Simply Too Big

Perhaps you believe, as many people do, that the largest banks in the nation such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs should be broken up. They are simply “Too big to fail” and the cost of a bailout by taxpayers to avoid a systemic failure is too great. Who should break them up? The federal government, by legislation? The Federal Reserve, by regulation?

How about the free market – because they are not as profitable?

For all the shouting and consternation about big banks, one simple fact has gone overlooked. With their tremendous size and ability to “make the market”, as shown by the “London Whale” incident, they do not actually rule the world. They are about as profitable, and usually less so, than smaller banks. The reasons are not obvious but they are demonstrated. And those who should be doing the shouting are not the “99%” but the shareholders.

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Shipping Meltdown! (or not?)

Santa Claus isn’t coming this year! Global shipping has collapsed! Big ships are stranded as the companies can’t even pay the docking fees!

Clearly, it’s time to panic. The bankruptcy of Hanjin shipping has created a wave of horrifically bad stories predicting the end of international trade as we know it. Recession must be just around the corner as the global system collapses, right?

Um, no. Not even close. The story we have been told is a good example of two key features of financial reporting today. The first is that no one has the slightest idea what they are talking about and the story is completely free of the context anyone might need to understand it. The second is that the only big news is bad news – probably in part due to the first problem.

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Forcing Investment

The dust is settling. After the various panics that rocked the early part of the year, mainly due to a slow-down in China and the developing world as a whole, Brexit put another shock to the system. Markets panicked and everyone became even more risk averse. But with just a little bit of time we can see that even more than we predicted at the start of the 2016 one thing has become obvious by mid-year – the United States is the only solid place for any kind of investment in the world.

It’s still a tough fight to get the money to where it does the most good, at the risky start-up end of the economy. And there are plenty of signs of fear running amok more generally, expressed in the price of gold. But there is little doubt that the US is the place to be – all the moreso with Brexit.

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About this EU Thing …

I’m sitting here watching the BBC site as the results of the Brexit referendum pour in. It’s not looking good for the EU right now, and that has to give us all pause. The EU is absolutely essential, in some form, but the bureaucratic mess that has resulted isn’t necessarily helping anyone. The UK never went all in, keeping the Pound, so their view has always been a bit askance.

For far too many, it comes down to an interesting revelation. Did Germany actually “win” after all? Signs point to yes, they did. But how? What does this mean to other industrialized nations? Is there something we should all learn? Is Britain right for possibly wanting to go it alone?

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Ready for Liftoff?

Another first Friday of the month, another jobs report. By the time you read this the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly Employment Situation Summary for October may have been released diligently at 8:30AM Eastern Time on the appointed date. The stock market may be reacting and everyone will turn their attention to the Federal Reserve.

It’s a strange ritual which keeps financial writers busy. But does it mean anything?

If all goes as it should this one should really move the markets. Exactly which direction is hard to tell for a variety of reasons – but that is what will matter more than anything else if this report comes in as “good” (in quotes) as it should be.

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Fear Doesn’t Glitter

“All money is a matter of belief.”
– Adam Smith

Gold is taking a solid beating these days. It’s been slipping for a while, but when China revealed that it’s reserves were less than believed it really fell – quickly slipping below $1,100 per ounce when one mysterious trader dumped everything. It’s now more than a third off its 2010 peak and nearly everyone believes that it’s doomed to slip below $1,000 per ounce by the end of the year.

What happened? Isn’t gold the ultimate money in an unstable world? The short answer is no, and this has as much to do with the rise of the US Dollar as anything. But in the end gold is not as much a form of money as it is a barometer of fear – a commodity that appears to be in much shorter supply today than it was just a few years ago.

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Chinese Meltdown, Latin America Next?

The long anticipated meltdown in Chinese stocks has accelerated this week, although it took a break today. Whether or not it has implications for the broader economy in China and around the world is unclear, given how little China relies on its stock market for financing and growth.

It’s all about the “carry trade”, or ability to borrow money in a foreign currency (usually US Dollars) at low interest rates and invest it at home in the hope that the local currency (Renminbi, or “people’s currency”) will become more valuable relative to the foreign currency later. It’s a two-fer if you can invest it in something that appears to be gaining in value, such as local stocks, and Chinese investors went for it bigtime.

Yes, it was all another bubble waiting to pop, which it appears to be doing now. But can this hurt us? Speculation has centered on trade with Latin America, which has its own uneven growth and a growing reliance on China. But this is silly for a lot of reasons. It’s worth looking at Latin America as a unit and seeing what effects we can really expect.

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