Tag Archives: macroeconomics

The Hidden Cost of Credit Ratings

justice

The NY Times’ “The Hidden Cost of Trading Stocks” paints a concise and damning picture of yet another malpractice in financial services.  This has been a recurring theme.   

Another storm may be brewing – this time for the credit ratings industry.  

It is standard practice for issuers to hire ratings agencies to rate their securities.  This practice has lead to incentives to give higher ratings when trying to get business from securities issuers, putting the ratings agencies in the position of representing the issuers when they are given special status to serve and protect investors.  They are not even required to disclose the conflict of interest.  The closest we get to protection is a lawsuit when they explicitly advertise objectivity.

It now looks like 16 states will each get their chance to sue individually.  This may be the beginning of a big and positive change.  If conflicts of interest did influence credit ratings, it would shift capital and damage economic efficiency even when it is not misdirecting pension money into a mortgage bubble.  I wonder if we will see a social media movement to influence reform like we are seeing with network neutrality and “common carrier” status.  I hope so.

 

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The Independent Globalist: an instruction manual

I drink your milkshake

You drank my milkshake!

Independent globalists optimize after-tax returns, labor, and supply chains into the tax and regulatory regimes that are most favorable.

It’s an optimization exercise and a chess game.  This seems to be the dominant strategy:

1) After-Tax Returns

The equation: taxes + regulation.   Taxes are simple; they reduce your profits by their rate.  Regulation is more complicated because it costs money to comply, but there are also opportunity costs from business activities that are no longer available.

The game: reduce and eliminate taxes and regulation.  Express the stresses of international competition to pressure national politics using one issue at a time in the countries where you do business.

2) Labor

The equation: salary + benefits, including long term commitments.  Retirement, health care, and other benefits have costs, but also may reduce employee turnover.

The game: reduce and eliminate costs within each role.  Divide operational units and move them to locations with optimal rules and costs.  Use the placement of these units to pressure politics to reduce labor’s collective bargaining rights.

3) Supply Chains

The equation: price.  Commodities and other non-labor costs are priced on global markets, and are mostly fungible.

The game: reduce and eliminate regulations that internalize costs of production for your suppliers.

Investors lost $2.5 Trillion on Monday – Policy?

Investors lost $2.5 Trillion on Monday because stock markets were down.  Who still thinks stimulus is a bad idea?  How can anyone argue that it is a bad investment to spend a few hundred billion in the form of infrastructure or other stimulus when the effects are 1000%+ in the form of rising market valuations across the economy.  Stock prices rise in value within minutes when stimulus is announced.  American Freedom does not eliminate our right to make great investments for our economy.

Policy makers – and the rest of us – should pay more attention to ROI.

US Housing Market is Still Collapsing

The Economic Collapse has put together a stupendous list of 20 startling facts about the US housing market:

1. According to Zillow, 28.4% of all single-family homes with a mortgage in the United States are now underwater.

2. Zillow has announced that the average price of a home in the U.S. is about 8% lower than it was a year ago;

3. U.S. home prices have now fallen a whopping 33% from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble.

4. During the first quarter of 2011, home values declined at the fastest rate since late 2008.

5. According to Zillow, more than 55% of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Atlanta have negative equity and more than 68% of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Phoenix have negative equity.

6. U.S. home values have fallen an astounding 6.3 trillion dollars since the housing crisis first began.

7. In February, U.S. housing starts experienced their largest decline in 27 years.

8. New home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

9. Historically, the percentage of residential mortgages in foreclosure in the United States has tended to hover between 1 and 1.5 percent. Today, it is up around 4.5 percent.

10. According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings in the United States are projected to increase by another 20 percent in 2011.

11. It is estimated that 25% of all mortgages in Miami-Dade County are “in serious distress and headed for either foreclosure or short sale“.

12. Two years ago, the average U.S. homeowner that was being foreclosed upon had not made a mortgage payment in 11 months. Today, the average U.S. homeowner that is being foreclosed upon has not made a mortgage payment in 17 months.

13. Sales of foreclosed homes now represent an all-time record 23.7% of the market.

14. 4.5 million home loans are now either in some stage of foreclosure or are at least 90 days delinquent.

15. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are currently at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.

16. In September 2008, 33% of Americans knew someone who had been foreclosed upon or who was facing the threat of foreclosure. Today that number has risen to 48 percent.

17. During the first quarter of 2011, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.

18According to a recent census report, 13% of all homes in the United States are currently sitting empty.

19. In 1996, 89% of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one. Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.

20. According to Zillow, the United States has been in a “housing recession” for 57 straight months without an end in sight.

Source: The Economic Collapse: :”Don’t Buy A House In 2011 Before You Read These 20 Wacky Statistics About The U.S. Real Estate Crisis

LinkedIn IPO: the Public Premium

Facebook has been leading a cult of companies avoiding IPOs.  The claim is that the cost of regulation and transparency is unnecessary and inefficient.  Private markets like Second Market have grown tremendously.  This may be all wrong, and let’s hope so.

The IPO of LinkedIn demonstrated a public premium: public markets offered a higher valuation than the private markets did.   Valuations can be higher because discount rates are lower.  Think about it: public investors get maybe 15% in a strong year.  Private Equity investors are organized around discount rates of 20% or higher.    If your discount rate is so high, future profits are simply not worth as much.

There is another important reason for a public premium: regulated standards of conduct and transparency.  When owners (shareholders) are more informed and confident, risk is reduced and value goes up.

The reason to hope this is the case is for the public good.  If IPOs and public listings are shown to be a rational — because the cost of compliance is less than the valuation premium — then more companies will be public and capitalism will be more broadly accessible. Also, this will lead to higher overall investment rates and stronger economic growth.

Long term investment strategy blather

“The FED has been daring us, effectively, to go out and buy risky assets for the last 2 years”

“It will be the creditor that tightens global liquidity.  Not the debtor.”

I don’t agree with Russell Napier’s ultimate conclusion about S&P hitting 400, but this interview is full of gems:

http://video.ft.com/v/946244201001/Long-View-Historian-sees-S-P-fall-to-400

(it’s part of a series: http://video.ft.com/v/940727417001/Long-View-A-gathering-storm)

The reason that I don’t agree with his conclusion is that I think emerging market credit expansion will be harder to control.  I think credit expansion will be highly private, opaque, poorly regulated, and broadly accepted by the population.  Expansion of credit is an expansion of the money supply.  During which, emerging market consumption and inflation will be higher than expected.  Corporate profit growth would likely rise faster in that scenario, so downside risk should be protected to some extent by strong corporate balance sheets.

Or of course it could go the other way.  🙂

Planning and Investing for the Long Term

2 Great articles quickly tell the story of global trends, risks, and strategies:

The 1st, by McKinsey & Company, focuses on Globalization’s critical imbalances:

Globalization’s critical imbalances

The 2nd, by Investors Insight, talks about how to use global macroeconomic issues like these in your investment decisions:
What’s the point of macro?