Greed; corporate arrogance; lobbying influence; excessive leverage; accounting tricks to hide debt; lack of transparency; off balance sheet obligations; mark to market accounting; short-term focus on profit to drive compensation; failure of corporate governance; as well as auditors, analysts, rating agencies and regulators who were either lax, ignorant or complicit. This laundry list of causes has often been used to describe what went wrong in the credit crunch crisis of 2008-2010. Actually these terms were equally used to describe what went wrong with Enron more than twenty years ago. Both crises resulted in what at the time was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history — Enron in December 2001 and Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Naturally, this leads to the question that despite all the righteous indignation in the wake of Enron's failure did we really learn or change anything?
While the conventional way of looking at hedge fund assets has traditionally been to simply add up the assets under management to estimate gross exposure, as so often happens conventional wisdom is wrong. Because what the "traditional" approach simplistically looks at is merely a fund's equity and ignores all leverage through assorted generic and "shadow" conduits such as repo, loans, rehypothecation, "hedging" and others. Luckily, as a result of Dodd-Frank, hedge funds were required to present their full market exposure when netting leverage as per an annual SEC form known as Form PF. It is here that we learn that SAC's market exposure, something very relevant now that the firm is facing an imminent or eventual winddown, is likely orders of magnitude above what the market believes.
It's as if we have two economies: the simulacrum one of stocks rising dramatically in a few months, and the real one of household earnings (down) and hours worked (down). It is difficult to justify the feeling that we are living in an extraordinary moment in time, for the fundamental reason that it's impossible to accurately assess the present in a historical context. Extraordinary moments are most easily marked by dramatic events such as declarations of war or election results; lacking such a visible demarcation, what sets this month of 2013 apart from any other month since the Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008? It seems to me that the ordinariness of June 2013 is masking its true nature as a turning point. Humans soon habituate to whatever conditions they inhabit, and this adaptive trait robs us of the ability to discern just how extraordinary the situation has become.
One year after the infamous Jamie Dimon "tempest in a teapot" fiasco, which promptly turned out to be the biggest TBTF prop-trading desk debacle in history, things were going well for JPMorgan. On one hand, the chairman of the TBAC (and thus US Treasury advisor and policy administrator), and former LTCM trader, Matt Zames, was just recently promoted to the sole second in command post at the biggest US bank (and 2nd biggest in the world) by assets, and first in line to take over from Jamie Dimon. On the other hand, one of Mary Jo White's former co-workers, and a JPM defense attorney from Debevoise just became head of the SEC's enforcement division, in theory guaranteeing that the US government would never do more than slap the wrist of JPM in perpetuity. And then, when everything seemed like smooth sailing ahead, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) showed up on March 13, the day before Carl Levin's committee released its latest report on JPM's prop trading blunder, and according to the NYT, alleged that JPM in the past several years, quietly became nothing short than the next Enron. ... But what is worst for JPM, and its brilliant (abovementioned) employee, often times credited with creating the Credit Default Swap product and market (simply an instrument to trade credit with negligible upfront collateral and thus allow equity option-like speculation in the credit realm), is that FERC may be seeking to throw the book at none other than Blythe Masters.
One of the New Normal responses to allegations, first started here in 2009 and subsequently everywhere, that all HFT does is to frontrun traditional market players (among many other evils) now that its conventional and flawed defense that it "provides liquidity" lies dead and buried, is that "everyone does it" so you must acquit because how can you possibly prosecute a technology that accounts for over 60% of all market volume and where if you throw one person in jail you would throw everyone in jail. Today we learn that this indeed may be the case, and not only at the traditional locus of HFT frontrunning such as conventional exchanges for stocks such as the NYSE or even dark pools, but at the heart of the biggest futures exchange in the US, the CME where as the WSJ's Scott Patterson explains frontrunning by HFT algos is not only a way of life, but is perfectly accepted and even smiled upon.
Just about a year and a half after the bankruptcy filing of MF Global, the first real lawsuit that directly names former MF Global (and Goldman) CEO Jon Corzine and his cronies, has hit the docket with MFG Holdings bankruptcy trustee Louis Freeh as plaintiff. The complaint: breach of fiduciary duty. Of course, when one is a bundler for the president, such trivial concepts as duty to anyone else, be it fiduciary or otherwise, naturally does not exist.
Due to decades of unreserved credit growth that temporarily boosted the appearance of sustainable economic growth and prosperity, rational economic behavior cannot produce real (inflation-adjusted) economic growth from current levels. The nominal sizes of advanced economies have grown far larger than the rational scope of production that would be needed to sustain them. This fundamental problem explains best the current state of affairs: malaise (i.e., bank system de-leveraging and economic stagnation) spreading through the means of production and the need for increasing policy intervention to stabilize goods, service and asset prices (by depressing the first three and inflating the last?). We live and work in a contrived meta-economy that can be managed through narrow channels in financial and state capitals. Given the overwhelming past misallocation of capital cited above, we think the most important realization for investors in the current environment is that price levels of goods, services and assets may be biased to rise but they are not sustainable in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. The crowd is ignoring the obvious, as all signs point towards the next currency reset.
Below are portions of a comment letter submitted by R.T. Leuchtkafer to the SEC on April 16, 2010, just 3 weeks before flash crash. The second paragraph in the excerpt below, unknowingly describes exactly how the flash crash was started. The letter goes on to alert the SEC on the dangers of High Frequency Trading (HFT), phantom liquidity and other concerns.
- Kuroda to Hit ‘Wall of Reality’ at BOJ, Ex-Board Member Says (BBG)
- Venezuelans mourn Chavez as focus turns to election (Reuters)
- South Korea says to strike back at North if attacked (Reuters)
- Milk Powder Surges Most in 2 1/2 Years on New Zealand Drought (BBG)
- As Confetti Settles, Strategists Wonder: Will Dow's Rally Last? (WSJ)
- Pollution, Risk Are Downside of China's 'Blind Expansion' (BBG)
- Obama Calls Republicans in Latest Round of Spending Talks (BBG)
- Ryan Budget Plan Draws GOP Flak (WSJ)
- Samsung buys stake in Apple-supplier Sharp (FT)
- China Joining U.S. Shale Renaissance With $40 Billion (BBG)
- Say Goodbye to the 4% Rule (WSJ)
- Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (BBG)
- Power rustlers turn the screw in Bulgaria, EU's poorest country (Reuters)
After exposing the stock market manipulative arsenal that is High Frequency Trading, quote stuffing, flash trading, packet churning, layering, sub-pennying, liquidity, latency and dark pool arbitrage, NBBO and Reg NMS exemptions, "hide-not-sliding", collocation, and much, much more for four years, or so long even Credit Suisse joined the chorus we started in April of 2009, we are glad to learn that finally, with a ridiculous Rip Van Winklesian delay, but better late than never, "the FBI has teamed up with securities regulators to tackle the potential threat of market manipulation posed by new computer trading methods that have taken operations beyond the scope of traditional policing." In other words, the SEC has finally realized it can no longer pretend it is not co-opted, but because it has no clue where to even start with HFT, has asked the help of the Feds. Which in itself is hardly reason for optimism, but if there is one thing Hans Gruber has taught us, it is that when the Feds get involved, the first thing they do is cut the power, and in this algo-based market that will end some 99% of all daily manipulative practices we have all grown to love and look forward to every single day.
Gold fell $4.00 or 0.24% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,654.90/oz. Silver climbed to $31.30 in Asia before it eased off to $30.73 and finished with a loss of 1.09%.
A week ago, when Wells Fargo unleashed the so far quite disappointing earnings season for commercial banks (connected hedge funds like Goldman Sachs excluded) we reported that the bank's deposits had risen to a record $176 billion over loans on its books. Today we conduct the same analysis for the other big two commercial banks: Wells Fargo and JPMorgan (we ignore Citi as it is still a partially nationalized disaster). The results are presented below, together with a rather stunning observation.
Did you hear me yesterday...or do I need to say it again. Buy the dip in US Treasuries..it is the only way.
- Central Banks Ponder Going Beyond Inflation Mandates (BBG)
- Bloomberg Weighs Making Bid for The Financial Times (NYT)
- Hedge Funds Fall Out of Love with Equities (FT)
- Obama and Boehner resume US fiscal cliff talks (FT)
- Italy Front-Runner Vows Steady Hand (WSJ)
- Spanish Bailout Caution Grows as Business Lobbies Back Rajoy (BBG)
- Japan sinks into fresh recession (Reuters)
- China economic recovery intact, but weak exports drag (Reuters)
- Greece extends buyback offer to reach target (Reuters) ... but on Friday they promised it was done
- Basel Liquidity Rule May Be Watered Down Amid Crisis (BBG) ... just before they are scrapped
- Irish, Greek Workers Seen Suffering Most in 2013 Amid EU Slump (BBG)
...the pushback from Wall Street was intense and multi-pronged. The Blob oozed through the halls of government, seeking, through its glutinous embrace, to immobilize the legislative and regulatory apparatus, thereby preserving the status quo. The executive jets of the Wall Street air force flew sortie after sortie, transporting high-ranking emissaries from new York to Washington to meet with the SEC, [Senator Chris] Dodd and [Senator Richard] Shelby staff, and the staff of other senators on the Banking Committee. Some of the executives, no doubt less enthusiastically, even met with Josh and me. The research companies and market experts Wall Street employs also raised their voices against us. At times it got ugly. Ted was called a crackpot and dangerously uninformed. He was accused of “politicizing” market regulation (a strange notion considering he wasn’t running for election). It seemed as if Wall Street, which wasn’t used to someone on Capitol Hill asking in-depth questions about arcane issues, wished to silence or marginalize its critics. Industry people would always ask me, “What got Kaufman so interested in this stuff?” Used to politicians whose top priorities were to please their home-state business interests and raise money, they had trouble fathoming that Ted was so interested because it was the right thing to do. He believed in fair markets. And because he was genuinely concerned about emerging issues that threatened the stock market, where half of all Americans keep a sizable portion of their retirement savings.