Multiple choice bond quiz:
1) The fix is in.
2) The longer this continues, the higher the odds of a big move, probably lower in price, after one of the next breakouts.
3) Both 1 and 2.
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Multiple choice bond quiz:
1) The fix is in.
2) The longer this continues, the higher the odds of a big move, probably lower in price, after one of the next breakouts.
3) Both 1 and 2.
Posted by Kevin Villani on 14th March 2017 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
2017 marks the 200 year anniversary of David Ricardo’s publication on the theory of comparative advantage that underlies the economic case for free trade. Several years later Frederic Bastiat wrote the satirical Candle Maker’s Petition debunking the arguments in favor of protectionism. This was an ironic choice, as candle makers were politically protected by the Founding Fathers as necessary for the Revolutionary War. These protections lasted several centuries, and in 2016 Senator Chuck Schumer sought it re-instated on grounds of unfair competition from China.
President Trump’s trade representative economist Peter Navarro is making both the political and economic case against free trade with China, which he considers a mercantilist trader with military ambitions hostile to the U.S.
Navarro’s political case is an update of that faced by the Founders regarding candle making. China is viewed as pursuing a trading strategy to accumulate wealth and technical know-how to challenge the U.S. militarily in the South China Sea and globally. China’s mercantilist trade practices result in huge export surpluses with the U.S. He argues that China uses this advantage to weaken America’s industrial base and future defensive capability.
While economists can’t reject this political concern out of hand, it does seem several decades premature given the relative size of the two countries’ navies. At present the US could quickly secure sources of supply for military purposes, and protectionism tends to linger for decades or even centuries.
The second case against free trade with a mercantilist trader relates mostly to the loss of jobs due to “unfair” competition, i.e., not due to inherent comparative economic advantages as much as political subsidies, in China’s case a purportedly cheapened currency and weak labor and environmental protections. The standard argument is that such trade generally benefits consumers at the expense of high cost producers, resulting in a less political more fair distribution of consumption as well as a higher overall level. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Kevin Villani on 27th February 2017 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
My first experience with manias was in the 1950’s. As a pre-schooler, I was dragged along to the Filene’s Basement annual designer dress sale. Thousands of women of all types and sizes pressed against the glass doors opening into the subway station. Within minutes of the doors opening, these “maniacs” cleared all the racks and, holding armfuls of dresses, began stripping to their slips. That’s when I panicked.
Looking back, those women acted rationally. There was a limited supply of deeply discounted dresses available on a first come basis. They traded among themselves to get the right size and their most desired dress. Buyer’s remorse was cushioned by Filene’s liberal return policy.
The premise of U.S. financial regulation is that actors within private markets are irrational, but the evidence shows that it’s not maniacal, illogical behavior that sends markets into freefall.
Great Depression and Recession
Now in its seventh edition, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Charles Kindleberger’s seminal work provides the narrative that underlies virtually all public financial protection and regulation: First, the irrational exuberance of individuals transforms into “mob psychology” and fuels an asset bubble. Then, when the exuberance of a few turns to fear, the mob panics and overreacts, causing a crash that brings down both solvent and insolvent financial institutions.
In his memoir, the former Federal Reserve Bank President and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was at the epicenter of the last crisis, concluded, “It began with a mania — the widespread belief that devastating financial crises were a thing of the past, that future recessions would be mild, that gravity-defying home prices would never crash to earth.”
Most U.S. federal financial regulation originates from the Great Depression and the subsequent introduction of federal deposit insurance provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was established in 1933 to protect “small” savers. All prior state attempts to provide insurance failed. Because there were no effective, non-politicized regulations that could prevent the moral hazard of insured banks and savings institutions taking on excessive risks, an extensive regulatory infrastructure was put in place.
Now, the U.S. has about 100 financial regulators, including those in the U.S. Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the FDIC, and the Fed. With near-universal deposit insurance, bank runs have become a rarity, but systemic crises have occurred more frequently. It is incontestable that big bubbles eventually burst, asset prices crash, and financial crises ensue. What causes the bubbles to inflate to systemic proportions, and to ultimately burst, is more contentious.
At the time of Kindleberger’s analysis, individuals were assumed to be rational. The latest edition of his book, written after the 2008 financial crisis, postulates numerous theories about mob psychology (mania) that could lead rational individuals to produce irrational markets, but these ideas are all rather lame.
Posted by Kevin Villani on 24th September 2016 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
When testifying in 2010 before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission into the financial crash, then Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke recommended only one reference, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World (2009), presumably for the narrative that insufficient money printing in the aftermath of the Great War lead to the next one. Right idea, wrong narrative!
The US homeownership rate peaked at a rate well above the current level almost a half century ago mostly funded by a system of private mutual savings banks and savings and loans. The historical justification for federal “secondary market” agencies was political expediency – exemption from now obsolete federal, state and local laws and regulations inhibiting a national banking and mortgage market. Now government-run enterprises account for about 90% of all mortgages, with the Fed their primary funding mechanism, what the Economist recently labeled a de facto nationalization.
The Historical Evolution
How did the private US housing finance system repeatedly go bankrupt? To quote Hemingway: Gradually, then suddenly. The two competing political narratives of the cause of financial market crises remain at the extremes – either a private market or public political failure – with diametrically opposite policy prescriptions. The politician-exonerating market failure narrative has not surprisingly dominated policy, with past compromises contributing to the systemic financial system failure, the global recession of 2008 and subsequent nationalization.
The Great Depression stressed the S&L system, but the industry’s vigorous opposition to both federal deposit insurance and the Fannie Mae secondary market proved prescient as the federally chartered savings and loan industry eventually succumbed by 1980 to the federal deposit insurer’s perverse politically imposed mandate of funding fixed rate mortgages with short term deposits and competition from the government sponsored enterprises.
The S&Ls were largely replaced by the commercial banks. To make banks competitive with Fannie and Freddie, politicians and regulators allowed virtually the same extreme leverage, in return for a comparable low-income lending mandate – CRA requirements leading to a market dominating $4 trillion in commitments to community groups to whom the Clinton Administration had granted virtual veto power over new branch and merger authority.
The Financial Crisis of 2008 and the aftermath
The Big Short by Michael Lewis and more recent movie portrayed not just banker greed but the extreme frustration of those shorting the US mortgage market stymied by a housing price bubble many times greater than any in recorded US history that refused to burst. The reasons: 1. the Fed kept rates low and money plentiful, and 2. whereas banks would have run out of funding capacity, the ability of Fannie and Freddie to continuously borrow at the Treasury’s cost of funds regardless of risk and their HUD Mission Regulator requirement to maintain a 50% market share kept the bubble inflating to systemic proportions.
The Obama Administration fully embraced the alternative private market failure narrative in Fed policy, regulation and legislation:
The Long Term Consequences
Bernanke’s focus on choosing the narrative was useful, but the political choice of the market failure narrative appears to reflect convenience rather than conviction. The direct taxpayer costs of implicit or explicit public insurance and guarantees come with both a whimper – tax savings amounting to tens of billions annually due to the deductibility of interest costs – and a bang – future taxpayer bailouts generally delivered off-budget.
Fannie and Freddie conservatorship deftly avoided debt consolidation while dividends reduced reported federal deficits. The student loan market has also been de facto nationalized, with potential unbudgeted losses totaling hundreds of billions. Obamacare was similarly premised on regulating private health insurers to make health insurance simultaneously cheaper and more widely available, but under-budgeted health insurance subsidies predictable caused massive losses and health insurers are now withdrawing from the market.
Monetary policies caused household savings to stagnate as returns to retirement savings evaporated. Defined obligation public pension funds were all rendered technically insolvent when funding is valued at current market returns rather than the assumed rate as much as ten times that. The failure of the economy to grow per capita was explained as the “new normal”. But politicians made no attempt to reflect the implied technically insolvency of public pensions or Social Security and Medicare.
Private firms fail, but private markets rarely do. Public protection and regulation makes firms “too big to fail” until markets fail systemically. The current and projected future public debt bubble is unsustainable, and financial markets will eventually ignore the accounting deceptions and pop it. The relative weakness of other sovereign debt is delaying the inevitably, making The Really Big Short a good title for a Michael Lewis’s sequel. Politicians and central bankers will again say “nobody saw this coming”. What then?
Kevin Villani, chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, is a principal of University Financial Associates. He has held senior government positions, been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath. This article was originally published at FFE.org
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” (Saul Alinsky)
EpiPens can be the difference between life and death. There's no justification for these price hikes. https://t.co/O6RbVR6Qim -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 24, 2016
Hillary is clever to go after individual companies. If she attacked the pharma industry as a whole, it could unite politically in response and perhaps gain political support from other industries that would reasonably see themselves as similarly vulnerable. But individual companies have no defenses against this kind of attack. By singling out one victim she discourages other industry players from doing anything in response, because any company or industry group that responds risks being targeted in the future.
She has done this kind of thing before. She will probably keep doing it because it’s politically effective. Her attack on Mylan destroyed a large amount of wealth, and probably not just for Mylan’s shareholders. Today Mylan’s CEO is groveling in the media. As with past political attacks by Hillary and others on vaccine manufacturers, yesterday’s attack on Mylan will discourage pharma companies from introducing valuable new products and will reduce the availability of current products. We will probably see more of this kind of extortionate behavior by the federal govt if she is elected, because that’s how the Clintons operate and because a Hillary administration would appoint more lefty judges and DOJ and regulatory officials who would go along with it.
One thing I have noticed over the years is when there is a crisis, it’s a really bad time to pass sweeping legislation. The momentum and justification for legislation comes from fear. “We don’t want that to happen again”, supporters say. For example, 9/11 happens and we get the Department of Homeland Security which is mostly a waste of money and allows the government to pry into all kinds of places it shouldn’t.
Dodd-Frank is a result of the financial crisis. There are so many bad actors in this crisis that it’s hard to list them all, but the root cause was the implicit backing government gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-along with legislation and regulation that encouraged bad behavior. Sure, the ratings agencies were paid by the big banks and slanted the playing field. The big banks knew exactly what they were doing with the mortgages. But, without the implicit backing of government, the game never gets played.
Here are some data points:
Before Dodd-Frank 75% of banks offered free checking
After Dodd-Frank 25% of banks offered free checking
Small business costs are up 15% to comply with new regulation
15% less credit card accounts, and a 200 basis points more in cost
Remember, many small businesses get started by using credit cards. You might think they are stupid. But why should you import your financial/moral compass on them. Maybe they see the annual percentage rate credit card companies charge as cheap compared to the opportunity that lies ahead of them.
In the state of Missouri, there were 44 banks with less than $50M in assets. Prior to Dodd-Frank they were profitable. Post Dodd-Frank, 26/44 are losing money and will either go out of business or be consolidated. Your local community bank which is often the lifeblood of local capital is dead. How many other states are like Missouri? It’s no wonder small town rural America is having a tough go in the Obama epoch.
Dodd-Frank tried to make central party clearing mandatory for all transactions in the OTC market. Professor Craig Pirrong has blogged brilliantly about this and other aspects of Dodd-Frank. It works for a few, but not for all. This makes it more expensive to hedge risks. Businesses pass along the cost to consumers. In many cases, clearinghouses have to become the actual counterparty to the hedge. This stops commerce and more importantly has created more too big to fail institutions. Those too big to fail clearinghouses are now backed by the full faith and credit of the American taxpayer, you.
These are great points and Jeff’s post is worth reading in full.
From an excellent column by J.W. Verret:
The government policy of promoting long-term profits is bad economics, and even worse, it is engineered to favor incumbent firms and stifle innovation. When the government gets to decide the proper term of your investments, it constitutes the same form of cronyism as when campaign donors are directly given sacks of cash by the government officials they donated to when they were candidates.
A guiding principle in our economy is Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction.” Just as some forests need to burn in order to clear away brush and make way for more robust growth, economic innovation also requires that old and outdated companies be broken up for new replacements to take root. Recently, Americans have received an education in this principle by watching Uber’s challenge to the taxi cab incumbents.
The American capitalist economic system is at its best when guided by the principle that no firm is too big or special to fail. While corporate executives may feel such a jungle atmosphere is harsh and unforgiving, don’t forget that customers who buy products and investors of capital are at the top of the food chain in this jungle. Wall Street banks and corporate executives are the prey! Protecting failing companies and subsidizing politically powerful incumbent firms, under the false guise of promoting long-term value, is simply un-American.
A couple of other points:
-Short-term trading adds market liquidity, which reduces bid/offer spreads. Because of short-term trading, long-term investors pay less to buy and receive more when they sell.
-Liquidity buffers volatility. Wild market swings happen when liquidity dries up. Any trading restriction that reduces market liquidity will increase market volatility.
This stuff is basic. It’s a shame that many people never learn it and are credulous about fairy tales involving evil speculators and high-speed traders in dark alleys. When someone in a position of authority tells you that a particular type of free exchange is bad, it’s usually safe to assume that he has a stake in some crony enterprise that benefits by restricting your choices.
Posted by Kevin Villani on 11th February 2016 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
Long time Democrat turned Republican Donald Trump, who as a business titan relied more than any of his opponents on “Wall Street” funding, decisively won the Republican primary. In sharp contrast, socialist Bernie Sanders decisively won the New Hampshire Democrat primary by attacking his opponent’s Wall Street ties. Trump supporters apparently believe that the way to deal with Wall Street a**holes is a bigger a**hole who will negotiate much better deals, whereas Sanders supporters believe that “Wall Street (a synonym for the entire US financial system) is a fraud” requiring major extractive surgery.
Most people within the NY financial community including the numerous mid-town asset management firms agree that many Wall Street players were a**holes during the sub-prime lending debacle leading to the 2008 financial crisis, but surely the Sanders pitchfork brigade wouldn’t travel uptown. This may explain why among the thousands of books and articles written in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wall Street hasn’t defended itself and has found few defenders willing to go public.
Truth be told, Wall Street has always attracted more than its share of greedy a**holes. But historically they discriminated against the less profitable investments in favor of those that had the highest return potential relative to risk. This represented the brains of a heartless US capitalist system. Defenders of capitalism correctly argue that it is the only economic system at the base of all human economic progress, however unequally distributed. Progressive critics argue for greater equality, the poor made poorer so long as the better off are equally so (although this is not the way it is typically represented).
Posted by Kevin Villani on 28th January 2016 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
In promoting the Hollywood version of The Big Short by Michael Lewis, Paul Krugman (NYT, December 18) misrepresents the central point of this excellent book, previously made by Peter Wallison, who Krugman attacks for his Republican dissent to the 2010 Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) majority Report.
The Hollywood version reflects the Report’s fundamental conclusion that the root cause of the financial crisis was Wall Street greed: hardly newsworthy, disputable or dispositive. The Big Short is about the equally greedy speculators who were shorting the housing market: had they succeeded early on – as they do in less distorted markets – they would have prevented the bubble from inflating to systemic proportions.
Contrary to the “indifference” theorem (i.e., between debt and equity finance) of Nobel Laureates Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller, both household borrowers and mortgage lenders chose to finance almost entirely with debt, a strategy best described as “going for broke.” The first distortion – tax deductibility of debt – makes leverage desirable until discouraged by rising debt costs. The second distortion – federally backed mortgage funding as Depression era deposit insurance became virtually universal and the Fannie Mae “secondary market” facility morphed into a national housing bank – prevented these costs from rising. This highly leveraged strategy was guaranteed to fail systemically if bad loans entered the system.
Read the rest of this entry »
DJIA – down 225
NASDAQ – down 48
LMT – up 0.7%
NOC – unch
OA – up 0.7%
RTN – up 0.4%
SWHC – up 6% yesterday, up 11% this morning
RGR – up 3% yesterday, up 7% this morning
I wrote an article at Trust Funds for Kids about using hedged vs. unhedged ETFs for investing. If you are interested it is below the fold. The impact of currencies on investing is very large and linked closely with interest rate and Central bank activities.
Nowadays, when I find myself feeling too good about things I read fund manager John Hussman’s weekly column and it brings me back to Earth. He may be off on the timing but it’s difficult to dispute his main argument that we’re in the late stages of a massive speculative bubble fueled by easy credit and other unwise govt policies.
There’s fraying at the edges in junk bonds and much nervous volatility in stocks, where successive sectors have inflated and then deflated since early 2015. Everyone knows we are due for a market debacle but no one knows when. It could happen in two days or two years. Meanwhile everyone stays invested because what else can you do with your money (answer: keep it in cash, but that’s hard to do until it’s too late) and maybe you can make some profits before the bottom falls out…
From his latest missive:
Over the past several years, yield-seeking investors, starved for any “pickup” in yield over Treasury securities, have piled into the junk debt and leveraged loan markets. Just as equity valuations have been driven to the second most extreme point in history (and the single most extreme point in history for the median stock, where valuations are well-beyond 2000 levels), risk premiums on speculative debt were compressed to razor-thin levels. By 2014, the spread between junk bond yields and Treasury yields had fallen to less than 2.4%. Since then, years of expected “risk-premiums” have been erased by capital losses, and defaults haven’t even spiked yet (they do so with a lag).
From an economic standpoint, the unfortunate fact is that the proceeds from aggressive issuance of junk debt and leveraged loans in the past few years were channeled into speculation. Excess capacity in energy production was expanded at the cyclical peak in oil prices, and heavy stock buybacks were executed at obscene equity valuations. The end result will be unintended wealth transfers and deadweight losses for the economy. Since the late-1990’s, the Federal Reserve has actively encouraged the channeling of trillions of dollars of savings into speculation. Recurring cycles of malinvestment and crisis have progressively weakened the resilience and long-term growth prospects of the U.S. economy.
[. . .]
Our outlook remains decidedly negative at present. I’ll emphasize again that market internals are the hinge that distinguishes a valuation bubble that expands from one that collapses, so an improvement in market internals would reduce the immediacy of our downside concerns, and would also tend to reduce our concerns about oncoming recession. In the absence of clear improvement in market internals – and last week was categorically opposite to that – I view the stock market as being in the late-phase of an extremely overvalued top formation that will likely be followed by profound losses over the completion of this market cycle, and the U.S. economy as being on the cusp of a new recession.
Interesting times ahead.
JPMorgan trimmed GoPro’s target to 45 from 55. On Friday, Robert W. Baird downgraded GoPro to neutral from outperform and slashed its price target to 18 from 36. Shares were hit last week, when chip supplier Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA) gave weak guidance due in part to soft action camera sales
Here’s an interesting article on CNBC’s website: Katrina anniversary: Will New Orleans levees hold next time?
The 100-year threshold is also a statistical guess based on data on past storms and assessments of whether they’ll occur in the future. That means the models change every time a new hurricane strikes. The numbers being used as guidelines for construction are changing as time passes.
The standard also does not mean—can’t possibly mean—that a 100-year storm will occur only once per century. It means that such a storm has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. So for example, it’s technically possible for several 100-year floods to occur in just a few years, although it’s highly unlikely.
One way to look at it is that the engineers need to estimate how high a wall New Orleans needs to protect itself against a reasonably unlikely flood — say, a 1-in-1000-year event. This is the line of discussion pursued in the CNBC article.
Another way to look at it is to observe that the odds of another Katrina, or worse, within a specified period are highly uncertain. In this case a radical course of action might be called for. You do something like: take the best estimate for the wall height needed to protect against a 1000-year flood and then double it. Building such a levee would probably be extremely expensive but at least the costs would be out in the open. Or you might decide that it’s not the best idea to have a coastal city that’s below sea level, and so you would discourage people from moving back to New Orleans, rather than encourage them by subsidizing a new and stronger system of walls.
In this kind of situation the political incentives are usually going to encourage public decisionmakers to ignore radical solutions with high obvious costs, in favor of the minimum acceptable incremental solution with hidden costs: probably subsidies to rebuild the levees to, or perhaps a bit beyond, the standard needed to protect the city in the event of another Katrina. And it’s unlikely that any local pol is going to advise residents to move out and depopulate his constituency. Thus, eventually, a worst case will probably happen again.
Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Environment, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, New Orleans Tragedy, Predictions, Public Finance, Statistics, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 14 Comments »
The Obama administration has directly or indirectly caused several gun-control panics beginning in late 2008. With each successive panic the high-water price level for popular weapons has declined, because manufacturers ramped up production in response to price incentives and because panic is difficult to sustain. There is more market competition and improved manufacturing technology, so supply and quality have improved despite executive orders curbing imports. In 2015 you can buy a US-made budget AR-15 from a good manufacturer for around $600. Back in the early ’90s when these panics started a similar gun would have cost $2k+ in more-expensive dollars.
Posted by Grurray on 8th July 2015 (All posts by Grurray)
Shoeshine boy trading club, China chapter
There’s an old Wall Street legend about Joseph Kennedy, bootlegger and head of America’s original
soap opera political family. At the height of the stock market mania in the ’20s, he received a stock tip from a shoeshine boy. It goes something like this:
But the boy was not of the timid kind. “Oh yeah,” he yelled back at Kennedy, “well, I got a tip for you too: buy Hindenburg!” Intrigued, Kennedy turned around and walked back. “What did you say?” – “Buy Hindenburg, they are a fine company,” said the boy. “How do you know that?” –- “A guy before you said he was gonna buy a bunch of their stocks, that’s how.” – “I see,” said Kennedy. “That’s a fine tip. I suppose, I was a little harsh on you earlier,” he said, pulling off a glove and reaching in his side pocket for some change. “Here, you’ve earned it.”
Little did the boy know that Kennedy, a cunning investor, thought to himself: “You know it’s time to sell when shoeshine boys give you stock tips. This bull market is over.”
This is supposedly how Joe avoided the financial ruin of the crash. He was probably too busy stockpiling whiskey to really care very much, but it does make for a good story.
We’re reminded of this old saw today with some distant rumblings in the markets. Last week I was wondering what might cause our stock market to break out of its summer doldrums. Over the past few days we may have gotten the answer. While everyone was looking at the Greek crisis, China’s stock market has been crashing.
The Shanghai Composite Index more than doubled in the last year up until a few weeks ago. All that time it was rising, economic reports indicated the Chinese economy was slowing. Since the peak in mid June, it has dropped over 30%. Last night it was down another 6%, and it would have been more if not for the Chinese government halting trading in most of the stocks. Bloomberg is reporting that Chinese regulators have banned major shareholders, corporate executives and directors from selling stakes in listed companies for six months.
Investors with stakes exceeding 5 percent must maintain their positions, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a statement. The rule is intended to guard capital-market stability amid an “unreasonable plunge” in share prices, the CSRC said.
This rule sounds like it’s meant to ban bigwigs and fatcats from bailing out on the economy. However, like Kennedy in the ’20s, all the big money already exited and left regular citizens holding the bag. The Chinese always had a high rate of savings, but recently they have been putting more of it into their stock market using margin to to double down on already precarious positions.
Chinese brokers have extended 2.1 trillion yuan ($339 billion) of margin finance to investors, double the amount at the start of the year. But this often-cited figure is only part of the mountain of debt taken out to finance share purchases. Another 1.7 trillion yuan may have flowed into stock market investment from wealth management products, online lending sites and other sources, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts.
This was a good old fashioned bubble, and now it looks like it’s bursting. This will have repercussions all over the world. As of this morning, US stock markets are down over 1%. With the reliance of our industrial and financial industries on the hyper-interconnected global markets, this one probably won’t go down quietly.
Posted by Grurray on 2nd July 2015 (All posts by Grurray)
As we’re all getting ready for the Independence Day weekend, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how the first half of the year has been going. Many developments have arrived and passed in the news which have caused various actions and reactions. One day it seems nagging, complex issues are about to be resolved just when other more vexing problems take their place. The only constant, as the cliché goes, is the constant of change.
That is except in the stock market. It’s less than 1% above where it opened the year and has been moving basically sideways in that time. From speculation about the Fed raising rates to languidly growing economy to Greek debt dramas, the market seems to be carelessly bobbing along, flotsam-like, awaiting some direction.
Asking, ‘how did we get here’, is easy. When you shoot for mediocrity as a country and society, sometimes that’s what you get (or worse). Now might be a good time to ask, where do we go from here?
Today’s jobs report doesn’t give us much of a clue. The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3%, close to a level which in the past used to be described as full employment. On the other hand, labor force participation is the lowest it’s been since the 1970s, a time before women were fully entering the workforce and life expectancy for men was below 70 years of age.
Those that dropped out of the labor force aren’t counted in the unemployment rate, and they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. However, they haven’t just disappeared off the face of the earth. Many have passed from a temporary welfare program to the more permanent one of social security disability. Well, more permanent until the program runs out of funds as soon as next year.
But that’s old news. The complacent collective market sees what it wants to see and has chosen to see the government’s version of economic reality.
We can look at ways of fundamentally gauging the valuation of the stock market such as price to earnings ratio or the so-called Warren Buffet Indicator of total market cap to GDP ratio. I like to look at the Q ratio which is a simple comparison of the total price of the stock market to the replacement costs of all companies listed. This is the favored metric of billionaire black swan investor Mark Spitznagel, who by the way wrote a most excellent book, The Dao of Capital, about Boydian investment strategies.
Q ratio – Pricey but is it dicey?
By this measure, the market looks to be at a pricey level compared to other points in time. 1907, 1929, 1937, and 1968 were all years when the stock market peaked and saw a significant decline. The problem is it’s also at the same level as 1997, which had a small pause before marking the half way point in a multi-year rally. We generally have seen regression to the mean in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest it has to ever happen again. We could be waiting a long time for a sanity check to take hold, especially if the definition of sanity has changed.
A shorter term answer possibly comes from the world’s best econometrics blog Political Calculations. They believe, convincingly in my opinion, that expectations for future dividends drive stock prices in the near future, absent any surprising shocks to upset the apple cart. Those of us who used to watch Larry Kudlow on CNBC (since his show was cancelled there hasn’t been any reason to watch that silly network anymore) remember he used to say ‘earnings are the mother’s milk of stocks’. Well if that’s true than dividends are your father’s pemmican.
What they do is take values of dividend futures traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and apply a multiple (and some other math) to convert them to expected stock prices. Their calculations show a possible slide in prices for the next few weeks to few months. It has worked reasonably well in the past with a few caveats.
There are different instruments traded for different times in the future. Prices can and do take leaps from one trajectory to the other. It usually happens when someone from the FED talks about raising rates, and then the financial press speculates what specific month or quarter it can happen. In this way, stock prices behave similar to quantum particles bouncing from one energy level to another. It’s not a good way to pin down exactly where stocks are going but just gives a range.
The other caveat is this measurement only works when the market is in a state of relative order, and not buoyed or rattled by some overly cheery or dreary news. While at a smaller level the market seems to obey quantum mechanics, at the macro level it acts like a natural system, following mathematical probabilities such as those observed in predators hunting or even groups of people foraging. The market moves from more easily observable and predictable periods until the forageables (earnings and dividends) run out, in which case it moves into chaos and unpredictability until new expectations are established.
What will trigger rapid moves in either direction and out of the current financial horse latitudes is anybody’s guess. There’s a big vote in Greece this weekend, but how many times has that situation reached a cliffhanger? Perhaps too many to matter anymore. As unsatisfactory as it sounds, what usually occurs is something we weren’t expecting, not an event that seems to replay itself over and over again. The best we can really predict is that we won’t be drifting forever, and the time will come when the stock market will move far away from this level. The key is to stay ready for it when it finally does.
[Jonathan adds: If the right side of the included graphic is hidden on your screen — the date scale should go to 2020 — try right-clicking on the graphic and opening it in a new tab.]
Over the last year or so, my daughter and I have moved deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market. Of course, I’ve been dabbling around the edges for a while, as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a local craft fair, especially those which occur around the end of the year, deliberately planned to enable the amicable separation of their money from someone shopping for suitable seasonal gifts. The first of these that I participated in – strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. It was incumbent on the authors, though, to bring some signage, informational flyers, postcards and business cards, and perhaps eye-catching to adorn the table. But a couple of years ago, my daughter started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and last year we decided to partner together at the community market events within driving distance, and within our ability to play three-dimensional Tetris in fitting everything into the back of the Montero. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down is much, much easier.
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Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.
Evaporative cooling of group beliefs. Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.
More academic insanity: the language police at the University of Michigan.
A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”
Garry Trudeau (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”
Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors for The Little Prince
Although the false alarms might continue for a few more weeks, we have obviously transitioned into the lessons-learned phase of the Ebola non-outbreak in the US. I will list those lessons below, but first, a useful summary of a talk I attended on the evening of Tuesday the 4th.
[Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?]
The venue was the Johnson County Science Café, a monthly forum sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science. Johnson County is, by some measures, the wealthiest county in the country outside of the DC and NYC metro areas; greatly simplifying, this is a product of a somewhat unique combination of blue-state salaries and red-state cost of living. Kansas Citizens for Science was founded in the wake of upheavals on the Kansas Board of Education, which resulted in the initial imposition of, and subsequent drastic changes to, science-curriculum standards for public primary and secondary schools for ~300 school districts half a dozen times between the early 1990s and mid-2000s. The most famous was a 1999 board vote to remove key questions about the historical sciences (including astronomy, geology, and paleontology) from assessment testing, but there were several others which either re- or de-emphasized those sciences as the makeup of the board fluctuated with each election. After a decade and a half of chaos, as of now the board is relatively quiescent – its makeup was ironically substantially unaffected by this month’s wave election – and teaching and testing of the historical sciences is in place. I know several of the key personalities involved, and could certainly tell some interesting stories, but that controversy is not the subject of this post. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Bioethics, Civil Society, Current Events, Ebola, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, Medicine, Organizational Analysis, Personal Narrative, Predictions, USA | 5 Comments »
The stock market began to recover from its recent selloff as initial ebola fears abated. Meanwhile bond markets remained strong.
fed-fueled bubble bull market in stocks isn’t over. Ebola won’t kill us all. Future Ebola outbreaks will have to be much more severe to generate market reactions of similar magnitude. (Corollary: The next Ebola-inspired market selloff will be a buying opportunity, and thus may not happen.)
Caveats. Watch for a govt bond selloff, perhaps as a result of unexpected events. The entire financial world has been watching for this for the past several years. It could happen in two weeks or two years, but it will happen eventually.
Disclaimer: This is not investment advice. You would be crazy to listen to me and probably shouldn’t even be reading this, as I have predicted twenty of the last 2 bear markets in bonds.
One of the ways I like to put “disasters” into perspective is to try to understand what the markets, in general, think. This from today’s Bloomberg Municipal Market Brief:
Debt issued for Texas Health Resources is gaining even after the death of a patient from Ebola and the infection of two nurses raised questions about practices at one of its 25 hospitals. Bonds sold through an agency of Tarrant County, Texas, that mature in February 2021 traded Wednesday at an average yield of 0.55 percent, or 0.09 percentage point above benchmark munis, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the smallest yield spread in at least 20 months. Obligations due in 2036 and 2040 changed hands this week with the least extra yield since last month.
Hospital debt has gained 12 percent this year, better than any other investment-grade area of the muni market, Barclays Plc data show. Texas Health has the fourth-highest grade from Moody’s Investors Service, which said in August it could raise the nonprofit’s rank. That was enough to make David Jaderlund of Jaderlund Investments LLC a buyer Wednesday. “I’ve been following them for years and they continue to have
strong debt coverage — I’m really not worried,’’ said Jaderlund. “I’ve been a buyer of that hospital for years and will continue to be. I’m not concerned and the market doesn’t seem to be either.’’
Well, I guess, at least for this company, Ebola doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, for now anyways.