David Kotok | Greece, Tragedy & Poetry

rcwhalen's picture

Latest from David Kotok at Cumberland Advisers <http://www.cumber.com/commentary.aspx?file=031012.asp>-- Chris

Greece, Tragedy & Poetry
March 10, 2012  

David Kotok, Chairman & Chief Investment Officer

“PETRUCHIO. Signior Hortensio, ‘twixt such friends as we?Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife, As wealth is burden of my wooing dance,?Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love, As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd  As Socrates’ Xanthippe or a worse, She moves me not, or not removes, at least,  Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough As are the swelling Adriatic seas: I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.”

– William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew


Padua is the center of wealth in money terms, so it equates to the European Central Bank (ECB) under the leadership of Mario Draghi.

Sibyl is the Greek prophetess. In modern times, Sibyl represents the forecasters who have predicted doom, financial contagion, and collapse for the last several years as the Greek debt tragedy unfolded.

Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates. He demonstrated patience with her biting tongue, to his eventual benefit. Modern-day Xanthippes have crowded the media and blogosphere with nastiness. Critical thinking, in accordance with the Socratic method, prevailed for those investors who did not panic but were cool and disciplined.

Florent was a knight who was forced to marry an older and wiser woman. She ultimately saved him. Florentius’ wife is ISDA, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, who showed their integrity by ruling unanimously (15 voters) that Greece did default and that $3.16bn in credit default swaps (CDS) must be settled.

Petruchio is the suitor motivated by greed. In the end, he learns the value of honor, love, and integrity. Is Petruchio the metaphor for Greek unions and civil servants who have been profligate spenders and who have squandered the benefits of the Eurozone’s convergence and integration? Does their greed culminate in generational poverty for their countrymen? Time will tell.

What may investors learn from the Greek debt tragedy?


1. Do not trust any government. Nothing new here. This Greek government invoked the collective action clause (CAC). It retroactively inserted provisions in a debt contract and then imposed them. No sovereign-debt contract is now immune from the same action. All sovereign-debt contracts will carry a risk premium. Buyers of European sovereign debt now act at their own peril.

2. Central bankers ignore Walter Bagehot when they choose to do so. Whatever happened to lending against “good collateral”? Also, central bankers (ECB) are complicit parties to the establishment of a government class and an “all-other” class when it comes to the security provision in sovereign-debt instruments.

3. Legal jurisdictions are important. The Magna Carta is nearly a millennium old. It divided the Western world into those who are descendants under Roman law and those who are the descendants of English law. Greeks and other Europeans are in the Roman law camp, which empowers the state at the expense of the individual. English law attempts to protect the individual from the state. The tension between these two systems continues to the present day. Notice the different treatment of the majority of debt holders under Greek law vs. the minority of debt holders under non-Greek law. Investors who venture out of English law are invited to take note of the risk.

4. Under non-Greek law, ISDA functioned and did the “right thing.” ISDA validated the insidious nature of the CAC. It also did the only thing it could do. Otherwise, the entire CDS structure would collapse. For the full voting record and determinations under ISDA, see: http://www.isda.org/dc/docs/EMEA_Determinations_Committee_Decision_09032...

Europe’s saga of debt tragedy is not over. Portugal’s spread to German debt is 1200 basis points. In Spain the youth unemployment rate is about 35%. Belgium’s debt/GDP ratio is over 100%. Italy is the world’s third largest debtor; its debt/GDP ratio is 120%. Much of Europe is in recession. And European sovereigns will borrow now with the world knowing what can happen to a debt holder.

At Cumberland, we did not own and we will not own debt where a legal system can rewrite a contract, unless disputes (bankruptcy) can be adjudicated by a neutral court. We avoid debt of government structures that create a two-tiered system of “haves and have nots.” That is why we avoided Fannie Mae preferred.

We still believe in English law and American courts. If we lose those, we are all doomed.

As for the Greeks, they are headed for a period of sleeping on the “bed of straw.” They will have to get used to it. That forecast is not from the words of Xanthippe, nor the words of Sibyl. These are the words of an American poet. Wendell Berry wrote:

“By its own logic, greed
Finally destroys itself,
As Lear’s wicked daughters
learned to their horror, as
we are learning to our own.
What greed builds is built
by destruction of the materials
And lives of which it is built.
Only mourners survive.
This is the ‘creative destruction’
of which learned economists
speak in praise. But what is made
by destruction comes down at last
to a stable floor, a bed
of straw, and for those with sight,
light in darkness.”
Cumberland Advisors® is registered with the SEC under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. All information contained herein is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a solicitation or offer to sell securities or investment advisory services. Such an offer can only be made in states and/or international jurisdictions where Cumberland Advisors is either registered or is a Notice Filer or where an exemption from such registration or filing is available. New accounts will not be accepted unless and until all local regulations have been satisfied. This presentation does not purport to be a complete description of our performance or investment services.

Please feel free to forward our commentaries (with proper attribution) to others who may be interested.

For a list of all equity recommendations for the past year, please contact Therese Pantalione at 856-692-6690,ext. 315. It is not our intention to state or imply in any manner that past results and profitability is an indication of future performance. All material presented is compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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winter2012's picture

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ebworthen's picture

“By its own logic, greed
Finally destroys itself..."


q99x2's picture

Germany's deficit went down to 1% since the LTROs. I think I remember just before the first bailout they also found within an accounting error just about the same amount that they had to pay into the IMF for a bailout. Those German statisticians could certainly give the BLS a run for the money.

The take over by whoever is behind the UN is quite apparent now.

b_thunder's picture

"We still believe in English law and American courts"  - it's a good law (on paper), but the American Court System?  Even if you find a rational and unbiased lower-court justices, the Supreme Court and it''s 5 right-wind corrupt ideologues will overrule anyhting that stands in their way.  And besides , in the day and age when the US Attorney General states that the President has a right to exterminate everyone who he thinks is a threat to national security - including US Citizens on the US soil who never committed a crime or fought agains USA on the battlefield, and there's not a damn thing courts can about it -  in this day and age talking about the US courts is like talking about courts in North Korea, 'cause they got jsut as much if not even less power



Solarman's picture

You prefer left wing justices?  They believe im a living constitiutuin, AKA as Roman law. You many hate the right, but they are constituionalists.

Gwaihir's picture

"We still believe in English law and American courts. If we lose those, we are all doomed."

Hilarious. Probably not only has his deposits with MF Global but also is wondering why he never had luck with the CFTC. http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/10/judge-painter-retirement-letter-wsj-article-on-judge-lynch/

"On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor."

I agree with the doomed part.


blindman's picture

hellenic republic. once, but then again, maybe no more?
same with italy. bankers of fiat self serving alterations,
inserted, dopo il fatto , for the sake of the creditors.
isda "right thing" - only thing..damn right. f..ing scam
and let their house of shit collapse.
lending against "good collateral", what ever happened?
ask the isda, they know and will never do the "right thing"
and tell the truth. no doubt. all is fraud and ponzi pyramid
broken promises from the origin, our world view here in 2012.
the isle of patmos, who will buy ? the site of john become
revelator. hmmmm.
“Parted Ways” Music Video Now On VEVO!
the heartless bastards.

Terrorist's picture

All Cumberland holdings are in Federal Reserve Notes, and the monetizing fiat system violates English Law.

sIewie the pi-rat's picture


Kocktok is a CNBS shill

why vomit his bile herE?

Goldtoothchimp09's picture

"We still believe in English law and American courts. If we lose those, we are all doomed."

What of American Law and the Chrysler fiasco?!?!

Lux Fiat's picture

What of American law and the MF Global fiasco?  We already had legislative and regulatory capture, now we are getting insights into the extent of judicial capture.  I think Kotok is a bit behind the curve on this one.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Yes, David Kotok is totally blind here. He thinks American courts are like in Hollywood movies, when actually 'justice' in the US legal system died decades ago ... 2.3 million prisoners in the US gulag ... instant disbarment and even jailing of any US lawyer that confronts court corruption, like Richard Fine ... massive asset confiscations by politically-connected people and anyone able to access bribed judges ... and so on.

Part of the reason Kotok is blind is that the CIA's Google Inc. blocks websites on US judicial corruption ... like the journalism of our political refugee from the US in Brussels, one of the world's important experts on that corruption before Google 'erased' him ... he barely got out of America alive.

This is the site from where I took my avatar ... live photo of Google Inc. censoring the internet about the corruption of US judges and courts:

Live Photo: Google Inc. Caught Censoring EU Search Results (for USA - CIA)
Google Internet Censorship - Censure d'Internet par Google - Internet censuur door Google

Articles on US court corruption blocked by the CIA's Google Inc., with the author slandered with hoaxes planted by US agents on the CIA's Wikipedia, while the author is blocked by Google Inc. from replying ...:

Foreign Companies Face Risk of US Court Corruption:
Doing Business in the Big Bribery Nation

America's Corrupt Legal System -
A Danger to Visitors, Travellers as Well as USA Residents

Americans Murdering Their Judges, and the US Crisis of Judicial Corruption

Current case: Wikipedia and Google in the attack on Europe, trying to murder European journalists exposing US judicial corruption:
Report to the EU Parliament and the Commission of the European Union
Anti-Competition Crimes of EU Internet Monopoly Google Inc. (with CIA) and Wikipedia (with CIA), to Erase EU Journalism, to Slander and Murder EU - Polish Citizen, Writer, Journalist,  Non-Zionist Jew, and Harvard graduate Dr Les (Leszek - Leslie) Sachs
Original in pdf format:

Hugo Chavez's picture

The theft at MF Global happened because of U.K. law not american law. That is why hedgies and banks and other financial organizations have a base in London even if they are ostensibly american companies.

disabledvet's picture

actually it's far simpler: "the governments have cut off the funding to the courts." outside of "Divorce Court" there's no largesse for the Judicial Branch. Having said that "we do however have two systems of justice in the United States"...which is unprecedented. "one for you and me...and one for the terrorist called you an me." Before i would steal from the Government i might consider this fact--especially now that the war effort is going "full retard."

Eric L. Prentis's picture

Dear David Kotok at Cumberland Advisers:

Well said.

Joebloinvestor's picture

The ability to retroactively modify a contract is absurd.

Re-write or re-negotiate, yes.

No government should be allowed to buy these instruments of destruction nor should they.


nmewn's picture

3. Legal jurisdictions are important. The Magna Carta is nearly a millennium old. It divided the Western world into those who are descendants under Roman law and those who are the descendants of English law. Greeks and other Europeans are in the Roman law camp, which empowers the state at the expense of the individual. English law attempts to protect the individual from the state. The tension between these two systems continues to the present day. Notice the different treatment of the majority of debt holders under Greek law vs. the minority of debt holders under non-Greek law. Investors who venture out of English law are invited to take note of the risk.

This is really what it all boils down to isn't it?

"We still believe in English law and American courts. If we lose those, we are all doomed."

The jury is still out on that ;-)

Great read!

philipat's picture

Just to note that the debt to GDP ratio in The US is now also over 100% and growing at a rate of an additional 10 percentage points per annum. At that rate, the US will soon be the leader again.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

The truth is exactly the opposite of what Kotok writes. He is repeating idiot Anglo-American schoolboy propaganda that the Anglo legal systems are 'better'.

The Americans HAVE LOST any hope of justice from their legal system. Maybe the USA is thus 'doomed' as Kotok writes.

Not only is the American Anglo legal-judicial system the most corrupt in the develeped world ... its corruption hidden by censorship by Google Inc. (see my post below with links proving that) ...

But the legal system is much better in Continental Europe in the Napoleonic Code heritage countries.

In Europe, the most people in jail, the most legal harassment, the most fear of law and lawyers, is in the UK, under 'English law', which tends to produce 'legalism', the use of the legal system by rich people as a tool of harassment against common people. But Britain is only 15% as bad as the US judicial legal nightmare.

In the Napoleonic law heritage countries, there is almost no one in jail ... very little legalistic oppression, very little harassment of people by the law or lawyers ... judges are much more restrained ...

Because the heritage of the French revolution, is that the LAW serves the people, who have the right to REVOLUTION IN THE STREETS. Democracy IS precisely PEOPLE IN THE STREETS, not written laws and 'Constitutions', which just turn into words being manipulated by lawyers working for oligarchs ... like the way the US Constitution is totally dead, as a bunch of smirking US gangster federal judges in black robes, issue verbose lies about how it 'does not apply' to whatever poor victim is asking for justice from them.

Many Europeans know this now. In fact, your human rights and property are much safer in Napoleonic Law Continental Europe.

Hugo Chavez's picture

Either system can produce just results. Each system depends on good faith and virtue. Where that is lacking no system will work.

disabledvet's picture

it's "corrupt" in the sense that it protects the propertied interests against all others. MF Global stands out because it is such a blatant exception--indeed "brazen" comes to mind. These attitudes adjust very quickly as "soldiers kill 19 Afghan people just because." Whatever thoughts this Administration ever had of peace (none--President Obama is revenge incarnate) has quickly dissipated over the reality of "what a war machine really looks like." And they have built quite the war machine indeed--"should last a thousand years." It should not come as a surprise of course that those who have ever actually carried a gun nor ever had to fire on in anger really don't care how many they end up sending "into the Sandbox" to do just that. I typed both here and at Seeking Alpha six months ago about the importance of "going full on peace process" after the President's stunning victory in Libya. "What peace process" you ask? What peace process indeed. Needless to say "equities have soared on the news...

Goldtoothchimp09's picture

we've already had Chrysler bondholders screwed retroactively - for the political benefit of the Administration.

nmewn's picture

Yes, but it wasn't the first time the "subjects" have been called upon to bail out oligarchs for their folly.

I'm old enough to remember Lee Iacocca ;-)

Now everyone can sit around and emotionally say it's for the "common good" but ultimately it leads to destruction anyways...from class/societal trust, to individual rights, to contract law.

Instead of Lee Iacocca (back then) or GM or Chrysler again now, bearing the cost/price exclusively for bad business decisions on their part, everyone else gets to bear the cost.

It's similar to saving a drowning man in a lot of ways...if you swim out you may save him or he may pull you under with him or you may have just saved a serial killer or a saint...you didn't know him before you seen him thrashing around out there but as a "commoner" I'm a little sick of being forced (with a state issued gun at my head) to bail out serial dollar killers.

Doña K's picture

There is also the fact that many times recently, injustices do not even make it to the courts. Thus, the system is broken.

E.g. Banksters, real estate fraudsters, Corzine, Obama, Holder, Hank Paulson, Bernanke, Angello and friends and on and on.

nmewn's picture

There is also the injustice of the state, forced to do the bidding of complete imbeciles and the criminally insane.

Case in point, because Karma really is a bitch.

"Our Fisker Karma cost us $107,850. It is super sleek, high-tech—and now it’s broken.

We have owned our car for just a few days; it has less than 200 miles on its odometer. While doing speedometer calibration runs on our test track (a procedure we do for every test car before putting it in service by driving the car at a constant 65 mph between two measured points), the dashboard flashed a message and sounded a “bing“ showing a major fault. Our technician got the car off the track and put it into Park to go through the owner’s manual to interpret the warning. At that point, the transmission went into Neutral and wouldn’t engage any gear through its electronic shifter except Park and Neutral.

We let the car sit for about an hour and restarted it. We could now engage Drive and the same error message disappeared. After moving it only a few feet the error message reappeared and when we tried to engage Reverse the transmission went straight to Park and again no motion gear could be engaged. After calling the dealer, which is about 100 miles away, they promptly sent a flatbed tow truck to haul away the disabled Fisker.


Because every elitist Hollywood snob believes they have an inherent "right" to have their one hundred thousand dollar, state sponsored, tax subsidized, hybrid, earth friendly sports car towed back to the dealership at someone elses expense (by a diesel tow truck)...I look for this to be another campaign promise.

A tow truck on every street corner!!!...think of the employment opportunities those who majored in gender studies ;-)

John_Coltrane's picture

Interesting story.  Just bought some puts on TSLA on Friday.  Like GRPN its hard to figure out who is "investing" in these loser companies.  Like FSLR I put a target price on $0.0 on all these companies.  Without huge subsidies they have flawed products with built in loses far into the future.

Racer's picture

Elias Canetti  "Crowds and Power"

Angkhor Wat



same as it ever was