Thursday, December 31, 2009

China's Bubble And The Austrian Business Cycle

Is China in a bubble?

That's THE current debate between China optimists and pessimists.

And this has been accentuated by reports that China will surpass Japan, by next year, as second in the order of ranking among the world's economic heavyweights.

The Economist underscores the mainstream polemic, (bold emphasis mine)

``NEXT year
China will overtake Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. Its rapid ascent has led some to question whether China will follow in Japan’s footsteps, with the bursting of a massive bubble followed by years of decline. But China is still far poorer than Japan was at its peak, and thus has more room to improve productivity. A transition of surplus labour from agriculture to industry and services would increase efficiency and bring its economy more in line with the developed world. And China’s stimulus package has produced much needed infrastructure that will reinforce future growth. But in the long run, a shift away from investment and exports towards domestic consumption would make China’s output more sustainable, and help it to avoid experiencing a bubble like Japan's."

I do not share the mainstream economic gobbledygook.

Although establishing China's current conditions would likely be tricky and complicated.

First, we share with the bears that China could be in a bubble if they continue to pursue current interventionist policies on their banking, finance and the real economy.

For instance, easy monetary policies and a massive jump in money supply are suspected to have buoyed prices of real estate and the stock market as bank credit (circulation credit) have been presumed to have channeled into speculative activities.

Empirical evidence of this would be the emergence of several uninhabited or ghost cities [see
China's Ghost Cities].

In the Austrian Business Trade Cycle, the manipulation of interest rates essentially leads to massive clustering errors or huge malinvestments that will eventually unravel-hence the boom bust cycle.

To quote
Dr. Richard M. Ebeling, (bold emphasis mine)

``Unfortunately, as long as there are central banks, we will be the victims of the monetary central planners who have the monopoly power to control the amount of money and credit in the economy; manipulate interest rates by expanding or contracting bank reserves used for lending purposes;
threaten the rollercoaster of business cycle booms and busts; and undermine the soundness of the monetary system through debasement of the currency and price inflation.

``Interest rates, like market prices in general, cannot tell the truth about real supply and demand conditions when governments and their central banks prevent them from doing their job.
All that government produces from their interventions, regulations and manipulations is false signals and bad information. And all of us suffer from this abridgement of our right to freedom of speech to talk honestly to each other through the competitive communication of market prices and interest rates, without governments and central banks getting in the way."

Nonetheless, Chines corporations have remained cash liquid and may not have reached the state of wild orgy of misdirected investments.

According to the
US Global Investors, ``Despite government infrastructure spending boom in China this year, Chinese companies have not aggressively deployed cash so far and corporate bank deposits kept soaring and reached around $3 trillion as of October. There exists a remote risk of “herd spending” down the road when domestic demand picks up strongly and profit cycle restarts, eventually resulting in economic overheating." (see Chart upper right window)

Moreover, private spending has taken over public spending since September; see chart above from US Global Funds

In other words, for the meantime it would seem like some semblance of economic recovery, however as earlier cited, the persistence of present policies are likely to foster massive economic and financial imbalances.

Moreover, China's stock market as signified by the Shanghai (topmost chart below) and the Shenzhen (bottom) benchmarks are quite distant yet from ALL time highs. [chart courtesy of

Like in most bubbles, both real estate and the stock market benchmarks would likely reach new highs before inflecting as in the case of the Japan (1990) and the Asian Crisis (1997) with the exception of the US mortgage crisis (2007-8) [see previous post The Lost Decade: US Edition].

One possible factor that could offset or extend the bubble cycle would be China's thrust to integrate with Taiwan [see
Tomorrow’s Investing World According To The Bond King] and with ASEAN [see Asian Regional Integration Deepens With The Advent Of China ASEAN Free Trade Zone].

In addition, while there have been indeed some signs of bubble, usually in the context of grandeur edifices such as China's unveiling of Speeding Bullet Train program, to quote
Picture from Bloomberg

``Train C2019 covers the 120 kilometers between Beijing and Tianjin in 30 minutes, passing peasants in fields burning corn stalks and warrens of shacks occupied by people who aren’t sharing in China’s economic boom.

``The line is part of China’s 2 trillion yuan ($292.9 billion) investment in a nationwide high-speed passenger-rail network that may be too much train, too fast."

...these may not seem as extravagant yet-relative to other recent bubble afflicted economies or markets as Dubai.

Why Dubai’s Debt Crisis Isn’t Likely THE Next Lehman, we noted, ``Dubai’s meteoric rise via profligate projects produced many of the world’s landmark projects (boondoggles), such as the only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s tallest skyscraper, Burj Dubai (uncompleted), biggest indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai, largest shopping mall (in terms of total area and not gross leasable space), the Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest theme park, the Dubailand and the Palm Islands, the Palm Jumeirah, has virtually challenged Abu Dhabi’s role."

You see, 'delusions of grandeur' typically herald bubble climaxes, such as the emergence of towering skycrapers...

or even in the art markets as previously posted see Global Art Market As Bubble Meter, China's Fast Expanding Role

Bottom line: Political policies based on path dependency suggest that China will mostly endure a boom-bust cycle, although it may not necessarily redound to a Japan model or experience. However, these policy based imbalances would likely evolve overtime, and will be manifested in diverse asset markets, before facing her fateful day of reckoning.

E-Readers: A Hallmark Transition To The Information Age

We are truly getting entrenched into the information age.

Aside from the dramatic transformation of communication devices and the advent and growing ascendancy of computers into our lives, even books today are turning digital. And its not just about the disruptive innovation based technology but how these are being facilely assimilated by society.

In short, our lifestyle is increasingly becoming electronically based, prompted by innovation emanating from the adoption of freer markets (globalization) worldwide.

This from The Economist, (bold highlights mine)

``CONSUMERS are beginning to warm to the idea of viewing their novels and news on plastic tablets, thumbing buttons instead of flipping pages. E-reader sales have been gathering momentum since Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007. In 2009 falling prices, combined with a flurry of deals, announcements and technical upgrades, primed the market for a vast expansion. There are about 5m e-readers in circulation worldwide and double that amount will be sold in 2010, according to iSuppli, a market-research firm. Apple, with its record of improving upon existing technologies and triggering mass adoption, is expected to shake up the business by launching a tablet-style computer—which would make an ideal e-reader—in 2010."

Like most of technological innovations, as seen in the tremendous success of wireless or mobile phones, falling prices-not from debt deflation but from productivity based deflation- have been the key reason for "mass adoptions".

In the Philippines, there are more mobile phone users than there are bank depositors. And technology based mass adoption phenomenon will likely continue to accelerate overtime over an expanded or larger spectrum of u

And since it has been a goal of mine to become more mobile-than being always stuck in one corner of the room-Kindle or the coming Apple e-book would be part of my wishlist for 2010.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Asian Regional Integration Deepens With The Advent Of China ASEAN Free Trade Zone

Finally, the dream for an Asian regional integration has finally got the ball rolling.

This from the AFP/Google, (all bold highlights mine)

``China and Southeast Asia establish the world's biggest free trade area (FTA) on Friday, liberalising billions of dollars in goods and investments covering a market of 1.7 billion consumers.

`Eight years in the making, the ASEAN-China FTA will rival the European Union and the North American Free Trade Area in terms of value and surpass those markets in terms of population.

``Officials hope it will expand Asia's trade reach while boosting intra-regional trade that has already been expanding at 20 percent a year....

``China has just overtaken the United States to become ASEAN's third largest trading partner, and will leap Japan and the EU to become "number one" within the first few years of the FTA, said Pushpanathan, Deputy Secretary-General for the ASEAN Economic Community.

``Under the agreement, China and the six founding ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- are to eliminate barriers to investment and tariffs on 90 percent of products.

``Later ASEAN members, including Vietnam and Cambodia, have until 2015 to follow suit...

``Average tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by ASEAN states will fall to 0.6 percent from 12.8 percent.

``ASEAN-China trade has exploded in the past decade, from 39.5 billion dollars in 2000 to 192.5 billion last year, Pushpanathan said.

``At the same time, ASEAN-China trade with the rest of the world has reached 4.3 trillion dollars, or about 13.3 percent of global trade.

Well the trend towards the deepening economic and financial integration has already been in place (see above charts from ADB), in spite of the just concluded pact.

This means that the implementation of the regional trade agreement has been merely a furtherance of an existing trend and that would likely get more entrenched in region's pursuit of freer markets.

Yet, this flies in the face of rabid mercantilists who continue to predict protectionism as imbecilic outcomes (actually desired solutions) in response to today's crisis.

According to ADB's Emerging Asian Regionalism, ``Asia is now broadly as interdependent in trade as the EU and North America each is. Indeed, Asia now trades more with itself than either the EU or North America did at the outset of their integration efforts."

Here are the benefits of the a regional trade integration as enumerated by the ADB:

"An integrated Asia can:

link the competitive strengths of its diverse economies in order to boost their productivity and sustain the region’s exceptional growth;

connect the region’s capital markets to enhance financial stability, reduce the cost of capital, and improve opportunities for sharing risks;

cooperate in setting exchange rate and macroeconomic policies in order to minimize the effects of global and regional shocks and to facilitate the resolution of global imbalances;

pool the region’s foreign exchange reserves to make more resources available for investment and development;

exercise leadership in global decision making to sustain the open global trade and financial systems that have supported a half century of unparalleled economic development;

build connected infrastructure and collaborate on inclusive development to reduce inequalities within and across economies and thus to strengthen support for pro-growth policies; and

create regional mechanisms to manage cross-border health, safety, and environmental issues better."

While freer trade doesn't necessarily guarantee everyone's success, this should enhance opportunities in trade, investments, financing and migration flows aside from the benefiting consumers via lower prices and a greater array of choices of available products and services in the marketplace.

In short, benefits enjoyed by society would likely be immensely greater than the costs.

In addition, increased competition should bring about greater technological advancements via innovation, expands the division of labor and comparative advantages of producers which allows for more pricing and resource allocation efficiency.

As Austrian economist Hans F. Sennholz wrote, ``Surely, it is no easy task; it requires continuous changes in economic structure and adjustment processes. Labor markets need freedom and flexibility in order to create ever new employment opportunities that offset unavoidable job losses. Workers must have the opportunity and incentive to acquire knowledge and ability needed in a globalized economy. General education and vocational knowledge are becoming ever more important as are entrepreneurship, research, and development. But above all, the economic future of many businesses in a globalized economy greatly depends on the margin of political and social freedom they enjoy."

Nevertheless competition and greater choice translates to lower rates of inflation.

This has seen with the price of gold in the 1990s where the greater degree of global integration has resulted to what has been known as the "great moderation"

As we wrote in Gold: An Unreliable Inflation Hedge?, ``Global Exports sharply accelerated during the 1990s, which underpinned almost the same degree of expansion in Global GDP per capita.

``So increased global trade meant more US dollar financing, as manifested by the burgeoning trade deficits, yet the increased output from the world resulted to higher productivity and thus generally growth deflation or “disinflation”. Ergo, lower gold and commodity prices."

Of course, vested interest groups or economic rent seekers who profited from political privileges are exasperated,

Again the AFP/Google, ``Not everyone is happily singing the free-trade anthem, however.

``At the 11th hour, industry groups in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, and the Philippines are frantically pressing their governments to keep tariffs on vulnerable sectors until 2012."

SO it is yet unclear whether such trade pact will turn out successful because of the vast diversity of culture and political structures which could be sources of pressures or conflicts, aside from the required recalibration and standardization of trade and investment policies, to conform with and enforce on the trade pact.

Finally and importantly, the trade pact reinforces what we see as China's attempt to bolster or flex her geopolitical muscles by advocating that the world's largest free trade zone to utilize her currency, the yuan or the remimbi as the region's medium of settlement or transaction currency.

According to Xinhua, ``Beijing had embarked on the first step on a long road toward making the yuan one of the world's top currencies, allowing Chinese exporters and importers to start settling trade in yuan rather than dollars.

``Wichai [Wichai Kiatrengsuk, vice president of the Bangkok Bank] believes that after the launching of the ASEAN-China FTA in January, how to push forward the RMB-dominated trade settlement would become an immediate issue in this area." [emphasis added]

In short, the FTA appear to be a stepping stone for the yuan or the remimbi's long term path towards the goal to challenge the US dollar hegemony as a major international currency reserve as repeatedly discussed in this blog, such as in Central Bank Policies: Action Speaks Louder Than Words, The Fallacies of US Dollar Carry Bubble.

Bottom line: The fate of the China-ASEAN FTA would likely determine the success of China's tacit plan to become the world's premier geopolitical power. And this likewise could be reflected on her key trading partners.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Philippine Environmental Issues: Government Interventionism And Private Property

Finally some eye-popping economic realism from local mainstream media.

While the majority of mainstream media, the church and the public have swallowed hook, line and sinker to the government and academic propaganda that environmental issues have mostly been caused by "market failure" due to "greed", the fact is that markets, composing of acting individuals, respond to incentives.

And unknown to many, government policies shape the incentives that govern the markets.

Here we are reminded of Frédéric Bastiat, who in his classic must read That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen- the book that fundamentally altered my fundamental perception, cautioned us about interpreting on what may seem as the plausible and visible but are fundamentally short term effects as proximate causality.

Instead, we have been advised to dig deeper in order to fathom on the authentic and not the shallow causes; from which mostly
have been the baneful long term consequences of populist political actions.

In other words, the politicians and the gullible public severely overestimate on the culpability of the markets while grossly underestimate on the role of government in influencing such behavior.

And it is no different in the populist agenda known as environmentalism.

Here is a splendid article (Kudos to Calixto V. Chikiamco-author of the article) on domestic environmental problems seen in context of how government interventionism, which constricts on private property, have prompted for the aftermath of environmental degredation. [Hat tip: Francis Bonganay]

The intro from the Chikiamco's article on the Businessworldonline, [bold emphasis original]

``When one thinks about being friendly to the environment, one usually counterposes it to private property rights. Along this line of thinking, the government is for the environment and the private sector with its "greed" is anti-environment.

Mr. Chikiamco does a Bastiat,(bold highlights mine)

``How can we then explain the massive denudation of the country? Well, government was and is the culprit.

``The macro-explanation is that the government’s protectionist import-dependent import-substitution economic policy in the fifties encouraged deforestration. This policy, buttressed by an overvalued exchange rate, ensured a persistent trade deficit. To finance the trade deficit, the government encouraged extractive industries -- logging and mining -- in the sixties and seventies to generate foreign exchange. In effect, our natural resources were used to pay for the inefficiency of our protected import-substituting industries.

``However, government exacerbated the situation by two wrong-headed policies.

``One is that it imposed a "reforestation fee" on logging companies, telling the logging companies that the government will assume the responsibility of replanting and sustaining the forests. Of course, the government never did replant and used the reforestation fee wisely. The fee got lost in graft, the government didn’t have the resources and interest to police the forest and keep out the kaingeros (slash-and-burn farmers), and because of population pressures, people started moving upland and cutting trees.

``The other is that the government did not give logging companies secure, long-term property rights. Logging permits were usually short-term (five years or less) and highly political because keeping them was dependent on one’s padrinos and political connections. Because of the long period it takes to plant and grow a tree and recoup one’s investment, the government should have given secure property rights of 25 years or more.

``Property rights analysis, therefore, should be at the core of any plan to preserve and sustain the environment."

Read the rest here.

In contrast to popular wisdom, in effect, the sordid state of our environment hasn't been due to the aftermath of greed, but rather, of the political failure to uphold its touted responsibility (reforestation fee) and importantly the use of environment to award or dispense political privileges known as economic rent to politically favored affiliates, interest groups or patrons via the curtailment of private property.

I would intuitively suggest that there is more to this, albeit I haven't made an indepth research on it.

In short, government failure have resulted to the present environmental decadence and the public being misled by looking at the wrong dimensions would see the aggravation and not the abatement of the present predicament.

The last words of wisdom from Frédéric Bastiat, ``Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference - the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, - at the risk of a small present evil."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Government Failure: Passengers Foil Plane Bomber

From the New York Times Passengers’ Quick Action Halted Attack, (pointer from Mises Blog Jeffrey Tucker, although I belatedly realized that this has been on our local headlines)

``Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members". (bold highlights mine)

Read the article here.

Bottom line: This is another example of government failure. Despite the gargantuan resources (money, personnel, time, real resources, etc..) directed to curb terrorism, it took passengers or informed consumers or citizenry to foil an attack.

This reminds me anew of a Thomas Jefferson quote, ``An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Manny Pacquiao/Tiger Woods Controversies: Victory’s Thousand Fathers

ONE of the du jour topics in social gatherings I recently attended this holiday season has been the sensual indiscretions by international sporting legends as Tiger Woods and Manny Pacquiao.

Most of the discussions, like any conventional chitchat, seem to be focused on the “moral aspects” to which would appear to me as reeking in self-righteous cockamamie.

Yet, I find it appallingly a highly prejudiced view that media have opted to sensationalize what would be normally seen as stereotyped celebrity lifestyle- one has only to look at for a daily fare on celebrity flings.

However what eludes local media is the fact that these sport champions are merely human beings whom are subject to instinctive vulnerabilities.

Considering the immense fame and wealth or the social status acquired, which is not just a relative conventional high status but of the highest strata; the attendant acclaim from their sporting feats signifies as powerful biological signaling mechanism in terms of the sexual preferences for the opposite sex in the order of Natural Selection.

In other words, some women, perhaps, may see illicit relationships or trysts with these sport heroes as being a sublime beneficiary of the 'spreading good and healthy genes', or possibly hoping to get a sliver or piggyback on the material or non-material bounties of the celebrity’s success (attention, finance, etc.).

In addition, if countless admirers would scramble to have their pictures taken with these historical figures or get autographs for posterity purposes, one can’t blame many in the opposite sex to engage in concupiscent adventurism for the same reasons.

So if musicians (mostly rock n’ roll artists) get the chicks, what more them, as still youthful world record champions?

Nevertheless, what most really fail to comprehend is that people really don’t cherish celebrities because of who they are, but because of what they have accomplished.

For instance, the fledging and budding Manny Pacquiao around 15 years ago used to train in our neighborhood in Mandaluyong (as formerly part of the Abalos stable) while yet aspiring for boxing glory, who was then a nameless aspirant who wouldn’t get anybody’s attention, nor would have sensational sexual intrigues that would elicit publicity…that is until his recent string of record world victories.

In short, fans love celebrities MOSTLY for their feats.

Hence, it would seem cursory to deduce that when the glory of victory fades, all the accompanying privileges seen today would likewise dissipate. And perhaps it is why the political spectrum seems like an alluring alternative for Mr. Pacquiao (possibly in the realization of such prospects).

Here, John F. Kennedy’s maxim reverberates, ``Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

Bottom line: Controversies are indispensable part of the success.

When Vice Isn't A Crime: The Philosophical Flaws Of Prohibition Laws

One of the main reasons society have been allured to prohibition laws is due to the popular fallacy that presumes baneful behavior from so-called vices that leads to crime.

In short, people tend to oversimplistically associate vice with crime-even if both are different.

Vices are acts by which man hurts himself in pursuit of short term happiness, whereas crimes are acts by which man hurts or harms the personal property of another.

Lysander Spooner in a fantastic philosophical discourse disproves such popular fallacies... (all bold emphasis mine)

``But it will be asked, "Is there no right, on the part of government, to arrest the progress of those who are bent on self-destruction?

``The answer is that government has no rights whatever in the matter, so long as these so-called vicious persons remain sane, compos mentis, capable of exercising reasonable discretion and self-control.
Because, so long as they do remain sane, they must be allowed to judge and decide for themselves whether their so-called vices really are vices; whether they really are leading them to destruction; and whether, on the whole, they will go there or not.

``When they shall become insane,
non compos mentis, incapable of reasonable discretion or self-control, their friends or neighbors, or the government, must take care of them, and protect them from harm, and against all persons who would do them harm, in the same way as if their insanity had come upon them from any other cause than their supposed vices.

``But because a man is supposed, by his neighbors, to be on the way to self-destruction from his vices,
it does not, therefore, follow that he is insane, non compos mentis, incapable of reasonable discretion and self-control, within the legal meaning of those terms. Men and women may be addicted to very gross vices, and to a great many of them — such as gluttony, drunkenness, prostitution, gambling, prize fighting, tobacco chewing, smoking, and snuffing, opium eating, corset wearing, idleness, waste of property, avarice, hypocrisy, etc., etc. — and still be sane, compos mentis, capable of reasonable discretion and self-control, within the meaning of the law.

``And so long as they are sane, they
must be permitted to control themselves and their property, and to be their own judges as to where their vices will finally lead them. It may be hoped by the lookers-on, in each individual case, that the vicious person will see the end to which he is tending, and be induced to turn back.

``But if he chooses to go on to what other men call destruction, he must be permitted to do so. And all that can be said of him, so far as this life is concerned,
is that he made a great mistake in his search after happiness, and that others will do well to take warning by his fate. As to what may be his condition in another life, that is a theological question with which the law, in this world, has no more to do than it has with any other theological question, touching men's condition in a future life.

``If it be asked how the question of a vicious man's sanity or insanity is to be determined, the answer is that it
is to be determined by the same kinds of evidence as is the sanity or insanity of those who are called virtuous, and not otherwise. That is, by the same kinds of evidence by which the legal tribunals determine whether a man should be sent to an asylum for lunatics, or whether he is competent to make a will, or otherwise dispose of his property. Any doubt must weigh in favor of his sanity, as in all other cases, and not of his insanity.

``If a
person really does become insane, non compos mentis, incapable of reasonable discretion or self-control, it is then a crime on the part of other men, to give to him or sell to him the means of self-injury. There are no crimes more easily punished, no cases in which juries would be more ready to convict, than those where a sane person should sell or give to an insane one any article with which the latter was likely to injure himself."

Read the rest of
lenghty but highly insightful treatise here.

In other words, prohibition unworthily sacrifices personal liberty and private property for control.

Again Spooner, ``The object aimed at in the punishment of vices is to deprive every man of his natural right and liberty to pursue his own happiness under the guidance of his own judgment and by the use of his own property"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Agency Problem: Examples, Risks and Lessons

Here is an example of what we've been referring to as the agency problem or the conflict of interests that may result from different incentives guiding diverse economic actors or as defined by "treats the difficulties that arise under conditions of incomplete and asymmetric information when a principal hires an agent, such as the problem that the two may not have the same interests, while the principal is, presumably, hiring the agent to pursue the interests of the former".

Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story of the New York Times brings to spot a possible case, (bold emphasis mine),

``Goldman was not the only firm that peddled these complex securities — known as synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s — and then made financial bets against them, called
selling short in Wall Street parlance. Others that created similar securities and then bet they would fail, according to Wall Street traders, include Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley, as well as smaller firms like Tricadia Inc., an investment company whose parent firm was overseen by Lewis A. Sachs, who this year became a special counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

``How these disastrously performing securities were devised is now the subject of scrutiny by investigators in Congress, at the Securities and Exchange Commission and at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-regulatory organization, according to people briefed on the investigations. Those involved with the inquiries declined to comment.

``While the investigations are in the early phases,
authorities appear to be looking at whether securities laws or rules of fair dealing were violated by firms that created and sold these mortgage-linked debt instruments and then bet against the clients who purchased them, people briefed on the matter say."

Read the entire article here.

Meanwhile Professor Arnold Kling of makes a good explanation (bold emphasis mine),

``One difference is that financial innovation often serves the purpose of regulatory arbitrage--devising an instrument to comply with the letter of regulation while evading its spirit. Another difference is that financial innovation often is used by clever Wall Street bankers to separate less sophisticated investors from their money. In that sense, it is sort of like innovation in stealing credit card information. In the case of bankers outsmarting their clients, you can blame the victims for failing to be wary or to protect themselves."

The obvious lesson is that people's actions are impelled by divergent incentives whether it be motivated by regulatory arbitrage, profits, innovation, reputation and etc...

The second lesson is that divergence could mean conflict of interests; the cost -benefits and risk-reward tradeoffs, aside from information or knowledge can be asymmetric and opposite to the interests of the other party.

Third, while the article's innuendo is one of 'market failure' via misrepresentation, the fact is that regulators themselves have different incentives from the private or non-public economic actors which could lead to myriad forms of conflicts of interest. In other words, trying to forcibly align incentives by means of added regulations will likely lead to more distortions and/or unintended consequences.

The fact that regulatory arbitrage exists, which could be construed as a cat-mouse dynamic, is a manifestation of how private economic actors work to always circumvent current regulations.

Also, the fact that regulatory capture is stereotyped mostly in industries that are heavily regulated implies that many economic actors collude with regulators (or politicians) to "game" the system (example, monopolies, special licensing, private-public partnership and etc...).

Fourth, it is also true that with the growing sophistication of markets, diversified security instruments may be used for hedging, than simply a one-direction trade, often seen in underdeveloped markets. Hence, unless governments opts to bring society, as represented by the markets, back to the medieval ages, the question of conflicts of interest could be contentious and signify as controversial gray area.

Lastly, the ultimate lesson is nailed by Professor Kling,
"you can blame the victims for failing to be wary or to protect themselves."

This means that without understanding the incentives driving the source of your information or those whom you do business with, you can increase your risks.

``Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing” warns Mr. Warren Buffett, we'd further improve "risk comes from not knowing the incentives with those whom you are dealing with"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays: Live Life. Love Life. Love Liberty!

I'd like to greet everyone a Merry Christmas and A Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

In ecumenical context: Happy Holidays!!!

My message, to paraphrase the Hallmark Channel: LIVE LIFE. LOVE LIFE. LOVE LIBERTY.

That's because, to quote Greek author and historian Thucydides (460-404 B.C.) ``The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Creative Destruction: Composition Of The Top 25 Global Companies Over The Decade

This should be a sequel to our March post A Tectonic Shift In The Global Banking Industry!

But this time, our BEFORE (1999) and TODAY chart, covers the 25 largest global companies in terms of market capitalization.

Some highlights shown above:

-technology companies dominated the top 25 in 1999

-only 8 of the top 25 during the 1999 remains on the list (the chart enumerates the companies removed from the roster)

-total market cap of the group shrank by 20% in the decade

-China has four of the top 25, in 1999 China has none.

-Iconic CEOs of 1999: Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jack Welch of General Electric, and Carla Fiorina of Hewlett Packard

-Iconic CEOs of 2009: Eric Schmidt of Google, Ratan Tata of the Tata Group (India) and Steve Jobs of Apple

How a shift of this magnitude impact markets?

Economist William Easterly writes, (bold highlights mine)

``One reaction is that free markets are very scary if you were an employee or shareholder of one of the 1999 companies that crashed. OK this kind of destruction scares ALL of us.

``Another reaction is that creative destruction is one of the triumphs of the market. The consumer is king: in 2009, the consumer wants iPhones in their Xmas stocking and not whatever Worldcom had been pretending to be producing. The radical uncertainty of how to please consumers is an argument FOR free markets:

``It is because every individual knows so little and… because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it. (Friedrich Hayek)

Organizational Capital: Business Model Innovation

One of the reasons we believe that traditional fundamental metrics will hardly apply today is due to the fact that the world economy has been transitioning from the industrial age to the information age-where Alvin Toffler calls this the Third Wave.

This means that the current underlying trend which deepens the integration of global markets (globalization), intensifies comparative advantages and the international division of labor plus competition driven technology innovations has been paving way for a reconfiguration of global economic structures.

This also means that capital in a traditional sense has also been evolving to incorporate organizational capital-or a procedure implemented by businesses to complete work (

The Boston Global Consulting Group presents a recent paper "
Business Model Innovation" highlighting on these:

According to BCG, (bold highlight mine)

``This combination of product innovation and business model innovation (BMI) put Apple at the center of the market approximately 30 times larger than its original market. It also helped expand the company's share of the traditional computer market, as new customers become so attached to their iPods that they took another look at the Apple's computers.

``The greater frequency of disruption and dislocation in many industries is shortening business model lifecycles. New global competitors are emerging. Assets and activities are migrating to low cost countries. Systemic risk is growing as global business becomes increasingly interconnected. Social and ecological constraints on corporate action are emerging. All these factors require businesses to bolster and accelerate innovation. The discipline of BMI offers a fresh way to think about renewing competitive advantage and reigniting growth in this challenging environment.

``Business model innovation means more than a brilliant insight coming at the right place and the right time. To confer a reliable advantage, BMI must systematically cultivated, sufficiently supported, and explicitly managed.

Here is a diagram of the conventional model.

The BCG says that BMI is helpful during times of crisis or instability in the sense that

-it provides companies a way to break out of competition via process or product innovation.

-it help address disruptions or technological shifts-to cope with new business demands

-it addresses specific opportunities, by enabling companies to concentrate on either lower prices or reduce risks and cost of ownership for customers-usually by means of reengineering or reinventing themselves.

-companies often find it easier to gain consensus around the bold moves required to reconfigure an existing business

To add, BMI delivers superior and sustainable returns according to BCG, aside from offering "a premium over the average total shareholder return" on their industries or businesses See exhibit 2

And BMI can take several forms (see above).

Read the entire BCG paper here

And it is probably a reason why workers may have been more productive even during today's crisis. To quote Garrett Jones (Source Tyler Cowen: Marginal Revolution), ``Workers mostly build organizational capital, not final output. This explains high productivity per 'worker' during recessions."

Doug Kass' Prediction For 2010: Strong US Dollar, Weak Gold And Equities

This is another post to highlight on the different predictions by various "experts" for 2010.

Here, we quote Barron's Randall Forsyth's entire article on
Doug Kass' fearless forecast for 2010 with my comments.

According to Mr. Forsyth, (
black highlights original, blue highlights mine) [parenthesis my comments]

``Seabreeze Partners’ Doug Kass today is expanding on his outlook articulated in a recent Barron’s interview (”Skeptical Growth Will Take Root,” Dec. 14), notably about rising populist fervor in the land. One outcome he sees is Goldman Sachs‘ (GS) deciding it no longer wants to be a public punching bag and will revert to private status.

``And why, you may ask, should anybody pay attention to Kass’ prognostications. For one thing, he saw a “generational low” in stocks in early March, just days before the market’s bottom. In any case, here are Dougie’s Top 20 Surprises for 2010:

There is a glaring upside to first-quarter 2010 corporate profits (up 100% year over year) and first-quarter 2010 GDP (up 4.5%). It grows clear that, owing to continued draconian cost cuts, coupled with a series of positive economic releases and a long list of company profit guidance increases in mid to late January and early February, there is a very large upside to first-quarter GDP (up 4.5%) and, even more important, to S&P profit growth (which doubles!). The upside on both counts is in sharp contrast to more muted growth expectations. While corporate managers, economists and strategists raise earnings per share, full-year growth and S&P target estimates, surprisingly, the U.S. equity market fails to respond positively to the much better growth dynamic, and the S&P 500 remains tightly range-bound (between 1,050 and 1,150) into spring 2010.

Housing and jobs fail to revive. An outsized first-quarter 2010 GDP (up 4.5.%) print is achieved despite a still moribund housing market and without any meaningful improvement in the labor market (excluding the increase in census workers) as corporations continue to cut costs and show little commitment to adding permanent employees.

The U.S. dollar explodes higher. After dropping by over 40% from 2001 to 2008, the U.S. dollar continued to spiral lower in the last nine months of 2009. Our currency’s recent strength will persist, however, surprising most market participants by continuing to rally into first quarter 2010. In fact, the U.S. dollar will be the strongest major world currency during the first three or four months of the new year.

[Mr. Kass forgets Bernanke's policy imperative to devalue the US dollar as one major options to save its highly levered banking system and the economy]

The price of gold topples. Gold’s price plummets to $900 an ounce by the beginning of second quarter 2010. Unhedged, publicly held gold companies report large losses, and the gold sector lies at the bottom of all major sector performers. Hedge fund manager John Paulson abandons his plan to bring a new dedicated gold hedge fund to market.

[Mr. Kass thinks gold as only benefiting from speculative actions. He joins the camp of populist Nouriel Roubini. My bet would be with Mr. Paulson than with Mr. Kass]

5. Central banks tighten earlier than expected. China, facing reported inflation approaching 5%, tightens monetary and fiscal policy in March, a month ahead of a Fed tightening of 50 basis points, which, with the benefit of hindsight, is a policy mistake.

[This would probably the last thing central banks would do. Central Bankers will likely lean towards erring on the side of inflation, in the mistaken belief that inflation can be domesticated than suffer from a repeat bout of deflation that risks menacing their banking system (am speaking of developed economies). Yet, in the event that markets respond negatively to policy measures, central bankers will hastily regress to zero bound policies]

A Middle East peace is upended due to an attack by Israel on Iran. Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities before midyear. An already comatose U.S. consumer falls back on its heels, retail spending plummets, and the personal savings rate approaches 10%. The first-quarter spike in domestic growth is short-lived as GDP abruptly stalls.

[Mr. Kass appears to be reading from the current direction of US policymakers to impose economic sanctions or embargo on Iran by early 2010, of which Cong. Ron Paul rightly argues that this could be a precursor to a war.]

Stocks drop by 10% in the first half of next year. In the face of renewed geopolitical tensions and reduced worldwide growth expectations, stocks drop as the threat of an economic double-dip grows. Surprisingly, though, the drop in the major indices is contained, and the U.S. stock market retreats by less than 10% from year-end 2009 levels.

[Again Mr. Kass ignores two factors: policies directed to pump different markets to save the banking system and too much distortions from government intervention which muddies market signals. Nevertheless, a correction like that of gold's present actions could occur on the truism that markets don't move in a straight line-a midsized probability]

Goldman Sachs goes private. Goldman Sachs stock drops back to $125 to $130 a share, within $15 of the warrant exercise price that Warren Buffett received in Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKA) late 2008 investment in Goldman Sachs. Sick of the unrelenting compensation outcry, government jawboning and associated populist pressures, Warren Buffett teams up with Goldman Sachs to take the investment firm private. The deal is completed by year-end.

Second-half 2010 GDP growth turns flat. The Goldman Sachs transaction stabilizes the markets, which are stunned by an extended Mideast conflict that continues throughout the summer and into the early fall. While a diplomatic initiative led by the U.S. serves to calm Mideast tensions, flat second-half U.S. GDP growth and a still high 9.5% to 10.0% unemployment rate caps the U.S. stock market’s upside and leads to a very dull second half, during which share prices have virtually flatlined (with surprisingly limited rallies and corrections throughout the entire six-month period). For the full year, the S&P 500 exhibits a 10% decline vs. the general consensus of leading strategists for about a 10% rise in the major indices.

Rate-sensitive stocks outperform; metals underperform. Utilities are the best performing sector in the U.S. stock market in 2010; gold stocks are the worst performing group, with consumer discretionary coming in as a close second.

[Mr. Kass evidently is in the deflation camp. Yet he sees rate sensitive issues outperform, i.e. aside from utilities which I also interpret to mean banks, insurance companies, REIT, etc... Nonetheless this would be quite inconsistent with the "deflation" outlook]

Treasury yields fall. The yield of the 10-year U.S. note drops from 4% at the end of the first quarter to under 3% by the summer and ends the year at approximately the same level (3%). Despite the current consensus that higher inflation and interest rates will weigh on the fixed-income markets, bonds surprisingly outperform stocks in 2010. A plethora of specialized domestic and non-U.S. fixed-income exchange-traded funds are introduced throughout the year, setting the stage for a vast speculative top in bond prices, but that is a late 2011 issue. [More evidence of Mr. Kass' deflation bias]

Warren Buffett steps down. Warren Buffett announces that he is handing over the investment reins to a Berkshire outsider and that he plans to also announce his in-house successor as chief operating officer by Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 2011.

[This is a high probability event considering that Mr. Buffett is 79 years old and is already grooming several candidates for his replacement. Stephen Burke's inclusion to the Berkshire board makes it all in the family according to this Bloomberg news]

Insider trading charges expand. The SEC alleges, in a broad-ranging sting, the existence of extensive exchange of information that goes well beyond Galleon’s Silicon Valley executive connections. Several well-known long-only mutual funds are implicated in the sting, which reveals that they have consistently received privileged information from some of the largest public companies over the past decade.

The SEC launches an assault on mutual fund expenses. The SEC restricts 12b-1 mutual fund fees. In response to the proposal, asset management stocks crater.

The SEC restricts short-selling. The SEC announces major short-selling bans after stocks sag in the second quarter.

[Obviously Mr. Kass looks at an environment where more regulation would be implemented (13-15) yet is ironically bullish over interest rate sensitive issues]

More hedge fund tumult emerges. Two of the most successful hedge fund managers extant announce their retirement and fund closures. One exits based on performance problems, the other based on legal problems.

[more hedge funds will implode only when markets are extremely volatile-mostly to the downside]

Pandit is out and Cohen is in at Citigroup (C). Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit is replaced by former Shearson Lehman Brothers Chairman Peter Cohen. Cohen replaces a number of senior Citigroup executives with Ramius Partners colleagues. Sandy Weill rejoins Citigroup as a senior consultant.

A weakened Republican party is in disarray. Sarah Palin announces that she has separated from her husband, leaving the Republican party firmly in the hands of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. An improving economy in early 2010 elevates President Obama’s popularity back to pre-inauguration levels, and, despite the market’s second-quarter decline, the country comes together after the Middle East conflict, producing a tidal wave of populism that moves ever more dramatically in legislation and spirit. With the Democratic tsunami (part deux) revived, the party wins November midterm elections by a landslide.

Tiger Woods makes a comeback. Tiger Woods and his wife reconcile in early 2010, and he returns earlier than expected to the PGA Tour. After announcing that his wife is pregnant with their third child, both the PGA Tour’s and Tiger Woods’ popularity rise to record levels, and the golfer signs a series of new commercial contracts that insure him a record $150 million of endorsement income in 2011.

[This is much ado out of trivialities; if showbiz personalities can be accepted by media as living a more licentious life, then why can't sports champions]

The New York Yankees are sold to a Jack Welch-led investor group. The Steinbrenner family decides, for estate purposes, to sell the New York Yankees to a group headed by former General Electric (GE) Chairman Jack Welch.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Donald Coxe: Underweight US Markets, Overweight Commodities, Canada And Emerging Markets

Donald Coxe in his December issue of Basic Points has some interesting recommendations (hat tip: Prieur Du Plessis)

From Mr. Coxe: (bold and italics highlights mine)

1. Remain underweighted in US equities - as a percentage of equities within global portfolios, and as a percentage of assets in US balanced portfolios. Underweight US bonds in global portfolios.

The long-term financial projections for the US are scary, even if one accepts the Obama assumptions: ten years of large deficits, no recessions, strong, sustained economic growth, and a mere 1% increase in Treasury yields. Those numbers make no allowance for the costs of health care, which will be huge. Debilitating tax increases are inevitable, even if the global warming “cap and tax” legislation does not pass.

2. Within US equity portfolios, underweight US economy-related stocks and overweight stocks tied to foreign economies.

US stocks outperformed after Obama’s election, but that created what could be called erogenous risk for investors. As long as the KRE [Regional Bank Index] continues to underperform both the BKX [Philadelphia Bank Index] and S&P, risks of a double-dip economy remain.

3. Overweight Emerged Markets (such as China, Hong Kong, Brazil, India and Korea) within global and international equity portfolios.

These markets should no longer be discounted heavily because of assumed gaps between their accounting and American practices. The credibility gap has been narrowed significantly. The FASB’s capitulation to Congressional pressure on big banks’ balance sheets is a sign that Volcker-style virtue is outdated.

4. Remain overweight commodity stocks within balanced accounts and equity-only accounts.

Strong commodity-oriented companies are tied to global growth trends, led by the Asian powerhouses, which means they have less endogenous risk than companies tied to the US and Europe.

5. Emphasize gold stocks in commodity stock accounts.

Gold and other precious metals appear to have entered a period of above-average volatility, but the unprecedented creation of paper money and national debts means ownership of the metals and producers will tend to reduce endogenous risk in most portfolios. The stocks will tend to outperform bullion on the upside; the bullion will outperform on the downside.

6. Continue to overweight the agriculture stocks.

The best-performing commodity group in the past three months has been the agricultural stocks, led by the machinery and fertilizer stocks. Street analysts turned negative on these groups during the summer, when it looked as if US crop production would reach painful levels. Then the weather intervened. We remain of the view that the best of the agriculture stocks are among the best-quality core positions among all equities.

7. Maintain exposure to the energy stocks, but continue to emphasize oil producers and to de-emphasize natural gas producers.

Oil and natural gas are both in oversupply at the moment. The difference is that crude oil prices remain strong despite oversupply, as oil companies and speculators hoard oil in anticipation of stronger demand next year - and in fear of a new Mideast war. Shale gas may be too readily available to be good short-term news for either the profits or stock prices of oil and gas producers - but Exxon’s move on XTO Energy shows what having huge shale reserves can do for takeover values in politically-secure terrain.

8. Base metal stock prices are somewhat riskier than those of other commodity groups, but are worth holding.

The producers are dependent on China’s willingness to continue to buy more metal than it needs for current consumption.

9. Within balanced portfolios, emphasize long-duration, high-quality bonds at the expense of Cash. Canadian bonds should be used by foreign investors, where possible, as alternatives to Treasurys and US corporates.

Cash isn’t a true risk reducer, because it delivers no yield and cannot rise if there’s a new panic. If you must own something that pays you nothing, buy gold. In contrast, long-duration bonds are the best hedge against a renewed economic downturn.

10. Canada offers better government, better governance, a better currency, and a better stock market than the USA. Buy Canadian.

The flip side to this is a wise balance sheet policy for Canadian companies. Borrowing in American dollars makes sense for Canadian exporters and resource companies - and for some other Canadian industries. Take advantage of (1) Bernanke’s heroin injections into US debt markets, and (2) Canada’s new financial prestige to reduce your endogenous currency risk by bulking up your borrowing in greenbacks.

Read the rest of Mr. Donald Coxe's report here.

Financial Populism Means Confirming Mainstream’s Biases

``Who do you listen to? Who are you trying to please? Which customers, relatives, bloggers, pundits, bosses, peers and passers by have influence over your choices? Should the Pulitzer judges decide what gets written, or the angry boss at the end of the hall so influence the products you pitch? Should the buyer at Walmart be the person you spend all your time trying to please? Your nosy neighbor? The angry trolls that write to the newspaper? The customer you never hear from? Just for a second, think about the influence, buying power, network and track record of the people you listen to the most. Have they earned the right?” Seth Godin The people you should listen to

Some experts will virtually say anything just to get to the limelight or promote ideology. Unfortunately, the public hardly understands the motives behind such actions.

For instance when mainstream experts obstinately hammer on a “remittance driven Peso”, even if they have hardly been directly correlated in terms of remittance growth trends relative to the Peso-US dollar value [see How The Surging Philippine Peso Reflects On Global Inflationism], would be analogous to religion, arguing against populism would appear like blasphemy.

This goes to show that it is never about evidences or direct proofs (ipse dixitism) or logical reasoning but about indoctrination- from what academic or institutional experts, as repeatedly quoted by media, thinks they should be.

It’s Isn’t About Adherents, It’s About Profitability

At the start of the year high profile local experts had been in near unison predicting that the Philippine Peso will fall in excess of the Php 50 to a US dollar level.

Yet, in spite of the repeated forays by the local central bank (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) to keep the Peso from firming, the Philippine Peso has virtually been up (by about 1.8% as of Friday’s close on a year to date basis) blatantly defying the collective projections of these mainstream experts.

Media never elaborates on the motivations of the actuations of mainstream experts or their predisposition for more interventionist government via inflationism in an attempt to uphold the plight of OFWs.

Since OFWs have been glorified as economic heroes, populism dictates that socio-political policies have to be directed at alleviating the conditions of the 12% of the economy at the expense of the rest.

However, these experts, who pretend to know how resources ought to be allocated, have failed to see the unintended effects of the 40 years of devaluation, and importantly botched at predicting the Peso level for 2009.

Yet if they can’t predict the whereabouts of the financial markets how the heck should we expect them to know how to deal with an even more complex real economy?

Still, in order to devalue the Peso, the BSP will have to massively intervene by printing money and/or have government spend more in the economy.

Yet, hardly any of these experts dealt with the repercussions of such interventionists actions through flagrant distortions in the production structure of the domestic economy and the resultant higher consumer prices.

Nor have they expounded on the crowding out effect of private investments that would lead to higher unemployment and to greater incidences of corruption from an enlarged bureaucracy, aside from greater inefficiency in the system as a consequence of government’s politicization of the economy.

Also yet none appears to have ever discussed on how the Peso’s over 40 years of devaluation from Php 2 to a US dollar in 1960s to Php 55 in 2005 have NOT lead to a goods and service export economy but to an unintended consequence-labor or manpower exports.

So while we have been correct in predicting for a stronger Peso for 2009 and a meaningful recovery in the Phisix, it’s primarily because we focused on what we thought mattered most-the impact of global political inflationism to asset and consumer prices and its diversified impact to the idiosyncratic structures of national economies.

And maybe lady luck mattered too.

In other words, we didn’t mince words to go against the crowd and worked on the basis of facts operating on free market based economic theory.

So it really doesn’t matter if we don’t gain “adherents”, what we have purported to do is to offer an alternative “contrarian” point of view in spite of the risks of social ostracism. Most importantly, we aim to impart market profitability and not just entertainment value.

In adhering to Warren Buffett’s investment advice, ``Independent thinking, emotional stability, and a keen understanding of both human and institutional behavior is vital to long-term investment success.''

Populism And Forecasting Accuracy

Does populism imply forecasting accuracy?

Perhaps for some, especially for those with a longer term horizon such as Warren Buffett, Dr. Marc Faber or Jim Rogers, but certainly not for all.

Especially NOT for celebrity gurus.

If it is not saying something radical, populism is always about declaring something outlier that connects with the mainstream ideology or short term views.

Tyler Durden of Zerohedge recently unmasked RealMoney columnist James Cramer “Citigroup” recommendation that prompted for a 14% drop in 3 days. The mercurial TV personality James Cramer appears to have a poor track record in calling the market right (Wall Street Cheat Street).

Another celebrity guru, Nouriel Roubini followed up on his debate with Jim Rogers [see Jim Rogers Versus Nouriel Roubini On Gold, Commodities And Emerging Market Bubble] and has repeatedly but incoherently been thrashing gold (

Mr. Roubini introduced the US dollar carry trade as a major risk “mother of all carry bubbles” last November, even when we had brought out this possibility last August [see The US Dollar Index’s Seasonality As Barometer For Stocks]- this means we have already reckoned the US dollar carry trade even prior to Mr. Roubini’s admonition.

Mr. Roubini’s derring-do concept has reflexively been embraced by the mainstream institutions like the IMF (Bloomberg), the World Bank (World Bank Blog) and other financial institutions.

Nevertheless we have argued against this [see Jim Rogers Versus Nouriel Roubini On Gold, Commodities And Emerging Market Bubble and Central Bank Policies: Action Speaks Louder Than Words, The Fallacies of US Dollar Carry Bubble] noting of:

-the confusion between the incentives of private purchases against government purchases of commodities and select financial securities,

-the ultimate tasks of (developed economies) governments appear to be securing the stability of its banking system via the manipulation of several key markets including the mortgage, treasury and equity markets coupled with the tacit aim to devalue their currencies (US dollar, UK pound, Japanese Yen),

-the variability of the impact from the recent recession on industries and nations,

-the inability by the old financial system to regenerate systemic leverage,

-expectations of money’s neutrality,

-comparing today’s economic model with that of the Great Depression and

-the tendency of experts, like Mr. Roubini, to anchor on the recent past events or from the success of recent ‘carry’ models.

Mother Of All Carry Trade Bubble, Where?

Yet the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Figure 3: What US Dollar Carry?

With the US dollar has been up 4.8% from its recent bottom over the last 2 weeks, surprise (!), we are hardly seeing any generalized financial market tumult similar to that of 2008 see figure 3)

Except for the recent weakness in China’s Shanghai index (not shown above), Asian ($DJP1), European ($STOX 50) and Emerging markets (EEM) equities appears to be generally resilient amidst a rising US dollar.

In addition, the infirmity of the gold market, which has reflected on its inverse correlation with that of the US dollar, has yet to spillover to other commodities.

Instead of weakening, it would appear that other commodities have been firming up such as the Dow Agricultural Index ($DJAAG), the Copper markets ($COPPER) and most importantly, rallying oil prices ($WTIC) again, in the face of the recent strength by the US dollar.

So unless we see further deterioration across global financial markets (amidst the Dubai debt Crisis and the recent credit rating downgrade of Greece), there hardly seem any traces of the unwinding of “mother of all carry bubbles”.

So, where o’ where is the US dollar carry?

Seasonal Oil Strength And Celebrity Guru Track Records

Figure 4: US Global Investors: Oil’s Seasonal Price Patterns

Moreover if we should see oil’s seasonal strength play out, as it had during the previous 15 years, similar to gold and US dollar index (which has proven to be quite effective see Gold and the September Stock Market Seasonality Syndrome and The US Dollar Index’s Seasonality As Barometer For Stocks), then we can probably expect oil prices to further rise from current levels (see figure 4) and possibly break above its recent high at $82 per barrel in the face of a rising US dollar.

As a caveat, the rising US dollar appears to be a technical bounce and is likely a short term event more than fundamentally driven inflection or reversal.

Perhaps the US dollar bounce could also be interpreted by markets as anticipating the end of the US QE program, while major trading partners as the UK and Japan proceed with their own versions. In addition, the downgrade of Greece which risks of a contagion may spur more policy easing from the ECB to contain the ripples of the shockwaves.

Nevertheless with 7 banks closed by US regulators this week (, and with next wave of ALT-A and Prime mortgages (aside from Commercial Real Estate) threatening the US banking system anew [see 5 Reasons Why The Recent Market Slump Is Not What Mainstream Expects], we shouldn’t expect any policy tightening or reversals of the QE program even if they expire in March. In fact, if things turns for the worst we should expect QE policies to intensify.

Yet celebrity guru Mr. Roubini has had a poor track record, according to Wall Street Cheat Street, with only 1 out of 7 predictions being accurate over the last few years.

Mr. Roubini had earlier failed to see this year’s rally and vehemently denied of its persistence, and also predicted that oil will trade at the $40 for the rest of 2009 [see Wall St. Cheat Sheet: Nouriel Roubini Unmasked; Lessons].

Realizing his obvious mistake, Mr. Roubini has switched sides during the midyear and declared oil to rise “closer to $100” (CNBC), which apparently hasn’t likewise been valid unless oil explodes during the coming sessions.

With wrong predictions after wrong predictions, it’s a wonder how mainstream institutions and experts have been hasty to freely embrace such flimsy and specious macro theories based on archaic models without addressing the impact from the policy directives by global governments on the economy and markets aside from oversimplistically interpreting economics like some school laboratory experiment.

Perhaps the common denominator for publicity seeking gurus is the ideological likemindedness, where according to Richard Ebeling, ``a whole host of economists who crave popular approval and political influence have been propounding a whole series of quack medicines to "heal" the economy, with the promise of curing the recession through interventionist and monetary "elixirs." (bold highlights mine)

If it were a choice between 15 minutes of fame from quackery and profitability from accurately predicting markets, the latter would be my choice hands down.