“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.” – John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck wrote his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath at the age of 37 in 1939, at the tail end of the Great Depression. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for literature. John Ford then made a classic film adaption in 1941, starring Henry Fonda.
Michael Peltz has a mammoth 13-pager on High Frequency Trading in the latest issue ofInstitutional Investor magazine. The article is chock full of important information, including the 25 stocks most played with by high frequency traders (Sprint, Las Vegas Sands, Bank of America…).
It also contains some killer quotes. Here are a couple before I send you over to read the whole thing:
An exchange between the writer and financially-savvy Senator Ted Kaufman:
“We have a 300-pound gorilla in the room, and we’re saying that we’re going to keep it in a cage somewhere,” he told me. “This thing will be 600 pounds.”
“But isn’t part of the problem that there are 300 gorillas?” I asked, referring to the fact that an estimated 200 to 400 firms do high frequency trading.
“Good point,” he replied. “We have all these gorillas, and guess what? We put them in zoos where the people running the zoos don’t have enough information and authority to take care of them.”
Seth Merrin of LiquidNet, a block trading marketplace:
“The institutions are the equivalent of the British army, walking down the battlefield wearing bright red. The high frequency traders are the Americans hiding in the woods in camouflage, picking them off. If the British army hadn’t changed its tactics, they would have lost every subsequent war.”
There are some HFT defenders in the piece, spouting the usual rhetoric about how wonderful their liquidity is (a claim that I believe was invalidated during the Flash Crash as the robots drooped their heads like marionettes with cut strings just when their liquidity was needed most), but these defenders are industry insiders for the most part.
Anyway, get acquainted with the players involved and the terminology – this debate is just beginning.
"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays…
We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life. In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned…"
Franklin D Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address, January 1937
The hubris associated with the trading crowd is peaking, and heading for a fall that could be a terrific surprise. It seems to be reaching a peak, trading now in a kind of euphoria.
I had a conversation this morning with a trader that I have known from the 1990′s, which is a lifetime in this business. I have to admit that he is successful, moreso than any of the popular retail advisory services you might follow such as Elliott Wave, for example, which he views with contempt. He is a little bit of an insider, and knows the markets and what makes them tick.
He likes to pick my brain on some topics that he understands much less, such as the currency markets and monetary developments, and sometimes weaves them into his commentary, always without attribution. He has been a dollar bull forever, and his worst trading is in the metals. He likes to short gold and silver on principle, and always seems to lose because he rarely honors his first stop loss, which is a shocking lapse in trading discipline.
His tone was ebullient. The Street has won, it owns the markets. They can take it up, and take it down, and make money on both sides, any side, of any market move. I have to admit that in the last quarter his trading results are impeccable.
We diverged into the dollar, which he typically views as unbeatable, with the US dominating the international financial system forever. He likes to ask questions about formal economic terms and relationships, or monetary systems and policy. He
Do Goldman employees deserve any compensation, much less the $16 billion paid out in salaries and bonuses in 2009 when one considers that the firm would not only have no money to pay, but would be defunct had the US taxpayer not stepped in and bailed them out? Should this money have been used to prepay the firm’s $20 billion TLGP exposure instead, thus truly making the firm independent of taxpayer support, instead of just claims to Goldman’s public funding independence? Will the wave of public anger, now that President Obama has suddenly and inexplicably done a 180 degree turn and sides with the middle-class instead of the financial executives, take Goldman down at the next black swan occurrence? Is Goldman hypocritical in claiming it did not need a bailout after it rushed to become a bank holding company? Is Goldman a doomed business model which relies solely on the existence of the "greater fool" to sell to? Will its monopolist and ever-larger dominant status result in an implosion in the financial industry (especially with the DOJ continuing to deny there is any anti-trust problem)? All these questions and more seek answers in the just released Part Two of the PBS series "Is taxpayer money behind profits at Goldman Sachs."
We recommend watching Part One of the PBS series in advance of the clip below.
"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
Predictably, Wall Street and the banking industry don’t like President Obama’s plan to tax banks to help pay for the bailout. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, an Obama supporter, said, "Using tax policy to punish people is a bad idea." Republicans generally denounced it, with RNC Chairman Michael Steele noting "this money has already been paid back by the banks" and calling it a "punitive tax" that "will hurt Americans’ savings and discourage job creation at the worst of economic times."
It would be a lot easier to accept this line of reasoning if JPMorgan Chase didn’t have about $40 billion in FDIC-guaranteed debt outstanding, and if the Federal Reserve didn’t have $27 billion of Bear Stearns assets on its balance sheet (which it had assumed to help JPMorgan take over Bear). Big banks might have paid back the money they borrowed under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but they’re still benefitting hugely from the bailouts and taxpayer supports enacted after the crisis.
But there’s an even better reason to dismiss their concerns. 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.
This rule dates almost to the beginning of American history…
The same dynamic returned in the 1930s, after Wall Street and the commercial banking sector had essentially destroyed itself. The banking industry had proved utterly incapable of ensuring the safety of its customers’ deposits. Yet when the Roosevelt administration proposed the establishment of an industry-funded Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Francis Sisson, then president of the American Banking Association, called deposit insurance "unsound, unscientific, unjust, and dangerous." After all, "overwhelming opinions of experienced bankers are emphatically opposed to deposit guaranties which compel strong and well managed banks to pay the losses of the weak."…
As it grew, the financial industry gained more of a voice in Washington and took a bigger role in shaping policy.
This is the second installment in my comments on Bo Cutter’s essay defending Treasury Secretary Geithner. Bo was a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm and led President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He was Bob Rubin’s deputy at the National Economic Council. The first installment discussed Bo’s extraordinary indictment of the finance industry.
Bo views Geithner as a martyr subjected to unfounded, ungrateful attacks for his actions that prevented the Second Great Depression. Bo doesn’t have much use for Americans that are upset with the senior managers of the finance industry. (This is a bit weird because Bo denounces these senior managers as universally incompetent, cowardly, and unethical.)
[L]iberals hate [Geithner] because he did not take over or dismember the banks, and publicly execute their senior managements.
This passage tells us nothing about liberals, but much about Bo and his peers’ fears of the public. The finance leaders know they are guilty of destroying much of the global economy — while growing extraordinarily wealthy in the process. They know that their primary means of destruction was accounting “control fraud.” They cannot understand why the public has not turned on the finance industry and demanded that the fraudulent financial leaders be prosecuted and their immense gains from fraud recovered. They also cannot understand why we allow the continued existence of systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs). Geithner, Paulson, and Bernanke have warned that the failure of any SDI could cause a global crisis. Under their logic, SDIs are ticking time bombs that will cause recurrent global crises. Geithner, like Paulson, is making the SDIs much larger and much more dangerous by using them to acquire other large, failed financial institutions. This policy is insane. Virtually no one (that isn’t on their payroll) supports the continued existence of SDIs and no one publicly argues they should…
Lobbyists from the financial industry have paid hundreds of millions to Congress and the Obama administration. They have bought virtually all of the key congress members and senators on committees overseeing finances and banking.
Will regulation hobble capitalism? I think the opposite is true. Properly done, government regulation of the financial industry will move the industry closer to the capitalist ideal. By capitalism, I mean where those who take the risks and put up the money get the fruits of their labor. And, importantly, where those who take the risks and put up the money actually do take the risks, bearing the full costs of failure as well as success.
Capitalism means bearing the costs
I sometimes miss the rugged beauty of Utah, where I spent some of my pre-Wall Street years. From my house on the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, I could see the cliffs of Mount Nebo to the south, nearly fifty miles away. Ten miles north, the western face of Mt. Timpanogas, capped with snow into early summer. To the west, the sun reflecting on Utah Lake. Oh, and on the eastern shore of the lake, the black smoke billowing out the stacks of Geneva Steel.
Geneva Steel was built to produce steel during the war effort, and kept in operation until seven years ago. It teetered at the edge – and at least two times over the edge – of bankruptcy, closing for good in 2002. Left behind were assorted furnaces, presses and scrap metal sold to a Chinese steel producer, and a giant pond of toxic sludge.
Fortunately, we’ve learned a thing or two about toxic sludge in steel production. The steel producer, in this case the original parent of the Geneva plant, U.S. Steel, has to set aside a fund to pay for the clean-up. The sludge is part of the production process, and the clean-up is a cost of production, even though it is a cost that is not realized until many years down the road. As a result, steel costs are a little higher and the shareholders fare a little worse than if this longer-term expense were not forced onto…
One of the key questions is, "Can the Fed ever unwind all of the positions it has taken on from failed banks and Wall Street firms?"
This is an important question, because if the answer is "No, at least not precisely when they wish to do it," then it raises the risk that all that hot money will prove immune to efforts to recall it and it will whiz around creating all sorts of monetary trouble.
Now that the Fed has declared that the recession has ended and green shoots are everywhere, the next obvious part of this journey will have to be the unwinding of the massive amounts of stimulus and thin-air money that has been injected into the system.
Certainly after watching the risk-money out-chasing junker stocks well up off their lows, we can surmise that the speculative animal juices are flowing again and that the Fed might want to consider taking away the punchbowl.
Instead, today the Fed bought another $18.8 billion net ($32.4 billion gross) in agency mortgage-backed securities, which represents the exchange of thin-air money for GSE MBS paper.
So far, all that we know about is that the Fed is talking about how to take the punchbowl away but that bankers are warning the Fed to "go slow."
Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve is trying to prepare investors for an end to its housing-debt purchases, while keeping interest rates near zero, reflecting an economy pulling out of a recession with little momentum.
Federal Open Market Committee members discussed extending the end date of the agency and mortgage-backed bond programs, minutes of the group’s Aug. 11-12 meeting showed yesterday. The move would be aimed at avoiding disruptions in housing credit at a time when recovery prospects are clouded by rising unemployment and slowing wage gains, analysts said.
While the economy is projected to expand this quarter, central bankers had “particular” concern about the job market, signaling that the FOMC may need to see a peak in the unemployment rate before it begins withdrawing monetary stimulus. Some policy makers saw dangers of “substantial” declines in the inflation rate, yesterday’s report showed.
“They need to see labor markets improve and inflation stabilize, and not fall,
We want to focus on a specific aspect of the current money supply expansion in this part. Price inflation, as well as investment and production will be discussed in a follow-up post shortly.
Let us consider the mechanics of past boom-bust cycles in the US. In “normal” booms, banks expand credit to companies and households, with the former employing the funds mainly for investment and the latter for consumption. Banks that don’t have sufficient reserves will borrow them in the interbank market (Federal Funds market), where the Fed stands ready to satisfy any excess demand for reserves that threatens to push the overnight Federal Fu...
A month ago, we wrote about a bizarre situation involving Denmark's now totally broken monetary system, where as a result of an unprecedented scramble to weaken the currency in order to preserve the peg to the Euro the central bank unleashed a historic rate-cutting scramble, where in 4 consecutive rate cuts its pushed the interest rate to an unheard of -0.75% (while at the same time being the first modern central bank to unveil what we dubbed "Bizarro Backdoor QE"). The culmination of this series of events was the surreal realization by some debtors that t...
The markets had much to consider this week, most notably Fed Chair Yellen's semi-annual congressional testimony on Tuesday and Thursday and today's updates on Consumer Sentiment and GDP. The S&P 500 showed relatively little reaction to any of this week's economic events, trading within a microscopic 0.79% range from its intraday low on Monday to its intraday high on Wednesday (which was also its record high). Today's -0.30% closing loss trimmed the February monthly gain to a whopping 5.49%, the biggest monthly gain since October of 2011, 40 months ago, when the index rose 10.77%.
Chris Kimble's chart for KOL shows a recently beaten down ETF struggling to pull itself up from the ashes. As the chart shows, KOL has recently drifted down to levels not seen since the financial crisis of 2008-9.
Bouncing or recovering with energy in general, coal prices appear to have stabilized in the short-term. Reflecting coal prices, KOL has traded between $13.45 and $19.75 during the past year. Bouncing from lows, KOL traded around 2% higher yesterday from $14.26 to $14.48 on high volume. It traded another 3.6% higher in after hours to $15, possibly related to ...
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Stocks are hitting new highs across the board, even though earnings reports have been somewhat disappointing. Actually, to be more precise, Q4 results have been pretty good, but it is forward guidance that has been cautious and/or cloudy as sales into overseas markets are expected to suffer due to strength in the US dollar. Healthcare and Telecom have put in the best results overall, while of course Energy has been the weakling. Still, overall year-over-year earnings growth for the S&P 500 during 2015 is expected to be about +8%.
In this weekly update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 cha...
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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