Guest Post: How To Get A Job Despite The Economy

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

An entire new feedback loop of accreditation is necessary in the economy we have, and fortunately that feedback is within our individual control.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we work in the economy we have, not the economy we might want or wish to have at a later time. And what characterizes the economy we have?

It's bewildering because nothing works like it's supposed to. For example, getting a college degree was supposed to guarantee a good job and an 80% lifetime wage premium over people without college degrees.

But in the economy we have, getting a college degree no longer guarantees a good job, or indeed, a job of any kind: 53% of recent college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed or doing work they could have done without going to college.

The payoff for getting a college degree is declining while the risks of becoming a debt-serf due to crushing student loans is rising. The big premium that once accrued to college graduates is eroding for reasons of basic supply and demand: there are far more people with college degrees than there are high-paying jobs for people with degrees–even law degrees, MBAs and PhDs.

The entire notion that a college degree "signals" something valuable to employers is breaking down. In the good old days, earning a college degree proved that a student was hard-working and conformist–just what hierarchical corporations and government agencies want in employees. (The "signaling" value of a diploma is based on work by economist Michael Spence in the 1970s. In general, the signal indicates an attribute whose value is correlated with the difficulty and cost of the signal: the harder it is to get a degree, the greater the value of the signal it sends.)

But in an economy in which education credentials are in over-supply, that signaling mechanism is running up against a basic reality: a degree accredits very little about the student's knowledge, problem-solving skills or professionalism. A degree is simply a proxy of knowledge, not evidence of knowledge or useful skills.

Indeed, the study Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses concluded that "American higher education is characterized by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students."

Signaling an ability to grind though four or five years of institutional coursework is no longer enough; the signaling needed to indicate an ability to create value must be much richer in information density and more persuasive than a factory model diploma.

A resume is equally thin on information that accredits a worker's knowledge, useful skills and professionalism. A resume is a public-relations summary that everyone knows has been tailored to present the candidate in the best possible light. And precisely how useful and trustworthy is PR in any setting?

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager or potential collaborator: there is precious little useful information in either a diploma or a resume. As a result, human resources departments have been tuned to eliminate as many candidates as possible by signal-based winnowing rather than by the collection of useful information on the skills, knowledge and professionalism of the potential employee/collaborator.

Conforming to social behavioral norms and being able to grind through mind-numbing work used to be enough to create value in the economy–but this is no longer the case for high-value (i.e. well-paid) work. The "signaling" camp holds that a degree showing the student sat through four or five years of classes is sufficient to justify hiring the person. That the student learned essentially nothing useful doesn't matter; the entire value of college is in the last class needed to get the diploma.

This was true in the long postwar boom when the number of well-paid jobs expanded at a faster rate than the number of college graduates. This is simply no longer true.

In contrast to the "signaling" theory of value, the "human capital" camp holds that working knowledge is what creates value. If the student learns little critical thinking, real skills or practical knowledge, then a college degree has little value.

What if conformity and being able to navigate formal systems/bureaucracies no longer creates value or helps people solve real-world problems? In the economy we have, the "signal" value of a college degree has sharply declined. This is why college graduates can send out hundreds of resumes and not even receive a single reply, much less an interview or job offer.

Systems analysis teaches us that changing the parameters of a system (for example, adding another line to your resume or getting another degree) does not change the system; only adding a new feedback loop can change the system.

Clearly, an entire new feedback loop of accreditation is necessary in the economy we have, and fortunately that feedback is within our individual control: it's a process I call accredit yourself. The most powerful feature of accredit yourself is the process is open to anyone: recent college graduates, those without degrees, those re-entering the workforce, those seeking to launch their own enterprises–everyone who wants an income stream in the economy we have.

I outline the process of accrediting yourself in my new book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy which is on sale through Tuesday evening (Pacific Standard time) at a 20% discount for my regular readers ($7.95 for the Kindle edition, 20% off of the list price of $9.95. The print edition is $20).




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1t1k1ok Tyler Durden

“Shadows Of March 2000” – Goldman On The Great Momo Crash Of 2014

Behold the great momo basket which after being the source of so much joy for momentum chasers over the past year, has mutated into the source of so much sorrow over the past two weeks.

 

We have bad news for hedge funds who, like Hugh Hendry in December of last year, threw fundamentals and caution to the wind and, with great reservations, jumped into this momo bandwagon in which mere buying beget more buying until nobody knew why anyone bought in the first place… and then everything crashed, leading to the worst day for hedge funds in a decade: according to Goldman’s David Kostin, whose job is to be a cheerleader for the intangible “wealth effect” leading to all too tangible Goldman bonuses: “The stock market will likely recover during the next few months… but not momentum stocks.”

Behold the (not so) great Momo crash of 2014:

 

First the bad news: according to Goldman not only will the momo stocks not rebound to previous highs and resume their leadership role, but clients increasingly are wondering if this is the second coming of the dot com bubble burst.

Conversations we are having with clients: Momentum reversal and the shadow of 2000

 

Our client discussions this week focused on two topics: Momentum reversal and comparisons between today and March 2000. Two questions dominated: “When will the reversal end?” and “Will the sell-off in momentum stocks drive a market-wide price decline as occurred in 2000?”

 

During the past month, momentum has plunged by 7%, a 10th percentile ranking of all monthly momentum returns since 1980. We define “momentum” as the relative performance of the best vs. worst performing S&P 500 stocks during the prior 12 months. We identified 46 similar distinct 10th percentile “drawdowns” with an average one-month return of -8% and a cumulative -10% return during six months.

 

Historical experience suggests the S&P 500, but not momentum, will likely recover during the next few months. Following the drawdowns, S&P 500 posted a 6-month return averaging +5% and delivered a positive return 70% of the time. Momentum declined by a further 4% on average, and 60% of the time the stocks posted a negative return.

 

Analysis of historical trading patterns around momentum drawdowns shows: (a) roughly 70% of the reversal is behind us following a 7% unwind during the last month; (b) an additional 3% downside exists to the momentum reversal during the next three months if the current episode follows the average historical experience; (c) if the pattern followed the path of a 25th percentile event a further 7% momentum downside would occur, or about double the reversal that has taken place so far; and (d) whenever the drawdown ends, momentum typically does NOT resume leadership. The best performing stocks during the 12 months leading up to the start of the drawdown do not subsequently outperform (see Exhibit 2).

So what are the good news? Well, Goldman is bullish on the non-MOMO stocks, which it sees as rising during the next 6 months by, if history is any precedent, 5%. Of course, the market merely regaining its all time highs by October will hardly please the investor community which is used to 20%+ return year after year. After all someone must benefit from the Fed’s ludicrous actions.

S&P 500 Index performance during 46 momentum reversals since 1980 suggests the broad market will likely rise steadily during the next six months by an average of 5%. Based on a current S&P 500 index level of 1815, a 5% rise would lift the index to just above 1900 which is our year-end 2014 forecast. A 25th percentile trajectory implies a flat equity market during the next six months while tracking at the 75th percentile would see S&P 500 climb by 15% to 2090 by the end of 3Q (see Exhibit 3).

But most interesting is Goldman’s attempt to deny that this is the second coming of March 2000:

One historical momentum drawdown has come up repeatedly in recent conversations with clients: March 2000. The current sell-off in high growth and high valuation stocks, with a concentration in technology subsectors, has some similarities to the popping of the tech bubble in 2000.

 

Veteran investors will recall S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq peaked in March 2000. The indices eventually fell by 50% and 75%, respectively. It took the S&P 500 seven years to recover and establish a new high but Nasdaq still remains 25% below its all-time peak reached 14 years ago.

 

We believe the differences between 2000 and today are more important than the similarities and the recent momentum drawdown is unlikely to
precipitate a more extensive fall in share prices:

  • Recent returns are less dramatic. Although the trailing 12-month returns are similar (22% today versus 18% in 2000), the trailing 3-year and 5-year returns are much lower (51% vs. 107% and 161% vs. 227%, respectively).
  • Valuation is not nearly as stretched. S&P 500 currently trades at a forward P/E of 16x compared with 25x at the peak in 2000. The price/book ratio is 2.7x versus 6.Xx. The EV/sales is currently 1.8x compared with 2.7x in 2000.
  • More balanced market. The reason it is called the “Tech Bubble” is that 14% of the earnings of the S&P 500 came from Tech in 2000 but it accounted for 33% of the equity cap of the index. Today Tech contributes 19% of both earnings and market cap. Top five stocks in 2000 were 18% vs. 11% today.
  • Earnings growth expectations are far less aggressive. Bottom-up 2014 consensus EPS growth currently equals 9%, close to our top-down forecast of 8%. In 2000, consensus expected EPS growth equaled 17%.
  • Interest rates are dramatically lower. 3-month Treasury yields were 5.9% in 2000 vs. 0.05% today while ten-year yields were 6.0% vs. 2.7% today. The yield curve was inverted by 47 bp. Today the slope equals +229 bp.
  • Less new issuance. During 1Q 2000, 115 IPOs were completed for proceeds of $18 billion. In 1Q 2014, 63 completed deals raised $11 billion.

All great points, yet one thing is conspicuously missing and perhaps Goldman can clarify:

  • how much debt as a percentage of global GDP was held by the world’s major central banks then and now, and
  • how much consolidated global leverage, including shadow banking in both the US and China, as well as how many hundreds of trillions of derivatives notional outstanding existed then… and now

Because one can just as easily make the case that as the global financial house of cards, teetering since the great financial crisis of 2008, and upright only thanks to the explicit “wealth effect” support of the final backstop – the world’s money printers – any protracted downward move which implicitly crushes the faith in the monetary religion, and crushes the uber-leveraged smart money community, will make the “drawdown” in both momo and S&P500 stocks in March 2000 seem like a pleasant walk in the part compared to what may be coming.




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1sSk2em Tyler Durden

San Fran Fed Asks How Important Are Hedge Funds In A Crisis

Finds the answer is: “very

Before the 2007–09 crisis, standard risk measurement methods substantially underestimated the threat to the financial system. One reason was that these methods didn’t account for how closely commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds, and insurance companies were linked. As financial conditions worsened in one type of institution, the effects spread to others. A new method that more accurately accounts for these spillover effects suggests that hedge funds may have been central in generating systemic risk during the crisis.

It also draws a bunch of boxes with arrows between all of them:

Naturally this should come as a complete shock to those who failed kindergarten or to all those who still don’t understand that Hedge Funds are merely leverage-facilitating counterparties that allow Primary Dealers to net out trillions in gross margin positions (via repo, reverse repo, securities re (and re-re-re-re) pledged as collateral vs securities received as collateral and though all the other shadow banking leverage and rehypothecation conduits that virtually nobody seems to understand even though Matt King explained it all in September 2008) to zero, even though same Primary Dealers are really on the hook for about $4 trillion in exposure at last count, none of which is reflected on their balance sheets and the clueless regulators continue this epic, undercapitalized charade to continue.

More importantly, US taxpayers just spent a few tens of thousands of dollars (fresh just created by the Fed itself so think of this as fiat recycling) on this cutting edge research: surely this will generate at least one government jobs in the next NFP report, and boost Q2 GDP by at least 0.01%.

Full San Fran Fed paper for the frontally lobotomized can be found here.




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1m3aOdG Tyler Durden

Enlightened Self Interest and Financial Industry Hypocrisy – Chapter One of Three

Enlightened Self Interest and Financial Industry Hypocrisy

Chapter One of Three

Benevolent Self-Deception

 

An Old Fashioned Rant

By

Cognitive Dissonance

 

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Too often we divide the world into black and white hats on good and bad people, or left and right ideology that’s right or wrong. Absolute certainties make the process of determining what to believe, to deny or just to ignore so much easier when we don’t actually need to navigate through the cognitive fog to reach critical thinking.

Sadly this duality of extremes is used as a weapon against us at every twist and turn for the benefit of the powerful. And we fall for it hook, line and sinker every single time. I’ve wanted to dig my teeth into the subject of hypocrisy as it applies to the financial ‘industry’ as well as average Joe for several years now, but have held back because the subject is extremely divisive and triggering. Now appears as good a time as any to turn the compost pile.

First let’s get the disclosures out of the way. I was ‘in the business’ for 25 years and I recently closed a small (emphasis on small) financial advisory firm. I ran small money for a living, though that hasn’t always been the case. So while I’ll point fingers and render opinions, and I am extremely critical of society in general and the financial industry in particular, until recently I was swimming in the same cesspool and faced the same ethical dilemmas. That said, while I live in a glass house I’m still going to throw a few stones. Breaking glass is extremely satisfying in a visceral kind of way.

In addition, regardless of how you may interpret what I write below, I am very optimistic that our problems can be solved, and relatively quickly once the individual and national ‘will’ finally develops. We have the power in our hands to change everything and always have. However, as has been the case for hundreds (thousands?) of years, the sole job of the magicians who cast the nation’s economic and cultural spells is to convince us on a daily basis to surrender our power to them in return for empty promises of pain free living and delayed (if ever) consequences.

Viewed from the perspective of technical analysis, it appears we are nearing the peak in the last wave of an eighty year long insanity rally. And while there is no way of knowing exactly when it will end, we do know it will end. A careful review of world history over several thousand years shows that insanity runs in cycles of intensity (but never really goes away) and we are in the final phase of this particular cycle.

When we grow up a bit more and recognize that no leader will guide us out of our own insanity, that it is up to us alone, this leg of our maturation process will be over. I see great potential, but I have low expectations that this potential will be achieved without a great deal of pain. Empires will fall, war will explode and people will die, of this I have little doubt. The death throes of self deceit are extremely destructive as the excesses of the insane asylum are discarded, then replaced just in time to start the next cycle.

With that said, please don’t make the mistake of assuming this article doesn’t apply to all of us just because ‘we’ don’t work in the ‘industry’. What is happening in the financial industry is just a symptom of global wide narcissistic naval gazing, blatant greed and overall rot that has permeated our global society.

There are no innocent bystanders in this debacle, only varying levels of involvement or passivity beginning with the ring leaders and flowing down through several layers of direct and indirect enablers. And as I will flesh out below and in subsequent chapters, I suggest it flows up as well as down in a dysfunctional and symbiotic positive feedback loop.

 

Real Lies

 

Ethics and ethical behavior, along with all its sub categories, including Enlightened Self Interest (ESI) and benevolent self deception, is not exclusive to financial professionals. In fact these moral concepts flow up from the individual into society in general and our institutions specifically. Thus if we declare our institutions corrupt we are clearly and unmistakably declaring ourselves corrupt as well. From a big picture point of view, in a representative form of government (and I would argue in any form of government) we (re)elect and/or support exactly the type of leaders we desire (notice I did not say deserve) but to which we will rarely admit any culpability.

For those who might strenuously object to that statement, let me give you an example. During the 2004 Presidential election cycle there was a voter survey conducted (very Orwellian that in the past year that poll has disappeared) asking about corrupt politicians. When asked what percentage of Senate and House congressional critters were corrupt in any way (an admittedly broad definition) the answer was 81%. Meaning 4 out of 5 were considered corrupt by those who elect them to office or who watch from the sidelines. When asked what percentage of the respondent’s own elected representatives were corrupt, the answer dropped to 19%.

Common sense dictates that if 4 out of 5 politicians in general are corrupt, on average the same percentage of our own representatives is corrupt. So why the large discrepancy? Well, if my elected representatives are corrupt it reflects poorly on me. Even if I don’t vote or care much about the issue I don’t want others (more specifically the poll taker) to think I ‘allow’ or ignore corruption after making such a strong statement about the large degree of corruption nationwide.

Thus when answering the survey questions, which are often posed by live individuals either in person or by phone, I must cover my cognitive butt and present myself as pure…..or at least more pure than the next guy who is the real idiot electing all these corrupt politicians.

The simplest way to avoid this cognitive dissonance is to lie to our ‘self’ under the cover of all kinds of slick and plausible excuses, such as bacon delivery, political clout or whatever. It doesn’t matter how I brush it away, just that I do. It’s OK to lie to myself, but I must not let anyone else see that my cognitive slip is showing.

If we wish to be lied to in order to hide from ourselves and any personal accountability or self awareness, that is exactly the style of leadership we will get. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people from a variety of political and social convictions who will scream in outrage at this or that political transgression.

But when asked about their own faults and hypocrisies they are nearly always unable to look at themselves with an unbiased eye, never mind make any real attempt to provide a semi honest self appraisal. As I like to say, space aliens don’t drop our political and business leaders from the sky. They are all home grown 100% USDA certified Earthlings spawned from mom and dad, at least until proven otherwise.

 

Hypocrisy Meter

 

Every person carries around a bucket full of lies, half truths and self deceptions to which we add to and subtract from all the time. While many will claim this is simply human nature, I suspect it is more a cultural phenomenon than a natural tendency. If one believes we are a product of evolution, while I can see the utility of some social lies to promote harmony and cooperation, self deception is not necessarily conductive to a long life, particularly when resources are scarce.

During the present era of perceived abundance that is rapidly fading in the rear view mirror, our formerly over flowing cup might have something to do with our present day insanity. Self destructive behavior requires heaping helpings of denial front and center, and only the ideologically blinded or mentally ill can take a look around and consider the present sorry state of the human race to be the result of others and not ourselves. One of the hallmarks of insanity is the personal belief that there isn’t anything wrong with me, just everyone else.

Since by definition a culture is all encompassing and totally immersive, one cannot see ourselves for what we really are unless we make an honest and sustained effort to do so. Everything looks pretty much normal (in an insane kind of way) to the non-critical eye……which is often just the way we like it. This is where the lying and self deception comes into play.

One of the most common enabling lies we tell ourselves is that because we are more (mostly) pure of mind and deed (or at least thoroughly rationalized and justified) it is those people over there who are the real problem. So in our mind we make a generous offer and declare that we might clean up our own act, what little there actually needs to be done, once the bastards who are responsible for this mess are hung from the rafters. This is the epitome of blame shifting and magical thinking, and it is the root of the problems we all face.      

At one point or another we have all pointed our finger towards (or should I say given the finger to) the ‘bad’ guys at the Federal Reserve and on Wall Street, at the White House, Congress, the Judicial System and the huge multinational Corporations. And while you will get no argument from me that all these players are both compliant puppets and powerful puppeteers, they are all essentially powerless without our direct consent or passive agreement.

As well, while the game is obviously rigged to compel our participation, many of us roll over and concede defeat, taking the softer easier way out while claiming the moral high ground to enable our own victimization. After all ‘victims’ aren’t responsible for anything, including ourselves, because we are all……well victims, right? Don’t blame me dawg, I’m just the poor trapped soul caught in the nasty spider web.

While I am sure there will be angry comments declaring that I am unfairly blaming the victim when it is clearly those lousy bastards over there that are responsible for this mess, short of putting a gun to our heads we always have choices. And to say otherwise is bordering on the infantile. What we are really saying when we claim there is no way out or that we are powerless to stop the insanity, is that all the easy alternatives have been eliminated and the only remaining paths we perceive as available involve high levels of pain, discomfort and distress.

This is an illusion we actively encourage to enable us to remain comfortably passive within the insanity, or which we use to give us the moral green light to participate in the looting under the guise of profit, saying we’re just taking care of ourselves and our own. You know, buy the f**king dip, regardless if whether it’s stocks, bonds, CRE, distressed housing, PM’s, whatever. Or one I heard just today, where the person states that it will never change so why not position ourselves to profit from the mess.

Of course, we nearly always exaggerate potential dangers or project undesirable outcomes when facing paths we don’t wish to pursue. I can always find a reason not to act, while finding reasons to act are far and few between. This isn’t human nature alone, but just as much nurture, meaning our training and conditioning beginning with our parents. Sure there are basic tendencies to procrastinate inherent in each individual, but children of proactive and positive parents tend to be the same and vice versa.

 

Head in the Snow

 

Very early in my career I was told by a wise mentor that successful people do the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do. I was then challenged to demonstrate this with the understanding that words without action accomplishes little other than verbal and mental masturbation. This applies so well to life in general.

Bottom line, if we don’t want to do something we will find every excuse in the book not to do so. Rather than closely examine our part in this slow dance of socioeconomic death, we paper over our own involvement in the very system we claim we want radically changed or even destroyed.

Time to take a closer look at what’s really going on here because this game is exactly what many of us want to play in order to avoid dealing with the very collapse or change we say is desirable. Many of us are junk yard dogs with absolutely no desire to bite except maybe each other out of impotent frustration.

If you give it some thought, to say that we wish to see our corrupt and patently unfair financial system collapse in order to rout the bastards from our house is the functional equivalent of wishing someone would burn down our uninsured home to rid ourselves of a severe cockroach infestation. Or better yet hiring (or electing) someone(s) to do the job for us.

Yes, when all is said and done the roaches might be gone, but there were less destructive ways of removing them. Sometimes we select bad choices to hide from even more frightening ones, a personal and collective insight we carefully conceal from ourselves in order to continue with our benevolent self deception.

Alas, we will find less damaging cockroach extermination methods only if we are willing to explore all avenues, including the emotionally, physically and economically painful. In reality we don’t wish to collapse our economic system. What we desperately desire is for the thieving and insanity to end (or at least to greatly diminish) and for a return to the mythical land of the Norman Rockwell lie of milk and honey.

Can’t say I blame us, though it appears to be time to short unicorns and fairy tales and go long courage and cooperative collusion. Aside from possibly preparing ourselves for the coming collapse, what are we doing to prepare our nation, state and community for this new beginning? Is it a matter of each of us waiting for everyone else to go first? Yeah, that will work wonders when the unrest goes local.

Since we aren’t especially willing to look too closely at all aspects of the insanity for fear it might implicate us nearly as much as the bad guys, we declare we would rather watch the entire stinking mess disintegrate and then wash away with the evening tide.

This allows us to individually and collectively wash our hands of the enormous social disintegration that will result from economic collapse while emotionally and intellectually shielding us from any danger, real or imagined, that we may encounter if we were to work towards other less destructive ‘solutions’, or to help prepare our surrounding community for the storm we are forecasting.

 

Social Disintegration

 

It’s so much more comforting to suffer misery as part of the collective herd than to suffer alone while feeling vulnerable. This is one of the reasons we latch onto the “It’s just impossible to change” or even “It’s not me, it’s those damn idiots over there who aren’t doing anything about this” excuses.

The list of reasons why we should not act is as varied as our imagination. So how convenient it is that if everyone says the same thing, everyone has a wonderful excuse not to do anything yet still remain blameless. This is the collective self deception that is ostensibly benevolent to both the individual and the group, or so we wish to think.

Essentially this is a Bizzaro World Catch 22 that works to our advantage over the short term, but destroys our souls and our neighborhoods quicker than we think. However, in a world of short term thinking this doesn’t look like such a bad deal when my focus is squarely on what’s in it for me, myself and I.

Make no mistake about it though, denial, both individual and collective, is so overwhelmingly powerful that not only will tortured souls self destruct and commit suicide while in its throes, but nations will rush head long into the dual abyss of self destruction via war, civil or otherwise, and economic self immolation.

However, a nation doesn’t self destruct because its land and buildings are consumed in the fires of economic hell. Nope, it is the citizens of a nation that wither away on the vine, eventually taking the physical and economic infrastructure with them into the bottomless abyss of insanity.

The only saving grace is that who can really say what is or is not insane when we are all on the same glide path to hell? That’s our own special theory of insanity relativity. The same insanity that drives nations into competing rounds of destructive currency devaluation also drives us into feeding off each other’s delusions and delirium tremens.

When a sovereign state’s currency and credit system, its blood and circulatory network, depends entirely upon the faith and belief of its captive and captivated population, stability for the most part can be manufactured simply by believing in the system. Understand though that in this case ‘belief’ can mean active or passive participation and/or dependency. This ‘belief’ also includes ignoring potential dangers to the system, especially terminal dangers of the mind numbing variety.

This explains perfectly why as the system gets closer to the edge, people can continue to go nervously about their lives. Truth be told, on some basic level most of the population already knows things are in very bad shape, but we chose to ignore it. The level of governmental and corporate corruption, the rise of the surveillance/police state, chronic unemployment, rising food and medical costs and the escalating taking of rights and freedoms are not unseen by the population at large, just desperately ignored.

 

RIP Constitution

 

What does one do and how does one act when the myth can no longer be sustained and we find out our protectors are actually the predators and our torturers? What would we do if we suddenly discovered our father was a child molester or our brother a mass murderer and we were next on the list if we attempted to expose him?

For most of us the drill would be duck and cover baby, duck and cover, then head even deeper into the mind numbing embrace of denial. Without question most of us would move to the center of the herd and act like there’s nothing wrong in the suburbs. Only we would do so quietly and with baby steps. After all, you don’t want to alert the wolves circling the herd that you are injured and ripe for the taking.

Just as the world is beginning to recognize that the efficient market theory was efficient solely in snowing people into believing logic and reason ruled the market, we should understand that much of our individual decision making process is subconscious and totally illogical. So is it really surprising that ‘We the People’ have made a mostly subconscious decision to carry on as if nothing is wrong and hope for the best? This is the childishly adult equivalent of covering our ears and repeatedly screaming ‘I can’t hear you’.

As long as the government is successful in keeping the wolves at bay, at least for the ever decreasing majority, we will happily ignore the growing desperation in the streets in exchange for some make believe ignorant bliss. Just leave me and mine alone and I will avert my eyes and hurry about my business.

Of course, this can only be accomplished if we discard critical thinking and independent thought and stick to binary input and output. If no one wishes to recognize the full insanity, all it takes to accomplish this in a leveraged fiat system is a collective and unspoken understanding to ignore the ugly truth and move along. What you don’t make ‘real’ by specifically acknowledging it just can’t hurt you, at least for today and hopefully a few more tomorrows.

As nonsensical as this might sound, we make our own emotional and intellectual reality fresh on a daily basis. While doing so, we mold our physical world to fit our belief system as we have conceived it. Do this, don’t do that, deny those, ignore them, focus of this and before you know it our world begins to conform to how we denied it. Multiple our individual effort by two or three hundred million, or two or three billion, then conjure up several hundred trillion of Federal Reserve electronic ones and zeros while casting a collective self propaganda spell of ‘all is well’ and temporary stability is created out of thin air.

The only problem is this huge edifice has no foundational support and can easily be toppled by a small percentage of bolting members of the unsettled herd. Panic is easy to generate among the hard core deniers because deep down we all know it is just a lie. All but the truly clueless stand around with their hands in their pockets, trying to look innocent and unconcerned while memorizing all the exits and escape routes. Only a fool or the hopelessly self deceived will actually drink their own Kool-Aid mix, though I am constantly amazed how many do. Mine is cherry banana by the way.

Sure the fundamentals are slowly deteriorating (again) and the second (third?) plunge appears just around the corner. Real reality will eventually re-assert itself with a vengeance because it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. But (sadly) not before several more revolutions of the fiat paper around the toilet bowl have been completed.

After all, to some degree or another we are all engaged in group psychological can kicking, if for no other reason than to keep the inner boogieman at bay. Binary thinking doesn’t allow for long range planning or constructive positioning, just blame shifting and avoidance, something we do with typical American arrogance and excellence.

We all have a tendency to exaggerate the value of our prior investment in our jobs, our family and ourselves. So when considering what to do or not do, often the decision we make is to make no decision at all, to go with the flow and to make no waves. We never really acknowledge that making no decision is actually a decision in and of itself, an affirmation of the status quo and the present day insanity. “Hey, it wasn’t me that made that decision. I’m not responsible.

The more out-of-control we feel our life and world is becoming, the more we will seek to avoid making any decision we (want to) believe might endanger our life or position in the social order regardless of its present state of advanced decay. Misery is always relative to those who are around us. I can be the happy king of the soup kitchen or just another miserable nobody in the corporate cafeteria.

In addition we will avoid any responsibility for decisions (or non decisions) made by ourselves or anyone else. We learn this behavior early in life, first from our family, then from our social interactions in school and later corporate life. Cover our ass begins and ends in the familiar warmth and comfort of our duplicitous mind.

 

04/14/2014

Cognitive Dissonance

 

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They All Look the Same to Me

 




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1kSSVi7 Cognitive Dissonance

When The Fed’s Refi Madness Ended, Bank Mortgage Profits Evaporated

Submitted by David Stockman of Contra Corner

When The Fed’s Refi Madness Ended—Bank Mortgage Profits Evaporated

During the course of its massive money printing campaign after the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed drove the 30-year mortgage financing rate down from 6.5% to 3.3% at its mid-2012 low. The ostensible purpose was revive the shattered housing market which had resulted from the crash of its previous exercise in bubble finance.

But what it really did was touch off another of those pointless “refi” booms which enable homeowners to swap an existing mortgage for a new one carrying a significantly lower interest rate and monthly service cost. Such debt churning exercises have been sponsored repeatedly by the Fed since the S&L debacle of the late 1980s.

This time the Fed really outdid itself. During some periods upwards of 80% of new originations were not money purchase mortgages to finance a new home, the declared purpose of interest rate repression, but just refis of existing debt. By resorting to this maneuver to leave more money in the pocket of borrowers each month, our monetary central planners undoubtedly hoped that America’s flagging consumers would buy another flat screen TV, dinner at Red Lobster or new pair of shoes.

Yet two obvious questions recur. First, why does the monetary politburo think that a zero-sum shuffling of shoe purchases into the spring of 2012 and out of 2014 makes any sense? That is the implicit assumption, however, because unless the Fed was prepared to permanently peg the 3.3% refi rate at its mid-2012 level, it was only a matter of time before mortgage rates would rise and household’s buying actual new homes with purchase money mortgages would be paying 4.5% as now, or 6.5% as before the panic, and thereby have far less discretionary cash left over for a trip to Red Lobster.

This cash flow shuffle sounds perfectly silly, of course, but it is essentially what our Keynesian paint-by-the-numbers central bankers are up to because they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the reality of “peak debt”—especially in the household sector. Yet only a permanent gain in leverage can cause consumer spending to remain elevated in response to monetary stimulus. By contrast, yo-yo-ing the mortgage rate only swaps out cash flow from one arbitrary quarter to the next.

Thus, during the four decades leading up to the financial crisis, the Fed’s interest rate “easing” maneuvers worked because they caused a steady upward ratchet in household leverage ratios. That is, there was still balance sheet space left to hypothecate.  And, as shown below, under the Fed’s post-1970 ministrations, the historically healthy ratio of about 80% debt/wage and salary income climbed parabolically until it peaked at 210% in 2008.


Household Leverage Ratio – Click to enlarge

The above graph also highlights the reason why the Fed is now enmeshed in a pointless exercise of ”yo-yo-ing” the economy in its endless pursuit of accommodation and consumer stimulus. Self-evidently, households have rolled back their leverage ratios to a still historically high and likely unsustainable level of about 180%. So by not permanently adding to their leverage ratio— but actually slowly retrenching it—households have thwarted the Fed’s maneuver to cause a permanent gain in the purchase of shoes and meals at the mall.

And properly so. A continuing rise in the household leverage ratio from the 2008 peak shown above would have led to an even more traumatic retrenchment than that which has already occurred.

But if the Fed’s arbitrary cycle of mortgage rate repression and eventual release—as metered into the financial system by the seers and forecasters resident in the Eccles Building– does not permanently levitate the Main Street economy, it nevertheless leaves an impact: namely, a huge and capricious reshuffling of wealth within both the real economy and the financial system, too. In fact, this wealth reshuffling is so massive and unaccountable that perhaps someday the question will arise as to why the Fed was ever empowered to operate a giant random wealth generator in the first place.

Within the household sector, it is obvious enough that the refi boom benefits only a tiny minority or households—most of which least need help from the state. Stated differently, of the nation’s 115 million households—perhaps 10-15 million have been the lucky recipients of the Fed’s refi maneuver. Clearly the 40 million renters didn’t benefit; nor did the 25-30 million who own their homes free and clear. And upwards of 20-25 million existing mortgage borrowers, who during most of the latest 5-year refi boom were “underwater” or did not have enough positive equity to cover transactions costs and more reasonable down-payment ratios, did not even qualify for the Fed’s lottery.

However, there was one sector that gorged itself on the ”refi” lottery big time—namely, the giant mortgage originating banks on Wall Street who ended up controlling most of the home mortgage market after the Washington assisted mergers during the crisis.  As  summarized in the Fortune article below, the mortgage originators were booking up to $3,300 of up front profit per refi.

And that was just the fee on the transaction—before booking the embedded “gain-on-sale” (often thousands more) when most of this booming mortgage volume was subsequently shuffled off to Freddie and Fannie to be packaged and resold as an MBS. Yes, and at that point, such newly minted “mortgage bonds” did flow back to Wall Street where they were doubtless churned many times over by the dealer side of the banking houses in their endless and remunerative chore of supplying “liquidity” to the homeowners of America.

So the banking side of the Fed’s refi churn did well too—–enjoying a triple profit dip along the way. But there were two untoward effects of these giant windfalls. First, they self-evidently were not a permanent source of bank earnings, as documented by the Fortune article below. JPMorgan’s fee profit per mortgage has now plummeted to a loss of $1,500 each; its mortgage volume has collapsed by upwards of 80%, meaning that fat quarterly profits from “gain-on-sale” into the GSE mills has also evaporated; and its massive trading inventories have been generating losses as often as gains—since bond prices are no longer on a one-way escalator upwards.

The point here is not to lament the resulting sharp decline in the bank earnings from  their triple-dipping mortgage businesses. The windfalls there were no more arbitrary than those captured by households fortunate enough to board the Fed’s refi train while it lasted.

The far more important point is that these were not real economic profits that added permanent value to the American economy.  They were simply central bank enabled “rents” that permitted the big banks to artificially and temporarily repair their balance sheets. The big bank mortgage operations have booked at least $50-$75 billion of this kind of bottled air since the crisis.

And that is were the evil-doing comes in. Based heavily on the windfall of mortgage and fixed income trading profits, the Fed has permitted the Wall Street banks to plunge right back into the business of paying generous dividends and undertaking heavy stock repurchases.  In a word, the very monetary politburo that now says that the solution to financial instability is tougher “prudential” regulation and supervision—rather than the honest thing of slowing down its printing presses—-has engaged in flat-out regulatory folly:  It has permitted Wall Street to re-cycle vast unearned rents to the gamblers and fast money traders who have piled into bank stocks since the crisis.

Instead, it should have been recognized that the giant Wall Street banks are wards of the state. Without access to seven years of deposit funding pegged at zero, the Fed’s discount window privilege in the event of a crisis, and trillions of taxpayer guaranteed deposits, the Wall Street conglomerate banks would not even exist in their current form. So every dime of profit booked—-genuine or windfalls like these—should have been sequestered on their balance sheets until it was truly evident that the “all clear” condition had been reached. Based on first quarter banks results this far, that hardly seems the case.

There was a government anti-drug propaganda movie in the late 1930s called “Reefer Madness”.  It would appear that our monetary politburo has been smoking the same.

By April 11, 2014: 3:37 PM ET

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FORTUNE — If you are wondering why you can’t get a mortgage, here’s an answer: Every time JPMorgan Chase makes a home loan, it loses money, $1,500 on average. That might not make JPMorgan want to make so many loans.

 

That helps explain why banks are lending so little, and why the housing recovery, which seemed to be zooming along just a few months ago, has begun to falter. It also may say something about the sluggish economic recovery.

 

On Friday, JPMorgan (JPM) reported its first-quarter earnings. They were less impressive than analysts were expecting, in part because loan growth at the nation’s largest bank in the country has evaporated. JPMorgan had $730 billion in loans a year ago. It has the same now. Deposits are still rolling in. Typically, a bank makes money lending out the money it takes in from depositors and pocketing the difference. But JPMorgan is now lending out just 57% of its deposits. It used to be more like 80% a few years ago.

 

Signing up borrowers was never the most profitable part of the mortgage business. The bigger profits came from collecting the interest on the loans, or selling those loans off to others. But it was never a loss leader, either.

 

A year ago, for instance, JPMorgan made about $750 per loan. The year before that, it booked $3,300 of profits for every new loan.

 

But then, about a year ago, interest rates began to rise for the first time since the financial crisis. It wasn’t much, around one percentage point, but it was enough to crater one of the few businesses for the banks that had come roaring back. And the housing market remains fragile. All of a sudden, all those people who were rushing into refinance their mortgages every time rates dropped stopped coming in.

 

JPMorgan funded $53 billion in mortgage loans in the first three months of 2013. That shrank to $17 billion in the first three months of this year. And JPMorgan is based on being big. The result is that you don’t just make less when you make fewer loans. You make nothing. A year ago, JPMorgan earned $500 million in the first quarter from originating home loans. In the first three months of 2014, it lost $200 million.

 

That might not be all that bad if JPMorgan were still making good money on the other parts of the mortgage process, like collecting interest or selling off loans. But it’s not. Interest rates are still near lows. What’s more, the rise in interest rates has squeezed the difference between what banks can charge mortgage borrowers and the interest they have to promise the purchasers of those loans. That difference a year or so ago accounted for a huge source of profits.

 

Put it all together and JPMorgan made just $114 million in income from its entire mortgage operations in the first quarter. That was down from nearly $700 million a year ago and $1.1 billion the quarter after that. But bankers like to talk about their businesses not in total profits but the returns they generate. Three quarters ago, JPMorgan’s mortgage business had a return on investment of 23%. Last quarter, it was 3%. JPMorgan could have almost done just as well by putting all of its money in a 10-year Treasury bond and calling it a day.

 

And it’s not just the mortgage business. Over the past few years, consumers and businesses – some not so great – have been able to secure loans at historically low interest rates. Expectations adjust. Now, interest rates are rising, and borrowers don’t want to pay higher prices. How long will it be before borrowers adjust? If you have just refinanced your 30-year mortgage, it might be a while.

 

If you want to know what higher interest rates might mean for the banks, take a look at JPMorgan’s mortgage business. It’s not good.




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1t11tEP Tyler Durden

The Homeless in NYC Are Now Living in Tiny Spaces in the Frame of the Manhattan Bridge

I just got back to Colorado from 10 days in my hometown of New York City. It’s always fun to see friends and family as well as take stock of how much things have changed since I left. There is no question about it, NYC feels more like “Disneyland for Wall Street” than ever before. The very rich are doing very well, everyone else, not so much. We are often told by charlatans and mainstream media propagandists that this mythical rising tide of wealth lifts all boats. If that’s the case, I find it quite perplexing that the homeless population in America’s financial center (meanwhile 22% of the city is on food stamps) is exploding five years into the so-called recovery.

How is this possible? Because we have witnessed five years of egregious corruption and crony capitalist theft, not a genuine recovery. That’s how.

The war on the homeless has been accelerating in recent years, as city officials across the nation would rather hide the problem that admit the economic recovery is bullshit. In most cases, the measures are subtle, but have the desired effect of pushing homeless people away from public view (in Columbia, South Carolina it is not so subtle and you need a $120 weekly permit to feed the homeless). NYC officials area bit more nuanced. For example, I was shocked to see a sign posted in a park in Manhattan that said adults can’t come in without children. It looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.25.22 AM

No matter what spin somebody may put on this, the primary goal is to keep homeless people away.

I grew up in New York City and was a toddler in the early 1980′s, not exactly the safest period in the city. I remember playing in the parks around my parents’ apartment and there were homeless people everywhere. It was a part of my childhood for better or worse, but it was reality. I think I was better off knowing the homeless existed than if they had all been pushed away to the outskirts and everyone pretended they weren’t there.

The thing is, many of the very wealthy in New York City want to believe this bullshit story that things are generally getting better. Meanwhile, the statistics speak for themselves, and according to HUD, the homeless population in NYC increased 13% last year. That’s quite disturbing five years into raging bull market for stocks.

Moving along, we now we find that homeless people are living in coffin-sized spaces inside the frame of the Manhattan Bridge.

From the New York Post:

Crafty hobos are turning the Manhattan Bridge into a veritable shantytown, complete with elaborate plywood shacks that are truly “must see to believe.”

One of the coffin-sized living spaces — which have been built into the bridge frame near the Manhattan entrance — is secured with a flimsy bike lock and bolted to a metal beam by its inhabitant.

The pods are built into the underside of the upper deck, below car traffic but above the subway and bike lanes.

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As MOMO Fever Fades, These Are The Stocks Goldman Is Rolling Into

As we reported over the weekend, a rather concerned Goldman proclaimed the great momo rally – that one that led to so much gains in 2013 and to many losses so far in 2014 – dead, and in a sign that far less euphoria is coming over the horizon, said that while momentum stocks will hardly recover their panic buying highs, suggested that the best the S&P 500 can hope for – if history is any guide – is for a 5% rise in the broader market over the next 6 months (what it didn’t add is that hardly any algos, and certainly no self-respecting TBTF banker, get out of bed for a measly 1% return per month). Perhaps more imprortantly, what Goldman also remarked on was what it thought would be the stocks that should benefit from the rotation out of momo names and into slower growth, low valuation, low momentum names.

The list of S&P 500 stocks with “low momentum, low valuation, and low growth based on Goldman Sachs Micro Equity Factors as of April 10, 2014, is shown  below.

Is this merely another muppet trap as Goldman is now selling low momo stocks and buying back into the uber-high beta names, or is Goldman actually concerned about its clients’ well-being this time around… speaking of which, where’s Stolper? We’ll let readers decided for themselves.




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1kSAObU Tyler Durden

Did the Department of Homeland Security Just Admit that the Government Knew about the Heartbleed Bug?

Bloomberg reported that the NSA knew about – and exploited – the Heartbleed bug for years.

The NSA has denied it knew about the bug.

And the White House spokesman claims:

This administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable internet.

 

***

 

If the federal government, including the intelligence community, had discovered this vulnerability prior to last week, it would have been disclosed to the community responsible for OpenSSL.

(OpenSSL is the library infected by Heartbleed.)

But the Department of Homeland Security says:

The Federal government’s core citizen-facing websites are not exposed to risks from this cybersecurity threat.

Matt Stoller tweets:

DHS says #Heartbleed didn’t affect government websites. That is… peculiar.

Perhaps there is an innocent explanation … The government doesn’t use OpenSSL on its websites?

Nope …  Security firm Codenomicon – which discovered the Heartbleed virus – reports:

You are likely to be affected either directly or indirectly. OpenSSL is the most popular open source cryptographic library and TLS (transport layer security) implementation used to encrypt traffic on the Internet. Your popular social site, your company’s site, commercial site, hobby site, sites you install software from or even sites run by your government might be using vulnerable OpenSSL.

Did DHS just unintentionally admit that the government knew about Heartbleed years ago and patched its own websites … without telling the tech community about it?

Mother Jones points out that – whether or not the NSA knew about the bug – the Heartbleed episode makes it look bad:

I’m honestly not sure which would be worse. That the NSA knew about this massive bug that threatened havoc for millions of Americans and did nothing about it for two years. Or that the NSA’s vaunted—and lavishly funded—cybersecurity team was completely in the dark about a gaping and highly-exploitable hole in the operational security of the internet for two years. It’s frankly hard to see any way the NSA comes out of this episode looking good.




via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1p3yHUt George Washington

Mistaking Hibiscus for Marijuana, DEA Raids Gardener’s Home

Last month I
noted
that a visit to an indoor gardening store plus wet tea
leaves in your trash can earn you an early-morning visit by
rifle-wielding agents of the state. In addition to drinking tea, a
fondness for hibiscus (perhaps to put in your tea) can make you
look like a felon to cops with too much time on their hands, as
Angela Kirking discovered
last fall. Four DEA agents and five local police officers burst
into Kirking’s Sherwood, Illinois, home around 5 a.m. on October
11, looking for a marijuana grow. Instead they found 9.3 grams of
pot (less than a third of an ounce) and three glass pipes. Kirking,
a 46-year-old face painter, recently
asked
a judge to throw out the evidence obtained during the
search and the two misdemeanor charges resulting from it, arguing
that police did not have probable cause for a warrant.

Why did the DEA think Kirking was growing pot? On September 17,
The Huffington Post
reports
, Donn Kaminski, a Braidwood, Illinois, police
officer assigned to the DEA, was staking out Midwest
Hydroganics in Crest Hill when he observed Kirking “exit the front
door of the store carrying a green plastic bag containing
unknown items.” Kirking says it was liquid fertilizer for her
hibiscus plants. Based on her apparent interest in gardening,
Kaminski obtained Kirking’s electric bills, which were
“consistently higher” than the bills of two neighbors. He also
sifted through her garbage, finding “multiple green plant stems”
that allegedly smelled like “green cannabis.” A field test (perhaps
the same kind that
misidentified
Addie Harte’s tea leaves as marijuana) supposedly
confirmed that the stems came from a cannabis plant. Presto:
probable cause. Or so a judge thought.

Another judge may decide differently. During a hearing earlier
this month, Patch
reports
, Will County Judge Bennett Braun seemed
unimpressed by Kaminski’s electric-bill analysis, saying “ComEd
routinely notifies him that his electric bills are higher than
average.” The DEA’s formula for probable cause in this case mixed
two completely innocent facts—a fertilizer purchase and relatively
high electric bill—with an agent’s odor report and a field test,
both of which are notoriously
unreliable
and both of which proved inaccurate with respect to
Kirking. The DEA spent nearly a month investigating Kirking, but
somehow it could not spare the time for a lab test on her plant
stems before charging into her house.

Beyond the lack of diligence in this particular case is the
standard outrage of pot prohibition, which leads employees of our
government to spy on the customers of hydroponic supply stores and
rummage through their trash, looking for traces of arbitrarily
proscribed plants. Grown men should be embarrassed that they do not
have better things to do with their time.

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