Thursday, August 25, 2011

Big Ben Strikes Again?

T-minus 18 hours until the moment we have been waiting for. It seems like the only thing people have been talking about for the past month is Jackson Hole. (Can you believe that people actually care about something that is going on in Wyoming?) Everybody is hoping and praying that Mr. Bernanke will announce another round of quantitative easing. I have a few concerns.

1. If Quantitative easing 1 and 2 were so effective why do we need a third round.
2. If we get a third round of quantitative easing are we admitting that we are in/dangerously close to a recession?
3. With CPI (Consumer Price Index) and PPI (Producer Price Index) numbers increasing over the recent months can we afford any additional commodity inflation
4. Does anybody care that we are going to need to bring a a wheelbarrow's worth of one dollar bills to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread? (I guess you could just bring some $100 bills but the wheelbarrow image is more amusing)
5. If countries all over the world are devaluing their currency at the same time doesn't it defeat the purpose of devaluing the currency?

I understand the argument that is made for quantitative easing. By lowering interest rates and putting more money in circulation people will borrow money to fund their business operations and people will be less likely to save their money (at least in a bank) because they are getting a negative real return (return % - inflation %). Banks will also have more money to loan out at a presumably higher spread. My problem is that the federal reserve might be insane (If you believe that insanity is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting a different result). QE1 didn't work so they tried QE2 and look where we are now. Can we reasonably assume that by doing the same thing again we will get a different result?

So what do I recommend? People much smarter than I am are grappling with this question and cannot seem to figure out what to do. I wonder what would happen if we left the economy alone. What if we went back to the days of laissez-faire capitalism and efficient markets. Before the days of "too big to fail" it was "the bigger they are the harder they fall". Instead of saving people from their own stupidity we should let them stew in it. We would have to go through some pain as country, but it would be a one time pain rather than a lingering injury. If banks take on too much risk and become insolvent let them fail. If automobile manufacturers can't turn a profit because they are paying the majority of their revenue to past and present workers as benefits then let them fail as well. (I know this is a union issue but we can save that for another rant...) Just please stop throwing good money after bad trying to save companies from themselves. Who knows if you let the behemoths fail you just might find a more efficient marketplace. Smaller companies will have to compete for the large influx of customers thus driving the prices down. The downside is that investors could lose a whole bunch of money and people will lose their jobs leading us into the depths of a recession. Oh wait, how is that different than were we are right now?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Buy the Rumor, Sell the News

Earlier today the United States Senate voted 76-24 to pass the bill that would raise the debt ceiling and cut the deficit. (I use the term "cut the deficit" loosely) It was considered fairly certain by pretty much everybody that this deal was going to pass because the fallout from it not passing would have been too much for our country to bear. So, why when the bill passed the senate at around 12:40pm did the stock market start inching down instead of flying up?
      The stock market is a fickle beast and at times it can be moved by different things. A market that is in a stable up trend tends to be moved by the underlying fundamentals of the different companies. Investors have a price that they are willing to pay for a certain amount of earnings in a certain investment sector (i.e. financial, tech, utility, etc.), and the investors buy or sell their stock based on information that becomes available (10K, 10Q, monthly sales reports). If the economy starts to go south the markets can become news driven. This brings volatility into the market for two reasons. First, until the news breaks people are left to wonder what is going to happen and how it will impact the economy/investment markets. Second, Even if they predict correctly what the news is going to bring there is no guarantee that the market is going to respond in a way that is commiserate with the news. This brings us to today's news.
      Going into the senate vote the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 100 points. It seemed reasonable to believe that we would get at least a small pop on the news that the bill received an up vote in the senate. (this would mean that we would not default on our obligations) As I sat there glued to the t.v (CNBC obviously) I waited for some news. Some call me cynical (I prefer realist) I was expecting the market to start moving in one direction before any news broke about the senate decision because there is always someone who is more connected than the little guy. All of a sudden the vote results flashed up on the screen and the market barely moved a pip. Then it happened. -110 became -112 which became -115 and -119. Our country had been saved and these ungrateful imbeciles were selling stocks. The reason is simple. When there is a binary event (yes/no) traders pile into either side of the decision. As a trader you are not looking for long term theories but short term profits. The traders who went long the market saw that even though they were right the market was not going to give them one stinkin' penny. At that point the decision was easy; sell off the position so you don't tie up the capital. We all know what happens when there are a lot of sellers and not too many buyers.
    So is there a moral to the story? Should we never trade binary events? The answer is no. Never is a very long time and it is just plan wrong in this scenario. Binary events can lead to huge profits as long as you have a strategy for exiting when you enter. Think about a building that has an entrance in one place but an exit in a completely different location. Now lets say you know that there is a 50 percent chance there will be a fire while you are in the building, but if you make it out of the building in one piece (whether there is a fire or not) you will receive a prize. What's the first thing that you would do upon entering the building? (and don't say not enter the building in the first place)
     Now let's extend the analogy a little further. Not only is there a 50% chance of the building catching on fire, but there is a 20% chance that when the building does not catch on fire it will flood. If you don't know where the exits are you pretty much have a death wish. For those who are analogically impaired... If your wrong without a stop loss or are right without a stop loss you are not going to have to worry about a stop loss in the future because you will have nothing to lose. Don't be a fool sell/buy stops are cool (a public service announcement from @SellStraddles)

Full Disclosure: I currently hold SPY puts, QQQ puts, Gold, and assorted small cap biotech companies.