Retail Sales Drop .4% in April

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

.4%, with a revised to a 1.3% drop in March. This, against analyst estimates of a flat or small gain in sales.

They’ve been smoking the green shoots, of course.

In a related note, here’s Andy Kessler on the sucker’s rally. If you bought in the last few weeks, sell now. Take your profit and run.

Or not. In this time of magic realism, the Obama team could pull off anything.

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Retail Sales Take “Unexpected” Drop

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Only a complete moron (read: 73 separate economists) would believe that a 1.1% drop in U.S. retail sales is unexpected. What data are these people looking at?

From Bloomberg:

Retail sales were projected to rise 0.3 percent in March after an originally reported 0.1 percent decline the prior month, according to the median estimate of 73 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Forecasts ranged from a decline of 0.2 percent to a gain of 1.2 percent.

Comical.


Companies That Are NOT Laying Off Workers

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Three cheers for Costco. From CNBC:

Costco Wholesale’s profit is down 27 percent year-over-year, but the discount store has not laid anyone off, choosing instead to freeze hiring at its corporate offices. The only workers let go have been holiday seasonal hires.

The company says it recognizes that labor remains its most valuable — if costliest — resource.

And Wynn and Equifax, and whoever else. Someone (maybe me) should make a list of companies that have avoided layoffs despite the economy so people know who to give their business to. I encourage everyone to patronize these companies (even if their motive is strictly financial). After all, it is a disgraceful act to layoff workers at a profitable company (which many have done).


Public Private Investment Partnership: The Fix is In

Friday, April 3, 2009

So the Financial Times reports that:

US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.

Which means that, (as Joe Wiesenthal at Clusterstock points out):

Banks buying assets from each other to inflate their books has nothing to do with “price discovery” or any such nonsense. It’s all about using taxpayer money to create bids that are higher than what the market currently prices those assets at. And if it turns out those bids were too high and the cash flows never materialize then, oh well, it’s the taxpayer left holding the bag.

Which prompted this from Rep. Spencer Bachus:

Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the House financial services committee, vowed after being told of the plans by the FT to introduce legislation to stop financial institutions ”gaming the system to reap taxpayer-subsidised windfalls”.

Mr Bachus added it would mark ”a new level of absurdity” if financial institutions were ”colluding to swap assets at inflated prices using taxpayers’ dollars.”

You will never stop Wall Street greed and gall unless you legislate it (and even then…). People keep saying that it is the end of an era on Wall Street. My feeling is that it might be, but the end will only be temporary, of course. After all, they repealed Glass-Steagall, and that, in part, led to where we are today. But, if, for some reason, Congress and the international community doesn’t act to firmly regulate the financial industry, we are doomed.


Stiglitz Hates Good Bank/Bad Bank

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

And so do I.

This is the age of the moral hazard. There is no absolutely incentive to do the right thing.

From Stiglitz in the NY Times:

Assume that one of the public-private partnerships the Treasury has promised to create is willing to pay $150 for the asset. That’s 50 percent more than its true value, and the bank is more than happy to sell. So the private partner puts up $12, and the government supplies the rest — $12 in “equity” plus $126 in the form of a guaranteed loan.

If, in a year’s time, it turns out that the true value of the asset is zero, the private partner loses the $12, and the government loses $138. If the true value is $200, the government and the private partner split the $74 that’s left over after paying back the $126 loan. In that rosy scenario, the private partner more than triples his $12 investment. But the taxpayer, having risked $138, gains a mere $37.

Ya got that? 1-to-4 odds for that wager. Stiglitz continues:

What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses.

When the high costs of the administration’s plan become apparent, confidence will be eroded further. At that point the task of recreating a vibrant financial sector, and resuscitating the economy, will be even harder.

With no good options, Obama, while staving off desperation, is courting true, epic disaster. You spell it with four letters and it got us into this mess in the first place.

Where, I ask, are the criminal prosecutions for AIG, Bear, Lehman, Citi, WaMu, Merrill, etc?

And why is Chris Dodd still in office?

I am not placated by congressional hearings. I want blood.


Dodd’s Downfall

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jonathan Karl of ABC News reports:

Last month, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the stimulus bill aimed at restricting bonuses over $100,000 at any company receiving federal bailout funds. The measure, which was drafted by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., applied these restrictions retroactively to bonuses received or promised in 2008 and onward.

But then…

The provision was stripped out during the closed-door conference negotiations involving House and Senate leaders and the White House. A measure by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to limit executive compensation replaced it. But Dodd’s measure explicitly exempted bonuses agreed to prior to the passage of the stimulus bill.

Here’s the exact language from Dodd’s measure in the stimulus: “The prohibition required under clause (i) shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009…”

How can he possibly explain this?

I have not been impressed with Dodd’s false populist outrage, nor with his disclosure of his role in the unfolding of this crisis. If New York (and London) is the epicenter of this financial earthquake, Connecticut with its hedge funds and insurance industry, represents a second locus of major instability. Dodd, like Schumer, along with the entire GOP, bears serious responsibility for the lack of oversight and regulation preceding these events.

I can’t wait to hear why this language was inserted into the bill.


Unemployment Hits 8.1%

Friday, March 6, 2009

Submitted without comment.

From CNBC:

U.S. employers axed 651,000 jobs in February, pushing the unemployment rate to its highest in 25 years, as companies buckled under the strain of a recession that is showing no signs of ending, according to a government report.

“Since the recession began, the rise in unemployment has been concentrated among people who lost jobs, as opposed to job leavers or people joining the labor force,” said Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall