Authored by Dave Collum via PeakProsperity.com, A downloadable pdf of the full article is available here, for those who prefer to do their power-reading offline. Introduction “He is funnier than you are.” ~David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, on Dave Barry’s Year in Review Every December, I write a survey trying to capture the year’s prevailing themes. I appear to have stiff competition - the likes of Dave Barry on one extreme and on the other, Pornhub’s marvelous annual climax that probes deeply personal preferences in the world’s favorite pastime. (I know when I’m licked.) My efforts began as a few paragraphs discussing the markets on Doug Noland’s bear chat board and monotonically expanded to a tome covering the orb we call Earth. It posts at Peak Prosperity, reposts at ZeroHedge, and then fans out from there. Bearishness and right-leaning libertarianism shine through as I spelunk the Internet for human folly to couch in snarky prose while trying to avoid the “expensive laugh” (too much setup). I rely on quotes to let others do the intellectual heavy lifting. “Consider adding more of your own thinking and judgment to the mix . . . most folks are familiar with general facts but are unable to process them into a coherent and actionable framework.” ~Tony Deden, founder of Edelweiss Holdings, on his second read through my 2016 Year in Review “Just the facts, ma’am.” ~Joe Friday By October, I have usually accrued 500 single-spaced pages of notes, quotes, and anecdotes. Fresh ideas occasionally emerge, but most of my distillation is an intellectual recycling program relying heavily on fair use laws.4 I often suffer from pareidolia—random images or sounds perceived as significant. Regarding the extent that self-serving men and women of wealth do sneaky crap, I am an out-of-the-closet conspiracy theorist. If you think conspiracies do not exist, then you are a card-carrying idiot. Currently, locating the increasingly fuzzy fact–fiction interfaces is nearly impossible thanks to the post-election bewitching of 50 percent of the populace. “The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.” ~David Ogilvy, marketing expert You might be asking, “What’s with the title, Dave? My 401K is doing great, and I own a few Bitcoin!” Yes, indeed: your 401K fiddled its way to new highs day after day, but this too shall pass—it always does—and not without some turbulence. This year was indeed a tough one to survey. As many peer through beer goggles at intoxicatingly rising markets, I kept seeing dead people (Figure 1). “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping: I admit to not understanding it.” ~Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics Figure 1. An original by CNBC's Jeff Macke, chartist and artist extraordinaire. A poem for Dave's Year In Review The bubble in everything grew This nut from Cornell Say's we're heading for hell As I look at the data…#MeToo [email protected] Some will notice that in decidedly political sections, the term “progressives” is used pejoratively. Their behavior has become nearly incomprehensible to me. My almost complete neglect of the right wing loonies may reflect some bias, but politically, they have taken a knee. They have become irrelevant. Free speech is a recurring theme, introducing interesting paradoxes for employee–employer relationships. Some say I have no filter. They obviously have no clue what I want to say. In case my hints are too subtle, I offer the following: Sources I sit in front of a computer 16 hours a day, at least three of which are dedicated to non-chemistry pursuits. I’m a huge fan of Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson (Peak Prosperity), Tony Greer (TG Macro), Doug Noland (Credit Bubble Bulletin), Grant Williams (Real Vision and TTMYGH), Raoul Pal (Real Vision), Bill Fleckenstein (Fleckenstein Capital), James Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), and Campus Reform—but there are so many more. ZeroHedge is by far my preferred consolidator of news. Twitter is a window to the world if managed correctly. Good luck with that. And don’t forget it’s public! Everything needs an open mind, discerning eye, and a coarse-frit filter. “You are given a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you are given a front row seat, and some of us get to sit there with notebooks.” ~George Carlin, comedian Contents Footnotes appear as superscripts with hyperlinks in the “Links” section. The whole beast can be downloaded as a single PDF xxhere or viewed in parts—the sections are reasonably self-contained—via the linked contents as follows: Part 1 Introduction Sources Contents My Personal Year in Review Investing Economy Broken Markets Market Valuations Market Sentiment Volatility Stock Buybacks Indexing and Exchange-Traded Funds Miscellaneous Market Absurdities Long-Term Real Returns and Risk Premia Gold Bitcoin Housing and Real Estate Pensions Inflation versus Deflation Bonds Banks Corporate Scandals The Fed Europe Venezuela North Korea China Middle East Links in Part 1 Part 2 Natural Disasters Price Gouging The Biosphere and Price Gouging Sports Civil Liberties Antifa Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood Political Correctness–Adult Division Political Correctness–Youth Division Campus Politics Unionization: Collum versus the American Federation of Teachers Political Scandals Clintons Russiagate Media Trump Las Vegas Conclusion Books Acknowledgements Links in Part 2 My Personal Year in Review Who cares what an academic organic chemist thinks? I’m still groping for that narrative. In the meantime, let me offer a few personal milestones that serve as a résumé while feeding my inner narcissist. I remain linked into the podcast circuit, having had chats with Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert (Russia Today aka RT),5 Chris Martenson,6 Jim Kunstler (The KunstlerCast),7 Lior Gantz (Wealth Research Group),8 Anthony Crudele (Futures Radio Show),9 Susan Lustick (News-Talk 870 WHCU),10 Jason Burack (Wall St. for Main St.),11 Dale Pinkert (FXStreet),12 Lance Roberts (Lance Roberts Show),13 and Jason Hartman (Hartman Media Company).14 I also spoke at Lance Roberts’s Economic and Investment Summit discussing campus politics15 and the Stansberry Conference (Figure 2) arguing the merits of price gouging.16 I got into a big spat with the American Federation of Teachers and some local social justice warriors that made it to the national press (see “Unions”) and dropped 30 pounds unaided by disease. “And, before anyone should doubt what a chemistry professor would know about unions and what effect they would have, it should be noted that Collum has amassed a following for his annual 100-page papers on the state of business and politics. Turns out, he knows a thing or two about economics and politics as well.” ~Joe Cunningham, RedState Figure 2. The lovely Grant Williams, brainy Danielle DiMartino Booth, and one of the Paddock brothers in Las Vegas. On the professional side, I had a great year: I finished my stint as department chair; started a sabbatical leave; broke my single-year total publication record; and broke my single-year record for papers in the elite Journal of the American Chemical Society. I attempted to extend a contiguous string of 20 federal grants without a rejection by submitting two NIH grants and subsequently got totally blown out of the water. (OK. I’m still walking that one off. I think the panel finally noticed that I am deranged.) I was accepted into an organization called the Heterodoxy Academy, whose membership includes hundreds of tenured professors standing up for free speech on college campuses.17 “My job is to write the exact same thing between 50 and 100 times a year in such a way that neither my editors nor my readers will ever think I am repeating myself.” ~Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal columnist Investing “I dig your indefatigable bearishness, my friend.” ~Paul Kedrosky, one of the earliest bloggers I’m sensing a tinge of Paul's sarcasm. My net worth from January 1, 2000, has compounded at a ballpark annualized rate of 7 percent. That’s not so bad, but the path has been rather screwy. From mid ’99 through early ’03, I carried cash, gold, silver, and a small short position. I kept buying gold through about 2005 (up to $700 an ounce), resumed in 2015, and bought several multiples of my annual salary’s worth in 2016. I’m done now. Gold is up 8 percent, and silver is down –2 percent in 2017 thanks to a minor end-of-year sell off. The spanking from ’11 to ’15 seems to have subsided. Precious metals, etc.: 29% Energy: 0% Cash equivalent (short term): 62% Standard equities: 9% “Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be. I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest.” ~Richard Rainwater I was totally blindsided by the downturn in gold starting in ’11 and energy in ’13. (Energy peaked in ’08 but was on the mend until ’13.) I bought energy steadily starting in ’01 with broadly based energy funds and a special emphasis on natural gas. The timing of entry was impeccable and all was going swimmingly—I was a genius!—until the Saudi oil minister attempted to talk oil down from $110 to $80 per barrel18 in '13. He thought he could blow the frackers out of the game fast, but it was a hold-my-beer moment for our credit system. The frackers kept fracking, the oil price overshot the Sheik's target by $50 per barrel, and I got whacked for 30–45% losses over four years starting in '14.19 It is impossible to know when you’re being a highly disciplined buy-and-hold investor—a Microsoft and Apple gazillionaire refusing to sell—or just an idiot. I sensed that the rotten debt had been purged and we were through the worst of the energy downturn. I worried that a recession could do a number on me, but it took years to get to my position through incremental buying. I’m holding on, goddammit! We seem to be running out of downside. Unbeknownst to me until October, however, my employer had liquidated my energy funds—every last one of them—and put me in a life-cycle fund in April. Sell ’em after they plummet? Thanks guys. A rational investor, if committed to hold them, would undo the general equity fund restrictions—I did—and buy the energy funds right back—I didn’t. Friends in high places all said to wait. About a week later, the Middle East erupted in what looked like a sand-to-glass phase transition (see “Middle East”), and energy started to move in sympathy. Peachy. Fidelity actually saved me a little money, but I am still white-knuckling the cash, growing a long wishlist, waiting for a generalized sell-off/recession to offer some serious sub-historical-mean bargains (see “Broken Markets”). The correction in ’09 at the very bottom brought us to the historical mean, but not through it. For this reason, I have largely skipped this equity cycle. The current expansion is long in the tooth and founded on poor fundamentals. I hope that the wait won’t be too long. Until then . . . “Remember, when Mr. Market shows up at your door, you don’t have to answer.” ~Meb Faber, co-founder and CIO of Cambria Investment Management Economy “A decade after the biggest crisis since the Depression, a broad synchronized recovery is under way.” ~The Economist, March 2016 Whoa! Fantastic! Goldilocks survived another bear. There is just one hitch: that was a total load of crap in 2016, and it’s a colossal load now. Let’s take a peek at a few gray rhinos—“large and visible problems in the economy that are ignored until they start moving fast.” GDP growth rates from 1930–39 and 2007–16 were as follows:20 GDP growth in the 1930’s 1930: –8.5% 1935: 8.9%1931: –6.4% 1936: 12.9%1932: –12.9% 1937: 5.1%1933: –1.3% 1938: –3.3%1934: 10.8% 1939: 8.0% GDP growth in the new millennium 2007: 1.8% 2012: 2.2%2008: –0.3% 2013: 1.7%2009: –2.8% 2014: 2.4%2010: 2.5% 2015: 2.6%2011: 1.6% 2016: 1.6% Whether you use the arithmetic or geometric mean, both gave us 1.3 percent annualized growth. Let’s spell this out: during the recent era in which markets soared, the economy tracked the Great Depression. It is instructive to look at the economy with a little more granularity than the writers at The Economist-Lite. According to John Mauldin, total domestic corporate profits have grown at an annualized rate of just 0.1 percent over the last five years.21,22 Goldman’s Abby Joseph Cohen says R&D spending is down to 2.5 percent of GDP from 4.5 percent and is a drag on the economy.23 Economic bellwether General Electric saw revenue drop 12 percent and earnings fall 50 percent year-over-year,24 and these numbers are aided by the company’s legendary creative accounting schemes.25 Meanwhile, corporate America witnessed a 71 percent rise in business debt since 2008. According to economist Lacy Hunt, “It’s the investment, the real investment, which grows the economy,” prompting the legendary market maven @RudyHavenstein to state dryly, “I like Hunt.” Where are they spending all that borrowed money? Hold that thought. Long-term demographic problems—“quantitative aging” (Figure 3)—exacerbated by dropping sperm counts26 suggests the economy will continue to shoot blanks. Figure 3. Demographics looking sketchy. Putative job gains affiliated with this low growth are fragile if not dubious as hell and are being boosted by the “Dusenberry effect”—consumers’ reluctance to stop spending even after their income drops—which will cause the next recession to be a real Dusey. (Sorry.) Eventually, common sense prevails as companies run out of credit and savings-deficient consumers reassume the fetal position. According to extensive work by Ned Davis Research, cash levels among households are near their lowest levels of all time; consumer resiliency is always temporary. “When it is all said and done, there are approximately 94 million full-time workers in private industry paying taxes to support 102 million non-workers and 21 million government workers. In what world does this represent a strong job market?” ~Jim Quinn, The Burning Platform blog The Bureau of Labor Statistics has turned to Common Core math. How can we have 100 million working-age adults—40 percent of the working-age population—not working, 4 percent unemployment, and employers claiming the labor market is tight? Are 90 percent of those without jobs professional couch potatoes? Let’s first look at employment in some detail and then address that whole “tight” part. Googles of pixels have been dedicated to the obligatory labor force participation rate (Figure 4), a critical component of any economic debunking. Of those employed, 26 million people are in low-wage, part-time jobs (Figure 5), 8 million hold multiple jobs, and 10 million are “self-employed.”27 Another 21 million work for the government, which means they are a tax on the free market. In 2016, 40 percent of new jobs were fabricated through the specious “birth and death model.”28 2017 will presumably post similar numbers. Occasional reports of large job growth are deceptive. July, for example, witnessed 393,000 benefit-free, part-time, low-skill jobs offset by a drop of 54,000 full-time workers. Payroll numbers keep coming in lower than expected, which economists invariably blame on some big, yet unseen effect they are paid to notice. Nine out of 10 millennials living on their parents’ couches a year ago are still clutching TV remotes.29 There are now 45–50 million Americans on food stamps, up from 14 million in December 2007,30 when the last recession was already underway. Figure 4. Labor force participation. I am going to let Jeff Snyder take a crack at explaining the tight labor market:31 “The economy is tight, not favourably tight as in no slack in the labour market, but more so tight in that there is little margin for addition. . . . The reality in the markets is this: executives are reluctant to pay wages at a market-clearing rate.” ~Jeff Snyder, Alhambra Investments Figure 5. Low-paying service jobs versus manufacturing jobs. Poor economic numbers are pervasive. Auto sales are canaries in the coal mine and getting crushed despite aggressive incentives.32 Ford is already suffering and predicting a multi-year slowdown.33 A car industry crunch analogous to that in ’09 may appear in ’18 as expiring leases leave consumers underwater owing to dropping used car prices, and decreasing profits in the auto industry may “then turn from secular to structural problems.”34 Morgan Stanley predicts a 50 percent drop in used car prices over the next 4–5 years,35 which will gut the new car business. The auto downturn has already begun. Wells Fargo is reporting large drops in auto loans after a long stretch during which subprime car loans flourished yet again.36 That should put a fork in the new car market. Yield-starved investors are chasing cash- and income-starved car buyers. Subprime auto-asset-backed securities will take yet another beating. Chrysler is teaming up with Santander Consumer USA to push out “unverified income” subprime auto loans using “automated decision making.” Santander seems to have nine lives, and they’ll need all of them. The hyperdeveloped loan market for used cars, however, is already faltering (Figure 6); delinquency rates are rising. Goldman expects “challenging consumer affordability” and has downgraded General Motors to “sell.”37 Those cars y’all bought on cheap credit yesterday will not be bought tomorrow. Claims that the hurricanes cleared out auto inventory38 are grotesquely underestimating the magnitude of the overhang and will be paid for by reduced consumption in other sectors. Any consumption pulled forward with debt has a deferred cost. Figure 6. Some key auto industry stats (a) loans and leases, (b) loan delinquencies. We’ll take a crack at the housing market in its own section and simply note here that the cost of renting or buying normalized to income has never been higher. Approximately half of tenants spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, doubling from a decade ago.39 A survey of 20 cities showed that housing costs are growing at a 6 percent annualized pace. Our paychecks are not. Housing is a bubblette and likely to offer fire-sale bargains again. What many fail to grasp is that the reduced cost of borrowing owing to low rates is offset by higher prices. When interest rates were 15 percent, houses were cheap. Austrian business cycle theory says easy money policies generate overdevelopment and other malinvestment. The day of reckoning appears to be here. (I say that every year…channeling Gail Dudek.) Familiar brands like Toys “R” Us (my keyboard has no backwards R), JCPenny, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sears, Bon-Ton, and Nordstrom are gasping their last gasps before drowning in debt with no customers to save them. Total retail revenues and sales (including online) are up only 28 percent from the 2007 high.40 The management of Ascena Retail referred to an “unprecedented secular change.”41 More than 100,000 retail jobs have vaporized since October 2016.42 Credit Suisse estimates that more than 8,000 retail outlets closed this year.43 Consumer goods companies have held up better because consumers generally put off starving or freezing to death until all options are exhausted. Restaurants are extending the longest stretch of year-over-year declines for 16 consecutive months (last I looked).44 Business Insider blames millennials because they are “more attracted than their elders to cooking at home” (particularly when it’s their parents’ home.) Manhattan retail bankruptcies are called “horrifying.”45 Chapter 11s and company reorganizations in foreign courts increased sevenfold.46 Mall owners are using jingle mail—a term from the ’08–’09 crisis referring to leaving keys to creditors. Commercial retail will be coming into its own refinancing wave in 2018. Bears are sniffing around commercial-mortgage-backed securities as malls around the country begin to die.47 The next downturn will finish many of them off. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are positioning to short the brick-and-mortar retail. (Quick: somebody grab the ticker symbol “MAUL.”) Some suggest the Rout in Retail is merely a secular shift to online. Sounds logical except online sales represent only 8.5 percent of total retail sales.48 This argument might be masking a huge downturn in retail corresponding to the bursting of yet another Fed-sponsored bubble. As Amazon encroaches on every nook and cranny of retail sales, what began as a murmur has turned into a chorus: “This isn’t fair; somebody must do something!” Walmart knows this plotline. Market dominance does not connote “monopoly,” but Amazon has an image problem. Amazon gets a $1.46 subsidy (discount) per box from the USPS, well below its cost.49 Seems cheesy. Congress is showing concern out of self-interest. A monopoly is when a company uses its power to blow its competitors out of the water garishly. Who decides what is garish and when enough is enough? A judge under political pressure. A detailed summary of the breadth of Amazon’s market share and its anti-competitive pricing suggests that we are getting close.50 There’s nothing like a protracted anti-trust suit to mute the growth of a large conglomerate. Just ask the Microsoft high command. If our problems are not Amazon, what are they? Austrian business cycle theory says that our debt-driven, consumer-based economy endorsed by sell-side economists and analysts worldwide is unsustainable. Wealth is made, mined, grown, or coded, only then do you get to consume it. Wealth is extinguished by consumption, depreciation, and destruction. Central bankers seem to believe you can will wealth into existence by generating animal spirits. The next recession will start unnoticeably. Economists seem to miss every single one, often declaring telltale indicators irrelevant. Then you will hear phrases like “technical recession,” “growth recession,” or “earnings recession,” all eventually giving way to somebody opening the Lost Arc. If the next recession flushes the waste products (malinvestment) left behind by the central-bank-truncated ’08-’09 recession, it will reveal the central bankers to be charlatans. Even a typical recession witnesses near 40 percent losses in equity portfolios, which will leave already immunocompromised consumers vegetative. Banks will constrict lending to preserve capital, further slowing the economy. Weak businesses living off easy credit will become pink mist. An accelerating vicious cycle downward will take with it formerly viable businesses that could have survived a less arrogant monetary policy. This collateral damage was avoidable at least in its magnitude, but it can’t be avoided now. Are we on the cusp of the next recession? Citigroup “clients” say not even close (Figure 7). I think we are staring into the abyss. Figure 7. June 2017 Citigroup client survey of recession odds. Will this expansion continue because it has been pathetic or die because it is old? I cast my vote for the latter. The Fed and its central bank brethren, whether to retrieve residual credibility—they have precious little—or out of the deep-seated, albeit misguided belief that they are in charge of the economy, have decided it is time to “normalize rates” and undo quantitative easing. (We are now forced to accept the equally silly term “quantitative tightening.”) You can blame the ensuing problems on the tightening if you wish, but the huge mistakes were made long before this tightening cycle commenced. Every postwar recession until now was been preceded by a tightening cycle (although not all tightening cycles lead to recessions). Why not simply refuse to tighten? It won’t work, but the Fed governors are probably entertaining this possibility. “The central banks did their job. Unfortunately, almost nobody else has done theirs.” ~Martin Wolf, Financial Times “As has come to be commonplace, almost everything Mr. Wolf suggests is incorrect.” ~Tim F. Price, Cerberus Capital and author of Investing Through the Looking Glass (see “Books”) I’ll close this discussion with a brief mention of “creative destruction,” the process by which the new (and improved) ushers out the decrepit and out-of-date. It is a central tenet of capitalism—survival of the fittest—but has a disruptive dark side. McDonald’s (and every other service industry) is turning to kiosks to replace more costly human labor. Driverless cars will be awesome but also force car-based workers—potentially millions of them—to find new work. The financialization of the economy by central bankers has tipped the capital–labor balance profoundly toward capital. We will produce goods better and more efficiently, but the Darwinian adjustments will rock the system. Accelerated product cycles facilitated by excess capital can also be highly inefficient. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and faced its own black swan—railroads—that same year. Blockbuster was offed by Netflix as fast as it appeared. Can creative destruction happen too fast? Have product cycles become too short? Bulldoze your house every five years to build a better one and tell me how that works. Loose credit accelerates creative destruction, but not without a price. “A high initial saving rate has been associated with subsequently stronger economic growth, while a low saving rate produces a lower growth pattern.” ~Lacy Hunt, economist, noting soaring consumer debt Broken Markets “I think we have fake markets. . . . Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.” ~Bill Gross, Janus "One word characterizes why the bull market can go on for years…'Goldilocks'" ~Sam Ro, Yahoo Finance “I’m not worried about the economy so much; what I’m concerned about is valuation.” ~David Swensen, Yale University’s longtime CIO "I think the bull market could continue forever." ~Jim Paulsen, Wells Fargo Regression to the mean is a force of nature. It is also a mathematical truism that markets reside below the mean for half of their price-weighted existence. The failure to go through the mean in ’09 is an anomaly caused by global central bankers that remains as an IOU on investors’ balance sheets and foreshadows trouble to come. Our system is constantly being overtly displaced from equilibrium by central bankers who view displacement as their mandate. Physical scientists know that any system displaced from equilibrium tends to return to equilibrium. The French physicist Carnot, often called the father of modern thermodynamics, showed that the round trip necessarily comes at a cost no matter how efficient the process: it’s a law of physics. Any chemist will tell you that a system massively displaced often returns with a considerable cost: you blow up your laboratory. Geologists? Volcanoes and earthquakes. Ski bums? Avalanches. How far are asset markets from equilibrium? The pros have some opinions: “Asset valuations historically aren’t way out of line, but elevated I would say, relative to historical averages.” ~Lael Brainard, Federal Reserve governor “Measured against interest rates, stocks actually are on the cheap side compared to historic valuations.” ~Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, channeling the Fed model “Compared to the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1637, stocks still look undervalued.” ~Rudy Havenstein (@RudyHavenstein), Funniest Tweeter of the Millennium Case closed. Let’s get a six-pack and watch football. The problem is that Brainard is a Fed governor, Havenstein is nuts, and Buffett is known for spewing some serious bullshit. Buffett’s favorite indicator—market cap to GDP—is double the historical mean (vide infra)—what market analyst John Hussman calls “historically offensive valuations.” Buffett also wrote an article in 1999 stating without qualification that returns are not about the economy at all.51 Secular bull markets are powered by falling interest rates and secular bear markets by rising rates. With interest rates at multi-century lows, it seems likely the old codger knows that his implicit reliance on the Fed’s valuation model is lunacy. As an aside, Berkshire has the largest cash hoard in its history—$100 billion—and it’s not being used to buy stocks that are “on the cheap side.” Others, only partially impeded by cognitive dissonance and the task of selling assets at any cost, seem to have neurons firing spasmotically (sense something): “We think the market still has the potential to move higher as investors capitulate into equities.” ~Merrill Lynch “Folks, I have been in this business for over 46 years, and observing markets with my father for 54 years, and I have never experienced anything like what is currently happening. . . . There are years left to run in this one.” ~Jeff Saut, Raymond James “It seems like uncertainty is the new norm, so you just learn to live with it.” ~Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch The fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving the markets way out over their skis. Markets could get much crazier, of course, but as any serious blackjack card counter will tell you, when the deck is stacked against you, size your bets accordingly. "If you pay well above the historical mean for assets, you will get returns well below the historical mean." ~Paraphrased John Hussman This Hussman quote is a recycle from last year but well worth repeating to make sure you understand it. He goes on to channel Ben Graham by noting that the devastating losses come from purchasing low-quality securities when times are good. The Hussman quote also pairs well with ideas about valuation I cobbled together from a well-known maxim about savings: “Overvaluation is appreciation pulled forward.” “Undervaluation is deferred appreciation.” ~David Collum This one passed the Google test for originality. I don’t know about you, but I want my appreciation in the future, or as James Grant (channeling Joe Robillard) likes to say, “I want everybody to agree with me . . . only later.” Valuations are meaningless as long as market participants are determined to buy stocks, but that mood will change at some point. Once markets are overvalued, however, you will give back those and any further gains during the next irrepressible regression to the mean, more so as you linger below the mean. I hasten to add that slight overvaluation is not a problem: the regression will be embedded within the noise. If, however, markets are way overvalued, an unknowable but inevitable combination of price drop and time—a retrenchment that could last decades—will usher invested boomers to the Gates of Hell. What do current valuations tell us about future returns assuming the laws of thermodynamics have not been repealed? Market Valuations “The median stock in the S&P has never been valued higher than it is today.” ~Jesse Felder, The Felder Report “There’s just no other way to say it: the market is insanely overvalued right now. It’s the longest recovery in history. It’s also the weakest. But you’d never know it from the stock market.” ~ David Stockman, former Reagan economic advisor and former Blackstone group partner “We are observing an episode that will make future investors wince. Just like the two closest analogs, the 1929 high and the tech bubble, I expect that future investors will shake their heads in wonder at the stark raving madness of it all, and ask what Wall Street could possibly have been thinking.” ~John Hussman, Hussman Funds “The gap between the S&P 500 and economic fundamentals can now be measured in light years.” ~Eric Pomboy, president of Meridian Macro Research "I believe fragilities today are much more systemic on a global basis than back in 2007. Where’s the Bubble? Virtually everywhere… The scope of today’s global Bubble goes so far beyond 2007." ~Doug Noland, McAlvaney Wealth Management It took a few years to blow up yet another equity bubble—referred to fondly by Jesse Felder and others as the “everything bubble”—but determined central bankers are not in short supply. A host of metrics point to a very mean regression cited below. As I rattle off a few stats, bear in mind the serious yet unknowable losses possible if regression rips through the mean. “Russell 2000 with a 75 p/e is just astronomical.” ~Jesse Felder Starting simple: McDonald’s saw zero revenue growth between 2008 and 2016 but had a 154 percent growth in debt. Its share price is up more than 200 percent. This is not an outlier. Additional examples assembled by Mike Lebowitz of 720Global are shown in Figure 8. I know it’s a table, but look at the contrasting revenue growth versus share price gains! Figure 8. Revenue growth versus price change. “And please don’t claim corporate profits are soaring, so the valuations are justified. . . . Corporate profits are unchanged since 2014—no growth at all.” ~Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds blog The S&P 500 resides 70 percent above its ’07 high even though nominal GDP and total sales rose 10 percent during the same period. Price-to-revenue ratios are sharing the nosebleed seats with 1929 and 2000 (Figure 9).52 Buffett’s market cap–to-GDP indicator is no better, prompting Felder to guesstimate prospective 10-year returns—returns going to somebody else, apparently—at -2.6% annualized.53 In case you suck at math, you will be 10 years older, 33 percent poorer, and in need of a 50 percent gain to stumble your way back to even. Ever the optimist, John Hussman and his relatively complex valuation model, which shows high correlations when back-tested, predicts 60–70 percent losses over the next 10 years.54 To help the value-driven bottom-feeders, Hussman broke down the markets by valuation “deciles” and found that even the deep-value guys are looking at a >50 percent haircut—“haircut” sounds better than “castration” or “blood eagle”—at the end of the current market cycle.55 “Given the performance of certain stocks, we wonder if the market has adopted an alternative paradigm for calculating equity value. . . . What if equity value has nothing to do with current or future profits and instead is derived from a company’s ability to be disruptive, to provide social change, or to advance new beneficial technologies, even when doing so results in current and future economic loss? . . . After years of running into the wind, we are left with no sense stronger than, ‘it will turn when it turns.’ . . . Just because AMZN can disrupt somebody else’s profit stream, it doesn’t mean that AMZN earns that profit stream. For the moment, the market doesn’t agree. Perhaps, simply being disruptive is enough.” ~David Einhorn with tongue in cheek The legendary Howard Marks, using non-GAAP earnings (with a 25 percent fictional fudge factor)56 to calculate trailing P/E ratios, sees a 40 percent regression to the mean. The Case-Shiller weighted P/E ratio—far superior to the non-GAAP alternatives—is in the top 3 percent of historical readings,57 prompting Bob Shiller to dryly note that the markets are “at unusual highs.” (By the way, it was Shiller who slipped Greenspan the phrase “irrational exuberance.”) Dividend yields have flopped around over the centuries. A 56 percent equity decline is required to attain the 150-year historical average of 4.4 percent—assuming reduced cash flows owing to the price collapse don’t lead to dividend cuts.58 Tobin’s Q—essentially price-to-book value ratio and the favorite of Mark Spitznagle—is at all-time highs. The Economist sounds dismissive by suggesting that “a high Tobin’s Q signals that an industry is earning a lot from its assets,"59 which suggests that The Economist is underutilizing its intellectual assets. Figure 9. Valuation metrics from Grant Williams’s World of Pure Imagination.60 Consistency aside, how can these predictions possibly be correct? The reported P/Es are not that bad. The high-growth QQQ index, for instance, is sporting a P/E of only 22, and the Russell 2000—the small-cap engine of economic growth—is in the same neighborhood. Alas, Steve Bregman of Horizon Kinetics notes that the P/E of the QQQ is calculated by rounding all P/Es above 40 down to 40 and assigning a P/E of 40 to all negative P/Es—companies losing money, aka Money Pits.61 For some of the largest companies in the QQQ—think Amazon—with almost no GAAP earnings, these little fudge factors are not just rounding errors. In the scientific community, we call such adjustments “fraud.” Bregman pools the market caps and earnings to give a more honest analysis, which gently nudges the QQQ P/E to 87. In short, Wall Street is “making shit up.” Mark Hulbert, noting that more than 30 percent of the Russell 2000 companies are losing money, concurs with Bregman and suggests that the rascals at the parent company would get a P/E of 80 if they weren’t fibbing like teenagers.62 Market Sentiment Which FANG Stock Will Be The First To Break Out? ~Headline, Investor’s Business Daily (September) I couldn’t care less about market sentiment except to understand how we got to such lofty valuations and how investors have become drooling idiots babbling incoherently about their riches. Nothing scares these markets. Previous bubbles always had a great story, something that investors could legitimately hang their enthusiasm on. The 1929 and 2000 bubbles were floated by dreams of truly fabulous technological revolutions. The current bubble is based on a combination of religious faith in central bankers and, as always, investors’ deluded confidence in their own omnipotence as market timers. Oh gag me with a spoon, really? Unfortunately, some group of prospective toe-tagged investors with silver dollars on their eyes are going to own these investments to the bottom. For now, though, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Veni vidi vici. “This is not an earnings-driven market; it is a momentum, liquidity, and multiple-driven market, pure and simple.” ~David “Rosie” Rosenberg, economist at Gluskin Sheff The FOMO model is not restricted to Joe and Jane Six-pack. Norway’s parliament ordered the $970 billion sovereign wealth fund to crank up its stock holdings from 60 percent to 70 percent.63 Queuing off an analysis I did last year, a collective (market-wide) allocation shift of such magnitude would cause a 55 percent gain in equities.64 The percentage of U.S. household wealth in equities is in its 94th percentile and above the 2007 numbers.65 A survey of wealthy folks shows they expect an annualized 8.5 percent return after inflation.66 Good luck with that if you wish to stay wealthy. At current bond yields, a 60:40 portfolio would need more than 12 percent each year on the equities. Venture capitalists think they can get 20 percent returns (despite data showing this to be nuts.)67 Maybe they can set up an ETF to track the 29-year-old high school dropout and avid video gamer who professed to love volatility and got himself a 295 percent gain in one year trading some crazy asset (probably Tesla or “vol”).68 He actually ordered a Tesla and proclaimed, “I will soon get my license!” Better get that Tesla ordered soon, young Jedi Knight, given the company’s annualized $2+ billion burn rate and stumbling production numbers. Meanwhile, the legendary Paul Tudor Jones' fund saw 50 percent redemptions.69 (Boomers: Insert Tudor Turtle joke here.) Prudence disappoints investors in the final stages of a market cycle. Unsurprisingly, the complacency index is at an all-time high.70 The oft-cited Fear and Greed Index (explained here71) is pegging the needle on extreme greed (Figure 10). A survey by the National Association of Active Investment Managers found investment managers to be more than 90 percent long the market.72 An American Association of Individual Investors survey showed that retail portfolios were at their lowest cash levels in almost two decades.71 High “delta,” which supposedly reflects investors’ willingness to use levered calls to catch this rally,72 suggests that investors perceive that risk has been eradicated in these central-bank-supervised markets. The few investors retaining a modicum of circumspection are “suffering extreme mental exhaustion” (PTSD) watching the consequences of the “deadweight of [the] US$400 trillion ‘cloud’ of financial instruments . . . supported by ongoing financialization” levitate anything with a price tag on it.73 Booyah Skidaddy. Let’s not forget, however, that traders make tops and investors make bottoms. In the next bloodletting, we may see bonds and stocks compete in synchronized diving. While traders run with the Pamplona bulls, investors sit in the shadows waiting for their day in the sun. Figure 10. Fear and Greed Index. Volatility Market pundits hurl around several definitions of volatility, and both have gotten huge press this year. A narrow dispersion of prices has arisen from the collusion of sentiment, $3 trillion of quantitative easing this year alone,74 trading algos, and programmed contributions to index investments that have created markets that seem very tame (not volatile). Headlines reported all sorts of records such as days without a 1 percent drop,75 consecutive S&P 500 closes within 0.5 percent of previous closing price,76 longest streak of green closes on the S&P, consecutive months without a loss,77 index advances accompanied by new 52-week lows,78 and days without a 3 percent draw down.79 Often the records were kept intact thanks to late-day panic-buying by the FOMO crowd. For the short sellers, it has been the Bataan Death March, particularly in February, when a leveraged fund was forced to liquidate billions of dollars of short positions.80 Even the treasury market shows an “implied volatility” at its lowest level in more than 30 years,81 which highlights historic investor complacency. Some say it is a new era; others see a calm before the storm. A second definition of volatility is explained in Investopedia:82 Volatility: A variable in option pricing formulas showing the extent to which the return of the underlying asset will fluctuate between now and the option’s expiration. Volatility, as expressed as a percentage coefficient within option-pricing formulas, arises from daily trading activities. How volatility is measured will affect the value of the coefficient used. Glad to have cleared that up. It’s no surprise the market players found a way to turn an arcane market indicator into a trading device: you can buy and sell vol through various indices such as the “VIX,” XIV, and “SVXY.” What’s more, the buying and selling of vol influences the markets (10× leveraged according to Peter Tchir). As the vol indices go down, the markets go up, and if I have this right, there is causality in both directions. Vol has been plumbing record lows. Indeed, those shorting vol (driving it down) are making fortunes—a one-decision trade—at least until buying vol becomes the new-and-improved one-decision trade. Billions have flooded into vol short funds each week.83 It is estimated to be a $2 trillion market. Barron’s called shorting the VIX “the nearest thing to free money.”84 References to exceptionally high “risk-adjusted returns” leave me wondering: How do you adjust for risk on the vol trade? Maybe we should consult the logistics manager at a Target store who made a cool $12 million in five years by shorting the VIX.85 He reminds me of those Icelandic fishermen-turned-bankers. They did quite well for a while, but they returned to fishing the hard way. In an incisive analysis of the risks of the vol trade,86 Eric Peters notes that “to sell implied volatility at current levels, investors must imagine tomorrow will be virtually identical to today.” Seems like a reach given that such an assumption has no precedent in the recorded history of anything. The fact that 97 percent of VIX shares are sold short also seems a wee bit lopsided (Figure 11).87 The VIX even had a flash crash88: how ironic is that? JPM’s Marko Kolanovic—reputed to be one of the best technical traders in the known universe—says that a regression of the VIX to the historical norm could cause “catastrophic losses” because of all the shorts.89 Given that volatility begets volatility, forcing an epic short squeeze on $2 trillion of vol shorts at some point, one wonders what comes after “catastrophic”? Figure 11. Volatility (VIX) short positions. Stock Buybacks “Companies might have to start rotating out of the debt that they incurred to buy back their stock and start issuing stock.” ~Chris Whalen, The Institutional Risk Analyst In 2016, I referred to Whalen’s vision of stock buybacks as “buying high–selling low.”90 Peter Lynch’s original enthusiasm for buybacks was that clever management sneakily buys back undervalued shares, not overvalued shares. This buyback ploy began to turn into a scam in 1982, when buybacks were excluded from rules prohibiting price manipulation.91 Buybacks are so large now that they correlate with and quite likely cause large market moves (Figure 12). Since 2009, U.S. companies have bought back 18 percent of the market cap, often using debt—lots of debt.92 The 30 Dow companies have 12.7 billion fewer shares today than in ’08: “the biggest debt-funded buyback spree in history.” An estimated 70 percent of the per-share earnings—24 percent versus only a 7 percent earnings gain since 2012—is traced to a share count reduction from buybacks.93 Pumping the share prices at the cost of rotting the balance sheet (which gullible investors ignore) achieves two imperatives: it prolongs executive employment and optimizes executive compensation. Contrast this with paying dividends to enrich shareholders to the detriment of option holders. The rank-and-file employees might be comforted if companies plugged the yawning pension gaps instead (vide infra), but such contributions would have to be expensed, lowering earnings and, stay with me here, reducing executive compensation. Figure 12. (a) S&P real returns versus margin debt. (b) S&P nominal returns versus share buybacks, and (c) buybacks versus corporate debt. In one hilarious case, Restoration Hardware, a loser by any standard except maybe Wall Street’s, used all available cash and even accumulated debt to buy back 50 percent of its outstanding shares to trigger a greater than 40 percent squeezing of the short sellers who, mysteriously, think the company is poorly run.94 In the “eating the seed corn” meme, the 18 biggest pharmaceutical companies’ buybacks and dividends exceed their R&D budgets.95 Market narrowing—the scenario in which a decreasing number of stocks are lifting the indices—is acute and ominous to those paying attention.96 The so-called FAANGs + M (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Microsoft) have witnessed a 50 percent spike in their P/E ratios in less than 3 years.97 The FAANGs compose 42 percent of the Nasdaq and 13 percent of the S&P. An astonishing 0.2 percent of the companies in the Nasdaq have accounted for 45 percent of the gains.98 This is a wilding. The average stock, by contrast, is still more than 20 percent off its all-time high. What is going on? Indexing and Exchange-Traded Funds “When a measure becomes an outcome, it ceases to be a good measure.” ~Goodhart’s Law Charles Goodhart focused on measuring money supply,99 but his law loosely applies to any cute idea that becomes widely adopted (such as share buybacks). This is total blasphemy, but market indexing may be a colossal illustration of Goodhart’s Law. John Bogle was the first to articulate the merits of indexing in his undergraduate thesis at Princeton.100 Columbia University professor Burt Malkiel provided a theoretical framework for the notion that you cannot beat the market, which was translated into the best-selling book A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Even Warren Buffett endorses the merits of indexing, although once again, his words belie his actions. Bogle’s seminal S&P tracking fund now contains 10% of the market cap of the S&P 500 after quadrupling its share since ’08. (Behaviorist Peter Atwater attributes the recent enthusiasm to investors who are PO’d at active managers.)101 “When the world decides that there is no need for fundamental research and investors can just blindly purchase index funds and ETFs without any regard to valuation, we say the time to be fearful is now.” ~FPA Capital Then there are the massively popular ETFs that allow you to index while picking your favorite basket of stocks (have your cake and eat it too). Is there anybody who disagrees with the merits of indexing? Didn’t think so. Do ya see the problem here? Goodhart might. Maybe I was oblivious, but acute concerns about indexing seem to have emerged only in the last year or so. Let’s ponder some of them, but only after a brief digression. “There is no such thing as price discovery in index investing.” ~Eric Peters, CIO of One River Asset Management In his must-read book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki posits that a large sample size of non-experts, when asked to wager a guess about something—the number of jelly beans in a jar, for example—will generate a distribution centered on the correct answer. Compared with experts, a crowd of clueless people offers more wisdom. I submit that this collective wisdom extends to democracies and markets alike. A critical requirement, however, is that the voting must be uncorrelated. Each player must vote or guess independently. As correlation appears, the wisdom is lost, and the outcome is ruled by a single-minded mob. Thus, when everybody is buying baskets of stocks using the same, wholly thoughtless protocol (indexing), the correlation is quite high. Investors are no longer even taking their own best guesses. The influence of correlation is amplified by a flow of money (votes) putting natural bids under any stock in an index, even such treasures as Restoration Hardware. What percentage of your life’s savings should you invest without a clue? Cluelessness has been paying handsome rewards. A big problem is that index funds and ETFs allocate resources weighted according to market cap and are float-adjusted, reflecting the market cap only of available shares not held by insiders. You certainly want more money in Intel and Apple than in Blue Apron, but indexing imposes a non-linearity that drives the most overpriced stocks to become even more overpriced. That is precisely why the lofty valuations on the FAANGs just keep getting loftier. The virtuous cycle is the antithesis of value investing. The float adjustment drives money away from shares with high insider ownership. Curiously, an emerging strategy that is not yet broadly based (recall Goodhart’s Law) is to find investments that are not represented in popular indices or ETFs on the notion that they have not been bid up by indexers. “With $160-odd trillion global equity market capitalization, we have much more opportunities for ETFs to grow, not just on equities, but in fixed income. And I believe this is just the beginning.” ~Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the largest provider of ETFs The indexed subset of the investing world could be at the heart of the next liquidity crisis. In managed accounts, redemptions can be met with a stash of cash at least for the first portion of a sell-off. This is why air pockets (big drops) often don’t appear early in the downdraft. By contrast, ETFs trade shares robotically—quite literally by formulas and algos (the robots)—with zero cash buffer. The first hint of trouble causes cash inflows to dry up and buying to stop. Redemptions by nervous investors cause instantaneous selling. Passive buying will give way to active selling. The unwind should also be the mirror image of the ramp: FAANGs will lead the way down owing to their high market caps. Once again, selling begets selling, and the virtuous cycle quickly turns vicious. Investors will get ETF’d right up the...well, you get the idea. “You’re better off knowing which ETFs hold this stock than what this company even does. . . . That’s scary to me. . . . The market needs to have a major crash.” ~Danny Moses, co-worker of Steve Eisman “Throw them out the window.” ~Jeff Gundlach, CIO of DoubleLine Capital, on index funds I would be remiss if I failed to note that there are also some really wretched ETFs. What are the odds, eh? I’m not sure I even believe this, but it has been claimed that a 3×-levered long gold mining ETF lost –86 percent while a 3×-levered short gold mining ETF lost –98 percent, both over the same time frame that the GDX returned zero percent. You wouldn’t want to pair-trade those bad boys. It is also rumored that the SEC has approved 4×-levered equity ETFs. Investors are going to be seeing the inside of a wood chipper at some point. A 3×-levered Brazilian ETF (BRZU) lost 50 percent in a single day. Apparently none of these investors ever saw The Deer Hunter. We might as well set up ETFs in which investors choose the leverage multiple. One quick click, and it's gone. “ETFs are the new Investment Trusts (similar vehicles in 1920’s) that led to the Great Crash and will lead to the next crash.” ~Mark Yusko, CEO and CIO of Morgan Creek Capital Management “Passive investing is in danger of devouring capitalism. . . . What may have been a clever idea in its infancy has grown into a blob which is destructive to the growth-creating and consensus-building prospects of free market capitalism.” ~Paul Singer, founder and president of Elliott Management Corporation Miscellaneous Market Absurdities “Last time this mood took over, it ended very badly. Look at your investments with 2009 eyes. Did you tail hedge then? Should you risk up now?” ~Jeff Gundlach Recent initial public offerings (IPOs) get routinely flogged. SNAP’s 33 percent drop has become onomatopoetic. What would you expect for a company whose customer demographic is 12- to 18-year-olds with no income? GoPro (GPRO) has lost 95 percent in two years. A few more show precipitous drops from post-IPO highs: FIT, TWLO, FUEL, TWTR, ZNGA, and LC. Blue Apron (APRN) dropped 45 percent from its highs in the 36 days after its IPO. The company also cut 1,200 of a total of 5,000 jobs, prompting one veteran to ponder: “Seriously, how is that not illegal?” This is a new era, dude. The froth creeps into the screwiest places. The hard asset purchase of the year was the da Vinci painting of Salvatore Mundi that sold for $450 million. It was the only known da Vinci in private hands. A Modigliani nude sold for $170 million. A Basquiat painting purchased in 1984 for $19,000 moved across the auction block at a snot-bubble-blowing $111 million (23% compounded annualized return). The fabulously creative modern artwork, The Unmade Bed (Figure 13), sold for a cool $4 million.102 (I have one of those in my bedroom that I got for a lot less.) According to CBS News, a Harambe-shaped Cheeto sold for almost $100K on eBay.103 An obscure Danish penny stock company (Victoria Properties) surged nearly 1,000 percent in a few days, prompting management to remind investors that “there has been no change in Victoria Properties’ economic conditions. . . . The company’s equity is therefore still equal to about zero kroner.”104 Ford is valued at around $7,000 per car produced. Tesla is valued at $800,000 per car produced—they are literally making one model by hand on a Potemkin assembly line.105 A company called Switch has a “chief awesomeness officer.106 Ding! Ding! Ding! Figure 13. A $4 million masterpiece of modern art. Long-Term Real Returns and Risk Premia “Maybe it’s time to quietly exit. Take the cash, hide it in the mattress, and wait for the next/coming storm to pass.” ~Bill Blain, Mint Partners “People have just gotten so immune to any pain and anguish in any of these markets that when it happens it is going be very psychologically painful.” ~Marilyn Cohen, Envision Capital Management If the next correction is only 20–30 percent, I was simply wrong. Mete out a 50 percent or larger thwacking, and I am declaring victory (in a twisted sort of way). When the pain finally arrives, the precious few positioned to take advantage of the closeout sales will include idiots sitting in cash through the current equity binge buying (me). In theory, the short sellers would be in great shape too, but they all reside in shallow graves behind the Eccles Building. Some wise folks, like Paul Singer, have had the capacity and foresight to be raising billions of dollars for the day when monkey-chucking darts can find a target.107 "We think that there has never been a larger (and more undeserved) spirit of financial market complacency in our experience.” ~Paul Singer after raising $5 billion to buy distressed assets in the future There will be few victory laps, however, because boomers will be living on Kibbles ’n Bits. How painful will it be? Figure 14 from James Stack shows the fractions of the last 100 years’ bull markets that were given back.108 On only one occasion were investors lucky enough to hang onto three-fourths of their bull market gains. One-third of the bulls were given back entirely. Two-thirds of the bulls gave half back. The results are oddly quantized. How much will the next bear take back? It depends on how much the reasoning above is out of whack. Do ya feel lucky? Figure 14. Fraction of the bull taken by the bear.108 “The vanquished cry, but the victor doesn’t laugh.” ~Roman proverb Ethereal gains bring up an interesting point, more so than I first thought. In a brief exchange with Barry Ritholtz, I asserted that the “risk premia” on equities—the higher returns because of underlying risk—will be arbitraged away in the long run because occasionally risk turns into reality, and you get your ass kicked. I’m not talking inefficient high-frequency noise but rather the long term—call it a century if you will. With his characteristically delicate touch, Barry noted that I was full of hooey. Refusing to take any of his guff, I dug in. Certainly a free market would price equities much the way junk bonds are priced relative to treasuries to account for mishaps. Look back at Figure 14 in case it didn’t sink in. There is also the problem with interpreting index gains owing to survivor bias. Economist David Rosenberg claims that if the eight companies who left the Dow in April 2004 had remained, the Dow would still be below 13,000.109 Of course, presumably investors swapped them out as well if they were indexing (although somebody ate those losses). “I will get back to you next week with the answer to your singular investment question. Should you have further easy questions such as: is there a God and what gender he/she may be, that will necessarily be part of a separate email chain.” ~Brian Murdoch, former CEO of TD Asset Management on bonds versus stocks Start with the inflation-adjusted principle gains on the Dow (Figure 15), which returns less than 2 percent annualized. Think that’s too low? Take a look at my all-time favorite chart—the Dow in the first half of the 20th century, when inflation corrections weren’t needed (Figure 16). Now throw in some dividends (4 percent on average) and some wild-ass guesses on fees and taxes (including those on the inflated part of the gains). I get a real return on the Dow in the 20th century—a pretty credible century to boot—of only 4–5 percent annualized. Let’s adjust recent returns using the Big Mac inflation metric.110 Big Macs have appreciated sixfold since 1972 (4–5 percent compounded) with little change in quality. Over the same period, the capital gains on the Dow rose twentyfold. Adjusted for Big Mac–measured inflation, the Dow averaged less than 3 percent compounded (ex-dividends). An eightfold rise in the price of extra-large pizzas since 1970 (cited in my now-extinct blog for Elizabeth Warren) paints an even bleaker picture of inflation-adjusted S&P returns. Figure 15. Inflation-adjusted DOW. Figure 16. Non-inflation-adjusted Dow: 1900–1940. Those 4–5 percent inflation-adjusted equity gains do not account for the fourfold increase in the U.S. population, which should be included because the wealth of the nation was shared by four times as many carbon-based life-forms. The returns are also not in the same zip code as the 7–8 percent assumed by many pensioners. Back to the debate, the 4–5 percent inflation-adjusted equity gains contrast with 30-year treasuries returning about 4–5 percent nominally. Hmm...Seems like equities still won, and that Ritholtz appears to have been right. I consulted both digital and human sources (Brian Murdoch, Benn Steil, and Mark Gilbert), and everybody agreed: that punk Ritholtz was right. Even more disturbing, is it possible that Jeremy Siegel is not being a total meathead by asserting that you should buy equities at all times (BTFD)? The explanations for why markets fail to arbitrage the risk premia are said to be rather “mysterious.” According to Brian Murdoch, “academics have been remarkably unsuccessful in modeling it. . . . Despite three decades of attempts, the puzzle remains essentially intact.” Benn Steil concurred. Academic studies (warning!) claim that bonds do not keep up with stocks even over profoundly long periods, and no amount of fudging (fees, taxes, disasters, or survivor bias) accounts for the failure to arbitrage the marginal advantage of stocks to zero. Schlomo Benartzi and Richard Thaler suggest that short-term losses obscuring long-term gains—“myopic loss aversion”—is the culprit.111 (Ironically, I read this paper a week before the Nobel committee told me to read this paper.) Elroy Dimson et al. dismiss all the possible errors that could be root causes and put the sustainable risk premium on stocks at 3–5 percent.112 Let’s flip the argument: Why would you ever own a bond? There are rational answers. To the extent that you do not buy and hold equities for 100 years (unless you are Jack Bogle), you also pay a premium for the liquidity—the ability to liquidate without a huge loss because you were forced to sell into a swoon. You also forfeit the ability to sell into a rally, however, and certainly wouldn't want to sell into a bond bear market either. Of course, the role of financial repression—sovereign states’ ability to force bond yields well below prices set by free markets—could explain it all. Governments like cheap money and have the wherewithal to demand it. Maybe the message is to never lend to governments. I remain in an enlightened state of confusion. Gold “Gold is no more of an investment than Beanie Babies.” ~Gary Smith, economist “If you don’t have 5–10% of your assets in gold as a hedge, we’d suggest you relook at this. . . . [I]f you do have an excellent analysis of why you shouldn’t have such an allocation to gold, we’d appreciate you [sic] sharing it with us. ~Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates Ray is rumored to have ramped Bridgewater’s gold position fivefold this fall. He cites geopolitical risk as a reason to own the barbecued relic. “If we actually see missiles in the air, gold could go higher.” ~CNBC trader on thermonuclear war Since the early 1970s, gold has had an annual return of 8 percent (nominal). Gold bears are quick to point out it doesn’t pay interest. Nor does my bank, and by the way, what part of 8 percent don’t they understand? By that standard, the 8 percent gain in 2017 was good but not statistically unusual. Coin sales are down,113 which suggests that either retail buyers are not in the game or the bug-out plans of hedge fund managers—I’m told they all have them—are complete. Sprott Asset Management made a hostile move on the Central Fund of Canada, a gold–silver holding company, in a move that might portend promising future returns.114 “Significant increases in inflation will ultimately increase the price of gold. . . . [I]nvestment in gold now is insurance. It’s not for short-term gain, but for long-term protection. . . . We would never have reached this position of extreme indebtedness were we on the gold standard. . . . It wasn’t the gold standard that failed; it was politics. . . . Today, going back on to the gold standard would be perceived as an act of desperation.” ~Alan Greenspan, 2017, still babbling On the global geopolitical front, Deutsche Bundesbank completed repatriation of 700 tons of gold earlier than originally planned.115 The urgency may be bullish, but a possible source of demand is now gone. Chinese gold companies have been actively searching for domestic deposits and international acquisitions as they push to quadruple their reserves to 14,000 tons by 2020.116 (The U.S. sovereign stash is less than 9,000 tons.) The gold acquisitions of China (Figure 17) show a curious abrupt and sustained increase in activity in 2011. When did gold begin its major correction? Right: 2011. Makes you wonder if geopolitics somehow preempted the supply–demand curve. Because gold can leave Shanghai but not China, it’s a one-way trip. The Shanghai Gold Exchange must get its bullion from other sources. Russia continues to push its reserves up too. Rumors swirl that China and Russia are colluding for something grand, possibly a new global reserve currency based on the petro-yuan and gold. This would change the global landscape way beyond generic goldbuggery. Figure 17. Abrupt changes in Chinese gold acquisitions through Hong Kong in 2011. “Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy would it be wonderful. We’d have a standard on which to base our money.” ~Donald Trump, 2016 The gold market continues to be dominated by gold futures rather than physical gold. The bugs think this will end. I can only hope. In this paper market, gaming is the norm. On a seemingly monthly basis, gold takes swan dives as somebody decides to sell several billion-dollar equivalents (20,000–30,000 futures contracts) when the market is least liquid (thinly traded). Stories of fat-fingered trades abound, but I suspect these are just traders molesting the market for fun and profit, unconcerned that a regulator would ever call them on it. The silver market looked even creepier for 17 days in a row (Figure 18). I never trust that kind of linearity. Figure 18. Silver acting odd over 5 minutes and 17 days. Price changes often appear proximate to geopolitical events, but everything is proximate to a geopolitical event somewhere. India’s success at destroying its cash economy—the only economy it had—via the fiat removal of high-denomination bills117 was akin to announcing that only electric cars are legal starting next week. Some suggested that the move was also an attempt to flush gold out of households and into the banking system.118 Gold inched toward currency status at a more local level as Idaho, Arizona, and Louisiana voted to remove state capital gains taxes on gold—baby steps toward an emergent gold standard.119 The Brits are going the other way by banning salary payments in gold.120 Finishing with some fun anecdotes, a massive gold coin worth millions was stolen from a German museum.121 Some guy restoring a World War II tank found $2.5 million in gold bullion tucked in a fake fuel tank.122 A piano repairman discovered 13 pounds of gold in an old piano.123 According to British law, the repairman gets half, and the folks who donated the piano get squat. Beyond that, the gold market has been quiet for almost five years (Figure 19). Some wonder whether Bitcoin is sucking oxygen away from gold. Which way is gold gonna break if Bitcoin or the dollar tanks? Inquiring minds want to know. Figure 19. Five years of gold price discovery. Bitcoin “Worse than tulip bulbs. It won't end. Someone is going to get killed. . . . [A]ny [JPM] trader trading Bitcoin will be fired for being stupid. . . . [T]he currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think the people buying it are really smart. It’s worse than tulip bulbs." ~Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPM Unbeknownst to Dimon, his daughter was trading Bitcoin: “It went up and she thinks she is a genius.” More to the point, traders at JPM were already firing up crypto exchanges (while Goldman and the CFTC seemed to be positioning to enter the game). Dimon decided it was a prudent time to STFU (shut up) by declaring, “I'm not going to talk about Bitcoin anymore.” The joke was on us, however; nobody seemed to notice that Dimon slipped in an earnings warning the same day his Bitcoin quotes hit the media.124 Well played, Jamie. “Bitcoin owners should appeal to the IRS for tax-exempt status as a faith-based organization.” ~Andy Kessler, former hedge fund manager I wish I had a Bitcoin for every time somebody asked me about it. Cryptos and goldbugs share a common interest in escaping the gaze of the authorities. My ignorance of blockchain technology is profound, but I suspect that is true for many who talk the talk. I wonder if somehow blockchain might play a role in bypassing the SWIFT check-clearing system used by Western powers to shake down opposition (Russia).125 I also wonder, however, if the miracles of blockchain should not be confused with those of Bitcoin. Any mention of price or gains below should be followed with an implicit "last time I checked" or even “as of two minutes ago.” My failure to jump on Bitcoin leaves no remorse: (a) I never take a position that risks a you-knew-better moment, and (b) I would have been flushed out, and then I really would have kicked myself. Recall the legendary founding shares in Apple that were sold for $800 and are now estimated to be worth maybe $100 billion?126 There’s rumor of a guy who lost his Bitcoin “codes” that are now estimated at more than $100 million. That’s real pain. I offer my current view of cryptos from a position of total technical ignorance guided by an only slightly more refined understanding of history and markets. Please forgive me, crypto friends. I know you are tired of hearing the counter arguments and the cat calling. I am restrained by the words of a famous philosopher: “Only God is an expert. We’re just guys paid to give our opinion.” ~Charles Barkley, former NBA star What would have flushed me out of a Bitcoin long position? Let’s take it to the hoop: The price action. Exponential gains, even wildly bent on a semi-log plot, have few analogs in history, all of which led to legendary busts (Figure 20). The South Sea bubble, Tulipmania, Beanie Baby, and Mentos-in-a-Coke analogies are legion. They all had a story that convinced many. Figure 20. One-year price chart of Bitcoin (as of 2 minutes ago). The participants. I have a friend—a very smart former Wall Street guy—who swears by it and is up 100,000 percent. You do not need to size your position correctly with that kind of gain. But then there is the clutch of camp followers emblematic of all manias. We have grad students speculating in Bitcoin. A 12-year-old bought his first Bitcoin in May 2011 with a gift from his grandmother.126a At more than $17,000 per coin, his stash is more than $5 million. On MarketWatch, he declared he had a price target of $1 million. “I’m obviously very bullish, but I expect to make a couple million dollars off very little money. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Finance is getting its Internet.” ~Bitcoin investor Competitors. A Bitcoin competitor issued by Stratis soared to more than 100,000 percent since its initial coin offering (ICO) this past summer. As of December 1, there were 1,326 cryptocurrencies with a total market cap of >$400 billion.127 Paris Hilton has a cryptocurrency.128 The market is saturated more than the dot-com market ever was. It is a certainty that more than 99 percent will die much like most of the 270 auto companies in the ’20s and dot-coms in the ’90s. A site called Deadcoins shows that some already have.129 The debate is whether 100 percent is the final number. Volatility. Massive corrections followed by ferocious rallies akin to a teenager on driving on black ice would have convinced me it was too crazy for my style. Corrections last seconds to hours, with wildly enthusiastic buyers poised to BTFD. Isaac Newton got into the South Sea bubble, was smart enough to get out, and then reentered in time to go bankrupt. I am decidedly dumber than Isaac. Figure 21. Bitcoin photo bomber (acquiring $15K of Bitcoin via crowdsourcing). For Bitcoin to become a currency in its current form, out of reach of sovereigns, seems to require a society-upheaving revolution, which is a rare event that usually gives way to new, equally ham-fisted regimes. The chances seem slim to none for several reasons. “No government will ever support a virtual currency that goes around borders and doesn’t have the same controls. It’s not going to happen.” ~Jamie Dimon (again) The competition. I am doubtless that central banks and sovereign states will never endorse Bitcoin in its current form. They have their own digital currencies and a monopoly on the power to create more, and they commandeer our assets through taxation. Existential risk will bring on the power of the State. When sovereigns decide to do battle, the cryptos will be brought to heel or forced underground. Instabilities. Digital currencies are showing digital instabilities that could just be growing pains or evidence of more systemic problems. How software buffs who know that software is duct tape and bailing wire could think that a software-dependent currency is invincible is beyond me. Ethereum dropped 20 percent in a heartbeat when a hacker theft was reported.130 It dropped 96 percent after the Status ICO clogged the network.131 One user put a stop-loss on Ethereum at $316 on GDAX, which executed at $0.10 during a flash crash.132 So-called “wallets” have been freezing up, although there is some debate as to whether the owners lost the Bitcoins.133 This stuff happens with all risk assets now but not with usable currencies. Volatility. Nobody will use a currency to pay for groceries if prices move 10 percent a day or even 5 percent as you move from the frozen food to the vegetable aisle. This, by the way, is the same explanation for why I don’t consider gold “money” or a “currency.” As long as there exists a Bitcoin–dollar conversion, a sovereign wishing to keep Bitcoin in the realm of a speculative plaything could use its unlimited liquidity to trigger price swings with a little day trading. Legality. If up against the wall, sovereigns will use arguments about fighting crime, stemming ransomware, or controlling monetary policy and declare a War on Cryptos akin to the potential War on Cash. China has already blown shots across the Bitcoin bow by shutting down exchanges as well as ICOs as they struggle with excessive sovereign debt and capital outflows.134 Britain has also done some sabre rattling.135 The IRS has declared gains taxable (akin to gold) and is paying companies to locate digital wallets.136 The fans of BTC declare invincibility—freedom! The average blokes may smoke pot and drive too fast, but they seem less likely to risk a spat with the State on this stuff. “Right now the trust is good—with Bitcoin people are buying and selling it, they think it’s a reasonable market—but there will come a day when government crackdowns come in and you begin to see the currency come down.” ~Mark Mobius, executive director at Franklin Templeton Investments Others have unshakeable faith even in the more obscure cryptocurrencies. I’m unsure what I’m hoping for on this bet (Figure 22): Figure 22. John McAfee, technology pioneer, chief of cybersecurity, visionary of MGT Capital Investments, going all in on cryptocurrencies. Housing and Real Estate “We bailed out the financial system so that financiers with access to cheap credit can buy up all of America’s real estate so that they can then rent it back to you later.” ~Mike Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg blog Greenspan claimed those who predicted the housing bubble were “statistical illusions” (as were those who saw Greenspan as a charlatan). There are, once again, housing bubbles littered across the globe at various stages of expansion and contraction owing to central banks providing in excess of $3 trillion dollars of QE this year. Credit is fungible, so the flood of capital can come from anywhere and migrate to anywhere it finds an inflating asset. Hong Kong’s spiking prices are rising by dozens of basis points per day. Attempts by authorities to cool the market only fanned the flames, resulting in “a sea of madness.”137 Australian authorities tried to cap the dreaded interest-only loans at 30% of the total pool, prompting one hedge fund to return money to investors and declare that “Mortgage fraud is endemic; it’s systemic; it’s just terrible what’s going on. When you’ve got 30-year-olds, who have never seen a property downturn before, borrowing up to 80% to buy three and four apartments, it’s a bubble.”138 Prices in London are now collapsing.139 Why would anything collapse with so much global credit? Simple: top-heavy structures tend to collapse from even small shocks. I will focus, however, on only two countries—the U.S. because it is my home turf and Canada because it is the most interesting of the markets. The U.S. appears to be in a bubblette, an overvalued market that does not approach the insanity of 2007 (detected by statistical illusions as early as 2002).140 Twenty percent down payments have become passé again. A survey of 20 cities reveals 5.9 percent annualized price rises.141 The median sale price of an existing home has set an all-time high and is up 40 percent since the start of 2014141 despite what seems to be muted demand (Figure 23). Thus, home ownership has dropped by 8 percent since ’09 because soaring prices have rendered them unaffordable. More than 40 percent of 25-34 year olds, a group historically en route to home ownership, have nothing set aside for a down payment.141 Those who scream about the need for affordable housing don’t notice that we have plenty of low-quality houses. We lack low-cost houses. And the Fed says inflation is good. Figure 23. Median new home sales price in the U.S. versus number sold and versus home ownership rate. In 1960, California had a median home price of $15,000—three times the salary of an elementary school teacher.142 The median home price in San Francisco is now $1.5 million,143 which is unlikely to be three times a teacher’s salary. A couple earning $138,000 will soon qualify for subsidized housing in San Francisco. California housing seems to be interminably overvalued, possibly owing to the draw of droughts, mudslides, crowds, and, fires. Despite modest 6 percent population growth since 2010, housing units have shown an only 2.9 percent increase. There could be a supply–demand problem, especially when the fires subside. Florida is rumored to have eager post-hurricane sellers—those with something left to sell, that is.144 Condo flippers drove prices skyward in Miami, but they are heading earthward with a glut of units scheduled to come online in 2018. It’s not just the sand states starting to see softness. In New York City, rising rates seem to be nudging commercial and residential real estate down and foreclosures up to levels not seen since the 2009 crisis (79 percent year-over-year in Q3).145 Sam Zell is, once again, a seller and claims "it is getting hard."146 Recall that Zell nailed the real estate top by selling $38 billion in real estate in ’07.147 “The condo market at the high-end [in Manhattan] . . . is a catastrophe and will get worse.” ~Barry Sternlicht, Starwood Property Trust Those who already own houses can once again “extract equity” from their homes using home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).148 They then wake up with more debt on the same house. Pundits claim consumers’ willingness to mortgage their future is “a healthy confidence in the economy.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also entered phase II of the catch-and-release program. Their regulators have authorized them to once again engage in unchecked, reckless lending, prompting some to begin estimating the cost of the next bailout.149 What happened to all that inventory from the colossal boom leading to the Great Recession? Some fell into the foundations, but a lot found its way into private equity firms. Mind you, single-family rentals are a low- or no-profit-margin business under normal circumstances. As long as rates stay low—Where have I heard that one before?—inherently thin profits can be amplified to a significant transitory revenue stream through leverage. A proposed merger of Invitation Homes (owned by Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by Starwood Capital) would spawn the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion.150 Of course, rates will rise again, and these sliced-and-diced tranches of mortgage-backed securities must be offloaded to greater fools. Private equity guys are already frantically boxing and shipping.151 To avoid costly and time-consuming appraisals, market players are using “broker price opinions,” which can be had by simply driving by the house and taking a guess (or just taking a guess). In ’09, the legendary “Linda Green” signed off on thousands using dozens of different signatures.152 U.S. securities regulators are investigating whether bonds backed by single-family rental homes and sold by Wall Street’s biggest residential landlords used overvalued property assessments.153 Let me help you guys out: yes. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government.” ~IMF, on the Canadian housing market Heading north, we find that Canada’s real estate market never collapsed in ’09 (Figure 24), an outcome often ascribed to the virtues of the country’s banking system. An estimated 7 percent of Canadians work in housing construction,154 and Canadians are using HELOCs like crazy.155 After Vancouver tried to burst a huge bubble in 2016 with a 15 percent buyers’ tax,156 Chinese buyers chased Toronto houses instead. Annualized gains of 33 percent with average prices of $1.5 million are pushing even the one-percentile crowd to remote ’burbs.157 Toronto authorities have now imposed the Vancouver-like 15 percent foreign buyers tax,158 causing a single-month 26 percent drop in sales and ultimately chasing the hot money to Montreal,159 Guelph, and even Barrie.160 “Make no mistake, the Toronto real estate market is in a bubble of historic proportions.” ~David Rosenberg Figure 24. Canadian versus U.S. median home prices and what they buy ($700,000 for that little gem). The most interesting plotline and a smoking gun in Canada’s bursting bubble was failing subprime lender Home Capital Group (HCG). Marc Cahodes, referred to as a “free-range short seller” and “the scourge of Wall Street,” spotted criminality and shorted HCG for a handsome profit.161 HCG was so bad it was vilified by its auditor, KPMG.162 Imagine that. HCG dropped 60 percent in one day when news hit of an emergency $2 billion credit line at 22.5 percent interest by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.163 (The CEO of the pension plan sits on Home Capital’s board and is also a shareholder.) Cahodes was printing money and ranting about jail sentences when, without warning, the legendary stockjobber Warren Buffett took a highly visible 20 percent stake in HCG at “mob rates” (38 percent discount).164 The short squeeze was vicious, and Cahodes was PO’d. As Paul Harvey would say, “now for the rest of the story.” HCG is, by all reckoning, the piece of crap Cahodes claims it is. Buffett couldn’t care less about HCG’s assets—Berkshire can swallow the losses for eternity. Warren may have bought this loser as a legal entry to the Canadian banking system, which is loaded with hundreds of billions of “self-securitized” mortgages. The plot thickened as a story leaked that Buffett met with Justin Trudeau (on a tarmac).165 When the Canadian real estate bust begins in earnest, Buffett will have the machinery of HCG and the political capital to feed on the carcasses of the big-five Canadian banks. Pensions “This massive financial bubble is a ticking time bomb, and when it finally goes off, it is going to wipe out virtually every pension fund in the United States.” ~Michael Snyder, DollarCollapse.com blog The impending pension crisis is global and monumental with no obvious way out. The World Economic Forum estimates the pension gap—unfunded pension liabilities—at $70 trillion and headed for $250 trillion by 2050.166 Conservative but still conventional assumptions about prospective investment returns and spending patterns in old age suggest that retiring into the American dream in your mid 60s requires you bank 20–25 multiples of your annual salary (or a defined benefit plan that is the functional equivalent) to avoid the risk of running out of money. A friend—a corporate executive no less—retired with 10 multiples; he could be broke within a decade (much sooner if markets regress to historical means). Of course, you can defiantly declare you will work ’till you drop, but then there are those unexpected aneurysms, bypass surgeries, layoffs, and ailing spouses needing care. I’ve seen claims that more than 50 percent of retirees do not fully control their retirement age. “Companies are doing everything they can to get rid of pension plans, and they will succeed.” ~Ben Stein, political commentator The problem began as worker compensation became reliant on future promises—IOUs planted in pension plans—often assuming the future was far, far away. However, a small cadre of demographers in the ’70s smelled the risk of the boomer retirements and began swapping defined-benefit plans for defined-contribution plans.167 (A hybrid of the two traces back to 18th century Scottish clergy.168) The process was enabled by the corporate-friendly Tax Reform Act of ’86.169 Employees were unknowingly handed all the risk and became their own human resource specialists. Retirement risk depends on the source of your retirement funds. Federal employees are backstopped by the printing press, although defaults cannot be ruled out if you read the fine print.170 States and municipalities could get bailed out, but there are no guarantees. Defined-benefit corporate plans can be topped off by digging into cash flows provided that the cash flows and even the corporation exist. The depletion of corporate earnings to top off the deficits, however, will erode equity performance, which will wash back on all pension funds. The multitude of defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s and IRAs managed by individuals are totally on their own and suffer from a profound lack of savings. Corporate and municipal defined-benefit plans assumed added risks by falling behind in pension contributions motivated by efforts to balance the books and, in the corporate world, create the illusion of profits. The moment organizations began reducing the requisite payments by applying flawed assumptions about prospective returns, pensions shifted to Ponzi finance. My uncanny ability to oversimplify anything is illustrated by the imitation semi-log plot in Figure 25. The red line reflects the assumed average compounded balance sheet from both contributions and market gains. The blue squiggle reflects the vicissitudes of the market wobbling above and below the projection. If the projections are too optimistic—the commonly reported 7–8 percent market returns certainly are—the slope is too high, and the plan will fall short. If the projected returns are reasonable but management stops contributing during good times—embezzling the returns above the norm to boost profits—the plan will fall below projection again. Of course, once the plan falls behind, nobody wants to dump precious capital into making up the difference when you can simply goose projected returns with new and improved assumptions. In a rational world, pensions would be overfunded during booms and underfunded during busts. Assuming we can agree that we are deep into both equity and bond bull markets and possibly near their ends, pensions should be bloated with excess reserves (near a maximum on the blue curve), and bean counters should keep their dirty little paws off those assets and keep contributing because we won’t stay there. Figure 25. Childish construct of pension assets. That’s a good segue to drill down into the contemporaneous details. Public pensions are more than 30 percent underfunded ($2 trillion).171 A buzzkiller at the Hoover Institution says that the government disclosures are wrong and puts the deficit at $3.8 trillion.172 Bloomberg says that “if honest math was being used . . . the real number would actually be closer to 6 trillion dollars.”173 What is honest math? Using prevailing treasury yields for starters. Bill Gross—the former Bond King—says that if we get only 4.0 percent total nominal return rather than the presumed 7.5 percent, pensions are $5 trillion underfunded.174 Assuming 100 million taxpayers, that’s $50,000 we all have to pony up. California’s CalPERS fund dropped its assumption to a 6.2 percent return—still seriously optimistic in my opinion—leaving a $170 billion shortfall.175 The Illinois retirement system is towing a liability of $208 billion with $78 billion in assets ($130 billion unfunded).176 Connecticut is heading for a “Greece-style debt crisis” with $6,500 in debt per capita (every man, woman, and child?).177 The capital, Hartford, is heading for bankruptcy.178 South Carolina’s government pension plan is $24 billion in the hole. Kentucky’s attempt to fill a gigantic hole in its pension fund (31 percent funded) was felled by politics.179 A detailed survey of municipal pension obligations shows funding ranging from 23 percent (Chicago) to 98 percent (Suffolk).180 My eyeball average says about 70 percent overall. Notice that despite being at the peak of an investment cycle, none are overfunded (Figure 26.) Large and quite unpopular 30 percent hikes in employee contributions are suggested. The alternative of taking on more municipal debt to top off pension funds is a common stop-gap measure of little merit long term; somebody still has to pay. Figure 26. State pension deficits. The 100 largest U.S. corporate defined-benefit plans have dropped to 85 percent funded from almost 110 percent in 2007. During the recent market cycle that burned bright on just fumes, the companies gained only 6 percent above the 80 percent funding at the end of 2008. Of the top 200 corporate pensions in the S&P, 186 are underfunded to the tune of $382 billion (Figure 27). General Electric, for example, is $31 billion in the hole while using $45 billion for share buybacks. Figure 27. Underfunding of 20 S&P pension funds. When are serious problems supposed to start, and what will they look like? Jim Bianco says “slowly and then suddenly.” Some would argue “now.” The Dallas Police and Firemen Pension Fund is experiencing a run on the bank.181 They are suing a real estate fund who slimed them out of more than $300 million182 and are said to be looking at $1 billion in “clawbacks” from those who got out early trying to avoid the pain.183 The Teamsters Central States and the United Mineworkers of America plans are failing.184 The New York Teamsters have spent their last penny of pension reserves.185 The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has paid out nearly $6 billion in benefits to participants of failed pension plans (albeit at less than 50 cents on the dollar), increasing its deficit to $76 billion. CalPERS intends to cut payouts owing to low returns and inadequate contributions (during a boom, I remind you). “The middle 40% [of 50- to 64-year olds] earn $97,000 and have saved $121,000, while the top 10% make $251,000 and have $450,000 socked away.” ~Wall Street Journal Looks like those self-directed IRAs aren’t working out so well either. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute anything to retirement. Only 4 percent of those earning below $50,000 a year maxes out their 401(k)s at the current limits.186 They are so screwed, but I get it: they are struggling to pay their bills. However, only 32 percent of the $100,000+ crowd maxes out the contribution. When the top 10 percent of the younger boomers have two multiples of their annual salary stashed away, you’ve got a problem.186 If they retired today, how long would their money last? That’s not a trick question: two years according to my math. Half the boomers have no money set aside for retirement. A survey shows that a significant majority of boomers are finding their adult children to be a financial hardship.187 Indeed, the young punks aren’t doing well in all financial categories; retirement planning is no exception. Almost half of Gen Xers agreed with this statement: “I prefer not to think about or concern myself with retirement investing until I get closer to my retirement date.” Moody’s actuarial math concluded that a modest draw down would cause pension fund liabilities to soar owing to a depletion of reserves.188 There is a bill going through Congress to allow public pensions to borrow from the treasury; they are bracing for something.189 This is a tacit bailout being structured. The Fed cowers at the thought of a recession with good reason: Can the system endure 50% equity and bond corrections—regressions to the historical mean valuation? What happens when monumental claims to wealth—$200 trillion in unfunded liabilities—far exceed our wealth? Laurence Kotlikoff warned us; we are about to find out.190 Beware of any thinly veiled claim that the redivision of an existing pie will create more pie. My sense is that we are on the cusp of a phase change. Stresses are too large to ignore and are beginning to cause failures and welched promises. Runs on pension funds akin to runs on banks would be deadly: people would quit working to get their pensions. At this late stage in the cycle, you simply cannot make it up with higher returns. Enormous appreciation has been pulled forward; somebody is going to get hosed. It’s only fourth grade math. Bankruptcy laws exist to bring order to the division of limited assets. We got into this mess one flawed assumption at a time. On a final note, there is a move afoot to massively reduce contributions to sheltered retirement accounts. This seems precisely wrong. (I have routinely sheltered 25–30 percent of my gross income as a point of reference.) Congress is also pondering new contributions be forced into Roth-like accounts rather than regular IRAs. I have put a bat to the Roth IRA both in print191 and in a half-hour talk.192 Here is the bumper sticker version: Roth IRAs pull revenue forward, leaving future generations to fend for themselves; Fourth grade math shows that Roth and regular IRAs, if compounded at the same rate and taxed at the same rate, provide the same cash for retirement. Roth IRAs are taxed at the highest tax bracket—the marginal rate—whereas regular IRAs are taxed integrated over all brackets—the effective tax rate. If you read a comparison of Roth versus regular IRAs without reference to the “effective” versus “marginal” rate, the author is either ignorant or trying to scam you. Phrases like “it depends on your personal circumstances” are double-talk. This synopsis of a Harvard study has two fundamental errors: Can you find them? “If a worker saves $5,000 a year in a 401(k) for 40 years and earns 5% return a year, the final balance will be more than $600,000. If the 401(k) is a Roth, the full balance is available for retirement spending. If the 401(k) is a traditional one, taxes are due on the balance. Let’s say the person’s tax rate is 20% in retirement. That makes for a difference of $120,000 in spending power, which a life annuity will translate into about $700 a month in extra spending.” ~John Beshears, lead author of a Harvard study Inflation versus Deflation “Deflation does not destroy these resources physically. It merely diminishes their monetary value, which is why their present owners go bankrupt. Thus, deflation by and large boils down to a redistribution of productive assets from old owners to new owners. The net impact on production is likely to be zero.” ~Guido Hülsmann. Mises Institute “My own view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target.” ~Lael Brainard “Inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.” ~Esther George, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City “Barring major swings in value of the dollar, inflation is likely to move up to 2 percent over the next couple of years.” ~Janet Yellen, Federal Open Market Committee chair Barring major swings in the value of the dollar? What kind of circular reasoning is that? The Fed tells us inflation is too low relative to their arbitrary 2 percent target. I say they are lying—through their teeth—and I have company. John Williams of ShadowStats has been ringing the alarm for decades, currently putting inflation at 6 percent compared with official numbers of less than 2 percent (Figure 28).193 A study by the Devonshire Group concurs with Williams.194 The most notable support for the official consumer price index (CPI) inflation numbers comes from MIT’s Billion Prices Project (BPP).
Authored by Dr. D via Raul Ilargi Meijer's The Automatic Earth blog, Part 1 "Bitcoin Is A Trust Machine" here. You have to understand what exchanges are and are not. An exchange is a central point where owners post collateral and thereby join and trade on the exchange. The exchange backs the trades with their solvency and reputation, but it’s not a barter system, and it’s not free: the exchange has to make money too. Look at the Comex, which reaches back to the early history of commodities exchange which was founded to match buyers of say, wheat, like General Mills, with producers, the farmers. But why not just have the farmer drive to the local silo and sell there? Two reasons: one, unlike manufacturing, harvests are lumpy. To have everyone buy or sell at one time of the year would cripple the demand for money in that season. This may be why market crashes happen historically at harvest when the demand for money (i.e. Deflation) was highest. Secondly, however, suppose the weather turned bad: all farmers would be ruined simultaneously. Suppose the weather then recovered: the previous low prices are erased and any who delayed selling would be rich. This sort of random, uncontrolled, uninsurable event is no way to run an economy, so they added a small group of speculators into the middle. You could sell wheat today for delivery in June, and the buyer would lock in a price. This had the effect of moderating prices, insuring both buyers AND sellers, at the small cost of paying the traders and speculators for their time, basically providing insurance. But the exchange is neither buyer, seller, nor speculator. They only keep the doors open to trade and vet the participants. What’s not immediately apparent is these Contracts of Wheat are only wheat promises, not wheat itself. Although amounts vary, almost all commodities trade contracts in excess of what is actually delivered, and what may exist on earth. I mean the wheat they’re selling, millions of tons, haven’t even been planted yet. So they are synthetic wheat, fantasy wheat that the exchange is selling. A Bitcoin exchange is the same thing. You post your Bitcoin to the exchange, and trade it within the exchange with other customers like you. But none of the Bitcoin you trade on the exchange is yours, just like none of the wheat traded is actual wheat moving on trucks between silos. They are Bitcoin vouchers, Bitcoin PROMISES, not actual Bitcoin. So? So although prices are being set on the exchanges – slightly different prices in each one – none of the transfers are recorded on the actual Bitcoin Ledger. So how do you think exchanges stay open? Like Brokers and Banks, they take in the Bitcoin at say 100 units, but claim within themselves to have 104. Why? Like any other fractional reserve system, they know that at any given moment 104 users will not demand delivery. This is their “float” and their profit, which they need to have, and this works well as far as it goes. However, it leads to the problem at Mt. Gox, and indeed Bear Sterns, Lehman and DeutscheBank: a sudden lack of confidence will always lead to a collapse, leaving a number of claims unfulfilled. That’s the bank run you know so well from Mary Poppins’ “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. It is suspected to be particularly bad in the case of Mt. Gox, which was unregulated. How unregulated? Well, not only were there zero laws concerning Bitcoin, but MTGOX actually stands for “Magic The Gathering Online eXchange”; that is, they were traders of comic books and Pokemon cards, not a brokerage. Prepare accordingly. The important thing here is that an exchange is not Bitcoin. On an exchange, you own a claim on Bitcoin, through the legal entity of the exchange, subject only to jurisdiction and bankruptcy law. You do not own Bitcoin. But maybe Mt.Gox didn’t inflate their holdings but was indeed hacked? Yes, as an exchange, they can be hacked. Now you only need infiltrate one central point to gain access to millions of coins and although their security is far better, it’s now worth a hacker’s time. Arguably, most coins are held on an exchange, which is one reason for the incredibly skewed numbers regarding Bitcoin concentration. Just remember, if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it. In a hack, your coins are gone. If the exchange is lying or gets in trouble, your coins are gone. If someone is embezzling, your coins are gone. If the Government stops the exchange, your coins are gone. If the economy cracks, the exchange will be cash-strapped and your coins are frozen and/or gone. None of these are true if YOU own your coins in a true peer-to-peer manner, but few do. But this is also true of paper dollars, gold bars, safe deposit boxes, and everything else of value. This accounts for some of the variety of opinions on the safety of Bitcoin. So if Polinex or Coinbase gets “hacked” it doesn’t mean “Bitcoin” was hacked any more than if the Comex or MF Global fails, that corn or Yen were “hacked”. The exchange is not Bitcoin: it’s the exchange. There are exchange risks and Bitcoin risks. Being a ledger Bitcoin is wide open and public. How would you hack it? You already have it. And so does everybody else. So we’ve covered the main aspects of Bitcoin and why it is eligible to be money. Classically, money has these things: 1. Durable- the medium of exchange must not weather, rot, fall apart, or become unusable. 2. Portable- relative to its size, it must be easily movable and hold a large amount of value. 3. Divisible- it should be relatively easy to divide with all parts identical. 4. Intrinsically Valuable- should be valuable in itself and its value should be independent of any other object. Essentially, the item must be rare. 5. Money is a “Unit of Account”, that is, people measure other things, time and value, using the units of value to THINK about the world, and thus is an part of psychology. Strangely that makes this both the weakest and strongest aspect of: 6. “The Network Effect”. Its social and monetary inertia. That is, it’s money to you because you believe other people will accept it in exchange. The Score: 1. Bitcoin is durable and anti-fragile. As long as there is an Internet – or even without one – it can continue to exist without decay, written on a clay tablet with a stylus. 2. Bitcoin is more portable than anything on earth. A single number — which can be memorized – can transport $160B across a border with only your mind, or across the world on the Internet. Its portability is not subject to any inspection or confiscation, unlike silver, gold, or diamonds. 3. Bitcoin is not infinitely divisible, but neither is gold or silver, which have a discrete number of atoms. At the moment the smallest Bitcoin denomination or “Satoshi” is 0.00000001 Bitcoin or about a millionth of a penny. That’s pretty small, but with a software change it can become smaller. In that way, Bitcoin, subject only to math is MORE divisible than silver or gold, and far easier. As numbers all Bitcoin are exactly the same. 4. Bitcoin has intrinsic value. Actually, the problem is NOTHING has “intrinsic” value. Things have value only because they are useful to yourself personally or because someone else wants them. Water is valuable on a desert island and gold is worthless. In fact, gold has few uses and is fundamentally a rock we dig up from one hole to bury in another, yet we say it has “intrinsic” value – which is good as Number 4 said it had to be unrelated to any other object, i.e. useless. Bitcoin and Gold are certainly useless. Like gold, Bitcoin may not have “Intrinsic value” but it DOES have intrinsic cost, that is, the cost in time and energy it took to mine it. Like gold, Bitcoin has a cost to mine measurable in BTU’s. As nothing has value outside of human action, you can’t say the electric cost in dollars is a price-floor, but suggests a floor, and that would be equally true of gold, silver, copper, etc. In fact, Bitcoin is more rare than Rhodium: we mine rare metals at 2%/year while the number of Bitcoins stops at 22 Million. Strangely, due to math, computer digits are made harder to get and have than real things. 5. Bitcoin is a unit of account. As a psychological effect, it’s difficult to quantify. Which comes first, the use of a thing, or its pricing? Neither, they grow together as one replaces another, side-by-side. This happened when gold replaced iron or salt or when bank notes replaced physical gold, or even when the U.S. moved from Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents. At first it was adopted by a few, but managed to get a critical mass, accepted, and eventually adopted by the population and entirely forgotten. At the moment Bitcoin enthusiasts do in fact mentally price things in Bitcoins, especially on exchanges where cross-crypto prices are marked vs BTC. Some never use their home currency at all, living entirely according to crypto-prices until home conversion at the moment of sale, or as hundreds or thousands of businesses are now accepting cryptocurrencies, even beyond. For them it is a unit of account the way Fahrenheit is a unit within the United States. 6. Bitcoin has the network effect. That is, it is widely accepted and publicly considered money. It’s in the news, has a wide following worldwide, and exchanges are signing up 40,000 new users a month. It’s accepted by thousands of vendors and can be used for purchases at Microsoft, Tesla, PayPal, Overstock, or with some work, Amazon. It’s translatable through point-of-sale vendor Square, and from many debit card providers such as Shift. At this point it is already very close to being money, i.e. a commonly accepted good. Note that without special arrangements none of these vendors will accept silver coins, nor price products in them. I expect if Mark Dice offered a candy bar, a silver bar, or a Bitcoin barcode, more people would pick the Bitcoin. In that way Bitcoin is more money than gold and silver are. You could say the same thing about Canadian Dollars or Thai Bhat: they’re respected currencies, but not accepted by everyone, everywhere. For that matter, neither are U.S. dollars. Note what is not on the list: money is not a unit created or regulated by a central authority, although governments would like us to think so. In fact, no central authority is necessary or even desirable. For centuries the lack of monetary authority was historic fact, back with medieval markets through to private banks, until 1913, 1933, 1971, and the modern evolution into today’s near-total digital fiat. Besides the technical challenge, eliminating their overhead, oversight, control and corruption is the point of Bitcoin. And right now the government’s response to Bitcoin is a strange mixture of antipathy, ignorance, oppression, and opportunity. At $160 Billion it hardly merits the interest of a nation with a $500 Billion trade deficit, and that’s spread worldwide. This leads into one of the spurious claims on Bitcoin: that it’s a refuge for drug smugglers and illegal activities. I assure you mathematically, that is not true. According to the U.N. the world drug trade is $435B, 4 times the total, and strictly theoretical value of Bitcoin, coins locked, lost, and all. Besides if you owned $160B coins, who would you transfer them to? You’re the only user. $435B/year can only be trafficked by major banks like as HSBC, who have paid public fines because money flows that large can’t be hidden. This is so well-known the U.N. suggested the drug-money flows may be one reason global banks were solvent in ‘08. Even $160B misrepresents Bitcoin because it had a 10-fold increase this year alone. So imagine $16B total market cap. That’s half the size of the yearly budget of Los Angeles, one city. Even that overstates it, because through most of its life it’s been around $250, so imagine a $4B market cap, the budget of West Virginia. So you’re a drug dealer in illicit trades and you sell to your customers because all your buyers have Bitcoin accounts? Your pushers have street terminals? This doesn’t make sense. And remember as much as the price of Bitcoin has risen 40-fold, the number of participants has too. Even now, even with Coinbase, even with Dell and Overstock, even with BTC $10,000 almost no one has Bitcoin, even in N.Y.C. or S.F.. So who are these supposed illegal people with illegal activities that couldn’t fit any significant value? That’s not to say illegal activities don’t happen, but it’s the other half of the spurious argument to say people don’t do illegal acts using cash, personal influence, offshore havens, international banks like Wells Fargo, or lately, Amazon Gift Cards and Tide Detergent. As long as there is crime, mediums of value will be used to pay for it. But comparing Bitcoin with a $16B market cap to the existing banking system which the U.N. openly declares is being supported by the transfer of illicit drug funds is insanity. Let’s look at it another way: would you rather: a) transfer drugs using cash or secret bank records that can be erased or altered later or b) an public worldwide record of every transaction, where if one DEA bust could get your codes, they could be tracked backwards some distance through the buy chain? I thought so. Bitcoin is the LEAST best choice for illegal activities, and at the personal level where we’re being accused, it’s even worse than cash. We showed that Bitcoin can be money, but we already have a monetary and financial system. What you’re talking about is building another system next to the existing one, and doubling the costs and confusions. That’s great as a mental exercise but why would anyone do that? In a word: 2008. It’s probably not an accident Bitcoin arrived immediately after the Global Financial Crisis. The technology to make it possible existed even on IRC chat boards, but human attention wasn’t focused on solving a new problem using computer software until the GFC captured the public imagination, and hackers started to say, “This stinks. This system is garbage. How do we fix this?” And with no loyalty to the past, but strictly on a present basis, built the best mousetrap. How do we know it’s a better mousetrap? Easy. If it isn’t noticeably better than the existing system, no one will bother and it will remain an interesting novelty stored in some basements, like Confederate Dollars and Chuck-e-Cheez tokens. To have any chance of succeeding, it has to work better, good enough to overcome the last most critical aspect money has: Inertia. So given that Bitcoin is unfamiliar, less accepted, harder to use, costs real money to keep online, why does it keep gaining traction, and rising in price with increasing speed? No one would build a Bitcoin. Ever. No one would ever use a Bitcoin. Ever. It’s too much work and too much nuisance. Like any product, they would only use Bitcoin because it solves expensive problems confronting us each day. The only chance Bitcoin would have is if our present system failed us, and fails more every day. They, our present system-keepers, are the ones who are giving Bitcoin exponentially more value. They are the ones who could stop Bitcoin and shut it down by fixing the present, easy, familiar system. But they won’t. Where has our present system gone wrong? The criticisms of the existing monetary system are short but glaring. First, everyone is disturbed by the constant increase in quantity. And this is more than an offhand accusation. In 2007 the Fed had $750B in assets. In 2017 they have $4.7 Trillion, a 7-fold increase. Where did that money come from? Nowhere. They printed it up, digitally. The TARP audit ultimately showed $23 trillion created. Nor was the distribution the same. Who received the money the Fed printed? Bondholders, Large Corporations, Hedge Funds and the like. Pa’s Diner? Not so much. So unlike Bitcoin, there not only was a sudden, secret, unapproved, unexpected, unaccountable increase in quantity, but little to no chance for the population to also “mine” some of these new “coins”. Which leads to this: Near-perfect income disparity, with near-perfect distribution of new “coins” to those with access to the “development team”, and zero or even negative returns for those without inside access. Does this seem like a winning model you could sell to the public? Nor is this unique to the U.S.; Japan had long ago put such methods to use, and by 2017 the Bank of Japan owns a mind-bending 75% of Japanese ETFs: So this unelected, unaccountable bank, which creates its coin from nothing without limit or restraint, now owns 75% of the actual hard labor, assets, indeed, the entire wealth HISTORY of Japan? It took from the Edo Period in 1603 through Japan-takes-the-world 1980s until 2017 to create the wealth of Japan, and Kuroda only 6 years to buy it all? What madness is this? Nor is Europe better. Mario Draghi has now printed so much money, he has run out of bonds to buy. This is in a Eurozone with a debt measuring Trillions, with $10 Trillion of that yielding negative rates. That’s a direct transfer from all savers to all debtors, and still the economy is sinking fast. Aside from how via these bonds, the ECB came to own all the houses, businesses, and governments of Europe in a few short years, does this sound like a business model you want to participate in? So the volume of issuance is bad, and unfairness of who the coins are issued to is as bad as humanly possible, giving incredible advantages to issuers to transfer all wealth to themselves, either new or existing. But if the currency is functional day-to-day, surely the issuance can be overlooked. Is it? Inflation is devilishly hard to measure, but here’s a chart of commodities: CPI: The US Dollar: or vs Gold (/silver): Does that look stable to you? And not that Bitcoin is stable, but at least Bitcoin goes UP at the same rate these charts are going DOWN. One store coupon declines in value at 4% a year, or may even start negative, while the other gives steady gains to loyal customers. Which business model would you prefer? But that’s not all... * * * Part 3 tomorrow...
Великий австрийский экономист Людвиг фон Мизес (Ludwig von Mises) так написал в своем фундаментальном труде «Человеческая деятельность» (впервые опубликованном Издательством Йельского университета в 1949 году): «Не существует способов избежать резкого схлопывания бума, вызванного кредитной экспансией. Выбор ограничен двумя вариантами: кризис наступит либо раньше как результат добровольного отказа от дальнейшей кредитной экспансии, либо позже как окончательная […]
TOOMEY says Moore should drop out, and Strange should mount a write in -- STRAUSS in Alabama: Republicans sticking with Moore -- TRUMP ABROAD: Getting along with Russia is a good thing -- VF’s new editor
Good Sunday morning. QUESTIONS FOR REPUBLICANS -- If Roy Moore wins, do Republicans allow him in the Senate Republican Conference? Do they put him on prime committees? Will there be a movement to expel Moore? And with Steve Bannon on the warpath, do they have the ability to sideline other candidates who are out of step with the party? -- THE SENATE is a club. Friendships run deep. Moore is going to be an outsider in a place where relationships are the only thing that matter.KELLYANNE CONWAY to MARTHA RADDATZ on ABC’S “THIS WEEK” about ROY MOORE: “I said very early in this process that the conduct as described should disqualify anyone from serving in public office and I’ll stand by that. The president and others in the Republican Party have made clear that if the allegations are true this man should step aside. But I’ve gone farther than that, and I reflected something the vice president said as well, which is everyone should know that conduct is disqualifying. And Mr. Moore has denied that conduct. I think you’ve got other people out there talking about what did or did not happen many years ago.”-- SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA.) to Chuck Todd on NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: “I have to say, I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial, I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside. … I think a write in is something we should certainly explore. I think Luther Strange would be a strong candidate for a write in.”-- W.H. LEG AFFAIRS DIRECTOR MARC SHORT to Chuck: "I think that there’s a special place in hell for those who actually perpetrate these crimes, and I think Roy Moore has to do more explaining than he has done so far. But I think we here in Washington have to be careful as well in this. Roy Moore is somebody who graduated from West Point, he served our country in Vietnam, he’s been elected multiple times statewide in Alabama. The people in Alabama know Roy Moore better than we do here in DC, and I think we have to be very cautious, as Senator Toomey said of allegations that are 40 years old that arise a month before election day. ... There’s no Senate seat more important than the notion of child pedophilia Chuck, I mean that’s reality. But having said that, he has not been proven guilty. We have to afford him the chance to defend himself."ON THE GROUND IN ALABAMA -- “Moore backers stand by their man,” by Daniel Strauss in Birmingham: Roy “Moore denied the allegations before an audience of about 100 at the Mid-Alabama Republican Club in Vestavia Hills, drawing applause while casting the accounts as part of a conspiracy between the media, Democrats and the Republican establishment. With the report still just days old, it is still unclear if unwavering loyalty from some supporters will be enough to bring Moore a victory on Dec. 12, even in deeply Republican Alabama. “But in the meantime, the response has shielded Moore against the demands of top Washington Republicans that he exit the race, and his base is prepared to fight on. ‘There was kind of a shock of ‘oh my goodness, these accusations.’ And then the second reaction is, ‘Why now?’ said Ed Henry, a Republican state representative. ‘It just stinks to high heaven. ... It’s intended to demoralize and cause Republicans not to vote in December.’”“Paul Reynolds, a Republican National Committee member from Alabama who attended the Moore event, said he has seen Republicans dividing into two categories since the Moore story broke. ‘There are going to be those who want to wait and see,’ Reynolds said. ‘There will be others that are going to double down and try harder.’” http://politi.co/2zEWfaS-- “Roy Moore Didn’t Deny Kissing Teenagers as 30-Year-Old in Call With Lawmaker,” by Washingtonian’s Elaina Plott: “He couldn’t deny relations with underage women in a phone call with a U.S. senator [on Friday]. According to three sources briefed on the call, Moore could not deny ‘kissing’ or ‘dating’ teenagers while in his thirties. The Republican senator encouraged Moore to drop out of the race, the sources said. A spokesman for Moore declined to comment on an account of the phone call.” http://bit.ly/2zz443L-- Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA): “Fmr Dep. DA Theresa Jones, who worked alongside Roy Moore, tells CNN: ‘It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls, everyone we knew thought it was weird...We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall...’”THE CIVIL WAR CONTINUES -- MCCONNELL ON BANNON, via NYT’s Sheryl Stolberg: “Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is vowing to depose him, telling The New York Times that ‘I have an objective that Mitch McConnell will not be majority leader, and I believe will be done before this time next year.’ Mr. McConnell, he added, ‘has to go.’ “To that, Mr. McConnell laughed. ‘You can write that down,’ he said in an interview on Friday. ‘I laughed. Ha-ha. That’s a perfect response.’ … ‘Mitch will be very calm, he’ll be very strategic, he’ll be very surgical and he will eventually eviscerate Mr. Bannon, and Bannon won’t even know what happened to him,’ said Bill Stone, a former chairman of the Republican Party in Louisville who is close to Mr. McConnell. ‘Bannon is dealing with a man of intellect and a man of experience and a man of patience and resolve like he’s never met in his life.’” http://nyti.ms/2zuY64i WAPO’S DAN BALZ: “Trump dominates the GOP base. Party leaders live with the consequences”: http://wapo.st/2jkT6IQSPOTTED: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump last night having dinner at Casa Luca MOVEMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST – NYT A1, “Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan,” by Peter Baker: “President Trump and his advisers have begun developing their own concrete blueprint to end the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a plan intended to go beyond previous frameworks offered by the American government in pursuit of what the president calls ‘the ultimate deal.’ After 10 months of educating themselves on the complexities of the world’s most intractable dispute, White House officials said, Mr. Trump’s team of relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking has moved into a new phase of its venture in hopes of transforming what it has learned into tangible steps to end a stalemate that has frustrated even presidents with more experience in the region. ... “Mr. Trump’s team has collected ‘non-papers’ exploring various issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and officials said they expected to address such perennial dividing points as the status of Jerusalem and settlements in the occupied West Bank. Although Mr. Trump has not committed to a Palestinian state, analysts said they anticipated that the plan will have to be built around the so-called two-state solution that has been the core of peacemaking efforts for years. …“‘There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to Middle East peace,’ said Philip Gordon, a White House Middle East coordinator under Mr. Obama. ‘When you get into these details, that’s when you come up against the strong objections of the two sides. If they don’t want it to be dead on arrival, they may wind up with vague principles, but as we’ve seen, even vague principles are beyond what the parties are willing to embrace.’” http://nyti.ms/2zRyZJJ CATCHING YOU UP ON TRUMP ABROAD …-- TRUMP TO VIETNAMESE PRESIDENT TRUONG TAN SANG ON SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE, per pooler AFP’s Jerome Cartillier: “If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know (...) I am a very good mediator.” -- TRUMP ON PUTIN SAYING HE DID NOT MEDDLE IN U.S. ELECTIONS: “What I said there is that I believe he believes that, and that's very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly. There weren’t seventeen as was previously reported; there were actually four. … Now, at the same time, I want to be able -- because I think it’s very important -- to get along with Russia, to get along with China, to get along with Vietnam, to get along with lots of countries, because we have a lot of things we have to solve. And, frankly, Russia and China in particular can help us with the North Korea problem, which is one of our truly great problems.“So I’m not looking to stand and start arguing with somebody when there’s reporters all around and cameras recording and seeing our conversation. I think it was very obvious to everybody. I believe that President Putin really feels -- and he feels strongly -- that he did not meddle in our election. What he believes is what he believes. … “[I] feel that having Russia in a friendly posture, as opposed to always fighting with them, is an asset to the world and an asset to our country, not a liability. And, by the way, Hillary Clinton had the reset button. She wanted to get back together with Russia. She even spelled ‘reset’ wrong. That’s how it started, and then it got worse. President Obama wanted to get along with Russia, but the chemistry wasn’t there. Getting along with other nations is a good thing, not a bad thing -- believe me. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”-- TAKING ADVANTAGE OF 280 CHARACTERS: @realDonaldTrump last night at 7:16 p.m.: “Met with President Putin of Russia who was at #APEC meetings. Good discussions on Syria. Hope for his help to solve, along with China the dangerous North Korea crisis. Progress being made.” … at 7:18 p.m.: “When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!” ...… at 7:43 p.m.: “Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.” … at 7:48 p.m.: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!”ON THE WORLD STAGE -- “Duterte to ask Trump to return historic spoils of war taken in 1901,” by CBS News’ Jillian Hughes and Jackie Alemany: “When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sits down for his first face-to-face bilateral meeting with President Trump on Monday in Manila, he will come to the table with an unusual request. Duterte wants the United States to return war trophies seized more than 100 years ago: three historic church bells that were taken from the Philippine village of Balangiga after a bloody clash during the Philippine-American War.” http://cbsn.ws/2i9pJWR-- “How Saudi Arabia turned on Lebanon’s Hariri,” by Reuters’ Samia Nakhoul, Laila Bassam and Tom Perry in Beirut: “Sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister -- a long-time Saudi ally and son of late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 -- had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah. Multiple Lebanese sources say Riyadh hopes to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother Bahaa as Lebanon’s top Sunni politician. Bahaa is believed to be in Saudi Arabia and members of the Hariri family have been asked to travel there to pledge allegiance to him, but have refused.” http://reut.rs/2AzVBuyTHE TRUMP LEGACY -- NYT A1, “Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here’s How,” by Charlie Savage: “In the weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, lawyers joining his administration gathered at a law firm near the Capitol, where Donald F. McGahn II, the soon-to-be White House counsel, filled a white board with a secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges. Mr. McGahn, instructed by Mr. Trump to maximize the opportunity to reshape the judiciary, mapped out potential nominees and a strategy, according to two people familiar with the effort: Start by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Mr. Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees.“And to speed them through confirmation, avoid clogging the Senate with too many nominees for the district courts, where legal philosophy is less crucial. Nearly a year later, that plan is coming to fruition. Mr. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon, and on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send a ninth appellate nominee — Mr. Trump’s deputy White House counsel, Gregory Katsas — to the floor.” http://nyti.ms/2iRhuOv--“Trump Nominee for Federal Judgeship Has Never Tried a Case,” by NYT’s Vivian Wang: “A 36-year-old lawyer who has never tried a case and who was unanimously deemed ‘not qualified’ by the American Bar Association has been approved for a lifetime federal district judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The lawyer, Brett Talley, is the fourth judicial nominee under President Trump to receive a ‘not qualified’ rating from the bar association and the second to receive the rating unanimously.” http://nyti.ms/2yvdcmCMISLEADING CONGRESS? -- “After new revelations, Sessions faces another grilling on Russia contacts in Trump campaign,” by L.A. Times’ Joseph Tanfani: “For Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, questions about the Trump campaign and Russia have become a nagging headache that won’t go away. Three times, he has appeared before his former colleagues in the Senate and answered questions about what he knew about contacts with Russians during the campaign. Three times, Sessions stumbled, issuing denials that later proved to be incomplete or wrong. “On Tuesday, the nation's highest lawman will face another grilling on Capitol Hill, this time prompted by claims in court documents and congressional testimony that he was told of at least two aides' meetings with Russian officials — despite his claim last month that he was unaware of any such contacts. ‘The facts appear to contradict your sworn testimony on several occasions,’ all 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote to Sessions last week in advance of his appearance there.” http://bit.ly/2hmzShP-- “Lawmakers question whether key CIA nominee misled Congress,” by AP’s Deb Reichmann: “Two former CIA employees are accusing the Trump administration’s choice for CIA chief watchdog of being less than candid when he told Congress he didn’t know about any active whistleblower complaints against him. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Christopher Sharpley, the current acting inspector general who’s in line for the permanent job, about complaints that he and other managers participated in retaliation against CIA workers who alerted congressional committees and other authorities about alleged misconduct. ‘I’m unaware of any open investigations on me, the details of any complaints about me,’ Sharpley testified at his confirmation hearing last month.” http://bit.ly/2jkSHGoAP in Berlin: “A list of heartbreak: Newspaper tallies 33,293 dead migrants”: “The German paper Der Tagesspiegel has published a list of 33,293 people who it says died while trying to immigrate to Europe. The list is 46 pages long and covers the period from 1993 to May 29, 2017. The newspaper cites the victims’ names, ages, countries of origin, circumstances, date of death and the source of information. Often, the names are not given because the dead were not identified.” http://bit.ly/2zRXne3SUNDAY BEST … -- JAKE TAPPER talks with FORMER CIA DIRECTOR JOHN BRENNAN on CNN’S “State of the Union”: TAPPER: “What is your response, Mr. Brennan, to what President Trump said about Vladimir Putin and U.S. intelligence agencies?” BRENNAN: “Well, I think Mr. Trump knows that the intelligence agencies, specifically CIA, NSA and FBI, the ones that really have responsibility for counterintelligence and looking at what Russia does, it’s very clear that the Russians interfered in the election. And it’s still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin. The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real. And I think his continuing to not say very clearly and strongly that this is a national security problem, and to say to Mr. Putin, we know you did it, you would have to stop it, because there are going to be consequences if you don’t.” -- CHRIS WALLACE talks with HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS CHAIRMAN KEVIN BRADY (R-TEXAS) on FOX NEWS’ “Fox News Sunday” about whether the House will pass tax reform by Thanksgiving: BRADY: “I believe it will. I feel there’s strong support for this. We continue to make improvements at every step of the way.”-- “Brady: House will not accept repeal of state, local tax deductions,” by Zach Warmbrodt: http://politi.co/2AADcgO-- JOHN DICKERSON talks with TREASURY SECRETARY STEVEN MNUCHIN on CBS’S “Face the Nation”: DICKERSON: “Let me ask you about [lobbyists]. The president said he wanted to drain the swamp in Washington. What instruction has he given you, in putting this package together, to keep lobbyists' influence out of the process?” MNUCHIN: “Again, I'm not concerned about lobbyists. We've reached out to many, many trade groups to get lots of input, okay? Lots of people, lots of CEOs, have had input into this. But this is all about growth. And this is about an economic program that I've had the opportunity to work with the president since the campaign. And we're focused. We're so excited to get this done and to the President's desk in December." DICKERSON: “So no special instructions, though, about lobbyists, getting them out of this process.” MNUCHIN: “I haven't had any lobbyists really involved with us. We've had trade groups that we've listened to input. But I'm not concerned about lobbyists at all.”ALI WATKINS -- “Cold War Soviet technology studied in Cuba attacks”: “U.S. intelligence officials are closely studying Cold War-era Soviet technology as they seek to determine whether an electronic weapon was used to disorient and injure 24 American officials in Cuba earlier this year. Two intelligence officials tell POLITICO they’re confident that the attacks were conducted with an ‘energy directed’ or ‘acoustic’ device, possibly similar to one used by Soviet intelligence in Havana more than four decades ago, but remain unsure of its exact nature.“That has officials combing classified files and even contacting retired intelligence officers for clues to a mystery that has triggered a diplomatic crisis less than three years after President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Havana. ‘We’re trying to talk to guys as far back as the 1960s,’ said one of the intelligence officials. The sweeping, government-wide search for answers — spearheaded publicly by the State Department — has pulled in expertise from intelligence agencies, science and weapons development offices and health officials. Still, answers remain elusive. ‘It’s baffled the entire community,’ the intelligence official said.” http://politi.co/2AyE31LKOCH WATCH -- “Libertarian billionaire Charles Koch is making a big bet on foreign policy,” by WaPo’s Greg Jaffe: “A foundation overseen by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch is making major investments in foreign policy programs at elite American universities, including a soon-to-be-announced $3.7 million grant to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The latest grant ... is part of a larger effort to broaden the debate about an American foreign policy Koch and others at his foundation argue has become too militaristic, interventionist and expensive. It follows about $10 million in similar grants the Charles Koch Foundation has given in recent months to Notre Dame, Tufts University, Catholic University and the University of California at San Diego.” http://wapo.st/2zzefFzFOR YOUR RADAR -- “Woman says she was harassed at defense agency over child-care issues,” by WaPo’s Rachel Weiner: “A female defense agency employee said in court this month that she was isolated and harassed at the office after asking to work from home one day a week because she could not arrange child care. Her bosses at the Defense Security Service say she is simply unhappy she was not given special accommodation. A jury in federal court in Alexandria is expected to decide in the next week which side they believe. Patricia Burke’s suit against the Defense Department is the rare employment discrimination case against the federal government to go to trial.” http://wapo.st/2yVkowq-- “At the SEC, Whistleblowers Blow Whistle on Watchdog,” by WSJ’s Jean Eaglesham: “The watchdog for the [SEC], who encourages staff at the top securities regulator to blow the whistle on misconduct and fraud, is himself the subject of complaints by several whistleblowers. Carl Hoecker, the SEC inspector general, is tasked with rooting out malpractice at the agency. His team investigates alleged misconduct by SEC officials, ranging from insider trading to expenses fraud. The office’s website highlights protections for SEC employees who disclose evidence of waste, fraud or abuse.“At least two employees working for Mr. Hoecker have filed complaints to a different federal whistleblower-protection agency, alleging that he and his senior staff retaliated against them for calling out misconduct within the inspector general’s office, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Raphael Kozolchyk, a spokesman for the SEC Office of Inspector General, said ‘a number of the claims contain significant factual inaccuracies, while others are grossly misleading.’ He added that the office does ‘not comment on ongoing personnel matters.’ Mr. Hoecker didn’t respond to a request for comment.” http://on.wsj.com/2yuCVvtMEDIAWATCH -- “Radhika Jones, a Times Books Editor, Said to Be Next Vanity Fair Editor,” by NYT’s Sydney Ember: “In a dramatic changing of the guard, Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The New York Times and a former top editor at Time magazine, is expected to be named the next editor of Vanity Fair, according to two people with knowledge of the decision. Condé Nast, which publishes Vanity Fair, plans to make the announcement as soon as Monday. Ms. Jones, 44, will succeed the 68-year-old Graydon Carter, who said in September that he was stepping down from the glossy general-interest magazine after a 25-year run at its helm.” http://nyti.ms/2zwKaGUBONUS GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman:--“The Stockholder in the Sand,” by William D. Cohan in March 2013 in Vanity Fair: “[T]he private origins—and exact size—of his massive fortune are the subject of continued debate between [Alwaleed] bin Talal and prominent media outlets. So what’s the truth? And does one of the richest men on Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index—a calorie-counting cell-phone addict who loves texting James Murdoch—really spend his free time throwing dwarves?” http://bit.ly/2jiEUjO ... 2012 Business Insider profile by Nicholas Carlson http://read.bi/2yQDhkq--“Donald Trump Movie Review - Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’” – From an interview Trump did with filmmaker Errol Morris for a project called “Movie Movie” -- 3-min. video http://bit.ly/2yOLCFh --“The Convert,” by Abigail Pesta in Texas Monthly: “Tania Joya had been married to a jihadist from Texas for ten years, but she was tired of living like a nomad and unnerved by his increasingly extreme ideology. When he dragged their family to war-torn Syria, she knew it was time to get out.” http://bit.ly/2jfXby6 --“In the Land of Vendettas That Go On Forever,” by Amanda Petrusich in VQR: “In Northern Albania, vengeance is as likely a form of restitution as anything the criminal-justice system can offer.” http://bit.ly/2mgl2Px --“The Long, Bizarre Relationship Between Jann Wenner and Mick Jagger,” by Joe Hagan in Vulture: http://bit.ly/2jg3eTc --“Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” by William Gibson in the April 1993 edition of Wired -- per Longform.org’s description: “On the sanitized wonderland that is Singapore.” http://bit.ly/2zysdVS --“A Restaurant Ruined My Life,” by Robert Maxwell in Toronto Life: “I was a foodie with a boring day job who figured he could run a restaurant. Then I encountered rats, endless red tape, crippling costs and debt-induced meltdowns, started popping sleeping pills, lost my house, and nearly sabotaged my marriage.” http://bit.ly/2yOcPrs --“Under the Banner of New York,” by Zadie Smith in the N.Y. Review of Books: “We can often be found screaming at strangers in the street but we just as frequently pick them up off the floor. We are every variety of human. Some of us are dopers and junkies. Some of us are preschool teachers and nuns. None of us deserve to be killed in the street. We are a multiplicity of humans in an elastic social arrangement that can be stretched in many directions. It’s not broken yet.” http://bit.ly/2yowji0 --“Inside Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war — Part 1, the cycle of violence,” by CBS News’ Kylie Atwood: Hitman “Delo, 40, has two children under the age of 10. They do not know their father is a murderer. He worries most about getting killed and about his true work being revealed to his children. ‘I do feel guilty,’ he says. But he claims he can’t get out, even though he would like to. ‘If you try to get out, they might kill you,’ he says. ‘That it’s my family who might be — I might get killed and they might get killed.’” http://cbsn.ws/2zGabS1--“How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding,” by Samanth Subramanian in the Guardian: “These days, every place in the world wants to market its unique identity – and an industry has sprung up to help put them on the map.” http://bit.ly/2iJFtPA --“Meet The Riders Of The Sikh Motorcycle Club Of The Northeast,” by Teresa Mathew in BuzzFeed: “Riding their bikes together offers this group of Sikhs an all-American way to celebrate their faith, in a country where it often makes them targets.” http://bzfd.it/2hrVWLQ--“Distaff Meeting: When sisterhood flowered in Detroit,” by the Weekly Standard’s Alice Lloyd in Detroit: “It is Rose McGowan, though, who steals the show. With an otherworldly cadence and a militant message, the reformed Hollywood vamp commands her troops: ‘We are planet women, and you will hear us roar!’” http://tws.io/2hkJU3h --“Frequent Gunfire,” by John Banville in The Nation -- per ALDaily.com’s description: “The fake machismo, the boozing, the braggadocio -- Hemingway kept up the facade of the hairy-chested artist for as long as he was able. But who was he really?” http://bit.ly/2jiDBkP --“Could Rome Have Had an Industrial Revolution?” by Mark Koyama on Medium: http://bit.ly/2yO4jZI --“Mail-Order CRISPR Kits Allow Absolutely Anyone to Hack DNA,” by Annie Sneed in Scientific American -- per The Browser’s description: “You can buy a CRISPR kit by mail order for $130 and do some serious genetic engineering in the privacy of your own home. The starter pack shows you how to modify e coli. The rest is up to you. Are we handing rogue scientists the means to flood the world with mutant life-forms?” http://bit.ly/2ArOjsH -- “Teen Girl Posed For 8 Years As Married Man To Write About Baseball And Harass Women,” by Lindsey Adler in Deadspin: http://bit.ly/2hrKRKKSPOTTED yesterday in Bonn at the COP23 climate talks: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Vice President Al Gore, former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown. … Lawrence O’Donnell checking his phone outside of Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons Georgetown in DC last night -- pic http://bit.ly/2yUag7i ... … Michael Jordan sitting at a table by the bar at Bourbon Steak last night before getting dinner at the restaurant ... Ron Kaufman yesterday at Ophelia’s Fish House … Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) received the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s bipartisan Lincoln-Jefferson award in Pebble Beach, California.SPOTTED yesterday at Weekly Standard editor Steve Hayes’ third annual chili cook-off at his family’s house in Davidsonville, Maryland: Bill Kristol, Peter and Kari Boyer, Matt Labash, Jonathan and Betsy Fischer Martin, Andy Ferguson, Mike Warren, Jonathan and Shannon Last, John and Lauren McCormack, Richard Starr, Ethan Epstein, Adam Keiper, Alice Lloyd, Jenna Lifhits, Vic Matus, Jim Swift. WEEKEND WEDDINGS -- Kris Anderson, a partner at Prospect Strategic Communications, former RNC research director and a Romney and Huntsman alum, on Saturday married Natalie Ethridge, who works for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Pool report: The couple “were married in a beautiful sunset ceremony in Cabo on Saturday before family and friends. As one of the GOP’s most prolific oppo researchers, the welcome party included a LexisNexis challenge. Kris and Natalie first met on the Schwarzenegger campaign in 2006 and started dating in 2008. After nearly a decade together, they chose the very apt #FoolsRushIn hashtag to mark the occasion.” Pic by Eric Draper/Eric Draper Photography http://bit.ly/2zAyeUb SPOTTED: Webber Steinhoff, Ed Murphy, Matt David, Kirsten Kukowski, Jahan Wilcox, Tim Miller (who wore an “I’m with her” shirt) and Tyler Jameson, Sarah Pompei, Joe Pounder, Alex Angel, Francis Brennan, Matt Gorman, Andy Hemming, Jim Bognet, John Wittman and Cait Meisenheimer, Drew Florio and Colleen McGowan, Katie Boyd, Ted Kwong, Tom Merwin, Peter Li, Darrel and Jessica Ng, Tim and Sarah Killeen, Webb Hubbell, Tim Killeen, Fran Brennan, Mason and Chelsea Harrison, Amanda Henneberg, Byron Koay. --Creigh Behnke, deputy finance director at the NRSC and NRCC alum, on Saturday married Michael Senich, a senior associate at Majority Strategies, at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. “The couple met at the NRCC when Creigh worked in the Finance Department and Michael worked for the political office of Speaker of the House John Boehner.” Pic http://bit.ly/2iP4BV7 SPOTTED: Tommy Andrews, Katie Behnke, Megan Cummings, Leigh Tenewitz, Lucy Noell Croxton, Megan Becker, Krista Madaio, Chris Hansen, Tom Whatman, Grant Gardner, Seton Gardner, Michael Beach, Bryan Watkins, Lauren Toomey, Josh Penry, Kristin Strohm, Michael Calvo, Jordan Lieberman, Missy Lieberman and Marcus Rose.--Adam Kennedy, the new White House research director and an RNC alum, tied the knot with health care consultant Kim Wallace at Roofer’s Union in Adams Morgan. The two are college sweethearts. Pic http://bit.ly/2hnMDJf SPOTTED: White House aides Raj Shah, Zach Parkinson, and Tyler Ross and RNC’s Scott Parker and Eric Schulze.--Julia Krieger, deputy comms director for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Evan Vanderveer, co-founder of Vanshap Capital, had a wedding reception last night at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The couple previously got married in August in Santorini in a private ceremony. Pic http://bit.ly/2ADHlScBIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Edelman’s Greg Romano and Michael BoisjolieBIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jeremy Skule, SVP and chief marketing officer at Nasdaq and alum of MF Global and Fleishman-Hillard. What he’s reading these days: “‘American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent,’ by Tamer Elnoury with Kevin Maurer. I’m fascinated by the work of our intelligence community and my brother is my hero and also in the FBI.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2mjookr BIRTHDAYS: Dr. Elena Allbritton ... Jeff Zients ... Tyrone Gayle, press secretary for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), is 3-0 … Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is 68 … Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer is 48 ... USA Today’s Nancy Trejos … former Transportation Sec. Norm Mineta is 86 ... Stephanie Kotuby and Rhana Natour of “PBS NewsHour” (h/t Nick Massella) … Facebook’s Katie Harbath ... Rex Elsass ... Katie Stuntz … Ryan Coyne, founder and CEO of Olympic Media, is 3-0 ... Mark SooHoo of Burson-Marsteller … Politico’s Bennett Richardson … Jenn Ridder ... Luca Spinelli … ThinkProgress’ Kira Lerner … Leo DiBenigno … Joe Johnston … Dave Weinberg ... Takaaki Mizuno is 59 … Kevin Gundersen, director of gov’t relations at Huntsman, is 36 … David Lawrence ... Alex Brown … Michelle Perry ... Kamal Marell ... Jay Lumpkins ... Amber Cottle ... Vinny Minchillo ... Harlan Hill ...... Ross Baird, executive director at Village Capital and author of the new book “The Innovation Blind Spot” ... RNC’s Steve Guest ... Jessica Kahanek ... Maria Cardona, principal at Dewey Square Group … Scott Beauchamp ... Josh Britton ... Alex Griswold of the Free Beacon ... Olivia Lange, a student at Stanford’s GSB ... Erica Sackin, director of political comms at Planned Parenthood ... Laura Mandy Mszar ... Columbia history professor Carol Gluck ... Neal Shusterman is 55 ... Naomi Wolf is 55 ... Nina Brosh ... Jake Orta ... Crozer Connor ... Frank Mazza ... former Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) is 84 ... Gina Hill ... Sheila O’Connell … Mica Strother … Pam Oatis (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)
Дон Дэвис, Prime Meridian: «Если онлайн-кредиторы начнут выдавать крупные займы, у банков точно будут проблемы»
Сооснователь одной из старейших компаний в области управления фондами инвестирования в P2P-кредиты — о том, как негативный опыт общения людей с банками дает толчок индустрии P2P-кредитования, каковы для нее перспективы в новых нишах и в новых географиях после «бума» в США и о позиции регуляторов
Аудиторская группа PwC намерена добиваться отмены решения Национального банка Украины (НБУ) об исключении ООО "ПрайсвотерхаусКуперс (аудит)" (Киев, украинская структура PwC) из реестра аудиторских фирм, уполномоченных проводить аудиторские проверки в банковской отрасли.
Shortly after Jon Corzine not only destroyed MF Global but "vaporized" $1.6 billion in supposedly segregated client funds which were illegally commingled with operating cash, Jon Corzine had a brief encounter with the legal system including several kangaroo court sessions in Congress, which ultimately led to absolutely nothing for two simple reasons. Reason #1: And Reason #2: In fact, Jon Corzine's quiet disappearance into the shadows was apparently only punctuated by one new notable entry in the Urban Dictionary for the term "Corzined" ... but not before rumors emerged that Corzine, whose dream has always been to run his own capital, would start a hedge fund. In August 2012 we wrote that "after 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case." And algos... And glitches... And faulty software installs... And some junior person who has long since left the company... and, and, and, lots and lots of passive voice... Because in the Banana republic of the crave, no bundlers can ever go to jail, no matter how heinous the crime, which is not to say other places are better: in Thailand you shoot your secretary in the stomach during dinner with an Uzi and you don't even pay a $600 fine. But at least it puts things in perspective. So what is next in store for this former man of power? "Mr. Corzine, in a bid to rebuild his image and engage his passion for trading, is weighing whether to start a hedge fund, according to people with knowledge of his plans. He is currently trading with his family’s wealth. If he is successful as a hedge fund manager, it would be the latest career comeback for a man who was ousted from both the top seat at Goldman Sachs and the New Jersey governor’s mansion." So will Jon will be buying Italian bonds? We don't know. Ask him yourself." However, this led absolutely nowhere, leading many to speculate that Corzine was just waiting for a correction before reentering the asset mismanagement business. Then, three years of manipulated, artificially propped up markets later Jon Corzine had enough of waiting for a correction which almost came. And, as the WSJ reported in 2015, the time had come for another push for Vapor Capital Asset Mismanagement LP. To wit: Jon S. Corzine, the embattled former MF Global Holdings Ltd. chief executive and ex-chairman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., has discussed plans to start his own hedge fund in recent months, according to people familiar with the matter. The fund would start with cash from Mr. Corzine’s personal wealth and a handful of outside investors. Mr. Corzine said he had been speaking with about a half-dozen potential investors, and projected around $150 million in assets under management, one of the people said. Would the fund invest all of its AUM in 2 year Italian bonds? While all answers would be revealed in due time, first Corzine has to get over that whole "criminal" stigma: Mr. Corzine most likely wouldn’t be able to launch a fund until legal proceedings against him over MF Global have been resolved. Pretrial motions are expected to go at least until February of next year. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission in June 2013 filed civil charges against him and is still collecting evidence for a possible trial. However: Mr. Corzine’s supporters point out that he hasn’t been criminally charged and that after MF Global collapsed, his bets on the bonds of Portugal, Italy and other European nations were ultimately proven on target.Mr. Corzine’s supporters point out that he hasn’t been criminally charged and that after MF Global collapsed, his bets on the bonds of Portugal, Italy and other European nations were ultimately proven on target. Yes they were, but in the interim MF Global went bankrupt, and Corzine was exposed as a criminal commingler. In any case, the second, 2015 attempt at starting his own hedge fund also led nowhere. Corzine at a 2010 morning meeting at the headquarters of MF Global, just beforehe blew it up. * * * Now, nearly five years after his first attempt, it's time for try #3, and according to the NYT, Corzine is - again - plotting his next and final act: "starting a hedge fund. And not just any hedge fund, but one designed to take advantage of the turmoil in the Trump era." On a recent afternoon [Corzine] he squeezed into a 100-square-foot office in the Flatiron district of Manhattan — no nameplate on the door — where a pair of Bloomberg terminals consumed much of the space. His eyes fixed on one, Mr. Corzine scribbled notes about his trades on a yellow legal pad as a computer chimed an imitation closing bell. In the final seconds of trading, Mr. Corzine watched as a tiny sliver of his day’s profits slipped away, prompting him to utter a profanity or two and grumble about not ending the afternoon on more of “a high note.” In other words, Corzine wants to go down in a blaze of glory, trading the upcoming Trump crash. In his first interview since the MF Global meltdown, Corzine told the NYT his plans for a new hedge fund, saying that "he will seek to anticipate what often seems unpredictable: how the Trump administration and other world leaders will enact policy and, in turn, move markets." One of his Trump trades, for example, is designed to pay off in the event of a broad decline in the stock market, not unlike what happened Wednesday when shares swooned on Trump-related worries. On the bullish side, he hopes to ride a wave of a corporate-tax overhaul while trading in big tech, banking and industrial companies poised to gain from a policy shift. Nothing groundshattering there, in fact even the 17-year-old "hedge funds managers" on Fin Twitter already have these trades on, so what makes Corzine's product offering unique? Well, we couldn't quite answer that question. Neither apparently could the NYT. Mr. Corzine would hardly be the only hedge fund manager seizing the moment in Washington. Some expect a correction in the stock market as investors come to terms with turmoil in the White House. Mr. Corzine worries that the administration will make “a serious foreign policy mistake,” he said, which would be “horrible for markets.” He said that he planned to place a major bet that the market would fall but added that, as an American, “I’m hoping that I’m wasting money.” Alas, with that "thesis" it's Corzine's LPs that will be thinking the same. That said, at least Corzine has a putch: “I think I can read between the lines more than a lot of people can on these issues,” he said last month, on the eve of a trip to raise money for his fund with wealthy investors. Maybe... except that one time in 2011. And yet, the third time may just be the charm for Corzine: In the first few weeks of marketing, Mr. Corzine has secured commitments and indications of interest in the tens of millions of dollars, according to a colleague who is helping him reach an initial goal of roughly $150 million. At a time when the stars of the hedge fund world can raise billions of dollars in a matter of weeks, Mr. Corzine’s financial ambition is modest. The real test will come, he said, if after several months the fund can demonstrate healthy returns and expand to a broader base of investors. But wait, there's more: There are signs his pitch is resonating with some investors. After securing commitments from family and friends, he recently returned from a trip to the Middle East, where he met with a number of wealthy investors. He also plans to visit Latin America and Hong Kong. When the fund-raising concludes, Mr. Corzine hopes to have collected just shy of $150 million, the amount at which private funds must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That sum will include several million dollars of his own money. Indeed, there just may be a lot more dumb money out there than meets the eye. On Friday, Corzine will appear at the SALT Conference in Las Vegas, the premier hedge fund schmooze-fest, where he will join Joseph R. Biden Jr., Ben Bernanke and the singer Jewel, as well as hundreds of fund managers and reporters, in an attempt to conclude his fundraising. Jon, however, is probably unaware that in the 6 years since he was professionally trading, things have changed, and that any and all positions he puts on will be promptly sold to the exchanges' best clients: HFTs who who will seek to frontrun and scalp his limit orders, ram his stops and bleed his P&L to death on a daily basis. In fact, with only $150mm, we give Corzine 6 months before he is forced to shut. Again. We are probably optimistic. The full NYT interview with Corzine can be found here. And
Technology already enables the stock market to be faster and more complex. But what if the actual plumbing behind the market was altered using the blockchain? The post The Blockchain Could Change the Backbone of the Stock Market appeared first on Visual Capitalist.
В опубликованной «БИЗНЕС Online» первой части своей статьи руководитель одной из старейших аудиторских компаний России «ФБК Поволжье» Сергей Никифоров на примере Татфондбанка размышлял о том, как современное состояние российского аудита влияет на процессы банкротства кредитных организаций. Сегодня мы публикуем вторую часть статьи, где Никифоров продолжает свой анализ критической ситуации, сложившийся в отрасли.
«Профсоюзы лгут своим членам. Будущие пенсионеры лгут самим себе. Политики (кроме нескольких храбрецов вроде Уолкера) лгут избирателям». Дэвид Голдман Отравление продолжается капля за каплей. На прошлой неделе ответственные лица США оштрафовали «Голдман Сакс» на $22 миллиона за неудачи при попытках предотвратить умышленно вредные советы аналитиков-исследователей, даваемые привилегированным клиентам по изменениям на рынках. И федеральные прокуроры […]
Payout leaves questions over how much auditors should protect investors
Trump Says If Vote on Health Bill Fails, Obamacare Stays (WSJ) Risky House healthcare vote to test Trump's negotiating skills (Reuters) Trump Dares GOP in High-Stakes Vote on Troubled Health Bill (BBG) All drill, no frack: U.S. shale leaves thousands of wells unfinished (Reuters) Twitter explores subscription-based option for first time (Reuters) EU's Juncker Says U.K. Brexit Bill Will Be About $62 Billion (BBG) House Intelligence Committee Clash Over Nunes Clouds Future of Probe (WSJ) Washington talks end without agreement on Israeli settlements (Reuters) Britain to fire starting gun on Brexit talks (Reuters) Credit Suisse Increases Bonus Pool 6%, CEO Thiam Gets $12 Million (BBG) Blackstone sells 21 percent stake in SeaWorld to China's Zhonghong Zhuoye (Reuters) PwC settles with MF Global over Corzine brokerage's collapse (Reuters) Too much misconduct goes undetected: ex-CFTC chief (Reuters) Microsoft-Probe Blunder Said to Haunt EU as Google Risks Fines (BBG) Putin meets France's Le Pen in Moscow, says won't interfere in election (Reuters) Theranos Offers Shares for Promise Not to Sue Company (WSJ) The Controversial Chinese Economist Uncovering Tough Truths (BBG) Greece to support Rome EU declaration, but wants backing on labor reforms (Reuters) Egypt's former leader Mubarak freed, six years after overthrow: lawyer (Reuters) BOJ chief Kuroda says 'no reason' to withdraw stimulus now (Reuters) Overnight Media Digest WSJ - Theranos Inc plans to give additional shares to investors who pledge not to sue the battered blood-testing company or Elizabeth Holmes, its founder and chief executive, people familiar with the matter said. http://on.wsj.com/2n0lOMh - WikiLeaks released new documents it says describe hacking tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency over the past decade to infect Apple Inc devices. http://on.wsj.com/2n05dZ7 - Businesses, particularly those in the tech sector, are watching closely a case to be argued in the Supreme Court next week challenging a system that has led to a concentration of patent cases in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions such as eastern Texas. http://on.wsj.com/2n0oYPY - Google's commitment to better police the millions of websites and videos across its advertising networks is complicated by the very scale and diversity that has made the network so attractive to marketers. http://on.wsj.com/2n03xyI - Amazon.com Inc prevailed over the Internal Revenue Service in a more than $1.5 billion dispute over the online retailer's transactions with a Luxembourg subsidiary. http://on.wsj.com/2n05lb3 - Walt Disney Co said Robert Iger has extended his contract for a third time and will stay on at least one additional year as chairman and CEO, giving the world's largest media company another year to find a new chief executive. http://on.wsj.com/2n04neK - The U.S. ban on many carry-on electronics aboard Middle East flights is another powerful headwind for the once-highflying club of Persian Gulf airlines — a group that relies more than many on the laptop-toting business traveler. http://on.wsj.com/2my5qXb - Videogame chain GameStop Corp, hit hard by a shift to digital downloads, plans to close at least 150 stores this year and expand non-gaming businesses. http://on.wsj.com/2my1INe - Tronc Inc agreed to buy all the stock held by one of its largest outside shareholders at a substantial premium amid an increasingly bruising public fight between its two biggest investors. http://on.wsj.com/2my17vb FT Britain's markets watchdog has resumed its investigation into payments made by Barclays Plc in the course of a 2008 emergency fundraising, after reviewing new evidence that could see it reconsider a 50 million-pound ($62 million) fine imposed in 2013. Deutsche Bank AG has chosen a new office for its London headquarters, signalling a vote of confidence in Britain's capital despite the country's decision to leave the European Union. One of Britain's biggest water companies, Thames Water, was scrutinized on Thursday by Ian Byatt, a former head of regulator Ofwat, who said the problem in the water companies is their "complicated corporate structures." A fine of 20 million pounds was imposed on Thames Water on Wednesday for pumping sewage into the River Thames. NYT - Republican senators moved Thursday to dismantle landmark internet privacy protections for consumers in the first decisive strike against telecommunications and technology regulations created during the Obama administration, and a harbinger of further deregulation. http://nyti.ms/2mWZmTz - Ride-sharing service Lyft became the latest company, along with AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, to remove their advertisements from YouTube following ads appearing next to racist videos on YouTube. http://nyti.ms/2n0nMw4 - A lawyer for the Las Vegas sports gambler William Walters, who is on trial in Manhattan on insider trading charges, attacked the credibility of one of the government's main witnesses on Thursday, saying that the witness had lied repeatedly to investigators. http://nyti.ms/2ndjSky - The C.I.A. developed tools to spy on Mac computers by injecting software into the chips that control the computers' fundamental operations, according to the latest cache of classified government documents published on Thursday by WikiLeaks. http://nyti.ms/2n04jvw Canada THE GLOBE AND MAIL ** Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has convened a meeting of senior auto sector executives to make sure the government and the industry are on the same page amid the looming renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. https://tgam.ca/2myNz2v ** China's new envoy says Beijing is seeking unfettered access for Chinese state-owned firms to all key sectors of the Canadian economy during free-trade talks now under way with Ottawa - including an end to restrictions barring these enterprises from investing in the oil sands. https://tgam.ca/2myOU9h ** Ottawa's plan to end tax allowances for oil firms seeking to drill new wells is riling the energy sector - especially small and medium-sized producers who have already been hit hard by the oil-price drop and increasing competition from the United States. https://tgam.ca/2mys81b NATIONAL POST ** The U.S. State Department is expected to approve TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline as early as Friday, eliminating a crucial hurdle for the project after years of political wrangling. http://bit.ly/2myFBGC ** Investors at two of Canada's biggest banks, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank, will vote soon on whether shareholders with smaller holdings should have a bigger voice when choosing directors for the board — a move that investor advocates say would, if successful, be a big step towards "shareholder democracy". http://bit.ly/2myA9Ud ** The government of Canada will play the role of venture capitalist and booster to clean technology companies with billions of dollars in funding and outright share purchases budgeted over the next several years. http://bit.ly/2myBudk Britain The Times The Financial Conduct Authority has reopened its investigation into Barclays Plc's 7.3 billion pound ($9.13 billion) Middle East capital raising in 2008 that helped the lender avoid falling into government ownership. http://bit.ly/2nir5Bh The terrorist who killed four people and injured scores more at Westminster on Wednesday has been identified as Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old who was born in Kent. http://bit.ly/2nifemV The Guardian Royal Bank of Scotland is axing 158 branches, most of them NatWest outlets, with the loss of up to 362 jobs. http://bit.ly/2nilACU Shareholders in Crest Nicholson Plc have voted against a pay deal for the company's directors because of concerns that the performance targets were too easy. http://bit.ly/2nigyGl The Telegraph The ruling party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has filed a bill to ban the vintage red-star logo featured on Heineken's products including the beermaker's iconic green bottles. http://ind.pn/2nii4YW Sky News Fears grow for 1,100 high street jobs amid doubts over Jones Bookmaker deal. http://bit.ly/2nioNSX Deutsche Bank AG has signed an agreement with Land Securities Group Plc to take a large chunk of a new building being constructed near the Moorgate tube station. http://bit.ly/2niokQI The Independent Brexit could undermine British efforts to clamp down on bribery and corruption, the OECD has warned. http://ind.pn/2nimKy8 The boss of British Gas owner Centrica Plc collected a 1 million pound pay rise last year, taking his total package to 4.15 million pounds. http://ind.pn/2nimLly
Консалтинговая компания PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) договорилась о досудебном урегулировании дела о банкротстве компании MF Global. Представители MF Global, обанкротившейся во время мирового финансового кризиса, обвиняли PwC в том, что та допустила ошибки при консультировании и аудите компании. Сколько заплатит PwC — не сообщается, но управляющие по банкротству MF Global требовали компенсации в размере $3 млрд.Брокерская компания MF Global обанкротилась в 2011 году: тогда она сообщила о задолженности в размере $39,7 млрд при сумме активов $41 млрд. MF Global активно инвестировала в суверенные долги таких стран еврозоны, как Испания, Италия, Португалия, Бельгия и Ирландия.В августе прошлого года PwC также урегулировала дело о коллапсе американского банка Colonial Bank в 2008 году. Тогда иск был предъявлен PwC за то, что она не выявила факты мошенничества в Colonial Bank.Яна Рождественская
PwC settles a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over the collapse of MF Global mid-trial, leaving the question of liability unanswered.
BY JOSHUA TEITELBAUM -- To hold PwC responsible for MF Global's bankruptcy would not only be bad law, it would be bad policy. Turning auditors into insurers of their clients' businesses would produce overdeterrence and risk driving auditors out of the financial marketplace.
Check Keiser Report website for more: http://www.maxkeiser.com/ In this episode of the Keiser Report Max and Stacy discuss the lawsuit by the administrator of MF Global against PwC for, ultimately, Jon Corzine’s big, bad European bond bet. In the second half Max interviews Charles Hugh Smith of OfTwoMinds.com about whether or not the Federal Reserve Bank has already lost control. WATCH all Keiser Report shows here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL768A33676917AE90 (E1-E200) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC3F29DDAA1BABFCF (E201-E400) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPszygYHA9K2ZtV_1KphSugBB7iZqbFyz (E401-E600) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPszygYHA9K1GpAv3ZKpNFoEvKaY2QFH_ (E601-E800) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPszygYHA9K19wt4CP0tUgzIxpJDiQDyl (E801-E1000) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPszygYHA9K302vF9LY8cZJ4_VJB8P347 (E1001 - Current) RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air Subscribe to RT! http://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=RussiaToday Like us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/RTnews Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/RT_com Follow us on Instagram http://instagram.com/rt Follow us on Google+ http://plus.google.com/+RT Listen to us on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/rttv RT (Russia Today) is a global news network broadcasting from Moscow and Washington studios. RT is the first news channel to break the 1 billion YouTube views benchmark.
A federal judge rejects PwC's call for a mistrial in the $3 billion lawsuit over MF Global's collapse, saying the auditors can fight it out in court.
MF Global lawyers dismiss PwC's motion for a mistrial as a desperate attempt to get a "do-over" mid-trial.