God is a Capitalist

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why the Fed won't raise rates

The VIX (volatility index) is in a coma, so most investors are dozing while danger signs about the current stock market pop up. The idea that the Fed causes recessions by raising interest rates has relaxed many investors. Some writers have assured nervous investors that it won’t be until the Fed’s third rate increase that the market will respond.

In this previous post, I used Hayek’s Ricardo Effect to explain that recessions can happen without rising interest rates. Now, Hoisington Investment management adds support for Hayek from a different perspective. In the Quarterly Review and Outlook for the first quarter of this year, Hoisington wrote about the financial histories of nations with over-indebted economies. That history goes back two thousand years, but the US has suffered through four such seizures in the 1830-40s, 1860-70s, 1920-30s and the past two decades. The report offers six characteristics of excessive debt:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Corporate buybacks keep market airborne

The stock market has surged lately and a lot of analysts credit it to stock buybacks by corporations. As the chart here shows, buybacks have reached dizzying heights. Corporations are purchasing their own stocks because corporate profits hit record levels last year and management can find no better use for the cash than to give it back to the owners through larger dividends or buybacks.

As I wrote recently, record corporate profits, the current level of optimism and the low yields on debt justify the current loftiness of the market. This is not a bubble, but most investors are wondering what will shoot down this high flying market? Corporations appear to be the last buyers standing because “mutual fund managers have the lowest cash levels in history and money market fund levels are lower now than in 2007 and near a record low from 2000 relative to the capitalization of the stock market."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bitcoin won't save us

Libertarians have waxed poetic about bitcoin for years. It pokes a finger in the eye of the state by breaking the state’s monopoly on money and rescues citizens from a rapidly eroding dollar. But aside from the block chain innovation and its potential use in other industries, I can’t get excited about bitcoin. Other than symbolic, what advantage does bitcoin offer?

Say you produce oil field equipment in Tulsa and made a big sale to a production company in Marrakech, Morocco and to make the sale you offered them 90 days of credit. Also, you’re local sales rep made the deal in Moroccan dirhams. So you’re worried that in the 90 days before you get paid that the value of the dirham will depreciate against the dollar (that is, it will buy fewer dollars) and you’ll lose money on the deal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Win the Cash Tug-O-War

Mainstream economists have hated cash since the Great Depression because in their business cycle “theory” they assume that people quit spending and decide to hold more cash. That stoppage in spending constipates the “circular flow” model of economics they pray to and causes recessions. They don’t ask why people might prefer cash to a new Ford Focus or more stock in Apple. Many main stream economists follow the thinking of Herman Minsky who simply thought people are irrational. The behavioral school in economics assumes people are pretty much nuts. In their brains, a large group of people wake up one day and decide they need to hold more cash for no reason and all hell breaks loose. I call that the “crap happens” theory of business cycles.