Archive - Jun 2012

June 30th

The Dark (Pool) Truth About What Really Goes On In The Stock Market

In early December 2009, Haim Bodek finally solved the riddle of the stock-trading problem that was killing Trading Machines, the high-frequency firm he’d help launch in 2007. The former Goldman Sachs and UBS trader was attending a party in New York City sponsored by a computer-driven trading venue. He’d been complaining for months to the venue about all the bad trades—the runaway prices, the fees—that were bleeding his firm dry. But he’d gotten little help.

Guest Post: Whitewashing The Economic Establishment

Brad DeLong makes an odd claim:

So the big lesson is simple: trust those who work in the tradition of Walter Bagehot, Hyman Minsky, and Charles Kindleberger. That means trusting economists like Paul Krugman, Paul Romer, Gary Gorton, Carmen Reinhart, Ken Rogoff, Raghuram Rajan, Larry Summers, Barry Eichengreen, Olivier Blanchard, and their peers. Just as they got the recent past right, so they are the ones most likely to get the distribution of possible futures right.

Larry Summers? If we’re going to base our economic policy on trusting in Larry Summers, should we not reappoint Greenspan as Fed Chairman? Or — better yet — appoint Charles Ponzi as head of the SEC? Or a fox to guard the henhouse? Or a tax cheat as Treasury Secretary? Or a war criminal as a peace ambassador? (Yes — reality is more surreal than anything I could imagine).

Why Germany's TARGET2-Based Eurozone Preservation Mechanism Is Merely A Ticking Inflationary Timebomb

We have covered the topic of the German TARGET2 imbalances previously, both from the perspective of what catalysts can lead the Bundesbank to suffering massive losses (the one most widely agreed upon being a collapse of the Eurozone, which explains why even discussions of that contingency are prohibited in Europe), from the perspective of its being an indirect current account deficit funding mechanism, and from the perspective of what is the maximum size TARGET2 imbalances, funded primarily by the Bundesbank, can grow to before eventually causing irreperable damage to the Bundesbank. Still, there appears to be ongoing mass confusion about the topic, with numerous economists proposing contradictory theories, all of which supposedly rely on traditional economic models. Today, to provide some additional and much needed color, we once again revisit the topic of TARGET2, and this time we look at arguably the most critical question: what happens when the TARGET2 imbalance bubble ultimately pops. And here is where the true cost to Germans becomes apparent, because there is no such thing as a "borrowing from the future" free lunch. Which is precisely what TARGET2 does, only instead of a direct cost, the post-TARGET2 world will result in the now traditional indirect cost of all monetary experiments gone awry: runaway inflation.

The History Of US Unemployment By State, And A Surprising Observation

The following fascinating chart from Tableausoftware shows the history of US unemployment by state since 1976, and specifically the difference from historical averages. What the chart shows is that as more and more people have migrated to populated coastal areas, or those areas hit hardest from the recent deleveraging mean reversion depression, it is the flyover states, typically considered the least interesting, that are actually performing by far the best, with some places like North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Vermont paradoxically having better relative employment right now than during any time in the past 40 years! As the economy continues to revert to trendline along every possible axis, despite the Fed's persistent efforts to overrule nature, how long until reverse migration kicks in, and all those hopefuls who had trekked to the big coastal cities dreaming of better prospects, leave in disenchantment and head back to where they came from, and just how would that impact the future of US economic and demographic trends?

Was Merkel's Surprising "Defeat" Merely A Gambit For A German Referendum?

As details from Thursday's European Memorandum of Understanding, which has all the binding power of a 'highly confident letter' issued by a third tier investment bank, continue to be non-existent, the questions, and conditions, are accumulating fast. While the ESM passed with a solid majority in both the lower and upper houses of German parliament yesterday, its fate is now in the hands of the German constitutional court which as reported previously has requested extra time to study the bailout plan, before it gives the all clear for a presidential signature. Sound familiar? And barely did the ESM pass the ratification vote, before lawsuits alleging its unconstitutionality start pouring in. But probably more importantly, Focus magazine reported overnight that the first clear condition from Germany will be the enactment of a Financial transaction tax for all countries where the ESM would be operational in order to minimize the burden on German taxpayers. In other words, banks would effectively pool their profits, in order to fund the bailout of other banks (or their own). In retrospect, it does not sound like a bad idea. It may even pass the recently conceived "fairness doctrine" of the Great June Socialist Revolution. Most importantly, however, it appears that events over the past week may have been merely a gambit for something that Schauble and Weidmann have already hinted at: a popular referendum that decides the fate of Europe once and for all, washing Merkel's hands and letting the people decide if they want the European experiment to continue or not.

Guest Post: Coal - The Ignored Juggernaut

Given the rather weak near-term and long-term outlook for US coal demand, it’s not surprising that within such a capital-intensive business, a number of smaller coal producers were hit recently with bankruptcy rumors. Indeed, even large cap names like Arch Coal have seen an escalation of concern over debt levels. Accordingly, many have concluded that coal -- in an era of solar, wind, and natural gas -- has finally displaced itself due to its problematic extraction, distant transportation, and overall costs. Is coal finally going away as an energy source?

Not a chance.

Indeed, everything currently unfolding for coal in the United States is precisely what is not unfolding for coal globally. Prices to import natural gas to most countries via LNG remain sky-high, easily protecting coal’s cost advantage. And the demand for coal in the developing world remains gargantuan. Accordingly, just as with oil, lower US demand simply frees up supply to elsewhere in the world. The global coal juggernaut rolls onward.

June 29th

Guest Post: The Supreme Court And Natural Law

I won a bet today.

A few weeks ago I wagered with a coworker that the United States Supreme Court would uphold the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare.  He reasoned that the federal government has no authority under the Constitution to force an individual to purchase a product from a private company.  My reasoning was much simpler.  Because the Supreme Court is a functioning arm of the state, it will do nothing to stunt Leviathan’s growth.  The fact that the Court declared no federal law unconstitutional from 1937 to 1995—from the tail end of the New Deal through Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society—should have been proof enough.  He naively believed in the impartialness of politically-appointed judges.  For the first time he saw that those nine individuals are nothing more than politicians with an allegiance to state supremacy.

It was a tough but valuable lesson to learn.