Not to be outdone by his partner Charlie Munger (who offended many with his comments that "gold is a great thing to sew onto your garments if you're a Jewish family in Vienna in 1939,"), Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett decides to take on Europe (and The Big Lebowski), and particularly the Greeks in today's 'perhaps it's time to just STFU' moment. Responding to questions about Europe's future, Buffett compares Greece to a "dog peeing on the carpet" of Europe, suggesting Germany stop "rewarding behavior you want to get rid of."
The day the Buffet "value-investing" fanatics have been looking forward to all year, almost as much as the annual pilgrimage to Omaha, has finally arrived - hours ago Warren Buffett released his historic, 50th annual letter to shareholders, which is extra special because as the Oracle notes in the foreword, "Fifty years ago, today’s management took charge at Berkshire. For this Golden Anniversary, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger each wrote his views of what has happened at Berkshire during the past 50 years and what each expects during the next 50."
Despite the authorities' best efforts to keep everything orderly, we know how this global Game of Geopolitical Tetris ends: "Players lose a typical game of Tetris when they can no longer keep up with the increasing speed, and the Tetriminos stack up to the top of the playing field. This is commonly referred to as topping out."
"I’m tired of being outraged!"
Every year, David Collum writes a detailed "Year in Review" synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year's is no exception. "I have not seen a year in which so many risks - some truly existential - piled up so quickly. Each risk has its own, often unknown, probability of morphing into a destructive force. It feels like we’re in the final throes of a geopolitical Game of Tetris as financial and political authorities race to place the pieces correctly. But the acceleration is palpable. The proximate trigger for pain and ultimately a collapse can be small, as anyone who’s ever stepped barefoot on a Lego knows..."
A few points the "stocks are cheap" crowd should consider.
On Sunday in Brisbane the G20 will announce that bank deposits are just part of commercial banks’ capital structure, and also that they are far from the most senior portion of that structure. With deposits then subjected to a decline in nominal value following a bank failure, it is self-evident that a bank deposit is no longer money in the way a banknote is. If a banknote cannot be subjected to a decline in nominal value, we need to ask whether banknotes can act as a superior store of value than bank deposits? If that is the case, will some investors prefer banknotes to bank deposits as a form of savings? Such a change in preference is known as a "bank run."
With the revelations of systemic, widespread corporate criminality of banking institutions in recent years, it is clear that global Bank CEOs are becoming the new Drug Lords.
We have corporate insiders selling the farm, investment legends warning of a collapse, institutional investors selling stocks, and global growth slowing rapidly.
- Bubble Paranoia Setting in as S&P 500 Surge Stirs Angst (BBG)
- But how will math PhDs determine "fair value" - Wall Street Techs Take Secrets to Next Job at Their Peril (BBG)
- U.S., EU Escalate Russia Sanctions as Putin Holds Firm (Bloomberg)
- Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax (WSJ)
- Gaza humanitarian truce goes into force, hours after tunnel clash (Reuters)
- Barclays, Deutsche Bank Said to Face U.S. Senate Hearing (BBG)
- ECB Asset Buying Far Off and May Not Come, Hansson Says (BBG)
- Time Warner win would make Murdoch U.S. media king (Reuters)
- Costly Vertex Drug Is Denied, and Medicaid Patients Sue (WSJ)
- China Rallying for All Wrong Reasons to Top-Rated Analyst (BBG)
- GM recalls some cars with problematic switches; judges others safe (Reuters)
I never thought a visit to Omaha would trigger an appreciation of the role Icahn and other activist investors play in corporate America.
A division of the U.S. military known as the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), which studies threats to national security (i.e., the status quo’s grip on power) has listed Bitcoin amongst a number of potential terrorist threats. Of course, as we and many others have noted repeatedly, anything which threatens the prevailing criminal status quo will be merely labeled a “terrorist threat” in order to neutralize it. Just in case you aren’t yet convinced of how insane the folks at CTTSO are, “also on the CTTSO’s list of terrorism research topics were Android, Motorola, social media and virtual reality.” What has happened to this country...
None other than status-quo-hugger Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger took aim at the scourge of HFT this morning; blasting high-frequency traders as "the functional equivalent of letting rats into a granary," and exclaims "it does the rest of civilization no good at all." Buffett reminds that HFT is "not a liquidity provider, " explaining that while it does produce volume, that is not the same as liquidity; and while the Oracle opines (incorrectly) that the small investor has never had it so good, Munger is quick to point out that the money HFT makes does not come from heaven and in fact it is the small investor who is hurt by the fact that large investors (who mostly act on small investors' behalf) are severely impacted. Even the usually abstinent Bill Gates remarks upon HFT as "adding no value.. because when the liquidity is needed, it isn't there." Munger sums it up: "I don't like it."
Echoing Charlie Munger, Oaktree's Howard Marks warns today's institutional and retail investors that "everything that’s important in investing is counterintuitive, and everything that’s obvious is wrong." These words seem critically important at a time when the world and his pet rabbit is a self-proclaimed stock-picking export. Be "uncomfortably idiosyncratic," Marks advises, noting thaty most great investments begin in discomfort as "non-conformists don’t enjoy the warmth that comes with being at the center of the herd." Dare to be different is his message, "dare to be wrong," or as Charlie Munger told him, "it’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid." While Marks philosophically adds that "being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong," he warns the lulled masses that "you can’t take the same actions as everyone else and expect to outperform."
The blog posts and defenses of high frequency trading in the past week have come with dizzying high frequency. Flash Boys has struck many a nerve; the truth can be a bitter pill at times. And of course, the pro-HFT defenses are all made by many who are very, very staked in the status quo of our market structure. Now, bloggers using twitter is one thing; conflicted insiders using television to make their HFT defenses are another.
All you need to know about the New Normal breed of crony capitalism and unbridled hypocrisy is once again best exemplified by the following quote by Charlie Munger - the lifetime business partner of crony capitalist par excellence Warren Buffett - from May 2013, in which he said that "I think it is very stupid to allow a system to evolve where half of the trading is a bunch of short term people trying to get information one millionth of a nanosecond ahead of somebody else. It's legalized front-running. I think it is basically evil and I don't think it should have ever been allowed to reach the size that it did. Why should all of us pay a little group of people to engage in legalized front-running of our orders?" Noble, noble words Charlie. What Munger, however, did not disclose is that as part of the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Business Wire news service, the company was enabling just this "basically evil" frontrunning, by allowing some, those who could afford the hefty fee of course, to make Munger and Buffett even richer and to subscribe to BW's HFT direct news access which gave them a few millisecond headstart and in the process frontrun everyone else.