Years to Fully Comply With Volcker Rule http://t.co/XVfO9CKMm7 Banks prefer abolition; Fed offers a delay $$ #more? Apr 12, 2014
  • How Big Banks Created a Fed to Serve Their Own Interests http://t.co/tUlNYE3px5 Fed almost always ends up being a shill 4 the banks $$ $XLF Apr 12, 2014
  • Angry students snap photos of lunches, tell Michelle Obama: ‘You call this a [expletive] lunch?’ http://t.co/PY4gfa90oI Food Nazis r mean $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • On equal pay for women, Obama challenges GOP to ‘join us in this the 21st century’ http://t.co/wthQJKwsOO White House has own disparities $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • When the Messenger Is Worth Shooting http://t.co/GGuAxpkizc Fewer & fewer people think teaching financial literacy 2 avg ppl works $$ $SPY Apr 12, 2014
  • Republicans should be friendly to markets, not to business http://t.co/YXEWNr9MEh Big business excellent at co-opt laws 4 their own good $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Maybe a Gender Pay Gap Is OK http://t.co/2rtYIZ6MFo This argumentation isn’t new; economists have been making this argument since the 70s $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • The Best SEC Money Can Buy http://t.co/wbwBB0CYd4 @ritholtz on Jim Kidney’s excellent retirement speech on the SEC which is worth reading $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Food Price Shock, 2014 Edition http://t.co/u79xlrwK1I Note that the last time this happened, wars & other pains hit developing world $$ Apr 12, 2014

Market Impact

  • Hedge Fund Industry Growing With Pensions To Thank http://t.co/RF2FTh3YsD Probably a mistake as hedge funds tend not 2b good w/volatility $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Hedge Funds Unwind As Growth To Value Rotation Intensifies http://t.co/XoK1RFKiAg As growth stocks correct, hedge funds chase performance $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • How Money Managers Fight Their Emotions and Sometimes Lose http://t.co/J0KH06m12P Too Bold? Not bold enough? Tough 2strike right balance $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • The Buys You Can’t Make Yourself http://t.co/0swRNG0Eyo @reformedbroker points out the value of @MebFaber ‘s global value ETF $GVAL $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Humble Student of the Markets: A quant lesson from a technician http://t.co/svQilIRW4m Useful way to understand indicators & mkt regimes $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • 2014 crash will be worse than 1987′s: Marc Faber http://t.co/Guil41sSvP Bold w/respect to timing &severity of the next crisis, prob wrong $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Do ‘rising rate’ ETFs really protect investors? http://t.co/tcx2p4qtuc I would b wary here; additional yield often carries hidden risks $$ Apr 12, 2014

Rest of the World

  • Kuroda Seen Brewing Yen-Weakening Surprise Action http://t.co/fVpFvwEiJz Don’t b shocked if the BOJ does yet more to weaken the yen $FXY $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • This is the bank to watch for a Chinese credit implosion http://t.co/sKL9NPruZz Minsheng is an aggressive lender 2the most dodgy credits $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • China’s steelmakers have branched out into shadow banking—which is funny since they owe $484B http://t.co/Z1IzHBJJ7G Brief stmt of prob $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • China Pizza Passion Has Fonterra Riding Mozzarella Wave http://t.co/J4605GnGK4 Pizza is so different than traditional Chinese food $$ $YUM Apr 12, 2014
  • Ukraine’s Rust Belt Faces Ruin as Putin Threatens Imports http://t.co/7BYk6ULy3t Russia has more ec influence on Ukraine thn US on Russia $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Saudi Banks Reject Algosaibi Meeting on $5.9B Default http://t.co/6eZwowBlZW Islamic finance struggles w/debt that isn’t debt but is debt $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Lavender-Filled Teddy Bears From Tasmania Are a Big Hit in China http://t.co/ubhWoUSnQz Bobbie Bear touches the hearts of Chinese ladies $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Top economists warn Germany that EMU crisis as dangerous as ever http://t.co/gsqrbZ5ox0 Overall & banking leverage still higher than safe $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Fracking’s hottest year in China http://t.co/5xVoKK6K0d China finds gas & tight oil in their shale formations. Who knew? $$ $FXI $XLE Apr 12, 2014

Companies & Industries

  • Time Inc. to Raise $1.4B in Debt for Spinoff http://t.co/8QUGvyKhrv I would b careful here; levering up old media not a recipe 4 success $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Vox Takes Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level http://t.co/YdMuuu0ZQC Vox Media creates a content mgmt system 4 journalism $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Trailer Parks Lure Wall Street Investors Looking for Double-Wide Returns http://t.co/zym4OmSDP5 Poor people have a hard time moving $$ Apr 12, 2014

Other

  • Stay-at-Home Moms Rise in Reversal of Modern Family Trend http://t.co/sCBErpTIhk Children deserve attention to help them grow up $$ $SPY Apr 12, 2014
  • More Moms Staying Home, Reversing Decadeslong Decline http://t.co/w7bnhw8tQd Value in efforts 2 produce better children w/more parenting $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Font War: Inside the Design World’s $20M Divorce http://t.co/4YpYf1x5UN Not clearly spelling out a partnership agreement: font of trouble $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Windows XP Goes Dark; Will Hackers Be Lurking? http://t.co/GPBJKpzdhf XP has been debugged; odds of significant holes are low $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • After Heartbleed Bug, A Race to Plug Internet Hole http://t.co/HCBfcHBl5O A significant part of internet affecting privacy had a hole $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels http://t.co/BZOdAVwYbA Can capture 31% of sun’s energy with a 111V Solar Cell Apr 12, 2014
  • At Gross’s Pimco, El-Erian Says ‘Different Styles’ Stopped Working Well Together http://t.co/vRqPfRA67m Oil & water eventually separated $$ Apr 12, 2014

Wrong

  • Unsafe: Greece Plans to Issue Long-Term Bond on Wednesday http://t.co/X4gnld481q Lust 4 yield guides the behavior of debt investors $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Misleading: Oklahoma Swamped by Surge in Earthquakes Near Fracking http://t.co/nHfPIWys3q All quakes r little which avoids big quakes $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Wrong: Are Safer Cars Worth the Money? http://t.co/1N0Y9aklJb Misapplies benefit-cost analysis; may b cheaper ways 2 save more lives $$ $F Apr 12, 2014

Retweets, Replies & Comments

  • ‘ @foxjust Nice going; EEBS is breaktakingly honest with respect to earnings manipulation. cc: @jciesielski $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • RT @ReformedBroker: Reminder: The Fed’s own economic forecasts are basically worse than your dog’s. http://t.co/uLYirMA5zB Apr 09, 2014

Book Review: Treasure Islands

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

9780230341722

Tax havens exist to lower taxes and regulations on corporations and wealthy individuals.  But doing this involves significant complicated legal and accounting work.  The average person could not benefit because the fixed costs are high.  You need to have a lot of assets to benefit from tax havens.

So why do the wealthy governments of the world tolerate tax havens?  Why don’t they “use NATO to blockade these places, and tell them to end their tax-avoidance-facilitation policies, or else.”  Sadly, the wealthy have disproportionate power over politicians, and the majority of politicians are wealthy.  They like the system as it is.  You can make the tax code as progressive as you like; you will not end up taxing the intelligent wealthy much more.

This book confronts transfer pricing, where profits get shifted to low-tax countries by clever accountants.  Very difficult to police.

The is an amusing section in the middle of the book about the City of London Corporation, which has unique rights in the UK.  It is the home of most financial activity n London, and is mostly unaccountable to the UK.

In general, I believe that taxation should be the same regardless of the structure of the entity being taxed, its location, etc.  To that end, I think that corporations should be taxed on their global income as expressed to its owners.  Or, don’t tax corporations, but make all taxation like limited partnerships, and tax the individuals that own them.

There are other possible solutions.  There can be limits on corporate structure.  Israel limits subsidiaries such that the depth from the holding company cannot exceed two.  There could be consolidation and/or non-recognition of  subsidiaries in tax havens.

Additional Resources

Longreads article

Book website (those reading at Amazon, come to Aleph Blog to get links)

Quibbles

The book makes its last chapter about how tax havens helped cause the financial crisis, but it makes a very weak case.  Individuals and Banks overlevered themselves as asset prices rose, creating a bubble — not much different than the 1920s.  Tax havens played little role, even if they aided securitization in a few ways.

The book argues for capital controls, but those controls often create incentives for greater corruption.

My main problem with the book is that it does not offer any workable solutions to the problems.  My secondary problem is that the problem is not so much with the tax havens, which we could easily marginalize, but with the politicians, who do not do the hard work of seeing that taxation takes place, regardless of the corporate form or location.

Who would benefit from this book: You have to be willing to endure complex arguments to benefit from this book.  If you want to, you can buy it here: Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens.

Full disclosure: I borrowed it at my library.

If you enter Amazon through my site, and you buy anything, I get a small commission.  This is my main source of blog revenue.  I prefer this to a “tip jar” because I want you to get something you want, rather than merely giving me a tip.  Book reviews take time, particularly with the reading, which most book reviewers don’t do in full, and I typically do. (When I don’t, I mention that I scanned the book.  Also, I never use the data that the PR flacks send out.)

Most people buying at Amazon do not enter via a referring website.  Thus Amazon builds an extra 1-3% into the prices to all buyers to compensate for the commissions given to the minority that come through referring sites.  Whether you buy at Amazon directly or enter via my site, your prices don’t change.

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Rest of the World

 

  • Malaysia Plane Traced in Inmarsat Engineer London Huddle http://t.co/roKtJSY9WY How they managed to figure out the area of the crash $$ $SPY Mar 30, 2014
  • UK Pension Revolution Putting Long-Term Bonds at Risk http://t.co/o8TNO4lgAn Need 2 match liabs drives demand 4 long bonds, lowers yields $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Putin Has Exposed NATO’s Weakness http://t.co/xDs2X10AKg US & NATO Europe willing to agree upon? What r they willing 2 risk? Be careful $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • China Said to Expand Property Survey Amid Oversupply Concern http://t.co/m0VAkijXmi Will b difficult 2 end overinvestment by fiat $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Chinese Pigs Eating Soybeans Cut US Supply to 1965 Low http://t.co/hLfrB2MXM1 Chinese demand 4 pork drives demand 4 US Soybeans $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Lira Fate Tied to Real Assets as Hot Money Flees http://t.co/GpdoGuymdO In countries where inflation is a threat, invest in property $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Business not ipso facto criminal: Tendency of presuming it guilty without proof is damaging India’s economy http://t.co/HgpdxdNrbu $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Mr. Putin’s Revealing Speech http://t.co/BTQ2IDbny5 Defender of Orthodox civilization as he sees it pushes back against encroahing NATO $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Russian Forces on Border Stir Concern as Crimea Annexed http://t.co/b7SLK8wTTH Threats of more economic sanctions will not deter Putin $$ Mar 23, 2014
  • What the West Can Learn From Putin’s Other Neighbors http://t.co/NB4aeGih9D Don’t make promises that u won’t keep; Putin is not scared $$ Mar 22, 2014

 

Financial Sector

 

  • So what is today’s nonbank business model? http://t.co/awllKHMHK1 Legalized extortion done to “protect consumers,” objective is political $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Wall Street Banks Cut Out of Prized Commercial Mortgages http://t.co/xImkJXAwC7 $MET $PRU originate commercial mortgages 2 fund own liabs $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • SEC Is Probing Dealings by Banks and Companies in Loan Securities http://t.co/yseFiyZvFJ Current CLO issuance drives loan issuance $$ $BKLN Mar 30, 2014
  • Pimco Chases BlackRock in ETFs as Money Returns to Bonds http://t.co/rL9Bm40rHm Amazing how people follow anything w/positive momentum $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • And if banks start lending aggressively, it will b time to radically shrink asset maturities in bond portfolios, velocity will b rising $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Banks Lending Like It’s 2007 Belied by $10T Hoard http://t.co/Ef6yHiVNSu But they aren’t lending heavy yet, if they do FOMC has 2tighten $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Scandal-Hit British Banks Turn to ‘Weirdy Beardy’ http://t.co/XGv1Bt9af1 ”Why do you exist?” “Who r u?” Pondering existence bugs bankers $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Josh Rosner: The Wrong Remedy for Fannie and Freddie http://t.co/ExIuZxRlyM Better to wind them up & get Govt out of the Mtge mkts $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Iowa’s Friendlier Watchdogs Lead Insurer Pack to Des Moines http://t.co/UPug7MJA7I Iowa DOI will regret embracing complexity, gtee funds2 $$ Mar 30, 2014

 

Market Impact

 

  • Which will win? $BRK.B or $IWM ? 3views: http://t.co/P4rWOG283S & http://t.co/c20Fbqh2b6 & http://t.co/QMIWqojPnB BRK will beat smallcaps $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Americans Can’t Retire When Bill Gross Sees Repression http://t.co/4hNi5jAH2U Investments eventually reflect the underlying cash flows $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Financial scars linger: 1/3 of investors wary of stocks http://t.co/xbFcGeOykX Have 2 wait 4 these people 2 come & put in the top $$ $SPY Mar 30, 2014
  • 1999 Buffett: stocks can’t possibly meet public’s expectations. Internet? Notes how few got rich in auto &aviation http://t.co/2FsC9vuvKe $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Declining Pension Benefits Leave Workers Uneasy http://t.co/A5RmBueODe Difficult 2 fund high benefits when interest rates r so low $$ $TLT Mar 30, 2014
  • Google Traders See Opportunity in Confusion on New Shares http://t.co/2bTfXy75ol New nonvoting shares may allow 4 some arbitrage plays $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Attention Suckers: Please Send Us Your Money http://t.co/Mibp1EXWh3 @Ritholtz comments how the JOBS Act weakened investor protections $$ Mar 30, 2014

 

US Housing

 

  • High Prices Partly to Blame for Slow New Home Sales http://t.co/rSHWH4Uzra When markets near their peak, frequently volumes drop off $$ $LEN Mar 30, 2014
  • Time might be ripe for boomers to sell their homes and move on http://t.co/hzL9mMImDS Sell them 2whom & @ what price? Lack move-up buyers $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Finding a House That Won’t Destroy You http://t.co/kJNQf3upos Buy a house u can afford even under stressed conditions, reduce risk $$ Mar 30, 2014

 

US Politics, Policy & Economics

 

  • Florida’s Scott Travels on Corporate Tab as Lobbyists Tag Along http://t.co/qhDVzIgXO1 Governors increasingly use corporate $$ 2fund trips Mar 30, 2014
  • IRS Takes a Position on Bitcoin: It’s Property http://t.co/aCbGKvWGRT Thus any trading of bitcoins involves capital gains &losses $$ $BTCUSD Mar 30, 2014
  • Google, EBay and the Roots of Collusion http://t.co/Vc2SMUU5T5 Some don’t want to annoy companies that r complementary 2their biz goals $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • The Individual Mandate Goes Poof http://t.co/PvjexmswaF Barack Obama undoes what House GOP would like 2undo, just not permanently totally $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Global Warming Will Not Cost the Earth, Leaked IPCC Report Admits http://t.co/hziljg2Npp Will b interesting 2c how gets spun by bothsides $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Economists: Rising interest rates are the biggest threat to recovery http://t.co/gPQ1c2ZHAQ More evidence that rates will stay low $TLT $$ Mar 24, 2014
  • Kocherlakota: Don’t raise rates to head off possible crisis http://t.co/yxAGSWGmGQ There may come a time when you will have no choice $$ Mar 22, 2014

Other

 

  • Advice for a Happy Life by Charles Murray http://t.co/7y51RDeGy3 Marry young & someone similar 2u, don’t try2get rich, Groundhog Day $$ $SPY Mar 30, 2014
  • Why Runners Can’t Eat Whatever They Want http://t.co/FLMOWE8sC1 Studies Show Heart Risks to Devil-May-Care Diets—No Matter How Much U Run $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Speed Reading Returns http://t.co/EwxEFe6Paz Apps and Classes Help People Adapt 2Reading on Their Phones | More content 2 read everywhere $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • The book Scientology tried to ban http://t.co/g4GeTda7bS Read about the *real* L. Ron Hubbard, from a book Church of Scientology hates $$ Mar 30, 2014

 

Wrong

  • Wrong: Not Voting Should Not Be a Choice http://t.co/UlBFwMe6fi Seems fundamental that no one should b forced to vote; it’s a protest $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Wrong: Japan Is Doomed Unless It Learns to Love Inflation http://t.co/AFD8QA1d8Z More “hair of the dog that bit you solutions” $$ $JPY $JOF Mar 30, 2014
  • Wrong: Digital v human: the new debate http://t.co/PiUgvNHm6x We’ve seen transformational technologies b4, takes a while 4 new jobs 2show $$ Mar 30, 2014
  • Wrong: Fed’s Bullard: Yellen’s ‘6 Months’ Comment Doesn’t Represent Change in Policy Stance http://t.co/v7gzHBobVw Could have fooled me $$ Mar 22, 2014

 

Notes, Comments, Reples & Retweets

  • RT @ReformedBroker: In November 1999, Buffett wrote this op-ed for Fortune on why he doesn’t bet on innovation. @pmarca @hblodget http://t… Mar 27, 2014
  • RT @felixsalmon: “This means Bitcoins are not fungible, and that makes it unworkable as a currency.” http://t.co/JjFOO8Z2Xq cc @pmarca @bar… Mar 27, 2014
  • RT @journalistjosh: Crowdfunding emptor: Attention Suckers: Please Send Us Your Money http://t.co/gvxeT4SyOW via @BloombergView Mar 27, 2014
  • We enjoyed having @susanweiner speak to us at the #CFA Institute – Baltimore; we can all benefit from learning to write more engagingly $$ Mar 26, 2014
  • ‘ @PlanMaestro Yes, I remember that piece http://t.co/YDhQTnNopk and the series that followed it http://t.co/OC2PfnWc1z $$ Capital efficient Mar 26, 2014

 

Classic: Know Your Debt Crises: This Too Shall Pass

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The following was published at RealMoney on August 6th, 2007:

Editor’s Summary

The illiquid debt instruments at the heart of the current crisis are subject to regime shifts.

  •  We’re in a periodic repricing of illiquid debt instruments.
  • Look for the time when the bulk of the losses will be reconciled.
  • Stick with the companies that have strong balance sheets.

I appreciated Cramer’s piece Friday morning, which picks up on many themes that I have articulated for the last four years here on RealMoney.  Here are a few:

  • Hedge fund-of-funds demand smooth returns that are higher than that which a moderate quality short-term fixed-income fund can deliver.
  • This leads to the creation of hedge funds that seek yield through arbitrage strategies.
  • And the creation of hedge funds that seek yield through buying risky debts, unlevered.
  • And the creation of hedge funds that seek yield through buying less risky debts, levered.
  • And the creation of hedge funds that seek yield through buying risky debts, levered.

In the short run, yield-seeking strategies work.  If a lot of players pursue them, they work extra-well for a time, as late entrants to the trade push up the returns for early entrants, with greater demand for scarce, illiquid securities with extra yield.  Pricing grids are a necessity for such securities, because the individual securities don’t have liquid secondary markets.  The pressure of demand raises the value not only of the securities being bought, but also of those securities that are like them.  (Smart managers begin to exit then.)

I’ve been through regime shifts in the markets for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABS), residential-backed securities (RMBS) and commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS).  Something shifts at the back of the chain that forces everything to reprice.  For example:

1989-1994: After the real estate boom of the mid-1980s, many banks, savings & loans and insurance companies get loose in their lending standards and real estate investment, leading to a crisis when rent growth can’t keep up with financing terms; defaults ensue, killing off a great number of S&Ls, some major insurance companies and a passel of medium and small banks.

Late 1991-early 1993: The adjustable-rate mortgage market, fueled by demand from ARM funds, overbids for ARMs in an effort to provide a high floating rate yield.  As the FOMC loosens monetary policy, higher than expected prepayments force losses onto the ARM funds

Late 1993-late 1994: The FOMC threatens to, and does, start raising interest rates, which throws the residential mortgage-backed market into crisis.

Mid-1998-mid-1999: Long Term Capital Management blows up, forcing all manner of exotic ABS, CMBS and RMBS into the market for bids.  The bids back up, until the entire market reprices and then tightens in the space of one year.

1998-1999: Home equity ABS blow up, as defaults threaten to, and then do, emerge at levels far higher than anticipated.  Almost no originators survive.

1999-2001: Cruddy high-yield bonds reveal their true value as defaults threaten to, and then do, emerge.

2002-2003: The manufactured-housing ABS market blows up, as originators don’t take initial losses but roll borrowers over into new loans that reduce payments and extend payment terms, technically keeping the loans current.  The system collapses when the buildup of bad debts and repossessed homes becomes too great to roll over.

(Of the existing large securitization markets, only the CMBS market so far has not faced a real crisis, partly due to the influence of the B-piece buyers cartel: six or so firms that buy the junk-rated debt of deals and enforce credit quality standards on the individual loans by kicking out poorly underwritten loans.  But who knows?  Even that could be overwhelmed under the right circumstances.)

In each of these situations, there was a boom-bust cycle.  The markets did not adjust slowly and evenly to changing conditions; the transitions between “boom” pricing, and “bust” pricing were swift.  This is the nature of markets, particularly when enough debt is employed to amplify the process.

There is no conspiracy necessary to make the shift happen (though often the media will make it seem like there was one); the bubble pops when the financing proves insufficient to carry the assets.  After the bubble pops, it becomes a question of what the underlying assets can be liquidated for, allocating losses mercilessly according to the loan documents and bankruptcy priority.

Today the crises are nonprime lending, leveraged buyouts and other high-yield debt and over-leverage in the CDO market.  These will get worked out, as all other crises do, handing losses to those who speculated unwisely and allowing those who financed properly to prosper on the other side of the crisis.

As you invest, look for the time when more than half of the losses will be reconciled.  That will be near the bottom for homebuilders and housing finance.

That time may not come for another two years or so, but there will be money to be made once the crisis is mostly reconciled.  Just stick with the companies that have strong balance sheets.

Redacted Version of the March 2014 FOMC Statement

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
January 2014March 2014Comments
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December indicates that growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters.Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that growth in economic activity slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting adverse weather conditions.Weather is always a weak reason for a bad result.  You almost never see anyone claim good weather boosted results.
Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate declined but remains elevated.Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate, however, remains elevated.No significant change.
Household spending and business fixed investment advanced more quickly in recent months, while the recovery in the housing sector slowed somewhat.Household spending and business fixed investment continued to advance, while the recovery in the housing sector remained slow.No significant change.
Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing.Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing.No change.  Funny that they don’t call their tapering a “restraint.”
Inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.Inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.No change.  TIPS are showing slightly lower inflation expectations since the last meeting. 5y forward 5y inflation implied from TIPS is near 2.56%, up 0.02% from January.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability.Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability.No change. Any time they mention the “statutory mandate,” it is to excuse bad policy.
The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate.The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually, moving toward those the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate.Unemploys the concept of the Unemployment rate as the sole measure of labor conditions.  Maybe aggregate wages would be better.
The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having become more nearly balanced.The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as nearly balanced.No significant change.
The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.No change.  CPI is at 1.1% now, yoy.
Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment since the inception of its current asset purchase program, the Committee continues to see the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions over that period as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy.The Committee currently judges that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions.Drops the language on fiscal retrenchment.  Continued overestimate of economy and labor conditions.
In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in February, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $30 billion per month rather than $35 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $35 billion per month rather than $40 billion per month.In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions since the inception of the current asset purchase program, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in April, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $25 billion per month rather than $30 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $30 billion per month rather than $35 billion per month.Reduces the purchase rate by $5 billion each on Treasuries and MBS.  No big deal.

 

The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.No change
The Committee’s sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.The Committee’s sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.No change.  But it has little impact on interest rates on the long end, which are rallying into a weakening global economy.
The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability.The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability.No change. Useless paragraph.
If incoming information broadly supports the Committee’s expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings.If incoming information broadly supports the Committee’s expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings.No change.  Says that purchases will likely continue to decline if the economy continues to improve.
However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee’s decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee’s outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee’s decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee’s outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.No change.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate.

 

No change.
The Committee also reaffirmed its expectation that the current exceptionally low target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. Drops the contentious sentence locking themselves into a policy.
In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments.In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress–both realized and expected–toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments.Monetary policy is like jazz; we make it up as we go.  Also note that progress can be expected progress – presumably that means looking at the change in forward expectations for inflation, etc.
The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 percent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal.The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored.Makes its standards for raising Fed funds more arbitrary.
When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.No change.
 The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.New sentence.  Says loose policy will stay longer than needed.
 With the unemployment rate nearing 6-1/2 percent, the Committee has updated its forward guidance. The change in the Committee’s guidance does not indicate any change in the Committee’s policy intentions as set forth in its recent statements.New sentence.  Says loose policy will stay longer than needed.  Also, disregard any change in policy that you might have seen here.  We still felt the need to change the statement, but really, nothing has changed.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Janet L. Yellen.

 

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; and Daniel K. Tarullo.

 

Bernanke is gone.  Good.  Yellen is Chair. Bad.
 Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who supported the sixth paragraph, but believed the fifth paragraph weakens the credibility of the Committee’s commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.This is perhaps the lamest vote against an FOMC decision that I have ever seen.  The differences between the fifth and sixth paragraphs are minuscule.

 

Comments

  • Small $10 B/month taper.  Equities, commodities, and long bonds both fall.  The FOMC says that any future change to policy is contingent on almost everything.
  • They have an optimistic view of the economy, especially on labor.  At least they are abandoning the unemployment rate as their measure of labor conditions.
  • They missed a real opportunity to simplify the statement.  More words obfuscate, they do not clarify.
  • Current proposed policy is an exercise in wishful thinking.  Monetary policy does not work in reducing unemployment, and I think we should end the charade.
  • In the past I have said, “When [holding down longer-term rates on the highest-quality debt] doesn’t work, what will they do?  I have to imagine that they are wondering whether QE works at all, given the recent rise and fall in long rates.  The Fed is playing with forces bigger than themselves, and it isn’t dawning on them yet.
  • The key variables on Fed Policy are capacity utilization, unemployment, inflation trends, and inflation expectations.  As a result, the FOMC ain’t moving rates up, absent increases in employment, or a US Dollar crisis.  Labor employment is the key metric.
  • GDP growth is not improving much if at all, and much of the unemployment rate improvement comes more from discouraged workers, and part-time workers.

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Bitcoin

 

  • Mt Gox: The brief reign of bitcoin’s top exchange http://t.co/9jSwvxrzOJ What happens when u neglect basic acctg & programming controls Mar 01, 2014
  • Bitcoin Exchange Mt. Gox Files for Bankruptcy Protection http://t.co/aobpHTmsYi B wary of opaque transaction systems, clever may steal $$ Mar 01, 2014
  • Where Did the Bitcoins Go? The Mt. Gox Shutdown, Explained http://t.co/0OkksL8TPG Currencies can’t exist apart from legal systems $$ $BTCUSD Feb 26, 2014
  • The Bitcoin Collective Delusion http://t.co/t51GGmuWbw Inevitable that gov’ts get involved in currencies & trade 4 punishment of fraud $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

Companies & Industries

 

  • Wall Street Hates JPMorgan Fee 4 $1T Junk Loans http://t.co/laoAXelOIr It is a private market; if the distortions r bad enuf, biz will leave Mar 01, 2014
  • Line Builds $15B Value With Teddy Bears, Wicked Witches http://t.co/ccGFjIVQsQ Freemium model applied to Asian messaging, watch 4 IPO Mar 01, 2014
  • Old Mutual Plans IPO of US Unit After Profit Increases http://t.co/a28VUvS23r The final reconciliation of a decade-plus of mis-investment $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • Oil Giants Sell Pipelines as Shale Strength Drives Deals http://t.co/OBVZ66Tm5y They expect oil prices 2rise as they c cheap oil scarcity $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • Dream of US Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs http://t.co/eFRnOdt0aX If debt funds a large part of drilling, time 2b nervous $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • $MSFT ‘s Culture Is Like ‘ $IBM Circa 1990,’ New Chairman Says http://t.co/gzy5NzCaAX Use MSFT Office/Windows Cash Cow 2build new biz $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • What is ‘Forbes’ worth? http://t.co/mHpDgpfkpi The Internet chgs everything; formerly important publications get digitally hollowed out $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Rolls-Royce Drone Ships Challenge $375B Industry http://t.co/CCC9L0rynT Problems here r considerable- control in bad weather, piracy, etc $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • US Issues Emergency Testing Order To Crude Oil Rail Shippers http://t.co/bU5AuY7Ixd Reasonable precautions 4 general safety $$ $UNP $CSX Feb 26, 2014
  • Japan Post Prepares for IPO http://t.co/yE7k137VjT Lotsa assets, but the Q is what can be done w/them. Fuzzy situation w/no hurry $$ $EWJ Feb 26, 2014
  • Zuckerberg Dines With Phone Frenemies Fretting Over Profits http://t.co/NMga2US13J Monet 2b made in solving mobile payments problem $$ $FB Feb 26, 2014
  • Rising Premiums May Hit Small Firms http://t.co/nBA1wjigHP The lies told by the administration regarding cost control r astounding $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Saudi’s Allure Undimmed for Bechtel to DaVita Amid Fallout http://t.co/ikppxlukf3 Someone has 2 buy from the US; $DTA helps w/diabetes $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • $BAC Reaches Deal With Buffett on Preferred Stake http://t.co/bLpgqOMJzT Buffett gets better call protection, divs can b waived in crisis $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Woes of Megacity Driving Signal Dawn of ‘Peak Car’ Era http://t.co/npHTO6NtcJ It may take ~10 yrs, this will right itself, w/fewer cars $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Google Buses Fuel Inequality Debate as Boom Inflates Rents http://t.co/CaQ4msqBnW I f you can’t afford living in San Francisco, move out $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • How ARM Holdings Dominates the Chip World http://t.co/CCFJDitgh1 $ARMH vs $INTC – 2 clever approaches that r utterly different. Who wins? $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Health Law Already Has Impact on Bottom Lines http://t.co/o4k5u6uWgB Fitting that health insurers r getting hosed 4 cooperating w/Obama $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Repsol Agrees to $5B Deal W/Argentina on $YPF http://t.co/piwKwxqS70 $REP decides half a loaf is better than none, nondefaultable bonds $$ Feb 26, 2014

Rest of the World

 

  • China’s Yuan Slides Against US Dollar http://t.co/VLBVTrLPEf The Yuan is still a rigged market, we need 2c it float to ascertain value $$ Mar 01, 2014
  • Bulgaria’s Currency Board versus Ukraine’s Chaos http://t.co/w1lAYExWuF A currency that is anchored leads 2 better results in many ways $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • China’s Central Bank Engineered Yuan’s Decline http://t.co/WmwpCa0H4L It remains 2b seen where the yuan will trade when it freely floats $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • War Crimes Evident in South Sudan, Human Rights Watch Says http://t.co/1AfsvPMYmG Easiest way 2 call off dogs of war is not 2 loose them $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Abe’s Southeast Asia Push Adds to US Ties Amid China Rift http://t.co/3BDgdNznN4 Example of entangling alliances: Will US defend Asia? $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Ortega’s Zara Fashions Tax Avoidance by Shifting Profits to Alps http://t.co/RGBMJ4Xmzc Govts have an interest in unifying tax policy $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Crisis Gauge Rises to Record High as Swaps Avoided http://t.co/hLKrltiEVk Chinese corp spreads widening, same for their TED spread $$ $FXI Feb 26, 2014
  • Investors Mount Attack on Norway in $20B Oil, Gas Row http://t.co/VOPMQgMZKE Norway becomes less predictable, may chase developers away $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Ukraine Pledges to Protect Deposits as Kiev Rally Called http://t.co/iMGsdLODA2 Must ring hollow in Cyprus as EU moves 2 support Ukraine $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

US Politics & Policy

 

  • How ADA, a Chemical Used in Rubber, Got Into 500 Food Products http://t.co/moZqNNco85 Just because it’s not natural doesn’t mean it’s bad $$ Mar 01, 2014
  • Federal audit calls new school lunch rules a failure http://t.co/RyEd0JpP7j Missing middle ground where kids get yummy nutritious food $$ Mar 01, 2014
  • Study Finds SEC Staff Sold Shares B4 Cases Made Public http://t.co/8xRzyCfIgx SEC staffers don’t know what 2 buy, they know what 2 sell $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • GOP Targets Hillary Clinton With Obamacare Attacks http://t.co/QKlHYwHUeG It is fair to ask her what she would do differently than Obama $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Here’s How Much People Are Actually Paying for Health Insurance http://t.co/AeC4xs3y2d Interesting, not sure what to make of it $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Busted State Obamacare Websites Haven’t Caught Up to Healthcare gov http://t.co/LLee1ovP2y OR, MA & OR r worse than Fed’l website 4 PPACA $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • What Does Eric Schneiderman Know That the Rest of Us Don’t? http://t.co/aI4Crec3EZ Oversteps his bounds, but gets sellside firms 2 stop $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Dave Camp: How to Fix Our Appalling Tax Code http://t.co/lx4VM2kHNz Complex tax codes allow the wealthy 2 eliminate taxes that poor can’t $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • When the Minimum Wage Goes Up, the Menu Price Also Rises http://t.co/ukEWzIjoje The pain has 2go somewhere, including reducing employment $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • America’s 10-Year Experiment in Broadband Investment Has Failed http://t.co/hjGuuu7JA0 We need to free up competition in the “last mile” $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • How Dodd-Frank Might Kill the CLO Market http://t.co/ztV9PMdums & we won’t miss it, b/c securitized credit is not accounted 4 properly $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • High-Priced Hydrogen Cars to Challenge Electrics http://t.co/3akLFwjJuG Hydrogen is not the solution, it is just fossil fuels in disguise $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Truth About Hydrogen Power http://t.co/McG32mWHyT Old article, explains y hydrogen is no panacea b/c it takes fossil energy 2 produce it $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • The same is true of fusion power. The costs of creating Tritium at a scale needed to power a city would be astounding. $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • A Surprise Guest at the SEC’s Annual Gathering http://t.co/R15fMul7CU @mcuban shows what a measured & classy guy he can b @ SEC meeting $$ Feb 22, 2014

 

US Economics & Monetary Policy

 

  • Foreclosures Climaxing in New York-New Jersey Market: Mortgages http://t.co/NPQeYY7Rc3 Judicial foreclosure states catching up rest of US $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Home Prices in 2013 Notch Biggest Annual Gain Since 2005 http://t.co/FjTjdA7YcU Demand from investors pads purchases, rates higher now $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • America’s Hottest Housing Market Has Suddenly Cooled Down http://t.co/00uIJ4gSo3 Phoenix RE rises out of ashes on speculative demand $$ $Z Feb 26, 2014
  • March 4 Hearing for Three Fed Nominees http://t.co/McV2Tt7p29 One bullet & 2 blanks in the gun. Stanley Fischer will bring some wisdom $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Fed Crisis Transcripts Highlight Futility of FSOC Crystal Balls http://t.co/XComU1xA5K Bureaucrats can’t/won’t predict disaster coming $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • The Fed knows less than average http://t.co/cnA4nBBwU0 & http://t.co/5wG84hxPGi & http://t.co/C5y3re8ajV 2008 Transcripts show clueless $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • How to Profit from the Yellen Fed http://t.co/4oAiBUdXDr Yellen is core 2 the M.O. of the Fed, it’s like jazz, they make it up as they go $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

 

Market Impact

 

  • Banks Averting Bond Losses With Accounting Twist http://t.co/VC83ByMGNC Switching bonds from available 4 sale 2 held 2 maturity $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • The switch limits flexibility b/c u can’t change back w/o poss changing all back; also doesn’t change economics, moves losses 2 future $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Greed Turning Losers to Leaders in Russell 1000 Index http://t.co/vpGTVXkD9t Could this b a harbinger of a change in the markets? $$ $SPY Feb 26, 2014
  • Outcome or process — what investment focus succeeds over time? http://t.co/edXLqAX9pg @Ritholtz tells us to focus on process not results $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Social psychology: Market madness http://t.co/BtaVXAYWYZ This is y the 1st priority of investment is risk control; can’t sleep @ night $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • 10 Value Investing Blogs You’d Be Crazy Not To Follow http://t.co/mt8tZkGRAq Happy 2b featured among this great group of blogs $$ Thanks! Feb 26, 2014

 

Other Business

 

  • Harvard Brainpower Joins MIT Fueling Boston Sports Teams’

Titles http://t.co/OZNC8wCIJi Bright guys using math2analyze sports in Beantown $$ Feb 28, 2014

  • Big Data Comes to the Farm, Sowing Mistrust http://t.co/ayBsxp8qAt Farmers worry that data used to help them will b used against them too $$ Feb 28, 2014
  • Corporate Economists Are Hot Again http://t.co/DUn5O7Idjz An alternative would b actuaries, they r usually better at practical models $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Dwindling Midwest High School Grads Spur College Hunt http://t.co/iVURNV69EU Demographics now fight against colleges, many weak will die $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • The Joy and Freedom of Working Until Death http://t.co/wkGRoRSJIg Find something that u enjoy doing that supports u & yours well forever $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

Medical

 

  • Dad May Join Two Moms for Disease-Free Designer Babies http://t.co/yiXUO0sLok Designer babies:many embryos die in order 2 produce 1 child $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Your Heart May Be Older Than You Are http://t.co/46PbtkWQ7h Cute way 2 get people to take care of themselves; may have false negatives $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Mystery Medical Symptoms Hit a Surprising Number of Patients http://t.co/6DoJnAjt6w Stress can trigger pains; this teaches stress control $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

Pimco & Bill Gross

  • Pimco’s Gross: ‘U don’t always produce productive family by sweet talking&always being inclusive’ http://t.co/sjKnhN76jh Allianz happy w/him Mar 01, 2014
  • Counterpoint: It’s time for Bill Gross 2 retire http://t.co/UB1ikZhTlI Everybody Should Get Off Bill Gross’s Back http://t.co/hbbAYRXuBN $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Inside the Showdown Atop Pimco, the World’s Biggest Bond Firm http://t.co/kVtk8Zf5d8 Gross developed the theories guide Pimco & he stays $$ Feb 26, 2014

 

Wrong

  • Wrong: Templeton Braving China’s Housing Bubble http://t.co/rjVSQUXoAe China looks like Japan in 1989, or the developed world in 2007 #avoid Mar 01, 2014
  • Wrong: NASA Scientists Discover 715 New Planets http://t.co/6KhRpp2Y5A Life is finely tuned on Earth +/- 10% in size of Earth -> no life $$ Feb 27, 2014
  • Wrong: Fed s Tarullo Eyes New Tools to Limit Interest Rate Risk http://t.co/fA4l6omDVi Dreams 2 undo effects of bad policy w/o undoing it $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Wrong: It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?! http://t.co/u8kpW7kJFj Misses the idea that water does get reused many times: rain $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • Wrong: Can Amazon Dominate in Insurance, Too? http://t.co/zAP8GkunSx Except 4 simple products, Insurance is too complex 4 people to pull $$ Feb 24, 2014

 

Comments, Replies & Retweets

  • @jasonzweigwsj @AlexRubalcava I wrote an article on the problems w/zero cost investing recently http://t.co/ALu1ijgVev ”sand in the gears” Mar 01, 2014
  • RT @AlexRubalcava: Zero commission stock trading sounds like a product tailor made to amplify investors’ behavioral finance mistakes. Mar 01, 2014
  • “Currencies & trade cannot exist in a vacuum apart from legal systems, because fraud is a crime…” — David_Merkel http://t.co/7fJX26SEyP $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • ‘ @GSElevator Tattletale Exposed (He Was Not in the Goldman Elevator) http://t.co/S1NVy13sZn I don’t get out much, 1st I’ve heard of this $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • “Regarding First Data, many might think it quite desirable to step out of the spotlight @ $JPM &…” — David_Merkel http://t.co/COHGctym2A $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • . @dpinsen The ancient retirement tripod of course http://t.co/k06EUCbHa1 unless the modern one works. $$ Feb 26, 2014
  • @dpinsen That was icky, and more… gotta go wash my brain out… brrr. Feb 22, 2014

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Market Impact

 

  • Companies Squeeze 401K Plans From Facebook to JPMorgan http://t.co/2glTizHOjm This should not surprise, many companies shrink labor costs $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Wells Fargo edges back into subprime as US mortgage market thaws http://t.co/s8AJCKuzOH Isn’t a problem now, problem comes w/imitators $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Homebuyers Get Break as Loan Rates Defy Fed Tapering http://t.co/i7PdmGThdz Housing & general economy weakened, so mortgage rates fell $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Pension politics http://t.co/3NaaI61AxM @felixsalmon points out how defined benefit plans r in general better 4 workers. Mind the PBGC $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Colleges Raise Record $33.8B Exceeding US Peak in 2009 http://t.co/PRjlMrKM9i Donations always follow creation of unrealized cap gains $$ Feb 12, 2014
  • Some Lines Say Maybe the Stock Market Will Go Down http://t.co/FdkJdRT9qe @matt_levine correctly criticizes the 1928-9 $SPY graph overlay $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • 1929 Stock Market Crash Chart Is Garbage http://t.co/PyPIulerCH Unequal left & right scales make the relationship look tighter than it is $$ Feb 12, 2014
  •  When to Ignore the Investment Experts http://t.co/K2vyHgb1gv “When all the experts &forecasts agree — something else is going 2 happen.” $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Comparing Economic Recoveries http://t.co/5za6QtEFKD In 1984-2006, growth was borrowed from future by increasing debt levels-> #payback $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Aluminum Lines Still Trouble the London Metal Exchange http://t.co/f5OyWC5EHC Aluminum inventories will b a prob, til short intrates rise $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Top Anecdotal Signs of a Market Bubble http://t.co/MavPhxB6vZ Good piece, like one of mine: http://t.co/bON7nJJFfk Watch the credit cycle $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Ten Stocks to Own During a Market Correction http://t.co/RzBdaNf1ff Good list. I own a few of them. $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Does trend-chasing explain financial markets? http://t.co/3Mkg4R99dx Partly. Difference between investment IRR and total return is big $$ Feb 10, 2014
  • “Security. Safety. Stability.” http://t.co/VfKVcGgMRJ from @reformedbroker Gold is useful at certain points, but only when it is hated $$ Feb 10, 2014
  • Flows Don’t Follow Value, They Follow Performance http://t.co/9oIJ4M7HMo @reformedbroker wrote this little gem. Learn & internalize it $$ Feb 10, 2014
  • Long Term Charts 2: Western Markets Since The Middle Ages http://t.co/lsBfIot8pi Interesting charts from very messy data at Zero Hedge $$ Feb 10, 2014
  • Most Expensive Place to Find Out Who You Are http://t.co/szQfeKFZxT @jasonzweigwsj : Your reaction 2 minor crisis shows yr risk tolerance $$ Feb 10, 2014

 

Companies & Industries

 

  • AIG Takes $832 Million Charge on Death Bets as Hedge Funds Gain http://t.co/JmI7hBy9MH Life settlements should b illegal $$ $MET $AIG $PRU Feb 14, 2014
  • To Stop the Coffee Apocalypse, Starbucks Buys a Farm http://t.co/CPkyVAUnsR $SBUX helps create a variety of rust resistant Arabica trees $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Former BlackRock Manager Finds Billions on Rice Energy http://t.co/aBPTo3u4Ky Few investment mgrs have operating talent; Daniel Rice does $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Buffett’s Pal Munger Heads a Very Weird Company http://t.co/ztr3XizpKM Growth of $DJCO thru investing leads 2 # of growing pains & 13F $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Here’s Why the Biggest Cable Company in the Country Thinks It Can Get Bigger http://t.co/04cdg1J9VP Feds tolerant of cable re antitrust $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Why AOL ended up spending millions on ‘distressed babies’ http://t.co/d2lWs8eJit $AOL chose 2b in healthcare biz 4 its employees & lost $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • 3 High-Yielders To Buy On The Pullback http://t.co/8SUBI1M0ut In total $SNH issues more stock than it pays in divs. Divs -> cap losses $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Who is John Thompson? A look at Microsoft’s new chairman http://t.co/W7SrXqxtwm May have right stuff to protect new CEO from meddling $$ Feb 10, 2014

 

US Politics & Policy

 

  • Runaway Drones Map Land, Film ‘Wolf,’ Knock Down People, FAA Gives Chase http://t.co/rcTnjug8w1 Drones r here 2 stay; time license them $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Teacher Tenure Put to the Test in California Lawsuit http://t.co/XP5fx6HpR3 Tenure has outlived its usefulness; older teachers can b lazy $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Lincoln’s Foreign Policy in Today’s World http://t.co/t2RELj7uRB Kept England & France from joining Civil War; otherwise pragmatic $$ $SPY Feb 15, 2014
  • What Would Lincoln Do? http://t.co/hi6n4Rb8hl A clever man w/principles, who did not cease to be pragmatic pursuing 1 main goal – Union $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Harvard Professor Attacking Google Thrives as Web Sheriff http://t.co/g1W7KXH94K At some point, lack of disclosure will blow up on him $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • The $2.2B Bird-Scorching Solar Project http://t.co/hIYWhJpUwQ Get used 2 idea: almost every form of energy imposes environmental costs $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Obamacare Damage-Control Teams Seek to Calm Complaints http://t.co/bPU95rVMxM Things r tough when u r trying to avoid media embarrassment $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Billionaire Musk Gets Brownsville to Pay for SpaceX http://t.co/eoAiygs9mq Like a football owner bargaining 2 get taxpayers buy a stadium $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Snowden Swiped Password From NSA Coworker http://t.co/1mJ5D6vGH3 & it cost him his job. Snowden denies it; NSA is Not Saying Anything $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Puerto Rico Legislators Amend Bill Calling for Bank-Deposit Shift http://t.co/fMaCvMi7ab Provincial govt’s attempt 2raid cookie jar stopd $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Obamacare Will, in Fact, Encourage Employers to Cut Jobs http://t.co/D3vaCFHOZY As the employer mandate comes into force, jobs will b cut $$ Feb 12, 2014
  • Tea Party Scorns Republicans as House Lifts Debt Ceiling http://t.co/fPohsF6Kbi t-party can b “pure” as Dems raise ceiling w/few GOP $$ $TLT Feb 12, 2014
  • A Lame Duckish Calm Falls Over the Capital http://t.co/u6bG2cg1nL Parties in DC act as if the next event is the November elections $$ $TLT Feb 12, 2014
  • Obama Rewrites ObamaCare http://t.co/Ym3CtHt3pI Another day, another lawless exemption, once again for business; WSJ bangs populist drum $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • The US Senate Again Insists on USPS Saturday Mail Delivery http://t.co/YnzmKE5Xrh 2 timid; end Wednesday & Saturday delivery $$ $UPS $FDX Feb 11, 2014
  • US firms ‘paid effective tax rate of 2.2% in 2011’ http://t.co/f2T5Qnrhri More than a tax haven, Ireland helps insurers shave reserves $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • No Honeymoon for Janet Yellen http://t.co/86QPfTcVE0 QE withdrawal will bite, & what will become of all the deposits? $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Please Hold Your Bernanke Applause http://t.co/DCKPttFHNU Remember, when Greenspan left, he was viewed as a success, same as BB now $$ $TLT Feb 11, 2014
  • Sounding the Tax Alarm, to Little Applause http://t.co/r9JQmmaeLB IRS stiffs whistleblowers who often lose employability 4 being a tipper $$ Feb 10, 2014

 

Rest of the World

 

  • Putin is Playing a Game of His Own http://t.co/19Arh0aJOH Not so fast. Russia has significant resources & influence in Eastern H’sphere $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Boy’s Life Hanging on 8-Hour Trip Shows Why Venezuelans Protest http://t.co/8G8CgGwGST Socialism is like a cancer that spreads til death $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • Let’s Watch Venezuela Destroy Itself http://t.co/g1Uy3zk1W3 Logical extreme of Socialism falls apart; pity that Chavez never lived 2c it $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • Chinese Join Winklevosses in L.A. Luxury Home Hedges http://t.co/TUdw4AItw8 Amazing what the wealthy will pay 4a fancy foreign retreat $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • Next crisis won’t come from the emerging markets http://t.co/Jei7oKJ8BD Argues France, Germany, Britain, Australia & Canada-> 2 much debt $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Mister Donut, Pan Am and Friendster Found Alive and Well http://t.co/vDaGi33cEN Old brands never die, they just move overseas & make $$ $SPY Feb 13, 2014
  • Bank of England points to 2015 rate rise, blurs guidance http://t.co/AWhyd8GZmd More precision than 1 can know; the world is messy $$ $FXB Feb 13, 2014
  • Italy Pays Record Low to Sell 3-Year Debt at Auction http://t.co/PWmUhXufjb Let the leverage build for the next crisis $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Fink to Mobius Touting Emerging Stocks Fails to Stem Outflow http://t.co/8PFKbOH8Lg A time 2 nibble, not a time 2 gulp $$ $EEM Be wary Feb 13, 2014
  • Greek Truckers Show Plight as Groceries Show Up Frozen http://t.co/XgAM737A7h Freeing up the labor market will work as attitudes change $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Tunisians Bolt Doors Even After New Constitution Passed http://t.co/lBhXz8iqWb Constitutions cannot create cultural change; asks 2 much $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Israel Desalination Shows California Not to Fear Drought http://t.co/BFidhnEF7S When resources r tight there are incentives 2 create tech $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • London Walkie Talkie Owners to Shield Car-Melting Beam http://t.co/76TP0u2tuT Reflective parabolic curve of building melts cars @ a spot $$ Feb 12, 2014
  • Rouhani Seeks Economic Fix as Iran Commemorates Revolution http://t.co/EDNL5WLOvB Will have to get the agreement of unelected true rulers $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Argentina to Replace Bogus Inflation Index to Mend IMF Ties http://t.co/iSzQizrgnF Argentina tries 2 find cheapest way out of this mess $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Who Should Pay for Trusts that Go Bust? http://t.co/aOXFbDltCZ If China is smart, protect depositors, but let banks & WMP holders fail $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Iceland Girds for Fight as Suit Targets Half $14B GDP http://t.co/hX6M12PZ48 Icelandic taxpayer will refuse the bill; UK will b stiffed $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Mobius Says Emerging-Market Rout Near End as Valuations Lure http://t.co/MMLjlAmN49 I dunno, a 4% earnings yield premium seems small $$ $EEM Feb 11, 2014
  • Rehabilitating Portugal http://t.co/tFy3GnIwRQ Long; Argues that a Greek-style bailout should b done, or Portugal will eventually default $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Iranian TV Shows Rare Broadcast of Band Playing Music http://t.co/jTBFNcRsHJ Christianity has always been easier on music than Islam $$ Feb 11, 2014

 

Work Trends

 

  • Sheep-Shearing Wells Fargo Banker Bridges US Income Gap http://t.co/utMe1ekmir Sells coffeemakers too; many in US work multiple jobs $$ $TLT Feb 13, 2014
  • Workers Shed Caution, in a Healthy Sign for Labor Market http://t.co/zTq0NgbO0f When workers r willing 2 quit, labor mkt is healthy $$ $TLT Feb 11, 2014

 

Practical

 

  • A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk http://stks.co/j0I6p Sage counsel 2 younger women if they want to get married: start early $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • The Sex Question Readers Want Answered Most http://t.co/kRhYIgwI2Z Even Long-Married Happy Couples Ask, ‘How Can We Have Sex More Often?’ $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Ten Ways You’re Probably Leaving Money on the Table http://t.co/KkjetkJsp9 Simple list of ways to save money for avg upper-middle class $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Why Mom’s Time Is Different From Dad’s Time http://t.co/0Xr4IMsFfs Husbands, u can win if u reduce chaos for your overburdened wives $$ Feb 11, 2014

 

Other

 

  • US Scores Fusion-Power Breakthrough http://t.co/h6wDtXHcVj Bad news is Tritium very expensive @ $100K per gram; takes much energy 2 make $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • If Ocean Heat Pump Switches On, Expect to Feel It http://t.co/FlsYni5c62 Speculative; we don’t understand climate or hurricanes well $$ Feb 11, 2014
  • Who is Steven Reisman? Meet Hip-Hop VIPs’ Favorite Lawyer, The Man With The $2 Bills http://t.co/B3v87YDWrt Weird. Very, very weird $$ $SPY Feb 11, 2014
  • What Really Happened to Flappy Bird? http://t.co/3IiBxSIhYx Beware the success u wish 4? Also: http://t.co/ld6A2XaiKs Still a puzzle $$ $SPY Feb 11, 2014

 

Wrong, etc.

 

  • Skeptical: Blackstone-Fueled Single-Family Home Boom Lifts Chicago http://t.co/sETcWifBGx In past hi levels of investor ownership bearish $$ Feb 15, 2014
  • Wrong: Pros Panic, Retail Investors Stay Cool on Emerging Markets http://t.co/QXXpOcqKYw Too short a period time to judge $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • Wrong: Social norms: The indignity of no work http://t.co/6isHJo9fkw New technologies will create new jobs & make the whole world better $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • Wrong: Warren Buffett is laughing at you for selling http://t.co/S5LFS3jUk5 Poorly thought-out piece glues 2unrelated ideas together $$ $EEM Feb 13, 2014
  • Wrong: The #1 High-Yield Investment Of America’s Elite http://t.co/FUVyBblQpZ Spammy article that talks about REITs as if they r a secret $$ Feb 11, 2014

 

Replies, Retweets & Comments

 

  • 10 miles west of Baltimore, MD, we got ~15 inches of snow over the last last 2 days. #snow #weather #pax $$ Feb 14, 2014
  • “I made this comment six months ago: http://t.co/a82j8TRxm1… & then, I tipped the SEC. …” — David_Merkel http://t.co/gthPe5eQoA $$ $DJCO Feb 13, 2014
  • “Administrative Services Only” plus individual stop loss protection is in general the smart way2…” — David_Merkel http://t.co/fPV6fQo1i1 $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • “This is a common confusion in statistics — you can have a high correlation and a low beta. Second…” — Merkel http://t.co/sa6PLqEhdU $$ Feb 13, 2014
  • RT @Pawelmorski: Scary parallel my foot. http://t.co/omyovAKQaX Feb 12, 2014
  • @davidgaffen that would only be a temporary fix. I wrote this 3.5 yrs ago on the topic: http://t.co/q3lbyELN9d The internet eats USPS Feb 11, 2014
  • @quakkelaar I miss you too. If you are ever near Baltimore/DC, let me know; we can get together, brother. Last few years have been hard Feb 11, 2014
  • RT @ReformedBroker: Please explain how the wording of this investment advertisement on the Washington Post site could be legal: http://t.co… Feb 10, 2014
  • ‘ @quakkelaar Hail old friend. Yes, same old mistakes, b/c those wishing to retire are making the money sweat, until it rebels on them $$ Feb 09, 2014

 

Classic: The Fundamentals of Real Estate Market Tops

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

I’ve mentioned before how all of my old articles at RealMoney were lost.  This was the draft version of Real Estate’s Top Looms published on 05/20/05.  I followed it up with  Housing Bubblettes, Redux on 10/27/05 and  September 2005 — The Residential Real Estate Inflection Point on 02/14/06.  Also, there was Wrecking Ball Looms for Big Housing Spec on 11/27/06, where I explained why it was likely that the subprime residential mortgage market was likely to blow up (can’t find the draft of that one).

But those links above no longer work — a real pity, and the one link below is corrected to point to the republished article at my blog.  Anyway, enjoy this if you want, because it outlines my thinking on how to recognize whether you are getting near the end of the bull phase of a market.

(Note: the italicized, indented portions, quote the original article The Fundamentals of Market Tops.  Much of what I write compares how residential real estate is similar to and different from stocks.)

-==-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=–=

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece called The Fundamentals of Market Tops.  It was an important piece for me because I received a lot of positive feedback from readers.  It was also important because it disagreed with the view of the firm that I worked for, and nearly led to my termination there, because they encouraged me to stop writing for RealMoney.  Neither termination happened, but it was touch-and-go for a while.

This piece unofficially represents the views of the firm that I work for, because my views of macroeconomics have become the firm’s views, but I don’t directly control our investment actions.  What I will try to accomplish here is to try to apply the logic of my prior article to the residential real estate market.  As opposed to my earlier article, I will try to show why I think we are close to a market top in residential real estate.  There is reason for pessimism.

The Investor Base Becomes Momentum-Driven

Valuation is rarely a sufficient reason to be long or short a market. Absurdity is like infinity. Twice infinity is still infinity. Twice absurd is still absurd. Absurd valuations, whether high or low, can become even more absurd if the expectations of market participants become momentum-based. Momentum investors do not care about valuation; they buy what is going up, and sell what is going down.

This is what I see in many residential real estate markets now: panicked buyers are saying “this is my last chance,” and buying houses using risky forms of financing.  At the same time, I read stories of despair as some potential buyers give up and say that a house is out of their reach for now; they waited too long.  Occasionally, I see a few articles or e-mails regarding people who seem to be bright selling their homes and renting, but this is a minority behavior.

In the face of this, residential real estate prices continue to rise, particularly in the hot coastal markets, which tells me that the price momentum can continue a little while longer until it fails because there is no incremental liquidity available to expand the bubbles.

You’ll know a market top is probably coming when:

  1. The shorts already have been killed. You don’t hear about them anymore. There is general embarrassment over investments in short-only funds.

  2. Long-only managers are getting butchered for conservatism. In early 2000, we saw many eminent value investors give up around the same time. Julian Robertson, George Vanderheiden, Robert Sanborn, Gary Brinson and Stanley Druckenmiller all stepped down shortly before the market top.

  3. Valuation-sensitive investors who aren’t total-return driven because of a need to justify fees to outside investors accumulate cash. Warren Buffett is an example of this. When Buffett said that he “didn’t get tech,” he did not mean that he didn’t understand technology; he just couldn’t understand how technology companies would earn returns on equity justifying the capital employed on a sustainable basis.

  4. The recent past performance of growth managers tends to beat that of value managers. (I am using the terms growth and value in a classic sense here. Growth managers attempt to ascertain the future prospects of firms with little focus on valuation. Value managers attempt to calculate the value of a firm with less credit for future prospects.) In short, the future prospects of firms become the dominant means of setting market prices.

  5. Momentum strategies are self-reinforcing due to an abundance of momentum investors. Once momentum strategies become dominant in a market, the market behaves differently. Actual price volatility increases. Trends tend to maintain themselves over longer periods. Selloffs tend to be short and sharp.

  6. Markets driven by momentum favor inexperienced investors. My favorite way that this plays out is on CNBC. I gauge the age, experience and reasoning of the pundits. Near market tops, the pundits tend to be younger, newer and less rigorous. Experienced investors tend to have a greater regard for risk control, and believe in mean-reversion to a degree. Inexperienced investors tend to follow trends. They like to buy stocks that look like they are succeeding and sell those that look like they are failing.

  7. Defined benefit pension plans tend to be net sellers of stock. This happens as they rebalance their funds to their target weights.

Houses aren’t like stocks for several reasons:

  1. Unlike stocks, houses are used by their owners every day.
  2. We can short stocks, but we can’t short houses.  (Personally, I hope no one comes up with a clever way to do so.  We have enough volatility already.)  The most someone can do is sell his home and rent.
  3. Perhaps the equivalent of a long-only manager is someone who owns his property debt-free, like me, and doesn’t see the need to lever up by moving up to a larger home.  Measured against the standard of “what might have been” is a terrifying taskmaster from an investment standpoint.  I avoid it in equity investing, and in home ownership.
  4. I am aware of a number of people (I have been assured that they are not mentally incompetent) who have sold their homes and started renting.  This to me is the equivalent of going totally flat in equities, or other risky assets.  Not that one faces negative carry, because the ratio of rent to in the hot markets is pretty low.  In many markets, you can earn more off the proceeds than you pay in rent (leaving tax consequences aside).  This leaves aside the issue of appreciation/depreciation of housing values, but when one can rent more cheaply than buying, it is a negative for the housing market.
  5. My point about momentum strategies is definitely pertinent here.  With the existence of contract-flipping, a high level of amateur investment (seemingly under the guise of “buy what you know”), and a high level of investor interest (10%+), there is a lot of momentum in real estate investment.  People buy because prices are going up.  Some buy because it is “the last train out,” and they have to jump rather than be stranded.  Nonetheless, momentum tends to maintain in the short run, and the slowdown posited last fall definitely has not occurred.
  6. Value vs. Growth does not exactly apply here, but in the housing market, people are paying up for future prospects more than they used to, which is akin to growth investing.
  7. This is just an opinion, but those who are making money in residential real estate today are inexperienced and less rigorous than most good businessmen.  They see the potential for profit, but not the possibility of loss.
  8. Unfortunately, it is difficult to partially own a home.  Home ownership is largely a discrete phenomenon.
  9. Using a concept from value investing we can look at the earnings yield that residential real estate is throwing off.  Compare the rents one could receive from a property versus the cost that it would take to finance the property on a floating rate basis.  What I am seeing is that more and more hot coastal markets earn less from rents than they require in mortgage payments.  Property price appreciation is no longer a nice thing; it is required to bail out inverted investors.  Contrast this with those that invested in tech stocks on a levered basis in early 2000; they paid cash out to hold appreciating positions, before they paid cash to hold depreciating positions, before they blew the positions out in panic.

Corporate Behavior

Corporations respond to signals that market participants give. Near market tops, capital is inexpensive, so companies take the opportunity to raise capital.  Here are ways that corporate behaviors change near a market top:

  1. The quality of IPOs declines, and the dollar amount increases. By quality, I mean companies that have a sustainable competitive advantage, and that can generate ROE in excess of cost of capital within a reasonable period.
  2. Venture capitalists can do no wrong, so lots of money is attracted to venture capital.
  3. Meeting the earnings number becomes paramount. What is ignored is balance sheet quality, cash flow from operations, etc.
  4. There is a high degree of visible and/or hidden leverage. Unusual securitization and financing techniques proliferate. Off balance sheet liabilities become very common.
  5. Cash flow proves insufficient to finance some speculative enterprises and some financial speculators. This occurs late in the game. When some speculative enterprises begin to run out of cash and can’t find anyone to finance them, they become insolvent. This leads to greater scrutiny and a sea change in attitudes for financing of speculative companies.
  6. Elements of accounting seem compromised. Large amounts of earnings stem from accruals rather than cash flow from operations.
  7. Dividends become less common. Fewer companies pay dividends, and dividends make up a smaller fraction of earnings or free cash flow.

In short, cash is the lifeblood of business. During speculative times, watch it like a hawk. No array of accrual entries can ever provide quite the same certainty as cash and other highly liquid assets in a crisis.

  1. Every time a new home is sold, a privately placed IPO is held, with one buyer.
  2. When rates are low, it is no surprise that the homebuilders try to take advantage of the situation, and provide supply to meet the demand.  But if it is only rate-driven, rather than from growth in real incomes in the economy, the quality of the new buyers will be low, because now they can just barely finance the house they could not previously.  If their income level falters, they will not have any safety margin allowing them to hold onto the house.
  3. Private investors in residential real estate have multiplied at present.  This is akin to an increase in venture capital.
  4. Leverage for new buyers has never been higher.  This occurs through second and third mortgages, as well as subprime mortgages.  Interest only mortgages are commonplace among new mortgages.  Beyond this, investors hide themselves so that they can get the cheap rates associated with owner-occupied housing.
  5. With housing, making the earnings estimate means being able to pay the mortgage payment each month.  The degree of slack here is less than in the past.

Other Gauges

These two factors are more macro than the investor base or corporate behavior but are just as important.  Near a top, the following tends to happen:

  1. Implied volatility is low and actual volatility is high. When there are many momentum investors in a market, prices get more volatile. At the same time, there can be less demand for hedging via put options, because the market has an aura of inevitability.
  2. The Federal Reserve withdraws liquidity from the system. The rate of expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet slows. This causes short interest rates to rise, making financing more expensive. As this slows down the economy, speculative ventures get hit hardest. Remember that monetary policy works with a six- to 18-month lag; also, this indicator works in reverse when the Fed adds liquidity to the system.

One final note about my indicators: I have found that different indicators work for market bottoms and tops, so don’t blindly apply these in reverse to try to gauge bottoms.

 There is no options market for residential housing, but the Federal Reserve is still a major influence in the housing market.  When the Fed is withdrawing liquidity from the system, the price of housing tends to slow down, if not reverse.  Like the equity market, this is not immediate but follows a six- to 18-month lag.  This is another case of “Don’t fight the Fed.”

No Top Now

There are reasons for concern in the present environment. Valuations are getting stretched in some parts of the market. Debt capital is cheap today. There are an increasing number of momentum investors in the market. Making the earnings estimate is once again of high importance. Nonetheless, a top in the market is not imminent, for these reasons:

  • The Fed is on hold for now. Liquidity is ample, perhaps too much so.
  • Actual price volatility is muted.
  • Since all of the accounting scandals of the last few years, many corporations have cleaned up their accounting and become more conservative.
  • Cash flow from operations comprises a high proportion of current earnings. More dividends are getting paid.
  • Leverage has not declined, but most corporations have succeeded in refinancing themselves in a low interest rate environment.
  • Conservative asset managers have not been fired yet.
  • Most IPOs don’t seem outlandish.

Not all of the indicators that I put forth have to appear for there to be a market top. A preponderance of them appearing would make me concerned, and that is not the case now.

 Some of my indicators are vague and require subjective judgment. But they’re better than nothing, and kept me out of the trouble in 1999 and 2000. I hope that I — and you — can achieve the same with them as we near the next top.

The current market environment is not as favorable as it was a year ago, but there are still some reasonably valued companies with seemingly clean accounting to buy at present. Right now, being long the market is more compelling to me than being flat, much less short.

I would retitle this the “The Top is Coming Soon.”  The reasons that I mentioned to be worrisome remain:

  • Valuations are getting stretched in some parts of the market.
  • Debt capital is cheap today.
  • There are an increasing number of momentum investors in the market.
  • Making the earnings estimate is once again of high importance. (Gotta pay my mortgage!)

But there is more that makes me even more bearish:

  • The Fed is on the warpath, and liquidity is scarce.
  • Appraisals overstate the value of property that financial institutions lend against.
  • Homeowners have a smaller margin of safety than they have had in the past.
  • Leverage has increased for the average homebuyer.
  • People are paying more than they ought to for new and existing homes.

I am decidedly a bear on housing prices (at least in the hot coastal markets) at present, but I recognize that momentum can carry prices far beyond sustainable levels.  That’s the way markets work.

Nonetheless, I am still a bear on those who build homes, and those who finance them.  We are at an unsustainable place in the ability to finance the residential hosing market.  Either an increase in interest rates or a decrease in ability to pay for housing can derail the market.  This is the inflection point that we are at over the next year.

An Expensive Kind of Insurance

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Strategy One: “Consistent Losses, with Occasional Big Gains when the Market is Stressed”

Strategy Two: “Consistent Gains, with Total Wipe-out Risk When Market is Highly Stressed”

How do these two strategies sound to you?  Not too appealing?  I would agree with that.  The second of those strategies was featured in an article at Bloomberg.com recently — Inverse VIX Fund Gets Record Cash on Calm Market Bet.  And though the initial graph confused me, because it was the graph for the exchange traded note VXX, which benefits when the VIX spikes, the article was mostly about the inverse VIX exchange traded note XIV.

Why would someone pursue the second strategy?  Most of the time, it makes money, and since January 2011 we haven’t a horrendous market event like the one from August 2008 through February 2009, it makes money.

I would encourage you to look at the decline in the second half of 2011, where it fell 75% when the VIX briefly burped up to around 50.  But given the amazing comeback as volatility abated, the lesson that some investors drew was this: “Volatility Spike? Time to buy XIV!”  And that explains the article linked above.

You might remember a recent book review of mine — Rule Based Investing.  In that review, I made the point that those that sell insurance on financial contracts tend to win, but it is a volatile game with the possibility of total loss.  To give another example from the recent financial crisis: most of the financial and mortgage insurers in existence prior to 2007 are gone.  Let me put it simply: though financial risks can be insured, the risks are so volatile that they should not be insured.  You are just one colossal failure away from death, and that colossal failure will tend to come when everyone is certain that it can’t come.

But what of the first strategy?  How has it done?

Wow!  Look at the returns over the last few weeks!  Rather, look at a strategy that consistently loses money because it rolls futures contracts for the VIX where the futures curve is upward-sloping almost all the time, leading to buy high, sell low.

Does it pay off in a crisis?  Yes.  Can you use it tactically?  Yes.  Can you hold it and make money?  No.

Back to the second strategy.  People are putting money into XIV because they “know” that implied volatility always mean-reverts, and so they will make easy money after a volatility spike.  But what if they arrive too early, and volatility spikes far higher than expected?  Worse yet, what if Credit Suisse goes belly-up in the volatility?  After all, it is an exchange-traded note where owners of XIV are lending money to Credit Suisse.

Back to Basics

Do I play in these markets?  No.

Do I understand them?  Mostly, but I can’t claim to be the best at this.

What if I try both strategies at the same time?  You will lose.  You are short fees and trading frictions.

What if I short both strategies at the same time?  Uncertain. It comes down to whether you can hold the shorts over the long term without getting “bought in” or panic when one side of the trade runs the wrong way.

Recently, someone pinged me to speak to CFA Institute, Baltimore, where he wanted to talk about “not all correlations of risky assets go to one in a crisis” and pointed to volatility investing as the way to improve asset allocation.  Sigh.  I’m inclined to say that “you can’t teach a Sneech.”

I favor simplicity in investing, and think that many exchange traded products will harm investors on average because the investors do not understand the underlying economics of what they own, while Wall Street uses them as a cheap way to hedge their risk exposures.

There may be some value to speculators in using “investments” like strategy one for a few days at a time.  But holding for any long time is poison.  Worse, if you are accidentally right, and the world comes to an end — this is an exchange-traded note, and the bank you lent to will be broke.  That will also kill strategy two.

So, my advice to you is this: avoid either side of this trade.  Stick with simple investments that do not invest in futures or options.  Complexity is the enemy of the average investor.  I can understand these investments and they don’t work for me.  You should avoid them too.

PS — before I close, let me mention:

Good article in both places.

Fire and Ice

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

This is a hard time to be managing fixed income.  Yes, if you are at a big shop with access to deal flow, not so bad — but when you are small like me and have limited tools for a small client base (less than 10% of my assets are fixed income… smart people, because I am better at equity investing) it is really difficult.

Everyone knows interest rates have to rise.  That is why I own long Treasuries.  If the certainty level were truly that high, we would have sold off a lot more by now.  As it is, oldsters, their intermediaries, and pension plans are investing in longer fixed income to provide long-term income.  The need for income, at least for now, holds rates down.  If price inflation kicks up, my view will change, and so might the view of millions of others.

I call that position “ice.”  What will do well if the global economy goes cold?  That’s 20% of the portfolio.

Then there is “fire,”  credit risk in mild and stronger forms.  40% of assets in short investment grade bonds.  20% in bank loans.  20% in short-dated junk.  What will do well if the economy expands?  “Fire” will do well.

What I did wrong last year

My big mistake last year was owning emerging market bonds, both dollar-denominated, and local currency.  That market fell apart after Bernanke uttered the word “taper.”  I held, thinking there might be some recovery, only to sell in November, ahead of the first real taper.

I forgot what I knew, that immature/emerging financial markets are disproportionately sensitive to changes in monetary policy from developed markets.  Michael Pettis’ book, The Volatility Machine, makes that point ably.

On the bright side, maybe I missed the second half of the losses.  As for now, Fire and Ice is working, and providing returns to the small number of clients that use me for fixed income.

Disclaimer


David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.


Also, though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it. When David, or a client of David's has an interest in a security mentioned, full disclosure will be given, as has been past practice for all that David does on the web. Disclosure is the breakfast of champions.


Additionally, David may occasionally write about accounting, actuarial, insurance, and tax topics, but nothing written here, at RealMoney, or anywhere else is meant to be formal "advice" in those areas. Consult a reputable professional in those areas to get personal, tailored advice that meets the specialized needs that David can have no knowledge of.

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