Power And Dollar

What Do You Care About Greek Default? Or Andrew Jackson?

My employer has no business ties in Greece.  I have nothing Greek: no property in Greece, no mutual fund based in Greece, no IRA fund based in Greece, relatives in Greece.  So, what do I care about Greek?  You got to be kidding me.  Eh…. Do you care about the US recovery?

Greece is part of Euro.  A fiscal instability leads to the instability of Euro, or more precisely the depreciation of Euro.  Now, that is the beginning of problems.  First off, US exports get more expensive in the Euro land, i.e. the continental Europe that Rumsfeld called the Old World.  Euro’s depreciation is no good if it happens when US wants to export more.  But then, where can US export?  China?  Even when Chinese are buying Walmart products, how does that help US unemployment rate when those products were made in China to begin with?  Of the products that are US made, how many of them can be sold in China without violating either US embargo (regulated high tech products) or Chinese sanctions (produced by companies who sell arms to Taiwan)?  Do you think US can sell solar panels to China when China is the largest solar panel producer (by footage) in the world?  How many jobs can be produced in the US if Chinese eat more MacDonald’s?  It certainly gives a higher return for your pension funds, your 401k funds and IRA funds.  But jobs? No. 

Secondly, it is not a good idea when US wants to sell assets in Europe and the bring cash home.  It will either make the sale less appealing to the buyer if the seller wants it to be a US dollar deal, or it will make the sale less appealing to the seller if the buyer wants it to be a Euro deal. 

GM for sure will not be happy since they are selling SAAB.  Although the deal for SAAB is in US dollars, it certainly makes it more difficult for the buyer to finance the deal.  And if you have bought a house before, you may recall that the deal is often contingent on funding availability. 

Third, it certainly makes US assets more expensive to Euro investors.  NYSE (or NASDAQ) stocks are looking for more expensive to Euro investors now, although US and/or UK assets may have to become the safe harbors for the time being.  But they certainly are looking more expensive. 

The value of a currency (Euro or USD) has a great deal to do with the expectation how well that currency’s assets are.  The assets in Greece, i.e. Euro, are not looking good due to Greek fiscal policies.   A comparison of Greece in Euro land has been made to California.  While that may resemble somewhat in economics sense, I tend to think of this crisis as the early United States where the federal government was still responsible to foreign debts incurred during the Revolution War but all the states retained their rights to print currencies.  European Union has long been criticized as an elitist creation.  Voters mistrusted it in Ireland (2008), France (2005), Denmark (2000).  Urbanite/merchant Hamilton created the central bank to monopolize monetary power and ruralite/agrarian Andrew Jackson removed it.  As a result of multiple currency issuer and each currency has its own exchange rate (inevitably), interest rate, and ultimately credibility, the United States became worthless monetarily.  

The striking difference here is US were debating about the monopoly of monetary power whereas Europe already got their monopoly of monetary power.  Is this a lesson where Europeans have to reflect on their European federalism or a lesson where urban elitist (in the sense of Sarah Palin’s “East Coast Elites”) creations, European Union, never work?  The answer will prevail if Brussels elites managed to figure it.

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February 11, 2010 Posted by | banking, Current Affairs, Current Events, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Did Obama Plagiarize Glass And Stegall?

Did Obama’s Volcker’s Rule announcement contribute to the drop of DJ?  Did Obama plagiarize Glass and Stegall?  Pundits all over the place say that is the result of the Volcker’s Rule.  One, Volcker’s Rule alone did not necessitate the fall.  Two, who among these pundits actually read what the White House press release, and not the Bloomberg announcement, is about?  Three, Volcker’s Rule is not “new”.  Volcker’s Rule is actually a re-tro.  Four and finally, what is the implication/impact (theoretical or academic) of Volcker’s Rule?  What can we learn from Geithner’s opposition to this Volcker’s Rule?

Yahoo (of all places) actually hit it right: there are plenty of reasons for DJ to fall.  Realizing the profits from Massachusetts Senator election is quite a good reason already.  In fact, the rise of DJ on Tuesday contradicts the fall of DJ on Thursday: DJ rose because the market expected that having 1 more Republican in the Senate would derail the agenda of Obama.  If investors believed in that, then the investors could not have believed Obama’s Volcker’s Rule would become law.  So, Volcker’s Rule alone did not create the fall.

The White House press release regarding Volcker’s Rule actually gives very little information.  And luck would have it that everything covered by Obama’s 01.21 announcement is already covered by H.R.4173 – Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009.  Quite possibly, nothing is new. 

Worse, nothing is new: Glass-Steagall Act probably covered everything Volcker’s Rule is about.  Since Volcker’s Rule is not in the legislation form, no comparison can be done.  In fact even Volcker calls it “in the spirit” of Glass-Steagall Act.  It further proves that Obama named it Volcker’s Rule for political purposes: to show he is doing something to punish the bad guys (banks) for the rest of us. 

Preventing banks from having private equity funds, hedge funds et etc do decrease profits of the banks.  However, these funds make up 5% of revenues of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Citi (NYSE: C) and the like.  Yes, it does strengthen the point that this rule is for show, especially after the Massachusetts’ loss.  However, Volcker’s insistence on this issue has a point: it takes 5% of their revenue.  However, these banks are using depositors’ money to play these large bets, using FDIC’s insurance to back themselves up, and twisting their risk adjusted return on capital (RAROC).  Here is an example:  How much can $1000 bet if you were to trade on currencies?  Answer: with $1k, you can trade the equivalent of $100k of Japanese yen, British pound, Euro and so on.  If the currency fluctates 1%, the $1k is already gone.  If the market swings more than 1%, the bank has to lose all of its money (the $1k depositors’ money) and more.  So, these banks are misappropriating depositors’ money (which would be illegal in insurance laws), making taxpayers pay for their risk, and presenting themselves before the eyes of investors. 

What it really does is to draw out a lot of hot money from the market: less money will change hands on a daily basis.  That affects all industries.  Investors (institutional espeically) will have to play with real money, if this works.  Retail investors will make up a greater proportion of money in the market than before.  Market will be more difficult to be manipulated than before by a few players.  Will that shrink the whole market? Probably.  However (or hopefully), it will mean everyone will be trading with a saner head since no one will be playing with free money.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | banking, Current Events, Investment, legislation, market, Money, obama, opinion, Palin, politics, Thoughts, trading, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | 3 Comments

Massachusetts Is Pushing Up Your 401k

As Massachusetts comes to a close to their choice US Senator, investors from the rest of world are approving their expected result: Republicans will win this election.  How does a local election affect your 401k?  Is that the only factor that drives up your 401k value?  No, certainly not.  However, the spike of not only a few companies (Aetna, NYSE:AET; Johnson and Johnson, NYSE:JNJ), but also industries’ stock value and the appreciation of US dollars against most currencies and in particular against Chinese yuan (CNY) is a good indication that this fluctuation is not due to some company quarterly earnings but some political event (Cadbury is the exception, NYSE: CBY).

NYSE and S&P500 are going up today.  What is the top concern of investors these days?  The future US fiscal deficit.  What will be the greatest contributor to future US fiscal deficit?  Health care.  Obama’s health care reform will have a direct impact to US fiscal deficit.  Not having an one-sided US Senate also means banking reform will have to have greater compromise.  Rumor has it that Consumer Financial Protection Agency may be dropped. 

Are investors disapproving Obama administration?  Investors probably will donate to his re-election campaign as well as his opponent’s in 2012, not to mention both parties’ 2010 congressional election funds.  Investors simply see that the new policies do not provide more values.  Investors like risk management tools that enhance certainties of any kind.  Risk certainty is what helps investors choose their company ownerships (i.e. how your mutual fund manager buys stocks for you).  Therefore, one cannot assume investors hate governments at all times. 

Health care reform in the States will create a higher demand for health care products, such as health care insurance, drugs, and equipments.  The list will be endless.  Financial industry reform will provide greater risk control or at least monitoring over systematic risk.  However, health care reform is so broad that no one can understand while financial reform favors the establishment of the financial industry and not the investors (you, a typical 401k or IRA investor).  

Obama’s options?  House (Nancy Pelosi) will have to pass the legislation at its current form or suffer a longer and more arduous negotiation between House and Senate for any bill senate passed, including the health care bill.  Divert attention from anything unpleasant to immigration legislations.  Haiti will induce refugee problems.  Mexican border violence will induce debate about border security, for instance border fence.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | america politics, banking, Barack Obama, Current Events, health care reform, obama, opinion, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Obama’s Another Banking Show

Taxing on banks is politically convenient since people are angry against the financial crisis.  Thus, it is a populist solution.  Furthermore, a mid-term election is coming up where the incumbent party is expecting to lose seats.  What is interesting about this item is: who will (and will not) get taxed among these banks?  What other options does government actually have to achieve the stated goals?

Community banks will get excluded.  Community bankers are still very influential in the local communities, i.e. they affect a lot of voting behavior in the congressional districts.  The key about this where is the cut-off point for community banks or non-community banks?  There are more than 8,000 banks in the country.  Of those, the top 3 banks take up about one third of the assets, more than $3T altogether.  About 100 banks are over $10B in asset.  If $10B is the cut-off, then we have 100 banks for this tax.  But is it $10B or $1B for a bank to be considered a community bank?  How much room is there?

The government says it wants to not affect consumers and investors.  That is rhetoric.  We all know it will get passed on to consumers AND investors.  It’s just who gets more of it. 

If eliminating fat cat is the goal, are there options?  There are always options.  The only question is: what kind of trade-offs are there?  A company is able to pay huge sum to executives (still employees) is that there are so few companies occupying the market space that investor have no choice but to part the profit to these critical employees.  Making the profit margin among these companies thinner by taxing is only one way to minimize the profit.  The more market oriented approach is to introduce more competitors in the market, for instance,

1)      Enable smaller banks to eat into the market share of the big markets;

2)      Disable banks from entering too many different markets, such as the old law that says a retail/mortgage bank cannot enter investment banking;

3)      Banks cannot perform house trade with depositors’ money.

Are these above new and bright ideas?  No.  These are all recycled ideas America has already tried and ditched or tried in other industries.  The first one is congruent to the anti-trust law.  The second one is Glass-Steagall Act.  The third one is from insurance industry and pension industry.  Obama can achieve the goal without being overly creative.  This creation simply tells us he is on another political show.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | america politics, banking, Barack Obama, 美國, Election 2010, legislation, obama, opinion, politics, Regulation, wordpress-political-blogs | 2 Comments

Want A Solution? Or Want A Political Solution?

Regulations suffocate businesses, so we have been hearing from the right side of the political spectrum.  Can you imagine a case where businesses, big businesses, want to have more regulation? 

Central bank veterans like Volcker (Federal Reserve) and Mervyn King (Bank of England) and politicians like Gordon Brown and Barrack Obama (or Timothy Geithner) are advocating opposing positions.  The first interesting story is that central bankers (or bureaucrats) are advocating less regulation.  The more interestingly part is the affected businesses want more regulations.  What is at heart of this debate?

King advocates that in order to prevent another financial tsunami, we should prevent having banks that are too big to fail in the first place.  To suffice that, we need to break up banks that are big enough to pose systematic risk to the economy.  In this case, they see financing the whole economy as a portfolio.  Diversification is the solution.  It is simple, very simple.  Cost of regulation is minimal.  Markets will regulate and therefore reduce some of the problems.  Easy on the government (read: central banks will not get blamed), easy on the consumers.  Who would have a problem?  Big banks: Citi (NYSE: C), HSBC (NYSE:HBC) etc because they are everywhere.  The market share of big banks is already big.  The top three banks (BOA, NYSE: BAC; Citi, NYSE: C; JPMorgan Chase, NYSE:JPM) in the US take up already 1/3 of the assets in the bank sector.  NYT has an article about how Volcker is doing with this effort.

Another angle to view the cause of this financial tsunami is that some financial institutions carried risky activities that were not lending in nature (i.e. not banking) and relied on government bailouts where the money came from deposit insurance funds when such funds were designed to protect depositor’s money and not to finance the risk of activities unrelated to banking, i.e. lending.  That is why CNN is saying the cost of the bailout will be higher than previously thought.  To suffice that, we can separate lending from the risky activities (trading).  This is actually the Glass-Steagall Act, which got repealed.  Again, who has a problem?  Again, big banks: Citi (NYSE: C), HSBC (NYSE:HBC) etc because they have activities of all kinds, from boring first lien mortgage lending to exotic trading activities that only the math PhDs in that specific department would understand and not even the CEO can speak to them intelligently in any kind of congressional hearings. 

Gordon Brown and Barrack Obama are advocating neither of these.  They want compliance enforcement agencies (Financial Services Authorities in UK and Federal Reserve and others in the States) to create new rules/laws for the governments to check on.  These would involve reserve requirements and so on.  In both countries, central banks will have more oversight powers, which should be what bureaucrats want (more government jobs!).  However, both (and Nobel laureate Stiglitz) argue against it.  Why aren’t politicians listening to their advice?  Since central banks still carry high credibility in the society, central bankers do not typically have aspiration for high political office, elected officials want central banks to mitigate this systematic risk and thus be liable to the failure of systematic risk.  The proposals by central bank veterans are fundraising poisons. 

Why is Alan Greenspan silent?  His position is that this systematic risk a financial tsunami.  Nothing could have prevented it (and thus it was not his fault).  If some compliance enforcement could have prevented this tsunami, then he would take the blame.  Thus staying silent serves his best interests.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | banking, Current Events, 美國, obama, politics, Regulation, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Too Big To Be

Obama administration is finally using anti-trust as a treatment for “Too big to fail”.  That is exactly what this blog asked for: http://poweranddollar.com/2009/03/27/anyone-understands-geithner/

Had Bush used this treatment during his time, systematic risk could have been reduced, although not eliminated nor sufficiently managed. 

Did Sherman and Clayton (as in Sherman and Clayton Acts, the anti-trust legislations) have systematic risk in mind?  Certainly not.  However, they were more in the line of if market entry cost is too high due to market makers, then something bad is bound to happen. 

Was that line of thinking new at the time? No.  That is why monopolies have to be granted by the governments in England, as in Crown corporations.  This practice is still in place, just to highlight how much consideration should be given for monopolies.

Interestingly enough Obama administration is trying to enforce tougher antitrust, Obama administration may be guilty of antitrust as well, if Obama administration is in “restraint of trade” or “price discrimination” on health care costs when the administration is trying to “contain cost”.  Unfortunately, critics are only concerned with “quality” or “ration care”.

The problem does not need to get that complicated.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | america politics, banking, Current Events, Democrats, politics, Republican, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Geithner: What Did You ACTUALLY Say?

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE52O6JP20090325?sp=true

 

Geithner had a hearing, not quite an announcement on future regulation framework.  And you cannot get much out of a hearing.  So, if you were looking for a pdf of details that can help you get a feeling if Citi (NYSE:C) will get more oversight versus Northern Trust (NASDAQ:NTRS) or Union Bank of California, then sorry.

 

This is the best article I can come up with so far: 

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE52O6JP20090325?sp=true

 

This article says merger of regulators is now a lower priority than before.  The consequence for that is the work force continues to be in limbo.  This is not the time to make these regulator employees second guessing where their jobs will be.  The administration would want them to strengthen enforcement.  The impact of this is on banks, not banks regulated by Federal Reserve (largest banks), but OCC and OTS.

 

Another interesting point is about Mark-To-Market.  Is Geithner really thinking about modifying Mark-To-Market?  This will be a plus for the banks that operate in metropolitans since theirs assets more volatile.  

 

Securitization: Congressmen maybe simplifying the problem.  However, that can be one of the fixes.  Just don’t believe that is THE fix.

 

Most of the consumer protections make sense.  However, it looks like one thing is forgotten, unless will be included in the details: education loans got loads of undesirable business practices behind the scene.  This is a good time to take care of that too.

 

Provision standard:  be careful with this one.  Geithner may end up hurting the small banks as well.  The original intent was to decrease systematic risk, i.e. reduce largest banks’ influence and increase the market share of the small ones.

 

Credit rating agency: Geithner may as well talk about appraisal firms.

 

The international settlement part will play well with countries who want more multi-polar settings.

 

It is now becoming a pattern that Geithner / Obama always gives expectation of a “plan” and then end up with a power point presentation.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | banking, Current Events, 美國, economics, Investment, legislation, politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Detox Plan: Taxpayers Fund 93%

 

Geithner announced the Detox plan.  Stocks went up for a great deal.  Investors probably are hungry for any positive headlines and don’t really want to read the content.  AP writes that the taxpayers will actually fund 93% of the purchase.  Krugman of course slams it like the first time he read it when it actually is the same plan half a year ago.  In a way, why does Krugman write as if it were a surprise to him? 

 

Gergen writes much more succinctly than what I did yesterday (and Eurasia Group): “there is a second question lurking that really only the President and Congress can answer: that is, whether private investors can have confidence that if they do invest, the lynch mob mentality we saw last week in Washington won’t come and plague them in the future. As the managing director of a major hedge fund told me recently, if this plan is good enough, our firm stands to make money. But then why should we invest if Washington is then going to get mad, take 90% of our profits from us retroactively and if I may be hauled up before Congress and vilified?”

 

 

March 23, 2009 Posted by | banking, Current Events, 美國, Democrats, opinion, politics, Republican, wordpress-political-blogs | 1 Comment

AIG The Sacrifice: The Reflection Of America’s Political Risk

 

I agree quite a few points of this article in regard to the AIG episode.

 

Of course, nothing is perfect.  I would change a word here:

It will certainly make Mr. Obama’s task much more difficult when he tries to sell the public [my version would be:  investors] on his administration’s ability to manage the rest of the bailout, and when he tries to sell private firms on the public-private partnership that will be needed to make the recovery work.”

 

Obama will have more difficulty to convince investors his future plans work (already stated in the article).  Also, Obama will have more difficulty to get troubled entities to take the bailout.  Look at AIG.  This bailout actually bites! 

 

AIG was politically insensitive.  This story alone will make firms in the future to invest more to mitigate political risk or at least reputation risk (branding), which is not a good news.  

 

In addition, a good portion of the reason for these companies to require a bailout is that their valuation (capitalization) fluctuated so greatly they were literally worthless.  So, some companies may realize taking themselves off the exchange is not a bad idea, at least they can insulate themselves from the volatility.  Is that what we want: fewer choices for mutual fund managers and pension fund managers?  If they have fewer options and social security is running out, then what are to do?

 

Fewer choices on the exchange also means quicker wealth concentration.  Gini coefficient will spike up very quickly.  Is that what Obama wants?

March 20, 2009 Posted by | activism, advocacy, america politics, banking, business, Current Affairs, Current Events, 美國, Democrats, economics, legislation, mccain, obama, opinion, politics, Regulation, Republican, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Obama, How Much Per Job?

 

Obama’s message in the first presidential TV press conference was straight forward.  Who was he talking to?  Sure we all want get going with the recovery.  Where is the problem?  If there were not problem, Obama would not have been talking.  Can the TV appearance be credited for the Senate passage?  Hardly. 

 

Stimulus (by now, it should be stimuli) bill got going because 3 Republicans voted with the Democrats.  Nancy Pelosi is having the no-compromise stand.  However, the margin in the Senate is 2 Republican votes.  Nancy Pelosi may actually get hurt at the end.  Republicans have no problem with sinking since they are sinking a Democrat president.  The remaining Republicans got fairly safe seats.  Even if there is a backlash against Republicans, they felt they got their seats firmly.  House Republicans’ attitude is the proof.  Senate Democrats understood this fully.  That’s why Senate Majority Leader Reid says “the differences are minor”.  They are minor only when you want to compromise.  Reid is basically telling Pelosi to get it over with.  

 

Was Obama talking to Nancy Pelosi?  Or Senate Republicans?  Does public opinion carry weights on the Senate Republicans?  Hardly.  May be to someone like Palin who has national inspiration.  For the Senate Republicans, it cannot be appealing, at least not for another one and a half year when the midterm election is up or Republican primary is up.  So, could Obama be trying to build public support against Pelosi?  That would be an entertaining idea. 

 

$838B to create how many jobs?  The up side says 3.8M jobs.  Let’s say 4M.  So, we will spend $209,500 per job creation.  And let’s round it down, say 209K or even 200k per job and take the general rule of thumb that another $20 is needed for payroll tax and benefits.  We are looking at $174k per job (round down again).  What kind of job are these, actually?  And I guess $174k / job is okay because they are not $500k executive pay?

 

Gary Becker (1992 Nobel and right wing) gives the lowest multiplier so far I have read, below 1.  Let’s take that multiplier as half of 1.5 (the consensus he claims).  We are looking at 0.7.  In that case, the actual $ per job creation is $130k per job creation.  Does it make you wonder if you want to drop you current job and take one of these 4M jobs that are to be created by the government?

 

Yes, this is very cynical.  That is very inefficient.  That is exactly the point of the Senate Republicans.  Here is the however.

 

However, what is the cost of inaction?  How little is “just enough” for recovery?  This is not a typical recession.  A lot of this recovery is related to confidence: consumer confidence and investor confidence.  Any kind of stimulus of this magnitude cannot really afford a staged approach.  The stimulus has to be big enough to create a reverse shock effect to ignite activities.  The problem with staged approach is each new stimulus actually reinforces the perception that “We are doomed. We have tried so many times and we failed.  Give it up.  We should not try it again.” 

 

So you may agree to Senate Republican’s message.  However, can you afford to err on the “right” side?  Or would you rather err on the left side?

 

February 10, 2009 Posted by | banking, Current Events, 美國, Democrats, obama, opinion, politics, Regulation, Republican, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment