Saturday, January 31, 2009

SAR #9031/Weekender

Appealing to our better nature assumes facts not in evidence.

Only the Little People Pay Taxes: No, not Leona Helmsley; Tom Daschle. On December 11th, Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, was nominated as head of HHS. On Jan 2, 2009 he filed amended tax returns for 2005, 6, and 7. He neglected to report $250,000 in income over the three years. He also 'restated' his claimed charitable contributions by $15,000. A born leader.

How in hell.. At $8.5 trillion, the bailouts have already cost more than all US wars plus the New Deal and Marshall Plan, NASA and the interstates, Alaska, the Louisiana Purchase - in inflation adjusted dollars. Now we're going to add another $0.3 trillion from TARP, $0.8 trillion as a stimulus, and yet another $2 to $4 trillion for the banks.

Fate Worse Than: A fired employee attempted to destroy all the data held in Fannie Mae's 4,000 computer servers nation-wide. The economic damage, had he been successful, would have dwarfed that done on 9/11.

Gross, Very Gross: The US economy dropped at an annualized 3.8% rate in 4Q09. It would have been worse, but the unsold inventory piling up in warehouses and on the nation's car lots are counted as a Good Thing. The real number is somewhere south of 5.3%.

Efficient Markets: Some say the last depression was the direct result of politicians following incredibly bad economic advice. That's certainly true of this one.

Liberally...: The Republicans, who lost the last two elections, still dominate in one place: The liberal media. Cable news invites The Opposition to express their voter-rejected views twice as often as the other brand. It's all about ratings and ad revenue, not news.

New Neighbors: Now that the Cheneys have stopped doing secret things in the back yard, Google can once again provide a clear satellite picture of the Veep's home.

Indigestion: The oceans soften the effects of all the CO2 we dump into the air by absorbing much of it. But the process makes the seas more acidic. The acidification is accelerating; by 2050 most of the oceans will be too acidic for corals to grow and shells to form.

Stay Out Of Jail Card: Just before running off to the suburbs, George W. issued Karl Rove and Harriet Meyers good conduct letters exempting them from ever having to respond to a subpoena and confess to their Good Deeds. Or his. Like so much Bush did, it is not legal but will take years to undo.

Alternative Medicine: Electric grid operators, who have skin in the game, say that reducing carbon emissions would either cut profits or raise prices by $6 to $36 billion a year. And they're not going to lower profits. So, you want to pay for the surgery or let the gangrene eat up more of your leg?

Overlooked: In the Rush to Rescue, we overlook that economic disasters have political and social consequences. Ask Iceland, Greece, France, any victim of the IMF in the last 25 years...

The 'Pop' in Population: There will be half again as many people in the world by 2050 as there are today. If they attain even a third of the consumptive lifestyle of today's citizens of the West, the demands on energy, food and resources will double. The supply will not.

Snow No Show: Snowpack on California's mountains is 40% short of a normal year's supply of water. Another epic drought is anticipated for the growing season in a state that grows half the country's vegetables and fruits. The main system feeding water to farms and the states large cities may be able to supply only 85% of demand.

Peak Oil Production: Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould "At current prices most of the new categories of hydrocarbon resources are not economic to develop. We expect 2009 activity to weaken across the board with the most significant declines occurring in North American gas drilling, Russian oil production enhancement and in mature offshore basins." In other words, you can't get there from here.

Past, Prologue ? On the bright side, housing prices may stop falling in a couple of years. On the less charming side, during the previous depression the economy did not pick up for 8 years after house prices leveled off.

Counterintuitive: The growth in US sales of distilled spirits slowed last year. It's not my fault.

Construction Ahead? Why are the folks in Washington tinkering with the frayed edges and ignoring the huge stains in the middle of the room? Why advocate a few minor regulatory changes when what's needed is to rip up the carpet and start over? If greed's the problem, a seriously progressive tax system can pretty much curb that - or at least make it harder to keep the ill-gotten gains. (In 2006 the top 400 incomes averaged $263 million and paid taxes at a 17% rate.) Forget it, it's not on the agenda.

Porn O'Graph: The Ice have it, or don't.

Friday, January 30, 2009

SAR #9030

None of this could have happened in a rational world.

Words of One Syllable: Only 23,000 Americans bought a new house last month, orders for durable goods fell for a fifth month (don't need those new appliances... ) and a record number were collecting jobless benefits. Now connect the dots.

Next! Avis, Hertz and the local pizza parlor's delivery guy have applied for federal bailout funds. They all use cars in their business.

One Day We'll All Be Rich: The French are pretty sure things are going to pot and they are pretty sure they will pay for the greed of the elite. So they have taken to the streets to protest. How un-American of them. Don't they know they are supposed to submit two photographs, one of their face and one of their right retina, and their fingerprints, get a permit, then go to a designated free speech area?

Match, Set: Melbourne is facing four days of temperatures above 40ºC (104ºF), the longest stretch of above 40ºC weather in a century. Just in time for the Australian Open .

Outlook Stable: In 2008, Pemex's production dropped 9.7%, after a 5.5% decline in 2007. Production is not expected to increase despite three years of $16.3 billion a year in investment in new production. Fitch Rating Service says Pemex's outlook is 'stable'. Steadily downhill.

Flying Leap: The IATA reports that December's international air cargo traffic dropped 22.6% from the prior year. Back in September 2001, when much of the world's air fleet was grounded for 10 days, air cargo only dropped 13%.

Known Unknowns: As the entire Federal apparatus flails aimlessly in the dark, a few things become clear: No one knows what to do. No one knows how bad it will become. No one knows how much money it will take. No one knows how much the banks bad assets are worth. And the folks in Washington do not want the taxpayers to know how little they know.

Put A Stake In Its Heart: The demise of the efficient market hypothesis is once again being reported. This time let's make sure the Republicans know.

Bystanders: After interviewing economists who failed to see this disaster coming, the AP concluded that no one in America objects to their tax money going to Bankers, Brokers or Detroit.

Veneer: In the wake of the ice storm across the Appalachians, folks are looking at 30 - 60 days without electricity. If you can't quite imagine what an energy-starved future would be like, go read this one. There won't even be FEMA in the future. Why should there be, there doesn't seem to be one now.

Tuning Up: The House passed a "Buy American" provision to boost the steel industry as part of the "Kiss It and Make It Better" plan. Ah, I love the smell of protectionism in the morning.

Strawiest Man Ever: Look at the chart on Net Borrowed Reserves (I've shown it to you before) and then understand that it is not scary because it represents increases in government debt. Granted the overall increase in government debt is scary, but this is even more scary because it means that banks don't have any reserves.

Chicken Feed: We keep being assured that the notional $175 trillion in derivatives is really much less because it is well hedged. But if only 1% of that goes south, it is $1.75 trillion that our too-big-to-bail-out banks will lose. If it's a modest 3%, it'll be women and children first.

If Not One, Then Two: The Fed's most recent obfuscation is a long way of saying "We have two and only two ways to influence the market (1) we can lower interest rates and (2) we can print currency. Except (1) we can't lower interest rates and (2) we're printing paper as fast as we can, so (3) we're pretty much irrelevant."

Again: Republicans (in Ohio this time) alleged widespread voter fraud in last fall's election. A special prosecutor reports found none. One man, from Connecticut did turn himself in, but he voted GOP. Print this out and put it on your refrigerator door for the next time the GOP says voting Democratic is illegal.

Hidden Message: Some say the age of growth is over, and the age of sustainability has begun. I agree that the age of growth is overing, but have no idea what comes next. Sustainability is just happy talk, unless we have sudden population decline to about 1.5 or 2 billion. And I don't see how we get there with any civilization left. Nor do I see a happy ending to the climate crisis. That last sentence is four words too long.

Porn O'Graph: If you can't sell houses, why build houses?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

SAR #9029


Not a Single House Republican Voted for the Fiscal Boost Plan...

The President agreed to a summit on fiscal rectitude. The Democrats added non-stimulative business tax cuts, tossed out infrastructure projects, dropped health efforts for poor women and got nothing from the Republicans. Nothing. Krugman: "Aren't you glad that Obama watered it down and added ineffective tax cuts, so as to win bipartisan support?" Enough.

* * * * *

Common Thread: Hess reports a 4Q08 loss in the oil refining business. Boeing blamed their 4Q08 loss on the unions. Wells Fargo dropped $2.6 billion, which it blames on paying too much for Wachovia. Elsewhere, money sent home by Mexican guests working in the US declined for the first time ever.

Details to Follow: The Gov is going to "help homeowners" who can afford to keep paying "more relaxed terms" "if they can demonstrate that they won't re-default ". It will "support" and "assist" in loan modifications. Fell better yet?

Save the Broccoli! Anyone who has over-cooked the broccoli to the sulfurous odor state knows it cannot be saved and the kitchen will smell for a while. All you can do is throw it in the trash, throw the trash out and start over. So too, banks.

The Wisdom of the Market: The government reported an increase in US crude oil supplies, a decrease in demand and a sharp drop in business spending on energy. Oil prices rose.

Credit When Due: Senator Bob Corker should push for a carbon tax similar to the one he and Gore discussed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. It is transparent, sound and eminently fair - far superior to any form of "cap and trade" which is just another way of saying "carbon offsets" which just let the rich countries/companies continue to pour CO2 into the air. Good on him.

Shocking: The introduction of tasers lead to a 600% increase in sudden deaths among arrestees in California.

Beam Me Up, Scotty: Physicists have documented the teleportation of information between two atoms in unconnected enclosures, with a 90% accuracy rate.

Private Capital: The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is quoted as saying "In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital." Bet that comes with restrictions, ownership rights and territorial disputes.

Puzzle Me This: Mortgage applications fell a seasonally adjusted 38.8% in the week ended Jan. 23 compared with the prior week. Mortgage rates also fell.

Cram It: Forget the economics of mortgage cram-downs for a moment, because this is a political decision; economics, logic and morality have nothing to do with it. People (voters) want Snidely Whiplash to get his comeuppance, want to stick it to the predatory know-betters who turned out to have clay feet. Of course a lot of those institutions don't have the money to afford a cram-down. That's the point. Their failure is devoutly wished by the populace. The politicians like it because they'll be helping the voters at no immediate cost to the government. Key word, 'immediate'.

Headline Only: Wall Street Employees Unhappy About 2008 Bonuses

The Quick Hands People: AIG - which does not stand for Always Incredibly Greedy, but should - has received abut $150 billion from the taxpayers, which it is trying to pay back by selling off its assets and giving $1 billion in 'retention payments' to those key employees whose knowledge, skill, and experience reduced the place to penury.

Magic Potion: Some say the US would do well to cut the bloated budget of the patently ineffective Pentagon. They mistake the purpose of that bloated budget. Of course it doesn't provide security, that's not the point. It does employ several million people, in the home districts of important political leaders. That's the mission . Mission Accomplished, the saying is.

Headline: The Banks Have Stolen Enough; It's Time to Take Them Over. Wish I'd said that. Oh, wait, I did.

Porn O'Graph: If it's in your store, it came by truck.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SAR #9028

Rooting for the good guys is easier when there are good guys.

Write Your Congressman: The combined market capitalization of companies receiving TARP funds is $336 billion. We gave them $350 billion. Let's have them surrender the companies to the Treasury and call it even. Or even give them the other $350 billion in exchange. Either way, we the people should end up with whatever profits breaking them up and selling them off would bring.

Completion: _________ price declines are continuing in every market in the country, while accelerating notably in some. (a) Automobile (b) Stock (c) Housing (d) Senate seat

Want Not: With 931 million hungry and malnourished in the world, it's nice to know that each week a major Scottish grocer will be sending 42 tons of unsold food to be incinerated to heat homes.

Short Form: Roubini gave an interview in Zurich - US to lose a net 3 million jobs in 2009 if Obama's stimulus can provide 3 million new ones. The unemployment rate will peak above 9% sometime in 2010. You didn't miss anything.

Future Past : The data says that City and BofA are in the same condition Fannie and Freddie were last summer, just before they were nationalized. If A = C and B = A, pretty soon B = C and they'll be goners too.

I Know What I Like : Another 'tasting' showed that wine judges, faced with three glasses of the same wine out of the same bottle, come up with three different ratings. The more they drank the better the wine tasted, just like at my house.

Slowing Down: Rowan, a US drilling service company, has stopped construction on two jackup drilling rigs and canceled the start of another. Currently only 325 of the world's 381 jackups are busy.

Very Refined: Valero Energy is maintaining low levels of gasoline production because there is little or no profit in it at today's prices. If they cannot find buyers for the 15 refineries it cannot operate at a profit, they will be closed.

Pfizer Taxpayers take over Wyeth: The government, through its main banking arm Bank of America/Citi, is giving $68 billion to Pfizer so it can nationalize Wyeth pharmaceutical.

Included in the Cost: Environmentalists plan to save the world by producing more and more ethanol from sugar cane. Someone else will have to save the tens of thousands of peasants who wield machetes 12 hours a day, cutting down the cane at near-starvation wages.

Unchained: James Lovelock, the Gaia guy, says turning all agricultural waste into charcoal and burying it will Save the World. Maybe so, but it'll make an awful lot of critters on the decomposition end of things hungry. Wonder what sort of harm that'll cause.

Faster, Not Better: The most recent Case-Shiller home price index shows a re-acceleration in the fall of prices in all of the nation's housing markets. If you want a really scary glance at the future of house prices, read Ilargi's intro to Automatic Earth's Jan 27 entry.

Instructions Not Included: The chief of the UN's FAO says that global food production must double by 2050. How this is to be done, given increasing drought, 3 billion more folks, less land for agriculture, no money for investment and the indifference of the rich was not indicated.

$cale: As times get tough, more people undertake swaps and barter for goods and services. Countries, too, it seems.

Future Present: The EU has directed that fossil-fuel fed power stations must significantly lower emissions of sulfur dioxide and the nitrogen oxides. The UK is already facing a significant shortfall in electrical generation by 2015. Meeting these emission standards will require a 20% price hike and/or power shortages at peak times.

Porn O'Graph: That Shiller kid's been writing on the walls again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SAR #9027

Failure is always an option.

Chicken, The Game: California's Controller, John Chiang, says that he will not write $3.7 billion in checks due next week if the legislature and the governor haven't found a solution to their budgetary impasse by then. The check's not in the mail.

How many Inches in a Liter: The DJIA isn't following its own rules - stocks under $10 are not to be in the index.

Cause and Effect: The drop in Shell's 4Q09 profits may cause a reduction in new production projects this year, which will lead to lower profits next year, and so on.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas the 1930's: The 4Q08 GDP race: US -6.4%, Germany -7%, Japan -12%, Singapore 12.5% and Korea -22%. There may be trouble ahead. "It is the second phase of depression that does terrible things. "

Anticipation: Barron's says the market won't turn up until October 2010. That's no bull.

Re-Wind: Seems the conservatives spent Sunday lying about Obama's stimulus plan. One could hope our leaders (those who won the election) see this for waht it is: a desperate attempt to use "bipartisanship" an excuse to resume the discredited policies that voters have already rejected.

Why? Most people do not get cancer. Why not?

No Exit? Larry Summers says the US is entering a 'difficult time' but that Obama's TARP will be 'very different' than the Bush-Paulson edition. Paisley is my guess.

Shorter Showers: Do you really need 850 liters of fresh water every morning? And that's just the OJ. If you have a cup of coffee and a shower you're into next week's allotment of water. The UN says one third of the world's population does not have sufficient supplies of potable water. Shower with a friend.

Today's List: Caterpillar to cut 20,000 jobs, Home Depot 7,000, Starbucks 1,000, Sprint 8,000, Microsoft 5,000, Intel 6,000, Ericsson 5,000, IBM 2,800, Eaton 5,200, Clear Channel 1,800, Bose 1,000, Pfizer 8,000, Deere 700, TI 3,400, Philips 6,000, ING 7,000, GM 2,000. Time's up.

Bataan: Emperor penguins - those of Marching fame - are headed for extinction as the sea ice they depend on is disappearing faster than they can evolve to meet the change.

Employee Benefit: Canon lets its employees leave early twice a week so they can go home and increase production the population.

Good Job: US Treasury guy appears to have told Indymac how to cook their books and then pushed through an exception to make it legal. Who said government employees sit around doing nothing all day?

In the Name of Love: Dick Fuld, Former Lehman Brothers CEO sold his $13 million house on Florida's ritzy Jupiter Island to his wife for $100. Florida's bankruptcy laws are quite generous in protecting homes.

Big Brother Corporation: The Red Cross, Save the Children, Care International, Oxfam, and 10 other British charities wanted to broadcast an appeal to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Gaza, to rebuild the schools, hospitals and homes destroyed by Israel. The BBC told them to go away.

Bio Fuel: Kenya has 10 million people facing famine, while elsewhere in East and Central Africa another 25 million face starvation, due to poor rains during the growing season and rising global food prices.

Emphasis: In December existing houses sold at a 4.74 million per year rate, an increase of 6.5% over November's downwardly adjusted number. The stock market loved it and went up! The average price dropped 15.3% from the prior year, but the market went up! This was the largest price decline on record, but the market went up! Wonder if it will go up some more when the December figure is downwardly adjusted?

Monday, January 26, 2009

SAR #9026

We need to stop confusing asset bubbles with economic growth.


Stimulation: Now that they've suddenly discovered that giving over a trillion in gifts and guarantees to Wall Street hasn't done any good, the GOP is now explaining that "At the end of the day, government can't solve this problem." Well, at least not a GOP-led government.

Alice in the Trading Pit: Oil Traders searched for logic in a market that seemed to defy it, soaring 6% on a government report that inventories had grown and demand weakened, and by Friday had largely given up. Maybe Simmons is right that plummeting prices were not driven by a significant decline in global demand.

If Only : On the heels of the Satyam fraud, the Price Waterhouse Auditors who could see no evil can now see the inside of a jail cell.

Great Unwashed: Hansen and the rest of the science fiction peddling 'researchers' can keep whistling in the wind. No one's listening. 44% of US voters do not buy it. Of 20 things to worry about, Global Warming comes in last. Of course this is the same bunch that believe in angels, UFOs, the free market system and Iraq's part in 9/11, while rejecting evolution, the Big Bang or the idea that the Earth goes around the Sun. Republicans all.

Hit Me Again: Pelosi claims the TARP bailout is working so well we'll have to give them another helping beyond the $700 billion. Especially those that contribute to her PAC.

Multiple Choice: In December Merrill Lynch managed to lose $15 billion. Maybe it was all in the wrist, as they marked bad loans to market values. Maybe a lot of it was CDS losses. Maybe, just maybe, they were simply god-awful at playing the stock market game.

Simple Statistics: If unemployment was figured today as it was in 1929, the rate would be 17.5%. Aren't you glad they changed the way they count?

Bleeding Heart Liberal: The incoming US intelligence chief says that "Torture is not moral, is not legal, is not effective." He also is going to stop the unlawful surveillance of Americans. The US is becoming a nation of weak-kneed constitution readers.

Headlines: Obama, please stop appeasing the Republicans to pass your stimulus package! McCain says 'No.'

At the Track: Mish keeps proclaiming that those who fear great big helpings of inflation one day soon aren't smart enough to come in out of the rain. I hope he's right about that. I also hope he's wrong about deflation. A curse on both their houses.

Political Energy: Even though they grow a lot of corn in Illinois, if biofuels are the answer, someone's asking the wrong question. Or fibbing about the answers..

Tweed Ring: Someone's guilty. Gotta be. Someone else. First it was the trailer trash sub-primers. Then it was the over-extended middle class. Or the unions. Or the oil producers. Or speculators and short-sellers. Someone, anyone! Thank goodness we've found the Chinese to blame or else Wall Street might have had to look in the mirror.

Faking It: Substitution and adulteration in foodstuffs is more common than you think, but scallops really are scallops.

Denial: It's a good thing we're not running out of oil and there is no global warming, because alternative energy solutions are "deader than hell". Or so Pickens said when his mamoth 2,700-turbine wind farm lost its financing.

Shadowland: There seems to be even more excess housing inventory gumming up the market than current statistics indicate, thanks to a wave of foreclosures that has yet to hit the market. I'd wondered; in my own neighborhood we have 5 'unlisted' foreclosures, three of them over 8 months empty with no For Sale sign yet.

Elah: Quite a few blogsters hope that Obama's regulatory efforts are code-named David, because on first glance they don't seem big enough for the job.

Evidence: The death rate in older, undisturbed, stable stands of coniferous trees has doubled. In the Pacific Northwest it took only 17 years for the death rate to double. In California the doubling took 25 years. The data applies to all kinds, sizes, ages and locations of trees. The increase in tree mortality has risen in parallel with a rise in average temperature of about 1ºC in the last 30 years. The culprits are thought to be longer summer droughts and an increase in beetles that thrive in the warmer climate.

Porn O'Graph: We've only not just begun.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

SAR #9024/Weekender

Do the riots come before or after a country defaults on its loans?

Free At Last: Imagine, a government of openness, not of fear and hiding. "Starting today,” Mr. Obama said, “every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.”

The Wedding Ritual: US forces sent missiles into two houses in Pakistan. Sort of a reverse Welcome Wagon gift from Obama.

Shared Sacrifice: When a politician speaks of a shared sacrifice, he (or she) means that the taxpayers are going to share the expense. When a whole country speaks of having to share the sacrifice, they mean that other countries are going to share the costs - be it sending troops into combat or buying US debt. The Treasury hopes that China, Japan and Saudi Arabia re-enlist real soon.

Slash and Burn: Some of California's largest farms are slashing their planting this spring, for fear the California drought will burn up their crops. First to go, lettuce, next tomatoes. Hold the toast.

Bad and Worse: The US is second only to China in CO2 output. But if the US had to take responsibility for the CO2 produced outside the country in making stuff for the American consumer, it's output of poisons would exceed China's by 20%. But that would entail the US consumer taking responsibility...

Words of One Syllable: When Republicans tried to explain to the President what they would and would not accept in a stimulus package, he explained to them "I won."

Three Card Monte: Who'll believe that the US can maintain a strong dollar long enough to pay back the next $2 trillion, and the trillions after that? Do we have captive lenders - those who've lent us so much they can't afford to see us fail? Better hope so.

You Are There: Here's a marvelous 2 minute video of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in its last days.

Hard Truths: All together now: The bailouts have not worked. Not in the US, nor Britain, nor Germany... More is not going to change this. Untried but worth discussing is triage: leave the solvent banks alone, let most fail and nationalize the rest.

Egyptian River: Like Tim O'Reilly, every time I drag a little AGW item into the light here I get angry responses from those in deep denial. I'm not going to stop, so I suggest that those unpersuaded by 30 years of scientific research take the self-centered view that if global climate change has even a 10% chance of happening, we should try to prevent it. Changing to a sustainable world will not hurt us and may keep us from some very bad things.

On Again, Off Again: As expected, President Obama struck down the Bush revived Clinton canned Reagan initiated ban on letting anyone who could spell abortion get near any federal funding either here or abroad.

All Together Now When? Leaders often do things on the international stage that make no sense until you realize they have to do certain things to stay in power at home. Roubini says coordinated global economic action is impossible because each country must put its own citizens and its own industries first.

Selfish: Bolivia, which has over half the world supply of lithium, doesn't want to just lay back and let Mega Corp International come in, scrape up the ore and scamper off with the big bucks. Bolivia and its dirty rotten socialist leader think they are going to share in the profits. Silly people; just wait until the Marines get done in Afghanistan.

PR/News: A 'market research' firm that is constantly finding the newest thing to invest in (Chinese Fast Food! Singapore Tourism!) claims that by 2030 the US will generate 917 billion KWh with nuclear power plants. Today's US nuclear power capacity is just over 100 billion. Better get going.

Today's Word: Seigniorage. In days of yore the king would shave a little bit off each gold or silver coin. Not much, but it all adds up. Debasing of the coin of the realm hasn't gone away just because the gold coins have stopped circulating.

Cautionary Tale: Global oil production entered a plateau in 2005 and hasn't grown since. Not in three years, some of which had wickedly high oil prices. Even if TARP II and Stimulus 3.6 is the theoretically right antidote, the continuing physical and geological limits on oil production will trip the economy again and again.

Don't Look Now: If NSA is grabbing all the electronic bits about you, all of you, all the time, 24/7 - and they are - what are they doing with all that info? Turning it into intelligence by finding connections. They've got some terribly clever people working for them who are not particularly introspective.

Porn O'Graph: The hills and valleys growing in China.

Friday, January 23, 2009

SAR #9023

We brought this on ourselves.

First Light: Hours after taking office, President Obama ordered a halt to the show trials at Guantanamo, Guantanamo is to be closed within a year and the CIA directed end 'enhanced' interrogations. Could we also do away with Homemade Security or at least persuade it that Americans have rights again? And at least rename ICE? Let us be the land of the brave again, not the fortress of the fearful.

Re-Runs: By the numbers: new unemployment claims = 768,858, "adjusted" to 589,000. 2008's unadjusted was 415,149. Etc.

Silliness Continues: Our troubles are caused by the irrational belief that an economy can be based on unending debt. The new economic team looks a lot like the old Clinton bunch - who were less than innocent in getting us here. And the map out leads to more and more debt, both private and governmental. Who's going to finance $2 to $3 trillion in US debt this year? You are, of course. Through inflation.

House That Again? December building permits 10% below November and only half of last year's data. Starts were down 15% from November and 45% below December 2007.

Ah, Me First! Greed's poster child John Thain accelerated Merrill Lynch's executive bonus schedule so he could get his bonus and leave just before Bank of America took over. Under the TARP of darkness, as it were.

Call Waiting: Turns out you weren't being paranoid, NSA was tapping your phone all along. And your email. And your internet use. By the way, your cell phone has a GPS tracking chip in it, too. Bush is gone, what happens next?

Return of the Prodigal: Now that George is back in Texas, the fight against teaching evolution in Texas schools is heating up again.

Self Interest: A survey of over 3,000 earth scientists, 90% of them PhDs, found that 82% agreed that human activity was largely responsible for global warming. Respondent patterns also showed that self-interest outweighs education in that only 47% of petroleum geologists considered global warming to be man-made. Climatologists - who actually study the subject - were nearly unanimous (97%) that human activity was a major contributor to global warming.

Better Late Than... Peace grows out of the barrel of a gun. This, while hardly news, needs thinking about once in a while.

"It Don't Come Easy": Confidence in the US banking system ebbs ever lower as the 3 largest US banks sink into the mire. Losses at BoA, Citi, and JPMorgan will continue well into 2010. The ongoing infusions (those we know about and - given past events - those we don't) have failed. Trust doesn't seem for sale at any price.

Finding Fault: A previously unkonwn fault line in eastern Arkansas could trigger a magnitude 7 earthquake. One day, but probably not tomorrow.

Career Change: Former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev is leaving the Dark Side and becoming the publisher of the London Daily Standard. Adding a frisson to the story is the paper in question, The Standard, which has long been owned by ultra conservative Lord Rothemere.

Porn O'Graph: Childhood in the Greatest Country on Earth.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SAR #9022

Calling the bottom of the market is tricky; a 90% drop is an 80% drop followed by a loss of half of your investment.

Comprehensive Rescue Review: As in Yet Another Bailout. Geithner's testimony certainly suggested there are plans for further rescue efforts beyond those currently afoot. But this was in a Congressional hearing, so no actual facts were revealed.

Without Comment: "Riots in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria Are a Sign of Things to Come"

Swingtime: Some fear that debilitating deflation lies ahead. Some fear that paying for the stimuli will be inflationary. Some fear first the deflation, then the inflation. Some fear deflation then inflation, then deflation and then inflation. All fear.

Interesting, Very Interesting: The British government has only $61 billion in foreign reserves (less than Thailand!) and is talking about rescuing British banks with foreign liabilities of $4.4 trillion. Anybody got a pencil?

The New Civil Right: Has the time come for citizens to organize sit-ins and marches against building any more coal-fired generators? Maybe, but where will the electricity come from if not from burning coal? Who gets to sit in the cold, in the heat, in the dark while we try to replace the current infrastructure? Too much hope, not enough plan. The lifeguard business isn't getting any easier.

Deniers Lose Another One: Despite popular propaganda, Antarctica is getting warmer, not cooler.

Lilliputians: Global oil demand is expected to contract "sharply" this year, falling 430,000 mbd. That's a decline of one-half of one percent. 0.5% ! We're doomed! Forget about cheap gasoline, today's low oil price masks a looming energy crisis that could dwarf our current economic problems.

Paydirt: In yet another article debunking the idea of long term deflation is this: "I challenge anyone to show me when the consensus opinion was ever right in the long term." We all agree with that.

Environmental Stress: Economic collapse, lessening petroleum supplies and weather pattern disruptions caused by climate change will result in a global food shortage that will end in struggles and "survival of the fittest." Which assumes that those with the guns are the fittest.

Closing Time: Fixing the banking problem by following the Sweedish nationalization and re-sale model or the RTC goings on ignores the fact that the global financial environment was relatively healthy when these miracles were performed. But the light's dim, time's short, and she's not all that bad looking...

What If? If you think Roubini and Orlov are too optimistic, try Yudkowsky.

1958 Redux? With the return of science-based science and a newly minted respect for reality-based public undertakings, will there be a renewal of interest in science and engineering and a decline in B-school applications? Probably not, but while you're hoping for change, hope for this one.

Little Engine that Could: It's not ethanol, nor a fuel cell, but put an A123/Hymotion battery in a regular Prius, get 80+ mpg. The battery recharges from a regular 120v circuit and will last a decade. This has been an unpaid advertisement.

It's Supply and Demand: The market explainers keep talking about the drop in demand for petroleum as economies crash. But there's also a crash in investing to find and produce new supplies while the old supplies are dropping faster than demand. What if there's not enough oil available to fuel the recovery when the recovery finally gets here. Or isn't one scheduled?

Try It, You'll Like It: Please touch, fondle, caress the merchandise - 30 seconds and you've formed an attachment that will last at least as far as the check out.

No Money Down: Fiat is buying 35% of Chrysler without putting up any money now, or later. It will, however, pay the cost of re-tooling a Chrysler plant so it can make Fiats for the US market. Don't ask me; it's high finance,US taxpayers put up the money and Fiat pledges its reputation. This is called 'good will' when it's written off the balance sheet.

Porn O'Graph: For safety, bank on a parachute.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SAR #9021

Life is more than a shopping list.

Back to '29: America's house builders look forward to a further 29% decline in house prices this year, while house sales drop another 14%. The Portland Cement Association - the guys that pour the foundations - expect "another full two years almost before a significant gain,"

Capital Ideas: After losing 66% Monday, RBS lost another 70% Tuesday, and this is with more government support than any other institution in Great Britain. Without taxpayer money they, and most the rest of England, would have to close up shop by the end of the week. Makes Citi and BoA drops of less than 30% look downright attractive.

Big Brother Knows Best: Americans need single-payer universal health care and a plurality of Americans want it. But Americans are going to get laws forcing them to buy health insurance and continue to waste 1/3rd of their health care dollars on paperwork and profits to insurance companies.

The Plan: Obama's money men have but one goal - to return to those days of yesteryear. How? By re-inflating the housing bubble. Or else.

Giving Europe Gas: Having made clear the disadvantages of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, Russia has resumed sending natural gas to Europe. The added costs to Ukraine will cripple its economy and serve as a reminder of its dependence on Russia - and not just for energy.

Help, Help! GM is investing $1 billion in Brazil as a way of escaping its problems in the US. The money will come from the $13.4 billion in bailouts from the US taxpayer.

Mark-up: The DOE is buying 10 million barrels of crude for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at $51 a barrel. Yes, oil's only $35 a barrel, but this is the government and they've got a strategy.

Homework: The Treasury is asking the banks that got the largest helping from TARP to write a report detailing how much they've lent to businesses and consumers and how much they've invested in asset-backed securities. An outline is due by Friday and the completed paper by the end of the semester. Creative writing class, one expects.

Bad Moon: Roubini sees US credit system losses reaching $3.6 trillion as the US banking system enters effective insolvency as the economic downturn lasts another year or more.

How High is Up: The deficit - before the new stimulus and before the Son of TARP - is guesstimated to be $1.2 trillion. How much is that? It is more than the total the US owes both China and Japan. And we're going to borrow that from? China and Japan!

Do It Ourselves: Let's use the next $1 trillion to start our own bank. The People's USA Bank. Starting with $1 trillion in capitalization. Everybody gets a credit card, max rate 5%, max debt level 30% annual salary. The card would also serve to pay all medical expenses via the single-payer healthcare system. One 4% mortgage for a house costing no more than 3X annual earnings (verified by the IRS). Just like BofA and Citi , it'd be non-profit.

Trespassing: Remember that Pete Seeger's "This Land Is Your Land" was written as a protest against 'No Trespassing' signs. Then be advised that a video of Pete singing it was taken down from YouTube in about 6 hours. Seems the song belongs to HBO.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Canada's million plus square miles of forests used to be champions of the struggle to control carbon dioxide. No more. Recent studies show that Canadian forests, stressed by insect damage and warming climate now release more CO2 than they sequester.

You Are There: An interesting photo gallery of then and now. Yes, propaganda, but with a kernel of truth?

Advertisement : The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a gigantic piece of Antarctic ice, is now held in place by a a strip of ice that has thinned from 100 km wide to just 500 meters in the last 50 years. Its collapse into the sea will not raise sea levels much - for it is already floating in the water - but its demise will be another visible testament to the effects of global warming.

Like a Rock: Mexican oil production fell 9% to 2.8 mbd in 2008. That's 300,000 barrels a day that used to come to the US. It is also $20 billion less income for the Mexican government.

Porn O'Graph: Unemployment Continues.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SAR #9020

Fade to black.

Latest Myth: The Fed wants to assure us that paying less than face value but more than fair value for banks bad assets will bring the zombies back to life at no cost to the taxpayer. Doesn't make any sense. Let's try the right way

Spanish Steps: S&P views Ireland 'negatively', has warned Portugal on its debt and downgraded Spain's sovereign debt to AA+ putting it equal to Belgium. That's higher than the A- doled out to Greece last week and . How long before these downgrades - or a sovereign default - test the strength of the euro?

Fish in a Barrel: Lease a tanker, fill it with cheap oil, sell a forward contract on the oil and sail around in circles with a guaranteed profit. Sound easy? Sound too easy? How sure are you that the guy you sold it to is going to be around come March or June? Maybe you should think this over, Morgan Stanley did. Nice use of the bailout money.

Good Questions: Who wrote the computer programs that made it possible for Madoff to run a ten-year Ponzi scheme? How many of his staff had to know what was going on? how many of his kids? Where's the posse?

New Record Holder: In the last year, the Royal Bank of of Scotland managed to lose £28 billion, which is 2% of the UK GDP. Its balance sheet is nearly as large as the entire country's GDP. In two years RBS dropped from a £75 billion valuation to less than £4.5 billion while burning through a £32 billion infusion from the taxpayers. Makes Citigroup look solvent. In both cases their respective governments have no choice but to prop them up, trying to prevent total collapse. Wish them luck.

Default: As long as the US does not default on the bonds Social Security holds, Social Security is fully funded until 2049. Any cut in Social Security before then would entail the government reneging on its obligations. If so the bonds helb by Rubin, Paulson et all had better be the first to go. China's another story.

Mud in your Eye: Pollution in the skies over Europe have been reduced by half in the last 30 years, but its absence has led to more solar warming. As pollution levels fall - say by stopping the use of coal - will the drop in CO2 make up for solarization's increase global warming? No.

Instant Re-Pray: Goldman Sachs - the folks who predicted $200 a barrel last summer and $30 a barrel in December now anticipate "a swift and violent rebound” in energy prices in late 2009. I forecast an ongoing swift and violent round of new forecasts by folks who make money selling you ideas.

Always Vigilante: Extra juridical executions at the rate of one a day are promised for Juarez, where civil society has long since spiraled out of control.

Usual Suspect: Soaring autism rates are "most likely" due to exposure to pesticides, household chemicals, and viruses. Changes in diagnosis and genetic causes, previously suspected, cannot account for the rapid and widespread increase in the condition. The suspect is of average height and weight and has no distinguishing marks.

Either/Or: If Citi is too big to fail, and it is, and too big to succeed without massive money infusions from the government, then let's just admit it has to be nationalized. Move along, nothing to see here.

Stimulating: The economy does not need a stimulus. It needs a burial. Instead of spending trillions on the institutions that got us here, the focus should be on transforming the American economy into a renewably powered series of local economies. The unfettered quest for perpetual growth to profit the few hasn't worked out too well.

Porn O'Graph: The heat is on.