Posts filed under “Think Tank”

Tom Carvel Only Gave Franchises to Poor People

Bob Lefsetz is a music industry observer, and publisher of the Lefsetz letter:


Tom Carvel would only give franchises to poor people.

Ever since I went to Jim Lewi’s food festival at Shoreline, I’ve been hooked by the Food Network. It started watching Triple D on on demand, then Felice got hooked on the competition shows and now it’s a TV mainstay.

Triple D? That’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”. Unless you only eat haute cuisine or believe salt is the enemy and hot dogs will give you cancer, you’ve got to watch this show: Individuals like indie bands start their own restaurants, follow their own muse, and deliver food so delectable that word spreads, until someone e-mails host Guy Fieri and he shows up with his camera crew. I can’t cook a lick, but the way the owners put a dollop of this and a dash of that into a pot and end up delivering something that generates smiles is incredibly intriguing, makes me want to buy a Camaro and take to the road just like Guy. (Who’s actually taking to the road, doing his own tour, see dates here: I’ve seen his act and he’s got tons more star power than most musicians, he knows how to work a crowd.)

So that’s become the default channel on Felice’s television, the Food Network. And when I walked into the bedroom after listening to Tom Petty on Blu-Ray, she was watching a show about legends. On screen was Tom Carvel.


It was really an east coast thing, Felice wasn’t familiar. But Carvel ice cream was the Ben & Jerry’s of its day. A special treat that made you feel fully alive with every lick, a cult we were proud to be a member of.

There was one outlet downtown. And another on the Post Road in Westport. Around the corner from our house, on Black Rock Turnpike, was Dairy Queen. We went there after each Little League victory, but it was akin to Wonder Bread. Sure, you could lacquer your cone with a hard plastic shell, but the ice cream?

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Category: Think Tank

Andy Xie: What We Can Learn as Japan’s Economy Sinks

Japan hasn’t sustained growth bounces for decades, nor will it under the DPJ government. Therein lie lessons for other economies.

By Andy Xie, guest economist to Caijing and a board member of Rosetta Stone Advisors Ltd.

09-16 08:56 Caijing

(Caijing Magazine) Japan has had a political earthquake. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that ruled Japan since the end of the World War II lost most of its seats in the latest election, while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 308 of 480 lower house seats, complementing its majority in the upper house.

Now, DPJ is in a strong position to undertake structural reforms. Indeed, a big political change brings hope in any country that’s stagnated for as long as Japan. However, DPJ is unlikely to turn around Japan’s economy anytime soon. LDP, in the name of Keynesian stimulus, spent all its money over the past decade on wasteful investments, leaving DPJ with no resources for reform. I’m afraid DPJ has an impossible situation on its hands.

Anyone who doesn’t believe in the harm of a financial bubble but does believe in Keynesian stimulus magic should visit Japan. A likely dip for the Anglo-Saxon economies next year will underscore these truths. The same goes for anyone who thinks China’s latest real estate bubble, asset borrowing and shadow banking system are worthwhile substitutes for real economic growth.

The world including China can learn a lot by looking at what’s happened to Japan, and what’s in store for DPJ. Since Japan’s stock market bubble burst in 1989 and the land market popped in 1992, the LDP government has run up debt equal to nearly 200 percent GDP in hopes of reviving the economy. And its economy has stagnated.

The burst of the global credit bubble in 2008 brought down Japan’s export machine. That was its only hope. Now, of all OECD economies, Japan’s looks most like a depression. Its nominal GDP declined 8 percent in the first quarter 2009 from the year before. Although its economy rebounded a bit in the second quarter, nominal GDP for 2009 is still expected to decline substantially and will likely be lower than in 1993.

Many analysts blame Japan’s problems on corporate inefficiency. This is partly true. Japan has had a hyper-competitive export sector. Domestic, demand-oriented industries are inefficient due to labor market practices. More importantly, sectors that became massively levered during the bubble years have been walking like zombies for two decades, weighing down the economy’s overall efficiency. Japan’s inefficiencies are largely a consequence of its decision to prop these industries.

U.S. return on asset (ROA) was twice as high as that in Japan. But, in hindsight, higher ROA in the United States was mostly a bubble phenomenon. Much of U.S. corporate profitability was due to financial engineering. In one aspect, the export performance of Japan’s corporate sector has done very well — much better than its U.S. counterpart. Japan’s exports doubled in yen terms between 1993 and 2008, and the sector’s share of GDP nearly doubled to 16 percent from 9 percent, even though the yen remained strong during the period. The performance of Japan’s export sector shows its inefficiencies elsewhere were largely due to shortcomings in the system.

Japan’s stagnation has been linked to government handling of debt overhang in the corporate sector — mainly in the real estate, construction, and retail sectors, and left over from the bubble era. In the 1980s, especially after the Plaza Accord, Japan’s corporate sector accumulated a massive amount of debt for financial speculation. Total corporate debt more than doubled to about 900 trillion yen, or 200 percent of GDP, from 1984-’92. After land and stock prices collapsed, the net value of the corporate sector’s financial assets switched from about 30 percent of GDP to a minus 50 percent of GDP. If the change in land holding value is included, the corporate sector’s net worth may have fallen by 200 percent of GDP. As corporate profits are about 10 percent of GDP in a developed economy, Japan’s corporate sector would need two decades to earn its way back.

The Japanese government did choose to let the corporate sector earn its way back, first by preventing bankruptcies and second by stimulating demand. To achieve the first goal, the government kept interest rates near zero and Japanese banks did not pursue mark-to-market accounting in assessing borrower solvency. With a big chunk of the corporate sector zombie-like, the economy, of course, was always facing downward pressure. The government had to run large fiscal deficits to prop up the economy. After the bubble, Japan’s economic equilibrium stagnated and the fiscal deficit swelled.

This strategy was flawed in three aspects. First, even as the corporate sector earns profits to pay down debt, the government’s debt is rising. At best, it is shifting corporate debt to government debt. In reality, government debt has been rising faster than private sector debt has been falling.

Second, economic efficiencies don’t increase in such equilibrium. Existing resources in the zombie sector are essentially unproductive. Bankruptcies improve efficiency by shifting resources from failing to succeeding companies. When rules are changed to stop bankruptcies, efficiency is sacrificed. Worse, incremental resources are sucked up to pay fiscal deficits used to prop up zombie industries. Japan is thus trapped in equilibrium of low productivity.

Third, a long period of stagnation could worsen irreversible social change. A falling birth rate, for example, is one consequence that is wreaking havoc on the Japanese economy. Japan’s post-bubble policy was to let property prices decline gradually. Hence, living costs also declined gradually. On the other hand, the economy stopped growing, which caused income expectations to quickly adjust downward. The combination of high property prices and low income growth rapidly pushed down Japan’s birth rate. As a consequence, Japan’s population is declining two decades after the bubble. The rising burden of caring for the old will lower Japan’s ability to pay for anything else.

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Category: Think Tank

Nukes, War & Markets

David R. Kotok co-founded Cumberland Advisors in 1973 and has been its Chief Investment Officer since inception. He holds a B.S. in Economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an M.S. in Organizational Dynamics from The School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Kotok is also a member of the National Business Economics Issues Council (NBEIC), the National Association for Business Economics (NABE), the Philadelphia Council for Business Economics (PCBE), and the Philadelphia Financial Economists Group (PFEG).


September 26, 2009


Remember the old story about the kid and cookie jar?  “If you do that one more time, I will punish you,” says the mom.  This latest two-months so-called “line in the sand” is not the first, nor the second, nor the third time.  The only thing different now is that the Brits (Brown), the French (Sarkozy), and the Americans (Obama) are collectively drawing it.  Make no bones about it; it will be tested by the power in Tehran.

The Iranians are caught in a fully disclosed lie.  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pronounced: Ach-pitoui MAD Jihad) proves himself the worst of his ilk in the political category. He is a thug like Chavez or Kim or Mugabe, but he has one thing that they do not have: he has a credible weapon in the making.  And he has oil and money and is empowered by an oppressive political constituency (mullahs) that preserve him.

Prez A shows his true colors when he uses historical revisionism as a political tactic.  That becomes the basis for distracting others within his country and for arguing policy abroad.  Larry Kings interview is worth watching for those who might disagree with this contention.

For me, this one is easy to call.  I’ve walked through Auschwitz twice.  That’s right, an American Jew walked in and out of a crematorium; it’s the one in the back of Birkenau that wasn’t fully destroyed.  I’ve visited the “white ponds” in the back where 800,000 souls have their ashen remains interned and where the gray color of the water is still there after a half a century and where you can still walk and kick the dirt and find a small fragment of a bone and wonder if it is a remnant of a Holocaust victim and not something deposited there by a stray cat.

The notion of a Holocaust denier holding the key to a nuke is frightening.  He is a leader of an Islamic revolutionary state and has one mushroom cloud in the making.  There is no choice for the Western world, in my view.  Think about it: in 1981 the Israelis took out the Iraqi nuke weeks before it was about to be turned on.  The location was Osirak.  Google it if you are too young to remember this history.  Imagine how the world would look if Saddam Hussein had gotten his nuke.  Then close your eyes, think back further into history and imagine that the West had responded to Hitler with something other than Chamberlain’s pacifism.  Contemplate the silliness of failed sanctions and realize that they only empowered the regime that is targeted.  Ask yourself if our sanctions on sales of helium (the Hindenburg used hydrogen) had any effect.

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Category: Think Tank

Words from the (investment) wise 9.27.09

Words from the (investment) wise for the week that was (September 21 – 27, 2009)

After hitting its best levels of the year on Wednesday ahead of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) communiqué, the S&P 500 Index ran into heavy weather on the realization that the Fed could start scaling back on emergency support of the economy. US equities dropped further later in the week on renewed concerns about the state of the troubled housing market and weaker-than-expected durable goods orders.

In addition to global stock markets declining, risky assets such as commodities, oil, gold and other precious metals all sold off as pundits worried about the winding down of quantitative easing puncturing the “liquidity rally”. Government and corporate bonds, as well as the Japanese yen, emerged as winners.


Hat tip: The Big Picture, September 23, 2009.

The FOMC maintained its loose monetary policy following its meeting on Wednesday. The statement said the committee expected to keep the Fed funds rate target in the 0% to 0.25% range “for an extended period”.

“The committee extended the time period over which it plans to purchase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt and mortgage-backed securities. The remarks on current economic conditions were more optimistic than in August, and the FOMC now believes the recession is over. The Fed will keep monetary policy loose in the near term to support the recovery but is laying the groundwork for an eventual tightening,” said Moody’s

Although the US Dollar Index (+0.4%) closed a little higher on the week, the greenback hit a one-year low against the euro on Wednesday, with the Fed’s indication of keeping US interest rates at current levels for a while longer underscoring the dollar’s status as a carry-trade funding currency. (Click here for a short technical analysis of the outlook for the dollar by‘s Adam Hewison.)

The past week’s performance of the major asset classes is summarized by the chart below – a set of numbers that shows risk aversion creeping back into financial markets.



A summary of the movements of major global stock markets for the past week, as well as various other measurement periods, is given in the table below.

The MSCI World Index (-1.4%) and MSCI Emerging Markets Index (-1.2%) both closed the week in the red, with the Shanghai Composite Index (-4.2%) one of the biggest losers among the major stock markets. After bucking the global weakness that prevailed during the week, Chile is now only 5.1% down from its July 2007 highs and could be one of the first markets to wipe out all the financial crisis losses.

The major US indices declined for three consecutive days (from Wednesday to Friday) and registered their first weekly drop since the last week of August. The year-to-date gains remain in positive territory and are as follows: Dow Jones Industrial Index +10.1%, S&P 500 Index +15.6%, Nasdaq Composite Index +32.6% and Russell 2000 Index +19.9%.

Click here or on the table below for a larger image.


Top performers in the stock markets this week were Latvia (+8.0%), Cyprus (+6.8%), Israel (+5.0%), Ukraine (+4.9%) and Saudi Arabia (+4.1%). At the bottom end of the performance rankings, countries included Luxembourg (_8.7%), Ireland (-4.2%), China (-4.2%), Mexico (-4.0%) and South Africa (_3.3%).

Of the 98 stock markets I keep on my radar screen, 44% recorded gains (last week 81%), 51% (15%) showed losses and 5% (4%) remained unchanged. (Click here to access a complete list of global stock market movements, as supplied by Emerginvest.)

John Nyaradi (Wall Street Sector Selector) reports that, as far as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are concerned, the winners for the week included Global X/InterBolsa FTSE Colombia 20 (GXG) (+6.0%), Market Vectors High-Yield Municipal (HYD) (+2.9%), iPath S&P 500 VIX Mid-Term Futures (VXZ) (+2.9%) and United States Natural Gas (UNG) (+2.8%).

At the bottom end of the performance rankings, ETFs included United States Gasoline (UGA) (-10.8%), United States Oil (USO) (-8.4%), United States 12 Month Oil (USL) (-8.3%) and iShares Dow Jones Home Construction (ITB) (_8.3%).

Against the background of the International Monetary Fund’s approval of the sale of 403.3 metric tons of its gold and beggar-thy-neighbor currency devaluations, Richard Russell reminded us of the following quote from the Republican National Platform in 1932: “The Republican Party established and will continue to uphold the gold standard and will oppose any measure which will undermine the government’s credit or impair the integrity of our national currency. Relief by currency inflation is unsound in principle and dishonest in results.” Russell added: “My, how times have changed, and not always for the better.”

Other news is that the summit of G20 countries have agreed, inter alia, to plot a roadmap for the banking industry, align economic policy, ensure that tax havens comply with global standards and phase out subsidies for fossil fuels in the “medium term”.

Also, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) closed another bank on Friday, bringing the tally of US bank failures in 2009 to 95 (120 since the beginning of the recession). Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, regulators are considering a plan to have the nation’s healthy banks lend billions of dollars to rescue the FDIC. This would enable the fund, which is running low on resources as a result of the myriad of bank failures, to continue to rescue the sickest banks … “You can’t make up stuff like this!,” commented Bill King (The King Report).

Next, a quick textual analysis of my week’s reading. Although “banks” still features prominently, the key words have started taking on a more normal pattern compared with the crisis-related words that have dominated the tag cloud for many months.


The major moving-average levels for the benchmark US indices, the BRIC countries and South Africa (where I am based) are given in the table below. With the exception of the Shanghai Composite Index, which is trading below its 50-day moving average, all the indices are above their respective 50- and 200-day moving averages. The 50-day lines are also in all instances above the 200-day lines.

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Category: Markets, Think Tank

The Death of the Newspaper

Category: Financial Press, Think Tank

Welcome to the New Normal

Welcome to the New Normal September 25, 2009
By John Mauldin

What We See And What We Don’t See

The Statistical Recovery

A Double-Dip Recession?

Welcome to the New Normal

Birthdays, New Orleans, and then the Road Trip from Hell


Unemployment is high and rising. But if the recession is over, won’t employment start to rise? The quick answer is no. We look deeper into the Statistical Recovery and find yet more reasons to be concerned about near-term deflation. This week we  consider all things unemployment and ponder the need to create at least 15 million jobs in the next five years to return to a full-employment economy – and the implications for both the US and world economies if we don’t. Economic is often about what we can clearly see, and yet it is understanding what we can’t see that gives us true insight. We start with a collection of facts that we can see and then begin a thought exercise to find
the implications.

What We See

First, the unemployment rate is now officially at 9.7%. We are approaching the official high we last saw at the end of the double-dip1982 recession. In the chart below, notice that unemployment rose throughout 1980 and then began to decline, before rising rapidly as the economy entered the second recession within two years. Also notice the rapid drop in unemployment following that
recession, as opposed to the recessions of 1991-92 and 2001-02, which have been characterized as jobless recoveries. Unemployment was as low as 3.8% in 2000 and saw a cycle low of 4.4% in early 2007.

(For the record, all this data is available on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. There is a treasure trove of data. They are quite open about what they do and how they do it. When I call
to ask a question, they are quite helpful. How people interpret the data is not their fault.)

This headline unemployment number (9.7%) is what we see when we read the paper. What we typically don’t see is the real number of unemployed. For instance, if you have not actively looked for a job in the last four weeks, even if you would like one, you are not counted as unemployed. You are called a “marginally attached” or “discouraged” worker. Often there are very good reasons for this. You could be sick, dealing with a family emergency, going back to school, or  not have transportation.

Right now, about one-third of marginally attached workers actively want jobs but have not bothered to look because they believe there are no jobs in their area, at least not for them. If you add that extra 758,000 to the unemployment data, you get what is called U-4 unemployment, which today is 10.2%. If you count all marginally attached workers the unemployment number is 11% (U-5 unemployment).

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Category: Employment, Think Tank

Is The Market About To “Undo” The Federal Reserve’s Purchases?

> James Bianco has run Bianco Research out of Chicago since November 1990. He has been producing fixed income commentaries with a circulation of hundreds of portfolio managers and traders. Jim’s commentaries have a special emphasis on: money flow characteristics of primary dealers, mutual funds, hedge funds, futures traders, banks, and institutional investors. Prior to…Read More

Category: Federal Reserve, Think Tank


The Final reading of the Sept U of Michigan confidence number was 3 points higher than expected at 73.5, up from the initial figure of 70.2 and from 65.7 in Aug. It’s at the highest level since Jan ’08. Both Current Conditions and the Economic Outlook rose from the preliminary report and from Aug. Of…Read More

Category: MacroNotes

SPX Top ?

For the past 42 years, Bob Bronson has applied a disciplined, analytical approach to understanding and forecasting capital markets and advising investment advisors. Through his rigorous analysis of capital markets and economic data and his background in mathematics and financial economics, he has developed a number of unique investment concepts and refined portfolio-management techniques that…Read More

Category: Technical Analysis, Think Tank

Durable Goods

August new orders of Durable Goods unexpectedly fell 2.4% headline vs a consensus rise of .4% and were flat ex transportation vs expectations of a gain of 1%. The prior month was revised a hair. Non Defense Capital Goods ex Aircraft, the core cap ex component, fell .4% after a 1.3% drop in July. Vehicles…Read More

Category: MacroNotes