TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP - October 19, 2010

As we look at today’s set up for the S&P 500, the range is 16 points or -1.24% downside to 1170 and 0.11% upside to 1186. Equity futures are trading below fair value after the S&P failed to hold on to gains on Monday as hawkish comments from Treasury Secretary Geithner on the dollar, and results from IBM and Apple hit sentiment. Although both IBM and AAPL reported better than expected headline numbers, AAPL's EPS guidance of $4.80, was below consensus of $5.07 sending the stock down as much as (7%) in after-hours trading, while IBM dipped over (3.5%) weaker service signings.


Today sees a further slew of S&P 500 companies reporting with Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) in focus before the open.

  • Apple (AAPL) sees 1Q EPS ~$4.80 vs est. $5.03
  • Infinera (INFN) 3Q adj. EPS 18c vs est. 9c
  • IBM (IBM) said service contracts down 7%
  • Microsoft (MSFT) said chief software architect Ray Ozzie is leaving the company
  • VMware (VMW) 3Q deferred rev. missed est., GS said 
  • Zions Bancorporation (ZION) 3Q loss-shr 47c vs est. 50c


  • One day: Dow +0.73%, S&P +0.72%, Nasdaq +0.48%, Russell +0.99%
  • Month-to-date: Dow +3.3%, S&P +3.81%, Nasdaq +4.73%, Russell +5.03%
  • Quarter-to-date: Dow +3.3%, S&P +3.81%, Nasdaq +4.73%, Russell +5.03%
  • Year-to-date: Dow +6.86%, S&P +6.24%, Nasdaq +9.32%, Russell +13.55%
  • Sector Performance: Financials +2.34%, Utilities +0.86%, Healthcare +0.85%, Energy +0.81%, Telecom +0.65%, Tech +0.48%, Materials +0.27%, Consumer Staples +0.25%, Industrials +0.14%, and Consumer Discretionary (0.16%).


  • ADVANCE/DECLINE LINE: 984 (+1613)
  • VOLUME: NYSE - 996.21 (-29.66%)
  • MARKET LEADING/LAGGING STOCKS YESTERDAY: Citi +5.57%, Allergan +5.45% and Wells Fargo +5.43%/H&R Block -11.49%, Fluor -5.09% and Halliburton -4.83%.
  • VIX: 19.09 +0.32% - YTD PERFORMANCE: (-11.95%)
  • SPX PUT/CALL RATIO: 1.45 from 2.85 -49.35%


  • TED SPREAD: 15.92, 0.507 (3.289%)
  • 3-MONTH T-BILL YIELD: 0.15% +0.01%  
  • YIELD CURVE:- 2.14 from 2.14


  • CRB: 298.74 +0.91%
  • Oil: 83.08 +2.25% - BULLISH
  • COPPER: 385.50 +0.42% - OVERBOUGHT
  • GOLD: 1,371.30 +0.02% - BULLISH


  • EURO: 1.3989 +0.09% - BULLISH
  • DOLLAR: 76.934 -0.14%  - BEARISH


European markets:

  • FTSE 100: 0.04%; DAX +0.14%; CAC 40 0.07%
  • Major indices are trading flat as strength in financials is offset by weakness in commodity stocks.
  • Strikes in France are becoming more violent as unrest spreads
  • Germany Oct ZEW survey 72.6 vs cons 63.5 and prior 59.9

Asian markets:

  • Nikkei +0.43%; Hang Seng +1.25%; Shanghai Composite +1.58%
  • Markets closed broadly firmer.
  • Banking stocks rose after strong earnings from Citi
  •  Banking and commodity stocks led Hong Kong to its first rise in three trading days.
  • Japan rebounded as the yen stopped its march to greater strength. Blue chips were hurt by falls in AAPL and IBM in after-hours trading in the US. Shanghai reversed an early loss into a 1.6% gain, as energy shares took the Composite Index to a near six month high, closing just above the 3,000 level. 
Howard Penney
Managing Director

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - levels and trends













Blind Belief

This note was originally published at 8am this morning, October 18, 2010. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

"Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
— Albert Einstein


If you need a solid dose of anti-academic dogma, read “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson. Never again will you accept the Blind Beliefs of modern day academics who purport to know exactly what is going on in your life and the global economy.


In addition to an ominously timed story titled “The Return of the LBO”, Barron’s ran an interview with Vincent Reinhart this weekend titled “The Case for Quantitative Easing.” If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It will cost you 5 debauched bucks to get a consensus opinion that’s worth about that much.


Vincent Reinhart shouldn’t be confused with his wife, Carmen Reinhart, who co-authored one of the most important empirical works in modern economic times (“This Time Is Different” with Ken Rogoff). Carmen is a self-taught Cuban-American who came to America with her family and 3 suitcases in 1966, whereas Vincent spent almost his entire career as a yes-man at the Federal Reserve.


If you don’t want to waste 5 Burning Bucks (the US Dollar closed down again on a week-over-week basis last week for the 17th out of the last 20 weeks), here’s a recap of some fairly shocking one-liners in the Reinhart interview (*reminder – Reinhart was a Greenspan “consigliore”):


1.  Barron’s: “You must feel some vindication that the very policy you have been pushing for several years is now being embraced”

Reinhart: “It’s too early to take credit until they actually do something meaningful.”


2.  Barron’s: “Quantitative easing has very little history in economics.”

Reinhart: “There was one other important case study, the 1930s, when short term rates were about zero from 1932 onward.”


3.  Barron’s: “Is that a good or a bad thing?”

Reinhart: “That depends on your outlook. Certainly you can’t expect the Chairman of the Fed to go around making speeches saying ‘hooray, we are depreciating the currency. Yet dollar weakness is a good thing as long as it is limited, controlled and gradual.”


Maybe a better acronym for QE is government sponsored BS.


While we do applaud the Barron’s interviewer for giving Hedgeye some knucks calling QE “financial kryptonite” (in our Q4 Macro Themes presentation from 3 weeks ago we coined QE “Krugman’s Kryptonite”), we’re hardly going to support another professional politician with no market practitioner background for pandering to the academic dogma of a Fed Chairman who is still lost in his historical studies of the Great Depression.


I think the groupthink embedded in these quotes is pretty obvious, so I won’t dissect it in detail, but I will summarize the risk in what both Reinhart and Ben Bernanke aren’t telling you.


1.  With 43 MILLION Americans in line for the Food Stamp program and a 9.6% unemployment rate there should be no credit given to the charlatans of the broken promises associated with ZERO percent rates and Big US Government Market Intervention.


2.  Quantitative Easing has plenty of history – it’s just not the history that fits the storytelling of those who perpetuated Jobless Stagflation in both the mid-1930s (Germany and USA) and Japan since 1997.


3.  Debauching a country’s currency and attempting to fear-monger its citizenry into believing that the rate-of-return on their hard earned savings accounts should be ZERO as the government implodes itself with debt is something the Fed Chairman should be protecting Americans from rather than perpetuating via its politicized policy making.


As Washington fat cats take pictures petting their pooches in front of some inflated art like Vincent Reinhart did for his interview, remember this … and remember it well… Americans aren’t paid off to have Blind Belief in short-term dollar depreciation oriented stock market rallies. They know who is getting paid by the Piggy Banker Spread in 2010 – and it’s not them.


Americans want someone in government to tell them the truth. The enemy of truth is the posturing of truth itself.


My immediate term support and resistance lines for the SP500 are now 1167 and 1181, respectively. As the bulls were Snorting QE on Wednesday, I finally re-shorted the SP500 (SPY) near its intra-week high. I titled an EL note last Monday “Defend Yourself” and I am currently living that strategy out loud.


Best of luck out there today,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Blind Belief - blind

Bear/Bull Battle: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...

POSITION: Short the SP500 (SPY)


Apple earnings are going to fly the Nasdaq to the moon and everyone is going to buy everyone (oh, and we need QE3 until bonus season because this is all really deflationary). It’s just another day in the risk management life as the US stock market scales the heights of dangerous October price levels.


We’re short the SP500 (SPY) as of last Wednesday right around this price. Our refreshed immediate term TRADE line of resistance is now 1185 and there’s plenty of resistance all the way up to the YTD highs established in April, when APPL’s Q1 earnings took the stock to pre-September highs.


There’s -1.4% of immediate term downside risk to the TRADE line of 1169. If that line were to break, there’s no support until 1144. Assuming a 40 point drop or (-3.5%) gets people’s attention, we’ll plan on it as a probable event as we head toward nasty US Housing data that will be reported next week.


Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Bear/Bull Battle: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...  - 1

Eye On Asia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Conclusion: The bevy of economic data out of Asia over the last few days adds to our conviction that the bullish rally in many Asian equity markets is likely to run out of legs, provided the U.S. dollar catches a bid. In addition, the data grows increasingly supportive of the relative underperformance of Japanese equities.


Positions: Long Chinese Yuan (CYB); Short Japanese Equities (EWJ); Short the Japanese yen (FXY); Short Emerging Market Equities (FFD)


There has been a slew of economic data coming out of Asia over the last few days – some good, some bad, and some ugly. Rather than belabor the point(s) with excessive prose, we’ll just highlight the meaningful deltas and inflection points in the call-outs and charts below.


The Good 

  • Singapore’s Retail Sales ex Motor Vehicles accelerated in August to +6.2 YoY from +6% in July. We have remained bullish on the Singapore consumer over the last several months due to structural employment tailwinds.
  • In line with our call from early July, the Singapore central bank signaled that it will widen the Singapore Dollar’s trading band to allow faster appreciation to combat rising inflation.
  • China is considering allowing companies to use yuan for cross-border investment in an effort to expand international trade settlement in the currency and reduce reliance on the dollar. The People’s Bank of China is researching means to permit the use of the yuan by overseas companies for foreign direct investment and to allow Chinese companies to invest yuan internationally.
  • Japan’s PPI decelerated in September to (-0.1%) YoY from flat in August, due to the strong yen driving down the cost of imports.
  • China’s Foreign Direct Investment accelerated in September to +6.1% YoY from +1.4% in August. 

Eye On Asia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - 1


The Bad 

  • Singapore‘s GDP growth decelerated in 3Q10 to +10.3% YoY from +18.8% YoY in 2Q10. While consumer trends remain strong in Singapore, we are increasingly cognizant of Singapore’s reliance on exports as a driver of growth, particularly in the volatile pharmaceutical and electronics sectors. As global trade slows due to decelerating demand from the U.S. and W. Europe, countries like Singapore that are overly reliant on exports could see their growth come under increased pressure. Exports account for roughly 200% of Singapore’s GDP.
  • Singapore’s Non-Oil Domestic Exports decelerated in September to +22.7% YoY from a revised +30.8% in August. While +23% YoY export growth is nothing to scoff at, an (-810bps) second-derivative slowdown is noteworthy and speaks to the broader slowdown within the Singapore economy from white-hot levels of growth in 1H10.
  • Japan revised down its August Industrial Production to (-50bps) MoM from (-30bps). 

Eye On Asia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - 2


The Ugly 

  • China’s Property Prices (70 Cities) rose in September by +0.5% MoM, marking the first sequential uptick on a monthly basis since May. While prices decelerated on a YoY basis in September (+9.1% vs. +9.3% in Aug.), the +56% MoM gain in property sales value and +52% MoM gain in property sales volume exacerbate the slight monthly increase in prices in September and will likely overshadow September’s  marginal YoY deceleration. This latest reading may serve to speed up China’s implementation of a nationwide property tax trial.
  • India’s Inflation (WPI) accelerated in September to +8.6% YoY from +8.5% in August. This is yet another example of Fed-sponsored inflation that has been accelerating globally. Food inflation accelerated to +16.4% YoY (food is the largest expense line item for 75.6% of Indian households). This latest inflation reading highlights the Indian central bank’s struggles with containing inflation, which may get tougher as they’ve recently signaled that they will intervene in the currency market should the rupee rally pas 43 per dollar. Weaken the rupee and starve your citizenry with inflation or allow it to continue appreciating and reduce your country’s export competiveness is not a catch-22 we’d like to be invested in,  despite India’s one billion-plus people and high-single digit GDP growth (both of which are as widely understood by consensus as it gets). 

Eye On Asia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - 3


Eye On Asia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - 4


The Murky 

  • The number of new hedge funds in Japan is set to reach the highest level since 2006. As many as 27 Japan-focused funds are scheduled to launch this year, with 15 already in operation. While we typically consider fund flows and start-ups as contrarian indicators, we do think the number of Japan-focused hedge funds going up may actually provide incremental selling pressure on the Nikkei, as more investors arrive at the conclusions we reached from our Japan’s Jugular thesis outlined in our 4Q10 Macro Themes call.
  • In classic contra-indicator form, the number of hedge funds’ net speculative positions that the yen will rise against the dollar stood at an elevated 48,285 contracts on October 12th. In May, when the yen bottomed at 94.5 per U.S. dollar, there were a net 65,612 contracts forecasting a yen decline. If you don’t know now you know that portfolio managers chase performance and price. 

All told, the bevy of economic data out of Asia over the last few days adds to our conviction that the bullish rally in many Asian equity markets is likely to run out of legs, provided the U.S. dollar holds a bid. In addition, the data grows increasingly supportive of the relative underperformance of Japanese equities on both an intermediate term TREND basis and from a long term TAIL perspective. We continue to stand counter to the Blind Belief that QE2 will be a panacea for U.S. economic growth and once consensus understands that or QE2 becomes fully priced in, emerging market equities could come under selling pressure as the gravitational force that is slowing growth in the U.S., Japan, and Europe weigh on markets globally.


Darius Dale


COMPLIANCE: Settlements Freeze

Smart and tough, seasoned and scrappy, prosecutor Robert Khuzami came charging into his new job has head of SEC Enforcement to great fanfare.  Journalists who dog the Law Beat hailed this as the SEC’s Gangbusters moment.  The Untouchables were invoked, and high hopes were held out for a new regime that would kick serious butt, take names, and make Wall Street safe for the average investor.


We expressed our initial disappointment when, in his introductory press conference, Mr. Khuzami announced that his department would set a precedent of winner bigger settlements than ever before.  He has been true to his word – the Goldman settlement is considered a milestone in this regard.  But, with nary a jail sentence in sight, all Mr. Khuzami has done is to boost the price of crime.  The fundamental game is unchanged.


Improper securities deals aside, the number of high profile banks involved in money laundering, and the dollar magnitude of the alleged activities, is staggering.  In cases of money laundering by European banks on behalf of Iran, for example, the amounts disclosed run well into the billions.  We can only imagine the ratio of discovered to undiscovered dealings.  And yet, even in this high-stakes game, no one is going to prison.  Banks are not being shuttered.  A few hundred million in fines is paid, a couple of bank executives are relieved of their duties.  It seems the real crime lies not in perpetrating a fraud on the public trust, but in being caught.  Is it time to beatify Richard Nixon?


Mr. Khuzami has an opportunity to put the lumbering craft of regulation into high gear.  The Wall Street Journal has performed a significant service to the public – not, we think, always its primary reportorial objective – reporting on Congressional staffers who trade in stocks of companies directly affected by legislation overseen by their own bosses (11 October, “Congress Staffers Gain From Trading In Stocks”).  “At least 72 aides on both sides of the aisle traded shares of companies that their bosses help oversee,” reports the Journal.  Shades of Ivan Boesky!  The juiciest part of the article is the observation that “insider-trading laws don’t apply to Congress.”


The Journal also reports (12 October, “Lawmaker Aims To Outlaw Insider Trading On The Hill”) that a bill to outlaw insider trading in the House has languished for five years and currently enjoys the support of just nine Representatives.  No parallel bill has been proposed in the Senate.


One would imagine that, in the wake of this year’s revelation of insider trading by SEC staffers, Congress would rush to clean house.  Not only have they not done so – they don’t think there is anything wrong.  Congress has more important concerns than ensuring that its members meet the Caesar’s Wife standard.


In his former incarnation as federal prosecutor, Mr. Khuzami was cited for personal bravery, including an award for risking his life to bring drug dealers to justice.  It is one helluva come-down for him to be marking time in the wake of Chairman Schapiro’s ongoing political tightrope act.  We think the time has come for Mr. Khuzami to bang some heads together.  Where better to start than with the miscreants on the Hill?  Settlements be damned!  Please, Mr. Khuzami – please, please, oooh pretty please! – throw somebody in jail.


It can not be an excessive stretch for a tough and nimble legal mind such as Khuzami’s to find a theory on which to try Congressional staffers who participate in discussions about government intervention, then trade the stocks of the very companies that will be affected by these pending – and unannounced – actions.


On the face of it, this is an ongoing pattern of trading on the basis of material, non-public information.  This is the stuff your compliance officer spoke to you about when you joined the firm, and reminds you about regularly.  This is the stuff people get sent to prison for.  But if those who make the laws, can break the laws, it is time for the SEC to go gangbusters on this one.  Even though the likeliest outcome is not jail time, nor even fines or disgorgement, we would dearly love to see our lawmakers sweat.


Chairman Schapiro must go on the offensive with Congress.  If she does not, she is less politically canny than we credit her.  Even if she fails to convince the SEC Commissioners of the necessity to change the law, her labor-union constituency and their pension managers will have plenty to say on the subject.  This is a topic on which she can score a clear moral victory.  We envision the odd coalition of Wall Street bankers and labor leaders descending on Washington to demand that Congress forbid itself to break the law.


The likeliest outcome is a change in procedures.  Currently, staffers report their transactions once a year, and it is not clear that there is anything resembling compliance oversight of what employees of Congress do with their money.  Thanks to the light and heat generated by the Journal’s articles, that should change.


Congress doesn’t wish the law of the land to apply to its own members?  Tea, anyone?


Moshe Silver
Chief Compliance Officer


COMPLIANCE: Qualitative Easing

"Time and persecution brings many wonderful things to pass."

-         George Washington



We are reading the new biography of George Washington from the pen (ok… laptop) of master biographer Ron Chernow.  We are wholly absorbed in the tale, and Chernow’s insights about the Father of this country and his time shed much light on our present season of discontent.


Today the underlying issue is a total abdication of responsibility on the part of those invested with the Public Trust.  The reason it has become compelling as an ongoing policy matter to debauch the once-proud Dollar is that our society has established a pattern of behavior, reaching back certainly to the post WWII period, of encouraging excessive behavior by consumers.  The rest of the world recognized US indebtedness as a nascent problem as far back as the early 1980’s.  Is it realistic for Washington now to push back on generations of excess?  We search in vain for anyone in a position of public trust to take a stand against this madness.


Not Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said this week, “We are still learning about the efficacy and appropriate management” of “non-standard policy tools that do not rely on interest rate deductions.”  Chairman Bernanke, who appears to have taken classes in opacity from his predecessor, was telling us that he wishes he could reduce interest rates further.  But, while in mathematical modeling Zero represents merely a reference point, in real world economics it takes on all the characteristics of a physical barrier, forcing the great minds (who in these matters certainly Think Alike) to get creative.


As a society, we appear to be on the cusp of disaster.  Our elected officials, desperate to abdicate responsibility, appoint academics to make key decisions.  The academics say “This worked great on the blackboard,” but there is a very real risk that appointed officials will come to believe in their own infallibility.  We saw this under Emperor Greenspan, and the same has happened to Summers and Geithner.  Tossing the hot potato to another player, then ducking out of the room, does not constitute a proper system of checks and balances.


“…still learning about the efficacy and appropriate management…” in plain English, the Chairman is telling us – “We haven’t quite gotten the knack of handing your money, but we are making progress.  Another few trillion and we should really have it down to a science.”  Like journeyman stockbrokers and money managers who learn their craft by losing large quantities of their investors’ money, those charged with managing the economy have resorted to guessing.  And, like the broker who has put you into six losing trades in a row, we are now being asked for “one more shot.”  Chairman Bernanke’s Princeton-educated guess notwithstanding, recent policy decisions broadcast the message that We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, But We’ve Been On This Course For Too Long To Change.  In the movies, this is generally what the driver says a moment before shrieking “Oh my God!  We’re going to crash!”


To return to a linguistic bugaboo we have already criticized: some three years into this Awful New World of global finance, we disagree with those who persist in calling our current position a “crisis.”  We are no longer in the midst of an abrupt and temporary departure from the norm, but are feeling our way, albeit reluctantly, in the New Norm.  There is no longer a Mean to which our markets and our society can revert, and we must establish a new orientation.  True, this change was precipitated by crisis, but major societal shifts generally require an explosion to counteract generations of inertia.  As pointed out by economist Hyman Minsky, the cycle of Boom, Bubble and Bust is built into the very structure of our financial markets.  It is thus perhaps not even fitting to call the turbulent events of three summers ago a “crisis” – which implies a lack of predictability, a sense of disbelief – except to point out that they were of greater magnitude than, say, the “crisis” of the dot-com bust or the “crisis” of the S&L failures.


“Crisis” is what strikes the unprepared, otherwise known as the Public.  For the prepared – those who drove the economy off the cliff – it is a pause to reload and map strategy for the next phase of the campaign.


It being in the nature of cycles to overlay other cycles in concentric, or spiraling patterns, some future economic historian will trace this period’s origins to longer-term forces, rather than to the lame excuse of the “perfect storm.”  Incredibly, everyone from Blankfein, to Fuld, to Greenspan has sat before Congress and testified to the equivalent of “My dog ate it,” all of which has done nothing more than stoke a moment or two of Congressional testiness.  Where are the mobs with the pitchforks, we ask?  Where the honorable suicides, as legislators acknowledge how horribly they have failed their country?

The year 1893 saw a depression where unemployment ran in excess of ten percent, and for the better part of a decade.  The period saw social unrest, labor union violence, and the surge of the Populist and Free Silver movements.  With Glenn Back pitching gold ingots, with the Tea Partiers treading a fine line between inclusive dialogue and crypto-fascist, social exclusionary fear-mongering – with unemployment hovering at the double digit threshold and no end in sight – are we experiencing an extended-wave repetition of a long-term cycle?


The Kondratieff Wave is named for Soviet economist Nicolai Kondratieff, who posited that capitalist economies are subject to cycles of 50-60 years.  Later theorists posited a longer wave stretching beyond a century, the rough equivalent of two Kondratieff waves (“K2”?).  While admitting that economics is hardly an exact science, approximately two Kondratieff Waves ago, in 1893, there was a period of economic upheaval in this country.  And approximately two Kondratieff Waves before that, in the early 1770’s, the economic crisis in the American colonies unleashed a sequence of events that led to the creation of this country.  “The World Turned Upside Down,” the British called it.


Chernow says it is curious and unique that the American Revolution was started not by the impoverished oppressed, but by the upper classes, struggling under the economic disadvantage forced on them by the Crown and its attendant explosion in personal indebtedness.  Murmurings of tax revolt at home spurred Parliament and the Crown to increase the tax burden on its productive colony.  Americans were constrained to sell all their produce through British factors, who set prices arbitrarily.  A Virginia planter would ship his tobacco crop to London and would find out only months later at what price it had been sold.  Americans purchased all their furnishings from London purveyors.  This included not only the tools with which they built and farmed their plantations, but their personal wardrobes, books, trinkets and the textiles from which their slaves’ clothing was sewn.  Chernow paints with livid strokes Washington’s evolution from a young soldier yearning for recognition from the Mother Country, to a mature and accomplished citizen whose devotion to the revolutionary cause arose inevitably from his potent sense of justice and fair play.


As Washington observed, if people are mistreated long enough, they will change their behavior.  And a change is not a “crisis” – unless, that is, you happen to be King George III.


We are struck by the shocking disregard of social equity in today’s system – American society has long been a colonial province of Wall Street, its subjugation assured by Washington (“DC”, not General George!)  The Wall Street Journal paints a perfect picture of the chasm between philosophy and reality (12 October, “Wall Street Pay: A Record $144 Billion”).  Ponder with us, if you will, the world-view this article reveals.


“Many firms say that if they don’t adequately compensate employees, they risk losing top talent.”  Surely this applies to any area of endeavor.  Why is this different?  Later on the article says “Tough new rules about how much capital banks must hold could force Wall Street to cut back on compensation in an effort to preserve returns on equity for shareholders.”

The financial industry is highly people intensive, and firms pay out about half their revenues in compensation.  For all the regulation the industry is famously subject to, the basic model has not changed: investment banks are run for the benefit of their employees, not their shareholders.  It is oddly poignant that Dick Fuld and many of Lehman’s top executives had the majority of their personal wealth in Lehman stock – stock they had not disposed of when the walls came crashing down.

In short: the more bankers, traders and salespeople are required to work for the benefit of their shareholders, the more likely they are to seek out employment at a firm that is less focused on creating value.  The manager / producer / shareholder paradigm is not what it used to be.  The investment banks all went public specifically to undo the link between firms’ risk taking, revenue producing activities on the one hand, and the risk-bearing function of shareholder capital, on the other.  They retain the benefits of private partnership – witness the pay packages they receive even in losing years – while laying off the capital risk associated with ownership onto public shareholders.  The notion that the nations of the world need to band together to legislate that capitalists should work for the benefit of their shareholders is the single clearest indicator that the system has run right off the rails.


We note with horripilation the measured, bland reportorial tones with which the Journal describes Wall Street’s forthcoming bonus orgy as the paper notes (“Bankers Are Still Upbeat About Pay”, 11 October) 50% of Wall Street professionals expect higher bonuses this year than in 2009.  “They Like Money,” quips the headline, curiously juxtaposed with a report (“Signing Bonuses Haunt Wall Street”) of losses suffered by firms that lured brokers from rival firms with fat up-front signing bonuses, based on prior years’ production.  When a broker can not generate the same levels of assets or commissions as he used to – for example, when the markets get trashed and everyone is terrified – his new employer will not recoup this outlay.  As it says in the mutual fund prospectus, prior performance is no guarantee of future returns.


The signing bonus is just another symptom of the ongoing search for customers who can provide revenues for the firm – and not a search by the brokers for firms which can provide revenues for the customers.  Bankers publicly criticize their competitors as being venal and unscrupulous.  In the next breath they will tell you that, if they don’t pay outlandish bonuses, their own employees will leave in a heartbeat and go work for these low-lifes.  “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance,” famously stated Chuck Prince, former CEO of Citigroup, as though he had no choice.  Everyone gives mournful lip service to the notion that this system stinks, but no one is willing to step off the financial murder-go-round.


This, then, is the social and political cowardice that reigns today – the Qualitative Easing that has allowed us, three years on, to continue to struggle in this fiscal cesspool.  The Fed has transitioned from Stimulus, to More Stimulus, to Quantitative Easing, to – as our CEO Keith has smartly characterized it – “Krugman Kryptonite.”  Because Washington is afraid to inflict pain on the moneyed interests, we are, at last, down to the proverbial Mess of Pottage.  Mysteriously, the pain and suffering of the American People is acceptable – which is why the greatest broad-based housing crisis in history is consistently called a “banking crisis.”  A couple of million families thrown out of their homes pose less concern to the mind of Washington than a few dozen bankers deprived of their bonuses – or a few dozen banks taking hits to their balance sheets.  Because even in their millions, these people have far to go before they form a consolidated bloc that will seek a political goal.

But we hear a distant drumbeat.


The Journal features a piece (16-17 October, “What The Tea Partiers Really Want”) that purports to clarify the Tempest in the You Know What.  The author says Tea Partiers are outraged that government is in the business of protecting Americans from the consequences of their actions – and to guaranteeing equality of outcome to those who have trouble keeping up.  We agree that, in broad strokes, these are bad polities – and probably not the job of government.  Stupid business decisions should lead to failures.  Highly competent and motivated people should succeed.  But the analysis stops short.  The article fails to underscore how far government is removed from the actual public interest.  One could build a multi-generational conspiracy theory in which the entire program of government served to do nothing more than distract the people from the fact that those in government primarily feed their own self interest, and screw the public royally in the process.


Washington undercuts the likelihood of a broad coalition of the angry from ever descending on the Capitol, pitchforks in hand.  It does this by making sure the rich stay rich, and the poor are mollified with health care, housing and income support.  Underclasses are held in subjugation by programs that cater to their vanity.  Bilingual education, for example, perpetuated the second-class status, not merely of the immigrant generation, but of their American-born descendants.

Lately, Washington has managed to keep the rich rich, but things with the poor haven’t gone so well.  Many of the formerly not-poor have been tipped into the dustbin along with the societal trash so many of them have worked so hard to rise above.  Amazingly, they are not yet angry enough, or organized enough, to do any real damage.  We thought the twin housing and employment disasters were going to be seen as a Ruby Ridge moment, driving the newly dispossessed to violence.  Frankly, we are surprised that no one has been assassinated.


In our simplistic view of the world, the government could have used the TARP billions (our money, we remind you) to gut the Gordian Knot of fugazy homeowner mortgage finance.  Since the money was being handed over to the banks anyway, it should have been funneled through the homeowners.  By paying off underwater mortgages, the federal government would have relieved the burden on the homeowners – freeing up current income for consumption.  It would have relieved the pressure on the banks’ balance sheets, wiping out billions in debt that would otherwise have to be charged off.  And it would have buoyed home prices, by ratifying the obscenely overinflated prices of houses bought with fraudulent mortgages.  Call it a “cram-up.”


In their infinite wisdom, the Mother Country – Washington and Wall Street – determined this would reward a lack of virtue and of foresight on the part of the consumer.  Congress voting to bail out the taxpayer – can you imagine?


Moshe Silver

Chief Compliance Officer


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