Power And Dollar

Is New Japanese Ambassador To China Sinking Your 401k?

Japan just named its new ambassador to China without much notice in the States.  But do you own Japanese companies’ stocks?  How much does China affect Japanese manufacturers who have factories in China?  Current ambassador Uichirou Niwa (丹羽宇一郎) will be replaced by Masato Kitera (木寺昌人).  Shortly after the announcement of the appointment, Euro started appreciating against Japanese Yen from 102 to 102.50 similar to US’ appreciation against Yen from 74.40 to 74.85 in 30 minutes. Although US’s currency strength maybe explained by the better than expected unemployment data.  However, USD was actually depreciating against EUR at the same time when JPY was depreciating against all currencies.

So, if Kitera’s appointment has anything to do with the JPY depreciation, what was the rationale in the market at the time?

Kitera has no diplomatic experience in China.  Neither can he speak the language.  It is certainly not an advantage for a diplomat.  However, this is also a reverse to the earlier policy of Japanese Prime Minister Noda (野田 佳彦) to use civilian (current ambassador Niwa is not a civil servant) instead of foreign ministry’s bureaucrats for Japan’s ambassador to China.  Is this a signal interpreted by the market that Prime Minister Noda influence is waning?

Kitera’s career has been mainly related to international organizations, such as foreign aid (Grant Aid Division of Foreign Ministry), Minister to UN and WTO etc.  What does say about the intent of Japan in its relations to China amid the recent controversies over the island dispute?

His skills of cooperation with many different entities are certainly valuable.  Are there no suitable candidates who have host country knowledge and diplomatic skills to smoothen the relationship?  Is this appointment part of the upcoming lower house election calculation? 

If former, then it may show some distrust of the political elite over the close relationship between the bureaucrats with China.  If latter, then this is a clear signal that Japan may become more aggressive against China over the island dispute, despite the US public announcements toward a more peaceful environment during the US election season.  As a stretch, this appointment may enlarge the diplomatic battle field since Kitera may be able to draw his knowledge in the international institution areas.

If Japan actually cannot feel confident about the diplomatic abilities among the China experienced bureaucrats, then this appointment further shows the talent shortage of Japan, now reaching a higher level of the civil servants than previously thought. 

Since 1995, Japan ambassador to China has been around 60 years old, compared to US to China around 57 and China to Japan around 54.  Japan’s labor force has aged tremendously over the two decades without back fill.  The death of Nishimiya (西宮 伸一), the Japan to China ambassador to be, certainly was an accident, although indicative of Japan’s talent pool.  This appointment may serve as an additional indication that Japan is running out of candidates to manage its complicated affairs against a rising power.

This may further affect its trading strength in its future trade negotiation against China in the China, Korea and Japan trilateral relationships.  Export heavy companies in Japan will be further negatively impact, such as auto manufacturers.

October 5, 2012 Posted by | China, finance, Investment, Japan, opinion, politics, stock, trading | Leave a comment

Lay Taxes To Those Not Buying Guns? NRA Must Be Grinning

John Roberts acknowledges that the Obamacare is unconstitutional in the commerce clause.  However, Roberts upholds the Obamacare because it is constitutional to lay taxes to those who do not buy health insurance.  So, using John Roberts formula, can the federal government lay taxes on those not buying guns? 

It seems like John Roberts’ formula is: if it is unconstitutional to X and it is constitutional to lay taxes to X, then it is constitutional.  Better yet, can the federal government impose taxes to finance the rendition program? Or lay taxes to finance the eaves dropping?  To impose taxes if you do not perform birth control?  To impose taxes if you do not perform abortion?  To impose taxes if you do not send your children to public school (this is already in practice)?  To impose taxes if you do not send your children to home school (this is not in practice)?

If John Roberts’ formula has to be supplemented by the general welfare clause, then not much difference it would make, as Richard A. Epstein (professor of law at New York University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution) suggests in NYTimes on 2012.06.29: Congress has the power to “lay and collect Taxes” only in order “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” The congress still can impose taxes if you do not buy guns since gun ownership contributes to the general welfare, if you agree that more guns around means we will have less criminals around.  The newer formula can still apply to anything the Congress sees fit. 

Isn’t the case that whenever something is unconstitutional to anyone element of the Constitution, then it is constitutional?  Benjamin Franklin said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  John Roberts reversed (or the converse) the reasoning and we get a wonderful universal health care.  At what costs?

June 29, 2012 Posted by | activism, advocacy, america politics, Current Events, Democrats, opinion, politics, Regulation, Republican, Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment

Obamacare Makes Labor Market More Favorable To Small Businesses

 

Republicans champion capitalism, especially “the pursuit of happiness”.  For that, Republicans consider businessmen to be their safe constituents.  Is enabling small businesses to compete more effectively against the mega corporations something Republican look forward to?  Interestingly enough, Democrats are doing that this time instead of Republicans.  And that is through this Obamacare.

Extending health care to all is the idea of Obamacare.  Having this barrier to health care obviously gives an edge to someone.  In terms of politics (or policy), the question is always about who gets the advantage (or the disadvantage).  Prior the Obamacare days, the advantage is to the employers who can afford the administrative cost of providing a health care insurance to its employees, thus giving them an overwhelming advantage in recruiting and retaining the human resources they need.  This disadvantage suffocates small businesses and self employed.  Ultimately, innovation is sacrificed. 

Plenty of employees make employment decisions based on the health care package.  Many people give up their business dreams and stay as an employee because of the fear of not having health care for their families.  Almost everyone will be covered when Obamacare becomes effective.  Yes, the operating cost is higher for small business owners, however, this increase cost will draw the small business owners much closer to the advantage enjoyed by the mega corporations than if they acquire the health package alone.  In fact, only 38% offer health insurance to employees among the small business owners in 2009 versus 61% in 1993 (read here). 

If America’s small business owners’ talents for success are not willing to move to them and continue to stay in General Motors, ATT and like, then where is the next Google?

March 23, 2010 Posted by | activism, advocacy, america politics, Current Events, 美國, Democrats, economics, Election 2010, health care reform, nonprofits, obama, opinion, politics, Thoughts, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | 1 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

Will Haiti Lead 2010 Legislation Agenda: Immigration?

 

One week after Haiti earthquake, CNN finally talks about Haiti refugees, not that there is any yet.  Washington Post started this thread on the 5th after the earthquake.  Obama spoke of “unwavering support” to Haiti exactly because of the cost of refugee management.  Will Haiti refugee make the border security or immigration issue any easier? 

One certain outcome is that support to Haiti will be proportionally to the risk of refugee exodus from Haiti.  Will this be pushed into a fiscal policy management issue instead during the 2010 mid term election?

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Barack Obama, Current Events, Election 2010, obama, opinion, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

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

Obamacare and Copenhagen Accord: Non-Events

US dollar continues its rise against Euro and British pound.  The recent news regarding the development of health care bill and Copenhagen accord did very little to reverse this movement.  Why does it matter?  What does it mean?

The appreciation of US dollar indicates the development of the Obamacare does at best not weaken the confidence of the US economy or even improve the fiscal deficit in the future years and at worst not prevent US from being the temporary safe haven being the money parking lot.  Similarly, since Copenhagen accord is not a binding document, it provides no teeth to decrease carbon emission.  Thus, the mod of economic activity will not run into the risk of major shuffling in the United States.

Certainly a series of quarterly earnings following Copenhagen accord in the United States helps.  However, Obamacare and Copenhagen accord could have set how the future game rules will be structured not only in the States but also in the world, only that the States may have to bear the biggest brunt of this episode. 

In particular, Obamacare is not sending health insurance companies’ stock price downward.  On the contrary, health insurance companies have been performing very well in light of the Great Depression.   Either the market has already factored in all the political risk premium or the market actually considers them as non-events thus far.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | advocacy, america politics, health care reform, opinion, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Obama’s Public Administration Philosophy

No polling result is available to serve as a reaction gauge to Obama’s Afghanistan deployment speech.  Obama was an anti war candidate.  Now he is making a deployment decision.  Is he contradicting himself?  What is he after?  What does it mean to us?

He is after his re-election, as every politician is.  Having said that, what also went on in his mind must have been the 2010 mid-term election, although he knew (and everyone else knew) that Democrats will lose seats in that election since all president lose seats in the first term’s mid-term elections. 

War is expensive.  Unemployment is still high.  He acknowledges with Eisenhower’s quote very well that “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”  After all, war is still a budget item. 

He is not appeasing his own base.  That is for sure.  Is he reaching middle ground?  Considering a much greater proportion of rural area voters have military ties, having a higher expense on military could be Obama’s way to secure a wider base.  But at the expense of sending more people to battle field?

Obama’s speech stresses on one point to justify his approach to this war: the primary nation of nation-building exercise is his own nation.  Will the rural electorate see this as a venue to reward Obama’s core constituency, the urbanites?  Of course, this will be dictated by what Obama will do with the resources or energy freed up by this management approach.

This Eisenhoweran philosophy is simply a reflection of budget constraint.  This is consistent with Nancy Pelosi approach to this portfolio item: war tax.  If you want it, then pay for it.  If you do not want to pay for it, then you probably don’t think it is worth it.  Will the war tax actually fly?  Hard to say.  However, if this Eisenhoweran approach to military conflict will be applied consistently over time and therefore will establish a new foreign policy doctrine, then this war tax idea will eventually take roots.  That will establish another kind of precedence: purpose dedicated tax.  Not that purpose dedicated tax is completely new since social security is funded by a dedicated tax as well.  However, this war tax will definitely take this idea to the next level. 

This is what affects us the most.  America is facing a fiscal crisis and will continue to face a fiscal crisis for decades to come even after paying down the costs incurred by the Bush’s Iraq war, Bush’s Afghanistan war and now Obama’s Afghanistan war, because of the expecting expenses for baby boomers.  Due to this budget constraint, conflicts different interests group will compete harder for this federal budget.  Purpose dedicated tax will then be the weapon for different groups to secure their own funding, especially for new issues, such as green issues. 

If Obama will be employing Eisenhower approach and Pelosi will be playing her cards, they will create a new policy management philosophy that will last long beyond their political accomplishments.

December 3, 2009 Posted by | activism, advocacy, Afghanistan, america politics, Current Events, Election 2010, opinion, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment

Did Centrists Republicans Just Defeat Obama-Care?

Democratic Senator Baucus is presenting a compromise health care bill in the Senate without public option whereas CNN reports that Obama is finally drafting his own version with a trigger for public option.  The Gang of Six has three Republicans.  They are: Enzi, Snowe and Grassley.  Grassley says in CNN that public option is Obama Care.  Now that Baucus proposal does not have it, Grassley and the like may actually have a way to claim victory that they will have defeated Obama Care.  If so, then health care will pass a giant step. 

 

With the sections 2701 to 2703 and 2706, 152, Baucus essentially creates an analogous health care version of Equal Credit Opportunity Act.  The impact of this idea will be long lasting, much more profound than Equal Credit Opportunity Act not because of any anti-discrimination, but because insurance business is completely centered on selecting good risks, i.e. choosing the less risky applicants, in any kind of insurance product.  One example is that insurers give a different price of life insurance based on occupation of applicant.  If you are a fireman, then your rate is higher.  If you are in the army, you rate is higher.  That is the reason insurance companies are not allowed to use DNA to determine price of health or life insurance.  Similarly, if you are younger, your auto insurance is higher.  While your age can be a factor in auto insurance application, your age cannot be a factor in your credit application, as prescribed by Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

 

This piece of legislation is about health insurance.  Therefore, life insurance can continue to legally discriminate life insurance applicants based on existing conditions. 

 

Health insurance companies underwriting procedures will have to change, industry wide, nationally.  Health insurers are Cigna, Aetna (NYSE:AET), Humana (NYSE:HUM), UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) Blue Cross Blue Shield (http://bcbs.com).  Here is an example: Just like some life insurers give better rates for their life insurance policies, some companies may have been marketing well among smokers for health insurance policies.  If Baucus proposal goes through, all health insurance companies may have the same application procedure to underwrite a smoker.  Smokers market is now thinner than before for this smoker specializing insurer.  We do not quite know if discrimination against occupation is covered by Baucus, or age or anything else.  However, a lot of compliance work will get involved in the future. 

 

How will it enforced?  Is Baucus planning to have Department of Labor to have a stronger role in health care enforcement?  Insurance is completely state regulated, for now.  Will this kind of enforcement be incorporated in Treasury? 

 

We will know by the time our speech entertainer Obama gives another performance tomorrow.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | activism, advocacy, Barack Obama, Current Events, 美國, health care reform, opinion, politics, Regulation, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | Leave a comment