So Facebook keeps falling, and is now floating around the $27 mark. We’re a third of the way down to my IPO valuation of FB as worth roughly $2-4 a share (or 5-10 times earnings), although I wouldn’t be surprised for the market to stabilise at a higher price (at least until the next earnings figures come out and reveal — shock horror — that Facebook is terrible at making money). The really stunning thing is that even after all these falls, FB is still trading at 86 times earnings. What the hell did Morgan Stanley think they were doing valuing an IPO without any viable profit model at over 100 times earnings? The answer is that this was an exit strategy. This IPO was about the people who got in early passing on a stick of dynamite to a greater fool which incidentally is precisely the same bubble mentality business model as bond investors who are currently buying negative-real-yielding treasuries at 1.6% hoping to pass them onto a greater fool at 0.5% (good luck with that).
There is much hand-wringing about the vast income disparity in the U.S. between the top 5% and the bottom 25%, and precious little offered as a solution. Once again we are told the problem is "complex" and thus by inference, insoluble. Actually, it's easily addressed with one simple act: restore the minimum wage to its 1969 level, and adjust it for the inflation that has been officially under-reported. If you go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator and plug in $1.60 (the minimum wage in 1969 when I started working summers in high school) and select the year 1969, you find that in 2012 dollars the minimum wage should be $10 per hour if it were to match the rate considered "reasonable" 43 years ago, when the nation was significantly less wealthy and much less productive. The current Federal minimum wage is $7.25, though states can raise it at their discretion. State rates runs from $7.25 to $8.25, with Washington state the one outlier at $9.04/hour. In 40 years of unparalleled wealth and income creation, the U.S. minimum wage has declined by roughly a third in real terms. "Official" measures of inflation have been gamed and massaged for decades to artificially lower the rate, for a variety of reasons: to mask the destructiveness to purchasing power of Federal Reserve policy, to lower the annual cost-of-living increases to Social Security recipients, and to generally make inept politicians look more competent than reality would allow.
We know the U.S. is a big and liquid (though not really very transparent) market. We know that the rest of the world — led by Europe’s myriad issues, and China’s bursting housing bubble — is teetering on the edge of a precipice, and without a miracle will fall (perhaps sooner, rather than later). But we also know that America is inextricably interconnected to this mess. If Europe (or China or both) disintegrates, triggering (another) global default cascade, America will be stung by its European banking exposures, its exposures to global energy markets and global trade flows. Simply, there cannot be financial decoupling, not in this hyper-connected, hyper-leveraged world.
All of this suggests a global crash or proto-crash will be followed by a huge global money printing operation, probably spearheaded by the Fed. Don’t let the Europeans fool anyone, either — Germany will not let the Euro crumble for fear of money printing. When push comes to shove they will print and fiscally consolidate to save their pet project (though perhaps demanding gold as collateral, and perhaps kicking out some delinquents). China will spew trillions of stimulus money into more and deeper malinvestment (why have ten ghost cities when you can have fifty? Good news for aggregate demand!).
We are constantly told all our problems are too complex to be addressed with simple "big idea" solutions. Complex problems require complex solutions, we are assured, and so the "solutions" conjured by the Central State/Cartel Status Quo are so convoluted and complex (for example, the 2,319-page Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act or the 2,074-page Obamacare bill) that legislators say they must "pass the bill to see what's in it." The real "solution" is to see that complexity itself is the roadblock to radical reformation of failed systems. Complexity is the subterfuge the Status Quo uses to erect simulacra "reforms" while further consolidating their power behind the artificial moat of complexity. Over the next three days, I will present three "big idea" solutions that cut through the self-serving thicket of complexity. Nature is complex, but it operates according to a set of relatively simple rules. The interactions can be complex but the guiding principles can be, and indeed, must be, simple. Big Idea One: Radically lower the cost basis of the entire U.S. economy. The cost basis of any activity is self-evident: what are the total costs of the production of a good or service? The surplus produced is the net profit which can be spent on consumption or invested in productive assets (or squandered in mal-investments).
Is there a bottom in housing? It is entirely possible. However, for all the reasons stated herein, both financial, economic and psycholgoical, the "calls" for a housing recovery may be a bit premature. This is particularly true if our estimation of an economic recession in the next 18 months comes to fruition. The strains on the housing market caused by a recession will cause a secondary decline in housing. The reality of a recession is not a question of "if" — it is only a question of "when" and how bad will it be?
There’s a rather peculiar tribe of people in northern Uganda known as the Ik that has completely mystified anthropologists for decades. You see, the Ik are unlike just about any other people on the planet in that they shun cooperation, community, and even family. Due to the constant disruption of national boundaries in Africa coupled with terminal drought and famine conditions, the Ik have a very limited means of survival. As such, their culture epitomizes the ‘every man for himself’ mentality. Family means nothing. One brother could be starving to death, and the other brother with a belly full of food, and neither would have the slightest thought of sharing. It simply does not register with them. Each member of the tribe typically spends long periods in isolation searching for food and water. Their only reason for marriage is simply that it’s more convenient to build homes in pairs. Nothing else is shared… and most of the time, an Ik husband and wife will seldom be home at the same time. Children are occasionally produced from conjugal relationships, generally because they scare off birds and pests from the agricultural fields. By the age of 3, Ik children are kicked out of the home and left to fend for themselves. And they’re not weaned off, either, it’s sink or swim. All of this sounds shocking to westerners.
Experienced investors try to avoid the "confirmation bias" trap by asking what supports the other side of the trade. Confirmation bias is our instinct to find data to support our position once it is taken. To counter this bias, we must attempt to build a plausible case against our position. If the effort is sincere, we gain a fuller understanding of the market we are playing (or perhaps avoiding). That the global economy is going to heck in a handbasket is self-evident. If you over-weight anecdotal "on the ground" evidence and fade the ginned-up official statistics, it is obvious the global slowdown is picking up speed in Europe and China, two of the world's largest "linchpin" economies.
I don’t have a problem with Obama — or anyone else — smoking dope. As far as I am concerned, consenting adults have the liberty to do whatever they like so long as they don’t hurt others, or take their liberty or property. I don’t have a problem with Obama — or anyone else — defining themselves by smoking dope.
I have a problem with hypocrisy.
We all know that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by President Obama on New Year’s Eve contained a now-struck-down provision to authorise the indefinite detention of American citizens on US soil. But did you know that the NDAA also paves the way for war with Iran? From Dennis Kucinich:
Section (6) rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Section (7) urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to Iranian enrichment. This language represents a significant shift in U.S. policy and would guarantee that talks with Iran, currently scheduled for May 23, would fail. Current U.S. policy is that Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, H. Res. 568 draws the “redline” for military action at Iran achieving a nuclear weapons “capability,” a nebulous and undefined term that could include a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, it is likely that a negotiated deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to prevent war would provide for Iranian enrichment for peaceful purposes under the framework of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty with strict safeguards and inspections. This language makes such a negotiated solution impossible. At the same time, the language lowers the threshold for attacking Iran. Countries with nuclear weapons “capability” could include many other countries like Japan or Brazil. It is an unrealistic threshold.
The notion of a “nuclear weapons capability” seems like a dangerously low standard. Let us not forget that Mossad, the CIA and the IAEA agree that Iran does not have a bomb, is not building one, has no plans to build one.
While the Spanish government feverishly attempts to wrap up the country’s euphemistic financial system reform, the ever-expanding black holes, multiple balance-sheets restructuring with infinite amounts of public funds and reiterated calls for the need to further consolidate financial institutions seem to be setting up the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy of Mayan proportions. Hopefully, this time around, we can learn from the not-so-ancient Mesoamericans’ hard-learnt lessons of the dangers implied in the state breaking the rules of free market capitalism when bailing out institutions and interest groups at the taxpayers’ expense. If we don’t, at least the endgame should not take anyone by surprise.
The word "sacrifice" has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The politicians we elect (those who dare speak the truth of our impoverishment and complicity don't get elected--we abhor and fear the truth) have ground the word "sacrifice" into meaningless with overuse; it now means nothing but yet another clarion-call to swallow lies and artifice to protect our share of the loot. The government can't be the problem, because the government issues me a nice check every month. And so we cling to easy falsehoods... The problem is our consumerist, Central-State dominated society/economy that depends on ever-rising debt and and leverage is unsustainable, and placating ourselves with expedient simplicities that shift the accountability and responsibility from ourselves to someone or something else solves nothing. This reliance on excuses, denial and expediency is the hallmark of adolescence; in adulthood, these are the hallmarks of failure and pathology.
Is this what we've become, brittle, simulacra "grown-ups" who are incapable of acknowledging the truth of our situation? If we cannot dare acknowledging reality, then how can we solve our problems? If we cannot bear an awareness of our systemic rot and unsustainability, then how can we move past denial and expediency? If we have lost the ability to live within our means and to acknowledge difficult facts, then we have lost everything: our national integrity, our ability to problem-solve, our vigor and our future.
As Americans mindlessly celebrate another Memorial Day with cookouts, beer and burgers, the U.S. war machine keeps churning. As we brutally enforce our will on foreign countries, we create more people that hate us. They don’t hate us for our freedom. They hate us because we have invaded and occupied their countries. They hate us because we kill innocent people with predator drones. They hate us for our hypocrisy regarding democracy and freedom. Just when we had the opportunity to make a sensible decision by leaving Iraq and exiting the Middle East quagmire, Obama made the abysmal choice to casually sacrifice more troops in the Afghan shithole. We have thrown over $1.3 trillion down Middle East rat holes over the last 11 years with no discernible benefit to the citizens of the United States. George Bush and Barack Obama did this to prove they were true statesmen. The Soviet Union killed over 1 million Afghans, while driving another 5 million out of the country and retreated as a bankrupted and defeated shell after ten years. Young Americans continue to die, for whom and for what? Our foreign policy during the last eleven years can be summed up in one military term, SNAFU – Situation Normal All Fucked Up. These endless foreign interventions under the guise of a War on Terror are a smoke screen for what is really going on in this country. When a government has unsolvable domestic problems, they try to distract the willfully ignorant masses by proactively creating foreign conflicts based upon false pretenses. General Douglas MacArthur understood this danger to our liberty.
“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
In Christian ethics – although not in exclusivity – there are a number of vices, most often referred to as the seven deadly or capital sins, which depict the antithetical side of virtue. Of the seven, avarice or greed (Avaritia in Latin) comes at the head of the list for me since its practice affects the wellbeing of others, and not just those who profess it. And it was this lady, Avaritia, who walked the Red Carpet a week ago, Friday, May 18, in a glittering dress that reminded us of what rapacious capitalism is all about, as shares of Facebook started trading past their scheduled time in the NASDAQ. A very surprising opening with a larger (25 percent) number of shares issued for trade, at a much higher (52 percent) price… or a “more aggressive” price in Wall Street IPO parlance.
In twenty or thrity years, I expect future monetary historians looking back on this period of history to frequently misquote Ernest Hemingway:
How did the dollar die? First it died slowly — then all at once.
The slow death began with the dollar’s birth as a global reserve currency. America was creditor and manufacturer to the world, and the capitalist superpower. People around the globe transacted overwhelmingly in dollars. Above all else, people needed dollars to conduct trade, and they were willing to pay richly for them, and for dollar-denominated debt
Only in public schools and universities is the fairy tale still taught that governments are representative of the people. The blue collared man on the street realizes the chips are stacked against him. For those who don’t have political connections, the pseudo fascist system that is still referred to as “capitalism” in the U.S. is akin to a casino game of chance. That is, the odds are always in the house’s favor. The house is the federal leviathan and its equivalent at the state and local level as well as the big, cartelized industries which feed off government protection. With Obamacare, the middle class will end up being liable for yet another entitlement program that, like any other government initiative, will cost more than was initially estimated. Worse yet, they will be bombarded with advertisements they paid for which attempt to convince them that Uncle Sam has once again delivered prosperity with a badge and a gun. The disheartening part is some Americans will be foolish enough to actually believe it.