Friday, February 25, 2011

Can't Pretend Much Longer -- Inflation is Here

Noticed food prices lately? Or perhaps the price of gas at the pump has caught your attention. You probably didn't know that raw cotton is up 180 percent since a year ago. Guess where that will take clothing prices. Think deflation is our problem, think again. Inflation is here.

US monetary policy and US debt policy hinge on the assumption of deflation. So much for those policies. Be prepared for major increases in treasury rates which means a dramatic and unanticipated increased in annual federal fiscal deficits. Things are going to get a lot worse quickly.

Bernanke and Obama are going to reap the results that their policies have sowed. A return to the Carter days -- stagflation is back. The stock and bond markets will struggle from here.

What makes a great trader? Managing risk

Found these excellent comments (one, two) on trading from Fullcarry and had to favorite and share these tweets.

One of the best traders I ever met was never right.Fri Feb 18 20:17:18 via TweetDeck

It was one of the few woman traders I ever worked with. She just new how to trade and manage positions, but was terrible at calling things.Fri Feb 18 20:20:06 via TweetDeck
Amazing how quickly these pearls of wisdom can dissipate in the real-time information ocean of Twitter if you don't happen to spot them at the right time.  

Incidentally, this is why I try to favorite (Twitter's bookmark function) tweets and check up on my favorite Twitter lists. You never know what you'll find, or what you might have missed if you didn't happen to catch it in your stream. Wish Twitter would improve its archived search features so users could easily uncover more great information like this, but that's a topic for another day. 

Back to Fullcarry's notes: what's amazing about this particular insight on trading is that it goes against the grain of conventional thinking on successful trading and investing.

So many outsiders, and many trading books and programs aimed at a mass audience, operate on the assumption that you need to aim for a high percentage of winning trades ("high probability outcomes") or that you must be right most of the time to make it as a trader.

As Fullcarry tells it, just the opposite may be true. You don't have to be right on all your calls (or even half of them) to be a profitable trader. You do have to know how to manage your trades and your risk.

After I had saved these tweets last week, I happened to notice a great post by Darvas Trader that ties right in with Fullcarry's message on managing trades and risk. It's called, "The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Trading" and it makes a similar point about relying on winning percentage vs. managing risk.

Quoting Darvas Trader:

Risk management is the single biggest determining factor in the long-term success of a trader."

Great study material for traders and investors who are learning to apply some form of risk management to their trading or investing method of choice.

Of course, you could always go the big-shot fund manager route and tank your investors' returns (by refusing to take losses and managing risk) after a big winning streak, but maybe the disciplined approach is more useful for those of us who aren't in the media spotlight.

If you're enjoying these posts and would like to see more, please subscribe to our free RSS updates and follow Finance Trends in real-time on Twitter and StockTwits.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simplify: a Lesson from the Bad News Bears

Watch coach Leak's instructions to pitcher, Carmen Ronzonni. Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Simplify.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Happened to Robin Hood?

In Madison, thousands of high income folks are busy demonstrating in the hopes that lower and middle income taxpayers will pay higher taxes to keep these rich folks riding high. The average teacher in Wisconsin makes between two and three times the all-in compensation of the average Wisconsin taxpayer, so, by all means, lets raise taxes and make the gap even higher. To show their concern for their students, the Wisconsin teachers have taken to calling in sick while they are demonstrating in the state capital for even more money.

Meanwhile, the state faces an immediate $ 3.6 billion shortfall and will be forced to begin laying off teachers next week. Why don't the demonstrating teachers care about the pending layoffs? Because the ones demonstrating will not be the ones laid off. The ones laid off will be the most recently hired teachers with the least seniority and these teachers aren't paid as well or have as much seniority as the ones wreaking havoc in Madison. The rich teachers are protected by seniority rules.

Just imagine a couple both of whom have been school teachers in Wisconsin for twenty years and have a combined compensation exceeding $ 250,000 annually. These are the people demonstrating. These are the people that are not showing up in the classroom even though paid (handsomely) to do so.

Where is Robin Hood? He needs to ride in and support the taxpayer against these rich folks who are robbing the public treasury and not showing up for work.

Student demonstrators, as usual, are supporting the relatively affluent against the interests of the average citizen. No change there.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Russia Forum 2011 w/ Nassim Taleb, Marc Faber

Russia Forum 2011, which recently took place in Moscow, featured a global investing outlook panel discussion which included famed investors and commentators, Nassim Taleb, Marc Faber, and Hugh Hendry.

Also on hand at the forum were economist, Nouriel Roubini, strategist, Russell Napier, and a panoply of international investors and business leaders. You'll find Roubini and Napier adding their thoughts in the outlook panel video above.

There was also a rather interesting panel, featuring Faber and Taleb, entitled, "Is Russia the Best or Worst in BRIC?".

As you'll surmise from the title, it's a panel debate on the strengths and weaknesses of each of the large BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) nations, with added focus on host country, Russia. So is there a strong case for investment in Russia at this time?

This conversation is worthwhile not only for the contributions from the aforementioned panel stars, but also due to the comments from other panelists and some key questions from the audience.

Pay special attention to Mario Garnero's comments on the effects of Brazil's past inflation on its middle class (this is important for those of us in QE, deficit-land US), as well as the questions on Russia's future from the native conference attendees.

If you'd like to take a look at last year's lively panel discussion and judge the panelists' comments against what took place in 2010, check out our related post links below.

Related articles and posts:

1. The Russia Forum 2011 - Russia Forum.

2. Panel discussion from Russia Forum 2010 - Finance Trends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Steve Cohen on trading, global macro

If you caught our last post on Steve Cohen's ISI chat with Paul Tudor Jones (coverage courtesy of Dealbook), it's highly likely that you clicked through to read the details of Steven's interview.

Here's one item from that discussion that really grabbed my attention, Steve Cohen talking global macro:

"...Mr. Cohen, who said probably 25 percent of his investments were made outside the United States, has been emphasizing to his traders that global macro themes are more important than ever in investing.

For this reason he went to Davos, Switzerland, last month for the World Economic Forum and said that he found “the development of the next phase of the consumer economy in China is very intriguing.” He recognized that there “could be more situations like Egypt” and “you have something going on here that could be a tinderbox.”".

This piece of info really jumped out at me for a few reasons.

Firstly, as far as I know, Cohen has not been identified as a global macro trader in the past. SAC Capital seemed to grow from Cohen's roots in proprietary stock trading, with SAC's traders eventually taking on a larger role in fundamental analysis as time went on.

The fact that such a prominent, fundamental and technical-driven US stock trader is now stressing the importance of global macro themes and their influence on markets is quite noteworthy.

His recent comments to PTJ on the firm's growing exposure to international investments were also touched on in an earlier, 2008 interview with AR:

How much does SAC invest outside the U.S.?

[SC] Probably 15 to 20 percent of our activity is outside the U.S. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth in both Europe and Asia. The game is changing. Stock markets are starting to develop all over the world, and that creates opportunity....

This brings to mind two separate interviews, with
Passport Capital's John Burbank and California investor Michael Burry, that we shared last fall in our global macro post series. Both stressed the importance of international investing and the profound influence that global macro themes now have over US markets.

The observations made by Burry and Burbank were soon echoed by well-known hedge fund manager, David Einhorn, who noted the shift that had occurred in his investing style due to the impact of big picture, macro trends.

These interviews are a rare glimpse into the thinking of some of our most astute investors, and are all must hear/must read material. Hoping you will be informed by, and profit from, them.

Related articles and posts:

1. Must hear interview with John Burbank - Finance Trends.

2. Michael Burry: an up & coming macro star? - Finance Trends.

3. Macro themes dominate investing world - Finance Trends.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bernanke is a Political Hack

Ben Bernanke is likely the worst Fed Chairman in US history and that's saying something. We have had some really bad ones, but none like this guy. He has now purchased nearly $ 400 billion of his $ 900 billion QE2 buying spree. If he doesn't buy, who will? That's a question that is getting asked a lot lately.

Now Ben has opined on the Dodd-Frank bill, probably the second worst piece of legislation in American history (Obamacare is the winner of the gold). Ben likes the Dodd-Frank bill, otherwise known as FinReg. FinReg is one of the key contributors to our high unemployment rates. So, I guess it is having an impact. It is certainly not irrelevant. The mountain of new rules, regulations and prohibitions have done their job. They have stifled credit creation and muzzled the financial system.

Ben and Obama have a lot in common. Their policies are both significant contributors to our current stagnation and high unemployment.

The Real Tragedy of State and Local Employees

State and local government employees face signficant layoffs and dramatic reductions in their benefit packages. Why? The unions claim that the reason is the stingy taxpayer, who, in most states, makes less average compensation than the employees that the taxpayer is funding. The real problem is excessive promises by the union leadership, encoded into law by governors, state legislatures and local governments. There has never been any realistic chance that these benefits could be paid for...never. This grand plan only worked as a ponzi scheme, providing benefits to the early recipients until the cold hard facts of demographics revealed the fraudulent nature of the promises.

The great tragedy is that all of this fooled the employees. They assumed that they would be provided abundant retirement income and medical benefits. Thus, there was no need to save. They could spend with abandon and they did. Now, the day of reckoning has arrived and there is no money to pay the promises of the past and no savings to make up for it. That is the real tragedy. People believed these false promises of government and thus did not save and prepare for the future. That is the main reason that the US has the lowest savings rate in the developed world. They think they will be bailed out. Now they are learning that there are no resources available to deal with this problem.

False promises abound in the entitlement arena. President Obama's refusal to address this problem in his recent budget demonstrates the cynicism of the modern American political leadership.

The Obama Budget

Apparently the Obama Administration has forgotten the results of the November election. The new Obama budget proposal unveiled this week brings back all of the same, tired, big government plans that the President has been pushing since the day he took office. It no longer matters to the President that the recovery is producing no jobs. He has grown used to that fact, apparently. Now, the President plans new spending initiatives to expand on policies that have few supporters even in his own party. The President is becoming more and more irrelevant. Perhaps that is the plan.

Meanwhile major budget cuts are being pushed by the President's opponents in the House of Representatives and even entitlement cuts are under consideration. While there may be zero presidential leadership, there are some good signs that the House of Representatives is not asleep and may supply the leadership that the White House seems incapable of providing.

The President seems bent on using today's fiscal crisis as an opportunity to force Republicans to make unpopular budget decisions. Then, I suppose, he will defend all of this spending and coast to a second term come next year. So much for Obama's view of "winning the future." His budget proposal is a sham.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SAC's Steve Cohen opens up to Paul Tudor Jones

SAC Capital chief, Steve Cohen opens up to fellow hedge fund legend Paul Tudor Jones in an ISI conference chat that was closed to the media, but reported on by Dealbook.

Here's the 411 from Dealbook:

"The founder of SAC Capital Advisers, the $12 billion hedge fund in Stamford, Conn., sat for a rare wide-ranging interview with Paul Tudor Jones, another hedge fund manager, where he discussed his favorite stocks and a whole lot more. The interview was part of a two-day conference at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan sponsored by ISI, the Wall Street research firm...

Other than complaining about his bad back, Mr. Cohen is said to have appeared at ease during the hourlong conversation before a packed crowd. Mr. Jones, who joked that he was playing the role of Charlie Rose, pressed Mr. Cohen on a variety of topics but did not — no surprise — ask questions about the government’s insider trading charges against two of his former traders.

Mr. Cohen talked about how he got started as a trader, reading the stock tables in the daily newspaper as a child and hanging around the local brokerage firm near his house in Great Neck, N.Y. There “was something in my blood, something that I loved” about trading that has stayed with him... ".

This discussion must have been something to witness in the room. I'm just glad Dealbook has provided notes on this little chat between two modern-day trading legends. Check this one out, gang.

Related articles and posts:

1. Bloomberg profiles SAC's Steve Cohen - Finance Trends.

2. Paul Tudor Jones on trading macro - Finance Trends.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Alphatrends on headline noise and managing risk

In case you missed it, Brian Shannon's weekly market wrap from February 11 was a very worthwhile lesson in markets indeed.

Check out Brian's video and pay special attention to the comments on the market's reaction to geopolitical events, headline noise, and managing your risk in trading. A must see segment for all traders and investors.

Related articles and posts:

1. Howard Lindzon interviews James Altucher - StockTwits TV.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt -- Politics and Economics

Now that Mubarak has left, the media is trumpeting that Egypt is now "free." That's not a likely result. The military, who has ousted Mubarek and assumed control, owns a huge share of Egyptian business and industry -- estimates range from one-third to to one-half of the entire Egyptian economy is directly owned by the group that now has power in Egypt. Will they give up that power? Not likely.

What this means is that economic freedom will remain in short supply in Egypt. New politicians will appear and there will be elections, but the things that can make a difference to the lives of ordinary Egyptians will not be on the ballot. Egyptians need economic development. They need the freedom to start new businesses, educate their children and live in an economy that produces jobs.

The fundamental need in Arab countries is economic freedom, not the right to vote themselves into an Iranian-like theocracy or a Venezuelan-like monocracy. This does not mean that Mubarak is better than democracy. Democracy is definitely better than Mubarak. Democracy, without economic freedom does not produce economic growth (even though economic freedom without democracy can produce economic growth -- check out Singapore and parts of modern day China).

The Arab lands need economic freedom for their citizenry. The curse of oil has robbed the Arab countries of a middle class and made every Arab country the land of the rich and poor. Education, economic freedom and economic opportunity are the ticket, not the right to choose between various opportunists looking to cash in on Egypt's new found freedom.

As long as the military is Egypt's savior, the Egyptian people cannot be saved.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Features of the Week

It's been a while since we compiled a Friday Features linkfest, but we've got some great posts and news items to share with you today. Set a spell and enjoy our "Features of the Week".

1. Wikileaks confirms what we already know: Saudi oil reserves are overstated. (Al Jazeera).

2. Egypt unrest: how Mubarak's end came. (BBC News).

3. Mubarak resigns, but will he hold on to his estimated $70 billion stash? (FP blog).

4. The Perils of Intervention and a humbler American foreign policy. (C4Liberty).

5. An interview with Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian. (Der Spiegel).

6. Inflation is so much worse than we're told: Chris Martenson. (Financial Sense).

7. Q&A: Michael Lewis on the politicians that sank Ireland. (Vanity Fair).

8. Shades of 2006? Exchange fever takes hold as LSE-TMX merger followed quickly by NYSE- Deutsche Borse deal. (

9. G.C. Selden trading psychology: hunches and gut feelings. (Tischendorf Letter).

10. Howard Lindzon interviews red-hot blogger, James Altucher. (StockTwits TV).

You can follow all our updates and tomfoolery in real-time via Twitter and StockTwits, or subscribe to the Finance Trends RSS blog feed and stay up to date with all our posts.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New weekly high on S&P 500 $SPX

P/E multiple expansion, cheap money via QE, bullish psychology & social mood...whatever it is that's driving the market, US stocks continue to climb higher.

Today the SPX is down a bit midday, but as you can see from the weekly chart posted above, we're seeing a fresh weekly high in the S&P 500 as the index moves above its August 2008 resistance at the 1313 level.

Your take on the continued bullish action?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Obama and the Middle Class

In his speech today before the US Chamber of Commerce, Obama lectured his audience that gains must be shared with the middle class. He points to the eroding take-home income of middle class Americans.

But, there is nothing business can do about the plight of the middle class. That is pretty much determined by Congressionally imposed mandates on businesses. Imagine that you pay an employee $ 40,000 per year and that productivity improves enough to pay that employee $ 50,000 per year. Why wouldn't you do it? Because, in the meantime, Congress has passed a law permitting that employee to sue you for millions of dollars if another employee makes an off-color comment to another employee at the water fountain (or for that matter, off company premises and after doesn't matter under the law). Now the employee isn't worth $ 50,000 to you. Business has to factor in the potential cost of litigation (and, of course, they do). In fact, the litigation threat may be so costly to your business that you may simply terminate the employee, even though, absent the litigation benefits enacted by Congress, you would have been more than happy to pay the employee $ 50,000 (and hire more of them to boot).

Congress has punished the middle class with employer mandates. Congress has made much of the middle class economically toxic to American business. Obama need look no further than into the mirror to see the group that is responsible for damaging the prospects of the American middle class.

Knocking Down Barriers

President Obama, speaking before the US Chamber of Commerce today, said that he would "knock down" barriers that hamper economic growth.

Well, for starters, how about repealing all of the enacted legislation from the 2009-2010 Congress. That would be a good beginning. In the process, away would go FinReg, Credit Card Reform, and Obamacare among other things.

If the president is serious, then the road is clear. All he needs to do is a complete about face. Anything else is just politics as usual.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unintended Consequences

The economic recovery in the US is stillborn. All the various "initiatives" enacted by the Congress since September of 2008 have virtually guaranteed that the economy cannot have a robust recovery, the kind of recovery that, from previous recessions brought the economy back to full strength. Instead, the new credit rules, the new financial regulations, the new health care mandates, the new tax gimmicks, and the business-demonizing atmosphere of the Obama Administration all serve to slow down economic recovery and to create long term stagnation in employment and economic growth.

The Administration seems truly puzzled by all of this. The lame duck session, extending the Bush tax cuts for two years, simply avoided disaster. The tax cut extension, since it is a temporary two year extension, cannot possibly stimulate the economy in any meaningful way. Changing the rhetoric in the White House is certainly an improvement but is totally inadequate given the enactment of legislation in 2009 and 2010 that shackles businesses and makes adding employees prohibitively expensive.

Businesses can be seen as growth engines and employment generators or they can be seen as purveyors of social causes. They can't do both. More and more,American business is expected to avoid profit maximizing behavior and be good citizens, promoting various social causes. Being good social citizens and promoting social causes inevitably means growing slower, hiring fewer employees and being less dynamic. That's where we are. The "green jobs" rhetoric is nothing more than rhetoric.

It is time to set aside "feel good" rhetoric and create a business environment favorable to jobs creation. So far, the President doesn't seem to get it. He seems genuinely surprised that American business, reeling from the blows of his policies and rhetoric, isn't racing to create jobs and rescue his presidency.

If your main economic banner is "no tax cuts for the rich," then economic stagnation is probably your future. What is needed is the elimination of the numerous barriers to economic prosperity that the Obama Administration and a compliant (and long gone) Congress put in place. What is needed is no less than a complete dismantling of the legislation passed in the last two years by the Congress. Then and only then can a truly vibrant economy take over.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is QE fueling commodity, food price inflation?

Is the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing policy fueling inflation in asset prices, including the price of commodities and foodstuffs?

That seems to be the big question in recent days, as civil unrest in Egypt and in other parts of the Middle East and Asia demonstrate how long-simmering tensions can quickly boil over when grain prices rise and the spectre of food shortages looms over a population.

The recent situation recalls the commodity and grain price surges of 2007-2008, when food stocks were diminishing and shortages and worries over food riots were a global phenomenon (and news item). Then, as now, grain ethanol and "excess speculation" were offered up as contributing causes to rising food prices.

So what about the role of quantitative easing and increased money creation by the Fed and other central banks? Might that sort of liquidity operation be fueling a rise in asset prices across the globe?

Or are prices rising due to demand from increased populations and rising wealth in emerging nations as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would have it?

Last night, while reading through some interesting reactions to this topic on Twitter, I decided to do a little quick research and see what sort of answers I could find. As rising food prices and global inflation have been a big theme with economists and macro analysts in recent months, it didn't take long to find some worthwhile articles and posts addressing this topic.

One particularly interesting article from October 2010 anticipated a great deal of what we currently see unfolding in the world. Here's an excerpt from, "Bernanke sets the world on fire":

"...In 2007-2008, Bernanke's loose monetary policy fueled unprecedented commodity price inflation. But Bernanke put the blame on China and on oil producers.

So far in 2010, the price of crude oil has jumped by 27%, of corn by 63%, of wheat by 84% , of sugar by 55% , and of soybeans by 24%. Without the Fed's unprecedented loose monetary and near-zero interest rates, it would have been highly unlikely for commodity prices to increase at these alarming rates...

...The frightening food price inflation has raised the specter of another food crisis and food riots... Since liquidity for commodity price inflation is abundant and cheap, food price inflation could run up, stall world economic growth and spread social unrest. "

Certainly many other factors, including the use of food for ethanol, growing populations, increasing standards of living (changing diets), weather events, and gradual loss of prime arable land to urbanization are playing a large role in ongoing food price rises.

Still, is it possible that the role of cheap money flowing into asset markets (including commodities) is an under-acknowledged spark fueling higher prices?

Related articles and posts:

1. Bernanke says policies boost stocks, not food prices - Barron's.

2. Countering the myth that "World is running out of food" - Big Picture Ag.

3. FAO food price index and reports - United Nations, FAO.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jim Simons of RenTec speaks at MIT

Jim Simons of Renaissance Technologies gives a talk at MIT about his background in mathematics, how he got his start in business, and the "secret sauce" of running a hedge fund with a quantitative bent.

As Paul Kedrosky notes on his blog, it's not often that you get to hear from Simons, so have a look at this video and hear what he has to say about his work, the importance of getting young people involved in math and science, and following your entrepreneurial drive.