Originally I was going to write an essay on two international mutual funds for you today. However, in light of the recent comments by Alan Greenspan, that essay has been relegated to tomorrow. Enough is enough.
Since retiring from his post as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan has simply refused to go away. Some commentators have taken a cute approach to handling this topic, comparing Greenspan to a “guest” who just won’t leave a party. The truth is that Greenspan is no guest. None of us invited/ voted for him. And as for the party… that all ended in 2005 and now everyone’s hung over and looking for their wallets (all empty).
No, Greenspan is not a guest. He’s a nuisance. And he needs to go away. Few people in history have been rewarded for such a staggering display of incompetence. Even fewer have managed to bungle things as much while shirking any and all responsibility for their actions.
The full scale of Greenspan’s bungling requires more space than this e-letter allows. But anyone looking for an in depth look at Greenspan’s career would do well to read hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham’s 1Q08 shareholder letter. The particular essay is titled Immoral Hazard.
However, it is Greenspan’s recent actions, not his tenure as Fed Chairman, that I wish to focus on today. Since retiring, Greenspan has written a book, blaming the various administrations he served under for what occurred during his time as Fed Chairman. He’s also written a Financial Times article absolving himself from any and all responsibility for the housing bubble.
He’s also gone on a number of speaking engagements, charging $100,000 per hour. Let that sink in for a moment….
Alan Greenspan, the man who admitted to John Stewart of the Daily Show that the Fed manipulates the market, the man who didn’t believe bubbles could exist —at least not until after he retired, the man who failed to see the housing bubble forming despite the fact housing prices had risen more than two standard deviations from their historic relationship to incomes (a 1 in 80 year event)… that guy earns six figures per speaking engagement.
A team led by MIT students this week successfully tested a prototype of what may be the most cost-efficient solar power system in the world--one team members believe has the potential to revolutionize global energy production.
The system consists of a 12-foot-wide mirrored dish that team members have spent the last several weeks assembling. The dish, made from a lightweight frame of thin, inexpensive aluminum tubing and strips of mirror, concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1,000--creating heat so intense it could melt a bar of steel.
MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer David Pelly, in whose class this project first took shape last fall, says that, "I’ve looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I’ve seen. And the key thing in scaling it globally is that all of the materials are inexpensive and accessible anywhere in the world."
Pelly adds that "I’ve looked all over for solar technology that could scale without subsidies. Almost nothing I’ve looked at has that potential. This does."
The website Raw-Solar has this diagram explaining the practical application.
A solar thermal dish reflects the rays of the sun onto a small receiver using specially curved mirrors, concentrating the sunlight 1000 times. The high concentration increases the efficiency of the energy collection by reducing the surface area for thermal losses. A robust tracking system keeps the dish pointed directly at the sun all day, maximizing the available sunlight.
Water is pumped through the receiver where the high intensity sunlight heats it to 212-750F (100-400C), making steam. The steam can then be piped into an existing steam system, such as a district energy system or food processing plant.
What makes this system special vs. its competition is that it can use small flat flexible mirrors that can bend in exactly the right shape to concentrate the reflected sunlight on a precise spot. The materials are all easily produced and the team could put this dish together by hand.
"The deterioration in credit cards is accelerating faster than many had expected," said Christopher Wolfe, an analyst at Fitch and one of the authors of the report published Friday. "The message we are trying to deliver is that things are going to get worse before they get better. Thus far, credit card businesses have been profitable but that could change."
Fitch analysts are expecting an increase in prime charge-off rates – or losses from defaults on card payments as a percentage of loans outstanding – to at least 7% by the end of the year from 6.4% in May.
Particularly vulnerable, say analysts, are credit card issuers such as Washington Mutual, or WaMu, and Capital One Financial Corp. (COF) with higher subprime exposure, a category of high-risk borrowers with high delinquency who fueled the mortgage crisis.
WaMu, which bought a subprime credit card issuer in 2005, reported in the first-quarter net charge-offs of 9.32% on $26 billion of credit card loans. This is up from 6.31% a year earlier. It ratcheted up its loss reserves in its credit card unit by more than 60%. A WaMu spokesman declined to comment, citing the so- called quiet period ahead of earnings.
Credit card issuers that are part of bigger banking institutions such as Citi aren’t in the clear either. The financial services behemoth had net losses of 5.83% in its U.S. cards portfolio in the first quarter, a 1.2% rise from a year earlier. "While current losses remain below peak levels, they are running above the long-term average," said Fitch analysts in their report. A Citi spokesman declined to comment on upcoming second-quarter results.
Maybe we can blame it all on the Beatles invasion of America. The bustling 60s with its expressions of freedom was the time when the transition seemed to sweep the nation. Instead of purchasing what we wished AFTER we had earned the capital to do so, as in generations past, we learned to purchase BEFORE we had earned sufficient capital to match our desires. The availability of credit has forced grown-ups to take a grown-up version of The Marshmallow Test.
Recall the MarshMallow Test was a test given to youngsters to determine the correlation between patience, self-discipline and success in life. A marshmallow would be placed in front of a child, who was told if the marshmallow had not been consumed by the time the adult returned to the room, the child would recieve a second marshmallow. The end result being children who passed the Marshmallow Test did better financially in life!
Most of the population are tempted by the proverbial marshmallow every day under the guise of credit offerings. These days credit card offerings are expected daily in the mail and homes have been turned into ATM machines. And those homes were in turn purchased through borrowing. The excesses are compounded by the fact that some studies have reported that over 9 out of 10 borrowers mis-represent their net worth during applications. Not only is most of the public failing the Marshmallow Test, but the government is too. A balanced budget, once demanded as part of fiscal responsibility, is now all but a distant memory.
The pervasive excesses of borrowing inevitably lead to greater gains during upswings and greater losses during corrective phases. During the declines, few stock market participants have a containment strategy. Account value fluctuations are exacerbated and panic sets in. Growth-oriented investors realize that declines in future earnings inflate P/E multiples and bargains soon turn into over-priced securities. Supposedly sophisticated quant funds who rely on black box models are often most at risk because leverage is frequently so integral to their performance. And as the models stop working, the losses are exacerbated by the earlier dependence on leverage.
For most it is too late to salvage a virtual portfolio or to take corrective action when the news media frenzy reaches peak levels and the front covers of magazines tell tales of stock market woes. But the difference between defeat and failure is the difference…
Courtesy of Gary Dorsch; Gary writes Global Money Trends, a respected investment newsletter covering global asset markets.
Hyper-inflation in the commodities markets is rivaling the US housing collapse and the global banking crisis as the biggest threat to the world economy. Finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and Russia, have expressed their alarm over the doubling of agricultural, energy, and key raw material prices from a year ago, which is pushing inflation rates around the world, to their highest in three decades.
Crude oil briefly touched $140 a barrel, and the price of corn used to make ethanol hit $8 /bushel. Chinese steelmakers agreed to pay 96% more for iron ore from Australian miner Rio Tinto (RTP), a five-fold increase since 2003. Steel prices have soared almost 50% this year, as coal and iron ore prices continue to climb and global demand shows little sign of abating. Dow Chemical (DOW) is raising prices on a wide range of its products by 25%, due to sharply higher energy and raw material costs.
Sharply higher shipping costs, driven by rising oil prices, have increased the cost of transporting a standard 40-foot container from Shanghai to the east coast of the US from $3,000, when oil was priced at $20 per barrel, to $8,000 today, with crude oil around $135 /barrel, according to CIBC World Markets analysts Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal. The Baltic Dry Index, which monitors merchant shipping costs on forty major export routes for dry commodities, is 50% higher from a year ago.
South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak noted on June 16that inflation was the biggest challenge the global economy has faced in 30 years. “It’s no overstatement to say that the world is faced with the gravest crisis since the oil shock of the 1970’s, with oil, food and raw materials prices skyrocketing,” he said.
A week later, Myung-bak switched his government’s top policy goal to fighting inflation, and within hours, the Bank of…
"DENVER — Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.
The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Holly Gordon, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs for Ausra, a solar thermal energy company in Palo Alto, Calif. “The Bureau of Land Management land has some of the best solar resources in the world. This could completely stunt the growth of the industry.”…
The manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact study, Linda Resseguie, said that many factors must be considered when deciding whether to allow solar projects on the scale being proposed, among them the impact of construction and transmission lines on native vegetation and wildlife. In California, for example, solar developers often hire environmental experts to assess the effects of construction on the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel.
The industry is already concerned over the fate of federal solar investment tax credits, which are set to expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews them. The moratorium, combined with an end to tax credits, would deal a double blow to an industry that, solar advocates say, has experienced significant growth without major environmental problems." …
Excellent article by Mishon the tensions between gov’t entities and quasi-gov’t entities in attempting to address the mess they’ve created in the economy. One point I might add to Mish’s commentary is that I don’t think "regulation" per se is the problem. I’d qualify that term, since regulation can be necessary and justified, or misguided, self-interested and harmful. No comment on the Fed, but in my (admittedly limited) interaction with the SEC, the regulation seemed pretty well warranted. – Ilene
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox were ordered by two top senators not to proceed with a deal overseeing Wall Street until consulting with Congress.
"We ask that no action" be taken before legislators can decide it’s in the economy’s "best interests," Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd and Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, the Senate Banking Committee’s top lawmakers, said in a letter to Bernanke, Cox and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The senators delivered their warning as Bernanke and Cox met at the Fed today to hammer out final details of a memorandum of understanding.
Cox offered to brief Dodd and Shelby on the SEC’s talks with the Fed. The memorandum doesn’t "create new legal authorities or responsibilities," he said in a letter responding to the two. "It is intended to facilitate our agencies’ ongoing, day-to-day cooperation. It is the role of Congress to decide whether, and if so how, to alter the existing regulatory structure."
"We don’t want to encourage dependence upon the Federal Reserve as a backstop," Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Anthony Ryan said in a June 24 interview with Bloomberg Television. "As a policy matter, we must be in a place where firms are allowed to fail," he added in a London speech the same day.
Dodd and Shelby flagged in their letter that Congress hasn’t given the Fed permanent authority to open the so-called discount window to securities dealers.
"We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on these important issues," said Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith in Washington.
GuruFocus.com is a web site devoted to the principles of ‘value investing’. They follow the trades of legendary money managers and keep track of their results over 6-months, 12- months and longer term periods.
If you haven’t been having a great time in the market since last spring you may take some consolation by seeing how many ‘fund managers of the year’ and other top-notch investors have been faring over the recent past. Even Warren Buffett is now in negative territory for both the 6 and 12-month periods just ended.
I wouldn’t bet against any of these guys rebounding in a big way once the market picks up in the future. Just having made this list indicates many years of great performance in the past.
Excerpt: "There has never been any shortage of clowns and jokers in the investment markets, but it sometimes takes a bear market to flush a few out. In contradiction to the widespread fear that hedge funds would precipitate the Next Big Crash, we now know that it was actually the banks that laid its (wobbly) foundations. Now, with sentiment fragile and fund managers widely sheltering in cash, the journalists are having a go at pushing at the pedestal. “RBS issues global stock and credit crash alert,” warned Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph, inviting “one of the worst bear markets over the last century”. The RBS research note in question was more subtly entitled “Crude-flation Concerns Spike”; while crude-flation is undoubtedly an uglier word even than stagflation, it is not clear who Spike is, nor why he should be concerned. It is certainly difficult to know quite how worked up (if at all) to get about the RBS note in question. Some of us evidently felt that the markets had already “crashed” in the conventional sense of the word, given the falls in credit markets and stocks – particularly banking stocks like, say, those of RBS (-60%) – since the summer of 2007.
“The very nasty period is soon to be upon us – be prepared,” warned RBS on 11th June (2008). The market environment is nasty already, and has been for quite some time, as anybody with any form of investments will surely testify. Perhaps future research will report the sad passing of Queen Victoria or the sinking of the SS Titanic. But it is always nice to hear that the banks who brought us the credit crunch in the first place are bang up with events. Just after they’ve had their latest emergency rights issue."
This 42 year economist from French academe has written a hot new book: Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The US edition has been published by Harvard University Press and, remarkably, is leading the best seller list, the first time that a Harvard book has done so. A recent review describes Piketty as the man “who exposed capitalism’s fatal flaw.”
So what is this flaw? Supposedly under capitalism the rich get steadily richer in relation to everyone else; inequality gets worse and worse. It is all baked into the cake, unavoid...
With central bankers globally suppressing interest rates, the such for yield elsewhere is on. One of the places investors have turned is speculative junk bond offerings.
Please consider French Company Does Biggest Junk Bond Sale Ever. Numericable (NUM), which provides cable and internet service in France and other European markets, sold a record amount of high-yield bonds Wednesday with some priced in dollars and others in euros.
It's sold $7.78 billion and €2.25 billion in notes that yield 5% or more, according to a statement from Altice, the multinational telecom group that owns Numericable. Altice issued $2.9 bill...
Core Eurozone CPI inflation rate falls to 0.70%, a multi-decade low
This occurs at a time when the PIGS' average unemployment rate rests near 24%
Deflation threat in Europe real as GDP in Europe likely to peak this year
European hawks moving towards dovish side of the fence, opening door for more QE
Implications: stronger European stock market, stronger USD, weaker commodity prices, stronger global growth
Back in February I laid the groundwork for why we should expect to see the European Central Bank (ECB) massively expand its balance sheet (see article). The case for expecting to see the ECB print is only increasing as core Eurozone inflation is c...
Bunge Limited (BG) is the world’s largest processor of soybeans. It is also a major producer of vegetable oils, fertilizer, sugar and bioenergy.
When commodities got hot in 2007-08, Bunge’s EPS shot up and the stock followed, rising 185% in 19 months.
The Great Recession took its toll on operations, dropping EPS to a low of $2.22 in 2009. Since then profits have recovered. They ranged from $4.62 - $5.90 in the latest three years. 2014 appears poised for a large increase. Consensus views from multiple sources see BG earning $7.04 - $7.10 this year and then $7.83 - $7.94 in 2015.
Shares in Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Ticker: LVS) are up sharply today, gaining as much as 5.7% to touch $80.12 and the highest level since April 4th, mirroring gains in shares of resort casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd. (Ticker: WYNN). The move in Wynn shares appears, at least in part, to follow a big increase in target price from analysts at CLSA who upped their target on the ‘buy’ rated stock to $350 from $250 a share. CLSA also has a ‘buy’ rating on Las Vegas Sands with a $100 price target according to a note from reporter, Janet Freund, on Bloomberg. Both companies are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Thursday.
Yesterday, the market continued its winning ways for the fifth consecutive day. The S&P 500 closed within 1% of its all-time high, and the DJI was even closer to its all-time high. Healthcare, Energy and Technology led the sectors while Financials, Telecom, and Utilities finished slightly in the red. All three sectors in the red are typically flight-to-safety stocks, so despite lower than average volume, the market appears poised to make new highs.
Mid-cap Growth led the style/caps last week, up 2.87%, and Small-cap Growth trailed, up 2.22%. This week will bring well over 100 S&P 500 stocks reporting their March quarter earn...
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[Facebook] The social network is only weeks away from obtaining regulatory approval in Ireland for a service that would allow its users to store money on Facebook and use it to pay and exchange money with others, according to several people involved in the process.
The authorisation from Ireland’s central bank to become an “e-money” institution would allow ...
I just wanted to be sure you saw this. There’s a ‘live’ training webinar this Thursday, March 27th at Noon or 9:00 pm ET.
If GOOGLE, the NSA, and Steve Jobs all got together in a room with the task of building a tremendously accurate trading algorithm… it wouldn’t just be any ordinary system… it’d be the greatest trading algorithm in the world.
Well, I hate to break it to you though… they never got around to building it, but my friends at Market Tamer did.
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Ladies and Gentlemen, hobos and tramps,
Cross-eyed mosquitoes, and Bow-legged ants,
I come before you, To stand behind you,
To tell you something, I know nothing about.
And so the circus begins in Union Square, San Francisco for this weeks JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Will the momentum from 2013, which carried the S&P Spider Biotech ETF to all time highs, carry on in 2014? The Biotech ETF beat the S&P by better than 3 points.
As I noted in my previous post, Biotechs Galore - IPOs and More, biotechs were rushing to IPOs so that venture capitalists could unwind their holdings (funds are usually 5-7 years), as well as take advantage of the opportune moment...
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