Posted by Larry Doyle on April 12th, 2012 7:14 AM |
“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Uncle Sam and his friends in officialdom around the world may believe their ideas are of larger size and greater dimension. That point is open to debate. How do the old man’s ideas mesh with the principles of freedom and liberty?
Uncle Sam and his ‘friends’ make for very strange bedfellows . . . and lousy business partners. I cautioned people on this front a few years back.
The sanctity of contracts? Fuhgeddaboutit. The primacy of market based principles? How inconvenient! Protecting private capital? Why bother? (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on March 21st, 2012 8:36 AM |
More and more we see central bankers around the world — but especially here at home and within the EU — engaged in financial repression as THE means to solve our economic woes.
What is financial repression?
A term that describes measures by which governments channel funds to themselves as a form of debt reduction. This concept was introduced in 1973 by Stanford economists Edward S. Shaw and Ronald I. McKinnon. Financial repression can include such measures as directed lending to the government, caps on interest rates, regulation of capital movement between countries and a tighter association between government and banks.
What are the challenges faced by investors in an era of financial repression? (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on August 3rd, 2011 8:19 AM |
A wide array of supposedly smart people are now informing us that the economy is slowing and may slip back into recession. The new phrase being used to describe our economic condition is ‘stall speed’.
Well how about that? Stall speed, they say. Is the economy truly slowing? Is it really?
Or perhaps did the real economy, that is the one in which we live and operate—not the one fabricated by Wall Street pundits and Washington politicians—never truly rebound?
I ask because I firmly believe that our domestic economy never truly rebounded in a meaningful fashion over the last few years.
I cautioned people to avoid the regular smoke and mirrors emanating from our financial and political hotbeds in spring 2010, and have continued to caution since, when I first equated our economic malady as akin to “walking pneumonia“.>>>>>>>> (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on August 23rd, 2010 12:23 PM |
What is something worth? Very simply whatever somebody is willing to pay for it, correct? While regulations or the lack thereof have a big impact on overall levels of returns and compensation, all other things being equal, I do not begrudge those who take risk, work hard, and reap rewards. I applaud them. I view that process as the essence of capitalism.
Does this line of thinking still work in our Uncle Sam economy circa 2010? One of the overriding themes highlighted in Observations on My Afternoon in New York City addressed the topic of market valuations. I wrote:
4. Investors do not want to sell what they currently own because they do not know what they might purchase to replace it. Investors do not want to allocate more capital because they are concerned about market valuations in general.
I should have been even more pointedly specific in writing this statement. While I do believe many people in the market today are concerned about the overall level of the market, the point I was trying to get across is that people do not trust or believe the individual values of investments at current prices. Why is this the case and how does this happen? (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on June 19th, 2009 7:28 AM |
“That’s the way we’ve always done it!!”
How often have you heard a person answer in that fashion when asked why something is done a certain way? A lot, I’m sure. Why? Change is stressful. Adjusting to change is perhaps even more stressful.
As we are forced to adjust to the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam Economy, we will certainly witness many individuals, business units, and industries resist change. I’m seeing them all around me. Let me share a few with you:
1. FINRA: at a time when our economy is screaming for increased transparency and accountability, this Wall Street self-regulatory organization has not yet released its 2008 Annual Report. Why? I view it as unacceptable.
The facts, figures, and transactions for 2008 are in the books. A mere accounting should be simple and straightforward. With the exception of Bloomberg, do you even hear of FINRA from major media outlets?
Rest assured, I will review the FINRA Annual Report thoroughly, with particular focus on their investment activities, and question them as need be. At some point, perhaps, the mainstream media may want to engage them as well.
2. Wall Street: why do banks so badly want to pay back TARP funds? The primary reason is compensation. In fact, in recently speaking with a number of colleagues on the street, banks are again paying “guaranteed” contracts to recruit personnel. Certain of these banks remain flush with government funds.
What propels banks to do this? Because they can, meaning there is no transparency or accountability. Additionally, they do not want to “cede turf” to startup firms which can offer opportunity but no guarantees. In layman’s terms, the large banks are flexing their muscles to impede smaller organizations from gaining a foothold in their ‘hood.’ Fair and open competition is one thing, but using taxpayer funds to pay guaranteed contracts is an entirely different issue.
3. Banking: why do banking industry execs feel compelled to maintain the perks of prior years? Ego. The Wall Street Journal highlights CEOs of Bailed-Out Banks Flew to Resorts on Firm’s Jets.
Business is business and executives, whether working at firms flush with government aid or not, need to compete. That said, if the executives are at firms still in receipt of government assistance . . . “back of the bus, pal.”
Posted by Larry Doyle on June 17th, 2009 7:07 AM |
How often during the campaign did we hear President Obama highlight that taxes would only increase for those earning incomes within the top 5%? You didn’t actually believe him, did you?
Yesterday, Obama played pure politics in backtracking from that “promise.” In an interview with Bloomberg, Obama Sees 10% Unemployment Rate, Chides Wall Street Critics:
He left open the possibility he would have to raise taxes on most Americans to decrease the deficit if growth were too weak. He also indicated he might tax the most-expensive employer-provided benefits to help pay for his health-care revamp. Both would reverse pledges he made during the campaign.
“If we are growing at a robust rate, then we can pay for the government that we need without having to raise taxes,” Obama said. “If we’ve got anemic growth, if we don’t have a strategy for recovery without bubbles, which is essentially what we’ve had over the last couple of recovery cycles, then we’re going to continue to have problems.”
What are Obama’s projections for unemployment and GDP?
Unemployment: 8.1% average in 2009, 7.9% average in 2010
GDP: -1.2% in 2009, 3.2% in 2010, 4% in 2011, 4.6% in 2012
No respected economist or analyst believes these numbers are credible. If anything, projections are only getting worse on both fronts. Obama, in a face saving move yesterday, admitted we will see 10% unemployment this year.
In regard to GDP, perhaps Obama should speak with Mohamed El-Erian at Pimco about the “New Normal” growth rate of 1% to 2% in the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam Economy.
What does it all mean?
The Taxman Cometh!!
Posted by Larry Doyle on June 2nd, 2009 8:00 AM |
Have you ever walked away from a discussion with a person–be it a boss, a business associate, a prospective partner–in which you wondered why they felt the need to make that statement?
In regard to trust, I feel much more comfortable when others assert, “you can trust him” rather than an individual asserting, “trust me.” Why? Very simply, trust is a virtue. As such, it is not given like a cheap bauble. Trust is earned. The foundation of our capitalist system is trust. When a basic trust is violated, regulators are compelled to act to rectify that violation.
Let’s enter the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy and address the credibility of this virtue known as trust.
CNBC recently aired a fabulous roundtable discussion, “The Future of Capitalism,” which touched on many of the economic issues currently debated. In the midst of the discussion, Mohamed El-Erian of Pimco strongly asserted that capitalism is ultimately a system based upon trust. Without trust, investors will not willingly commit capital to drive future economic growth.
As with any virtue, trust is not a one way street. While trust is earned, it needs to be rewarded so as to promote even greater trust. In so doing, the model of trust is displayed as the shining beacon for personal and professional relationships, whether between two people or amongst three hundred million.
Let’s get more specific. Investors who committed capital to General Motors in the form of equity took the greatest risk. In so doing, they positioned themselves to reap the greatest reward were the company to prosper. The company entered bankruptcy; the shareholders got wiped out. That is the way capitalism works. Or does it?
Investors who committed capital to General Motors in the form of senior debt took lesser risk. In so doing, they positioned themselves to receive a lower fixed return knowing if the company failed they would be first in line. They made this investment based upon trust in longstanding rules of bankruptcy proceedings. These investors include large institutions and thousands of individuals. Their trust was violated in the GM bankruptcy proceedings. They were not first in line. Junior creditors, specifically the UAW, received substantially better treatment. What happened? Uncle Sam rationalized this “violation of trust” as being in the common good of our country. Regrettably, this violation received no real debate in our court system and limited debate within our general media.
Uncle Sam, in the persons of Barack Obama and Tim Geithner, have put forth that the automotive situation is a special case; standard bankruptcy proceedings will continue to be practiced elsewhere. I would counter that we have a responsibility to future generations of investors to challenge Obama and team on this point. The future of capitalism itself rests on this debate.
The true costs of this violation will be borne by future iterations of unionized companies that can not easily access the capital markets. I personally would only commit capital to such an entity at a much higher rate of return knowing full well the risks I am taking are now greater given the precedent set via the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies.
Analysts, government officials, and others will continue to rationalize this violation of trust. In my opinion, this rationalization is akin to “the ends justifying the means.” That is a dangerous weapon.
This “question of trust” will certainly be an ongoing theme as we venture further into the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy. In the process of making investment decisions, we now need to more aggressively question just how much we trust our counterparties, especially Uncle Sam.
Please share your insights and thoughts so we can collectively be more diligent in navigating the economic landscape.
Posted by Larry Doyle on May 29th, 2009 11:23 PM |
Welcome to the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy! Let’s review the price action across the market, add some analysis as we look behind the numbers, contrast these returns with developments in the economy, and chart our path forward as we navigate the economic landscape!!
Equities: while market analysts continually measure the market from March 6th, unless one purchased the market on that date and at that point, it is much more intellectually rigorous to measure returns on a YTD (year-to-date) basis. Although I will incorporate short term movements, focusing solely on the short term increases the risk that we “miss the forest for the trees.”
The equity markets posted solid returns for the third month in a row. Although the returns in May were positive, they were not as largely positive as the prior two months. Year to date, the DJIA is slightly below unchanged while the S&P 500 is slightly positive. The tech heavy Nasdaq continues to outperform and is solidly positive (+12.5%) on the year. Why? Many tech companies have significnatly less debt burden and refinancing risks.
Bonds: the high yield sector continued to outperform (+9.7% MTD, +24.3% ytd). The mortgage and municipal sectors largely marched in place. The front end (shorter maturities) of the U.S. government bond market held steady as the Federal Reserve indicates they will keep the Fed Funds rate at 0-.25% for an extended period. The long end (intermediate to long maturities) of the government bond market sold off dramatically (+35 basis points on the 10 yr) under the weight of very heavy supply.
Currencies: the U.S. dollar had a very difficult month relative to almost every other major currency. The greenback gave back almost 4% relative to the Japanese yen, although it remains within the trading range for the year. The dollar particularly suffered versus the Euro on concerns of a potential downgrade of U.S. government credit due to the ongoing fiscal deficit.
Commodities: this is where the real action occurred this month. Commodities, in general, posted their largest monthly gain in 34 years. Oil was up 30.1% on the month and 55.6% on the year. Gold rallied 11% on the month and is up a like amount for the year.
Looking Behind the Numbers . . .
As I view the monthly and annual numbers, I am drawn to a comparison of a football pass thrown in a game. That is, when the football is thrown, three things can happen and two of them are not good. The pass can be completed, fall incomplete, or be intercepted.
Similarly, our economy can gradually improve with credit lines opening, housing and employment stabilizing, and markets improving – much like a completed pass.
Our economy can stumble under the weight of a surge in delinquencies and foreclosures in the residential space, a wave of commercial real estate defaults, and a double digit unemployment situation – much like an incomplete pass.
Our economy can stabilize with enough traction to create velocity in the growth of the money supply. Given the trillions of dollars injected both directly and indirectly, a hint of velocity will likely spark a sharp increase in the expectation of inflation even prior to actual signs of inflation. The price action in the commodity and currency space are sending warning signals on this front. This development is akin to an intercepted pass.
Economic Review . . .
As I look back on the wealth of economic data, I am continually struck by the downward revisions to prior months’ numbers. Although consumer confidence has increased, in my opinion, virtually every other statistic both here and abroad shows ongoing caution signs. These numbers include retail sales, housing, employment, and industrial production. Overseas the export data is decidedly weak.
Perhaps the markets are discounting an expectation of improved economic data due to the $780 billion Stimulus Bill starting to kick in later this year. The major money center banks have clearly been stabilized, although it took a fabrication in their accounting (via a relaxation in the mark-to-market) to do so.
The movement in commodities is clearly indicating a sign of improved economic activity and/or heightened inflation, or both. It is not inconceivable that our economy does get inflation sooner than later combined with minimal credit flow due to ongoing writedowns on delinquent or foreclosed loans. Combine these two components and we have a very real chance of stagflation over the next few years.
The Path Forward . . .
The steepening of the yield curve (rates on short term maturities relative to long term maturities) is very positive for our banking industry. The banks can continue to borrow money at extremely low rates and earn significant interest on almost any sort of lending that occurs. That said, new loan demand is not strong while demand for refinancing is quite strong.
My concern currently is not with the major money center banks. I am VERY concerned with the non-bank banks (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBs). Given the ongoing surge and expected high levels of residential loan defaults, these institutions will bleed money. The insurance sector, despite some recent improvements in their stock prices, also concerns me given their commercial real estate holdings primarily.
I do believe longer term interest rates will continue to work their way higher under the weight of supply of global government debt, and expected ongoing heavy demand (May was a very heavy issuance of both bonds and stocks) by municipal and corporate issuers. Do not be surprised to see our 10 yr Treasury note get to 4% and 30yr fixed rate mortgages get to 6%.
The deleveraging process will continue as the economy adjusts to life without a vigorous securitization business (remember the securitization business on Wall Street provided 40-45% of total credit to our economy).
Add it all up and I think the following will occur:
– equity markets will now move sideways in range bound fashion;
– the bond market will move lower in price, higher in rates;
– the dollar will gradually decline;
– our economy will be filled with more stops than starts.
Please share your thoughts and comments!! Thanks.