Morning Report 9/21/12

Vital Statistics:

Last Change Percent
S&P Futures 1459.3 5.5 0.38%
Eurostoxx Index 2569.4 16.4 0.64%
Oil (WTI) 93.42 1.0 1.08%
LIBOR 0.369 -0.004 -1.01%
US Dollar Index (DXY) 79.11 -0.303 -0.38%
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 1.79% 0.02%
RPX Composite Real Estate Index 194.5 0.0

Markets are higher this morning on no real news.  Today is Triple Witching (the expiration of Sep index options and futures) so sometimes you get funny moves pre-open and on the close. There is no economic data this morning. Bonds are down a few ticks, while MBS are up a few.

KB Home reported good numbers last night, with 16% increase in revenues and a 33% increase in backlog. “It is clear that the recovery in housing is gaining momentum across the country as inventory levels are declining and home prices are on the rise.  In particular we are seeing dramatic improvement in California, where we are the state’s largest homebuilder, as the continued strengthening in the coastal markets is now spreading inland to Sacramento, the Central Valley, and the Inland Empire.”  The stock is up 2.5% pre-open.

While housing is definitely improving here, Europe still has to contend with its slow-motion bank run.  Which means that banks in Spain or Italy have to increase deposit rates to prevent capital from leaving, which naturally gets passed on to borrowers.  Which contracts credit in spite of what the ECB is trying to do.

The Senate is looking into high frequency trading. The regulators are looking into whether HFT increases volatility, which is the wrong question to ask.  The correct question to ask is if they are front-running orders – meaning if you enter your order to buy 200 shares of Apple stock via your Charles Schwab account, does someone see your buy order before it hits the exchange and are they stepping in front of you and buying the stock that is out there in the hopes of selling to you a penny or two higher?  Arbitraging the different exchanges is one thing – front running is another.  To put it in perspective, if I did that as a block trader, I would probably lose my job and maybe my Series 7 license if the regulators found out. This could become a battle royale, because the NYSE loves HFT because it is such a money maker.  And it is a private entity. However as Jack Reed points out, the capital markets are also a public good.  Meh, as much as I used to gripe about the specialists on the floor of the NYSE, they did serve a purpose.  But market-making, at least in the equity markets, is long gone.

Warfare and Technology

I just assumed our technology was superior than the Taliban’s.  And it is.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean better.

A key realization: the enemy uses cheap night vision gear in the form of cameras that have night functions.  When our IR lasers, our IR strobes, our IR illumination or our IR spotlights are radiating, they can easily be seen using cheap digital cameras.  I recently told this to some Norwegian soldiers, who were as surprised as our soldiers to learn it.  I learned this from the enemy, not from our guys.  The Taliban even use smart phone cameras to watch for invisible lasers.  The enemy in Afghanistan has been caught using cameras for night vision.  It is just a stroke of common sense: I have been doing it for eight years since I noticed an IR laser one night in Iraq.


Whole thing here.

Money, money, money, money……………MONEY

I read this yesterday and thought it was depressing.  I learned that Riverside County (my county) sits at just under 17% poverty, median income is down another $3,000 since last year  and 3 times as many residents need food stamps now than needed them in 2007.  These are some of the people who don’t pay federal income taxes I guess.  I’ve never understood why, when people need the safety net the most it is always under the biggest threat.  It’s almost as if we blame the victims of the recession for the recession.  I’m sure it all comes down to money and we know it didn’t just disappear so where is it?

I read this in TomDispatch:

Here’s what the latest census data tell us: in 2011, the middle class shrank to “an all-time low” (as the Washington Post headline had it), while the income of the wealthiest Americans continued to climb.  The poverty rate leveled off at a still shuddering 15%, with more than one of every five Americans under eighteen living in poverty.  The Gini Index, a measure of income inequality, rose by 1.6%, the “biggest one-year increase in almost two decades.”

In a way, of course, this should be no news at all.  Middle-class wealth has taken a staggering hit since the economic meltdown of 2007 (and African American and Hispanic wealth has gone through the floor). This disaster, linked to the Great Recession, has had a sideline effect.  On the theory that what goes up must come down, money flooding out of American households and into the coffers of the incredibly wealthy and their corporate cronies has also been flowing back down in tidal amounts.  It’s been pouring biblically into this season’s political campaign.

The news out of the dog days of August, for example, was that the Obama and Romney campaigns had raised a total of more than $225 million dollars that month alone.  (In the 1984 presidential campaign between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, the two candidates raised a “mere” $202 million during that whole election season!)  And, of course, those figures don’t even include the dollars filling Super PACs to the bursting point and the “dark money” going into the 501(c)(4)s that don’t have to disclose where their contributions even come from.  (Eight of the top 10 Super PACs are “conservative,” reports the Daily Beast, and 77% of all contributions this campaign season will come from “business interests,” according to the invaluable Open Secrets website.)

Tom went on to publish parts of an essay by Lewis Lapham that I thought was well worth the read.  It’s the same link, the essay is under Tom’s comments which I quoted above.

Thomas Paine in the opening chapter of Common Sense finds “the strength of government and the happiness of the governed” in the freedom of the common people to “mutually and naturally support each other.” He envisions a bringing together of representatives from every quarter of society — carpenters and shipwrights as well as lawyers and saloonkeepers — and his thinking about the mongrel splendors of democracy echoes that of Plato in The Republic: “Like a coat embroidered with every kind of ornament, this city, embroidered with every kind of character, would seem to be the most beautiful.”

Published in January 1776, Paine’s pamphlet ran through printings of 500,000 copies in a few months and served as the founding document of the American Revolution, its line of reasoning implicit in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The wealthy and well-educated gentlemen who gathered 11 years later in Philadelphia to frame the Constitution shared Paine’s distrust of monarchy but not his faith in the abilities of the common people, whom they were inclined to look upon as the clear and present danger seen by the delegate Gouverneur Morris as an ignorant rabble and a “riotous mob.”

From Aristotle the founders borrowed the theorem that all government, no matter what its name or form, incorporates the means by which the privileged few arrange the distribution of law and property for the less-fortunate many. Recognizing in themselves the sort of people to whom James Madison assigned “the most wisdom to discern, and the most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society,” they undertook to draft a constitution that employed an aristocratic means to achieve a democratic end.

Accepting of the fact that whereas a democratic society puts a premium on equality, a capitalist economy does not, the contrivance was designed to nurture both the private and the public good, accommodate the motions of the heart as well as the movement of the market, the institutions of government meant to support the liberties of the people, not the ambitions of the state. By combining the elements of an organism with those of a mechanism, the Constitution offered as warranty for the meeting of its objectives the character of the men charged with its conduct and deportment, i.e., the enlightened tinkering of what both Jefferson and Hamilton conceived as a class of patrician landlords presumably relieved of the necessity to cheat and steal and lie.

Good intentions, like mother’s milk, are a perishable commodity. As wealth accumulates, men decay, and sooner or later an aristocracy that once might have aspired to an ideal of wisdom and virtue goes rancid in the sun, becomes an oligarchy distinguished by a character that Aristotle likened to that of “the prosperous fool” — its members so besotted by their faith in money that “they therefore imagine there is nothing that it cannot buy.”

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