by ilene - May 4th, 2011 12:45 pm
Courtesy of The Epicurean Dealmaker
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human.
— George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
Steven Davidoff opens a recent piece at The New York Times DealBook blog with the following words:
This is powerful language. What does he mean?
Well, for one thing he means that the reputations of individual investment banks are no longer coterminous with the reputations of their executives and employees. He ascribes this to the tremendous growth in scale and complexity of financial markets over the past three decades:
Today’s Wall Street is not the Wall Street of 1907 when J.P. Morgan single-handedly used his reputation and wallet to stem a running financial panic.
Until the 1980s,… Wall Street was made up of traditional partnerships. These were small groups of investment bankers who represented companies in offering and selling securities and occasionally acquisitions. These bankers put their individual reputations on the line, because there were so few of them. Morgan Stanley, for example, had only 31 partners in 1970 and fewer than 1,000 employees.
But this began to change in the 1980s. Trading markets became much more sophisticated, and trading and brokerage became the investment banks’ primary business. This is a technology game. The better the technology, the better the trading and brokerage operation. Individuals became less important.
The growth of more complex capital markets and a global economy also created much larger financial institutions. Morgan Stanley now has more than 62,000 employees. These banks could use their assets and position to compete in the market for finance and trading. Again, individuals were less important as size dominated. A client now trades or does business with a bank based on its positions or ability to make a market or loan. The executive at the bank executing the transaction is unimportant.
In one respect, this is true. Lazard is no longer Felix Rohatyn. Goldman Sachs is no longer Sidney Weinberg. The
by ilene - October 9th, 2010 1:22 am
Courtesy of JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
‘This is the biggest fraud in the history of the capital markets’
By Ezra Klein
Janet Tavakoli is the founder and president of Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc. She sounded some of the earliest warnings on the structured finance market, leading the University of Chicago to profile her as a "Structured Success," and Business Week to call her "The Cassandra of Credit Derivatives." We spoke this afternoon about the turmoil in the housing market, and an edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Ezra Klein: What’s happening here? Why are we suddenly faced with a crisis that wasn’t apparent two weeks ago?
Janet Tavakoli: This is the biggest fraud in the history of the capital markets. And it’s not something that happened last week. It happened when these loans were originated, in some cases years ago. Loans have representations and warranties that have to be met. In the past, you had a certain period of time, 60 to 90 days, where you sort through these loans and, if they’re bad, you kick them back. If the documentation wasn’t correct, you’d kick it back. If you found the incomes of the buyers had been overstated, or the houses had been appraised at twice their worth, you’d kick it back. But that didn’t happen here. And it turned out there were loan files that were missing required documentation. Part of putting the deal together is that the securitization professional, and in this case that’s banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, has to watch for this stuff. It’s called perfecting the security interest, and it’s not optional.
EK: And how much danger are the banks themselves in?
JT: When we had the financial crisis, the first thing the banks did was run to Congress and ask for accounting relief. They asked to be able to avoid pricing this stuff at the price where people would buy them. So no one can tell you the size of the hole in these balance sheets. We’ve thrown a lot of money at it. TARP was just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve given them guarantees on debts, low-cost funding from the Fed. But a lot of these mortgages just cannot be saved. Had we acknowledged this problem in 2005, we could’ve cleaned it up
by ilene - September 20th, 2010 8:54 pm
Kent Thune’s wonderful blog The Financial Philosopher is not just a financial site, it’s a "learning experience." I highly recommend that you visit him and read some of his latest inspirational articles, such as Get Busy Livin’ or Get Busy Dyin’, To Embrace Death is to Embrace Life, and Entrepreneurs: Use Your Delusion, Sell the Illusion. – Ilene
Are capital markets leading economic indicators or do they provide fuel for a growing economy? Or is it both? Isn’t the function of capital markets to raise capital for the financing of corporate and government operations through the sale of securities (stocks and bonds)?
If the stock market is rising, would this not then create the economic condition it is "predicting" as an economic indicator? In the absence of government stimulus, might financial markets save themselves? If so, how? Can financial markets rise spontaneously or do they require a fundamental boost or outside stimulation?
Capital markets have many functions and their participants have numerous objectives; however, we may simplify them all into two basic categorical functions: 1) Passive and 2) Active. Depending upon economic conditions and variables, capital markets can play one or both rolls. Consider recent comments by George Soros (Hat tip to Captain Jack):
…financial markets do not play a purely passive role; they can also affect the so-called fundamentals they are supposed to reflect. These two functions that financial markets perform work in opposite directions. In the passive or cognitive function, the fundamentals are supposed to determine market prices. In the active or manipulative function market, prices find ways of influencing the fundamentals. When both functions operate at the same time, they interfere with each other. The supposedly independent variable of one function is the dependent variable of the other, so that neither function has a truly independent variable. As a result, neither market prices nor the underlying reality is fully determined. Both suffer from an element of uncertainty that cannot be quantified. I call the interaction between the two functions reflexivity…
by ilene - August 20th, 2010 9:29 pm
Courtesy of Todd Harrison of Minyanville
“We used to play for silver, now we play for life; ones for sport and one’s for blood at the point of a knife.” --Grateful Dead
We live in interesting times. During the last two years, a financial virus spawned and infected the economic and social spheres as a matter of course.
This isn’t just about money anymore. Our civil liberties, the foundation of free market capitalism and the quality of life for future generations are dynamically shifting as we traverse our current course. (See: The Short Sale of American Icons)
I once offered that Shock & Awe was a tipping point through a historical lens; as Baghdad blew-up on CNN, I somberly sensed America would never be the same. That’s not a political statement — we don’t know what would have been if we didn’t invade — it’s simply an observation. Almost overnight, world empathy turned to global condemnation.
If we’ve learned anything through these years, it’s that unintended consequences tend to come full circle. Whether it’s the moral hazard of bailing out some banks, the gargantuan profits of a chosen few — Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan (JPM), Bank America (BAC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Wells Fargo (WFC) — the caveats of percolating protectionism, or the growing chasm of social and geopolitical discord, times they are a-changin’ and it’s freaking people out.
As speculators are vilified and hedge funds are perceived as acceptable casualties of war, financial fatigue will evolve in kind. We’ve already seen the burnout manifest in trading volume — upwards of 70% of the flow are the robots — and we’ve witnessed it in financial media, with reported ratings of some of CNBC’s marquee shows down as much as 25% year-over-year. (See: The War on Capitalism)
Sun-tzu once said, “If your enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate him. If equally matched, fight and if not, split and reevaluate.” As we navigate this socioeconomic maelstrom, an increasing number of people are weighing their options…
by ilene - June 2nd, 2010 2:00 am
Courtesy of Michael Pettis
It has not been a good year for the Shanghai stock market. Since its closing peak at 6092 in October 2007, the closing high in the past year or so on Shanghai’s SSE composite was 3471, on August 4 last year. Since then the market has been pretty bleak. The SSE Composite finished 2009 by dropping nearly 6% from that high, to close at 3277.
This year things got only worse. By May 20 the market had dropped a further 22% to close at 2556, and then bounced around for the past ten days closing yesterday at 2568. In my May 12 blog entry, I finished the piece by saying “Last Friday the SSE Composite closed at 2688. I bet it is much higher by the end of the summer.”
Obviously my timing was off. Within a week of my prediction the market had managed to lose another 132 points. I still believe that the market will be higher by the end of this summer, and that within weeks we will see moves by the regulators to prop it up. With all the liquidity sloshing around, all we need is a reasonable period off stability before the market comes roaring back, I suspect.
So am I predicting a strong economy? Not really. It is tempting to read falling stock prices as an indication that Chinese investors believe that the economy is poised to slow dramatically, and if the market surges, that Chinese growth is back, but we should be very cautious about how we interpret the meaning of the gyrations in Chinese stocks.
We’re used to thinking about stock markets as expected-cash-flow discounting machines, and we assume that stock price levels generally represent the market’s best estimate of future growth prospects, but this is not always the case, and it is certainly not the case in China. I am often asked to comment on big price moves on the Chinese stock markets and what they mean about growth expectations, but I usually try to caution people from reading too much meaning into the market.
Three investment strategies
To see why, it is probably useful to understand how investors make trading decisions. This blog entry is going to be a pretty abstract piece on how I think about the underlying dynamics of a well-functioning capital market, and how these…
by ilene - May 8th, 2010 6:39 pm
Courtesy of Zero Hedge
…the former Fast Money lead man is actually pretty spot on. And for all you retail investors who think this market is anything but a two-tiered playground built now exclusively for Wall Street to fleece you every single day, our advice is to get the hell out. Everyone else already is… Except of course for the banks and the various 3-3,000 man quant operations, which are the only market participants left. We hope they cannibalize whatever is left of each other and blow themselves all up in the process. Whatever is left will have infinitely more credibility than the busted mockery of capital markets we have now.
by ilene - September 18th, 2009 5:18 pm
Courtesy of Reggie Middleton’s Boom Bust Blog
The JP Morgan forensic preview is now available. Remember, this is not subscription material, but a "public preview" of the material to come. I thought non-subscribers would be interested in knowing what my opinion of the country’s most respected bank was. There is some interesting stuff here, and the subscription analysis will have even more (in terms of data, analysis and valuation). As we have all been aware, the markets have been totally ignoring valuation for about two quarters now. It remains to be seen how long that continues.
Click graph to enlarge
Cute graphic above, eh? There is plenty of this in the public preview. When considering the staggering level of derivatives employed by JPM, it is frightening to even consider the fact that the quality of JPM’s derivative exposure is even worse than Bear Stearns and Lehman‘s derivative portfolio just prior to their fall. Total net derivative exposure rated below BBB and below for JP Morgan currently stands at 35.4% while the same stood at 17.0% for Bear Stearns (February 2008) and 9.2% for Lehman (May 2008).
We all know what happened to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, don’t we??? I warned all about Bear Stearns (Is this the Breaking of the Bear?: On Sunday, 27 January 2008) and Lehman ("Is Lehman really a lemming in disguise?": On February 20th, 2008) months before their collapse by taking a close, unbiased look at their balance sheet. Both of these companies were rated investment grade at the time, just like "you know who". Now, I am not saying JPM is about to collapse, since it is one of the anointed ones chosen by the government and guaranteed not to fail – unlike Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, and it is (after all) investment grade rated. Who would you put your faith in, the big ratings agencies or your favorite blogger? Then again, if it acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, is it a chicken??? I’ll leave the rest up for my readers to decide.
This public preview is the culmination of several investigative posts that I have made that have led me to look more closely into the big money center banks. It all started with a hunch that JPM wasn’t…