Friday, November 30, 2012

Buffett Math

Warren Buffett, New York Times on November 25th 2012:
Suppose that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. “This is a good one,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.”

Would your reply possibly be this? “Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.” Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist.
MBA final exam question: Explain the mistake in this paragraph.

How do we decide whether to invest in a project?  Discounted cash flow.

For example, suppose you’re thinking of building a factory (or starting a business). Once built, your best guess is that the factory will produce $10 profit every year. Discounting at a 5% required return, typical of stock market investments, the value of that profit stream is 1/.05=20 times the yearly profit, or $200. If the factory costs $150 to build, it’s a good deal and will return more than its costs. You build it. If the factory costs $250 to build, you walk away.

Did you forget to put in after-tax cash flows? Whoops, that's a B- now at best. For example, if the tax rate is 50%, then your after-tax profits are only $5 each year. Now the value of the profit stream is only $100. The factory still costs $150 to build however, so now you’d be a fool to do it. It truly is better to leave your money in the bank earning a quarter of a percent.

Mr. Buffett made an elementary accounting mistake. How did he get it wrong? Implicitly, he is thinking that he pays $100, then gets back $100 for sure, and only the profit is taxed. He's thinking that a 5% rate of return gets cut to 2.5%, which is still better than 0.025%. But when you build a factory or start a business, you are not guaranteed return of principal. You only get the profits, if any. If the government taxes half the profits, that’s like taking half the initial investment away.

This is perhaps an understandable mistake for a financial investor such as Mr. Buffett. In my example, the market value of the factory was $200, and falls to $100 when the tax is imposed. Mr. Buffett doesn't build factories or start businesses, he buys them.  Now, Mr. Buffett -- ever the "value" investor -- can swoop in, buy the factory for $100, and a $5 per year after-tax cashflow generates the same 5% rate of return. But nobody will build new factories, and that’s the economic damage.

Ok, now you get an A. Let's go for the A+.

Mr Buffett ignored risk. If somebody offers you a 5% rate of return, risk free, when Treasury bills offer you a quarter of 1 percent, his name is Madoff, not Buffett-Buddy.

Mr. Buffett wants you to think his investments are arbitrage opportunities, and a 2.5% arbitrage is as attractive as a 5% arbitrage. That's false. Investments involve bearing risk, and taxes make those investments directly worse.

Now, the effect of taxes here is subtle. Yes, a 50% tax rate cuts a 5% expected return down to 2.5%. But it also cuts volatility too. Isn't this just like deleveraging? Answer: no, because unless you're investing in green energy boodoggles only available to Administration cronies, the government takes your profits, but does not reimburse your losses.

If the investment makes 10%, you get 5%. If it makes 5%, you get 2.5%. But if it loses 10%, you lose 10%. It's a strictly worse investment when taxed. (Yes, you might be able to sell the losses if the IRS doesn't notice what you're up to... but now you know why Buffett is a "master of tax avoidance.")

And there is always another margin: If rates of return on investment look lousy, just stop investing at all and go on a consumption binge. The estate tax is a big subsidy to the round-the-world cruise and private jet industries. 

I am really amazed by how this argument has evolved. Only a few months ago, supporters of the Administration's plans for higher tax rates admitted the plain fact that higher tax rates on investment are bad for growth. But, they argued that higher taxes would be good for other goals, like "fairness," redistribution, or winning elections important for other policies they like such as ACA. (These taxes are not going to put a dent in the deficit.)  And we had a sensible argument about how bad the growth effects would be, and how long it would take for them to kick in.

Now they're trying to argue that taxes aren't bad for the economy at all.  Some are suggesting higher investment tax rates are actually good for the economy.  All in the face of the natural experiment playing out in front of us across the Atlantic. The contortions needed to make this argument are just embarrassing. As above.

It seems clear to me that the Administration wants to raise the tax rate on high income people for political reasons, whether or not they raise tax revenues from such people; witness the deafening silence about reforming the chaotic tax code. The Buffetts of the world who can exploit the loopholes in the tax code and lobby for more will do fine in the new world. But they shouldn't stoop to such obvious silliness to try to fool the rest of us that pain don't hurt.

(Thanks to Cliff Asness who brought this to my attention and suggested some of the arguments.)

No Time Like The Present

Sooner or later the harsh realities have to be faced.  Why not face it now?  Obama thinks Republicans will be blamed.  Maybe....maybe not.  Obama is in the White House and his party controls the Senate.  Why not fight the good fight right now.  Go over the cliff and do not raise the debt ceiling.  Force the country to come to grips with the debt situation while it is still possible to do something about it.

By coming to a fictitious agreement that may seem politically advantageous in the short run, such an agreement gives up on the country.  Letting the national debt spiral out of the control, which is the Obama plan, destroys the American economy and potentially it's political fabric.  Why not tackle the issue now while Republicans control the House and can block any further madness by the Obama Administration.  The future isn't very bright either way, but there is no hope for the future if Republicans cave in here.

The time is now.

The Geithner Plan Bares All

According to Geithner, the President has no interest in reducing spending at all.  In fact, he proposes major spending increases for infrastructure.  As for taxes, the sky is the limit, apparently, to the President.  So much for the economy.  This is all about "revenge" after all.

As noted in a journal op-ed two days ago, the unfunded liability in social security and medicare increases by over $7 Trillion every single year.  This $ 7 Trillion is not in the budget or under discussion.  So, raising $ 1.6 Trillion in taxes over the next ten years does what?  The only purpose of the Obama tax cut is to punish enemies.  That's it.  And if the American economy is condemned to stagnation for a generation or two, who cares?  Certainly not the President.

Going over the cliff looks so much better than this.  Let's hope the Republicans think of country first, strap on their seat belts, and take us over the fiscal cliff.  Only in this manner can we ever hope to deal openly with the problems that the country faces.  Avoiding the fiscal cliff, simply means avoiding have to face the issues squarely.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Will It Hold Wednesday.

The day was according to the plan. All the asset classes are moving in tandem and appear to be in line with the expectation. A quick review of various assets classes are as follows:

Equities: We are coming closer to the cycle top and while my upside target in SPX is 1425, we came pretty close intra-day at 1420. Will that be considered as target met? I have started scaling in short positions with inverse ETFs for indices and will add some more tomorrow. Again, the basic premise here is “Patience” and “Agility”. The correction may or may not start tomorrow. But this was a counter trend bounce which we called well in advance and had a bounce target. Now that we are close to that target, both in terms of price and time, it seems that short trades are high probability trade.  The coming down move most likely will make a lower low than what we had on November 16, enough to create doubt and fear in the minds of the retail investors. That is when the Boyz will buy cheap and pump the prices up again.  As you have seen in yesterdays Dilbert cartoon, someone will create Media frenzy, Banksters will pump or dump the prices and Sheeples will be sheared off.

I am sure that when I will call you guys to go long next month, many of you will hesitate and wait for everything to be OK. And when everything will seem OK, it will be time to sell again. To win this con game, we have to go where the puck is going to be, not where the puck is.

Precious Metals: Silver had a moment of madness and spiked higher but gold was not able to cover the loss of yesterday. I did take a small short position in silver with ZSL with a very tight stop. If Silver closes above $ 35 next week, I will close this trade but for now I expect silver to correct along with equities. How much it will go down I am not sure. The 1st target is a close below $33 and then I will add some more short positions. So right now, there is a range for this trade and I would be monitoring this range for further action. I am not touching gold for now and will wait for all risk assets to bottom before going long again.

Crude:  Crude made a possible double top around $ 88.50 and did not held on to the gain. Like equities, here also the short term cycle has topped or about to top and I do expect further correction in Crude prices. I am short crude with SCO and will add some more tomorrow. Once it closes below $ 86, we can be very sure of the coming correction and the minimum downside price target would be around $75-$77. Let’s wait and see how it plays out. I think this one is a high probability trade.

Coffee:  While coffee seems to have made a bottom, the hourly chart is overbought and we might see some pull back shortly. It is where that pullback ends will give credence to the bottoming of coffee. There is no hurry. From a high of $308.9, coffee had corrected to $ 144 which is more than 50%. So we have lots to cover on the upside and we can afford to wait for a while for confirmation. I just want to draw your attention to this potential winner.

Nat. Gas: Most likely it gave a short term sell signal but I do not think it is going to be anything serious. The biggest oil company in the world, Exxon Mobil is getting in Nat. Gas in a big way and when such a giant starts taking a position, we know the future. I would be looking to add Nat. Gas as a long term play in future.

Bonds: For many months now Bonds are moving in a range. TLT made a high in last July and since then it is just chopping around. As there is no clear direction, I have not touched it. But the long term trend is clear. If you are long bond, it would be better to book profit. The interest rates will start going up starting sometime in the next 3-4 months.  TBT will be the trade of the life time then. But we will have to wait for that trade as the time is not yet ripe for taking any position in Bond. The inverse relationship between Bond and Equity is about to get discarded.

That’s all for tonight. Thank you for sharing my thoughts. Hope you are able to pass on the blog to your friends and join me in twitter (@BBFinanceblog). As I said yesterday, come January, we will have a paid subscription service to selected few with specific trade ideas. I will be emailing at least once a week high probability trades with entry, stop loss and exit points. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I will try to minimize risk and look for high probability trades.  Of course it will be a paid service and I am looking only a selected few. So if you are a serious investor, with investment of minimum $100 K or more, looking to earn decent return on your portfolio consistently without speculation or undue risk, do send an email to: to be included in the mailing list.

Truth stranger than fiction?

From the New York Times. I checked, it really is not from the Onion
WASHINGTON — House Republicans said on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, an immediate new round of stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

...In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other entitlements, to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

The upfront tax increases in the proposal go beyond what Senate Democrats were able to pass earlier this year. Tax rates would go up for higher-income earners, as in the Senate bill, but Mr. Obama wants their dividends to be taxed as ordinary income, something the Senate did not approve. He also wants the estate tax to be levied at 45 percent on inheritances over $3.5 million, a step several Democratic senators balked at. The Senate bill made no changes to the estate tax, which currently taxes inheritances over $5 million at 35 percent.
Meanwhile, Costco is in the news, for borrowing $3 billion dollars, and paying it out as a special dividend before dividend taxes rise.  Stock rose 6%. Tax arbitrage is so cool.

Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards: Ray Dalio

In our second installment of "Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards", we'll offer up some trading and macroeconomic insights pulled from Jack Schwager's interview with Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates. 

You've probably heard of Ray Dalio if you have even a cursory knowledge of the hedge fund industry (or the Forbes billionaires list), so let's get right to it. These notes will fill in the rest of the story. 

1). Dalio is the founder and former CEO (now "mentor") of Bridgewater Associates, a fund that has returned more money ($50 billion) for investors than any hedge fund in history.  

2). Bridgewater still manages to achieve excellent returns on a huge base of capital and has done so over a long period of time. It is among the few hedge funds with a 20-year track record. 

3). Dalio believes that mistakes are a good thing, as they provide an opportunity for learning. If he could figure out what he (or someone else) was doing wrong, he could use that as a lesson and learn to be more effective.

4). His life's philosophy and management concepts are set down in a 111 page document called, Principles, which drives the firm's culture and daily operations. Identifying and learning from mistakes is a key theme. It also advocates "radical transparency" within the firm; meetings are taped and employees are encouraged to criticize each other openly.

5). "The type of thinking that is necessary to succeed in the markets is entirely different from the type of thinking required to succeed in school". Ray notes that school education emphasizes instructions, rote learning, and regurgitation. It also teaches students that "mistakes are bad", instead of teaching the importance of learning from mistakes. 

6). If you are involved in the markets, you must learn to deal with what you don't know. Anyone involved in markets knows you can never be absolutely confident. You can't approach trading by saying, "I know I'm right on this one." Dalio likes to put his ideas in front of other people so they can shoot them down and tell him where he may be wrong. 

7). "The markets teach you that you have to be an independent thinker. And any time you are an independent thinker, there is a reasonable chance you are going to be wrong."

8). Ray learned in his early working years that currency depreciation and money printing are good for stocks. He was surprised to see US stocks rise after Nixon closed the gold exchange window in 1971 (effectively ending the gold standard). The lesson was reinforced when the Fed eased massively in 1982 during the Latin American debt crisis. Stocks rallied, and of course, this marked the beginning of an 18-year bull market.

9). From these earlier experiences, Dalio learned not to trust what policy makers say. He has learned these lessons repeatedly over the years (much like our previous "Market Wizard", Colm O'Shea).  

10). Dalio vividly recalls a time when he was nearly ruined trading pork bellies in the early 1970s. He was long at a time when bellies were trading limit down every day. He didn't know when the losses would end, and every morning he'd hear the price board click down 200 points (the daily limit) and stay there. The experience taught him the importance of risk management - "I never wanted to experience that pain again".

11). "In trading you have to be defensive and aggressive at the same time. If you are not aggressive, you're not going to make money, and if you are not defensive, you are not going to keep money.". 

12). Bridgewater views diversification and asset correlation differently than most. As Dalio puts it, "People think that a thing called correlation exists. That's wrong.". Instead, he describes a world in which assets behave a certain way in response to environmental determinants. Correlations between say, stocks and bonds, are not static, but are changing in response to "drivers" (catalysts) that can cause assets to move together or inversely.

13). By studying how asset prices move in response to certain drivers, Bridgewater looks to build portfolios of truly uncorrelated assets. By combining assets that have very slight correlations, they are able to diversify among 15 assets (instead of 100 or 1000 more closely linked assets). This helps them cut volatility and greatly improve their return/risk ratio. 

14). We are currently in the midst of a "broad global deleveraging" that is negative for growth. Since the United States can print its own money, it will do so to alleviate the pressures of deflation and depression. The effectiveness of quantitative easing will be limited, since owners of bonds purchased by the Fed will use the money to buy similar assets. Dalio elaborates on our future economic course and possible policy approaches to these problems throughout the interview.

There's a lot more in Schwager's chapter with Ray Dalio. These notes just scratch the surface on Bridgewater's process and their quest for the Holy Grail of investing

There is also an addendum to the chapter containing Dalio's big picture view of long-term economic cycles and a historical "stage analysis" of the economic rise and fall of nations.

Be sure to check out this latest Market Wizards book (a very worthwhile read) and look for our upcoming posts for more "Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards". In the meantime, you'll find more lessons and interviews in our related posts below. 

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. You can also check out our related posts below for more market wisdom and trading insights.  

Related posts:

1. Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards: Colm O'Shea.

2. Jack Schwager interviews on Hedge Fund Market Wizards.

3. Ray Dalio in Barron's: "It's a D-Process"

4. Ray Dalio's 'Principles'.

*Photo credit: Ray Dalio Blog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Experimental evidence on the effect of taxes

Much of our "fiscal cliff" debate revolves around the incentive effects of raising marginal taxes on high incomes. High tax advocates used to say that taxes won't hurt growth that much, and advocated them for other reasons.  Now they are advocating that even a 91% federal income tax rate, on top of state, sales, etc, as we had in the 1950s, (not counting all the loopholes!) will actually be good for the economy and also raise lots of revenue.

This seems to me like magical thinking, and a great testament to how people can persuade themselves of anything if it suits the partisan passion of the moment.  But wouldn't it be nice if someone would run an experiment for us?

Fortunately, Europe has been running a very useful set of experiments on what happens if you address yawning deficits with high income, wealth and property taxes. Which brings me to a report from the Telegraph
Almost two-thirds of the country’s million-pound earners disappeared from Britain after the introduction of the 50p (percent) top rate of tax, figures have disclosed.
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election....

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced in the Budget earlier this year that the 50p top rate will be reduced to 45p from next April.

Since the announcement, the number of people declaring annual incomes of more than £1 million has risen to 10,000.

However, the number of million-pound earners is still far below the level recorded even at the height of the recession and financial crisis....

Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue
That's just one year. Usually, we think that it takes a while for high taxes to have effects. It takes a while for people to move, shelter income, close down businesses, not start businesses, not go to school, etc. Hitting the Laffer limit in one year is pretty impressive.

Update: Thanks to JM Pinder below I went back to the HMRC report which is indeed more detailed. Some highlights:
The 50 per cent additional rate of income tax was introduced on 6 April 2010. It was the first increase in the highest rate of tax in the UK for over 30 years, and was expected to yield around £2.5 billion...

This report provides the first comprehensive ex-post assessment of the additional rate yield using a range of evidence including the 2010-11 Self Assessment returns. The analysis shows that there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax. ...[This is a suggestion that it's a one time loss. We'll see]
The modelling suggests the underlying behavioural response was greater than estimated previously in Budget 2009 and in March Budget 2010, decreasing the pre-behavioural yield by at least 83 per cent. This result is also consistent with that contained in the Mirrlees review, and suggests the additional rate is a highly distortionary form of taxation.
Don't miss the bigger point here. The US discussion harks back to the great old 1950s, ignoring the much more relevant evidence right before us from Europe: Want to try cutting deficits (very slightly) with high marginal taxes, especially on investment, along with minor "cuts" (declines in growth rates) of spending, but no substantial change in the welfare state? Hey, they just tried it! Their economies sink, and they don't get much revenue.

The "How On Earth" Factor.

How many of you were tempted to short or did actually short the market in the morning. It was as if the bottom was about to fall off. Exactly the stuff I wrote yesterday. Did you feel that you are going to miss out? If you did, you are not alone because I myself felt like that and that despite my own writing that such a thing is going to happen. So I just walked away from the trading desk for an hour.

Now all the talking heads, media of all kinds and of course ZH is attributing the rally to Mr. Boehner. But Mr. Speaker sure did not read my blog post of yesterday. Nor did I know that he would speak today or whatever he would say.  Someone has asked over email which chart / indicator predicted the sell off and subsequent rally. The answer is: there is no Technical Indicator which will tell you that there will be sell off tomorrow morning and bounce in the afternoon. It is much more complex than that and much more intuitive. At least it has helped some of you folks to stay out of harm’s way and I am glad for that.

So where do we go from here? My reading is that the bounce will continue tomorrow and tomorrow most likely would be a good time to start scaling in some short positions. My personal favourite is Crude. I am still debating about Silver. I am not sure if it will correct and how much. But Russell 2000 looks a good candidate and so does Facebook.  However please do your own due diligence and have proper stop loss in place for any trade you take. And please do remember, the market is not going to tank whatever ZH may say.

People who know the inner working of the Washington DC have started buying already. But they will want retail to sell out and drive the price down some more, so that they can buy cheap. I would suggest that you start preparing your buy list along with your Christmas present list. Consider this advice my Christmas gift! I am not saying that we buy now. I am saying that we should be ready so that when there is some fear in the market and things look bad, be ready to pick up the bargains.

Few days back I brought your attention to Coffee and identified JO as the vehicle of choice. Today JO gave the largest bullish wick in months from its long term support line. I will be scaling in JO on the long side of the trade with a tight stop loss.

My sabbatical will end in December and from next year I will be back to what I do for living. Crunch number. The blog posts will be irregular but we still have a month or so. Those of you who think that I can add value to your investment and trading, please email to be included in a select list. I will be sending personalized email to this group highlighting trading / investment opportunities every week. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I will try to minimize risk and look for high probability trades.  Of course it will be a paid service and I am looking only a selected few. It will cost less than a daily cup of Starbucks' Cafe’ Mocha.

But those are plans for next year. Let us make some money with free advice this year and we will take from there. Thanks for sharing my thoughts and hopefully you will also share it with your friends. Stay frosty folks. 

Buffett Should Study the Numbers

Warren Buffett opined today that a minimum tax of 30 percent should be placed on incomes north of $ 1 million, jumping to 35 percent for those with incomes above $ 10 million.  In the same interview he seemed to be either (1) unaware of how Berkshire Hathaway pays corporate taxes; or (2) intent on misleading his audience about the taxes that Berkshire actually pays.  You wonder if Warren is really doing his homework these days.

Buffett argues that the fiscal cliff is easy to avoid.  Simply move tax revenues up to 21 percent and hold federal spending at 21 percent.  Thanks, Warren, but that won't even come close to getting it done.  The entitlements are on a trajectory to consume 40 percent of GDP within the next two generations (that 40 percent rises to over 100 percent eventually).  What's the plan, then, Warrren -- raise rates to a minimum of 60 percent and 70 percent on the way to 100 percent?

Making tax revenues chase entitlement spending is a losers game and ends up with modern day Europe.  There is no reason, Warren, for you to be collecting social security and receiving medicare.  That is the problem.  These programs apply to everyone.  Such programs should be restricted to the truly needy, though, under what you advocate, Warren, the truly needy will be an ever growing percentage of the American population.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today's Watchword: "Patience".

For those of you itching to short, some more patience is needed. Tomorrow the market will tease you with some more selling and you will be tempted to short. You will think, gosh, I am going to miss the opportunity. That “Fear of missing out” will come in play. Only thing I can say is: have patience. The cycles for risk assets are up for few more days. It does not mean that market will go up and up. It just means that although we may see some more selling tomorrow, we better wait for the cycle to top before we short, least we fall for a bear trap.

While I expect one more round of selling starting December, I am not sure of the magnitude of selling. May be it will continue for the whole month of December but if some sort of kicking the can down the road game is played by the politicians, the selling may not be very deep either. So it is a fluid situation after all and while the only trade is a short trade for now, let us be ready to get out of the water very quickly. For, only the direction is certain and not the level of up or down move.

As I keep repeating, the world and USA is not going to end tomorrow. ( It will end little later) While we have some nice opportunities on the short side we are also going to have some great opportunities on the long side as well and those opportunities are coming up much quicker than you can imagine. And if you have not noticed already, for the retail investors, it is easier to make money on the long side than on the short side. 
PM sector, particularly gold is not showing the strength and is nowhere near $1780, its earlier high for this year. That makes me think that may be one more correction is due for gold along with other risk assets. But I do not want to short gold and as of now waiting in the sideline to go long.

The situation in Europe is not all that bad as the MSM and ZH would have us believe. In long run, may be in next 18 months or so, Euro will split up and there will be two Euro. A Northern Euro consisting of the strong economies and a Southern Euro of the PIIGS led by France. And it may sound a bit far-fetched  (Like the Apple $ 500 call) that Northern Euro will become the reserve currency of the world. But that is still some months away. Till that time, USA will be able to print as much as it want and still keep the bond yield at ridiculously low level. They are talking of reducing $ 1 trillion over 10 years, when the deficit is over $ 16 trillion not considering un- funded liabilities. It’s a joke and sooner we realize the joke, better for us.

The other side of the joke is that everyone is MSM and all talking heads are going ga ga over the bounce in housing and now everyone wants to join the gravy train. Particularly all Pundits are talking about home-builders like LEN and TOLL. I think this trade is now overcrowded and better avoided. Sorry guys, you are late in the party and it is better to give it a miss. In any case I do not believe that Housing has bottomed and we will revisit this subject after six months.

Some of the readers may be getting confused as to what are my views of the economy. Is it improving or going to hell in hand basket. I tell you what. From your investment and trading point of view, it does not matter what you believe. All it matters as how your portfolio is performing. While I do not believe that the end is upon us tomorrow, I also do not believe that we are any better off than we were four years ago.  But in the mean time the Fed has flooded the market with crisp notes and we would be fool not to take the advantage. The whole system is rigged and we are mere pawns. But let us not trade with our belief.

That’s all for this evening. Thanks for sharing my thoughts. Please remember the Amazon link.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tale of two Indices.

It’s a tale of SPX and NDX. When the correction started 70 moons back from a high of 1470, SPX came down to 1344. 126 points or 8.6% . Not really earth shaking but OK.  NDX came down from 2880 to 2494 i.e. 386 points or 13.4%. Tech. stocks were lower across the board lead by Apple which dropped almost 25% from peak to trough.   

Now while the bounce is in progress, SPX has retraced about 50% while NDX has retraced little above 38.2%. I expect SPX to retrace up to 61.8% which is around 1420 +/- few points. Will NDX also retrace 61.8%? 61.8 retracement levels in NDX is around 2730. If so then NDX still has another 80 points to run.  It is not guaranteed but with cycles up for few more days anything can happen. The point here, if you are thinking of shorting the indices, better wait for few more days and if you are thinking of taking a day trade, NDX is a better option than SPX.

What is worth noting, since September 14, SPX has lost about 60 points and unless we are very nimble trader, watching the market move every moment of the day, did we lose much by staying in the sideline? Well, we did not exactly stay in the sideline; we dabbled in Nat. Gas for a nifty profit and now waiting for other opportunities. We may get another chance of shorting and this time many parameters are lining up. While shorting, we have to be very quick to grab and run because this is not going to be the end of the world that many are waiting for.

The USD index continues to behave as expected but apart from NDX other risk assets are not showing much vigor. At the point of writing Euro has broken up and has touched 1.30 and yet Crude is languishing and hardly any movement from Gold and Silver.  May be they will also break to the upside but so far that has not happened.

Last week I closed most of my Nat. Gas position and thank my lucky starts that I did. It is always better to be lucky than smart. Nat. Gas corrected almost 4.5% today. So far it seems that $3.70 is the support and that held. The longer term price target is much higher but nothing goes up or down in a straight line.

 Coming back to the Euro, the irrational exuberance is being attributed to the  successful completion of the Greek Aid. Gosh, how long to listen to the same story and how come the market reacts the same way every time. I cannot attribute any logic or reason except that short term cycle of risk assets are up for the week.  So maybe we should just ignore all noise and stop looking for reasons and logic and just accept it as they are.

Among many stories and news that I read during the day the one that touched me is the following : Supermarket Owner Gives Away Stores to his 400 Employees: God bless him and his family.

Before hitting the “Publish” button, here is a contrarian short idea.

(H/T Schaffer’s Market research)

If shorting crude is going to be a good trade, may be this one goes hand in hand with that trade. Please send your feedback and ideas as to how best to short Oil Services.

Thanks for your support and help and for reading the blog. 

Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards: Colm O'Shea

In our first installment of "Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards", we examine the lessons offered in Jack Schwager's interview with noted global macro trader and hedge fund manager, Colm O'Shea of COMAC Capital. 

Last week we brought you a brief overview of Hedge Fund Market Wizards, including several interviews with author Jack Schwager on the trading insights found within this new Market Wizards volume. 

We'll expand on those ideas throughout this series by zeroing in on our favorite interviews and highlighting some key lessons and quotes. Of course, our notes are just a sample of what readers will find in these interview chapters - we don't want to give away the store!  

Today, we'll look closely at some key insights offered in the book's opening chapter. Here are our notes on Schwager's interview with Colm O'Shea

1). Colm O'Shea began his career as a young economic forecaster. He was kept behind closed doors by his firm, who did not want clients to know their research reports and forecasts were written by a 19-year old who had landed the job before starting at university. 

2). Colm realized he did not want to continue publishing consensus-hugging forecasts, and he landed his first job as a trader at Citigroup after graduating from Cambridge. He went on to work for George Soros' Quantum Fund before founding his own firm, COMAC Capital.

3). O'Shea view his trading ideas as hypotheses. Moves counter to the expected direction are proof that his trade hypothesis is wrong. O'Shea is quick to liquidate these positions when they reach a pre-defined price (a level at which his trade hypothesis is invalidated). He risks a small percentage of his assets on each trade - position sizing. 

4). Received early lessons in trading and macro thinking by reading Edwin Lefevre's classic, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator. Colm points out that the character, Mr. Partridge teaches the protagonist (a thinly-veiled Jesse Livermore) to size up general conditions - "it's a bull market, you know!". 

5). Price movements take place in the context of a larger fundamental landscape. O'Shea believes one must pay attention to both the fundamentals and the technicals (price as seen through technical analysis) to make sense of the picture.
6). In his first week as a trader, the British pound was kicked out of the ERM (the famous Soros trade), much to his surprise. Recalls Colm, "I had absolutely no comprehension of the power of markets vs. politics. Policy makers [often] don't understand that they are not in's the fundamentals that actually matter."

7). You can't be short just because you think something is fundamentally overpriced. In the example of the Nasdaq bubble, you should have been selling Nasdaq at 4,000 on the way down, not on the way up. Wait until the market turns over, or until you can see a turning point (a la George Soros shorting the pound).

8). Being short credit in 2006-2007 was the same as being short Nasdaq in 1999. Bubble pricing was evident and the problems were obvious. However, being short was a negative carry trade (in which one must pay a certain cost to maintain a speculative position through instruments such as credit default swaps) and credit spreads went lower (the trade went against you) before a turning point was reached. 

9). All markets look liquid in a bubble. It's liquidity afterwards that matters. Can you get out?

10). There does not have to be an identifiable reason for every trade. O'Shea cites the LTCM blowup in '98 as an example. At the start of the '98 crisis, there was no LTCM story in the press, but T-bond futures were limit up every day. "Once you realize something is happening, you can trade accordingly.". Trade hypothesis = something big is happening. I will participate, but do so in a way that I can get out quickly if wrong.

11). Most great trades are incredibly obvious to everyone after the fact. O'Shea points to his bearish turn at the start of the financial crisis in August 2007, when money markets seized up and LIBOR spiked. To this day, equity people wrongly point to March 2008 (Bear Stearns collapse) as the start of the crisis. The great trades don't require predictions, but you must see what other market participants won't.

12). Big price changes occur when people are forced to reevaluate their prejudices. Crisis (such as the inflationary threat from growing U.S. debt) may hit in the future when people notice and start to care. Bond yields will only signal there's a problem when it's too late. Fundamentals underlying the trade/event exist all along.

Hope you enjoyed the first in our series of "Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards". Look for our next post, featuring hedge fund titan Ray Dalio, later in the week. 

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. You can also check out our related posts below for more market wisdom and trading insights

Related posts:

1. Jack Schwager on Hedge Fund Market Wizards (interviews)

2. Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards: Ray Dalio.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Taxes and cliffs

(Update: John Batchelor show radio interview on this blog post)

The whole tax debate is supremely frustrating to anyone who survived econ 1.

The ill effects of taxation -- the "distortions" -- depend on the total, marginal rate including transfers. If I earn an extra dollar, how much more stuff do I get, or how much more of someone else's services can I receive? That calculation has to include all taxes, federal, payroll, state, local, sales, excise, etc. and phaseouts.

And, if you receive a benefit from the government that phases out with income, so every dollar of income above (say) $30,000 reduces your benefit by 50 cents, then you face a 50 percent marginal tax rate even if you pay no "taxes" at all. Taxes and benefits -- both in level and on the margin -- need to be considered together.
I've been looking for good calculations of marginal rates.  The CBO has just issued a nice report titled "Effective Marginal Tax Rates for Low- and Moderate-Income Workers" that begins (begins!) to shed some light on the right question.  Here's one important graph, titled "Marginal Tax Rates for a Hypothetical Single Parent with One Child, by Earnings, in 2012";

The CBO's headline (first page) says these low-income workers
face a marginal tax rate of 30 percent, on average, under the provisions of law in effect in 2012. ... Over the next two years, CBO estimates, various provisions of current law will cause marginal tax rates among this population to rise, on average, to 32 percent in 2013 and to 35 percent in 2014.
30% and rising to 35% is already news. (A lot of the rise reflects means-tested insurance subsidies under the ACA). But digging a bit deeper I see a more chilling story in the CBO report
...CBO also finds that under provisions of law in effect between 2012 and 2014, marginal tax rates vary greatly across earnings ranges and among individuals within the same earnings range.
Consider again the graph on the top. The marginal tax rate is not an even 30%. There are slices of income where the marginal rate approaches 100%. And, the graph is really misleading because it doesn't graph the "cliffs."  The figure caption says
The dotted lines indicate income limits for Medicaid and CHIP where taxpayers face “cliffs.” Similar spikes in marginal tax rates when the taxpayer loses eligibility for TANF and SNAP are not illustrated.
The CBO's artists apprently did not want to graph the vertical spikes in an honest solid line. (The CBO's "average" is, as far as I can tell, an average across taxpayers. No taxpayer reported income at exactly the cliff income, not one dollar more or less, otherwise the "average" would have been infinite. The CBO is not taking an "average" across income, which would include the cliffs.)

Another figure gets at the situation better, I think, though it takes more sophistication to digest

Now the "cliffs" show up. Overall, disposable income is very flat from $0 to $30,000 of income, and there are swaths where a discrete jump in income produces no increase in overall income.

Cliffs are particularly pernicious incentives. Even if people overlook marginal incentives for a while, "if you take this job you'll lose your health insurance" really focuses the mind.
And, this is only the start. Single parents with one child who are going to work need childcare, transportation, clothes, and so on. The calculation leaves out sales taxes and a range of additional means-tested programs and social services.  It  only represents marginal tax rates by people who actually do work and file taxes. The jump from out of the labor force, illegal work, or disability to employment is higher. (Box 3 p. 17 cites a 36% marginal tax rate for the jump to employment and 47 percent from part time to full time.)

Even within the same income group, there is a  tremendous variation in marginal tax rates.

 The CBO' introductory graph makes somewhat the same point. The huge spread in effective tax rates is as interesting as the average value

These estimates are also  understatements, as they only scratch the surface. The actual marginal tax + loss of benefit rates people face is very complex. A quick poll of faculty at the Booth lunch table showed the usual range of opinion but no serious calculations. Maybe it's deliberately complex so people will not make the obvious responses to big marginal tax rates!

And, in the name of simplicity, the CBO left out dozens if not hundreds of additional means-tested programs. As the CBO says (p. v) "Including additional programs would generally increase estimates of marginal tax rates." Yes, it would.

Why is there so much variation in tax rate across people of the same income? (p.v) The CBO here is looking at actual taxpayers, and
Survey data show that the majority of lower-income families do not receive means-tested transfers, either because they do not meet additional, nonfinancial eligibility requirements or because they are eligible but do not apply for benefits. Of those who receive transfers, the majority participate in only one program.  
This is both heartening and chilling. Written into law is a much larger welfare state than we actually have. Americans don't fully play the game. Yet. Witness the recent ad campaign to get more people to use food stamps. Once more people take more full advantage of the programs available to them, first the budget explodes. And second, they start to feel larger and larger marginal tax rates against growing out of the programs.

All of this  is official confirmation of the point Casey Mulligan has been making in his new book: Our system imposes huge disincentives for low-income people to move up. 
Greg Mankiw (H/T this is where I learned about the report) suggests
What struck me is how close these marginal tax rates are to the marginal tax rates at the top of the income distribution.  This means that we could repeal all these taxes and transfer programs, replace them with a flat tax along with a universal lump-sum grant, and achieve approximately the same overall degree of progressivity. 
The spread in tax rates means Greg is much more right than he knows. A $20,000 "universal lump sum grant"  and 30% flat tax rate would indeed be a better system -- not because it would approximate the current system more simply, as Greg implies, but  because it would dramatically lower marginal tax rates for so many low-income families.

The idea is worth pursuing. A "lump sum grant" means $20,000 voucher for food, housing, health insurance, and eliminating all the programs and their administering bureacracies. I didn't know Greg was such a radical!  However,  $20,000 x 100 million households = $2 trillion, on top of the military and all other federal spending. It's not clear a flat 30% even with no deductions at all is going to pay for it.

Perhaps we keep the $20,000 as provided benefits, as they now are, just lousy enough that rich people abandon them voluntarily as they bail out of public schools. That limits the budget impact a bit, though it will be pretty hard to explain to a $50,000 wage earner now paying next to nothing in Federal income taxes that they'll be writing a check for $15,000 next year, but don't feel bad because now they get to use food stamps and be on medicare.

We're going decidedly and inevitably in the other direction, which is the CBO's point in its gentle and understated  admonition that the "average" marginal rate is going to rise to 35%.

The response to our budget woes is more means-testing: Leaving deductions in place but capping them, adding to the phaseouts in the tax system,  more means-testing for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, all of the low-income subsidies for the ACA which phase out with income of hours on the job.

It all sounds great if you don't understand margins.  Why should the government help rich people? But every time we do cap something or means-test it, we introduce another marginal tax. And some of the biggest marginal taxes hit the poor.

This is a deeply important point so let me reiterate it. If you means-test any benefit, you introduce a steep marginal tax rate at means-testing point. If you don't means-test a benefit, you blow out the budget. It's a hard nut, that you can't get around.

This is not a little problem. We worry about the distribution of income in the US, and how low-income people seem stuck. Well, faced with these barriers of course they're stuck. And the barriers are going to get worse. 

What to do?  To some extent this is why economics is called the dismal science. Draw the line any way you want, subject to the budget constraint that all redistributed money has to come from somewhere. If you make it high at the left end it has to have a low slope. Compassion breeds "dependency," a pejorative word for the simple fact that poor people are smart and respond to incentives.

But we can do a lot better!  At least we can measure and talk about total marginal tax rates including phaseouts and benefits -- and the CBO study is only a beginning -- rather than the silly Warren Buffet vs. his Secretary stories about average personal Federal income taxes in isolation.

And, we can avoid the big variation and the cliffs. We can avoid some people facing 100% or more margins and others facing no margin. We can  bring everyone closer to the "average" 30% rate.  The costs of a high rate are larger than the benefits of a low rate (and varying rates cause people to clump up on the high rates.)

Finally, perhaps more time limit as well as income limit will work as a sensible compromise. Unemployment benefits are limited in time, which is what has kept the US from developing the permanent underclass on the dole of some European countries.

Half-joke:  the Republican response to the Democrat's desire to raise the high bracket of  Federal income taxes to 39.5%, and raise the taxes on dividends and capital gains should be: Fine. You can have the Warren buffet lower limit. In return, we get the Greg Mankiw upper limit: (named after Greg's 90% marginal tax rate) If any taxpayer can show that his total marginal tax rate, including payroll, Federal, phaseout, state, local, excise, share of corporate, sales, property, and removal of benefits exceeds 75%, then his Federal income tax rate shall be reduced to that level. Well, maybe we should take this seriously on the low end of the income distribution.

Personal story: This is how I became an economist. Taking econ 1 as my humanities distribution requirement at MIT (pause for laugh), the professor showed the budget constraint for people on welfare, which at the time reduced benefits one for one with income, and kicked people out of public housing. For years I had felt at sea in the moral and cultural arguments about welfare dependency. In a flash, I saw it, there but for the grace of good fortune go I.

Next topic. In week 2 of econ 1 you learn that the distributional effects of taxation also are not read off the headline rates of the Federal income tax, but also depend on all taxation, all spending, and the burden of taxation through higher prices and wages, not who actually pays the taxes. That political argument is even sillier.


An excellent comment arrived by email:

Dear John... Regarding your post on marginal tax rates, the best paper I’ve seen on the subject is by Larry Kotlikoff and David Rapson, “Does it Pay, at the Margin, to Work and Save? Measuring Effective Marginal Taxes on Americans’ Labor and Saving.” This includes state programs (in Massachusetts, if I recall correctly), which add even more phaseouts. (Link to the NBER version). The chart on page 45 of the file is particularly striking. [reproduced below]

[Kotlikoff's abstract is great: 
The paper offers four main takeaways. First, thanks to the incredible complexity of the U.S. fiscal system, it's impossible for anyone to understand her incentive to work, save, or contribute to retirement accounts absent highly advanced computer technology and software. Second, the U.S. fiscal system provides most households with very strong reasons to limit their labor supply and saving. Third, the system offers very high-income young and middle aged households as well as most older households tremendous opportunities to arbitrage the tax system by contributing to retirement accounts. Fourth, the patterns by age and income of marginal net tax rates on earnings, marginal net tax rates on saving, and tax-arbitrage opportunities can be summarized with one word -- bizarre.]
 This anecdote from Jeff Liebman also illustrates the issue in a way that Kotlikoff’s charts might not:
Despite the EITC and child credit, the poverty trap is still very much a reality in the U.S. A woman called me out of the blue last week and told me her self-sufficiency counselor had suggested she get in touch with me. She had moved from a $25,000 a year job to a $35,000 a year job, and suddenly she couldn’t make ends meet any more. I told her I didn’t know what I could do for her, but agreed to meet with her. She showed me all her pay stubs etc. She really did come out behind by several hundred dollars a month. She lost free health insurance and instead had to pay $230 a month for her employer-provided health insurance. Her rent associated with her section 8 voucher went up by 30% of the income gain (which is the rule). She lost the ($280 a month) subsidized child care voucher she had for after-school care for her child. She lost around $1600 a year of the EITC. She paid payroll tax on the additional income. Finally, the new job was in Boston, and she lived in a suburb. So now she has $300 a month of additional gas and parking charges. She asked me if she should go back to earning $25,000.....
[Thanks! I also am not a specialist in this literature and am glad for pointers to good work.] 

Update 2: Another graph, thanks to MG.

Source, a great presentation by Gary D. AlexanderSecretary of Public Welfare Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the AEI

Giving Up on Economic Growth

Growing the economy is no longer an American policy objective.  The Obama Administration rarely mentions the topic.  They talk about the economy but do not seem to think that eononmic growth is really all that important.  Somehow, according to Obama, you can get jobs and full employment with little or no economic growth.  There are no prior historical examples of job creation without economic growth, but maybe Obama knows something that we don't know.

The main focus of the administration is to figure out how to put the economy into a straight jacket.  The political rhetoric that garners support for this absurd economic program is to demonize the rich and successful.  The media helps, of course.  When was the last time you watched a television program where a businessman was anything other than a sleazy crook.  The anti-business mentality not only infects the White House, it permeates our entire culture.

If business is the enemy and economic growth is irrelevant, then the future is clear.  These are exactly the policy plans of Europe.  Europe does not see economic growth as relevant and they are not facing their own fiscal cliff.  There is no hope for Europe and political and economic stability are now unavoidable for Europe.  That seems to be our future as well.

Only going "over the cliff," offers any real hope of facing up to the problems that America faces.  Kicking the can down the road once more is not the solution. The media and the financial press will hail a "solution," but there will be no real solution, just more political rhetoric and a continued march down the path to Greece.  Entitlements are not a "sustainable" economic policy.  That's the true message of the European crisis.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Must Read Interview

If you want to make a sense of all the economic data and find out where the country is going without all the BullS**t coming out of doom and gloom camp please read the following interview:

Have a great week end folks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Market Gives Thanksgiving Gifts.

Hope you all had a great ThanksGiving. Today the half day session presented quite a nice Turkey, deep fried Texas style. Only folks complaining were Zerohedge who found many reasons why this is a fake rally. Most likely they do not read this blog otherwise they would have known that we have called for this bounce weeks back. We can also tell them that this bounce will continue for better part of next week. It does not mean we are long. But we can save them lots of heartache and agro.

Those of you who lost tons of money since 2009 getting caught up in bear talk and that imminent collapse here is one blog you must read everyday just to re-wire the brain.

Bill was 1st to start financial blogging before doom and gloom blog became fashionable and he identified the collapse of the financial system in 2007. He is a genuine person who is not into ranting and always gives facts to justify his position. His website is hosted here in America and he does not get money from anybody to create negative propaganda. This one is a must read for those of you who have been brain-wasted by Voldemort.

Anyway, the half day session saw all risk assets rip higher. Gold and silver had a nice jump and most likely the trade suggested by Stock Trader’s Almanac is going to be winner 13 year in a row. But if you also remember, the exit date of that trade is around December 2-4. So if you are long PM as a trade, remember to take profit. Crude however is moving in the range. But the most important thing which I thought worth mentioning today is the dollar index.

US$ Index dived almost 1% which is a big move in one day and no wonder PMs are jumping higher. But crude has not been able to close higher when USD is at a low, it does not bode well for crude in future. This chart of crude is from Lance Roberts.

I had written before that Crude may bounce upto $ 91-92 and this chart supports my calculation. Should Crude reach that level and Dollar Index reach 79.50 in the next 3 or 4 trading sessions, it will set up a nice short entry.

Nat.Gas reached close to my up-side projection and I had closed half my position. Most likely I will look for getting out of the rest by next week. I expect Nat.Gas to go up $ 6 but in short term, it has gone up almost 50% in 6 months and is time for some pull back. It may not happen but why take the risk.

Equities most likely will see some pull back on Monday before one final push up. The sell set up will kick in around 1425-30 or November 29th, whichever comes 1st. And this time I plan to go short with some leveraged ETFs.

In my last post I wrote about coffee. I think it is bottoming and look for the confirmation as highlighted by our dear reader in the last post. This has to be a long term trade and have your stop loss according to your risk tolerance level.

So you see, we have lots of opportunities coming up next week.  Santa is giving you advance gifts and I hope you will be nimble enough to grab them. I cannot directly tell you what trade to take. I can only say what I have done. So join me in Tweeter because I will tweet as I take a trade. Also please share the blog with your friends who may benefit from it.

Enjoy your long weekend and have fun. Thanks for your donations and supports. The blog now has a link for a job board and I hope it will be useful to some of you. Looking for your feedbacks and questions.

Happy Thanksgiving

By Eric Cochrane (who also drew the grumpy economist). More here

Walmart and the Free Market

Walmart has provided low wage jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans.  None of those employees were promised a living wage, guaranteed health care, and a plethora of fringe benefits.  If an employee did not want the low wage job that was offered, they could look elsewhere.  That is still true.  Nothing has changed.

Now the big unions want a new deal.  The new deal is all about the living wage, health care coverage and host of other goodies not normally available to low-skilled, low wage employees.  So, now Walmart is the bad guy, in the eyes of the unions.

Walmart should be free to offer whatever jobs they want to offer and if people don't want those jobs, then they can work somewhere else.  This is an economic transaction, not a religious order.   Any Walmart employees, unhappy with existing working arrangements, can leave and work somewhere else.  That's what disgruntled employees of Walmart should do, instead of inconveniencing customers of Walmart with demonstrations.  The customers of Walmart are well serviced by a company that provides products to the great middle class at lower prices than were previously available.

Walmart is a triumph of capitalism, not an icon to be pilloried by the liberal establishment. Those who want higher pay should develop the skill set and the energy level that can lead to a job with a higher pay level.  Paying people more money than their skill set would justify will not encourage such people to develop the work ethic and skill set that would truly justify higher pay and all that goes with it.  Long term, the effort to gut the essence of free market economics will lead to a poorer society with fewer opportunities for those who would like a step-up on the ladder of life.

Once again, a peek into the future is right in front of our eyes.....Greece.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Redistribution Economics

Casey Mulligan, an econ prof at the University of Chicago, has provided a fascinating analysis of why so many people have given up looking for work in the Obama economy.  His new book, "The Redistribution Recession," lays out the "high marginal tax rates" that the unemployed and the poor in general face in the Obama economy.

Here's an example you might not have thought about.  Under the Obama mortgage loan foregiveness rules, the amount of loan forgiveness depends upon your income.  The higher your income, the less you can receive in loan forgiveness.  This functions like a tax: if you work and receive income you lose the ability to receive loan forgiveness.  So, why work?  The same kind of disincentives are in place with food stamps, unemployment compensation and host of government programs to help the needy and the middle class.

The result:  people rationally choose to leave the labor force and live off of the various pecuniary benefits that one can receive if one is not working.  The point is that you lose these benefits if you choose to work for a living.  That is essentially the same as a tax.

Mulligan's argument is that, as folks drop out of the labor force (as more than 6 million Americans have done since Obama was sworn into office), the economy deteriorates because those 6 million and more are no longer producing anything.  That lost GDP is gone forever.  Transfer payments, Obama's favorite economic policy, reduce GDP.  The result is that we are all poorer.  In the end, the middle class suffers, because the middle class depends, for economic improvement, on a vibrant economy.

The policy of redistribution makes the whole society poorer than the society would be otherwise.  Of course, a weak economy, made weaker by Obama policies, has the most severe impact upon our lowest income citizens.  The result: policies designed to help poor people end up impoverishing poor people.

Yes, the middle class has lost ground in the last couple of generations.  But, not for the reasons you might think.  The steady rise of government and the steady rise of redistribution schemes has created disincentives for a growing number of Americans, who simply drop out.  These folks, an increasingly larger percentage of the population, become a burden to themselves and to the country.

Fast forward....Greece.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving.

So here we go again. SPX up 4 days in a row and yet except one day, it has not done much. In 4 days it has covered less than 50 points and is struggling with the Fib.38.2 retracement level. There is only half a trading day this week and then the cycle is up for another 4 /5 days. As of now, I do not think SPX will cross 1410 with any conviction and even if it does, most likely it is going to falter at 1420.

I borrowed the following picture from Peter  Brandt.

However I disagree little bit with the level of the bounce and I think it will bounce another 15 points higher from here although I bailed out.

I closed my TQQQ call options today and half of the long position in Nat.Gas. Although there is no immediate danger for Nat.Gas and prices will most likely go up some more, I decided to take some chips off the table. We must leave something for the next guy.

The Middle East cease fire was inked today after few last minute blasts but Crude was up for the day, although it was at the same level as day before, just below $ 88. If you listen to the logical explanations of the Crazies, you would expect Crude to sell off after the fighting stop. But the opposite happened. Yesterday I wrote that it is still little early to short Crude. We need to wait for few more days till the bounce fades in all risk assets. This is another trade which I think would be a safer bet.

Another short trade I am looking at is Silver. If Silver fails to clear $34 by the next week end and closes below $32, I am going to take a stab at shorting silver. But for that few conditions have to be met. I will tweet if I enter the trade.

Also, take a look at coffee, which I think is making a long term bottom like Nat.Gas. Out of the two vehicles for coffee, JO and CAFÉ, I prefer JO. It is less volatile and more stable.  30%-40% return is quite possible in a year but you have to give it time and be patient.

You see, there are lots of opportunities and fish out there without worrying too much about the equities. We will either go long or short when we have all the parameters lined up. But in between there are other opportunities which we can be watchful for.

That’s all for this evening. If you are travelling, travel safe. Don’t let the trolls at Airport bother you too much.  And for your Black Friday shopping, do remember the Amazon link in the blog. Once again, thanks for the donations. 

More Big Government Needed

Another economist for big government.  We don't seem to run out of these guys.  This time Eduardo Porter is in the spotlight.  His article in today's NY Times argues that the middle class is losing ground because government isn't big enough! 

No, that is not a joke.  Porter really said that.

I guess he must think government has been shrinking over the past few decades.  What rock has he been hiding under?

As government in the US at all levels has expanded without any apparent limit, the position of the middle class has deteriorated.  Yes, that is true.  Guess why?

The government is not the friend of the middle class.  It is the government that has taken away the incentives that the middle class once had to save and provide for their future and the future of their children.  Now, the middle class presumes, incorrectly it turns out, that the government is doing the saving for them and will provide for them in their old age.  Wrong.

The government and the Democrats are simply trading the future of middle class Americans for power today for a few entitled Democrats.  Nancy Pelosi is not a middle class American, nor is John Kerry, Chuck Schumer, Barrack Obama or any of these folks.  They are all one percenters. Big government won't hurt them. They know how to play the game.

The folks that will be decimated by the continued expansion of the government and the middle class are the middle class and the poor.  Their future opportunities are rapidly disappearing in the wake of an ever expanding government and entitled class of government employees.

The rulemakers are ruling out a future for the American middle class.  Fast forward to Greece to get a view of how well big government solves the problems of the middle class.  Waiting in the wings are Spain, France, Italy and yes, even Germany.  The big government outcome is visible for all to see. Maybe economist Eduardo Porter should take a glance at the future.  Porter, of course, is one of the entitled, so maybe he hasn't noticed the turn of events in Europe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jack Schwager on Hedge Fund Market Wizards

If you're a fan of the Market Wizards books by Jack Schwager, then you've probably read (or are looking forward to reading) the latest in the series, Hedge Fund Market Wizards.

The review copy Wiley was kind enough to send me this summer. I've taken my sweet time re-reading it...

We'll be taking an in-depth look at this book and the insights of the "Hedge Fund Wizards" in an upcoming series of posts, but for now I'd like to share some key interviews and webinars with author Jack Schwager. 

These videos will give you a great inside look at Schwager's writing process, as well as offering some key lessons found in this new collection of interviews with leading traders and hedge fund managers. 

First, an Opelesque interview with Schwager in Manhattan: "15 Hedge Fund Market Wizard trading secrets and insights".

This discussion opens by noting that while markets have changed since the first Wizards books were published, the main principles behind the various traders' successes have not. Certain strategies and opportunities may have gone by the wayside, but successful traders have continued to hone in on what works for them as they strive for superior risk adjusted returns.  

Of supreme importance, Schwager finds, is the need to find a trading method that suits your personality. He cautions young traders from trying to emulate their trading heroes, since top traders may have an approach or strengths that differ from those of the would-be apprentice. You need to develop your own approach. 

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to dig further, check out Michael Martin's interview with Jack Schwager, as well as this Schwager Q&A webinar on the behaviors of Hedge Fund Market Wizards. 

One recurring theme that runs through these discussions is the quote, "There is no single true path". The Market Wizards profiled in this book, and throughout the series, have all found success by managing risk and pursuing the methods that suit their personalities and strengths. 

Join us next week, as we examine some key "Lessons from Hedge Fund Market Wizards" in our upcoming post series of the same name. See you then.         

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 

All Quiet On The Western Front.

Nothing much to say except that every asset class is following the script. If you are a regular reader of this blog, nothing in the market’s action today would surprise you. Equities held ground, crude sold off, PMs are neither here nor there.  It has all been told before.

They say that because Ben opened his big mouth, equities dropped. Poor Ben! Before QE Infinity, folks would eat his every word and now they don’t want him to open his mouth.

We are close to the 1st target of bounce which is Fib.38.2% retracement.  Anyway, it does not matter how high the bounce goes, so long it holds till the end of the month. My initial target is around SPX 1400-1425 but I would not be surprised if it goes higher. I am using out of money calls of December to play the bounce and have advised everyone who care to listen not to go long, rather reduce the equity exposure.

Regarding Crude, the bounce failed. Despite the valiant efforts of chief ranter to scare folks with coming zooming of oil price, it closed 2% lower. And yet it is too early to short it. I think crude may spend few more days in this range, backing and filling before we can short it again.

Gold and silver should be going up because this the good seasonal period for the bounce but so far they have not shown much strength. I find that little worrisome, so I am staying away from it for now.

And Nat. Gas continued it’s up move which I had written before.  Not much to comment there either.

So you see, nothing much has changed and I am not finding much to blah blah.
Hope you are able to make some profitable trades because the calls could not have been much clearer. If you have any question, please feel free to email.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you tomorrow. Have a great evening folks.

Health economics update

Russ Roberts did a podcast with me in his "EconTalk" series, on my "After the ACA'' article. Russ also put together a really nice list of readings with the podcast, at the same link.

I also found this very informative editorial "What the world doesn't know about health care in America" by Scott Atlas. It goes a good way to answering the persistent "What about how great health care is in Europe" comments. Some choice quotes:
Affirming 2005’s Chaoulli v. Quebec, in which [Canadian] Supreme Court justices famously concluded “access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” [my emphasis] countless studies document grave consequences from prolonged waits...
I love this little quote, because the deliberate confusion of "insurance" with "access" has long bugged me about the US debate.

Lots and lots of things are dysfunctional about US health care, but not the long waits that others endure
...“waiting lists are not a feature in the United States,” as stated in a 2007 study and separately underscored by the OECD .
They're talking months here, not 6 hours in the ER.
Americans would be stunned to hear the reality of nationalized insurance:

• In its latest “care guarantee,” Sweden found it necessary to stipulate that patients must be able to see a doctor within seven days; patients should not wait more than 90 days to see a specialist; and treatment should be scheduled within 90 days…six months from presentation;...

• England’s 2010 “NHS Constitution” declared that no patient should wait beyond 18 weeks for treatment (after GP referral). Even given this long leash, the number of patients not being treated within that time soared by 43% to almost 30,000 in January.
How about all those wellness visits, the idea that under socialized medicine, people will get lots of cost-effective preventive care so they don't  wind up at the ER with something expensive? It turns out that's better in the US despite our chaotic system:
...treatment of diagnosed high blood pressure, the focus of preventing heart failure and stroke, was highest in the US (53%), lowest in England (25%), then Sweden and Germany (26%), Spain (27%), Italy (32%), and Canada (36%). In 2010, drug treatment was higher in the US than all European countries, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 2011, nearly 70% of Britons with known hypertension were left untreated.
And when you do get something serious?
Waits for diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US and Europe, plague nationalized health systems. OECD reported delays of several weeks to months for treatment in Australia, Canada, Finland, England, Norway, and Spain – not including waiting for specialist appointments. In 2008-2009, the average wait for CABG (coronary artery bypass) in the UK was 57 days. Swedes waited a median of 55 days, even though 75% were “imperative” or “urgent.” Canada’s heart surgery patients wait more than 10 weeks after seeing the doctor, and two months for CABG even after cardiologist appointments. 
The obvious point: Of course, under the ACA, many new patients and "cost control" price caps, we are surely heading in the same direction: rationing by wait time.

The less obvious point: Remember all the critics I cited in "After the ACA'' painting the picture that sick people need treatment now, and can't possibly shop? That really is a misleading picture.

The bottom line
..gradually, Europeans are circumventing their systems. Half a million Swedes now use private insurance, up from 100,000 a decade ago. Almost two-thirds of Brits earning more than $78,700 have done the same. But what might really surprise those who assert the excellence of nationalized insurance systems is that throughout Europe, from Britain to Denmark to Sweden, when faced with their inability to deliver timely access, the government’s solution is increasingly to enable access to private health care.
I don't know enough about European "private health insurance" to know how it works. Individual, private health insurance is so screwed up in this country that it's not clear we will have this option.  And, the point of After the ACA, paying with your own money doesn't do much good if there is not a competitive market supplying health services.