This morning, the eloquent Barry Ritholtz (the godfather of financial blogging) has published an excellent post re: his thoughts on how America has been hijacked by a “Corporatocracy,” and wonders why we seem so sedate, and not outraged; A highly thought provoking must-read!
I did an interview with a print reporter yesterday about what has been going on with lack of prosecutions, the banks, and Wall Street in general. We discussed the corrupt exchanges and HFT.
I dropped lots of F-Bombs, called out cowards and crooks and held nothing back. (“That fucker belongs in prison; this son of a bitch should hang“)
Afterwards, she commented that I seemed angry.
I wrote back suggesting that I am a happy dude, and its not Anger — its closer to an ineffable sadness that comes once you realize you have lost something dear. I am old enough to have grown up when this nation was a Democracy, but that era has passed. We now live in a nation no longer run by the citizens — it is a Corporatocracy — and that makes me sadder than angry . . .
She suggests perhaps a better word is outraged.
I wonder: Why have the Europeans figured out they are getting screwed, and we haven’t? Why are they taking to the streets en masse, while we seem to be watching our own control over our own futures slip from our hands almost as if from afar?
In America, we are too busy dropping the kids off at soccer, running around looking for sales and bargains, racing to keep our heads above water. We seem to forget to get outraged. Our control over our once Democracy — the one we had a revolution against a monarchy dictating decisions from afar — slips away from us. Not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a 1000s acts of gradual ceding of power to the new Monarch. We have given up hard won rights to a coordinated attack from all three branches of government; Our Congress has become the legislative branch of eBay — Congressmen are auctioned off to the highest bidder; they even have a Buy It Now button to get specific legislation passed. The executive branch has fallen under the sunk cost fallacy, afraid to prosecute banks because we spent so many billions bailing them out. It turns out that even our once venerable Supreme Court is just as corrupted, with lobbyists partying with Justices and backdooring ethics by hiring their wives.
In short, our new overlords are enormously well funded, well connected, relentless and perhaps most of all, patient. This new King was not appointed by primogeniture, or even Divine Right, but by acquiring enough profits in the free market that they can buy control over society, even as they thwart that free market ideal for their own ends. We have become, in short, a Corporate Monarchy.
The right question isn’t why am I angry, sad and outraged. The proper question is, why aren’t you?
Malcolm Gladwell, one of the best storytellers of our generation, is the author of four books, including “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference,” (2000) , “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (2005), and “Outliers: The Story of Success” (2008) all of which were number one New York Times bestsellers. His latest book, “What the Dog Saw” (2009) is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker.
Part 2 of Jeremy Grantham’s 1Q Letter to Investors is embedded below for your enlightenment. Grantham urges investors to lighten up on risk taking, be prepared to be early, and cautions not to wait until October 1.
With inflation having been a non-issue for a number of years but starting to edge higher, it is opportune to revisit the impact of inflation on equity returns. Barry Ritholtz (The Big Picture) alerted me to VisualizingEconomics who constructed the chart below, showing the real and nominal growth in U.S. stocks since 1871.
Annualized gain since 1871: Nominal stock price gain = 4.0% Real stock price gain = 1.9%
Click here or on the image below for a larger chart.
In a further study, VisualEconomics also compared the real price index to the real total return (price change with dividends reinvested).
Annualized return/gain since 1871: Real total return (with dividends reinvested) = 6.2% Real stock price gain (without dividends reinvested) = 1.9%
Click here or on the image below for a larger chart.
I have been watching with a mixture of awe and dismay some of the really bad analysis, sloppy reporting, and just unsupported commentary about the GS case.
I put together this list based on what I know as a lawyer, a market observer, a quant and someone with contacts within the SEC. (Note: This represents my opinions, and no one elses).
Ten Things You Don’t Know (or were misinformed by the Media) About the GS Case
1. This is a Weak Case: Actually, no — its a very strong case. Based upon what is in the SEC complaint, parts of the case are a slam dunk. The claim Paulson & Co. were long $200 million dollars when they were actually short is a material misrepresentation — that’s Rule 10b-5, and its a no brainer. The rest is gravy.
2. Robert Khuzami is a bad ass, no-nonsense, thorough, award winning Prosecutor: This guy is the real deal — he busted terrorist rings, broke up the mob, took down security frauds. He is now the director of SEC enforcement. He is fearless, and was awarded the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award (1996), for “extraordinary courage and voluntary risk of life in performing an act resulting in direct benefits to the Department of Justice or the nation.”
When you prosecute mass murderers who use guns and bombs and threaten your life, and you kick their asses anyway, you ain’t afraid of a group of billionaire bankers and their spreadsheets. He is the shit. My advice to anyone on Wall Street in his crosshairs: If you are indicted in a case by Khuzami, do yourself a big favor: Settle.
3. Goldman lost $90 million dollars, hence, they are innocent: This is a civil, not a criminal case. Hence, any mens rea — guilty mind — does not matter. Did they or did they not violate the letter of the law? That is all that matters, regardless of what they were thinking — or their P&L.
4. ACA is a victim in this case: Not exactly, they were an active participant in ratings gaming. Look at the back and forth between Paulson’s selection and ACAs management. 55 items in the synthetic CDO were added and removed. Why?
What ACA was doing was gaming the ratings agencies for their investment grade, Triple AAA ratings approval. Their expertise (if you can call it that) was knowing exactly how much junk they could include in the CDO to raise yield, yet still get investment grade from Moody’s or S&P. They are hardly an innocent party in this.
5. This was only one incident: The Market sure as hell doesn’t think so — it whacked 15% off of Goldman’s Market cap. The aggressive SEC posture, the huge reaction from Goldie, and the short term market verdict all suggest there is more coming.
If it were only this one case, and there was nothing else worrisome behind it, GS would have written a check and quietly settled this. Their reaction (some say over-reaction) belies that theory. I suspect this is a tip of the iceberg, with lots more problematic synthetics behind it.
And not just at GS. I suspect the kids over at Deutsche bank, Merrill and Morgan are working furiously to review their various CDOs deals.
6. The Timing of this case is suspect. More coincidental, really. The Wells notice (notification from the SEC they intend to recommend enforcement) was over 8 months ago. The White House is not involved in the timing of the suit itself, it is a lower level staff decision.
7. This is a Complex Case: Again, no. Parts of it are a little more sophisticated than others, but this is a simple case of fraud/misrepresentation. The most difficult part of this case is likely to turn on what is a “material omission.” Paulson’s role in selecting mortgages may or may not be material — that is an issue of fact for a jury to determine. But complex? Not even close.
8. The case looks thin: What we see in the complaint is the bare minimum the prosecutor has to reveal to make their case. What you don’t see are all the emails, depositions, interrogations, phone taps, etc. that the prosecutors know about and GS does not. During the litigation discovery process, this material slowly gets turned over (some is held back if there are other pending investigations into GS).
Going back to who the prosecutor in this case is: His legal reputation is he is very thorough, very precise, meticulous litigator. If he decided to recommend bringing a case against the biggest baddest investment house on Wall Street bank, I assure you he has a major arsenal of additional evidence you don’t know about. Yet.
Typically, at a certain point the lawyers will tell their client that the evidence is overwhelming and advise settling. That is around 6-12 months after the suit has begun.
9. This case is Political: I keep hearing that phrase, due to the SEC party vote. It is incorrect. What that means is the case is not political, it means it has been politicized as a defense tactic. There is a huge difference between the two.
10. I’m not a lawyer, but . . . Then you should not be ignorantly commenting on securities litigation. Why don’t you pour yourself a tall glass of STF up and go sit quietly in the corner.
I have $1,000 against any and all comers that GS does not win — they settle or lose in court. Any takers? My money is already in escrow — waiting for yours to join it. Winnings go to the charity of the winners choice.
This post is courtesy of Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture.
A 3d animation from Etérea featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater.
Fallingwater —as this building is commonly named in english— is a house designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Construction began in 1936, and ended with the completion of the guest house in 1939.
Kate Welling of welling@weedon has just conducted another of her top-class interviews with Michael Belkin. Belkin is the author of The Belkin Report that I used to read regularly, but have had difficulty in obtaining over the past two years or so. He has a huge reputation among institutional investors and got his calls right more often than not when I still had access to his material.
Friend Barry Ritholtz (The Big Picture) provides some insight into Belkin’s latest thinking with the following excerpts from Welling’s report:
“Where my views are probably different to what some of the higher profile names are currently saying is that I’m not pointing to the equity market now as the source of a bubble or of malinvestment, in Austrian terms.
“If not the stock market, where are you pointing?
“At the bond market. Specifically, since the March 20, 2009 turning point in the equities market, if you look at the AMG weekly data on inflows into ETFs and mutual funds, bond fund flows have been positive every week and have averaged $4 billion a week. There hasn’t been a single down-week. But meanwhile, for equity funds, there’s been a completely different pattern. They’ve been down two weeks, up one week, then down, up four weeks, down five weeks – and the average inflow is only $500 million a week.
“Just barely positive?
“Yes, at last count only $24 billion had gone into all kinds of equity funds over this entire recovery rally, versus $178 billion into bond funds. I’ve been looking at this for quite a while and sort of scratching my head and wondering what was going on. But finally it just occurred to me. They’re buying bonds. It’s rather obvious. I think what has happened is that the public in previous cycles bought emerging-market funds or internet stocks or whatever, when the Fed would lower interest rates to an artificially low level, thereby penalizing people on their savings. So right now, for instance, I have friends who inherited a lot of money and I’m an informal advisor to them, not a paid advisor. They keep asking me, what do I do now? They were investing in CDs, which were parceled out to a lot of different banks on which they were making 2, 3, 4%. But now they’re maturing and the banks are offering, like, nothing. So they are asking, what do we do, what do we do? They need the yield; they need income; they don’t want to lose the nominal principal. What to do? What to do?”
“Belkin’s time series regression analysis is not only data driven, but he is also aware of historical predecessors. I find his argument that bonds are at greater risk than stocks to be very counter-intuitive, contrary – and compelling,” added Ritholtz.
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