As reported yesterday, at 9:30 am this morning the permanent subcommittee on investigations will hold a hearing in which it will expose the latest tax-evasion loophole used by select high-frequency trading hedge funds which has the technical name "basket options", but which, thanks to Carl Levin's mnemonic of fictional derivatives" will be better known as such (read the full story How RenTec Made More Than $34 Billion In Profits Since 1998: "Fictional Derivatives"). It will be interesting to learn, although we doubt it will be discussed, how in light of collapsing trading volumes for underlying securities, how much of the record derivative and future trading volume in recent years is directly related to this kind of tax-evading trading, and perhaps just as important, whether Congress and the IRS will crack down on such practices in the future.
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From 1998 to 2013, Barclays and Deutsche Bank sold 199 basket options to hedge funds which used them to conduct more than $100 billion in trades. The subcommittee focused on options involving two of the largest basket option users, Renaissance Technology Corp. LLC (“RenTec”) and George Weiss Associates. The hedge funds often exercised the options shortly after the one-year mark and claimed the trading profits were eligible for the lower income tax rate that applies to long-term capital gains on assets held for at least a year. RenTec claimed it could treat the trading profits as long term gains, even though it executed an average of 26 to 39 million trades per year and held many positions for mere seconds. Data provided by the participants indicates that basket options produced about $34 billion in trading profits for RenTec alone, and more than $1 billion in financing and trading fees for the two banks.
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Eventually every bubble comes to an abrupt end
The total tonnage of economic malarkey being shoveled over the American public these days would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Nazi Minister of “Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) turn green in his grave with envy. It’s a staggering phenomenon because little about it is conspiratorial; rather, it’s the consensual expression of a public that wants desperately to believe things that are untrue, and an economic leadership equally credulous, unmanned, and avid to furnish the necessary narratives that might preserve their jobs and perqs.
It's common sense - everyone knows that interest rates are going to rise (how can they fall any lower?) Inflation will come back (because the Fed said so), economic growth will flourish (because the Fed said so), and longer-term bond yields will surge in a bond-bull-destroying renaissance proving stock market speculators right all along. Except that isn't what history shows us... When a central bank dominates the domestic bond market, all bets are off (whether economically rational or not). When a sovereign simply cannot afford higher interest rates, all bets are off (no matter what your economic textbook says).
What this chart shows is that when it comes to core manufacturing and service trade, that which excludes petroleum, the US trade deficit hit some $49 billion dollars in the month of May, the highest trade deficit ever recorded! In other words, far from doubling US exports, Obama is on pace to make the export segment of the US economy the weakest it has ever been, leading to millions of export-producing jobs gone for ever (but fear not, they will be promptly replaced by part-time jobs). It also means that the collapse in Q1 GDP, much of which was driven by tumbling net exports, will continue as America appear largely unable to pull itself out of its international trade funk, much less doubling its exports.
It doesn't seem logical that the S&P should be positively correlated to oil prices--so it is more likely that both records are correlated to the same thing--inflation. But what to make of the last 18 months, in which we see an almost vertical rise in the stock market without an increase in the oil price? Is an American renaissance in the works, powered by increased American oil production? Or is it due to the much rumored mass purchase of securities by financial institutions, powered by monetary creation? Is it being done to prevent another period of negative correlation, which might foretell another economic crisis?
As individuals, it is entirely acceptable to be "optimistic" about the future. However, "optimism" and "pessimism" are emotional biases that tend to obfuscate the critical thinking required to effectively assess the "risks". The current "hope" that Q1 was simply a "weather related" anomaly is also an emotionally driven skew. The underlying data suggests that while "weather" did play a role in the sluggishness of the economy, it was also just a reflection of the continued "boom bust" cycle that has existed since the end of the financial crisis. The current downturn in real final sales suggests that the underlying strength in the economy remains extremely fragile. More importantly, with final sales below levels normally associated with the onset of recessions, it suggests that the current rebound in activity from the sharp decline in Q1 could be transient.
One can almost smell the CapEx renaissance.... Any minute now.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Empire Fed jumped to 19.28, notably better than the 15.00 expectation and reached highs not seen since June 2010, and up from the 19.01 last month. It doesn't get much better than that - even in the V-shaped recovery off the recession lows: if only sentiment surveys were the same as hard data - the US recovery would never be stronger. Alas, despite all this exuberant cycle high-ness - if only in the eyes of beholders, and certainly not in Q1 US GDP of -2.0%, the number of employees index tumbles from 20.88 to 10.75 and worse still the forward-looking index dropped after 3 months of gains. However, the worst news, comes for those who continue to, incorrectly, predict a CapEx renaissance: The capital expenditures index fell for a second consecutive month, dropping to 11.8, and the lowest since February.
Now that Q2 is not shaping up to be much better than Q1, other, mostly climatic, excuses have arisen: such as El Nino, the California drought, and even suggestions that, gasp, as a result of the Fed's endless meddling in the economy, the terminal growth rate of the world has been permanently lowered to 2% or lower. What is sadder for economists, even formerly respectable ones, is that overnight it was none other than Tyler Cowen who, writing in the New York Times, came up with yet another theory to explain the "continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies." In his own words: "An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace." That's right - blame it on the lack of war!
At 906, the Baltic Dry Index slumped to 12-month lows showing absolutely no signs whatsoever of the Q2 renaissance in global growth that has been heralded by all the highly-paid meteoroconomists. In fact, thanks to increasing fears over China's commodity financing ponzi scheme, this is the worst year for the Baltic Dry on record. Of course, we will hear the echo chamber of 'over-supply' of ships rather than any 'under-demand' of actual aggregate product argument but the circularity of this argument is entirely lost on status quo huggers who viewed rising dry bulk commodity prices as indicative of growth (and built more ships) as opposed to the ponzi-financing scheme it really was... mal-investment writ large once again in a manipulated (and mismanaged) world.
Why unrealistic valuations are a good way to set up a company for difficulties in later stage financing