Archive for the ‘Region: North America’ Category

Avoid the “contango” of commodity ETFs, as it can lower returns – Market Realist

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

According to Market Realist’s commodities analyst:

Commodity ETFs like USO and UNG often do not track the performance of the underlying indices due to contango, or the market state where the price of an energy futures contract trades above the expect spot price at maturity. Since commodity ETFs purchase commodity futures contracts to mimic spot performance, they fall victim to contango as they roll their futures positions from one month to the next.

For example, an investor should be able to see clearly that during West Texas intermediate (WTI) crude oil’s recovery from January 2009 to April 2011, from $35/barrel to $112/barrel (+320%), USO, the United States Oil Fund LP ETF, only rose from $24 to $45 (87.5%).


The worst commodity performer in terms of contango is natural gas, represented by the UNG ETF. The roll cost for UNG can be greater than 8% per year, which can cause steep losses for the retail investor, despite a price appreciation in the underlying commodity. In the graph below, you can see that the value of the ETF has fallen 96.4% in 4 years, while natural gas prices have only fallen about 79%. This has been terrible for investors trying to capture the price movements of natural gas.

Reducing your exposure to financials in Brazilian ETFs – Market Realist

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

According to Market Realist’s emerging markets analyst:

Several Latin America oriented ETFs such as MSCI Brazil Index Fund (EWZ) or Global X InterBolsa FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (GXG) have a larger proportion of their holdings concentrated in the financial sector. These holdings are usually concentrated in nature, with a few large cap securities accounting for most of the sector exposure. While the increased concentration may be seen as a negative by most investors, the keen investor may be able modify his or her exposure to the sector accordingly.

An example of an ETF with too much financial exposure is GXG. A quick glance at its fact sheet will reveal that the ETF’s financial sector exposure is almost 25%. First of all, investors need to avoid being mislead by the category titles. For example, GXG’s exposure to the Financials sector seems to be only 17%, but there is an additional 7.5% within a  category called Financial Services. Reviewing the Top 10 Holdings in the fact sheet will show that Bancolombia, Grupo Aval and Banco Davivienda are the main financial stocks in the portfolio, and that they account for c. 22% of holdings. Investors not familiar with the emerging market companies highlighted in fact sheets can perform a quick Google Finance search to define the industry classifications for unknown tickers.

Below we illustrate how to neutralize the exposure to the financial sector by selectively shorting the ETF holdings. The process is as follows:

  1. Find the ETF portfolio holdings for which exposure is to be eliminated.
  2. Calculate the weight of those companies within the ETF and get the equivalent dollar value for the investment in the ETF.
  3. Divide the dollar share of each company by its price to get the number of shares to short.

For example, Bancolombia is currently trading at COP27,600, equivalent to $15.19.  Bancolombia has a weight of 12.1% in GXG, so assuming a $1,000 investment in GXG, the dollar share of Bancolombia would be $121.In order to eliminate the exposure to Bancolombia, one would have to  sell short the equivalent amount of shares, which is obtained by dividing the dollar exposure by the share price: $121.00 / $15.19 = 8 shares. The 8 shares sold short would cancel out the $121 of exposure to Bancolombia. The same could be done for the other three banks, as shown below. Note that the number of shares may not be a whole number, in which case one can round to the closest whole number, keeping in mind the hedge will not be perfect.

To see the entire article and table, please see the following Market Realist link: Reducing Financial Exposure in Brazilian ETFs

Hedge Fund Pershing Square’s 1st Quarter 2012 Letter (Bill Ackman)

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Bill Ackman, legendary activist investor recently published its 1st quarter investment letter. The fund has performed strongly to date, with 9.3% returns and has large holdings in Canadian Pacific, General Growth Properties, Citigroup, and J.C. Penney. If he still owns them, the latter two companies may create some trouble for his firm in the future.

In this investor letter, Ackman discusses the idea of time arbitrage, which is taking advantage of forced sellers for the benefit of long term profit. This is because stocks are often more volatile than their underlying businesses, and few firms and individuals can stomach volatility.

He also discusses that private equity portfolio companies, because of their higher implied leverage, have much more volatile returns, but unfortunately, you do not see a mark-to-market as you do in publicly traded equities.

Enjoy the letter below:

Pershing-Square-Q1-2012


Fantastic Michael Burry UCLA Commencement Speech on U.S. & European Financial Crises

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Below you can view an excellent speech by Dr. Michael Burry, who at one point shorted over $8 billion of subprime mortgage backed securities before the U.S. credit crisis. Dr. Burry openly shares his experiences on divorce, luck, finance, and the future of college graduates at UCLA. As an alumnus of UCLA, Dr. Burry shows that passion, curiosity, foresight, and “working smart” rather than “working hard” can be handsomely rewarded. Michael Burry’s hedge fund, Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34% (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008. The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period. Other than Dr. Burry’s subprime short, I am not sure of his performance from 2000 through 2005. Enjoy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CLhqjOzoyE&feature=share[/youtube]

Burry left work as a Stanford Hospital neurology resident to become a full-time investor and start his own hedge fund. He had already developed a reputation as an investor by demonstrating astounding success in “value investing,” which he wrote about on a message board beginning in 1996. He was so successful with his stock picks that he attracted the interest of such companies as Vanguard, White Mountains Insurance Group and such prominent investors as Joel Greenblatt.
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After shutting down his web site in November 2000, Burry started Scion Capital, funded by a small inheritance and loans from his family. The company was named after The Scions of Shannara, a favorite childhood book. Burry quickly earned extraordinary profits for his investors. According to Lewis, “in his first full year, 2001, the S&P 500 fell 11.88 percent. Scion was up 55 percent. The next year, the S&P 500 fell again, by 22.1 percent, and yet Scion was up again: 16 percent. The next year, 2003, the stock market finally turned around and rose 28.69 percent, but Mike Burry beat it again—his investments rose by 50 percent. By the end of 2004, Mike Burry was managing $600 million and turning money away.”
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In 2005, he veered from value investing to focus on the subprime market. Through his analysis of mortgage lending practices in 2003 and 2004, he correctly forecast a bubble would collapse as early as 2007. Burry’s research on the runaway values of residential real estate convinced him that subprime mortgages, especially those with “teaser” rates, and the bonds based on these mortgages would begin losing value when the original rates reset, often in as little as two years after initiation. This conclusion led Burry to short the market by persuading Goldman Sachs to sell him credit default swaps against subprime deals he saw as vulnerable. This analysis proved correct, and Burry profited accordingly. Ironically Burry’s since said, “I don’t go out looking for good shorts. I’m spending my time looking for good longs. I shorted mortgages because I had to. Every bit of logic I had led me to this trade and I had to do it”.
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Though he suffered an investor revolt before his predictions came true, he earned a personal profit of $100 million and a profit for his remaining investors of more than $700 million. Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34 percent (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008. The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period.
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According to his website, he liquidated his credit default swap short positions by April 2008 and did not benefit from the taxpayer-funded bailouts of 2008 and 2009.[13] He subsequently liquidated his company to focus on his personal investment portfolio.
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In a April 3, 2010, op-ed for the New York Times, Burry argued that anyone who studied the financial markets carefully in 2003, 2004, and 2005 could have recognized the growing risk in the subprime markets. He faulted federal regulators for failing to listen to warnings from outside a closed circle of advisors.
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In April 2011, he suggests: (1) Open a bank account in Canada, (2) there are opportunities in small cap stocks, and (3) blue chips may be less attractive than their price-earnings suggests.

Burry left work as a Stanford Hospital neurology resident to become a full-time investor and start his own hedge fund. He had already developed a reputation as an investor by demonstrating astounding success in “value investing,” which he wrote about on a message board beginning in 1996. He was so successful with his stock picks that he attracted the interest of such companies as Vanguard, White Mountains Insurance Group and such prominent investors as Joel Greenblatt.After shutting down his web site in November 2000, Burry started Scion Capital, funded by a small inheritance and loans from his family. The company was named after The Scions of Shannara, a favorite childhood book.


Burry quickly earned extraordinary profits for his investors. According to Lewis, “in his first full year, 2001, the S&P 500 fell 11.88 percent. Scion was up 55 percent. The next year, the S&P 500 fell again, by 22.1 percent, and yet Scion was up again: 16 percent. The next year, 2003, the stock market finally turned around and rose 28.69 percent, but Mike Burry beat it again—his investments rose by 50 percent. By the end of 2004, Mike Burry was managing $600 million and turning money away.” In 2005, he veered from value investing to focus on the subprime market. Through his analysis of mortgage lending practices in 2003 and 2004, he correctly forecast a bubble would collapse as early as 2007.

Burry’s research on the runaway values of residential real estate convinced him that subprime mortgages, especially those with “teaser” rates, and the bonds based on these mortgages would begin losing value when the original rates reset, often in as little as two years after initiation. This conclusion led Burry to short the market by persuading Goldman Sachs to sell him credit default swaps against subprime deals he saw as vulnerable. This analysis proved correct, and Burry profited accordingly. Ironically Burry’s since said, “I don’t go out looking for good shorts. I’m spending my time looking for good longs. I shorted mortgages because I had to. Every bit of logic I had led me to this trade and I had to do it”. Though he suffered an investor revolt before his predictions came true, he earned a personal profit of $100 million and a profit for his remaining investors of more than $700 million. Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34 percent (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008.

The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period. According to his website, he liquidated his credit default swap short positions by April 2008 and did not benefit from the taxpayer-funded bailouts of 2008 and 2009. He subsequently liquidated his company to focus on his personal investment portfolio. In a April 3, 2010, op-ed for the New York Times, Burry argued that anyone who studied the financial markets carefully in 2003, 2004, and 2005 could have recognized the growing risk in the subprime markets. He faulted federal regulators for failing to listen to warnings from outside a closed circle of advisors. In April 2011, he suggests: (1) Open a bank account in Canada, (2) there are opportunities in small cap stocks, and (3) blue chips may be less attractive than their price-earnings suggests.

Occupy Main Street, Restructure America

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

November 6, 2011: It has been almost 4 years since the United States and the entire Western World has been mired in this recessionary state. What has happened should not be a surprise to anyone. After scrambling for an ever higher quality of life, sending labor-intensive industries overseas, and losing more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs and more than 850,000 professional service and information sector jobs to outsourcing, we foolishly blame our government and the top 1% of our earning population for our hardships. Most Americans lack the skills and motivation to innovate, and are fit to work only in commoditized industries, yet most of our commoditized industries have been sent overseas. The government has unsuccessfully spent trillions on the economy to lessen market volatility, to reassure pensioners, to bolster bank and corporate balance sheets, and to create jobs. Over the past 10 years, spending growth for prisons has risen at a rate 6x the rate of spending on education because this society simply does not value education as much as it should. The truth of the matter is, we are all to blame. After inflating real estate and securities prices through leverage, after fighting senseless wars in pursuit of oil when we have enough natural gas reserves to last 200 years, and after allowing an entire generation of our citizens to lose their values of hard work and integrity, we ALL are to blame.

Instead of pushing our children to embrace globalization, we have allowed them to grow up isolated from the rest of the world. Instead of encouraging them to be productive and to earn their own keep from a young age, we have allowed them to spend hours watching brainless television and to lose themselves in drugs and alcoholism in communities where families aren’t the norm and divorce rates are greater than 70%. Instead of building secure homes, we have a bred a completely confused generation just asking to be taken advantage of by the rest of the world.

We need to OCCUPY MAIN ST.; we need to restructure America, the American lifestyle, and the American mind before it’s too late. We need to instill passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, we need to teach our children practical skills and make sure that they are proficient in math and science, we need to encourage competition, and we need to instill the values of hard work and integrity into our youth so they can grow up to be proud and self-sufficient.  No able bodied person should feel entitled to anything material in life without providing value or giving back to society.

Today, there are 45 million Americans on food stamps.



The number of very poor Americans (those at less than 50% of the official poverty level) has risen to 6.7%, or to 20.5 million.  This is the highest percentage of the population since 1993.  At least 2.2 million more Americans, a 30% rise since 2000, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40% or higher. Last year, 2.6 million more Americans descended into poverty, which was the largest increase since 1959.  In 2000, 11.3% of all Americans were living in poverty; today 15.1% of Americans are living in poverty. The poverty rate for children living in the U.S. has increased to 22%. There are 314 counties in the U.S. where at least 30% of the children are facing food insecurity. More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry. In 2010, 42% of all single mothers in the U.S. were on food stamps. More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid. One out of every six Americans is enrolled in at least one government anti-poverty program. I agree that we should help the poor and that compassion is a virtue, but shouldn’t these people help themselves as well? What specifically has caused their plight? Is only the government to blame? Are only the rich to blame? No, of course not.


Inflation adjusted wages have not grown since 1999, the S&P 500 is at 1998 levels, and real estate prices are at 2002 levels.  It is up to us to realize what caused the “lost decade” and avoid a “lost century.”

Why has this happened? By the 1970s, the average American was 20x richer than the average Chinese person. Today, it is only 5x. The Western world rose to power because “they had laws and rules invented by reason.” Our institutions, our basic freedoms and property rights, our discipline, and our motivation to work hard created $130 trillion of wealth in the Western World. Unfortunately, we have lost our work ethic and our intellectual drive. The average Korean works 1,000 hours more per year than the average German. The Chinese soon will have filed more intellectual property patents than the Germans. This is the END of the great divergence between the West and the East. There is little that differentiates us from the rest in a world that is being forced to understand the idea of resource scarcity more than ever before.

In 1776, Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, explained how the East lagged behind because it lacked capitalism and property laws. Niall Ferguson explains how in addition to this, Competition, Applied Science, Property Rights, Modern Medicine, the Consumer Society, and Work Ethic propelled the West into prosperity:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpnFeyMGUs8[/youtube]

This video link by Niall Ferguson shows why the Western world may lag behind as emerging market nations continue to gain in global wealth.

I am sick and tired of watching Occupy Wall Street protests. Stupidity should not be tolerated; we should educate the rest and Occupy Main Street. I asked a protester two weeks ago why he was protesting, and he could not give me a straight answer. His parents unfortunately didn’t teach him the values of hard work and self respect. It reminds me of the guy in this video asking for “millionaires & billionaires” to pay for his college tuition: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrPGoPFRUdc&feature=share[/youtube]

Contrast that young man with this young Asian immigrant, who hasn’t been able to set up his business properly in 2 weeks because of the protesters blocking access to his food cart:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxaUgI0Ascw&feature=related[/youtube]

I can’t believe I would ever say this, but even Ari Gold knows better: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ajh8zKPMXc[/youtube]

MF Global Files for Bankruptcy and Plunges in First Day of OTC Trading

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

November 2, 2011 - MF Global (NYSE: MF) tumbled in its first day of over-the-counter trading after the futures brokerage filed for bankruptcy, prompting the New York Stock Exchange to delist the shares.  MF Global’s bankruptcy is the 8th largest bankruptcy of all time.

The stock, quoted under the symbol “MFGLQ,” declined 83 percent to 21 cents at 12:45 p.m. New York time on trading volume of 170.9 million shares. MF Global plunged 67 percent last week as the New York-based firm reported a record $191.6 million quarterly loss.

MF Global stock hasn’t changed hands during a regular trading session since Oct. 28. NYSE Euronext suspended the stock before the New York Stock Exchange opened on Oct. 31. MF Global filed the eighth-largest U.S. bankruptcy this week after failing to find a buyer over the weekend. The futures broker suffered a ratings downgrade and loss of customers after revealing it had investments related to $6.3 billion in European sovereign debt.

The night before MF posted its biggest quarterly loss, triggering a 48 percent stock plunge, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jon Corzine appeared at a steak dinner at New York’s Helmsley Park Lane Hotel for a speech to a group of bankers and traders.

“There was no sense at all that there was impending doom,” Kenneth Polcari, a managing director of ICAP Corporates, said of Corzine’s Oct. 24 address to the National Organization of Investment Professionals. “He gave a spectacular speech” about his decades at Goldman Sachs, life as a U.S. senator and New Jersey governor and his return to the private sector. “He’s had a full life, up until now.”

Corzine, 64, excused himself before the main course was served, saying he had to prepare for an earnings call the next day, said David Shields, vice chairman of New York-based brokerage Wellington Shields & Co. and a former chairman of the organization. The group seeks to foster “a favorable regulatory environment,” according to its website.

Timothy Mahoney, CEO of New York-based Bids Trading LP, said Corzine’s speech was “delightful.”

The next day, MF Global reported a $191.6 million net loss tied to its $6.3 billion wager on European sovereign debt. On Oct. 27, after the company’s bonds dropped to 63.75 cents on the dollar, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings cut the firm to below investment grade, or junk. Unable to find a buyer, the company filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, the first major U.S. casualty of the European debt crisis.

‘Serve the Public’

At least two dozen U.S. lawmakers and regulators, including Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt have addressed the group, according to its website.

“There are many people in the group that do lobby and talk to regulators,” Shields said. “You talk to regulators, you talk to lawmakers and you try to get the points forward, things that will help the marketplace, that will serve the public.”

The group’s board includes head traders at firms such as Waddell & Reed Financial Inc., whose futures trade triggered the flash crash of May 6, 2010, according to a study by the SEC and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Its members’ firms “trade approximately 70 percent of the institutional volume transacted daily in the New York and Nasdaq markets,” according to the website.

‘Difficult’ Day

The group’s current chairman, Dan Hannafin of Boston-based investment manager Wellington Management Co., declined to comment on the dinner. Corzine and Diana DeSocio, an MF Global spokeswoman, didn’t reply to an e-mailed request for comment.

Mahoney said he appreciated Corzine’s ability “to compartmentalize” and speak engagingly last week. Mahoney’s firm, Bids, runs a private trading venue known as a dark pool, and is a joint venture of banks including Goldman Sachs.

Before the speech, Moody’s cut MF Global’s credit ratings to the lowest investment grade. Polcari said there was one reference to Corzine’s “difficult” day.

While he was “cordial” and “positive,” the MF Global chief lacked his typical “sharp bounce,” Shields said. Corzine is “a member of the community,” and could be invited back after the bankruptcy, he said. “People go through bad times.”

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Baker at nbaker7@bloomberg.net

Defined Benefit Plans & Defined Contribution Plans (CFA III) – 2

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

In our previous blog on pensions, we discussed defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, cash balance plans, and profit sharing plans. We discussed funded status, ABO, PBO, future liability, retired lives, and active lives.

It is vital for the CFA III curriculum to understand the difference between defined contribution plans and defined benefit plans in more detail:

In a defined benefit plan:

  • The employee receives periodic payments beginning at retirement based on an eligibility date formula
  • Does not bear the risk of portfolio performance or market movements
  • Receives stable retirement income
  • Usually faces a vesting period and faces a restricted withdrawal of funds
  • There is an adverse effect on diversification because both job and pension are linked to employer health
  • Employee is subject to early termination risk if employee is terminated prior to retirement
  • The employer is responsible for managing the plan assets to meet pension liabilities
  • The employer thus takes investment risk
  • Benefits are determined by stated criteria usually associated with years of service and salary at retirement
  • Pension benefits are a liability
  • Regulated by ERISA and state governments

In a defined contribution plan:

  • The employee bears all the investment risk
  • Legally owns all personal contributions, and owns all sponsor contributions once vested
  • DC plan lowers taxable income
  • Employee must make all investment decisions for his/her retirement
  • Employee must decide on asset allocation and risk tolerance
  • There is restricted withdrawal of funds
  • Employee owns plans assets and can move assets to other plans
  • The employer must offer employees a sufficient variety of investment vehicles
  • The only financial liability is making contributions to the employee account
  • Has lower liquidity requirements
  • Has fewer regulations to deal with, but is usually required to have an IPS that addresses how plan will help employees meet objectives and constraints
  • Defined contribution plans also come in 2 forms, participant-directed and sponsor-directed (profit sharing)
  • In a profit sharing plan, the employer decides the investments

A plan is considered qualified in the U.S. if it meets federal and state tax laws for retirement funds.

Defined benefit plan objectives include:

  • Returns: To have pension assets generate returns sufficient to cover liabilities
  • Return requirement depends on funded status and contributions based on accrued benefits
  • Also determined by future pension contributions: return levels can be calculated to eliminate the need for contributions to plan assets, contribution minimization goal more realistic
  • Pension income should be recognized in the income statement
  • Plan Surplus: Indicates cushion provided by plan assets to meet liabilities
  • Greater the surplus, greater ability to take risk
  • Underfunded means decreased ability to take risk
  • Risk: Common risk exposure measured by correlation between firm’s operating characteristics and pension asset returns
  • Lower the correlation, higher the risk tolerance
  • Higher the correlation, lower the risk tolerance
  • Financial Condition: Can be measured by debt-to-asset or other leverage ratios (debt-to-cap, debt-to-EBITDA), using sponsor’s balance sheet
  • Lower debt ratios imply better ability to tolerate risk
  • Higher debt ratios imply lower ability to tolerate risk
  • Profitability: Can be represented by current or pro former financials
  • Workforce: Age of the workforce and ratio of active to retired lives is a strong indicator of performance
  • Usually the younger the workforce, the greater the ratio of active to retired, increased ability to tolerate risk
  • When older, lower rate of active to retired and higher risk
  • Plan Features: Some offer option of either retiring early or receiving lump-sum payments instead of a retirement annuity

Defined benefit plan constraints include:

  • Liquidity: Pension plans receives contributions and payments to beneficiaries…any outflow represents liquidity constraint.
  • Liquidity is affected by the number of retired lives; greater the #, the more liquidity is needed
  • The amount of sponsor contributions; smaller the contributions, the greater the liquidity need
  • Plan features; early retirement features would increase liquidity need
  • Time horizon: mainly determined by whether the plan is a going concern and workforce age and ratio of active to retired lives
  • Legal & regulatory: ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act regulates defined benefit plans, above state and local pension law
  • Pension fund assets should be invested for the sole benefit of the participant, not the sponsor
  • Pension funds have to exercise diligence before alternative asset classes can be added to asset base
  • Pension plans may prohibit investment in traditional asset choices like investments in defense industry, firms that produce alcoholic beverages, or firms that have a reputation for being destructive to environment

Soros Says the U.S. is Already in a Double Dip Recession – Defining Balance Sheet Recessions

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Soros recently asserted that Europe could be more dangerous to the global financial markets than the default of Lehman Brothers in 2008, because of the political stubbornness of European policy makers.   He has been saying this for over two years now, while government officials continue to ignore him, focusing instead on making bold statements and causing riots.  In a brilliant move, Soros returned investor capital at the end of July to avoid the eyes of the public.  I am sure he is now short sovereigns via CDS, currencies, and synthetic instruments, while he continues to donate to the poor in Eastern Europe like a modern day Robin Hood.  Since March, Italian CDS has more than doubled, and French and Belgian CDS spreads will continue to creep higher as the sovereign crisis persists.  How are Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal supposed to grow their way out of debt, as deficit cutting reduces European GDP growth to less than 1%?

The public doesn’t trust officials to make timely decisions to protect the EU.   The PIIGS (Ireland and Italy included) pose an insurmountable task for the region, as the combined nations have far greater GDP and net leverage than Germany, the only country that will be supporting the EFSF with a AAA rating. Italy itself has €1.2 trillion of debt, which is  more than Germany, and France may be downgraded in the next 6 months, which is evident in how much its CDS spread has widened over the past 2 months.  France also cannot print money like the United States, and certainly should have been downgraded beforehand, sharply decreasing the effectiveness of the stabilization facility in the EU. A French downgrade would not only endanger French banks, it would create counterparty risk for its U.S. partners as well.  Soros has already claimed that the U.S. is currently in a double dip recession, which I personally think to be true.

Both the majority of the EU and the United States are in a global double dip already not only because of policy mistakes, but due to unsustainable leverage, overspending, broken healthcare and education systems, and corrupt governments. Recent real estate, manufacturing, and confidence numbers, along with revisions down in the earnings of major metallurgical coal and transportation companies in developed countries support my thesis (look at tickers ANR, WLT).  Alpha Natural Resources recently cited a sharp decrease in coal demand for steel production in Asia, reflecting weakness in both its U.S. and ex-U.S. clients.  In the U.S., real estate usually contributes 15% to GDP growth, and it is showing no chance of recovering (HOV), as most sales over the past two years have been distressed sales driven by investors, not families or single buyers.  Developed economies are slowing down quickly, as elected officials argue over who is more important than the other.  The S&P 500 ex-dividends is at the same level it was in 1998, the FTSE MIB in Italy is down 30% on the year (40% from April), and the emerging market index (EEM) just broke its 2010 lows.  Many European financial institution equities are down 60%+ to date.  Markets are broken, as the CME has to raise margins every other day to bring down the prices of precious metals, which are rising in the face of fiat destruction and future inflation risk.  Poverty has reached 15% in the United States, unemployment is over 9.2%, underemployment is about 17%, and local government cuts have resulted in the layoffs of countless public employees, like the recent 3,000 teachers who were fired in Providence, Rhode Island.

There are 44 million people on food stamps in the United States, which is supposed to be the wealthiest nation, and the land of hope for many immigrants.  Over 30% of the U.S. population pays more than half their gross income on rent, since incomes (adjusting for inflation) have not increased since 2000.  With rents projected to increase 3-4% in metropolitan areas over the next year, even the educated poor may be driven out of cities or on to the streets. The land of hope? Why don’t you ask my hardworking university friends about hope, who are much more qualified than some of their U.S. peers, but cannot get jobs and improve the quality of our economy due to the difficulty of obtaining visas.  This country was built by immigrants, who are now blocked out of entering the nation. Teen unemployment also hit decade lows this past month.

According to New York-based Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), which tracks some 20 large economies contributing about 80% of the world GDP and provides critical information about upturns and downturns of economic cycles to money managers, we will know within the next 60 days whether we are in a recession or not.  ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan has been one of the most accurate forecasters for economic cycles over the past decade.   He argues that the 2008/2009 recession was different than the sharp recession of the 1980s, “This is very different than the early 1980s. The issues that ail the U.S. economy and the jobs market today are not things that result from nearby events. What we’re living through and dealing with now has been building for decades,” he says. “If you look at the data, you see that the pace of expansion has been stair-stepping down ever since the 1970s, on all counts — on production, how much can we produce, how many jobs can we create, how much money do we make, how much do we sell. These are all trending down.” In the deep recession of the 1980s, GDP growth was 5%+ coming out of it…our growth in Q111 was revised down to 0.4%, and will be less than 2% for the year. Don’t believe me? Check on your own.

“If we do have a double-dip recession, Achuthan says, the people who are already having trouble finding work and paying bills are already in a depression and that they “are going to suffer more.”  ”It poses massive problems for policymakers because a new recession automatically increases all of these expenditures out of the public sector, while at the same time dramatically decreasing all their revenue,” he says. “So there’s even less ability to help the people who are hurting the most.”

Although I am not a fan of Roubini for his sensationalist gloom and doom scenarios, he does do decent research and predicted a 60% chance of a double dip in the U.S. three weeks ago.  The United States is in a balance sheet recession, as the economist Richard Koo, a strategist at Nomura, predicted may happen back in 2009.   Most of the growth we have experienced has been the result of continued fiscal and monetary stimulus from the United States government over the past three years, as well as inventory restocking.  The biggest driver of this slow and painful recession is that more stringent underwriting standards for real estate lending and small business lending are slowing down aggregate demand and GDP growth.  Koo argues that once you have a balance sheet recession, people focus on paying down debt, making the situation much worse over time.   The government has to increase fiscal stimulus for the entire duration of the private credit contraction cycle to overcome private deleveraging.  Unfortunately war and internal conflict has made this impossible in the United States as our debt to GDP nears 100%. Since the private sector has moved away from profit maximization to debt minimization, newly generated savings and debt repayments enter the banking system but cannot leave the system due to a lack of borrowers.  The economy here will not and cannot enter self-sustaining growth until private sector balance sheets are repaired.

If the government tries to cut spending too aggressively in 2012-2013, Koo thinks that we would fall into the same trap President FDR fell into in 1937 and that Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto fell into in 1997.  The deflationary gap created by a lack of credit creation and fiscal stimulus “will continue to push the economy toward a contractionary equilibrium until the private sector is too impoverished to save any money.”  The economy will collapse again, and the second collapse will be worse than the first.  It will be difficult to convince people to change their behavior in this scenario.

In a typical recession, private sector balance sheets are not hurt very badly, and most still express profit maximizing behavior.  People borrow money and spend as interest rates are lowered.  In a balance sheet recession, consumers refuse to borrow even if rates are at 0%.  This results in asset prices collapsing and banking crises.  Banks then cannot lend into the private sector, and the government becomes the borrower of last resort, at extremely low rates, because banks don’t need to hold capital against government loans.  When people use money to pay down debt, they withdraw money from their bank accounts and pay it back to the banks, so both deposits and the money supply shrink, which actually caused the Great Depression.  For example, 88% of Obama’s tax rebates have been used to pay down debt.

Let me put it in perspective:

According to Koo, “The Board of Governors of the Fed in 1976 estimated that deposits lost in Depression-era bank closures and through increased hoarding of cash outside of the banking system explained just 15% of the almost $18 billion decline in deposits during the period. Meanwhile, bank lending to the private sector plunged 47%, or by almost $20 billion, from 1929 to 1932. The conventional wisdom is that lending fell because banks panicked in response to dwindling reserves and forcibly called in loans. But that same Fed study shows that bank reserves did not actually fall during that period, when borrowings from the Fed are taken into account. In addition, a survey of almost 3,500 manufacturers, undertaken in 1932 by the National Industrial Conference Board, showed that fewer than 15% of the firms surveyed reported any difficulty in their dealings with banks.”
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If bank closures, cash hoarding and heartless bankers didn’t cause the Depression, what did? ”There’s only one possible alternative explanation for that era’s dramatic shrinkage in deposits and loans — or, at least, for the 85% of those shrinkages that can’t be attributed to the traditional villains. And that is that firms were reducing their debt voluntarily. At that time, the Fed tried to increase money supply by pumping reserves into the system, but with everyone paying down debt, the multiplier was actually negative, so it produced no results whatsoever.”
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And companies became hellbent to pay down debt because — “The price of assets purchased with borrowed funds (as most had been, during the Roaring’20s) collapsed after the stock market crash, and companies’ leverage had already gotten extremely high before the Crash. In other words, companies in the 1930s faced the same balance sheet problems as Japanese firms confronted in the 1990s. The lesson we learned from our experience in Japan is that with the government borrowing and spending money, the money multiplier will stay positive, and that’s basically how Japan kept its GDP growing throughout its Great Recession. So we have a situation where fiscal policy is actually controlling the effectiveness of monetary policy. It’s a complete reversal of what almost everyone alive today learned in school — that monetary policy is the way to go. But once everyone is minimizing debt instead of maximizing profits, all sorts of fundamental assumptions go out the window.” Just like a severe asset price crash on leverage caused crises for the U.S. in the 1930s and for Japan in the 1990s, our real estate driven recession is more than just a manufacturing slowdown or a simple policy mistake.
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In the U.S. we had over 150 bank closures last year, and have had 72 in 2011.  Banks are reticent to lend, but the real problem continues to be that there is less demand for money, and deleveraging will continue to weigh on growth for years. There are many parallels Koo describes with the Japanese crisis as well, which I will discuss in another article.
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The worst part of our current situation in the U.S. is that new bank capital adequacy standards are making it even more difficult for banks to encourage private lending.  So banks do not wish to lend, lending standards have increased dramatically, and citizens don’t want to borrow…and now with a flat yield curve, I don’t understand how financial institutions are going to dig their way out of this mess with profits either. Thank you Ben Bernanke.  Your “operation twist” policy has eroded all profit potential for financial institutions in 2012.  Let the deleveraging continue…

Cheers, Singh

“As I said there is nothing wrong with failing. Pick yourself up and try it again. You never are going to know how good you really are until you go out and face failure.”
-Henry Kravis

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Intralinks (IL) Falls 7.5%+ on No News, Possible Insider Trading Alert!

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

After trading flat for days, Intralinks just lost over 7.5% on no news.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, “IntraLinks, formerly TA Indigo Holding Corporation, is a global provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions for securely managing content, exchanging critical business information and collaborating within and among organizations.”  The company serves financial institutions host data rooms, etc.  Now the company performed well in 2010, missed guidance slightly this spring, and traded down 30%.  Over the past two weeks, it performed well enough to stay in a band around $20.00/share.

Through the last four down days, IL’s stock moved with the market, staying about $20, then gave up almost 10% of its value during the first half of the trading day.  The last time I saw a move like this on no relevant news was for Interoil Corp. in 2007, right before an insider trading investigation (which was eventually resolved, and the stock performed well):

InterOil has ‘undiscovered resources’ and calling a field ‘world class’ isn’t the same thing as actually knowing how much of a natural resource exists there. InterOil is capitalizing on the confusion between undiscovered resources (which are unknown quantities) and discovered resources. And the victims are the investors who falsely believe that InterOil has known quantities of natural gas, when in fact they do not.

Sam Antar, says InterOil’s stock is boosted by a manipulation scheme involving InterOil, John Thomas Financial, and Clarion Finanz AG:

I believe that InterOil with the assistance of Clarion Finanz concealed John Thomas Financial’s involvement in helping it raise $95 million through a private placement of convertible debt securities. Clarion Finanz acted as a buffer between InterOil and John Thomas Financial to help InterOil hide John Thomas Financial’s role in raising funds. Afterwards, InterOil filed false and misleading reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission in an effort to conceal John Thomas Financial’s role in helping the company raise $95 million in convertible debt.

Courtesy of Lawrence Delevigne

Bank Stocks Beware: Bernanke & Fed Support Increasing Capital Requirements

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

U.S. bank indices fell 2% yesterday after fears that capital requirements would increase as much as 7%.  Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), fell below $11.00, the lowest since last year.  The discussion came about after the Basel Committee on Banking revealed how levered large financial institutions still were, and tried to reconcile levels with future recession risks.  A 7% equity capital raise for most banks would be catastrophic and dilute equity by 50%+, but a 3% raise seems manageable in a functioning economy.  The problem is that the U.S. economy is on life support, and that life support is called Quantitative Easing 2.  Once this support fades on June 30th, how will U.S. banks (at their already low valuations due to real estate risk and put backs) raise new equity capital?  A replay of 2009?  You be the judge.

According to Bloomberg, “The Fed supports a proposal at the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision that calls for a maximum capital surcharge of three percentage points on the largest global banks, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

International central bankers and supervisors meeting in Basel, Switzerland, have decided that banks need to hold more capital to avoid future taxpayer-funded bailouts. Financial stock indexes fell in Europe and the U.S. yesterday as traders interpreted June 3 remarks by Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo as leaving the door open to surcharges of as much as seven percentage points.

“A seven percentage-point surcharge for the largest banks would be a disaster,” said a senior analyst at Barclays Capital Inc. in NY. “It will certainly restrict lending and curb economic growth if true.”

Basel regulators agreed last year to raise the minimum common equity requirement for banks to 4.5 percent from 2 percent, with an added buffer of 2.5 percent for a total of 7 percent of assets weighted for risk.

Basel members are also proposing that so-called global systemically important financial institutions, or global SIFIs, hold an additional capital buffer equivalent to as much as three percentage points, a stance Fed officials haven’t opposed, the person said.

Bank Indexes Fall

The Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index fell 1.45 percent yesterday, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index declined 1.1 percent. The KBW Bank Index, which tracks shares of Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo. and 21 other companies, fell 2.1 percent.

In a June 3 speech, Tarullo presented a theoretical calculation with the global SIFI buffer as high as seven percentage points.

“The enhanced capital requirement implied by this methodology can range between about 20% to more than 100% over the Basel III requirements, depending on choices made among plausible assumptions,” he said in the text of his remarks at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

In a question-and-answer period with C. Fred Bergsten, the Peterson Institute’s director, Tarullo agreed that the capital requirement, with the global SIFI buffer, could be 8.5 percent to 14 percent under this scenario. A common equity requirement of 10 percent is closer to what investors are assuming.

‘Across the Board’

“I think 3 percent is where everyone expected it to come out,” Simon Gleeson a financial services lawyer at Clifford Chance LLP, said in a telephone interview. “If it is 3 percent across the board then it will be interesting to see what happens to the smallest SIFI and the largest non-SIFI” on a competitive basis, he said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner, in remarks yesterday before the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, said there is a “strong case” for a surcharge on the largest banks. Fed Chairman Bernanke is scheduled to discuss the U.S. economic outlook at the conference today.

“In the US, we will require the largest U.S. firms to hold an additional surcharge of common equity,” Geithner said. “We believe that a simple common equity surcharge should be applied internationally.”

Distort Markets

Financial industry executives are concerned that rising capital requirements will hurt the economy, which is already struggling with an unemployment rate stuck at around 9 percent.

Higher capital charges “will have ramifications on what people pay for credit, what banks hold on balance sheets,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. chairman and chief executive officer Jamie Dimon told investors at a June 2 Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. conference in New York.

The Global Financial Markets Association, a trade group whose board includes executives from GS and Morgan Stanley, said the surcharge may apply to 15 to 26 global banks, according to a May 25 memo sent to board members by chief executive officer Tim Ryan.

Dino Kos, managing director at New York research firm Hamiltonian Associates, said the discussion about new capital requirements comes at a time when banks face stiff headwinds. Credit demand is weak, and non-interest income from fees and trading is also under pressure.

Best Result

U.S. banks reported net income of $29 billion in the first quarter, the best result since the second quarter of 2007, before subprime mortgage defaults began to spread through the global financial system, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Quarterly Banking Profile.

Still, the higher profits resulted from lower loan-loss provisions, the FDIC said. Net operating revenue fell 3.2 percent from a year earlier, only the second time in 27 years of data the industry reported a year-over-year decline in quarterly net operating revenue, the FDIC said.

“You can see why banks are howling,” said Kos, former executive vice president at the New York Fed. Higher capital charges come on top of proposals to tighten liquidity rules and limit interchange fees, while the “Volcker Rule” restricts trading activities. Taken together these imply lower returns on equity, he said.

“How can you justify current compensation levels if returns on equity are much lower than in the past?” Kos said.