The current elevation in asset prices is clearly beginning to reach levels of exuberance particularly in high yield "junk" bonds (and small caps). This time, like every other time before, will eventually end the same. However, while this time "is not different" in terms of outcome, the fundamental level from which the eventual "reversion to the mean" occurs will likely surprise most of the mainstream "bullish" clergy. Take a step back from the media, and Wall Street commentary, for a moment and make an honest assessment of the financial markets today. If your job is to "bet" when the "odds" of winning are in our favor, then exactly how "strong" is the fundamental hand you are currently betting on? (and are you willing toi bet your retirement on it?)
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery, money laundering and other corruption that spanned his two terms as mayor--including the chaotic years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Mr. Nagin was convicted Feb. 12 of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Mr. Nagin's support for various projects. The bribes came in the form of money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business. The 58-year-old Democrat had defiantly denied any wrongdoing after his 2013 indictment and during his February trial.
History suggests that previously sound assumptions about financial security and recession-proof sectors may not apply in the next recession.
It's different this time...
Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), the federally-backed bank which has been around since 1934, faces a very serious threat to its survival. The most important aspect of this entire fight is the fact that on opposite sides of the debate are not Democrats versus Republicans, but once again Republicans vs. Republicans. We again see tea party Republicans facing off against establishment RINOs. On one side we hear claims by the tea party wing that the Ex-Im merely serves as a conduit for crony capitalism and favoritism to large corporations, or those willing to bribe officials. On the other side, we see establishment Republicans, who are extremely cozy with mega-corporations, maintaing that the institution plays a crucial role in financing American exports to make them competitive. The battle against the Ex-Im bank, a 80 year old institution, is just another example of the sort of changes that happen in Fourth-Turnings. So what does Barack Obama think of the Export-Import bank? As usual, it depends on who you ask, Presidential-candidate Obama, or President-elect Obama.
Ghandi was once asked, "What do you think about Western Civilization?" to which he famously replied "I think it's a good idea." He may as well have been talking about free market capitalism. Capital in the 21st Century has hit the world like a new teen idol sensation. Everybody is drinking the Kool-Aid and it's being held up as the most important book ever written on the subject of how runaway capitalism leads to wealth inequality. Paul Krugman of course, loves it. As does every head of state and political hack in the (formerly) free world. So let's do something different here and accept a core premise of Capital, and say that wealth inequality is increasing, and that it's a bad thing. Where the point is completely missed is in what causes it (ostensibly "free market capitalism") and what to do about it (increase government control, induce more inflation and raise taxes). The point of this essay is to assert that it is not unchecked capital or runaway free markets that cause increasing wealth inequality, but rather that the underlying monetary system itself is hard-coded by an inner temple of ruling elites in a way which creates that inequality.
The damage done by Central Planning has yet to come home to roost. Six years into the Grand Experiment--that Central Planners can pick winners who just happen to be their cronies--the chickens of consequence are still making their way home. And when they finally come home to roost, we will all discover that the economy is much more fragile than advertised by the Central Planners and their media toadies.
President Obama’s populist, class-warring, shut-out-the-legislature, ignore-the-long-term-consequences romp through every corner of life turned to the education sector. Problems with student loan programs are deep-rooted – thanks mostly to the government’s domination of the market – and were only worsened by Obama’s actions this week. In a better world, policymakers would take a cold, hard look at the effects of federally-funded student loan programs, including the good and the bad. Here are a few such observations that you’re unlikely to hear from your president...
Capture, corruption, irreparable harm--and little hope for change.
- Ukraine forces move against separatists (FT)
- China GDP Gauge Seen Showing Deeper Slowdown (BBG)
- China Is Losing Its Taste for Gold (WSJ)
- Regulators Weigh Curbs on Trading Fees (WSJ)
- Obama, Putin Talk as Unrest Roils Eastern Ukraine (WSJ)
- Japan PM talks with BOJ chief, does not push for easing (Reuters)
- BRICS countries to set up their own IMF (RBTH)
- IMF Members Weigh Options to Sidestep U.S. Congress on Overhaul (WSJ)
- Zebra to Buy Motorola Solutions Unit for $3.45 Billion (BBG)
- Chinese Thunder God Herb Works as Well as Pain Therapy (BBG)
Yesterday, a retiring 38-year veteran trial lawyer's remarks shone a brighter light on the farce that the SEC has become in recent years. The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said, adding that his superiors were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases. The agency’s penalties, Kidney said, have become “at most a tollbooth on the bankster turnpike.” As the full letter below shows, he had a lot more to add on just how the toothless agency should be run...
Market bears take the position that stocks are expensive, citing a variety of indicators and arguing that profit margins should “mean revert” from record highs. On the other side, market bulls dispute the indicators and propose that fat margins are no big deal – they might just remain at record highs indefinitely.
“High margins reflect a long-term structural change, not a short-term cyclical one,” according to one account of a popular position. Or “It’s a mistake to think that margins will revert to a long-term mean just for the sake of reverting to a mean.”
The message seems to be that mean reversion is for losers. This is a new era, or it’s a new economy, or whatever. We're paraphrasing, but the story sounds a lot like the capital letter New Economy of the late 1990s. There’s even a technology angle once again, along with huge confidence in monetary policy and recession-free growth. Above all, there’s a notion that the world might be different. Needless to say, the new, new economy story comes with plenty of red flags.
Cronyism for the super wealthy starts at the very top with the Federal Reserve System, which consists of topdown economic central planners who manipulate the money supply and hence interest rates for the benefit of the financial oligarch class. It then trickles down through lobbyist money into the halls of Washington D.C., and ultimately filters down to local governments and then the average person on the street gaming welfare or disability. As such, we now live in a culture of corruption and theft that is pervasive throughout society. As a new report finds, "You can’t reform welfare programs for the poor until you’ve gotten Daddy Warbucks off the dole. Voters will insist on that - as well they should."
Having discussed the links between economic growth and energy resource constraints, and with the current geo-political fireworks as much about energy (costs, supply, and demand) as they are human rights, it would appear the following chart may well become the most-important indicator of future tensions...
If I feed at the trough, because that is what all cattle do, then I will be slaughtered in the killing house, because that is what all cattle do.