May 16, 2012 archive

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The Stars Hollow Gazette

Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes

You know, some of us drink because we’re not poets.  I’ve been a writer all my life and it’s as much a part of me as my sexual orientation and skin color (‘tro, male, and white not that it should make a difference).  I don’t pretend to special expertise even in the matter of piloting river boats which is why I’m careful to maintain my anonymity.  Feel free to disagree, you’re probably right.

Yet as a writer it’s gratifying to come across affirmations of sanity, if not an audience, and in that spirit I offer this-

Accidentally Released – and Incredibly Embarrassing – Documents Show How Goldman et al Engaged in ‘Naked Short Selling’

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: May 15, 5:39 PM ET

“Fuck the compliance area – procedures, schmecedures,” chirps Peter Melz, former president of Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corp. (a.k.a. Merrill Pro), when a subordinate worries about the company failing to comply with the rules governing short sales.

A quick primer on what naked short selling is. First of all, short selling, which is a completely legal and often beneficial activity, is when an investor bets that the value of a stock will decline. You do this by first borrowing and then selling the stock at its current price, then returning the stock to your original lender after the price has gone down. You then earn a profit on the difference between the original price and the new, lower price.

What matters here is the technical issue of how you borrow the stock. Typically, if you’re a hedge fund and you want to short a company, you go to some big-shot investment bank like Goldman or Morgan Stanley and place the order. They then go out into the world, find the shares of the stock you want to short, borrow them for you, then physically settle the trade later.

But sometimes it’s not easy to find those shares to borrow. Sometimes the shares are controlled by investors who might have no interest in lending them out. Sometimes there’s such scarcity of borrowable shares that banks/brokers like Goldman have to pay a fee just to borrow the stock.

These hard-to-borrow stocks, stocks that cost money to borrow, are called negative rebate stocks. In some cases, these negative rebate stocks cost so much just to borrow that a short-seller would need to see a real price drop of 35 percent in the stock just to break even. So how do you short a stock when you can’t find shares to borrow? Well, one solution is, you don’t even bother to borrow them. And then, when the trade is done, you don’t bother to deliver them. You just do the trade anyway without physically locating the stock.

Thus in this document we have another former Merrill Pro president, Thomas Tranfaglia, saying in a 2005 email: “We are NOT borrowing negatives… I have made that clear from the beginning. Why would we want to borrow them? We want to fail them.”

Trafaglia, in other words, didn’t want to bother paying the high cost of borrowing “negative rebate” stocks. Instead, he preferred to just sell stock he didn’t actually possess. That is what is meant by, “We want to fail them.” Trafaglia was talking about creating “fails” or “failed trades,” which is what happens when you don’t actually locate and borrow the stock within the time the law allows for trades to be settled.

If this sounds complicated, just focus on this: naked short selling, in essence, is selling stock you do not have. If you don’t have to actually locate and borrow stock before you short it, you’re creating an artificial supply of stock shares.

Magic beans.

Say it ain’t so.

Make Banking Boring

By JOE NOCERA, The New York Times

Published: May 14, 2012

Let’s begin by stipulating the obvious: nobody outside of JPMorgan Chase knows for sure what really happened with those trades that have cost it so much money and done such severe damage to its once stellar reputation.

You know Joe, it’s really not very hard to understand at all.

JP Morgan invested a ton of money, and by a ton I mean Trillions of exposure, in an obscure and lightly traded piece of paper labeled CDX NA IG 9 that represents a notional basket of 125 European stocks.

What do I mean by “notional”?  Well, there’s not actually a pile of stock certificates lying around that you can use to wrap fish or wipe your ass or wallpaper your living room, these stocks are “synthetic” meaning that if anyone ever needs to see one you have to go down to the store and buy it at whatever the market price is.

But there is always a price and a market- or is there?

As the Hunt brothers found out in the early ’80s with a far more tangible and useful (you can use it to make photographic film and it has excellent electrical conductivity) asset, you can assemble a position that so dominates a market that you can’t sell without lowering the price which is high because of your artificially created scarcity.

Supply increases in the face of fixed Demand and the price goes down.  Real Economics 101 stuff, not hard to understand at all.

Now the problem with CDX NA IG 9 is you can’t use it to make spoons or candlesticks.  Heck, as I pointed out before you can’t even use it to wipe your ass because it doesn’t exist.

So its value is entirely dependent on finding another sucker investor who’s willing to give you something for nothing.

Good luck with that.


Ham in a Role

Not Capitalism

Modern economic philosophy is generally considered to have started with Smith and Hobbes who were reacting against a system of monarchal merchantilism where favored courtiers were rewarded with monopolies in a planned economy enforced by a state claim of exclusive authority on violence.

Read that again because it’s important.

Their groundbreaking contribution was the concept that markets (individuals) could more efficiently allocate resources (capital) than corrupt cronyism.  You know, free market capitalism.

Compare and contrast-

End of the Affair?

The Editors of The New York Times

Published: May 14, 2012

There has been less buying and selling of stock, and there have been huge outflows of investor dollars from domestic stock mutual funds, as detailed recently by The Times’s Nathaniel Popper. If the trend continues, the result could be a less robust market, with fewer companies opting to raise money by issuing shares and fewer investors willing to put their retirement savings into stocks.

Policy makers should pay attention. Evidence suggests that investors are not merely reacting to tough conditions, but rather are staying away because they do not trust the market. Restoring trust is crucial to restoring the market.

American stocks have doubled in price since the market hit bottom three years ago. But trading in the United States stock market has not only failed to recover since the 2008 financial crash, it has continued to fall. In April, average daily trades stood at 6.5 billion, about half their peak four years ago. By comparison, after the market busts of 1987 and 2001, trading recovered within two years. In fact, going back to 1960, trading had never declined for three consecutive years, let alone four and counting.

Investors haven’t just hunkered down, they have headed for the exits. Since the start of 2008, domestic stock mutual funds, a common way for individuals to invest, were drained of more than $400 billion, compared with an inflow of $52 billion in the four years before that.

There is also the feeling that the market has become increasingly unfair to investors. For example, Mr. Popper also reported recently on rebates to brokers from stock exchanges. In general, brokers are required to find the best prices for clients who pay them to buy and sell shares. But with the nation’s 13 exchanges now paying brokers for sending them business, brokers may have an incentive to search for the biggest rebate rather than the best price. A new study has estimated that rebates could be costing mutual funds, pension funds and individual investors as much as $5 billion a year.

Also known as “maker-taker” pricing, the rebates have caught the attention of market researchers and investor advocates, including two former economists for the Securities and Exchange Commission who issued a report in 2010 saying that “in other contexts, these payments would be recognized as illegal kickbacks.”

I realize citation of major media outlets is considered but a quaint remnant of irrelevant reality by sycophants and ‘bots, but I thought I’d draw this to your attention.

On This Day In History May 16

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

May 16 is the 136th day of the year (137th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 229 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1868, the U.S. Senate votes against impeaching President Andrew Johnson and acquits him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

In February 1868, the House of Representatives charged Johnson with 11 articles of impeachment for vague “high crimes and misdemeanors.” (For comparison, in 1998, President Bill Clinton was charged with two articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice during an investigation into his inappropriate sexual behavior in the White House Oval Office. In 1974, Nixon faced three charges for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.) The main issue in Johnson’s trial was his staunch resistance to implementing Congress’ Civil War Reconstruction policies. The War Department was the federal agency responsible for carrying out Reconstruction programs in the war-ravaged southern states and when Johnson fired the agency’s head, Edwin Stanton, Congress retaliated with calls for his impeachment.

Of the 11 counts, several went to the core of the conflict between Johnson and Congress. The House charged Johnson with illegally removing the secretary of war from office and for violating several Reconstruction Acts. The House also accused the president of hurling slanderous “inflammatory and scandalous harangues” against Congressional members. On February 24, the House passed all 11 articles of impeachment and the process moved into a Senate trial.

Be Prepared

You know: of all the songs I’ve ever sung, that is the one I’ve had the most requests not to. I have time for one more here. this one is a little song dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America. [applause] We seem to have a convention here tonight. The Boy Scouts of America, those noble little bastions of democracy, and the American Legion of tomorrow. their motto is… I would like to state at this time that I am not now and have never been… a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Motto is, as you know, be prepared! and that is the name of this song.

Be prepared! that’s the Boy Scout’s marching song,

Be prepared! as through life you march along.

Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well,

Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell.

Be prepared! to hide that pack of cigarettes,

Don’t make book if you cannot cover bets.

Keep those reefers hidden where you’re sure that they will not be found,

And be careful not to smoke them When the scoutmaster’s around

For he only will insist that they be shared. Be prepared!

Be prepared! that’s the Boy Scouts’ solemn creed,

Be prepared! and be clean in word and deed.

Don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice,

Unless you get a good percentage of her price.

Be prepared! and be careful not to do

Your good deeds when there’s no one watching you.

If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind,

And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,

Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared. Be prepared!

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare tend to focus around the use of a small, mobile force competing against a large, unwieldy one. The guerrilla focuses on organising in small units, dependent on the support of the local population. Tactically, the guerrilla army attacks its enemy in small, repetitive attacks from the opponent’s center of gravity with a view to reducing casualties and becoming an intensive, repetitive strain on the enemy’s resources, forcing an over-eager response which will both anger their own supporters and increase support for the guerrilla, thus forcing the enemy to withdraw.

Fourteenth Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1929)

This seemed unlike the ritual of war of which Foch had been priest, and so it seemed that there was a difference of kind. Foch called his modern war “absolute.” In it two nations professing incompatible philosophies set out to try them in the light of force. A struggle of two immaterial principles could only end when the supporters of one had no more means of resistance. An opinion can be argued with: a conviction is best shot. The logical end of a war of creeds is the final destruction of one, and Salammbo the classical textbook-instance. These were the lines of the struggle between France and Germany, but not, perhaps, between Germany and England, for all efforts to make the British soldier hate the enemy simply made him hate war. Thus the “absolute war” seemed only a variety of war; and beside it other sorts could be discerned, as Clausewitz had numbered them, personal wars for dynastic reasons, expulsive wars for party reasons, commercial wars for trading reasons.

Now the Arab aim was unmistakably geographical, to occupy all Arabic-speaking lands in Asia. In the doing of it Turks might be killed, yet “killing Turks” would never be an excuse or aim. If they would go quietly, the war would end. If not, they must be driven out: but at the cheapest possible price, since the Arabs were fighting for freedom, a pleasure only to be tasted by a man alive.

In the Arab case the algebraic factor would take first account of the area to be conquered. A casual calculation indicated perhaps 140,000 square miles. How would the Turks defend all that-no doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if the Arabs were an army attacking with banners displayed . . . but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, and nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapour, blowing where they listed.  …  It seemed that the assets in this sphere were with the Arabs, and climate, railways, deserts, technical weapons could also be attached to their interests. The Turk was stupid and would believe that rebellion was absolute, like war, and deal with it on the analogy of absolute warfare.

The Arab army just then was equally chary of men and materials: of men because they being irregulars were not units, but individuals, and an individual casualty is like a pebble dropped in water: each may make only a brief hole, but rings of sorrow widen out from them. The Arab army could not afford casualties.

The Arab war should be a war of detachment: to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing themselves till the moment of attack. This attack need be only nominal, directed not against his men, but against his materials: so it should not seek for his main strength or his weaknesses, but for his most accessible material.

The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander, and the commanders of the Arab army being amateurs in the art, began their war in the atmosphere of the 20th century, and thought of their weapons without prejudice, not distinguishing one from another socially. The regular officer has the tradition of 40 generations of serving soldiers behind him, and to him the old weapons are the most honoured. The Arab command had seldom to concern itself with what its men did, but much with what they thought, and to it the diathetic was more than half command. In Europe it was set a little aside and entrusted to men outside the General Staff. But the Arab army was so weak physically that it could not let the metaphysical weapon rust unused. It had won a province when the civilians in it had been taught to die for the ideal of freedom: the presence or absence of the enemy was a secondary matter.

The Turkish army was an accident, not a target. Our true strategic aim was to seek its weakest link, and bear only on that till time made the mass of it fall. The Arab army must impose the longest possible passive defence on the Turks (this being the most materially expensive form of war) by extending its own front to the maximum.

The contest was not physical, but moral, and so battles were a mistake. All that could be won in a battle was the ammunition the enemy fired off.  …  Battles are impositions on the side which believes itself weaker, made unavoidable either by lack of land-room, or by the need to defend a material property dearer than the lives of soldiers. The Arabs had nothing material to lose, so they were to defend nothing and to shoot nothing. Their cards were speed and time, not hitting power, and these gave them strategical rather than tactical strength.

The Desert and the Sea. In character these operations were like naval warfare, in their mobility, their ubiquity, their independence of bases and communications, in their ignoring of ground features, of strategic areas, of fixed directions, of fixed points. “He who commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war as he will”  …  The Arab army never tried to maintain or improve an advantage, but to move off and strike again somewhere else. It used the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place. To continue the action till the enemy had changed his dispositions to resist it would have been to break the spirit of the fundamental rule of denying him targets.

An Undisciplined Army. The internal economy of the raiding parties was equally curious. Maximum irregularity and articulation were the aims. Diversity threw the enemy intelligence off the track. By the regular organization in identical battalions and divisions information builds itself up, until the presence of a corps can be inferred on corpses from three companies. The Arabs, again, were serving a common ideal, without tribal emulation, and so could not hope for any esprit de corps. Soldiers are made a caste either by being given great pay and rewards in money, uniform or political privileges; or, as in England, by being made outcasts, cut off from the mass of their fellow-citizens. There have been many armies enlisted voluntarily: there have been few armies serving voluntarily under such trying conditions, for so long a war as the Arab revolt. Any of the Arabs could go home whenever the conviction failed him. Their only contract was honour.

Consequently the Arab army had no discipline, in the sense in which it is restrictive, submergent of individuality, the Lowest Common Denominator of men. In regular armies in peace it means the limit of energy attainable by everybody present: it is the hunt not of an average, but of an absolute, a 100-per-cent standard, in which the 99 stronger men are played down to the level of the worst. The aim is to render the unit a unit, and the man a type, in order that their effort shall be calculable, their collective output even in grain and in bulk. The deeper the discipline, the lower the individual efficiency, and the more sure the performance. It is a deliberate sacrifice of capacity in order to reduce the uncertain element.  …  In irregular war if two men are together one is being wasted. The moral strain of isolated action makes this simple form of war very hard on the individual soldier, and exacts from him special initiative, endurance and enthusiasm. Here the ideal was to make action a series of single combats to make the ranks a happy alliance of commanders-in-chief. The value of the Arab army depended entirely on quality, not on quantity. The members had to keep always cool, for the excitement of a blood-lust would impair their science, and their victory depended on a just use of speed, concealment, accuracy of fire. Guerrilla war is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.

Here is the thesis:

Rebellion must have an unassailable base, something guarded not merely from attack, but from the fear of it: such a base as the Arab revolt had in the Red Sea ports, the desert, or in the minds of men converted to its creed. It must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to fulfill the doctrine of acreage: too few to adjust number to space, in order to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts.

It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy.

Rebellions can be made by 2% active in a striking force, and 98% passively sympathetic. The few active rebels must have the qualities of speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply. They must have the technical equipment to destroy or paralyze the enemy’s organized communications, for irregular war is fairly Willisen’s definition of strategy, “the study of communication,” in its extreme degree, of attack where the enemy is not.

In 50 words: Granted mobility, security (in the form of denying targets to the enemy), time, and doctrine (the idea to convert every subject to friendliness), victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive, and against them perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain.