Sunday, February 28, 2021

Cryptocurrency outlook #2

Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff Warns Central Banks Will Never Allow Bitcoin to Go Mainstream

Professor Rogoff says:

"As it really starts to compete with ordinary, fiat currencies, government currencies, I think they’ll clamp down on it like a ton of bricks. They are not going to allow that to happen."

"But make no mistake, the governments need to retain control over taxation, controlling crime, etc. They need to maintain control over the unit of account — the currency. Yes, private innovation can come out for a while, but eventually over the long course of history, the government first regulates and then it appropriates, and I think we can see that happening here."

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Cryptocurrency outlooks

Following are four opinions about the outlook for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Three are pessimistic or negative at this time. That's not surprising given the recent sharp rise in Bitcoin's prices.

'Big Short' investor Michael Burry says he doesn't hate bitcoin but thinks its 'long-term future is tenuous'

I guess Burry says "tenuous" based on Bitcoin's (and others') phenomenal rise during the past 4 months. Yahoo Finance: BTC-USD. Click on '6M' above the chart to see the rise graphically.

Creepy Bill Gates Announces That He’s Not a Fan of Bitcoin – Warns People Who Aren’t as Rich as Elon Musk from Buying It

Really? That's a reasonable opinion if cryptocurrency would be a large portion of one's investable assets or a large amount needed in the near future. However, what if it's a small part? How is it any worse than buying a few lottery tickets with multi-million dollar payoffs? Risk assessment is not an all-or-nothing matter; assessing the magnitude of risk is what's important. Stop being a control freak of others' lives, Bill Gates! It's a big enough task to control your own. 

Should I buy bitcoin? Why the cryptocurrency is on the verge of a bear market

"To be sure, bitcoin’s wobbles aren’t unusual but the crypto’s reputation for volatility is one reason naysayers contend it isn’t suited to serve as a medium of exchange."

“To the extent it is used I fear it’s often for illicit finance. It’s an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions, and the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering,” Janet Yellen said.

This is reasonable and to be expected from one who favors a government-controlled monopoly on the widely-accepted medium of exchange. Transaction costs for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are too large to be a widely-accepted medium of exchange for small transactions. This argument gets weaker as transaction size gets larger. Transaction cost divided by the value of the whole transaction declines as the latter gets much larger. Thus Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are more feasible for large business transactions.

Come on, Charlie. Never? Even buy low and sell high? I know that's difficult to achieve, but I see nothing wrong taking on a little risk and watching it like a falco columbarius. 🙂 If you had not taken risks, you would not have had the tremendous success that you did!! Little or nothing ventured; little or nothing gained. Does this mean your intended audience should not invest in Berkshire-Hathaway stock either? You know it has risk. Click on '5Y' above the chart here and see what happened mid-February to mid-March last year. BRK-B's price fell about 26%. Somebody could have bought BRK-B high and sold it low in a panic.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Law, blockchain, cryptocurrency

Law Decoded: Bringing blockchain into securities markets, Feb. 12–19

Laws regarding blockchain and cryptocurrencies are far behind the times due to the latter's newness. However, some laws are being written to try to catch up.  

The development will not be easy due to the international scope of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The privacy of cryptocurrencies has made them attractive to criminal activity, but the above article has little to say about that. However, most of the rapid growth of cryptocurrencies has not been due to criminals.  The use of cryptocurrency as money and for investing has also gotten the attention of monetary authorities such as the U.S. Federal Reserve System.

A Fed[eral Reserve] president predicts the Bitcoin boom won’t last. Really? There is little risk of that prediction being wrong. There is far more risk of being wrong by predicting a big bust will be very soon.

Bitcoin’s Rise Should Make Regulators Ask if the Fed’s Policies Have a Hand in It: WaPo

"While calling the Fed justified for trying to boost the pandemic-afflicted economy by encouraging investors to put their funds in job-creating activities instead of parking it in banks or government bonds, the lack of investment opportunities has driven many to chase yield via 'speculative vehicles - bitcoin very much included', the newspaper said." (WaPo).

Heh. The Fed people want control. The Fed people or the WaPo editors -- maybe not intended -- call investing in government bonds, which supports more government spending, a non-job-creating activity!😉 It is surely the opposite of what they so often say.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

GameStop again

The Gamestop bubble is an age-old financial craze with a modern twist

It is much like the speculative tulip bulb mania of 1636, also made more manic by options.

GameStop's Reddit Raiders: Goliath Beaten by David, Then They Change the Rules

It is not true that all the Davids were speculating on the rise of GameStop's stock price and all the Goliaths were short-selling. There were both Davids and Goliaths on both sides. Parts of some Goliaths like Fidelity and BlackRock enjoyed the upward ride. Link.

The author Ron Hart asks how is it legal that more than 100% of GameStop stock is being sold short. Assuming he believes it shouldn't be legal, I agree. A person can't lend what he or she doesn't have. However, suppose a friend and I place a pure side bet on the price of a given stock now at $50. If it rises to $P my friend pays me M*(P-$50) and if it falls to $P I pay my friend M*(P-$50), M being a chosen multiple. Neither of us owns or has borrowed any shares of said stock. Either of us can stop the bet at any time. Our bet should not affect the actual market price $P, no more than my friend and I betting on the outcome of a Super Bowl game or the World Series.

With options (futures, too, if available for GameStop) on said stock that are cash settled we could actually transact with neither of us owning or borrowing shares, and make a similar bet. (If settlement must be in shares, e.g. the buyer of an exercised call option must receive shares, then there is a tie to the actual share market.) One of us is in effect betting on $P to rise and the other $P to fall. One of us is in effect going "long" and the other "short." 

Because option trades can be made in this way, it makes sense for Hart to say that more than 100% of GameStop stock is being (in effect) sold short. A strict legal limit on shorting -- the short side must actually borrow shares owned by somebody else, and the owner can't lend any more shares than he or she owns -- makes sense. The other way of "shorting" via options is somewhat a conundrum and a workaround strict short-selling.

A moralistic crusader such as Liz Warren likely smells a rat here and is eager for government intervention whenever she believes there is something wrong. Of course, any laws or regulations she would likely dream up as a "fix" would likely make matters worse.

Hart writes, "They stopped buy orders in GameStop, allowing the price to drop and bailing hedge funds out -- to the detriment of the Reddit Raiders." (For some, not all.) It was not necessarily a detriment. If a client is prevented from buying high followed by the price plummeting, that is beneficial to the client.) Hart did not outright say they -- I assume he meant Robinhood, the place where most Reddit Raiders do most their trading -- were wrong to do so or why. However, there are plausible reasons why Robinhood did what they did other than assisting the short sellers (mainly hedge funds), but that was the only plausible reason Hart gave. Perhaps Robinhood didn't have the lending capacity to support some transactions. Indeed, Robinhood's CEO denied any collusion with hedge funds. He said the limits were necessary "to meet the clearinghouse deposit requirements that we pay to support customers trading on our platform."

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Frustrating banking experience

I have a Visa credit card issued by Bank of America (BoA). Recently BoA emailed me an offer for bonus $$ to open a new checking or savings account with BoA. The $$ were large enough that I tried to set up and make a deposit on my computer using a check (phone for photos of check) that another bank had mailed to me. That didn't work. I called BoA, since how much I could deposit was restricted -- well below the amount stated in the email. I couldn't do it on my computer in any way. I asked for a mailing address in order to make the deposit by snail mail. The help desk person said BoA accepts checks by mail only on closed accounts! I was told I had to do it using BoA's app on my smart phone. That didn't work either. Then the help desk person said I could make the deposit at an ATM.

There is a BoA ATM only about 2 miles from my house, so I tried that. After inserting my BoA credit card in the ATM and entering the last 6 digits of the credit card number, what appeared on the ATM screen was a stranger's debit card with the same last 4 (maybe 6) digits. The ATM instructed me to enter the stranger's PIN. I didn't know and didn't try. I might have been extremely lucky guessing and been able to withdraw some cash from the stranger's account. On the other hand, a video camera was probably recording me! Anyway, it was weird and a little scary to be in the position of possibly making a cash withdrawal from a stranger's debit card account with my credit card.

I was asked to hold my smart phone in front of the ATM's scanner, presumably so that a BoA image could be scanned. I was clueless about what it wanted to scan. Anyway, the display on my phone then wanted to, I assume, tie my credit card to Google Pay. I don't have a Google Pay account, nor do I want one. I have a PayPal account that I opened many years ago to transact on eBay. Google Pay seems to me like a copycat of PayPal. However, I suspect it comes with Google trying to google and spy on everything I do on my phone in order to bombard me with more advertising. No thanks! I get more than enough advertising from my gmail and Google newsfeed already.

Back to the BoA story. The help desk person said there is a BoA branch within 4 miles. Wrong; it is only an ATM. The closest branch is 25 miles away. 

After this incident I will be evaluating whether or not I should even keep my BoA credit card. Some stranger might successfully get a cash advance charged to my credit card with his or her debit card!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

David French on abortion

David French: How To Be Pro-Life in Joe Biden’s America

I have read a few articles by David French and believe he is a very good writer. I don't agree 100% with what he says, but the article is worth the time to read it. 

One issue the article doesn't address is coercion -- the use of physical force or threat for X to get an abortion, more importantly, for Y to pay via taxes for X's abortion. 

Ayn Rand wrote little about abortion., and I may have not seen all of it. Leonard Peikoff wrote, "Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered." 

I don't wholly agree. It's not her sole discretion if other people are coerced to pay for her abortion. It's not her sole discretion with a wiser husband or doctor and no coercion.   

Monday, February 8, 2021

Nancy Pelosi and rules

FoxNews: Calls for Pelosi to pay fine

Apparently Nancy Pelosi's mindset is that 'rules are made for other people to follow.' It's hardly the first time she acted similarly, e.g. her incident with the hairdresser.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

GameStop and three other pols

Yellen, Waters and Pelosi and Investigation of GameStop

The three pols are Janet Yellen, Nancy Pelosi, and Maxine Waters. I didn't thoroughly fact-check the article, but it sounds truthful. Readers can judge for themselves.

The article says that Yellen collected many $$ in speaking fees from GameStop.

Corrupt Maxine Waters is chair of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, where she has for years "steered millions of federal bailout dollars to her husband’s failing bank, OneUnited."

"Waters allocated $12 million to the Mass. bank in which she and her board member husband held shares."

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Krugman's Insult

By the very opinionated New York Times columnist Paul Krugman: The Republican Economic Plan Is an Insult

"It’s bad faith in the name of bipartisanship."

"And in the meantime we’re going to have to remain on partial lockdown. It would, for example, be folly to reopen full-scale indoor dining. And the continuing lockdown will impose a lot of financial hardship. Unemployment will remain very high; millions of businesses will struggle to stay afloat; state and local governments, which aren’t allowed to run deficits, will be in dire fiscal straits."

"What we need, then, is disaster relief to get afflicted Americans through the harsh months ahead. And that’s what the Biden plan would do."

Read between the lines, folks. What Paul Kru[d]man yearns for is a super-activist government, especially the federal government. The predictable results will be bread lines, selling apples on the street, and lots of people not working because they get a government check not to work. In other words, similar to the several-year Great Depression that began about 90 years ago. An exception is greatly inflating the money supply by creating lots more government debt rather than cutting the money supply by 1/3rd. More government spending, taxes, and debt is Kru[d]man's usual advice, which "takes from the rich and gives to the poor." After several years, he could then recommend the government jack up the economy by starting WW3 with China. Jeesh!

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." - often attributed to Mark Twain.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Elizabeth Warren on GameStop

Sen. Elizabeth Warren asks Robinhood to explain GameStop trade restrictions  

Warren's key points from the article:

- Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked stock-trading company Robinhood in a letter to explain why it restricted trading in red-hot shares of GameStop after hedge funds suffered huge losses in a short squeeze.

- Warren noted that Robinhood last week abruptly changed trading rules for individual investors in certain stocks on its no-fee platform, while hedge funds and Wall Street institutional investors were allowed to keep trading in GameStop and the other companies.

- The letter asks Robinhood to disclose what led it to impose tight trading restrictions on GameStop and other stocks, and whether its hedge-fund investors or other financial services partners who had big stakes in such trading affected the app company's decision.

Also in the article is this: 

GameStop share prices fell Tuesday [Feb 2], sliding 51% to about $110 per share as of midday.

That sharp tumble follows a more than 30% drop during the regular market session Monday [Feb 1].

GameStop's stock price closed at $325 per share on Friday [Jan 29].

If GameStop closes at current levels, it would bring its two-day loss to roughly 66%. 

That's correct. (1-0.51)*(1-0.3)-1 = -0.657 or -66%. That was like the article says midday. The closing price was -72%.

Here is Warren's letter to Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev. While it was written on Feb, 2, the content of the letter says nothing about the two-day 66% loss. Her only mention of prices is: "In recent weeks, share prices for GameStop and other companies have undergone sharp changes in value." This sentence is footnoted by a Wall Street Journal article dated Jan. 26, which was before the two-day 66% drop in price.

Well, now that the price of GameStop stock plummeted and after hedge fund gains, is Loopy Liz going to write another letter to Robinhood asking the opposite sort of questions?:

- Why didn't Robinhood protect its "little guys" clients or customers against that 66% price drop?
- Why did Robinhood allow its "little guys" clients or customers to get snared into the speculative bubble in the first place? 
- Why didn't Robinhood foresee the bubble and its bursting?

A very plausible answer to the last question is that after seeing the bubble developing Robinhood did  act to protect its clients or customers by putting in place the trading restrictions that it did! The very ones that Loopy Liz assumes were wrong-headed in her letter! 

To a moral crusader like Loopy Liz a cherry-picked business such as Robinhood, it's "dammed if you do and damned if you don't" (link).

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Regarding GameStop

GameStop (stock symbol GME) was founded in 1984 and has lots of retail stores that sell software for video games. The top management very recently announced plans to move to or expand to streaming games. So GameStop has suddenly become a speculative stock. Will its move to streaming be a huge success or a dud? There are many opinions on both sides, and some are willing to put some money where their mouths are.

GameStop's price history is here. The six-month (6M) graph gives a terrific bird's eye view.

The story has received loads of media attention. It’s being portrayed as a Robinhood or David and Goliath story. It’s not, or more accurately there are Davids and Goliaths on both sides. A friend asked, "Who benefits more from GME being up hundreds of percent, 'Wall Street' or 'Main Street'? This is an anomaly but it’s not entirely unique. It’s newsworthy but there’s nothing sinister here." Many of the "Davids" communicate on the Reddit forum WallStreetBets. Their "collusion," and short sellers talking with one one another, are both about as common as lying in politics. Many of these small investors have accounts at the broker Robinhood, which helps to promote the partly true story that the little guys are taking from the rich. Robinhood’s behavior is also part of the story, which I will skip for now. 

Some very large institutional investors, e.g. Fidelity and BlackRock, and their clients or customers, many of whom many live on 'Main Street', are enjoying the ride. Smaller institutional investors – e.g. the hedge fund Melvin Capital, have bet on the price of GME to fall, expecting to make money by so-called short selling – borrowing GME and then (hopefully) repaying the lender/owner after the price falls. For example, borrow GME and immediately sell it at $300 and buy back GME and repaying the lender/owner when GME's price is $200. That’s a gain of $100 per share. It hasn’t worked very well for some. If the borrower is forced or pressured to repay the loan when the price of GME is $350, that’s a $50 per share loss. The higher the price goes, the bigger the short seller's loss.

Much of the commentary about the story portrays it as unprecedented. Perhaps a little, but not much. This sort of phenomena happens regularly. People not that familiar with the world of investing don’t hear all about it, along with the mainstream press not making a lot of noise about it. A knowledgeable investor might yawn.

Fox News guy Tucker Carlson said: "Whatever our current system is, it is definitely not the capitalism we were promised, not even close” (link). Huh? Trading and borrowing and lending aren’t part capitalism (and even socialism and human nature)? Well, that’s for sure fake news! 😉 

Self-anointed do-gooder Senator Elizabeth Warren could not resist commenting. She said: “For years, the same hedge funds, private equity firms, and wealthy investors dismayed by the GameStop trades have treated the stock market like their own personal casino while everyone else pays the price,” Warren said. “It’s long past time for the SEC and other financial regulators to wake up and do their jobs -- and with a new administration and Democrats running Congress, I intend to make sure they do” (link). In GameStop's case, isn't that the little guys treating the stock market like their own personal casino?  😄 What does the pretentious Warren believe she can do to stop this “calamity”? I bet she doesn’t have a clue. It obviously struck her moral sense, though.

To show how silly Warren's portrayal is and support my claim that there are Davids and Goliaths on both sides, see here. "The hedge fund manager hit hardest by the GameStop trading frenzy is in the middle of a major redevelopment of a $44 million mega-mansion in Miami — despite his company losing $4.5 billion in the mania, according to a report.
   Short-seller Gabe Plotkin’s Melvin Capital Management lost 53 percent in January — ending the month with $8 billion in assets, down from roughly $12.5 billion."

That sounds more like Goliath committing suicide than David slaying him. Is Warren laughing? Would she cheer if it was 'David' slaying him? Would she laugh if it were Nancy Pelosi's husband rather than Mr. Plotkin?

Here is The Daily Objective's perspective. 

Update today: The speculative fever started around Jan 12, less than a month ago, when the price was about $20. A few minutes ago the price was $86. In the interim the price was over $450 on Jan 28. That's pretty spectacular. Regardless, I'm confident that there are other stock prices that have risen and fallen as much, though maybe not as fast when trading and information flow was much slower.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Economics of Violence

EconTalk: Gary Shiffman on the Economics of Violence.

Economist Gary Shiffman of Georgetown University talks about his book, The Economics of Violence, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Shiffman argues that we should view terrorism, insurgency, and crime as being less about ideology and more about personal expression and entrepreneurship. He argues that approaching these problems as economists gives us better tools for fighting them.

His perspective is unique. A one hour interview.