Sadly, I find myself with more than enough time to compose yet another Thoughts from the Frontline in an airport, as a flight booking error has me at JFK for six hours instead of fishing in Maine. Details for those interested or amused at the end. But it does allow me to offer you a peek into a very sobering report on how badly underfunded public pension are. The situation is worse than you think. Then we will close with a eye-opening report on China from the gracious Simon Hunt, who is allowing me to reprint his latest missive in toto. You really want to read this one. And we start with this rumor from Reuters, just in. Read this and weep. It comes from James Pethokoukis.
6 posts tagged with “Politics”.
Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, once famously asked, after an especially dismal outing, "Can't anybody here play this game?" This week I ask, after months of worse than no progress, "Can't anybody here even spell financial reform, let alone get it done?" We are in danger of experiencing another credit crisis, but one that could be even worse, as the tools to fight it may be lacking when we need them. With attacks on the independence of the Fed, no regulation of derivatives, and allowing banks to be too big to fail, we risk a repeat of the credit crisis. The bank lobbyists are winning and it's time for those of us in the cheap seats to get outraged. (And while this letter focuses on the US and financial reform, the principles are the same in Europe and elsewhere, as I will note at the end. We are risking way too much in the name of allowing large private profits.) And with no "but first," let's jump right in.
Last Monday I had lunch with Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Mr. Fisher is a remarkably nice guy and is very clear about where he stands on the issues. My pressing question was whether the Fed would actually accommodate the federal government if it continued to run massive deficits and turn on the printing press. Fisher was clear that such a move would be a mistake, and he thought there would be little sentiment among the various branch presidents to become the enabler of a dysfunctional Congress.
But that brought up a topic that he was quite passionate about, and that is what he sees as an attack on the independence of the Fed. There are bills in Congress that would take away or threaten the current independence of the Fed.
I recognize that the Fed is not completely independent. Even Greenspan said so this past week: "There's a presumption that the Federal Reserve's an independent agency, and it is up to a point, but we are a creature of the Congress and if ... we had said we're running into a bubble and we need to retrench, the Congress would say 'We haven't a clue what you're talking about.'"
Long-time readers know I do not have much time for Senator Chris Dodd. He has threatened the viability of the Fed by holding up appointments, actually risking the ability of the Fed to get an emergency quorum if the need arose. His current proposal to give the President the ability to appoint the president of the New York Fed is likewise a wrong-headed political power grab. He has openly proposed to have the presidents of the local districts appointed by the board of governors. These presidents are the only real check on the board.
This week we survey the economic landscape that the new president will inherit. It is a polite understatement to say that he will be getting a serious mess. In reality, the US goes to the polls this next Tuesday to elect a Janitor-in-Chief. He will face a task that rivals that of Hercules in cleaning out the Stygian stables (legendary huge stables that had not been mucked out for ten years). However, there are no convenient rivers at hand for a probable President Obama to redirect that will quickly be able to clean out the mess left in the stables of our economy. This will indeed be an Herculean task and one that will take most of the first term of the next administration. So, let's look at what will face the next president. It should make for an interesting, even if not optimistic, letter.
But first, a quick commercial. My friend Steve Blumenthal at CMG wanted me to remind you that there are money managers who have been able to create value in these markets. If you are wondering where to turn to in this rather difficult environment (to say the least!), I suggest you go to his website, register, and then let them show you what a blend of active managers that are on his platform would have done over the past few months and years. These are primarily managers who will trade a managed account (using various proprietary styles) in your name and are quite liquid. And if you are an advisor or broker and would like to see the managers on his platform and how you can access them for you clients, sign up and let Steve and his team know you are in the business. The link is http://www.cmgfunds.net/public/mauldin_questionnaire.asp.
CMG is the firm to which I refer investors who typically have a net worth of less than $2 million. If you are an accredited investor with a higher net worth and would like to see what a portfolio of alternative investments, including hedge funds and actively managed commodity funds, has done this year, I suggest you go to www.accreditedinvestor.ws and my partners at Altegris Investments in the US (and Absolute Return Partners in London and Europe) will be glad to talk with you. And if you are a registered investment advisor or broker in the US, you should seriously consider signing up and talking with the team at Altegris. Some of the solutions they have might be ideal for your clients. (In this regard, I am president and a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, LLC, member FINRA. Please note that past performance is not indicative of future results and pay special attention to all the risk disclosures at the websites and at the end of this letter.) And now to the letter.
I am in South Africa as this week's letter is being sent out; so it is with some irony that the letter is focused on a topic that generally concerns only US-based investors, although what the SEC does has an effect on regulatory bodies abroad. This is a letter you may want to forward to your friends and associates.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has posted a new proposed rule that would raise the minimum net-worth requirement needed to invest in private funds from $1,000,000 total net worth to $2.5 million liquid net worth. This is a major change, and it means that some 7% of American households will no longer be able to invest in private offerings. In my opinion, it is likely to become law in the not too distant future unless there is significant public comment. This week we look at the proposed rule and some of its consequences, as well as a very interesting proposal by SEC commissioner Roel Campos.
Let's start with some background. The current definition of an accredited investor was adopted in 1982 and was set at $1,000,000 total net worth, including your home and other assets. At the time, according to the SEC, some 1.87% of all US households were qualified to invest in hedge funds and other private equity offerings. Due to inflation and the growth in all sorts of assets, including homes, today about 8.5% of US households are eligible. The original rule was proposed to keep supposedly unsophisticated investors from getting involved in investments like hedge funds, which were considered riskier than mutual funds.
The economy grew at a much slower pace last quarter, with GDP only moving forward by 1.1%. This week we look at why and see if we can mine the consumer spending data to give us clues about future growth. We are going to start a two part series inspired by a remarkable new book I am reading called "Ahead of the Curve," sub-titled "A Commonsense Guide to Forecasting Business and Market Cycles."
Joe Ellis was a partner at Goldman Sachs and was ranked as Wall Street's #1 retail analyst for 18 consecutive years by Institutional Investor. I caught up with Joe last time I was in New York as he explained his prediction process. I think there is real value here, and I suggest serious investors get a copy. Even though it was published by Harvard Business School Press, it is a very readable book. You can get your own at Amazon.com
This week we look at how politics and geopolitical events can affect our investments. We look at a decade-long forecast from one of my favorite information services: Stratfor.com. I change my view on the euro, talk about a possible Chinese recession and look at uncomfortable analogies between 1900 and today. There's a lot of ground to cover so we will jump right in.
I have had the relative value of currencies on my mind every day for the past two weeks. I have been in London, where the pound sterling is at a staggeringly high level, almost two dollars to the pound. Prices in London have always been high, even when the dollar was at its peak. Now they border on the absurd, at least to someone used to the economical confines of Texas. Admittedly I was in a high rent district (Mayfair), but a simple round-trip subway ride was $8. From my viewpoint, it seemed that the price of everything was almost double and sometimes triple what it is for me locally in Texas. There are no cheap drunks in London. Expensive drunks, maybe, but no cheap ones (and no decent steaks).