Posts Tagged ‘Soros’

George Soros on European Fiscal & Banking Crisis and EU Summit on June 28-29, 2012

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Here I present key take-aways from George Soros’ in depth Bloomberg interview on the current European fiscal and banking crisis, Angela Merkel, the Spanish bailout, and Greece leaving the Eurozone.

The video is also below:

Banking & Fiscal Issues

  • “There is an interrelated problem of the banking system and the excessive risk premium on sovereign debt – they are Siamese twins, tied together and you have to tackle both.”
  • Soros summarizes the forthcoming Eurozone Summit ‘fiasco’ as fatal if the fiscal disagreements are not resolved in 3 days.
  • There is no union without a transfer.
  • Europe needs banking union.
    • Germany will only succumb if Italy and Spain really push it to the edge (Germany can live in the present situation; the others cannot)
    • Europe needs a fiscal means of strengthening growth through Treasury type entity
      • What is needed is a European fiscal authority that will be composed of the finance ministers, but would be in charge of the various rescue mechanisms, the European Stability Mechanism, and would combine issuing treasury bills.
        • Those treasury bills would yield 1% or less and that would be the relief that those countries need in order to finance their debt.
        • Bill would be sold on a competitive basis.
        • Right now there are something like over €700bn euros are kept on deposit at the European Central Bank earning a 0.25% because the interbank market has broken down, so then you have €700bn of capital that would be very happy to earn 0.75% instead of 0.25%, and the treasury bills by being truly riskless and guaranteed by the entire community, would yield in current conditions less than 1%.
        • Governments should start a European unemployment scheme, paid on a European level instead of national level.
        • Soros’ solutions, however, are unlikely to prove tenable in the short-term as he notes “Merkel has emerged as a strong leader”, but “unfortunately, she has been leading Europe in the wrong direction”.
          • “Euro bonds are not possible because Germany would not consider euro bonds until there is a political union, and it should come at the end of the process not at the beginning.
          • This would be a temporary measure, limited both in time and in size, and thereby it could be authorized according to the German constitution as long as the Bundestag approves it, so it could be legal under the German constitution and under the existing treaties.
          • The political will by Germany to put it into effect and that would create a level playing field so that Italy and Spain could actually refinance debt on reasonable terms.

Scenario Discussion

  • LTRO would be less effective now
  • At 6%, 7% of Italy’s GDP goes towards paying interest, which is completely unsustainable
  • Spain may need a full bailout if summit is not successful
    • Financial markets have the ability to push countries into default
    • Because Spain cannot print money itself
    • Even if we manage to avoid, let’s say an ‘accident’ similar to what you had in 2008 with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the euro system that would emerge would actually perpetuate the divergence between creditors and debtors and would create a Europe which is very different from open society.
    • It would transform it into a hierarchical system where the division between creditors and debtors would become permanent…It would lead to Germany being in permanent domination.
      • It would become like a German empire, and the periphery would become permanently depressed areas.

On Greece

  • Greece will leave the Eurozone
    • It’s very hard to see how Greece can actually meet the conditions that have been set for Greece, and the Germans are determined not to modify those conditions seriously, so medium term risk
    • Greece leaving the euro zone is now a real expectation, and this is what is necessary to strengthen the rest of the euro zone, since Greece can’t print money
    • By printing money, a country can devalue the currency and people can lose money by buying devalued debt, but there is no danger of default.
      • The fact that the individual members don’t now control the right to print money has created this situation.
      • A European country that could actually default. and that is the risk that the financial markets price into the market and that is why say Italian ten-year bonds yield 6% whereas British 10-year bonds yield only 1.25%.
  • That difference is due to the fact that these countries have surrendered their right to print their own money and they can be pushed into default by speculation in the financial markets.

On Angela Merkel

  • Angela Merkel has been leading Europe in the wrong direction. I think she is acting in good faith and that is what makes the whole situation so tragic and that is a big problem that we have in financial markets generally – she is supporting a false idea, a false ideology, a false interpretation which is reinforced by reality.
  • In other words, Merkel’s method works for a while until it stops working, and that is what is called a financial bubble
    • Financial bubbles look very good while they are being formed and everyone believes in it and then it turns out to be unsustainable…
    • The European Union could turn out to have been a bubble of this kind unless we realize there is this problem and we solve it and the solution is there.
    • I think everybody can see it, all we need to do is act on it, and put on a united front, and I think that if the rest of  Europe is united, I think that Germany will actually recognize it and adjust to it.

On Investing

  • Stay in cash
  • German yields are too low
  • If summit turns out well, purchase industrial shares, but avoid everything else (consumer, banks)

Conclusion: We are facing conditions reminiscent to the 1930s because of policy mistakes, forgetting what we should have learned from John Maynard Keynes.

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.”
.
.
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.”
.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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

For graphics and links, please visit the Leverage Academy blog.  Syndications may not capture the entire article.  LA also reaches thousands through its syndications.  If you wish to write an article or contribute, please feel free to e-mail the address below (Tom).

Please visit http://www.leverageacademy.com and check out our curriculum tab to sign up for our intensive investment banking, private equity, global macro and sales & trading courses in Boston & New York.  Classes will also be held online, live through video feeds at these locations.  Questions?  Feel free to e-mail thomas.r[at]leverageacademy.com with your inquiries or call our corporate line.

Top Hedge Fund Managers of 2009

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Hedge fund pay has always been astounding, but few realize that it is only a handful that make over $1 billion per year.  BBC recently released a report highlighting some of the most successful alternative asset managers in the world, which include David Tepper, George Soros, Steve Cohen, Edward Lampert, and Ken Griffin.

According to BBC, HF managers “wouldn’t even consider getting out of bed for the $13m (£8m) Goldman Sachs’ boss Lloyd Blankfein was paid last year. Such a trifling pay packet represents just a few days’ work for these staggeringly well-paid financial executives. If bankers inhabit a different world, says London-based headhunter John Purcell, “these guys are out on their own in a different universe”.

‘Private bunch’

So just how much do these guys – for the vast majority are men – earn each year? At the very top of the pile, we’re talking $4bn. Just in case that hasn’t quite registered yet – that’s four billion dollars. This does, of course, include bonuses and fees as well as salary. In fact, the salary is a tiny fraction of their overall pay. And who are these men? They are called hedge fund managers – in other words, they are investors who buy and sell all manner of financial instruments with the express aim of making money for their clients, and for themselves. Finding out much about them is notoriously difficult. ”They’re a very private bunch,” Mr Purcell explains, “largely because they earn so much. They are highly secretive in every aspect of what they do.” Discovering how they make their money is a little easier.

Popular myths

Hedge funds are actually one of the most misunderstood of all financial products. They get something of a bad rap, largely due to some spectacular failures, most notably Long Term Capital Management, which blew up in 1998 and almost took Wall Street with it, and Amarinth Advisors, which lost billions of dollars in a few weeks on bad natural gas trades in 2006. Many have also tried to blame them for some of the excessive risk-taking they say triggered the global financial crisis, but with little success. As one industry insider argues, hedge funds are worth around $1.5 trillion in total – “less than the assets that some individual banks have on their books”. Hedge funds, then, are not the the gung-ho, high-risk beasts of popular mythology. In fact, the majority are quite the opposite, seeking to produce what are called absolute returns – those over and above what you get from the bank, risk free – year in, year out. In other words, they are designed to be low risk. What sets them apart from most investment funds is the range of instruments they can use and the strategies they can employ. Whereas traditional fund managers buy shares and bonds in the hope that they will rise in value, or occasionally dabble in financial derivatives, their hedge fund counterparts can do so much more. For example, they can take advantage of movements in interest rates and currencies, company restructuring and bankruptcies, and pricing anomalies across different markets. One of their most important strategies is shorting – borrowing shares to sell into the market in the expectation that they will fall, then buying them back at the lower price. This means they can make money when markets fall.

Results business

This investment freedom is what attracts so many investment managers to hedge funds. That and the quite extraordinary sums of cash that the very best can earn, of course. In fact, many are not ready for the challenge. Encouraged by potentially huge fees, they begin running portfolios without the necessary knowledge and experience of the strategies they employ. As a result, many come unstuck. And this is one reason why it is rather unfair to compare directly the pay of hedge fund managers with that of bankers. For there is a very crucial difference – hedge fund managers get paid bonuses only when they make money. In other words, there is no reward for failure in this highly competitive business. Salaries in the industry are not dissimilar to those paid in investment banking, so to make seriously mind-boggling amounts of cash, managers need their performance-related fees. These typically amount to 20% of any returns made on a portfolio above a set benchmark, and this is how hedge fund pay rockets into the stratosphere and beyond. But for those that make no returns, through no one’s fault but their own, of course, the rewards are less attractive. In fact, the large number of managers who set up on their own don’t even have a salary to fall back on, although they do take a 2% management fee on the funds they manage. For this reason, “a lot of managers are not making any money at all,” says the industry insider. Equally, hedge fund managers invariably have their own money invested in the funds that they run, unlike bankers who generally stake other people’s cash. ”Investors are very keen to see the fund management company have ‘skin in the game’,” says Mr Purcell.

Celebrity pay

It’s also important to bear in mind that the very best-paid hedge fund managers – the John Paulsons and George Soroses of the industry – own their own companies. They take a cut on all the assets under management across a number of funds run by their firm. In other words, George Soros owns Soros Fund Management. By contrast, Lloyd Blankfein does not own Goldman Sachs. And while it’s relatively easy to find out what the boss of a public company owns, it’s far harder to discover what the owner of a private company pays him or herself. Individual hedge fund managers actually earn a fraction of what their employers earn – on average $4.9m in 2007, the last year for which figures are available. Still, nice work if you can get it. In fact, when it comes to comparisons, bank bosses are nowhere near the best paid executives of even publicly-listed companies. H Lawrence Culp Jnr, boss of US manufacturing and technology group Danaher, was paid $141m in 2009, while Larry Ellison, head of technology giant Oracle, got $130m, according to Forbes. Not even sports starts or actors can match that – Tiger Woods, for example, earned $91m, while Johnny Depp pulled in $75m. In the UK, the boss of consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser, Bart Becht, was awarded £93m ($148m), while Sir Terry Leahy, outgoing chief executive of supermarket group Tesco, earned £18m, according to research company IDS.

Charitable giving

Staggering sums they may be, but they pale into insignificance compared with the multi-billion dollar packages the very top hedge fund managers earn. It is important not to forget the huge amounts in tax that those managers not based in tax havens, of which there are many, pay. Many also donate vast sums to charity and have become well-known philanthropists. Carl Icahn, for example, who earned $1.3bn in 2009, recently signed up to the Giving Pledge, a club of billionaires who have promised to give large chunks of their wealth to charity. Still, whichever way you look at it, $4bn sure is a lot of dough for one man to be earning over many lifetimes, let alone one year.

Are they worth it?

No doubt a good number of their clients, which include many the world’s biggest pension funds, will say that they are. Their tailors may well agree. Others may take a slightly different view.

Hedge fund rich list 2009

Hedge fund manager Hedge fund group Earnings
SOURCE: AR MAGAZINE
David Tepper Appaloosa Management $4bn (£2.5bn)
George Soros Soros Fund Management $3.3bn
James Simons Renaissance Technologies $2.5bn
John Paulson Paulson & Co $2.3bn
Steve Cohen SAC Capital Advisers $1.4bn
Carl Icahn Icahn Capital $1.3bn
Edward Lampert ESL Investments $1.3bn
Ken Griffin Citadel Investment Group $900m
John Arnold Centaurus Advisors $900m
Philip Falcone Harbinger Capital Partners $825m

Check out our intensive investment banking, private equity, and sales & trading courses! The discount code Merger34299 will be activated until April 15, 2011. Questions? Feel free to e-mail thomas.r[at]leverageacademy.com with your inquiries or call our corporate line.


Soros Fund to Open Office in Hong Kong

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Soros

The $450 billion mutual fund and hedge fund industry in China is about to see massive change.  Why, you may ask?  Mr. Soros himself is taking the leap into the heart of East Asia.  I had wondered over the past few years why it had taken established investors so long to enter Asia.  It took Warren Buffet until two years ago to aggressively pursue global diversification of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio.  Now, with the King of Global Macro setting the stage, a man who lived penniless in London working odd jobs before he joined the finance industry as an arbitrageur, only to become the Founder of the legendary Quantum Fund and arguably the biggest philanthropist of his time, there will be considerable change in the Chinese regulatory environment.

Why now, you may ask?  Well this year, China approved futures trading and shorting in the mainland.  As a result, the historical 30% discrepancy between Hong Kong traded shares and shares traded on the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges may disappear.  What is this called?  ARBITRAGE.   And who is the King?  Mr. Soros himself.

The Soros Fund is now a $25 billion fund, and has taken the right steps over the past few years with its global perspective.  There will be significant wealth creation in East Asia over the next 5-10 years.  Even stagnant economies like Japan will start pulling their weight.  The Japanese posted positive employment numbers for the first time in two years today, which fared well for their currency.  According to Charles Stucke of Guggenheim Investment Advisors, LLC, there are still many informational asymmetries that need to be addressed in East Asia for traders who understand the markets there.

Soros, now 79, has immense faith in the Chinese economy due to its growing reserves and growing domestic demand for consumption.  A fund controlled by Soros, American Aviation Investment Co., was one of the first funds to invest in a Chinese airline company, Hainan Airlines in 1995.  Recently, Soros also hired Mr. Chang, a former MD at Tiger Asia Management LLC.

According to Singapore based Eurekehedge, global hedge funds had a great year in 2009, returning 19%.  That is the best performance in over 5 years.

For more information, please visit Bloomberg….

~I.S.