David Einhorn provides some probing and uncensored thoughts at today's Value Investing Congress. Primary among them is the observation of congruity between the near-collapse of the bank business models and the comparable outcome that might occur if a currency (wink wink, dollar) ends up collapsing - an outcome the Fed Chairman desires more than anything:
The failure of Lehman meant that barring extraordinary measures, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs would have failed as the credit market realized that if the government were willing to permit failures, then the cost of financing such institutions needed to be re-priced so as to invalidate their business models.
I believe there is a real possibility that the collapse of any of the major currencies could have a similar domino effect on re-assessing the credit risk of the other fiat currencies run by countries with structural deficits and large, unfunded commitments to aging populations.
Also, never one to back off from a chance to attack his favorite pet topic, rating agencies, Einhorn does just that:
[S]tructural risks are exacerbated by the continued presence of credit rating agencies that inspire false confidence with potentially catastrophic results by over-rating the sovereign debt of the largest countries. There is no reason to believe that the rating agencies will do a better job on sovereign risk than they have done on corporate or structured finance risks.
My firm recently met with a Moody’s sovereign risk team covering twenty countries in Asia and the Middle East. They have only four professionals covering the entire region. Moody’s does not have a long-term quantitative model that incorporates changes in the population, incomes, expected tax rates, and so forth. They use a short-term outlook – only 12-18 months – to analyze data to assess countries’ abilities to finance themselves. Moody’s makes five-year medium-term qualitative assessments for each country, but does not appear to do any long-term quantitative or critical work.
Their main role, again, appears to be to tell everyone that things are fine, until a real crisis emerges at which point they will pile-on credit downgrades at the least opportune moment, making a difficult situation even more difficult for the authorities to manage.
Additionally, and relevantly to the ongoing debate over gold, David had this to say about the precious metal:
I have seen many people debate whether gold is a bet on inflation or deflation. As I see it, it is neither. Gold does well when monetary and fiscal policies are poor and does poorly when they appear sensible. Gold did very well during the Great Depression when FDR debased the currency. It did well again in the money printing 1970s, but collapsed in response to Paul Volcker’s austerity. It ultimately made a bottom around 2001 when the excitement about our future budget surpluses peaked.
Prospectively, gold should do fine unless our leaders implement much greater fiscal and monetary restraint than appears likely. Of course, gold should do very well if there is a sovereign debt default or currency crisis.
Lastly, Greenlight's outspoken leader does not cover his true feeling about the administration:
A few weeks ago, the Office of Inspector General called out the Treasury Department for misrepresenting the position of the banks last fall. The Treasury’s response was an unapologetic expression that amounted to saying that at that point “doing whatever it takes” meant pulling a Colonel Jessup: “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” At least we know what we are dealing with.
When I watch Chairman Bernanke, Secretary Geithner and Mr. Summers on TV, read speeches written by the Fed Governors, observe the “stimulus” black hole, and think about our short-termism and lack of fiscal discipline and political will, my instinct is to want to short the dollar. But then I look at the other major currencies. The Euro, the Yen, and the British Pound might be worse. So, I conclude that picking one these currencies is like choosing my favorite dental procedure. And I decide holding gold is better than holding cash, especially now, where both earn no yield.
Along these same lines, we have bought long-dated options on much higher U.S. and Japanese interest rates. The options in Japan are particularly cheap because the historical volatility is so low. I prefer options to simply shorting government bonds, because there remains a possibility of a further government bond rally in response to the economy rolling over again. With options, I can clearly limit how much I am willing to lose, while creating a lot of leverage to a possible rate spiral.
Full speech below (attached):
Via Rolfe Winkler