Archive for July, 2014

Justice? Not When There’s This Much Money

11 | By Shah Gilani

Here’s something to tick you off today, something that you may not have figured out.

Lloyds Banking Group PLC (NYSE: LYG), the United Kingdom’s biggest mortgage lender, had to pay another fine yesterday.

(Yes, Lloyds is that too-big-to-fail bank I used to work for… but that was back in the 1980s, so don’t blame me.)

That Lloyds technically failed and had to be bailed out during the financial crisis and is still about 25% owned by UK taxpayers is beside the point.

Ask Lloyds traders how they feel about being saved to die another day. If they’re honest, and a bunch of them aren’t, they might tell you they’re glad to have the chance to continue screwing whomever they can in order to pad their bonuses.

Today, I’ll tell you all about how banking is an entitlement regime. In fact, it’s kind of like its own monarchy.

Here’s the travesty…

Bonus Babies

Lloyds just paid $350 million fine for its part in manipulating the Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate, only the most important interest rate on the planet.

The Libor is so important because bankers use it to calculate the cost, value and price of trillions of dollars of loans from sea to shining sea.

That Lloyds got caught isn’t the travesty.

That’s just the cost of doing business.

The travesty is that Lloyds suspended two traders linked to the manipulation scheme. Not fired – suspended.

But it gets better.

One of the traders, who isn’t supposed to be named – psst, it’s Clive Jones – has been suspended before. That’s right. Jones rejoined Lloyds in mid-2012 as global director of money markets after being suspended for presumably manipulating Libor.

Of course, Jones said he didn’t do that. And, of course, the bank’s internal investigation team presumed he didn’t, so they let him come back to work on his next bonus.

The other derivatives trader the bank suspended, who you’re not supposed to know, is John Argent (while British, I don’t think he’s related to Rod Argent of “Hold Your Head Up” fame). And he’s probably going to get his job back, too.

Now, here’s where I tell you what you can’t figure out.

Because I know. I worked at Lloyds.

I ran the futures and options division to hedge the bank’s trading desks in Her Majesty’s Treasury. That’s where Lloyds trades all its money, for its own accounts as well as for big customers.

Lloyds traders – the head of the government bond trading desk, the head of the currency trading desk, the head of the OTC derivatives desk – ran the show… not management.

Traders rule because traders make the bank money. Management is nothing but a buffer, a group of executives who are liaisons between higher-ups and the traders.

I was supposed to hedge the trading desk’s giant positions because management was afraid their bets could get out of hand. Why would they get out of hand? Because the traders’ bonuses depend on what they make trading.

What happened there was telling, to say the least. The heads of the trading desks wouldn’t work with me because they told me that management had hired me out of Chicago to hedge their positions as a way to control them.

But they weren’t going to be controlled. They were running the show.

They won. Management admitted that’s what was going on. It was a struggle to control the traders. The traders won.

I was a good trader, too. So the bank gave me a huge chunk of money with which to trade futures and options. No mandate, no hedging – just make money, they said. So, I did.

In the end, the traders win. They always win, because higher-ups don’t get their fat paychecks and bonuses unless the traders make a killing.

That’s Trading 101. You eat what you kill, and your bosses eat off your plate.

That’s why no one is fired. That’s why traders might get suspended and slapped on the wrist, but not fired.

Why not fire a good trader who goes bad? Because good traders are hard to find – and good traders make lots of money.

As always, it’s about the money. It’s about bonuses.

Subprime Loans Just the Start of Students’ Debt

18 | By Shah Gilani

This is amazing.

If you’re about to become a college student, if you’re already a college student, or if you’re simply in debt and need more credit and plan on becoming a student again, you’re in luck.

Financial services giants Discover Financial Services Inc. (NYSE: DFS), Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), and U.S Bancorp (NYSE: USB), to name a few players in the student credit game, are bending over backward for you.

The folks at Discover want you to “Get the card for college and beyond.” They’ve named and registered it as “Discover it chrome for Students” because, after all, they’re “Looking out for you.”

But they aren’t the only do-gooders looking out for you. You can also apply for the Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card, the Bank of Americard for Students, the U.S. Bank College Visa Card, or the Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa Card for College Students.

Heck, why not apply for all of them?

But wait.

Before switching screens to sign your life away – I mean, fill those applications out – let me tell you a little more about this latest attempt to take all your money.

Understanding Your Needs

Don’t worry. The credit card companies know all about your student loans – or the loans your parents took out for you. Or that you are parents who have more to learn because you don’t have the job skills you need to pay down the debt load you already carry. They know that, after all the money you’ve already borrowed, you still need more.

They get it.

You need to buy books, food, and gas to take you to and from campus. Or maybe you just want to throw down a card for beers and wings for you and your friends at the pub. They get it.

Not all financial service companies get you. Some get you more.

Take the good people at Discover.

They want to incentivize private student loan borrowers earning a 3.0 or better with an inspiring 1% cash-back reward on what you spend. That’s chrome! It’s better than gold.

To be fair, these are hardworking students. No not “hardworking” as in having a job, but “hardworking” as in debt-building future indentured slavebots.

But that’s just the beginning, and it gets better. If you don’t have a 3.0 and are just an average idiot, you are rewarded with 2% cash back when you use your chrome card for gas or at restaurants, up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.

And the 1% cash back for you smart kids, well, there’s no cap – so spend, Smarty, spend!

To keep earning all that cash, you just have to stay in school and keep up that 3.0. Who knew?

Oh, you’re thinking there must be a catch. No, there isn’t. It’s all good.

It’s academic.

There’s no annual fee. Paying late won’t raise your annual percentage rate (APR). There’s no late fee (on your first late payment). There’s no over-limit fee. There’s no foreign transaction fee… and you thought that semester abroad was out of reach.

You have a $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee, so you’re never responsible if you lose your card at a rave. The card is accepted at 9 million merchants nationwide. And because you’re up studying late, you can pay your bill up to midnight the day it’s due, by phone or online.

You are online, aren’t you? No?

Then, use the card to buy a computer – duh.

Why am I singling out Discover? No, the folks there didn’t pay me to advertise their student cards.

It’s just that on their website they compare how they stack up to Capital One, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, and Citi. And, for now, they’ve got those slackers beat. But I expect the dark horses will run harder when the school year kicks in shortly.

Speaking of coveted student borrowers, Discover CEO David Nelms recently said in an interview with American Banker, “They’re going to grow into more substantial relationships over time. And so we’ve launched a product that is a little more targeted toward them.”

If you’re a student, check your back to see if you have a target there. If you do, welcome to the already overcrowded club of financial services servants.

Oh, and about that interest rate, it’s only 19.8%. And you didn’t believe me that there was no catch.

The Rating Agencies Feel Heat – It’s About Time

18 | By Shah Gilani

Sometimes it’s all about time. Things take time. Time catches up to things.

In the case of the many crimes and misdemeanors that led up to the credit crisis, time seems to be finally catching up with some crooked institutions.

As for the real crooks, as in the individuals who lied, cheated, stole, and directed others to lie, cheat, steal, and more for their share of the almighty bonus pool… not so much.

But sometimes, you take what you can get.

This time it’s a rating agency’s turn… It’s not enough. But today I’m going to share this bit of good news.

Rated G… for Garbage

In February 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice slapped Standard & Poor’s with a $5 billion civil suit. Apparently, for fraud, filing criminal suits is not civilized, at least not if you want to keep getting political donations.

S&P and its parent, McGraw Hill Financial Inc. (NYSE: MHFI), pooh-poohed the 119-page suit – of course. They called it “meritless” and vowed to defend themselves “vigorously.”

The lawsuit charges S&P with egregiously rating residential mortgage-backed securities and related structured products it knew were garbage as USDA Choice or AAA Yummy Good. And believe it or not, a lot of people bought it.

S&P is only the largest rating agency in the world. It only rated some $2.8 trillion worth of residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS) junk and $1.2 trillion worth of structured dreck during the run-up. And then it subsequently downgraded all that supposed Prime Cut to “Oops, it’s stinky rotten. How were we supposed to know things would change?”

So, at least the economy and the American people weren’t affected. Because what’s a few trillion dollars of rot in an otherwise healthy buffet of Wall Street entrées?

Some serious stuff, as in smoking-gun internal emails at S&P, has surfaced. According to a Reuters article that came out after the suit was filed, “By July 5, 2007, as the credit crisis began taking hold, a new S&P structured finance analyst told an investment banking client: ‘The fact is, there was a lot of internal pressure in S&P to downgrade lots of deals earlier on before this thing started blowing up. But the leadership was concerned of p*ssing off too many clients and jumping the gun ahead of Fitch and Moody’s.'”

Of course, there is a lot more. In due course, we may get to see some of the more enlightening emails. I’ve seen some, and they are funny – while at the same time sickening.

So, with all the time that’s passed since the DOJ filed its suit, what’s happened?

Not much.

S&P has stonewalled the government. It wants to break up the suit into different parts. It also wants to countersue the government, saying the lawsuit is retaliation for S&P lowering the U.S. credit rating down a notch from AAA during the debt-ceiling impasse in Congress. But S&P says it might negotiate a less than $1 billion settlement deal.

It’s ongoing. The thing that gives me hope is that we’ve seen successful cases won against big banks, including admissions of guilt, in a few circumstances.

If in time this case is won and S&P has to plead guilty, there will be more and more lawsuits all over the place. And because no one has gone to jail, which is a tragedy, at least stripping pigs of some of their money – though sadly it’s all shareholders’ money – is better than a stick in the eye.

Serving Notice

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is finally getting in on the game and may be going after S&P. A so-called Wells notice has been served to S&P. The SEC issues such notices when it wants to let a target know it’s being looked at.

It’s comforting to know the SEC is on the case, because without the SEC where in heaven’s name would we all be?

You also might be wondering about that other massive rating agency, Moody’s, and why it hasn’t been implicated in any wrongdoing. After all, the folks there were doing the exact same thing as S&P was being paid billions of dollars to do: lie.

Maybe in due time. But don’t hold your breath.

While all that was going on, a little old man everyone reveres – a man who chastises Wall Street and then comes to its aid, in the name of helping America of course – owned a giant chunk of Moody’s when it was making all that greasy money.

Of course, in time Warren Buffett got rid of the albatross around his neck. But as far as the government going after Moody’s and dragging in the venerable one himself, that’s going to take time.

Like I said, don’t hold your breath.

Shah Calls This Stock “A Buy” (… and Predicts It’ll Rise 33%)

4 | By Wall Street Insights and Indictments Staff

It’s called “tax inversion,” but it means “run from the IRS.” As Congress threatens to change the tax code to keep American firms in the United States, dozens of them look to head overseas.

The irony wasn’t lost on Shah, who stopped by Fox Business‘s “Real Halftime Report” on Wednesday.

Among the day’s top stories: Boeing (NYSE: BA) drops while its profits rise 52%. What’s going on? And Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) adds another $13.8 billion to its cash pile.

And Shah calls one tech leader “a terrific stock” and “a buy.” In fact, he sees it climbing 33%.

 



The Latest Subprime Scandal May Be Sitting in Your Driveway

8 | By Shah Gilani

Back in April I wrote about the initial public offering from Ally Financial Inc. (NYSE: ALLY). I told you about how they were loading up the truck with subprime auto loans, and how that lending game was too reminiscent of the subprime mortgage buildup and subsequent crisis to not warrant a déjà vu-all-over-again feeling.

I’m no longer one of the only muckrakers warning that the subprime auto loan space is sleazy and potentially dangerous to our economic health.

I usually don’t trust or link to pieces in the mainstream media. But this really caught my attention… so I wanted to share…

And the Next Subprime Bubble Is…

The DealBook blog from The New York Times had an absolutely brilliant piece the other day titled “In a Subprime Bubble for Used Cars, Borrowers Pay Sky-High Rates.”

Here’s the piece by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery. This ties in with so much of what I’ve been saying recently: the so-called housing recovery, the student loan fiasco, the dangerously sky-high stock market. I could go on…

You have to read it.

I don’t do this often, but I can’t add much to what Silver-Greenberg and Corkery have exposed. So, I’ll let you digest this today and ask you for your comments.

Related Reports:

Wall Street Insights & Indictments: I Can’t Believe the Government Wants to Unleash This on the Public.

DealBook: In a Subprime Bubble for Used Cars, Borrowers Pay Sky-High Rates.

Wall Street Insights & Indictments: Here Comes That “Yogi” Feeling: It’s 2009 All Over Again.

Wall Street Insights & Indictments: Higher Education: The Biggest Scam Going.

Wall Street Insights & Indictments: Airplanes, Automobiles, and Market Crashes.

Here Comes That “Yogi” Feeling: It’s 2009 All Over Again

25 | By Shah Gilani

Housing is in trouble… again.

As I write this, several housing stocks I recommended my Short Side Fortunes subscribers get in on are down fairly sizeably today. One stock is trading right now at $39.85. If it breaks below $38, that’s bad news. Another is trading at $23.75. If it breaks below $23, that’s bad news. And yet another is trading at $31.05. If it breaks below $30, that’s bad news.

That will be good news for the shorts, but bad news for housing.

Why are there still dark clouds over our supposed economic recovery? We’re five years on from the mortgage meltdown, after all, and housing prices have bounced back dramatically and interest rates at near record lows.

I’ve been saying it all along. The housing rally is fabricated. It is, as Pete Townshend sang in The Who’s last great single, an “Eminence Front”

An Eminence What?

Housing’s so-called resurgence is not about individuals and families buying back into the market, though of course some have. Home prices have bounced back because of institutional buyers paying cash for “affordable” housing.

I’m talking about the homes that were bid up when banks were giving mortgages away. These are houses in the $200,000 to $450,000 range… you know, the ones that banks foreclosed on in the tens of millions.

Institutions with cheap borrowing capabilities have been buying, with cash, foreclosed homes hand over fist in order to rent them out. And now they’re securitizing packages of those homes and selling interests in pools of them to other institutional buyers looking for decent yielding investments.

It’s a trade.

Traders bid up those homes. It’s not about a real recovery in housing.

Like I said, it’s a trade.

As far as more expensive homes go, the buyers there are mostly foreigners taking money out of their respective countries – China, Russia, Ukraine, Latin America, Europe, South Africa, South Korea. These are people with money who want to park it here in real estate.

After all, there’s more to gain from homeownership than 2.5%-yielding 10-year U.S. Treasury securities.

And the high, high end?

I’m talking about homes well north of $1 million. When I’m not at home, I’m usually back and forth between Miami and the Hamptons. And the prices of “luxury” homes there are skyrocketing

The 1% never had it so good.

Anyone out there looking for a $10 million weekend home in the Hamptons? Good luck finding one. Inventory is tight because there are so many buyers.

That would be well and good if there was some trickle down to the rest of America. But there is no real housing “recovery.”

The housing recovery is an institutional trade. It’s a lot of cash-rich people trading foreign assets for U.S. assets.

Make that “trading up” because their portfolios are spilling over with gains.

The “recovery”… it’s an “Eminence Front.” The folks in Washington and Wall Street are so insecure that this is the pose – the front – they’re taking.

Well, they’re not only insecure – they’re transparent, and so I can see right through them.

That Yogi Berra Feeling

Sure, I could point to the lack of decent full-time jobs. Or that wages haven’t budged. Or that low interest rates haven’t trickled down to benefit average Americans. There are too many things to point to… but this isn’t about that.

This is about what happens next.

Where is housing headed?

Some of you might believe the recovery will pick up steam and middle-class Americans will come back into the market and that the American Dream is still alive.

It isn’t. It’s a Rental Dream now.

Middle Americans aren’t buying homes in droves again, even though last week the national average for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.33%. And for a 15-year mortgage, 3.41%. Or that a Federal Housing Administration-backed 30-year fixed loan would cost you only 4.04% annually.

It worries me a lot that middle-class Americans aren’t buying houses.

I’m feeling déjà vu – and it worries me.

Non-bank mortgage lenders (because the big banks aren’t lending like they used to) are growing their share of mortgage originations and refinancings. And they’re selling the loans they make to Fannie and Freddie, as they all did before the crash.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which supposedly regulates Fannie and Freddie, just released its Office of Inspector General‘s latest report on non-bank lenders. And the folks there are worried.

They’re worried because in 2012 one of the top 20 sellers of mortgages to Fannie and Freddie, who they knew had previously engaged in “abusive lending practices” was found to have “deficiencies” and insufficient “fraud prevention” practices. Oh, what a surprise. They were cut off from selling their mortgages to F&F by the Federal Housing Finance Agency in 2013.

Probably a lot too late.

The Inspector General is worried that Fannie purchases from non-bank lenders rose to 47% of all purchased mortgages in 2013 from 33% in 2011. For Freddie, the numbers are just as troubling. From 2011 through 2013, the smallest mortgage lenders, those below the top 50 mortgage originators, increased their share in Freddie to 43% of mortgages sold from 24%.

What’s the problem with these smaller non-bank lenders making loans and selling them to the government-sponsored enterprises?

They’re not banks, they aren’t regulated like banks, they don’t have capital like banks, they aren’t going to be around when it comes time for them to repurchase crappy loans they’re making.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

All this is worrying me. As housing goes, so goes America. Remember that.

Higher Education: The Biggest Scam Going

79 | By Shah Gilani

Here’s a question for you: Has higher education become another great American scam?

I’m not talking about the rich getting scammed. They get what they pay for. They can afford to be scammed – they know what’s up.

A lot of rich people send their kids to expensive private colleges hoping they’ll get a good education that will lead them into their chosen careers. If they haven’t chose a career, rich parents are more than happy to give their kids the “experience” of college, with all its social aspects, country club accommodations and alumni status.

But then there are kids who want a higher education because they believe a college education is their ticket to gainful employment and well-compensated careers. They pay for it themselves, or their hardworking parents cosign on loans or take out personal loans on behalf of their kids’ college dreams

For them, higher education is increasingly looking like a scam.

Some critics complain that this is students’ own fault, that they’re pursuing the wrong majors. Or, they say that colleges themselves are lacking, that they’re not teaching what kids need to know in our ever-changing economy.

However, my problem isn’t with education or kids’ choices. Today I’m telling you where my beefs are – and why they’re costing today’s kids and their parents billions…

Here’s the Beefs

My first beef is with the come-ons that lure kids and their parents who can’t afford college into indentured servitude.

Personally, I don’t get what costs $10,000 a year (which is cheap these days) or $25,000 a year. And I especially don’t get what costs $50,000 and higher a year.

Maybe if kids were guaranteed jobs that allowed them to pay off their loans, those crazy costs might be justifiable.

But there’s no guarantee on jobs, and so those costs aren’t justified.

Half of all kids who recently graduated colleges and universities are unemployed.

Outstanding U.S. student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion.

Students are saddled with an average of more than $21,000 in debts. This takes into account both those who got out relatively early without a degree and graduates who can owe $100,000 and more – well into their 50s.

And now they’re now being victimized by secondary scammers.

My second beef is with these “debt help” outfits that promise borrowers help and end up ripping off those least able to afford such scams.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently reported, among many other disturbing facts about student loans, that more than 7 million Americans have defaulted on over $100 billion of student loan obligations. The CFPB is now seeing “tens of thousands more (defaults) every month.”

Desperate students and parents who want to clean up their outstanding debts are increasingly turning to debt-help companies that are advertising day and night, just like mortgage-forgiveness outfits did during and after the mortgage crisis.

Way too many of them are scams.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is doing something about it. Too bad she’s the only AG I see going after these scammers. She’s filing suit today against two outfits that ply their rotten tactics in her state.

One outfit, First American Tax Defense, advertised an Obama Forgiveness Program, supposedly just passed by Congress. Of course, there is no “Obama Forgiveness Program.” There’s only the president’s request for $3.7 billion to house illegal immigrant kids and help educate them… but I digress.

Another outfit, Broadsword Student Advantage, takes up-front money for its “help program” and charges an ongoing $49.99 a month and does virtually nothing.

The Federal Trade Commission received 204,644 complaints about student loan debt forgiveness and debt help scams in 2013. It’s epidemic.

So, I have to ask: Doesn’t this remind you of something?

Doesn’t our system of higher education increasingly look like nothing but indebtedness and more pain? And doesn’t it increasingly look like another great American scam?

Portuguese Bank’s Newfound Clarity Just Makes Things Foggier

27 | By Shah Gilani

So what there was some momentary panic over some bank in Portugal yesterday?

So what if contagion fears spilled out across the globe and markets tanked?

It’s all better now. Everything has been cleared up. Really, it was nothing.

How do we know it was nothing? Because the bank’s regulators and the country’s central bank, Banco de Portugal, are telling us so.

It’s all contained, they say.

We got similar assurances from the Federal Reserve and U.S. bank regulators after Bear Stearns collapsed. After Lehman failed, we were assured everything would be contained.

If you are reassured, don’t read on, because I’m going to ruin your day.

Bring in the Clouds

Banco Espirito Santo SA is the largest lender in Portugal. It’s also the second-largest bank in Portugal in terms of its market valuation. Well, maybe not any more.

Whatever Banco Espirito Santo is – or was – it definitely isn’t transparent.

Banks are supposed to be transparent. At least that’s what we expect them to be.

And if we can’t see through them, and of course we can’t, we expect their regulators to have X-ray vision. After all, we count on regulators and central banks (the ultimate regulators) to safeguard us from bad banks.

Then again, some people depend on winning the lottery as their retirement plan.

Banco Espirito Santo is 25% owned by Espirito Santo Financial Group. Espirito Santo Financial Group is 49% owned by Espirito Santo Irmaos SGPS SA. Espirito Santo Irmaos SGPS is wholly owned by Rioforte Investments SA. Rioforte Investments is wholly owned by Espirito Santo International.

That’s transparent, right?

Espirito Santo International, the top dog in the food chain, said on July 8 that it missed payments to some investors holding its short-term commercial paper. Oops.

Panic ensued because Espirito Santo International controls Banco Espirito Santo, and creditors of International could go after assets of Banco Espirito.

That’s the tip of the iceberg.

The collective group of Espirito Santo companies and Rioforte has borrowed a lot of money from Banco, its clients and its depositors.

Retail clients of Banco Espirito Santo were sold 255 million euros of Espirito Santo International’s commercial paper, 342 million euros of Rioforte’s paper, 44 million euros of Rioforte subsidiaries’ paper, and 212 million euros of commercial paper and bonds issued by Espirito Santo Financial Group and its subsidiaries.

Institutional clients of Banco Espirito Santo are holding 511 million euros of Espirito Santo International’s debts and 1.5 billion euros of Rioforte paper.

And there’s the bank itself. Banco Espirito, in the spirit of lending to family, lent Espirito Santo Financial Group and Rioforte more than 1.1 billion euros.

So here’s why there’s nothing to worry about.

Despite Banco Espirito itself having a 517.6 million euro loss in 2013, it says it’s got a 2.8 billion euro cushion. It always says it’s cushioned up. In fact, back in 2011 when panic was sweeping the European banking system and the International Monetary Fund and the European Union rolled out a massive bailout fund, Banco Espirito was the only one of Portugal’s three biggest banks to not take any money on account of its determination to prove to markets it was in fine shape, thank you. Sound familiar?

Despite Banco Espirito having a 6 billion euro-plus book of loans to companies and borrowers in Angola (a former Portuguese colony), of which 84% are now characterized as “bad loans,” it says it’s got a 2.8 billion euro cushion.

Despite what may look like a lack of transparency, which hopefully I’ve cleared up for you, if Banco Espirito’s regulators and the Banco de Portugal say there’s nothing to worry about, and they should know because they obviously didn’t see any of this coming, then there’s nothing to worry about and this is already all contained.

We can all sleep better now.

Once the FED Says This… Down Goes the Market

7 | By Wall Street Insights and Indictments Staff

On Tuesday market watchers got to pore over the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s June meeting. The “end of stimulus” shoe is going to drop, but no one knows when.

Shah Gilani talked about that, and other top stories, on Fox Business‘ “Real Halftime Report.” Find out when Shah thinks Janet Yellen will act to sends rates up and pull the market down.

In other news, much-vaunted momentum stocks took a beating. Shah reveals the 3 momentum names he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Also: learn what people have to say about American companies moving to Ireland to save on taxes.

 



Airplanes, Automobiles and Market Crashes

24 | By Shah Gilani

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be 30,000 feet in the air – if my plane’s not delayed further.

While that doesn’t matter to you, it does to me… if we crash.

What’s relevant about my flying today is that this morning on my way to the airport, in the back of a cab in dead slow traffic, I started thinking about airplanes and stock-market crashes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed on Thursday higher than it’s ever been. In fact, it’s now well over halfway to 30,000 feet. It can cruise along comfortably and keep rising from here, for sure.

What’s worrying me this morning, besides almost missing my flight, is that, to get the U.S. and global economies to liftoff speed, the Federal Reserve has spent almost $4 trillion. (I considered writing that number out here, with all those zeros for dramatic effect, but thought, This isn’t a funny piece I’m writing – it’s serious.) And globally, central bankers have spent another, maybe, $6 trillion.

And those are lowball estimates – no joking.

Now I’m going to tell you how much our global leaders are actually spending to keep our economies going. And I’m going to tell you what that means for the market – and our wallets…

Altitude Sickness

And those are only the “on the record” numbers, on account of our being able to see them to count them to some degree. But the real numbers are probably closer (collectively) to somewhere between $16,000,000,000,000.00 and $20,000,000,000,000.00 (oops) when you consider the “off the record” “liquidity programs,” “infrastructure projects” and “government assistance programs” (some call it welfare) implemented to augment direct central bank money printing.

That’s a lot of “thrust” going down the runway.

What if it isn’t enough? What will happen if the U.S. economy stalls? What will happen if economies in Europe, Asia, and emerging and frontier markets start stalling? What if we start stalling while at the same time inflation, from all that printed money, rears its ugly head?

How safe are stocks here at this altitude?

So I get to the airport and have to check an oversized bag (that’s another $75), which necessitates me getting in line as the clock is ticking down on my departure time.

And the trying-to-be-friendly cute counter gal, who sees me perspiring, says, “Are you on a flight today?”

I looked at her and, because I wasn’t in a funny mood thinking about the market and global economies, replied, “No, I always come here to weigh my bags.”

Well, she didn’t think I was funny. So she gives me that “I can make you miss your flight if I want to look” and asks a question I’m sure is code for “Are you a terrorist?”

With a serious attitude she says, “You’re perspiring. You look nervous. Are you afraid of flying?”

“No,” I said, “I’m afraid of crashing.”

That didn’t help matters.

But, I guess she figured if I wasn’t going to crash the plane, I must not be a terrorist. So, to try and comfort a nervous flier, she says that stupid thing I’ve heard before, “You know, statistically, flying is much safer than driving – because your car can always stall out.”

I looked at her as if she was an idiot and said, “While that’s true, at least when my car stalls out I don’t fall 30,000 feet.”

And I smiled, as if to say, “I’m just kidding.”

At that point I think she was warming up to me.

Then, with a big smile, she asks me where I want to sit.

Although I wanted to say “next to you,” without missing a beat I said, “In the little black box please.”

She looked at me as if I had two heads and asked (yeah, she really asked this), “Why would you want to sit in the little black box?”

“Because,” I said, “whenever there’s a crash, that’s the only thing they ever find intact.”

And for good measure, because now she was laughing, I asked her, “What do they make that black box out of anyway, and why the hell don’t they make planes out of that stuff?”

She gave me her number… but, that’s another story.

Fast forward, past the TSA wannabe-FBI types (as if they could ever pass the IQ test), to me sitting down in the middle seat, believe it or not, between a married couple.

Their nonstop banter while I was wedging my way between them gave their status up. So I asked thoughtfully, “Would you two like to sit together?”

“No,” he said (no “thank you” or nothing). “She likes the aisle, and I like the window.” And they proceeded to keep talking over me.

Well, they’re about to close the door (hopefully all the way), so I’m going to have to e-mail this quick post to the publisher to have it over-edited and sent to you before they tell me to turn off all electronic devices.

But before I go… two things.

Actually, I only have time for one, so I’ll try and work them in together.

Because this is a long over-the-water flight and I don’t like the annoying couple on either side of me, I hope they both fall asleep so when we’re somewhere over the middle of the ocean I can shake them both vigorously and say in a terrified tone, “Hey, I guess now we’re going to find out if these seat cushions really do float!”

Like I said, I’m not afraid of this market flying.

I’m afraid of it crashing.