The notion that individual conviction and bravery is a #MassiveFail when compared to a machine gun nest seems obvious and trite to us today. Strangely enough, though, when it comes to prevalent notions of market behavior it feels like we’re still in 1936. What I mean is that there is still a dominant belief in individual decision-making as the most effective route to successful investing, that if we could just learn a little bit more about Company X or Sector Y we will win the day. Is your individual knowledge and conviction level in Company X important for investing success? Absolutely, in exactly the same way that physical and psychological bravery is important for war-fighting success. Still more important, though, is the strength and cohesion of the groups that share your investment philosophy. Not your specific investment opinions, any more than one soldier has the same amount and type of instantiated bravery as another soldier in his unit, but the coherence of investment goals and operational practices across your fellow market participants in a particular market segment.
Unlike stocks, which see rising prices met with apparently rising demand, it appears the natural laws of supply and (lack of) demand have come to weigh on Alan Greenspan's latest un-mea-culpa. As we noted previously, even at a steeply deflationary 40% off, The Map and The Territory seems 'expensive' and for once, the maestro is unable to blow a bubble in this particular "asset's" value.
The last time China's birdflu epidemic dominated the ether, and internet, was in April, when news of numerous casualties led many to believe that the epidemic was on the verge of breaching all local containment measures. And then, suddenly, all media coverage of China's H7N9 story disappeared as if by Department of Truth (and propaganda) magic. Naturally, the quick popular response was to assume that all was again well since the government no longer made it a notable topic - just like the Japanese government did with Fukushima. However, as in the case of Fukushima, it turns out all may not have been well. As Japan's NHK reports, H7N9 bird flu strain is once again spreading in southern China, claiming the 148th victim of the vicious flu virus. Or perhaps instead of "once again" it was simply "constantly."
Just shy of the new year, financial markets continue to be dominated by the extent of monetary accommodation. Especially in major advanced economies, bonds and stocks have shrugged off the summer sell-off and posted gains on the view that low policy rates and large-scale asset purchases would persist longer. Much attention has been given to the hope of a strengthening in the U.S. economy. In Abe Gulkowitz' latest The PunchLine letter, he highlights the key elements from a very slowly improving labor market to the amazing moves in asset markets with 'all the charts you can eat' in between. The unnatural easing stance, though necessary, spurred an aberrant demand for assets in the riskier end of the spectrum. By and large, such assets have so far lived up to their promise. The new year may again challenge that assumption as the likelihood of unlikely events rises.
Compare and contrast.
CNN’s Jake Tapper: "I think the American people, honestly, want security over freedom."
Benjamin Franklin: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
That right there demonstrates perfectly how far we have fallen culturally.
Massachusetts State police have seized more than 1200 packets of heroin following a traffic stop in the town of Hatfield. CNN reports three people face charges of conspiracy to violate drug laws and possession charges; but in an effort to distinguish their particular 'brand' of addictive chemical, the providers labeled the stash 'Obamacare'. As the police note, "It's just a branding so you can say if this brand is good or bad." - we wonder which?
As we discussed recently, the collapse in the term structure of the US Treasury bond market was/is dramatic to say the least in the last few days. While the world and their asset-gathering mainstream-media strategist 'knows' rates are going higher, BofAML's Macneil Curry warns of the term structure "don't lose sight of the bigger picture" as a break of the rising channel suggests 5s30s could drop dramatically further (and with it all hope of NIM-based levitation to financials).
That yet another major retailer was hacked, as happened last week when Target announced that as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used from November 27 until December 15 at its stores (one wonders why it took the retailer three weeks to realize/announce what was happening) had been "compromised", is no surprise. What was a big surprise is the action one major financial company took in response to the mega hack. The company in question was JPMorgan, and what it did was to tell customers whose debit cards had been used at Target stores during the period in question, that it was limiting use of their cards to cash withdrawals of $100 and purchases to $300 per day. However, what is perhaps most surprising is the sheer number of cards with spending caps: The new limit effects roughly 2 million accounts, or roughly 10% of Chase debit card accounts, according to a bank spokeswoman.
"The powers of financial capitalism had (a) far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland; a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank... sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world." - Carroll Quigley, member of the Council on Foreign Relations
When the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, Navy sailors including Quartermaster Maurice Enis gladly pitched in with rescue efforts. But months later, while still serving aboard the aircraft carrier, he began to notice strange lumps all over his body. Testing revealed he'd been poisoned with radiation, and his illness would get worse. And his fiance and fellow Reagan quartermaster, Jamie Plym, who also spent several months helping near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, also began to develop frightening symptoms, including chronic bronchitis and hemorrhaging. They and 49 other U.S. Navy members who served aboard the Reagan and sister ship the USS Essex now trace illnesses including thyroid and testicular cancers, leukemia and brain tumors to the time spent aboard the massive ship, whose desalination system pulled in seawater that was used for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Perhaps it is because the prevalent theme of the past five years has been the ascent of central planning in the name of the Bernanke wealth effect, headed by Saint Ben himself, that has forced Americans to reassess, and moderate, their belief in "conventional" topics such as god, miracles and heaven. According to a new Harris Poll while a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults do believe in God, this belief is in decline when compared to previous years as just over four in five (82%) expressed a belief in God in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
As an economist, it is getting more difficult to understand the logic underlying current monetary policy in the U.S. There are two main channels by which economists think monetary policy can influence growth and employment. The first is to lower interest rates to spur investment and consumption spending. The second is to induce inflation so real wages drop, spurring output and employment. Since 2008, the central bank has reduced interest rates to almost zero with little to show for it. Since the first channel has failed, only the second channel remains; however, inflation causes an “information extraction” problem.
Over the past several months, Bitcoins have soared in popularity, acceptance and price. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Bitcoin crime followed. As reported here previously, earlier this month, the largest heist in the history of Bitcoin was pulled off when the illegal drug bazaar Sheep Marketplace was plundered, either by hackers or insiders, and about $100 million worth of the currency was stolen from customers. That was only the most recent heist however: the reality is that Bitcoin theft has been around for years. In June of 2011, a user named Allinvain was the victim of what is arguably the first recorded major Bitcoin theft. Since then Bitcoin crime has soared - but like all things Bitcoin, it’s difficult to understand exactly how digital theft works. What are you stealing, exactly? And once you’ve got it, what do you do with it?
Thanks to Bob "I don't get out of bed unless it's over 20" Pisani's daily diatribes about VIX (the so-called 'fear' index), we are supposed to rest assured that all is well in the ever-decreasing horizon world of equity markets. However, while VIX measures the expectations of 'normal' day to day moves in stocks, it does not offer any insight into market participants' perspectives on tail risks (or 'the big one'). CBOE's SKEW index does just that, based on the pricing differences between normal and fat-tail risk pricing in the options market, it provides a measure of the market's belief in extreme events... and for only the 4th time in history, it's flashing a big red warning signal of volatility ahead.