27 July 2016

Rules?! We Don't Need No Stinkin Rules

These endeavors have been 99.44% about those events and topics which are interesting to those of us who indulge in relational database and quant activities. Unlike many such blatherings, they are not about demonstrating technique which is readily available to read in texts, both dead trees and on the innterTubes. The macro concerns, in a nutshell.

One of those concerns, which pops up Whack-a-Mole style where one might not expect, is The Tragedy of the Commons. As capital continues to overwhelm labor in production, the greater the proportion of production depends on mass consumption, if capital is to earn a return. That problem, starkly put, is why corporations are sitting on trillions of idle dollars, which dollars are auctioned into "risk-free" Treasuries. The result is cratered interest rates. The result is further concentration of income and wealth. The result is slower (or, negative) growth in aggregate demand. As to this last, one need only search the innterTubes to find weeping and wailing by capitalists that there just isn't demand anymore, "and we just don't know why!!". My my.

So, today's news brings us the the story of California and solar. Rather than offer quote after quote, just go read it.

The main point of the article is simple: social/public goods are difficult to provide. Allow unfettered private monopoly, one gets little to no growth and wide-spread hardship. Install either direct government provision or regulated private monopoly, and one has to juggle and balance the need to provide some level of monetary return on the capital infrastructure against tech innovation and consumer protection. This former, inevitably, means supporting inefficiency of production for what might be far longer than the technical worth of said infrastructure. It was this friction which led to the breakup of Ma Bell; the idea/theory was that competition would drive up innovation and down costs. What actually happened is we got effectively private unregulated monopoly. Now, one might argue that Ma Bell would never have implemented cell phones. Yet nearly every other country has public telecom and iPhones, so I doubt that.

Why this is relevant to the quant cabal:
But some ratepayer advocates say that linking solar bill credits to retail rates is the wrong strategy.

"The changes are so significant and unknowable that right now it's impossible for a solar customer to look at that equation and have any sense of what they're likely to save on their bill over time," said Matthew Freedman, a lawyer at the Utility Reform Network, which works on behalf of California residential customers.

Mr. Holtmann said he felt misled.

He installed his panels "with the understanding that the rules were going to be the rules," he said. "And then they changed the rules."
[my emphasis]

If you're in the business of modelling electric use, infrastructure, innovation, and so on, you're just as hobbled as Mr. Holtman. Unless, of course, you're the one who can change the rules to your benefit.

20 July 2016

Thought For The Day - 20 July 2016

If one drop of blood means you're just Black, and Melania's speech is 7% Michelle, does that make Melania Blacker than many Hi Yellas?

15 July 2016

He's Got It!!

... By Jove, he's got it!! Krugman, and very nearly. May be 99.44%. Here's today's column.

Continuing in the vein of events driving data.

But polling suggests that a majority of self-identified Republicans still haven't noticed that surge, and believe that stocks have gone down in the Obama era.
Blind stupidity meets blind greed.

So, here is where he makes the next long stride:
Second, they [stock prices] also reflect the availability of other investment opportunities -- or the lack thereof.

A reading of these endeavors over the last bit, or Gordon's book, will lead to the inevitable answer as to why this is so. Krugman doesn't address the "why" only the "what", but that is progress. We've hit the asymptote of low hanging tech fruit. Much of "tech" over the last couple of decades is implementations of infotainment and such. The holders of all that moolah expect the Damn Gummint to pay them 10% per annum on their hoard. Bah.

But, there is the clear implication for the future of the financial quant: it's not pretty.
But why are long-term interest rates so low? As I argued in my last column, the answer is basically weakness in investment spending, despite low short-term interest rates, which suggests that those rates will have to stay low for a long time.

In other words: Bernanke/Yellen/Obama have engaged in trickle-down economics, aka, pushing a string. Granted, the Right Wingnut Congress left no other option. And, of course, those same Right Wingnuts complain about "asset bubbles", all the while reaping unto themselves the cap gains of said bubble.
Instead, profits come from some kind of market power -- brand position, the advantages of an established network, or good old-fashioned monopoly. And companies making profits from such power can simultaneously have high stock prices and little reason to spend.

Remember a few essays past, about the result of "investing" SSA monies in the private sector? Fascism in flight. The enabling just mentioned is only a hair's width removed. If there's no 21st century steamboat to invest in, sitting on the moolah is rational. The question which then arises: do we accept a Permanent Dark Age of castes in tech stasis? Or do we grow through distribution? After all, if most folks have most of the moolah, there's more folks to buy marginally different widgets.

So, why is the likely unfolding future bad for the financial quant and financial engineering? Reading past data to predict future data only works when the rules of the game are stable and not manipulable. Thus, physics and math and real engineering work all the time in all places. When any of them appears to fail, it's the result of we humans not having fully grokked God's laws, not because the rules have changed. When some players can change the rules as the game goes on, as we've seen with The Great Recession, LIBOR fiddling, and the London Whale past data doesn't mean anything. It's all "once in a lifetime" anomalies. They just keep happening. Better to read the NYT business pages to see who's got his fingers on the scales, and react accordingly.

06 July 2016

Mea Culpa

Those that took, and remember, Freshman English Composition also likely remember the First Rule: Never, ever, begin an essay with "I".

I was wrong. And, it turns out, that's a Good Thing, by some small measure. Not being of Europe, I follow USofA news sources, and until the Brexit mess, coverage of the EU dealt with it as a monetary union, and even implied that it was such only. Some may recall musing in these endeavors that such a single-sided union, with Germans calling the tune for the other 27, was destined to fail. Just as the USofA ships moolah from rich corners to poor corners through fiscal policy, a German controlled solely monetary union benefits Germany and subjugates 27.

Or so I thought. Turns out, with some on-the-ground reporting from USofA news, that the EU does ship moolah from rich corners to poor corners.

Quoting as much of the article in order to bolster my earlier musing, would mean putting nearly all of it here. Just go read it. The unambiguous point: the ingrate poor corners have cut off their noses to spite their faces. Stupid redneck Brits are just as easily gulled as the USofA variety.
But many of the poorer places in Britain that receive the most aid from Europe also voted decisively to leave. Promises were made by the leaders of the so-called Leave campaign that exiting the European Union would lead to a bonanza of money no longer being sent to Brussels, the seat of the European government. After the vote, they almost immediately retreated from those promises, leaving the future of aid programs funded by Europe in peril.

And, just as USofA rednecks believe, Muslims were the problem.

At the end of the day, we're an island. We can take only so much population.
Of course, all nations are islands. Some are hemmed in by water, and some by surveyors' chains. The USofA Right Wingnuts still view this land as virgin territory to be taken from heathen red people. Most of what isn't populated can't ever be. And a lot of what is shouldn't be. The largest share of USofA electricity goes to air conditioning. None of that, and no Atlanta or all of Texas. Most of the southwest is desert. With golf courses.

Social Insecurity

Every now and again, there's a report that Social Security is dying, "dying I say; we must stop squandering moolah on unproductive oldsters!!!" Well, the Trumpian versions aren't quite as authentic, of course. Trumpian versions are various sorts of lies.

Then again, some business reporter does the homework, and debunks the lies. Most often, such reporting occurs obscurely. The main takeaway from the piece is one that these endeavors have spoken to ofttimes: money into Social Security is "invested" in Damn Gummint fiduciary instruments. It isn't invested in private physical investment (or public infrastucture investment, either). This "investing" merely moves moolah from one of Uncle Sugar's pockets to another, with an added bit.

While that arrangement seems silly, as I've written before, the alternatives are worse. The piece has a trenchant rundown. I like it.
If the Social Security trust fund invested in something other than U.S. bonds, what would it invest in and where would the money go? A review of the list of possible investments shows serious challenges with any one of them:
If the Social Security trust fund invested in U.S. corporate stocks or bonds, or bonds of state and local governments, the money would get spent, as noted above. And if the fund owned too large a slice of U.S. corporations' stocks and bonds, or state and local bonds, you might call it socialism or communism.

Bank CDs? Current CD interest rates are lower than the rates the fund currently earns.

The trust fund could buy commercial or residential real estate, but that would put it in the business of selecting and managing these real estate investments -- once again, raising concerns about socialism or communism.

There's always international stocks and bonds, but you can imagine the outcry if the trust fund bought European or Chinese stocks or bonds?

I'd call it fascism, but that's because the Damn Gummint would be required, as an investor, to support all manner of questionable activity. What if Social Security had been a major investor in Enron or CountryWide? Think about that.

05 July 2016

Grossly Stupid

It is a millenillia long fact that the rich think they're the smartest folks in the room just because they're rich. It's also a fact that most (total) wealth is inherited over genertions, with most of it acquired on auto-pilot after the first generation; The Donald would be quite richer if he simply collected the market rate of return on his original inheritance. Accidental emporers being an exception through no fault of their own, although small in number of the rich.

I've been sitting on this bit for about a month, waiting for the bile to stew sufficiently. The stew is ready.

Gross is plain stupid. He asserts (in so many words), as do the Right Wingnut Rich, that the Damn Gummint owes them their risk-free 10% on idle money. As if that's what Adam Smith propounded. Sure he did.

Any econ text from 101 to Ph.D. level tells you that rate of return on investment (i.e., interest) only comes from increased production in a more efficient fashion. All of those fancy time-series and copulas and other high priced quant exercises are quite worthless; if they worked, there couldn't have been a Great Recession. Events drive the data, not the other way round. Lots of London Whales the world over get paid megabucks to masturbate (metaphorically, at minimum) over their Excel spreadsheets, blindly typing in numbers. Bah. Paying interest without increased productivity is simply time-shifting of consumption, from the present to the future. Most texts call this the rate of time preference: how much consumption later is worth today. The notion is that deferring consumption requires paying the (delaying consumer) some premium for that delay. No one actually knows, of course. Killing current consumption in a time of excess savings only poisons the well further. Do the arithmetic.

So, anyway, Gross calls for Armageddon over low and negative interest rates. As demonstrated, going back at least to "The Giant Pool of Money" piece, excess moolah chasing risk-free return drives up instrument prices (and realized interest rate down, down, down). Just works that way. As American corporations (and the rest of the global ones likely have as much or more) sit on $1.45 trillion in idle cash, look out below. But one need not even seek to dig out the free cash amount; the bidding on Government instruments is sufficient to reveal the excess cash. You can only buy what you have the cash to pay for.
Rather than spurring economic growth, low rates are promoting asset bubbles as investors reach for higher yields while punishing individual savers and industries that rely on interest rates, such as bank and insurance companies, according to Gross.

The hypocrisy of that statement lies in this: the Grosses of the .1% continually weep for ever lower capital gains taxes. Now, asset bubbles pay off faster than interest, and itsy bitsy cap gains tax drive more moolah into instrument prices. This mess all started not with the Damn Gummint, but the concentration of idle moolah in the hands of the few.
The fault, dear Peter, is not in our poor, but in ourselves, that we are mendacious.

04 July 2016

What To Watch on The TeeVee, 4 July 2016

As asserted here in these endeavors a few times, Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" is the best show on the TeeVee. Alas, Orlando coverage compelled CNN to cancel the last season's last episode (Buenos Aires). But, there's a mini-marathon of re-runs on tonight, and you must watch the 8 pm (EDT, anyway) show from Massachusetts, my home state. The show is set mostly in two of the parts of the state (legally, a commonwealth; extra points for knowing the number of "states" in the USofA that are not "states", without looking it up) that most attract me: Provincetown (and far Cape Cod) and far northwestern towns. I grew up in Springfield and did grad work at UMass in Amherst (on the southeast edge of the far Berkshires); which was then the only UMass.

Turns out these two opposite ends of the state share a common characteristic, and with Bourdain: drugs. The show was first aired in November, 2014, and thus predates much of the recent hoopla of white, suburban, soccermom addiction meaning we should view drugs as a public health issue rather than police issue. Somehow, Bourdain's cooking shows extravagantly transcend, with prescience of the wider world, just food. You must watch.

OK,for those that can't, won't, or missed it, here's a page with the best bits.