The Financial Crisis – 30 years in 300 words – updated in 237

Interest rates and inflation peaked in the UK and US in 1980. Over the following 29 years interest rates declined in the US and UK from 20% to 1% generating a long uplift in the value of equities and other assets.

Japan became a global source of very cheap investment capital in the mid 90s as a consequence of ultra low-interest rates, the declining value of the Yen and the emergence of hedge funds meant that it became risk free to borrow Yen and invest in investment assets with much higher yields.

The Dow closed at under 1,000 in 1980; twenty-seven years later it reached nearly 14,000. The FTSE rose from 500 in 1980 to nearly 7,000 in 2007.

By 2000, monetary policy was being used to avert possible recessions, rather than as had been the practice, to stimulate the way out of one. This policy created additional credit, at a time when credit was already cheap and plentiful The super liquid conditions stimulated the securitization of loans by banks and the creation of many new financial derivatives outside of the control of central banks .

Inflationary consequences of the asset boom on consumer prices were absent probably because of the unprecedented productivity enhancement effects of computerization and the internet reinforced by the availability of ultra-cheap manufactured goods from China.

The point was reached where no more financial air could be blown into the bubble and it began to contract. Interest rates have now been declining for nearly thirty years, In the case of the UK and US they cannot go any lower.

The last upward cycle in interest rates began in 1950 and lasted thirty years and coincided with an era of great prosperity and growth, although the Dow ‘only’ increased 275% in those thirty years.

Here’s to the next thirty years…..

I wrote that in February 2010. What happened next?

January 2013, the credit bubble is inflating again. Worldwide, bank shares have typically doubled over the past few months. An unexceptional example is Lloyds Group whose shares were 35p in June 2012 and are now 50p i.e. Lloyds market cap has doubled to £35 billion for no discernible reason other than credit easing (mainly quantitive easing).

Junk bond yields are at an all time low, most stock markets are have risen sharply seemingly both because of credit easing – fundamental prospects haven’t changed, junk is junk, austerity is austerity, flat or declining gdp is the story in most places.

The financial establishment appear to have won enough to fight another day. Newspapers report  any signs of rising property prices as ‘good’ news. Similarly more easily available consumer credit is reported as  a ‘good’ story.

Let’s keep it simple. Much of the fund management ‘industry’ earns income as a percentage of assets under management – AUM. In the past six months the majority of investment assets have risen in price. The reason they have risen in unison is because of cheap and easy credit (the lowest interest rates for 300 years, mind-boggling central bank money printing via QE).

The effect of this is to sharply boost the income of financial services, a windfall which will no doubt be portrayed as the consequences of cleverness and skill (a simple lie) The resultant recovery in profits and bonuses becoming a’ good’ financial recovery story in 2014.

So its game on.

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Zug millionaires are non-practising

From time to time, journalists turn up in Zug tasked to write stories of affluence and privilege for the UK media.

They search fruitlessly for the spoors and watering holes of the rich, the exclusive bar, or shop or restaurant. They trudge the streets – and this doesn’t take very long in compact Zug – in pursuit of evidence of extravagant consumption and signifiers of affluent life. Invariably, the only icon to consumption they find is the single Ferrari dealer on Baarerstrasse. There they construct a story around the long waiting list for the most expensive model –dishonestly making no comparative reference to the long waiting lists common to all Ferrari dealers worldwide.
The really interesting story in Zug is that there are millionaires and billionaires living here, but they are non-practising.  Few of the icons of wealth are visible here. There is a marina on the Zugersee, and a waiting list of 200 for the mooring slots, but in the main, the boats are just practical cruising and sailing tubs, no Ferrari equivalents, Monaco it is not.

A cup of coffee costs much the same anywhere in the city. You cannot buy an expensive cup of coffee if you try. This is not a problem in London. But you can’t find a cheap cup of coffee in Zug either, and for me that sums it all up. There is a flattening up of differentials here. No special provision for the rich or the poor. It just isn’t possible to be poor in Zug the way it everywhere else. To be poor, you need to be provided for. The provision of inferior facilities and amenities is lacking here.

But also lacking are the private health clubs, exclusive bars and stretched limos, the private schools (the only ones are those set up by the ex-pats, and they offer inferior services compared to the Cantonal version). There is no special access via money to private medicine as in the UK, because all medicine is private and all citizens have equal access to it.

For example the public swimming pools here are of superior quality to the private clubs I used in London. Even if there were private pools, I wouldn’t need to use them. In London if you haven’t got enough money for a car or taxi, you must use expensive and unreliable public transport. In Zug, everyone (i.e. including billionaires) uses the public transport system in preference to the auto, because it is faster, more efficient, high quality as well as being inexpensive.

In London if you are poor you can find inferior accommodation, transport services, food, and clothes. In Zug there is a basic level below which there is simply no supply. You can’t be poor in Zug because there is no provision for it. The most inferior housing is still vastly better than the worst housing in London.

To be a practising millionaire you need places of worship, and they don’t exist in Zug

The Financial Crisis – 30 years in 300 words – updated in 237

Interest rates and inflation peaked in the UK and US in 1980. Over the following 29 years interest rates declined in the US and UK from 20% to 1% generating a long uplift in the value of equities and other assets.

Japan became a global source of very cheap investment capital in the mid 90s as a consequence of ultra low-interest rates, the declining value of the Yen and the emergence of hedge funds meant that it became risk free to borrow Yen and invest in investment assets with much higher yields.

The Dow closed at under 1,000 in 1980; twenty-seven years later it reached nearly 14,000. The FTSE rose from 500 in 1980 to nearly 7,000 in 2007.

By 2000, monetary policy was being used to avert possible recessions, rather than as had been the practice, to stimulate the way out of one. This policy created additional credit, at a time when credit was already cheap and plentiful The super liquid conditions stimulated the securitization of loans by banks and the creation of many new financial derivatives outside of the control of central banks .

Inflationary consequences of the asset boom on consumer prices were absent probably because of the unprecedented productivity enhancement effects of computerization and the internet reinforced by the availability of ultra-cheap manufactured goods from China.

The point was reached where no more financial air could be blown into the bubble and it began to contract. Interest rates have now been declining for nearly thirty years, In the case of the UK and US they cannot go any lower.

The last upward cycle in interest rates began in 1950 and lasted thirty years and coincided with an era of great prosperity and growth, although the Dow ‘only’ increased 275% in those thirty years.

Here’s to the next thirty years…..

I wrote that in February 2010. What happened next?

January 2013, the credit bubble is inflating again. Worldwide, bank shares have typically doubled over the past few months. An unexceptional example is Lloyds Group whose shares were 35p in June 2012 and are now 50p i.e. Lloyds market cap has doubled to £35 billion for no discernible reason other than credit easing (mainly quantitive easing).

Junk bond yields are at an all time low, most stock markets are have risen sharply seemingly both because of credit easing – fundamental prospects haven’t changed, junk is junk, austerity is austerity, flat or declining gdp is the story in most places.

The financial establishment appear to have won enough to fight another day. Newspapers report  any signs of rising property prices as ‘good’ news. Similarly more easily available consumer credit is reported as  a ‘good’ story.

Let’s keep it simple. Much of the fund management ‘industry’ earns income as a percentage of assets under management – AUM. In the past six months the majority of investment assets have risen in price. The reason they have risen in unison is because of cheap and easy credit (the lowest interest rates for 300 years, mind-boggling central bank money printing via QE).

The effect of this is to sharply boost the income of financial services, a windfall which will no doubt be portrayed as the consequences of cleverness and skill (a simple lie) The resultant recovery in profits and bonuses becoming a’ good’ financial recovery story in 2014.

So its game on.

 

 

 

 

 

Lex – the way to better buttock care?

There have been many rights issues during the past few months. Most of them would have been repulsive to individually franchised rational investors because they are really fee-fertile rescue issues in disguise (BDEV, SHI, NTG, YELL, etc, etc, etc).

Some financial columnists writing in 2009 about rights issues hint at the reality, speculating about the prospects of ‘getting them away’ (i.e. ‘getting away with them’) or focus on the fat underwriting fees and issue expenses .  I can’t recall once having seen an objective piece of analysis of a rights issue from an investment perspective. Probably because no case can be made in most instances.

Issues are subscribed by institutions on behalf of (in theory),  the myriad individual investors they collectively represent. However the  individual constituent investors  are never consulted, reminiscent of the once notorious block vote wielded at labour party conferences by the trades unions, where constituent members were not consulted before their votes were assigned to whatever barmy cause the leaders supported.

Why would real investors, by real I mean individually franchised rational investors with their own money at stake, subscribe to new shares in banks?  World markets are already awash with bank shares. Even in the UK there are billions of them already available.

Lex tries to say something about the possible Lloyds rights issue. As usual the sum of the comment is zero. On the one of Lex’s hands:

“A successful cash call would enable a beefed-up Lloyds to avoid the government’s asset protection scheme, so saving a £15.6bn insurance premium. It would still have to pay a break fee for APS cover over the past six months, rumored to be £2.5bn. On top of that, Lloyds must pay advisory and underwriting fees, perhaps another £300m. The net saving, therefore, may be about £13bn. Not bad.

 Subscribers, meanwhile, would increase their bet on the UK’s largest domestic retail banking franchise. If they share chief executive Eric Daniels’ optimism that bad loans have peaked, the mega-bank may finally start to deliver earnings too. There are cost savings from the HBOS merger, and reduced competition could spell meatier margins. One day, Lloyds’ dividend might reappear.”

And on the other of Lex’s hands:

“But loan losses could still rise, not least in HBOS’s private equity and property lending areas. The European Commission is likely to force disposals. Removing, say, the branch networks of Cheltenham & Gloucester and Lloyds in Scotland would lop some £300m off earnings. Eventually, the government will also sell its 43 per cent stake, a huge overhang. Finally, the UK economy, to which Lloyds is fully exposed, remains flat on its back.”

Lex, would you buy Lloyds shares?  We should be told.  

Bun rating: 200% bun. A bun filled with another bun, placed under Lex’s bottie for cushioning the effects of all that fence-sitting.

Lex – once rumoured to be authoritative

Alexander Justham of the FSA’s markets division has  said: “Spreading false or misleading rumours about companies, particularly in volatile or fragile market conditions, can be a very damaging form of market abuse. While we pursue individual cases of rumour-mongering, it is of equal concern to us that market practitioners handle rumours properly and avoid giving credibility to false stories.”

 There are a deluge of rumours in the financial press recently concerning the actual size, or existence of a potential Lloyds Group “arrangement fee” to exit from participation in the government’s Asset Protection Scheme. Lloyds Group have made no statement about the possible amout of an arrangement fee, so all comment must surely be rumour?

The FT’s report in today’s main paper states that

 ‘one person familiar with the government’s stance on the issue said a £1bn fee, which would be in lieu of the support that has already been provided to Lloyds was “definitely the floor”

and later in the same report:

“one person close to the government” described reports that the fee could be as high as £2bn as “understandable”

For some reason though, Lex in the same FT edition, quotes Bloomberg as the source of the rumour that “the Treasury may be eying as much as £2bn”.

As so often, I have been unable to find any substance in the Lex commentary. But since the actual amount, if any, of the ‘arrangement fee’, if there is one,  for Lloyds exiting, if it does,  the ASP,  is acutely material to the market value of Lloyds shares, this is one area where facts, not more speculation by once respected commentators are required.

Bun rating:  One person close to the kitchen is reported to have suggested that the bun, if there is one,  may contain 1% meat.

Lex it’s the capital stupid!

Lex writes today about ‘Executive compensation’.   But ‘Executive compensation’ is to income, what Harry Potter is to literature.

Traditionally and in most people’s minds, income is earned from employment to fund current consumption, though some may be deferred (savings).

Anyone fortunate enough to have experienced a steady ascent from average income to say, ten times average income, will have discovered that income has limitations.  Each increase results in a diminishing pool of useful spending options.  But the main limitation of income is that you have to keep clocking in to get it.

The acquisition of and ownership of capital opens up many more possibilities.  Capital is necessary to live comfortably and be free of work. Capital buys status. Capital buys power and influence. Capital buys security.

The open goalpost financial culture has led to a new shadow industry.  This industry’s objective is the application of entrepreneurship by employees to find increasingly inventive ways  to extract capital from it for their personal use.

Lex suggests that shareholders can vote for change.  Lex : ‘it is helpful to establish principles on which shareholders can act, especially on dubious practices like golden parachutes, tax gross-ups, and personal perks’

But shareholders, in the real world Lex, are effectively disenfranchised (see my thoughts on this at  https://fabooks.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/the-disenfranchisement-of-capital-%e2%80%93-how-the-city-stole-your-vote/

We really need you to sharpen up – we private shareholders, who own most of quoted UK PLC – need a champion, not a lackey.

Bun rating, 95% dough, meat extracted 5%

Is Lex a lawyer?

Expressing an opinion can be risky, events may prove you wrong.  However. this can be avoided if you include most of the available opinion options in a commentary.

Welcome to the “no comment” commentary or:  “We might not always be right, but we are never wrong”

Here is my commentary on today’s Lex piece on Baidu. I have italicised the tentative interpretation of events, the sum of which is zero.

 “In the wake of the storm over “trading huddles”, there are new mutterings of investment bank tip-offs to preferred research clients. Consider Baidu, the $14bn Chinese search specialist listed on NASDAQ. The stock had an uneventful summer, beginning July at $301 and ending August at $330. At about 10am on Friday September 4, it suddenly surged against a flattish benchmark. By 1pm, the stock was up 5 per cent. Over the next three trading days, it continued to rise. On September 11, Goldman Sachs upgraded earnings estimates, with a higher target price – $475 – than any of the 23 brokers on the street. On Wednesday, Baidu broke through $400.

Other factors than a trading huddle might explain Baidu’s ascent. After the market close on September 3, Dow Jones Indexes announced that, as of September 18, Baidu would be one of three stocks promoted to its Bric 50 Index. On the morning of September 4, Google – Baidu’s big rival – also said its president of Chinese operations was stepping down.

Neither event provides wholly satisfactory explanations. The two other stocks attracting new demand from tracker funds, Brazil’s OGX and India’s Jindal Steel & Power, jumped less on September 4, and have since risen half as much. And while investors may be extrapolating gains for competitors at Google’s expense, China’s other leading US-listed portals, such as Sohu and Sina, have been left in Baidu’s dust.

Stock price moves, alone, are inconclusive. More decisively, Goldman says it had no “huddle” on September 4, when Baidu began to rise. Still, as the least blemished institution throughout the crisis, it remains an obvious target for grievances over some of the shady practices that fomented it. The vampire squid will be harpooned for a good while yet.”

 Bun rating – 98% dough, 1% meat, 1% grease.