Monday, May 23, 2016

Party like it's 1999

 The lyrics to one of the late Prince’s songs, “Party like it’s 1999,” seem more appropriate today as writers applaud new tech companies. In the late 90s, all an entrepreneur had to do to raise money for an idea was attach the suffix “dot com” to his company name and hot money would rain on him. That enthusiasm for tech stocks drove the NASDAQ to the stratosphere where the lack of oxygen makes people hallucinate. The crash that followed in 2000 punished the dreamers severely.

A similar euphoria is gelling around the fintech, or financial technology, that intends to transform finance. One fintech company is SoFi, a San Francisco based company whose founder claims it will do to banking what Uber has done to taxis. You may have seen its Super Bowl 50 ad, “Great loans for great people.” 

Friday, April 29, 2016

The first Austrian economist - Washington Irving

Washington Irving is best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," but he also wrote many essays. Before he lived by the pen he was a business man and one essay proves that he was a good economist as well. He wrote about the Mississippi Bubble in France of the 1720’s which he published as part of the “Crayon Papers” essays.

At the time Irving wrote this essay, in the 1820’s, there were no good business cycle theories. The most common ideas blamed a shortage of money (gold or silver) or a general overproduction. Say, the French economist, distilled his famous law as part of an effort to debunk the overproduction theory. The Manchester school in England didn’t attempt its explanation until the middle of the nineteenth century and of course Mises didn’t put it all together until early in the twentieth century. Somehow, Washington Irving figured out the essence of the Austrian business cycle theory long before.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Democratic fascism kills growth

Bob Bryan at Business Insider had an interesting column on why economic growth in the US is dying. For the cause, he defers to Mike Thompson of S&P Global Market Intelligence:
Instead of continuing to invest in the business and focus on growing over time, according to Thompson, managements are trying to undercut possible disruptions by showing constant earnings growth and streamlined companies.
This activist-style, short-term attitude is exactly what Blackrock CEO Larry Fink decried in a letter to all S&P 500 CEOs at the start of 2016. Thompson said that these larger firms are most susceptible due to their size.
Revenue growth is predicated on economic growth and innovation,” he said. “We don’t have that sort of economic growth, and, let’s be honest, big companies simply aren’t that innovative. So instead these big companies shift their focus.
Thompson claims that large corporations are doing three things: 1) cutting costs; 2) creating shell companies or doing inversions to reduce taxes; and 3) buying back shares in order to boost earnings per share.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trucking and profits drive off a cliff

Not long after the 2001 recession I took a job at a large long-haul flatbed trucking company as a rate analyst and one of the first things I noticed on the job was a graph of truck tons/mile. The line grew to the right at a steep grade as a result of Greenspan’s artificial expansion of the economy through money printing in the late 1990s. Then just before the recession, tons/mile drove off a cliff and dived for months until crashing.

Last week, the WSJ reported that “orders for new big rigs plunged and inventories of unsold trucks soared to their highest levels since just before the financial crisis, as uncertainty about future demand and a weak market for freight transportation weighed on truck manufacturers.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Will we never see another Soros or Buffett?

The Global Guru wrote recently that investing has changed so much over the past two decades that we will never see investors like Buffett and Soros who could earn 30% returns for 30 years.

Nicholas Vardy wrote, “George Soros’ investment track record made him the equivalent of a .400 hitter in baseball.” But then his luck changed:

Soros quietly left the hedge fund scene in 2011, turning his fund into a family office. But his last few years in the game were hardly like his first. Indeed, 2010 was Soros’ worst year since 2002, with his flagship fund up a mere 2.63%. The following year was even worse, with his famed Quantum fund reportedly down 15%.

Friday, April 1, 2016

How mainstream econ promotes socialism

Milton Friedman is a good example of a great champion of free markets whose economics betrayed his philosophy. Few economists enjoyed the ear of the common man in the way Friedman held it. He wrote regularly for popular magazines, appeared on TV talk shows and produced a wonderful documentary series for PBS on the miracles produced by free markets. Yet the mainstream economic theories he championed undermined his speech. Here is how.

The first clue comes from the fact that economists trained in the German historical school , known as socialists of the chair, created the American Economic Association to promote German style socialism in the US. Bismarck, the prime minister in Germany in the late 1800s, had implemented almost all of the socialist agenda by the 1890s in what became known as the “welfare state.” Convinced that Germany was inventing the cutting edge of history, the American economists determined to bring such “progress” home.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Another market head fake

In the world of real bull riding, as opposed to nominal bull riding, or investing, the cowboy (investor) must anticipate the spins and leaps of the bull. Riders often study video of bulls engaged in previous games of cowboy tossing. A wrong guess sends the cowboy flying then landing awkwardly absent a score and without money.

So what can we make of the January plunge and recent recovery of the bull market? I am betting that the bull’s real intention is to plunge into a bear and that the latest rise in stocks is a head fake to trick the cowboys to overcompensate in anticipation of a continued ascent. Instead, the bull will reverse direction and slingshot the cowboy (investor).

Some of us are mystified by the recent rise in stock prices, but as the great Austrian economist Ludwig Lachmann wrote, moving the deeply anchored expectations of investors out of their comfort range for prices on the market requires extraordinary events. Some of us have seen indicators as early as two years ago, such as the hedge fund manager Mark Spritznagel, author of The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World.