They weren’t murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.
Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn’t leave much doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.
The great and powerful Oz of Wall Street was not the only target of Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse, the 650-page report just released by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, alongside Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Their unusually scathing bipartisan report also includes case studies of Washington Mutual and Deutsche Bank, providing a panoramic portrait of a bubble era that produced the most destructive crime spree in our history — "a million fraud cases a year" is how one former regulator puts it. But the mountain of evidence collected against Goldman by Levin’s small, 15-desk office of investigators — details of gross, baldfaced fraud delivered up in such quantities as to almost serve as a kind of sarcastic challenge to the curiously impassive Justice Department — stands as the most important symbol of Wall Street’s aristocratic impunity and prosecutorial immunity produced since the crash of 2008.
To date, there has been only one successful prosecution of a financial big fish from the mortgage bubble, and that was Lee Farkas, a Florida lender who was just convicted on a smorgasbord of fraud charges and now faces life in prison. But Farkas, sadly, is just an exception proving the rule: Like Bernie Madoff, his comically excessive crime spree (which involved such lunacies as kiting checks to his own bank…
Investing is, up to a point, gambling. Most of us don’t think of it in that way but if we conceive of the universe of stocks as a gas of randomly moving particles buffeted this way and that by forces largely beyond their – and certainly beyond our – control then there’s no other conclusion that can be drawn.
However, we don’t really believe this. What we generally believe is that although randomness is pervasive in stocks there’s a pattern that lies beneath the surface which we, in spite all evidence to the contrary, can pick out. For the idea that there are repeatable patterns hidden within apparently random games of chance we can thank one of our more unlikely heroes. Meet Girolamo Cardano, medieval physician, professional gambler and mathematician extraordinaire.
For a very long time in human history there was no appreciation or investigation of probability, the mathematics that lies behind assessments of risk. For the most part people didn’t believe in chance: stuff happened and that was God’s will. The idea that there was some order in the chaos either seems not to have occurred or to have been literally unthinkable.
Gamblers, however, did have some vague understanding that there were patterns in the randomness and quite a lot of self-interest in figuring these out. It’s no surprise that gambling figures quite large in early accounts of advances in probability theory. In Cardano, who seems to have been addicted to gambling, the will to understand and the ability to do so came together.
In many ways what Cardano figured out is today regarded as almost trivial, but at the time it was revolutionary and it allowed him an insight into why and when he should take a risk and when he shouldn’t. Perhaps the simplest example is to do with dice. At the time it was regarded as a bit of a mystery why, when three dice were rolled, the sum of face-up numbers came to ten more often than nine, despite the fact that there were six ways of summing possible numbers to both.
The answer to this conundrum is almost childishly simple to our eyes. There are twenty seven ways of combining the possible sums to ten while there are only…
In New Jersey, taxes are high, the budget’s a mess, government is inefficiently organized, and the public pension fund is blown to kingdom come. Which makes New Jersey a lot like most other states in 2010. What makes the state unusual is its rookie governor, a human bulldozer named Chris Christie, who vowed to lead like a one-termer and is keeping his promise with brio. He has proposed chopping $11 billion from the state’s budget — more than a quarter of the total — for fiscal year 2011 (which starts July 1). He’s backing a constitutional cap on property taxes in hopes of pushing the state’s myriad villages and townships to merge into more efficient units. He’s locked in an ultimate cage match with the New Jersey teachers’ union. It may be the bitterest political fight in the country — and that’s saying something this year. A union official recently circulated a humorous prayer with a punch line asking God to kill Christie. You know, New Jersey humor. And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Christie didn’t talk about the possibility that his fiscal initiatives might be compromised or defeated; he pictured himself "lying dead on State Street in Trenton," the state capital. Presumably that was a figure of speech.
The tone of the New Jersey budget battle may be distinctive, but many of the same notes can be heard in state capitals across the country. From Hartford to Honolulu, once sturdy state governments are approaching the brink of fiscal calamity, as the crash of 2008 and its persistent aftermath have led to the reckoning of 2010. Squeezed by the end of federal stimulus money on one hand and desperate local governments on the other, states are facing the third straight year of staggering budget deficits, and the necessary cuts will cost jobs, limit services and touch the lives of millions of Americans. Government workers have been laid off in half the states plus Puerto Rico. Twenty-two states have instituted unpaid furloughs. At least 28 states have ordered across-the-board budget cuts,…
It’s Time for Reform We Can Believe In
The Fed Must Be Independent
Credit Default Swaps Threaten the System
Too Big To Fail Must Go
And This Thing About Leverage
What Happens If We Do Nothing?
New York, Media, and La Jolla
Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, once famously asked, after an especially dismal outing, "Can’t anybody here play this game?" This week I ask, after months of worse than no progress, "Can’t anybody here even spell financial reform, let alone get it done?" We are in danger of experiencing another credit crisis, but one that could be even worse, as the tools to fight it may be lacking when we need them. With attacks on the independence of the Fed, no regulation of derivatives, and allowing banks to be too big to fail, we risk a repeat of the credit crisis. The bank lobbyists are winning and it’s time for those of us in the cheap seats to get outraged. (And while this letter focuses on the US and financial reform, the principles are the same in Europe and elsewhere, as I will note at the end. We are risking way too much in the name of allowing large private profits.) And with no "but first," let’s jump right in.
Last Monday I had lunch with Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Mr. Fisher is a remarkably nice guy and is very clear about where he stands on the issues. My pressing question was whether the Fed would actually accommodate the federal government if it continued to run massive deficits and turn on the printing press. Fisher was clear that such a move would be a mistake, and he thought there would be little sentiment among the various branch presidents to become the enabler of a dysfunctional Congress.
But that brought up a topic that he was quite passionate about, and that is what he sees as an attack on the independence of the Fed. There are bills in Congress that would take away or threaten the current independence of the Fed.
I recognize that the Fed is not completely independent. Even Greenspan said so this past week: "There’s a presumption that …
"If you wanted (as Paul Krugman and some of the questioners at the FCIC hearings did) to know just why things went awry, you’re wasting your time, says the Epicurean Dealmaker: Top bankers are "smart, scary smart," but they have little interest in why things are – and rather plenty of interest in how they can take advantage of the way things are." Phil
A study of recent—and not so recent—financial reform and regulation yields two rules. Rule No. 1: The banks have no idea what kind of regulation is good for them. Rule No. 2: If you ever think the banks have a point, remember Rule No. 1…
So there you have it from one of their own. They just didn’t have time to think about how paying exorbitant amounts of money to themselves that they earned from a game the government rigged for them, after the government bailed them out would play out. They weren’t stupid or foolish, just preoccupied with making money. As TED says, that is what they’re all about.
"Aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds."
— Barnett Newman
Good morning, class.
Our quote for the day comes from Barnett Newman, painter, artist, and member of the loosely affiliated post-war group of US artists known as the Abstract Expressionists. Mr. Newman was widely regarded by many—none more so than himself—to be one of the smartest and most intellectual of this group, which contained other, less articulate1 but arguably more talented artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Mr. Newman is credited with unleashing this bon mot upon an unexpecting world in the course of discussing art critics, art criticism, and aesthetics—the philosophy of art and beauty.
* * *
I recalled this quote to mind today when I read Paul Krugman’s latest broadside against all things—and people—financial in The New York Times. In his jeremiad, "Bankers Without a Clue," Mr. Krugman picks apart the recent testimony by four Wall Street CEOs at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and asks the rhetorical question
A bit of a hodgepodge of charts to review. I'll start with my favourite of the bunch: the relationship between oil and gold prices. Peaks in the relative price between these commodities have historically provided swing lows for commodities - oil in particular. Certainly, sufficient time has passed between peaks to mark a major low.
The relationship between Nasdaq Highs and Lows doesn't suggest we have reached any major inflection yet. Ideally, Nasdaq Lows should spike above 100 to mark a major low, with 200+ for 'back up the truck' style low.
Equity futures markets have opened with a flush lower as Friday afternoon's anxiety was proved correct by the Greek vote this afternoon. S&P 500 Futures dropped over 15 points at the open before bouncing back modestly. With FX markets now more fully open, the kneejerk moves in the early illiquid trading have stabilized. EURUSD is 65 pips lower, breaking below 1.1150 (with BNY Mellon suggesting a move below 1.10 is possible in the next 24 hours and Citi noting any further risk-off contagion could be satiated by ECB QE). Swissy is bid with EURCHF down over 40 pips at around 0.9820. Gold and USD/JPY are flat for now.
As widely expected, the New Year has begun with plenty of volatility on high trading volume, as investors fear more than just a mild correction to start out the year. Despite the strong fundamentals here in the U.S., there are plenty of dangers around the rest of the world, and many fear that our cozy comfort at home simply cannot remain insulated for much longer.
In this weekly update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review our weekly fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and then offer up some actionable trading ideas, including a sector rotation strategy using ETFs and an enhanced version using top-ranked stocks from the top-ranked sectors.
Reminder: OpTrader is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.
This post is for all our live virtual trade ideas and daily comments. Please click on "comments" below to follow our live discussion. All of our current trades are listed in the spreadsheet below, with entry price (1/2 in and All in), and exit prices (1/3 out, 2/3 out, and All out).
We also indicate our stop, which is most of the time the "5 day moving average". All trades, unless indicated, are front-month ATM options.
Please feel free to participate in the discussion and ask any questions you might have about this virtual portfolio, by clicking on the "comments" link right below.
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An interview with John Ehlers of Stock Spotter and Mesa Software
Ilene: John, in our last discussion about trading systems in general and yours in particular (Can trading be reduced to cycles, stresses and vibrations?) you mentioned Monte Carlo simulations and their use in measuring performance. Can you explain more about how you measure the performance of a trading system?
John: Let's start with comparing trading with gambling. The two have several things in common. In both ...
So as I was saying yesterday (Bitcoin: The Biggest Clown Show In History?), Bitcoin has several obstacles on the path to potential success as an alternative currency. But I forgot to mention hacking and theft at Bitcoin exchanges and other technical problems. This is related to the lack of government backing and the fact that the value of Bitcoins is based entirely on confidence.
Reminder: Pharmboy is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.
PSW Members - well, what a year for biotechs! The Biotech Index (IBB) is up a whopping 40%, beating the S&P hands down! The healthcare sector has had a number of high flying IPOs, and beat the Tech Sector in total nubmer of IPOs in the past 12 months. What could go wrong?
Phil has given his Secret Santa Inflation Hedges for 2015, and since I have been trying to keep my head above water between work, PSW, and baseball with my boys...it is time that something is put together for PSW on biotechs in 2015.
Cancer and fibrosis remain two of the hottest areas for VC backed biotechs to invest their monies. A number of companies have gone IPO which have drugs/technologies that fight cancer, includin...
Stocks got off to a rocky start on the first trading day in December, with the S&P 500 Index slipping just below 2050 on Monday. Based on one large bullish SPX options trade executed on Wednesday, however, such price action is not likely to break the trend of strong gains observed in the benchmark index since mid-October. It looks like one options market participant purchased 25,000 of the 31Dec’14 2105/2115 call spreads at a net premium of $2.70 each. The trade cost $6.75mm to put on, and represents the maximum potential loss on the position should the 2105 calls expire worthless at the end of December. The call spread could reap profits of as much as $7.30 per spread, or $18.25mm, in the event that the SPX ends the year above 2115. The index would need to rally 2.0% over the current level...
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
Note: The material presented in this commentary is provided for
informational purposes only and is based upon information that is
considered to be reliable. However, neither PSW Investments, LLC d/b/a PhilStockWorld (PSW)
nor its affiliates
warrant its completeness, accuracy or adequacy and it should not be relied upon as such. Neither PSW nor its affiliates are responsible for any errors or omissions or for results obtained from the use of this information. Past performance, including the tracking of virtual trades and portfolios for educational purposes, is not necessarily indicative of future results. Neither Phil, Optrader, or anyone related to PSW is a registered financial adviser and they may hold positions in the stocks mentioned, which may change at any time without notice. Do not buy or sell based on anything that is written here, the risk of loss in trading is great.
This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other financial instrument. Securities or other financial instruments mentioned in this material are not suitable for all investors. Any opinions expressed herein are given in good faith, are subject to change without notice, and are only intended at the moment of their issue as conditions quickly change. The information contained herein does not constitute advice on the tax consequences of making any particular investment decision. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation to you of any particular securities, financial instruments or strategies. Before investing, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, as necessary, seek professional advice.
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