Good As Cash?

At least that’s what some of the brokers at UBS, Citigroup, and Merrill used to say – these auction rate securities are “as good as cash”. When you lie to people, it usually catches up with you. That’s what we started seeing yesterday with Citigroup’s $7.3B settlement where they agreed with the SEC to “make investors whole.” John Thain’s alleged exposure here is another $10B, and UBS somewhere between $20-$25B (yes, billions).

Of course, not all of these people flat out lied, but at a bare minimum they were unaware of what they were selling. Being unaware doesn’t work when you are managing my money, and I assume that is a general statement I can make for Main Street America. Your cash remains king. Letting other people get rich off of incentive fees on your cash… well… not so much anymore.

It’s one thing for Wall Street to have compromised the long standing trust they were assigned as America’s fiduciary. It’s another altogether for global investment banks to no longer trust each other. One of my first year analysts, Zach Brown, asked me a very simple question yesterday – “what can my Mom get for LIBOR?” Now that’s a much better question than hedge fund A, B, or C is asking their favorite CFO at a hotel conference “one on one”. What’s the point in asking CFO’s macro questions anyway? LIBOR is marked to market daily, and you can take out the “body language” risk!

This morning 3 month LIBOR (the rate at which banks lend to each other) is trading close to its highest spread over the US Fed Funds rate since 1999. Zach was the sailing captain at Yale last year. When the waters are rough, he knows how to manage risk. He doesn’t need me to make him “aware” of what spreads widening means.

Getting back to your cash – the waves in the global currency markets have heightened materially this week. I have an 85% position in the US Dollar, and that looks to be the one currency that is afloat. The rest of the world’s currencies need some Dramamine!

At 75.35, the US Dollar Index has charged forward by +4.9% since July 14th, and looks to be finally breaking out of its long term base. Since it’s an Index, the other side of the “Trade” is a collapse in both the Euro and the Japanese Yen that are trading down to 1.51, and 110 versus the US$, respectively. It doesn’t stop there. Asian currencies are getting clocked (yes, growth is slowing – China’s stock market was -4.5% last night, ahead of the Olympics), and currencies levered to commodity deflation are under massive selling pressure. The Canadian Dollar is down to 1.06 after trading at parity for most of 2008, while the Australian Dollar is having its 9th down day in a row – it’s longest losing streak since 1980!

Within their “it’s global this time” investment banking narrative of October, 20007, bankers don’t need one of these super secret “one on one’s” with a CFO who runs a global business to tell them that stagflation is bad. This morning’s facts are all on the table: Italy reported a negative GDP number, Czech Republic printed an accelerating inflation number for July (wage inflation!), and Egypt raised rates by 50 basis points to 11% after seeing their year over year inflation spike to +20%.

I know, I know… who cares about Egypt, LIBOR, and Cash? I think a better question is who is managing your cash in this interconnected global economy? If you think the "Tech Bubble" settlements were bad for Wall Street, wait until the lawyers get their nails under this moldy rug.

Have a great weekend,

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