Friday, January 27

Photo of the Day

Chancellor Merkel's likeness is used to advertise Portuguese spirit Beirao on a Lisbon billboard reading: 'Dear Angela, Portugal is giving its best. Seasons Greetings.'

h/t AEP

Thursday, January 26

Video: Goodbye, Geithner!

Should Obama be re-elected call me sceptical that we'll get someone better than Turbo Tax Timmy, but in the meantime lets all shout a collective Hallelujah!

Video of Geithner breaking the news that he won't be around next term after the jump:

Friday, January 20

Podcast: Philip Coggan's Paper Promises - Money, Debt and the New World Order

Below is the podcast of Coggan's book talk, and here is a good review of Paper Promises.

Speaker(s): Philip Coggan
Chair: Professor Christopher Polk

Recorded on 19 January 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

The world is drowning in debt. Greece is on the verge of default. In Britain, the coalition government is pushing through an austerity programme in the face of economic weakness. The US government almost shut down in August because of a dispute over the size of government debt.

Our latest crisis may seem to have started in 2007, with the collapse of the American housing market. But as Philip Coggan shows in this new book, Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the new World Order which he will talk about in this lecture, the crisis is part of an age-old battle between creditors and borrowers. And that battle has been fought over the nature of money. Creditors always want sound money to ensure that they are paid back in full; borrowers want easy money to reduce the burden of repaying their debts. Money was once linked to gold, a commodity in limited supply; now central banks can create it with the click of a computer mouse.

Time and again, this cycle has resulted in financial and economic crises. In the 1930s, countries abandoned the gold standard in the face of the Great Depression. In the 1970s, they abandoned the system of fixed exchange rates and ushered in a period of paper money. The results have been a long series of asset bubbles, from dotcom stocks to housing, and the elevation of the financial sector to economic dominance.

The current crisis not only pits creditors against debtors, but taxpayers against public sector workers, young against old and the western world against Asia. As in the 1930s and 1970s, a new monetary system will emerge; the rules for which will likely be set by the world's rising economic power, China.

Philip Coggan was a Financial Times journalist for over twenty years, including spells as a Lex columnist, personal finance editor and investment editor, and is now the Buttonwood columnist of The Economist. In 2009, he was awarded the title of Senior Financial Journalist in the Harold Wincott awards and was voted Best Communicator at the Business Journalist of the Year Awards. Philip Coggan is the author of the business classic, The Money Machine.

Tuesday, January 17

2012 Predication #2: iTV Will Prove Apple's Waterloo

Should Apple's all but confirmed iTV make landfall in 2012 I expect that it will serve as a fitting high-water mark for the high-flying tech company.

In this sense perhaps the Battle of Waterloo, which marked the once-and-for-all final defeat of Napoleon, is the wrong metaphor. Instead the Battle of Borodino, a contest which Napoleon won and allowed him to enter Moscow but also ultimately led to his later retreat from Russia in 1812, may prove a better analogy.

All great runs ultimately meet the same fate

I'm sure the iTV will be a huge hit and will make a great addition in Apple's ecosystem. I'm so frustrated with the TV market that it was the subject of a rant a few months back. Let me be clear: TVs are begging for the Apple treatment.

And there is no doubt that Apple will be a successful, highly profitable company for years to come. Apple is more than Steve Jobs, and there is enough magic and momentum to sustain success for the next 3-5 years, at least. But having said all that some recent trends for Apple aren't looking so hot.

Apple is squarely in the competition's cross-hairs and very few -- if any -- companies have historically been able to sustain the level of success achieved by Apple this past decade. And the reasons are well known: people leave, get rich and lazy, retire, distracted, all of the above.

But perhaps the biggest problem will be Apple's own DNA, which is based on cult of personality, not long lasting institutions. Steve Jobs lionized and embodied the Great Man school. In contrast Bill Gates' favorite business book was Sloan's My Years with General Motors, a rather dull treatise on the art of running a large corporation through a series of committees. As so often happens following the departure of a dominant, charismatic leader there is growing talk of an Apple palace coup. Jockeying and politics won't make success any easier in Cupertino.

There is nothing Apple does that can't be replicated, and part of the evidence of that comes from Apple increasingly turning to the courts to fight its battles. Steve Jobs' seethed vitriol from his deathbed over Android's success. Because Apple controls its products end-to-end it has to flawlessly execute by itself every time. But there are literally hundreds of younger, hungrier companies competing with Apple. In some ways the relative demise of Apple is simply a numbers game.

The iTV will likely be insanely great in the way it integrates and simplifies our digital lives, and it is a product I'm very much looking forward to. But I predict that it will also mark the plateau of the greatest run in tech history.

Thursday, January 5

The PolyCapitalist Endorses Laurence Kotlikoff for U.S. President

Professor Kotlikoff just announced that he's running for U.S. President! More on the announcement and Larry's plan to get the U.S. back on track here.

And here are my previous posts about some of Professor Kotlikoff's great ideas.

Tuesday, January 3

Naked Capitalism Uses a Single Data Point to Disprove Financial Repression

A post over at Naked Capitalism titled 'Why Is The Term “Financial Repression” Being Sold?' by the Roosevelt Institute's Matt Stoler purports to "fact check" a statement about the negative effects of financial repression.

That sounds useful, for as Stoler points out financial repression is much in the news these days. However, there's just one big problem: Stoler's fact checking consists of looking at just one country, the U.S.

Never mind that the Reinhart and Sbrancia paper about financial repression which Stoler references includes a 10-country data sample (and information about dozens of other countries), or that other studies on the effects of financial repression have looked at data from 20 or more countries. And Stoler clearly couldn't be bothered with checking to see that most of the research on financial repression has in fact focussed on its impact on economic growth in developing countries, and not advanced economies like the U.S.

Following Stoler's breathtakingly brief analysis of the single U.S. data point he concludes:
"So we see that the financial repression meme is at heart an aristocratic concept."
Sorry, Matt, but it's not quite that simple.

Who exactly are financial repression's winners and losers? As some of the commenters on Stoler's post note the not insignificant dose of inflation which accompanies financial repression hits everyone who saves money. Also, the large rentier may have additional means at his/her disposal to mitigate the effects of financial repression. However, the small rentier (aka 401K holders, pensioners, retirees on fixed incomes) may not easily be able to, for example, shift assets to Lichtenstein.

But there may be a more simple answer to this question of winners and losers. To work as intended financial repression depends on government rules and regulation. In short, this means that under a system of financial repression those who follow the law are the ones who are punished by the law. Sound like a place you'd like to live?

Greece Just Publicly Threatened Its Trump Card

Greece just decided to start 2012 off by significantly upping the ante:
"The bailout agreement needs to be signed otherwise we will be out of the markets, out of the euro," spokesman Pantelis Kapsis told Skai TV.
 Here's my previous piece explaining why in the European sovereign debt crisis Greece holds all the cards.

Prediction #1: U.S. Dollar Bears Will Remain On the Run in 2012

Since its March 2008 low the U.S. Dollar is up 13% against a basket of the world's most widely held currencies, including the yen, sterling, franc, loonie, krona, and of course the beleaguered euro.

How is this a problem for portfolio manager Axel Merk, the self described "Authority on Currencies"? After all, according to Merk's written after-the-fact letters he claims to have traded out of and back into the euro just in time to surf its wild gyrations.

Merk moved his fund management business to California a number of years ago, where he has been beating a steady 'demise of the U.S. dollar' drumbeat ever since. This past year Merk Funds even took to deploying amusing anti-Dollar cartoon propaganda while routinely touting the superiority of the euro over the U.S. dollar.

Continue reading the full article at Seeking Alpha here.

Eurozone QOTD: "You've got insolvent banks supporting insolvent sovereigns and insolvent sovereigns supporting insolvent banks"

Quote is from Bridgewater, which with an estimated $122 billion in assets under management is the world's largest hedge fund.

Previously Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio said he didn't expect the next major crisis to hit until 2013, but it appears his firm is positioned for a rocky 2012.