Power And Dollar

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?

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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

Are These Obama Health Insurance Stocks’ Price Level Sustainable?

Shortly after Obama’s health care reform announcement on 2010.02.22 M, the health care industry stocks started to fall.  Even at closing, google still shows they are down.  However, health care insurance sector, such as Cigna (NYSE: CI http://www.cigna.com) and Aetna (NYSE: AET http://www.aetna.com), recovered very quickly and in factor closes better than yesterday 2010.02.19 F.  Who got the short straw in this latest round of Obamacare drama?  Why?  Didn’t Obama say job is his number one priority in the State of the Union?  Is this some kind of ideological fixation he has? 

If you need more information than CNN gives, then try this summary page.

The google health care index is down because the drug companies’, such as Merck (NYSE:MRK http://http://www.merck.com) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ http://www.jnj.com), stocks are falling.  Obama’s donut-hole fix will affect these drug companies’ financial performance.  On top of that, a lot of their patents are expiring. 

Health insurance companies are doing well because this round of reform is perceived to be creating demand for them.  Anti-discrimination is written in the announcement.  However, it is to “prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions, and prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals” (the CNN does not say this.  You have to look it up from the summary link above).  In terms of “pre-existing condition”, that can translate to underwriting, i.e. if an applicant has to be accepted or not.  What it does not say is this: can the pricing of the same product be different to different individuals based on pre-existing condition?  Or based on zip code?  Based on county?  Based on race?  Which health condition is race related have you heard of lately?  Some explanation about “discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals” is obviously needed. 

Obama knows health care reform did not work in the legislature.  He more likely than not knows his magic does not work on the Republican senators.  Does he believe his proposal will get some moderate Republicans?  If he wants to work getting moderate Republicans, then he would be work on them individually behind closed door.  And we will end up seeing a big announcement with some of these congressmen.  Instead, we see Obama’s proposal.  So, this is HIS proposal.  The other guys are missing.  So, he is making a political move to show to the electorate he has done his homework and tries to paint that the other guys are the real road blocks. 

Yes, they are.  And we have known it for a quite while.  And in fact, they have been encouraged by the voters to be road blocks.  Therefore, Obama better have planned a second move after Republicans’ predicted uncooperative stand.  If you truly believe that the Republican road blocks will not make Obama’s proposal work, then you should ask if these price levels sustain.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Current Events, Election 2010, health care reform, obama, politics, US politics, wordpress-political-blogs | 1 Comment

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.

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

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

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

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

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