Archive for the ‘finance’ Category

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

Hilary, Liz and Dodd-Frank

February 21, 2017

Violin

Oh, there was a time, when I was a young man, when I would fiddle around, and that was nice enough for a while.

Then life came and went.

Nowadays, I find myself content to merely listen while life slips by.

In ages past, a maestro such as Felix Mendelssohn could  imagine something incredible; he could then summon up in his own mind and hands– an exquisite composition, an intricate stream of vibrations–as sublime as any that could ever be coaxed from a mere box constructed of wood and wire. He could then write the composition. Then, 170 years later Hilary could set bow to instrument and, with help from the orchestra, make it all happen so perfectly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1dBg__wsuo

There’s a reason why my fiddle has been set aside all these years. Why bother? There’s somebody who can do it better. There’s somebody out there who can, in fact, do it perfectly.

Just listen. But I get to thinking. . .

Years go by. We pay attention, try to figure things out. There’s always somebody out there who can do things better than we can. Leave the complicated stuff to experts. And listen. Listen and learn. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Just daydreaming now; I think of Sally Field in Forrest Gump when she was playing his mother and she said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.

Think about 2008. Everybody just lollygaggin’ along. . .then whoosh! well, you remember what happened. Everybody’s shell-shocked. Uncle Hank stammering on the Tube. They had to twist Congress’ arm two or three times before they’d come up with the money to fix the mess, at least temporarily.

Then the experts get trotted out to analyze, to testify, to figure what the hell happened in stock markets that made the thing come crashin’ down–something about market manipulations of MBS’s, unforeseen incredibilities of CDO’s, the incredulous defaulting of credit default swaps blah blah blah

As the thing unwinds, along come the explanations, the excuses, the wagging fingers, the committees, the commissions, the oversight agencies get rolled out, cranked up. Republicans in shock because Obama’s in. Democrats trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Democrats got to fix everything, so what do they do. . .

Let’s fix everything up, they say.

Ok. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.

Years go by. Big shock when Trump comes blasting’ into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave after those 8 years of Mr. Smooth.

Now this morning we hear Amy and Juan on the radio, and here’s Senator Liz whining about how the new Republican whirlwind wants to wind down Dodd-Frank, which was supposed to be the big fix, the big Democratic fix.  I mean, she’s a little bit crazy, like all Democrats, but there’s one thing about Liz, she can play the rhetoric like Hilary plays the violin. It’s no wonder Mitch had to cut her off last week. Anyway,  Liz is saying:

“Commercial and consumer lending is robust. Bank profits are at record levels. And our banks are blowing away their global competitors. So, why go after banking regulations? The president and the team of Goldman Sachs bankers that he has put in charge of the economy want to scrap the rules so they can go back to the good old days, when bankers could take huge risks and get huge bonuses if they got lucky, knowing that they could get taxpayer bailouts if their bets didn’t pay off. We did this kind of regulation before, and it resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We cannot afford to go down this road again.”

I mean, Liz might have a point there. If things are so ROBUST, why do we still get this feeling about the 20,000+ Dow? Is it deja vu, or deja due, or prescience, maybe too much twitter or not enough facebook, or a rerun of common sense or what? Maybe it’s all just a bunch of hot air blowin’ around and we keep wonderin’ about the whole house of cards but we can’t really put our finger on what’s wrong cuz you know the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind and life is like a box of chocolates anyway, a mere lala land where we think we got it figured out but really we don’t.

Although I do have to remind you, Liz, since I am a registered Republican: we can’t fix everything. If we could, and if we did, why, how boring would that be?

So my advice to you is we’d best leave the fiddlin’ to the experts. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face the music anyway.

Glass half-Full

A New Bretton Woods?

August 1, 2016

We were in Rome about a year and a half ago, as part of a traveling celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary.

One evening as we were lollygagging through the busy rain-slicked streets and sidewalks, we passed in front of a very special building. It was the Rome headquarters of the European Union, or “EU”.

I wanted to take a picture of the building’s entry, because that is what tourists do–take pictures of important places. Seeking a broader view, I crossed the street. While positioning myself and the phone to snap a pic, the guard across the street noticed my activity. He started waving at me frantically, indicating that what I was doing was not permitted.

Excuse me. I was taking a picture of a public building.

In America, we take pictures of .gov buildings, because we have, you know, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which means, among other things that the people can take pictures of their headquarterses (as Golem might say.)

Is this not the way you do it in Europe? No pictures of the RomeEU headquarters?

Nevertheless, here is my smuggled pic:

EURomeHdq

If you squint at my little jpeg here, you may discern the guard’s upraised right alarm, a gesture of command intended to communicate a stop order on my touristic activity. It vaguely resembles another raised-arm signal that was in use in Europe 75 years ago, during the regime of Mussolini and that German guy who considered the Italian dictator to be his own puppet.

Or maybe I’m being too cynical about this incident. Maybe the guard was saluting me in some way, acknowledging my importance as an American tourist in the city of Rome.

Now, a year and a half later, this morning, seated comfortably in my own humble domicile, back in the USSA . . . I was pondering the idea of government–whether it is truly “of. . .by the people”, or is it something else? Is it, as many citizens insist during these times of tumultuous societal change, actually an institution through which the “1%” (or as they said back in the old days, the “rich and powerful”) project their oligarchical manipulations upon the rest of us?

I was thinking about this after reading online an article about how the worldwide financial system that has evolved.

  http://seekingalpha.com/article/3993559-back-square-one-financial-system-needs-reset?ifp=0

In this Seeking Alpha blogpost, Valentin Schmid, as “Epoch Times” examines our international monetary system. His analysis appears to be generated from  a well-informed position in the world of money, assets and power.

Mr. Schmid raises the question of whether  the current (worldwide) debt load can ever be repaid, because there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

This got my attention, because I have been thinking for a while that there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

Haha, as if I knew about such things. I don’t know much about money; if I did, I would have more of it.

Anyway, Mr. Schmid’s question is answered by his guest interviewee, Paul Brodsky, in this way:

   . . . “I would argue central banks lost the ability to control the credit cycle. Some relatively minor event could trigger a series of events that creates the need for a sit-down among global monetary policy makers who finally have to acknowledge publicly that their policies are no longer able to control the system, the global economy, which is based on ever increasing demand through ever increasing credit.

And what might occur is a natural drop in output. So you’ll see GDP growth begin to fall. Real GDP growth across the world maybe even be going into contraction and that would spell doom for these balance sheets. And this is not something I’m predicting or trying to time at all, but the natural outcome of that would be a sit-down like a Bretton Woods where arrangements are reconsidered.”

   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_Conference

So what is coming is, perhaps, this:

To compensate for a stalling of global productivity, the movers/shakers of the world may  construct a new,  top-down rearrangement of the world financial system. The purpose of this revision will be to fix the problem of not enough money to go around. Such an extensive reconstruction as this would be has not been done since the Bretton Woods agreement that was promulgated by delegates from 44 Allied nations in 1944.

In a 21st-century world inhabited by billions of inhabitants, our  accessibility to natural resources has heretofore been determined by how many holes we could drill in the ground to extract natural resources; and how many acres of crops we could plant to produce food; how many factories we could build, and so on. . . building an economy to work toward  spreading the bounty around.

In the future, however, we will be moving to a “knowledge” economy. Wealth creation will not be about how much you can dig in a day’s time, nor how much you can plant, nor what you can cobble together in your back yard or over on Main Street.

Wealth generation in the future will be determined by what you know, so start learning now.

The first three essential  things to know are these:

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic.

Well gollee, maybe it won’t be such a brave new world after all.

However this thing plays out, if enough of us can master these three skills, .gov of the people, by the people and for the people will not perish from the earth, we hope.

Glass half-Full

the Ole Firmer’s Almaniac

May 27, 2016

The ole firmer walked around the backside of the barn. His wearied eyes took a moment to focus on the horizon; dark clouds appeared to dominate that distant line; they’d been hanging there for quite a long while now. The immediate vicinity was clear, however, if BLS numbers are to be believed. Mixed signals here there and yon. The times they are a-changin’, thought he, and things ain’t ClasicBldgRuf
what they used to be.

The rules of the game have changed; the old computations are no longer working, with the ole firmer and his firm being blindsided by all the new manipulations, robo-washed sterile by robo-driven arbitragers as if someone behind the sprays and fluff were cleaning the clocks of commerce, wiping away the profits, constantly leveling the playing field and rendering the firmer high but not dry, now eyeless in nasdaq, then dumb in the dow, spooked by the S&P, then suddenly swept up again in a flood of liquidity, floating on Fed flotsam, pummeled by day trade dealers punting buyback fluff up and down the field. The firmer pondered all this while studying the broad side of his barn. Need to fix that roof-– the thought crossed his mind for the umpteenth time.

Then without warning, his step coincides with a pile of BLS. Oh shit, exclaimed he. Up on the rooftop, the ever-vigilant barnyard blackbirds squawked loudly, as if trumpeting their amusement at his misfortune.  Caw! Buyback! Caw! Quoth the raven: Evermore! Now and evermore! So shall your ascending P/E path be: driving under the influence of BLS, monitored by SEC, checked with OMB, hog-tied with Dodd-Frank, frothing high in P/E ratios, fearless Fannie and fawning Freddie sharpening pencils in the background, consuming FOMC reports, leaning on Fed puts, flummoxed at SEC stops, disgusted with IRS farts and bewildered by WTF surprises.

LOL . . . not.

The ole firmer’s labor participation rate was, and had been for awhile, after 89 months of zero-bound interest rates on the downward trajectory–headed south, as some folks say, although he  wasn’t comfortable with the phrase. And out there on what used to be the open prairie of Price discovery–that old crossroads of supply and demand– well, it has become well-nigh impossible to determine where, when, how and why, it seemed to the ole firmer.

This is what it felt like, he surmised, to be on Main Street in a Kmart world, then at Kmart in a Walmart world, now being disoriented in an Amazon jungle, no way out,  with the Fed ham-stringin all the supply lines so’s to simulate demand on a rising level. How this gmo steady-state staid new world of post-capital never-everland came about he’d never understand.

The old firmer would never understand. He felt like the onslaught of old-timers’ disease was gnawing away at his youthful entrepeneural sensibilities.

The obnoxious ravens on the roof calmed down, their screechy cawing now lapsing into a low zirping. Quoth the raven–Nevermore! There’s no real investment any more. No more frontier, no more exceptional expansion, no more manifest destiny, where do we go from here, caught between rocknroll and a hard face.

They say casinos are big now.

Where’s the high-flyin’ high-multiplyin’ authentic productivity? Inventories high, sales low. Slow go. What would Rockefeller do? Where’s JP Morgan when you need him? Carnegie’s steel has all been laid; Edison’s taking a nap  and Bell won’t answer the phone. No Ford nor Chevy on the horizon that I can see, thought he. Watson’s now a programmed response. Fairchild’s been implanted in a solid state econ. Gates is creaky; Jobs is gone– out there somewhere on that musky dark cloud horizon. What’s everybody doing?

Tappin’ on chinky glass, devolving in devices vices, sippin’ Singapore slings,  all sound and futility signifying no-growth, thought he, hobbling along on a programmed 2% inflation path. Old-timers like me can no longer hit the broad side of a barn with our antiquarian projections based on old-school free-market dynamics, rallies and hog bellies, bushels, widgets and gadgets, buy and sell orders ’til the bears come home, might as well lay bricks in mortars with all these start-up farters.

Out on the horizon, big dust-storm coming up. Bulls are at it again, trying to stampede their way out of the Everything’s OK corral, but Uncle Fed and Aunt Fannie shut ’em down every time.

Glass Chimera

Ole Uncle Sammy

April 18, 2016

My uncle Sammy worked hard; he worked every day.

He made good money, and he put some away.

He made a good living; but then he got older

Ole Sam carried the weight of this world on his shoulders.

WorldWait

I was told that in his gathering of wealth,

he had worked the land, done well, and maintained his health.

He managed to save a little more than he needed

so he squirreled it in the bank where his fortune was seeded.

WellsFarg

He figured, you know, everybody’s got to eat

so he opened a burger joint, it was quite a feat,

because his humble, capital enterprise

eventually become a growing franchise.

BurgerOld

And in America, you know, everyone wanted wheels,

so Sammy expanded into more wheels and big deals;

he got things going, built up a good team;

he was riding in style, living the dream.

CarOldIntr

But then ole uncle Sammy, one day, up and died,

so we laid him aside; he went out with the tide,

No longer an icon on tracebook, nor twittee,

maybe we’ll see him in eternity city.

CityBay

Glass half-Full

Dark Rivers of Dark Money

April 5, 2016

Seismic moneyanamis hit the fan in a big way in Panama two days ago. Multiple georlnalists are reporting that massive dark rivers of dark money have been detected bubbling to the surface in that central American domain. Surreptitious sources indicate that the ultimate origin of these fluidizing liquidities may be the Dark Side of the Moon, an area of high-flying international magnaminity heretofore undetectable to the common man. To this present time in our planetary history, only one witness of this phenom has ever been reported– a shadowy figure known to some money-watchers as Pink Floyd.

If these reports are confirmed, it could be that  how the money world really works will at last be known, according to Tom OnPointe.

Geornalists pouring over the erstwile infamous Panama Papers in a sort of secret cave in London have detected vast streams of dark money sloshing beneath the streets of London, in the sewers of Paris, and beneath the mysteriously enigmatic monoliths of Moscow. Entry points for these large liquidities have been traced to specific hotspots in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Switzerland and now, for the first time we can remember, Panama.

But hey, the Dark Rivers of Panama have been showing signs of volatility for a long time– since even before Teddy Roosevelt led an exhibition to that star-cross’d country to recover a failed French experiment in canal-building. Boldly sporting a Panama hat, ole rough-ridin’ Teddy went down there in 1904 and established yankee hegemony over the sluggish Panama Canal project; he assured the world that within a few years  the Atlantic and Pacific liquidities would be flowing freely.

Thank our lucky stars, in the 1914 wake of the completed Panama Canal development, vast volumes of worldly goods began floating uninterruptedly from the east ocean to the west ocean and vice-versa for lo these many years. And you know how human beings are in a situation like that. Wherever you’ve got vast volumes of worldly goods barging past each other going both ways, you’re bound to have vast volumes of financial liquidities flowing as well.

Thanks to the ICIJ, we now know that vast portfolios of them insinuated assets are subterranean, which is to say under-the-radar liquidities swishing ever’wheres from Delaware to Doha to Dubrovnik– 11 million documents worth, they’re reporting, revealing trillions of terabytes of wealth hidden between the slipstreaming electrons of international excessive exuberance, implicating perhaps 689 corporations who are no doubt knowingly transferring magnanimous wealth from them that don’t have it to them that do, which is to say like maybe from Lucknow to London or Newark to New York.

Which is to say, like it’s always been. Rich get richer; poor get poorer. But now on an international scale.

We have obtained photographic evidence of an allegedly rich nation sucking the monetary life out of a poor country. Apparently this is nothing new on the face of the earth.

Devouring

So the best the thing a man or woman can do is get him/herself a little back 40 or .40 of terra firma for his family so’s he can do a little something with it in case something unforeseen happens or the big bad wolf decides to float in and do business on a liquiditous stream of financial privilege.

News at 11.

Glass Chimera

The Narrative of the Ancient !con

February 20, 2016

Statu!con

In this episode

we find  PMUnicomm inquiring among the projection heads as to what is going to happen next and how should we proceed from this point and what strategy should we devise to beat the numbers because they be indicating correction ahead and NIRPy deadends between buyin dips and sellin peaks and rockofdebt and hardplace of reality, so Arioch chiefofstaff say to PMUniCom:

BLS-BS say UnEmp be way down and thats good but LabrPart don’t match up to historical precedental expectations so we brought in DaProphit to make recommendation for FEd shells to be moved thus and such so game can go on and broncos can beat panthers and bulls chase bears off into sunset. So here be DaProphit and he say:

You, O PMUnicomm, were dreaming and behold there was a single great !con on your !phone, which was large and of extraordinary splendor and it was standing in front of you and its number of followers was awesome, like in datrillions.

And you saw, O PMUnicomm, the head of the !con was made of silvergold, its breast and arms of ironsteel, its belly ass and thighs of assets, its legs of stokbond, and its feet partly made of toxi and partly made of asset.

You were like this is awesome what the hell is it and while you were grokking it a rock was cut but not with human hands because the hand was busy writing on the wall and the rock suddenly smashed the feet of the !con to smithereens and the toxi and the assets and the stokbond and the ironsteel and the silvergold came tumblin down and humpty couldn’t put the dumpty back together again. But the rock that struck the !con became a great mountain and filled the earth.

And as you watched, PMUnicomm, the credits began to roll on your !device and it was time to find another fluffup.

Glass Chimera

From Black Friday to Derivatives Saturday

November 28, 2015

Back in the crash of ’08, clueless underlings such as myself suddenly were made aware of a mysterious component of our financial system called “derivatives.”

What is a derivative? you may ask. Funny you should ask. I didn’t know either, and I still don’t. Although I have been trying to figure it out for seven years now, every time I think I know what a derivative is, I encounter acronymic terminology such as MBS, CDO, or SEC.

These slimmed-down nomenclatures should simplify things, but they do, in fact simplify nothing. Although everybody knows SEC stands for Southeastern Conference, which is the football conference where the best American football is played, and where my alma mater LSU exercises its right to excel in athletics, except when teams like Alabama or Florida are on the field.

Tyger

But I digress. I was explaining to you what a derivative is and I mentioned some of the simplifying terminology.

For instance, as alluded to above: MBS.

Well some well-positioned bloggists of the worldwideweb identify an MBS as a Masters of Bullsh*t, which is attained through much blood sweat and tears and dedicated gamesmanship acquired at a venerable institution, such as Barnwell University or Cayman College. The MBS is attained through years and years of shoveling potentially useful data into HFT, which produces a yield from which its index is derived,  and lucrative assets which are then deposited into accounts on behalf of the bullish denizens of WallStreet. These rich deposits build up the notional value of our economy as a hole, thus enriching all of us, not only those who are forever horsing around on Wall Street, but also  you and me and all the folks on Main Street, Easy Street and Ventnor Avenue.

Somebody has to do it. I don’t mind doing my part, working with a shovel. Keeps me in shape.

Anyway, that’s not the MBS of which I spake. I’m talking about Mortgage Backed Securities. I think Uncle Freddie Mac and Aunt Fannie Mae gave these instruments as gifts back during the holidays of 2007, when life was oh simple then, before time had rewritten every line.

My understanding of a Mortgage Backed Security is that they’re something like an Arkansas RazorBack, which is probably why they didn’t work out so well for investors, although Arkansas is ranked third in the SEC west, behind Florida and–excuse my language–Ole Miss.

After that is my LSU Tigers, presently in fourth place of SEC west, but as always and forever will be, bound for greatness.

It’s quite complex to describe just how LSU could be in fourth place, because its position in the rankings is derived from the ratio of victories to losses, divided by the number of footballs passed beneath the legs of a center when he hikes the ball to the quarterback during any given play of the game.

Nevertheless, as I was saying before, a derivative is derived from the outcome, that is to say the, rear-end of a complex financial instrument.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering, as any serious investor is wondering, about the real question here, which is: how much is it worth?

One thing that my research has revealed, and one thing I can tell you with surety is this: The value of any particular derivative is derived from fluctuations in the value of the underlying asset.

Here’s an example: how much is my ticket to this season’s Sugar Bowl worth? Well, at this point it’s an open question, but let’s just say this: I’ll give you my ticket to the Sugar Bowl for your two tickets to the Orange Bowl.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Texas Aggies be forewarned), the guys who are shoveling out in the barn are asking what’s the real value of these derivatives. And as I explained before, you remember that the value of any particular derivative is derived from fluctuations in the value of the underlying ass-set. That should come out plain enough.

As for the collective value of all the derivatives, this figure is derived from its notional value, which is calculated based on the notion, as defined by the US Treasury, the Fed, the NYSE, and the AP sportswriters, that whatever goes around comes around, so therefore if the value of the aforesaid derivatives passes through enough piles of assets then when it comes out the other end nobody really knows what its worth, so that it can be revalued at the going rate.

This is unpredictable, of course, as the LTCM affair had indicated  back in the Glass-Steagall days, but it is bound to be worth, somehow somewhere when you least expect it, more than it was in January of 2009. So that’s progress, although the Progressives may not agree with me. I don’t pay much attention to all those freaks on the fringe anyway.

And you understand, of course, that all this has taken place after Cronkite passed from the scene.  Before that, it was pretty much everybody working together in America toward the same values and goals. But that was then and this is now. Derivatives happens.

I’m glad I could clear this up for you. As for the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl,  may the best team win, as it frequently does, but sometimes not.

 

Glass Chimera

Through the kindling glass: Uncle Ben in ’08

November 22, 2015

History is fascinating when you get into it.

Today I’m remembering the fall of 2008–that perilous time when the financial crash was pummeling down all around us. The reason I’m remembering this is: I’m reading on kindle Ben Bernanke’s book Courage to Act:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Act-Memoir-Aftermath-ebook/dp/B00TIZFP0I

So I’m remembering.

My day job during that time was working with students at a local elementary school. The workday began every morning at 8 a.m. I have vivid memories of sitting in my old Subaru wagon in the school parking lot each morning, catching the latest financial news before going inside to punch in. I’d be sitting in the car during the last ten minutes of the 7 o’clock hour while listening to Marketplace Morning on NPR.

Not that I had any real money or assets to work with, mind you, just a little nest-egg house that wife and I had just about paid for, and a little spare change we had after the three young’uns had finished college, etc. just like most folks our age.

But here’s why the memory of those news reports clings to my unfettered mind so tenaciously. Those fateful September days of seven years ago released megalithic destructive financial forces of mayhem and immense complexity that changed forever the economic world as we kno(e)w it.  Perilous WallStreet cluster-fuds suddenly opened a flood of financial and fiscal confusion unprecedented in the history of the world. The only thing that compares to it would be the crash of ’29, but of course that was then and this was now.

In Uncle Ben’s book, Courage to Act, through which he strives to shine a light of transparency into the workings of the Fed and its relationship to the financial powers that be, he explains, in chapter 12, the demise of one particular entity (the AIG insurance conglomerate) that fell during that month’s frantic rearrangement of dominoes. He describes the problem this way:

 “AIG FP’s risk was compounded by the difficulty in valuing its highly complex position, in part because the securities that the company was insuring were so complex and hard to value.”

This universal fragility about value (or sudden loss of value) of toxic assets would be something akin to a global computer-virus, but in the financial world. Nobody knew how, when, or where, the infection of overnight falling  asinine asset prices could obliterate the richness of previously fat portfolios. It was like Ebola on WallStreet.

During that third week of September of 2008, the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Bros, and then the unraveling of worldwide cluster-fudded AIG, damn near brought the whole house of WallStreet et al etc cards of down.

I guess US Treasurer Hank Paulson and a few other arm-twisting high-flyers later put the fear of dog into Congress and into whomever else was in charge of this country at the time, so that the gov-softened crash landing of worldwide money tranches wasn’t nearly as bad as when something like that happened in ’29 and the whole dam American economy fell apart.

As I told you before, I was just a detached observer at the time, September 15 2008, a regular guy with no skin in the game trying to figure out what the hell was going as I heard about events on the car radio.

Now reading Uncle Ben’s memoir, I see a little more clearly what was going on behind the scenes. I guess his transparency mission is being realized; at least it is on me.

I see the light. I think I understand. Fear, as Joni Mitchell once sang, is like a wilderland.

Fear is a big part of this whole things fall apart deal that we see in life sometimes.

In the case of the investment banks and Wall Street and all that derivative-induced shenanigans that came unwounded in fall of ’08, it was fear of losing value on a massive scale, fear of diminishing assets on a global scale, and hence fear of metastasizing money-loss on a megadential scale.

But hey, there are worse fears in life. . .fear of dying?

Speaking of death, we could say that old folks are generally closer to it than young ones. But the fear of death can be, I feel, softened somewhat by the sense that one has lived a fulfilling life, or maybe an adventurous life, or perhaps a prosperous life, whatever attribute of the good life floats your boat.

Here’s something Uncle Ben wrote in his memoir about the old-timers on Wall Street during that fateful fall of ’08:

“For Wall Street old-timers, the events of the (Lehman weekend) weekend would evoke some nostalgia. Two iconic Wall Street firms that had survived world wars and depressions, Lehman (Bros.) and Merrill (Lynch), had disappeared in a weekend. I felt no nostalgia at all. I knew that the risks the two firms had taken had endangered not only the companies but the global economy with unknowable consequences.”

Unknowable consequences. That’s what you get when a bunch of old (or young) wise guys play fast and loose with a world-class pile of other people’s money.

But hey, that was then and this is now; it could never happen again.

At least not the same way.

 

Glass Chimera

Bankers, Banksters, Bernanke, Black and Beethoven

November 8, 2015

How’s a fellow to make sense of it all? Who you gonna call? Who you gonna believe? What’s the world coming to? What’s it to ya? and Who’s in charge here?

I’ve been trying to figure out a few things about our financial system.

TheFed

About a week ago I loaded Ben Bernanke’s book, Courage to Act, and have been reading what the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve has to say about those events of 2007-8 that brought this country to its money-grubbing knees.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Act-Memoir-Aftermath-ebook/dp/B00TIZFP0I

Now about a quarter of the way through Bernanke’s explanation of things, I must say I like the guy. He has a personal mission to bring more transparency to that enigmatic institution known to us as the Federal Reserve. I think he really wants regular folks to understand our financial system and the function of the central bank which, having been founded by Congress in 1913, tries to keep a rein on the nation’s banking system so it doesn’t become a runaway horse.

Nevertheless, the System did morph into a kind of bucking bronco back in the fall of 2008. The crash and crisis of that time may have seemed quite sudden to many of us, but in fact the collapse of Wall Street et al during September-October of that year was the culmination of a bunch of misadventures and misdeeds that had begun a year or two or more before it all came crashing down.

I vividly remember, during that time seven years ago, sitting in my car in a parking lot, a few minutes before 8 am when I would enter my day-job, and hearing on the car-radio with dread or fascination about the demise of such formerly venerable institutions as Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Bank of America, Wachovia, Countrywide, Golden West,  AIG, Fannie, Freddie, even General Motors, and then about how Hank Paulson and Wall Street and the Fed, Bernanke and the President and Congress would deal with the degenerating situation by instituting TARP which was rejected by our Representatives and Senators before it was passed and implemented a week later after Hank and Larry and Tim put the fear of god in the legislators’ minds or whatever it was they told them to convince them that they should loan the distressed banks $767 billion so the whole dam bailiwick wouldn’t fall apart and drag us into another Depression, or so they said.

The world was changing. Have you ever watched the world changing? It is an awesome thing, to see history being made.

What a time a time oh what a time it was. . . a time of innocence (lost), a time of confidences (lost forever), as Paul Simon once sang. Oh what a time it was. Eventually the dust settled and the country lapsed back into normalcy or something like it but not really.

Things were different after that. You know what I’m talking about. . . the Great Recession, everybody and their brother deleveraging, budgets tightening, layoffs and downsizing, fading into perpetual “jobless recovery” with wage deflation, rising unemployment, then descending unemployment but with more part-timing and less money. . . stock-crunchers and media fixated on monthly numbers from the Fed, the gov, BLS, etc, a languid economy generating fewer jobs, then a few more jobs, then leveling out and stabilizing and lapsing into destagulation and blah blah blah. . .

And it was about that time, or actually a year of three later by n’ by, that the Occupy Wall Street crowd came along.

My wife and I visited our son in Seattle during fall or early winter of 2011. I woke up one morning and strolled down Pike Street. I stopped at the Westlake Center and entered a Starbucks where I settled in for a while. I was observing through the large glass storefront, the Occupiers who had gathered across the street in Westlake Park.

After a while I noticed among all those protesters, many of whom were carrying signs (mostly say hooray for our side) . .here comes an especially noticeable fellow with a sign. He was tall, scruffy, with a long beard. He looked like the classic cartoon image of the street-corner doomsday prophet, and his sign said:

“Jail for Banksters”

Well that’s interesting.

Now, yesterday, November 7 2015, I recalled having seen that fellow and his sign, and I was thinking about what his sign said.

I had been reading Uncle Ben’s very informative book–his plainly-written, quite “transparent” explanation of what had happened back in ’08, when the low quality of vast numbers of subprime mortgage loans catapulted those same home-loans into default, and subsequently cast a ubiquitous monkey wrench into the vastly complex financial machinery of sliced/diced tranches of mortgage-backed-securities and collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps, etc etc  and then wall street came crashing down and all the Fed’s horses and all the Treasury’s men couldn’t put humpty dumpty together again (not for a while anyway) and the world changed forever, or so it seemed at the time and for quite a long time after that, even until now.

Yesterday, I had made note of this sentence from Ben Bernanke’s book:

“As the chain from borrower to broker to originator to securitizer to investor grew longer , accountability for the quality of the underlying mortgages became more and more diffused.”

And I was wondering, if the accountability had become more and more diffused, then who was responsible for this mess?

My own personal answer to that question is: Human nature, collectively. Shit happens.

Not everyone sees it that way, though. Some folks feel the need to investigate, litigate, prosecute, execute, and. . . as the protester’s sign said, send the “banksters” to jail.

So here I was yesterday, having taken a break from reading Uncle Ben’s book, and I was fiddling around online when I landed upon an interview that Chris Martenson did with Bill Black.

http://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/95125/bill-black-why-banksters-winning

Now Bill is well-informed fellow; he’s an academic like Ben Bernanke, but from a totally different perspective than Ben’s. Bill is a regulator, investigator, earth-shaker, litigator who is crowing that Eric Holder,  former Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice, should have prosecuted the banksters for their corruptive abuse of the system. In his interview with Chris that I listened to yesterday, Bill Black said:

“Every dollar by which you inflate an asset inflates capital by a dollar and creates an additional dollar you can steal. . . they lied and they lied to the extent of trillions of dollars. They lied and made stuff that was really in the trade, right. So the bankers are actually calling these things toxic in their internal memorandum. And they are simultaneously rated Triple A, which is supposed to mean that they are equivalent to United States Treasury and are “risk free” by which they mean credit risk.”

Furthermore, whistle-blowing Bill Black says that culpability for the crash also includes the Fed’s complicity, when Bill says:

“You say Bank of America has got 50 billion of these things. They sell them to Fannie/Freddie.

Next thing we know, Black Rock is in there with the Federal Reserve helping the Federal Reserve decide which tranches of MBS to go out and buy. And the Federal Reserve vacuums up 1.25 trillion or thereabouts of these mortgage backed security pieces of paper. Here is the question. What is the chance that the Fed preferentially or accidentally (but I am going to think preferentially) went out and vacuumed up some of the worst of these things so that they could die quietly on its balance sheet rather than do damage to bank balance sheets?

So Black is implying that Bernanke shares some of the blame for the Crash of ’08.

But in my reading of Uncle Ben’s version, I see a very smart man, an honest man, who was trying to do his job–that job to which he had been appointed by the President and approved by the Congress of the United States. He was striving, as best he could, trying to stop the nation’s calamitous slide into financial oblivion. Ben writes:

 “Just as the bank runs of the panic of 1907 amplified losses suffered by a handful of stock speculators into a national credit crisis and recession, the panic in the short-term funding markets that began in August 2007 would ultimately transform a ‘correction’ in the sublime mortgage market into a much greater crisis in the global financial system and global economy.”

From Chairman Ben Bernanke’s perspective, he was doing his job– using every tool in his Reserve tool-chest  to arrest to the “panic” that would eventually impose a “much greater crisis” in the global financial system and global economy.

You can’t blame a fellow for trying to do his job. And that’s how I make sense of it all. I try to do my job, while I see everyone else doing theirs, and that’s what makes the productive world go around.

Although, every now and then shit does happen. Then, as Schumpeter said. . . it is creative destruction, and somebody’s got to clean up the mess. Jobs for everybody, cleaning up the mess from places high and low. And then reconstructing it all, a vicious (or inevitable) cycle. It’s been going on for 10,000 years. But now with hi-tech, everything goes faster and faster, until it grinds again to a screeching halt and. . . can you hear it? The music of the ages.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEbyBINYBfo

Glass half-Full