Friday, October 9, 2009

BusinessWeek, just put my subscription on hold

Cooper's article again lacked any whiff of rational thought and underlying facts to support his thesis but an even more egregious article was penned by Ben Levishon and Mark Scott. (Editor's note: don't click the link to the article unless you want some cheesy advertisement to queue up and start playing. WTF is that?) I imagine the penning of this article took place after a long three martini afternoon at the Delmonico.

I won't bore you with the details of the article but here is the handy dandy chart (which I had to re-create because they don't include it in their online article version. Seriously, WTF?)

Notice damage, pay extra, fewer choices, cost rising.

Notice now: may affect, may ..., could rise

So based on something they overheard while watching a monkey wrestling match at Delmonico even then they could not bring themselves to state that these reforms will actually affect any pricing. "I don't know what we are yelling about... Loud Noises!!"

They did find a partner whose firm represents JP Morgan Chase, ABN Amoro, Barclay's and BNP Paribas to state "it won't make it any easier for companies and investors to dig out of the recession." So they quickly put that in their sub-head on their collateral damage chart, except the editor made them add the caveat "may."

The authors then pen this gem "Credit Default Swaps - blew up, prompting huge loses at insurer American International Group and other companies. The reforms are meant to prevent another disaster." The thing is though, they did not blow up, in fact CDS's were the only market actively trading during the entire crisis. What did happen was that AIG posted no collateral for the CDS trades they initiated. They "wrote" these contracts meaning they would take in premium periodically over the life of the contract and if the underlying security defaulted then they would have to pay out.

Well some of their contracts triggered and then they need to pay those claims out. Then their counterparties demanded that they start posting collateral for CDS they underwrote. This created a $180 billion dollar hole in AIG's balance sheet almost over night. It was not the instrument!! It was that unlike contracts that trade at the CME, the Merc, NYMEX where you have to post collateral when contracts go against you, there was no action you could take against AIG until it was too late, thus the run on the company.

The authors continue "Exchange-based derivatives cut into cash reserves. Under current requirements, companies have to fork over 3% of a contract's value as collateral up front in case the transaction goes south." Well, we already talked about that above. Their argued flaw is actually the enhancement that will prevent AIG-type companies from blowing up!!! Avoiding collateral charges because of their AAA ratings is not reasonable. This idea ensures that counterparty exposures can be nipped in the bud when companies bet wrongly in the derivative markets.

So there goes one of the boys arguments.

"The changes could also make derivatives a less effective tool for controlling expenses. Derivatives sold over the counter are tailored to a company's individual needs, while exchange-traded contracts are standardized."

The regulators are treading lightly. They want safety for the financial system, but also not to deter consenting adults from making contracts. The hope is to move CDS contracts to the exchanges where there are more safeguards. Thus far, regulators only want to move standardized contracts to the exchanges. Tailored CDS solutions will still be allowed if that is what a client needs. However, it will be out in the open and very transparent that companies will take on a huge counterparty risk if it chooses a non-exchange traded contract.

Another one bites the dust and now for the nail in the coffin.

Here is the real reason the shills are heading their masters' calls. From Satyajit Das "Derivatives by their inherent nature are also have a Mr.Hyde side. The ability to use derivatives to speculate, create off-balance sheet positions, increase leverage, arbitrage regulatory and tax rules and manufacture exotic risk cocktails will continue to be a major factor in derivative activity. The reality is that hedging and risk management is secondary to the other uses. For companies, the ability to use derivative trading to supplement traditional earnings, which are under increased pressure, is irresistible."

From the article, "In light of the changes, financial firms are pulling back on some commodity offerings for small investors...Barclays Wealth recently told high-net-worth clients to ditch exchange-traded funds that focus on commodities in favor of hedge funds and other alternatives that invest in this area."

This is probably a sane idea as well from Barclays. There is a must read article from David Merkel about investors in Commodity ETFs are being snookered.

Here is the money quote for those short on time. "One of the problems that some commodity open-end funds and ETFs run into is that their investment strategy is too simple. “Buy the front month futures contract, and roll to the second month contract before the front month expires.” Nice, it should replicate holding the commodity itself, until a large amount of money starts to do it, and other investors recognize what a slave the funds are to their strategy. So, what do the other investors do? They take the opposite side of the trade early, in order to make it more expensive to do the roll. Buy the second month contract, and short the first. As the first gets close to maturity, cover the first, sell and then short the second, and go long the third month contract. What a recipe to extract value out of the poor shlubs who buy into a commodity fund in order to get performance equivalent to the spot market."

Too bad, so sad. No real problem there accept small investors may be better protected from ETFs that do not work as advertised.

Oh no the dread of all publishers who publish an honest-to-god hold-in-your-hand periodical, there is only two paragraphs left!!!!

High-Frequency Trading

"The technique [high-frequency trading] has been controversial of late as big trading firms have booked billions in profits while their clients' portfolios have dwindled."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Cash Cow - High-Frequency Trading
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Well that was fun but seriously HFT is not a bad thing. It's much worse.

Commissions have gone down for trading. The spread may have lessened as Professor Lo points out. However, someone is paying for the spread and it is the retail investors. Now, back in the old days there was a market maker and he took the spread. He has now been pushed aside by the HFT supercomputers since they both perform the same function. However, investors and traders were willing to pay the spread to the market maker for liquidity. So when you bought the market maker sold; if you sold he bought. With the HFT there is no guarantee or onus of guaranteeing liquidity. If the bots do not want to play no one can make them. Thus, liquidity can be withdrawn from the system overnight and liquid positions may not be based on the, relatively [may be this is a mixed metaphor], solid pillar the trader believes them to be. There is a lot of information at this website.

So all in all not bad for BW, they missed on all three accounts.

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