Archive for April, 2017

What’s Good for Tesla Is Good for Elon Musk

Monday, April 24th, 2017

It’s not surprising that I don’t know anyone who owns a Tesla, given that total sales since the company was founded in 2003 barely top 200,000 vehicles (and all but 12 were sold in Hollywood).

In contrast, General Motors typically sells more than a half million vehicles in a quarter. Worldwide, there are more than 907 million consumer vehicles and 329 million commercial vehicles in use, leaving Tesla with a market share of just above 0%.

What is surprising is that Tesla is now the number one auto manufacturer in America, based on market cap (although its rank has recently been floating around between one and two).

How can a company that’s unprofitable and that sells vehicles that almost no one owns be the country’s top auto maker? Granted, GM and Ford aren’t the companies they used to be, but Tesla isn’t even close to what GM and Ford are now.

Tesla’s high market cap is a result of America’s love affair with all things considered to be green, media hype, Hollywood hype and Elon Musk hype. It’s appropriate that the company is named after Nikola Tesla, whose alleged invention of an electric car in the 1930s turned out to be a hoax.

Having never owned or even driven one, I can’t say whether Tesla vehicles should be the next big thing. Online reviews aren’t very helpful, either. Car and Driver gives the sleek Tesla Model S five stars, while the first review on Consumer Affairs gives his Tesla one star and says, “It’s worse than you can possibly imagine … ”

But it’s really not about cars, is it? (more…)

Rates Rising, Yet Bond Buying Sets Record

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Rising interest rates, higher inflation and tighter monetary policy should be bad news for bonds. Yet investors have been buying record volumes of new bonds.

  • Highly rated U.S. companies issued $414.5 billion of debt during the first quarter, a record for any quarter.
  • Dealogic reported that companies and governments in emerging markets sold $178.5 billion of dollar-denominated debt in the first three months of the year, the best first quarter on record.
  • U.S. companies with junk-bond ratings issued debt totaling $79.6 billion, double from a year earlier.

Why are bonds so popular now?

Economic growth remains uncertain. There’s been plenty of good economic news of late.

Chart from Motley Fool. Numbers are in millions of dollars.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in March – or 8.9% if you use the U-6 rate, which even Fed Chair Janet Yellen seems to finally agree is more accurate. The labor force participation rate, which was 62.6% on November, has nudged up to 63%. New orders are up, capital expenditures are up and housing starts are up.

Yet there’s still plenty of uncertainty about the economy, which could be affected by actions in the Middle East, Russia, Korea or elsewhere.

(more…)

The Fed Thinks Higher Prices Are Good For You

Monday, April 10th, 2017

The Federal Reserve Board’s quantitative easing program was an unprecedented monetary experiment that dumped trillions of dollars of new money into the economy.

Historically, adding that much money to the economy should have caused hyperinflation, but the economy was so weak, it took the Federal Reserve Board eight years of loose monetary policy to boost the U.S. inflation rate to 2%.

Now, though, some Fed members think that 2% isn’t enough.

Readers old enough to vote during the Carter and Ford years remember when the Fed’s role was to lower inflation, not raise it. In 1974, inflation hit 11.03%, and from 1979 through 1981 inflation reached 11.22%, 13.58% and 10.35%. In the Ford era, Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons were created. They did little to control rising prices.

We haven’t seen any Boost Inflation Now buttons, fortunately, but helping the economy by increasing inflation is the dumbest idea since negative interest rates. Given the Fed’s recent history, that may be its appeal. (more…)

RIP High-Frequency Trading?

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

“It’s like a perfect storm. The cheats are going away, the volatility is going down and the costs are going up.”

Haim Bodek, former head of electronic volatility trading, UBS AG

You could conclude, as Credit Suisse has in a new report, that high-frequency trading is so influential, it “has reshaped the financial industry in its image.”

Or you could conclude, as The Wall Street Journal has, that high-frequency trading is a failing niche on Wall Street.

High-frequency trading uses algorithms and technology to make trades at mega-fast speeds to take advantage of price inefficiencies. Author Michael Lewis brought public attention to high-frequency trading when he published his book Flash Boys in 2014, which claimed that the stock market is rigged.

We’ve railed against HFT as far back as 2011, noting that the majority of trades taking place were being driven not by company performance, but by “tiny inefficiencies that only computers can detect.”

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

By 2016, though, high-frequency trading accounted for just under half of all stock trading. That was about even with the previous three years, but more than double what it had been in 2006, Credit Suisse noted. (more…)