Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday comedy

I really wanted to have some sort of snarky comment about how people have too much time on their hands or something but this video is clever and revealed something about the NYC subway system that I didn't know.  The reactions of the conductors is great.



This second clip has some salty British language in it.  Please try not to be offended and don't click if you think you might be offended.  However, if you want to laugh heartily, watch this grandmother playing Grand Theft Auto V.



Perhaps the more disturbing thing for me is the level of violence in Grand Theft Auto V.  Wow - I guess I've been living in a protective bubble when it comes to video games.  As a reminder, Take Two - the maker of GTA V - said they sold over $1.0 billion of this game in just the first 3 days after its release.

Cheers!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oh, my aching back

I'll preface this by saying that I am not trying to make light of any back issues.  I've pulled a muscle or tweaked a nerve before and it is a very difficult issue to deal with.

However, with close to 33% of all disability claims being for back and other musculosketal issues it's worth reviewing.  Interesting the percentage of claims relating to back/musculosketal has jumped from just 8% of claims in 1961 (50 years ago) when arguably the bulk of the workforce was engaged in more physically demanding jobs.

However, the real subject today is the push for unnecessary procedures and what this means for our economy as we attempt to have a serious discussion about the future of healthcare in this country.  Yesterday, the Washington post published an article on the rise in spinal fusion surgeries and the push by some doctors to encourage patients to pursue this course of treatment even when it is not in their best interest.

"By some measures, Federico C. Vinas was a star surgeon. He performed three or four surgeries on a typical weekday at the Daytona Beach, Fla., hospital that employed him, and a review showed him to be nearly five times as busy as other neurosurgeons. The hospital paid him hundreds of thousands in incentive pay. In all, he earned as much as $1.9 million a year.

Yet given his productivity, some hospital auditors wondered: Was all of the surgery really necessary?

To answer that question, the hospital in early 2010 paid for an independent review of cases in which Vinas and two other neurosurgeons had performed a common procedure known as a spinal fusion. 
The review was conducted by board-certified neurosurgeons working for AllMed, a company accredited to audit health-care businesses.

Of 10 spinal fusions by Vinas that were selected, nine were deemed not medically necessary, according to a summary of the report.

More than 465,000 spinal fusions were performed in the United States in 2011, according to government data, and some experts say that a portion of them — perhaps as many as half — were performed without good reason."

There is a ton of good info in the article :
*  a 600% increase in the number of spinal fusion surgeries in the US in the last 17 years.
* treatment rates in the US are 3 times higher than Australia or the UK
* Sales of spinal fusion medical equipment exceed $5 bil/yr - twice the rest of the world COMBINED!

These are some of the issues playing out in the healthcare/insurance landscape today:

* Insurers are scrutinizing every treatment (even those medically necessary) because they have had to pay out on unnecessary treatments.

* Insurance companies "deal with the cost" so consumers and doctors (the ultimate parties in the transaction) never discuss cost.  The next time your doctor recommends a test or something ask what it costs and you'll more than likely be greeted with a blank stare.

I wish we could have a rational conversation on healthcare but as the antics in Washington have shown rational + DC is not an equation that works.

Cheers!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Well, this is one way to avoid the smog

China's excess capacity of new construction is really starting to hit epic levels.  Despite the claims of 90% home ownership by the government, anyone with eyes can see they have built housing far in excess of their current needs.

In one particular city in China with about 800,000 residents (roughly the size of San Francisco) there are 200,000 units for sale!!!

However, the latest entry into the "all that looks like glass may not be glass" contest is this building in Qingdao province.

A new high-rise residentail apartment building in Qingdao, China with fake windows that were painted onto the walls.

Looks great, right?

Well, upon further inspection we notice that all of those windows on the brown facade are....... well, let's go to the photo evidence.

"Fake windows" painted onto the exterior walls of a new high-rise apartment building in Qingdao, China.

Yep, that's right, painted on!  Who needs actual air when you can enjoy simulated breezes next to your concrete windows?

To be fair, it does appear as though each apartment does have windows and balconies, but the painted windows are there just to give the building that special touch of class it was missing before. :)

Photos via www.chinasmack.com

Miscellaneous Monday

I've had a couple of interesting things hanging around for the past week so this seems like as good a time as any to share them.

Markets:
The volume of bad news now piling up is just relentless, but the only thing more relentless is the upward march of stocks.  When investors that control enormous pension funds start telling me (as they did last week) that "Hey, if we get a few more good years of 15-20% jumps, we'll be in good shape" you know that the complacency is really setting in.

I love this quote which sums up everything I've been trying to say for the past 2 years - "Asset prices are higher than they should be based on fundamentals. Companies are making profits, but they're not making profits off of higher sales -- they're making profits off of constraining costs and particularly labor."

I'm more and more convinced that there is no exit plan for the Fed. They hinted at cutting back their QE3 from $85 billion to $70 billion a month and stocks fell 10% this summer and everyone panicked. How, in the world can they wind down to $0 in the next 6-9 mths? Stocks can't fall with the Fed in the market and the Fed can't leave the market for fear that a decline in stocks will cause another "crisis". Their plan has successfully increased asset prices, but to what end? If the end goal was to stimulate lending and growth, that has not occurred in any meaningful way. In much the same way that the White House claims not to have known about our spying on foreign leaders, I'm not sure the Fed understands the ramification of their actions.

*************************************************************************
Stat of the day:

"In 2010, the top 1 percent the US population accounted for 21.4 percent of total expenditures with an annual mean expenditure of $87,570. 

The lower 50 percent of the population ranked by their expenditures accounted for only 2.9 percent and 2.8 percent of the total for 2009 and 2010 respectively."

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Future of Retail?

I read this story about a new company being launched last night and had a scary vision for the future of retail....

Video analytics startup Prism Skylabs announced today that it has raised $15 million in Series B funding.
The company launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2011. It says it can use footage from existing security cameras to provide retailers and other businesses with “web-style analytics”.

For example, the company says it can provide graphics showing footpaths through the store, heat maps of customer interest, and customer counts and conversion."
So, as I understand it this software will follow people through a store and say, "well she lingered about 36 seconds in front of the frozen vegetables before making a selection or 72% of customers walked down the milk aisle but only 12% of customers walked down the soda aisle."
I can see where this would be EXTREMELY valuable to retailers with large data repositories (Walmart, etc) and I think this company is really onto something.  However, I fear the day when this company merges with a Groupon of the future.  
Imagine walking down an aisle in your local Walmart/Target and getting hit with hologram-style pop-up ads throughout the store (now, that I've mentioned it I'm sure someone will build that app and raise $100 million in Silicon Valley next week).
Cheers!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Video of the night :)

Complete unrelated to anything, but this video should bring a smile to your face.  Apparently, this boy really struggled with math (or maths, if you are in the UK).  However, he managed to pass the class and the joy in his father's voice is just awesome.

An Inconvenient Truth - To fix the economy we should shutdown the stock market

I'll get to the subject in a second.  First, a little primer on the lunacy that has overtaken the stock market.  Today the delayed September jobs report was far weaker than expected with just 145,000 jobs created (mostly temporary, trucking and sales).  HOWEVER, the stock market read that as "the Fed can't cut off the juice until March so RALLY ON!!!".  Then at 10am a better than expected construction number came out and that sent the computers into an absolute frenzy!  So bad news - buy, good news - buy, no news - buy.....

I've seen this play out before in 1999 and 2007 and I think we remember what happened in 2000 and 2008.  This will not end well, but it's probably a 2014 story.

*******************************************************************************
This actually leads me to my original idea for today's post.  I'll preface this by saying that my theory could never, ever be put into practice because there are too many people that make too much money off the stock market to abandon it.

However, I believe that it is true that in order to fix our economy we should close our stock market indefinitely.

This seems counter intuitive when you hear every day (as you will throughout the day today) that the "STOCKS SURGE TO NEW RECORD HIGHS" because of X, Y or Z.

However, the great untold story of this bull run is not that it's Fed driven (that's pretty well known at this point) or that it's the most hated rally ever (also well known) but rather that any growth in earnings has come almost exclusively from cost cutting for four years. Sales growth has been almost nonexistent for many segments of the economy but lower borrowing costs and lower labor costs have allowed companies to continue to post stronger earnings (although that trend is faltering in the current quarter).

So, why does this matter?  Well, if Microsoft really wanted to compete with Google they'd be hiring 10,000 new employees to work on new projects, instead they sit on piles of cash.  Apple could be hiring engineers to build the next great ithingy, but instead the sit on mountains of cash.  This is basically the dilemma for every major global company today.  If you invest in the future, your short-term results will suffer because your revenues are flat to declining.  If you defer investing in the future you are rewarded every 3 months with a rising stock price.  What's a CEO to do?

In an ideal world we'd take every company in the world "private" overnight by eliminating daily trading of stocks.  This would enable companies to act like private companies and make smart, strategic long-term decisions.  Think about the difference in the way Wegman's is run versus Walmart - Wegman's invests in it's employees and while this is expensive over the long-term this leads to a better experience for the customer and the employee.  However, Walmart can't make that same commitment because they need to show earnings growth every 3 months.

If the stock market took a 10 year breather we could allow companies to think strategically once again.  However, this is just a theoretical exercise because it could never happen in reality :(

Cheers!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday night lights

A couple of my favorite clips from around the web today.

1) All I can say about this video is I hope this trend never makes it upstate.  Cool video, though.




2) The next time you think something you have to do is hard think about this guy who not only rode across America in 36 days, but shows you how to change a bike tire in case you were wondering how it's done ---- without hands.


Leaping from Crisis to Crisis

Presented without comment....

Google search for the terms Egypt, Syria and Shutdown.



Okay, a little comment.  Remember way back in August when the "coup that wasn't a coup" occupied every second of every day during the 24 hour news cycle?  Well, for the record there still is plenty to talk about there - a new protest law that is said to be more oppressive than during the Mubarak years and reports yesterday that Egypt is detaining Syrian refugees - but we moved on for some reason.

Oh that's right --- SYRIA!  Remember the line in the sand, the military build up, the threat of War number "who knows I've lost count"?  Well, the country is still in shambles, the refugee crisis is unmanageable and there has been no meaningful change in leadership.  Recall, that I felt this was all too rushed so I'm actually pleased with the current pace, but I'd still like to see us doing more to help the civilian population. However, we've moved on, why?

Oh that's right --- DEBT CEILING/SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN!  I won't bore you with all of the nonsense that's been covered for 25 hrs a day for the past two weeks but it makes you wonder what is the next great story that will be invente.... I mean, that will capture the media's attention.

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Truth in Press Release

I know I'm a fairly cynical person but I'm still capable of being surprised by the amount of spin used by politicians.

For exhibit A, I present our current 2016 Presidential candi........ um I mean Governor of the Great State of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

Last week his office (again this is really not the Governor's fault it's the politically aggressive consultants that surround him) put out a press release touting the fact that there are more than 82,000 jobs available in NYS right now.  Sounds great!

But, and you know there has to be a but, the reality is a little different.  Reading into the details on the actual website we find some interesting facts.

1) The employers with the largest number of job openings in EVERY region of the state are either

* Hospitals (thank you NYS for spending more on Medicaid than Texas and Florida combined!) or

* Colleges/Universities (thank you student debt bubble).

There are two exceptions - in Western NY Geico runs a huge call center and needs lots of low wage call center employees and in NYC where the Fire Department has over 1,000 openings despite the fact that fires and fire deaths are at record lows.

So, there is nothing inherently dishonest about this item, but if you lead with a statement like “We are seeing more businesses come and expand here in our state which in turn is creating more job opportunities for New Yorkers," but most of the largest openings exist with hospitals and colleges that have been around for 100 plus years, it's at best a little white lie.

2) The VAST majority of the available jobs are retail (categorized as Sales) and clerical.

3) The job site tool allows jobs in neighboring states to show up in the search results so the total of 82,000 available jobs may be misleading.  In fact, on the day of the press release a company called Air Wisconsin was listed as having 1,100 available positions in NY that have subsequently disappeared.

There is some good news to spread on the rebound in NYS which has largely been driven by the stock market recovery.  That is an okay story to tell, but when people try to spin a story to fit their narrative (ie, we need to show all of NYS recovering) it leads to press releases that less representative of the truth.

*******************************************************
Update - The market exploded higher on the Rep Boehner news - up over 100pts - but when the Rep Boehner's office denied that deal via twitter (and then deleted that denial), the market didn't even really sell-off.

Buy the rumor and sell the news is the traditional model, but it might be evolving into buy the rumor, buy the news and buy for the sake of buying!!!

Cheers!

Rally on Rumor - Version 4.0

Here we go again.  I remain convinced that if the powers that be had come to an agreement on 9/30 to keep the government open and increase the debt ceiling we'd probably have lower stock prices than we do right now.

Remember, that despite all of the gloom and doom predictions, stocks are roughly 1-2% HIGHER today than they were when the government shutdown on 9/30.  Why?  Principally, it's two factors in my opinion -

1) The headline reading computers buy everything in sight, whenever the words "deal" hit the wire.  Yet, when the deals hit a snag they only sell off slightly.  So stocks go up 0.5% on rumor and only go down 0.25% on the real news so at the end of the day they end up higher.  Do that for 5 straight days and the markets go higher.  Right now the stock market is REWARDING the stupidity in DC - Congress will look at the headlines which will all read "MARKETS SET NEW RECORD ON DEBT DEAL" and say "See we did that".

2) The media only watches stocks.  No one but the geekiest of Wall St. geeks follows the t-bill market.  However, short-term debt is acting like there is a high likelihood of a fly entering the ointment.  I honestly can not see the happening but I never thought we'd be talking about the lack of a debt deal in mid-October.

It sounds like Rep Boehner will bring the Senate version up for a vote (which will pass with 20 moderate Republicans jumping on board).  The removal of this catalyst (what, you mean there won't be any debt deal rumors tomorrow?) could cause a bit a vacuum in the markets but we'll have to see how it plays out.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

With apologies to Kansas - "Rally on my wayward son"

The (silicon-based) powder keg that is Wall Street was lit up today when word began leaking that a temporary debt ceiling deal looked to be in the works.  Unfortunately, tonight it sounds like any deal is still in the "negotiating phase".

As I mentioned before this has a very 2007 feel to it when we'd have huge explosive rallies on rumors only have those rumors denied later.  My concern is that the complacency on Wall St and around the US is really startling.  If you read the press around the globe you'll get a sharply different view of this shutdown.  In particular, it seems that many around the globe are very concerned that our government has moved to a point where it can no longer effectively govern by making any hard choices.

The volatility in the markets around the press releases coming from both parties is disconcerting.  However, I don't expect it to end any time soon.

The markets will breathe a huge sigh of relief whenever a deal is finally reached but if it is merely a short-term financing deal with many conditions, then I'll continue to worry about a death by 1,000 cuts.

Markets jumped 2% during the day and fell 1% after hours when it was reported that a deal had fallen apart (later amended and markets jumped back up 1%).  The point is that someone is probably making their entire year based on this volatility.

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By the way, just in case you get the crazy idea that the powers that be in Washington will be able to figure this whole mess out consider this story.

"Linn’s Stamp News reports that the US Postal Service will destroy the entire press run of a stamp series aimed at getting children to be more active

According to Linn’s reporter Bill McAllister, three of the stamps in the fifteen stamp series raised safety concerns among sports figures on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. The stamps in question depicted children performing a cannonball dive, skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet. 

The unsafe depictions came to light after USPS Marketing chief Nagisa Manabe asked Michelle Obama to take part in a first day ceremony for the stamps. That was apparently the first time the stamps had been reviewed by the Sports Council."

A) Who in their right mind thought that a set of stamps would motivate children to be more active?  I would love to see the kid that was sitting in front of his XBOX playing Call of Duty but suddenly decides to go do a headstand because his mail came with a "cool" headstand stamp.

B) What in the !@$% is a headstand helmet?

C) I think most kids would be hard pressed to understand what you even do with a stamp. 

#facepalm

Cheers!

Well, that was fast - everything is fixed and then some

The markets have decided that a temporary debt ceiling deal will fix all of our problems and they have exploded back to pre-shutdown levels.

Here's the way I see things right now:

The Senate wants to move the issue of the debt ceiling off the table until December 2014.  Hmm, I wonder what happens in NOVEMBER 2014 that they would want to have the issue of the debt ceiling removed from our collective minds? Oh, that's right, those silly mid-term elections.

Anyway, that's the Senate's proposal and I suspect that is what we will ultimately end up with.  I imagine we'll get a series of small debt ceiling extensions with a final grand deal around Thanksgiving that hikes the debt ceiling by $990 billion (then everyone can claim a victory lap because they stopped moving up in trillions and they will defer the next conversation until after the elections).

The House is in a tougher spot.  They really want the conversation to begin on spending/debt, but they can't get out of their own way.  I believe they'll move forward with a continuing resolution in the near-term, but it might be very short-term (4-6 weeks).

Finally, the White House is sticking by its position that they want a clean budget and a debt ceiling hike.

Right now it sounds like very little has changed but someone must know something because the markets haven't sold off one bit during the day.

This feels a lot like many of the wild swings we used to get during 2008.  Markets fall 1% on bad news, then rally 2% on a rumor and then fall 1% on the actual deal.  It's not great for the confidence of the markets or the long-term investor, but for traders (who represent the bulk of market activity on any given day) this is just what the doctor ordered.

Cheers!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A little midweek humor

In an effort to lighten the mood a bit consider too of my favorite obscure news stories of the day......

1) What's the one ingredient you have to have in a Pumpkin Pie Donut? Well, obviously pumpkin right?  Not if you're Dunkin Donuts apparently.  Over 50 ingredients in their Pumpkin Pie Donut but surprisingly absent --- Pumpkin.

INGREDIENTS: Donut: Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron as Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Enzyme, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Palm Oil, Water, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Whey (a milk derivative), Skim Milk, Yeast, Contains less than 2% of the following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda), Defatted Soy Flour, Wheat Starch, Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Cellulose Gum, Soy Lecithin, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Enzyme, Colored with (Turmeric and Annatto Extracts, Beta Carotene), Eggs; Pumpkin Pie Flavored Buttercreme Filling: Sugar, Vegetable Shortening (Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Mono and Diglycerides), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Spices, Yellow 5, Corn Starch, Guar Gum, Salt, Natural Flavor, Artificial Color (Fractionated Coconut Oil, Caramel Color, Blue 2 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Sunflower Lecithin), Polysorbate 60, Red 40, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Citric Acid; White Icing: Sugar, Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Contains 2% or less of: Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Corn Starch, Sodium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Salt, Titanium Dioxide (Color), Citric Acid, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Agar, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor; Graham Crumb: Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Whole Wheat Flour, Sugar, Soybean and/or Palm Oils, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Molasses, Honey, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate.

2) This is just a promo piece for an upcoming Carrie remake which I normally would ignore, but the effort that went into creating this piece was pretty clever.  It's been viewed almost 10 million times since it's release yesterday so if you haven't seen this yet, you will soon.

So many headlines, so little time

The biggest market moving news of the night is that President Obama is set to nominate Janet Yellen to replace Ben Bernanke as the next Chair of the Federal Reserve.  Yellen is widely viewed as being a proponent of continuing many of the monetary policies that have existed for the past 2 years under Bernanke and that is believed to be bullish for stocks.

Unfortunately, there is little "wow" factor in this announcement as she was already the odds on favorite (1-7 were the last odds I saw) and despite popping immediately on the news, futures have started drifting lower already.

So, what was that all about today?  Stocks finally had a reaction to the idea that there is some serious dysfunction in Washington.  While it was not a sharp enough move to jump start any substantive negotiations it probably got their attention.  If you remember back in 2008 everyone was convinced that a TARP deal would pass Congress.  When it didn't, stocks crashed 800 pts, THEN Congress decided to act.  I'm not predicting a similar move, but absent such a crash, it's hard to see Congress coming together over a little 150 pt drop.

As I mentioned earlier today, the bond market freak out is what drove stocks lower and that move in interest rates was the greatest since the Lehman collapse 5 years ago.  If any further issues arise in the bond market we could see some real fireworks.

Other fun headlines to absorb......

* Alcatel-Lucent to cut 10,000 jobs

* The change in the Gallup US Economic Confidence Index in the last week was the greatest decline since the Lehman bankruptcy (there's that L word again).

* Since I mentioned technicals yesterday, I thought I would note that we did break through the 1,666 level which seems to indicate that we could be headed even lower.  I've seen people say 1,580 for the S&P and 13,900 for the Dow seem to be the chart targets they'd watch if this gains momentum.

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If you are a data junkie get ready to get your fix.  There is a TON of great data on the shutdown of the government at Enigma.io.  The chart at the bottom of the page shows each department of the government with it's % of employees furloughed and those that are exempt.

For example, it's no fun working for the Department of Education (95% furloughed), SEC (94% furloughed) or NASA (97% furloughed).  However, the VA, Homeland Security and Justice department seem to be suffering to lesser degrees.

Separately, is anyone else surprised that the Department of Veterans' Affairs is the second largest group of Federal employees representing 16.6% of all Federal employees?  We have 332,000 employees in this group serving 3.1 million veterans?  That was news to me.

Mid-day update

The lack of meaningful of movement in Washington was not garnering much attention until the bond market went haywire with the pricing of a 1 month debt.  The lack of demand from investors could have been caused by many factors but the fact that the 1 month rate on government debt shot to it's highest level since Lehman Brothers (and roughly 3 times the rate we've been paying) has got the market's attention.

The President scheduled a press conference to discuss the budget impasse shortly after this move in the bond market which sparked selling in stocks as well.

I'll try to offer more color later, but remember that this is one of the risks with the game being played in Washington.  The cost of our borrowing could increase meaningfully if the buyers decide to stay home.

Cheers!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Financial Literacy among the public and Congress

Well, another day and no real progress in DC.  The talking points from both sides of the aisle are so far apart I'm becoming increasingly worried that they might really test the waters re: the debt ceiling.

For example, a number of high profile investors (representing Democrats in this scenario) were quoted today as saying that a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be many magnitudes worse than the Lehman bankruptcy just 5 yrs ago.  On the other hand, the Republicans started floating the idea that we could still pay the interest on our debt without increasing the debt ceiling if we cut expenditures elsewhere.

This seems to ignore the fact that the US has close $450 billion in debt that needs to roll over in the next 4 weeks.  Historically, this isn't problem because everyone wants US debt (yeah, yeah, I know how that sounds, but it is the truth) however, if the merry-go-round stops because of our political infighting we could be in a tough spot VERY quickly.

Again, all of these worst case scenarios remain very low probabilities, but the fact that there is no panic in the markets is not forcing anyone to act.  The markets had a fairly orderly sell-off today of about 1% and until the end of the day there was very little activity in the markets.

I do have to note that we're about 10 points away from a real critical threshold for the stock market.  Again this only matters if you're a chart reader but we broke the 50 day moving average today and if we slip another 10 points we could test the summer lows pretty quickly.

*****************************************************************************
Okay it's quiz time:

• Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent a year. After five years, how much do you think you would have if you left the money to grow? More than $102, exactly $102 or less than $102?
• Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1 percent a year and that inflation was 2 percent. After one year, would you be able to buy more than, the same as or less than you could today with the money?
• Do you think this statement is true or false: “Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund”?
If you have a basic understanding of finance you'll quickly know that the answers are more, less and false.  However, a recent survey of Americans over the age of 50 (yeah, boomers - I'm looking at you) revealed that only ONE THIRD OF ADULTS COULD ANSWER ALL THREE!!!

Perhaps this Congressman was one of the 2/3rds that would have missed one of the questions ---

Ted Yoho from Florida’s 3rd District, said the following about the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debt:
“I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”
As a comedian said today ---

"I wasn't happy about the country being controlled by the richest 1 percent, but I really hate it being controlled by the dumbest 1 percent."

Cheers!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Washington meltdown week 2

So last week my thinking was we'd get a 2-4 day shutdown with very little impact on the markets.  Later in the week I modified that to be up to a 1 week shutdown but still thinking the impacts would be modest.

After 1 week the S&P 500 is about 10 pts HIGHER than it was before the shutdown so obviously the markets are shrugging this off so far.  Following the Sunday talk shows it does appear as though the futures have slipped and we'll see if that gains any momentum tomorrow.

Here's my revised thoughts:

With 83% of the government still operating and the department of defense now recalling virtually everyone this shutdown is feeling very much like business as usual.  So while this means less pain for the average Jane and Joe on the street, I think that this means the likelihood of a budget deal is actually falling.  Without getting political, I'd say the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by tying the Affordable Healthcare Act to the budget.  A politician backed into a corner may do some irrational things. The talk today was quite stark and if true, would certainly increase the odds of a US Debt default by the end of the month.

Other interesting observations -

* one bank said tonight that as long as ACA is a condition of any deal, there will be no deal.

* Goldman Sachs fired a pretty serious warning shot over the bow of those in Washington saying, in essence, that if a debt ceiling deal can not be reached by the end of the month and the Treasury department has to curtail its activities, the economy could see a sharp reduction in growth rates that would be difficult to reverse.  Now a cynic might say "how strong is our economy if it can't survive without life support from the Treasury?" but I'm trying to be Mr. Positive here tonight :)

I'm going to revise my outlook for a deal AGAIN to next weekend or early next week (the 15th has a nice sound to it).  By then we'll be close enough to have some real concern in the markets and the two sides can come to a grand bargain on the budget and the debt ceiling.

As a side note to the whole ACA debate, the actual implementation has been pretty much FUBAR since launch.  Check out this chat log from a woman who has been trying to log in for the past week over at Slate.com. 

It's clear from that chat, that someone sold the government a text version of Siri that would read the chat conversation and attempt to answer questions without involving a human.  Ugh, this is going to get ugly.

Cheers!


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

So maybe if the government stays closed can we get Dow 36,000??

The market opened strong and held the gains throughout the day.  There was no real catalyst and frankly, I think the reaction of the market probably changes my forecast for a settlement.  A sharp decline in the markets might have brought both sides to the table and lit a fire under them to get a deal done.  However, sending the Russell 2000 to a new all-time high probably is not the kick in the pants that Congress needs.

I'm hearing more rumblings of tying the debt ceiling hike into any budget deal.  These two items have never been linked in the past, but through a quirk in the calender they are now both in the hands of the power brokers in DC.

The Treasury department is obviously getting a little skittish as the Treasury Secretary made the unusual comment late tonight that the Treasury department is using it's final extraordinary measures on the debt.  Right now everyone is very complacent on the debt ceiling hike - I said yesterday that it's a non-issue - however, we need to remember when everyone is complacent and on the same side of the bet things can go terribly wrong.

The high frequency traders took advantage of a lack of federal oversight today to crush the end of the day close and ramp stocks on now news in the final minute.  I kept looking at my screen thinking that I was getting bad quotes because the numbers moved so fast.

I've adjusted my thinking and now expect the shutdown to last 5-7 days.  Hopefully, this will include an agreement on the debt ceiling or else we'll be having a similar conversation in a week.

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One of the funniest comments I read today was a mock tweet from the NSA that said

"Hey, we're a little short staffed here today.  Do you think you could just write down all of the websites you visit today and shoot us an email, okay?"

However, with a little help from you, your phone and your keyboard, maybe that won't be necessary.  Researchers from MIT and Georgia Institute of Technology have proven with some accuracy that an iphone's accelerometer can record the keystrokes you are making on your computer.

It's a fun, if scary, article that you can find here.

Cheers!

On the first day of the shutdown the markets gave to me....1 screen full of green

Futures seem to be reacting positively to...... oh, who knows.  The markets are up because the markets really wanted to be up yesterday.  Every time there was a hint of a deal out of DC the markets would turn sharply higher.  Now, today in the absence of a deal to keep the government open the markets are trading higher.

I'll stick with the consensus here that we'll have a shutdown of 2-4 days with little impact on markets or the economy.  However, if the polling starts to give some House Republicans a reason to dig in their heels we could see a longer shutdown (1 week +).

I also believe that the public's unhappiness with Congress will lead to swift hike of the debt ceiling prior to the 10/16 deadline.  However, I've been wrong before and I'll probably be wrong again :)

Cheers!