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Financial Skeptic Bulletin, April 2013

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Top of the bond bubble period continued. Bu this is the last month before the storm starts. John Gerard Lewis was one of the few who pointed to the danger. What he did not understand how closh is a crush of bond market bubble (Where will you be when the party's over)

Apr 30, 2013 | MarketWatch

Any host who dares suggest to his drunken partygoers that the hour is getting late risks getting thrown out of his own home. Likewise, someone who dares suggest that a secular bull market could possibly, conceivably, someday end risks being reviled and despised.

Bull markets are intoxicating, and the longer they continue, the giddier the imbibers become. This substantiates all kinds of tried-and-true market metrics and axioms, from contrarian sentiment indicators to knowing it's time to get out when the shoeshine boy offers stock tips.

Of course, the inevitability for each round of euphoria is a humbling crash - in a single market session or in an excruciating years-long decline. Either is awful.

The enduring characteristic of a major decline is just as inevitable, as it is recurring. People eventually rationalize each destruction of wealth in their portfolios. If it happens when they're young, they dismiss it as a one-off and crawl back into stocks. There's nothing wrong with that. But if they again get drunk at the party, they can easily forget the lesson they learned the first time, or the second time, or even the third.

An older person nearing retirement could panic back into stocks and desperately try to regain the spot from which he was knocked. But panicky investing is never a good idea.


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Old News ;-)

[Apr 29, 2013] Gary Shilling The Disconnect Between Weak Economies and Strong Markets Won't Continue

Economies is slowing. Inventories are growing. Accounting for inventories growth is only 1.5%. The company grow earnings by cutting costs. Little capital spending, they don't pay people more. That can't continue indefinitely. They are cutting cost by cutting costs, productivity enhancements, and lot of those are labor costs. If you look at share on national income labor compensation it is at all time low. From this point pendulum might swing in other direction. Such extremes don't last.

Stocks are starting the week near all-time highs despite an earnings season that has been filled with revenue misses.

"The reality is that investors are only enamored with what the Fed and other central banks are doing. They're shoveling money out the door," says Gary Shilling, president of A. Shilling & Co., an economic consulting firm. Investors, in turn, have adopted a "don't fight the Fed," attitude Shilling tells The Daily Ticker.

What that approach is missing, says Shilling, is an understanding of what the economies in the U.S. and overseas are doing, which isn't much.

The U.S economy grew at a 2.5% in the first quarter-- well below expectations of 3.2% growth though much better than the 0.4% reported for the fourth quarter. "Europe is in recession, Japan is barely growing and China is slowing," says Shilling.

This gap-what Shilling calls the "great disconnect" -- between a strong stock market and a weak global economy and declining revenues in the S&P 500 is unsustainable. "The economies of the world are basically weak and stocks are not reflecting that," says Shilling. But in the meantime, he says "no one is going to stop a party like this."

Investors have reason to keep buying stocks-- Earnings are still growing, though lately not as strong as expected. In the latest earnings season only 70% of companies have beat earnings expectations, and only 44% have beat revenue expectations.

That may reflect the smaller impact of the cost-cutting that, says Shilling, has been driving profits.

"[Companies] had no choice," says Shilling. "Pricing power has been nonexistent [and] sales volume increases have been very limited so the only route to profit has been cutting costs. That has pushed profit margins to all-time highs," which are also unsustainable. The impact, however, of that cost-cutting has also been declining, explains Shilling.

Bill McNabb, the CEO Of the Vanguard Group, writes in today's Wall Street Journal op-ed that companies aren't spending more on equipment or labor because they "can't see a clear road to economic recovery."

Uncertainty about regulatory policy, monetary policy, foreign policy and most importantly, U.S. fiscal policy has created a "$261 billion drag on the economy equal to $800 per person," writes McNabb. That's robbed the economy of 1% in annual growth in 2011 and 2012 and 45,000 jobs per month-or 917,000 jobs in total, says McNabb.

Despite the disconnect between global economies and markets, Shilling recommends that investors continue to buy stocks but only in sectors that provide cushions: equities with increasing dividends or health care stocks and consumer staples. He's also long 30-year U.S. Treasuries and has been for 32 years. Shilling, like many others is also making money shorting the yen and buying Japanese stocks.

Tired of This Crap

$85 Billion/mo of fresh FED fuel and they still can't start a fire. Scary, isn't it?

GoBlueGrad

Bernanke can run the presses 24/7 printing all the money he wants, but if people don't have JOBS, they aren't going to buy stuff. Period.

[Apr 29, 2013] The Irresponsibles The Bubble In Financial Assets Paper and Bernanke's Policy Errors

Due to 401K plans S&P500 is no longer stock index. It is something different. The question is whether new flows into 401K can compensate outflows of baby boomers?
Jesse's Café Américain

Here is the failure of the Fed as monetary policy and regulator with greatly expanded portfolio in one picture assuming that one remembers that stocks have risen back to all time highs.

The Fed has been stuffing its expanding Balance Sheet into the reserves of the Too Big To Fail Banks, where they and their Wall Street cronies use the funds to game the markets for financial paper and real goods.

If your goal is to support the one percent at all costs, then creating new bubbles in financial paper that they own makes perfect sense. And as regulator the Fed promotes a lack of transparency, of financial secretiveness, of cronyism, and laissez-faire corruption that is deadly to healthy markets.

Reform is the only viable response. And that is best measured by the levels of transparency and accountability.

But the public is no longer heard in the halls of a Congress and a White House dominated by special interest money. And so things become increasingly unsustainable.

"Based on the above data, how is the stock market fundamentally sound when earnings are collapsing? I guess the Federal Reserve is going to print profits for the S&P 500 companies.

Actually earnings are irrelevant when central banks all over the world including the Federal Reserve are juicing the markets with a sea of liquidity and where multiple expansion trumps real earnings or value."

Read the entire story at Minyanville here.

[Apr 01, 2013] $600M scheme incubated in NC town By MITCH WEISS

Lack of retirement funds force you to believe in scams. Beware this trap "free cheese is available only in a mousetrap". Same for investments that bring dramatically more then safe "inflation plus 2%" return available from TIPs. Actually there is something troubling about the level of gullibility and groupthink demonstrated in the article below: "And so were more and more people in Lexington, including doctors, lawyers and accountants..."
Yahoo/Associated Press

In this Feb. 28, 2013 photo, Sarah Chavez, center, sits with her son Bidal, right, and daughter Sarahi, front, at her home in Lexington, N.C. Desperate to raise money for their …more 6-year-old daughter's cancer treatments last summer, friends told Jose and Sarah Chavez of a way to quickly turn their meager savings into a small fortune. But what the Chavez family and many others didn't know was that state and federal regulators for months had received complaints that ZeekRewards was a scam.

LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) - In the hardware store on South Main Street, the owner pulled Caron Myers aside to tell her about the best thing to happen in years to this once-thriving furniture and textile town.

Did she hear about the online company ZeekRewards? For a small investment, she could make a fortune. He had invested. So had his grandsons. And so were more and more people in Lexington, including doctors, lawyers and accountants.

Skeptical at first, Myers drove a few blocks to the company's one-story, red-brick office and spotted a line of people circling the building. She was sold, and plunked down several thousand dollars. But months later, Myers, like hundreds of thousands of others, discovered the truth: ZeekRewards was a scam.

"I was duped," Meyer said. "We trusted this man. The community is still in shock."

Authorities say owner Paul Burks was the mastermind of a $600 million Ponzi scheme - one of the biggest in U.S. history - that attracted 1 million investors, including nearly 50,000 in North Carolina. Many were recruited by friends and family in Lexington, a quintessential small town where neighbors look out for each other.

But what investors didn't know was that regulators had received nearly a dozen complaints about ZeekRewards and the related site Zeekler.com, but failed to take action for months, leaving the company free to recruit tens of thousands of new victims.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which closed the operation Aug. 17, said Burks was selling securities without a license. The Ponzi scheme was using money from new investors to pay the earlier ones.

Burks has agreed to pay a $4 million penalty and cooperate with a federal court-appointed receiver trying to recover hundreds of millions of dollars.

Investigators say Burks, a former nursing home magician, siphoned millions for his personal use. But he has not been charged.

In his first public comments, Burks told The Associated Press he couldn't discuss details because of lawsuits by victims trying to recoup money.

"Everything will come out in time," said Burks, 66, standing in the doorway of his home.

Asked if he had anything to say to victims, he shook his head.

"I never told anyone to invest more money than they could afford," Burks snapped. "I didn't tell them to do that. Never."

He said if they lost money, "it's their fault. Not mine. Don't blame me."

But Cal Cunningham, a former prosecutor representing investors in a lawsuit, slammed Burks - and regulators for taking so long to act.

"It's why we need a full hearing on what happened in a court of law - whether that be our civil case or a criminal proceeding. A lot of people were hurt," he said.

____

Burks started Zeekler in early 2010 as an online penny auction site. His business experience included nearly four decades in multilevel marketing programs - such as Amway - including failed attempts to launch similar businesses of his own.

In penny auctions, consumers compete to pay pennies on the dollar for name brand products such as iPads. Each bid costs as much as $1, so participating can become expensive and the sites can earn nice profits when multiple users bid against each other.

In January 2011, he incorporated aspects of multilevel marketing into the business when he launched ZeekRewards. The program offered a share of the penny auction's profits to people who invested money, promoted the company on other websites and recruited other participants. Under a complicated formula, investors were issued "profit points" that grew every day.

Investments were capped at $10,000, but people could invest on behalf of their spouses, children or other relatives. Some mortgaged homes to raise their investment.

At first, ZeekRewards complied when investors sought to cash out. And that became the best ad of all: happy investors with their checks in Facebook photos.

People who didn't trust the mail traveled long distances to drop off checks at the cramped office building where security guards allowed only seven inside at a time. Employees collected money and wrote out receipts at the office cluttered with dozens of plastic mail bins stuffed with check-filled envelopes. To withdraw money, investors filed an online request - or called - and then had to wait for a check.

By the end of 2011, it seemed like everybody in Lexington was talking about ZeekRewards. Many saw it as a way to make extra cash to pay bills or help family.

"No one was in it to get rich," said Mary Bell, a 75-year-old seamstress from Lexington who scraped together money to invest.

Sarah Chavez wanted extra money for her daughter's frequent hospital visits for leukemia. Her husband worked in a factory, and they invested $7,000.

"It's hard to believe in something like that. But everyone told us it was a sure thing," she said.

Burks mostly kept to himself, and few locals knew anything about the quiet, balding man with thick glasses.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Shreveport, La., native toured nursing homes in the South as a magician with country singer David Houston. Burks moved to Lexington in the early 1990s because his wife was from the area. In 2000, Burks ran for the state House as a Libertarian, but he collected only 330 votes. Then he became a local celebrity. Most afternoons, he ate lunch at the same downtown restaurant with an entourage of managers. Conference calls with investors were posted on YouTube. He produced glossy brochures touting the company.

"In addition to the mind-blowing savings, you can create more wealth than you have ever thought possible with ZeekRewards' geometrically progressive matric compensation plan," the brochure said.

Burks also hired some of the industry's top attorneys and analysts to promote his company.

The publicity paid off. When the Association of Network Marketing Professionals held its annual convention in March 2012, it called ZeekRewards the model of legal compliance.

___

But behind the scenes, there were troubling signs, according to documents, company emails and consumer complaints reviewed by the AP.

In early June, the state of Montana gave ZeekRewards the boot. Montana requires multilevel marketing companies to register. But ZeekRewards didn't submit any paperwork - even after warnings, said Luke Hamilton, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

"We started getting a lot of complaints," he said.

In August, a North Carolina employees' credit union warned customers not to invest in ZeekRewards because it was a "fraudulent company."

But regulators received complaints long before then.

In a Nov. 23, 2011, complaint filed with the North Carolina Attorney General's office, Wayne Tidderington of Florida called ZeekRewards an "illegal" Ponzi scheme. He said a relative had invested $8,000 and the company guaranteed a return of 125 percent every 90 days.

The attorney general's office can ask a judge to shut down a business because of deceptive trade practices. But it forwarded Tidderington's complaint to the secretary of state's office because it looked like it might involve securities. The secretary of state's office, however, declined to take action because it didn't believe it had the jurisdiction, spokeswoman Liz Proctor said.

The complaint died.

"I put it all together," Tidderington told the AP. "I gave them the roadmap. I said, 'Here's a snake. Here's the gun. Here's the bullets. Shoot the snake.' But they ignored me."

Over the next seven months, the attorney general's office received nearly a dozen more complaints.

But it wasn't until July 6 that it issued an order giving Burks until the end of the month to turn over all Zeek-related documents. He missed that deadline.

Kevin Anderson, senior deputy attorney general for consumer protection, insisted his agency correctly handled the case, saying his office receives thousands of complaints a year.

"We have to have more concrete evidence than a couple of consumer complaints before we go to court," he said.

The SEC received similar complaints during the same period, but the agency didn't begin its investigation until the summer.

SEC spokeswoman Christine D'Amico declined to comment on the investigation, except to say the agency took action "as soon as we believed we had sufficient evidence to obtain an emergency court order to halt the fraud."

___

Months later, people in Lexington are wondering what's next.

Kenneth Bell, the court-appointed receiver, said ZeekRewards may have taken in $800 million. So far, he's recovered $312 million. Hundreds of millions were paid out to investors. Just how much is missing? He doesn't know.

Myers said the community is still recovering - but the wounds are deep. People are wondering why investigators didn't act more quickly and why no one, including Burks, has been charged.

"There are thousands and thousands of victims who might not have lost a penny had the government intervened more quickly," she said.

Where will you be when the party's over By John Gerard Lewis

Another rational and useless observation. If somebody can know when exactly party is over, this guy can become a millionaire. The real question is how long this drunk binge last. It might be a month, it might be a quarter, it might be a year and might be three years (horror ;-).
Apr 30, 2013 | MarketWatch

Any host who dares suggest to his drunken partygoers that the hour is getting late risks getting thrown out of his own home. Likewise, someone who dares suggest that a secular bull market could possibly, conceivably, someday end risks being reviled and despised.

Bull markets are intoxicating, and the longer they continue, the giddier the imbibers become. This substantiates all kinds of tried-and-true market metrics and axioms, from contrarian sentiment indicators to knowing it's time to get out when the shoeshine boy offers stock tips.

Of course, the inevitability for each round of euphoria is a humbling crash - in a single market session or in an excruciating years-long decline. Either is awful.

The enduring characteristic of a major decline is just as inevitable, as it is recurring. People eventually rationalize each destruction of wealth in their portfolios. If it happens when they're young, they dismiss it as a one-off and crawl back into stocks. There's nothing wrong with that. But if they again get drunk at the party, they can easily forget the lesson they learned the first time, or the second time, or even the third.

An older person nearing retirement could panic back into stocks and desperately try to regain the spot from which he was knocked. But panicky investing is never a good idea.

How might we describe today's party? Is it a good party? And is the host telling us that it's almost time to go home?

Well, there's no question that it's a good party right now. Objective market indices say so. But the quality of a party can also be subjectively measured. Remember this exchange from Seinfeld?

GEORGE: It's supposed to be a good party.

JERRY: What does that mean? Good dip?

GEORGE: No, there'll be girls there.

JERRY: There's girls everywhere.

For Jerry, dip and girls didn't necessarily a good party make.

They did go to the party, which was held at a house way out on Long Island, with their friend Elaine. But George hooked-up with a woman, took the car, and left Jerry and Elaine stranded. They stayed too long and had to call Kramer to rescue them, but he got lost and Jerry and Elaine spent hours straining to make small talk with their tired and exasperated hosts. Jerry and Elaine were the last ones to leave. It was a disaster.

Moral of the story: Know when it's time to leave the party, and by what means.

For you, what's required for a good stock market party? Does it mean simply having an endless, raucous time, with no thought of how or when the gaiety will end? Or does enjoying the party also involve knowing when it's time to go home and how you're going to get there?

Okay, this is where you say, "Get out of here, party pooper." And I respond, "Oh, I've already left."

There's too much evidence to deny that, as DoubleLine investment chief Jeffrey Gundlach has said, this is all going to end badly. That doesn't mean it's going to necessarily end soon - the point is that no one knows when it's going to end. And it's not completely dependent upon a change in Fed policy. Any political incident (North Korea, Syria), financial accident (Cyprus, Italy), or natural disaster (a New York City hurricane, Japan tsunami) could trigger a steep market fall.

Market Is Overvalued, 'Drag Your Feet' on New Stock Buys, Says Johnson

This guy does not understand that S&P500 is no longer stock index. It is the indicator of the condition of the USA economy as much as Apple pie and as such least partially protected by full resources of the US government. So markets may be way overvalued. That does not mean that they will go down ;-). I, for one, expected them to correct at least from the end of 2009 :-).
Yahoo! Finance

While not a trader per se Johnson does have his timing "tells," one of which is to take money off the table when a stock or sector's price starts to lag that of the market as a whole. Trim a little to stay ahead of a real pull back that tends to shake investors out at the lows.

On a 5 to 8% pullback, Johnson is a huge buyer. He sees no evidence whatsoever that the bull cycle is coming to an end (fits and starts on the economy aside).

Gary Shilling Henry Blodget Is a Marxist!

One of the big problems in the U.S. economy right now is that big corporations are generating record profits not by growing revenues but by cutting costs.

"Costs," as everyone who works for a big corporation knows, are a synonym for employees, employee wages, employee perks, capital investment, and research and development.

As a result, we have reached a point where corporate profit margins are at all-time highs and corporate wages are at all-time lows as a percent of the economy. (See charts here.)

That's not sustainable, says economist Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co.

The employees whose collective wages are stagnant or dropping account for most of the spending that drives the economy. So if employees aren't getting paid well, and corporations aren't spending, the economy can't grow quickly.

Shilling observes that, from a philosophical perspective, what is happening is that "capital" (the owners of corporations) are dominating "labor" (the rank and file employees who make and sell corporate products and services). And he notes that, in a democracy, these imbalances do not usually persist for long.

The Obama Administration, Shilling points out, is trying to "redistribute" the country's wealth from rich corporations and their owners to average Americans--an effort that drives free-market advocates, some rich Americans, and some stockholders insane with rage. But given that less than 10% of the country is benefitting from the current capital-labor imbalance, and the other 90% is losing ground, it's not surprising that the Obama Administration has the country's support.

I asked Gary Shilling whether there wasn't a private-sector solution to the problem--whether corporations could be persuaded to just voluntarily pay their employees more. After all, I pointed out, the employees are the folks who are creating the value for the corporations and their stockholders. And given that profit margins are already at record highs, the corporations can certainly afford to pay employees more.

Gary Shilling smiled and called me a "Marxist." And that is indeed a very common reaction to the suggestion that companies pay people more. Which is too bad!

Corporations voluntarily paying their employees more has nothing to do with politics, or government, or political philosophies. It also has nothing to do with "handouts" or "subsidies" or the other types of government spending that free-market advocates abhor. And it has nothing to do with unions forcing shareholders to share more, and often stifling their companies's innovation, competitiveness, and nimbleness in the process.

Paying employees more simply means sharing more of the vast wealth that corporations generate with the people who generate it. It means investing in your people, so they don't have to work full time for you and yet still be poor (hello, Walmart). It means investing in the economy and your customers. It means creating value for all four constituencies that great companies serve:

In short, persuading companies to pay their employees more has nothing to do with "Marxism" or "Communism," which are philosophies of centralized government and economies.

For what it's worth, people are right to reject Marxism and Communism. They simply don't work. They ruin economies and impoverish populations. If you don't believe that, all you have to do is look at the Soviet Union and China of a couple of decades ago.

But there's nothing stopping great companies in free-market economies from sharing more of their wealth with the people who generate it and from investing more aggressively for the long term.

Great companies do this not just because they are forced to by unions or taxation, but because it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing for employees, customers, shareholders, and the broader economy. And, for companies with a long-term focus, it's the right thing to do for the companies themselves.

Amazon is a classic example of a company that constantly generates less profit than it could so it can continue to invest aggressively for the long term. And, over the long term, Amazon's shareholders have done just fine.

Gary Shilling is right that today's record-high profit margins and labor-capital imbalance won't persist, because it never does. But the question companies should be asking themselves is how they want this imbalance to be addressed. Do they want to wait until they are forced to share more of their wealth by unions or the government? Or do they want to do it voluntarily, because it's the right thing to do?

For the sake of average Americans and the U.S. economy, let's hope it's the latter.

YFU Number One:

I can't believe people are serious when they say its okay for the American middle class to slip into poverty if its dictated as prudent by "market forces" – even as senior executives and large investors are doing better than they EVER have. They're in for a rude awakening - this will eventually cause BIG problems. You'll see.



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The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D


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