Posts filed under “Really, really bad calls”
This morning’s post discussing Floyd Norris front page NYT column generated even more pushback than I expected.
I am always trying to create rules to help make better investment decisions and fight against my own wetware. The earlier comment stream led me to these ten ideas; ignore them at your own risk:
• Whether a premise is fundamentally true or false is irrelevant as to whether it is actionable. If enough fools believe something is so, it will impact the markets.
• Always be conscious of the cognizant biases and selective perceptions you bring to investing. Learn to recognize the same bias in the crowd, the media, and Wall Street. Avoid the herding effect.
• After a collapse (i.e., a 55% market sell off), most of the terrible structural news that existed before the collapse is reflected in prices. Let it go.
• You must acknowledge when the data gets stronger or weaker, regardless of your current market posture. Be skeptical, but not rigid.
• Market Pros simply cannot afford to sit out a major (i.e., 75%+) rally; Individuals that miss that sort of move should reconsider what their investment strategies are. If your approach has you long during selloffs and in cash during rallies, something is wrong.
• Everything cycles: Recessions turn into recoveries; bull markets give rise to bear markets. Every rally that there ever was or there ever will be eventually ends. Adapt to this truism or lose your money.
• One of the hardest things to do in investing is to reverse your thinking. It is even more difficult to do after a specific approach has been profitable for a long time. The longer the period of successful thinking, the more important the reversal will be.
• Cheap markets can get cheaper; Expensive markets can get dearer.
• The markets frequently diverge from the macro economic environment. This can be both long lasting and maddening; Your job is to be aware of how wide the gap between the two is.
• Variant perception is a rarity; Identifying the moment when the crowd figures out they are wrong is rarer still.
For those of you fighting the tape, ignoring the data and arguing against even the mere idea of a recovery, ignore the above at your own risk . . .
Alternative title: Overlaying Ideology On Every Market Event/Crisis One of the things I love most about the market is how it acts as a Rorschach test for participants and other various hanger on-ers. For any market event, there are myriad explanations, rationals, and Monday morning quarterbacking. Experience shows us that most of these commentators are…Read More
There is a longish Sunday NYT article on CEO pay that I plan on reading. But before I get to it, I wanted to share some longstanding thoughts of my own on exec compensation. While there was a temporary drop in exec comp caused by the market crash, we still have structural compensation issues that…Read More
I wanted to address a glaring error in a David Leonhardt NYT Sunday Magazine article, titled Heading Off the Next Financial Crisis, In the column, Leonhardt wrote: “But there was a fatal flaw in the new system. The banks’ new competitors received scant oversight. They were not directly bound by Roosevelt’s restrictions. “We had this…Read More
In the Sunday NYT, Greg Mankiw posits the following: • Governments cannot Regulate. Proof? Radical Deregulation failed… • “I’m not saying Fannie Mae was THE cause of the collapse — but they were a major causal factor.” • We have no clue why Economists suck — but they just do. You can read the rest…Read More
The Sunday NYT catches up with what many others who watch banks have known for a long time: John C. Dugan, the former banking lobbyist and Bush appointee to the job of Comptroller of the Currency, is a tool. Dugan’s contribution to the collapse of the United States began way back in 1989. Congress had…Read More
I have been dismayed about the latest actions out of Washington and Wall Street. The banks are now pushing all manner of mortgage mods and foreclosure abatements. These are little more than “extend & pretend” measures, designed to put off the day of reckoning. They are not only ineffective, they are counter-productive. They reward the reckless and punish the responsible, and create a moral hazard. Worse yet, they penalize middle America for the sake of giant Wall Street banks.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best thing for the nation (but not necessarily the banks) is to allow the foreclosure process to proceed unimpeded. We need more, not less foreclosures.
How did we get to this bizarre place in history? A brief recap of our story so far:
It started with the ultra-low rates of 2001-04. It was aided and abetted by an abdication of traditional lending standards, at first by non-bank lenders, but eventually, by nearly all. The Lend-to-Sell-to-Securitizer NonBanks pushed lending standards ever lower to the point of non-existence. This increased the pool of potential mortgage buyers, credit worthiness be damned.
The net result of all this was a credit bubble. I estimate that making mortgage requirements disappear brought between 10 and 20 million marginal new home buyers into the real estate market during the 2,000s decade. This drove prices to unsustainable levels, leading to a huge boom and eventual bust cycle in housing.
Prices have fallen about 30% nationally from the 2005-06 housing peak. As the artificial demand created by free money and an accompanying gold rush mentality disappeared, the housing market collapsed.
Despite this, even down 30% or so, prices still remain elevated by historical metrics. The net result has been 5 million foreclosures and counting. One in four “Home-owers” are underwater — meaning, they owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. There are another 3-5 million likely foreclosures coming over the next 5+ years.
The net results of the credit bubble are as follows:
1) An enormous number of families living in homes they cannot afford.
2) Bank balance sheets laden with current bad loans and lots of potential future defaulting loans.
3) Real Estate Sales, despite being propped up with historic low mortgage rates and tax purchase credits, are continuing to slide.
4) A weak overall economy with a very slow, soft recovery.
Whether a function of populist politics or bad economics, the proposals so far appear to address items one and three. But upon closer examination, they do nothing of the kind. In fact, they are actually gaming the system to help issue two — the bad loans the banks are carrying.
Even worse, they are making issue #4 — the economy — increasingly problematic.
We should allow the real estate market to experience a healthy price normalization process. Even though home prices have fallen dramatically, they have yet to reach their historical means relative to income or the cost of renting. This is to say nothing of the usual careening past the median towards under-valuation that typically follows a massive mis-allocation of capital.
We own a home, and have a vacation property. Rooting for falling prices is “talking against my own book.”
Why is it so beneficial to allow foreclosures to proceed unimpeded? Consider the following benefits of foreclosure:
• Increasing Economic Activity: The areas of the country with the greatest foreclosure rates have seen the biggest increase in real estate activity. Look at California and Florida — they have seen enormous upticks in sales versus the lower foreclosure states.
The process moves real estate holdings from weak hands to stronger ones. When someone purchases a home they actually can afford, they end up spending quite a bit of money on additional goods and services. They do renovations, hire contractors, make durable goods purchases, buy cars. They do lawn work, plant gardens, paint and repair. They even hire baby sitters, go out to diner and movies, they spend money in the local community.
The people who are hanging on by their fingernails, however, do almost none of these things. They pay a vastly disproportionate amount of their incomes to service their mortgages. This is not productive economic activity.
• Helping Families: Foreclosures, wrenching thought hey may be, move over-stretched families into housing they can afford. They avoid a steady stream of all manner of excess fees. The banks squeeze whatever they can from delinquent homeowners, who end up futilely tossing $1000s of dollars down the drain.
Worse, the HAMP programs have been totally ineffective in keeping families in their homes. The vast majority ultimately default anyway. More fees paid, more debt accrued, for nothing. The last thing these families need is a banking fee orgy, before they ultimate lose the house anyway.
The HAMP programs have been an enormous taxpayer subsidized boondoggle for the banks, however.
• Punishing the Prudent: The boom and bust saw irresponsible and reckless behavior by lenders and home buyers alike. They overused leverage, disregarded risk, ignored history. Having the taxpayers subsidize this behavior presents a moral hazard.
Worse than that, it punishes the people who behaved prudent and responsibly. Those who refused to buy a home they could not afford, chose not to over-extend themselves, and have been saving for a down payment are the net losers in this.
By working so feverishly to artificially reduce foreclosures and prop up home prices, we punish the first time home buyer, the newlyweds, the savers who want to buy a house they can actually afford.
The net result of all these programs and subsidies for recklessness is that we prevent home prices from normalizing. The people who are punished the most are the group that was not reckless, speculative or foolish.
• Rewarding Bad Banks: Despite the helping families rhetoric, it is not what these mods are about. The various foreclosure abatements, mortgage mods and capital write-downs are little more than a game of kick the can down the road. All of these programs are part of a broad “Extend & Pretend” mind set. They are an extension of the FASB 157 rule changes that allows banks to hide their bad loans.
The entire set of proposals canbe described as “Whats good for the banks is good for America.” Only they are not. The various foreclosure programs are essentially a way the banks don’t have to take their write offs now. Avoid the hangover, have another shot of tequila, push the pain of into the future, regardless of economic cost.
Were the banks required to report their mortgages accurately and/or write them down, they would be revealed as insolvent.
Now we get to the ugly Truth: The mortgage mods and foreclosure abatement programs are really all about propping up insolvent banking institutions on the taxpayer dollar and at the expense of the middle class. These programs are another losing round of helping Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. It is the worst kind of trickle down economics.
Herbert Spencer wrote, “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” We have done precisely that.
At the recent Make Markets Be Markets conference, I got to ask a questions of the esteemed panel — Joseph Sitglitz, George Soros, Jim Chanos, Simon Johnson, Elizabeth Warren, etc. That question was simply this: Why do Bad Ideas seems to persist for so long? How do certain concepts hang around, long after they have…Read More
Category: Really, really bad calls
On Wednesday, I posted my disgust with the kindle fanboys trashing of Michael Lewis’ new book, The Big Short. I was surprised to hear from a number of literary agents who wrote to thank me for that. They have apparently been having all manner of issues with Amazon reviewers over the years, and the kindle…Read More