Photo Credit: Friends of the Earth International || Note: the above is just a photo to illustrate a point. I do not endorse debt cancellation under most coircumstances

Photo Credit: Friends of the Earth International || Note: the above is just a photo to illustrate a point. I do not endorse debt cancellation under most circumstances.  I do support debt-for-equity swaps to delever the system.

Debt, debt, debt… debt is kind of like a snowflakes.  A single snowflake is a pretty star, but one quintillion of them is a horrendous mess.  In the same way, most individual debts are reasonable and justifiable, but when debt becomes a pervasive part of the economic system, the second order effects kick in:

  • As fixed claims grow relative to equity claims, the economy becomes less flexible, because many are counting on the debts for which they are creditors to be paid back at par.
  • Economies that are heavily indebted grow slower.
  • Central banks following untested and dubious theories like QE and negative interests rates try help matters, but end up making things worse.  (Gold would be an improvement.  Just regulate the solvency of banks tightly, which was not done in cases where the gold standard failed.)
  • Political unrest leads to dubious populism, and demands for debt cancellation, and a variety of other quack economic cures.
  • The most solvent governments find high demand for their long debt.  Long-dated claims raise in value as inflation falls along with monetary velocity.

Thus the mess.  Bloomberg had an article on the topic recently, where it tried to ask whether and where there might be a crisis.  I’ve argued in the last year that we shouldn’t have a major crisis in the US over domestic debts.  There are a few areas that look bad:

  • Student loans
  • Agriculture loans
  • Corporate debts to speculative grade companies that are negatively affected by falling crude oil and commodity prices.
  • Maybe some auto loans?

But those don’t add up to a debt market in trouble as when residential mortgages were on the rocks.

But what of other nations and their debts, public and private?

Tough question.

That said, the answer is akin to that for a corporation with a tweak or two.  It’s not the total amount of indebtedness versus assets or income that is the main issue, it is whether the debts can continue to be rolled over or not.  A smaller amount of debt can be a much larger problem than a bigger amount that is longer. (point 2 below)

Take a step back.  With countries there are a variety of factors that would make skeptical about their financial health:

  • Large increases in indebtedness
  • Large amounts of short-term debt
  • Large amounts of foreign currency-denominated liabilities (also true of the entire Eurozone — you don’t control the value of what you will pay back)
  • A fixed, or pseudo-fixed exchange rate (versus floating)
  • A weak economy, and
  • Debt and/or debt service to GDP ratios are high

The first point is important because whatever class of debt increases the most rapidly is usually the best candidate for credit troubles.  Debt that is issued rapidly rarely gets put to good uses, and those that buy it usually aren’t doing their homework.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would implicate China, but the Chinese government probably has enough resources to cover their next credit crisis.  That won’t be true forever, though, and China needs to take steps to make their banking system sound, such that it never generates losses that an individual bank can’t handle.  Personally, I doubt that it will get there, because members of the Party use the banking system for their own benefit.

Points 3, 4, and 6 deal with borrowers compromising on terms in order to borrow.  They are stretching, and accepting terms not adjustable in favor of the debtor, or can be adjusted against the debtor.   If you control your own currency, these problems are modified, because of the option to print currency to pay off debt, and inflate problems away. (Which creates other problems…)

By pseudo-fixed interest rates, I take into account countries that as neo-mercantilists make policy to benefit their exporters at the cost of their importers and consumers.  These countries fight changes in the exchange rate, even though the exchange rate may technically float.

Point 5 simply says that there is insufficient growth to absorb the increases in debt.  Economies growing strongly rarely default.

Conclusion?

My view is this: the next major credit crisis will be an international one, and will involve governments that can’t pay on their debts.  It won’t include the US, the UK, and certainly not Canada.  It probably won’t involve China.  Weak parts of the Eurozone and Japan are possibilities, along with a number of emerging markets.

And, as an aside, if this happens, people will lose faith in central banks as being able to control everything.  I think the central banks and national treasuries will find themselves hard pressed to find agreement at that time.  QE and negative interest rates might be controllable in a domestic setting, but in an international framework, other nations might finally say, “Why would I want to get paid back in that weak currency?”  (And what holds that back now is that virtually all of the world’s currencies except gold are involved in competitive devaluation to some extent.)

My advice is this: be careful with your international holdings.  The world may be peaceful right now, and everyone may be getting along, but that might not last.  Diversification is a good idea, but don’t forget that there is no place like home, unless the crisis is in your home.

I get letters from all over the world.  Here is a recent one:

Respected Sir,

Greetings of the day!

I read your blog religiously and have gained quite a lot of practical insights in financial field. Your book reviews are very helpful and impartial.

I request you to write blog post on dollar pegs in Middle East and under what conditions those dollar pegs would fall.

If in case you cannot write about it, kindly point me to some material which can be helpful to me.

Thanks for your valuable time.

Now occasionally, some people write me and tell me that I am outside my circle of competence.  In this case I will admit I am at the edge of that circle.  But maybe I can say a few useful things.

Many countries like pegging their currency to the US dollar because it provides stability for business relationships as businesses in their country trade with the US, or, with other countries that peg their US dollar, or, run a dirty peg of a controlled devaluation.  Let me call that informal group of countries the US dollar bloc. [USDB]

The problem comes when the country trading in the USDB begins to import a lot more than they export, and in the process, they either liquidate US dollar-denominated assets or create US dollar-denominated liabilities in order to fund the difference.

Now, that’s not a problem for the US — we get a pseudo-free pass in exporting claims on the US dollar.  The only potential cost is possible future inflation. But, it is a problem for other countries that try to do so, because they can’t manufacture those claims out of thin air as the US Treasury does.

Now in the Middle East it used to be easy for many countries there because of all the crude oil they produced.  Crude oil goes out, goods and US dollar claims come in.  Now it is reversed, as the price of crude is so low.  Might this have an effect on the currencies of the Middle East.  Well, first let’s look at some currencies that float that are heavily influenced by crude oil and other commodities: Australia, Canada, and Norway:

Commodity Currencies

As oil and commodities have traded off so have these currencies.  That means for pegged currencies the same stress exists.  But with a pegged currency, if adjustments happen, they are rather large violent surprises.  Remember the old saying, “He lied like a finance minister on the eve of the devaluation,” or Monty Python, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

That’s not saying that any currency peg will break imminently.  It will happen later for those countries with large reserves of hard currency assets, especially the dollar.  It will happen later for those countries that don’t have to draw on those reserves so rapidly.

Thus my advice is threefold:

  1. Watch hard currency reserve levels and project future levels.
  2. Listen to the rating agencies as they downgrade the foreign currency sovereign credit ratings of countries.  When the ratings get lowered and there is no sign that there will be any change in government policy, watch out.
  3. Watch the behavior of wealthy and connected individuals.  Are they moving their assets out of the country and into hard currency assets?  They always do some of this, but are they doing more of it — is it accelerating?

Point 3 is an important one, and is one seemingly driving currency weakness in China at present.  US Dollar assets may come in due to an excess of exports over imports, but they are going out as wealthy people look to preserve their wealth.

On point 2, the rating agencies are competent, but read their writeups more than the ratings.  They do their truth-telling in the verbiage even when they delay downgrades longer than they ought to.

Point 1 is the most objective, but governments will put off adjustments as long as they can — which makes the eventual adjustment larger and more painful for those who are not connected.  Sadly, it is the middle class and poor that get hit the worst on these things as the price of imported staple goods rise while the assets of the wealthy are protected.

And thus my basic advice is this: gradually diversify your assets into ones that will not be harmed by a devaluation.  This is one where your government will not look out for your well-being, so you have to do it yourself.

As a final note, when I wrote this piece on a similar topic, the country in question did a huge devaluation shortly after it was written.  Be careful.

Photo Credit: Jason Wesley Upton || Of course this isn't China...

Photo Credit: Jason Wesley Upton || Of course this isn’t China…

I know this is redacted, but it is advice to a reader in a really remote area of the world.  You might find it interesting.

I am currently with the XXX team in XXX.  We are taking about trying to budget the [project] with the inflation of the past months being 50%. And September being 91%. I think XXX would appreciate your thoughts on the likely economic and inflation situation. They are trying to decide whether to move to working on dollars. And how to budget if they stay in the [local currency].

Dear [Friend],

One question that may not matter so much… is the inflation rate 50-91%/year, or 50-91%/month?  The reason I ask this is if that is the rate per month, then you should try to do as much business as you can in dollars, and/or treat the local currency like a hot potato… don’t hold onto it long – it is not a store of value.  It is normal in such a situation for another currency to become the practical currency when inflation gets that high… even if it is illegal.

If the rate is 50-91%/year, that’s not great to work with, but prices are still moving slow enough for you to have some degree of a planning horizon in the local currency.  Still, any big transactions should be done in dollars, unless you are certain that you are getting a favorable rate in the local currency.

As for budgeting, it could be useful to do the budget in both currencies.  This will help to raise the natural question of what happens if you don’t have the right currency.  Here’s what I mean: ask what currencies you would naturally use to transact to accomplish your goals – look at both revenues and expenses.  If you find your expenses are mainly in dollars or euros, but revenues are in the local currency, you will need to do one of two things.  Either a) try to charge in hard currency terms, or raise revenue rates regularly, or b) build in a significant pad in local currency terms for the things you would typically buy in a hard currency.

Feel free to send me a spreadsheet on this.  As an aside, you can tell XXX that I have little trust that the situation will improve rapidly.  The government is too corrupt, its budget way out of balance, and any revenue from oil is down.  It would take a hero willing to end the corruption, and then survive ending it, in order for the inflation to stop.

In closing, the following paragraph is illustrative, and not strictly relevant:

I realize that you all aren’t investing in the country, but if you were, I would give the following advice: invest in land.  In a nation where there are no securities market, and the government is the cause of the inflation, land is the only thing that retains value.  AIG used to do this all the time in countries, particularly when they couldn’t remit their earnings there back to the US.  As they say in Argentina, “The wealthy preserve their wealth by owning land.”  So long as land is not expropriated, it protects wealth against governments who steal via inflation.  Gold is similar, but where you are, something that light and valuable could easily be stolen.

Anyway, I missed you at XXX, and hope and pray that you are doing well.  If you or anyone else on the team has questions on this, just let me know.  I’ll make time for you.

In Christ,

David

Recently I ran across an academic journal article where they posited one dozen or so risk premiums that were durable, could be taken advantage of in the markets.  In the past, if you had done so, you could have earned incredible returns.

What were some of the risk premiums?  I don’t have the article in front of me but I’ll toss out a few.

  • Many were Credit-oriented.  Lend and make money.
  • Some were volatility-oriented.  Sell options on high volatility assets and make money.
  • Some were currency-oriented.  Buy government bonds where they yield more, and short those that yield less.
  • Some had you act like a bank.  Borrow short, lend long.
  • Some were like value investors.  Buy cheap assets and hold.
  • Some were akin to arbitrage.  Take illiquidity risk or deal/credit risk.
  • Others were akin to momentum investing.  Ride the fastest pony you can find.

After I glanced through the paper, I said a few things to myself:

  • Someone will start a hedge fund off this.
  • Many of these are correlated; with enough leverage behind it, the hedge fund could leave a very large hole when it blows up.
  • Yes, who wouldn’t want to be a bank without regulations?
  • What an exercise in data-mining and overfitting.  The data only existed for a short time, and most of these are well-recognized now, but few do all of them, and no one does them all well.
  • Hubris, and not sufficiently skeptical of the limits of quantitative finance.

Risk premiums aren’t free money — eggs from a chicken, a cow to be milked, etc.  (Even those are not truly free; animals have to be fed and cared for.)  They exist because there comes a point in each risk cycle when bad investments are revealed to not be “money good,” and even good investments are revealed to be overpriced.

Risk premiums exist to compensate good investors for bearing risk on “money good” investments through the risk cycle, and occasionally taking a loss on an investment that proves to not be “money good.”

(Note: “money good” is a bond market term for a bond that pays all of its interest and principal.  Usage: “Is it ‘money good?'”  “Yes, it is ‘money good.'”)

In general, it is best to take advantage of wide risk premiums during times of panic, if you have the free cash or a strong balance sheet behind you.  There are a few problems though:

  • Typically, few have free cash at that time, because people make bad investment commitments near the end of booms.
  • Many come late to the party, when risk premiums dwindle, because the past performance looks so good, and they would like some “free money.”

These are the same problems experienced by almost all institutional investors in one form or another.  What bank wouldn’t want to sell off their highest risk loan book prior to the end of the credit cycle?  What insurance company wouldn’t want to sell off its junk bonds at that time as well?  And what lemmings will buy then, and run over the cliff?

This is just a more sophisticated form of market timing.  Also, like many quantitative studies, I’m not sure it takes into account the market impact of trying to move into and out of the risk premiums, which could be significant, and change the nature of the markets.

One more note: I have seen a number of investment books take these approaches — the track records look phenomenal, but implementation will be more difficult than the books make it out to be.  Just be wary, as an intelligent businessman should, ask what could go wrong, and how risk could be mitigated, if at all.

 

Here’s the second half of my most recent interview with Erin Ade at RT Boom/Bust. [First half located here.] We discussed:

  • Stock buybacks, particularly the buyback that GM is doing
  • Valuations of the stock market and bonds
  • Effect of the strong dollar on corporate earnings in the US
  • Effect of lower crude oil prices on capital spending
  • Investing in Europe, good or bad?

Seven minutes roar by when you are on video, and though taped, there is only one shot, so you have to get it right.  On the whole, I felt the questions were good, and I was able to give reasonable answers.  One nice thing about Erin, she doesn’t interrupt you, and she allows for a few rabbit trails.

Photo Credit: Zach Copley

Photo Credit: Zach Copley

I’ve generally been quiet about Bitcoin.  Most of that is because it is a “cult” item.  It tends to have defenders and detractors, and not a lot of people with a strong opinion who are in-between.  There’s no reward for taking on something that has significance bordering on religious for some… even if it proves to be a bit of a “false god.”

I view Bitcoin as a method of payment, a collectible item, a commodity that is not fully fungible, and not a store of value.  It is not a currency, and never will be, unless a government takes it over and adopts it.

In order for a tradable item to be a store of value, the amount of variation in value in the short- to intermediate-term versus other items that has to be limited.  If there are other tradable items with greater stability toward the other items, those tradable items would be better stores of value.  Thus Bitcoin is inferior as a store of value versus the US Dollar, the Euro, the Yen, etc.  It is far more volatile versus goods and assets that one might want to buy, and goods and liabilities that one might want to fund.

Now as an aside, the same thing happens in hyperinflationary economies.  Merchants have to change their prices frequently, because the currency is weak.  Often another currency will begin to replace the weak local currency, like the US Dollar or the Euro, even if that is not legal.

Fungibility implies that any Bitcoin is as good as any other Bitcoin.  But with failures like Mt. Gox, a Bitcoin exchange that had Bitcoins under its care stolen from it, a Bitcoin under the care of Mt. Gox was not as valuable as one elsewhere.  (Another aside: that happened in a minor way with the Euro when Euros in Cypriot banks were forced to have a “haircut,” while Euros elsewhere were unaffected.)

Bitcoin is a means of payment, a way of transferring value from one place/person to another.  It seems Bitcoins move well, but they are less good at being safely stored.

The theft of Bitcoins points out the need for there to be a legal system to protect property rights.  Licit participants in Bitcoins as a group have not been adequate to assure that the rightful owners might not lose them as the result of computer hacking.  Contrast that with the protections that credit card holders have when false transactions are applied against credit card accounts.  The credit card companies eat the losses, funded by profits from interest charged an interchange fees.

The libertarian vision of a currency that does not require a court, a government to protect it is misguided.  Where there are thieves, there is a need for courts to try cases of theft, and deal with questions of equity if theft leads to an insolvency.

Now, governments can be less than fair with their own judicial systems.  I think of Dennis Kozlowski, formerly CEO of Tyco, who was barred from using his own money in self-defense when the US Government brought him to trial.  Much as you might like to have value protected from the clutches of the government, that is easier said than done, and there are thieves that will pick away at those who get value away from governments, because ultimately in an interconnected world, you have to trust other people at some points, and trust can be violated as much as the rights of a citizen can be violated.  Repeat after me: THERE IS NO PERFECTLY SAFE PLACE ON EARTH TO STORE VALUE!  That said, though, there are safer places than others, and so you have to live with the risks that you understand, and are prepared to take.

If you think that Bitcoin fits that bill, well, knock your socks off.  Have at it.  I will stick with US Dollars in banks, money market funds, bonds, and public and private stocks.  Maybe I will even buy some gold that does nothing, just for the sake of diversification.  But ultimately my store of value is in the bank of Heaven, as it says in Matthew 6:19-21:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

There is no perfect security on Earth, try as hard as you like.  Bitcoins may keep value away from the government under some conditions, but who will protect your property rights in Bitcoins in the event of theft?  You can’t have it both ways, so Bitcoins as property would either be taxed and regulated by governments, or be totally underground, which would diminish utility considerably.

One final note: Bitcoins can’t be used of themselves to produce something else.  They are a fiat currency, and only has value to the degree that users place on it.  I liken it to penny stocks, where traders can bounce the price around, because there is nothing to tether the price to.  At least with gold, you have jewelers demanding it to turn it into jewelry, and a broader pool of people who are somewhat less jumpy about what the proper exchange rate between gold and dollars should be.

But, gold can be stolen… again, no Earthly store of value is perfect.  All for now.

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.

Photo Credit: Hans and Carolyn || Do you have the right building blocks for your model?

Photo Credit: Hans and Carolyn || Do you have the right building blocks for your model?

Simulating hypothetical future investment returns can be important for investors trying to make decisions regarding the riskiness of various investing strategies.  The trouble is that it is difficult to do right, and I rarely see it done right.  Here are some of the trouble spots:

1) You need to get the correlations right across assets.  Equity returns need to move largely but not totally together, and the same for credit spreads and equity volatility.

2) You need to model bonds from a yield standpoint and turn the yield changes into price changes.  That keeps the markets realistic, avoiding series of price changes which would imply that yields would go too high or below zero. Yield curves also need ways of getting too steep or too inverted.

3) You need to add in some momentum and weak mean reversion for asset prices.  Streaks happen more frequently than pure randomness.  Also, over the long haul returns are somewhat predictable, which brings up:

4) Valuations.  The mean reversion component of the models needs to reflect valuations, such that risky assets rarely get “stupid cheap” or stratospheric.

5) Crises need to be modeled, with differing correlations during crisis and non-crisis times.

6) Risky asset markets need to rise much more frequently than they fall, and the rises should be slower than the falls.

7) Foreign currencies, if modeled, have to be consistent with each other, and consistent with the interest rate modeling.

Anyway, those are some of the ideas that realistic simulation models need to follow, and sadly, few if any follow them all.

Market Dynamics

 

  • Yellen Comments Boost Demand for Treasury Bonds http://t.co/2lzFhL97br Carry trade rescued, grows larger 4a later day of reckoning $$ $TLT May 10, 2014
  • One of the Best Retirement Deals 9 of 10 People Ignore http://t.co/oYw4xRjEdc Contribute 2a Roth 401(k) & save big on future taxes $$ $TROW May 10, 2014
  • NYSE to Curtail Order Types Amid Debate Over Their Fairness http://t.co/JOlTvX7sie Will b interesting 2c what they curtail $$ Affects my biz May 10, 2014
  • What Baby Boomers’ Retirement Means For the US Economy http://t.co/GuECsqqWHA Cheer up, the US is in better shape than rest of the world $$ May 10, 2014
  • I’m worried about a crisis bigger than 2008: Faber http://t.co/JwpcvxA53o “For the next six months, maybe cash is the most attractive.” $$ May 10, 2014
  • When Stocks and Bonds Disagree http://t.co/BGbY9Y0C2L @reformedbroker points out anomaly. Bond mkt bigger than stock mkt, should b right $$ May 07, 2014
  • research puzzle pix by tom brakke http://t.co/xtPUCU7PDj Bloat, which I would measure by number of days to trade away the portfolio $$ $SPY May 07, 2014
  • Ten Surefire Trading Rules To Make You Rich http://t.co/fHqVJkaVuj @reformedbroker tongue-in-cheek way of telling you what not to do $$ $SPY May 06, 2014
  • Early Tap of 401(k) Replaces Homes as American Piggy Bank http://t.co/x16yXooOSx If you don’t have an “out” door 4 $$, less will go “in” May 06, 2014
  • The bond market is giving the stock market angst http://t.co/rfuGqyaPTK 2 many long bond shorts, economic weakness, low govt-measured inf $$ May 06, 2014
  • Free Life-Insurance Offer Scrutinized http://t.co/EZz4zbJsXS Nothing is free; this will come out of the life insurer dumb enough 2sell it $$ May 06, 2014
  • Bond Returns Post Global Records as Warnings Go Unheeded http://t.co/t0aXCtsu8T Long bond buyers need to fund long liabilities & momentum $$ May 06, 2014
  • Borrowing Cash to Buy Complex Assets Is In Vogue Again http://t.co/8urmZjge1i Borrowed $$ is mostly being used 2buy AAA CLOs; 10x lev ~ 8%yd May 06, 2014
  • Can’t Find Enough 30-Year Treasuries to Buy? Here’s Why http://t.co/tmFjBQ4emS Fed buying, also pensions, life insurers & speculators $$ May 05, 2014

 

Banks

 

  • Covered Bond Talks Intensify as Bank Liquidity Rules in Play http://t.co/aM7LuzeXIK Denmark needs bank capital concessions 4covered bonds $$ May 10, 2014
  • Bitcoin Breakthroughs Studied by Banks the Currency Is Out to Replace http://t.co/Frls6s04am May not be a currency, but a payment system $$ May 10, 2014
  • JPMorgan Joins Wells Fargo in Rolling Out Jumbo Offerings http://t.co/9mJFfYArs2 High end of residential housing market is hot $$ $JPM $WFC May 10, 2014
  • Fed 2 Bank Giants: Don’t Get Bigger Via Mergers http://t.co/fjw4dDAAIZ Have >10% of total financial system liabs can’t merge $$ $BAC $C $JPM May 10, 2014
  • The Real Reason Big Banks Stay Big http://t.co/GRvSHhDAUx The larger the bank, the larger the management pay packets $$ $C $BAC $WFC $JPM May 06, 2014

 

Rest of the World

 

  • Russian Aggression Prompts Finnish-Swedish Military Pact http://t.co/K9amWYRP0F It’s not an expansion of NATO yet, but reaction 2 Russia $$ May 10, 2014
  • China Property Slump Adds Danger to Local Finances http://t.co/WXdGmStbU5 Local govts rely on selling property 4 revenue; now what to do? $$ May 10, 2014
  • Ukraine’s Arms Industry Is Both Prize and Problem for Putin http://t.co/1RNJMzBvQ6 Has many arms joint ventures w/ Ukraine $$ #irony $MACRO May 10, 2014
  • Panama Can School US on Immigration http://t.co/2UYhldzlPJ “Panama is the kind of country the US once was: quick to embrace workers.” $$ May 10, 2014
  • Draghi’s Euro Angst Rising as Rally to $1.40 Pummels http://t.co/nLzHP74nYE What will he do? Sell Euros & buy Dollars? Has 2 many $$ now. May 10, 2014
  • Accident Leads to Scrutiny of Oil Sand Production http://t.co/DHVJukJNVR Little damage, but made regulators think of other bad scenarios $$ May 06, 2014
  • British Coins Pass Test in 800-Year-Old Ritual http://t.co/GKfA1KhXKO Trial of the Pyx, 1 of Britain’s oldest&strangest legal procedures $$ May 06, 2014

 

Global Economy

 

  • US Ready to Join 6-Nation Tax Alliance http://t.co/PVRpUJ1ShZ Members Will Share Information 2Fight Multinational Corporate Tax Avoidance $$ May 10, 2014
  • Ron Wyden: We Must Stop Driving Businesses Out of the Country http://t.co/ypwwGbrWlM Cutting corporate taxes to 24% would be a start $$ $SPY May 10, 2014
  • Corporate Tax Planners Vexed by New International Tax Guidelines http://t.co/LcCyHgfDc7 If elites agree, can limit tax leakages 2 havens $$ May 10, 2014
  • Decoding Dollar Turns Into Wall Street’s Parlor Game http://t.co/PeI1wrlq4v Bad speculation on strengthening $$ fails, trade gets reversed May 10, 2014
  • World Economy Stabilizes in Great Moderation 2.0 http://t.co/yCIRqXpF9h Really seems 2 early 2b trotting out an idea like this $$ $SPY $TLT May 10, 2014
  • How Russia Inc. Moves Billions Offshore & a Handful of Tax Havens May Hold Key to Sanctions http://t.co/ylIL6w66EF Expropriation risk $$ May 05, 2014
  • Tax Break ‘Blarney’: U.S. Companies Beat the System With Irish Addresses http://t.co/Ia2cM1brCS Maybe a “Value Added Tax” could fix this $$ May 05, 2014

 

Companies & Industries

 

  • Fat-Destroying Machine Doubted by Stock Traders http://t.co/2Klv4c4ozG $ELOS uses ultrasound 2 heat up & destroy fat cells. Does it work? $$ May 10, 2014
  • Son Makes $58B on Alibaba With Buffett-Type Return http://t.co/uywgbnCaxg Masayoshi Son had insight into Alibaba when invested $20M $$ May 10, 2014
  • US Shale Boom Keeps Global Oil Prices From Soaring http://t.co/ipDZdMke1o Oil Majors have 2 invest more 2 get less http://t.co/9u5lRnolmh $$ May 10, 2014
  • Lenovo Targets Mobile as Tech Empire Grows on Castoff Businesses http://t.co/sXSytLozjV Squeezing good $$ out of mature tech businesses May 10, 2014
  • Pitney Bowes changing stripes: Cramer http://t.co/QzDuxGLZjT Talks about their partnership w/ $EBAY to seamlessly estimate shipping $$ $PBI May 10, 2014
  • 5 quality stocks that are missing out on the bull run http://t.co/8GTmjMt46J Quality often misses out when credit spreads r tight $$ 2005-7? May 10, 2014
  • Alibaba Partners Keep Control After Shunning Hong Kong for US http://t.co/4XvRaqoUM5 A partnership will govern, limiting takeover efforts $$ May 10, 2014
  • Wal-Mart Notches Web Win Against Rival Amazon http://t.co/3f9chtgyME Still $AMZN is 6x larger than $WMT in online sales, long way to go $$ May 06, 2014
  • IBM’s Watson supercomputer can help settle your debates http://t.co/cFmXZXmEV6 Ask Watson a question, will give top 3 args for & against $$ May 06, 2014
  • Symantec Develops New Attack on Cyberhacking http://t.co/xbeAQgcnab Declaring Antivirus Dead, Firm Turns2Minimizing Damage From Breaches $$ May 06, 2014
  • Buffett Phase Two Means Seeking Deals More Enduring Than Stocks http://t.co/FyERjB7YO5 Trying to build the best long-term conglomerate $$ May 05, 2014

 

US Politics & Policies

 

  • Benghazi Isn’t Iran-Contra http://t.co/otSpoLR38P But the comparison reflects poorly on the Obama administration $$ May 10, 2014
  • SEC Finds Illegal or Bogus Fees Majority of Buyout Firms http://t.co/TwU954gwzm Who pays what expenses? How r fees & returns calculated? $$ May 10, 2014
  • What Timothy Geithner Really Thinks http://t.co/CxMmqJF18b Just don’t blame him, didn’t want the job & wanted 2 leave it sooner, Really? $$ May 10, 2014
  • Railroad: Federal order won’t affect oil shipments http://t.co/9nFXjxRTcP BNSF carries most of the oil coming from Bakken FD: + $BRK.B $$ May 10, 2014
  • Why Nonbank SIFI Designations Put the Cart Before the Horse http://t.co/oRQCv7r5jf FSOC & Fed don’t get systemic risk & designating SIFIs $$ May 10, 2014
  • Massachusetts Scraps Its Health Insurance Exchange http://t.co/nVB3C17iVg Fascinating how many states had to scrap their healthcare sites $$ May 06, 2014
  • Why Weather Could Determine Who Wins a Race To Measure Inflation http://t.co/2PTidHexu6 Billion Prices Project inflation measure 1%>CPI $$ May 06, 2014
  • The End of the Permissionless Web http://t.co/MWyAraGxUT Regulators want 2 become the gatekeepers for Internet innovation. It ain’t broke $$ May 06, 2014
  • Toilet Bowl Kills Fan in Violence at World Cup Host Brazil http://t.co/Qx0HSiv0dB Soccer hooliganism hits a new low, death by toilet $$ $EWZ May 05, 2014

 

 

Other

 

  • Woman With Printer Shows the Digital Ease of Bogus Cash http://t.co/kN4Ua9zZl0 Fascinating 2c how easy it is to convert $5s into $100s $$ May 10, 2014
  • Career Advice for Managers: Learn to Execute Strategy http://t.co/jI85DW4Itj Strategy should come b4 reaction to the problems of the day $$ May 10, 2014
  • Growing Number of Hispanics in US Leave Catholic Church http://t.co/0jXt2caYjl Most of those leaving go evangelical protestant $$ #readbible May 10, 2014
  • Economics students call for shakeup of the way their subject is taught http://t.co/vv8OL1xq9m Right diagnosis, wrong cure, need Austrian $$ May 07, 2014
  • Rethink The Word ‘Cancer,’ Panel Says http://t.co/jiuSNLF4JM Cancer comes in many different forms; with some, early treatment is needed $$ May 06, 2014
  • Virtual reality preps 4 impact in healthcare, manufacturing, finance http://t.co/taBVd2dFy1 Retirement planning, worker safety, training $$ May 06, 2014
  • MLB: The Year That No One Got Caught Stealing http://t.co/Pn3itlbi36 Catchers now spend more time practicing hitting than throwing $$ $SPY May 06, 2014
  • Elite Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness for Graduates http://t.co/H2S5hTml6g Happiness stems more from personal attitudes than college type $$ May 06, 2014

 

US Economy

 

  • Cancer Doctors Join Insurers in US Drug-Cost Revolt http://t.co/OrqflkeN32 Drug costs reflect price 4 successes but paying 4 failures $$ May 10, 2014
  • Later Easter Drives Retail Sales in April http://t.co/VAuXPhVGR7 Never thought Easter was that big of an economic factor $$ May 10, 2014
  • Record Meat Costs Mean Pricey Barbecues http://t.co/tNr7vcb11K Herds r smaller, as ranchers shake off past water & feed problems $$ $TSN May 10, 2014

 

Wrong

 

  • Wrong: Happy Hedge Fund Managers Earn Money for Nothing http://t.co/pOSYH3SSXO Wrong benchmark S&P 500 4 hedgie comparison s/b t-bills $$ May 10, 2014
  • Wrong: Blackstone’s Schwarzman Says Individuals Need More Alternatives http://t.co/Mnp0cjlXZ5 He’s just trolling 4 dumb $$ folks. Ignore him May 10, 2014

 

 

Comments, Replies & Retweets

 

  • If the treatment is cheap enough, & has no harmful side-effects, investors will benefit from fat returns 😉 http://t.co/ROAQUU6Rpu $$ $ELOS May 07, 2014
  • “He might be comparing IRRs on PE to total returns on stocks. Trouble with that one is that capital…” — D. Merkel http://t.co/MhXU9vLCvG $$ May 07, 2014

 

103729This is a hard book to review. I have respect for the author, and most of his opinions.  But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  There is evidence here, but not extraordinary proof.  I agree that we are in a bad spot, and that there is reason to be cautious.  To claim that the current international monetary system will disappear by 2020 or so requires more than the book delivers.

Let me begin by saying the book is worth buying.  It will make you think.  Thinking is a valuable exercise in which few engage.  Most of us imitate, which is far easier to do than thinking, and usually saves time on common issues.

The author focuses on the weaknesses of US economic policy, but is less critical of bad economic policies being pursued around the world, with the poster children being Japan, China, and the EU.  The US has its problems, but also its unique strengths.  Though I am a critic of US economic policy, we are better off than most other large nations.

One criticism of the book is that it is not focused.  Make your case, and don’t go down many “rabbit trails.”  That said, the rabbit trails are interesting, and you will learn a lot from them, though they don’t support the central thesis of the book.  I think the book needed a better editor, because a tighter book would have made the case better.

Here’s the main difficulty: Okay, so the US Dollar is not a great store of value.  Imagine another nation who wants a better store of value, who lets their currency rise, and their politically powerful exporters scream.  Who will likely win?  The exporters.  At least, that has been the way it has worked for the last 30 years.

In order for a gold-backed currency to be introduced, there will be sacrifices, and under most conditions, it will produce some deflation.  It is not at all certain that the nation(s) that might do this will take the short-term punishment.  Our world is geared toward short-termism, and it harms us all.

Quibbles

The book is far too kind to the IMF, an incompetent institution, and far too kind to China, which faces a collapse in its financial system far more quickly then the US will see.

The book is also too kind to the EU, which continues the experiment of monetary union without political union, which has never worked  before on a large scale.

Who would benefit from this book: Anyone could benefit from this great book.  If you want to, you can buy it here:The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System.

Full disclosure: I asked the PR people for a copy of the  book, and they sent it.

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.