Sluggish Recovery, Good for Investors

If you read the headlines right after Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the Senate Banking Committee today, July 21, 2010, you would think the world is coming to an end.  AP prints, “STOCKS FALL SHARPLY….” while Reuters states, “OUTLOOK UNUSUALLY UNCERTAIN….”  The fact is that a sluggish economy will benefit smart investors.  Smart investors do not act solely on emotion and fear because they are savvy enough to know that harbingers of gloom and doom who write about the stock market, the economy and investments know just as much as Mr. Adam Monk, the stock-picking monkey who reportedly made a lot of money for those who followed his picks.  Harbingers of gloom and doom quickly reverse themselves the moment the wind changes direction.  It is like following the herd which is not hard to do.

The fact is that a sluggish economy will keep inflation and interest rates down making it easier for consumers to purchase.  Prices of goods especially large ticket items such as automobiles, home appliances, furniture and computers will be kept in check.  The price of real estate had been rolled back to a decade ago in many areas of the country.  This, coupled with low mortgage rates should encourage first time homebuyers and real estate investors alike to snap up bargains. A sluggish recovery will put more pressure on this administration to rethink its goal of increasing taxes.  A sluggish recovery would prove to this administration that taxing the rich and increasing entitlements is not the way to economic recovery and prosperity.  A sluggish recovery means the consumer is not spending as much as expected in a typical expansion.  Hence, the consumer has more money to pay down his debt and to increase his savings.  He is poised to spend.  He may go out on a spending spree at the onset of any type of good news because in our culture, in a free market society, the consumer has an intrinsic need to keep up with the Joneses.  Another important factor is that many businesses are reporting record profits but are reluctant to invest and hire due to uncertainty about taxes, Europe’s debt crisis and more government regulations.  When the uncertainty goes away, the recovery may catch fire quickly and may even overheat.  The European bank stress test results to be disclosed this Friday, July 23 may add to more uncertainty which may cause investors to dump stocks. But the savvy investor can look beyond the horizon.

Geithner and Bernanke know what is going on with the economy and they have the power to change things.  Bernanke told lawmakers today, "If the recovery seems to be faltering, we have to at least review our options but no further action is planned for now because the economy is still growing”.  Geithner has the power to counsel President Obama with regard to taxes and he must have told Obama that the private sector does not like tax increases.  I predict that this administration will take appropriate action if signs point to another recession which President Obama will have to own.  He will not let this fragile recovery slide back into a recession because that would most likely seal his fate as a one-term president.  To me, fixing this economy is as simple as following what JFK, Reagan and Clinton did, and that was to reduce corporate and capital gains taxes.  Obama may be compelled to follow the same route if the economy appears to be sliding back into a recession and once again, that would be good for investors.

If this recovery continues to be sluggish but does not fall back into a recession, stock prices will continue to rise even though they may turn sideways some days and drop halfway to the floor other days.  Yes stocks will rise and fall but they will not sink to recession level prices unless there is another recession.  Economics 101 and plain common sense.

This article is not intended to provide financial advice.  Please consult your financial advisor before acting on any advice provided herein.

Any opinions and views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

What causes stock market fluctuations?

Ken Little who authored 12 books on investing and personal finance gives the following reasons for the drop in stock prices:  Interest rates, inflation, earnings, oil and energy prices, war and terrorism, crime and fraud and serious domestic political unrest.  With all due respect to Mr. Little, what he pointed out are the symptoms of the disease rather than the disease itself.  The disease which causes the stock market to tumble significantly is recession.  Yes the stock market will fall at the onset of various bad news such as an increase in the interest rates and energy prices, instability of the Euro Banking system and the high jobless rate.  But if these factors do not lead to a recession, the stock market should quickly recover and continue to rise. Sudden market fluctuation is significant for short-term traders but should not be for long term investors because the market always recovers after a recession.  It would be nice if you can predict the highs and lows of the market because you could have made a killing if you had sold in October 2007 when the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 14,000 and bought again in March 2009 when it plunged to a low of 6,600.  Therefore, the Eurozone problem, high jobless rate, the downgrading of Spanish bonds, North and South Korean conflict, Israeli’s deadly raid and the BP oil spill do not worry me as much as decrease in retail sales, reduction in hiring, declining commodity prices, industrial production and housing starts.  The day-traders may drive down the stock market purely on investor sentiment and emotion, and we may yet see a DJIA of 9,000 in just a few weeks, but it defies logic for a downward trend to continue if all leading economic indicators are pointing upwards.  This is all intricately connected because if stocks do not recover quickly, and we get into a prolonged bear market, consumer confidence may deteriorate resulting in reduced consumer spending.   Again, I do not see a protracted bear market unless we are heading for another recession.

We must go back to basics to enable us to assess where we are now in the economic recovery.  Recessions are a normal part of a business cycle.  Recession comes from the word “recess” which most of us know is the suspension of whatever we are doing in order to have fun and relaxation.  As in “let the children play during recess”.  However, in business lingo recession is a word that is feared by most people because it can be defined as the suspension of consumer spending or to put in milder terms, an intermission from spending.  In economic terms recession is often referred to as a “contraction” of the economy and the recovery which follows is commonly called an economic expansion.  Recession is feared by most people because it results in the reduction of wealth.

Historically, recessions are brief with this last one, dubbed “the great recession” being the most severe since the great depression.  It is the consensus of many economists that this last recession lasted 18 months.  Now that we know recessions are merely temporary suspension of consumer spending, we can be sure that economic growth will follow shortly unless a catastrophic event ensues, such as the collapse of the banking system leading to a depression, another bubble burst or some kind of a natural disaster.  It is the opinion of many economists that “the Great Recession” has not been followed by a “Great Recovery” because taxes and government spending have not been reduced by this administration.  Historically, tax cuts have always spurred economic growth.

But where are we now in the course of this economic expansion after the great recession?  I have a more optimistic outlook and I am hoping that we are halfway back up a “V” shape recovery and not in a “U” shape recovery.  The European Debt Crisis and the high unemployment rate alone should not cause the stock market to plunge. First, the European Debt Crisis has been alleviated by the commitment of the European Union Central Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to pledge almost $1 trillion in bail out money (Le Tarpe) for ailing Eurozone countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.  Le Tarpe has a great potential for success if used judiciously in buying junk bonds of troubled countries but The European Central Bank must continue to demand austerity measures from leaders of these countries.  Although Greece’s default is imminent, Le Tarpe should temper investors’ sentiment since the bail out money should tide Greece over for a year or two.  The stock market plunge this month, the worst May for stocks since 1940 was caused by investors’ panic and uncertainty about Le Tarpe.

Second, the high jobless rate of 10% is not enough to derail the recovery.  Even if the entire unemployed population stops spending, there is still the remaining 90% of the working population, which according to statistics, continues to consume.  If consumer spending is lower than forecast in May, that would worry me and I am sure it would worry stock market investors.  Despite the high jobless rate the private sector is still reporting robust increase in hiring through the end of April.  What would cause the stock market to plunge some more is bad economic news that could signal another recession.  And going back to basics again—what will erode consumer confidence and stop the consumer from spending?  For starters:  Reduction of income; job insecurity; debt increase due to higher interest rates; inflation; diminution of assets, of investments and other tangible property such as real estate.

This article is not intended to provide financial advice.  Please consult your financial advisor before acting on any advice provided herein.

Any opinions and views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

PIIGS: Too Big to Fail

The largest economy in the world, The United States of Europe, officially called the European Union is facing a financial crisis that could weigh down our own economic recovery.  The bears on Wall Street have outnumbered the bulls, focusing on the economic upheaval in Europe instead of the good economic news here at home.  Economic indicators here in the U.S. are still pointing upwards indicating the continuation of our recovery from the great recession.  Housing starts rose an estimated 5.8% in April to an annual rate of 672,000; retail sales were up 0.4% beating expectations; industrial production moved higher; 1st quarter earnings of 75% of companies in the S&P 500 have exceeded expectation and most notably, the private sector added 32,000 jobs according to ADP.  Various economists differ in their projection of job growth this year, from a low of 300,000 to a high of 1 million private sector jobs.  I believe that the extension of unemployment and health benefits is a disincentive for many unemployed workers to seek work, thereby contributing to the high unemployment rate which has been hovering around 10%.

The malaise in Europe is hard to ignore because our global economies are all inter-connected.  The failure of any of the EU’s most ailing economies, the PIIGS which is an acronym for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain could send a tsunami of global economic woe: a financial meltdown much worse than the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008.  The PIIGS are less affluent countries than their northern neighbors such as Germany and France and there is such a disparity of wealth between member nations.  The IMF/European Debt Bailout of 750 billion Euros, which has been nicknamed “Le TARP”, pacified the market early last week so the bulls started running again driving up the Dow Jones Industrial Averages (DJIA) 500 points from the previous week’s low of 10,380.  As reality sank in, investors became jittery and gravitated towards tangible investments such as gold, driving up its price to $1220 an ounce.

Reality is that Greece will eventually default.  It is my educated opinion based on facts.  Greece is the second most corrupt developed country in the world according to Forbes Magazine.  It is easy to bribe Government officials.  It is a social democracy, a welfare state with generous entitlement programs which includes early retirement, state pensions, and huge bonuses for public employees and a generous cradle to grave health care system.   The wealthiest members of society, shipping magnates like Onassis, lawyers, doctors and other highly paid professionals have traditionally avoided paying direct taxes.  I do not think the Greek populace can swallow the austerity measures being currently debated by the Greek parliament.  Public anger in Greece will continue running at explosive levels. Why should the Greeks agree to do away with their entitlements which have been their way of life for such a long time?  Besides, most Greeks do not blame themselves nor their government for their predicament.  Rather, many Greeks would argue that the U.S. caused the financial meltdown leading to the severe world wide recession and banking crisis. Greece’s accumulated deficit is running 113% of GDP.  They have ran out of money to pay for their bonds that are coming due.  The solution is to issue more long term bonds to raise money but their government bonds have been downgraded making it impossible to sell them to continue to finance deficit spending.

Austerity measures being proposed include the freezing of government pay till 2014; dispensing with the 2-month bonus for public employees; increasing of the retirement age from 61 to 63; increasing VAT (Value Added Tax) from 19 to 23%.  It is reported that 1/3 of the Le TARP money or 250 Euros will come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of which 10 billion Euros is the contribution of the U.S.

Volcker’s statement last week that the Euro may break up, points to the core of the problem of the European Union. The Euro has gone down from its high of $1.50 per Euro last November to a low of $1.24 this week.   The problem is that on one hand, member countries have become financially responsible for each other as magnified by this crisis.  On the other hand, member countries have very little influence on how another country is governed because each member is an indivisibly sovereign state. At least if Greece goes back to its own currency, the drachma, it will suffer on its own for its fiscal irresponsibility.  This current crisis is testing the EU if it can stay united and if the Euro will be preserved.

The 750 billion Euros may not be enough to rescue Greece.  It certainly will not be enough to bail out other PIIGS in case any of them defaults on their external debts.  If one falls, it would be followed by another and another and another.  And this is what worries me and makes me bearish on the market despite the good economic reports in this country.

This article is not intended to provide financial advice.  Please consult your financial advisor before acting on any advice provided herein.

Any opinions and views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

A tale of Two States

Although Election Day is not until November 3, 2009, the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey are just about over.  Republican candidate Bob McDonnell will win in Virginia and Democrat Jon Corzine will be re-elected in New Jersey.

Virginia is the only state in the union which limits the governor to a single four-year term.  Tim Kaine, the incumbent would have been re-elected easily.  Instead, the office is being contested by Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds.  Bob McDonnell holds a 7% lead and I believe he would hold on to that lead until Election Day.  The Washington Post cited a White House Official for “throwing Creigh Deeds under the bus”, by distancing Obama from Deeds.  The unnamed official reportedly said “Creigh Deeds is bad for Creigh Deeds. Period” meaning that a Deeds’ loss is not a harbinger of doom for Obama.  My opinion is that Deeds made a big strategic mistake from the beginning of his campaign. In a traditionally Republican state, he attempted to distance himself from Obama so as to allay the fears of certain white rural voters who still retain some prejudice against African Americans.  In the process he managed to estrange himself from a large percentage of the Democrat voter base.  I would consider it a small miracle if Creigh Deeds manages to pull it off and win the election on Tuesday.

New Jersey is the highest taxed state in the nation if you combine property taxes with state, sales and business taxes. Just to give the reader an idea, the real estate tax on a house that is valued at $500,000 in some NJ municipalities can be as much as $18,000 a year (source: 

New Jersey has the highest automobile insurance premiums in the nation.  New Jersey is also considered one of the most corrupt states in the union.  The arrest of several NJ public officials in July 2009 proves the point.  Corzine increased the sales tax from 6% to 7%; suspended homestead tax rebates;  limited the real estate tax deduction to $10,000; tripled the deficit which his office projects to be 10 billion dollars next year;  and the most recent data indicates unemployment rate has increase to 9.7% (source:

But why will the voters return Corzine back into office?  Because more than anything else elections are about personalities.  Issues take a back seat to style and charisma of the candidates.  Jon Corzine does not have much of charisma or style but Chris Christie has even less.  Even though Christie has been a tough prosecutor his name alone denotes some kind of an effeminate weakness.  In campaign spending, Corzine has been outspending Christie 4 to 1.  Corzine’s attack ads portray Christie in negative light, from being in bed with insurance companies to being a fat slob.  The negative ads have taken their toll.  Christie was up 16% in some polls last month but the most recent polls show Corzine pulling ahead with a 2 point lead.  If charisma and style make elections, the Republican Party is in such a sad state of affairs in New Jersey.  The two candidates who competed in the GOP primary were obese Chris Christie and legally blind Steve Lonergan who appeared in several debates like he was wearing part of a squirrel for a hair piece.  This discussion will not be complete without mentioning independent candidate Chris Dagget.  There is no question Dagget would take votes away from Chris Christie.  I would consider it a major miracle if Chris Christie can eke out a narrow victory over Jon Corzine on Tuesday.

Any opinions and views herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

BUSH-OBAMA Recession, No Different from the Rest

Many economists, prognosticators, financial pundits, stock brokers and financial planners have committed a big blunder or a big hoax by proclaiming this recession different from the rest and the worst since the great depression.  The fact is I believe this recession is no different from the previous post war recessions.  Those who share my belief have made a lot of money in the stock market during this recession.  In the first quarter of this year, the majority of financial pundits I watched on TV advised investors, some of whom have already lost 50% of their savings at that time,  “to stay out of the market” unless they have 10 or more years to go before retirement.  Who knows how many took their advice and got out of the market, thereby missing the bull market that started in March and is still going strong as of this minute.   In January and February, many financial experts were predicting the Dow Jones Averages to go down to 5,000.  In “DIDOSPIN-11,000 DOW, August 7, 2009” when DJIA was 9,370, I predicted the Dow to climb to 10,000 before the end of the year and to 11,000 before the end of next year.  It already reached 10,000 last week. Most of the financial experts I watched on the Lou Dobbs and Larry Kudlow shows collectively stated that “it may take 10 years to recover losses in retirement plans…”   Shame on them for being so incompetent or for perpetrating a hoax!   Those investors who stayed put have already gained back most of what they have lost and I believe this bull market still has legs before the next significant market correction.

In “DIDOSPIN- Obama’s Recession, March 8, 2009”, I said “Recessions are part of a normal economic cycle.  Soon consumers will come back and resume buying necessities such as refrigerators, TVs, computers, furniture, cars…”  How true!  A lower than expected contraction in GDP at 1% in the 2nd quarter is believed to have been followed by a small positive increase in GDP in the 3rd quarter, although official stats have not yet been released.  I predicted a much bigger increase in GDP the 4th quarter.  The increase in GDP is an indication of an increase in consumer spending.  One thing to remember is that GDP stats do no even take into consideration business to business consumption, only the consumption of the ultimate consumer or end-user.  This is something that many people are not aware of. 

I secretly scoffed at my boss in January when he told me in a panic that we must dig in our heels in this “worst ever recession”.  I told him, “We’ve seen this before, the last one in 2001….” “No, no, no”, he adamantly replied, “this is different”.  How wrong he was!  The only difference between this recession and the previous ones is its nickname.  This one will probably be known by several nicknames such as “Sub prime Mortgage Crisis, aka Housing Bubble Burst, aka Auto Industry Crisis Recession”.  The various nicknames of the 3 previous recessions according to Bloomberg News were:  Dot-Com Bubble Burst – 2000 to 2001; S&L Crisis, 1990 to 1991 and the Energy Crisis Recession, 1981 to 1982.

I concede that this will prove to be the longest recession since the Great Depression.  But its severity and misery index pales in comparison to the Carter-Reagan recession.  According to Bloomberg News, during the 1981-1982 recession, the national unemployment rate was 10.8% at its highest; inflation was 14% and the prime rate went up to 20.5%.  In this current recession, inflation is almost non-existent and the prime rate is the lowest it has been in 50 years (source:

Obama predicted the unemployment rate will continue to increase and will exceed 10% before the year is over but I will go with my prediction in “DIDOSPIN- Recession Over, June 27, 2009” that it would peak at 9.8%.  This means that more than 90% of the working population is employed and is poised to go back into the “buying mode”. It is a cycle and consumers eventually buy what they need or want. The stock market rally is a big factor in consumer spending.  If a consumer sees his portfolio going up in value, he will have more confidence spending his discretionary income as opposed to saving it for a rainy day.  Fortunately, the behavior of the stock market follows a free market pattern that is predictable.  The stock market does not like government intervention in the free market economy.  It does not like redistribution of wealth; tax increases; government take over of health care, the banking system and other private industries; cap and trade; interest hikes and increase in deficits.  One of the reasons the market is doing so well is that Obamacare and Cap and Trade appear to be in trouble.  There are different versions of Obamacare bills that are still under discussion in the congressional committees, and although Cap and Trade bill passed the house, it is not expected to pass the senate.  If these two bills regain traction, it is almost guaranteed that the market will take a plunge, perhaps causing a double dip recession.

This article is not intended to provide financial advice.  Please consult your financial advisor before acting on any advice provided herein.

Any opinions and views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

The Labyrinth of OBAMACARE

The House Bill on Health Care Reform also known as the ‘‘America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009’’ which I affectionately refer to as ObamaCare is a mess.  It is an intricate labyrinth of legalese mumbo jumbo which I am sure Obama has not read.  If anyone has the time and patience to read this complex cat’s cradle bill, here is the link:

The following is a sample of what you will see page after page of this 1,008 page Bill:

(b) REQUIREMENTS FOR QUALIFIED HEALTH BENEFITS PLANS.—On or after the first day of Y1, a health benefits plan shall not be a qualified health benefits plan under this division unless the plan meets the applicable requirements of the following subtitles for the type of plan and plan year involved:

1) Subtitle B (relating to affordable coverage)

2) Subtitle C (relating to essential benefits)

3) Subtitle D (relating to consumer protection).

What the hell does it mean?  This is an abomination which Obama and the Democratic majority is asking us swallow.  The AMA supported it without reading it due to pressure from the White House.  I have a feeling that I have read more of this Bill than Obama, Pelosi, Rham Emmanuel and Harry Reid combined.

In my brief examination of portions of the Bill, I note that there will be a “Commissioner” to oversee ObamaCare.  It is not clear if this is a cabinet level position requiring congressional confirmation or simply a Czar type position requiring nothing more than a blessing from “THE ONE”.  No matter, the Commissioner will have enormous power over our well-being because he will have a free reign in oversight and enforcement.

The following excerpt is from page 94 of the Bill:

  1. ii) EXCEPTION FOR IMMINENT AND SERIOUS RISK TO HEALTH – Clause (i) shall not apply if the Commissioner determines that a delay in termination….would pose an imminent and serious risk to the health of individuals…..

WHAT THIS MEANS FOLKS is that the Commissioner can decide on your well-being instead of you and your doctor.  So the commissioner might be enjoying a 5 course dinner with his girlfriend while you are waiting for his approval for a life-saving operation in your doctor’s office.

(a)(1)(A) Parag.7, page 91 states:  CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY APPROPRIATE SERVICES AND COMMUNICATIONS - The entity (health care provider) shall provide for culturally and linguistically appropriate communication and health services.

Simply put, WHAT THIS MEANS is that there may be sanctions or penalties imposed on say, non-Spanish speaking health care providers who provide care to Spanish speaking patients.

Everyone including illegal aliens and visitors to this country will have access to health care under this bill.  Younger individuals who had previously chosen not to have health care insurance will be forced to buy health care insurance if they can afford it or will be provided for by the state or by their employers.  This massive government takeover of health care would be initially financed by a 5.4% tax increase on couples earning a million dollars or more a year and 1% on couples earning $350,000 or more.  A portion of the capital gains tax would also go towards financing this boondoggle. This would be bad for the economy and this is only the beginning. Obama and the Democratic majority who are trying to shove this Bill through our throats do not know what they are talking about.  If the government is going to give 40 million previously uninsured people health care, there will be a greater demand on health care providers.  This may lead to health care rationing.  You may have to wait 3 months for a hernia operation.

Fortunately, the novelty of the Obama presidency is starting to wane.  His job approval rating has been steadily falling.  His performance during his last news conference which was dominated by questions about his health care proposal has earned him the title of the “Great Mis-Communicator”. His comments that the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” in arresting his friend Professor Gates made him look like a fool.  So there is very little chance of passage of this Bill before the August recess or even this year.  The Blue Dog Democrats are starting to show their fangs even in the face of tremendous pressure from the White House and from Pelosi.

Why don’t they use common sense to solve the so-called health care crisis?  There is already a system in place called Medicaid for those who cannot afford health care.  Additionally, it is illegal for hospitals to refuse admission to patients even if they have no insurance.  Either Obama lied or he does not know what he is talking about when he said during the news conference that 14,000 are losing their health insurance every day because of job loss.  I cannot find such statistics and besides even if true, those who lose their jobs can be covered by Medicaid if they cannot afford continuation of coverage through their former employers’ group plans (COBRA).  If they can afford it, why not let them pay for it themselves from their savings instead of asking me to pay for it.  What gives Obama and the rest of these socialist leaning politicians the right to my earnings?

Unlike many fellow conservatives, I do not believe Obama is lacking in intelligence.  He is purported to have the highest IQ of all the previous Presidents and I’ll take that for what it’s worth.  Therefore my last parting comment to Team Obama is:  “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

Any opinions and views herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

Recession Over

Despite Obama’s pronouncements of a rough second half of the year, I declare this recession officially over.  I looked at the stock market movement, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ averages, and I conclude that the 50 to 200 day market activity indicates an upcoming bull market.  Oh yes there will be ups and downs and sideway turns in the market but all in all this will prove to be a bull market.  Durable goods orders have been up 3 out of 4 months, corporate capital expenditure is up, and consumer confidence is starting to soar both in housing and in big ticket items.  The Fed’s policy of keeping the prime rate low in spite of an inflated money supply should hold down inflation for at least a year or two.  Relatively low energy prices should also help temper inflation.  Housing affordability is an all time high.  I predict that the third quarter will show a small gain in the GDP followed by a much larger gain in the 4th quarter.

At this point, I like the tech stocks sector, natural resources and developing market sector.  You can invest 10 to 15% of your holdings in real estate securities if you do not mind the volatility and if you can play with this portion of your holdings for the next 2 years.  The real estate sector has been beaten up so badly that it can only go up.

What I do not see improving is the value of our currency.  The U.S. dollar will continue to be tested because of the unprecedented Obama budget deficits and the massive trade deficits particularly with China.  The unemployment rate is a toss up.  I do not have much of a quarrel with Obama’s declaration that it would go up to over 10% before year end, but my prediction is that it would peak at 9.8%.

What does this all mean for the Republican Party?  Bad news.  In this instance, the free market economy will prove to be an ally of Obama because despite Obama’s incessant attack on capitalism, like redistribution of wealth and the take over the health care system, the free market economy will prove to be so resilient in the face of such an assault that it will remain true to its usual pattern of “a long period of feast and a short period of famine”.  Timing is everything and it appears that Obama’s timing is perfect, almost heaven sent.  2010 should be the start of a full economic recovery and 2012 should be a year when the economic recovery gets into full swing.  I am still hoping though that voters will have enough sense to vote Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi out of their respective offices.

This article is not intended to provide financial advice.  Please consult your financial advisor before acting on any advice provided herein.

Any opinions and views herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

Bank Stress Tests & Other Terms

The political talk shows this past weekend generated lots of economic, financial and accounting terms such as Bank Stress Tests, Mark to Market Valuation, Cash Flow Valuation, Positive Yield Curve and 3rd Tier (Capital) Assets to name a few.  I wonder how many viewers understood those terms.  I would like to take this opportunity to simplify them for the reader.

The bank stress test is what the Treasury Department will conduct on banks and other financial institutions to determine which institutions are undercapitalized and whether they have enough reserves to weather adverse scenarios such as the rise and fall of the stock market, interest rates and currency fluctuations and exposure to undisclosed risks.  Initially the Obama Administration indicated that the stress test would only apply to financial institutions with over $100 billion in assets, but due to the worsening economic outlook, all bets are off.

Mark to market valuation is the current FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) and SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) standard of valuation of bank assets.  As an example, if Citibank is holding a mortgage derivative which was valued at $600,000 before the bubble burst, but is now only $200,000, regulations require the bank to report this asset (Capital) at Mark to Market which is $200,000.  If the bank is holding many of these derivatives, Geithner’s office may declare the bank as “in distressed” and force it to take additional capital from the government in bail out money.  Many economists such as Larry Kudlow and Lou Dobbs now advocate the Cash Flow Valuation instead of  Mark to Market on the ground that the $600,000 asset still yields the same return for the bank although it is now only valued at $200,000.

The Positive Yield (interest rate) Curve is the normal yield of investments.  Longer term maturities usually have a higher yield than shorter term.  When the yield becomes negative or inverted, it spells trouble for the banking system as what started happening in late 2006.  The incentive for depositors to leave their money with the bank for longer periods of time, say 5 to 10 years is to earn a higher interest rate.  If the interest rate is the same for 5 years as it is for 1 year, this incentive is gone.  Geithner’s job now is to classify banks’ assets into tier 1, 2 or 3.  If Geithner’s agents reclassify too many of a particular bank’s assets from tier 1 to tier 3, that bank may be classified as a distressed bank and may be forced to take bail out money as additional capital.  Tier 3 assets or capital are the most risky investments the bank holds.  Examples of these are uncollateralized debts such as credit card debts and unsecured personal and business loans.

What we have seen from Bush and Paulson to Obama, Geithner and Pelosi is that our government tends to overreach in its desire to restore stability.  The Obama administration goes one step further by taking advantage of the crisis to put through its social agenda.  As Rham Emmanuel clearly stated, “we should not let a crisis go to waste.”   As recently as a week ago, many banks including Citibank and Bank of America announced that they are not in bad shape; that they are actually making money; and that they don’t need any more government bailout money.  I hope, for our own good, that such announcements and the positive yield curve will prompt investors to pull their cash out of their mattresses and home safes and hand it over to their friendly neighborhood bank.

Any opinions and views herein are the sole responsibility of the writer.

The Obama Recession

According to the Wall Street Journal, there have been 11 recessions in the United States since World War II.  These recessions lasted between 8 months and 2 years, the longest being the Carter-Reagan recession.  This Bush-Obama recession has a potential for lasting longer than that.  I believe this because the Obama Administration appears to be in a state of chaos.  It is sending mixed messages and appears to be playing it by ear, making adjustments as it stumbles along.  If Obama is having problems dealing with the economic crisis, I shudder to think how he could deal with an international crisis if one develops.

If Obama allocated the bulk of the $800 billion stimulus package to tax cuts and in rebuilding infrastructure and schools, as I thought he would, consumer confidence would have gone up.  Instead, a big chunk of the stimulus package is going towards pork barrel spending.  To make matters worse, the Obama Administration is talking about taxing the rich, those making over $250,000 by removing the taxable income limit for Medicare Tax and limiting the mortgage and charitable contribution deductions.  Geithner does not even have a deputy secretary yet.  He appears to be working alone, formulating policy and making anti free market suggestions that the Administration will increase taxes on capital gains, corporate profits and foreign investments.  There is no doubt in my mind that the stock market plunge of over 3,000 points in the Dow since the election is a direct result of investors’ lack of confidence in the Obama Administration.  When retirement accounts lose 50% of their value, consumers get scared and postpone spending.  It so ironic that China, a communist country has no capital gains tax which must be the primary reason their stock market has recorded the highest gains this year.

When will the left wing radicals learn that taxing the rich will hurt the poor people more?  The rich are the ones who eat at expensive restaurants, go on vacations, buy luxury items and employ people.  I am not rich but I do not envy the rich because my goal is to get rich myself.  We all have an equal opportunity to acquire wealth in this country provided the government does not stand in our way.

Our free market economy will recover despite Obama.  Recessions are part of a normal economic cycle.  Soon consumers will come back and resume buying necessities such as refrigerators, TVs, computers, cell phones, furniture and cars.  42% of stocks in the S&P 500 gained since the beginning of the year.  Energy costs have only increased a little bit since sinking to their lowest level last December.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the highest concentration of foreclosures and decline in property value are in 5 states; California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.  90% of homeowners are still paying their mortgages on time.  The dollar has recovered nicely against major foreign currencies which means anything we import is costing us less.  Still, stumbling and uninspiring Obama can prolong this recession by talking down the economy.

If Obama and his cabinet members are listening, I have a sure fire way of ending this recession immediately.  Geithner has no plan yet on how to use the $300 billion allocated to fix the banking system.  So these are my suggestions.  1) Announce the formation of RTC2 (Resolution Trust Corporation) to take over toxic assets from ailing banks.  This move is similar to what solved the Savings and Loan crisis of the early 90s.  This will restore confidence in our banking system.  2) Announce the reduction of the capital gains tax from 28% to 7%.  This will attract local and foreign capital back into the stock market which would increase the value of stocks.  3) Announce the reduction of corporate tax from 34% to 10%.  This will stimulate business activity and companies will start hiring again.

What are the chances that the Obama Administration will follow my advice?  I will not hold my breath.  They are a group of ideological left wing intellectuals who have their own agenda of equal wealth distribution and of government intrusion into our lives.  Therefore let us prepare ourselves for more pain and say hello to the Obama Recession.



How We Got Here, Market Crash of 2008, Housing Bubble

I am worried just like many investors that Obama and his cabinet members do not know how to fix our present economic problems.  That is the reason, many investors have been continuing to dump stocks and pretty much keep their cash underneath their mattresses.  What is worse is that Obama and crew as well as many legislators do not seem to know how we got here.  If we do not know how we got here, how will we know how to get out?

Obama: Well, first of all, I don't think it's accurate to say that consumer spending got us into this mess.  What got us into this mess initially were banks taking exorbitant, wild risks with other people's monies based on shaky assets and because of the enormous leverage, where they had one dollar's worth of assets and they were betting thirty dollars on that one dollar, what we had was a crisis in the financial system….. My bottom line is to make sure that we are saving or creating 4 million jobs, we are making sure that the financial system is working again, that homeowners are getting some relief…..

Question: Thank you, Mr. President.  Many experts, from Nouriel Roubini to Sen. [Chuck] Schumer, have said that it will cost the government more than $1 trillion to really fix the financial system. During the campaign, you promised the American people that you won't just tell them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.

Won't the government need far more than the $350 billion that's remaining in the financial rescue funds to really solve the credit crisis?

Obama: Well, the credit crisis is real, and it's not over.  We averted catastrophe by passing the TARP legislation.  But, as I said before, because of a lack of clarity and consistency in how it was applied, a lack of oversight in -- in how the money went out, we didn't get as big of a bang for the buck as we should have.

-end of news conference-

If I go by Obama’s first news conference, it is clear that he is not sure how we got HERE and how we are going to get out.  This is very reminiscent of the Carter Administration.

First, let us make it clear that Republicans tried to fix this problem (banking crisis) which the Democrats helped create through the creation of the CRA, Community Reinvestment Act.  In 2005 Republicans tried to reign in Fannie and Freddie.  The Senate Banking Committee passed a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill, S.190, that would have required Fannie and Freddie to eliminate their investments in risky assets.  (See  As co-sponsor of S.190, Senator John McCain warned of the forthcoming economic crisis.  But the bill failed in the senate.

Foreclosures started increasing in 2005 due to the fact that sub-prime mortgage borrowers could no longer afford their monthly payments.  Many of these loans were NINJA (no income, no job, no asset) loans offered by banks to under-qualified borrowers who were willing to pay a premium interest rate and mortgage insurance to qualify.  Some were balloon mortgages with no interest for the first few years.  When mortgage rates went up from a low of approx 3.5% in May 2003 to more than double that in mid 2006, many homeowners just abandoned their houses.  This was the primary cause of the banking crisis, the “financial meltdown” as Obama refers to it.

The recession accelerated sharply due to the energy crisis of 2007-2008 with $4 per gallon gas and $140 per barrel oil.  This energy crisis like the specter of death reached all across America strangling many businesses.  The recession increased foreclosures and bailout mania followed.

It is interesting to note that Obama and Geithner do not seem to know where the first part of the bailout (TARP) money went.  It is like this Mr. President:  Let’s say BANKONE takes in a one year time deposit of $1000 from John promising to pay him 3% interest per annum.  Then BANKONE lends $1000 to Peter for a period of one year at 7% interest rate.  Nice profit.  But at the end of one year, Peter has lost his job and can only pay $500.  But now John wants his full $1000 plus interest.  The bank does not have the money.  Where will he get it?  From the government.  That is how the first part of the bailout money is being used.  The banks simply deposited the money and entered it on their balance sheet, i.e. debit cash and credit loan from the government.  They are being over cautious and prudent as well they should be in their lending practices because the opposite is what got them into this mess in the first place.  Now Obama, Geithner and the democrats are asking where did the TARP money go?  Why are the banks not lending money?  Where is the help for the homeowners?

Finally, another interesting observation is that bailout mania appears to have pervaded our free market system and even our entire society seemingly making us ripe for a transition into something like European socialism.  Bailout for the auto industry, health care industry, the states, auto rental companies, adult entertainment industry, etc.  A woman during one of Obama’s town hall meetings even wanted a personal bailout….a new kitchen, a new car.

My neighbors and I, about 8 of us, are getting together this weekend so we can put together a plan for a bailout of our own from our banks which hold our home mortgages in our subdivision.  We found out that the bank reduced the principal owed by one of our neighbors from $795,000 to $400,000 because he had been 6 months late on his mortgage payments and he can only afford amortization payment on $400k.  Meanwhile, the 8 of us who have about the same mortgage balances have been paying our mortgages on time.  The bank says, “no bailout for you unless you are delinquent on your mortgage payment”.  Well, we do not want to be delinquent but we want some of that bailout money!