by ilene - April 15th, 2011 12:03 am
Courtesy of MIKE WHITNEY
Shares plunged across Europe, Asia and the United States on Tuesday as the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant deepened and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised its radiological event scale to its highest level. Conditions at the stricken facility have steadily deteriorated despite the valiant efforts of emergency workers. The station continues to spew lethal amounts of radiation and other toxins into the atmosphere and around the world. A French nuclear group has warned that children and pregnant mothers should protect themselves from the fallout. According to Euractiv:
"The risks associated with iodine-131 contamination in Europe are no longer ‘negligible,’ according to CRIIRAD, a French research body on radioactivity. The NGO is advising pregnant women and infants against ‘risky behavior,’ such as consuming fresh milk or vegetables with large leaves."
The group’s warning underlines the dangers posed by the out-of-control facility which is causing unprecedented damage to earth, sea and sky. But while the disaster continues to grow larger by the day, the government’s only response has been to expand the evacuation zone and try to shape news to minimize the public backlash.
Emergency crews have braved high levels of radiation to bring the plant back under control, but with little success. A number of violent tremors and a second smaller tsunami have made their jobs nearly impossible. Thousands of gallons of radioactive water that was used as coolant has been flushed into the sea threatening marine life and sensitive habitat. The toxic release of radiation now poses an incalculable risk to the battered fishing industry and to fish-stocks around the world. These costs were never factored in when industry executives and politicians decided to exploit an energy source that can cause cancer, pollute the environment for millennia, and bring the world’s third largest economy to its knees.
Raising the alert-rating to its highest level is an admission that a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects" has taken place and will likely continue for some time to come. The situation is getting worse by the day. Japan’s government will now insist on the "implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.” In other words, a red alert. The threat to water supplies, food sources, livestock and humans is grave and ongoing. The media’s efforts to protect the nuclear industry by…
The Next Borrow-Short Lend-Long Guaranteed to Blow Up Bank Lending Scheme; Citigroup, Chase, Bank of America CD Ripoff
by ilene - February 16th, 2011 4:23 pm
Courtesy of Mish
Borrow-short lend-long strategies have caused more pain and grief than nearly any play in the book. They are virtually guaranteed to blow up given enough time if the duration mismatch and leverage is too great.
For those who do not know what I am describing, a couple examples below will help explain. The first example is a look at "cost of funds" and guaranteed profits that banks can make. It is not a borrow-short lend-long strategy but will morph into such a scheme as I vary the parameters.
Inquiring minds investigating Citigroup’s cost of funds note that Citigroup 5 year CDs yield a mere 1.5%. For this example, Citigroup’s cost of funds is 1.5%, the rate it pays depositors. Here are a few snips from Citi’s website.
Who said there are no guarantees in life?
Some things in life are a sure thing. Like a Citibank CD, which offers a guaranteed—and highly competitive—interest rate. You also get a wide range of terms, from 3 months to 5 years.
Citigroup has the gall to brag about "guarantees in life" when the "guarantee" in question is a complete ripoff. It’s a ripoff because 5-year US treasuries currently yield 2.35%.
Anyone buying CDs at less than the treasury yield rate is a fool.
Rates at Bank of America, Northern Trust, JPMorgan Chase
I will tie this together shortly, but first make note that the Northern Trust, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase offer even lower 5-Year CD rates.
Here are some rates courtesy of Bankrate.Com as of 2011-02-15.
According to Bankrate, national average for 5 year CDs is 1.61% and the rock bottom low is .95%. The site average is 1.98% and the top yielding 5-year CD yields 2.75%. Thus Citigroup’s claim of competitive rates is absurd.
Although Bank of America makes no such claims, its CD rate is priced so preposterously low, that Bank of America must not even want to deal with them. Alternatively, B of A has an incredibly large pool of moronic depositors begging to be ripped off.
Guaranteed Free Money
Anyone buying 5-year CDs from Citigroup, Bank of America, Northern Trust, or JPMorgan Chase is giving those banks a shot at guaranteed free money.
by ilene - January 27th, 2011 3:10 am
By Surly Trader
Since the beginning of December, the S&P 500 has yet to meaningfully break down below its 10 day moving average. We just like to blissfully crank upwards in valuations. The Dow has hit its momentous 12,000 level and the S&P was inches away from 1,300. Now that we have touched our psychological targets, maybe it is time we reassess how enthusiastic we have gotten. Instead of looking at P/E ratios on 2011 earnings forecasts, I have seen more and more analysts consider 2012 and 2013 forecasts…
I guess our 10 day moving average is a fixed positive slope
When it comes to the lesser of investment evils, it certainly still looks like equities are more attractive than bonds. The issue that I have is that most investors have set aside the significant tail risks that are out there. Not to belabor the point, but there is still significant risk in the Eurozone. Equity markets have ignored it, as well as concerns with local municipalities and states. These risks are real and will take quite a long time to resolve. While the VIX sits around 16 and realized volatility hovers near six year lows, we need to understand that risk flares come quickly and unexpectedly and there are plenty of issues that could precipitate are run.
The default spreads on the PIGS do not appear resolved to me so why is the Euro rallying?
I do not like to be negative, but it does get tiring when the arguments switch so fiercely from bearish to bullish stances. It seems to be the psychology of not wanting to be miss out when the market is rallying or not wanting to be the last one in when the market is tanking. Feast or Famine, no in-between.
by Zero Hedge - January 24th, 2011 4:10 pm
Courtesy of Anal_yst, Stone Street Advisors
I realize the SEC’s task is a gargantuan one, especially considering the severely constrained resources, but there’s just no excuse for things like this. The SEC’s Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation – the group created in 2009 to supposedly "enhance our capabilities and help identify developing risks and trends in the financial markets" – does not have anyone running the Office of Data & Data Analytics. How the hell is the Division supposed to do its job if there’s no one analyzing data?!?!?
I’d say to be fair, this website hasn’t been updated since 6/15/2010, but that actually makes this situation WORSE. How dysfunctional does an organization have to be that organization actions are not properly communicated via press releases and modifications to the organization’s website? This is not freaking rocket science!
If you think this is bad, get read, because it gets even worse: The head of the Division, Henry T. C. Hu left this month to go back to academia. According to an article from 1/20/2011 in the WSJ, his temporary replacement is the Division’s former Deputy Director, Jonathan Sobokin. The SEC issued a press release on 11/18/2010 that Hu would be leaving the organization, yet the "News" page of the Division’s website has no mention of Sobokin taking the reins. As a matter of fact, that is the most recent press release that appears on the page!
It’s one thing to suck at organizational communications, its another thing to take at least two months to find a replacement for a very important position, especially when given what appears to be advance notice. And it is another thing entirely to take well over a year to staff the Office tasked with performing the data analysis the Division needs in order to be effective!
The only good thing I can say here is that at least they brought Rick Bookstaber into the fold. I’ve met Rick and he’s a very, very smart man, and while I don’t always agree with him, I’m quite glad he’s at the SEC. Whether or not he has any authority or sway within the SEC is a whole different story upon which I can do little more than speculate…
by ilene - December 6th, 2010 9:19 pm
Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
It’s interesting how risk appetite’s have changed so dramatically in the last two years. Why is this interesting? Because, when you look under the hood at the Global economy you’ll notice that the problems that caused the car to veer off the road are all still in place. Nothing has really changed. We still have the same global imbalances that caused the crisis. The Chinese are still causing imbalances within their economy via a flawed currency peg. The single currency system with the Euro is still causing imbalances throughout much of Europe. And the financialization of the US economy is continuing along its merry way.
But, from an investor’s perspective there has been a distinct “risk on” trade in place. This is not surprising because asset prices are rising and the economy really is improving, however, you probably would have felt the same exact way in 2006 or in 1998 when everything appeared just fine. The truth was, risk management was probably more important at these two points in history than ever. John Hussman elaborated on this in his most recent letter:
“I recognize that investors are eager to move on to the thesis of sustained economic recovery, with no need for any risk management at all. However, it appears unwise for investors to rest their financial security on faith in a recovery that relies on the government running a deficit of 8.5% of GDP, simply to keep the existing 6.3% gap between actual and potential GDP from widening further. It appears equally unwise to rely on Fed purchases of Treasury bonds to sustain ever greater exposure of investors to risk, when the creation of financial bubbles does nothing to increase the underlying cash flows deliverable by the securities that are increasing in price.”
This sort of herd mentality might make the entire herd feel a bit more safe. The only problem is, the issues that caused this crisis to begin with are still stalking the herd. They’ll catch up with it sooner or later. It might happen in the next few weeks, months, years or even decade. No one can be sure exactly when, but they will catch up with it. And when they do the herd will disperse in panic and once again investors will have wished they’d been more aware of the potential…
by ilene - November 22nd, 2010 4:49 pm
Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
David Rosenberg provided a nice list of risk in this morning’s client letter. The one major risk that Rosenberg and the market is largely overlooking at this juncture is the housing double dip. This has the potential to be THE most important story of 2011. As I’ve previously explained, declining asset values are highly destructive during a balance sheet recession. If the housing double dip surprises to the downside the problems that we’ve swept under the rug will quickly reemerge and this time there won’t be any political will for government intervention.
I still believe we are mired in a balance sheet recession that will result in below trend growth, deflationary risks and leaves us extremely vulnerable to exogenous risks that could exacerbate the current malaise. Rosenberg’s excellent list follows:
1. China is getting more active in its policy tightening moves as inflation pressures intensify. It’s not just food but wages too. Headline inflation, at 4.4%, is at a 25-month high. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) just hiked banking sector reserve ratios by 50 basis points to 18.5% — the second such increase in the past two weeks and the fifth for the year. This could well keep commodity prices under wraps over the near-term.
2. European debt concerns will not be fully alleviated just because a rescue plan has been cobbled together for Ireland as it deals with its banking crisis. The focus will now likely shift to other basket cases such as Portugal and Spain. Greece has a two-year lifeline before it defaults. This saga is going to continue for some time yet.
3. Massive tightening in U.S. fiscal policy coming via spending cuts and tax hikes. This is the part of the macro forecast that is not given enough attention. See States Raise Payroll Taxes to Repay Loans on page A5 of the weekend WSJ.
4. Gasoline prices are about six cents shy of re-testing the $3-a-gallon threshold for the first time since mid October 2008. On a national average basis, prices at the pump are up 26 cents from a year ago — effectively draining about $25 billion out of household cash flow. Tack on the coming
by ilene - November 18th, 2010 3:50 pm
Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
Being bearish is officially out of style. Sentiment readings have reached well beyond excessively bullish levels. The most recent Investor’s Intelligence survey showed another sharp increase in bullishness at 56.2%. This 7.6% surge in bullishness is the largest one week jump since April 2010. At 56.2% this is also the highest reading since December 2007. The last time bullishness was even near these levels was April 28th, 2010 just days before the flash crash.
Last week’s AAII survey also showed extraordinarily high levels of bullishness at 57.6%. This reading is literally off the charts and almost 10 points higher than bullish sentiment at the April highs.
Bespoke Investments highlighted how unusual it is to see both of these sentiment polls at such high levels:
“At a current level of 113.8%, the combined reading is the highest since mid-October 2007, which was shortly after the S&P 500 reached its all-time closing high of 1,565.15. More recently, the last time combined bullish sentiment was above 100% was in April 2010.”
“Buy the dip” and “don’t fight the Fed” have become universal rally cries in recent weeks. It now appears as though no one believes the market can sustain a decline. Unfortunately, the market generally frustrates the most people most of the time. If that saying rings true today the market is at a particularly risky juncture.
*AAII survey will be updated tomorrow after its latest release.
Update: AAII sentiment fell 17.6% this week to 40%. According to Charles Rotblut this is the largest decline since January 2009. Like the current reading, that decline followed a multi month high in sentiment. The market ultimately plunged until sentiment hit its low of 19% in March 2009.
by ilene - October 30th, 2010 9:53 pm
Courtesy of Tim at The Psy-Fi Blog
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.
by ilene - October 29th, 2010 2:11 pm
Courtesy of JOHN RUBINO of Dollar Collapse
The trouble began in the early 1980s, when we baby boomers entered our 30s and began molding the world in our own image. You can graph the spreading darkness from that point, as US debt, the number of government employees, the trade deficit and virtually every other measure of societal pathology inflected upward. Our generation, says James Bacon, a Virginia writer and magazine publisher, will go down in history as the one that ended the American empire — along with the retirement dreams of pretty much everyone everywhere.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Jim Bacon ever since I wrote for one of his magazines back in the 1980s. He was one of my favorite editors, both because he had a light touch and because he almost always saw the real story behind the noise and opinion. So I expected his new book, Boomergeddon to be both easy to read and incisive, and he’s succeed on both counts. Here’s a representative excerpt from the intro:
When you wake up 20 years from now, shaking your head of thinning white hair (those of you who have hair), groping for your bifocals, and feeling all out of sorts because your “golden” years have become as shopworn as cheap costume jewelry, you’ll know whom to blame. Just look in the mirror and take a long hard look at the miscreant who failed to save enough money, despite abundant warnings that retirement would be very, very expensive. Then head to East Capital Street, N.E./ Washington, D.C., where you can accost any member of the 535 members of Congress who, through successive decisions more short-sighted than your own rheumy eyeballs, racked up mountains of debt, presided over the disintegration of the United States retirement safety net, and ruined whatever shot you had at living an old age where the words “happy,” “carefree” and “solvent” applied.
Bacon’s main point early on is that the system has devolved to the point where it no longer matters who’s in charge. Each major party is run by a ruling class of lobbyists, bureaucrats and professional politicians who are beholden to a set of interest groups that demand higher spending and increased money printing. Each side blames the other for the mounting problems, so elections tend to be alternating landslides, as opposition candidates demonize incumbents, are given a chance to…
by ilene - September 23rd, 2010 2:50 am
Cathy Bussewitz of the Huffington Post reports, CalPERS Bumped Pay as Fund Dived (HT: Peter):
As its investment portfolio was losing nearly a quarter of its value, the country’s largest public pension fund doled out six-figure bonuses and substantial raises to its top employees, an analysis by The Associated Press has found.
Board member Tony Olivera said the California Public Employees’ Retirement System tried to reduce the bonuses but was under contractual obligations to pay them.
CalPERS’ plunging value came as stock values tumbled around the world, the state’s economy suffered its worst decline in decades and basic state services faced severe budget cuts.
Virtually all of CalPERS’ investment managers were awarded bonuses of more than $10,000 each, with several earning bonuses of more than $100,000 during the 2008-09 fiscal year. The cash awards were distributed as the fund lost $59 billion.
Steve Deutsch, director of pensions and endowment at Morningstar Inc., said many public pension plans award performance bonuses, and called CalPERS’ performance during 2008-09 "middle of the road."
"It’s absolutely very widespread, but very low profile in terms of being acknowledged, discussed, or disclosed by the plans," Deutsch said.
The revelations prompted two key Republican lawmakers to call for more oversight of how CalPERS and other state pension funds compensate employees and make investment decisions, while a Democratic lawmaker promised legislation to control salaries and bonuses.
CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco said bonuses are based on the fund’s performance over five years, not just the year immediately preceding the bonus, in order to encourage managers to seek long-term investments rather than short-term gains. He said bonuses in the 2008-09 fiscal year were 50 percent lower than in 2006-07 and that the market declines will continue to dampen bonuses in future years.
"Incentives are part of total compensation and critical to the fund’s long-term success as well as recruitment and retention of skilled investment professionals," Pacheco said in an e-mail.
Bonuses also were paid to employees who are not part of the fund’s investment team, including a public affairs officer who received bonuses of nearly $19,000 a year two years in a row and a human resources executive who received bonuses topping $16,000 both years.
The number of CalPERS executives making $200,000 a year or more