How Ben Bernanke Saved the World

October 12th, 2015

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

                    U.S. major talking about Bến Tre, Vietnam

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t have a humor section, so “How the Fed Saved the Economy” appeared on the op-ed pages under the byline of Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

In his commentary, Bernanke takes credit for saving the economy – rather than responsibility for the most dismal recovery in history.Bernanke

Anyone who has read even one of our blog posts knows that we would disagree with any claim about the Fed saving the world, especially given that the economy continues its slow-motion deterioration after nearly eight years and several trillion dollars’ worth of “saving” by the Fed.

However, Mr. Bernanke has a book to sell.  And while it will likely appear in the non-fiction section, we’re guessing by its title that it is even more self-congratulatory and less fact-filled (if that’s possible) than his op-ed piece. Read the rest of this entry »

High-Frequency Trading Losing Frequency

October 5th, 2015

The publication of Michael Lewis’ book Flash Boys early in 2014 brought high-frequency trading (HFT) to the attention of many investors for the first time.

Lewis was quoted on “60 Minutes” saying that HFT rigs the stock market against the small investor. Media made it known that the FBI – the folks who investigate drug dealers and organized crime – was investigating HFT.

Wenning Advice had posted frequently about the practice as early as 2011, warning about the distortion that high-frequency trading causes to market fundamentals, the predatory nature of high-frequency trading, the inequity of high-frequency trading, and the risk that high-frequency trading creates for all of us.  We even pointed out that “Satan is a high-frequency trader.”

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis


But what’s happened to HFT since 2014?  And what happened to the FBI’s investigation of the practice?

HFT has not gone away. But it’s not what it used to be.

We noted in 2011 that HFT accounted for 73% of all equity trading in the U.S., up from 30% four years earlier, based on research from TABB Group.

Rosenblatt Securities estimated that HFT trading volume fell from about 3.25 billion shares a day in 2009 to 1.6 billion shares in 2012. And TABB Group estimated that HFT revenues from U.S. equity trading declined from about $7.2 billion in 2009 to $1.3 billion in 2014.  Read the rest of this entry »

Abnormalization and QE4

September 28th, 2015

It seems to be a policy of the Federal Reserve Board to never use a two-syllable word when a four- or five-syllable word is available.

So we have “quantitative easing” instead of “bond buying,” “tapering” instead of “reducing,” “forward guidance” to describe announcements of future Fed activities, and “macroprudential supervision” for “we have no idea what to do, but we have to say something that sounds important.” US-economy_try-it-now-707x404

What may be the most annoying Fed malapropism, though, is the Fed’s use of the word “normalization,” as in the following quote from Fed Chair Janet Yellen after a recent Fed meeting:

“For all of us, the appropriate policy decision is going to be data dependent and all of us will be looking at the incoming data and our opinions about the appropriate timing of normalization are likely to shift as we look at how the data evolves.”

In other words, we’re currently going through a period of abnormalization and the return to “normalization” will begin when the Fed starts raising interest rates.  Although, after eight years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), shouldn’t we consider ZIRP to be the new normal?  Read the rest of this entry »

ZIRP Everlasting

September 21st, 2015

Some things never change.  Apparently, the interest rate for Federal funds is one of them.

To the surprise of no one – except the “experts” and journalists who have been writing about an anticipated rate increase – the Federal Reserve Board voted last week to keep interest rates flatlined at about zero, which is where they’ve been since 2008.

The Fed may not have raised interest rates, but it at least raised interest this time. The International Business Times called it, “one of the most widely anticipated Federal Reserve decisions in decades.”

Really?  Why was this meeting any different from previous Fed meetings where interest rates remained unchanged?  Because the media-academic-pundit intelligentsia decided that it was time to increase rates.Yellen

In a Wall Street Journal poll of economists in August, 82% of economists thought the Fed would raise rates in September.  The week before the Fed met, 46% picked September as the most likely time for the Fed’s rate hike, 9.5% said the Fed would wait until October and 35% predicted that the Fed would wait until December.  Just 9.5% predicted the Fed would wait until 2016 to raise rates.

The economists polled don’t have seats on the Federal Open Market Committee, but everyone assumes they must know something. Read the rest of this entry »

Place Your Bets

September 14th, 2015

“What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things … ”

                            Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock 

Let’s put this in perspective. If the Federal Reserve Board raises interest rates at its meeting this week, it will likely raise them by 0.25%.

That’s 25 basis points … a quarter of a percentage point … a hair’s breadth. In the 1980s, U.S. long-term interest rates approached 20%, which is 80 times higher than the post-increase Fed rate would be.Interest-Rates-US-Fed-Funds2

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that any rate increase, even one as slight as a quarter of a point, would signal a change in direction for the Fed. It would mean that the easy money days are over. The stock market would no longer be artificially inflated by Fed policy. Yields would rise. The Keynesian bubble would burst. Read the rest of this entry »

ECB: Cheap Oil Is the Problem, Not Iran’s Nukes

September 7th, 2015

If the European Central Bank (ECB) is to be believed, the biggest threat from the Middle East is not Iran getting nukes, it’s Saudi oil.

What’s the big deal?  Saudis have had a cushy lifestyle for decades, thanks to their oil production, but U.S. fracking is making the U.S. practically oil independent and that’s cramping the Saudis’ lifestyle, so the country has turned on the tap, producing more oil, which lowers prices, which makes it less profitable for American companies to use fracking techniques to drill for oil.

Unfortunately, lower oil prices have made it difficult for central bankers to increase the rate of inflation, which has this goal-oriented group in a snit.  OMG!!!

"Government debt gdp" by Jirka.h23 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

“Government debt gdp” by Jirka.h23 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Not to worry.  Oil prices jumped a whopping 27% last week, in spite of Saudi vows to continue current production levels, in part based on the announcement that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet this week with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss “possible mutual steps” to stabilize oil prices.

Apparently, central bankers missed that news, because when the ECB met last week, inflation was the focus.  Read the rest of this entry »

Correct Yourself

August 31st, 2015

Last week was a tough week for investors, given that the market dropped for six consecutive days. It was an even tougher week for financial advisors and investment managers who have been advising clients to keep a heavy allocation of stocks in their portfolios.

Advisors who are telling their clients to invest a greater percentage of their portfolios into stocks should be able to answer clients’ questions about why they are so optimistic that stock prices will continue to increase.Exp_2013_11_21_0

Investors, likewise, should ask why they are following that advice.  Investors need to be accountable for their future.  If their advisors are wrong, they will pay the price, not their advisors.

Answer These Questions

Given the state of the world economy – and stock markets throughout the world – many questions need to be answered.  Here are some of them:

Where is future growth going to come from? Don’t look to China, which may claim to be growing at 7% this year, but few believe it. Don’t look to the U.S., where baby boomers are retiring and millions of people in all age groups have stopped looking for work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Five Reasons Why Wenning Advice Is Worth More Than Buzzfeed

August 24th, 2015

You may have heard that Americans are now getting their news online, instead of reading it in newspapers.  They’re not.

Most of what appears online and is called “news” fits that classification only in the broadest sense of the word.  Instead of going online to read about the Iranian nuclear deal, the economic turmoil in China or continuing slow growth in the U.S., Americans are reading about the Kardasians, Caitlyn Jenner and ex-Subway pitchman Jared Fogle.FTSE

If you doubt the above, consider that NBCUniversal just announced it is investing $200 million in Buzzfeed, which now has a value of $1.5 billion.

Buzzfeed, as you’re probably aware, is a site that is notorious for its lists.  Today, for example, you can find “16 Sexts Every Twentysomething Actually Wants,” “40 Random Thoughts We’ve All Had The Night Before School” and “99 Names For B**bs” (Note: our standards are higher than Buzzfeed’s, but you can probably figure it out).

Read the rest of this entry »

China’s Fix Could Break Things

August 17th, 2015

Imagine if free markets were allowed to be free.

Of course, in today’s world, they’re not.  Central bankers and government agencies have taken control.  Not knowing what to do with it hasn’t stopped them. 

China is the latest case in point.  We recently suggested that investors worry about China, not about Greece, although for a tiny country Greece gives everyone plenty to worry about.  But China should be the center of everyone’s attention, given its attempt to fix its falling stock market and boost imports by devaluing the yuan.China

While it’s impossible to guess the intentions of China’s rulers – and they’re not about to share them – the 1.9% devaluation announced last week smacks of desperation.  China’s stock market has been swooning this summer and its exports are down by 8.3% (much larger than the expected 1.5% decrease), which is not good for future growth.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal noted, “Pockets of manufacturing have been especially hard hit, as reflected in sluggish electricity use and falling rail cargo. Especially scary is the prospect of deflation; producer prices were down 5.4% from a year ago.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Yellen’s Soliloquy: To Raise or Not to Raise

August 10th, 2015

To raise, or not to raise – that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The barbs and insults of outraged pundits and journalists

Or to raise rates in spite of a sea of troubles

And by raising rates extend them. To stagnate, to grow —

No more (than 2%) – and by a flatlined economy to say we end

The headache, and the thousand natural shocks

The stock market is heir to.

We could go on imagining Fed Chair Janet Yellen in the role of Hamlet, another famous person who met with tragedy due to procrastination.  We could make note of “the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,” even if we don’t know what “spurns” Shakespeare was talking about when he wrote Hamlet.

We could go on, but “conscience does make cowards of us all,” so we’ll leave it at that and turn instead to last week’s comments by Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  Lockhart said “the economy is ready for the first increase in short-term interest rates in more than nine years and it would take a significant deterioration in the data to convince him not to move in September.” Yellen as Hamlet

The experts will tell you that anticipation of increasing rates is built into current stock prices, but if that’s the case, why did stock prices drop to their lowest levels since February after Lockhart’s remarks?  Maybe it was the disappointing earnings reports for the quarter, or the still-not-there employment numbers, but the most direct correlation appears to be with the fear of rising interest rates.

Keep in mind, too, that the statement didn’t come from the chairwoman.  Granted, Mr. Lockhart is a member of the Federal Open Market Committee, but he’s not Janet Yellen.  Perhaps the idea was to see what impact his comments would have so the Fed as a whole would still have the option to not raise rates in September.  Mr. Lockhart apparently drew the short straw at the last FOMC meeting.  Read the rest of this entry »