Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Official: Hello Kitty is a Girl and the Market Again Drops on Russia

     This is now a fact as it's been confirmed by the 'experts'-yes, she is a girl-not a cat. Joe Kiernan of CNBC seemed quite shaken by the news this morning and it seems that many reacted the same way but I've always thought she was a girl. I think the point is not that she's a cat herself but that she's a 'young, smart girl'-as we have now been informed-who really likes cats.

     In the past I've had people come up with all kinds of weird theories as to what Hello Kitty is-that she was a cat was a lot more plausible than someone who thought she was a he!! This person I have in mind was actually a female which made it even harder for me to figure out.

       So I have some happy closure there even as others are in angst. While this makes sense to me, here's what doesn't: the market sold off today with stories that Putin has opened up a 'third front'-in the Ukraine.

        While this may be very bad geopolitical news, what exactly is the market thinking this means today? If  Putin succeeds in his offensive in the Ukraine this is very lamentable but I don't know if anyone really knows what it means for equities. Maybe that's the answer-'uncertainty'-though we saw the market sell off sharply in late July over this very same 'uncertainty.'  So even though we had some good numbers in today like unemployment filings down under 300,000 again-298,000, and a GDP number revised up for the second quarter to 4.2% all that matters its the Ukraine


          In part no doubt the market just needs a reason to sell off as we are again at all time highs and the market has been up basically every day for the last two weeks. Right now, I remain bullish. I saw this as an excuse to buy the dip-buying 20 more BAC $16 calls for Sept 26 bringing me to 80 of those. I need just a mild snap back in BAC and JNJ to make some decent cash. I was up 102% until today-since I had bottomed out before the rally at 70% down. However, today, I dropped off 7%. So am I up or down altogether math majors? LOL. I know Greg knows the answer to this one.

        P.S. For the actual geopolitical analysis, it seems that Putin is acting not at all from strength but desperation. The sanctions may hurt the Europeans but surely will hurt Russia much more. The ban on many food imports is surely a classic case of biting off your nose to spite your face.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Conservatives Always Accuse Krugman of Lying and de Blasio's Natural Experiment on Housing

     He said that this piece he did on the so-called 'Texas Miracle' of Rick Perry brought out a lot of the haters. In it he argues that the main reason so many are leaving big cities and states like NY for small states with conservative governors like Rick Perry is not because of low taxes and regulations on rich people and rich companies but lower housing prices.

     "But why are housing prices in New York or California so high? Population density and geography are part of the answer. For example, Los Angeles, which pioneered the kind of sprawl now epitomized by Atlanta, has run out of room and become a surprisingly dense metropolis. However, as Harvard’s Edward Glaeser and others have emphasized, high housing prices in slow-growing states also owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction. Limits on building height in the cities, zoning that blocks denser development in the suburbs and other policies constrict housing on both coasts; meanwhile, looser regulation in the South has kept the supply of housing elastic and the cost of living low."

      "So conservative complaints about excess regulation and intrusive government aren’t entirely wrong, but the secret of Sunbelt growth isn't being nice to corporations and the 1 percent; it’s not getting in the way of middle- and working-class housing supply."

      "And this, in turn, means that the growth of the Sunbelt isn't the kind of success story conservatives would have us believe. Yes, Americans are moving to places like Texas, but, in a fundamental sense, they’re moving the wrong way, leaving local economies where their productivity is high for destinations where it’s lower. And the way to make the country richer is to encourage them to move back, by making housing in dense, high-wage metropolitan areas more affordable."

      "So Rick Perry doesn't know the secrets of job creation, or even of regional growth. It would be great to see the real key — affordable housing — become a national issue. But I don’t think Democrats are willing to nominate Mayor Bill de Blasio for president just yet."

       What makes conservatives so crazy over Krugman in a piece like this? I think it's conservative economists in part like Sumner and his readers who hate such pieces and after reading it declare him a 'liar.' I recall Mark Sadowski-not to pick on Mark just he's an example I recall, there are many such complaints-saying that what bothers him about Krugman is that 'he knows better.'

       There is a feeling that he sells out his knowledge for his personal ideology. To me this always seems a little convenient-conservative economists evidently don't believe that conservative economists ever prostitute their knowledge for political reasons but if true this is hard to square with what we saw from Greg Mankiw and Glen Hubbard during the 2012 race when they were in the pay of the Romney campaign.

         To be sure, a lot of what is believed by mainstream economists is considerably more conservative than what laypeople believe-think about things like the minimum wage-the average person bought into the MW in the 30s-in any case they elected FDR who put in place, then they continued to elect him and others like him who also believed in it. Or take 'price gouging'-most people think it's wrong for say a gasoline company to raise prices sharply during a hurricane-as a few did during Hurricane Sandy on Long Island, though most to their credit didn't.

         Most economists don't have a problem with such 'gouging' they chalk it up to the workings of supply and demand. Indeed, they would go on to argue that such 'gouging' has a salutatory effect as it prevents shortages.

          In any case, what ended the problem of long lines in Long Island was when the government imposed 'odd-even' days where some could only get gas on even days, some could only get it on odd days, so in this case, government was  the answer.

          Similarly with rent control. I saw in the comments that Krugman was criticized for not mentioning rent control. To make matters worth he praised de Blasio's agenda for low housing prices-no doubt many economists would complain that this is unlikely to be Pareto optimal.


           The de Blasio plan is about all the things conservatives hate-if prices are too high it must be because of rent control; get rid of that and prices will be nice and low after supply is back at it's equilibrium level.

           It is true, that in Krugman's recent textbook with his wife and fellow economist, Robin Weil, he criticizes rent control. So this is probably the sort of thing these conservative economists have in mind.

            If nothing else, though, economists should welcome de Blasio's '10 year plan'-no doubt this will be compared to Lenin and Mao's plans-as it gives them what they always tell us they need so dearly but so rarely get-a natural experiment. 

Burger King, Inversion, the Corporate Tax Rate and the Lies of Robert Pittenger

     I'm sort of giving the meaning of the world 'lie' a wide berth where simply being wrong is declared a 'lie'-call it the Scott Sumner berth. Still, you have to shake your head a little after seeing North Carolina Republican Congressman Pittenger on how we have the highest tax rates in the world and 'this is just shameful, shame on us.'

    This all goes back to the fallout over Burger King's merger with the Canadian company Tim Horton-the irony, is that while the stocks were up on the news, and BK is presumably doing this at least in part for 'inversion' purposes, Jim Cramer actually argues that these are two less than spectacular companies hoping that the two of them can somehow be spectacular together and while BK may be doing this for Canadian tax rates, Timothy Horton is doing this to make themselves somehow more 'American.'

    Many criticize 'tax inversion'-where American companies try to get a lower foreign tax rate. The answer to GOPers like Pittenger is just lower the corporate tax rate to nothing as this is both 'fair' and will allow us to 'compete.'

     I love having some knuckle dragging Republican from the South with all their racist and sexist policies-at this point it's pretty much impossible to vote while black down there with the not so Supremes gutting the 1964 Civil Rights Act-and they are also just destroying a woman's right to choose-come up and lecture the civilized country on how they should run things. Yeah we should start picking up North Carolina policies-first we should get a Confederate flag and then we should make draconian cuts to unemployment insurance. That would please Sumner no doubt.

    I know that Sumner often represents himself as 'unsure' of what the effects of this are, but that's all just part of his sophistry: have no doubt he opposes UI benefits and would never criticize any rollback of them. Part of the illusion that Sumner tries to foster-and this is quite right as this is what he calls his blog-is that economics is this value free field where what matters is 'economic science' not ideology-it's the discipline's deceit going back to Friedman's 'postiive vs. normative' conundrum. I wouldn't deny that economists don't really try to learn and understand in a scientific manner. However, at the end of the day, what decides actual policy? At some point someone has to make a choice which will not be pristine but will come with this policymaker's ideological baggage.

     We all have beliefs-or 'ideology' to use a loaded term. My feeling is that a Sumner opposes things like UI or the minimum wage for the same reason I support them. Ethical beliefs that can be informed but never fully overthrown by facts alone no matter how scientific-and the jury is till out on how scientific econ is anyway.

      At most none of us get beyond the realm of correlation-to really being able to rigorously prove causation too often. This is why Sumner overdoes it when he accuses Obama for instance of 'lying' about tax rates after Obama-when you look at it, it comes down as usual to how you define certain terms, certain assumptions, etc.

       On the inversion issue, I feel like someone like Pittenger is just sputtering a soundbite that is very misleading. Of course, Sumner wouldn't criticize him for this. What Pittenger should say is that US nominal corporate tax rates are the highest in the world. Once you adjust it to real rates, we don't have the highest corporate rate in the world or anywhere close.

        As for 'corporate tax reform' many big corporations don't even want tax reform-the current effective rate for large corporations is 12%-why would GE for instance want a 'reform' of the tax? Pittenger, of course, will play his usual game of blame the Democrats for all the world's ills but he is certainly not advancing the cause of reform by being so misleading.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Bank of America Pays the DOJ $17 Billion Dollars and the Power of Number 17

     A simple math problem for you-smile maybe if you're a math major or an economist, I don't know... Since I came into a little money back in March-there's still the main part in the future-I put some money into the stock market-mostly options, which is my game more than stocks. 

     My only stock is Apple which has paid me very handsomely at 22 percent gains. However, how have I done overall? Let me see if you can guess. A few clues. 

     Just a week ago I was down 70 percent-options are very risky. However, after some big gains this week on JNJ, JCP, and BAC I am up again. After Bank of America's fine was agreed to yesterday, the stock rallied from $15.50 to closing at $16.16. Believe it or not this seemingly small rise of $.66 is huge in the world of options and I made just $1,700 off of that. By the end of the day I was now at 70% for the week after being down 70% since I first started back in April. 

      So you see the power of 17-it was $17 billion for the DOJ and $1700 on BAC option gains for me. The market liked this because even though the $17 billion was the 'embarassing number' BAC had wanted to avoid, still at the end of the day at least there is some sense of closure now. At least we have an idea of the ceiling on how bad this gets for BAC. The market hates uncertainty-that was what was driving down BAC. Now I imagine it can at least hit $17.

     Question-did that bring me back to even? Ok, pencils down: no, It only brought me back to close to 60 percent of my initial investment, so I was still down about 40 percent. However, I also jumped into Gilead Sciences (GILD). This soared this morning over $2 dollars which gave me another $1,800. So now I'm up close to 90 percent since hitting bottom at 70 percent down last week. 

     Another question: did this bring me back to even? No, even now I'm just about about 70 percent-actually a little less than what initially came into the market with. It's much tougher to make up losses than the initial losing. Still, not to pat myself on the back, coming down back from 70 percent down with a 90 percent surge is impressive. 

     Anyways, such is life in the market. I've spoken to enough people by now to see that most would not have the stomach for all this-I mean if you tell someone that you're down 70 percent they would surmise that it's way too risky and that they would never consider trying it. However, unlike back in 2008 I'm not betting the rent money on it, I put in just a little bit to have some fun. If I do pull back to even-which requires about another 50 percent gain from here-which is not that much less than what I lost totally percentage wise from peak to trough initially, but is considerably less than I've rallied from since I hit the trough I must say that-again not to toot my own horn but just to be honest-that would be pretty damn impressive in itself. 

     I have to admit that the bears haven't been right in a long time-of course, that's statistics: bears are going to be right a lot less often than they're wrong as roughly for every 8 years in the market, at least 5 of them will be bull years, while no more than 3 will be bear. Sumner mentions the next 10 years after the late 90s as being a period that was bad for investors. 

     "DeLong identifies three periods when stock investors did poorly over the following 10 years—right before WWI, the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the late 1990s.  Even today I’m not sure exactly how much of the poor stock market performance of 1968-81 was due to the Great Inflation. Inflation did punish savers given that the IRS taxes nominal capital income.  But does that explain the entire underperformance?  Was there money illusion (confusing real and nominal interest rates) when discounting future profits?  I’m not sure.  I am confident, however, that moving to a fiat money regime was a black swan for the US 30-year Treasury bond market, and pretty much every other bond market as well."

         True in that the indexes were lower at the bottom in March, 2009 than at the beginning. Yet, even here there were 5 bull years and 5 bear. Bull markets are-thankfully-more prevalent than bear markets just as boom years are more prevalent than bust years. 

         Interestingly, over the last 11 years-since the bottom of the 200-2002 bear market, we've had only 2 years of a bear market while 9 years of a bull market. This is kind of part of what this post is about-part of it was just to celebrate me getting some gains in the market but part of it was how numbers and statistics can mislead. While technically the last 11 years as a whole has had only two bear market years, it's hardly looked upon by anyone as a Golden Age of growth-this is true not just of the regular guy who doesn't have much in the stock market but even for most investors themselves. 

         Similarly, many would assume that if you're down 70 percent and then rally 70 percent that means your now even. This also suggests that Zarathustra's Spirit of Gravity is certainly present when one is trying to reach the top-it's much easier to fall than to rally. Even the law of numbers observes this Spirit. 

Obama's Critics Turn to Special Pleading

     That's how Ben White sounds here declaring that President Obama should start listening to his critics-after all, clearly they have his best interests at heart! White kind of admits himself that complaints about Obama playing gulf after speaking about the terrible murder of U.S. journalist James Foley by ISIS are kind of flabby, but, still Obama should worry about them because? Well the race between Scott Brown and Jean Shaheen is allegedly very close and it shouldn't be.

      "There are some who argue that criticism of President Barack Obama for happily golfing after speaking to the nation about the brutal terrorist murder of U.S. journalist James Foley is unfair and doesn't really matter anyway."
      "Those inclined to care about presidential golfing are never going to like Obama, this argument goes, so why should he trouble himself with theircritiques? Obama himself is reportedly of this view. The president, we are told, "long ago stopped worrying about what critics say."
        "He should start worrying again."
        "Because while it is true that Obama will never be able to win over his most ardent critics, he is starting to lose some of his base in a way that could cost Democrats the Senate this fall and turn his last two years in the White House into a nightmare."
          "Look no further than New Hampshire for evidence of Obama's dilemma. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, viewed as a fairly safe bet to win re-election, is now in a dead heat with former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown, according to the highly respected WMUR Granite State Pollreleased Thursday night."
      Well obviously Obama's critics are right about everything, after all they sure were right that he was in deep trouble in 2012. Oh wait...  The Republicans are certainly worth listening to when they criticize Obama-after all, they know everything, I mean they have won 5 of the last 6 electoral colleges. Oh wait...  They actually lost 5 of the last 6. 
       To get specific here, White admits, this is just one poll in NH and others don't have it so close. Plus, if anything, he overstates Brown's haplessness-I don't like him and I was glad that Massachusetts where I lived a number of years got rid of him, but his resume is a little more impressive than White says-he really wants to make his overall point that Obama should listen to those who hate him-so he exaggerates here.
        The kvetching about golf is right out of Sean Hannity. I mean listen to him and Rush Limbaugh-if you lose a bet-and you'll hear the President destroyed for breathing. I remember listening to Hannity one afternoon during the 2012 election and him complaining that the President was costing 'you your tax dollars' everytime he took a bowl movement.    
         I'm sure there are those who would criticize him even for taking a bowl movement after speaking about the truly terrible beheading of James Foley. That's why he has to often tune out his critics-they cry so much wolf he simply has to-after all he has a country to run. Someone has to actually do the job while the naysayers bray in the backseat.
         Obviously even the Commander in Chief is a human being who can't stop living. The trouble is that so many Obama critics speak in such bad faith. They pick up the thread of any criticism no mater how crude just to knock hm. 
         So I doubt listening to them now will be anymore helpful than in 2009 and 2010 or 2012 or at any point in their unrelenting braying over the last 7 years. I can't speak for other members of the President's base that are allegedly turning on him because he was playing golf or took a vacation but I can say the bloom is not off the rose for me, nor ever will it be. I am so proud that this man has been our President, I just hope we can one day have a Congress that is not worth of a banana republic. 
         Off the beaten path, a more meaningful point of debate-not so much a criticism of just the President but of long standing U.S. policy is the payment of ransoms. Basically, we don't pay them-neither does Britain, but some of our allies like France does. 
          While Mr. Foley was beheaded many other journalists that were imprisoned with him were set free. This has touched up a debate where there are compelling arguments on both sides-nothing to do with the President being some terrible guy so no doubt his critics will find this of no interest. After all, it's certainly plausible that had the US paid a ransom, Mr. Foley would have been a free man and avoided his terrible fate. Perversely, we can go even further and put an exact dollar amount: ISIS had claimed they would release him for $132 million dollars. 

          Of course a life is priceless but his family didn't have this kind of money. The US government does, but this is against longstanding government policy. Should this policy change? At the least it may need to be rethought. 

          If anyone is in a position to discuss the question it's David Rodhe-who is not only a journalist for both the Reuters News Agency and The Atlantic but was held as a hostage himself in Afghanistan in 2008 for 7 months. No ransom was paid though he eventually got out. 

          As he himself says there are compelling reasons on both sides. Obviously from teh point of view of a hostage or their families, it gives a better chance of saving tehir lives. The argument against paying the ransom is that it will embolden terrorists-after all, kidnapping someone high profile enough could be a very lucrative business besides the ideology of the kidnappers. 

          What Rodhe does argue is that you can argue that the US and the UK are right not to pay or that France and others in Europe are right to pay but with  some governments paying and some not it creates the worse of all worlds. 

         Note that the full title of the Atlantic link asks not if just the US but if the US and Europe failed him-by together creating a worse of all worlds scenario. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nick Rowe Gives Us the Difference Between Keynesianism and Monetarism

     This is how he seems to differentiate. Nick doesn't spell it out in so many words but it seems to come down to this: general gluts. How do you explain them? What Keynesianism and Monetarism have in common is that they both acknowledge that general gluts happen as opposed to Austrian Business Cycle Theory or Lucas and Cochrane-the New Classicals, RBCers, et. al. 

     Nick thinks that you can only explain a general glut if you understand that money is different. What the ABCT and RBC theories claim is that a general gut is impossible-you can have sectoral gluts-gluts within certain sectors but not in every industry. 

      Now, Nick doesn't say it in so many words but it seems that when he criticizes 'whack a mole' theories or approaches, this is directed also at the Keynesians-whether 'New' or 'Old' or 'Post.' 

       He describes this as a battle between Walras's Law and 'Monetary Disequilibrium Theory.' However, clearly by this definition, Keynesians stand accused of being proponents of WL that he says works only in a non-monetary economy. 

      "Walras' Law says that a general glut (excess supply) of newly-produced goods (and services) has to be matched by an excess demand for some other good. But it could be matched by an excess demand of anything that is not a newly-produced good. It could be an excess demand for money. Or it could be an excess demand for: bonds; land; old masters; used furniture; unobtainium; whatever."
      "Daniel Kuehn calls this the "Whack-a-mole" theory of general gluts. The excess demand that matches the excess supply of newly-produced goods could pop up anywhere."
       "Monetary Disequilibrium Theory says that a general glut of newly-produced goods can only be matched by an excess demand for money. There's only one mole to whack. Money is special. A general glut is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon."
        "In a monetary exchange economy, Walras' Law is wrong; Monetary Disequilibrium Theory is right. We live in a monetary exchange economy. Walras' Law is the worst fallacy currently taught in economics as gospel truth."

       At least it's clear why Nick always denigrates fiscal policy as such a distant second to monetary policy in terms of dealing with demand stabilization policy-if you follow him here than fiscal stimulus is still directed at just certain sectors-ie, whack-a-mole-whereas only a monetary solution truly gets at the root of the policy. I'm not saying his argument here is brand new, just that I wasn't aware of it before and at least I get the basis of why Monetarists of any stripe like him and Sumner always denigrate fiscal stimulus. 

        On the subject of general gluts I find this essay very interesting:

       "In 1954, in the History of Economic Analysis, Schumpeter (1954: 617) wrote that ‘Say’s law is 
obviously true. Nevertheless, it is neither trivial nor unimportant’. 

         "From the point of view of studies in the history of economic thought, this was an important 
turning point. Paradoxically, in Schumpeter’s interpretation, Say becomes a precursor of Keynes and of
macroeconomic analysis."

        "According to Schumpeter (1954: 617) the law is the direct result of the interrelations between the 
producers who act in an economy distinguished by the vertical division of labour. The perception that 
production determines the generation of income flows would have permitted a triumph of logic against the 
simplistic and irrational underconsumption thesis diffuse among non-economists. Schumpeter’s argument 
was subsequently taken up by Blaug (1962: 149)"

       "Production increases not only the supply of goods, but, by virtue of the requisite cost payments to 
the factors of production, also creates the demand to purchase these goods (...) The demand for the 
output of any one industry must increase in real terms when the supplies of all industries increase, 
since these are precisely what generates demand for that industry’s products. Say’s law, therefore, 
warns us not to apply to macroeconomic variables propositions derived from microeconomic 

      "There could be no greater irony than the transformation of Say into the pioneer of criticism of the fallacies of composition (Schumpeter, 1954: 623-624). The privileged object of Keynesian demonology is converted
into the patron saint of macroeconomic theory!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

MIchael Brown, the Truth, and Zizkean Politics

       Yesterday I remarked after the Ferguson, Missouri police released the name of the officer who killed the young man Michael Brown-the community, far from being satisfied seemed to flair up again. This is now confirmed as things heated up again last night. It wasn't all peaceful protests either but some looting.

        What the community doesn't like is what was released with the name of the officer-Darren Wilson-a claim by the police department that Brown stole a cigar and was a wanted robbery suspect prior to his being shot. 

         "Later in the day, Ferguson police released surveillance footage from a convenience store where the incident took place. In the three-minute video, three men can be seen entering a store. Two of the men go to exit together when another man, supposedly an employee at the store, tries to stop them. The larger of the two men pushes the apparent employee before walking out."

         "Brown's family spoke out after information relating to the robbery was released, saying they were "beyond outraged."
Michael Brown’s family is beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate piece mil information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.
There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.
The prolonged release of the officer’s name and then the subsequent alleged information regarding a robbery is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies.
It is no way transparent to release the still photographs alleged to be Michael Brown and refuse to release the photographs of the officer that executed him.
The police strategy of attempting to blame the victim will not divert our attention, from being focused on the autopsy, ballistics report and the trajectory of the bullets that caused Michael’s death and will demonstrate to the world this brutal execution of an unarmed teenager.
Benjamin L Crump, Esq.
Anthony D. Gray, Esq.
Daryl D. Parks, Esq.

        At this point, though, can anything satisfy the protesters of Ferguson but evidence that corroborates their version of events-that Brown is an innocent gunned down in cold blood for no reason but because he's a young black man? This is why  I see the politics of Ferguson right now as Zizekean-the tangible demand-release the name of the officer-didn't satisfy the political subjects at all. 

        Since this new claim we've had many responses from those who believe this was race inspired murder. One is that in any case, just because he stole cigars this doesn't mean he deserved to die. Yes, but it nevertheless more complicated than saying Brown is just an innocent victim-if he did steal a cigar and was involved in a robbery. 

          Last night, the protesters were out and chanting 'I am Michael Brown', but they were also-many of them-looting and preying on people's stores. Because you steal a cigar doesn't mean anyone has the right to shoot you down in cold blood but your own actions also put you and others in more risk and this may be what happens in the dangerous shuffle that you yourself has caused. 

           I don't think I'm in the position to say definitively whether the shooting was legal or criminal but this new evidence if accurate is important and it does complicate the case against Darren Wilson. 

         P.S. It's an unfortunate irony for the protesters to chant they're Michael Brown and then show their disrespect and contempt for the property and rights of others-this is after all what Michael Brown himself may have done. 

         If Brown was killed during an attempt to restrain him during a violent confrontation then it's not true that we are all Michael Brown-after all, not all of us engage in theft and robberies. 

          P.S.S I don't mean Wilson is innocent, just that this latest news does complicate the case of those who are certain he's guilty.