Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The greatest quarterback of the era wants to play on your team, so what should you do? Hmmm.
Well, if you're the Green Bay Packers you tell him, "No thanks."
I suppose a 13-3 record, winning the division and having a quarterback with the second or third highest quarterback rating isn't enough. Aaron Rodgers, an unproven career back-up... yeah much better.
Remember the pain of the Don Majkowski years? I guess not. Well, your neighbors to the south have been living a similar nightmare for a couple decades and the terror is something we deal with 16 Sundays a year, every year. So let me clue you in...
Helloooo... this is a no-brainer, folks. If the guy who built your franchise wants one more season, then you give him one more season. Period. So what if he's a little quirky: genius has its price. Nobody ever told Einstein to get a haircut.
As for Aaron Rodgers... he'll get over it.
There, that's the last advice you'll get from this Bears fan.
(Jesus, do you people know anything but cheese and toilet paper up there?)
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I've mentioned before about the danger of the current stock market, especially for those with a buy-and-hold mentality and retirement funds. The mantra has always been that young investors with a longer time horizon, or those with a more aggressive investing strategy, should just continue to buy stocks regardless of the economic or analytic factors.
Occasionally we see a market, however, that is screaming a certain signal, and I would argue that now the danger signals are starting to blare.
The 200-day moving average in the S&P 500 has turned negative and started sloping downward in January of this year. More ominously, the S&P index price has dropped below that 200-day moving average. This is a rare occurrence, and has preceded prolonged market turmoil in the past.
Let's look at the history with three concrete examples over the past ten years.
The SPY exchange traded fund mirrors the broad market index S&P 500. Over the past 10 years, $500,000 invested with a buy-and-hold strategy would have become $640,000 with dividends invested, for an annualized return of 2.7%. Holding only safe US treasury bonds only for that period of time would have done better, yielding 4.5% annually, or $725,000.
If one were cognizant of the broad market direction as represented by the 200-day moving average, that investor could have made two trades and increased his/her return over $180,000 over a safe bond investment, and an eye-popping $264,000 versus stocks. Why is this important, and why am I harping about it now? We'll see.
History tells us that stocks tend to outperform bonds when the stock prices are trading above their 200-day moving average, and bonds tend to outperform stocks when the stock price is trading below it's 200-day moving average.
The strategy is to sell stocks when the S&P 500 index drops below the 200-day moving average and buy them back when the index crosses back above the 200-day moving average. This has occurred only one time each in the last ten years.
Looking at the graph at the top of the page, July of 1998 was a heady time in the stock market with many financial advisers cautioning people to be careful of the market with the long upward trajectory that had been occurring in the 1990's and others pounding the table to buy, buy, buy. If an investors had eschewed cautioned and dumped his/her $500,000 lump sum into the S&P at that time, they would have had a nice run to 2000, with the SPY stock price going from $118 to $155 at the market top in March 2000. I picked the high for the month of July 1998 as the buy price just to be conservative.
From the March 2000 high, our investor would have continued to hold until the S&P crossed below the 200-day moving average in October 2000, a 12% drop from the absolute high. No investor is expected to catch the highest point to sell, in fact I would argue that most investors are not watching the daily or weekly machinations of the market. So, my assumption is that even the most astute investor would not have noticed the cross-over until the December 2000 low of $126 (again trying to be realistic and conservative)-- two months later and a full 9 months after the market high.
Why are these time frames important? Because that is exactly where we are now after the recent run.
In December 2000, our investor would have sold all his S&P 500 fund and put the proceeds, now $574,000 into a US Treasury bond fund--- I picked the conservative Vanguard Long-Term US Treasury Fund (VUSTX) for this example. The money would have stayed secure, earning 4.5% interest annually as the S&P 500 index sat below its 200-day moving average.
The S&P, represented by SPY, dropped to the low $80's and after a few weeks of gains crossed back above the 200-day moving average in April 2003 with an SPY stock price of $89... fully 29% below the sell price in December 2000. Nobody would expect even the most obsessed investor to notice this cross-over, so I assumed that they would not have gotten back into the market for another 5 months, until September 2003, and will use the month's high price of $102 as the buy-in price for the SPY, again trying to be conservative. For those 34 months in US Treasuries the money pile would have earned 4.5% annually for a total of $696,500.
Putting the $696,500 back into the S&P 500 in September 2003 would give us now in July 2008 a total of $909,000 (including dividends) in the SPY!
A buy-and-hold strategy would have given us only $640,000--- $269,000 below the two-trades strategy.
Why am I talking about this now?
In January, the S&P crossed below it's 200-day moving average for only the second time in ten years. This has been shown to be a harbinger for a prolonged downtrend in the market. Currently, we are 19% below the October 2007 high, and 16% below the January 2008 cross-over point. My recommendation is to sell stock funds now and go into safe treasuries until the market crosses back above the 200-day moving average with some type of conviction.
Don't mention this to your financial adviser without expecting him/ her to chastise you about the perils of market-timing and the "advantages of buying for the long term", especially if your are a long ways away from retirement. Remember, some advisers have a financial gain in their clients being invested in stocks and stock mutual funds. Some advisers are rewarded for frequent trading into and out of stocks. Still others are more honest, but have been indoctrinated into the brotherhood with the belief in the almighty market and are too willing to take the hard times (with your hard-earned coin) as well as the good times.
I'm not going to bore you with all the narrative about impending recessions, bank failures, imploding housing market, exploding national debt, etc, etc, you can read Barry Ritholtz for that. But I will point out that the S&P 500 has hit an important inflection point from technical analysis, and the red warning lights are flashing, so proceed at your own risk.
What if I am wrong? Sure, the market does whatever it wants and this may be a profound bottom with the coming months being the rally of all rallies. Yes, I could be manifestly wrong (there, I said it.). That possibility would see the SPY quickly cross back above the 200-day moving average and we would find ourselves trading back into the market in a few months. I would argue that while that rosy scenario is possible and would see us miss out on a few percentage point gains, the real risk of losing another is 20% in the SPY from here is even more probable. The downside risk of holding US treasuries is minimal.
Are there better strategies? Sure, we could devise all types of historical models that look at gold, commodities, real estate, foreign equities, emerging markets, international bonds and currencies, small vs. large cap stocks in various markets.... but I would argue that that is overthinking it. The beauty of using the 200-day moving average crossover is that this is simple; it is an event that occurs rarely and appears to have had some predictive value in the past. This is not science, however, and we must be cognizant that are basing a decision on two events in the last ten years and thus attempting to predict the future on very little data.
What could be the worse case scenario in this strategy? The absolute worse case scenario is that the day after you buy US Treasuries the US government announces it is going to default on all of its debt thus making your "ultra-safe" treasuries which are backed by the "full faith and credit of the United States" essentially worthless. While extremely unlikely, I suppose it is possible. Of course, if that happens we would see a massive economic calamity and the SPY would plummet as well. The only safe investment would be gold, perhaps silver, and an assault rifle, a la Mad Max.
Other negative scenarios? The US Federal Reserve could find religion and begin to raise interest rates in order to strengthen the US dollar, which likewise would depress the capital value of your treasury holdings since new money would be going into the new debt which would carry a higher interest rate. However, an abrupt increase in the federal funds rate would likewise lower the SPY and slow the economy as capital for investment becomes more expensive. In such a scenario, the dollar would increase in value, thus making cash king, but all other investments would weaken.
Can this model be tweaked in order to take advantage of alternate likely scenarios? Sure, but any tweaking would be based on unprovable assumptions and, more importantly, would complicate the simple process of trading only a couple times which is the true beauty of this strategy. Having said that, one could take this 200-day SPY cross-over as a cue to merely decrease their stock holdings in this environment and instead of going 100% into Treasuries, could stay in diversified in stocks but increase holdings in short bonds, cash and gold.
In short, the risk management model tells us the market is in trouble. Even if you eschew this advice and keep your stock holdings, at least be careful about new money into the market at this juncture.
Conclusion: I truly feel the next five days will determine the market posture for several weeks. I am an inveterate market timer and it has served me well for a number of years. The 200-day moving average cross-over has me spooked, no question, but I am not out of the market as I type this missive. My retirement is currently allocated at 40% large cap, 15% mid/small cap, 12% international, 18% government bonds, 11% cash and 4% REIT's. I had been largely cash and treasuries from the fall until this Spring when I began to trickle back into stocks. If the current rally fails, say SPY under $120 on high volume, then I will look for opportune exits in the coming weeks and likely stay out of the market until the moving averages recover.
[UPDATE Aug 08, 2008]
This information is for entertainment purposes only. Anybody who takes investment advice (or any advice for that matter) from strangers on the internet, needs their head examined.
Friday, July 25, 2008
The Larry Kudlow indicator has something to do with how shrill he becomes about all the reasons why the market "should" go up. The louder he gets, the lower the market will go. Dry drunk.
My hunch based on nothing: If the XLF goes below 20.50 today for any period of time, say, after noon, then it will drop like a rock into the close.
Will SPY hit 134 or 120 first? If it hits 12O, then it might go to the 2003 lows, or at least 100 in a rapid way. Only by SPY going to 134 will it have a chance to turn the 200-day MA around.
Brian Shannon also pointed out that as long as SPY is below 200-day MA, it's a dangerous market.
In some ways, I would rather see SPY hit 120 because it would be a much easier trade longer term... declining 200-day, SPY below 200-day... easy call to 105 or maybe lower. If SPY hits 120, then I could buy SDS and go golf.
Market hitting 134 would be a harder one to trade or invest.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Much like Ronald Reagan, if elected McCain will take office at an advanced age and the evidence shows that he is not at the top of his game. Reagan lost the reins of government along with his mentation somewhere around 1985 and thus allowed a criminal element to run a foreign policy agenda that was not consistent with our national interests. These usurpers backed dictators in our name, sold weapons to terrorists in Iran and assassinated democratically elected leaders in central and South America, all while Ronald Reagan's cerebrum wasted away, unbeknownst to us.
We cannot afford such a travesty again. Listen to this and tell me if John McCain's processes of cognition are intact enough to run this nation:
And in kind of an eery happenstance, Aricept has an Alzheimer's add that features a John McCain look-a-like:
[At the end I expected to hear "I'm John McCain and I, ummm, approve this message, right, dear?"]
Weird. And I would have thought the drug companies wanted another demented Republican at the helm; god knows they've done very well with the current one.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The usually calm and sardonic Barry Ritholz can always be counted on for his rational surmise of the financial markets and big picture economic views. Every once in a while, however, we are treated to Ritholtz Unchained, and today is one such day. Read the whole thing, but here are the snippets:
"This is financial incompetence writ on a scale far grander than anything seen for centuries."As a nation, our institutions have failed us: Under Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve slept through the most reckless and irresponsible expansion of bank lending in history for reasons of ideological purity. His opposition to the Fed’s regulatory role reached the point of malfeasance long ago. ..
"There is a choice to be made: Either we regulate the Banks, or leave it to the vagaries of the free markets to punish those who trade with, or place their assets in the wrong institutions. But for God's sake, do not give us the worst of both worlds -- do not allow banks the freedom to make horrific but preventable mistakes (i.e., only lending money to those who can pay it back), but then expect the taxpayers to foot the trillion dollar bill...
"...We are the world's largest debtor nation, and as such, we depend upon the kindness of strangers -- be they Japanese or Europeans or Abu Dhabians -- or even former communists.
"Back in the States, something beyond cognitive dissonance is occurring -- this is full blown case of dementia unfolding in the public sphere. When this era of excess and absurdity is treated by historians in the future, the question I expect to be asked most is not why many of these people weren't jailed for their financial felonies. Rather, I expect them to wonder why so many of these folk weren't placed in protective custody, and heavily medicated, for the only rational explanation for their statements and behaviors is that they have gone so far beyond the bend as to be completely and totally insane. ..
Here, here! We are overdue for such genuine healthy outrage!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Sometime in the next 20 months, Tiger Woods will become the first billionaire athlete. The remarkable thing about this feat is that he has done it solely on the power of his paychecks-- winnings and endorsements.
As the first billionaire to achieve the status in this manner, that means he has paid an inordinate amount of money in taxes versus, say, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who have made their pile almost exclusively on capital appreciation. One estimate puts Tiger's tax bill upwards of 45%, versus the 15% Messrs Gates and Buffet, and nearly every Wall Street hedge fund manager, pay on long term capital gains.
This brings up a fundamental item: The abundant taxation in this country on actively generated income, in other words, working for a living. Why is that? Europe has a greater emphasis on consumption tax with their value-added tax and I would argue that passive income should be taxed at least as much as workers' paychecks.
The incentives in our system are against working at a job, and favor generating passive income through investment and speculation. And while investment may be important, is it really more important than productive employment? Tiger's tragedy is emblematic of every working stiff in the country.
Poor Mr. and Mrs. Woods.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I have never wanted to like a presidential candidate as much as I want to like Barack Obama. He's a fresh face on the body politic, a Bears fan and a White Sox fan. What could ever be wrong with that?
If only he had read the Constitution sometime during his stint as a law student, editor of the Harvard Law Review and Constitutional Law lecturer. In addition to relinquishing our Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure while immunizing telecommunications companies who engage in such searches, now he is expanding federal budget support for faith-based institutions and also calling for a National Service Plan (fast forward to about 18:30 on the above video) that encumbers students into "service" outside the classroom. I'm getting ready to cry, "Enough!"
Obama's latest salvo is to promise to enact a National Service Plan that compels high school and college students to volunteer for community service. He pledges to “set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year.”
On it's face this seems benign enough, encouraging kids to give back to the community. Who can argue with that?
Here's the problem. Obama wants to tie federal funds for school districts to the notion that all the kids will participate in after school volunteer work. This will surely lead to less time away from the actual purpose of these federally subsidized schools: reading, writing and arithmetic. And this distraction would occur in exactly the school districts whose students likely need more time doing these basics.
Obama cites evidence that students who volunteer tend to do better in school and tend to go higher up the educational ladder into college. He assigns some type of cause and effect relationship to the act of community service in school bringing about better achievement later in life, which is completely illogical. What if we instead interpreted the statistic that the kids who are destined to go to college in the first place are more likely to have participated in volunteer work at a younger age and the act of volunteering-- while being somewhat predictive-- has no material beneficial causation on the kid's eventual educational level? The latter argument actually makes more sense to me, and I think David Hume would agree. I doubt community service causes good grades, and while I may believe that good students are more likely to have volunteered... I definitely know that causation could never be proven one way or another.
Furthermore, compelling unmotivated kids to pursue non-academic work may have several unintended consequences: possibly higher drop-out rates, poorer grades and decreased federal funding for districts that most need it. So, what's the point, Mr. Obama?
Of course, we can always rely on right wing slobs like Jonah Goldberg to take the extreme view, and Goldberg has gone so far as to call Obama's National Service Plan "slavery." It's not slavery, but Obama's plan is silly at best, and counter-productive at worst.
Obama's plan calls for $4000 per year for college students if they perform 100 hours of community service. Slavery? Hardly. In fact, as a taxpayer my question is rather what college student is worth $40 of tax revenue per hour to the community? Answer: not many. Perhaps incentives for students to pursue necessary majors would make more sense.
My other question for the Senator is why pick on students to perform this supposedly necessary community service? Students-- or at least successful students-- are busy enough without ramping up their work load even "just 2 hours a week." And even if they're not busy and can afford the small time commitment, who is the federal government to compel the use of their time? If the volunteer work is truly necessary, then why not get the lazy bastards who sit around the trailer park to go out and bang a few nails and pick up cups on the interstate? And leave college students alone. What about compelling high school dropouts, unemployed mortgage lenders, white collar criminals and even shrill right wing political pundits to "volunteer"? If the experience is oh-so beneficial, surely those on the margins would be well-served volunteering their time-- maybe even more so than the already achieving students.
This really goes back to the purpose of the federal government, which according to my recollection is to regulate interstate commerce, defend our borders and engage in foreign policy (none of which we are currently doing very well I might add.) This mission has been expanded to also manage large-scale socially necessary programs like Social Security and Medicare, which makes sense to me although strict Constitutional devotees have raised argument over the years. Even John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps for college graduates was really an offshoot of our diplomatic missions around the world and thus fell under the purview of the federal government. But Obama's National Service, not so much.
If inner city kids need better schools, then build them better schools. I would even argue that it is an issue of national security to ensure that every kid can read, write, add and subtract-- and, again, this is not being done very well at present. If college kids need financial support, then provide it and perhaps make it contingent on something tangible to our national welfare such as certain fields of study like engineering and science, achievement of good grades or completion of a degree. Even compelling college students to pay back service once they've completed their studies makes more sense than to encumber them while they should be focused on getting their degree.
Six months ago, I would would have been hard-pressed to even imagine how I could hesitate to vote Democratic this November. In 2004 I cast my first ever straight party vote against the Republican authoritarians. Now we are seeing the silly side of liberal authoritarianism, and it's getting sillier by the day.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
I love Keith Olbermann. For the last couple years he has been one of the few people on TV to speak truth to power... other than, of course, the fellas over at Comedy Channel. Now maybe it's just the silliness of the campaign season, but for some reason Olbermann seems to be losing his usual vice-like grip on truth and justice.
Nobody writing opinion today is more correct than Glenn Greenwald. He has been stalwart in pointing out the failures of our government officials, both Republican and Democrat, and he has been a constant fair critic of their craven media enablers. David Gregory dancing with Karl Rove, Sean Hannity blindly supporting whatever it is that Sean Hannity blindly supports... and now Greenwald has directed his pit bull jaws on Keith Olbermann who has inexplicably developed a mancrush on the venerable Democratic Presidential nominee, Barack Obama.
Barack Obama had said that he would filibuster any FISA bill before the Senate that granted immunity to telecommunication companies that broke the law by spying on American citizen. That was January when Senator Obama was pandering to the anti-Bush civil libertarians in his party. Now Presidential Nominee Obama has called the current bill ---which grants immunity to the telecoms--- a "good compromise." And Olbermann, instead of calling him out on this discrepancy, has defended this flip-flop as some necessary ingredient to the election season stew.
Greenwald points out that this wonderful transformation of Hope that seemed imminent with the nomination of Senator Obama, now is appearing more and more like Bush-lite. The same old torture, the same old abrogation of the fourth amendment, the same old jingoist pabulum, the same old faith-based initiatives, etc, etc:
In the last two weeks alone, Obama has done the following:
*intervened in a Democratic Congressional primary to support one of the worst Bush-enabling Blue Dogs over a credible, progressive challenger;
* announced his support for Bush's FISA bill, reversing himself completely on this issue;
* sided with the Scalia/Thomas faction in two highly charged Supreme Court decisions;
* repudiated Wesley Clark and embraced the patently false media narrative that Clark had "dishonored McCain's service" (and for the best commentary I've seen, by far, on the Clark matter, see this appropriately indignant piece by Iraq veteran Brandon Friedman);
* condemned MoveOn.org for its newspaper advertisement criticizing Gen. Petraeus;
* defended his own patriotism by impugning the patriotism of others, specifically those in what he described as the "the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties" for "attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself" and -- echoing Jeanne Kirkpatrick's 1984 RNC speech -- "blaming America for all that was wrong with the world";
* unveiled plans "to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and -- in a move sure to cause controversy . . . letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions," a move that could "invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination" -- something not even the Bush faith programs allowed.That's quite a two weeks.
With transcendent hope like this we may as well nominate Dick Cheney as Obama's running mate. And Olbermann can serve as Press Secretary.
UPDATE I July 3rd:
Daniel Larison at Eunomia has chimed in on the Obama reversal on FISA:
Having won the nomination, he has probably calculated that his progressive backers will not break with him now and will have nowhere to go (the fear of electing McCain is too powerful for most of them to permit protest voting), so he has positioned himself to avoid confronting either executive power or corporate interests more than he must. He will not yield to his supporters’ demands on this, because I expect he does not see them as a threat to his political advancement, and he will be lauded by “mainstream” columnists for rebuffing the left and showing that he is “responsible” and, yes, “serious.”
This reminds me of the joke about two campers rushing out of their tent when they hear an approaching bear. One camper stops to put on his shoes and the second camper says, "Why bother putting on your shoes, we'll never be able to outrun the bear!" At which point the first camper replies, "The bear? I don't have to outrun the bear."
And such it is. The political maelstrom created by the permanent abandonment of habeus corpus has created a situation whereby the next Democratic President doesn't have to be concerned with civil liberties, except to the extent that he is only slightly more concerned that his Republican opponent. Who else will folks like me vote for if not Obama?
PS (from Larison): Russ Feingold explains why the surveillance program itself is dangerous.
UPDATE 2 July 6:
Even the usually myopic Obama apologist, Frank Rich, has realized that the presumptive Democratic nominee may have "jumped the shark":
For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama’s rush to the center — some warranted, some not — what’s more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he’s reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama’s Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand. The speech could have been — and has been — delivered by any candidate of either party in any election year since 1960.
I would argue that instead of a "rush to the center", the abrogation of basic rights granted in the Constitution is rather an example of lurching headlong into the authoritarian camp of the right wing.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
In Kalamazoo we have been blessed with some of the most progressive AM radio during the afternoon drive time on WKZO-AM590. Dave Jaconette entertains us with his mix of news, movie reviews and comment which has always included a balanced and polite repartee between 3pm and 6pm. Unfortunately, the braintrust in charge of programming has cut the last hour of Dave's gabfest to start airing blowhard Glenn Beck from 5pm to 8pm. Feel free to voice your complaint to Jay the program director at email@example.com. Here's my recent missive:
Say it ain't so! At first I thought it was static from a fast moving nubula skirting earth's atmosphere, but no... that noise was the shrill meandering mind of some narcissistic right-wing vulgarian polluting my car's interior with bilious puke. Glenn Beck!!?? No freakin' way! It's bad enough I have to quickly flip through from CNN to the Weather Channel in order to avoid this hair-brained nutcase during my dinner hour, now he's on one of my radio's "favorite" buttons during my drive home!?
And where the heck is Dave? There are evenings when the rational intonations of Mr. Jaconette are the only thing keeping me from road-raging some imbecile on I-131. I guess I'll just have to drag my under-50 professional male demographic butt over to NPR where it belongs. I miss Dave already.
I'll NEVER listen to Beck. NEVER!
PS: If there were any doubt about the mental instability of Mr. Beck, just view the Youtube video of his stuporous whining about his "botched surgery." Is this really what Kalamazoo needs?