How was your Saint Patrick’s/Quadruple Witching Day? I don’t know which was more distracting — the huge market volume, or all the Drums and Bagpipe bands staging for the parade 10 floors below my office window! (It makes you appreciate silence).
Well, it was another gorgeous, brisk weekend here in the NorthEast. Today brings a wildly random set of links from across the web:
• Inflation — or the lack thereof — was amongst the biggest news this
week. The "One and Done" meme made its way around the market place. I doubt 3rd time will be the charm. Why doubt? CPI was mild due to a pullback in energy prices — which has already been reversed in March. Betcha next month, we revert back to "CPI ex-energy." For more, see February CPI Tame, but . . . ;
• Speaking of Energy: Hard to imagine, but the Price of regular gas hit $2 mark one year ago; And for a really interesting discussion of Nuclear Power, check out the Global Association of Risk Professionals persepctive: Energy Risk – Is Nuclear Energy Safe and Sustainable?;
• March 19 marks the 3rd anniversary of the U.S. war in Iraq. Coverage in the mainstream media ranges from melancholy to revisionist. On the eve of the invasion, I penned a long analysis as to the true basis for invasion (no, not oil). "Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East" concludes that WMDs would not be found, U.S. military
presence would last up to a decade, and the war cost could scale up to
one trillion dollars by 2011. The investment advice based on that thesis proved quite profitable.
• The President’s approval rating hit an all time low, according to the WSJ (free). They Journal blamed nearly all of the President’s negative ratings on Iraq; Barron’s went the other direction, citing everything from "the aborted Dubai Ports deal, post-Katrina ineptitude, the furor over wiretapping, Social Security reform, budget deficits, trade deficits, the unintelligible Medicare drug plan…" (if no Barron’s, go here);
• The other big news this week was the melt down in the mideastern bourses: Black Tuesday saw the Mideast stock markets nosedive. Wags started calling the Dubai stock market "Du-Sell." Some are crediting Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal $1.3 Billion plus buys as halting the stock market plunge. Also of note internationally: Investors are fleeing Iceland banks as economy heads towards ‘hard landing’;
• Speaking of crashes: Crossing Wall Street wishes us a happy 100th on the anniversary of The Great Crash of 1906;
• A very interesting study by Bronson Capital Markets Research on Stock Market P/E Ratio Expansion and Contraction Cycles. The first few charts are quite fascinating;
Its a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the total additional mortgage payments barely amount to $15 billion per year — a figure the economy can easily absorb. The bad news is that the past 2 years saw over $1.4 Trillion dollars in mortgage equity withdrawal — a ready source of consumer spending that is likely to plummet in the coming years. (The details are here: Coming Soon: Mortgage Payment Resets and Household Borrowing and the Mortgage Resets);
• How about some good news? In additon to stellar earnings out of the brokers, we got some pretty positive research recently:
-Goldman Sachs notes Global growth momentum continues amid renewed concerns over US
-The Real Estate Journal asks: Is There Still Profit to Be Made From Buying Fixer-Upper Homes? The answer, not surpsingly, is yes — if you find a good property that’s reasonably priced (duh).
-The future in China,via Simon Hunt, He just returned from Beijing with a full China Visit Report;
• James K. Galbraith takes a dim view of all the Public and Private Debts and the Future of the American Economy; So too is Bernanke ‘quite concerned’ about budget deficit;
• Fed Governor Donald L. Kohn compares European and US Central Banks Strategies for Dealing with Market Bubbles;
• Duke University economists are not impressed with Fund of Funds performance;
Let’s shift to some technology issues:
• Judge Says Amazon Played With Toys In a Childish Way — is a brutal smackdown of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos;
• Meanwhile, first Monday notes that many of the online reviews are nonsense in Six degrees of reputation: The use and abuse of online review and recommendation systems;
• Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics is an interesting site dedicated to tech data thats chock full of all sorts of interesting data points.
On to Science:
• I found this discussion from physicist Michio Kaku utterly fascinating: The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations;
• And how about this: Jupiter growing another red spot;
• Hitachi has recorded all the Noises Which Reveal Your Hard Drive is Failing!
For those of you who prefer Jazz, check out the 1955 classic Sarah Vaughan W/ Clifford Brown, which has been lovingly restored.
• Finally, this very amusing riff on Trading is a definite laugh; We’ve all worked with thse monkeys before.
That’s all from this end, where I eagerly await Netflix delivery of Good Night, and Good Luck. That, and the March 20 speech of Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to the Economic Club of New York: Reflections on the Yield Curve and Monetary Policy (Are scalpers selling invites to this gig? How can I get in?)
The WSJ streak of taking very interesting columns and hiding them on Saturday continues.
Yesterday, they asked: Are some CEOs reaping millions by landing stock options when they are most valuable amatter of dumb luck — or something else?
"On a summer day in 2002, shares of
Affiliated Computer Services Inc. sank to their lowest level in a year.
Oddly, that was good news for Chief Executive Jeffrey Rich.
annual grant of stock options was dated that day, entitling him to buy
stock at that price for years. Had they been dated a week later, when
the stock was 27% higher, they’d have been far less rewarding. It was
the same through much of Mr. Rich’s tenure: In a striking pattern, all
six of his stock-option grants from 1995 to 2002 were dated just before
a rise in the stock price, often at the bottom of a steep drop.
lucky? A Wall Street Journal analysis suggests the odds of this
happening by chance are extraordinarily remote — around one in 300
billion. The odds of winning the multistate Powerball lottery with a $1
ticket are one in 146 million.
Suspecting such patterns aren’t
due to chance, the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining
whether some option grants carry favorable grant dates for a different
reason: They were backdated. The SEC is understood to be looking at
about a dozen companies’ option grants with this in mind.
Journal’s analysis of grant dates and stock movements suggests the
problem may be broader. It identified several companies with wildly
improbable option-grant patterns. While this doesn’t prove chicanery,
it shows something very odd: Year after year, some companies’ top
executives received options on unusually propitious dates.
analysis bolsters recent academic work suggesting that backdating was
widespread, particularly from the start of the tech-stock boom in the
1990s through the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform act of 2002. If so,
it was another way some executives enriched themselves during the boom
at shareholders’ expense. And because options grants are long-lived,
some executives holding backdated grants from the late 1990s could
still profit from them today."
The chart below implies that the odds against these being random are quite high. (I guess Sarbanes Oxley didn’t root out all the corporate corruption after all).
Last week it was the mortgage resets, and this week its CEO Options. Great stories, buried on the front page — of the Saturday edition . . .
The Perfect Payday
CHARLES FORELLE and JAMES BANDLER
WSJ, March 18, 2006; Page A1
How the Journal Analyzed Stock-Option Grants
WSJ, March 18, 2006; Page A5